Tales of Terror

Ghost At The Window
by Walt Hicks

By myself, with my thoughts, still alone. Almost.

Lightning split the night sky without a sound, illuminating the skeletal trees outside. The old Victorian house shook to its very foundations once the peal of thunder rumbled hatefully across the shimmering, tempestuous lake. Illuminated also were the figures at the window staring in at me. I suppose they were staring, it was hard to tell, since they never appear to have eyes.

From inside a blurry, detached tunnel vision, I saw my trembling hand reach for the nearly empty decanter of scotch on the living room table. A dribble of the amber liquid spilled onto the table, vanishing without a trace. I could smell ozone in the room, overpowering the scent of age and mildew. The atmosphere was definitely electrically charged, and it wasn't only a result of the storm.

One thing about it, you can't drink away these visions. I have tried. And tried.

Awake for going on sixty hours, hallucinations would be a given. But these apparitions are real -- too real -- individualized nightmares custom tailored just for me. I can't go to sleep because they talk to me, inside my head mostly, whispering unimaginable things about loss, suffering and death. And they touch me with icy, whispery fingers -- not physically exactly -- it's much worse, from the inside out. They want me to suffer a long, slow demise. Not that they did. Lucky? I suppose not, but anything had to be better than the languid, torturous free-fall into a sleep-deprived madness exacerbated by a constantly gnawing, blinding fear.

The visitations first started in a driving rainstorm forty thousand feet above Phoenix, as I was preparing for final descent. I turned to acknowledge my co-pilot's approach vector and autopilot setting to descend at 1500 feet per minute, when I observed a dull luminescence hovering outside the starboard side cabin window, an impossibility at just under 550 knots. Slowly, the moon-shape became more distinct, and yet it was hard to envision fully, as if it had been glimpsed out of the corner of one's eye. But I knew (in my thundering, rampaging heart, perhaps?) that it was the beatific face of a young girl, the streaming rain on the window giving her the appearance of weeping, even though there was absolute blackness where the eyes should have been.

"Ross . . . ?" my co-pilot spoke urgently.

The girl's face was mouthing words, words I could not hear, but instead feel. She was calling for her mother, in a soul-wrenching, desperate ' voice' that was emoted to me, at once searing my soul, and sending icy shards stabbing up my spine. Horribly, she reminded me of my own daughter, in the custody of her mother after a long and bitter divorce.

The apparition vanished without preamble, and hands shaking, I quickly rejoined the busy routine of preparing a Boeing 747-400 for landing, just before final approach. I couldn't tell my co-pilot about what I had seen -- what I thought I had seen . . . I would surely be grounded.

The landing at Phoenix International went without further incident, in spite of the unusual rain storm seemingly isolated in a small area around the airport. Once the wheels touched the runway, the rain seemed to vanish altogether. I initially dismissed the occurrence in the cabin as the aftermath of a bad burrito dinner, but found I could not shake off the overpowering feeling of depression and loss imparted to me by the little girl.

I was grounded after that, however, not due to the incident over Phoenix, but because of the ongoing investigation into a "near miss" event one month before.

The supernatural sightings increased in frequency after that, as did my further decline into depression, paranoia and insomnia. It was nearly always the same, the obscured little girl just outside a window -- any window -- beseechingly crying for her mother's comfort, or perhaps begging to get in. Finally, I attempted an escape to my late father's old Victorian on Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana.

In time, a very short time, she began making her appearances outside the windows at night. No matter if I shuttered them tightly, the vague iridescent figure beckoning to gain entry appeared askance, finally turning to face me, ripping out my heart and freezing my soul with her palpable sadness and longing. Worse still, she was slowly being joined by others; eventually, I counted eighteen distinct personalities, male and female, assorted ages. I could hear murmurs, whispers, grousing, (all in my head, I think) questioning, cajoling, and condemning. A conflicting whirlwind of strong emotions hammered my psyche, seeding the poisonous germ of guilt --about what, I was not sure. Despite a state of paranoia-fed fear and near constant panic, I found I could not muster the courage to leave the house.

The violent hurricane had blown in from the Gulf of Mexico, fortunately downgrading to a tropical storm before it swept through New Orleans. Severe thunderstorms and lashing rains pounded the old house, and it groaned tiredly. The restless spirits paced outside the front room window (shuttered against the storm), agitated. I downed the last of the scotch and swallowed hard against the burning gag reflex.

I staggered toward the window where the little girl peeked in (on tip toe, I imagined). I whispered fearfully, "What -- what do you want?"

"I want my Mommy. I want in." The mouthed words were out of synch with the playback in my head, like a badly dubbed Japanese horror film.

The electricity was out because of the storm, and although it was stiflingly hot-humid in the shuttered house, I found myself trembling as an inexplicably icy breeze caressed the back of my neck, the kiss of a corpse's cold, dead lips.

"Your Mommy's not here," I croaked through the rising bile.

"Pleeeeeeeeeese? I'm so cold." She began crying softly.

Over her shoulder, a gnarled old man regarded me malevolently.

"Okay," I whispered. "But just you, okay?"

"Kay." The old man vanished.

Before I could unfasten the window, the girl was in the room, standing next to me.

"I - I don't understand what you want," I stammered helplessly.

"My Mommy said to meet her here." The missing eyes pleaded with me. "Do you have a teddy bear?"

Behind me, a raspy voice answered, "Right here, Megan."

My heart turned to frozen, palpitating slush. That was my daughter's name. Stars exploded before my eyes, and the front of my pants ran warm and wet. I whirled to see who -- what -- was behind me.

She had been beautiful -- once. She was wraith-thin and haggard, hair hanging lifelessly, flesh the mottled color of a decomposing corpse. She displayed the inside of her arms and I could plainly see the horizontal razor wounds on each wrist. And, of course, her eyes were missing.

"Captain Ross," she began, and my knees gave way forcing me to the hardwood floor. The ambient temperature of the room rapidly descended thirty degrees, and my breath fogged. "Yes." I mouthed. The child ran past me squealing, hugging her mother's legs tightly. I almost fainted as I noticed that the gaping lacerations on her wrists were pantomiming every word uttered from her lips. The Unholy Trinity spoke.

"You really don't know what this is about, do you?" Beyond speaking, I shook my head no. Tears began rolling from those bottomless, empty sockets. "My daughter, Megan, was going home with her grandparents to Ohio on a charter flight. The 747 you were flying almost collided with it. The plane lost control and went down, killing all eighteen on board. Including my parents, and my Megan." She was crying in earnest now, bones showing through paper thin flesh trembling pitifully. I almost thought I could hear them clacking together.

I tried to find my voice through the strangling fear. "Ma'am, that wasn't my fault. The other aircraft crossed into our air space. I've been suspended from flying temporarily, but I'm sure the NTSB will clear me in that incident."

"Incident?!?" she howled, and I felt the hot stench of a slaughterhouse wash over me. "You killed my daughter, because you weren't paying attention to what you were doing. Your personal life was more important to you."

Outraged, she began screaming loudly, the howl of hurricane force winds, and I curled into the fetal position on the hard cold floor, covering my ears. Lightning flashed white hot and immediately thunder deafened me. I felt the sensation of the roof ripping away, pin pricks of a driving rain, and then everything went black.

Some time later, I awoke slowly to sunrise and clear skies, lying in the debris of my late father's house. An ancient oak had uprooted during the storm, destroying the front room and part of the upper story. I checked myself for injury -- miraculously I seemed to be uninjured except for a superficial cut on my forehead -- and slowly got up. The remainder of the house seemed to be intact. Except every single window in the house had been broken out.

Dismissing the events the night of the storm as a drunken hallucination or some sort of nervous breakdown, I decided to move forward, get my life back on track. The NTSB, as I suspected, cleared me of any wrongdoing or error in the near midair collision. The airline politely asked me to leave, but I had decided I didn't want to fly passengers any longer anyway. I landed a job in New Orleans flying a DC-9 freight hauler.

My co-pilot in the near-miss incident, Jack Whitley, suffered the same indignant dismissal from the airline as I had; in fact, he had helped me land the air cargo job. He was my right chair for my first night flight out of New Orleans.

"You don't look so good, Ross," he said during preflight.

"I'm fine, Jack. Just fine," I reassured him.

After leaving New Orleans International, we climbed quickly to 15,000 feet en route to O'Hare.

****************

The tower told us the weather is supposed to be clear. Abruptly, lightning shatters the night and rivulets of a hard rain pepper the windshield.

"That's not supposed to happen," Jack says flatly.

"I know," I whisper.

Unexpectedly, tears form in Jack's eyes, and I see the little girl outside the window over his shoulder.

"Do you see her, too?"

"Yes," I say quietly.

"Yes,: I repeat, as I nose the DC-9 earthward.

****************

National Transportation Safety Board Report No. NTSB-AAR-99-10

Report Date: January 24, 2000

Incident Date: October 31, 1999

Registration: N6271

Type: DC-9

Operator: Air Cargo Freightliners

Where: Slidell, Louisiana

On October 31, 1999, Air Cargo Freightliners Flight 117, a Douglas DC-9 was a regularly scheduled cargo (non-passenger) flight from New Orleans to Chicago (O'Hare). Flight 117's take off from NOI at 7:45 p.m. est was uneventful, climbing to an altitude of approximately 15,000 feet.

It is believed at that time, although the weather conditions were clear on the ground, Flight 117 encountered a high altitude micro-burst thunderstorm event, and the subsequent wind shear, coupled with a severe down draft and swirling headwinds, forced the DC-9 into an irretrievable nose dive.

The crash site was a sparsely inhabited area of Lake Pontchartrain. The airplane was destroyed during impact, explosion and subsequent fire. One home was destroyed, two crew members were killed onboard, and eighteen persons (as yet unidentified) were killed on the ground.

There was no communication with the tower beyond the normal take off exchange.

Oddly, the cockpit voice recorder contained only one garbled word:

"Megan."

Walt Hicks

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