The first book I completed is about a fictional, haunted town for middle-grade readers and it goes something like this:
“For three hundred years, the Mayor of Cacklebat has kept his city’s supernatural secrets out of the national spotlight. Discovering a flyer for an undead dating service in the city’s cemetery, assisting a girl who unknowingly records a duet with a man under her bed, and solving the issue of poor Stan who sneezed someone’s toes out of his nose constitute his usual, daily workload. But now his focus shifts to risk management as a waylaid journalist wanders into town and experiences her own haunt, threatening the secrecy of Cacklebat’s paranormal plague. His reaction is to publish Haunted Cacklebat, personally chronicling the town’s supernatural events to manage its coming-out to the world.”
The book is a collection of ghost stories for middle-grade readers. The Mayor, who narrates the entire collection, discloses stories, citizen’s letters, and advertisements for ill-conceived goods and services to the reader. The stories are of the length similar to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, though his work is more attuned to a younger audience than mine. Flash fiction is what you would call my stories. The diversity and number of my stories are a bit staggering compared to Schwartz’s book:
I spent a few years on and off of this book and hurriedly finished it before my first son was born. I then went the rounds with soliciting to agents, who always replied kindly that the book was not the right fit for them, and onward I continued elsewhere. I have since moved on to an entirely unrelated children’s series and recently got the idea to perhaps share my stories from Haunted Cacklebat here on this blog, should anyone care to read them.
In my enthusiasm for my own writing, as well as the adoration I have for Stephen Gammell’s art work in Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, I had six illustrations commissioned for my stories. Below is the illustration for the Mayor, which came at the end of the book’s introduction:
Welcome from the Mayor
Allow me a moment to paint a scene for you. A family winds down for the night; Dad uncorks the tub while mom dries off their toddler, Jessica. Jessica breaks free and runs naked to the front window. When her mom returns with clothes in hand, Jessica is waving at someone.
Who is out there? Could it be a neighbor walking their dog? Could it just be a tree she’s fond of? Is it worse that when dad looks no one is there? He’ll say, “It’s nothing,” and mom will say, “I wish she would stop doing that.”
At night they sleep together, mom and dad in bed and Jessica in her crib nearby. Then they are awoken by their daughter’s laughter as she waves at two ghostly fingers poking open their blinds.
See, the city of Cacklebat has a problem with the paranormal. Ghosts, poltergeists, and human leftovers are so active here that I’ve considered including them in our Census, (pop. 32,777). Ghosts crawling into your bed at night, grey men in the walls of your house, and a newly-discovered dating service for the dead just begins to scratch some of our problems. It doesn’t end there, though. We are also plagued with ‘monsters’, to use a crude term. ‘Unbelievables’ is what we call them, those creatures and pseudo-human things that (usually) exist outside of our knowledge.
It doesn’t end there either, regrettably. There are people, exceptional and extraordinary people, who have certain abilities that make them interesting neighbors. Some citizens can control physical mass, some can summon creatures you might normally want kept away, and some can even speak to the dead as easily as you might call your grandmother (and often times that is what they are doing).
Cacklebat has been this way since its founding in 1692. From then on to present day our community has learned to tolerate it. A lot of my citizens ask, “Mr. Mayor, where do all these frights come from? Why are they here?” to which I say, “How does a tree know it is tall?” or some rubbish like that to get them off my back. The truth of the matter is that it’s a mystery to everyone save me, and I plan to explain it in detail by the end of this account.
To give you a picture of our town, imagine a place just like yours; we have friendly neighborhoods, shopping malls, grocery stores, public and private schooling, and a hospital. We have three public parks, two baseball fields, and a large forest that some say is haunted (but what’s not in this town? I saw a man I know to be dead walk into a barbershop and request a haircut. The barber had been halfway through before I asked the man how he’d been since he died). We have one flea market, one skating rink, and a movie theater filled with nonsense. We have neighborhood watches, a poetry circle, and a gymnasium where husbands go to impress their wives. If you went to our animal shelter you could certainly find a cat or a dog, but you might also find a creature with two extra legs and three rows of teeth labeled as a ‘Rare Mastiff’.
Curfews never worked here. We tried them once to keep people a little separated from ghosts and Unbelievables, but they invite themselves into your house regardless. So we’ve been going about our lives, sending our children off to school, attending our jobs, having family meals, sleepovers, proms, paying taxes, stargazing, and coordinating the Annual Grandparents Nude Swim. Most of us are as normal as Americans in any other city, we just deal with a different set of circumstances: the Southeast has hurricanes, the Midwest has tornadoes, the West has earthquakes, the North has blizzards, and Cacklebat has ghouls and children-gobbling monsters. Whether we are more or less fortunate is a matter of debate.
We are a kind people and are proud to have survived the trials this city has forced upon us, even if we lie when we say we are not afraid of the dark. We have existed amongst the unknown for so long that many of us do not understand what ‘normal life’ is like. For us, seeing a strange shape out of the corner of your eye is normal. It’s when that shape turns into a ghostly man rummaging through your cereal boxes that we think, “This crummy town.”
But I would be a liar if I said my citizens were leaving by the bus-full. Instead, most of us remain, having too deep a connection to the city. Families have gone many generations here and the bones of our ancestors are not something we can easily leave behind, especially when there’s a chance they might get up out of their coffin for Sunday dinner at your house. I suppose too our Department of Paranormal Control has given citizens peace of mind as we’ve been able to handle most of the frightful cases.
Why am I telling you this and thus opening my town to skeptics and scorn? It’s reactionary, to be frank. A young and eager journalist broke down on the highway while on her way to a job interview. Unfortunately, she pulled off at our exit and walked a mile to one of our gas stations. She went inside and spoke to a clerk named Carl. He let her use his phone to call a tow truck. When the tow came the driver asked, “What the heck are you doing here? How’d you find a phone inside?” The journalist turned and faced a now boarded up, decrepit building that could barely be discerned as a gas station. She was confused. She told the tow truck driver about how she went inside and spoke to Carl and he said, “Yeah right, lady. You going to tell me how to get to your car or not?” I know Carl, may he rest in peace. He gets excited around pretty ladies and opens up shop when they come around. Well the reporter went to her job interview and it went poorly (I’ve come to learn that she is a miserable person, one not many people would like to work with). Rather than be dismayed at not getting the job, she came straight back to Cacklebat to get the story of her experience at Carl’s and leverage that to break into journalism. She spent a week here questioning people and soon got many more stories than she expected to. She’s planning to publish her interviews soon, and I can’t let her be the one to lift the lid on our boiling pot.
With the advent of the internet and immediate media coverage, it was bound to happen that the solitude of our city would be cracked open by a mic-wielding journalist. In short, if our town’s secrets are going to be blasted across the information highway, I want to be the one to do it.
Without further delaying I should issue you onto our stories. Read them alone or with your friends, but certainly not to your younger siblings just before bed time, and certainly not if it’s thundering outside. Thunder might hide the sound of the thing poking open your blinds.