Friday, August 04, 2017

Stranger than Fiction: Do you believe in ghosts?

I like to write about ghosts. Not because I believe in them, but because they make for good stories. That’s a historical fact, since ghost stories have been around for centuries.

What makes a good ghost story? Unseen forces moving all around us? Things levitating, seemingly on their own? Ominous visits that turn out to be premonitions of doom? I don’t know, but I do know that the best ghost stories are like lies—they have a nugget of truth in them. Or rather, what someone has claimed is the truth.

For my latest novel, Ghostwalker, releasing Monday, August 7th, I decided to knuckle down on my inclusion of the strange and unusual in my writing. Rather than drawing from modern folklore or internet accounts of the strange, I would instead draw from personal experience: a ghost tale related to me when I was in the USAF.

This story forms the basis for the opening scene of Ghostwalker, and it was sworn to me to be true…

I served as a law enforcement specialist in the USAF from 1990 to 1994, assigned to what was then called the Security Police. A lot of the guys I served with had also worked as Security Specialists, assigned to guard sites like missile silos. It was from these guys I heard the best stories, like this one.

As the story goes, one particular missile silo was built near an old cemetery. I would guess that makes it a Minuteman site, like those seen in the cheesy, propaganda-filled 80s movie The Day After. These sites were scattered across the West, some on farmer’s properties. Most were remotely-controlled from a central bunker site, where crews worked underground.

One day, this particular site had some alarm problems. Until a crew could fix the alarms, a team of four SPs were sent to the site, manning a “camper truck”. This was explained to me as a miniature guard shack. The idea was hey would guard the site until the alarm guys could come out the next morning to fix things.

When the guys did come out, they found the camper truck abandoned, and the four SPs nowhere to be found. That’s a pretty serious happening.

When the missing security guys were found, they spun a terrifying tale of Spooktacular proportions. In that cemetery, just outside the fence, there was a huge grave marker—my friend telling the story swore to have seen the marker, and the man-sized statue atop it. But he didn’t see the statue come alive, step down and walk toward the fenced in silo. He didn’t see it tear open the fence and calmly walk inside the perimeter.

But the camper team did. They screamed and yelled and ran away in a panic—two of them leaving their rifles behind. One was reportedly located in a hospital, in a kind of catatonic state of shock. Another was found passed out in a field or something, his feet raw from running away barefoot. And the statue? It was back in the cemetery, atop its grave marker, none the worse for wear. 

Now obviously, this is the condensed story. My pal told it better. And, when he told it, we were on night shift, in a quiet, abandoned corner of the base where no other man nor beast could be seen or heard. Third shift was spooky like that sometimes—especially when I was in Germany. It’s why we enjoyed trading ghost stories so much when on boring patrols. 

For Ghostwalker I embellished this tale a bit, moving the action to an old Titan II site. That was primarily because there’s this neat museum in Tucson, where a Titan II site has been restored and maintained as a museum, with tons of photos and videos online, and even a book all about the Titan program and sites.

Ghostwalker isn’t the first story I’ve incorporated “real world” tales of the strange and mysterious in. It won’t be the last—I have several more tucked away. But if you served, and heard a good ghost tale, add it in the comments below. I’d love to use some more of these. 

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