Monday, October 20, 2014

A Ghost's Story: Caught Between Life and Death by David Royce

While out for a run one morning, Jake Weller suffers a critical heart attack triggering a trip to the morgue and what seems to be a near-death experience. But he’s actually dead. The problem is he doesn’t feel dead. He can still experience the world as before only he can’t be seen or heard.
Coming to terms with this new reality, he meets an enigmatic—and charismatic—spirit guide named Big Jim who lays out the rules of this transitional place and offers to make Jake his assistant. Jake disappoints his guide, who may not be as friendly as he seems, as he learns his wife, Marilyn, has cancer.  He bargains with Big Jim to intervene. Big Jim agrees only if Jake proves his loyalty by passing three increasingly difficult tests. Jake takes the deal but gets more than he bargained for as he heads into a final showdown that will determine his fate forever.


“Take this soup can down to the creek,” my vinegary old grandfather would say, so woozy with drink I’d get dizzy just watching his head sway.  “Sit there… ‘bout an hour.  When the moon peeks a crack over the chicken coop, stand up straight…yell with all your might, ‘Fill my cup, Moon.  Fill it tall.  And none of your lip, you ball of light!’”
When nothing appeared in my empty Campbell’s soup can but the bodies of dead mosquitoes I’d swatted on my skinny six-year old legs and naked chest, I ran through the weeds  to Grandpa, showed him the mostly empty can.  “Nothin’, Grandpa,” I’d say.
“Didn’t stand up straight enough,” he’d say, reaching for his cane but too plastered to find it underneath the porch swing.
“Did too!”
He’d struggle to stand, pulling on the swing’s chains, wanting to show me how.  I’d back away, the alcohol in his breath keeping the mosquitoes from both of us.  He’d sit back hard and jerk the chains and groan the rafters with his weight.
 “Didn’t do it right, Boy, or Moon would have put quarters in the can.  Moon is magical—just gotta trick him the right way.”
“Weren’t no magic, Grandpa,” I said, wanting to believe him, wanting to believe there would be quarters we could use to buy something good to eat. 
“Next time,” he’d say, “we’ll take two cans.  Show you how it’s done.”
But he never walked to the creek with me, never showed me how get my cans filled with coins.  He sent me alone four or five times but whenever I’d ask him to go with me to claim quarters from Mr. Moon, he’d have another good lie primed and ready.
“Not the right can; moon’s not right tonight.”
Sometime he’d dig into his pants’ pocket and give me a nickel to fetch a bottle from the bucket in the creek.  I’d bring it back then run down the gravel lane, across a field, and hop a fence to get to my hiding place next to where three red Maple trees grew as one and where a ground hog had dug a big hole in the ground.   Under a ragged piece of roofing tin I put my coin in an old lard bucket along with a smooth round pebble I’d found and a blue jay’s feather.
I had to take my earnings to a secret place. Grandpa told me I could keep them at his house in the little wooden box used to belong to Grandma.  And I counted them out, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen.  But three days later when I visited again, the box was empty.
“Moon must have been here and took ‘em,” he said, acting as innocent as the cat that killed the blue jay.  “Don’t know what could have happened otherwise.”
But he had a new bottle down in the bucket. 

Page 27:
Crystal drops of dew sparkled in carefully spun spider webs under fence rails, in clusters of dried weeds and in other places where they would not be noticed when the sun climbed higher in the sky and evaporated the evening’s condensation and light frost.   It was a beautiful morning to jog and the nightmare was fast becoming a distant memory. 
         Yeah! All is right with the world!
         I felt as if I could run 100 miles.  Feet, knees, lungs…everything felt good.  Life was good.
         The fences I jogged past revealed something about that particular farm’s prosperity and what the farmers had to protect.  The horse farm owners kept their fences in tip-top shape.  In this part of Kentucky, they were always painted white or black; neatly-framed pastures that rivaled golf course greens.  No undisciplined weeds to be found.  Sometimes there were not one but two rows of these fences, one inside the other, always wooden, to keep the expensive thoroughbreds and their colts from harm as they moved from pasture to pasture.  Less prosperous farmers and individuals who simply lived in the country often let their fences go until they slowly sagged and fell apart with a broken rail here or there where a white-tailed deer might have jumped across and, with a swift kick, broken it in an already weakened spot.
         The bright yellow of a forsythia bush, often one of the first shrubs to bloom in the spring, grew beside a cattle farmer’s porch and I remembered the genus was named after the Scottish botanist, William Forsyth. An old brown Labrador slept peacefully where the morning’s sun had warmed the concrete sidewalk that ran to a gate, across from a mailbox painted with daisies and red roses.
         Unexpectedly, like a sucker punch, a sharp pain almost doubled me over.
         Just a runner’s stitch hit—I’ve had them before.
          I slowed and exhaled deeply to try and relieve it.
The pain spread.  Up my arm.  Into my neck.
         Much worse.  Pinched nerve?
Got hot.  Unzipped my jacket.
Tried to pull it off.  Left arm wouldn’t work.
What the heck?
Tremendous bolt of pain hit my chest.  Radiated down my arm.
Pain…sharp metal… stabbing.  
Have I been shot?
No blood.
Pain…searing pain…Breathe…just breathe.
I’ve been hit a second time! 
Can’t breathe! 
What do I do?
Only a farmhouse in sight.
Can’t make it.
Panic filled me. I choked back the taste of the bile in my throat.  It hurt too much to breathe.  With a forceful pull, my florescent green runner’s jacket came off.  I waved it once in the air.
Can anyone see me?  Help!
As I collapsed to the ground, my head instinctively turned, looking for someone, anyone who could come to my rescue.
Had help been right beside me, I might not have noticed; my blurry consciousness was pierced only by the monster whose footsteps were drumbeats in my ears and getting closer.
Marilyn…got to tell Marilyn…I…
 But no words could escape my lips. And then the suffocating pain shattered my world into a million pieces—like a tray of Pyrex beakers thrown to the floor. 
Then, in a flashback, I saw my drunken grandfather throwing empty whiskey bottles at the cats and heard the bottles breaking as they hit the parched earth in his yard.  The face of my inebriated grandfather flashed before me.  I remembered the gray stubble on his chin—and the lie he often told about death being the end.
Everything went black.

About The Author

A Kentucky native who has also lived a number of years in Ohio, David Royse is a professor in the University of Kentucky’s College of Social Work and has authored numerous professional articles and textbooks. 

The inspirational and thought-provoking A Ghost’s Story: Caught Between Life and Death is his first novel and draws upon his interest in the intersection of religious faith and the supernatural.  It has roots in his previous work on emotional abuse and its effects on adults as well as an early piece on the near-death experienceDavid is married to another faculty member, the father of two sons, and a grandfather to (almost) three boys.

Purchase A Ghost's Story at:


David Royce is giving away a copy of A Ghost's Story. To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You can enter the book giveaway twice—once on each Spotlight post for the author. Please note: The giveaway is for U.S. addresses only.


Deanna Stevens said...

I need to read how ~ a final showdown that will determine his fate forever... Sounds like a great story would love to win a copy :) dkstevensne *at* outlook dotcom

Linda Kish said...

This sounds like an interesting story that I would enjoy reading.

lkish77123 at gmail dot com

bn100 said...

That was a nice prologue

bn100candg at hotmail dot com

Patricia Bradley said...

Great excerpt! I've known men like the grandfather.

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