“The Haunted Groom” is a supernatural adventure story set largely in the Duluth bar scene. It explores PTSD, addiction, abusive relationships, and the coronavirus lockdown. Full story below.
Part 1: I Married a Ghost. Part 2: Trapdoor to Hell. Part 3: The Demonizer.
The Haunted Groom
by the Richardson Bros.
Part 1: I Married a Ghost
“Park Point beach ceremony falls to drone terror attack” – Duluth News-Tribune, 8/30/16
“You may kiss,” Father O’Malley said. Eva’s eyes were barely visible beneath the veil.
I lifted the lace and kissed her just as she was ripped from my arms. I alone escaped without a scratch, my tuxedo barely nicked by the flying shrapnel which tore her apart, and which tore apart our families, friends, Father O’Malley, the chauffeurs, the bartender… The ceremony was over. I had just married a ghost.
I haven’t changed clothes since. That was three years ago. A wisp of cordite lingers on me like a whiff of survivor’s guilt. The neck of my white ruffled shirt has stained with oils from my skin, as have the fraying hems of my sleeves and pants. All I can do is drink and smoke enough chiba to kill my nightmares. “I don’t want to dream anymore because I might dream of you… Eva…”
I hallucinate her though. And all of them. I forget they are mere projections and carry on conversations. Going out tempts trouble.
But I cannot handle my slow dying at home. Among our things. Looking at our family photos in the stairwell distills pure PTSD from me and leaves me ruined on the landing. But I cannot remove them. I cannot even reach for them.
I am wealthy now from our families’ money – cruelly, by default, I am sole living relative of those who died at the wedding. I can’t work. I quit showing up at the firm where I met her and our corny passion for justice united us… Our former life a hole in my mind I pour beer into. Impossible to drink them all away but I try. I abandon our house to rot, taxes unpaid as I liquidate my unwanted fortune to alcohol and hollow wanderings from bar to bar.
Eva’s non-existence consumes me. Leaning into it, I visit the graveyard to encourage the apparitions, a misguided attempt at exposure therapy. “Come, come, come to me,” I sing to her polished granite headstone, the evocative Velvet Underground line a love song turned afterlife summons, “I do believe, you are what you perceive…” Then I get a jump scare — in the reflection on the headstone, I see members of the wedding party behind me. My heart sinks. “This was a bad idea, I should not have come…”
I take a Lyft to Blush. I sit transfixed in the glow of the bar like a reptile under a heat lamp. The pulse of the disco lights hits me right in the theta waves. Now Eva fades in, drifting from the mirror behind the bar. Her wedding dress is blood-stained and licked by flame. She is seen only to me, the religious vision of an unhappy medium. Mercifully, her face remains beneath her smoldering veil.
She hands me a Surly Furious because she knows my fate is to be haunted. Her unmoored soul between worlds, phantom hand clasping the pint glass, our fingers touching but passing through each other like mists. My hand shakes like I’m having a stroke. Hers is perfectly still. I gulp at the beer before my tremors spill it.
I spin around on the barstool while her unseen eyes bore into the back of my head. The other patrons ignore me. They recognize madness. As the barstool stops, it puts me face-to-face with the flower girl and the ring bearer – Eva’s niece, and my nephew. Now they are child spirits as if ripped from “The Shining.” I chug the last of the pint, the booze a curtain descending on my pain play, muting it. I order another.
I’m at the Zeitgeist bar now. Powers… Writer’s Tears… Few… Russel’s… Baker’s… Booker’s… High West… Templeton Rye… stomach lining eaten away, a dissolving membrane between life and death.
I see her in the antique shop, the mirror behind the Luce bar, the sculpture garden. I return to the beach where she died. More alone there than anywhere else, I lie in the sand in front of the community center. People walk around me, a degenerate reprobate. I walk into the water and see her there, an aquatic image just beyond sight, the silty lake like a dark room. I walk the beach, a wet hobo.
I found therapy impossible. What they don’t tell you about therapy is you have to be remotely functional to seek it out, to shop around for the right shrink, and to stick to it. One night in my home I am overwhelmed and eat all the pills. Fade to black.
I wake up in Limbo – a featureless dimension of fog. Looking around I see it is crawling with unbaptized babies. But then Eva appears, and leads me to the bar there: The Discarnate Club. It is staffed and populated by pale demons with horns and shark teeth. I can see the Luce bar through the mirror.
Eva and I sit in a booth. She takes my hands in hers and, although they are cold, I realize we are touching for the first time in three years.
She speaks in her hollow, halting contralto: “What are you doing… it’s not your time… you have to go back…”
“But baby we can touch here. Please I need this, it’s been years… your death deranged me, I’m hurting so bad…”
“I can’t… I’m sorry…”
“Then I shall find a way to exorcise your spirit, and all our wedding party. If you have to die again in soul disruption, at least I’ll be free of you… I’ll send your souls to their final rest, instead of haunting me…” I awake in the St. Mary’s suicide ward.
Nurse: “You gave us quite a scare there.”
Behind her floats Eva, face obscured by the smoldering veil. I’ll carve a pentagram on the lake with an icebreaker if I have to.
Part 2: Trapdoor to Hell
Journal of Dr. Leon Oswald, the Morphogenetic Field Technician. Only the Groom survived Drone Man’s terror attack on the beach wedding in Duluth. Never removing his tuxedo, he became haunted by the wedding party. He was treated briefly by the psychiatrist Dr. Lenz, who assured him hallucinations are normal with PTSD. But once ghost sightings in Duluth saw an uptick, Lenz asked for my help as an expert in the paranormal. Could the Haunted Groom be a latent telekinetic, imbuing his hallucinations with greater and greater solidity? It’s only a matter of time before he, or his ghosts, scare someone to death.
I myself have seen the spectral limos trailing streamers through town, “Just Married” written across the back windows with shoe polish, tin cans on strings tied to the bumpers. Eva the Ghost Bride, veiled by a length of bloody and burning lace, follows him from bar to bar with their ghoulish entourage.
I dust photographic plates with ectoplasm to reveal supernatural influences, and these show the Haunted Groom leaning on the bar at Pizza Luce, his face in brooding shadow, the jovial wedding party of lunescent revenants crowding around and raising a toast.
Protected by this unholy guard, the Groom has gained notoriety for clearing haunted houses of wayward spirits, sending the damned back to Hell, and holding his own against invaders from the dimensions of Lovecraft.
No matter what he does, no matter how mundane, Eva’s there. In therapy he said, “I lost her. I’m just going to have to move on.” But then there she is behind Dr. Lenz, who tells him not to drink after their sessions, so his synapses can rewire. But the Groom walks right to the Ripple Bar and there she is. The phantom bartender from the wedding party mixes them otherworldly cocktails. “On the house for you two.”
“Please leave me,” the Groom begs the Bride, tears streaming hot into his invisible ice-cold martini. He knows he shouldn’t drink it.
His heart slumps as members of the party phase in among the living patrons, soon outnumbering them. The ghosts of his family and hers, the maid of honor, the best man, and the ushers timelessly celebrate the stillbirthed marriage. Outwardly he is a bachelor drinking alone, talking to himself.
The Groom walks to Va Bene, dines on the lower terrace watching bright sailboats race their own reflections. “I’m never alone long,” he thinks. Her magnificent dress delineates and there she is, intimately close yet unreachable. Her soul clings to love and life, but this half-life is all she can muster. Her presence and her absence place equal burdens on his mind. Bleakly he says, “I died with you, I hope you understand this.” She nods funereally and her eyes like hot pokers illuminate the veil from within.
He tries finishing his meal but, in his black depression, it is tasteless. So often nourished on catering from the other side, he forgets if he is eating real food or ghost food. “Please leave me,” he begs, tears peppering his calamari, “Please. I have to move on, baby.”
Like a transmission from another galaxy, she says, “I’m as devoted to you now as the day I died… darling… we’re needed on Goat Hill…”
Decrepit two-story house behind a wall and overgrown gardens. Abandoned furniture in a foreclosure. The local kids tell each other a trio of squatters were murdered here years ago by Satanic drifters, who were themselves beaten to death by the assembled neighborhood. But now the Amityville horror antics of the structure have cratered property values.
Dusk. Neighbors peer from curtains, hiding from their own oppressive guilt. The Haunted Groom walks through the broken gate. Then he steps over a neon sign that says “CONDEMNED” and enters the home unafraid. He fears nothing so much as Eva’s soul eerily floating by his side.
She plays clairvoyant tour guide as he snoops around the unflushable toilets of dried shit, used condoms abandoned on the living room carpet by brave teens on a dare… blood stains on the stairs, handprints smeared along the hall.
Eva narrates: “Here by wire… here by knife… here by bullet…”
Night. The home’s ghost trio appear and go full poltergeist. Objects shake and levitate amidst a storm of crying, stumbling, shrieking, vanishing, and sudden reappearances. Their wounds look fresh as if just inflicted. “Every victim of violence knows it lasts forever…” he thinks.
“Eva. Tell them we want them to join our wedding party. The spirit-champagne is bottomless and the conviviality of the dead is unmatched by the living. There’s room in our procession for three more souls, wouldn’t you say, darling?”
He faces her graveyard visage as a flicker of St. Elmo’s Fire races along the surface of the veil. She says, “Yes… of course…”
“What happened to the Satanists who killed these poor souls…? Those souls whom the neighborhood executed for their crimes?”
Eva says, “Lift my veil.”
“No.” He does not want to see her face. His hands shake in rebellion but he lifts it anyway.
Her face has become a trapdoor to Hell. Through the roaring blast furnace that used to contain her beauty, he sees the murderers tortured by shark-toothed demons in unspeakable ways. He lets the veil fall back.
The Groom staggers but finds his footing and stands tall. “Now tell me,” he demands, “Is your killer also in Hell? Do you see Drone Man in Hell where he belongs, for taking your face from me?”
The Haunted Groom emerges from the Goat Hill house. As the neighborhood trembles, the murder home implodes behind him like the House of Usher. Visible for a long moment to all, a procession of ghosts in tuxedos and gowns flows from the rubble. Insubstantial limos pull up and drive them away – now with three more souls.
For Goat Hill it was the lifting of a curse.
The Haunted Groom told me all this himself as I idly drifted with him one day. As for the nature of his condition, I have no conclusion. He either creates his reality as he goes, or finds it thrust upon him. The Duluth bar scene seems stuck with him either way. He believes he is haunted, and I respect that as a truth.
For the exploits he has racked up as a ghostbuster, he was offered grateful meals as we walked downtown. He refused them all.
He told me he was darkly buzzed on “otherworldly champagne from a slender glass of crystal light.” He downed this effervescence and hurled the glass against the curb. It passed silently into the underworld.
Part 3: The Demonizer
Coronavirus days of sheltering in place, world on lockdown. All the bars have closed.
The Haunted Groom feels the walls closing in. He can no longer run away from his own house to escape the memories and his severe depression. Now he is nailed to it, the home they moved into to start life. Life that curdled to anti-life. The Anti-home.
Not that he could escape her. The power of their connection magnetizes them far beyond their ability to control.
And their entourage, still trying to have their happy day from beyond the grave: sometimes he had been able to lose them by ducking into local drinking holes.
The owners and bartenders of the shuttered bars are privately relieved to have a break from him. Even as the razor’s edge of economic uncertainty cuts them deep, they know the Haunted Groom does not bathe but every couple months. His threadbare tuxedo, which he machine washes about that often, smells of body odor, naphthalene, and cigarette smoke. Desperation. He occasionally falls in the lake, getting an accidental rinse that way, but that has added an algae smell to his clothes. He talks to himself, sometimes loudly. Before the virus struck, he’d been 86’d from every bar in town at least twice.
He stumbles around the house, trying to read on the couch, hoovering up content on the streaming services, moaning, “I would kill for a happy hour at Luce… beer of the day at Sir Ben’s… Salty Dogs at Vikre… growlers at Hoops… martinis at Hanabi… tasting flight at 310 Pub… chiliguaros at the Roasteria… Red Ale at Carmody… Chester Creek Wine Bar… Canal Park Brewing Nut Hatchet….”
But he’s home now. He HAS to be home. The fashionable East End. “I hate it here,” he says. A round of panic buying at the liquor store has him set for months. The kitchen is a pile of unpaid bills, unwashed dishes, garbage, and recycling, festooned with haloes of fruit flies. He can barely see the lake from the window over the stacks of empty beer cans, whiskey bottles, wine boxes…
3 A.M. in the bedroom. The lighthouse light from miles away in the Superior Harbor Entry scythes into the window, glinting between stacks of Bent Paddle cans. He lies passed out on grimy satin sheets, on a four-poster bed by a glacier of dirty laundry. He has fallen asleep smoking a joint, shutting his nightmares down like a thick blanket smothering a fire. The roach, now out, has burned another hole in his tux. His laptop teeters on the edge of the bed, screen stained with food, fruitfly guts, and semen.
The laptop plays Hope Sandoval’s song “Suddenly Beside You” on a loop, an infinite playlist of one song. Like a critic wrote, the vocals sound “like she’s about to go to sleep for a long, long time”… the lyrics drowsily echo through the dark house: “…Keeping in among these days/ Everybody’s burned like you say/ Bring it home ‘cause you want to/ I’ll just be there to haunt you…”
Even though he gets high before bed, sometimes a dream slips through, like through a dreamcatcher torn like a cobweb. He is dreaming the tenderest dream where she is alive, and they lay together speaking softly. He’s not sure if he hates the good dreams more than the nightmares, both depress him upon waking. As the dream drains away like mercury between his fingers, he peeps an eye open fearing she is there.
Her silhouetted presence floats in the doorjamb, an apparition speckled with dabs of the Superior Entry light going round and round. He jerks reflexively. The laptop tips through a stack of tumbling beer cans to the floor. “Jesus Christ!” he says, ineffectually trying to arrest the clattering of the cans battering him awake with their cascade of noise.
“Why are you here?” he pleads, “Baby, why are you always here?” She floats into the light of the laptop screen, its ghostly blue jumpstarting her phosphorescence. The pulsing of the Superior entry plays into the St. Elmo’s Fire flickering around her veil. He shields his eyes. “Fuck,” he says, “Get out, GET OUT! You live here rent-free, I want you OUT!”
Her lips move behind the veil, uttering like rats scratching in the walls: “My love… look out… the window. We’re waiting for you. We’re going to the Hillside…”
He looks between the cans on the sill of the bedroom window. Idling in the street are the dim forms of the wedding party. The limo sits at the head of a line of sedans, the two dead families made of blocks of light and shadow, waiting beside the transparent vehicles. They gaze up at him with eyes that hold reveling, but also all the icy distance in the universe.
“Why can’t you take care of whatever it is yourself?” he spits, “Just go right the wrong, or banish the unholy, or whatever it is you do…”
“Because we haunt YOU… we can only go where YOU go… Let us go… please…”
He shuffles into his worn-out wholecut Oxfords. “Fine,” he says, grabbing a flask from the bedside table on his way out, snapping it open for a guzzle. They get in the limo like stepping into a block of moonlight.
The ghastly limo driver looks through the partition, intoning: “Delightful to see you, sir… champagne?”
“No thanks, Jeeves. I’m trying to cut down on spirits these days — I only drink the hard stuff.” Another guzzle.
The chauffeur offers a laugh as they pull away from the curb, the procession trailing like the tail of a comet. The cans tied to the bumper clatter like dancing bones.
The sleeping streets embrace them. The cops know better than to pull them over, even to enforce the quarantine. The wedding party is legendary among the force. “We’re not equipped to deal with this shit,” the officers say, snug in their speed traps, shuddering as the parade of ghost cars winds through the city. The one officer who tried pulling them over is still in an institution.
The wedding party pulls up to a typical example of sad housing stock in this poor neighborhood, the homes on this block built a foot apart with tiny lawns. The streetlight on the corner reveals the dirt yard is full of junk. The Bride and Groom exit the limo to perceive the screaming fight of an abusive relationship coming from the upstairs.
The Groom says, “Really? I’m going to risk getting Coronavirus to break up a white trash boy-girl fight?”
Eva says nothing, entering the house by phasing through the door like a hologram. “Shit,” he mutters and starts banging on the door. “Open up!” he shouts, “You guys are waking up the whole damned neighborhood!” The screaming has not stopped, if anything he thinks it may have taken on a more sinister character – some kind of twisted tragedy is playing out up there.
He kicks in the door. He finds himself facing a steep ascending staircase, living area to the left. A large woman in a flannel shirt and jeans leaps down the stairs head-first like a bounding attack dog, snarling and drooling. The brutal tackle that follows takes them out of the house and suddenly the Groom is fighting for his life on the front stoop.
The woman is on top beating him about the head and then commences strangling him. Concussed to the edge of consciousness, the Groom fishes his flask and lighter from his tux pockets. He douses the woman’s head with whiskey and lights her hair and face on fire.
But the strangling doesn’t stop. The Groom uses the flask like a hand-axe against the woman’s face, which he now clearly sees has sprouted devil-horns and rows of shark teeth, as if activated by the flames. He flails his free hand around in the yard, feels his fingers close around the frame of a tricycle. He bashes it into the demoniac face and gains a tenuous upper hand. Now straddling the creature, he bashes it with the tricycle relentlessly until the demon-woman lies still, face pulpy, broken shark teeth turning back into human teeth, horns receding.
The Groom staggers to his feet, feeling his throat. “I got her!” he calls out. “No way I got Coronavirus with her drooling on me like that!”
He realizes it feels good arguing with Eva – comfortable, like the old married couple they’d always wanted to be. Maybe they’d grown into this awful routine of need and resentment.
He glances about, long enough to notice no one in the surrounding houses have turned on lights, or seemingly stirred at all. They’ve all grown used to the endless drama of this place, and simply tune it out, in favor of their own tiresome dramas.
“Baby…?” he says. He realizes Eva is upstairs — the man of the house screams in the pale glows emitting from the upper windows. The Groom bolts for the door and pushes the stairs beneath him three at a time. He passes holes in the plaster walls as if these people had been searching for something, a way out maybe.
He arrives at the top of the stairs to see a bedroom played over in glows and ribbons of light. Eva is in full effect, hovering with supernatural lightshow before a stricken and terrified man in bed. The man startles as the Groom slowly enters.
“It’s okay sir, we’re going to get you out of here — aren’t we, Wifey…?”
Eva lashes out, animated by moral recoil, “This one’s not going anywhere — are you, Demonizer?” Flames billow from her restless veil.
“Be careful… She wasn’t the bad guy — he is!”
“Trust me,” the Groom says, “She’s a bad guy.”
“His power is Demonization…. he created her… he’ll do it to you, too…”
The man, now a feral form all his own, attempts a flying tackle. But, lifting her veil, the Bride sucks him into Hell through the firebox aperture that is her face. She lets the veil fall.
The light show has stopped. The Groom looks on blankly, loudly dropping his near-empty flask on the wood floor.
“So, I bashed an innocent woman’s teeth out, and got Coronavirus from her, and he was the bad guy?”
“It’s complicated,” the Bride says. He feels the residual heat of the damned in the air around her.
“And now… he’s a missing person? At least we know the cops won’t hassle us. They’ll say he beat her up and went on the lam… Are there kids here?”
“They’re locked… in their rooms.”
He sticks a broken cigarette in his bloodied mouth, and straightens his hopeless bow tie.
“Then let a priest handle the rest. I gotta go find my lighter in the yard. Can we get the f*** out of here now please? Turns out I drink ghost champagne after all. Let’s go for a nice long drive up the shore. You and me. All the ghosts. And that infinite party limo bar from halfway to Hell.”
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