Victor and I are on

a long drive.

I tell him,

time for a pit stop,


he says,


cause he needs gas


A sign we pass


gas station –

next exit.

There is only one,

and there are

no signs

for restaurants

or motels.

We pull off,

but there are

no directions

to the gas station.

We choose


and drive

for about a mile.

We notice

an abandoned building,

weed trees


through the roof.

No indication of life,

not a  grocery store,

not a church,

not a school.

We don’t glimpse a

single person,

not even

a dog

or a cat.

We’re about to give up


Victor spots the


He slowly pulls in

next to one of the


To our left

is a  bench


on it

sits a young

white woman,

considerably heavy.

The woman is wedged


to a young black man,

equally ample,



in between them

is a

listless baby.

No one is

making a


They are



road kill.

I feel a jittering

inside me.

I look to our right

and there is

an old black man


by the gas pumps.

I hop out of the car

and smile at him

and say,

do you have a


I can use?


he lifts a

stiff right arm



to the side of the


He doesn’t say

a word.

His gaunt face is



He isn’t looking

at me,


he isn’t looking

at anything else,


I say,


and run

to the side


find the


The door



The light


burned out.

There is no


just holes

in the wall


a sink

used to be.

There is a toilet.

I use it,


it flushes.

I dash back

to the car.

Victor is sitting


in the driver’s seat.

I hop back in the car.

You got the car gassed up


I say.

Buckle up,

Victor says,


I want to get

out of here.

I buckle up.

They don’t have

any gas,

he says.

The gas station

doesn’t have any


I say.


he says.

I take one look


at the four of them.




down my


I squeeze

Victor’s leg.


I say.

TAGS: , , , ,

IRENE ZION has been married to the same curmudgeon for 40 years. She has 5 children, none of whom sufficiently appreciates her. The one you probably know is Lenore, who frequently gives her mother hives. Irene paints oil portraits and makes her own frames. She has been described as an outsider artist. Most of her paintings creep people out, especially her family. She finds this to be greatly satisfying. She writes non-fiction for TNB and loves every minute of it. She is writing fiction now too, but is too chicken to show it to anyone. She has two golden retrievers who will inherit anything of worth she leaves behind. Her kids will delight in dividing up her famous cork collection and her notorious stockpile of bubble wrap.

155 responses to “The Ghost Town and the Ghosts”

  1. George says:

    This reads like the opening of a Twilight Zone story. Fortunately, it does not have an uphappy ending. I do like your metaphors, e.g. “They are still as road kill.”

  2. M.J. Fievre says:

    Wow. That was deliciously creepy 🙂 I love it, Irene. So full of tension. A great ride.

    • Irene Zion says:


      This was the creepiest place I have ever been.
      None of it made any sense
      and the people were so zombie-like, even the baby!

  3. I was waiting for that tune from Deliverance. What a strange little place.

    • Irene Zion says:

      I swear to you that we will never stop at a place without at least 6 gas stations on the sign from now on!

  4. Christine W. says:

    Wrong turn! I had a flat tire near Bluefield, West Virginia once. I could feel that same (zombies and/or inbred flesh eating humans fear) burning in the pit of my stomach from reading this! If they rattled Victor of all the people in the world, then it must have been extremely nightmarish. I’m glad no one is wearing your faces as masks! 🙂

    • Irene Zion says:

      Oh. Oh. Oh. ICK!
      Christine, you really know how to make the creepy creepier!
      Wearing our faces as masks?

  5. George says:

    Wonderfully eerie and artfully written. I love this piece!

    • Irene Zion says:

      Why, thank you, George.
      I appreciate your not freaking me out even more like Christine did!
      Kind words, George, kind words.

  6. JM Blaine says:

    i told my wife once I wish
    we had a car that could go from
    Nashville to La. without having to stop
    for gas.
    ‘What about the bathroom?”
    “I wish we had a car with a bathroom,” I told her.
    Because at just about any rest stop
    in Mississippi, Alabama and rural La.
    you will see this sort of stark hopelessness
    & it scares the hell out of you
    you forget that there is another whole
    world of living
    dead in america

    • Irene Zion says:


      You are telling
      the truth here.
      We cross the country
      There is
      another whole world
      of living dead

  7. Richard Cox says:

    This was really creepy. It reminded me of “Children of the Corn.” The short story, not the goofy film.

    Your writing moves with such intensity and imagery. Somewhere between a poem and prose.

    Loved it.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Why aren’t you the gallant one, Richard!
      I appreciate your kind words.
      I don’t know what to call what I write, so I just usually stick with memoir.
      (Just oddly formatted….)

  8. Ben says:

    As noted above, this reads like the opening to a horror story. One of those that spends the first half setting the scene and the second half with the protagonists fleeing something after witnessing a murder/abduction/other thing.

    Good work. Get Lonny to write a second half and Lenore to fill in some disgusting parts. Then sell it to Eli Roth. It’ll be fun.

    • Irene Zion says:

      This sounds good, but first I have to find out who Eli Roth is.
      I probably should know that, eh?
      Lenore’s disgusting parts are so very disgusting, though….

      It really did feel like we were actually in a horror story!
      Creeped Dad out for the whole day.
      I’m creeped out more easily, so I’m still creeped out!

  9. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Irene, M.J. hit the nail on the head with “creepy” – delightfully so. And I love the formatting you use – the short bursts, succinct phraseology, the architecture of the lines. Was it truly that creepy or was there some artistic license here?

    Having said that, please tell Victor not to sit in the car when he’s waiting for you and utterly creeped out. It makes him a sitting duck, provides no real cover, reduces his visibility and limits his mobility (assuming, of course, that he doesn’t plan on driving off and leaving you to your own devices, considerable though they may be). At the very least, keep it running and in gear should he suddenly need to run down shambling mobs of the undead while you freshen up. And perhaps rent “Zombieland” for a list of other rules to follow to avoid being devoured.

    • Irene Zion says:


      You say Victor shouldn’t have stayed in the car because he was a sitting duck,
      but where would he have gone?
      If he had gotten out of the car…Huh….
      I wonder how he found out there was no gas?
      He probably did get out of the car, but the pumps weren’t working.
      Since no one was speaking or moving,
      It seems sensible to get the car started again for the getaway.
      He just wanted me to get the hell back in the car
      and get out of there.

      You are right that we should have been armed
      with what ever you kill zombies with.
      Is it a scythe?

      Oh, the image of the zombie baby crawling after us just
      entered my brain and it’s just
      sitting there.

      I don’t think I could use the requisite scythe on
      a zombie baby!

  10. Irene Zion says:


    It was MORE creepy than I was able to tell.
    I have never, ever experienced such a thing.
    At first I thought it was some movie set we had stumbled onto.

    The weird thing was that he wasn’t standing up pumping gas when I got back.
    He looked so strange sitting there all stiff!
    He did have the car running, THANK GOD!

    I don’t think he would’ve left me, but I think perhaps we should travel armed.
    (Can you stop a zombie with one of those shocker things?)

    The one thing that was clear is that these people were so still that they seemed incapable of moving quickly. I’m pretty sure we could’ve left our car and run away from them, run to the highway, and flagged down a good honest American Trucker!

  11. stephanie says:

    Sounds frightening

  12. Irene Zion says:


    It was ten, twenty, a hundred times more frightening than I was able to portray!
    Zombies in a Ghost Town, for crissake!

  13. Uche Ogbuji says:

    As I said before this is “a creepy story, told with atmosphere of silent alarm.” I love it, but more importantly, I’m glad you guys made it out of what was surely the Silent Hill town

  14. Irene Zion says:


    That trailer actually stopped my heart.

    I’m surprised it didn’t kill me.

    There is no way on earth I could go to such a movie!

    I’m afraid that is precisely the sort of thing going through our minds in this otherworldly place.

    We were both scared, and Victor NEVER gets scared.

    (He’d deny it, of course.)

    Thanks for the kind words, Sweet Uche.

  15. Amy says:

    Only you and Victor can find places like that. I broke down in nowhere off of I-95 just across the state line in Florida. The nicest rednecks stopped to help and offered to have their buddy in GA tow us to his station an hour away. Luckily I found another nice gentleman to hook us up with a garage a lot closer. Guess I wasn’t far enough off the beaten path to find the strange ones you guys did.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Amy, heart of my heart,
      That is the way it is supposed to be!
      That is how it always has been for us.
      But this time?
      Willies out the wazoo time.
      Zombie time.
      I hope this never happens again, we leave Wednesday on another extended road trip!

  16. Zara Potts says:

    The town wasn’t in Nebraska by any chance was it? Simon and I passed through several creepy little places on our road trip!

    But Irene! This was spooky as hell. The economy of words works really well here. I read it really fast because it was giving me the creeps! Yick!
    Nice work.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Nope, Zara,
      You from New Zealand have been through Nebraska, I, from Brooklyn, have not.
      There is a certain irony in that.

      I tried to write it as spooky as it actually was.
      Thanks for getting the creeps!
      Just what I was after.

      (Just what do you say in New Zealand for the creeps or the willies?)

      • Zara Potts says:

        We say ‘The Goob.’

        As in: ‘That gives me The Goob.’

        Or: “He really gives me The Goob.’

        • Irene Zion says:

          Whoa! Zara!

          That’s appropriately weird for New Zealand!

          This place gave me The Goob!

          (It’s not even the goobs, plural?)

        • Zara Potts says:

          No! definitely not, goobs.

          Just THE GOOB.

          A girlfriend said to me the other day about some guy who has been courting her: ‘When he kissed me, it gave me The Goob.’

          It’s a bad thing.

          The Goob. The Goob. The Goob.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Forget you coming here, Zara,
          I’ve got to go there and learn the lingo!
          It’s fabulous!

          This place gave us The Goob!

        • Zara Potts says:

          You must come here and say that something is giving you The Goob. It’s a brilliant turn of phrase, I think.
          Ugh, Zombies give me The Goob.

        • Irene Zion says:

          We’ve been in lots of places in the world,
          but never New Zealand, Zara.
          One day we might just show up at your door.
          (We’d probably warn you first.
          and we’d want to meet your mother, of course.)

  17. Tim says:

    Those small towns give me the creeps. I’m meant to be surrounded by concrete jungle.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Small towns are usually wonderful places.
      This was not a small town, it was a ghost town, peopled by either ghosts or zombies, I’m not sure which.
      Concrete is good, though.

  18. This was
    a wonderful post,
    Full of small-town
    jittery creeps.

    Left me wondering
    what was
    going to


    • Irene Zion says:


      We were so afraid of what was going to happen next!

      All I can say is, rudimentary as it was, it did have a toilet!

      As I just mentioned, I think they might’ve been zombies, because zombies are known to move extremely slowly, right?

  19. Frank says:

    George pegged it!

    My first thought was not a thought, per se, just “Do dee doo-doo, Do-dee doo-doo…”

    Sally called it “spooky”.

    THIS, Irene, is the stuff Edgar Allen Poe is made of!

    And you really captured lightning in a bottle -I don’t know many more perfect little gems than this…!

    My second thought is “There’s money in this, a screenplay, a half-hour (20 mins story time, sans commercials) creepy SF show… Or maybe the skeleton to a much larger, more more horrific full-length novel/movie… It brought back shades of the queasy fear I felt in “To Kill A Mockingbird”, too…

    I can’t wait to hear Victor’s version, giggle-giggle…

  20. Irene Zion says:

    Why thank you, kind sir!
    “lightening in a bottle” feels real fine, yes it does.
    “perfect little gem” feels splendid, yes it does.

    Casting for this would be cheap, because, except for me and Victor, they can all be cadavers.
    I’m pretty sure cadavers work cheap.

    • Frank says:

      “I’m pretty sure cadavers work cheap”

      Wail, chile, whyn’tcha jes go back’n ask’em?

      This was such a good story, Irene, I just assumed it was set in the middle of the night -but it wasn’t there in the story at all! THAT, my friend, is one measure of just how good this one was…!

  21. Irene Zion says:


    I will avoid this place for the rest of my life.
    I am quite sure that they were either dead or zombies or ghosts.
    You don’t survive that a second time!

    Thanks again, Frankie!

  22. Joe Daly says:

    What I found most creepy about this story is how the story progressed with more and more intensity, as less and less happened. Each time it felt like we were about to reach an “Ah ha!” moment, there was just an eerie vacancy into the next paragraph.

    I’m still expecting part 2, where you get chased by zombies. That would be less scary than what happened!

    • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

      I’ve got the sink right here, Joe. Their brains are in it.
      Ah ha!

    • Irene Zion says:


      This was actual fear we felt.
      Not the kind you get from a scary movie.
      The real thing.
      I’ve never been afraid of a place
      or of people in my life before.
      I’ve been afraid of someone I love being sick,
      or injured,
      or dying,
      but never of people
      or a place.
      It’s entirely different.

      • Joe Daly says:

        I totally get that. Which is why it almost felt like a horror movie to me- where the people on the screen are experiencing real fear, and we the audience are observing with that mix of white-knuckled anxiety. Very well done in getting your emotions across.

  23. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Wow. This is so well done. I can totally see this place. It becomes more and more vacant as the story progresses and really leaves me wondering about the people there. Not so much who they are, but what are they doing there? It’s so bizarre. It’s not just dysfunctional, it’s non-functional. What’s the point of hanging around? Is there a drug deal or an illegal adoption getting ready to go down or do they really have nothing better to do and no place better to go? I’ve always been drawn to far out places and people, maybe because they always finally bring you to that line. The one you don’t cross.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Lisa Rae,

      I can’t even imagine where they came from.
      There were no houses anywhere.
      They were just sitting in the middle of nowhere.
      I think that they just had nothing to do
      and no energy to do it.

      I think they were the wretched of the earth.

  24. Ben Loory says:

    just so long as you didn’t buy any meat products while you were there, you’re okay…

    • Irene Zion says:


      We just wanted gas!
      Meat products?
      Oh Lord, now there’s another story
      wrapping itself up inside my brain.
      It is not a nice story.

  25. Pat Gray says:

    Very creepy! I grew up in rural Illinois (very rural) and this is not normal. It may have been Twilight Zone but I was glad this experience was yours and not mine. I get creeped out very easily. Fun to read and great writing. Irene, always a pleasure.

  26. Irene Zion says:


    Small towns in this country are wonderful places where everyone cares about everyone else and looks in on them when they’re sick or old or new to town.
    This wasn’t a small town.
    This was either a ghost town or a zombie town.
    There were only the three adults and that doomed baby there.

  27. Gloria says:

    I want to use the word creepy, but everyone has already used it. But it’s the best word, really. I’ll bet that was the most uncomfortable pee in a strange place that you’ve ever taken.


    • Irene Zion says:


      I really had to pee!
      I went with the door open and no lights
      and no sink to wash up!
      At least I had a kleenex in my pocket.

      I’ve been in nastier bathrooms plenty of times,
      holes in the ground-type places,
      but this whole scene was something
      I have never, ever experienced before.

      Poor Victor!
      If I had known there wasn’t any gas,
      I could have held it!
      Poor thing just sitting
      with those zombies all around,
      waiting for me!

      And no zombie weapons at all!

  28. Jessica Blau says:

    Wow, wonderfully eerie and uncomfortable. Like a perfect opening for a thriller. Are you going to use it and write a thriller? Can I use it if you don’t?

    I LOVE when you write about Victor. There’s something about your pieces with Victor in them that remind me Phyllis on the old Mary Tyler Moore show when she talked about Lars. Lars was such a powerful presence on the show but we never SAW him or HEARD him. We only knew him through Phyllis, just like we only know Victor through you.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Damn, Jessica Anya,
      I guess I shouldn’t waste it, eh?
      I’ll have to get the gears rolling to change
      non-fiction into fiction.

      Victor has only read my very first TNB, years ago.
      He has no idea what I say about him.
      It’s his own fault,
      he could read it if he chose to.

      He rarely reads Lenore’s stuff either,
      only years ago when she twisted his arm.
      She doesn’t do that anymore,
      not for ages.

  29. Judy Prince says:

    I agree with everyone, Irene! This creeped the geebunkles outa me! I got the shivers, my love—-and it’s bedtime over here. Magnificent tension in this write-up, but next time I do wish you’d post a warning, some kind of scare-o-meter thingie. Like George said, this is right out of Twilight Zone’s best weirdies. Gad, and VICTOR was creeped, too! Back to the $89 trips to the Mounties, fr goodness sakes.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Oh Judy,
      I’m sorry I scared you at night!
      It was entitled with Ghost in it….
      That should be some warning, eh?

      This happened last year,
      before the $68 tickets to the exalted Mounties.

      I loved the little video of your play!
      When can we see the whole thing?
      Or at least read it!

      How was the you-know-what?
      Want to hear about the day!

      • Judy Prince says:

        Indeed, Irene, your writing “ghost” twice in the title shoulda been a clue to me that you’d be creeping me out—-but, silly me, I thought you’d meant HAHA ghosts!!! Egad, even now I felt compelled to reread the post, having had my requisite night-time sleep…..”weed trees growing out of the roof”…….yeeks! I’ve gotta put it down now! You’ve uncovered for yourself a whole new direction in writing. I’ll call it creeping-out prose. Never ever to be underestimated. The Dark Side, et al. Your “creeping out” prose will be the ONLY such prose I’ll read bcuz, damn it, you are profoundly talented at it.

        The “Day” is one day after Thanksgiving Day. I’ll let you know all about it!

        I’m super-delighted you liked the little “Feathers” scene; hope the actors have spare time for us to video a nother scene from the play and further into their relationship.

        • Irene Zion says:

          You were thinking of the good kind of ghosts, like Caspar?
          He was a friendly ghost.

          Maybe that was the house that they lived in
          when they weren’t sitting like corpses
          at the gas station.

          That is a very good day.

          I hope you get the whole play produced really soon so we can finally see it, if you don’t only show it in Britain! That’s an expensive theater ticket if you include the flights and hotel.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Yes, Irene—-I’d come to expect a lovely jokey tableaux—–not a damned-people Dark Side diorama! I HOOTED at this:

          “Maybe that was the house that they lived in
          when they weren’t sitting like corpses
          at the gas station.”

          It’s an unremarkable day here in England, but we’ll be celebrating remarkably. 😉

          We’ll try to have a USA production and a UK production; it’s only fair, after all. OH, don’t I wish it were that easy having one’s plays produced ANYWHERE!!!!!!! But keep thinking your Bright Side plans for it, Irene. From your lips to God’s ears.

        • Irene Zion says:


          I’m pretty sure that God listens to me all the time,
          I think he’s making a list of reasons
          why I suck.
          I may not have the pull you need here.
          But I’ll think good thoughts, anyhow.

          Does Rodent mind the rat recipes below?
          I wonder if he takes his name that seriously.
          Wouldn’t want to offend the “bloke!”

          (I’m thinking that’s just slang for “guy” so I hope
          it wasn’t something insulting instead.)

        • Judy Prince says:

          I just saw God making a list of your latest TNB posts, and she was laughing! Except at this creepy one, natch. She thinks you rock, Irene!

          Dear Rodent would prolly not get upset at rat recipes, but I think I’m gonna be sick.

          Let’s ask Steve Sparshott about “bloke”—-I’d thought it meant “guy”, as well, but it might mean pimp or something—–hoo nose?

          When dear Rodent awakens from his nap, I’ll ask him for the meaning and etymology of “bloke.” Maybe he and Steve will have different interps.

          I wonder where David Wills is, BTW. We could benefit from a Scottish take on “bloke”.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Oh, now I’ve made you both
          frightened and sick!
          I think the bad list is getting longer.

          (You can see God, Judy?
          That’s pretty cool.)

          Thanks for finding out if I insulted Rodent for me.

          I think that David Wills must be moving,
          cause he always checks in.
          He was finally leaving his old place for
          another country,
          just in time,
          in my opinion.

          Who knows if the Scottish say “bloke” anyhow?
          Did you see what Zara said the creeps or the willes are in New Zealand?
          “The Goob!”
          Maybe there’s a similar word in Scotland.

          By the way, ask Rodent,
          when he wakes up,
          what the willies or the creeps are in Britain
          for me, okay?

        • Judy Prince says:

          “Oh, now I’ve made you both
          frightened and sick!”

          Ah well, Irene, another lunch lost, no biggie. 😉

          God looks look a hot fudge sundae, but maybe that’s only *my* view of her.

          Right, I’d forgot that David Wills was skedaddling out of S Korea and I think briefly visiting the USA and then settling either in Taiwan or……hmmmm……can’t remember where.

          Somehow “the goop” sounds too goopey to represent the creeps which should be less liquid and more crawley.

          Excellent idea to ask Rodent what the English and Scottish words for creepy would be. He’s still napping, and now I’m getting sleepy, too.

        • Irene Zion says:

          You go get some rest, Judy,
          It’s probably the middle of the night
          over there on the other side of the world!

        • Judy Prince says:

          It’s 8 hours later than in L.A., for example, Irene. Therefore, now it’s just before 4 in the afternoon here in England, perfect nap time!

        • Judy Prince says:

          Irene, you said:

          “Wouldn’t want to offend the “bloke!”

          (I’m thinking that’s just slang for “guy” so I hope
          it wasn’t something insulting instead.)”

          So here goes a fast ride through wordsville via Rodent.

          In England, yes, you’d *colloquially* (not slang’ly) say “bloke” which is pretty much equivalent to “guy”. But it’s more likely to be read than said, bcuz it’s a bit archaic. You’d most likely say “mate”, rather than “bloke” nowadays.

          My favourite, though, is a word I heard used for women and men in the East Midlands of England: “me duck”, pronounced: “me-DUKE”!

          In Scotland if talking about, not to, a guy, you’d say: “Look at him….” But if you’re addressing the guy you’d say: “Hey, Jimmy…..”

          In Scotland if talking about or to a woman, you’d say: “Hen”; e.g., “What are you on about, Hen?”

          There you are, then!

        • Irene Zion says:

          Oh Judy,
          here I go being old-fashioned using colloquialisms from another country.
          That stings!
          “Me duck” is pretty weird. I can’t see putting that in a sentence.
          Hen is certainly better than cow, eh?

          But, Judy!
          You forgot to ask about the willies, the creeps!
          How do they say that in Britain and Ireland and Scotland?
          I’m sure it’s different and just as strange as
          New Zealand’s: “The Goob!”

        • Judy Prince says:

          Irene, Rodent says he’d (both Englandishly or Scottishly) say the same thing you would; e.g., the willies or the creeps. But if you’re using creepy as an adjective, you could use “eldrich”. Which I’ve never heard and don’t have a clue as to its etymology, and Rodent has gone upstairs to do stuff on his computer. I’ll carry on watching the DVD “Notting Hill”—-which begins hilariously but has tended to get boring as it goes on, like “Two Weddings and a Funeral”. I’m at the garden bench-sitting scene.

        • Irene Zion says:


          Eldrich is one of my favorite words.
          It means SPOOKY!
          I never use it because,
          with the exception of Rodent apparently,
          no one knows what it means.

          I’m very disappointed in the British and the Scottish that they don’t have their own words for the creeps or the willies.

          Where is Simon?
          I wonder if in Australia they use the same The Goob as in New Zealand?

        • Judy Prince says:

          Totally incredible, Irene! “Eldrich” for spooky? How did you come to know it? It sounds like somebody’s name, not a descriptive word. Now, really, I should google it but am going back to bed. (It’s 1 am here; prolly around 8 am where you are)

        • Judy Prince says:

          Oops, I mean prolly around 7 PM where you are (i.e., 6 hours earlier than here).

        • Irene Zion says:

          I mislead you.
          Zara just pointed out that I’ve been writing “The Goop.”
          That’s wrong.
          It’s “The Goob!”
          I have trouble with directionality and get side to side mixed up
          Sorry for the confusion.
          “The Goob!”

        • Judy Prince says:

          Can you give a sample sentence using “Goob”, Irene—-I almost called you Catherine. I must be evolving towards your nickname.

          BTW, dear Rodent has some Larrikin poems, so if Zara wants them, Rodent will email them to her back channel—-too many to post on this comment board.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Whoa, Judy,
          I am so not a Catherine.

          Zara said it like this:
          That guy gives me The Goob.
          This place gives me The Goob.

          The funny thing is that it’s always singular. She’s finding out from Simon, who is MIA at the moment, if there is a different Australian word for the creeps.

          What are Larrikin poems?
          I’ve never heard of that term.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Irene, whilst dear Rodent is standing here captive, having just brought groceries in, I’ll have him dictate to me what Larrikin poetry is:

          “Colloquial street verse in urban Australia [Sydney] from late 19th–early 20th century. Most of it is by middle-class writers slumming, but some anonymous texts do exist — mostly from a magazine called The Dead Bird. If anyone wants to know more, they can email me back channel via Judy. There’s too much material to post here.”

          Further, he says, the Scottish variant of The Goob would be “He gives me the heebie-jeebies.”

          Which, I hasten to add to Rodent’s text, is the same as in USAmerica (heebie-jeebies).

        • Judy Prince says:

          Also, Irene, Rodent says that “pooka” is an Irish term for a supernatural creature of some sort, one of which figures in Flann O’Brien’s first novel, At Swim Two Birds.

          Hence, I think Pookie is the affectionate form of the name for a supernatural creature whom you named Lenore.

        • Irene Zion says:


          I totally forgot about the heebie-jeebies! Thanks for reminding me!
          Yup, that is definitely American too.

          How in heaven’s name does Rodent have a knowledge of Larrikin Poetry? It sounds pretty esoteric.
          Is he from New Zealand? I thought he was British.

          I think you might win Lenore over with your nickname because of the irish term for a supernatural creature and all. (And then the novel’s name, of course.) Sounds to me like you got it.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Irene, Rodent says that in researching his book on cant language in English from 1500 to 1900, he came across a poem called “Fanny Fluckem’s Ball” (or something like that; Rodent will post the poem later here) which reminded him of similar poems written in London the late 19th century. After that, he began to dig around.

          P.S. Rodent says he’s not British, he’s Scottish!

          P.P.S. I just cut Rodent’s hair to look like Hugh Grant’s in “Notting Hill”, the film which *did* get past its brief boring part. It was quite fun, even made me tear-up a few times towards the end. I cut my hair to look like Judy Prince, only a little shorter than in the Gravatar picture. Rodent’s so fortunate to have wavy hair. Mine’s stick straight. Is this fair? I think not.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Please give my humble apologies to Rodent. Since you were in Britain, I made the stupid assumption that he was British. Scottish it is!

          I would love to hear the poem: “Fanny Fluckem’s Ball!”

          At least we usually don’t go bald, although I did have a great, great aunt that had a little blue tuft on the top of her head and nothing else.

          I am humiliated to admit that I have never heard of the Cant language. Can you edify me?
          (I am educable, I am simply ignorant.)

        • Rodent says:


          Here’s “Fanny Flukem’s Ball’ – c 1890/91. It was published anonymously in _The Dead Bird_, a somewhat dubious Sidney newspaper of the time. If I were anywhere near Sidney, I’d love to trawl the archives to see if there are any more like it. The best of the non-anonymous writers of Larrikin poetry was Louis Esson, in _Red Gums and Other Verses_ (Melbourne, 1912).

          As to cant, the special language of criminals which appears suddenly throughout Europe in the fifteenth century, and reaches England by the early sixteenth century — well, it’s different from jargon and slang. Other than that ….



          Fanny Flukem’s Ball

          Now, listen, rorty bummers,
          And line up where I stand,
          I’ll tell you of a ryebuck spree—
          Gor’, blue me, it was grand.

          Twas in Conky Bob’s old stable,
          Who had lent it to the boys
          On condition that they’d not get juiced
          Or kick up any noise.

          There was Paddy down from Gipps Street,
          And Mickey from the Rocks,
          And Ginger from the Glebe way,
          With blue metal in his socks.

          A couple of blokes from Tempe,
          With two molls from Waterloo,
          Who tried to brush in on the nod,
          But found it wouldn’t do.

          For Little Ginger kept the door,
          And swore ‘Lor’, strike him fat,’
          If they didn’t part their deeners up
          he’d lay ‘em cold and flat.

          Fat Mag came down from Crown Street.
          With little flat-foot Poll,
          And Sally Jerks, the ice -cream bart,
          And Bluey Murphy’s doll.

          They had lancers, waltz and polka,
          Fitzroys and Alberts, too.
          And Fat Mag performed the barn dance
          With a bloke from Woolloomooloo.

          When Sal Jerks got the needle,
          And, with many jeers and scoffs,
          Says, ‘Blue me, I know people
          Who fancy they are toffs.

          I’m a cut above such jigs as that;
          For, spare me days, I am,
          But it narks a bloomin’ girl to see
          Such trollops put on jam.’

          Then Fat Mag sailed in and mixed it,
          And said, ‘You ice-cream trash,
          I didn’t come in on the nod,
          But parted up my smash.

          ‘Mv old man’s not in Sturro,
          My brother ain’t done time.
          You are only bones and leather,
          While I am fat and prime.’

          Then Micky from the Rocks jumped up
          And said ‘blame ‘er, you know,
          If any bloke in the bleeding crowd
          Would like to have a go.

          ‘I’m quiet, I am, till I’m narked;
          My talent are the same,
          But when we deal it out you’ll find
          We are no mugs at the game.’

          ‘Line up, boarders.’ cried out Ginger,
          ‘Let ‘em have it,’ says Fat Mag;
          Our trouble’s for such cadgers,
          If we have to do a drag.’

          Then Paddy down front Gipps Street
          Socked Micky from the Rocks,
          While Ginger made things lively
          With the metal in his socks.

          The Tempe blokes just stopped one each
          And then they guyed a whack.
          ‘It isn’t on our programme
          And, Gor’ bli’me we are jack.’

          The cops then came upon the scene
          And lumbered one and all.
          A quid and cans was the result
          Of Fanny Flukem’s ball.

          Graham Seal , The lingo – listening to Australian English, p. 43

        • Judy Prince says:

          Oh dear, Irene, you’re pore blue-tufted great great aunt!

        • Irene Zion says:

          First, I have to thank you, Rodent, for bothering to try to educate me.
          Can you tell me if the Cant Language is always basically English, or does it blend into the other languages of Europe among the criminals? What countries did it reach? This is absolutely fascinating. How do you determine a language from something that is slang?
          (What an interesting field you are in!)
          Now I’ll go read the poem.

        • Irene Zion says:

          That is just wonderful!
          Somehow I think I understand it, for the most part.
          I’m a little unsure about parting their deeners up, but I can use my imagination.
          How wonderful that not only is there a language that criminals came up with,
          but that they use that language not only in communication,
          but in art as well.
          This is enthralling!
          I’m going to show it to Uche,
          I think he’ll love it, if he already doesn’t know about it.
          (It’s very hard to find something that Uche hasn’t already known, hook, line and sinker.)

        • Irene Zion says:

          What if it happens to LENORE?
          It’s in the genes and all….

        • Rodent says:

          Hi, Irene,

          Sorry about the delayed response …

          “Can you tell me if the Cant Language is always basically English, or does it blend into the other languages of Europe among the criminals? What countries did it reach?”

          It’s found throughout various countries in Europe, and the languages are distinct, but all seem to emerge at roughly the same time in Western Europe from around the mid-fifteenth century onward. Called “Reitwelch” (Red Welsh) in Germany, “germania” in Spain, “peddlar’s french” in England (odd how it always seems to be named after how people speak somewhere else!), beginning in the north of Europe and spreading. Somehow connected with the arrival of the gypsies, but there’s some dispute as to just how or to what degree — Alice Beker-Ho (widow of Guy Debord, which is a name that probably doesn’t mean much to anyone who wasn’t young in Europe in 1968) is the main proponent of the, “It all goes back to Romany” theory in _The Princes of Jargon_. I used to go for this, but I’ve become a bit skeptical since I discovered the Winchester Confessions of 1616 which give a Romany glossary that’s completely different from the English thieves’ cant of the time.

          In French, it was associated with a group called the Coquillards, and is found in some of the poems of Francios Villon. (Ask Uche about the difference between Villon’s “poems en jargon”, and the varying degree of influence of Coquillard terms elsewhere in “The Testament” — I’m sure he’d give a much more lucid explanation than I could. 🙂 )

          “This is absolutely fascinating. How do you determine a language from something that is slang?”

          Mostly it’s a matter of degree, and context — the differences between the various kinds of non-standard language. Dialect would be the most “completely” a language, slang the least. Both slang and cant tend to work primarily by lexical substitution, and are highly metaphorical, but cant more than slang, and cant is usually specifically associated with criminals. But the two blur into each other at points.


        • Irene Zion says:


          I think it is extremely odd that the cant in each country is named after a different country.
          Also odd, is the fact that it seems to have arrived in so many places at the same time among the criminal class.
          Would you have a book to recommend to me, to start my education about cant? Something rudimentary, clearly, since I had never heard of it before.
          What a gallant Scott you are, R., to answer my questions so comprehensibly.

  30. Lenore says:

    at least you got to pee.

    • Irene Zion says:

      You bet!
      Could’ve even been worse!

    • Judy Prince says:

      “at least you got to pee”—–I love you, Lenore!

      • Irene Zion says:

        Isn’t she wonderful, Judy?
        She has perfected snide.

        • Judy Prince says:

          I totally heart Lenore Zion, my dear friend. She’s a brilliant, multi-gifted woman, but we won’t mention how beautiful she is or we might spoil her unspoiledness.

          I wish I could call her Pookie.

        • Irene Zion says:

          You got it, Judy.
          This is my gift to you.
          I will call her Pookie
          from now on.

          She will seethe
          and smoke will come out of her eyes
          and it will be

          because Lenore,
          (Pookie, I mean,)
          is so very easy to tease.

        • Judy Prince says:

          No, Irene, don’t YOU call her Pookie!

          First I’ll courteously ask her if I may call her Pookie. She should decide what I’ll call her.


          Except on TNB bcuz of possible confusion on the comments board, I seldom call my friends/family by their given names, making up affectionate alternative names for them. I hope you will understand, dear Pookie.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Well Judy,

          Sheesh! I didn’t know the rules!
          It’s not fair to not let the person playing the game
          know she’s not really playing the game.
          But you’re forgiven.
          I jumped the gun,
          so to speak.
          I wonder if she’ll see this.

        • Lenore says:

          judy, you may call me whatever you like. i can’t promise i’ll know you’re talking about me, though. i respond best to “Lenore,” or “that girl with the abusive mother.”

        • Judy Prince says:

          Now that you mention it, Lenore, your name is gorgeous as it is. And Pookie sounds silly. I’d have to know more about you, I guess, to give you a good diminutive….or maximutive. I’ll sleep on it, as they say. Do you have any nicknames?

        • Judy Prince says:

          OK, I slept on it, and still like calling you Pookie, Lenore. Let’s see how it goes. Now I’m thinking of a nother name for Irene. Will sleep on it.

  31. I’m a sucker for a snapshot that I totally believe, and where absolutely nothing happens.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Well, Sean,

      I did get to pee.
      That’s nothing to sneeze at on a long car ride!

      (Thanks for the sweet comment, Sean!)

  32. After reading your story, I believe you were at the Zombie Oil Station which is always on the outskirts of A Village of the Undead. Try the stewed brains at the Do Drop Dead Inn.

    • Irene Zion says:

      So Aney,

      (new nickname?)

      I am absolutely sure that we were at the Zombie Oil Station,
      but what doesn’t make sense
      is why they were out of gas!
      Why have a business that can’t provide a service?

      We steered way clear of the Village of the Undead.

      I’m very much afraid, that even after this experience,
      had Victor seen a sign for
      “Stewed Brains,”
      he would have driven directly there to eat them.

      The “Do Drop Dead Inn” should be a warning, but
      nothing keeps Victor from disgusting foods.

      You can’t believe what he’s eaten already!
      He was heartbroken in China that the tour guide wouldn’t take us to one of the

      I had to capitalize that, because people don’t know the rat restaurants in China are like
      McDonalds here. To be fair, I was willing to eat rat too. We’ve eaten Guinea Pig and it tastes really good, like pork. I think rat would be similar, don’t you?

  33. Mark Rotunda says:


    Excellent story. Probably my favorite. Well, except for the Tim and Lenore car theft story. Anyway, I must know where this town is I am deeply intrigued.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Thanks, Mark,
      but your family will kill me if I tell you where this place is!
      I know you want to go photograph it.
      So many of your photographs are just as spooky as this place.
      But this place felt dangerous, and I just won’t tell you.

  34. Re: Rats
    foraging rats–always grilled, lab rats–always roasted–both topped with lemon grass, dill, chives and butter pecan ice cream–to die for

    • Irene Zion says:


      (What? No nickname anymore?)

      That sounds delicious.
      You cook it and Victor and I will come down
      and eat the foraging type
      the first night
      and the roasted the third.
      I think we should leave a day between for some
      Jambalaya and Gumbo, eh?
      Are the oysters okay down there?
      (God, I hope so!)

  35. Simon Smithson says:

    Yikes. There’s so threatening about that unpleasant silence.

    It sucks that people have to live in places like that.

    If people they were.

    • Irene Zion says:

      We are trying to find out an Australian thing.
      What word do you use there that means the same as
      “The Creeps” or “The Willies” mean here?

      Zara said in New Zealand it’s “The Goop.” (That’s singular, oddly.)
      Is it the same word in Australia?

  36. Irene Zion says:


    JM Blaine made the same observation.
    If these were, in fact, people
    who were alive,
    what kind of life is it?
    How totally hopeless
    they must be.
    How could
    anything good
    happen to that baby?

    Me, I’m hoping they were ghosts
    who were waiting
    for something still
    before they went on
    to the next level.

  37. Marcia, still in Illinois says:

    I’m guessing it was somewhere south of here. It has that kind of Southern Goth feel. You know what would be cool– if the readers tried to write their own endings explaining why the people/ghosts were there. I think they were there to use the toilet. Why ghosts would need a toilet, I don’t know. . .

  38. Irene Zion says:

    Well, Marcia, my friend,

    We don’t know much about ghosts.
    They keep themselves pretty
    Maybe they still have
    ghostly bodily functions.
    A ghost would get bored
    if it couldn’t, say,
    make love,
    or eat some chocolate cake,
    Stands to reason they’d need
    a toilet
    that flushed.

    I’ll have to ask Victor where this place was.
    He never forgets that sort of thing.
    He forgets what I just said to him,
    but that’s because he has perfected the
    “I’m listening to you” face,
    when, in fact, he does not even know
    I am speaking.

  39. Melissa says:

    This was not in South Carolina was it?
    We drove through there many times. We nicknamed it
    “The NO Pishing State”
    Could never find a bathroom for the life of us.


  40. Irene Zion says:


    I just don’t remember.
    Victor doesn’t know I’m on the computer so I can’t ask him now.
    He hates it when I’m on the computer.
    I have to get in the shower,
    then I’ll ask him and get back to you.

    • Irene Zion says:

      This is really strange, but I found out where it was that this happened.
      I asked Victor, where was it when we were on a road trip last year
      and we had a hard time finding a gas station
      and then when we did, the gas station
      didn’t have any gas?

      He didn’t remember.
      Then I said, do you remember the weird people
      who didn’t talk, who didn’t say a word?

      He didn’t remember.
      Then I said, do you remember that those people
      didn’t move at all, like they were frozen in time?

      Then he remembered.
      It was somewhere in Northern Florida.
      How could he forget this?
      What a strange man.

      • Melissa says:

        Irene, truly I believe men want the women in their lives to think they are nuts. I could write a book about that. Really, if I knew how to write well.


        • Irene Zion says:


          In this case, Victor just doesn’t remember the same things I do and vice versa.
          It was big in the moment, and then he forgot it.
          It stayed with me a long time, till I could get it down just right.
          He just forgot.
          People are like that sometimes.

  41. Ruthie says:

    Who were those people? You could write a whole other story about that. I like the way it was written like poetry. You seem to find stories everywhere. Great writing.

    • Irene Zion says:


      I think they were ghosts.
      I really do.
      Jessica Anya suggested writing this non-fiction
      into a fiction story.
      I just might try it.
      I thank you for your kind words.

  42. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    My arms felt all pins-and-needles when I got to the end of the story. This is sooooo CREEPY!!!

    If they were of this plane, I wish them some means to joy and comfort in their lives. If they weren’t, well, may something come along soon to help them transition!

  43. Irene Zion says:


    I know!
    They scared the pants off me, but I also felt really bad for them.
    What could they possibly expect to happen in their “lives” there?

    I do think that they were ghosts
    and I agree that it would be super good if
    a ghost-transition-being would come to help them.

    Only JM BLaine and Simon had the same reaction.
    Funny, eh?

  44. angela says:

    to echo everyone, very creepy! i kept expecting the people to be gone by the time you got out of the bathroom.

    and then i would have had a heart attack and died of fright.

  45. Irene Zion says:


    I thought both Victor and I would have heart attacks trying to get out of there!
    I have never been so scared in my life.
    (Why didn’t just the baby move or make a sound?)

  46. Mindy Mcready says:

    This could be the opening scene of the new ‘Jeepers Creepers III’ movie….next thing you know you are being rammed from behind by an old rusty firehydrant of a truck.

    I hate Jeepers Creepers ever since he killed that little boy in the cornfield…damn I would mess him up if I get the chance.

    “so you wanna play Mr. Creepers”

    • Irene Zion says:

      Mindy Mcready,

      Don’t take this wrong, but I would NEVER even SEE one of those scary movies.
      I’m quite sure I’d have a heart attack,
      and I certainly wouldn’t ever play anything remotely sounding like that!

      (I think you’re giving me the heebie-jeebies.)

  47. Marybear says:

    Was there TP ?
    the only thing sadder would have been no toilet paper =(

    I once left a Taco Bell bathroom really fast, and just begged my husband to “just driver away quick man”

    • Irene Zion says:

      No, Marybear,
      There wasn’t any toilet paper, but I always have a kleenex in my pocket for just such occasions, well, actually not exactly this kind of occasion, just the kind where there isn’t any toilet paper in the bathroom, not the rest of it.

      WHY did you leave the Taco Bell bathroom really fast and beg your husband to just drive away quick?
      This sounds like a good story!

  48. Kate says:

    When Ben and I drove through Northern Florida, I admit it weirded me out. I always felt guilty about that, being one of those urban Yankees assuming the worst of the hillbilly South. However, your story has made me feel less guilty. I am feeling justified in my bigotry.

    Also, you should have seen some of the weird bathroom rest stops in India. Talk about ghost towns. One was a tea shop with the most disgusting bathroom I’ve ever seen in my life out back, and a “bath room” where you could stand in the open and take a bucket bath. This was in the middle of nowhere, mind you. There were two adorable puppies there, though.

    • Irene Zion says:


      The wonderful thing about you is that you can be standing wet and naked in an Indian field for all to see and you see the bright side by focusing on the puppies.
      That, right there, is a gift to try to keep all through your life, and give to your children.
      (I mean, when you have children.)

  49. Mel says:

    Great story. I always wondered what happened to Clark Dreilinger!

  50. Wow. This place has haunted you and now, by proxy, us. You made over a hundred people say “creepy”. That’s in itself creepy.

    But there’s another level to this piece. You had your Victor and he had his Irene. “Dead” people have a way of pushing us closer to the ones we love. That’s part of why some of us like to go see horror movies. We get scared and squeeze closely to the ones we love.

    I’m glad you have a Victor.

  51. Irene Zion says:

    Wow, Peter,
    I hadn’t counted the “creepys,” (creepies?)
    It was no fun at all to be there, but I have to say that it was fun to write.

    I’m really glad I have my Victor, too.
    He’s a keeper.

    Thanks so much for reading!

  52. Erika Rae says:

    I’m completely obsessed by the family squished into the bench like a Christmas ham. I have this whole scenario in my head that they have been there for years. That the baby was born there onto a patch of weeds and sort of crawled up the woman’s leg and into her lap. Taught her mother forcefully how to nurse. Tubes that run up through the ground are connected into the smalls of their backs somehow and provide them with liquid nourishment from a couple of nearby graves. Occasionally, the baby yanks one out and suckles it directly. I didn’t realize just how twisted I am until this very moment.

  53. Irene Zion says:

    Erika Rae,

    I promise you that I have come up with similar twisted scenarios. The scene and the non-action, non-speach, lends itself to nothing else. (Although yours is especially fabulous!)

    We’re on a road trip now. I’m in a crummy motel at 5 in the morning, so it’s hard to write on the internet except when we aren’t hurrying to go somewhere.
    Right now Victor wants BREAKFAST! (And believe it or not it starts at 5 AM here! There is a Marine Base nearby and there was a graduation, it may have been a request.)

    I’m meandering, what I meant to say is that we do not get off the roads until we see lots of gas stations and lots of motels now.

    Victor may have forgotten all of this, but I never will.

  54. Megan says:

    Irene, I too admired the “still as road kill” rhyming and rhythm, along with the use of spacing for effect.

    This post leads me to believe you might be a closet poet.

  55. Irene Zion says:

    Why, thank you, Megan.

    I’m afraid I know nothing whatsoever of poetry, but this is how I think in my head, so I wrote it down.
    I do spend a lot of time in the closet, though.

  56. Gregory Messina says:

    I can absolutely picture the entire scene thanks to your perfect details. Quite eerie.

  57. Irene Zion says:

    Hello there, Gregory,

    Your chivalrous words are making me blush!
    Thanks for reading, I always look forward to your “visits.”

  58. Marni Grossman says:

    This feels like a perfect dystopian picture of our future: no gas, no movement, no nothing. Oy vey.

  59. Irene Zion says:

    Hi Marni!

    It does doesn’t it?
    Oy vey iz mir!

    Thanks for reading vertically for me.

    I appreciate it.

  60. […] She and her husband, the sleep-deprived Victor, are world travelers.  They have been to Dubai, New Orleans, Chicago, Zimbabwe, and a long long road trip. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *