In With The Old (Haunts), Out With The New
Volume III, Issue I - Spring 2012
  • The only person I knew when I moved to California was an internet friend, John, who went under the moniker “Tunneler.” We had chatted in AOL Horror Movie chatrooms in the late 90s. Not only a film buff, but a true crime enthusiast (and paranormal, UFO, Coast-to-Coast enthusiast), he’d entertained me for years with stories of his father’s exploits as a cop in California. When I told him I’d love to see something really far out, he mentioned Spahn Ranch: where the Manson family had squatted the summer before Sharon Tate.

    I was only spending a college semester in L.A., interning at a horror production studio. The sort of girl who would want to intern at a horror production studio, I was naturally inclined towards the introverted. But when a professor, a true beatnik poet from East L.A., noted, “The thing about Los Angeles is, there’s something sinister about all that sunshine,” my interest piqued. Go out, she said. Explore.

    Still, True Crime wasn’t my thing. There was always an element that took it too far. Like the woman who, after seeing Richard “the Night Stalker” Ramirez show up in court with sunglasses and flashing devil horns, decided she wanted to be the serial  ............

  • killer’s bride. But history very much was my thing, and I decided John would be an excellent companion to accompany me on unearthing the darkness, the circus folk of Nathaniel West, and the shadows that formed under the tall, leafy Royal Palms.


    John’s neighborhood was cul-de-sacs, SUVs, and kids on scooters—with the general aura of manufactured perfection that tends to come with big-company-generated-developments. I peered at the houses, looking for number 823, but noticing the stooped figure smoking on the porch of the most ill-kempt house on the block I realized my directions were no longer needed. His coarsely dyed black hair, ratty to the point that it looked like it might dred, was nearly covered with a black bandana, his eyes hidden by large black sunglasses that slid down his nose. In a panic, I sped past.

    I understood now why the “straights” freaked out over using the Internet to make contacts. The fear I’d written off as Puritanical now just seemed like good old prudent advice. One of those laughing fits started up, and I struggled to calm down.

  • You’ve spoken for ten years. You’ve exchanged packages in the mail. If something was truly wrong with him, you’d be skinned and drained in his basement by now or blown up by your mailbox. With resignation, I turned the car around. Still, for safe measure, I fired off three text messages to various people with John’s address and phone number in case of my sudden disappearance.

    I parked my embarrassingly bright red Jetta and John rose from his seat on the porch. He was easily over six and a half feet tall. Not sure what else to do, I put on a cheerleading smile and gave him a hug, wrapping my arms around his waist like a little kid trying to hug dad, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to reach his shoulders and neck.

    “Wow. You’re little,” he said.

    I asked how tall he was. When he told me 6’10” I wondered if we’d have a problem fitting him in the Volkswagon.


    We did. I instructed John how to move the passenger seat back,  ............

  • but after a half-hearted attempt he said he’d be fine. This was a lie. His knees smashed against the dashboard and his chest, which tilted downward because of his height.

    John directed me toward the highway. As we small talked, however, his articulation and powers of speech seemed to leave him.

    “Do I want to get on east or west?”

    He made a slight gesture with his thumb that I assumed was west. Pulling on the highway, however, it was evident from the deep wheezing that he was dozing off. I tried to keep him awake. “So, how much further do we go?” I asked.

    “A lil furrrr-er…”

    When I turned up the radio, hoping noise would help, I was answered with a hollow thud.

    John, face planted on the dashboard, out cold.

  • I had no idea where I was. Mountains, cliffs, barren pieces of geography that under normal circumstances could be very beautiful, but now were threatening and jagged, like the set of an old B-movie, surrounded me. I didn’t know what route I was on, or where it led. I did not know if east would necessarily get me back to L.A.. I did not know what exit I came on from to get back to John’s. I didn’t know what exit to take for Spahn. And, perhaps most absurdly, I felt a bashful reserve about interrupting John in his slumber. Despite my attempts to stay at the minimal speed, exits raced by.

    “John,” I said, quietly. “What exit do I take?” He didn’t respond. I considered swinging the passenger door open and kicking him out onto the road. Instead, I tried again. “JOHN?”

    Raising his head, he shook off the sleep slowly, his dark hair swaying like chimes. “Two more exits,” he said, then lowered his head, the effort of speaking exhausting him. His sunglasses dropped into his lap.

    Desperate, I searched for conversation. All I could come up with was, “So. Did you just take a lot of meds today?”

  • John put his sunglasses back on. He reached into the pocket of his black cloth coat and pulled out a five inch tall bottle of pills. With little grandeur or display, he cloaked the bottle back into the coat.

    Sympathy began to overwhelm my fear. This wasn’t a total stranger and John never gave me so much as a virused MP3. In my panic during our day trip, I had forgotten John’s claims to battling pancreatic cancer for the last five years. I looked at his hands. They were skinny, tattooed with the communist sickle and hammer, with long, brittle nails. He folded them lamely in his lap.

    “Next exit,” John said. I pulled off, and we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. There was no grass, simply orange hills, with bursts of green and brown cacti and shrubs. The palette of Fall, except for an overwhelming heat. Fires from further south, in Simi Valley, had given the blue sky an ugly, goldenrod tint.

    John pointed to the right, a winding road crawling up one of the hills. A cop car sat, idling, in the only place possible to park.

    “Shit,” I said.

  • John told me there’s a way to get down, he just can’t remember. “The whole area,” he said, “on the left. It’s where it used to be.”

    I considered this. Even if John had recovered his speech, he didn’t seem to be in any condition for a nature hike. I turned the car around and stopped, hugging close to the edge of the road. Santa Susanna Pass.

    In the south, the vegetation seemed to thrive. I assumed we’d be afforded a clear view. A few roof tops, modern and stucco, peeked out amidst the lands’ humps. John told me new developers were down there.

    Past these roofs, I knew something slept on the ground. Barn structures, gate foundations, hollowed, gray logs. I’ve seen what dead land looks like in New England. Here I pictured something similar, except without the moisture and water that brings even a fallen tree life. I suspected, very strongly, in Spahn Ranch’s remains there were no moss, fungi, or earthworms. How a collection of human beings could come here to hide, I could understand. How they could come out here to live, I could not. A year after counting the crests and curves of the Santa Susanna  ............

  • range, dusk came to Sharon Tate and 10010 Cielo Drive. Somehow I knew I had a better feeling of the Family’s isolation, their lack of humanity, here than I ever would standing outside the gate on Cielo.

    Maybe the land itself is innately fantastical. Maybe it has to be. Before me, before John, and the Manson family, a movie studio covered the grounds. The productions were mostly old westerns, and cheap. But even then, someone knew the power of the place.

    Still, there was nothing to do. After a few minutes, and some failed attempts at digital photography, we headed back. We drove to Hollywood, and John promised to show me an occult shop located, “somewhere off Vine, but maybe Sunset.” I couldn’t bring myself to say I felt there was a difference in these levels of macabre. Spahn Ranch is virile, historical and tangible; the other fable and fantastic, of another, less pressing world. At the moment, John was so busy inadvertently burning himself with his cloves (potent, and kept in a shiny black box), I knew the distinction would not matter.

    We circled, endlessly. John was dozing again. He awakened when  ............

  • we came off LaBrea and back onto Franklin.

    “This is where those parties were,” he said.

    “What parties?” I asked.

    He sighed, readying himself for speech. “I told you about them. Years ago. These parties, held by these people into black magic and Satanism, and stuff. There’s tunnels, you see, between some of these houses…” He breathed. “If you knew some of the celebrities who’d go to these things. They asked me to join once, but I said no.”

    Hearing his stories in person, I wondered how I swallowed anything he told me the past ten years. How I forced myself to believe that John was the rare person who could outlive pancreatic cancer for more than months.

    Without warning, he swung open the door. I slammed on the brakes.

    “Dropped another cigarette,” he said, groping the asphalt. He  ............

  • came up empty handed and feebly shut the door. “Sorry.”

    “It’s okay,” I said. “I’ll bring you home now.”

    I pressed the child-safety lock. A group of women holding their groceries smirked at us from the bus stop.


    I never saw John again. Maybe a part of me worried the trip with John had finally taken things too far, into Mrs. Ramirez territory.

    I sometimes think about John as a perfect example of how L.A.—and greater L.A.—makes what’s sinister seem almost mundane. When I dropped him off, I saw inside his house. Boxes that looked like they’d been moved in ten years ago, that had never unpacked, carpeted the floor. The windows were covered in a deep plum fabric. Amidst this, a single couch leaned against a wall. On that couch was John’s father. He said nothing upon seeing me, but continued staring straight ahead of him at something unknown. It was a TV, I hope, on mute, but in the absence of light  ............

  • in his eyes, I suspect it was only the opposite wall.

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