Supernatural, Suomi Style

Freelance journalist received a strange job offer: cover a supernatural convention. The journalist thinks the gig a joke. But is it? And who are the convention’s guests of honor?

Supernatural, Suomi Style

By Richard Zowie

I live in San Antonio, and that’s a good thing. Plenty of time to think as I drove to El Paso, which is an eight-hour drive. I’m a full-time freelance writer, and one of my clients is the San Antonio Express-News. I write mostly features for my editor, Mona De Los Santos, who told me they wanted me to cover a supernatural convention in El Paso. It was for this weekend. I would go, observe, ask questions, take a few pictures, write a 2,000-word article and it would be the lead feature in the Weekender on Friday or for the Life section on Sunday.

As I drove past San Antonio’s outer circular road, Loop 1604, on Interstate 10 West and started my trek into the Texas Hill Country, I remembered the protocol. Since I wasn’t an employee, my travel expenses would have to be written off and claimed on taxes. Gasoline. Drinks. Snacks. Food. Motel room. The cost of attending the convention, which was $500.

As I saw a green sign that said Boerne was 20 miles away and Comfort was 40 miles, I remembered Mona’s request.

“I think it’s a fascinating convention, but management didn’t want someone local covering it when the El Paso Times could easily assign a reporter that we could piggyback off of,” she said. But, the Times told us they were only planning on doing a few photos and no story. That’s why I decided to ask you. What is your religious background, Bill?”

“I’m a Christian, but I’m not sold on supernatural,” I said. “I don’t believe in ghosts. I used to rent an apartment that was a boarding house where an unsolved murder took place, but I never experienced anything unusual.”

“No supernatural experiences?”

“Zero.”

“Can you go with an open mind?” she asked.

“If you’re paying me, yes.”

 

I’d left San Antonio at 6 a.m. that morning, which was wonderful. By the time I-10 became clogged for the morning commute, I was gone. With the stops I made in Junction, Fort Stockton, Van Horn, I arrived nearly at 6 p.m. in the desert town of El Paso. I’d been there only a few times in my life, once as I drove to Phoenix on business and once as I took a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles to visit my Uncle Jerry.

After checking in at the Double Tree Hotel about two blocks away, I went to the El Paso Convention and Performing Art Center, where the supernatural convention was taking place. I expected to see a few science-minded protestors outside, yelling about facts matter over faith. The only people outside were tourists looking for the Southwest University Park, El Paso Museum of History or the University of Texas at El Paso. One complete stranger asked me if El Paso was in Texas or New Mexico. I told him he was still in the Lone Star State.

One beautiful woman wearing a sundress asked me how El Paso got its nickname “Chucotown.”

“I don’t speak much Spanish and have no idea. You should ask someone at the Museum of History,” I replied as I entered.

I expected people adorned in black clothing and silver jewelry, along with priests or priestesses wearing shiny black or indigo robes. Instead, everyone wore suits or dressed in slacks or dress shirts. One woman wore a business suit with a short skirt. From her legs, I imagined she ran a lot and probably looked hard to turn away from when she sat and crossed her legs.

I checked in, introduced myself as Bill McGinnis and got my badge and packet. As I got them, I noticed a brunette with pale eyes helping herself at a spread of various pastries, meats, fruits and assorted dressings. Soon, she was coughing.

As she coughed, I looked up and saw panic in her eyes. I jogged toward her. “Can I help you, ma’am?”

She looked at me, tried to breathe. “PLEASE! HELP ME!” she said in English but in a foreign accent I could not place. “I…can’t…breathe! I’m choking! Help!”

As I dropped my packet and was about 10 feet away, I noticed how everybody stared blankly at her, as though they didn’t know what to do.

What is wrong with you assholes? I wondered as I got to her from behind and embraced her. “I’m going to do a Heimlich Maneuver. Try not to panic. You won’t die.”

“Ok, I won’t.” As she briefly turned around, I could see her pale eyes were a mix of gray and green. She had a soapy smell, as if she had just showered a few hours ago. Her accent…I still couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t Russian or German. She looked like she was from a cold-weather country, with her pale features.

On the third thrust, the dark-brown, partially-chewed piece roast beef flew out of her mouth toward the crowd. A few screams as some scampered out of the way. Several people had their cell phones out and were recording the incident, which really pissed me off. What is with Americans and their need to record everything?

She took several deep breaths as her color returned. She turned, smiled at me and gave me a hug. “Thank you so much,” she said. “You saved my life. I am Ailukka Korhonen.”

I told her my name. “That’s a pretty accent you have. Where are you from?”

“Finland.”

I was amazed at how well she spoke English when a man came out of a bathroom and headed to us. He wore blue jeans and wore a blue polo shirt with a white flag with a left-of-center blue cross on it. Underneath the flag was the word “SUOMI.” I had no idea what that meant.

He had blond hair and blue eyes and went up to her and hugged her and said something to her I could not understand. She pointed to me.

“Are you the man who just saved my wife’s life?” he asked me. He spoke with far less of an accent, as if he’d been speaking English for a long time.

I nodded, thinking of how strange things seemed to be — and the convention hadn’t even started yet.

He offered his hand. I shook it and found his grip to be firm. “My name is Hannu Korhonen.”

I noticed a few people still recording.

“What is wrong with you people? Why did you just stand there?” I demanded, upset but trying not to lose my cool. “Couldn’t you see she was choking and asking for help?”

One man, who had just turned off his phone, shook his head. “We heard her, all right, but none of us could understand her. She was speaking in a foreign language.”

“No, she wasn’t,” I said. “She’s from Finland, but I could understand her English just fine.”

Everybody became silent.

“You say my wife asked for your help in English?” Hannu asked me.

“Yes, sir. She has a strong accent, but I could understand her.”

Hannu said something in Finnish to Ailukka. She shook her head.

“My wife says there must be a mistake. She doesn’t speak English, but she said you were speaking Finnish to her.”

“Hannu, I don’t see how that could be possible. I don’t speak Finnish, not even to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”

The man who had just shut off his recording came up to us and played the recording. It showed Ailukka choking and me coming up to her to do the Heimlich.

Then the dialogue.

“Voinko auttaa sinua?” My voice, without a doubt.

“OLE KILTTI! AUTA MINUA! En … voi … hengitä! Olen tukehtumassa! Auta!”

“Aion tehdä Heimlich-säätimen. Yritä olla paniikkia. Et kuole.” My voice yet again, this time saying things I didn’t understand.

“Ok, en.”

“Kiitos paljon. Pelastit henkeni. Olen Ailukka Korhonen.”

“Olen Bill McGinnis. Se on melkoinen aksentti. Mistä olet kotoisin?”

“Suomi.”

She’d said Finland to me, I’m absolutely sure, but now, she was saying Suomi.

“Hannu, what does ‘Suomi’ mean?” I asked.

“That’s how we say ‘Finland’ in the Finnish language.”

For five minutes, I had no idea what to say. Finally, I took down as many names and phone numbers as I could as I pulled out my phone, turned on the recorder and asked questions to as many eyewitnesses, including the Finnish couple. The convention hadn’t even started yet, but I already had my story.

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‘The Wrong Victim’ by Richard Zowie

This is a short story in two installments I wrote while producing a weekly column for the Genesee County Herald newspaper in Michigan. Because the story is a suspense thriller, I wrote it for the Halloween season. It was an effort at writing something different. I also wanted to delve into fiction writing.

When it came out, a few readers thought the events had really happened, despite the disclaimer that it was a work of fiction. With that in mind, let me reiterate: this is a work of fiction. Nobody was harmed in the writing of this short story. All of the characters exist solely within my mind.

Here is it now for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.

The Wrong Victim

By Richard Zowie

Joseph Davidson sat on a beige couch, easily the cleanest one he’d ever sat on. In fact, the entire house looked so clean and tidy he wondered if this homeowner was the inspiration for his parents’ favorite show, Monk. The house looked immaculate, smelled of Pine Sol and bleach and made Joseph’s olfactory nerves think of a freshly-cleaned hotel room. Roaches, flies and other insects would die of boredom.

If the owner were there, perhaps Joseph could ask him. But if the owner showed up, that wouldn’t be good.

That was Joseph’s job: sitting on the couch and listening for sounds of the owner suddenly pulling up in his car.

Neither Joseph nor his friends Todd and Jeremy (they were walking around the house looking for money or anything of value could be stolen) knew this owner, but looking at the outside of the house and the fact that the owner drove a Cadillac Escallade, they figured he must have something of value. And it was just outside Thetford Township on Charco Road, which meant it was unlikely police would be patrolling.

And if the owner showed up, they had a backup plan.

Joseph shifted in his seat and hoped nobody would call him on his cell phone. Right now, the only sound he wanted was that of his two friends talking as they walked around the house and looked around (his phone had a tendency to slide out on his pocket, and he hated leaving it on vibrate). He took a quick peak out the window, holding the curtain open with a gloved left hand. All three of them wore rubber gloves so as to not leave fingerprints. Todd and Jeremy were also careful not to toss things around, as all the criminals on TV seemed to do when committing a burglary. They wanted to use this visit to case the inside of the house and save the full-blown burglary for a future visit.

As Todd and Jeremy argued about something, Joseph heard an engine approaching in the distance, about a quarter of a mile down the road. The headlights were on and he could see immediately it was the white Escallade.

“GUYS! He’s back! Let’s get out of here!” Joseph yelled.

His two friends ran into the living room. Todd was six feet tall, very burly with brown, moppy, seventies-style hair and brown eyes. He’d played football at Clio High School his freshman year before his lukewarm grades made that impossible. Jeremy, a freckled redhead, was shorter and skinnier. Joseph was Jeremy’s height but also had dark-brown hair that he kept very short, military style. He seldom smiled and was serious by nature, his blue eyes often lost in thought as he constantly pondered worst-case scenarios.

The three immediately ran out the back door that Jeremy, the brains, had spent five minutes successfully picking its lock. They ran to the thick wooded area behind the house, knowing if they could make it back there before the owner got out of his vehicle, they would probably be out of his earshot. Then, they’d walk through the woods to the next street over, Birch Street, and drive away in their black, eighties Chevy truck that they had parked behind an abandoned old house.

They ran through the woods, Joseph noting absently his jeans didn’t have that annoying bulge normally felt when he had his cell phone. And in five minutes they had gotten in the truck and were driving back to Clio.

 

“Did you guys see anything worth stealing?” Joseph asked. Their plan had been to use some of the funds to buy marijuana and see if someone would buy them a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Todd shook his head. “I think he keeps it in a safe somewhere. Or maybe it’s in his basement, but Jeremy wasn’t able to pick that lock.”

Jeremy laughed. “I’m not that good yet. It would take me about half an hour. If we weren’t concerned about noise, we could just break it down.”

Joseph thought of asking his girlfriend, Lisa, if she knew of a man who drove a Cadillac Escalade but worried about letting others know of their plans. Still, he should call her and tell her he wanted to go to the movies with her later. He reached into his pocket–

–and felt only a few coins and a cigarette lighter.

His eyes widened as he cursed out loud.

“What’s wrong?” Jeremy asked.

“Guys, I think I left my cell phone at the guys house!” Joseph said, his face growing pale. “It must’ve popped out of my pocket on the sofa!”

Todd said nothing for a while as he drove. Finally, he spoke. “Well, we can’t exactly just go back right now.”

“What else can we do?” Joseph asked.

Todd pulled the truck over, pulled out his cell phone and called Joseph’s number.

 

Stanley Rike, having returned from a trip from the Premium Outlets to look for some new cookware for his kitchen, parked his Escalade in the driveway but knew immediately something wasn’t right. People had always thought of him as the intuitive type. Even when he had no evidence of something wrong, he’d still get a strong hunch, and that hunch almost always was right.

He did notice that the curtain in the front window looked slightly crooked and wasn’t nice and straight like he always preferred to leave it.

He sighed as he approached his front door, noting there were no unusual footprints.

A professional blogger, Rike didn’t like to leave his home unless he had somewhere to go. He had lived in Clio for 20 years but always felt like someday returning back home to the Upper Peninsula. He was originally from Newberry and was the grandson of Finnish immigrants (the original family surname had been Räikkönen). Clio was a nice little town, but the Lower Peninsula had never quite felt like home.

The problem was, Rike had far too much invested in his home.

Especially in the basement.

When Rike wasn’t blogging (a job he made a great living doing), he liked to bring people to his home. They were people he’d seen on TV in Michigan who had simply, well, seemed unworthy of their own lives. If asked, Rike could not explain why he chose them, except that it was just a hunch. All he knew is that since each person was completely unconnected (they were of different genders, races, ideals), police probably would have a very difficult time tracing them to him. He would then take them to his house in his secluded neighborhood.

Rike entered his house, closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, opened his eyes.

It smelled like one or two heavy smokers had recently been in his house. Not smoking, but exhaling breath reminiscent of a recent cigarette. He could also smell someone who needed to take a bath.

And on the floor, he saw imprints on his carpet that were not his feet.

Rike saw nothing noticeably out of place but ran to check the door to his basement. Locked, but the knob had smudges on it suggesting someone had been grabbing on it.

He checked his backdoor and found it was unlocked. He always locked it before he left the house. Opening it, he saw three sets of footprints. They must’ve ran towards the woods.

Stanley Rike said nothing but sighed. What did they know? He had to find out.

DOOOOO YOU HAVE THE TIME, TO LISTEN TO ME WHINE?” someone abruptly sang as they played guitar, the sound coming from the sofa.

Rike went to the sofa, lifted up a cushion and studied the black Verizon phone. The screen was lit with the picture of a young man with a seventies-style hair cut. Superimposed over his face was “Todd W”.

Rike pressed the green button and said, “Hello?”

“Can I have my phone back?” an annoyed young man asked. He tried to sound tough but instead amused Rike.

“W-w-why were you in my house?” Rike asked, deliberately sounding weak and passive.

“Don’t worry about it, just meet me in an hour–”

“I must insist you come to my house and ask for it,” Rike replied, hoping his voice sounded as though he’d soiled his pants. “I won’t call the p-p-police.” Of course he wouldn’t. If he spoke to the police they’d probably visit and ask questions and develop a case of sticky fingers like that annoying Vincent D’Onofrio cop on Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

The young man sighed. “If you give us a hard time, we might just have to have fun with your pretty wifey.”

Rike said nothing at first as he realized this man and his friends were amateurs. An observant glance at the home would’ve easily revealed that Rike lived by myself. No wife. No girlfriends. No sisters. His parents were long gone, and he hadn’t seen or spoke to his younger brother Phil, a salesman, in about 10 years.

“I’ll be w-w-waiting for you,” Rike said.

“O-o-o-ok!” the man mocked as he hung up.

 

“We’re gonna WHAT?!” Jeremy asked.

“Exactly as I said,” Todd replied. “We’re going to go back and get the cell phone. If we leave it there, he may call the cops, and they could get us for breaking and entering, which means we could all go to jail. We get it, we threaten him and tell him if he keeps his mouth shut, he’ll never hear from us again. Problem solved.”

Joseph listened and frowned. “You REALLY think it’s going to be that easy, Todd?”

“Sure it will. You shoulda listened to that guy on the phone. It sounded like he was scared to death. He’s probably having to change his underwear right now. He reminded me of those kids we used to bully all the time. Piece of cake, guys.”

 

Rike made a quick trip to his basement and then sat down on the couch and waited. Hidden on his person was a cattle prod, and they would never see it coming. He’d done it many times against far more dangerous people. Thank God I’m far stronger than I look, he thought.

As Stanley Rike sat on the couch and kept glancing out the window to see if a vehicle with three young men had pulled up, he wondered. What did they know and had they told anyone? How would he dispose of the bodies?

He might even have to question them in that special soundproof room in the basement and start by removing body parts they’d miss.

 

Two weeks later, this article appeared in the Genesee County Herald:

Three Clio friends missing

By Kevin Reagan

Police say they still have no fresh leads in the disappearance of three young Clio adults.

Joseph Davidson, 21, Todd Williams, 22, and Jeremy Lundquist, 22 were reported missing two weeks ago.

According to police, the three were close friends who did everything together. Each had cell phones and on the day they were reported missing, October 13, Williams texted his girlfriend that he was driving with Davidson and Lundquist up to Mio to look for a hunting spot. The three planned to head up that direction in November during Deer Widows Weekend.

A Clio Police Department spokesman acknowledged that Davidson, Williams and Lundquist all had criminal records consisting of several misdemeanors but declined comment on whether or not foul play is suspected. Several anonymous teachers at Clio Schools acknowledged that the trio had a lengthy history of disciplinary problems, beginning in elementary school…

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