My Story Should Terrify You: I Will NEVER Answer A Craigslist Ad Again

Andrew Catellier
Andrew Catellier

You’ve probably heard the story before: (Cue the reporter voice) Who wants to pick this lovely fresh-out-of-college ex-degenerate who finally got her life together for a real world, actual, working job??! Yeah…didn’t think so. And when you’re scrolling through the endless pages of advertisements on your chosen website of fates, whether that be Indeed.com or Monster, you realize – hell, maybe I’m becoming a monster myself! Deranged as I search the profiles of thousands of employers, drooling like a demon as I type out a specific cover letter each and every fucking time just to never land a reasonable response and end up right back where I was before. So mentally unstable that I do it all over again. I heard a quote once that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and not getting a different reaction. Well, that was my life.

So, one less-than-eventful day I was sitting half-naked with a muffin and espresso next to me on my coffee table, laptop sitting appropriately so in my lap, and surprise! I was job searching. It was May and this job searching thing had started sometime way back in March; so far there was to be no luck and no hope in sight, but my parents were firm believers in never giving up hope. They were also firm believers in the fact that going for a creative writing degree wasn’t going to put much more than ramen on my table but my eyes gleamed when they forked over the college money and “secured my fate.”

Just as I was about to slam the lid of my laptop closed (and then repeatedly slam my head against the wall a few more times) a title stood out for me on my dear friend since graduation, Indeed. I fumbled for the mouse and clicked away on the bolded, blue title: GHOST WRITER NEEDED IMMEDIATELY. Given, I had a good laugh to myself before I even gave the body paragraph a chance – there was no way that this would be any different from the rest; finding good variety in this swampy mess of shit-jobs and shit-scams was taking its toll on me. Even so, I’m a woman of many chances as we can tell from my past dating history, which we won’t even get into. So here I sat, reading on, intrigued and maybe even somewhat delighted.

I am an independent businessman working privately for a big name writing company. I recently lost my wife and find myself stricken with a lack in time as I attempt to sort through her old manuscripts and balance my other work on the side. Because of these recent events, I am feeling quite displaced from my writing and seek a ghost writer with knowledge and experience in fiction writing to join my team and hand craft some beautiful stories that fit my personality and previous works.

For teaming up with me, you will receive: $100/post, direct deposited to your PayPal account. Steady posting of twice per week. Experience. A working relationship with somebody you trust and who will respond to emails in a timely manner and help you every step of the way. What could be more perfect?

If my inquiry interests you, hit the “apply” button at the bottom and send me a quick resume with links to your work, as well as a friendly “hello” and a bit about your creative demeanor and why I should choose you.

Wrapping up the reading of the to-the-point previous paragraphs, I quickly submitted my resume and some bullshit cover letter about how I have most experience in fiction writing and included some samples to prove my worth. I sighed as I clicked out of the page, resuming to my newest form of work in between job searching: Playing games with my friends on Facebook. It all started with one request acceptance and my godforsaken life was pulled into the wonderful world of FarmVille and Draw Something. Fucking productive.

After a few rounds (few rounds being three hours later into my overly satisfying day…) I decided to pull up my email, which was becoming a slight obsession for me. We do something productive, we check our email. We cook ourselves a little something for lunch, we check our email. We go for a shit, and when we come back we – you guessed it, check our email! So, as always, I loaded up my email. But this time I was surprised to see something other than a confirmation that I had submitted a resume. This time, I saw a handwritten email from an address that named a man “Joe” and it stuck out like a sore thumb in my melancholy email, the one that matched my current personality – sad, stricken, and lonely.

I launched into action and pulled it up onto the screen, where my words read things mashed together worse than the potatoes I mashed the previous night.

Why hello there, Courtney!

My name is Joseph and, thus far in my employee search, I have sadly had no luck. My works have fallen a bit behind and I can’t keep up with the day-to-day workload with so many events (good and bad) enfolding in my life. As you know, I’m seeking a ghost writer who is able to mock some of my previous works and keep a certain series going for me. The series has brought a lot of attention to the blog that I work for and I will attach a link at the bottom of this page so you can see what you’re working with. (See what you’re going to get into. Ha-ha-ha!)

I could tell this guy had a certain creativity about him and approached things in a humorous fashion, somebody I could relate to right off the bat. The only comparison I could make to this new point in my life was like a shooting star flying through the sky and just waving to it as I watched it fly by because I didn’t need its luck – I already found my own. I went on to become captivated by Joseph’s every word, crafted perfectly as he commended me on my previous work and thought that my ‘womanly touch’ would be the perfect fit to his work. I emailed him back immediately and told him that I was more than interested and I would be taking a look at his work that night. To which I received not even one hour later:

Great! If you like what you see…you’re in!

Although I didn’t want to appear desperate, I didn’t reply to his email immediately and instead put on the façade of somebody who was taking their time to elaborately mull things over and arrive at a conclusion before they full-out launched into the responsibilities. I mean, I was Courtney – a 23-year-old Graduate with nothing to show, very little published, and lacking that which could back up my credibility in the least. It sure paid to be an introvert and lazy at that, right? So I took my time getting to know the blog at hand and reading the works of Joseph, who mysteriously turned out to be something other than I had expected.

I’m not sure exactly what I had been expecting, mind you. But I was certain that the Joseph from the email wasn’t going to be some word class erotica writing buffoon or some boring, fancy nonfiction writer who sat in a designer studio late at night with his antique lamp switched on and his penny loafers strapped tightly to his feet even though he was indoors all night – I know, God forbid the sight. Then again, I was quite surprised to see what he did actually find a love for. And that was writing modern-day, thrilling serial-killer type horror shit.

I was blown away. I read excerpt after excerpt, increasingly becoming more indulged and noticing that they took on a certain pattern. The pattern was that the killer remained unnamed story after story, but was most certainly the same guy. He was avoiding the typical MO of “This guy likes all blondes” or “This guy only seduces men and lures them back to his apartment.” No, the mysterious unmentioned serial killer in question told the frightening stories from his point of view in sick, gruesome detail – men, women, children, all different ways to die, all different places. He was scattered throughout the world and he was cautious. Everything sick and vile, and yet intriguing to say the least.

…Yet again, I find myself in a particular situation of “gun it and leave the body” or “risk taking them with you and getting tagged, after so many years” as I hear the silent rumble of the engine approaching. I look down into sweet Sandy’s green eyes, the ones that allured me from the moment we first became captivated with one another – that summer I arrived at her lemonade stand. Sweet, sweet little Sandy, as sweet as her lemonade…

The details: Always compelling. The strategy: Without flaw. Joseph was quite the writer he had bragged up and, to go along with that, had such remarkable credibility that he was listed on multiple websites simply as “Joseph”, the man as mysterious as the serial killer in which he had created. I had a sudden thought reoccur to me as I was reading his works, my parents voices in my head screaming, “Don’t take the job! It’s not stable, it offers you no benefits. The only thing you gain from this is a tiny bit of experience working with another human being and you never get another thing out of it.” And then, in my own mind, I fought back with a simple, “100 dollars a post, though? They aren’t that long…they aren’t too far out of my range of typical writing. Yes, yes. I’m in.” I saw the dissatisfaction on their imaginary faces, even in my mind.

And I emailed Joseph back after only a couple of hours of distracted reading.

Courtney, I am so glad to hear it. Let’s discuss further details.

What developed between Joseph and I wasn’t necessarily a friendship so to say; it was the normal working relationship between emails discussing how we would exchange files, agreements to sign in which I would not distribute his work elsewhere, sworn secrecy, and the works. However, as the weeks developed and I became more vastly involved in my work, Joseph’s demeanor changed a bit and he dropped comments here and there like, “This has been an especially excruciating week for me with my wife’s death – she’s left behind so many reminders and remembrances of herself. It is, sometimes, as if she never really left. But aside from that, what I have for you this week…” and so on and so forth. Joseph was just a poor soul with a straightforward, working attitude and a passion for what he did. Little by little, I was becoming more inclined to submit work to him that had absolutely no flaws. He would email me back with a, “Flawless! Let’s submit!” as opposed to the first week, where I received a barrage of, “This needs some work here and here. Here, let me outline some things and you can get back to work on them.” At a time in which I felt like I was falling, I was picked up on golden wings. Golden wings of a…well, serial killer writer. But, nonetheless, I was learning the tricks of the trade and that’s what mattered the most.

After a few steady months of work and being able to graduate to occasional steak dinners as opposed to my constant influx of ramen enjoyment, I was happy and feeling healthy and wonderful about my current situation. Job-searching wasn’t a total hang up and I was still avidly searching for something my parents would call, “Stable, and not this shit you’re wasting your time on.” However, things were well enough as far as getting my start was concerned and I was pleased to find another email from Joseph sitting in my email.

Courtney,

Please take the time at the beginning of this week to drift back to the first story I had you rewrite, “The First Flower.” It was the one where our lovely protagonist was walking among the lilies growing in a field by his hometown when he spotted a little girl in a plaid dress. She was surrounded by flowers and looked absolutely beautiful, and he was zoning in on her when, all of a sudden, her parents came out of nowhere and plucked her away. He watched from behind the tree until they were all out of sight and then he wandered on home, where he spent the next few days in a bit of a rough patch.

I’d like to create a background story for our protagonist that relates to “The Last Flower”, the girl who got pried right out of his hands. He deals with a bit of a memory crisis in this next story, wondering when, if ever, he will see her again.

If you land on something I love, we’ll keep the idea. Use your creative mind and get back to me ASAP!

I renamed the newest addition to his series, “Picking the Flower.” I kept suspicion to a bare minimum, pounding away on my keyboard for a good straight day and a half until I was seven pages in and staring delightfully at what I assumed could be a masterpiece in the latest installment of the serial killer series that everybody had grown to love. Nobody would suspect a thing at first that it related back to “The Last Flower” and then – BAM! It hits home and they realize, the girl is interconnected, though years older. Ratings were through the roof and, best of all, nobody suspected a thing! The ghost writer had paid off.

A few excerpts that people loved and had commented on directly…

…Like the last time I had seen her, she was clad in a dress, this time lacking plaid but a much more intricate and mature design to fit that of a blossoming 10-year-old. Oddly enough, as I watched her pass right in front of my very eyes, I noticed a slight glisten inside a locket around her throat. It was clear, laced in gold, and contained a single dried Lilly. Could it have been…? So many years later?…

…This time, she was walking down the street with a few loose bills nearly falling out of her hand. I wanted a reason to speak to her, to say ANYTHING at all to this gorgeous human being striding in front of me like candy on display to a child. However, I knew it was too soon. I knew I had to be cautious…

…There was simple beauty on her face and in her stride as she made her way, ever so cautiously, to my car’s window. My finger stopped wagging to her and I patted my open window with one hand so she knew she could trust me, simple as that, she knew she could move in for the kill. To take the bait. She leaned in closer and caught the smile on my face, perhaps faking one of her own as it inched upward a bit uneasily on the side. She side-stepped as if there was something on the pavement she was trying to avoid.

“H-hey there, Sir. What is it that you wanted?”

Oh, her voice was simply beautiful. As I watched her lip quiver a bit and the sun lowering in the background on the horizon, I concluded that this scene was absolutely perfect. I yearned for the moment I could safely bring up the courage to step out of my car and allow her inside, one first and final time…

I cracked my knuckles and sighed, leaning back in the chair and realizing I had probably stricken a fear, a horror, within any rational parent reading this specific story. Isn’t it a natural parent’s biggest fear to lose the child born of them, their pride and joy? I wouldn’t know – but I assumed this to be true, as there were many reactions from horrified parents making the connection between the current 10-year-old and the child from the field so many years prior. Done it again!

Just then, my email blinked once and I pulled up a new one from Joseph.

I wanted to thank you for bringing a new life to the story of “The Last Flower” and opening a whole new can of worms for readers who have been following religiously, waiting for such a thing. I do believe this is a good point to leave you on your own once more and continue the legacy of our dear killer. I, however, will be embarking on my own journey as well.

Recent events have called upon me and I shall be taking a short trip to sort out the details of my personal life. I’d like for you to write some all-new installments, keeping within our limit of two or three per week, in the wake of my absence. I will be in touch with you shortly. I promise.

Kind regards, Joseph

My heart sank a bit, not only because he was leaving things so up in the air, not only because I wondered if my payments would be exhausted for awhile and how I would manage to get by…not only because I was a selfish bitch, but because I was genuinely worried about Joseph. Had he been drifting off into some state of depression and was just now realizing it was time to face his inner demons and receive help for the grief he formed over the loss of his wife? I felt terribly and responded accordingly, knowing work called and there was only so much a girl could do.

Time to write.

The next morning, Joseph’s odd last email was not the first thing on my mind as I piled down my narrow stairway and found myself in the kitchen nook. I grabbed a mug of coffee and walked outside in my slippers and robe to find the newspaper lying on the front porch, something that I sometimes read religiously and sometimes ignored like every other American tends to do in this society. Today, I took a glance at the paper before I made it back to my doorstep and launched my coffee mug about a foot in the air, gasping before it hit the ground and smashed into a million tiny shards. I didn’t even bother to stop and clean up the mess; I just took off inside, slammed the door, and sat down at the kitchen table while my heart pounded out of my chest at a speed I was unfamiliar with.

The first headline in all bolds and a mega-super-font on the front of the newspaper stated, almost identically, the title of my recent story: PICKING THE VICTIM. IN SEARCH OF SUSPECTED SERIAL RAPIST AND MURDERER.

As I read on, the article relayed to me a series of disoriented words and thoughts that I attempted to piece together as a new coffee brewed in the background: (not like this was the time for any sort of wake up call; I was more awake than ever.) Police Detectives say that the profile fits, supposedly, a middle aged-man with stalking tendencies. And Murders have not been suspected as having relation because of disturbing variance in victims. And range from children, adult women, to adult men. And Yesterday, a 10-year-old girl was rescued running down the street screaming for her parents when. And blah, blah, blah, blah. My mind shut off.

I called the police.

Sometimes, on a dark and gloomy night when I’m really looking forward to a scare but Netflix is showing the same damn crappy horror movies, or all the television channels are broadcasting nothing but commercials, I just look at the files on my laptop. You know, those ones that I revisit sometimes just to remind me of what I’ve been through and the experience I’ve gained as a writer. Now 26 and in an office position that pays enough to keep me in the apartment of my dreams and more than the occasional steak dinner on my plate, I realize I’ve come a far way.

There’s something oddly terrifying about the stories that I wrote for Joseph, and not just in the ordinary horror genre way. I’ve read a lot of scary stories and nothing has chilled my nerves to the bone quite like these ones, so I guess I have to give myself some credit. And I guess I have to give Joseph some of the credit for my fame, though I suspect he probably hates me for telling everybody that I was his ghost writer all along.

I suppose the scariest thing of all out of this is reading those stories and then calling back to the police station every few months, just to check in. And hearing the same words over the line every time: We still have no leads…he’s still out there. We’re deeply sorry. TC mark

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