BY: ATTHYS GAGE

There is no Whispering Girl. She doesn’t exist. Marieka Evers knows this for a fact because she was there when Miles Faber created her. The cellphone photograph, the melodramatic tale of his encounter in the woods—all fake. The elaborate family history, the found diary—pure fiction. It was all an experiment, part of a study on belief and gullibility and the behavior of crowds. He wanted to see how far it would go. Only now it seems his experiment has gotten out of hand. Real people have gone missing in the Georgia woods, and every day, more and more followers of whisperinggirl.com report their own encounters with the fabled Ghost of Jasper County. Is it possible that the fiction isn’t fiction anymore?

When a body turns up in the woods, brutally murdered, and one of his followers begins posting under the name of Whisper Blue, Miles loses his grip and it falls to Marieka to try and save him from his own paranoid delusion. But is it a delusion? There’s a real mystery in the woods, and the closer Marieka gets to the heart of it, the more she may wish she’d never started.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Whisper Blue by Atthys J. Gage, Marieka Evers is the girlfriend of a graduate student, Miles Faber, who is running an experiment to see if he can influence people to believe something that isn’t true by simply putting it on the internet, specifically a ghost story. So he creates the story of the ghost called Whispering Girl, and his experiment is so successful it has consequences he never imagined. When people start disappearing, Miles begins to fear the ghost he created is after him.

The story is tense and fast paced—a true ghost story with a unique twist. Very well done.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Whisper Blue by Atthys J. Gage is the story of a psychological experiment that goes too far. Miles Faber is a graduate student, working on his thesis. To do research on how gullible people are, he starts a blog detailing his (fake) paranormal experience with a ghost who becomes known as Whisper Blue. His theory proves correct when people start seeing the same ghost. Miles thinks it’s funny—until people actually disappear and die. Then it becomes more than scary. His girlfriend, Marieka Evers, is left to both solve the mystery of the seemingly real “fake” ghost, and also to save Miles from his own creation…if she can.

Whisper Blue is very well written, suspenseful, and full of surprises—a chilling tale you won’t be able to stop reading.

CHAPTER 1

“Whis…per?”

He sang the word into my ear, soft and taunting.

I groaned. “Miles, cut it out, okay?”

He slid in closer behind me, his knee, his hip, nudging up against mine. His finger teased a delicate curlicue on my shoulder, little figures of eight, and he gave a soft laugh that tickled my neck. “Whiss…perrr…”

I pulled away, yanking the covers. “Jesus, Miles! I’m trying to sleep, and you’re creeping me out! Knock it off!”

He rolled on to his back. “Sorry.”

But he was smiling. I could hear it in his voice. He was lying there wide awake, grinning into the darkness.

He folded his arms across his chest. His fingers drummed. “I can’t sleep.”

“I noticed.”

“This is going to work. I can feel it.”

“Mmmph.”

“I’ve got to get the whole thing straight in my head, her whole story.” His voice was hushed, but his excitement brimmed as if he was going to talk all night. “She’s like the girl in that book you gave me–the creepy girl who poisoned her family. With the sugar, right? I can’t remember the name. Mary Cat?”

The words recited themselves in my head. ‘Merricat, Merricat, would you like a cup of tea? Oh, no, Constance, you’ll poison me.’ “Shirley Jackson,” I answered automatically, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle.”

He laughed. “Ask a bookseller.”

“You’re a bookseller too, last time I looked.”

“Yeah, when’s the last time you saw me help a customer find a book? I’ll stay in the back room, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Yeah.” I burrowed my face into the pillow. “I noticed that, too.”

A silent moment crept past, almost enough time for sleep to pull me under. But Miles wasn’t ready for sleep. “The more real I can make her, the better this will take hold. I need details–like…what she eats, where she goes, her family.” He pondered for a moment. “The family is important. They need to be archetypal. The spooky girl in the Southern Gothic novel, a haunted mansion–and one of those degenerate, inbred plantation families like from the turn of the century.”

“We’ve Always Lived in the Castle wasn’t set in the South. New England, I think.”

“It doesn’t matter. We’ll keep it local.” He rolled over again, pressing up, hand on my shoulder. “Georgian family,” he said, exaggerating his accent, “Out in the piney woods. Cotton and peaches and slaves. Only later than that. Reconstruction. A dilapidated old manse. A shadow of its former glory.”

He began kneading my shoulder, pressing his thumb in deep. The knot at the top of my spine unraveled. I drew a deep, quiet breath. It was nice. A few minutes of that and I would be out cold. But his hand didn’t stay put. It slid to my shoulder, then travelled down my arm, under the crook of my elbow and out onto my belly. His breathing became shallow, faster. His fingers crept up under my shirt, a slow ascent up the ribcage to my breast. His thumb found a nipple. He pushed in closer behind me, pressing his body against mine, his chest filling with a hopeful sigh.

I let him keep going for a minute, waiting for something to happen. Then his hand slid south again, back across my belly, reaching the waist, slipping beneath the elastic band–

My hand caught his. “Look. It’s late. I’m not really into it tonight. I mean, I have to be at the store early tomorrow, and I’m already wiped out.”

He pulled his hand away and rolled on to his back again.

“Can I give you a rain-check?” I said.

“Sure. No problem.”

There was a shrug in his voice. No anger. No surprise. He lay there quietly for a minute, mentally tallying rain-checks, I suppose. Then he rolled over onto his other side and got quiet. I pulled my shirt back down and settled in.

A moment later, the mattress dipped, and he rolled out of bed. He turned and tucked the covers around me and planted a kiss on the side of my head.

“I can’t sleep,” he said, very low. “I’m going to work on this some more.”

He padded away. In the kitchen, a chair slid against the floor and settled with a creak. I heard his laptop booting up, then fingers tapping the keyboard.

I opened an eye. The square red digits of my alarm clock spelled out 1:55. No wonder I was tired. In five and a half hours the alarm would go off. Work from nine to four, class from five to seven, home, homework. God! Five and a half hours wasn’t nearly enough. I had plenty of reasons for wanting to sleep.

My eyes closed. Over the irregular slap of fingers on keys, I heard his voice. He was humming–an aimless, absent-minded little tune. It wasn’t anything familiar but the rhythm of it reminded me of something. It was as simple as a nursery rhyme, and it put words in my head.

Merricat, Merricat, would you like to go to sleep?

Down in the boneyard, six feet deep.

***

Morning came with the rude bleeping of the alarm. I snapped it off.

My eyes wouldn’t open. When they did, all they showed me was a bright blurry room. I shut them again. There was nothing worth seeing.

Seconds later, the alarm went off again. I slammed my hand down on the snooze bar, but this time I got up. It was 7:40. I had already punched the snooze twice. I turned to Miles, expecting him to grumble. He never had to get up this early.

Miles wasn’t in bed.

I found him in the kitchen, still bent over his computer. The table was scattered with scribbled pages. A plate with what was left of a stale looking sandwich sat beside a mug of coffee. There was an empty bag of chips lying under a chair.

He glanced up as I came in. “Hey,” he said. He didn’t stop typing. “There’s coffee.”

I got myself a cup. “You been up all night?”

He nodded. “Uh huh.”

I brought the cup to my lips and blew across the oily surface. Steam swirled. I took a cautious sip. “Bleah! How long has this been sitting?”

It was what you get when you boiled coffee down until only bitterness was left.

“Huh? Oh. Couple of hours, I guess. There’s more ground in the freezer in you want to make some fresh.”

I shook my head and tipped the cup down the sink. “I’ll grab some on my way to work. I want to get a shower before I go. What have you been doing all night?”

He gave me a winning smile, the same one that made me say yes when he asked me out three years ago. “Plenty!”

He pushed the laptop toward me. A photograph filled half the screen: dark, blurry, it could’ve been almost anything. The caption read, I saw this girl in the woods last night. She came floating out of the shadows. She spoke to me in a raspy whisper. Her feet didn’t touch the ground. I barely had time to capture this image with my cellphone.

“Where did you get the picture?” I asked.

The girl wore a white dress with long sleeves. Her face, or at least the place where a face ought to have been, was just a shadow with black hair hanging on either side. Without the caption, I don’t know that I would’ve seen a girl at all but with that suggestion planted, I began fitting the image to the description. The moonlight around her picked out tree branches–one branch in particular reached crookedly across the screen like a long, bone-fingered hand.

“Pretty good,” I said.

“Yeah. The hardest thing was making it look as crappy as it does. The girl is just a stock image but I ghosted the hell out of her and superimposed the tree branches. I think I got the translucence pretty good, but it was too clear for a cellphone picture. I had to make it even grainier.”

I scrolled up the screen and began reading the whole text.

I’m not normally a believer in ghosts or UFO’s. My philosophy is Oh yeah so where’s the proof? Show me something real, then maybe we’ll talk. And I admit it: this picture doesn’t prove shit. But what happened last night was scary as hell. I’m posting this because I seriously want to know if anyone else has ever seen or heard anything like this. Believe me, I’d be happy with a nice scientific explanation.

I was hitchhiking yesterday evening not far from Rock Eagle Lake, heading for Madison. No one was stopping. There are no lights or houses on that stretch. It’s just a county two-lane through the pine woods. I remember a one-eyed Ford pickup with a bad muffler which rattled by without slowing up at about ten-thirty.

Well, that truck was the first thing I’d seen in over an hour and I just said fuck it, I’m going to sleep until morning. I plopped down near the road behind an old fallen log and shut my eyes. I must have fallen asleep pretty fast.

I woke up a while later, needing to pee real bad. I went back away from the road into the trees. I don’t know why I bothered. I could’ve peed right there in the middle of the goddamned road, and no one would’ve known. The moon was high and bright by now, and I was off in the bushes relieving myself when I heard someone whisper.

Damn! I jumped so high I hit my head on a branch! This wasn’t a raccoon or a scrub jay. This was a human voice. A girl’s voice, but just a raspy whisper. I stood there holding on to the top of my head. I hadn’t even zipped up yet. That’s how freaky it was. But I just woke up so maybe I wasn’t thinking my clearest.

Then I heard it again! I almost had myself convinced that I imagined it when that same crackly voice comes at me again. “Live through you this day!” Or something like that. It was too hoarse to be sure. And angry. A bitter, angry voice. I zipped up and began making my way back to the road. I wasn’t running. I should’ve been running maybe but after that second whisper the whole woods got silent again. I was afraid of breaking that silence and drawing attention to myself. So I went slowly, careful not to make a sound.

That’s when I saw her. She came floating out of the trees. She was almost transparent in the moonlight. She wore a white dress with sleeves that covered her arms. Her black hair hung all loose and it was floating around her face like she was underwater. I didn’t move. I don’t think I could’ve made my feet move if I’d tried. When she was about twenty feet away, I had a crazy idea. Really crazy. I took out my cellphone and I snapped the picture you see posted above.

That was a mistake. The flash of the camera started her, I think. She threw her hands up and began coming straight at me! If I hadn’t just peed, I have probably wet myself right then and there. She was floating, her feet dangling inches off the ground, and her face…well, she had no face. Inside all that floating hair was just darkness.

That was it. I didn’t care about how much noise I made anymore. I crashed through the branches, yelling my head off, until I was back on the road again. I kept running, right down the middle of the road, and when I couldn’t run anymore, I walked, and I didn’t stop walking until the sun came up.

I looked at Miles. He was beaming at me.

“Wow.”

“Convincing?”

“Yeah. I mean, if I hadn’t known it was you, I would’ve thought you were–”

“Some delusional yokel? I spent a lot of time last night, searching posts like this one. There are a hell of a lot of people out there who think they see ghosts. I had to get the right voice.”

“I like it. The thing about peeing was inspired.”

He laughed. “Nothing like an embarrassing personal detail to give it verisimilitude. I posted this a couple of hours ago. Since then, I’ve been browsing for other sites to link to, trying to stir up a buzz. You’d be surprised how many there are.”

“Did you make your own website?”

“Yeah, just a crappy one. It looks pretty amateurish, but that’s how I want it. I tried to find a name that would attract the right sort of attention but all the good names about ghosts are pretty much taken, so I just called it whisperinggirl.com.”

“Any hits?”

“Nah. Not yet. It’s early. I’m going to keep linking, to see if I can generate some traffic.”

A sudden yawn seized his face. His eyes clamped shut, his mouth stretched into a grimace, and, for a moment, he looked like something awful was happening. Then it passed, and his face was pleasant and rumpled and boyish again.

“You working at noon?” I asked.

“One.”

“You should get some sleep.”

Another yawn was coming but he fought it off. “I’ll crash soon. I just want to hit a couple more sites.” He put both of his palms on the table and smiled at me. “This is it, Marieka! I really think this is going to work!”

© 2016 by Atthys J. Gage