Spooky Stuff
Red Light Lady

© by Gary Morton, (5,600 words) 

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T-Bone's work boots squeaked grossly as he walked down the damp access tunnel. The sound loud enough that a rat heard it and squealed as it dived through the grid and down the cracks leading to the subway corridor. A train was already rumbling below, so he paused, staring at trickling ground water and bleach stains on the eroded wall. Moments later the door stopped shaking and he produced his key, threw back two huge bolts and entered.

Concrete dust gave the stuffy air an aged taste. Drifting down because of the nearby trains, it had coated nearly everything -- his girly pictures, toolboxes, chairs and the bank of screens. A cleanup would help so he pulled some rags from his pack and polished the panel, screens and his leather chair. He sat for a moment with his feet on an orange crate and rolled the new filter circuit in his palm. A moment later, he got up, slid the panel drawer out and inserted it.

As the panel closed, the button locked and ten monitors lit up, their light combining with the single fading fluorescent bulb, giving the room a sort of movie-theatre feeling. Using the keyboard, T-Bone edited the settings file, and then he rebooted the operations computer and watched as the screens refocused.

A similar but slightly different picture showed on all ten screens. And with the new filter the images on the centre screen were clear video -- effects like pink sunlight, underwater blur and depth distortion were now gone. T-Bone could see the activity at ten city intersections, and by simply changing the coordinates, he could switch to nearly any intersection in the Greater Toronto Area and lock it in the centre screen for a better view.

T-Bone's hobby was highly illegal and also highly secret as only he knew of it. No one else would believe it to be possible. Two years ago, T-Bone had moved to Toronto to aid with the red-light project -- the installation of more red-light cameras at city intersections. The system itself detected red-light jumpers by recording their plate numbers. Privacy rules dictated the system be set to see nothing else. And at Transit HQ, which was high above T-Bone, they did see nothing else. Up there the city computers and banks kept the system working, reporting system failures and pouring gold into the treasury as violators were issued computer-generated tickets.

The red light system saved lives, but in spite of the wonderful advantages of it there were always nasty people questioning it and filing legal challenges. Privacy crackpots -- T-Bone saw them as that. Always worrying that Big Brother would be secretly watching everything and invading citizen privacy. Silly folks they were -- T-Bone knew Big Brother wasn't watching. In installing the new system he'd made sure it was foolproof. Government officials and police could not use it as a general surveillance tool.

Time jades all people, and T-Bone had been hired to maintain the system as well -- which was just a little too much temptation. He'd wanted to do some experimenting with the camera system and the software, so he'd run a cable straight down to this abandoned subway service room and built his custom system using discarded systems and parts. A thing of beauty it worked in conjunction with the main system. The main computers could go right on recording violators while T-Bone tinkered around, honing his underground lair into an electronic den where he could spy on city intersections.

It had been a boring scene at first, with the distortion, and weird colors and lack of control. Yet odd as it was he'd often sat in his chair for hours. He watched workers stream across the walks at rush hour, kids going to and from school, Friday night drunks and midnight raccoons. Parades and rallies, weddings and funerals all went by in the pink sunlight. It was a dim, distorted alien world where none of the people were quite right, and it suited him. The human aliens were beings he really couldn't fathom. Sometimes he hated them and wished the fizz and snow of the screens could somehow replace them and fill the world with the peace of silent noise. He couldn't grasp their motives and he didn't care about the things they cared about? They were all losers hiding from the fact that they'd soon be bones rattling in a coffin.

He’d never really belonged in any world -- though he hid his attitude with a wide smile and strong handshake. T-Bone, the friendly mulatto engineer, always working in mostly white corporations, and he had some real technical brains behind his simple tradesman-like facade.

Ugly things hide behind simple names. An ugly demonic thing likely hid behind the word Earth. Even his name - T-Bone - had an ugly story attached to it. He was originally from Australia and his name was Larry -- his family had moved like Gypsies across that wilderness. A rough life and he was often left with abusive relatives. At age ten he'd been brutally raped by an uncle on the sand beach at Highland Falls. And though he didn’t call the police, some of the other kids had witnessed the crime from the bushes. Unidentified men from town strangled his uncle a week later, and the day Larry started school was the day he got tagged with his nickname. The other boys were sitting on the bridge railing as he passed and as he wasn't part of the local gang he passed silently and apprehensively, ignoring their whispers and giggling. Then one boy, Eddie suddenly shouted “The Bone! We saw you get the Bone!” And they all roared with laughter as he turned white and started to run. At school the nickname became his name -- even the teachers picked it up without knowing the reason behind it. He returned to Highland Falls that first evening, planning to jump and drown himself -- his self-esteem sinking right into the mud at the bottom when he discovered that he was a coward.

By the time T-Bone's family moved on the damage had been done -- the loner's personality had been cast, and a host of devils lurked inside of it – weird homophobia, distrust, brooding, anger, resentment and the rejection of all of the usual values society tagged to individuals. It was a perfect personality mix for the cameras -- he felt calm and in his proper place watching a distorted world of intersections and people obeying lights that he could care less about.

His reason for the new filter and the end of distortion was women. The city had a lot of beautiful women and he wanted more than a distorted view of some of them. There was one in particular he wanted to see in true color, and as the memory of her rose in his mind he began hurriedly switching through intersections along the grid, many of them with simple view cams he’d added himself. What was it? Silver Birch and Jenson Ave -- that was the corner -- somewhere in the 300 range. Running a string he watched as all ten screens blinked through intersections, then something caught his eye and he hit the stop key. It was a light jump in progress on the Mansion Road; a big sucker of a truck barreling through at high speed, its silver box leaving waves of distortion on the screen as it flashed by. Quickly switching to the next intersection on the route, T-Bone watched the truck approach. A young woman pushing a carriage was just getting across. “Thank God,” he thought, “I sure don’t want to see a baby get pan caked.” Then a man appeared on the crosswalk. T-Bone's view showed him from the rear. Brown-skinned like him and wearing a blue suit. He seemed to be stoned or something as he stopped in the centre and faced the oncoming truck.

It was still a hundred metres away, and T-Bone bit his lip, wondering why the idiot wasn't getting off the road. Then his eyes widened in amazement as the man suddenly tried to escape. He ran for the right side, throwing his arms out as he tried to leap. Something light -- gossamer and almost invisible flashed in front the truck, and then it was gone. But the man remained -- he hadn't been fast enough and was now food for the big grill.

The truck nailed him. T-Bone saw the crazed eyes of the Chinese driver, the impact and the body bouncing high in the air – bordered by blood spray as it headed straight for him.

Frightened and gasping, he fell out of his chair and the orange crate clattered as it overturned. Sitting up he saw purplish liquid pouring on the screen. Switching back through the grid he tried to find the truck, but it failed to show at the next light.

He had a recording of the accident, so he switched the whole thing to the center screen and replayed a version of it minus the distortion. “Damn shit,” he muttered as the body and blood spray flew straight for him again. With his arms spread, and shooting up at about forty-five degrees, the guy looked like some sort of super hero taking flight. Only it was a death flight -- and T-Bone wiped his brow with a handkerchief as he watched red blood pour on the lens.

“Bad news day,” he thought, and then he looked at his watch. Nearly nine p.m. and if he wasted any more time he would miss her. Switching back through the lights he got Silver Birch and Jenson on one of the screens and then switched into the centre for a better view.

Ten minutes passed without a single person passing by. A few cars trailed exhaust as they drove slowly through the intersection. Other than that it was about as exciting as staring at a still of plastic fruit. Then she appeared, coming off the side street. Her windblown platinum blonde hair excited him. Everything about her turned him on. Only he wasn't quite sure why. She wasn't the type he'd gone for in the past. Robust, healthy women had been his preference. This one was more like a ghost. Pale skin, slim with delicate features and always wearing white -- dresses thin as gossamer. The whole effect enhanced by her long luxurious legs. Other women were dragged and bent by the wind, but she floated into it, fluttering like a flag of beauty. Seeing her close up and in true color made him gasp. And at that moment, she seemed to look his way, her eyes like twinkling crystal.

Then she was gone, hidden in the shadows of an oak tree and T-Bone nearly ran to the screen, trying to see more of her. A few seconds passed then he saw a bit of silky white -- her legs moving as she went up the steps to her home.

She lived in the second house up from the north corner, a two-story frame dwelling. A weed garden and its riot of wildflowers covered the front, and a huge oak tree blocked any view of the living room window. Hitting the keyboard, T-Bone used a code that would cause the red-light camera to swing. This being a repair tool to fix circuits remotely -- only T-Bone had modified the code so he could move the lens and hold a certain view. The scene he chose being her bedroom window. He couldn't see much of it, just a glitter of dark glass with a leafy branch swaying in front of it most of the time. But it was enough to lock him there for more than two hours.

Near midnight, the bedroom light came on and he saw her moving past the window. He remained frozen and impassive as he watched her brush her hair. After that she left the room, returning ten minutes later. She pulled off her top and bra, walked to the window and opened it a crack. T-Bone stared with hypnotized fascination as she smiled out at the night sky.

Then the lights went out, and T-Bone sighed deeply and rose from his chair. There hadn't been a man in the room with her and that made him happy. If there had been a lover, it would have meant no in for him. A lover would've meant he would never have her. But now he saw opportunity and his stony face broke into a grin.


T-Bone's happiness was short-lived. Three days passed and she didn't show at the lights and her bedroom light didn’t come on. A state of apprehension and worry began to eat at him. He began to fear the worst. Using the secret room in the daytime was too risky, but he still thought of chancing it as a way to see if she came out of her house in the morning or at noon. One more day passed and he decided to compromise and simply go to the corner of Silver Birch and Jenson, hang around and see if he encountered her.

He knew that simply standing on the corner all day could get him reported by the neighborhood watch people, so he dressed in a repair outfit and took a city van. The day was sunny, his mood gloomy -- but that didn't bother him as his mood was nearly always on a downer. If he could catch sight of her things would change.

Silver Birch was a winding street overarched with maples. There were also a number of the namesake birch trees in front of mostly small bungalow-style houses. Her house was in the older section of the street and as he approached the intersection he felt a twinge of guilt. Parking right out front would be too obvious and he knew that if he tempted himself he would try to stare in the windows. For the sake of self-control he pulled over before he got to the intersection, in a spot where he had a clear view of the sidewalk and the lights. If she came out he would see her, and that would be good enough.

Two hours passed -- and T-Bone saw in close-up some of the same people he used to watch by camera, back when it was possible to spy openly during the daylight hours. It was interesting but not all that exciting -- and all the while he kept biting his nails, hoping she would show. She didn't and noon hour arrived with the sunlight shifting out of the trees and onto the van. He started to sweat in the heat and with the sweat came semi-delirium and worry. Why was nobody coming out of that house? What had happened?

Finally, it was too much and he got out, deciding to walk by for a closer look. There was nobody on the street and as he stepped to the shady sidewalk, a cool breeze swept him and he felt a lot better. At the corner, he waited on the light, and then he sauntered past the first house toward the riotous weed garden that marked her house. He faced straight ahead as he passed, then when he was at the driveway he took a quick glance.

And what he saw surprised him so much, he stopped, turned to face the house and gaped. The place was a dilapidated, boarded wreck, crouched in rubble, trash and weeds. A faded for sale sign stood in the centre of the yard, nearly buried by long grass. The driveway was cracked like it had been through an earthquake. And the weed garden wasn't a garden at all; it was just weeds. Paint peeled on the sills and the whole place seemed to be on a tilt. No one could possibly be living there; no one could have lived there for at least ten years.

His hair stiffened and a feeling of eerie fear crept in his blood as he raised his eyes to the bedroom window. It was the only window in the house that wasn't boarded and the glass was intact. It shone with dust and darkness, like cellophane on a well of emptiness. All of T-Bone's dreams vanished as he stared at it -- then he lifted his eyes to the moldy shingles on the roof above and felt a tear falling across his cheek.

A gust of wind blew through the weeds, and a sheet of yellowed newsprint rose and blew past him. Suddenly the mix of sadness and fear became too much and he turned and began to run. Jumping into the van, he slammed the door, and moments later he'd swung a U-turn and was speeding away.


Back in his technological lair, T-Bone, the sad eye of the underground, stared listlessly at the nighttime intersections. There was nothing to really watch for now that she was gone. Force of habit kept him going more than anything else. Sometimes as he watched empty roads and the clock ticking past 3 am, he realized he'd been doing this so long he didn't know of anything else to do.

But mostly he realized nothing, and just stared, feeling somewhat dead inside like he'd finally gone all of the way and actually turned into a mindless camera. But not quite because he still had a bit of the predatory instinct and often switched through various lights to interesting scenes. At the end of about three weeks, he had taken to watching the West Queen Street strip, an area of heavy drug use and prostitution. On one corner, a number of hookers hung out. Over three days of observation he learned about all that anyone could need to know about their sordid lives.

But like a voyeur, he kept watching anyway -- seeing fat johns and their filthy laughter and pimps yanking hair as they pulled the drugged-out girls from the gutters at 2 a.m.

One Friday night as he stared into the darkness, the rubbish and the trickling sewer water, he saw something different. He saw her -- his platinum lover, out strolling in the night breeze. His heart leapt but his eyes didn't believe what they were seeing. T-Bone rubbed them hard, but she didn't disappear. Red from the flashing light glowed on her pale skin. She moved forward with the slender beauty of a tigress. As always, she wore white and this time it was shorts and a halter-top; an outfit that highlighted her perfect long legs. As she reached the centre of the intersection she looked his way; the moonlight glittering in her eyes giving him the feeling that that she could see right through the camera to him in his lair.

As she turned away, his heart skipped a beat and then nearly burst as a red Porsche suddenly sped through the light, blowing its horn. She leapt out of the way so fast he could barely believe it and then she walked off into the shadows and was gone.


T-Bone's mission in life was to find her again. Now that he knew she was out there he would never give up. A fantasy developed where he would spot her on camera and run to his car, race to her and pick her up. To aid in making the dream come true he worked on the equipment, developing new settings so he could switch through intersections and swivel the cameras faster. To his rear, he installed a map of the city; it covered the whole wall and had two bright red dots marked on it -- one marking her home intersection and the other marking the new one she had showed at on the other side of town.

There wasn't any time to look at the clearer focus in the centre screen; his eyes flashed across all ten screens, absorbing the distortion, winking lights and blue-tinted night. T-Bone flew across the intersections like a racecar driver going off on ten roads at the same time … a mind-boggling effort that possessed him -- so much so that he sat there with the determined look of a madman as he hammered at his keypad and controls. On the Friday following her reappearance he really went out of control -- shooting through the lights on a trip that lasted for hours. By 2 a.m., which he considered prime time, he didn't think he could go on anymore. Horrible pain stabbed at his eyes, colored lights and distortion swam in his aching head and his stomach had turned sour on him. But he couldn't stop himself; he kept working the night until finally he fell right out of his chair and vomited wickedly.

He thought his entire stomach lining was going to be thrown, but after a minute he felt a bit relieved and raised his head. And it was then that he saw her -- just a glimpse as she had already crossed the street. The platinum hair, profile and her way of walking were unmistakable -- bouncing to his feet he ran closer to the screen, slipped on his own vomit and moaned miserably as he hit the floor.


In the daytime T-Bone was often dead tired and dragging himself like a sack. Lack of sleep showed as drooping purple bags under his eyes. What work he couldn't put off he passed on to subordinates. He had a private lakeside office in a high-rise but no secretary so it was easy to leave the door closed most of the time. In the afternoons he slept with his face on the desk -- an uneasy sleep peppered with haunting dreams. She was there in bizarre dream intersections and alleyways, always tossing him fleeting smiles and then vanishing before he could reach her. Often he woke in a state of burning frustration, and though he hadn't drank in the past he now kept whiskey in his drawer. A solid shot of Club and he'd stroll to the window, look out at the distant lake and islands and try not to think of her -- and it often worked for a short few minutes. But not any longer than that -- she always escaped him but he could not escape the ghostly image of her always rising in his mind.

As a loner he didn't have friends he could use as a distraction -- it was always the reek of whiskey and then his feet pulling him beneath the smoggy sunrise to damp darkness and his voyeur's lair. Over a few weeks, he spotted her a few times. Just fleeting glances and never a solid sighting. Even in his worst states of high frustration, he still went carefully to the map and marked sightings, using a large red dot.

When his luck improved, it was again a Friday night -- rather than jumping the system through lights, he'd decided to take it easy and study the crowds streaming from various events around the city. A formally dressed concert hall crowd was spilling across a Yonge Street intersection, and as it began to thin, she appeared. Her long white dress elegant, revealing a sophisticated side of her personality he hadn't seen before. Headlights flashed across her face as she walked across the street headed directly for a handsome gentleman leaning on a newspaper box. Her eyes glittered like gems or like the eyes of a woman in love. And in that instant T-Bone felt jealously he'd never felt before. His hands rose from the keyboard and he gripped the air. Then when he saw that the man was only lighting a smoke, and she was just passing him, a great feeling of relief passed over him and he slumped in his chair and watched calmly as she vanished in the night-lights.

She began to appear almost nightly and T-Bone spent a great deal of time studying the map. At one point, he noticed that she grew closer to his lair with each sighting and he began to believe she was coming to him -- driven by passion. But rather than arrive she outright passed him, appearing next at a set of lights farther north.

T-Bone was heartbroken by this and after the sighting, he swore he would get to her; if only he could somehow study the map and predict where she would appear next. At work he'd all but forgotten about his job as he sat locked in his office drinking and staring at a replica of the map. Yet the more he studied it the more confused he grew. Trying to make a logical pattern out of the dots proved elusive because there were endless patterns you could create and apply, and never know if they were valid.

Heaps of paper napkins grew on the floor as T-Bone worked at tracing every pattern possible; angel faces, demon claws, shapes of vehicles, birds, bears, ornaments and plants -- his drawing seemed endless. And the connection of dots was never quite right -- somehow he always knew it, discarded his work and started again.

Friday arrived again -- and with so many sightings on Friday, T-Bone arrived at the office with a bunch of note pads and a bottle of whiskey. By the afternoon, he was drunk with crumpled paper all around him. His hands shook so much he couldn't write so he threw the pen aside in frustration and leaned back in his chair. His vision swam in an alcoholic haze as he stared at a large copy of the map tacked on the wall. Then things got so blurry he could see nothing but the red dots marking the intersections where she'd appeared. The dots seemed to float on their own in midair and then they connected and he saw a word.

“LOVE,” he said it aloud, and then he knocked over his whiskey bottle and pulled himself up. The chair he simply threw aside as he hurried to the map. Staggering slightly he pulled a red pen from his pocket and as carefully as he could he connected to dots the way he'd seen them. When he was finished, he'd spelled the word LOVE at an angle across the city map. It was almost perfect, except that the last dot had not been filled in yet. T-Bone knew beyond any doubt that this was it and that last dot was the intersection where she would appear next.


T-Bone had sobered up by sunset. Stopping off at his downtown apartment he showered, shaved and put on a light suit. He took his city wagon, driving leisurely across town. The sun was falling in a blaze of red glory that seemed pointless as a backdrop to the everyday people on the sidewalks. Lights in the sky held little meaning or beauty for him -- all of his faith had been placed in the glittering eyes of a woman. The sun couldn't sink fast enough and twilight couldn't sift in soon enough for T-Bone. Nightfall meant he would see her and this time he would not let her get away.

As he reached the corner of Grace and Allan, the last rays of sunset were rising like streamers of fire over the western treetops.  Almost like a natural fireworks celebration indicating a great event to come. Getting out of the car, he looked around at the quiet neighbourhood, and then he took a walk to get the feel of the intersection.

The streetlamps came on as he reached the lights, giving him a better view of the houses. This was a clean residential street of front gardens, porches and neat fences. Only one house looked out of place -- an abandoned place on the northeast corner. It was overgrown with weeds and in bad repair, much like the house where he'd first spotted her. This one didn't even have a for sale sign in the yard -- like the owners had given up on attempts to sell it.

T-Bone crossed the road and stood out front for a few minutes, staring in at the dark cobwebby windows. He saw nothing and all he heard and felt were wind chimes and the breeze. A gentle tinkling and touch that would likely have spooked others raised T-Bone to a state of elation.

He knew the time wasn't right -- she wouldn't show this early. But just knowing she would was enough to cheer him. His feet took him back to the car, where he sat and waited in a state of certainty underwritten with feelings of aching romance. He felt like a groom, who knew his bride would eventually appear.

The breeze drifted softly through the window and his hair as the hours passed, and as 2 a.m. approached, he began to stir like a corpse in its coffin. His new suit scratched his chest and knees as he opened the door and eased himself out. Stepping to the sidewalk, he stretched, raising his arms high -- an unwitting worshipper of the full moon flying high in the ragged fleece of leaf and cirrus angel hair above.

Fresh lilac-scented air filled his nostrils, and he felt unusually strong and exhilarated as he walked to the lights. Once there he leaned on a newspaper box and studied the deep shadows and crowded houses. There wasn't any late night traffic on the deserted street and the only sounds now were vague snatches of party music carried in on the breeze. His eyes turned to the abandoned house across the road. The grounds were shrouded in shadow and darkness, but moonlight spilled across the treetops and spotlighted some of the higher windows with ghostly light. He studied a weird reflection of the moon in the glass, and then a sports car suddenly whooshed by on the road and broke his concentration.

T-Bone watched the red taillights recede in the night then he looked back at the house and saw a flash of gossamer in the driveway. It was her -- walking out to the sidewalk, and even in deep darkness her skin shone with pale moonlight. He could see the heavenly glitter of her eyes and her silky crown of platinum hair even before she came under the lamps.

Her step was purposeful, like a woman who knew where she was headed and was perhaps hurrying in the darkness due to fear of what might lurk in the night. Her dress was light and silky and open at the neckline. The breeze blew its folds high, revealing dazzling legs. As she reached the corner, the light flooded down on her face -- perfect cherry lips and a small nose. Her expression self-absorbed like some inner turmoil had her slightly upset.

She didn't notice T-Bone at all; her eyes failing to grant him recognition as she began to cross. She was headed straight for him, but in spite of that he couldn't wait. Stepping away from the box, he moved toward her, blocking her path so she'd be forced to speak to him there in the centre of the street.

He was almost face to face with her when she noticed him approaching. Her reaction was a startled glance; she halted immediately, began to back off and when she saw that T-Bone was still stepping up she turned and began to run straight up the middle of the road.

T-Bone hesitated for a moment, and then he shouted, “No, you can't run from me this time! Wait! Please!”

But she didn't listen and he could see her escaping. Turning he began to pursue her, sprinting as fast as he could. An eerie feeling swept him; it was almost the same as all of those nights of pursuing her by camera, except that this time he could really feel the chase, wind in his face and the exhilaration of a pounding heart.

She didn't vanish this time, and he gained on her rapidly. He knew he'd have her in few seconds and as he ran, he dared not take his eyes from her fluttering form for fear she would be gone. He saw her long legs moving as swiftly as his and then she was running no longer. Quick as a dancer, she stopped and turned; he saw her beautiful smile and blowing dress -- saw them fade and vanish, replaced by headlights and the grill of a speeding truck.

T-Bone had enough time to jump aside, but he didn't do it. He just kept running toward the truck and certain death. He kept running because he knew his dream woman was a ghost. He'd known since that night at the Silver Birch intersection when he'd seen the abandoned house.

In life, he could not have her and so he'd decided to join her in death. He was certain she loved him or she wouldn't have left him that message on the map. And if she cared that much then he wouldn't let trucks or red lights get in his way again. Raising his arms, he smiled as he ran, and when the truck hit him, he flew so high in the air his body landed in the telephone wires. But he saw none of that -- T-Bone saw ephemeral flashes, a world of pink sunlight, blue-tinted night and distortion. The alien world he'd seen through the unfiltered cameras, and ahead on the street, he saw her, smiling as she waited for him on the corner of Silver Birch and Jenson.

. . . . . . . . . . .