The year was 1984, and Ray Parker Jr. was riding high on the success of his #1 single, the theme to the hit movie Ghostbusters.
There was a full moon that night, illuminating the black limousine as it crept to a halt in the middle of nowhere. When the crunch of wheels on the dirt road ceased, with the engine dead the only sound was crickets.
‘Marty! Why are we stopping, man? This aint the gig,’ Ray said as the glass partition separating driver from passenger slid downward.
‘Sorry Mr. Parker, I don’t –‘
‘Mr. Parker, Junior,’ he corrected. ‘“Mr. Parker” was my dad.’
Marty, the balding, middle aged, chauffeur replied wearily ‘Sorry Mr. Parker, Jr., I’ll check to see what happened. But I think we’re outta gas! Fuel gauge may be busted.’
‘Normally bustin’ makes me feel so good, but not when I got to get to a show. Man…I bet Lionel Richie doesn’t roll in no cut rate limos,’ he said with a shake of his jheri curled head.
‘Yep, no gas,’ it was confirmed. ‘But I saw a station a mile back,’ the chauffeur pointed out while pecking numbers into a shoebox sized cellular phone.
‘Who ya gonna call? Ha! See that? See what I just did?’
‘Very clever, sir. Hm. No signal. These things will never catch on. Well, guess I’ll get walking.’
Hours later, Ray was still in the limo and growing more impatient. Decisively straightening the lapels on his red leather jacket with diagonal zippers, he resolved not to sit around any longer and set off down the dirt road.
‘Too bad ‘bout that gig. I was gonna play some new shit that would flip their wigs. But all they wanna hear is that one song though. Now where is that goddamn gas station?’
After another 20 minutes of walking he found it, but the missing pump, broken windows, and weeds everywhere suggested it had been closed for years. To make matters worse, there was no sign of his chauffeur either.
At that moment he heard a vehicle coming from the direction he had just walked. Ray flagged it down, and a beat up pickup truck pulled over into the decrepit gas station lot. An old man rolled down his window.
‘Son, you need help?’
‘Hey, you see a chubby white dude in a suit walkin’ down that road?’
‘No. Reckon I haven’t seen a soul.’
‘Damn. My limo died, you think you can give me a ride?’ he asked while unfavorably assessing the condition of the old man’s truck.
‘Well I didn’t see no limo neither,’ the old man said pensively, ‘but sure. Hop in. I’m going just up the road a ways and can take you to the old Perkins place. They got a phone. Maybe that’s where your friend went to.’
They rode in silence for a couple miles before the old gentleman pulled off the road where a dirt driveway began.
‘This is where I can drop you. Just head on up yonder and it’ll take you to the old Perkins place. At the fork in the road, just stay to the left. The right is quicker but…you don’t want to go there.’
‘Well I sure as shit have walked enough tonight. What’s wrong with the short cut?’
‘The short cut takes you through a cemetery. It’s a bad place. Folks say there’s something dark in these woods…something best left alone. Stick to the left, son.’
‘Do you know who I am?? Look, I aint ‘fraid of no…whatever you got! That’s my whole thing, baby!’ said Ray with a wide grin and open arms. He stepped away and the truck rattled on down the road, the tail-lights illuminated him in a blood-red cloud of exhaust and dust, making him look as if he were on stage, about to perform his big number. Then it went dark, save for the silver moon looking down.
Just as the man said, the fork in the road was marked with a battered hand-painted sign “To the old Perkins place” which pointed to the left. Ray, without pause, took the road to the right. As he walked, the path narrowed and seemed to close off behind him. Twisted, leafless, trees grew increasingly dense, nearly blocking the way at points. The full moon cast serpentine shadows of the branches onto the ground.
He felt some of his steely resolve beginning to slip away. After a hundred yards the claustrophobia of the path gave way to an opening, a field dotted with grave stones weathered by wind, rain, and time. The ruins of an abandoned church were being swallowed up by the dark forest in the far corner of the meadow.
‘This must be what the old dude was talking about.’ As he crept forward, a feeling of dread like he never experienced sunk into the pit of Ray’s stomach, threatening to rise up along with his dinner.
Suddenly he felt like he was not alone. An icy breath blew down his neck, as if somebody was standing right behind him.
‘Who the –!‘ he yelped, wheeling around to confront whoever (or whatever) was there. But he saw nobody. An owl mournfully repeated his query of “who?” from deep in the woods. It was very still, other than the pounding in his chest.
‘Stay cool, Ray. Everything’s gravy, baby. You got this.’ His empty words barely comforted him as he picked up the pace, eager to get to his destination.
A little girl’s laughter came from somewhere among the mist and headstones. It had a disembodied aura, sounding far away yet somehow close by and it stopped Ray in his Adidas-clad footsteps. His blood froze, a metallic taste hit his mouth, and in a panic he took off screaming.
Leaping over broken grave stones and ducking skeletal tree branches, he headed for the ruins of the church hoping for a place to hide. The laughter followed him, deepening in pitch and sounding more demonic now. He smashed though the door hanging from its hinges as a black shape shot up from among the dusty pews. It was a flock of starlings, and they took off with a rush through a large hole in the roof. Ray ducked behind the altar, his chest heaving from his mad dash.
‘Ok –‘ he gasped ‘ok I’m afraid of that ghost. I take it all that shit back!’
And then his heart skipped a beat, hearing the creak of the rusty door hinge. Followed by the sound of a heavy boot on the wooden floorboards. And another. Whatever found him was getting closer. THUD! He shut his eyes, preparing to see the face of death itself standing before him. THUD!
‘Ray!’ The footfalls turned into knocks on the limo window. ‘Wake up, Mr. Parker Jr. I got gas. We can make that show after all!’
He flinched at Marty’s round face in the window, and wiped the sweat off his brow as it slowly sunk in that he was safe, having merely fallen asleep for an hour or so.
‘Right on,’ he said shakily. ‘Solid.’ After a long pause – ‘Hey you know what, my man? Let’s turn around. We’re heading back. I just don’t have it in me to sing that song again.’
And from that day on, Ray was a changed man. With humility in his heart, replacing the bravado which rocketed him to fame, he never had another number one song again. Or at least that’s what he tells himself.