“Overlook Park” Horror by Joshua Ginsberg

Joshua Ginsberg is the author of Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure (2020), Tampa Bay Scavenger (2021), Oldest Tampa Bay (2022), and co-author of Secret Orland: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure (2023). His work has appeared in numerous print and online publications including The City Key, 365 Tomorrows, Atlas Obscura, Travel After Five, and on his own blog, Terra Incognita Americanus. He currently lives in the Town n’ Country neighborhood of Tampa with his wife, Jen, and their Shih Tzu, Tinker Bell.

Six months. Joy tried to wrap her mind around that. Six months since the day she came home to find her husband Scott dead of a stroke on the kitchen floor, in a pool of melted ice from the open freezer. They had been married just over two years.

“Keep it together,” she whispered. She had been saying that since even before Scott died. The phrase had been their mantra, during the lean times when one or both of them had been out of work, during the darkest days of the pandemic; whenever everything seemed on the verge of falling apart, which had not been infrequent. Just keep it together.

She had gone alone to the cemetery earlier, to place flowers. Friends had offered to join her, but she preferred to be alone. Today was private, the culmination of the dread that had been building the last few weeks.

Dates were triggers for her. When she had flipped the page of the wall calendar to August and saw today circled, it reopened the wound and brought all the pain rushing back, crushing the breath from her chest. Without thinking she had reached for her phone and dialed his cell number, to hear his voice. She knew the short message by heart, she must have called it more than a hundred times in that first devastating month without him. To hear the message, it was like he wasn’t gone forever, maybe just on a business trip. He used to take those all the time.

It hadn’t been intentional, but he had been buried with his phone. It was just left there in the pocket of his suit pants. No one thought about looking for it until well after it was too late. She imagined it glowing faintly and vibrating against his body, even now – a visual somehow equally upsetting and reassuring.

Late afternoon was giving way to dusk. She was parked just down the hill from the cemetery at Overlook Park, where they used to come to look out at the city. Sometimes they had picnics together sitting on the hood of the car. Sometimes they had just stayed in the car, made out, made love. That vehicle belonged to another life now, a short, shared life. She had traded it in for the silver 4Runner she sat in now.

She took out her phone to hear his voice again. When it came to life under her touch, she noticed an unread text message. From Scott’s number. The blood froze in her veins.

Did you call?

She had, just a few hours ago. Who would know that? Had someone been there watching her? Or hacked the phone line? Could that be done? Someone playing a cruel prank? She took the bait.

Who is this?

Time stood still until the reply came.

Babs, it’s me. It’s Scott.

Sick. This is sick, she shivered. Who hated her enough to do this?

No, it’s not. Who is this?

The reply came slowly.

Really, it’s me. Not sure how. Not in good shape here. Need help. Starving.

Her mind was numb. She watched from the rear-view window as some unseen animal caused the foliage from the park behind her to rustle. Racoon maybe. Coyote perhaps. It was her turn to reply and she was stalling. Just trying to keep it together. That tiny, distant part of her that still made a wish when the clock turned 11:11 asked wordlessly, was there any possibility that this wasn’t some sort of hoax? Rationality rushed to the defense of her sore heart.

Prove it.

The silence stretched out like the clouds over the city, reflecting the wanning light in pink, orange, and fiery red.

You wanted to buy the pink house on the corner of the block. You have a thing about wearing socks at night, even when its cold. You love to watch our dog twitch her hind leg when she dreams.

Her jaw hung open in disbelief. All of that was true. Intimate details. Still, could someone who knew her well enough have known that? Could someone observing her without her noticing, over a long enough period of time, have learned any or all of this? It seemed unlikely.

One last test then.

What’s my dad’s middle name.

The response was quick this time.

He doesn’t have one.

She was reeling now. Head throbbing, heart racing. Alive with an insane hope. She reminded herself to breathe. Was it somehow possible? No, she’d found him, she’d seen them take his body away. Still, could this really, somehow, impossibly be Scott?

As if reading her thoughts, another text arrived.

Think I’m sick. I’m not. Hole.

Hole? Did he mean whole?


He responded as the streetlights flickered to life one by one.

Some of me is gone. Tried to get something to eat from a trashcan, couldn’t keep it down. There was a squirrel there. A dead squirrel.

So embarrassed. I tried to eat it.

I’m not ok.

The thought of him picking up a dead animal and taking a bite of it made her gag. She wiped her face and realized she was crying. Then something thumped against the underside of the car, and Joy jumped in her seat, dropping the phone. The lifeline to her no longer dead husband. She fished around under the seat and found it.

This was real. This was actually real and happening.

Where are you?


Her hear was pounding now. She would find him and get him help and somehow the last six months would turn out to have been some terrible mistake. They would figure it out. They could fix this. The last of sunlight was draining from the sky now, blood red giving way to dark bruised purple and black beyond that. Lights glittered in the windows of the towers out before her.

I’m at the park we used to go to. The one that looks out on the skyline.

She paused.

Overlook Park?

A chill started at the back of her neck and passed throughout the rest of her body.

Yeah. I’m under something. Hard to see – my eyes aren’t right. Under a Jeep I think.

Joy turned her head slowly and glanced first out the driver side and then the passenger side window, confirming what she already knew.

Hers was the only vehicle parked in sight.

Another thump from under her feet. And a text.

I’m stuck. Need help.
Kind of wrapped up in the bottom of the car.

He was under the SUV. In need of help. Dazed, she opened the door, which brought on the interior lights and a steady electronic binging, like a pulse. She swung her legs over the seat and stepped out onto the asphalt, crouching with her cellphone as a flashlight to look under the vehicle.

There was… something… clinging to the underside of the 4Runner. A human form, shadow black with caked soil, dimly lit from a cracked cellphone beneath it. It was Scott! but something was wrong with it. With him. Oh god, she gasped. His lower half vanished under the ribbons of his torn clothing, what was that? Was that dirty, ropelike thing, she choked, was that part of his insides?

She recoiled and stood up straight, took a deep breath of cool evening air.

Hold yourself together, she ordered, the phrase cutting clear through the malestrom within. Keep! It! Together!

She looked back under the SUV and saw him jabbing two fleshless phalanges at the phone. He turned to her and what should have been his eyes were just two hollow pits. He tried to move his mouth, but his jaws seemed stuck.

Wired shut, she thought. They do that. When someone dies.

The smell wafting out from under the vehicle, of earth and rot, nearly overpowered her. Expending every ounce of will she had, Joy won out over the urge to run, or collapse into a sobbing mess, to fall apart.

She reached out for him and saw now that parts of him, one of his arms, and part of what she took to be his intestines, had become wrapped around the axel.

Half under the car, she tried to brush away some of the dirt and pull out a few of the roots that had become intertwined with what was left of Scott’s body. The soil was damp, but beneath it was a layer of desiccated, brittle skin. Like a layer cake, she thought crazily. Under that, deeper inside of him, things that felt alternately hard and spongy, bones and organs, which crumbled at her touch.

Clumps of dirt, and Scott, came away in her hands. She felt things she couldn’t see, didn’t want to see, wriggling against her palms.

American National Standards Institute Inc.

“No.” He was slipping through her fingers again, and not just metaphorically this time, as she tried desperately to unknot and detach him from the vehicle without destroying him in the process. “Nononononono!”

Scott, shook his head sadly. He knew what Joy wouldn’t accept, that his situation couldn’t be salvaged. Accepting this, he seemed to deflate as the animating force left him. He came loose in a heap, milky bluish light poking through in places from the cell phone he collapsed on.

Joy tried to wipe her face, smearing it with mud and Scott, her tears carving channels through it –the inverse of mascara running down her cheeks. She sifted through the pile of what had just been quasi-living Scott and took his cellphone in her hand.

She read his last, unsent message.

Sry babs. I just can’t keep it together.

Joshua Ginsberg is the author of Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure (2020), Tampa Bay Scavenger (2021), Oldest Tampa Bay (2022), and co-author of Secret Orland: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure (2023). His work has appeared in numerous print and online publications including The City Key, 365 Tomorrows, Atlas Obscura, Travel After Five, and on his own blog, Terra Incognita Americanus. He currently lives in the Town n’ Country neighborhood of Tampa with his wife, Jen, and their Shih Tzu, Tinker Bell.

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