DARK NEIGHBORHOODS                                                                synopsis

Harper Paget, whose ancestor was burned long ago as a witch, is a mythologist and paranormal researcher living in Atlanta, GA, while still attached to a university in McAbee, IL. Both his wife and, later, a long distance lady friend in Indonesia, have been murdered by creatures called the Lamiae that have existed since ancient Greece but who are able to re-appear in different times throughout history by traveling between dimensions. These creatures, manifesting themselves today in the form of the Kuntilanak in Indonesia, have found their way to certain areas of the US.

 

Harper dreams that Star-Cross Corners, a bohemian area of Atlanta, has become a small village in ancient Greece. In this dream, he meets Geraldine – an Asian woman. His dream also includes a view of the farmhouse where the horror actually started.

At the farmhouse of Floyd and Emma Hardin, Harper and his then-living wife Pauline join the Hardin’s and Floyd’s Indonesian student, Lina, in an experiment with an Ouija board. The board spells out several names that will mean something later, including the name of Harper’s paternal grandmother. She warns Harper of coming danger. From Lina, they learn about a dukun, a male witch who uses the head of a suicide victim to control spirits, and a malaikat, a good spirit and guide. Harper’s grandmother will be his maliakat. Harper sees a manifested apparition of Jacquema Paget who was falsely accused of being a witch and burned.

 

In San Diego, CA, Harper and Pauline visit the Wheaton House, a historic landmark in Olde Town. Pauline, after becoming separated from Harper, sees a horrible image of a woman in a mirror and learns that Harper’s future book will be considered a threat to the Lamiae/Kuntilanak because it will expose their existence.  Pauline’s body is found in the house, but her non-physical self has been drawn into the early 1800s where she interacts with Anna, a woman she knew in a former life.

Years later, Harper’s colleague Jonathan Ware at McAbee University, holds a party in his town house apartment high above the St. Louis waterfront. Lina, Floyd, Emma, and Irma Wright, the office manager of the Humanities Department, attend this party to celebrate the publication of Harper’s book. On the roof of this tall complex, Harper sees, captured in a photoflash, a threatening specter.

From Lina, now a graduate assistant at McAbee University, we learn from a letter she is writing to Harper in Atlanta that her father may have been killed by a kuntilanak many years before in Indonesia.

In Atlanta, Harper’s deceased wife visits him at night; she both chides him and counsels him as a malaikat. He is also visited by the specter that he saw in St. Louis, but why she does not attack him is not clear to him at this time. Harper recalls his long-distance relationship with Mira, the Indonesian lady, who became jealous with his friendship with Lina. Pauline’s visiting apparition tells him that he is attracted to sick women. After a phone discussion with Mira, he learns that she has been murdered in Qian Shan, China, and that her head was missing.  Harper is overwhelmed by shock and grief.

Pauline visits him not only in his apartment at night but in a large Atlanta shopping mall in broad daylight, warning him that these creatures are a threat to all mortals. She tells him that he is now interested in Asian women because they are unlike her.

In his farmhouse in rural Illinois, Floyd awakens from a dream about Pauline and the others at their Ouija board party and sees a female creature engulfing him just before his wife enters the bedroom. Emma has heard him call out Lina’s name in his half-awake state, and is, of course, quite jealous. She discovers that he has been scratched on the forehead. On the slanted bedroom ceiling above them are names of Emma’s family members written in coal dust.  After a moment, Floyd sees other names written in the coal dust –- his and Pauline’s. What at first appears to be FLOYD. DANGER. PAULINE finally becomes FLOYD DANGER, PAULINE. Emma doesn’t see the names that he does but reminds him that he needs to contact Harper, who is alone in Atlanta.

In the university library, Floyd consults a number of tomes referred to in Harper’s earlier book Paranormal Pursuit. Harper reveals his belief that a truth exists behind the legends of the Lamiae and that the original Lamia was not native to this world. Harper’s book has created disfavor with faculty members in the religion department –- as well as certain board members -– at the university.

Floyd visits Lina at the university, now serving as a graduate assistant of a biology professor.  She tells him more about the creatures from her country that she first mentioned at the Ouija board party years before. She tells him how the kuntilanak creature might give off a fragrant odor before she seduces, tortures, and kills a male victim.

In the parking lot, Floyd gives Lina a DVD that belongs to Harper: Vampires of Argos. They drive to a campus lake cemetery where they feed bread to fish. Lina tells him how, after a riot in her country directed against Chinese-Indonesians, ghost cries were heard from a burned-out shopping center. She also says that part of Harper is a tired, lost soul, but part of him glows – a gift passed down from his ancestors. As she talks about Harper, Floyd sees that she has feelings for him.

In Atlanta, on the top floor of Harper’s apartment building, he is a guest of Eric and Miranda who are throwing a party. Alone for a moment on the balcony, Harper talks to the ghost of Pauline. Guests at the party include Adonio Franco, a rune reader; and Matt Gregory MD, a psychiatrist; and several counter-culture types who live or work in Star Cross Corners. They are all discussing the death of a woman whose body had been stuffed into a dumpster in Star Cross Corners, her body fluids drained. Adonio, while giving a rune reading, picks up the name of Mira, Harper’s murdered girl friend.

 

Miranda smells something fragrant from the balcony and goes out to look. She lets out a scream and returns to the party in hysterics. Harper goes out to the balcony to look but sees only a near-deserted neighborhood. Fear has gripped even the homeless in the area. After throwing up in the toilet, Miranda tells them that she saw a different place out there – an ancient town filled with shadowy people, one of whom turned into a black-haired woman who was able to float off the ground. The rune reader believes that a gateway has opened up.

Harper is alone when he receives a call from Mira, his murdered girl friend. She spouts lines that she had spoken to him in the past. When he ends the call, she calls back. The caller ID indicates that she is calling him from his own cell phone, but his cell phone is turned off. She tells him that she loves him still and that he will stay alive as long as he doesn’t tell the dukun what he wants to know.  She won’t identify the dukun and merely says: “Remember who you are, Harper.” When Eric knocks on his door, startling him, he discovers that several hours have slipped away mysteriously.  It is now eight am.  Eric tells him that a neighbor girl has moved out without telling anyone and has left her door open. That morning, a body of a young man who had attended Eric’s party upstairs has been found in a dumpster.

Driving alone at night in rural Illinois, Floyd talks to Lina on his cell phone. We learn that he and Emma are planning on going into the used book business online, and he is returning home with a cache of books that he has bought from a bookstore that is going out of business.  Floyd is planning on flying to Atlanta to be with Harper, and Lina is considering whether or not she can accompany him. She tells Floyd about an experience she had in Missouri when she saw, walking along the side of the road at 3 am, two young girls. Their faces were hidden and their feet did not touch the ground. Floyd tells her about the many ghost sightings along the Mississippi River.

Harper greets Floyd and Lina at the Atlanta airport. He shows them a newspaper story about still another murder in Star-Cross Corners – a girl friend of a boy whose body had been found earlier – another victim who had attended Eric’s party on the top floor of Harper’s building. Harper notices a wound on Floyd’s forehead, just below the hairline.

In his apartment, the three of them watch Harper’s DVD of Vampyres of Argos. The film is one of those Italian sword-and-sword epics, except that this one begins to look like something from what Harper calls the super-spectrum, more real than even HD 3-D movies. Three maidens in the film are tied to stakes to be sacrificed to some unknown shadowy creature. Standing out from the Italian cast is an Asian woman portraying a princess.  Lina insists a shadow puppet from her country, part of the Wayang Kulit, is creating the shadow.  Harper even has a large flat puppet made of buffalo hides.

Harper closes his eyes while they watch the DVD and finds himself inside the super-spectrum movie. The Asian actress tells him that her name is Geraldine and that he will meet her someday. She says that this vision is the surface of what he will call the primary world in a future book titled The Secondary World. He sees an image of his Grandma Barteau as he saw her in her house as a small boy. She tells him that he has an energy force that can be channeled, something that Lina had already discovered. His family has been fighting these creatures for centuries. Suddenly his grandmother’s image disappears and an emaciated corpse-like creature attacks him.

Lina knows how to fight such creatures and succeeds in destroying it. He now realizes that he is not in a dream but in the empty apartment complex next to his own apartment. He faints.

Harper awakens in a hospital bed where he is besieged by a barrage of questions while his head is being bandaged. When alone, he meets a young girl patient named Dorie. They discuss the world of the Lamiae, and she reveals that she knows of his grandmother. He learns that Dorie had an atrial septum defect and died exactly one year before.

While in the hospital Floyd and Lina visit the convenience store across the main avenue. After they leave the store, Floyd sees Lina as no longer wearing jeans but the red dress she wore to Jonathan Ware’s party in St. Louis. She vanishes and in her place is a vile creature that attacks him. As he dies, he dreams that he is freezing to death in a snow-bound world.

Harper again talks to Dorie, the specter who not only reveals that she spoke to his grandmother but that his friend Floyd has been killed.  She also tells him to keep his car door locked after he leaves the hospital. When Lina comes for him, she confirms the fact of Floyd’s death but will not discuss his body condition. When Eric drives them home, they confront a swirling pale image. Fortunately, Harper has locked his car door.

Harper insists on visiting the convenience store, but when he approaches it, the entire neighborhood seems to be frozen into a three-dimensional photograph. In a mirror just inside the closed store, he sees Pauline who tells him about his amygdala which causes extreme anxiety – but also which stimulates him to generate energy. Lina, who joins him in front of the store, does not see Pauline’s ghost or the ghost hand of a horrible creature reach out from the mirror. Drifting shadows with iridescent faces float near the apartment complex.

In a dream, Harper sees his witch ancestor as ocean waves lap against the side of the apartment complex. After his has been awake for half an hour, both of his phones ring. Lina answers one, Harper the other. It is Mira, again repeating a conversation from an old phone call. He tells Lina that the creatures are all around them – playing mind games – using Mira’s disembodied voice to torture him. Outside his window, he sees one of the creatures staring at him.

On the phone, Mira’s voice tells him to watch out just as the Wayang Kulet shadow puppet stands on its own and strikes his head like an ax.

The next day, Harper and Lina frantically face the fact that they are running out of survival options. They must leave the neighborhood but don’t know who to tell about the phenomenon. Even Eric does not believe their story. Adonio Franco arrives at the apartment and tells Harper that he must go through the gateway to the other world. He and Lina will be his control, protecting him in this world. Eric remains skeptical.

With Adonio playing a tape of pounding drums, Harper dives into a dream state and passes through the gateway where he again finds himself part of the Vampyres of Argos movie set. He meets Geraldine who tells him that he is creating this world. He sees a soldier dragging a scraggly, badly injured man next to his chariot -– a prisoner who calls out to him in desperation. It is Eric – the dukun, according to Geraldine.

After what seems like an eternity, Harper sees himself on the seashore with his ancestor, Jacquema Paget, just off shore. Also visible in the gurgling foam is Eric’s emaciated corpse.  A seagull metamorphoses into a kuntilanak and attacks him. He struggles desperately for his life. However, with the combined energy of his ancestors – including his grandmother – and his deceased wife, he manages to wrench free a lock of the creature’s hair – the way, as he learned from Lina, to destroy a kuntilanak.

Back in his own world, surrounded by news reporters and police officers taking statements, Harper watches as Eric’s body is taken away. He has fallen from his apartment on the top floor because he had been drinking heavily. Harper tells Lina that it either had to be Eric or her who was the dukun. Eric, as they knew, had studied beliefs in Malaysia, Indonesia, and China in order, at least at first, to study the fear factor involved in these beliefs.

Adonio tells Harper that he has had the shaman energy all along. It was his inner self, influenced by the positive energy of his ancestors, creating the scenario that allowed him to identify the dukun and destroy the kuntilanak creature sent after him.  Harper looks at Lina, and we know that he knows who else is responsible for his survival.

In the final scene, Harper and Lina are on a plane headed for Indonesia. He wishes to trace the path that Eric traveled in order to learn more about how the kuntilanak and how Eric had been transformed into a dukun. Across the aisle, Harper, in his half-awake states, sees the specter of Pauline. He tells her that he now has the help of Lina as his malaikat, but Pauline assures him that she will need her own help as well. After all, he has not yet met the real Geraldine.

Harper observes that this is the first time that Pauline has smiled at him since she died.

 

END