The ghost story tak­ing over Twit­ter

Il­lus­tra­tor Adam El­lis says he’s be­ing haunted by a child ghost. And he’s spin­ning his story mas­ter­fully in 140char­ac­ter bursts

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - TICKET STUBS - Seamás O’Reilly

Since the in­cep­tion of Twit­ter, the mi­croblog­ging plat­form has mainly been used for in­stan­ta­neous cov­er­age of cur­rent events and pithy com­men­tary that re­lies on punch ahead of depth. That’s not to say more ex­pan­sive uses for the for­mat haven’t been de­ployed, but up un­til re­cently, its po­ten­tial for deep, long­form nar­ra­tive writ­ing hasn’t been its killer sell­ing point. In the past week, how­ever, a par­tic­u­larly in­ge­nious ghost story has shown what Twit­ter could be ca­pa­ble of as a sto­ry­telling me­dia.

It all be­gan when Adam El­lis be­gan telling the story of Dear David, a stir­ring and oc­ca­sion­ally heart-stop­ping tale, in a se­ries of tweeted plot­points span­ning the past three weeks. Like all grip­ping yarns, it’s best read in its un­cut form – with some ju­di­ciously se­lected mood light­ing per­haps – but for the uni­ti­ated, a pré­cis runs as fol­lows.

El­lis awakes one morn­ing to tweet a de­scrip­tion of a re­cur­ring dream he’s been hav­ing fea­tur­ing “the ghost of a dead child”. An able car­toon­ist, he pro­vides a pic­ture of said in­fant wraith, an an­gry look­ing tyke sport­ing a rather gi­gan­tic dent in his head. He is then vis­ited by another per­son in his dreams, who makes it known that this an­tag­o­nist is a ghost known as Dear David, who only ap­pears at mid­night and is so-called be­cause all ques­tions to him must be ad­dressed “Dear David”.

All of this is on the strictest pro­viso that – and at this junc­ture you can just about hear the strain­ing of necks around the camp­fire – you must only ever ask him two ques­tions. Should you ask three, it is sur­mised, your death shall be at his hands. Un­for­tu­nately, when El­lis gets a chance to in­ter­ro­gate his oneiric in­ter­loper, he in­ad­ver­tently asks him a third ques­tion with­out re­ply. Has he now been marked for death? Well, at this junc­ture, things start to get a whole lot more in­ter­est­ing.

Rather than con­tin­u­ing with the same tex­tual for­mat for his nifty lit­tle night terror, El­lis mixes things up, fo­cus­ing on the ef­fects that Dear David ap­pears to be hav­ing on his en­vi­ron­ment. El­lis’s cats are filmed star­ing at his door with creepy fas­ci­na­tion; he takes Po­laroids of the door­frame, which refuse to de­velop; he records weird bumps in the night as a par­tic­u­larly spir­ited green chair ap­pears to move by it­self; and he dis­plays a bizarre litany of missed calls to which he has been sub­jected.

Drip­ping with queasy chills and framed with art­ful re­straint, El­lis’s cat­a­logu­ing of his men­tal state is nim­ble stuff, and even in­cor­po­rates in­ter­ac­tive el­e­ments as he takes on board his read­ers’ sug­ges­tions: burn­ing sage, spread­ing salt, and tak­ing ever more pho­tos, as he at­tempts to cleanse his home of its un­clean spirit.

Dear David is not ex­actly a gut-rend­ing new bench­mark in mod­ern hor­ror but, in a month in which au­di­ences clam­our to see the big-screen re­turn of It, El­lis’s slow­burn pac­ing and dis­arm­ingly mat­ter-of-fact ex­e­cu­tion are redo­lent of Stephen King’s own knack for un­leash­ing all the dark dread one might find within the do­mes­tic, whether a fun­fair clown peak­ing out of a sub­ur­ban storm drain, or the slight, sub­tle rock­ing of that damned green chair Adam seems in­tent on leav­ing in his home like a bloody lu­natic.

The se­ries is still on­go­ing and res­o­lutely un­re­solved – hav­ing be­gun on Au­gust 7th, he hasn’t made an up­date since Au­gust 29th – but one feels El­lis’ self-mock­ing Twit­ter han­dle @moby­dick­head hides a real flair for long­form story-craft.

With Dear David, he may not be con­struct­ing the great Amer­i­can novel, but this dis­tinctly di­vert­ing mi­cronovella shows some fa­mil­iar old thrills may yet find a new home on Twit­ter.

Left: Adam El­lis with his scaredy-cats and, be­low, the artist’s in­pres­sion of his tor­men­tor David

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