Local Boos: Terror in Marghoulritaville
A new(s) story for Halloween.
For the last three years, I’ve published a short Halloween story for newsletter readers. In 2020, it was “The Stair Sweeper,” and in 2021, “The Ghost of Quarantine Present.” This year’s tale is called “Local Boos: Terror in Marghoulritaville.” It is based on real-life events.
‘Those Ghouls Were Family’: Disappearance of Local Skeletons Spooks Underground Community
By Gourdon Frank Enstein, staff reporter, Central Texas Night-Times
AUSTIN — “You just never think something like this is gonna happen to you until it does, and then bam,” says Tony del Morte, heaving a bucket of ice into Marghoulritaville’s wailing cooler ahead of the evening shift. This little-known North Austin dive bar has been busier since the disappearances – mostly lookie-loos, a few wannabe detectives, a couple TikTokkers chasing clout – but del Morte would happily trade all the new business for a quiet night, one where he just gets to sling his signature Sin ‘n Tonics without wondering where his friends are, if they’re safe, if they’re even together. “I know it sounds weird,” he says, straightening a festive captain’s hat over his decaying skull, “but this is a family place, and those ghouls were family.”
“Those ghouls” are – or perhaps, were – affable skeleton-songwriter “Big” Jimmy Boo-ffett and his manager, “Little” Jimmy, a smooth-talking, hard-drinking bag of bones that some say had shady connections to the underworld of the underworld. But del Morte won’t tolerate any speculation about Little Jimmy’s dealings, at least not until he gets some answers about what happened that fateful Sunday night last October: “I don’t care who you are, nobody deserves this.”
Del Morte’s predecessor opened Marghoulritaville sometime in the late 70’s – records from the era are sketchy, and old-timers say the joint operated as a speakeasy for years before del Morte got it properly licensed. There’ve been no shortage of weird occurrences at the bar in the last 50 years, much of it coinciding with del Morte’s decision to leave the business in the hands of a leprechaun while he pursued his MBA. But nothing’s shaken up this little community of oddballs and outsiders quite like what happened sometime after the bar closed for the night last October 23rd.
There are a few facts that the patrons and staff who were there that night agree on: Boo-ffett played his set until about 1 am, when the regular rush of thirsty banshees and goblins poured through the door post-haunting. Little Jimmy was drinking a little harder than normal, needling Boo-ffett about skipping “Monster Mash,” a crowd-pleaser that always brought in extra tips, but which Boo-ffett often complained kept him pigeonholed as a novelty act. Del Morte broke up a scuffle between two coked-up vampires just after last call; his second-in-command, a diminutive but fiery porcelain doll who goes by Freaky Bea, made sure the vamps left in two separate Ubers before heading home herself to a child’s toy box on the east side. Del Morte agreed to have an after-hours drink with Boo-ffett and Little Jimmy, hoping to smooth things out between the pair. He told them he’d pour a round of whiskeys after locking up the walk-in refrigerator out back – a recent rash of break-ins had him spooked about losing his craft beer inventory. When del Morte returned to the bar, Boo-ffett and Little Jimmy were nowhere in sight.
They haven’t been seen since.
Jimmy Boo-ffett came by his “Big” nickname honestly; at just over eight feet tall, he could be intimidating to smaller and less corporeal denizens of the night. His oversized, glowing eye sockets didn’t help. But Boo-ffett worked extra hard to make folks feel comfortable around him.
“Honestly, he was a big teddy bear,” remembers Grimelda Gore, Boo-ffett’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, before correcting herself: “No, he is a big teddy bear. A naked, bony teddy bear who might poke your eye out with a rib, but damn if a hug from that guy wasn’t worth it.”
Boo-ffett knew nobody would ever forget his face, so he made sure to never forget a name – or a favorite drink, or a favorite song. Gore remembers Boo-ffett performing a special set of Zombies covers for an undead friend going through a tough breakup with his lower left leg, and donating proceeds from his annual Christmas show to the local Chucky Chapter’s terrors-for-tots drive.
But Gore, an otherwise vocal spectre who daylights as a Door Dasher, clams up when asked about Little Jimmy, taking a long pause to light a Marlboro 100 and sip her seasonal pumpkin ale on Marghoulritaville’s torchlit back patio. “I don’t mind speaking ill of the dead – heavens, I’d never talk about anybody at all if that was the case,” she laughs. “But let’s just say they weren’t the best influence on Big Jimmy. “
By many accounts, Little Jimmy had a checkered past – ask five different ghosts about how Little Jimmy came to be a Marghoulritaville regular, and you’ll get five different answers. Maybe they hitched a ride into town on the back of a witch’s broom, or were summoned from the grave by a group of teens who didn’t know their way around a ouija board. Some say Little Jimmy ran a side business hustling pool at Buffalo Billiards on Thursdays; others claim the five-foot skeleton blended in easily during recess at the South Austin Montesspooki Academy, distributing essence-of-batwing to vulnerable students.
But this is all speculation, and the Central Texas Night-Times was unable to verify the rumors. Like any other close-knit community, Austin ghouls can be suspicious of outsiders, even as outsiders themselves. And Little Jimmy, who uses they/them pronouns, did stand out in a community known for being especially old-fashioned, some would even say obsessive, about preserving the past. Little Jimmy could usually be seen sporting a shell bra and a flower necklace, talked openly about relationships with both ghoulfriends and boyfriends, and was active on Tumblr.
“I don’t see what any of that has to do with the fact that Little Jimmy is missing, and we miss Little Jimmy,” asserts HNNGGGGHHH, a phantom who shared a Google project manager’s downtown loft with the skeleton until the night they disappeared. “If you’re gonna demonize somebody, demonize an actual demon. I’m sick of this small-mindedness; just because you eat brains doesn’t mean you can’t use yours. Little Jimmy wouldn’t hurt a fly. Hell, flies loved them.”
When the Night-Times asks Gore about the challenges Little Jimmy faced being accepted in the community, whether that might have any influence on where folks place the blame for Boo-ffett and Little Jimmy’s disappearance, she scoffs. “Don’t you try to make it about Little Jimmy being them or whatever, I know how the media takes [things] the wrong way. I don’t care if you’re a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater. I don’t even see eyes or horns or flyin’ or whatever, I just see people-eaters.”
For their part, HNNGGGGHHH is the founder of the “Bring Our Jimmys HOME” Facebook group, which totaled 666 members as of this story’s publication. Several self-styled Facebook “detectives” have even gotten tattoos of Little Jimmy’s signature scrawl in remembrance of their friend, who often designed and hand-produced “Big” Jimmy Boo-ffett’s gig posters.
HNNGGGGHHH believes that law enforcement has failed to take the pair’s disappearance seriously, especially failing to focus on HNNGGGGHHH’s lost roommate because of unfair stereotypes about their lifestyle.
“Who cares what Little Jimmy wore, or who they dated? Crimes against skeletons are on the rise across the board – that’s your story.”
HNNGGGGHHH isn’t wrong. There have been escalating reports of skeleton-related violence across Central Texas. And one especially disturbing incident took place not far from Marghoulritaville, just one week before the Jimmys ordered their last drinks at the bar.
The footage is difficult to watch – literally, because of the alternately grainy and pixelated film quality, and emotionally, for anyone who knows or loves a skeleton, or is a skeleton themselves. The video, recorded on a neighbor’s security camera October 15, shows a human approaching a Northwest Austin condominium complex in broad daylight, wrestling with a 14-foot skeleton – who appears to have been doing nothing more than enjoying the late-afternoon sunshine – and severing the bones before shoving the dismantled body in a sport utility vehicle. The crime occurred just a 15-minute drive from Marghoulritaville, just a week before the Jimmys disappeared.
“If an individual goes looking for these kinds of coincidences, an individual is going to find them,” says Austin Police Department Public Information Officer Craig Nimby, who would only speak in generalities about the case due to the “ongoing and active investigation into what some individuals may believe are certain incidents.”
On October 21, another skeleton was kidnapped while relaxing on their own front porch – again, in broad daylight, and in North Austin. And there may be many more incidents that haven’t been reported to authorities; trust between local law enforcement and the community at large has deteriorated in recent years, resulting in a citizen-led police oversight committee that some say is purely symbolic, and which the local police union has decried as an unnecessary incursion on their authority.
“The proud officers of the APD who risk their lives every day to keep our neighborhoods safe for the vast majority of individuals habitating in the area are grateful to have the broad and enthusiastic support of the Austin community,” says Nimby, when asked whether APD considers skeleton disappearances to be lower priority than other crimes. “Individuals have informed us on multiple occasions that they are expressing thankfulness, and we have in turn expressed in return to those individuals that we also express thanks for their gratitude.”
When the Night-Times relays APD’s statements to HNNGGGGHHH, they laugh – not with a deliciously horrifying caterwaul of the night, but with pure derision. They believe they have no choice but to take matters into their own hands, inviting a Night-Times reporter to tag along for what has become their regular pre-dawn patrol of the area surrounding Marghoulritaville: “If the cops won’t get out here and do their jobs, I’ll do it my damn self.”
HNNGGGGHHH spends hours on the streets each night, aiming to find some clue as to where the Jimmys have gone, or to catch the skeleton-nappers red-handed in the commission of another abduction. At the very least, hopes HNNGGGGHHH, their presence could mean someone else makes it to sunrise safely. “I’d love to be at home spending time with Kevin,” they say, referencing the tech employee whose loft HNNGGGGHHH shared with Little Jimmy. “I’d like nothing better than to be back there delicately and deliberately dismantling Kevin’s psyche with night after night of blood-curdling horrors. We have a great rapport. But that can’t be my priority right now.”
Instead, the phantom directs their immortal energy toward imagining what they might do if they were to identify the Jimmys’ kidnappers. HNNGGGGHHH is halfway through narrating a detailed haunting fantasy that involves “making sure those good-for-nothing [expletives] never sleep again” when they slam on the brakes of their Nissan Altima.
“Did you see that?”
HNNGGGGHHH throws the sedan in park and literally flies out of the driver’s seat, pursuing an unseen entity through a neatly xeriscaped yard dotted with agave and native grasses. When the Night-Times catches up with the phantom, they are heaving big breaths of ethereal plasma near a bank of waste bins. “[Expletive] possum,” explains a visibly dejected HNNGGGGHHH.
And so goes another night without answers.
“Hex for you, HNNGGGGHHH?” asks Tony del Morte as the phantom floats through the door. If spirits could drag their feet, it’d be easy to imagine HNNGGGGHHH doing just that. Exhausted, HNNGGGGHHH nods and replies, “One for me, one for the Jimmys.”
After weeks of searching, del Morte says he’s slowly giving up on finding his friends. These days HNNGGGGHHH is more likely to be found sidled up to the bar sipping a Hex on the Beach – a tribute to Boo-ffett, who loved the cocktail – than prowling back alleys. Sometimes, if HNNGGGGHHH and Grimelda Gore aren’t too deep in their cups before they get to breaking down the details of the case just one more time, they’ll take a spin around the block on the off chance that the quiet weeks following Halloween have made the skeleton-nappers bold enough to return to the scene of their crime.
But for these three denizens of Marghoulritaville, their hearts, or at least the cold, empty craters where their hearts once were, are simply no longer in it. Which makes an unexpected delivery the Wednesday before Thanksgiving all the more remarkable. To say that the life returned to Gore and HNNGGGGHHH and del Morte’s faces that night wouldn’t quite capture it; “life,” is, after all, the one thing they’ve all given up forever.
But when Freaky Bea skitters in, waving the night’s mail overhead, the whole bar turns to look. Thanksgiving Eve is one of the busiest evenings of the year for Marghoulritaville; on top of that, del Morte’s made a special event out of this, the one-month anniversary of the Jimmys’ disappearance – offering Hexes at half price and two-dollar U-Pall-Its until dawn. There’s even a “Big” Jimmy Boo-ffett cover act coming up featuring eight extremely acrobatic 12-inch skeletons.
Freaky Bea climbs up a stool and tosses a postcard on the bar just as del Morte finishes pouring another round of die-quiris. The bartender practically crawls across the well to stand behind Gore and HNNGGGGHHH so that the trio can read the message together – but there’s nothing written on the card. On the front: a colorful montage of palm trees and glittering casino lights surround a neon holographic heart. Inside the heart, a vintage brush-script font reads: Greetings from the Chapel of Love, Las Vegas, Nevada.
“Tell me that’s not Little Jimmy’s handwriting,” Freaky Bea says, tapping the address on the card so forcefully she nearly chips a finger, then lifts the sleeve of her bloody pinafore to reveal her tattoo – the same ink many of Little Jimmy’s friends got in the first days of their disappearance.
It’s a dead match.