Clay McLeod Chapman: Just So We’re Clear (The Terror of Clear Plastic Tarps)

From the acclaimed author of The Remaking and Whisper Down the Lane, this terrifying supernatural page-turner will make you think twice about opening doors to the unknown.

Erin hasn’t been able to set a single boundary with her charismatic but reckless college ex-boyfriend, Silas. When he asks her to bail him out of rehab—again—she knows she needs to cut him off. But days after he gets out, Silas turns up dead of an overdose in their hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and Erin’s world falls apart.
Then a friend tells her about Ghost, a new drug that allows users to see the dead. Wanna get haunted? he asks. Grieving and desperate for closure with Silas, Erin agrees to a pill-popping “séance.” But the drug has unfathomable side effects—and once you take it, you can never go back.


Let’s talk about tarps.

Clear plastic tarps in particular. I’m going to go on record as saying there is nothing more frightening than a simple strip of transparent polyethylene. You can buy rolls of the stuff at your local hardware store, over a hundred feet long. Four hundred feet. The sheeting shields your furniture from dust during construction demos. It prevents soil erosion, creating a protective barrier for asbestos abatement. Winter insulation. Leaky roofs. You name it.

I find them terrifying. Why? Wes Craven. That’s why.

Let’s go back to 1984. A Nightmare On Elm Street is out and disrupting our sleep cycles. I’m far too young to be watching this film, but of course that’s not stopping me from sneaking a peak at Freddy Krueger invading the dreams of Nancy and her circle of friends.

Everybody’s got their favorite moment from this film. Watching Johnny Depp get sucked into his bed and then regurgitated in a geyser of blood, or Freddy’s tongue slipping out from the telephone, or perhaps his gloved hand rising up from the bathtub as Nancy drifts off to sleep…

For me, though, there’s one scene in particular that has seared its way into my subconsciousness. It’s the moment when Nancy dozes off in class, quickly slipping into dreamland, only to discover the corpse of her closest pal Tina standing in the hallway.

She’s in a body bag.

Not just any kind of body bag, though… For some perverse reason, Craven crams Tina’s corpse into a carrier made from some kind of transparent plastic material better suited for a construction site… not the removal of a dead body. In my horror film/true crime mind, body bags are always an industrial black. In any other movie, the camera catches one last glimpse of the deceased before the coroner zzzzzzips up the bag, concealing the corpse for the rest of the film. Not this one. Tina’s body bag isn’t opaque at all. Nancy—and therefor the audience—can see right through to Tina, dead, eviscerated and bleeding, shrink-wrapped within her own cellophane container. The plastic is frosted just enough that her features are blurred. Her breath—how can she still be breathing?!—fogs over the other side of her Saran Wrap sarcophagus, along with all her dribbling bodily fluids.

Tina reaches her bloodied hand out to her friend, but it’s trapped behind this plastic barrier. She calls out for Nancy before her body bag is dragged down the hall by her feet…

And years’ worth of childhood trauma was born.

Every time I see a clear plastic tarp these days, I can’t help but think of the barrier between me and whatever rests on the other side. It’s so thin. You can see through it—and yet, no oxygen can pass. No dust particles. Nothing is breaking through that sheeting.

In the strangest of ways, these transparent tarpaulins remind me of the barrier between the living and dead. The veil seems so exceedingly slim, there and somehow not there at the same time. All you have to do is poke your finger and… break on through to the other side. 

When I was writing my new novel GHOST EATERS, which is all about a haunted drug slowly insinuating itself through a small group of friends, I found myself focusing on my favorite ghost story tropes and seeing if there was a new spin to put on them. How could I recalibrate the gothic sensibilities of our favorite haunted housers and come up with something different, if not entirely new? When it came to ghosts—actual spooooky ghosts—I kept obsessing over the essentials: a bedsheet with two holes cut out for the eyes. It’s so simple and yet has so much supernatural tonnage to it. The sheet is what gives definition to the apparition. Without it, the ghost itself is invisible. You need the sheet to see the spirit… but even then, you’re not looking at the ghost, but the receptacle that encases it. Cloaks it. It’s all gift wrap and no gift.

So… what if the sheet were transparent? What if we could see behind the paranormal curtain? Is there a chance to peer beyond the veil by simply changing the outer covering?

My book has so many ghosts in it. Like, too many. In my afterlife, I posit that what ghosts want most is definition. Parameters to cozy up in. That means a house to haunt.

That means a sheet.

Without these quaint containers, these spirits are untethered. Unmoored. They wander. All they’re after is a roof over their head, a house to haunt. They just want a sheet to wrap themselves up in and define themselves by. How else are we going to see them? But in lieu of bedsheets, I gave my ghosts tarps. Clear plastic tarps. This simple shift permits my protagonist to see directly through the veil and peer into what’s waiting for us all on the other side…

It’s not pretty. But it suggests that we’re so focused on the surface of these spirits and not, you know, what’s on the inside. All we see is the sheet. Not the ghost itself.

Clear plastic changes all that. It allows us to look even further.

Who knows? Maybe clear plastic tarps will be all the rage for ghosts this season. Don’t be so surprised if the next apparition you encounter is sporting their own polyethylene sheet…


Clay McLeod Chapman writes books, comic books, children’s books, and for film/TV. His most recent horror novels include Ghost Eaters, Whisper Down the Lane, and The Remaking. You can find him at

2 responses to “Clay McLeod Chapman: Just So We’re Clear (The Terror of Clear Plastic Tarps)”

  1. …aaaand now I’m afraid to continue my home painting project with the clear plastic drop cloths. Who knew ghosts could jump from Clay’s brain into his fingers, through the screen, and into my eyes?

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