Chapter One: Alan Miller, The man who died twice
He was looking at me like I had tricked him, somehow. This little man standing before me was looking at me like I had made him call me. It became part of the job, but I never got used to it. It was always an itch at the back of skull. I knew what he was thinking, that I was a freak. I was a weirdo. That I was a fraud trying to steal his money. I charge so much because I don’t like my time wasted. Exhaust every other option and then pay through the nose for me.
This little man had my check crinkled up in his hands, but I didn’t care. The bank would still accept it. He had me come in because his walls were bleeding. His wife and kids had moved out of the house, but this little man was dead-set on keeping the house. Real Estate Agents are supposed to disclose any illicit activities that occurred on the property before purchase, such as murders, rapes, etc and the agent had done her due. This idiot had brought the house anyway.
“Holden. You can do it?” This little man asked through clenched teeth. He looked mad, but that could have been that I was smoking in his house. What was he going to do? Made me leave his bloody, haunted house? I really didn’t care. I had enough money that I didn’t need to bother trying anymore.
“Yeah. I can do it.”
“Because you’re not getting paid until…”
“My name’s Paul.” Of course his name was Paul. I never liked or could truest a man named Paul. I never liked a P name for a man, but Paul was the worst of them.
“That’s the name of the man who died here. Alan Miller. Violent deaths are the worst. When you die fighting, you think your still fighting.
“You’re wrong. I had the blood tested. It’s menstrual blood. Like from a woman.” Little man Paul said.
“Easy question: Do walls bleed?”
“Well, no. They shouldn’t.”
“So, we’ve established that weird shit is happening. Alan Miller died over a woman. He’s fixated on that woman. Annie Watts, Miller’s girlfriend, was cheating on him with Nathan Miller, Alan Miller’s father. How much does that suck? Nathan Miller is currently serving fifteen years for the accidental murder of his son. I do research. Do you?” I hadn’t actually done any research. Alan was telling me all of it. He wouldn’t shut up about his father and about Annie.
I had made up a rating system for ghost. The longer a ghost was left to stew on any particular thing, the more that ghost began to degrade. A level one ghost appears human, because their fixation hasn’t dug in deep yet. A level two ghost tends to look like a gray mist. The ghost begins to fall apart like a decaying corpse would. A level three ghost begins to pull himself together and he doesn’t look anything like a human anymore. For some reason, they like to reconstitute themselves with horns and fangs and in the case of one remarkably disgusting womanizer, several penises. Alan was a level three. Level fours existed, but I didn’t mess with them. Picture horns all of a hulking frame. Out of his ears and eyes and out of his nostrils. Beneath the horns, there were snakes and maggots slithering and writhing. No flesh was apparent.
“Paul. Can I have a minute alone?”
“Alone. Me. Leave. You. That’s the gist of what I’m asking.”
“This is my house…”
“And it’s a nice one…you, know… except for the blood. That’s why I’m here. Remember? Mind if I get to work?” Paul looked like he wanted to say something, but he left with his arms crossed over his chest.
The door slammed and I pulled some sage from my black overcoat and lit it with my lighter. I swayed the smoking sage back and forth, spreading the smoke around.
“Al? Al?” Alan wasn’t paying much attention. He was preoccupied with screaming for his father to come out.
Dad! Dad! Come out here! Where are you! When he screamed the windows rattled in their panes and began to frost.
“Alan Miller! Shut up!” Alan was finally looking at me. I couldn’t be sure, but I tried to be safe. Sometimes level three ghosts attacked people, thinking that they were objects of the ghost’s fixation. The sage was good for calming them down and helping them think about what was going on.
“Dad?” Alan asked.
“No. I ain’t your daddy.”
“Where’s my dad?”
“Daddy’s in prison. Going to be for a while.”
“What’s that smell?”
“That’s just sage. Don’t worry about the sage. I got bad news for you, kid.”
“It reeks like farts.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“No, it does.” Alan started coughing and gagging, which ghost shouldn’t be able to do. To cough, you need an obstructed airway. Ghosts have neither an airway nor anything to obstruct it. I had assumed it was psychosomatic. That he had a negative association with the smell of sage. Then, he started to smoke and then he burst into flames. Alan was screaming and flailing about and I was figuring that he just really hated sage.
I was wrong, however. There was a second ghost, one that I wasn’t messing with. A level four ghost was pure hostility and normally roved about where ever they felt like going. They burnt themselves out of existence, but they also managed to warp reality around before that could happen. I wasn’t sure why the hell a level four ghost was showing up, I wasn’t going to find out. The smoke wafting through the air turned into snakes, fucking rattlesnakes and I don’t even know how to deal with that. They were lunging through the air at me, creating distance between me and Alan, who was shrinking. His horns were retracting and snaky, maggoty skin was turning into human flesh. What the hell was happening. Alan turning back into a level one and I had never seen that. Alan had apparently died, bare foot in a pair of acid-washed jeans. I didn’t much of a view of it before he exploded and exploded as if he was made of real flesh. Blood and brain matter splattered over my clothes and there was a streaming, red skeleton laying in the middle of the floor. Paul came barreling in and then froze in his steps.
“What the hell did you do?”
“You can see that?” I asked, pointing to the skeleton.
“There’s a dead body on the floor.”
“Yeah. Weird. Got rid of your ghost for you. My payment?” The check was still in his hands, but I slid it out easily. I slipped out the front door and got the hell of out there.
They don’t make water hot enough. I was working my fingers through my hair, picking out little bits and pieces of Alan Miller’s skull and hearing them clink against the porcelain floor. My mother’s bathroom wasn’t very clean and I didn’t feel too bad about making a little bloody. My old ma had gone on in years and I probably should have put her up in a nursing home.
The floor beneath my feet was a swirling pink and above that there was a faded ring around the tub. The shower was suited for an old lady. A seat, a hand grip and little pink daisies scattered across the floor. It was awkward to move in the small space, but for the time being, my ma’s place was the only place I had. My ma’s place was quiet like other places weren’t. A lot of the time, the dead don’t know they’re dead. They just know they’re being ignored. That they’re cut off. They figure out that I’ll look at them, hear them and they start bothering me.
I had thrown my clothes in the garbage. I wasn’t going to put them in the wash and ruin the washer. I had brought that machine in with my father when my father was still around. I turned off the water and watched the pink slither down the drain and all of a sudden, I felt guilty and decided to scrub down the tub. Maybe I’d do that later.
“Ma.” I called down the stair. My mother spent all her time in the basement, by the old washer, watching the tiny black and white. The washer knocked against the stone wall down there and I called for her again, a little bit louder.
“Ma. You kept my old coats? I had to throw mine away.” The washer was the only thing that answered me. I went down the stairs and they creaked beneath my feet. I had cut my leg up on those stair and actually put my foot through a step to do it. I never trusted them and now everything was so damn cold down here. I stopped at the landing and between me and her was a swirling bath of shadows.
The basement was shaped like a long rectangle and she was sitting at the end of it by the boiler, puffing on a cigarette and looking at the tiny black and white television. Overhead, there was a flickering, yellow bulb that cast sour light onto the floor. She wasn’t looking at me.
“Ma. You warm enough down here?” I knew I wasn’t. I was tucking my hands underneath my armpits, trying to keep warm.
“I’m fine.” Ma said. She had her sweater tucked up around her ears and her free hand concealed in her pocket.
“Why don’t you come up stair?”
“I’m happy down here.”
“I mucked up the tub a little bit. Sorry.”
“I don’t care.”
“Ma. I had a weird case, earlier. I saw a dead guy die again. He blew apart and sprayed blood everywhere. There’s a thing. I call them Level fours. It did that. I don’t know how or why, even… but it did that. I want to figure out why. I think I ought to find him.”
“Mmm.” Ma said. She sounded so tired and distant. She wouldn’t look at me and I wouldn’t get close to her.
“So, ah… I had to throw away my jacket. Did you keep my old coats?”
“You can check up stair in the hall closet. I don’t know.” She blew out a lung full of smoke and then tapped the cigarette into an old Dunkin Doughnuts cup. Every time I saw her, I thought I should do more for her, but I always walked away.
My mother had died. She had fallen down the stair, doing a load of laundry. She had died from dehydration. She had broken her leg and spent a day and a half at the bottom of the stairs calling for someone to help. Something about this place and the fact that she died here kept other ghosts away.
“Thank you, Ma.”
- ► 2014 (44)
- ► 2013 (69)
- ► 2012 (80)
- ▼ 2011 (64)