Clara watched George as he chopped a line of coke on a small mirror on the nightstand. She was sitting next to him, but George couldn’t see her or hear her. Sammy sat on the bed, cross-legged, and Ted was sitting next to him. Amy and Matt were standing against the wall making fun of the way George looked. Clara had these same thoughts; George was putting on weight, even at twenty-five, and his hair was thinning. His moustache did resemble a mouse that had crawled under his nose and died. But they had some good time, back when she was alive. He was a damn good dancer, or had been, but… Clara remembered a contest they had won, had it been three years ago already? They had been the very best dancers on the floor and the whole club knew it.
“How long you two married, Clare?” Sammy asked.
“Clara,” she corrected him, and instantly regretted her tone, “right out of High School, five years ago. Just short of it. He had a head full of hair, was lean and mean and he was hot.” Clara didn’t mean it sarcastically but everyone laughed.
George picked up the phone off the nightstand and dialed a number, “Yeah, come on over,” he said, “cops got it all cleaned up. No, there isn’t a smell. I’ll change the sheets before you get here.”
Bastard. Clara was seething. This was how much he missed her.
“Let it go, girl,” Amy said. “You do not want to haunt your old life this damn soon.”
“We are still watching aren’t we?” asked Matt. “If it’s the blonde with the tattoo on her ass, I’m watching.”
“You people,” Clara sighed. “Is there anyone here whose hobbies don’t include watching me have sex?”
“Well,” Ted said as he raised his hand, “not since you died.”
The woman was the blonde, with the tattoo, and Clara had never realized how awkward sex looked when it wasn’t one of those cheap porn tapes or in the movies. Clothes never came off seamlessly, and George was hopelessly inept when it came to bras. The woman looked around the room, as if she could sense she was being watched, and Clara was sure the woman was faking pleasure just for the cocaine. “You should know,” Clara told herself she walked through the wall and out of the room.
Being dead was a little difficult. During the day, the living had to plan for food, water, bathroom breaks, shopping, and sleep. Time simply passed without interruption for the dead, which sped it up and slowed it down, at the same time. It was dark outside and Clara was tempted to take a walk, but felt a little strange being alone. She went back into the bedroom and found the other four ghosts listening to the after-sex conversation. Amy motioned for her to come closer, and grinned.
“…I knew as soon as they cops called me,” George was saying, “that sneaky bitch had found my stash. She was good for that sort of thing, but it’s her own damn fault. She’s lucky she didn’t kill that moron she was screwing, too.”
“So, Georgie,” the blonde nearly purred, and Clara made puking noises, “did you have any insurance on her?”
“That greedy little bitch!” Amy screamed with laughter.
“You go girl, get that gold!” Sammy laughed, too.
“Yeah, more than she realized,” George said. “Her family knows about one of the policies and I’ll split that with them, but there’s another half a million they don’t know about. She left everything to them, can you believe she had a will? I’ll have to get it out of the box at the bank, but they don’t have to know about that either. I’m going to invite them all over for Thanksgiving and we’re going to have a memorial. Why don’t you come? We can tell them that you and Clara worked together or something like that.”
“And have sex in the bathroom while they’re all watching TV?” the blonde giggled.
“You’re mad about how George is reacting to your death?” Ted asked. They were in the tub at Matt’s house. Clara wasn’t sure how she felt about sex in her old bed anymore, even though she wasn’t going to move out, if that was what it was called.
“Yeah, I am, but it’s not just that,” Clara replied in almost a whisper. “I feel sorry for him now. I feel bad about the way we lived our lives. I feel a sense of loss now, that I didn’t live when I could have. The first thing I thought when I met Sammy was it would have been great to have a kid like that. George and I partied like there was no end to any of it. He’s going to keep going, and I don’t blame him, really, but it’s still sad.”
“Once you’re free of your body you are also free of the chemicals that you put into it. Your mind becomes more clear. Your heart is unburdened with the anxiety of day to day living. Oddly, when you become a ghost you become more human,” Ted told her. “That’s why sex is so much better. There aren’t any distractions of clothes or morals or anything. You like someone and you’re attracted and you can just go for it.”
They sat in the tub for a while, and Clara wondered why life would be like had she known was death was going to be like. She sat up to ask Ted if he thought he might have lived his life any differently but Ted was gone.
“Gone?” Amy asked.
“What do you mean gone?” Matt said as he walked through a wall to join them.
“It really happened?” Sammy stood up and cussed aloud. “Dammit, he was only thirty something, wasn’t he?”
“Yeah, one minute we were in the tub talking and then he was just gone.” Clara felt like crying but didn’t know if she could.
“Were you screwing?” Amy asked.
“Yeah, did he come and go?” Matt said and Amy cut her eyes at him.
“No, we had finished, and he was more exciting than you’d think, but we were sitting there talking and he was just…gone.” Clara let herself drift down to the next floor and hoped no one would join her. But what if she just kept going? Was that the answer? Did all ghosts simply drift too high or sink too low to escape the finality of death? But what happened next? Clara found she wondered about that almost constantly.
“So where’s the nearest, uh, place with books, what are they called again?” Clara asked.
“Library?” Sammy offered. “You seriously couldn’t remember what a library was called?”
“I went to a private school,” Clara said, and again, she regretted her tone of voice with Sammy, “my parents paid for me to be there and the school wasn’t about to toss me as long as Daddy was donating money to them. I drank, did coke and the quarterback.”
“So what was George?” Sammy asked.
“His parents had money, too.” Clara said. “I’m betting he forged my signature on those insurance policies. His daddy owns a couple of insurance companies.”
“George had money and you two wound up in this neighborhood?” Sammy laughed. “No offense, but this isn’t exactly Beverly Hills, here.”
“Sammy’s right,” Matt said, “it would seem if the two of you had any sort of money this wouldn’t be where you moved into.”
“You dead people don’t read the same newspapers as the living,” Clara said but she laughed to ease it in, “or you would know this neighborhood is a gold mine. You’re just a few blocks from Womack, which is quickly becoming very pricey. George was going to start buying houses here and then tearing them down, and building more expensive places. You’ll notice we tore down that shack behind our place to build the pool.”
“Yeah, my mama used to live there until she couldn’t afford it anymore, and she had to move,” Sammy said.
“Oh God, I am so sorry, Sammy,” Clara was horrified.
“Just kidding,” Sammy laughed with the others, “that place was a dump. I have no idea who lived there.”
“So what do you want with the library?” Amy asked. “You want to research ghosts, don’t you?” and Amy squealed with delight.
“So where is it?” Clara asked and no one knew.
The yellow pages had several listed and Clara was amazed. They all looked like really nice places even if they did have books in them. The closest was over a mile away and Sammy suggested they walk, and slip in after midnight. There would be less of a chance with a camera or a living person.
“Why don’t we just drive?” suggested Clara and everyone just looked at her.
“What?” she asked. “You can use a sex toy but not a stick shift?”
Not only had no one driven since their death, no one had ever really left the neighborhood, except Amy, who had to walk, hide in trucks, and even hitchhike back.
“But you did ride in a truck? You did travel inside a vehicle? This isn’t rocket science I’m trying to explain to you is it?” Clara couldn’t believe it. No one had left the neighborhood in years.
“I think it’s in our nature to stay close to where we died,” Amy said.
“You died in Lubbock Texas!” Clara said loudly. “You were in a car wreck a thousand miles from here.”
“I think it’s in our nature to stay close to where we lived.” Matt said. “Most people do that in life.”
“Screw that,” Clara said, “I’m going to the library. Who’s with me?”
“Not one book in that damn place that gave us a damn thing,” Sammy was the first to speak when they returned. “It’s like nothing anybody ever wrote ever addressed who we ghosts are or what we do other than scare the living and wear sheets. It’s like we’re the damn Klan.”
“On the upside we know better than to drive again,” Amy said and looked sharply at Clara when she did.
“I wasn’t going that damn fast,” Clara said, “and that late at night who gets a damn ticket for speeding?”
“You!” said the others in unison.
“Okay, Okay, but it’s not like he was going to take me in,” Clara knew that was a lie, and hoped no one would call her on it.
“We should have known they would run her license if we got pulled over,” Matt said, “but I had no idea they knew she was dead this soon.”
“Well, we’re all lucky I’m quick on my feet!” Clara tried to sound like it was all over and everyone would move on to another subject.
“We’re lucky you’re quick on your knees, girl,” Sammy said, “but I have to admit you did get us out there.”
“Why is there no information on being a ghost?” Matt asked. “I mean, everything we went through for the last six hours was fiction or close to it. No one has ever written anything about us that’s true. Sammy’s right. It’s like we don’t exist.”
“What if no one who is a ghost ever lives long enough to pass any real information on?” Amy said quietly. “What if none of us ever really get enough time to find out anything? You’ve all read the newspapers every day; where is everyone? Why isn’t there more of us? I know half a dozen people from around here who has died, and the most we’ve ever had with us was five, and now four. I went from Texas to SoCal and met two. What if it doesn’t happen often enough for anyone to give a fuck?”
“All we have can cover a page and a half and not one word of any of what we know to be true is in any book that we’ve read.” Matt said.
“How’s this true?” Sammy leaped up. “How is it that we are the only four ghosts and we’re all from this neighborhood. I’m not looking to be hired by NASA anytime soon, but doesn’t that just seem pretty damn remote? All four ghosts in the western US can be found in Shady Acres subdivision off Presidio? Bullshit!”
“I got an idea,” Sammy continued, “go get your Polaroid, Clara, and let’s see if this shit about cameras is true. I’m betting it’s as fake as everything else. If we can’t find out what’s true then let’s weed out what isn’t.”
Clara aimed the camera at Sammy, Amy, and Matt, and asked them to smile, she started to push the button and stopped, “What if it is true? Maybe we should just try it on someone first, maybe?”
Sammy stepped away from the group, “You may fire when ready!”
“Aye aye!” said Clare and she pressed the button. The flash exploded in bright white light and Sammy disappeared.
“He’s messing with us,” Amy said and the camera whined as the picture was expelled.
“Sammy!” Matt yelled, “this isn’t funny.” Matt looked around. “Did you hear something?”
“Look!” Clara held the photo out and they could all see a vague image of someone that might have been Sammy, but at the same time they heard a tiny voice screaming.
“Oh no,” Matt said, “that part was true! Tear that photo! Release him!”
Clara tore a tiny piece off of one edge and the screaming got louder. They heard Sammy yell, “Stop! Stop! Don’t tear the photo! IT HURTS!”
End of part four