Halloween 2019 The Flood. The End

8

They found the apartment complex three blocks away. It also had not been repaired, yet not demolished. The front door was open, as if someone was expecting them.

“Sixth floor, right turn at the top of the stairs, we used to race up the stairs trying to beat the elevator, Daddy carrying us both, but Mom always got there way ahead of us,” Ana said.

“I don’t remember that.” Bella said.

“Let’s go find out if Michael does,” Paula suggested, and they entered the building.

The stairway was totally dark and the sisters walked up the steps first, holding hands. Paula walked behind them and said, “Nothing that speaks to you first will harm you. They are weak and can only frighten you. Do not allow them inside your mind!”

The sisters closed their eyes and counted steps. Eight steps, turn, eight steps, turn, eight steps, turn, with a larger flat area at each floor. They heard voices, the voices of children now, screaming at them, “Go away!” the voices yelled, “You abandoned him!” “You left him alone!” but the sisters kept going, and they heard the steps of Paula behind them. There was nothing else but the sound of the voices and the blackness of the steps.

“This is the sixth floor,” Paula whispered as the sisters stopped. Ana put her hand out and pushed the door of the stairwell and it swung open.

The doors to all the apartments were open, allowing light to flood into the building. The women blinked at the brightness. “Which one did you live in, Bella?” Paula asked.

“This way,” Bella whispered. “Something is wrong here. This place. I remember it. But something is wrong.”

“I feel it,” Ana said.

“Here,” Bella said. “This one.”

“Is this the apartment where your parents lived?” asked Paula.

“Yes,” Bella said and she went through the door. Before Paula could move or speak, Bella closed the door behind her, and Paula heard the click of the lock.

“Come, we have to do this,” Ana told her, “we lived next door.”

“Bella?” Paula asked,

“Michael is here,” Ana said. “and this is the way it has to be done. Come, the apartment next door is where we have to be.”

The apartment was stripped bare, to the concrete walls and floors, and there was nothing inside. The only light was from the open space of the balcony where a glass door might have once stood.

“We have to go out on the balcony,” Ana said. “You have to do as I tell you to do.”

They went out on the balcony and saw Bella walk out on the balcony of the apartment next door. There was a gap between the two balconies, maybe two or three feet, and Paula felt her fear of high places taking over.

“That rail,” Paula said, “it’s corrupt, the metal rusted, it will crumple.”

“Stand there, please,” Ana said and she pointed to a point neat the edge of the balcony, close to the rail closest to the other apartment’s balcony.

“I understand now why we have the same memory, Ana,” Bella called out.

“Yes, I see it, too.” Ana replied.

“What?” Paula looked down and saw the drop of seventy or eighty feet. Her head swam.

“The night of the flood,” Ana began, “we came out here on the balconies, Bella was standing right there where she is standing now, and she looked over to this balcony. I was standing where you are standing now, Paula. We were tiny children, no more than three years old. But my memory is of seeing a child, an infant, and Bella’s memory is the same. I always assumed we remembered each other. But Bella’s memory is of me being picked up by Michael, and my memory is of Bella being picked up by Michael. Both of our memories are of Michael, picking a baby up, someone standing where I am right now.”

“I don’t understand,” Paula said.

“Michael was my brother,” Bella called out. “And we both loved Ana. I remember this, but there was something else.”

“Neither Bella nor Michael were born of the same blood as I,” Ana said, “but Michael always loved is both equally.”

“Because he loved someone else, much more,” Michael said as he walked out on the balcony with Ana and Paula.

“I’m surprised you made it this far,” Michael said. “I’ve done terrible things to buy the allegiance of many creatures. They should have gotten to you before you left Georgia.”

“Those who helped us did so out of a need to help others,” Paula told him, “that cannot be bought.”

“You had to be taken,” Michael said, “for the ritual to work. You could not come here freely. And the ritual would be worthless unless you were both adults. It’s Halloween night, and if I cannot bring her back tonight I must wait another year. I am tired of waiting.”

“Who?” Paula asked.

“My sister,” Ana replied. “My twin.”

“Yes,” replied Bella. “I remember now.”

“The night of the flood we were told not to come out on the balcony but we did anyway. The rain had stopped, but the waters were rising ever faster.” Ana said.

“We were afraid,” Bella said, “we children, that we would be separated. Ana and I shared a bond, even then, and we both shared that bond with…”

“Dana,” Michael snarled. “Only Ana refused to share her with me. Ana did things, even as a small child, to keep Dana and I apart.”

“You were six,” Paula said, “and she was three?”

“I felt it,” Michael said, “we were meant to be together, even at birth I waited for her.”

“Dana knew Michael’s jealousy was toxic, even as a small child.” Ana said. “And the night of the flood, as our parents made ready for our escape from the flood, Michael took Dana.”

“I thought I was taking you, she pretended to be you,” Michael screamed. “I threw her off the balcony to get her for myself. But she pretended to be you.”

“You all were little kids,” Paula said, “there’s no way you had these feelings and memories.”

“We were always different,” Bella said, “we were always more in tune with the world around us than other kids, or even other adults.”

“But now, if I kill you both, and of course, you too,” Michael grinned at Paula, I can bring her back. She will live in Ana’s body, and the rest of you can wander or leave this earth, but…”

“I never left, Michael,” Ana said. “It’s me, Dana. I’ve had to stay hidden all this time, I didn’t want anyone to know what you did. The night you accidently murdered me, I took over Ana’s body. You have no idea how hard it’s been to stay hidden from you, but we have to get rid of everyone who knows. Our parents still believe I was simply lost in the flood, but now, even they won’t be able to stop…”  Ana stepped towards Michael and pushed him hard. Michael’s arms windmilled, he reached for Ana and missed.

All three women rushed to where the rail had broken. Michael’s body lay on the ground below, motionless.

“He’s dead,” Ana said.

“Yes,” replied Bella.

“And now, his spirit will pay the price for summoning those he used to hunt us.” Paula added. “I think we better leave.”

 

A little more than three years later, Paula scrolled through her phone, looking at potential renters. The sisters were graduating in a couple of weeks and would be gone. Then again, Paula felt that any other set of tenants might be. . . boring. Perhaps, yes, maybe, it was time. The witch had offered her a place in her house, and the two of them were getting closer to being friends than she had ever hoped.

“You want to move to the river, Dana?” Paula asked the large black cat that she had picked up after Brody died last year. Had Dana, the dead sister,  haunted her sisters, and Michael all these years unnoticed, or had Dana returned to the right place at the right time? Or had Ana been faking it until she could get Michael to let his guard down. She might not ever know. They had never spoken of it again.

“Let’s go down to the river, cat,” Paula said, “and see if we can be of some use to the living there.”

 

end

 

Halloween 2019 The Flood Part Seven

7

It took four long hours to get to New Orleans, but somehow, they lurched and sputtered their way until they reached the city. All three women were slightly seasick from the effort.  They took a very long lunch and decided to keep to the back roads, and out of sight as much as possible.

“Where are we going now?” asked Paula.

“We really don’t know,” replied Ana, “we have to make it back to the apartment building where we once lived. We can sense it, almost smell it, but at the same time, until we are actually standing in front of the place it all began, we won’t know that we’re there.”

“Let’s take a right at the next light,” Bella offered.

“The last time we were there we were infants escaping from a flooded city with our parents, in rubber boats. There were so many people trapped by the water, and so many people who lost their humanity and some who lost their lives.” Ana said.

“Stop!” Bella said loudly. “I remember that building.”

The edifice was a decaying monster at the edge of town. Windblown and battered by storms, it had never been repaired and never been torn down. The windows were boarded up, but the barricade that shuttered the front door had been removed by the homeless people in town.

“We sheltered in the third floor of that building until the Red Cross came. There were many people who were there, and some never left. They thought it was safe, but the water rose.” Ana whispered.

“I remember,” Belle said.

“Then we are close?” asked Paula.

“Very.”

They entered the lobby of the building as rat scurried away and pigeons cooed overhead. The first three floors of the building had collapsed into rubble, and going further meant climbing over the debris.

“Something was wrong,” Ana said. “When we arrived here. Something was wrong. Someone was missing.”

“I remember,” Bella said.

“Our parents where here, Michael was here,” Ana looked around. “We stayed on the fourth floor, it was crowded, people were screaming and crying, and it was dark. Some people had flashlights.”

“Yes,” said Bella.

“You should not have returned to this place,” a man’s voice called from above. “You should have forgotten everything, and stayed away. This is New Orleans. The dead are buried above ground to keep their souls from leaving. Everyone who dies here stays.”

“Lies,” Paula called back. “Lies and more lies. You cannot frighten us. If you had more than your voice you wouldn’t bother to speak.”

“I was shot in the head while trying to get my baby’s clothes out of our apartment. They called me a looter. I was thrown into the water and my family never heard from me again.” The man said, and they could hear him making his way down, jumping from floor to floor. “Now people like you who have lost so little return to find what? Justice in some fashion? The pieces of a puzzle?” the man stepped out into the light and all three women recoiled. The top part of his head was missing.

“Why are so many trying to stop these girls from coming here?” Paula demanded. “Why is it so important for them to stay away? Who is afraid of what they will find? What will they find?”

“’Lies and more lies’” the man laughed. “You know what they’re looking for. They know. Everybody knows why they’re here. The dead don’t leave this city. The drowned don’t drift downstream. You brought them here to find out the truth, but what is the truth? I got shot trying to steal a widescreen, or I got shot trying to help my people. What makes you think the dead are more honest than the living?” He stepped back into the shadows and backed away.

“You girls go on back home now,” he called as he slipped away. “You know the truth. Live with it. I got to live with the idea that my people won’t know what happened to me. You don’t go back to the living once you’re dead, you know better than that, over here. They got to move on, and I know I should too, but there’s something I ain’t done, maybe this is it. But I was helping my people, I was getting clothes for the baby. I was doing right, but after I got all I could there was more just sitting there. I heard the voices of those that didn’t make it telling me I could have it. They knew where the snipers were and led me into the sights of those Army rifles. Yeah, yeah, most people that linger are trying to make things right but how they see the world set right ain’t like it ought to be, and I’m dead proof of that. You don’t belong here. I don’t either. Maybe if you leave I will, too. But you know the truth. You know why this is happening.” The man stopped speaking and they were about to turn and leave when he continued.

“Don’t hold up living because you remember the dead,” he told them, “that’s why we never go back. That’s why you ought’a leave now.”

 

They made their way back to the car but Ana stopped when she got to the door. “I think we should walk from here. It’s a few blocks, but we need to let them know we aren’t afraid. We go into this fearless and it will make them leave us alone. I’m through running. I’m done being scared of what was and what might happen. Let them come. Let’s face them. Let’s go find out why this is happening, and who is behind it all.”

“Okay,” Bella replied. “I’m with you.”

“I think it’s a mistake, but from what I’ve learned today, not going in like this might be worse.” Paula replied. “Let’s roll.”

 

End seven.

 

Halloween 2019 The Flood Part Six

Sadie took a branch from the fire and held it over her head.  The words she spoke were loud, echoing, and harsh. The sisters flinched at the noise, but Paula noticed that Sadie was not done. The witch thrust the stick into the river and steam rose from it, as if the water was boiling. Sadie withdrew the stick and fog issued from the river like blood from a wound. The fog boiled out, thicker, heavier, and Paula saw there were many places in the river now, all of them getting more and more dense.

“I have asked for help,” Sadie whispered, “there are answers to my call.”

The fog totally enveloped the river, and the land surrounding the bank. Neither the sisters nor Paula could see anything.

“Come, it is safe to travel in this now,” Sadie said, and from the stick a low light appeared, glowing red like a coal. The cat lead the way, and the dog followed.

“We’re walking on the river?” Paula asked, and immediately wished she had not spoken.

“The river is carrying us,” Sadie replied. “Do not speak to anyone you see! Do not answer any voice! Do not cringe from any act that is shown!”

They heard screams, of men and of women, and they heard children crying. A man splashed through the water, his eyes wide, his face contorted, but something dragged him back to the bank. There were the sounds of people singing, Gospel music, and they saw the glow of a fire, and a body hanging from a tree near it, they saw a bridge, and watched as a body fell from the bridge but there was no sound of it hitting the water.

“Look!” whispered Bella, “under the water! I see people down there!”

And indeed, when they looked down under their feet they saw a crowd of people, unrecognizable, faceless, blurry, yet still human, as if the people were just a few feet underneath where they stood.

“Those are the lost ones. The souls who refuse to rest. Murdered, abandoned, wronged in their own lives, they seek not revenge, no, why would they do that? They seek to ease your passage, and prevent more wrong. They seek to thwart evil. Will our quest be enough? Will your lives, if saved, offer them solace? Do not ask! Speak no more!”

The fog roiled and swirled in front of them but total blackness followed. Sadie cried aloud, strong and powerful words, and there were many answers from either side of the river, now totally hidden from view. The sisters clasped hands and closed their eyes, and when they opened them again, the fog was totally gone.

 

There were lights, city lights, and there was the smell of salt air. Sadie was gone, as was the river, and the sounds, and the fog. Instead, a young man stood in front of them.

“Welcome to Africatown,” the man said.

“We’re in Africa?” Paula asked.

“No, Mobile Alabama,” the man replied, “you were brought here by many who deemed your lives worthy of saving, for those who oppose you are very evil. It is here that the last slaves to be brought to America settled, and have lived for many generations. But you cannot stay. There is a truck waiting. From here you will be taken to New Orleans. Those who have pursued you now realize they have underestimated, uh, the situation. That mistake will not be granted to you again. You must hurry. At this point, you are far ahead, but there is no guarantee that you will gain the shores of the Mississippi before you are caught.”

The man led them to a truck, old and dilapidated, and helped them get into the back. He pulled a tarp over the back of the truck and tied it down. “There is food and water aplenty,” he told them, “your next stop will be in one hour, after you are safely on the road. After that, there will be little time for rest. Bella pulled the tarp back in time to see the first ray of sunlight come through the clouds, and the man disappeared with the light.

“Mary Turner was black, the man who helped up onto the truck was black, do all black people become ghosts or something?” Bella asked.

“No, Bella,” Paula replied, “those who have died in the cause of injustice may or may not linger. Mostly, those who are treated harshly by those around them are the young, the old, and the poor. The poor are mistreated for most of their lives, and many suffer in silence, and most of those leave this realm as soon as they can. But the voices from the shores of the river, those under the water who carried us, mostly they are the very poor who have lived in this land, and who were abused by those with more power. The last slaves of Mobile clearly heard of us, and reached out to bring us here. Mary might have spoken for us, or they might have had reasons we cannot know yet. But the forces that follow us are powerful, and it is usually the very poor, and the very weakest, who will give the most of what they have to save strangers, while those with power, and those with much, horde their wealth, and will punish any who stray near it. It has always been so, as long as there is money, there will be greed. There will always be someone with the power to hurt others, and they will.”

They rode in silence until the truck stopped and they were allowed to walk around a bit, and stretch their legs. Their driver did not speak to them but as they stood watching, he disappeared as if he were made of smoke. Paula got into the cab of the truck then called out.

“Can either of you drive a stick shift?” Paula asked.

“No,” replied Bella.

“A what?” Ana asked.

 

End six

 

 

Halloween 2019 The Flood Part Five

The trio set out for New Orleans, from Savannah, at dawn. The sky was ablaze with gold and red.

“Red in the morning, Sailors take warning,” Paula quipped.

“I doubt we’ll be doing much sailing today, or any other day.” Bella countered wryly.

The road lead south, down I-95 to Brunswick, and then west, on US 82, to Waycross, and then continued west on US 84. There were pine trees and cypress swamps, but not much traffic. They took turns driving, with one of them able to stretch out on the backseat of the car to nap, but no one could sleep.

“We need gas, and I could use a bite to eat,” Paula said to no one in particular. Bella had been daydreaming. They had come into the town of Valdosta, and she had wondered about the old brick building downtown, and how they came to be built.

“I have to pee,” Bella said and Paula pulled over to a convenience store with bright lights and four rows of gas pumps. There was a smoothie shop there, as well as a fast food joint. It looked like a miniature strip mall. Bella went in and discovered the whole store was awash in commercialism. There were signs screaming about sales and specials and two for one deals. The bathroom was all the way in the back of the store, of course, and Bella knew this was no accident. Thankfully, the bathroom was clean, well lit, and smelled of recently maintenance. Bella opened one of the stalls to find a woman standing behind the door. She was a young black woman but she was covered in blood. There were bleeding wounds all over her body and blood gushed from her stomach.

“I’m Mary,” the woman said as Bella took a step back and stifled a scream. “I see you know me as I am. We have to talk. They’re waiting for you by the river, but I can get you past them.” Suddenly, Mary’s body was whole, and there was no blood anywhere.

“Okay,” Bella managed to say, but she really had to pee now.

 

“This is Mary Turner,” Bella said as she and Mary got into the car, “she was killed over one hundred years ago.”

“Murdered,” Mary corrected.

“Lynched, I believe,” Paula said as she looked back from the driver’s seat. “No one was brought to justice for your death, either.”

“Or that of my husband or my son,” Mary said, “but right now the three of you are in danger.”

“Is it more immediate than the danger behind us?” asked Ana.

“They’re waiting for you up ahead,” Mary said. “They know what path you’re taking and hope to cause some sort of traffic accident and kill you once you’re on foot.”

“Do you know a way around them?” Ana asked.

“Yes, those who oppose you are strong, but they cannot reach out against you inside the River Witch’s domain. We’ll pin them down by allowing them to know you’re close. Then we’ll confuse them as to where you’re headed next.” Mary explained.

“And we can trust you how?” Paula asked.

“Because if they wanted to ambush us they wouldn’t have sent anyone to lead us into where we were already going.” Ana said.

“Mary feels right,” Bella said at the same time.

“I drifted downstream after what happened to us,” Mary told them. “I took up at the bridge because I felt the witch there. She led me in, and asked that I leave, to find rest, but I wanted to help, in small ways if I could. They people started calling it “Spook Bridge” because good things happened, and that scared people. “

“Can we cross Spook Bridge?” Paula asked.

“No, it is not travel worthy,” Mary told them. “The witch will take us to the Spring, down in Florida, and you will be given safer transportation.”

“Why won’t they follow us?” Paula asked.

“They cannot,” Mary said with a smile. “They realize the witch calls the river home, but the road on the other side belongs to a Druid. He will hinder them as he can, and he can. They will sense the trap, certainly, but to go around is to lose much time, and they will.”

They drove down a paved road that looked all but abandoned, and turned off another than looked worse. That road led to a dirt road, which eventually turned into a path, and that path led to a small house, with odd sculptures in the yard. The sculptures were of wood, and represented animals; there was a large cat, a wolfish looking dog, an eagle, and an animal that resembled a snake, but it had small legs. They then saw a small person tending a fire near the edge of the river.

“Do not speak to the witch!” Mary warned. “The spell she casts may require silence. When she speaks do not interrupt. She is a kindly soul, but this is a trial for her, and she will demand only silence as payment.”

“Will you introduce us?” Ana asked, but Mary had disappeared.

They turned the car off and approached the fire, silently, Ana and Bella holding hands, and Paula walking behind them. As they neared the fire they could still make out no features of the witch, if she was young or old, black or white, or anything, but she was a small person, as if she were a young teen. They heard voices swirling in the wind, but there was no one else there. A large dog, furry yet well groomed came out of the woods followed by an orange cat that beside any other animal would have looked huge. The witch then spoke:

“My cards tell me your protector reaches out to you, and that those who would harm you feel that reach, and they mean to stop you from your path. Evil needs no reason, it despises reason, just as it despises love, but your protector is not without friends, and acts out of love. That is a call many will answer for no other reason that it is what we do. The Earth needs humans who love, and there are so very few who do.”  The witch turned and suddenly her face was clear. She was a very pale woman, who might have been thirty, or eighty, for even though her face was lined, she wore a large smile. “My name is Sadie. I am the witch of this part of the river, as it allows me to be. I will help you. You need food. And you need rest. Before the sun rises you must be on your way, and before noon tomorrow you must be on the road again, and travel fast. Those who hunt you know your destination, and they mean to murder you.”

 

End five.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween 2019 The Flood Part Four

“That man was drawn to where we were,” Ana told Paula once they returned.

“It wasn’t that he followed us; he was sent, or compelled,” Bella added.

“Michael?” Paula asked.

“No, Michael has always gone out of his way to protect us both, he always has, and he’s sworn to life his life in our defense. When our father split the family up, Michael took it hardest. It was one thing for us to be apart from one another, but it was another issue for Michael to be bereft of fulfilling his oath to us. When we were children he was like a guard dog. Michael’s dedication to us was one of the things that allowed us to draw closer together,” Ana said.

“So there is an outside force trying to keep the three of you apart?” Paula asked as she looked at the deck of cards in front of her. “And you believe your reading in the graveyard triggered some force to be sent after you?”

“Yes,” Ana said, “and the mark on the door might well be some sort of device to let those who will do us harm find the two of us. As long as we aren’t using our energy here to fight back I suspect we cannot be found. This is a very personal thing for someone. My father may now have some ally who is more in tune to the Earth than he ever was before.”

“But is he Michael’s biological father?” Paula asked. “You and Bella both refer to both sets of parents as your own. It’s hard for me to keep up with who is who, if you two are not really blood sisters.”

“It’s sometimes hard for us to sort out ourselves.” Ana replied. “We spent a lot of time in a refugee camp after the flood. All of us lived under the same roof in the same trailer.  But the reality of it is that Michael and Bella share a last name. Mine is different. There’s nothing we know for certain past that fact. We both have suspected that my father actually is the blood father of all three of us, or my mother is the blood mother of all three of us. Or both.  Our memories are the same, as if we were the same person. That’s something that is really hard to explain.”

“The University left me an email,” Ana continued, “as we suspected, there isn’t a crime they can charge us with, but they’re kicking me out of the dorm, which will cut off Dad’s overview of me. He will have to act to regain control, but as long as you allow us sanctuary here, there’s nothing he can do about it. Legally, at seventeen, he can’t force my return.”

“If he’s a part of this,” Bella said seamlessly, “he will try to extort Ana’s return in some way, and if he can coax Michael to return with him then we have to follow. But Michael has been through very much in the last for years. He may not have adapted the power yet, but that does not make our brother defenseless. Michael is known for violence.”

“Would he harm your father?” Paula asked.

“Yes,” both answered as one.

“Michael once hacked into my high school’s computer system to find one of the teachers who was trying to force her religion on me.” Ana said. “We created a police file that implicated her in a child porn ring. None of it was true, and none of the charges stuck, but the woman was suspended for well over a year. I was well on my way of ridding myself of her in a way that would not have required such dramatic action, but the point was made.”

“You think Michael might have hacked into the University’s security system to hide his mark on the door?” Paula asked.

“No,” said Bella, “that would have, I think, been over his head, and it would have eventually led back to us. I think that symbol was not from Michael. I think it has something to do with our father.”

“So, I suspect the two of you have an idea of sorts for resolution to all of this already?” Paula wondered what it might be, and wondered if she had seen only the tip of the iceberg in what might happen.

“We have to return to the site of the flood that happened in 2005. There we’ll be able to tap into some of the original energy that gave us our power. There’s something there that we have to find, and maybe something there will find us. If we go, Michael when sense that we are there,” Ana said.

“Michael will join us, and for once and for all, we three will be at ground zero of our joining. We have to return to New Orleans, to the site where we were all joined as one in the flood.”

 

End part four.

 

 

The Woman on Treadmill #8

 

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“I fell asleep during sex once,” she said in the dark, “and when I woke up I realized he hadn’t noticed.”

After twenty years of marriage, three kids, and seeing one of them off to college and the other two in High School, she and her husband sat down on night and divided the assets. She got the house, the place where the kids would all return to, like ghosts with growing pains, who were the first to notice their family was dying. She had been an eighteen year old, right out of high school and he was the boy she fell in love with. They spent four years in poverty with two kids until he graduated from college with a degree in business and he did well for her, and the kids. She wanted the big house by the man made lake with the man made cookie cutter subdivision, the soccer mom thing, and that was exactly what she got. It was perfect. Or at least it looked perfect, and that was, after all, enough.

They both agreed, no dating until everything was final, and no bringing home one night stands around the kids. It was a surreal conversation she told me, because it had been nearly twenty years since anyone but her husband had seen her naked. After three kids and twenty years of going to the gym a few times a year, she realized there was a lot of work to be done before she could think about a lover that didn’t have a wall charger.

 

He was cheating, had a girlfriend, she was certain of it, but he was discreet as hell, and never brought it home with him in any way. He was a good father, and a good person. They still went to church together, still socialized with the same people, still attended school functions as one, but that was going to end, and this was his way of telling her he would be taking someone else to those events. She wanted to care. She wanted to be hurt by being replaced. She wanted to feel something, rage, anger, sorrow, anything, by losing this man, but there was nothing there at all.

She had cried, silently, alone, while sitting in the minivan. It had been their first family car, twenty years ago, and it had lasted five years, but it was time for an upgrade. But this vehicle had been solid and reliable transportation for all the kids, even the newborn, her last, she knew, and this car bore witness to her transformation from a young woman to a mom. He never noticed the tears or if he did, knew better to ask unless he wanted to hear about it, and he didn’t.

 

They approached child raising as two people committed to crisis management. The constant pressure of food, clothing, waste, entertainment, training, education, and the limited amount of time in each day left them both seeing the other as a co-worker, or wait staff, someone friendly only because that was part of the job. It wasn’t always like that, she said, her voice catching on words she had never spoken aloud before, but it sank, slowly, no matter how hard they bailed the water out of the boat. Bills, school programs, sleep overs, the never ending need for more stuff and more room, and suddenly, he was sleeping on the bean bag in his office a couple of times a week, and to her this was glorious. She had her tubes tied after the last child, and he had a vasectomy. She knew what it meant, but she didn’t care anymore. Tying her tubes mean she would never have to go through this again, after this kid was old enough, her time as a mom to little kids would end. That was something she looked forward to, with glee, and dreaded.

 

Emily, the youngest child, a strange creature who entered high school with perfect grades and a love for Saturday morning cartoons, was a year younger than her classmates, jumped two grades, but light years ahead of everyone. She was the one who sat her parents down and said, “Fix it or fuck it, but don’t fucking rot for it.”

 

But it was already gone, and it had been. They sat down one rare night with all the kids gone and drank two bottles of wine. They split up assets and decided he would leave, take his truck, take the guns, except her pistol, leave the two dogs and the cat, take the boat, please for the love of God take the fucking boat, and then it was a question of small things, who got the good cooler, and who would get the nice plates. He was a nice person. He would get a place of his own, big enough for the kids to come and go, and he wouldn’t take anything she needed, he would get new stuff, and she was good with that. The old stuff comforted her. She didn’t like change, and realized that was part of the reason he was still in the same house as she was but then suddenly he was gone.

Her friends threw a party for her. It was fun. She had forgotten fun. She laughed and drank too much, and listened to women who had gone through this process describe what sex was like the first time after the marriage was gone. After everyone had left she looked at the woman standing naked in front of the mirror and wondered if she could get a man drunk enough to sleep with her. It was time to start training her body to do more than drive a taxi for the kids.

 

The younger women had perfect bodies and merciless souls. All of them were molded from the purest clay, and some of them, even those who were still in their late teens, had implants. Or at least they looked like they did. Most of them shaved their pubic hair, and she still looked like she was giving birth to a wooly mammoth. There was spin classes, and boot camp classes, and Yoga classes, and she threw herself into fitness as an escape from her life, which still required her to be the mom, but now with one kid who had his own car, and another who was independent of all things human, she had time. But she didn’t know what to do with those hours that occurred when she was alone.

 

“I think you have my keys,” she said to me. I was on treadmill # 8 and she was standing here beside it, looking a little embarrassed.

“I have your keys?” I asked, slowing the machine down to a walk. “Did you leave them at my house last night?”

“God no, I mean I think they’re in the cup holder of the machine,” she laughed and blushed.

I looked in the cup holders. No keys.

“You have beautiful eyes,” I told her, “and a good laugh.”

“Thank you, may I have my keys?” she said, but she was smiling.

“They aren’t here,” I told her.

“You’re messing with me,” she laughed, “come on, I have to pick my daughter up.”

“Here,” I said, and I cut the machine off and stepped to the other side. She got on the treadmill and picked my keys up but hers was not to be found.

“Are you married?” I asked.

“No,” she said, looking at her left hand. The smiling stopped. “I have to go.”

 

“I’m pushing forty,” she said the first time we were alone. “I’ve had three kids, eaten junk food for dinner three times a week for twenty years. There’s a dozen women in that building who are my age that look a lot better. You’re going to get scared off once you see me nude.”

“So you’re telling me I’m going to see you nude?” I leered at her, and she laughed hard. More than anything else, she told me later that night, she missed someone who could make her laugh.

 

“I met my husband’s girlfriend at his place one day,” she said, the flickering candle the only light in the room. “She wasn’t the young bimbo type at all. I feared that. I was afraid he’s go out and find someone who would take him for a ride. But she was about my age, and had been around the block once or twice. It was a little awkward, to see the two of them sitting together on the new sofa, and I could tell she had spent the night. She was really civil to me, very well mannered, but this was her turf, and that was her man now. She asked me if it was okay if she got Emily a leather bound set of Harry Potter for Emily’s birthday, and I told her I thought it was perfect. That was when I decided to start looking for someone, too. If he could do that well, hell, there was no telling who I might find.” She put her hand on my shoulder and kissed me.

“I’m moving,” she told me a few months later.  “My oldest got a job in New Mexico, and his wife is pregnant. Emily is going to stay. It’s time for me to get out of this part of the world.”  We went out for dinner one night and then went back to her place, which was filled with chaos and packing boxes. Her ex had gotten married, and finally, she felt something, something akin to loss, something that was a sharp stick, and it hurt.

 

Take Care,

Mike

I Fought the Lawn and the Lawn Won.

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Last year, we had that damn hurricane late in the Summer, and I never really got around to picking the yard up so I could mow again. Then it rained every other day for nine five months, and mowing just wasn’t possible. And then I discovered my mower was dead, and of course, that made it impossible. How long this might have gone up is subject to debate, but Mom moved in with me about three months ago, and her concerns about the height of the grass began to turn into concerns about the altitude of the grass, and whether or not we might lose a dog in the jungle.

 

And so it came to pass I rented a push mower and on one of the hottest days of the year, stepped out into the bushland, and cranked it up. Let’s face it, even on the very best days, mowing is tedious and mind numbing work. With the mercury rising steadily and the yellow flies attacking, it was pretty hellish just walking off the porch. Yet what is is what must be, and the task at hand, however hard, was just merely hard, not impossible.

 

Even though it flooded here from last September until two weeks ago, there was more dust than I could believe possible. The grass was tall, but it didn’t seem overly tough. The last week or so saw temps in the upper 90’s for most of every day, and triple digit heat for three days in a row. Even though I got started before seven in the morning, the dew was all dried up, and blown away. It was like mowing dead grass things were so dry.

 

The yellow flies seemed oblivious to the cloud of dust. Normally aggressive to the extreme, they were even worse yesterday. I actually plucked two of them off my face as I was mowing. They tried to dig in and bite even as they were crushed to death. I took a couple of hits on my neck as well. I look like an anti-vaxxer in a measles epidemic.

 

Yet in this world of back and forth motion, reasonless harvest of grass tops, my mind begins to wander. If the world ended, yet there was a need for shorter grass, by what method might this be achieved? In the story of the Stubs, livestock is extinct, and gasoline isn’t far from it. Someone might reinvent the scythe or perhaps some other device. The story takes front and center in my mind; what would will we have to reinvent when the lights go out for the last time?

Humans lived for thousands of years without air conditioning or any sort of heating, and they likely could continue to do so. Yet with children today staying inside more than outside, I wonder if a generation raised on video games and screen could survive a world where the inside and outside temperatures were nearly the same. Of course, the return to a more natural world would be a return to a world more closely associated with natural law; those who do not adapt will die.

With the leftovers from civilization, those who remain can mimic the past for a while but what happens when something needed, and made of metal, breaks? Certainly, there would be enough steel to forge a new part but who would have the skill? How long would it take to develop this skill? Where would the tools be found to hone the craft?

The mower bogs and I back away, move forward again, back away, ironing the lawn until it is flat. The yellow flies are like being shot at with pellet gun and the sun begins to crank up. I can feel real heat very early in the day. I need to get a mower with a bag so all this stuff can be composted.

The colony at Pine View, would have to garden, compost, find ways to store food, and keep seed for the next year’s planting. The lonely survivors would fish in streams and rivers that would be, in time, clean enough to drink from. Could they reinvent smoked or salted fish? Here in Brooks County, could they eventually bring enough salt in from the coast, seventy miles away, to make the trip worth it? How many people, given success and time, would have to break off and form another camp? But first they have to survive themselves.

 

There’s a very short list of wildlife that survived the Stubs; alligators, fish, turtles, small birds, and beavers. All livestock animas are extinct. Deer, raccoons, opossums, and turkey are all gone. Snakes survived, and so did rats. There are a few hawks, and crows, but they are scare. Cats and dogs didn’t make it.

I’m halfway through the front part of the yard when I realize that the one hundred or so people I have might not survive after the first generation Post Stub. Maybe the second generation, for the first would still had enough of the time that was to make it, perhaps. Maybe it would be a slow enough transition. Deep in the forests where there are no people, and therefore no Stubs, some wildlife would survive, and thrive. The world of humans is confined to a small camp in what was once the Southeastern United States, and they are few.

 

It takes a while to finish but at last the task is done. The heat and dust are unbearable, and I wonder at what point we human could endure a new world, especially if there was no other choice. Speculation and a mower is all I have, and some time to think about it. I just hope I never have to put any of it to the test if the lights go out for good.

 

Take Care,

Mike

We Shouldn’t Be Here

When I was a little kid, five or six years old, maybe, in the first grade, there was a drainage pipe that ran beside the school. One day it rained like hell, and the water was firing through that pipe like a herd of cows through a chute.  We threw sticks in the water in front of the pipe then raced to the other side to watch them reappear again. I wanted to go in. I thought if I did, it would disrupt the illusion. You see, decades before the movie “The Matrix” I had this deep seeded suspicion that life was some sort of staged production, an experiment of some kind, and that we kids were the subjects of it. I thought about stepping out in front of a bus, and if I did, the curtain would come down, and the falsified life would be revealed. 

I kept having this feeling. It never did really leave me. All the things they told us in school seemed like they were making rules up as they went. I mean, if someone wrote a big red “T” on a piece of paper, did that really make you “Tardy”? Did two or three minutes make that that big a difference in if you were going to live or die, unless you were stuck in a drainage pipe full of water? 

They kept warning us about these people called “The Russians” and we had drills where we would hid under our desks if the Russians nuked America. Thank dog for those desks. Why not just give all Americans those nuke proof desks?  And when it gets right down to it, what are you doing to do with a school full of kids hiding under desks if everything else is radioactive ash? 

We had the feeling that none of this was real. There were no Russians, and no nukes, at least there was no one out there about to fry Early County Georgia. I mean, why bother? 

It seemed a lot of trouble for nothing at all. Here we were, in a very small town in South Georgia, with no mountains or oceans, no dinosaurs or flying cars, or anything exciting at all, yet the teachers acted like everything an adult said was the one true word of the one true god and we were supposed to spend our childhoods sitting still, being quiet, and being in total awe of people would die within miles of where they were born. Seriously, who could believe this was the reality of the Universe? 

When I turned sixteen I had a plan, and I didn’t tell anyone about it. I was going to pick a random town on the map, drive there, and find out if it was real. Surely, whoever, or whatever, was running the illusion, this would wreck it. And it seemed safer than stepping out in front of a bus. So, one day, I filled the tank up on my father’s car and drove to a little town in South Alabama, named Slocomb. It was there, just like on the map. I stopped at a tiny restaurant for lunch, and that was freaky. The waitress seemed a little bothered I was there, and I thought for a moment I might have actually done it, I had gone to a place the actors knew I had found them out! I think, in retrospect that she was just nosey as hell; she asked me where I was from, why was I there, and who I knew, and who I was related to, but that was still back in the days anyone under thirty was suspect, and I looked a lot younger than sixteen. After lunch, when I finally escaped the wait staff, I drove through the backroads of Slocomb. It looked exactly like my hometown. There were people mowing grass, washing their cars, walking down the roads, and cars parked at stores, just like the same reality back in Blakely. 

In an odd sense, I finally figured out how I felt this way, and how, in the end of all things, I found out I was right. 

Schools were not places of learning. I never learned anything in my years inside the public school system I couldn’t have taught myself in a lot shorter time. What they did, their whole existence was to keep young humans from living the way nature intended. The school system produced worker bees, drones, and fearful and subdued kids who would grow up as fearful and subdued adults. 

Our DNA tells us that we should live in the wild, hunt, fish, eat wild berries and roots,  sing, and create. Our culture tells us that we must work, buy, consume, and obey arbitrary rules meant to keep us from living. 

The Russians never nuked us. Being late for class never hurt anyone. My handwriting never got any better and it never matter, not one fucking bit. All the stress and punishment heaped upon us in school never produced anything but human beings beaten into submission and willing to trade their entire lives for a bigger television and more channels on it. 

It was an illusion. It was a fraud. I was right all along, but it never occurred to me that it was so because people were preforming the lie their entire lives, and most never stopped to think about it. 

I’m a writer now. That’s something they told me I couldn’t do back in the Days of Illusion and Lies. I realize they might have thought they were doing the right thing for the right reason, but they had an obligation to question it, and they never did. They never will. If you feel your DNA calling to you, and you think there is another life, then live it. Quit listening to other people telling you how things are supposed to be. Get in your car and go to someplace else and tell the waitress you’re seeing past the illusion, and would like to order some berries. 

You might not get them, but you sure as hell are going to mess up her mind. 

Take Care,

Mike

The Death of Clara Strickland (The End?)

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Clara and Amy watched as Matt looked at the photo through a microscope.  He couldn’t remember where it came from, and both women wondered how in the hell you wind up with something like that and not know you got it. But they exchanged looks and that was all.

“I can’t see anything other than the outline of his face,” Matt said, but I can tell he sees me. I don’t think he knows what’s going on.

“Who does?” sighed Clara, and she realized that Sammy might be trapped forever.

 

They made trips back and forth to the library and tried to find something, anything, even a hint, for some remedy but there was nothing. There wasn’t a scrap of truth to anything they read, and nothing about their everyday lives as ghosts. Finally, towards the end of November, Clara announced, “I’m going to haunt the Thanksgiving Dinner. Anyone wanting to come along can help, but I’m going to fuck with these people.” No one else offered to join her and Clara didn’t blame them. The fear of cameras now was a very real thing.

 

 

As Clara was getting ready to go, she wanted to make sure she looked the part of a murdered wife, Amy walked through the wall and into the room.

“You know how we feel about you doing this,” Amy told her, “you’re going to endanger us all.”

“So?” Clara said, “So what? What you going to do? Hide here until one by one you disappear with no clue as to why? I say we all hit the damn road. We spy, we steal, we get a van and only move around at night, and we go dancing all the damn time. We can visit different places and try to find other ghosts.”

“And get fired by the sun?” Matt asked. He had drifted up from the floor.

“We don’t know that’s a thing.” Clara said, “And yes, I do realize Sammy didn’t believe the camera thing.

“We’re here to help you with the haunting.” Matt said. “Do you have a plan?”

“Yes.”

 

Most of her family had never met many of her party friends, Clara knew that, and so passing Matt and Amy off as close friends that her family didn’t know would be easy. Bridgett, the blonde with the tattoo, didn’t know anyone, so she would be happy to have someone to talk to that was close to her age. The problem was getting them past George. Of course, George was looking to cement Clara’s family accepting his story about her will and life insurance, so he wouldn’t be looking for a fight. If Matt and Amy were old friends from the High School church club, George might think that’s why he never met them. But Matt was the one who suggested they get both George and Bridgett so stoned they couldn’t make it through the meal anyway.

 

 

“This is George’s ‘Medicine Cabinet’”, Clara told Amy as they manifested in the closet of the bedroom of her house. George was pounding away at Bridgett, so they knew they wouldn’t be noticed, even if those two were just a few feet away. “I think these blue pills are LSD,” Clara told Amy.

“They are,” Amy replied, “I’ve tried it before, but I didn’t inhale.”

“Smartass!”

 

Amy and Matt arrived right after Clara’s parents. Bridgett was hopelessly inept when it came to matters in the kitchen, and Barbara, Clara’s mother, waded in to rescue her. Tim, Clara’s father, took the proffered drink and suggested the men retreat to watch football. Having Amy assure everyone she had baked many a turkey helped dispel any misgivings about letting her and Matt in. Clara had to admit Amy looked good in church clothes and Matt cut a handsome figure as well. They looked as if they were alive, and no one questioned why they had come in through the backdoor of the garage. George hated to have the blinds open so they were safe from sunlight  from that source as well.

Clara manifested just long enough to drop the LSD into George’s beer, two hits of the stuff,  and the other doses in Bridgett’s wine. She could be in and out of view in less than a second, and she wished she had more time to get better at being a ghost. The acid would really start kicking in about the time Thanksgiving Dinner was served. Clara was surprised at how well Amy and Matt blended into the religious talk neither of them have ever exhibited before. Clara never believed in a god, or disbelieved in a god, she had never really thought about it that deeply. Did religious people automatically assume she didn’t want to hear it? She didn’t, religious stuff bored her to tears, but if there was some old white guy in a bathrobe and an epic beard, what part did he play in her being a ghost? Clara grinned at the amount of alcohol Bridgett and George was knocking down. She knew they had hit some weed to calm them down, but the acid would be cranking very soon.

“The candles,” Bridgett breathed, “have you ever noticed how the fire seems to be floating above the candle, like a star?” And Clara knew it was on.

Both Amy and Matt were good, really good, at manifesting in and out of reality. More than once Amy would totally disappear while only Bridgett could see her, and Bridgett was beginning to lose control. Matt walked right through George in the kitchen and George just about lost it. He dropped his beer and the glass broke everywhere. He couldn’t very well say anything about what he saw, and Clara laughed at how red his face was getting. Tim was expressing doubts as to if George ought to have another beer but Bridgett was pouring a hefty glass of wine.

 

“Tell them about the insurance policies,” Clara whispered behind George while he was in the bathroom and he peed all over himself. George let out a yelp as he whizzed an arc across the floor. But Clara was gone.

“You’re stealing from them, George,” Clara said from right behind him in the hallway and she let George see her, for just an instant, before she disappeared.

George shrieked. He fairly ran back into the dining room where everyone was staring at him.

“She’s, uh, your, uh, I uh,” George fought against the drug coursing through his veins and knew he was losing it, “I saw a spider.”

But Bridgett laughed hard and everyone turned to look at her. Both Amy and Matt were appearing and disappearing when no one else was looking and Bridgett thought it was hysterical. She finally sat on the floor with her wine and giggled.

“Is your friend okay?” Tim said and everyone heard the term “friend” being used in a way that suggested it was too soon for George to have a girlfriend.

“Why don’t you cut the turkey, George?” Matt suggested, right on cue, and Amy grinned. George took the two pronged fork and gentled entered the turkey’s flesh, as if he were expecting it to explode. That went well, it was a start, and George pointed the knife at the turkey’s breast and pressed down with the tip of the knife.

Clara’s face came out of the turkey as she flowed, seemingly, from the cut, and pointed at George as he fell back screaming at the top of his lungs, “You murdered me, George, you killed me,” Clara stepped up on the table, “and now you’re hiding my will from my family, and trying to steal the life insurance money from them. I will have my vengeance!” Clara yelled the last sentence and George’s bowels released as he ran from the house howling.

 

“So now what?” Amy asked when they finally stopped laughing. George had ran down the street in full panic, with Bridgett on the floor in a puddle of tears. Tim had called the cops while Amy and Matt had said their goodbyes and left before the police got there. They had giggled as George was brought back to the house shouting about ghost and how he had not killed his wife. The ghosts were all hiding in the attic, but Clara had never felt more alive.

“It’s time to go, Amy,” Clara said simply.

 

 

 

 

“Can you hear me, Sammy?” Clara asked.

“Barely, but yeah.” Sammy replied.

“Ready?” Clara took her clothes off and sat in the lounge chair near the edge of the pool.

“Yeah, but barely,” Sammy replied. “Beats the photo life.”

“You know, I know technically speaking, you’re older than I am, but you’re the first person I ever met that made me want to have a kid. I wish I had a son like you.” Clara said and she realized the truth of her own words, and she bit her lip trying not to cry but couldn’t help it. “You’re a good kid,” she added.

“That was unexpected,” Sammy said, “but hey, thanks, that’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me, living or dead.”

“I wish I had known you when I was alive,” Clara said. She looked at the night sky and it was fading to light.

“So what happened with George?” Sammy asked.

“The plan worked,” Clara said, “he was so freaked out over being accused of murder he confessed to the insurance theft by hiding my will. Bridgett threw him under the bus trying to keep from getting a murder rap. The cops used them both against each other trying to find out if I had been murdered, but they’re convinced I wasn’t now. I wouldn’t want George to do time for killing me. But he’s going to have to share the money with my family. And explain his drug stash. I’m nearly sorry about that.”

“No you aren’t.” Sammy laughed.

 

Clara watched the sky lighten and heard Amy call out, “You don’t have to do this, Clara.” And she nodded. “Sammy deserves better than to be stuck like this, and I’m, well, I want to see if there is anything else. Death has made me much better as a person than I was alive. I owe Sammy this.”

“We’re going to hit the road tomorrow, like you said, get a van and get serious window tint, and travel. We’ll look for other ghosts, and we’ll try to find out what happens, when, when someone does what you’re doing.” Amy was sobbing.

“Come back and haunt us if you can, Clara.” Matt said simply. “Tell Sammy I love him.”

“Did you hear that?” Clara asked.

“Yes,” replied Sammy. “Tell them both.”

“Sammy and I love you both, he wanted you to know, I want you to know.” And Clara stopped speaking. There was nothing left to be said.

The sun brightened the sky and the stars blinked out, one by one. The first ray of sunlight streaked the sky and Clara watched as her left leg began to dissolve and float away like dust. “I’m fading away!” she called but no one spoke. “Sammy?”

“Yeah, I can feel it, too,” Sammy said, “it doesn’t hurt.”

Her legs dissolved into stardust and blew away and Clara felt her last tear streak down her cheek as the sun slipped above the horizon, “Sammy?” she asked but no one was there. Clara felt her last tear fall but she was gone before it hit the ground.

 

End

The Death of Clara Strickland (Parts Three and Four)

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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.

“Definitely.”

 

“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.

 

End three

 

“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