A Different Kind of Ghost Story
I’m standing in a foggy field. Birds chirp in nearby trees and the grass squishes under my tennis shoes. I see nothing else—nor can I remember how I got here. I hear nothing but the birds—and when they suddenly stop—I hear nothing but these words in my head.
I walk onward to find a wooden bench overlooking a marshy pond. That’s it, I can hear the frogs croak on their little green lily pads. The fog tastes and smells of the wormy mud—but I like it—it is calming. Oh, how I wish I had my laptop to write this scene down. If I had it I would scribbled down a beautiful vignette of this view and save it for use in something else.
God, I’m anxious! How could I have forgotten my laptop? My mother always says, Ann, if you don’t stop twirling your hair it’ll fall right out! But, I can’t stop. Not when I can’t write.
“Why would I do this to myself?” I say aloud. “Come to this place without so much as a pen and paper?”
“Iss cause you didn’t come here!” says a sharp, nasally voice behind me. “You was put here.”
I stare down the young man with my hand pressing my chest, “You frightened me!”
“I didn’t mean-ta. I never been good at walking up behind someone without scarin’ ’em.”
“That’s because you shouldn’t walk up behind people!”
“Look,” he says, “I just thought I’d come help ya, is all. Ya mind if I take this seat?” He points his finger down next me. I nod my head and he sits—and doesn’t talk for a good while—he just folds his hands, smiles, and stares out at the pond.
Wait, I think to myself, he says I was put here?
“Yes, ya were!” he startlingly replies. “I was put here too—thas what they do to lost souls like us—they send us here.”
“Here, where?” I stand with my eyes bugging down at him.
“Oh, thas it! You’re new. I guess I shoulda introduced myself then. Names Donny.”
“I don’t care about your name! Tell me what is happening, now!” I snarl.
“Iight, lady. You’re dead.”
My mouth drops. My heart beats. My vision gets blurry and my ears give static rings back and forth.
“Yes, dead, shot, done for, deceased, died and gone to . . . well, purgatory.” says the boy with a shrug. “An don go runnin’ and screamin’. There ain’t nothin’ to run from or to. It took us 3 hours ta calm down the last girl—it was just annoyin’.”
I scream, dart through the mud—feeling it fling up onto the back of sundress. I don’t know where to go. Where to get away from that mind reading freak. Just . . . need to find my car, that’s it.
And, as I pass a weeping willow tree, he is there again.
“You ain’t got no keys, Ann.”
“Get away from me you rapist—serial killer!”
I run back in the direction of the pond.
“I ain’t gonna rape you. I wanna help you.”
Suddenly, as I run, I see people walking about. A small girl in a white dress, an older gentleman in a suit walking with a cane, and a beautiful young woman—maybe a model—wearing a skanky outfit. They move through the fog with grace, almost floating.
I stop. Wave over to them with both of my arms. “Help, someone is trying to kill me!”
The three stop and look at me with confused faces.
“What are ya talking about, young girl?” asks the old gentleman.
“She’s new, I can tell.” says the little girl.
The beautiful young woman laughs with an attitude, “Does she really think she can be killed? What an idiot.”
I fall to my butt. Sit in the mud and cry.
“Look what you did, Bridgette.” says the little girl. “You made her cry.”
“Hmmp.” replies Bridgette. She storms off with her arms crossed.
The old man looks down at me. He fuddles around trying to find his glasses, and when he realizes they are on his head, he holds them out in front of his face and down at me. He sniffs a big sniff and says, “You okay there, girly? You seemed to have fallen in the mud.”
“She’s crying Grandpa Jeb.” says the girl.”She’s crying because she’s dead and she lost her memories.”
Grandpa Jeb opens his mouth and squints his eyes—revealing all his white nose hair to me. “Oh, right, well where is Donny? That boy slackin’ again? Gotta get her up and into the cabin.”
“So thas it.” says Donny with his elbows on the table and his hands flinging around. “Ya die, ya come here. We is the Keepers, we give ya the contract: Heaven or a last chance.”
“And, while the road most often taken is Heaven, we enjoy the brave who like to scour the earth again as ghosties. But it’s your choice, of course.” says the little girl, Clara.
“We like the brave because we were once the brave. We failed. Now we’re stuck playing Keeper for an eternity.” chimes in Bridgette.
“And if ya succeed as a ghost, ya get one body to do with it what you will till it naturally dies—we promise ain’t no cancer or disease will show up in that body. Then ya go to Hell. And I hear it’s gettin’ a lot nicer down there.”
I sit there. I can’t hear anything. I can’t think of anything past, Ann you’re dead. I don’t know what to do. I just want to cry. What should I do?
I can muster no other words but the words I am thinking of, “So, I’m dead?”
Donny busts out in frustration and stares at Clara. “It’s like she’s fuckin’ deaf, Clare. I can’t do nothin’ with her—she’s just anotha lost soul.”
Clara stares at me deeply, grabs my face so I pay attention. “Look sweet pea, you’re fucking dead and we need a signature to reach our quota for this month, so snap the fuck out of it.”
“Clara, you better not be cursing in there!” hollers Grandpa Jeb from the other room.
“I’m 207 years old goddamnit!” she screams back at him and quickly looks back at me. “Go upstairs and rest. In the morning we want your choice.”
My room has wooden walls with a painting of a grizzly bear over my bed. The wood reminds me of Girl Scouts and when we told flashlight ghost stories in our cabins. Like that flashlight the only illumination in my room is coming from one source, a lantern next to my bed. I sit up. It is surely very late, but I cannot sleep. I can only think of violent scenes. A struggle and a gunshot. But, I am afraid I will never see these scenes vividly.
I just want to cry, yet I know it would be a waste of my time. Everything will change tomorrow, so I will make myself sleep. I lay back in bed and curl up—the blankets don’t seem as soft and warm as they usually do. The pillow seems unsatisfying, but it is all that I have and I should make the best of my situation. I reach over to the lamp, to put the light out, when there is a knock at my door.
“Who’s there?” I ask.
Bridgette walks in, her outfit now a different color than previously, but still skimpy and tasteless.
She spoke, “Look, I want to apologize for making you cry and well, being a bitch. I don’t mean to be so catty, but it’s hard to change who you are, even in the afterlife.”
I say nothing, but rub my bed with my hand and she comes over to sit.
“Why do you dress like that?” I asks as I eye her up and down.
“I don’t have a choice. It’s what I wore when I died. I was a stripper.” She begins to tear up. I scoot closer to her and hold her.
“I left a boy, a 2 year old. I did it for him.” she says, then quickly snaps. “And that bastard who killed me, raped me. Oh, if I was given a second chance to get my revenge, I would do it right—I would do it all so differently.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, “but, I have to ask, how did you find out what happened to you?”
“A keeper told me.” She say. “Just like I’m tellin’ you yours now.
You’d just gotten done with teaching class. You decided to make a stop in the park—and write on your favorite bench—while overlooking your favorite lake.”
The visions replay now. I can see it. I can remember it.
“You set your laptop on the bench, exhaled while taking in the red, orange, and yellow autumn leaves, and then he came.”
“The man that killed me.” I say as my eyes stare into space.
“You wouldn’t give it to him, it had all your work saved on it.” A tear streaks down Bridgette’s face.
“My mother always told me, ‘if it’s not saved in three separate places, then it’s not saved at all.'”
“Your fatal mistake, you would never give it to him. You’d rather . . .”
“Die. I was so stubborn. It wasn’t worth it.”
“He shot you dead. He still lives in his apartment on 5th—justice may never be served. Unless . . . you go back and haunt that motherfucker—make him pay—make him finish that book. If he finishes the rough draft, you get his body, and you can write and write and write. Do it for me and my son . . . because I couldn’t.”
I look at her—her umber eyes watering even more—and I grab her hand. “I know what I will choose to do.”
“Then let’s do it.”
“You are signing a contract,” says Clara, “that will be held up by the Laws of the Dead. Signing will not guarantee your success, you must work for it. And, it clearly states here that no matter the outcome of your decision we are in no way responsible for what might happen. If you try hexing us, it will fail. If you try to seek revenge on us, you will fail. The Law will not allow it. That being said, go ahead and sign right here.”
A massive paper with delicately inked letters is placed on the table. Grandpa Jeb stands over us still squinting through his glasses, Donny rubs his eyes tiredly, Bridgette crosses her arms, and Clara gives a look of impatience as her foot is shaking below her.
I sign with a quill pen.
“Oh,” finishes Clara, “we will occasionally show up to help you, because well, we want you to succeed. God and the Devil fucked up with this contract—there are a few loopholes—and this is one of them. They’ve been either too lazy or too busy to rewrite it. Nonetheless, all you have to do is recite the phrase we gave you and you’re off.”
I say the words with my eyes closed, “Although I have been left here, dead—my soul still aches until time ends—unless I go and seek revenge!”
When I open my eyes I am in the park, on a small dirt mound, while the sun rises in the distance. I look down at my feet. The mound calls to me with strange energy.
“Yup, thas where he buried you.” says a voice from behind me. I turn to see Donny standing with his hands in his pockets. “Now don go diggin’ it up, that’ll get him caught. You want him to write, right? Look babe, go up that hill and you’ll find a road you’ll rememba. Then head too fif street.”
After those words, Donny leaves—disappears into thin air. I follow his instructions and find the park road that conjures memories. I even pass the bench that I sat on before I was killed.
As I reach a main road outside the park, I see that the world is waking. I don’t know what time it is nor the day of the week, but to my best guesses, it must be a work day. A man runs past me with his dog on a leash.
“Hello sir, can you help me find 5th Street?”
But he and his puppy do not notice me. I feel freezing and the air around me smells of local factory smoke. Most houses on this winding road are brick ranches—all of which I find very lovely. The grass is green, sparklingly glazed over with dew. I decide I must walk—to where, I do not know—to wherever I can find a map or 5th street itself. But, I must move.
I walk for what feels like hours. I pass more runners, cars honking violently at each other, people screaming at each other from across the roads, and red light after red light. I watch as small business open for shop. I watch a bus flash its lights and extend its STOP sign as a little girl climbs up.
I sit on the curb wanting cry.
“If I lived in this age, that would’ve been me.” says a small voice to the right of me. “And if you weren’t killed, then maybe that would be you—the mother walking me to my bus stop—not leaving until you see me board safely.”
It Is Clara. She sits on the cement curb next to me. Her hands are folded into her lap. I notice a red ribbon in her hair that I had not been there before. It is tied in a not-so-lovely way.
“May I fix your ribbon?” I ask.
I tie it in a beautiful small bow.
“Grandpa Jeb isn’t very good at tying these damn things—old bat can’t see a thing.”
“Well it looks fine now.” I say with a smile.
“You would’ve been a good mother, I can tell.” she says. “But, I came here for a more important reason. You must get to 5th Street fast! Your killer seems to have a ravenously guilty conscience. He’s going to lay on his own sword—so I will take you there. Just close your eyes and hold my hand.”
When I open my eyes, I’m on 5th, in front of a towering cylindrical apartment made of red bricks. This must be it. Unfortunately, Clara’s hand turns to air and she disappears, but I am thankful for her help.
When I reach the door, it is locked. I don’t know if I should buzz or not. I don’t know if I can walk through walls like ghosts do in the movies—so far my hands have been solid.
“You have to close your eyes to do it, see watch!” screams a woman’s voice from the next door house. It’s Bridgette atop the roof. She jumps, shutting her eyes on the way down. Zing! she goes through the driveway.
So, I do the same. My eyes close, I walk in. I am met with a narrow staircase, walls painted green. I’ve made it to the first floor, but to where do I continue? Which room is the room of my killer?
I keep walking up the steps. Halfway up second floor I hear an old man screaming and pounding on a door. I move quickly to see if this is any clue.
“Johnny boy, open up in there!” the man voices. Bang! Bang! Bang! “Open up, Johnny, open up!”
It is Grandpa Jeb—and when I get close enough to see this—he stops and looks at me. His glasses glare from the lighting fixtures above. He steps forward, the glare leaves the specs, revealing eyes not so old looking. He looks sharp and cunning, completely unlike he did in the cabin and the marsh. A smirk appears on his face and he soon after closes his eyes, zinging down through the floorboards.
The room! I run to it. Room 203. My eyelids squeeze together, my muscles tighten, and I walk through. A filthy apartment room.
I see my laptop open on a corner desk—opened to a news site.
Young Professor Missing
A picture of me is post below it. But, where is my killer? I hear sad gasps of crying. I ran to the laptop, look to my right, and see him—fat and balding—on his bed with a pistol aimed at his temple. I dart, smack the gun to the sheets.
“What was that?” he says in a cracked voice. “Whose here?”
I think of the ghost movies, what to do, what to do?
After slamming the laptop shut, the man jumps back. “My mind is really fuckin’ me! I have to end it. I have to stop this.”
Smack! his face turns into a red handprint—he falls to the floor.
“No, no, this can’t be! A ghost! A ghost!”
I grab the laptop and bring it to his face.
“Oh my God, the girl! It’s you. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!” he cries and begs for mercy.
You cannot kill yourself, you sack of shit.
You must pay for what you did first!
“I’ll do anything, please! Anything you want!”
Finish my book, so that I can RIP.
He stops fidgeting. His face relaxes ever so slightly. He apprehensively stands—beads of sweat fall from his forehead to the wood boards.
“Write?” he says. “I don’t know how to write!”
I will make you.
“Will it fix my head? Will it help my mind forgive itself? Will I be redeemed?”
“Then I will try.”
I open the file to my novel—35,000 words written—and to my surprise, the metal of the computer singes my hands, so I throw it on the bed. There is no cheating the contract, it seems. I sit in the desk chair and watch him. He looks around the room—darting his eyes from left to right—and then shuffles over to the laptop.
He reads the what is written throughout the day. I make no noise or fuss; I simply watch.
He finishes in twelve hours, to which he screams out, “I’ve read it, it is very good, but I can’t continue it. I have no talent.”
He opens a new document and I type.
To become a writer, you must write.
Don’t worry if it sucks, just write.
He says nothing and shakes his head, puts his hands on the keys and lets them fly. I almost feel proud. Helping somebody overcome their lack of creative confidence. This quickly leaves me and is replaced with angry motivation.
“You’re seeing the good in him, aren’t you?” says a voice from behind me, Bridgette’s voice. “That’s how I failed my contract. My goal was to make my killer give all his money to my son—to support him—like I tried to do by working disgusting jobs. When I found my killer he was praying at the feet of Jesus in a local church. I convinced him to give his money to charity instead. I don’t know why I did it—we always say how we feel about a certain thing before it happens, but when it does happen, what we actually do seems to be up to chance.”
“What happened after you failed?”
“He dedicated his life to helping others—joined the Peace Corp. and everything. So, I don’t blame you for feeling how you feel—sitting in the cabin I felt haunted by my memories, but now seeing this man change, I am reminded why I forgave that bastard.”
We look down at my killer, who is sweating and licking the corner of his mouth. His fingers haven’t stopped.
“He’ll succeed,” says another voice, a small voice. “you’ll pass your goal. But, he will fall in love with the craft.”
Now Clara and Bridgette both stand next to me.
“An you won be able to decide was best—to force ’em to name you the author or hisself.” says Donny.
“Oh, and young lady, that’s how you end up like us Keepers.” Says Grandpa Jeb.
All four now stand next to me, looking over the new writer. They are right. My heart is too big and even if I try to smother how I feel with anger, it will never work.
“The story must be written,” I say, “but under what name, it may not matter.”
“Succeed in taking his body, Miss Ann,” says Clara, “and you may want to end it again. Die a second time. The guilt may eat you alive.”
They disappear. I get angry. I want to punch something. I am a ghost being haunted by more ghosts. This isn’t how it plays out in movies—I’m not supposed to have a conscience—I’m not meant to be empathetical. I don’t know what to do. I make the safe decision to just sit and keep watching him.
Two months pass and he rarely stops writing. He orders Chinese food every night or so and quits his job. A yellow eviction notice has been slid under the door for lack of payment. He doesn’t even flinch. He doubles my 35,000 word and then some. This is his book. He will finish it when he is satisfied. He will do the revisions and the edits, he will find an agent, send it out to
“I am joining you,” I say, “I’m giving up. Contract voided. It’s Purgatory for me.”
“Are you sure about this?”
“Yes, with all my soul.”
Ten years pass. I take over as the fifth Keeper of the marsh and work beside Grandpa Jeb, Donny, Clara, and Bridgette. I learn the contract rules and how to speak to new lost souls. I learn how to gracefully tell these new souls that they’ve been killed—much unlike Donny did for me. I collect signature to meet quotas. And, I’m pretty happy.
I spend most of my time pretending to be mommy to Clara, pretending Bridgette is my long lost sister, Donny my annoying little brother, and Jeb my aging father.
“A new lost soul just landed in the marsh.” says Clara. “Some guys shot over electronics. Robbery gone bad, the usual.”
“You takeit, Ann. I took the lass one.” says Donny.
I get up off the couch. The Sixth Sense plays on the T.V., “Okay, but I better not miss the ending again.” I say.
The man sits on the bench overlooking the pond. The grass is muddy under my shoes. The air still smells of worms. Fog still engulfs us all.
The man is slender and from a profile view, he looks very handsome. He bites the skin on his thumb—he must be anxious.
I sit by him with phantasmal grace, and he doesn’t notice.
“Nice view isn’t it?” I say as he jumps—they always jump.
“Yeah,” the man replies, “I wish I’d at least brought a pen and paper. I’d love to write to this scenery.”
My heart skips a beat. His face! It looks like . . . oh, no, he notices me too. His eyes widen and he wants to yell, but he hold it in.
“Does this mean, I’m . . .” he asks.
I nod and he slouches in sadness. He has lost weight, his hair has grown back, and his eyes shine with kindness.
“I finished that book, took credit for it too. Ha. I even wrote 13 more. I never saw anything from you again after I finished. But,” he pauses, “I wanted to thank you, you gave my life purpose. You helped me find my passions.”
“You look so . . . seem so . . .” I can’t find the words.
“Different? Yes, you really changed my life around. And, you still look as beautiful today as you did when I killed you.”
My heart melts, which is kind of sad. Ten years with nothing but an old geezer and an illiterate annoying twerp makes you desperate. So, fuck it, I’m saving the contract on this one. Screw the quota.
“I want you to walk with me.” I say. And we walk the coast of the pond, as I reach down for his hand.
And that’s that—the story that needed to be told. Life, death, love, and writing.