“It feels like there’s a lot going on and I’m having trouble keeping track. I mean, I’m not sure there is any kind of cohesive plan and we’re just stumbling along hoping that something happens which is, if not interesting, at least beneficial to some extent. Is that about right?”

Shooter looked up from the screen of his phone to see Sam had stopped walking.

“Sorry Sam, I was reading the comments on that video of the haunted hotel. It seems as though people think it was faked. Which doesn’t make any sense. Why would someone fake something like that?”

Sam blinked.
“Are you serious? For likes and subscribes? For clout? For money, for notoriety, for a sense of legacy however vapid and temporary it might be in the long run? For all sorts of reasons. Why are you and Ange so intent on being instafamous? I’m sure there are lots of things you could do which might make you happy that don’t revolve around projecting a persona onto the internet. Yet here you are, walking down a dusty road in a small town to a museum in the hope that we find something of interest we can flesh out to bolster a made up ghost story for the sake of making Angelié famous.”

“You seem a bit grumpy this morning Sam. We could stop by the cafe and get some breakfast if your blood sugar is low. It’s important to stay on top of these things. Do you take vitamins?”

“See Shooter, you’re really good at stuff like nutrition and exercise, you were even Mr Stroganoff! Why are you at the crossroads of notmuch and nowhere in particular trying to find something scary to put on the internet? I’m not sure Ange is a good influence on you, man.”

“That’s not fair Sam. First of all, I was a runner up, and second, I didn’t tell you that stuff about her wanting to be a camfluencer so you could judge her for her choices. What does it matter what she’s passionate about if it makes her happy? And if I’m in a position to help her realize her passion, why wouldn’t I help? I know that you’re just here for the money and you think this idea of chasing ghosts might be pretty stupid if you even believe they exist, but please don’t frame our choices with a narrow lens just because they don’t seem like choices you would make. Besides, if I didn’t trust Ange, would I have lent her my van to go and find some cool spooky spots to get some footage later? Heck no.”

Sam felt like a heel.
“Shooter, I’m really sorry. I was up late talking to my mum, and worrying about someone who I think needs my help but I don’t know how to help them and maybe I could use a pancake or something. It’s not right of me to take out my stress on you and I’d appreciate it if you’d let me buy you breakfast as a way to make amends.”

Shooter smiled and clapped Sam on the back, inadvertently forcing the air from Sam’s lungs. Sam coughed and tried to recover with a modicum of dignity.
“Oh, careful there, did you swallow a bug? That’s the problem with being in the country, lots more bugs. But smell that fresh air. I bet by the time we get to the cafe we’ll have both worked up a hearty appetite. I hope they have lots of eggs, I usually eat at least a dozen or so for breakfast. I accept your apology and your offer of breakfast, Sam, thank you. And hey, if you’re not sure how to help someone, I’d say asking them what they need is a good place to start.”

“That’s good advice, Shooter. I’ll try that.”
Sam wondered briefly how much a 12 egg omelet might cost and hoped that the trip wouldn’t end with a deficit.

~~~~~

Upon arrival at the cafe, they were surprised to see it quite busy. The lack of customers the previous day had led them to believe there weren’t that many people in town, but nearly every table was full. As they walked in, Sam was careful not to let the door slam against the wall and the two headed for the last two seats at far end of the long counter. Sam noticed with curiosity that no one sat at the last booth, and half expected Shooter to suggest that, but the large man seemed content to take a stool. The same ghost from the previous night was still there, seemingly amused by writing or drawing something on a napkin. Sam was curious both about what the ghost might be creating, but also about his lack of melancholy. Most ghosts who knew they were dead were not terribly happy about it, but this ghost seemed perfectly content. Sam might even go as far as to suggest he was unbothered by his lack of corporeal existence. Were the townsfolk aware of the resident ghost? Or was it merely a coincidence that no one chose to sit there?

At that moment, the woman from the day before wandered over with breakfast menus and a bright smile which masked the pain her shadowed eyes were unable to. Sam could tell that she wasn’t overly excited to see them, but perhaps this was due to her awareness that she and Sam shared something she wasn’t accustomed to seeing in other people. Sam gave her a gentle smile, in the hope it would ease her worry. She returned it with a soft nod.

“Good morning to you. Coffee?” She held the pot out and Sam gratefully moved a mug closer to her. Shooter asked for orange juice and water times two, murmuring something about the importance of vitamin C while he perused the menu. Glancing over, Sam realized the man who had showed up at the cafe just as they were leaving yesterday was in the kitchen cooking.

“Is it always this busy? I was under the impression this was a pretty quiet place.”

She nodded and looked about, her smile slipping into the realm of genuine, rather than customer service camouflage.

“It’s a small town, and word gets around fast. Herb,” she gestured with her shoulder at the cook, “has been away quite a while and when folks heard that he was back for a visit, they came to say hello. I told him he didn’t have to cook, but he was happy to take it on, for old times’ sake. Between you and me, I’m not in the least put out. We sat up a bit late reminiscing and I don’t have a head for alcohol. I’m feeling it today.”

Sam knew it to be truth, but also suspected there was more to their discussion than mere reminiscing. However, knowing it’s best not to pry into the private affairs of strangers, living or dead, Sam focused on the menu, finally deciding on strawberry pancakes. Shooter ordered three 3 egg omelets, which Sam supposed was a nice compromise.

In anticipation of the food arriving, Shooter excused himself to wash his hands. The next time the woman came around with the coffee pot, Sam took the opportunity to ask about a bus service. She shook her head.

“Sorry, no. There isn’t one. There used to be, and before that, trains. In fact, the restaurant is built on the site of the former bus depot, and before that the train station. The town has never been that big, I think it’s always just been a stopover place between here and there.”

“It’s been here a long time then?”

“I think so, though I couldn’t tell you exactly how old it is. I haven’t been here all that long. My name is Alex.”

“Hi Alex, I’m Sam, and my hungry friend is Shooter. He and his girlfriend Angelié are the ghost hunters, I’m more or less just along for the ride.” Alex nodded her understanding.

“So, your question about a bus service was you just making conversation? Or is there some other reason? Is there somewhere you need to be?”

Sam could hear the weight in her question and wondered if it had anything to do with Herb’s statement upon entering the café the day before. But before the subject could be broached, Shooter came back all smiles and clean handed.

“Hey there Sam, are you making friends? I hope Sam isn’t talking your ear off, Miss.” Shooter laughed heartily, drawing the eye of several patrons. “I’m sorry to poke fun, Sam. I was just kidding, Miss. It was funny to me because of the three of us, Sam is the quiet one. That might be because we do all the talking though.” Alex was surprised by the titan’s self reflection and the realization that she’d done to him what so many did to Tommy made her sadder than expected. Sam spoke up to alleviate any awkwardness.

“Shooter, this is Alex, she runs the place. And that’s Herb in the kitchen. I was just asking Alex about the history of the town, considering that we’re on a bit of a fact finding mission. We’re heading to the museum after breakfast. Are there a lot of exhibits and curios to be found there?”

Alex seemed to come back from somewhere far away. She smiled and nodded.
“Oh yeah, there’s all kinds of cool stuff there. Along with historical documentation about the town, genealogy of families who’ve lived here over the years, even some artifacts they found in the nearby mine…” her voice trailed off, as though she had suddenly remembered something. She flashed a look at Herb, and then turned back and picked up the coffeepot. “Sorry, I have to grab an order.” Sam noticed there was nothing in the window between the front and the back. “Someone you need to talk to is Lydia, she’s sitting right over there with Gladys. Lydia is the one with the short auburn hair, Gladys is the blonde with the glasses. Lydia is the curator at the museum and our de facto librarian, since the library shares space with the museum. She knows a lot about a lot, and is a brilliant resource.”

As she started to move away, there was a ding and Sam glanced over to see that there was now a plate sitting on the window ledge for Alex to grab. She already had it and was moving across the restaurant, to a table just behind them where a couple sat waiting. The ghost at the table next to them looked up as she passed and she seemed to hesitate for the briefest moment. When Alex turned, Sam caught her eye and realized why the ghost looked familiar. Looking past Alex to the face of the young man sitting at the table, there was no doubt in Sam’s mind why he was there. The ghost was keeping an eye on his sister. Sam would have liked to ask how long ago her brother died, but had learned from past experiences that sort of cold open rarely went well.

When Alex brought them their strawberry pancakes and a large plate of many omelets, Shooter was quick to ask, “You mentioned a mine. Is it close to here? Can we drive there and see it?”

Alex hesitated, as though she knew the peril of warning people away from something could result in driving them right to it.

“The museum has all kinds of information about it. I don’t think it’s accessible or even safe to consider visiting it, but I’m honestly not sure where it is. ” She deftly changed the subject. “Is there anything else you need before I go?”

Shooter was already several bites into his omelets and nodded with a blissful smile on his face.

“This is too good, what’s the opposite of buyer beware? Buyer take advantage? That doesn’t have the same ring. Hey, do you have a belch?”

Alex looked confused. Sam offered clarity.
“It’s a restaurant rating site. I’m thinking you probably aren’t listed on it.”
Alex shook her head.
“Nope, no need,” she said as she gestured about the diner. “We get just as much traffic as we can handle around here. Thanks though. I appreciate the feedback.”

Shooter nodded.
“Well, if you ever put yourself on there, I’d give you five yups. Oh, and I’m thinking I’ll need something for later so can I get an eggwitch to go?”

Alex paled.
“What did you say?”

“An eggwich? It’s like a sandwich but with eggs in it. I guess I could have just asked for an egg sandwich. Sorry for any confusion.”

Alex shook her head, laughing a bit at her overreaction.
“Of course, that’s no problem, I’ll let Herb know. Just one?”

Shooter laughed.
“You already know me so well. Three it is.”

Photo by Ruth Durbin on Unsplash

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