The only good thing about not having vocal chords is that they don’t hurt after a night of screaming.
“Of all the luck!” Tommy was still fuming. “Someone can finally see me and they turn out to be an asshole! Unbelievable.”
She marched back and forth in the small room, more frustrated than she thought possible for someone who had no blood to boil. What kind of an afterlife was this, where she got angry and was trapped in this room that she’d never even stayed in or seen while she was alive. Was this hell? Was she in hell? If the devil had knocked on the door and offered her some cinnamon breathmints, she’d not have been surprised. Not that she could open the door, or touch anything, or talk to anyone except maybe a weird stranger who just happened to be a total jerk! She flung herself back on the bed, because although having a tantrum likely wouldn’t help, the illusion of it might. To her surprise, she felt the bed give way a little bit. Nowhere near what it would have if she had a physical body, but enough that she noticed.
She sat up and slammed her hand against the bed. Nothing. She took a swipe at the pillows. Nada. She kicked her legs but it was as though she was weightless again.
“What the hell? How did this just get more confusing and unfair? Fuuuuck, I’d be better off not knowing that anyone can see or hear me. I hope that asshole is having a terrible day.”
Sam was having a really nice day. After a really nice breakfast and a good chat with Alex, Shooter had picked up his eggwiches, and then insisted on paying the tab.
“I know that you said you’d buy me breakfast, Sam, and that was a kind offer, but Ange and I did say all expenses covered. Besides, it’s not fair to make you pay when I eat so much more than you.”
The two were laughing and sharing an easy camaraderie as they walked toward the museum. They’d received directions from Lydia, who had told them she’d unlocked the doors before heading for breakfast, and to feel free to wander about.
“Shooter, does it seem to you that everyone here is very friendly? Like, more than is normal?”
“Nah, Sam, that’s just a small town. I mean, I think so anyway. I’ve never lived in a small town. Hey, Sam! Look at that!” Shooter’s attention was drawn to a display in the window of the general store. At the centre of the display was a large glass jar of jellybeans, framed by what looked like a spring scene, complete with astroturf and stuffed rabbits. Sam gasped with surprise when one of the rabbits hopped to a new spot to eat some grass, suddenly understanding that everything in the setting was real.
“Bunnies!” Shooter rushed to the window, ecstatic. “And look Sam, a jelly bean counting contest. How many do you think there are?”
“I don’t know, Shooter. But has anyone told you that you consistently subvert expectations?”
“Not until you did just now Sam. I’m going to go and see if I can guess how many there are, and maybe grab some protein bars, I left mine in the van. Are you coming?”
Sam declined, preferring to peruse the other store fronts on the street, curious to see what other surprises the town might hold. Just as Shooter stepped off the street, Sam caught movement in the window of the building next door. A small, square red brick structure with a mail slot built into the facing wall next to a picture window. To the left was a bright blue door with gold letters which read Post Office, and the hours listed below.
‘If the door is unlocked, we’re open.
If it’s locked, we’re not.’
Sam couldn’t help but smile at the many idiosyncrasies the town had to offer. Glancing through the window, Sam spotted a tiny bird-like woman fluttering behind the counter. Her hair was pulled back into a tidy bun, and there was a rubber thimble on one of her fingers. She was deftly sorting mail into small piles, then turning and slipping them into cubbies behind her. Her movements were practiced and nonchalant. Sam thought she probably could have done this in her sleep. One pile was quite a bit larger than all the rest, and stayed to the right of the counter by itself.
Suddenly the air grew cold, as though a cloud had crossed in front of the sun. But Sam’s shadow was there on the sidewalk so that didn’t make any sense. ‘When did the birds stop singing?’ Sam thought as a familiar prickling sensation manifested in fingers and toes. Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, Sam turned around, already well versed in what would be there, if not exactly who.
A hulking giant of a man, someone who could give Shooter a run for his muscular money stood there, wrapped in a plaid coat with a broad brimmed hat framing an unkempt tangle of hair covering the majority of his face, save for the pickaxe blade through his left eye. It appeared as though someone had hit the man from behind, as the handle of the pickaxe lay against the man’s back. It couldn’t have been a comfortable way to die.
Sam’s instinct was not to make eye contact, but there seemed to be no sort of recognition on the ghost’s part. He walked right through Sam as well as the wall of the post office and stopped in front of the counter. The blistering cold which rocked Sam was almost too much to bear, and something one would likely never get used to. It must have been an old ghost indeed, to have such little awareness of anyone or anything around it. Except he lumbered right up to the counter as though…
He was a customer!
Sam watched in disbelief as the tiny woman reached for the large pile of mail off to the side and handed it to the giant. Was she a ghost? As soon as the old prospector had the mail in his ghost hands -how did he grasp it?- he vanished.
Before there was any time to process what had happened, Sam realized the woman behind the counter was not only smiling, she was stepping out from behind the counter and throwing the door open.
“Hi there, stranger! You alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” Her laughter echoed down then street as she took Sam’s arm and stepped back into the Post Office. It was impossible not to follow. Her effusive greeting indicated a genial nature and someone totally unperturbed that the aforementioned stranger was obviously aware of what had just happened. “You must be one of the kids staying at the hotel. One of the ghost netters? That must be exciting, hmm? Come on inside for a tick.” Sam found it impossible to resist her enthusiasm, following her through the door. “I bet you’re wondering about that old timer. Oh, don’t feign nothin, it’s obvious you can see them, even if your friends can’t.”
“Um, ghost getters…Wha-”
“My name is Doris, and I run the post office, which might be obvious. But I’m betting you well know that things which seem obvious very often aren’t to most people. And if you’re wondering how I know who you are, well this is a small town and we talk. Partly to pass the time, who doesn’t love a good gab fest now and then, but also to make sure that everyone knows what’s happening so we can avoid trouble. Or at least stay ahead of it as much as possible. We’ve had trouble in the past, you see. Not like old Big Jim Digger, though he obviously had some trouble of his own. That was a good while back, when the mine was open and the trains still ran. Poor bastard ran afoul of some claim jumpers. But that’s neither here nor there. I’m talking about trouble from outsiders who don’t understand what sort of place this is.”
“Yeah, I don’t un-”
“You understand more than you think.”
“But he picked up some letters?”
“Oh that. Well you’ve heard of a dead letter office, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, but I thought it was just a place where letters ended up when they didn’t make it to their proper destination.”
“A destination suggests an endpoint. Most things start somewhere, and most things end somewhere else, but there’s a lot to be said for the places inbetween. So if a letter doesn’t make it to the endpoint, it’s somewhere inbetween here, where it starts, and there, where it ends. The same is true of the dead. If they can communicate via ouija boards, why can’t they also communicate by letter? Get me?”
Sam did not.
“Oh honey, I can tell this is a lot for you to take in. Now, just so you know, we can’t all see and talk to ghosts here. That’s how I ended up with this job. Not much point in giving it to someone who can’t communicate with the customers.”
“So, does everyone who lives here have…abilities?” Sam hesitated over the word, unsure if it was the right one.
“I’m not sure. I do know that all of us were drawn here, same as you. Most of us didn’t intend to stay, but things happen and suddenly it’s going on 40 years. I used to miss things about the world outside, but it feels like less of a sacrifice and more like one of the last safe places now. Even though it’s seen it’s share of trouble.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“Your mama said I should. Trouble is coming, Sam, and she wants you to be prepared. She also mentioned that life is short and you should just talk to that girl already.”
Sam was suddenly having a terrible day.
Photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash