It’s difficult to say what was more frustrating.
Having a tiny woman gleefully share that some sort of ineffable trouble was en route to where they were now or having a dead mum who thought it perfectly fine to meddle in one’s lovelife. Not that Sam had a lovelife or any interest in pursuing anything with someone regardless of how fit they might be, even if they had been breathing, which they weren’t, in case anyone forgot.
Could this day get any weirder?
“Sam, I won!”
Yes, apparently it could.
Sam turned to see Shooter race across the street without any regard for traffic. Not that there was any. Traffic, that is. If it weren’t for all the people they’d seen in the café this morning, Sam would have thought this a ghost town. A figurative one, anyhow, since it was obvious, at least to Sam and Doris, that it was a literal one to some extent.
That was one of the strangest parts. Ghosts were nothing new to Sam. Anywhere there were people, there were ghosts, it was a fact that Sam had accepted years ago. But this was the first time encountering ghosts going about their business as though they’d never died. It was a damn sight different than going through the motions, being trapped in a loop of memory which never shook one free, especially if the death in question was sudden or unexpected. Recalling something mum had said the previous night, about there being some sort of draw, like a magnet, made Sam wish the conversation with Doris had lasted a bit longer. But she had made her pronouncement and gone back to sorting mail as though the conversation had reached its logical conclusion. And that was the other thing. How did a town this small have so much mail to sort? Questions that would all have to wait because there was a more pressing question to be answered at the moment.
“What did you win?”
Shooter was all smiles.
“Well, I won the jar of jellybeans, but I don’t really eat candy, so they offered me a gift certificate for the café, which is fine, but then I asked about the bunny, which didn’t go over great, so I have this gift certificate for the café!”
Sam returned the smile.
“That’s awesome. Congratulations. How many jelly beans was it?”
“1846. It was the weirdest thing, the number just popped into my head. I wasn’t even planning to enter the contest. What about you, Sam? Did you come across anything interesting?”
Sam shrugged, unsure whether to mention anything to Shooter about what Doris had said. They started off toward the museum once more, Shooter happily munching on protein bars and Sam wondering if there was an easy way to convince the camfluencers they should leave. Without knowing what sort of trouble was headed their way, it didn’t make much sense to create any sort of panic. Sam had found that the problems of the dead did not directly affect the living for the most part. But most dead people didn’t do things like pick up their mail or occupy tables in restaurants to the exclusion of other patrons. Sam almost wished they could skip the museum and go back to the motel. Maybe the ghost in room 13 had some answers.
Shooter interrupted Sam’s musing.
“Hey, Sam, I know we should go to the museum and dig up some cool facts about the area for the segment, but I’m feeling wound a bit tight. I’ve not done any exercising today, so I was thinking about going for a quick 5K run. Would you mind going without me? Or maybe we could go later?” Sam blinked, wondering if perhaps there was someone whispering suggestions into Shooter’s ear. It would have looked weird to suddenly look at Shooter through a hagstone so Sam refrained and instead took the suggestion at face value, grateful to have some time alone.
“That’s totally fine. I don’t mind going later if you’re up for it. I think I’ll just head back to the motel and have a rest. Do you want me to take your bag?” Shooter grinned his thanks, shoved a protein bar into his back pocket, and took a bottle of water in each hand – “they’re like weights on the go” – and jogged away from Sam, toward a small outcropping of rock which rose behind the main street.
Upon arrival at the motel, it was obvious that Angelié wasn’t back yet, to Sam’s relief. In fact, other than Jeff’s truck parked next to the little house standing apart from the motel, there were no other cars. Even the brown hatchback was gone. Taking advantage of the quiet, Sam dropped off the bag of snacks and headed for room 13. Trying to make it look casual in case anyone was watching, Sam slipped into the room, which was still unlocked, thankfully.
Registering the cooler than normal temperature, Sam hoped the ghost wasn’t still angry about being ignored the night before. Softly closing the door, Sam turned and nearly screamed upon coming nose to nose with an extremely irate dead woman.
It would appear she was still angry.
“Don’t you dare pretend you can’t see or hear me, because I know you can. Do you know how goddamn awful it is to be trapped in this place with no one to talk to for I don’t even know how long, and finally have someone come along who can and then be totally disregarded like I don’t matter at all? I may not have matter but that doesn’t mean I don’t matter. And you know what? I’m not sure I don’t have mass to some extent. There is obviously some sort of residual energy here, I mean, first rule of thermodynamics means that I’m never really gone, just transformed. I am surprised to find so much of myself still here. Like, who knew I’d still look so good after I died?”
“So you know you’re a ghost?”
“Duh. I know I don’t look it but I was a physics major when I was alive. Though, even if I wasn’t the smartest ghost in the room, it doesn’t take much to grasp that I can’t actually grasp anything. Physically, I mean. Plus, I had this awful vision of dying, and who killed me. His name is Nathan and he is a fuckwit and I hope I rendered him sterile. It’s the last thing I remember, hammering him in the balls. Pretty satisfying, actually. So who the fuck are you, some sort of ghost whisperer like your friends? You know they’re fakes, right?”
Sam liked this ghost.
“Hi, I’m Sam and yeah, I know my friends are fakes. They’re just camfluencers trying to get instafamous. I came along mostly for the paycheck, and partly to make sure that they didn’t accidentally uproot anything that should be left alone. For the most part, that’s all the dead want. You’re totally right about the transference of energy, and most transition with no issue. There are some who are in touch with the other places enough while they’re alive to maintain some level of consciousness after the fact, and some miss the turnoff, maybe get a bit muddled and need help. I picture it a bit like a highway, with exits and off ramps funnelling people into whatever the next iteration is. If that makes sense.”
“So you’re telling me I’m stuck in traffic?”
“I mean, I’m not sure why you’re still here, normally family ties keep people tethered. But this place, this town, it seems unusual, even for someone who is used to that, like I am. My mom said…” Sam trailed off, not sure how much to share. There was something about her that was making Sam blither more than usual. “I mean, I’ve noticed some strange happenings since we’ve been here, and then there’s the woman at the café who obviously has some sort of sensory perception. Though I know she doesn’t see ghosts or she’d know that her brother…” Sam stopped, frozen by the look in her eyes.
“Describe this woman. And her brother.”
“She’s not too tall, a bit shorter than me, much shorter than you. She has dark hair and brown eyes, there’s something about them, they seem to..”
“See all the way into your soul?” Her voice was so soft it almost didn’t register. Sam could have wept for the sadness in it. “Oh, Cassie.” She looked up, meeting Sam’s eyes. “But that means that Casey is dead? And Cass is working at the café? What the hell happened? Was there another guy? Really muscular and fit, super hot?”
“Other than Shooter, who was here last night, I haven’t seen any really fit guys. There is a guy at the café named Herb. I’m under the impression he’s been away for a long time. But the woman who runs the place, her name is Alex.”
“How long is a long time? How long ago did I die? Who the fuck is Alex? This makes no sense. But you said she has a brother who is a ghost? How do you know he’s her brother? Did you talk to him?”
“No, but they look alike. She was carrying plates past the table or I might not have noticed. He’s sitting in the back, drawing on napkins, which is kind of weird. I mean, no one else would see the napkin after he’s touched it, but the fact that he can grab them at all just one more reason this place is odd. I don’t often see ghosts able to be creative or manipulate objects easily.”
“Oh tell me about it! Though, last night, at one point during my tantrum, I threw myself on the bed and felt it move, but then was unable to move it again after that. Talk about frustrating.”
Sam looked thoughtful.
“I wonder if there is something about this place, if the barrier is thinner. Earlier today I saw a ghost pick up mail, physical tangible letters, which then disappeared along with him. And he obviously died somewhere in the hills, but I saw him in town.”
“Wait, are you saying I can walk around? I don’t have to stay here? I don’t even know why I’m here, I died near the café.” Now it was Sam’s turn to look confused.
“You didn’t die here? But you’d been here before? Maybe it was a memory…” She shook her head.
“We never came here. I never saw this place before I woke up here, or whatever it is people do when they die.”
“Well, that’s new.” Sam sighed. “I feel like all of this has some sort of connection, something that would just line up and make sense if I could stand back far enough to see the big picture. I suppose I’m going to have to go and talk to Alex, or Cass. Whoever she is, I’m betting she knows something. And if she doesn’t, maybe her brother does. And that might explain why you’re still here if your fate is tangled with theirs.”
“Uggggghhhhh I’m so frustrated that I can’t go with you. I hate it here.”
“Yeah, about that. I might have an idea on how to get you out of here.”
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