The morning rush was done, and Herb was very pleased about that. It had been a long time since he’d been called upon to make so much food.
“Are you still grumbling about that? I told you it wasn’t necessary. I know you’ve been out of the game for a long time, stands to reason you’d be rusty.”
“Okay, I’m going to need you to stop that. Or at least when you started being able to read my thoughts. I have to say, I’m not totally comfortable with the notion of such things.”
Alex took a plate from the dishrack and began to dry it. Herb replaced it with a newly clean one from the sink. Alex was silent a minute or two, considering where to start. She finished drying the plate and placed it on the pile, then realized the dishtowel she was using was wetter than the dishes themselves and draped it over the edge of the laundry basket in the corner to dry.
“I never did that. I just throw them in there wet, they’re going to get washed anyhow.”
“I know, it’s why there are so many new ones. Because the old ones were moldy. We don’t even really have to do this, you know. There’s a dishwasher.” Herb looked aghast.
“Why would I use a dishwasher, when I have two perfectly good hands?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Foodsafe?”
“Don’t you start with your new-fangled highfalutin distractions like food safety. No one ever got sick in the whole time I worked here!”
“To be fair, Herb, you were mostly feeding people on the go. So there’s really no way to know..”
“Stop! Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing. Tell me about the mind reading!”
The front door of the café slammed against the wall. Herb rolled his eyes. Alex looked delighted.
“Oh! A customer. How timely.” She took the entire dishrack and slid it into the dishwasher, closed the door and pressed the power button all while making direct eye contact.
“Are you thinking something at me right now?”
“Herb, it’s like you’re psychic.” With a laugh she pushed through the swinging doors and into the restaurant. She stopped so suddenly that Herb nearly crashed into her. He easily looked over her shoulder to see one half of the outsider duo from this morning. The muscular friend was nowhere in sight though.
“Sam, you’re back. Please don’t tell me your friend got sick.” Sam looked confused, especially when Alex burst out laughing in response to Herb’s scowl. “I’m sorry, that’s not fair. It was just a joke. To me, anyhow.” Alex calmed herself, though a smile still curled at the corners of her mouth. Sam was struck by how gold Alex’s eyes were when she smiled. Glancing over at the corner, Sam could see the suspected brother ghost was still there, but fortunately the rest of the café was empty.
“This might sound weird…” Sam hesitated. Alex’s smile dropped completely and Herb rolled his eyes before turning back toward the kitchen. Alex turned to him.
“Where are you going?”
“For the bourbon. I feel like I’m going to need it.”
“Ugh, not me. Throw the kettle on while you’re there though. Would you like some tea or something Sam?”
“Just a glass of water, please.” Sam’s throat was suddenly very dry. Taking a seat at the counter, Sam pulled the hagstone from a pocket along with a tealight and lighter. Alex placed a glass of water in front of Sam and then leaned against the rear counter. Herb came from the kitchen with a mug of tea and a glass of bourbon. He set it down and then asked Sam, “Should we close up? How weird are we talking?”
“Are the names Cass and Casey familiar to you? Or Nathan?” Herb swallowed the bourbon in one gulp, then headed for the door. He flipped the sign and turned the lock. Alex had gone very pale.
“I’m guessing that’s a yes. I’m also guessing that you,” Sam was looking at Alex now, “were known as Cass. Cassie to your friends. And Casey was your brother?” The ghost at the table in the corner watched them, unaware that Sam could see him.
“Well fuck. I knew there was something weird about you, kid. Do you have mind reading powers too? Why does it seem like everyone has magic powers but me?”
“You’re seriously making this about you right now, Herb? Also, Sam can’t read minds, can you Sam?”
“That is accurate. I was told your names by…you know what? I don’t know her name. There’s this ghost, at the motel, okay? Wait. I should start at the beginning. So my mom, no wait, that’ll take too much time, um…I can see ghosts.” The ghost in the corner perked up at this. Sam turned to him. “Yes, even you.” Alex and Herb looked toward the corner. Sam shrugged. “There’s a ghost over there, I think, I think it’s your brother, Casey.”
Alex’s eyes welled with tears.
“How do you know? I cant..I can’t see anything.”
The ghost who was probably Casey started scribbling on the napkin in front of him, and then pushed it across the table. Sam stood and walked over to him, reaching for the napkin hesitantly, but was unable to touch it. Seeing ghosts was one thing, but being able to touch them was something Sam had never really had the gift of touch, the way mum did.
“I’m sorry, I can’t pick it up. Can you just tell me?”
The ghost hung his head morosely.
“Oh! Hang on.” Sam grabbed the hagstone, closed one eye, and looked through it. The napkin had a shimmery quality now. It was pretty surreal, not only to be able to touch something that Sam knew didn’t exist in this realm, but to pull it from there to here. There was a spark of memory, of something that Doris had said…but it was gone and Sam was standing there, holding a napkin which, to Herb and Alex, hadn’t existed the moment before.
“What the fuuck?” Herb looked freaked out. He poured another measure of bourbon.
Alex looked surprised but not freaked out.
Sam was surprised and a little freaked out.
“I’ve never done that before. I think there’s something about this place that makes things like that possible though. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen some stuff..”
Herb raised his glass.
“Welcome to the club, friend.”
Sam brought the napkin to Alex, and then looked back at probably Casey. The ghost gestured with a serious look on his face.
“He seems to think it’s important.”
Alex took the napkin and immediately rolled her eyes.
“It’s dicks. The napkin is covered in dicks.” Alex looked at the table in the corner. “Casey, you’re such an idiot. Even being dead obviously couldn’t fix that.”
Sam looked over to see definitely Casey laughing uproariously, to the extent he was wiping invisible tears from his eyes.
“Oh my god, the look…haha, the look on your face, sis.”
Sam was livid.
“You can talk?”
“Ask her what she did with my cream charger.”
“Ask her what she did with my cream charger. If I can steal her napkins, I’m thinking I might be able to get some balloons going. Afterlife whippets, am I right?”
“What’s he saying?” Alex was almost sure she could see something glimmering at the table, but that might be her imagination as much as anything else.
“You’re not going to believe this, but he’s talking about getting high.”
“Yup, that’s definitely Casey.”
“He wants to know what you did with his cream charger.”
Alex wasn’t smiling now.
“Are you serious? Dicks and whippets? That’s your message from beyond the grave? Well, I use it to make whipped cream, you idiot! You know, the thing it was meant to be used for?” She covered her eyes. “I cannot believe the first conversation I’m having with my dead brother is..”
Sam looked uncomfortable. Alex’s face was a question, knowing that Casey had just said something.
“He said half-brother.”
“Oh for fucks sake, CASEY SHUT UP!” At this, Casey lost it, falling over on the bench seat with glee.
“Well I finally know what it takes to make Alex swear. Makes sense it would be a sibling.”
Alex counted to 10, her eyes closed. When she opened them, she looked back at the table, crossing her arms.
“I’ll deal with you later, little brother.” She turned back to Sam. “But none of this explains how you found out about us. You said there’s a ghost at the motel?”
“Oh yeah, she seems pretty cool. Really tall, and super fit. I kinda thought she might have died in the 80s because of how-”
“Tommy!” Both Alex/Cass and Casey yelled this simultaneously. “She’s here? I mean, at the motel? But how? Honestly, I’m not sure how Casey is here at the café either. Doesn’t a ghost typically haunt the place they died?”
“Yeah, I thought that too, but then I learned that Tommy never saw the motel while she was alive. So how could she be haunting it? But it’s been well established that this place isn’t totally normal and I’m starting to think that ghosts don’t haunt this place so much as dwell within it. Which means it’s possible for them to move around. Like Casey did. Like I’m hoping that Tommy can, if she has the right sort of help.”
Sam turned to face Casey.
“Do you know how you got here?”
Casey shook his head.
“The best way I can think to describe it, is that I was pushed. I was nowhere, and then I was in Herb’s truck and Cassie was driving. I tried to talk to her but she couldn’t hear me. It was unbelievably frustrating. I wrote note after note on these napkins, but the next day, they were gone and she still couldn’t hear me. I don’t know how I came back but the why won’t leave me alone. I’m supposed to warn her about the caretaker.”
Sam turned back to Herb and Alex.
“Casey said he’s supposed to warn you about the caretaker. Does that make sense?” They both looked shaken by this. Alex spoke first.
“That doesn’t make any sense.” She looked at Herb, whose face was ashen.
Sam was suddenly nervous.
“Who is the caretaker?”
Herb answered this time.
Photo by Intricate Explorer on Unsplash