FICTION: Ghost Hunting by Joshua Smith

Lying in an inky room, I see him there on his frameless bed. Thinking is a nasty habit. A streetlight pours the sun in through a few slits in the window shade, and paints a crescent of angular, hungry facial features, shy, ashamed to wax to full. I’m uncertain, but I whisper through the doorway, guarding my steps, and sneak towards the cloth chair that’s caddy-cornered in the left side of the room, across from him. Under one of my gingerly steps, a nail sings underneath the cheap carpet like the twisting of an old ship. Not a limb twitches. I sit, and a shadowed conversation of gazes and glances ensues.

He collects himself. “So, you’re finally here, then? It’s been a long time. I thought you’d never come.”

“At it again?”

“At it again.”

“Well,” I begin, “we usually take a little longer than most, don’t we? Besides, I was quite busy. There was a lot of work to do.”

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” he says, the darkness heavy like gravity. “To thank you, really. I really, really gave you a bad rap for a long time. Boy, did I hate you.”

“That’s understandable.” I smirk. “I’m elusive, strange, insensitive, and I forced you to be alone. Those are some decent reasons to dislike someone.”

“Hate,” he said.

“Right—hate.”

“Yeah, you were all those things, and more,” he said. You followed me every day. You forced me away from my friends, forced me away from my parents and siblings, you forced me away from fun events, from the television— when I just wanted to sit back and watch something. You forced me away from life. And when I turned around to ask you why, you were always gone, or a recluse for that dark, little cave you call a home.”

“I know, I’m sorry. If there was any other way, I would have chosen that. I never wanted to hurt you.”

“You did hurt me,” he went on. “You ruined a lot of things for me. Things I’ll never get back, or see again. Things I’ll never get to cherish. But, what I didn’t give you credit for was all the things you gave me.”

I nod gently.

“You gave me the biggest gift anyone could give. I can see.”

A palpable silence passes. “You always had eyes.”

“Eyes are like busy lips,” he remarked.

“Mhmm.”

“I’m talking about sight,” he says. “Do you have some time? I’d like to show you something that might take a little time to explain.” Guided by the scarce, yellow streaks, he rises and stumbles to his desk. Limned in one of those beams, an orange piece of paper peeks out from the front drawer. I recognize the paper, of course. I know everything he’s going to say to me. But he doesn’t- he doesn’t have a clue yet. He opens the drawer and balls a fistful of words—some colorful, some white.

He crawls back into bed, under the pale light, and prepares to read.

“Sure,” I answer. “For you, I have as much time as you want to give me.”

I didn’t become a ghost, I was born one. People say ghosts linger in made up places like heaven and hell, folklore and myth, in-betweens and spirit worlds, or haunt real places where people died or in unnerving houses where the exterior isn’t holding up to the rain so well anymore, or maybe just in the closet, or the attic, or places where it’s dark— places where movies can exploit one’s inherent predatory fears. But when I hear this, I usually just smile and nod because I know they don’t need to look very far to find a one floating around. Of course, I didn’t always know I was a ghost.

My realization came to me young, but old enough, watching the six o’clock news with my family one night, back when families did this sort of thing. The two newsanchors took turns, back and forth, relaying what happened that day in— well— mostly what happened in bad parts of the city.

We were huddled around the couch, the six of us. My father sat in the middle, of course. Like most men his age, he was fighting for relevance in a world built for young men. His viscous, distended belly pushed a tightness to his pants, while his belt remained unshackled from dinnertime bloat. He smelled like musk, and combed his hair back in a fashion meant for men fifteen years younger. His white dress shirt was unbuttoned at the top, a few black hairs crawling out for air, and slovenly adhered to his professional frame. He was always in the center of everything—he found it necessary. His voice crowded the room when a whisper would have sufficed, and found any excuse to use the phrases “let’s talk turkey” and “sharpen your pencil.” In the mornings, he was always in a rush. And everyday, like the certainty of the blinding sun, he always had a big grin when he opened the side door to the driveway and announced “early bird gets the worm!” I hate worms— their slithering— their numbers. My mother sat next to my father on the couch. She also smelled strongly, but more of a sick, vaporous, cotton-candy. She worked in a hospital, and had an oppressive concern for safety. She liked to warn us about all the heads she’s seen in two, or all the “myocardial infarctions”, as she put it, she’d seen when one of us was drinking a coke, then she would smile when you put the glass down. She was unrelentingly cold. She sat stonefaced next to my father, her legs crossed, eyes not daring to wander or wonder. She laughed at all the parts in movies that you weren’t supposed to laugh at. I quite liked my mother, actually. My brothers lounged on either side of my parents like two bishops protecting their king and queen. They were tall, muscular, and prude. They were anxious about what girls thought, and truly concerned with the outcome of sporting events. They liked things like boats, cars, proms, and how they wore their hats. They were well thought of. My sisters sat watching the TV, too. One was smooshed in at the very end of the couch, her side twisted over the armrest, her fist propping up her melon. The other was cross-legged on the floor next to me, more than an arm’s- length away. They  wore the same outfit, liked the same boys, and their hair was of equal length. They were sixteen and seventeen, and like many girls their age, they felt every situation was of equal, dire importance, and a possible way to claim their place in martyrdom. They were unique like a pair of evergreens.

My mother yawned and checked her watch. At the time, I wasn’t certain, but I know now that she may have been a ghost too.

My father turned up the volume on the television. “Quiet down,” he barked at the room. “You’d think you kids would want to learn something. Goddamn.” He continued to shovel lasagna into his mouth from his lap tray.

Murmurs filtered around me while I stared at the TV manufacturer’s logo: the three red diamonds touching their tips in the middle to form a creative triangle. I read the word next to it: Mitsubishi. I broke it up into bite-sized syllables: Mi-tsu-bi-shi. My dad talked at my mother about the great American work that went into making the new TV.

The newsanchor began:

Three people are dead today from a shooting in the Washington Park district over whose shoes looked the best. No word yet on whose shoes did look best.

I sparked up from my trance.

Today, a woman is suing The McDonalds Corporation for making her into a burger.

I twisted my face and squinted at the picture on the screen.

“Can you believe that!” my father yelled, pieces of dough and sauce spraying into the air. I continued to watch the screen, perplexed.

Are you looking for a way to have green pieces of paper? If you buy this, a random man with no investment in your well-being promises that you will find some, and he has absolutely no angle of his own.

My fuming father loosened his shirt further and rolled up his sleeves.

Today, Jorge Poshington enters office and has already signed a law to increase mind reading to insure a safe populace. He has, folks, never told a lie.

“Thank God!” my father yelled in relief. “Finally we got that other crook out of office!”

I tried to listen harder.

Scientists concluded today, through rigorous research, that anecdotal evidence is just fine with them!

My father was manic with conflict. “You see, kids. This is why you watch the news, so you don’t get bamboozeled, and end up like those sorry, know-nothing idiots like the Jarkowskis.”

Then, a strange occurence happened. I floated— levitated— from my seat on the carpet. My heart thwacked like an axe to pine, and everything in the room lost texture. Not to be trite, but black was white, up was down, hot was cold, and day was night. I didn’t understand, but the fear was transitory, and swifty turned to rancor, and then pity. Numb, I floated away from my family and my siblings. They were oblivious until a crack of light sucked the dust from the room. As I held the gilded knob on the door, my fathers voice swam to my ears to save my drowning.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he bellowed, his eyes bulging. Pasta sauce attacked his shirt and spotted the faces of my family around him. One of my brothers polished some sauce off of his own face with his finger and licked it off.

“I think I’m going to—um—go for a run,” I said.

“A run?” he yelled. “What in the hell are you talking about?”

Omniscient, I floated out of the room. I could hear my father’s voice booming from behind me. He was too hard-working to get up and chase me.

“Running ruins your heart, don’t you know! We just watched it on the goddamn news!”

I promised myself to never stop floating until I found a safe place to sit.

He finishes reading and waits in the dark room for my response, our faces still nothing but shadows.

“Ok, there,” I said “I see you took a a subtle direction with these. Very clever.”

“Goddamn it. You’re an asshole. I literally just sat here for thirty minutes spilling my guts to you, and that’s what you have to say?”

I laughed. “Ease up there, time bomb. I actually thought they were very insightful.”

He pushed a half-cocked smile. “You always did have the sense of humor.”

“Yeah, you kind of suck at that.”

“Yeah…”

“But, hey, that’s ok. I got us covered. Also, the part about the shoes,”I gaffawed, “was pretty damn good,” He lifted his head in surprise. “But… the rest was shit—yeah.”

“Yeah…”

“Goddamn it. I’m kidding, you mongoloid.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

“Well,” he starts, “I just wanted to let you know: I get it now. I’m sorry I cursed you, and wished you dead so many times. I owe everything to you.”

“Hmmf.” I mutters. “Let’s call it even.”

He paces around his room, bending the beams of light that sift through the window as he passes through them. He plays with the papers in his hand, considering them. It’s clear he’s reflecting deeply. I can see him a little sharper now, as my eyes have adjusted to the darkness; that phenomenon never ceases to amaze me. He stops, turns to me, and drops his shoulders. A button on his shirt glimmers. He tosses the papers in the trash, and pours an old cup of coffee from his desk into the basket, soaking the papers to a soggy parchment.

“I’m ready.” he said.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I’m so sorry. I won’t ever go back, trust me.”

“You have to promise me that. If you do, there will be be some pretty serious consequences.”

“I know. I’m ready.” I can feel his heart unhemming his shirt.

“Ok,” I say. “Go ahead—you know what to do.”

He saunters over to the light switch in the room, next to the full-length mirror on the wall. He’s frozen, his hand hangs from the tip of the switch. He turns to me one last time. We’ll meet again, I’m certain.

“I’m scared.” He looks solemn. “The pain…Is this going to be forever?”

I pause. “Flip the switch.”

He weezes—and the room is lit with a flash of pain.

The room is empty—including the caddy-cornered cloth chair. He slowly pivots to face the large mirror that hangs from the wall, and studies his reflection. He recognizes most of it, but not all. He’s a little older than he expected. Most of his boyish moisture has dried into an experienced young man. A reclusive voice crept in from the back of his head like a ghost from a dark, little cave.

Yes.

BOOK

Joshua Smith

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Joshua Smith is from West Chester, Pennsylvania. He is currently working on writing a collection of short stories. When he’s not attempting to further his craft in writing, he could be found spending the night in a local haunted Inn, or playing with his baby Flemish Giant rabbit, Ivy.

If you enjoyed Ghost Hunting., leave a comment and let Joshua know.

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