The Ghost and the Graveyard

Chapter 7


I Give My Ghost A Name
Back at the homestead, I flopped onto the floral sofa, muscles sandbagging over the overstuffed cushions and still sans panties, which was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. As I chewed my thumbnail while examining my new ceiling, I decided I had no regrets. I was a single, independent woman. Couldn't a girl enjoy oral sex for the sake of pleasure without rushing into a relationship with her partner? We hadn't had intercourse, after all. Nothing life changing going on here. I did not have sex with that man. If that logic was good enough for President Clinton, it was good enough for me.
I moved on to my next fingernail. Why had I fallen so effortlessly into his arms? Every meeting with Rick was like being swept out to sea, like I couldn't control myself around him. Things were going too far, too fast. No matter how "kindred" our souls were, guys like that always had secrets. Oh God, what if he was married? Or in the witness protection program: that would explain why he lived out here in the boonies.
After rolling my aching limbs off the sofa, I poured myself another cup of coffee and decided choosing a name for my ghost would be a welcome distraction. Shit, I was meeting with an honest to God spectral presence in like four hours. My palms began to sweat. I poured my coffee down the sink and ran for the cellar. I needed a drink and not the caffeinated kind.
Moments later, I stood before the bookshelves in the family room, Shiraz in hand, inspecting Prudence Meriwether's sizable collection of classic literature. Seemed like as good a place as any to find a name. I perused the spines, yanked a leather volume from the shelf and read a random page. Somehow, Romeo seemed completely inappropriate. I moved on to the next volume. Heathcliff? Definitely not. Edward, Fitzwilliam, and Darcy? Too stuffy. He didn't look like a renaissance man. I needed something modern but not metrosexual, smart but not stuffy.
Hours later, from the center ring of a circle of open texts, the name popped out of my brain like candy from a Pez dispenser. Logan. I'd always liked the name Logan. But beyond that, something inside me thought Logan might be his real name. My scalp prickled slightly when I tested it on my tongue and warmth swelled behind my ribcage.
With a self-satisfied smile, I returned the books, two by two to the shelf. As I stacked the last one, a cold wind scuttled across the base of my neck. I spun around thinking my ghost had come down early.
"Ahhh!" I jumped backward pressing myself into the bookshelf.
Prudence's torso glowed at me above her smoky tendrils. "Find the key," the ghost demanded, waving me forward. "Find the key and bring the vessel. Claim your inheritance."
"I don't have any key. I'm not who you're looking for!"
Prudence's old lady face produced an animal like growl and her skin peeled back into a fang-filled mask of horror. Her ghoulish form raced toward me. I tucked into a ball circa 1980's elementary school tornado-drill. Icy wind coursed through my body. I hugged my head between my knees and held my breath as not to breathe any old lady molecules in. When I couldn't hold it any longer, I gasped and popped my head up. She was gone.
"Fuck me!" I patted my chest and arms to make sure I wasn't injured, then grabbed my bottom to check if I'd wet myself. Still wasn't wearing any underwear. I reached for my wine glass. Empty. Storming to the counter, I pulled the cork from the bottle and chugged. I took it with me as I climbed the stairs to my room for a hot shower. The thought of running out the door and never coming back did cross my mind. Why didn't I? Logan. I wanted to give him his name. I wanted to hear what he had to say. I wanted to know more about this house and the promised "sorter." You could say I had warring emotions and at that moment curiosity was winning...or else killing the cat.
After a long shower and a cold dinner that consisted of a slice of cheese, a scoop of peanut butter and a handful of radishes from the back of the fridge, I waited for midnight. I drummed my fingers on the kitchen counter, leaned against the dining room table, posed in the foyer as if I was casually leaning against the wall instead of panicking from the inside out.
My ghost arrived exactly at midnight, when I was leaning my butt against the island stool. The attic door creaked open above me, and then a green orb glowed at the top of the stairs. It expanded as it floated toward me, branching out like a star, burning brighter until my ghost stood in front of me. He looked as solid as I did.
"Wow. You are different at night," I said, feeling stupid for saying so when his expression soured. "I just mean, I can't see through you like I could this afternoon."
"Yeah, midnight is when I have the most control over my form. It takes some mental effort for me to hold myself together like this, but not nearly as much as during the day."
"I don't even know if I should ask you to sit down. Do ghosts sit?"
"I don't need to. Strictly speaking, I don't have a body, so I don't need to physically rest. But I think in this case it would be better if I did-more comfortable for the both of us."
I nodded and moved toward the dining room table. The weird thing about being followed by a ghost is the lack of sound. I watched him walk across the wood floor, looking as human as anyone I'd ever met, but there wasn't even a hint of a footstep. I sat down at the table, and he walked behind the chair next to me and stopped. I waited for him to sit, but he just looked at the back of the chair mournfully. I pushed it back with my foot. He floated into it, his body bending unnaturally before coming to rest on the wood. The action made it impossible for me to forget he was a ghost, no matter how alive he looked.
"You're scared of me," he said.
"A little." Did it show?
"I'm sorry, Grateful, for everything. I know I keep scaring you. I don't intend to. This is what I am now, and it's all I can be."
Even I, the relationship-impaired, know that when you meet a man who can admit his insecurities, you need to appreciate it while it lasts. I put on my big-girl panties and stopped thinking so much. "No, I'm sorry. You've been nothing but kind to me. Thank you for helping with Prudence and for making me coffee."
"It's the least I could do."
"Hey, wait a minute," I said. "If you can't pull out your own chair, how did you make the coffee this morning?"
"I can move things with my energy. But when I made the coffee I was in my other form. Right now, I'm concentrating on looking like my human self. There's nothing left over for moving the chair." Half of his mouth lifted, wrinkling the corners of his eyes and making the stubble on his chin remind me of a lover who'd spent the night and forgot a razor. I had to keep reminding myself that he was dead, that he didn't have a body.
"My turn to have my question answered," he said. "What is my name, Grateful?"
"Well, I don't know what your real name is, but would you mind if I called you Logan?"
"Yes. Logan. I am Logan." He said the words with relief. What must it be like to float around in someone's attic not knowing your own name?
I allowed myself to look at him, really look at him. The spiky blondish hair, the green eyes, sport coat, jeans, and loafers. Handsome would be an apt description but not in an obvious way. Not handsome in the way that Rick was handsome, for example. When you saw Rick, it was like watching a male model walk off the pages of a magazine. He was all heat and swagger. Sex oozed from his pores. Logan was attractive but in the way a neighbor might be or a best friend's brother. There was a realness about him. His smile made me feel warm, like coming home after a long day.
"What exactly did you do when you were alive?" I asked, pondering if what he was wearing was what he'd died in, or some universal version of himself.
"I told you, I don't remember," he said. "None of us ever knows."
"The ghosts who pass through your attic. Prudence says we know we're waiting for something, but we don't know what."
Huh? "There've been others? How long have you been here?"
"Prudence told me about the others. Time is hard for me, but I know I came after Prudence died because I'm still here."
"I...I don't understand. What do you mean, Prudence died and that's why you're still here?"
The question made him go all staticky for a minute. He cleared his throat-a pointless gesture, considering he didn't have one-and I knew he was stalling.
I scowled in his direction. "You said before that you are waiting for a sorter. Prudence asked me if I was the sorter. That must be someone who helps you move on. Was Prudence the last sorter?"
"You catch on quick."
"And now, because she died, you have to wait for a new sorter to help you cross over."
He nodded. "She remembers you, you know."
"What do you mean, she remembers me?"
"Once she realized who you were, she was relieved you'd finally come. She told me some things about you. Things I hadn't expected."
"She doesn't even know me."
"She says she does, from when you were a baby."
"Wow, my father and I lived in Red Grove when I was born, but I don't remember living here. We moved before I was two."
"You made an impression."
The way he said it made me squirm in my seat. Why was I so memorable to Prudence? "You never answered my question about why you ended up in my attic in the first place."
The sigh he emitted was also unnecessary for any purpose other than letting me know he didn't want to answer my question. "There are some things in life that happen when they're supposed to happen. I'm not supposed to talk to you about this now. Prudence says I can't. It wouldn't be right."
"But Logan, now I know you and Prudence have a secret from me. Can't you give me a hint?"
Rubbing his chin, he considered me in silence for some time. "I warned you to stay away from the caretaker. You didn't."
I sighed. "Why does it matter? Rick seems like a perfectly nice guy."
"Do you know what a caretaker is, Grateful?"
"I think so. He's someone who maintains the cemetery."
My ghost looked disappointed. "I think you have a lot to learn about Red Grove." He frowned. "Don't get involved with the caretaker until you figure it out."
"What does my involvement with Rick have to do with anything? Are you afraid I'll tell him about you?"
"It's not what you tell him."
"Aargh!" I slapped my forehead in frustration. "You're not making any sense."
"Maybe not." His face turned serious. "I'm sorry. This was supposed to be fun. A date." He smiled. "Let's start again. Tell me why you've moved to Red Grove."
"Ugh. It's a long, sad story. Believe me, we'd be better off talking about Prudence."
"Hey, all I've got is time...I think. And since I have few memories of my own, I'd enjoy hearing yours. Unless, of course, you'd like a play by play of my dusting."
I pressed a finger into my lips, eyes darting around the room. I craned my neck to eyeball the living room. "You cleaned today."
"The whole house?"
"Yes," he said, smiling sheepishly. "I saw your note in the dust on the dresser upstairs. 'Clean me.'"
I leaned forward pressing my hand into my chest. "That note was a reminder for me! I thought you slept during the day."
"I did for a little while, but I knew you would appreciate the help."
"I do. I really, really do," I said emphatically.
"So, pay me back. Tell me how you ended up here." Elbow on the table, he leaned his head into his hand.
I gave him the condensed version. "I'm broke. My dad is letting me stay here for free. Sure, it's a commute, but I don't really have a choice."
"The first night I met you, you were wearing scrubs and answered the phone for St. John's Hospital. You're a nurse, right?"
I nodded.
"If you have a job, why are you broke?"
"My ex-boyfriend took all of my money."
Logan crossed his arms, his outline rippling as he concentrated. The way he held himself seemed almost lawyer-ish. I felt like he was interrogating me. "A man stole your money. Did you go to the police?"
"It's a long story."
"I have all night. Hell, I might have eternity." The ghost's molecules shifted to his smile as if the energy from his feelings was driving his physical form. For a moment, his mouth and teeth glowed, flashing at me in the dim light of the dining room. Then the expression faded to the same opaque as the rest of his body. The Cheshire cat act made the hair on my arms stand up.
"He screwed me, okay? Totally screwed me. Broke my heart, stole all of my money, and abandoned me without so much as a note. I loved him, and he screwed me."
Logan frowned and folded his hands across the table, an all-too-human gesture that made it hard to remember he wasn't alive. "You can't blame yourself for loving someone, Grateful. I may not know who I was in life, but I do remember that there are some things that just happen to you. That's why they call it falling in love. You fall. It's an uncontrollable act of gravity that has nothing to do with choice and everything to do with fate."
"You're pretty smart for someone without a brain."
"Ha, ha. I have a brain. It's just decomposing wherever my body happens to be."
I giggled, but the thought made me gag a little. "But see, I caused him to steal my money. It was the blonde paradox."
"What the hell is the blonde paradox?"
"I'm blonde, right? And sort of look like Barbie. Well, that attracts men because their caveman brain thinks I'm more fertile. But then they assume I'm stupid due to societal stereotypes about blondes and ironically become less intelligent in my presence. It's like my looks are toxic to a healthy relationship."
"Let me get this straight. You think that because of the way you look, men are drawn to you primarily for sex and then treat you like crap due to the same good looks."
"It's science."
"I think it's bullshit."
The level of concentration necessary for whatever he was thinking about must have been steep because he flickered at the edges. Silence stretched out between us. By his expression, he was turning something over in his mind, trying to think of something to say. I crossed my arms over my chest and braced myself for a judgmental commentary.
Finally, he said, "You know what your problem is?"
"My house is haunted, and I'm broke?"
"No. Your problem is you're still angry at your ex, but you're punishing yourself."
"I'm not punishing myself."
"You are! You're blaming yourself for something he did. What was his name?"
"You need to take all of that anger and guilt you're holding, wrap it up in a great, big karmic ball, and throw that sucker right at Gary. "
I rolled that around in my brain. "Gary's gone. What are you proposing?"
He grinned and waggled his eyebrows. "I think I have a better idea. Do you have a picture of Gary?"
I waved my hand in front of my face as if the notion stunk. "Of course not. I shredded every last one."
Logan raised an eyebrow. "All of them?"
God, his eyes bore into me. Was this some kind of ghostly water torture? He was practically wringing out my soul for information with his stare.
"Okay! I might have one."
"Where is it?"
My eyes darted to the black purse I'd dumped in the corner of the counter when I'd come home from work yesterday.
"You still keep his picture in your wallet?"
"Hey, it's not like I remembered it was in there or anything until just now. I just think there might be one in the secret compartment."
Logan bobbed his head and made a gimme gesture with his hand. "Well?"
With a sigh, I strode to the purse and with my back to Logan pulled Gary's picture out of the clear plastic photo holder it was still in. My god I was a loser. Reluctantly, I handed it over.
Concentrating his energy on his fingertips, Logan inspected the photo. After a moment or two he raised his eyes to me. A shiver started in his hair and descended, shaking his entire ghostly form until he was nothing but a blur. When he formed again, my ghost had transformed his sandy blonde hair to Gary's saddle brown coif. His green eyes were now blue. And although I could tell that the shape of his head was slightly off, Logan could've been Gary's twin.
"Grab the kitchen knives," he said.
* * * * *
I poured myself a glass of wine and tried to come to terms with what I was about to do. We'd moved downstairs, and I'd balanced a piece of plywood against the brick wall across from the wine cellar. With his arms extended to the sides, back pressed to the plywood, Logan goaded me on.
"Come on, Grateful. I promise it won't hurt me."
"For the five hundredth time, this just seems wrong."
"Get over it. It will help."
To my side was the block of knives from the kitchen. This was Logan's idea. Why not play along? I gulped down half my glass of Shiraz. After testing the weight of each of the wooden handles, I selected the largest one. I think it's called a chef's knife. I removed it from its slot.
"That's what I'm talking about, Grateful. Hit me! Say to me what you want to say to Gary."
I raised the knife over my shoulder. "You used me!" I yelled and tossed the blade as hard as I could. It tumbled through the air, stabbing through Logan's abdomen and reverberating in the plywood behind him. My eyebrows shot up in surprise at the accuracy of my throw.
"Yes!" I said, pumping my arm. I had a hidden talent.
"Gah!" Logan clutched the section of his stomach the knife had passed through as if in pain.
My hands shot to my mouth. "Did I hurt you?"
He chuckled. "No. I was just acting to make it more realistic."
"Good, because I'm starting to enjoy this." I raised another knife. "Gary, you stole my money. All of my money. How could you do that to me? I thought you loved me." I hurled the knife. It passed through Logan's crotch.
"Wow, Grateful, let it all out-"
"Because of you, I lost my home and my self-respect!" I heaved three at his head, one after the other. "Because of you, Gary, I lost my ability to trust. You asshole. I hope you rot in hell." The knife rotated from my fingers and sliced through Gary's image, right where his heart should have been.
Logan didn't move. There were so many knives through his ghostly form, it reminded me of a Road Runner episode when you know the Coyote should be dead from the anvil but he's not. I couldn't help it. I started laughing.
"I think I want you to be you again, Logan."
He stepped away from the wall, shaking off Gary's image like a dog shakes off after a swim. I leaned my hip against the pool table.
"Better?" he asked.
"Yeah. Thank you."
Our eyes met, and there was a connection. A heaviness formed at the center of my chest and my scalp prickled again, the same as when I thought of his name. The closest I could call it was deja vu, like we'd met before or something. He must have felt it too because he leaned toward me, eyes hooded.
When he was close enough to tickle my skin with whatever he was made of, I came to my senses and took a step back. What the hell was that all about? He'd practically been close enough to kiss me. It was like we were both caught in some strange tractor beam.
Logan dematerialized in a flash of light.
"Sorry," his voice echoed around me. "I -I'm not sure what happened there. I think I should go."
A mist hovered above my head. I tilted my face up. "Uh, me neither. Weird though. It's way past my bedtime anyway. See you tomorrow?"
"Well, I'm not going anywhere...I think." The mist filtered up through the vent.
I approached the plywood board and started prying the knives from the wood.