By N. E. White
The sight of the hung ghost makes my stomach turn and I vomit on the Children’s Fairyland playground mulch. Some of it gets on McLean’s shoes.
He steps away and swears under his breath. On his face is a mix of disgust and something like satisfaction.
I’m sure he had his doubts about me. Throwing up on my first day as a State Paranormal Investigator most likely confirmed his suspicions.
You and me both, asshole. I doubt I’ll make it till the end of this pay period. Hell, maybe not even the end of the week. But I am not going say that to my blond, blue-eyed partner.
Despite the coolness of the day, the late October midday sun burns the back of my neck. Righting myself, I wipe the bile from my lips, and take the breath mint McLean offers along with a pair of latex gloves. His lips are tight, his eyes sparkle, as if he’s suppressing a snicker.
“Don’t hold it in,” I say. “It’s just as bad as holding in a fart.”
McLean barks a laugh and Reyes shoots us a mean look. All the other suits do, too.
But not the ghost.
Its former body – African-American woman, mid-twenties, tall and fit – is still as death on the end of a rope tied to the middle of a tree branch. The dead woman’s ghost remains twitching and spinning on the end of a phantasmal cord just like the body had done right before the woman died; eyes popping, and tongue out, swollen to the size of a cucumber.
My stomach lurches again.
Normal police officers and crime unit personnel hover nearby, waiting for the okay to cut the body down. A female photographer is taking pictures, ghostly spittle landing on her head and shoulders. She can’t feel it.
Not like Reyes, McLean and I can.
We’re what folks now-a-days call spooks. It’s a derogatory term but it’s better than our official title: Paranormal Entity Sensor. Or PES for short. Would you rather be called a spook or a PES?
A few years back, a solar storm blew out more than the electrical grid. It breached the divide that kept the living and dead apart. It also blew out whatever blessed ethereal wool was between the ears and over the eyes of those of us who had the misfortune of being able to hear and see ghosts.
Even if most people still couldn’t see or hear ghosts, they could sure as hell feel the tremors coursing through the trees and surrounding grounds. The shaking had registered as far away as the intersection of Grand and Harrison across the lake and right under the cathedral. The tremblers had forced Sunday morning parishioners to call in a bona fide haunting.
Three years ago, when the solar storm of the epoch, that none of the scientist had expected, opened the divide, ghosts had to wait for a wind storm to get our attention, now they could make their own.
Another officer cordons off the area while I try to tame my gut. I frown at my own puke. My father taught me better than to waste good liquor like that.
“Tesserak,” Reyes calls.
She motions for me to come over and I do my best to keep my eyes trained on Reyes’ face – African-American as well, but skin tone lighter. With a name like Sarita Reyes, I’m guessing she’s Puerto Rican.
McLean is already by Reyes’ side, acting like all the other suits – as if there wasn’t a ghost dancing in front of him.
As I approach, I pull out a small pad from my officer’s black dress shirt.
“What’s she doing over there?” I hear another suit say, their chin pointing my way. Someone else explains I’ve been promoted.
I want to snort and correct my former colleague. Being forced to join the SPI unit is not my idea of a promotion. But I ignore them and concentrate on Reyes. She’s reaching up, holding on to the dead woman’s hand.
“Can it feel that?” I ask.
“She,” Reyes corrects. “Just because she’s dead doesn’t make her an ‘it’.”
I hold back my thoughts and only nod to let her know that, in Reyes’ presence at least, I’ll give the ghost the benefit of the doubt.
“Would you like to listen to her story?” Reyes asks.
No, I think, but this is why I’m here, right? It’s this or get kicked off the force entirely. I’m not sure which is worse.
“Can I ask questions?”
McLean snorts. Under his breath, he says, “Damn, we got a sharp one.”
I scowl at him.
Reyes says, “Yes, you can ask questions, but it’s best to just let them do the talking. When you’re ready, just look into her eyes. She’ll do the rest.”
For an instant, the monster of my nightmares invades my entire being; mind, body, and soul. I can’t breathe, sweat pops onto my forehead, and I almost take a step back. I snatch a glance over my shoulder to make sure that demon really isn’t here and the feeling passes.
Looking up at the dead body, I say what I always say when I approach a victim.
“Ma’am, please state your name and home address.”
The wind stirs the tree branches above us. Birds call, the drone of traffic hums nearby, and I hear the distant horn of the massive ships going through the harbor channel, but the ghost doesn’t answer.
“Are you really that afraid of a ghost?” McLean asks. Then explains: “You have to look at her.”
I could punch him, but even though I’m a big girl, he’s got a good two inches on me and he’s thick in the chest. I would have a hard time putting him down.
Snatching a glimpse up at the ghost, my gaze meets her ethereal stare. Before I can flinch away, I hear her sigh, like an ocean wave after a storm, tired and relieved.
Lindsay Merryweather, the ghost says. Corner of 7th and Harrison.
“Under the Nimitz? Next to the Chinese Garden Park?” I ask then clear my throat, conscious that the rest of the suits just see a crazy woman talking to a corpse. A day ago, I would have been where they are, leaning against their patrol cars, snickering behind McLean’s and Reyes’ backs.
The ghost nods its transparent head in slow motion, as if it’s just realizing that it’s not really bound to that rope anymore. It finally stops jittering.
“Ma’am,” I continue, “do you know who did this to you?”
It’s not looking at me anymore, but what it used to be. The ghost floats to one side of the body, its hands reaching out to the beautiful woman it could never be again.
I snap my fingers in irritation and everyone looks my way, even the ghost.
My feet shift beneath me, but I keep my back military-straight. Raising an eyebrow, I meet the ghost’s white-orb stare.
Where’s my boy? the ghost says.
“Boy?” I ask.
Pointing my chin at Reyes, I mouth the word again, as if Reyes didn’t just hear me or the ghost. I inwardly groan at my stupidity while McLean gives me a sneer. He’s not going to help.
Niki, the ghost says, spinning around searching for something, someone. Where are you Niki?
Its voice goes up to an octave that pierces.
“Please,” I say, “Just tell us who did this to you.”
I don’t know, the ghost says. Where’s my son?
A storm is brewing in the mists of that spirit, and I don’t want to know what it might be capable of.
I keep my voice calm when I say, “What’s the last thing you remember, ma’am?”
Her moan shudders through the trees around us, whipping up a personal whirlwind. The suits fall back and I land flat on the ground, hands over my ears. I glance around to see Reyes and McLean upright and exchanging a knowing look.
Damn it. I was failing again. While I didn’t give a fuck what McLean thinks, Reyes is different. I don’t want to let her down.
I stand back up, brushing the grass stains off my blue-black pants. Reyes hands me my notepad with an encouraging smile. It wasn’t patronizing. Just confident. In me or herself, I’m not sure, but I want it to be in me.
“Lindsay!” I shout over the ghost’s moan.
It snaps its mouth shut and looks down at me.
“Tell me your story,” I say.
And she does.
Yesterday, Saturday, the 5th of August, Lindsay and Niki, her son, went to the Oakland Museum. It’s close enough to their home, so they decided to walk. Afterwards, they went to nearby Lake Merritt to feed the ducks. It was getting late, but still plenty of day light, so on the way home, instead of backtracking, they cut through downtown Oakland. The ghost said she had wanted to stop at a flower shop.
“What flowers did she buy, ma’am?”
Who? the ghosts asks.
“Lind–, I mean, you, ma’am. What flowers did you buy?”
“So, you and your son didn’t make it to the flower shop?”
The ghost looks down at her hands, through her hands at me and I think that’s when Lindsay’s death became real to it.
I didn’t know ghosts could cry.
At least, it wasn’t a brawler. The spectral tears silently coursed down its face and splashed on the grass before our feet. Reyes fidgeted as if she wanted to interrupt, but I felt I was on a roll and put up a hand to stop her.
This wasn’t so bad. Ghosts were just like people, right? Just had to let them tell their story and then they would be on their way. Of course, the living just went on home afterwards. Ghosts, on the other hand, went, well, they just went. To hell, for all I cared, but no one really knows.
I was hit on the head, the ghost says, rubbing the back of her transparent neck.
“Did you see your assailant, ma’am?”
It shakes its head, phantom snot spattering feet away from it.
My son, you must find him.
“Ma’am, I’ll do everything in my power to find your son, but do you–”
I stop because the ghost is disintegrating. The unraveling starts around its feet. Whatever it was made of gives off an actinic light and dissipates in the wind as fast as it starts to burn, swirling up the ghost’s calves and then thighs. Before it goes completely, it says in a whisper:
Find him. Save Niki.
To be continued…
Check back soon for Part 2 of Ghost Stories.