Day 15 Three Ghastly Poems by Jill Trade The Root Cellar
Heed the warning of Samantha Lee. Do not go into the root cellar. She went in carrying celery. Heed the warning of Samantha Lee. Screams were heard, but no body to see. Stand at the door, you can still hear her. Heed the warning of Samantha Lee. Do not go into the root cellar.
The Summer Camp
Stall number two is not for you. Stay out of it for your own good. A boy was hung one day in June. Stall number two is not for you. They found the lace of his right shoe, Tossed carelessly into the wood. Stall number two is not for you. Stay out of it for your own good.
The hayride that never returned, It left from the Perrydell’s farm, They say the family was not concerned. The hayride that never returned. The theory is that they were all burned, At midnight in the old haunted barn. The hayride that never returned, It left from the Perrydell’s farm.
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Day 16 Books, Shadows, and Immortality by Joe Kirkenir
Bedtime is a foreboding proposition for children under the best of circumstances, even more so when their bedroom is haunted. My parents always wondered why I hated going to my room. All I did was read anyway so, in their eyes, it made little difference if I did it on the downstairs couch or in my bed. The words read the same after all. Little did they know that a fearsome shadow had made its home in the corner across from my bed, its dark human-like features creating an aura of fear and uncertainty. My room was, on the surface, benignly plain. My mother had spent many hours putting up rainforest-themed wallpaper and had hired the best contractors money could buy to line the floors with blue shag carpet, which my infantile mind had not yet realized was a touch out of fashion. A small bookcase containing texts ever-so-slightly above my reading level was the area’s centerpiece, laying the groundwork for both an overactive imagination and a future bibliophilic lifestyle. One might imagine that the shadow would only make its presence known in the dark, but this view was far too cliché for my tormentor. He only came out when my bedside lamp was lit, ironically cultivating fear from an act meant to erase it. Every night, I had to make a decision to either lie in peaceful darkness and disinterestedly count sheep, no doubt treading a path towards a mediocre vocabulary devoid of literary tropes, or stay awake and dive into my books, the lamplight calling forth an unknown terror. Anyone who has seen how my single childhood bookcase has grown into the several that now line my adult home’s walls would know that the latter won out, but at the expense of much childhood anxiety. I had to give every word the utmost attention and train my peripheral vision to limit itself to the edge of the page, lest the shadow draw my attention away from the text’s adventures. Despite these efforts, my nemesis persisted and never failed to haunt my bedtime reverie. While the shadow’s presence started off as a harmless childhood fear that even my younger self knew to be largely unfounded, it’s influence soon extended into my dreams, conjuring vivid and horrific nightmares that stay with me to this day. I dreamed of zombie massacres, familial homicides, and live burials, all with the ever-present shadow looming just out of sight. When the nightmare would end and I found myself in my bed, turning on the light was out of the question as it would distort the veil between the dream world and reality by calling the shadow back into existence. Thus was my boyhood. Frantic reading was my only escape from the terror in the corner, but even the most interesting book could only keep me awake for so long, which meant that I inevitably had to face my fears within my nightmares. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place and unable to find a way out. Before long, I merely curled in a ball and wept as soon as I realized I was dreaming and, upon waking, laid in the dark until the sun reclaimed its throne in the sky. Every day, I felt a bit more of my strength leaving me despite my grandmother’s claims that I was growing big and strong. Life continued along this path with my humanity slowly leaving me until I reached the rough age of thirteen. I trudged up the twenty-two steps to my room to, once again, drown out the evil surrounding me with the words of authors both alive and long dead, but tonight would be different. With a quick glance to the shadow, its head slowly bobbing up and down like a buoy in the ocean, I cracked open my first book, only to find that, despite enjoying the first few chapters I had read the night before, its pages were blank. Panicked, I threw the book aside and grabbed one of my old favorites, The Wind in the Willows, hoping that Toad’s antics would distract me from my terror. Alas, the book was just as empty as the last one. One by one, I tested each book on the shelf to measure the extent of the crisis. One by one, each book reinforced that this night was to be my reckoning. With the chilling knowledge that there was no escape, I stood up in the bright room and faced the shadow. My foe was still in the corner, continuing its foreboding bobbing, but it appeared to have grown larger during my throes of panic. I knew I could not face it in the light so, with no other options, I climbed into bed, clicked off my lamp, closed my eyes, and let the dark unknown of sleep decide my fate. As I drifted off into the void, I heard what sounded like a soft scraping accompanied by a bemused chuckle approach my prone form. My eyes flew open yet I immediately knew I was not awake. Instead of my familiar and, at times, safe bedroom, I was in a damp stone chamber whose walls were lined with a moss that I dared not touch. Seated on a simple wooden chair was the shadow, but something was different. Instead of being the pitch empty blackness that had haunted my nights for as long as I can remember, the shadow now had a form that was all too familiar. What I had though would be a vampire-esque monster turned out to be an older version of me. I braced myself for a struggle, but my tense muscles did little to stop the weakness that quickly struck. As I looked into my own eyes, I could feel my soul leaving my body piece by piece, like water leaking from a water balloon. I fell to one knee, then two, my eyes locking onto my nemesis. His eyes had all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming, laconically waving his hand in the air as if to wrap my streaming soul around his wrist. Every second left me weaker and weaker until I could barely keep my eyes open, even in this dream world. The end was near, yet I was not afraid. Whatever fate waited for me would release me from the everlasting fear and terror of the shadow. Feeling like a sponge that had been wrung dry, I stood up, eager for the shadow to end it all. My adult self’s eyes continued to burrow into my soul until he raised the soul-wrapped hand, priming himself for one final blow. With a quick snap of his fingers, my last connective thread to this world broke and I collapsed onto the cold hard floor. Again, my eyes flew open, but, this time, I was back in my room with one minor change: I was not in my bed. Instead, I was in the shadow’s corner, looking upon a figure in what used to be my bed. The body lay comatose under the sheets with blank eyes staring at the ceiling. It wasn’t until it turned its head towards me that I realized I was looking at myself. Glancing down at my form in the corner, I quickly realized that my body was now the same dark and foreboding figure that had haunted me for all those years. However, the boy in the bed was not the thirteen-year-old who had climbed in the night before. The corporeal version of me that was now looking fearfully at my corner appeared to be a mere four or five years old, the age at which I first saw the shadow. Now, I knew what I had to do. My gaze never faltered as I stared at the child, urging him on to read book after book so that he could draw his mind away from the fear emanating from my corner. I may not know what fate has in store for me, but I do know that I will not let my younger self succumb to the frivolous temptations of youth. With my constant surveillance, the boy will dive into text after text until he grows old enough to do the same to the next generation of myself, becoming the shadow in my place. We will read. We will learn. We will watch. Because, for us, immortality is a team sport.
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Day 17 A Rose in the Garden by J. L. Short
Many years ago, when I was not more six, my parents had rented a cottage near Willistown to escape the summer heat of Philadelphia. After a day’s ride by carriage with our trunks and a young nanny to look after me, we had arrived at our summer refuge. It was a small cottage, but it had a porch and a small garden surrounded by a low wall. It was in this garden I would play by myself after lunch while the nanny slept on a swing on the porch and my mother busied herself writing letters in the dining room. As a girl I sat quiet and alone a good deal of the time. This was a year before David was born and there were no other children about. I would sit outdoors in some place like this garden and watch for the animals, the birds, bumble bees and chipmunks. I would sit and watch them and imagine them my friends, and that they could talk to me. Conversing with the little creatures was my fondest wish. One day while I was sitting in the garden watching a red and green humming bird flit over some red hollyhocks, I turned to see a young girl standing just outside the wall of the garden. She was pale with light brown hair and freckles and wore a shabby dress that was patched in several places. “Hello.” She said with an accent I recognized as Irish, “I like your garden. May I please come over the wall?” She was a few years older than me, but she did not seem threatening. I said, “Come over please. Come sit with me and watch the humming bird.” She climbed over the wall and sat down next to me. The motion startled the humming bird and it flew away. “Oh,” she said disappointed, “I’ve scared the little fella away.” “Shhh” I said, “if we sit quiet and wait, he’ll come back.” We sat quietly side by side and watched the flowers and sure enough the humming bird returned; tiny wings a manic flutter as it went to first one blossom then the next. “What’s your name?” I whispered. I didn’t want to scare off the humming bird. She whispered back, still gazing at the humming bird, “My name is Rose, Rose Phalen.” “Mine is Elizabeth, Elizabeth Cranford.” Then I heard the nanny call me, “Elizabeth?” She was stirring from her nap and was making sure I was near-by. I stood up so she could see me over the wall. I turned to look for Rose and she was gone. I looked all around and there was no sign of her anywhere. I even looked over the wall to see if she was there hiding. Rose had completely disappeared. And I? I was most disappointed. I said nothing of this to the nanny or my mother. The next day we ate lunch together, me, my parents and the nanny and then like clockwork the nanny fell asleep after lunch. My mother once again went to writing letters. Returning to the garden once more, I was hoping that Rose would be there and I was not disappointed. She appeared once more at the garden wall. “Hello Elizabeth, may I come in your garden?” I said yes, she may come in. I told her this was not my garden, but all the same she was welcome to visit it anytime she wanted. “Rose, why did you leave yesterday?” “I heard someone speak and I was frightened.” “It was only the nanny. She is no one to be frightened of.” We sat together in the garden and this time we made little houses out of twigs and leaves. I said I hoped the little animals would come and live in the houses and that I might visit with them and they could be my friends. We were very quiet. The birds sang. The wind blew gently through the trees stirring their leaves and the shadows they cast on the garden. Finally, I said, “Rose, will you be my friend?” She answered, “Yes, I would very much like to be your friend. You’ll be my friend as well?” “Yes. I’ll be your friend Rose.” Then Rose looked a little sad and said, “I must go now. Ma needs my help tending the fire and cooking.” “Must you go?” She nodded yes. “Your mother is a cook?” “She cooks for the men building the railroad near here. We live in a camp out of doors. My Da cuts and digs and my Ma cooks for all the men. My parents have work to do and I must help, otherwise I’m in for a whippin’.” “Oh!” I said, “You’ll come back tomorrow?” “Yes, of course I will.” Then she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Tell no one about me Elizabeth. This is a secret between you and me.” I nodded, and then Rose gave me a kiss on my cheek and she left. What Rose told me made me curious and the next day at lunch I asked my parents, “are they building a railroad near here?” My father answered, “No, not now. About eight or ten years ago they built a railroad through this area and now you can ride the railroad out here. Why do you ask? You want us to ride the railroad?” I answered “No. No I don’t.” I remembered Rose wanted to stay secret so I smiled and said, “I heard a train whistle yesterday.” My father said, “We came by carriage so we could bring more of our things right to the cottage. Another time maybe we’ll ride the railroad.” I sat quietly at the table and wondered about what father had told me, but not for long. For several days after Rose came in the afternoon to join me in the garden. We played quietly, or watched the different animals that came to the garden. I said I liked watching them, and Rose said she liked them too. I told her I came from Philadelphia and she told me she had been to Philadelphia once. She came from Ireland on a ship, the Julia Peel, with her mother and father and a group of men. When they got off the ship there was a man named Mr. Burns that met them and offered work building a railroad west of Philadelphia. “Seeing my Ma and me he said, ‘this is hard work for strong men. We have no place for women and children on this crew.’ Then my Da spoke up for us and said, ‘you’ll be needin’ a cook and someone to wash clothes. My wife and daughter can do that and more.’ There were some words back and forth but eventually the man gave in and my Ma and I came along out here along with a large gang of men to cut through some hill sides and level the ground so that the rails might be laid.” “Where is your camp?” I asked. I had become very curious about all that Rose had told me. Then I heard my mother call my name from the porch. I was startled to hear my mother instead of nanny. I guess Rose was startled too, because when I looked for her, she had disappeared, just as she had done the first day I met her. I stood up and looked all around the garden and the wall once more, but no Rose. It was strange to me that she could disappear so quickly. I heard my mother call me again, “Elizabeth dear, come up here and talk with me a minute, would you please?” Reluctantly I climbed up onto the porch where my mother sat on the swing. “Hello dear.” She said and she patted the place next to her. I climbed up onto the swing next to her. “Elizabeth,” she asked, speaking very gently, “Who were you talking to?” I remembered Rose’s wish and took it as a promise to tell no one. “Nobody,” I replied, “I was talking to nobody.” And then I quickly added, “I was talking to the butterflies.” I smiled hoping that answer would satisfy her. Instead, she grew quiet and serious, looking at me for a long while until I grew worried. Then she said, “Elizabeth, look at me.” I looked her in the eyes since she was being very insistent. “Elizabeth, I want to tell you something very important. Please listen carefully.” She paused a moment searching for her words. “Some people, your late grandmother for example, are very special.” She took my hand and continued to look intently at me, “They are special because they hear things that other people can’t hear. They see things that other people can’t see. I’m not going to ask you what you see and hear, but please understand, you are to speak to no one about this, you may hear and see things, but keep them safe inside you. Especially with your father. Don’t ever say anything about what you hear and see to your father. Do you understand what I’m telling you?” I said “Yes.” This was exactly what Rose had asked for as well, so it all made sense in a way. Don’t tell anyone and especially don’t tell father. Rose and I met in the garden for a few more days and then it was time for us to return to Philadelphia. The last time we met I told Rose I was very sad to leave her and she told me she was sad as well. She kissed me on my cheek and that was the last I saw of the Irish girl. As I rode home in our carriage with my parents and Nanny, I prayed that one day I would be with my friend Rose again, sit in the lovely garden and watch hummingbirds.
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Day 18 Penance by Edward Ahern
Walter Mueller waved a thick arm toward the stained-glass windows. “We’re not going to knock those out, Imre, even with what the heat loss will cost me. We’re going to back-light and strobe them so they’ll pop out at our drinkers. Sanctified eavesdroppers. Should give the clubbers guilty pleasure staring at them while they’re hooking up.” Father Imre Herceg winced at the man standing next to him in St. Emeric church. The Connecticut parish, once full of Hungarian-Americans, was almost without members, and unable to pay its bills. But its sale to a man creating a singles bar seemed close to sacrilege. The two men made an odd pairing. Father Herceg was gaunt and tall, with white hair, and in his black cassock looked like a lit funerary candle. Walter Mueller’s well-tailored gray suit struggled but failed to mask his portly frame. They looked like the personification of starvation dieting and binge eating. “I’m glad the Bishop let you handle matters, Imre, you’ve been a lot easier to deal with than some of the Bishop’s gofers.” “Thanks, I guess. You paid a large amount for a hundred-forty-year-old church in need of serious repairs. And disregarded the false rumors about the church being haunted. So long as what you do with the desanctified building is legal, we will have no objections.” The concern in Father Herceg’s eyes was apparent. “Don’t worry, Imre, no sinning will be done here. Well, at least not consummated here. And the ghosts just add to the clubbing experience. I’m going to have the wait staff in pale makeup, like vampires." Imre Herceg shifted topics. “The religious items—altar, tabernacle, statues will be out by the end of next week. You do still want the pews and organ?” “Hell yes. We’re going to step the pews two high along the side and front walls. Pad the seats with suggestive cushioning, bolt down some little bitty cocktail tables and let ‘er rip. Figure to use the organ as background music for the wet tee shirt contests.” The priest kept silent. He’d been given the failing parish as the last gasp of a forty-year career. Imre had wondered at his ordination if he might become a prince of the church, bishop perhaps, or archbishop. But between a weakness for the bottle and an unwillingness to be unctuous, he’d remained a journeyman priest. After showing Mueller out through the sacristy door, Father Herceg left the church lights on and slowly paced down the central aisle to the rear of the church. The winter dark made the empty church seem dim, as if the season were fighting against the lights. As he walked, the priest once again thought he felt the brush contact of others, like commuters ignoring him in their passage. Just drafts, he reminded himself, or the misfiring senses of old age. The Diocese had ruled that confessions must be scheduled weekly, so St. Emeric held them every Saturday evening from five to six, whether or not anyone showed up to repent. As he reached the confessional, Father Herceg extracted his breviary from a pocket in his cassock and opened the middle door. His flock strongly disliked sitting face to face with their confessor, so the carved oak confessional with kneelers and screens was still in use. Imre picked up his silk stole from the shelf and placed it over his head so the ends draped down to his waist. Then he sat on the cushion he’d left on the chair and opened the breviary. He’d already read the daily selection, but had the strong feeling that God liked repetition in prayer and started over. “Páter Herceg.” Imre started and dropped his prayer book. He hadn’t heard anyone enter, and the confessional doors always creaked. The man spoke in Hungarian, his voice wavering as if it were windblown. “Páter, I need to confess to you before I can leave.” Imre said his pre-confession prayer to himself. “Of course, my son, please begin.” “Bless me Páter, for I have sinned. It has been a hundred twenty years since my last confession— “ “Wait, a hundred twenty years?” “Yes, Páter.” “I don’t recognize your voice, but you sound much too old to be playing a prank like this. If you’re not here for confession, please leave.” “Páter, this is very hard for me to accomplish, so please listen closely. My name was Halasz István, and I was a parishioner here at St. Emeric.” Father Herceg had leaned closer to the latticework separating the two men, but the penitent’s side of the confessional was very dimly lit, and all he could see was a vague, gray shape. “Mr. Halasz, you’re not making any sense, and if you don’t leave, I’ll be forced to call 911.” Halasz’ sigh sounded like a slow leak from an air mattress. “The police could never find me. Please, Páter, I’d rather not demonstrate. Many of us were left here without choice after our funerals. But with the church closing we must find a way to leave. We hope if you confess us we can go.” Father Herceg found his voice and took out his flip phone. “I warned you. Not get out, before the police come.” He pushed the three numbers, but before he could hit send, his hands went numb with bitter cold, the fingers frozen in claw shapes. “Please, Páter, we are desperate for your help. We live here with you, and know you to be a good man, despite your watching those cable television shows and drinking too much vodka. Father Herceg began shaking his hands to try and get back feeling. The phone popped out and bounced off the side wall of the confessional. He jumped up and grabbed the handle of the confessional door and tried to turn it. But the handle, like his right hand, was frozen. “Holy Mary, protect me,” he yelled. Imre slammed into the confessional door twice before it splintered off its hinges and hung sideways. As Imre ran out, the hissing voice resumed. “You should have more faith, Father. Now we must demonstrate.” The priest ran awkwardly toward the front of the church, out of breath by the time he reached the altar. As he did so, he watched the flower-filled vases around the altar tip over one by one, spilling water onto the floor. The ciboriums inside the tabernacle began rattling together, and the water in the baptismal font began slopping over. A stray thought broke through his panic—that the vases and the flower stems weren’t being broken, nor was the font. It was careful mayhem. The telephone land line was already disconnected, and his cell phone, if it still worked, was in the confessional. I am, however fallibly, a minister of God, he thought, and will stand within my faith. If this is demonic, I must face it. I will not abandon this church while I tend to it. Father Herceg’s hands had thawed, and he took out his rosary and walked back down the main aisle to the confessional. He grabbed the penitent’s door and threw it open. The air inside seemed hazy, but there was nothing else in it. He stepped into the center cabin to retrieve his breviary and phone. The abused phone was dead. As he sat in his chair, punching phone buttons, the voice resumed. “Páter. We are asking for a sacrament you are ordained to give. What evil can there be?” Imre shuddered. “Mr. Halasz, was it? If you are a Catholic, you will know that the church’s sacraments are for the living and not the dead.” Am I in an alcoholic delirium? Some aftershock from a stroke? “What you ask is impossible.” “Our baptisms are listed in the church records. And our other sacraments and funerals. We’re part of your flock, Páter. I can give you our names and birthdates.” This delirium will pass. Find a witness who will prove this apparition false. “Look, whoever you are, it’s a cruel, clever trick. I’m going to the Vilmos house next door and call the police. You’d be wise to run away before they come.” “Vilmos is my great grandson. Please give him my blessing.” The priest jumped up, stepped out of the confessional, turned around, and flung open Halasz’s confessional door. And again, nothing was there but a faint shimmer. He walked unsteadily out the rear door of the church and over to the Vilmos house. Father Herceg watched Vilmos’ shocked expression as the priest telephoned the police and described the incident. “It was a, an attempted shakedown I guess, from a man hiding in the confessional.” “There’s a patrol car on the way, Father. Please stay at the Vilmos house until it arrives.” As the policeman was speaking, Imre could hear a siren getting louder. After the police arrived, they searched the entire church and the rectory, found nothing, and took Imre’s statement. “The man wasn’t a thief,” Imre said, “but he’s seriously disturbed.” “And you didn’t see him when he knocked all that stuff over?” “No, officer. I know it sounds crazy, but I couldn’t see anyone. “Yeah, crazy. Well father, do you want to move out of the rectory tonight?” “Thank you, officer, no. You’ve searched the church, and I’m sure he’s long gone.” Once the patrol car had left, Vilmos insisted on walking back into the church with Imre, and helping him clean up the spills. As he was removing the splintered door from the confessional, Vilmos jumped backward. “What is it?” “I thought I felt something tousling my hair. Just nerves I guess.” Vilmos’ smile was forced. “Or maybe our famous ghosts.” “Nincsenek kisértetek itt! There are no ghosts here.” “As you say, father, but some of us are superstitious.” Imre thanked Vilmos, locked up the church, and walked across the driveway to the rectory. Let it go, old man. You’re not leaving this church, this church is leaving you. You’ll probably go to a nice inner-city parish where everyone speaks Spanish. He poured himself three fingers of vodka, added ice, and dropped into his recliner, the only piece of furniture in the house that wasn’t convent-Spartan. Imre launched a recorded episode of a mature-rated cable show and let the vodka work its magic. He paused the show twenty minutes later, got up and dropped fresh ice into his glass. How did Halasz know how much I drank? He started to pour, glanced around, and stopped at two finger depth. I could get an exorcist. But no, they’d never agree to an exorcist for a church that will be profane in a few weeks. *** The next morning, before mass, Imre reentered the church and searched through all three confessional cubicles for microphones or wires, but found nothing. He stood outside the oak doors and spoke aloud, his voice echoing in the empty church. “Infernal or ghostly, if you’re here, show yourself, and I’ll show you what an ordained priest can do with the Roman ritual!” It’d sounded stupid as soon as he said it, and his bravado died away unanswered. Yeah, sure. After mass, Imre walked back over to the rectory. The death of a church involved about as much paperwork as its birth. Imre got busy officially notifying present and former parishioners of the closure, and suggesting alternate parishes that could minister to spiritual needs and would be grateful for donations, however small. The work extended, with a break for a sandwich lunch, until five that evening. It was again dark, and Imre paced slowly back over to the church. After letting himself in he walked to the front of the altar and looked up at the massive Crucifix. How many marriages, and baptisms, and holy communions, and funerals. And this wonderful, old, dilapidated house of God is being discarded like yesterday’s vegetables. “Páter,” the voice wheezed. “Páter, I’m afraid I must insist.” Imre jumped and spun around, looking for its source. But the church was empty. “So, you don’t need a confessional to speak.” “No, but dark spaces make it easier. You need to confess us, Páter.” “Why don’t you all show up at ten o’clock tomorrow morning. I’ll invite the bishop.” Imre realized that he was being sarcastic because he was afraid. “The light disrupts us, Páter, in a painful way I can’t describe to you. You will need to confess us in the evening, after dark. We were not sophisticated, and you will find our sins commonplace.” “How many of you do you claim there are?” “Twenty-seven, counting myself. If you use our years alive, there’s one boy of ten, and the rest of us range from our twenties through our eighties. Sixteen women, ten men. We’re not evil, Páter, it would be like confessing the Holy Name Society.” Imre sat down in a front pew for almost ten minutes thinking. Then, without standing, he began to speak toward the altar. “This is a moment when I wish I were trained in logic like a Jesuit. I am probably delusional, in which case what I do will be without moral consequence. And if I, in good faith, administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there should be no evil, perhaps only impropriety. But if you, my mental aberration, do not truly repent, the sacrament is null and your sins will remain with you. Do you understand this?” “Yes, Páter.” The voice seemed a chorus of softly whistling words. Imre was silent again for a few minutes. “And these confessions would involve penances.” “Of course, Páter.” “Are all these ’parishioners’ here?” “Yes, Páter.” “Then let’s begin. With you. It will probably take a few hours.” As Imre walked back to the confessional, his thoughts churned. Is what I’m about to do a sin of itself? If they’re not released, will they haunt me instead of my church? Just walk out the back door, priest, and don’t come back. But Imre knew he couldn’t desert. At the rear of the church he entered the confessional, donned his stole, said the usual prayer, and slid open the panel that allowed him to hear a penitent. “Yes, my son.” “Forgive me, Páter, for I have sinned, it has been a hundred and twenty years since my last confession.” “Go on……” Their sins, as Halasz had said, were mundane. Carnality of course, and theft, greed and gluttony, all the seven deadly sins were well represented. But no murder, no acts so vile that Imre shuddered. All had died before the advent of porn sites or shaming on Twitter, which was refreshing. The boy, Gáspár, made Imre heartsick. He’d died at ten of pneumonia, before he’d had a chance to become good or evil. His confession could have been Imre’s at the same age. The boy did not deserve to serve penance, and Imre absolved him with an extra blessing. By the third confession, Imre found himself asking their names, and where they had lived, and who among their descendants might still live near the church. He felt he was attending a parish reunion spanning more than a century, and was sorry to end the last confession a little before eleven that night. Cretin, you’re just pandering to a delusion in hopes it’ll dissipate. May God forgive me for what I’ve just done. As Imre stepped out of the confessional he thought he felt hands gently patting his back “Thank God for you, Páter!” “Halasz?” “Yes, and everyone else. Gáspár has left us. When he came out of confession he had a smile that would melt gold, and then, no words, he just left. You’ve given us hope, Páter.” “There’s more for you to do, Halasz.” “Yes, Páter.” *** Father Herceg handed over the church keys and moved out of the rectory two-and-a-half weeks later, at eight in the morning. Mueller had crews waiting to rip out the pews and rearrange them. As he left, Imre could hear the rusty screams of bolts yanked from concrete. Priests never really retire, just work part time. Imre found himself housed in the rectory of a placid suburban parish, Assumption, where ethnicity had lost relevance. His new parishioners thought his being Hungarian exactly as significant as his being a Capricorn. He read two months later that his old church, newly christened as The Sacred Sinners, had opened with a capacity crowd. Curious, Imre drove by the next Saturday night. The large church parking lot, nearly empty for Sunday masses, was full, and a long line of young men and women stood outside the rear doors waiting admittance. The emblem of the club, a heavily made-up angel wearing a low-cut celestial robe, hung above the doors. Thousand one…, thousand two…, Imre thought. Patience. Let’s wait and see. The wait took three more weeks. As he was celebrating a 10:30 Sunday mass, he noticed a large florid blob in the congregation. It was Mueller, who trapped him after mass was over. “Father, you gotta perform an exorcism.” “Mr. Mueller, nice to see you too. What’s this about an exorcism?” Mueller waved his arms, and Imre noticed sweat rings that had seeped through the suiting. “The club, ah, church. It’s possessed. People are afraid of it.” “Please, Mr. Mueller, let’s just sit in this pew.” Imre hitched up his vestments so he could sit more comfortably and turned to listen. “My club is ruined. People come in, they don’t even finish their second drink, they turn all pale or flushed and almost run out. They claim something’s whispering in their ears, threatening them with damnation if they sin. Word spread, nobody even comes anymore. That damned church is costing me a fortune. I gotta have an exorcism.” “That’s something you should talk to the diocese about. I’m sure the bishop would listen closely to your complaint.” “That son of a bitch! He told me there was no such thing as ghosts, and that I’d bought the church as is, problems and all. But you could do it for me. You know the church is haunted.” Imre nodded in apparent sympathy, but inwardly asked God to forgive him for the almost lie he was about to utter. “I’m afraid I’ve never seen a ghost, inside or outside of Saint Emeric. Maybe there’s something in the ventilation?” “No, no, Goddamit! I know fear, and these wanna-be players are scared shitless.” “Language, please, Mr. Mueller. I’m not authorized to perform an exorcism, but I could visit your club, could even bless it if you like.” “When, Father? I’m hurting bad.” “Well, I’m tied up this week with masses and visits to hospitals, but I could stop by… perhaps a week from tomorrow? “You’re killing me, Father. Look, I’ll pay you to come by later today. We’ll call it a donation.” “Oh, I’m sorry, but no, thank you. A week from tomorrow?” Which should be enough time for you to slow cook properly. “Oh, hell, all right.” *** Father Imre arrived at four in the afternoon. Even in daylight the interior of the ex-church was garish, with nightmarish pink and purple lighting strips festooning the walls. A long bar with perhaps twenty stools had replaced the altar, and shelves of liquor bottles took the place of the tabernacle. “It’s quite a change, Mr. Mueller, but I don’t see anything supernatural.” Mueller frowned. “Nah, nothing’s happened during the day, but then there’s nobody here but the cleaning crew. And it didn’t attack the staff. Can I get you something? A drink?” “A healthy Gray Goose would be nice.” After a sip Imre continued. “I’ve had a chance to talk to some of my parishioners about your place, Mr. Mueller. It seems that its reputation is terrible. I don’t know how you’ll recover. You have my sympathies.” “That’s not what I need, Father. If you bless this place, will the demons go away and leave me alone?” “I’ve never seen real proof of any ghosts, Mr. Mueller. Any blessing is spiritually valuable, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t be much use against something imaginary.” “So, what the hell am I going to do?” “I wonder. You have several other businesses I believe, all profitable?” “Yeah, they’re good money makers.” “How would it be if you were to take a tax loss on the club by selling it off cheaply and offset the loss against the profits from your other businesses?” “You sons-a-bitches! You think you’re going to hustle me? I’ll burn this place down first and claim the insurance.” “No, no, Mr. Mueller, you misunderstand. We don’t want the church back. Just think for a second. Depending on how you declare the value of the church and the costs of improvements, you might actually make money selling the building. I can think of several congregations that might be interested.” Mueller remained silent during an internal calculation. “I don’t know how, but you’ve screwed me Father. I’ll think about it.” *** At Mueller’s invitation, Father Imre returned to the church about a month later, shortly after dark, and walked up to the bar. “You know what I’ve done, Father?” “Yes, Mr. Mueller, it’s been on the news.” “I still think you and the bishop diddled me, but I sold it like you said. I’m a little ahead of the game. And I could move the appliances and lighting to another church that hasn’t got any spooks. Would you consider acting as a consultant for me, help me get through all your holy red tape?” Imre smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Mueller, but I can’t. Good luck though, maybe the next church will be your conversion.” “Yeah. No hard feelings. I left you a little something on the bar. Goodbye, Father.” Mueller let himself out the sacristy door while Imre looked out over the dance floor, trying to visualize people kneeling in pews. When he was sure that Mueller had left, he called out. “Mr. Halasz?” “Yes, Páter.” “Is everybody here?” “Yes, Páter.” “You’ve succeeded. The club has been shut down, and a Pentecostal group, Joseph’s Many Colored Coat, will be moving in. You have performed your penances well. When you whispered in the ears of those clubbers, you acted as their consciences. I believe your penance is fulfilled, and pray that you can move on. The lord be with you.” They answered with a sibilant group “And also with you.” Halasz spoke a last time. “We’re leaving, Father, the oldest ones first. Köszönöm!” “You’re welcome. Goodbye, my little flock.” Imre reflexively turned to face the absent crucifix and noticed a bottle of Gray Goose vodka and a glass on the bar. Just one, he thought, for missing members.
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Day 19 Undead Soldier by Linda Sparks
Tightly, I held the old photograph album filled with soldiers from the Civil War. They proudly wore their uniforms and stared blankly into the camera, sober and dignified. I looked deeply into their eyes trying to capture even the smallest flicker of the life they had lived within that body, which might well have fallen, battered and broken upon the field of battle. I did not know their names. I wanted them to speak to me and tell me who they were and about their lives, possibly cut short by the brutality of battle. Some were young boys. Did they think of their mother as they lay dying? Then I felt it. A shivery feeling that swept through me and I believed I was being watched. I looked up and a tall and thin shadow figure dashed into my kitchen. I almost believed I imagined it but I did not. I called out to my husband thinking he was trying to scare me. No answer. That shadow person was in my kitchen and I had to walk past that door to get to my bedroom. I ran, leaped into bed, and saw that my husband was fast asleep. What was it? A ghost or spirit who had escaped from the pages of that book? The clock struck midnight. I closed my eyes and pulled the covers over my head and prayed for sleep. I listened and the house was quiet except for the pounding of my heart. I shall never forget that shadow person.
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Day 20 Less Than a Ghost by Aprile Nakamura
I buckled my seatbelt that morning and drove my Subaru to the store to pick up some groceries—nothing unusual. I halted at a stoplight and flipped through some news items on my phone. Then my hairs stood on end, and instinctively I glanced up. That truck is going to smash right into him, I thought. I pounded my horn. As soon as the young man turned towards me, I pointed straight ahead. “Move,” I shouted while fumbling to roll the window down, but I was hitting the wrong button. He stepped back as the truck blasted towards both of us. I shielded my face and screamed as my car crumple into itself and went spinning. All went black for a moment, then I awoke to shattered glass jumping around as it continued cracking and breaking on the road. Drivers opened and shut their car doors, then raced over. Two men argued as they struggled to pry my door open. “The window’s shattered, just go in through there,” one of them said. “It’ll cut me all to hell, and then I’ll die, too.” “Here, use my jacket. We gotta pull her out.” Like a serpent’s head, a sweaty hand slithered across my chest until it found purchase on the seatbelt. With deliberate strokes, he sawed through it. “I don’t see any gas leaking,” the other man said. “Take your time. Don’t hurt her.” “Miss, can you hear me? Miss.” My mouth refused to respond. Once the fabric was severed, I fell into the dashboard and blacked out. When I came to, both men were propping me up on an overturned beverage crate. My body felt like it had been kneaded with a thousand rolling pins. My left arm was bloodied, but nothing felt broken. Though the two men urged me not to move, I stood and paced around. “I’m ok,” I said. “I’m not feeling too bad.” “Still, you should sit down,” said the older one. “A lot of times, the real wounds are on the inside.” The younger man pointed at what was left of my car. “Those are good cars, Subaru. No better car to get in a wreck in.” I panned the intersection as the police arrived. After hitting my car, the driver had crashed into a light post. There was a giant, bloody hole in the windshield. I didn’t see a body though. “That boy’s alright?” I said. “The one who was in the intersection?” The younger man nodded. “He took off. Must have gotten spooked.” “I don’t blame him,” said the older man. “Still, that’s pretty dishonorable,” I said. “He had nothing to lose my sticking around.” The two men joked. “Unless he had a cute girlfriend to tend to, right?” “How about you?” the younger one asked, panning my fingers for a wedding ring. “You got a boyfriend or someone to call?” “Yes,” I lied as the police sirens wailed in the distance. A girlfriend had once told me car crashes were the perfect places to pick up a man, but I found the idea repulsive. Thanks to my bloodied arm and dazed look, the officers came right for me after the parked askew in the street as if playing a role in an action film. “An ambulance will be here soon,” one of them said as he cradled his arm around my back. “Please, sit. You don’t look so well.” “I’m better off that that driver,” I said as the other officer jogged to the wrecked truck and looked for the driver’s body. When he couldn’t find it, he disappeared down a nearby ravine. A few minutes later, while my officer jotted down my details, the second officer emerged from the ravine with a perplexed look on his face. When some young boys tried to photograph the bloody hole in the windshield, he flopped his arms like a bird and warned them to get back. As soon as he turned around, they snapped more pictures. The ambulance arrived after that. By time they’d checked my vitals and loaded me on board, almost a half hour had passed. Through the back window, I watched as the officer who’d interviewed me joined his colleague in their search for the missing body.
Since nothing sensational happened in my accident, not much attention was given beyond the fact the other driver had perished and it delayed traffic for nearly two hours. To really make an impact, there had to be multiple casualties, an explosion, Yakuza involvement, or something morbid like mangled kids or a bunch of squished dogs. In the days that followed, I saw a doctor, a chiropractor, and a therapist named Megumi Megan Smith who liked to show off her American husband in a series of framed photos on her desk. This was my first time visiting a therapist, so I was a bit nervous. On the way in, I settled my nerves with a glass of Kirin beer on tap at a nearby bar. I purposely got my burps out before knocking on the door, smiling, and introducing myself. Megumi asked a battery of questions which, at first, seemed unrelated to the car accident. I confirmed that I was born and raised in Yokohama. I’d dated a man named Taro for three years and we were engaged to be married. After moving in together and scheduling the wedding, I came home early one day to find him sleeping with my best friend. “Only they weren’t sleeping,” I said bitterly. “They weren’t even having sex either, they were fucking. He was on her like a monkey.” Megumi kept a straight face. “That’s such a heartbreaking thing to witness. How did you react?” I hummed and fidgeted. “Does this relate to the car accident? I don’t understand.” “Of course,” she said. “Just so you know, everything you speak about will be kept private.” “After Taro and I split up, I told my friends and family a very watered-down version. I said I’d walked in on him with my best friend, then I notified them I’d cancelled our marriage plans. Taro had lost some money on the condo, because I remained living there. But that wasn’t my fault.” “That’s how your brain reacted,” she said, “but how did your heart react when you walked in on them?” I closed my eyes and folded my hands. The moment came back in stunning clarity. First, there was the curiosity aspect—of seeing my best friend naked, then seeing how Taro was a lot more passionate with her as he pinned her down and worked her from behind. Taro had guided me out of the bedroom, kicking and screaming as Asami searched for her underwear and clothes. Once she was dressed, she made a B-line for the front door. “Hold on,” Taro commanded. “Come sit with us.” Asami turned the knob and stepped out. “If you disobey me,” he said. “We’re through.” Finally, she returned to the apartment and sat across from me with her eyes pinned to the floor. “Stop acting like a goddamned child,” he scolded Asami. “Look at your ex-best friend.” Asami’s eyes were waterfalls as she forced herself to look up. Taro turned to me. “Rio, I fell out of love with you a long time ago. Asami didn’t steal me from you, as I was already detaching myself about six months ago.” “You just didn’t have the balls to tell me?” “I was waiting to see if you changed. I did want it to work after investing that much time.” I wanted so badly to slap him, but instead I dug my nails into my knee. “What was so wrong with me?” I asked. “I cooked, I cleaned, I…” He knew what I was about to say, so he nodded. “The sex was great in the beginning,” he admitted, “and I enjoyed going out and having a good time. But it wore thin around the one-year mark, and I kept waiting for you to reveal something beautiful again like you did in the beginning.” The tears came pouring out of my eyes. I stared at Asami, empowered by her cowering expression. “And this bitch won’t get boring? You think she’s so great? She chews with her mouth open, did you know that? Feed her a carrot some time and you’ll get a big laugh. She’s like a rabbit. In bed, too, apparently.” Asami averted her eyes, then forced them back to meet mine. “Yes,” Taro said, ignoring my comment about Asami being a rabbit. “Our relationship might go the same way. It always takes about a year to find out. That’s why a lot of guys keep a girl on the side, the way that I do. It’s the same logic shared by pet owners who always keep one younger pup to replace the old one when it dies.” “Well,” I said to Asami. “You can have him if he thinks this way. He knows more about dogs than human emotion apparently. Now that you’re his main girl, keep an eye out for the one he keeps on the side.” He gripped my elbow. “It’s not about me. This is how any man will treat you. Your next man will enjoy your newness for about a year, then leave once…” He looked me up and down. “You’re just so goddamned empty inside. I never found anything.” “What was I supposed to have Taro?” He shrugged. “Either way, it wasn’t there.” Megumi jotted down some notes, then slid a box of tissue across the coffee table. “Oh, I’m not going to cry,” I said. “My tears, along with everything else that gets wet, dried up ten years ago.” “That’s unfortunate, but it’s not an uncommon reaction to severe trauma. Going numb like that.” I met her eyes. “Again, how does this relate to a car crash? I don’t even know why we’re treading here. I buried these things a long time ago.” “Car crashes shake everything loose, including emotions and old horrors. A regular doctor puts your body and skeleton back into place. Then I help you fit your spirit back into place. That’s how you get whole again after such a frightening experience.” I nodded. “Thank you. I understand better now what you do. But this thing with Taro is old news. I don’t even know why I bothered showing it to you.” “How did you recover from it?” “Recover?” I said in confusion. “Oh, I never went back to dating. I work, come home, watch TV, make some good food for myself, and that’s that.” “You’re only forty-two years old.” “Don’t remind me,” I said sardonically. “I mean you’re still young enough to take your life back.” “What life?” I said, seething a bit. “Taro’s accusations were correct. I’m nobody inside. After he got tired of my flesh, he figured out I had no ideas, no beliefs... nothing to offer in the way of companionship. If I’d have been smarter, I’d have gotten pregnant so at least a baby would keep us together. But I didn’t think about that until much later. I’m one of those dumb women who never wants to intrude, then years later I can’t figure out why my life is in ruins.” “Can we talk more about that?” I shrugged. “Go right ahead.” When my session ended, I thanked her for her time and scheduled my second of three sessions. “You’re the therapist,” I said. “I’m following your lead on everything, but next session I’d like to talk about the accident.” “I’ll take that into consideration,” said Megumi. Before I stepped outside her office, I hesitated. “I’m having nightmares about it, because I’m pretty sure I was hit by a ghost.” “How did a ghost drive a truck into oncoming traffic?” “A body was never recovered, Megumi. At our next session, we’ll start there. I’m done talking about Taro.”
On the train ride to my second session, a week later, I succumbed to my guilty pleasure of checking Taro’s Facebook page. Sure enough, he and Asami were enjoying their tenth year of marriage. They had a son and a daughter. They’d moved out to Hakuba, where he managed a ski resort, and she sewed high-end fashion products for a boutique designer. Looking at their smiling faces, I kept flashing back to his climbing over her like a monkey as he worked her in my bed. Even though I’d long ago ejected them from my life, I still fixated on what was so superior about Asami. I’m no dummy; sex is a big deal to men. But I’d always given him everything he needed, including a few perversities I performed dutifully and without complaint. In those few moments when I’d watched them making love, Taro was addicted to being inside her. Even on our first date, when we came back to my place and climbed into bed, he hadn’t made love to me with nearly as much intensity. Our sex had always been mediocre to good, but he’d never pinned me down and taken me the way he had Asami. This had discouraged me from dating all throughout my thirties. Arguably, I’d thrown away what should’ve been my sexual prime. Though I still had a good body and wore fashionable clothing, I wanted nothing to do with men. Even if I could satisfy one, I’d always assume he was sticking with me out of pity once he discovered there was nothing inside me. Before my second session began, I downed two beers at a nearby bar. The bartender, a short man with short hair, made a short conversation. “I want to visit a jungle,” he said. I sipped the Kirin draft. “Why a jungle?” He leaned his elbows on the counter and planted his chin atop his fists. “I’ve been to a desert, a beach, a city, and almost everywhere else. I even climbed half way up Mount Kilimanjaro. But I want to go someplace where snakes are crawling up trees and wild, colorful birds soar past.” “Sounds dangerous.” “Surely, it is. But it’s the only place left for me to go now that I’d conquered all the boring, safe places.” After I paid my tab, I went upstairs and knocked on the door to Megumi’s office. She offered me a bottled water as I sat down on her couch and eyed the American flag hanging behind her. I preferred not to talk about Taro anymore, so I got right into the crash. “At the end of last week’s session,” I said, “I told you the vehicle that crashed into me was driven by a ghost. A body was never recovered at the scene, so I will continue believing my ghost theory until proven otherwise.” “Someone had to drive the truck.” “There was a big, bloody hole in the driver’s side window, but no one could find the body. In the half hour it took for the ambulance to come and load me onboard, the police looked everywhere, but couldn’t find him.” She jotted down some notes. “You can say I’m crazy, but this is a fact. I dug a little deeper about the driver’s identity. His family cremated him, but that still doesn’t prove his body flew out of the truck and into the street or nearby woods.” “A body can fly very far in a car crash. I’m sure they found it later, after the ambulance took you away. Like you said, they cremated him.” “It could’ve been a dog, but they wanted to fool us into thinking it was a man. They’re hiding something.” “That’s very unlikely. Plus, the family must have identified the body. There are many rules about things like this.” “We assume that, but neither you nor I know much about those rules.” “No, I know for a fact—there are several protocols the police and coroner must follow.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “Until I prove it for myself, I will go on believing he was a ghost. Why else did they search around for so long without finding him? He was a man, not a missile.” “You admitted the windshield was broken out and covered in blood. Can ghosts bleed?” I nodded. “I know it sounds stupid, but my brain won’t let go of it.” “But you claim you let go of Taro.” “I said I didn’t want to talk about Taro.” She nodded. “That’s true. That’s in my notes. About the ghost then—even if your theory is correct—what does it solve? A ghost crashed into your car, but so what?” I bit my fingernail. “I don’t know, but I can’t shake it either way. I go to work, and all I can think about is everyone covering up the facts. Like I need to prove it, or get at least one person to admit there wasn’t a body.” “You see what I mean now,” said Megumi. “In a car crash, a lot of things get shaken loose. You were front and center when the crash happened, did you see the driver?” “I remember urging the young man in the crosswalk to get out of the way, but the driver’s face is vague. All I remember was a wide smile and his fingers dancing on the steering wheel—as if he was playing a piano. Maybe that’s make-believe, because I can’t imagine someone acting like that as their truck hurls towards traffic. A ghost would act like that though—so it further validates my point.” “It’s possible your brain is shrouding the driver’s true face and expression from you. That’s something we can address through hypnosis.” “Oh, that stuff’s too spooky.” “What? Hypnosis? Yet, you claim to see ghosts.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or be insulted. “I guess you’re right,” I said, “but I still can’t shake this.” “Then you have to conduct more work to prove it.” “I can’t if they turned him to ashes and dumped him somewhere.” “Exactly,” she said. “You’re designing a mystery for yourself that can’t be solved anyway, so let’s face the ones we can solve.” I wanted to avoid talking about Taro, but she’d trapped me. “Yes,” I said. “Let’s focus on the ones we can solve.”
After my second session with Megumi, I tracked down the address of the deceased driver—an older man named Masanari Oh. Though it required a high level of bravery, I forced myself to knock on his front door after downing two beers at a nearby bar. An grey-haired woman with a smattering of age spots, who I assumed to be his wife, answered with the standard bow and hello. “I am Rio,” I said. “Your husband crashed his car into mine a few weeks ago.” I blocked the door with my foot as she attempted to shut it. “I need to talk to you, please,” I said. “I’m not here fishing for money, but I need to talk.” “What is it then?” she asked coldly. “I’m not obligated to discuss my husband with you.” “I saw something that day, and I need to make sense of it. Please.” “Are you the woman who asked all the questions at the funeral home about the cremation?” “Yes,” I said, angered they’d tattled on me. “Get off my property, you psycho.” As she shoved harder, I leaned heavier onto my foot to keep the door propped open. “You’ll have to call the police. All I need is a conversation, so I can move on. Please. Your husband almost killed me.” Finally, she lifted her weight from the door and retreated inside. After waiting a moment, I pressed through the door and entered the dark hallway leading towards a kitchen lit from different angles by sunlight shining through bay windows. At one end of the counter, a picture of a younger Masanari was surrounded by a dozen small candles. His wife poured some tea into one of four cups in her teacup set, then rested the pot on a metal trivet. “I’m sorry,” I said, “if you found it disrespectful that I asked the funeral home about his cremation.” Instead of looking at me, she peered into her teacup. “Why did it matter so much if we burned him up or buried him?” “No one could find him after the crash. The police and a few bystanders looked everywhere.” “Indirectly, I was told he went very far. But they did find him, obviously.” I nodded. Well, there was my answer. The old guy had soared over the trees somewhere, but the police had peeled him off the ground somewhere. Finally, she relaxed her shoulders. “Have some,” she said, nodding towards the tea pot. “My sorrow is no reason to skip the formalities.” Though I wished it was beer, I poured some tea and drank it. It was pretty cold, and I imagined her sitting at the table all day, alone with her ruminations, with the teapot as her only companion. “How have you been since his passing?” I asked. She didn’t look at me as she spoke. “The insurance, the police… everyone asked if he had insomnia,” she said. “All his life, he woke up at five a.m. and went to work. He came home around four. He was always in bed around eight, or nine at the very latest. Even on the weekends, he kept that schedule for his whole career.” “Was he retired?” “He could’ve retired two years ago, but he liked having a job to go to everyday.” “It doesn’t sound like he fell asleep then.” She shook her head. “He’s older… I mean he was older, so he wasn’t obsessed with texting. The officers asked me about that, too. They wanted me to enter his cell phone PIN so they could see who he might have been in contact with before the crash. I told them I didn’t know the PIN, and they were ok with that. When you don’t kill anyone, but yourself they let a lot of things slide.” “Did he have any medical issues?” She shook her head sharply. “No. They cut him up and looked inside. He didn’t have a heart attack or anything like that. About twenty years ago, he had a hernia surgery, but that didn’t cause the crash.” She stared at me for a long time. “When they asked me if he smoked, I said no, even though the police recovered a pack of cigarettes from his truck. They also asked if he typically wore a seatbelt. I was suspicious of the question, so I said sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t. Between you and me, he always wore a seatbelt. He clicked that thing on without thinking about it.” I was about to ask if he’d been wearing it the day of the crash, then realized a properly engaged seatbelt would’ve prevented him from launching through the window. His wife looked out the bay window at her small backyard where small coy fish swam inside a pond. “We married very young, and have been together fifty years. He was probably the best husband a woman could ask for. He had a good job and was good at saving money. We put all four of our kids through college. We didn’t take as many vacations as we should have, but that’s only because he was so worried about saving and making sure we were ok. Then, once it was all saved up, and the kids were all done with school, we were too old to really enjoy it.” Because the incident with Taro was still fresh on my mind, I asked, “Did you love him?” She snorted. “Many years ago, people didn’t care about things like that. A man needed a woman for certain things and a woman needed a man. So, no… I didn’t love him. That just wasn’t our mindset. Why concern yourself with love when loyalty is what gets you through. Love is just garnish, an adorning flower that looks pretty for a moment, then wilts and dies.” “Surely, there was some kind of glue holding you together.” “Our loyalty towards each other. That’s what did it.” I nodded to show I grasped her logic, but I wasn’t sure that I agreed. Then again, I hadn’t dated a man in over a decade. What did I know? She gave a big sigh, tilted her teacup to look at the tea sediment, then regarded me. “Did I answer enough questions? Are you done bugging the funeral home?” “Yes, and I’m sorry about that. It wasn’t done to create problems, but to answer my own personal question.” “It’s ok. I understand it’s a hard thing to be crashed into like that.” She sniffed at the air. “You smell like beer.” “I drank a little before coming over here.” She checked her watch. “It’s early in the day for that, but regardless—that’s your life to live. I’d like to see you out now. Goodbye, please.” On the way out, I panned the framed photos I’d overlooked during my first trip through the hallway. Mr. Oh was featured smiling with his grown children. The bottom, smiling-half of his face told one story, but the reticent, hurting eyes told another. On the train ride home, I thought of the relief he must have felt while cracking into those cigarettes. Probably, it was his first taste of freedom in decades. When that wasn’t enough, he’d decided to stop wearing his seat belt. When that no longer buoyed him, he’d settled on crashing through the intersection and flying through his windshield. Yes, he was a ghost alright… one trapped inside the aging body of a man. The car crash had peeled the flesh back and allowed his spirit to zoom towards the heavens. It was an opposing concept—using a proximity to death to make oneself feel more alive. It was new to me, especially since I’d lived all my life gasping life tightly in my palm. Back when I dated Taro, I always kept plants around the apartment, I smiled, and I remained positive even in the darkest situations. I used to sing all the time, channeling whatever radio songs appealed to me. Though I might have dissatisfied Taro in bed, I personally loved the natural feel of our warm bodies together, and him being inside me. I wasn’t the one dissatisfied. My love for life ended the day Taro told me, in front of his future wife, I had nothing inside… that I wasn’t the life-giving, loving garden I’d thought I was. Ten years later and you’re still stuck in it, I thought. How sad. So, I borrowed some notes from Masanari Oh, and formed my own escape plan.
A month later, after I’d gotten up my bravery, I pulled my new Subaru to a halt at the top of the same hill where Masanrai had sped down into the intersection. With my hazards blinking, I savored a single cigarette from a pack of Seven Stars clutched in my other hand. With each inhale, I felt sexy and alive. As a little treat for the paramedics, I’d skipped wearing a bra and panties. I wanted them to conclude, Oh, what a waste of a good female body. I’d have shown her a good time if she’d stuck around and resolved her mental issues. Each puff of smoke expelled years wasted coming home from work, watching TV, eating, then repeating the same actions day after day. A least a ghost moved around and provoked people—I was something less than a ghost. Finally, I flicked the cigarette butt out the window. I pulled my shirt over my head, flung it into the passenger seat, jiggled my bare breasts while laughing, and shifted the Subaru into neutral. I began my descent towards the intersection, clutching my hands together in the center of my chest. I forced my eyes to stay open despite my terror. I held my breath and wept. As I coasted towards oncoming traffic, instinct took over. I reclaimed the wheel, and dodged two cars before clipping the bumper of a third and spinning out into the middle of the street. A terrifying moment passed where I expected a car to plow into me. Instead, traffic slowed and drivers climbed out, shouting either anger or concern. “Are you ok, miss?” a man asked as I fumbled for my shirt, managing to put it on both backwards and inside out. Soon he was right at my door, yanking on the handle. “Open up,” he said. “Let me help you.” In the empty place inside, those words flared like brilliant fireworks. I closed my eyes to savor them: Open up. Let me help you. “Yes,” I said. I unlocked the door and wept into his chest as his strong arms enveloped me. Desperately, I clutched both his hands into mine. He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. “You saved me,” I said. He pulled me closer. “Come on and step out. I won’t leave you.” A girlfriend had once told me car crashes were the perfect places to pick up a man. I wasn’t so repulsed by the idea anymore.
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Day 21 Sally's Saloon by Hugh Allison
The heavy-set hoodlum burst through the door Of Sally’s Saloon and went to the bar. He called for the barkeep, spat on the floor, And yelled for someone to light his cigar.
Old Zeke the barman said, “No, you’ve been banned. Last time you came in, you played at blackjack, And you cheated with five kings in your hand, Now get out of here and never come back.”
The man ignored him and got out his gun And shot at Miss Sally, right through her head “Well now,” said Zeke, “I sure hope you can run, Guess you didn’t know that Sally’s undead.”
Sally’s eyes sparkled as she showed her fangs And Zeke relaxed and continued to say, “It’s not just Sally, she has sev’ral gangs I’m in one, I’m a werewolf by the way.
There are more of us here than you can know: Clara’s a zombie but she’s a real dear And over there, playing the piano, Is my dad’s skeleton, he died last year.
There’s Lily the banshee, and in the yards Are phantom cats, and a monster or two If you hadn’t been caught cheating at cards They’d all be happy to re-welcome you.”
The fraudster ran off with no extra wealth, Almost tripping over a see-through clown, And as he left, he did promise himself, He wouldn’t return to this old ghost town.