SHORT STORY, Ghost of a Life, Chapter 5

I glance up at the ghost hovering over Grayson, hoping against hope that he’ll give me the answer I’m looking for. But the spirit remains silent, inching closer to the cowering man, relishing in the way Grayson flinches when its tail brushes up against his leg. The small blue stain on Grayson’s pant leg is prominent, and Grayson is curling up against himself to the point where he’s in the fetal position.

If I don’t do something soon, he won’t make it out of this plane of existence alive. For all I know, I might not either. There’s no telling what the spirits will do at this point.

“Hey,” I call out, extending my arm in a futile attempt to touch Grayson’s ankle. “Who’s Ben?”

The ghost turns its attention to me. Which… unnerving much?

You mean you don’t know?

Considering the sheer volume of things I didn’t know coming into this… note to self: do a better job of vetting your clients from now on. I shake my head and offer a shrug, not trusting my words when the pissed-off spirit is now glaring in my direction. At least, I think it’s a glare; kinda hard to tell when the spirit’s eye sockets are empty.

Grayson opens his mouth, but I can’t hear anything outside of panicked wheezing. His eyes are too wide for my liking, but at least he hasn’t gotten any paler. If I play this just right, he might make it out of here. Sure, he’s a prick and I can’t stand what he did, but he’s still a human being and I’m not comfortable with the idea of playing judge, jury, and executioner.

“Who’s Ben?” I try again.

The ghost lowers itself to my level, though it still towers over me by about three feet. But slowly, the figure begins to morph, its ethereal tendrils and wisps of… whatever it is changing form until I find myself staring at a boy. A child, perhaps no older than 11. Maybe 12. His eyes are sad, the left darker than the right, and his head lists to the left. The sadness shifts to anger when the child glances up at Grayson floating several feet above us.

I’m Ben… and Daddy must pay!

Oh, lovely. I’ve stumbled upon some supernatural Dr. Phil shit. I follow the boy’s gaze up to Grayson. The fear in his eyes has been replaced with a sadness that can only be explained away with guilt. Whatever Grayson did, it had to do with a son I didn’t even realize he had. Yep, definitely doing more homework before taking on a new client from now on.

“Grayson…” I get back to my feet. “What did you do?”

A tear rolls down Grayson’s cheek, gravity be damned. Another follows soon after, and within seconds, he’s this close to bawling his eyes out. He doesn’t even register the other spirits hovering around him anymore, which have appeared to given him some distance. But they’re still circling him, wisps of their ghostly frames coming close to contact with him.

He’s staring at the child, shaking his head and straightening himself. Gently, the spirits place Grayson back on his feet, but he immediately drops to his knees. Eyes red and puffy, tear streaks on both sides of his face, Grayson doesn’t notice when I approach and place a hand on his shoulder. He’s too busy staring at the translucent child in front of him.

“What happened to your son?”

He left me with those monsters! They did things to me… bad things…

I glance at the ghost boy, shuddering to imagine what he might be talking about. I turn my attention back to Grayson, who is now staring at his hands in his lap. I really need him to rejoin the land of the sane right now. I squeeze his shoulder and drop to my knees; maybe if I’m on his level, it will help him open up a bit.

“Grayson…”

“Before Ben was old enough for school,” he starts, “we started noticing things. He was… quieter than most kids. Wouldn’t respond to his name. Had trouble keeping eye contact. We thought maybe it was nothing, but…”

He shakes his head and I can see the emotion welling up inside him again. I need to keep him calm, keep him here.

“Ben was autistic,” I offer.

Grayson nods and sniffles before straightening his posture. “We tried everything we could to get him help. But… he was almost better off not being able to walk, you know? Doctors would’ve known what to do then. But since it was my Ben’s brain that was…” I watch as Grayson’s hands curl into fists. “It was like they didn’t even try.”

I couldn’t go to school. I couldn’t make friends. So Mommy and Daddy shipped me to this hospital. It was a dirty place, full of bad people.

A smile creeps onto Grayson’s face, which I find odd until I realize that is probably the most he’s ever heard his son say at one time. “It wasn’t Merciful Souls, was it?”

Grayson shakes his head. “It was A New Day, on the other side of the state.”

I vaguely remember hearing about that place on the news a few years ago. A lot of disgusting shit apparently went on in that place. Doctors and nurses using their positions in the facility to take advantage of their patients, doing some truly despicable things for which they deserve to spend lifetimes behind bars. I can’t even repeat some of the allegations without my stomach turning inside out.

I turn my attention back to the boy. “What did they do to you?”

They wouldn’t give me my medicine. They told me I was there because my parents didn’t love me. One of the nurses… one of the nurses would spank me until I couldn’t even sit anymore…

My stomach churns and I have to cover my mouth. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s people taking advantage of and abusing a child like that… especially in a place that’s supposed to help them when no one else can. I still don’t have all the pieces, but if I connect the dots correctly, I’m starting to view Grayson in a different light.

Why did you send me there, Daddy?

“Because your mother and I didn’t know what else to do.” Grayson shakes his head. “Nothing we were doing was working. Nothing the doctors told us was working.”

You left me with bad people… I died in there!

“I know.” Grayson’s crying again. “I know, and I’m so sorry…”

I’m fighting back tears of my own at this point, though it’s more out of anger than anything. The rage is so strong that I can feel my hands trembling. I have to ball them into fists to keep them steady. “But what does this have to do with Merciful Souls?”

“The same group that ran A New Day ran Merciful Souls,” Grayson explains.

I nod. “So you assumed the same things were happening there, too.”

“Before our divorce, Frances sued the management group responsible for A New Day. Bled them as dry as she could. It was a victory, but without Ben, it rang hollow.”

“So… what?” I shake my head. “You decided more needed to be done, so you pulled the strings to bankrupt Merciful Souls and left a bunch of mentally ill people with nowhere else to turn?”

“No! I –“ Grayson turns his gaze to the young boy in front of me, swiping under his eyes to catch any more tears. He’s pretty much cried out at this point, but the emotion of the moment is so thick and raw that his body can’t help it. I’m even a little choked up at this point, even if I still think what he did was fucked up.

“It wasn’t supposed to go down the way it did,” he admits.

Liar!

The boy stretches his arm skyward, pulling Grayson back into the air and twisting him until he’s rightside up again. But when one of the spirits passes through his back – without coming out the other side – I have to turn away. His scream is enough to turn my stomach, and the thought of a spirit shacked up inside the body of someone who’s still alive… I can’t think of anything worse at the moment. The physical pain is one thing; I can only imagine what’s going on in Grayson’s head.

Sure enough, when I look up, Grayson’s clutching his temples with both hands. His eyes are scrunched closed in agony, and he’s gritting his teeth. When the boy clenches his fist, Grayson’s eyes fly open and he clutches his chest. His mouth hangs open, as if there’s a scream begging to be set free, but no sound comes. Desperate to not watch Grayson die – why, I’m not entirely sure – I lunge for the spirit, swiping my arms as if to scoop him up into my arms.

And much to my surprise, that’s exactly what happens. I shudder and gag at the rush of ice cold against my body as I hold onto the child. But the surprise that I’m actually able to affect the noncorporeal has registered for both of us. The child glances down at my arms with wide eyes… before his face morphs into something sinister, bearing three rows of sharp teeth and snarling at me as if I were an uncooperative meal.

I stumble backward and lose my grip. The boy, having now shifted into full-on monster mode, with talons and everything, swoops into the air and grabs Grayson by his chin. The snarl is louder this time, and Grayson is trembling. His eyes meet mine, and all I can do is give him a sad smile to let him know I wish there was more I could do. I’m not equipped to handle spirits that get violent… mostly because this is the first time I’ve had that happen.

One of the translucent tendrils swipes across Grayson’s midsection, and he doubles over with a scream. I cup my hands over my mouth, watching his dress shirt stain with blood. It’s a shallow cut, meant more for instant pain than lasting damage, but if his son’s spirit has gotten to the point of physical assault… then I don’t see how this ends without one of us in a body bag.

Do they have body bags out here?

“Hey!” My voice echoes in the abyss.

Another invisible force hits me in my stomach and sends me teetering backward. I double over and wrap both arms around my midsection, desperate not to vomit again. And you know what? I don’t care if this ghost is actually some child who died because of neglect or maleficence at the hands of those who were supposed to care for him. He’s starting to get on my last nerve, and I can’t let him kill Grayson.

He swipes at Grayson again, and this time, I see the blood trickling from the side of his neck. Adrenaline takes over at this point, pushing me back to my feet and running full-speed until I tackle the spirit to the ground. Which, considering we can’t see the ground, it comes up quick and hurts like hell when we land. I wrap my hand around the ghost’s neck to pin it down, using my body weight in the process.

The ghost reverts back to its child form, as if to elicit sympathy from me. But I only tighten my grip, my jaw clenching. “Look,” I practically growl. “I’m sorry for what happened to you. I really am. But it’s not your dad’s fault. Whatever he did, whatever made him take Merciful Souls, he did it out of love and grief. For you.”

The spirit shakes its head and its lip curls into a sneer. “No… if Daddy loved me, he never would’ve put me in that hospital in the first place!”

A thud to my left tells me Grayson’s no longer hovering in the air. Instead, he’s on all fours, looking as if he’s about to wretch at any moment. And he does – but instead of food, the spirit that had shoved its way into his chest spills out of his mouth. Drops of blood also follow suit, and I shudder in disgust at the whole display. I can only imagine how terrible that felt. He collapses face-first, sweaty and out of breath. His eyes are barely open, and he turns to look at us. Swallowing thickly, he opens his mouth to speak… but no words come.

“Grayson?” I quirk a brow.

“I-I’m sorry,” he whispers. “We didn’t know what else to do, Ben. Nothing we tried worked.”

So you just abandoned me?

“No! We-we thought we were helping!”

Do you have… any idea what they did to me in there?

“No, he doesn’t.” I tighten my grip even more on the ghost, and its face begins to shift again. “But that doesn’t give you the right to torment him like this. What happened to you was out of his hands.”

And what about the others?

“Those are on me.” Grayson’s voice is just barely above a whisper now. He cringes with every other word, cradling within himself and cupping his right hand over the wound in his gut. The bleeding has subsided, but I doubt the pain has. “I was wrong. I should’ve found another way to secure a building for McGuinnis.”

“Even so,” I chime in, “what gives you the right to torment those students?” The ghost looks at me in confusion. “You’re pissed at your dad, I get it. You want him to suffer, I get that. But why haunt the students living in McGuinnis? What did they ever do to you?”

The students are just a means… a way for us to get to him.

“You’re causing undue suffering,” I argue. “In your thirst for vengeance, you’re hurting innocent people.”

For the first time, the child actually looks incredibly childlike. Almost as if it had never considered what I just said. I can see the reality of what the spirit was doing dawning on it. I’m trying to ignore the hissing of the spirits still hovering above us, monsters eager to strike when next commanded. They’re among the most gruesome creatures I’ve seen in my short time doing this, and after all this is over, I’m gonna start reading up on how to handle hostile ghosts.

Because this shit ain’t cool.

Then, with a wave of the boy’s hand, the other spirits disappear. I blink in surprise, reluctantly releasing my grip on the ghost’s neck. He blinks up at me and gives a sad smile. I then stand, hands still cocked into fists just in case. But the spirit only floats into the air and hangs its head.

You’re right.

I… I am?

I mean, of course I am.

The boy hovers over Grayson. Its tiny hands glow white for several seconds, and I can see the gash on Grayson’s neck closing. The same happens to the wound in his midsection, and slowly, Grayson scrambles back to his knees. He’s pale and sweaty, and he’s having a hard time catching his breath. His eyes are red and bloodshot, and he occasionally sniffles.

“I’m sorry, son.”

So am I, Dad.

Then, with a snap of the spirit’s fingers, we’re no longer surrounded by pitch black. It takes me a few moments to gather my bearings, but once I do, I realize we’re back in Grayson’s office. It’s a simple place, all things considered. The desk only houses a computer and two framed photographs. One depicts the day Grayson married his wife; the other is a Christmas photo of a younger Grayson and his wife with a baby on her lap. The baby is smiling, but it’s not a full-on grin and it doesn’t reach the child’s eyes. It’s a sad sight, particularly in light of what had just happened. Grayson is sitting on the floor, staring at his hands in his lap.

“It’s over,” I offer, because really, what else is there to say?

“Thank you, Ms. Blanchard.”

I shake my head and crouch down to Grayson’s level. “I have half a mind to report you to the authorities, but something tells me the statute of limitations has already passed. So I’m just gonna have to be comfortable in knowing you’re a miserable wreck over what you did.”

Grayson lifts his gaze. “You hate me.”

“Can you blame me? First of all, you hire me under false pretenses. Then all that mess… look, I’m sorry about what happened with Ben. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a parent to lose a child. But… making others in need suffer because of your pain is no way to go.”

All he can do is nod and go back to staring at his hands. With a sigh, I reach into my back pocket and pull out the check he had written for me when he first hired me. I place the check in his hands and give a soft smile when he looks up at me in confusion.

“Keep it,” I say.

“But… but you earned this.” He swallows. “And then some.”

“And believe me when I say I could really use it.” Because it’s a lot of money. Far more than I normally charge. I didn’t realize a college president could be so loaded, but the evidence is right there in front of us. “But there are others who need it more.”

Grayson frowns at me. “I don’t…”

“You wanna make it up to your son? To those you displaced when you bought McGuinnis?” I smile when he nods. “Use that money to honor them. Donate it to a mental hospital. Start up a charity of your own. Better yet, use that money to form the Ben Grayson School of Mental Health. What better way to memorialize your son than to turn your school into one of the nation’s best in mental health?”

It’s like a light bulb goes off in Grayson’s head, and for the first time since he uttered his son’s name, I see a smile on his face. It’s a sad smile, but it’s also full of purpose. He scrambles to his feet and approaches his desk, frantically scribbling all over the yellow legal pad sitting next to his mouse. He then grabs his checkbook and begins scribbling again, even as I approach the desk and shake my head.

“Oh, no, that’s not necessary.”

“Nonsense.” He rips the check off and hands it to me. My heart leaps into my throat when I look at it, because it’s the same amount as the other check. Just how loaded is this guy? And if he’s this loaded, what’s he doing in academia?

Ah well, you know what they say. Gift horse. Mouth. Yadda yadda.

“Consider that an apology,” he says. “And a thank you.”

I pocket the check with a nod, pursing my lips. “Well, no offense, sir, but I hope we never see each other again.”

I turn to walk out of the office before Grayson can say anything, because I’m beat and just wanna go home and crawl into bed. This might a nightlight situation, given I just spent much of the evening in a pitch-black plane of existence and would rather not be somewhere that dark again any time soon. I also remind myself that the next time I catch a case, it would behoove me to vet the person hiring me just as much as I vet anything else.

I don’t want any more surprises like tonight. Because surprises like this are emotionally draining, and it’s disheartening just how often the supernatural and the spectrum of human emotion collide like this. All of this madness and suffering because one father didn’t know what do about his son who needed help.

Still, I hope Grayson finds peace. Likewise for his son and those whose lives he ruined.

~FIN~

Read Chapter 1 | Read Chapter 2 | Read Chapter 3 | Read Chapter 4

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SHORT STORY: Ghost of a Life, Chapter 4

I don’t know how long I’ve been out, but by the time my eyes open again, I almost wish I could go right back to sleep. The fog clears from my vision and I see Grayson floating several feet in the air – or what would be several feet in the air, were we somewhere normal that had a ground and a horizon and an air. He’s upside down, mouth agape and eyes wide open. He’s having trouble breathing, and as I scramble to my feet, I can see his tie is tighter around his neck than normal.

But what really make my blood run cold are the streaks of blue surrounding Grayson. Translucent streaks of a whitish blue, vaguely human in form with thin arms and skeletal fingers. Their tails trail behind them, and it takes me a few moments to figure out that there are four of these spirits surrounding him. The ghost I recognize as the leader, for lack of a better term, is floating just a few feet away, admiring the handiwork of its underlings.

One of the spirits passes clean through Grayson’s chest, and the scream of agony he belts out has me recoiling. My stomach lurches at the sound, as well as the understanding of how it feels when a spirit passes through a corporeal form. The head ghost waves its arm, and Grayson’s scream cuts off in a harsh gag. Grayson tries to reach up to cup his neck with both hands, but one of the other spirits grabs his wrists and pins them behind his back.

Another spirit passes through Grayson’s chest again. I can’t stand the look of agony on his face. He might be a prick, but I don’t think he deserves this.

“Hey!” I call out, straightening my posture. Might as well go all out if I’m gonna fake this. “Stop!”

He must pay…

“With what, his life?”

If it comes to that.

I shake my head. “What if he turns into one of you? What if all you do tonight is create another pissed-off spirit?”

He won’t. We’ll make sure of that.

“And what about you?” My hands curl into fists, not that I can actually do anything with them. “You know what happens to spirits who meddle with the living.”

As if the ghost is taunting me, one of its minions passes through Grayson’s chest again. He bites back a scream, but the look of agony on his face and the vague memory of what that feels like makes me turn my head. I can’t stand to see this kind of suffering, even from someone I’m not terribly fond of. I mean… yeah, Grayson’s a first-class toolbox, but that doesn’t mean he deserves this. No one does.

The same goop that had stained my pants is now running down Grayson’s shirt. His head is listing to the side, eyes hooded and mouth hung open. He’s barely conscious at this point, and my compassionate side hopes he goes under. Sure, it means he might have an easier time slipping into death, but if it means he can’t feel anything… that’s a trade-off I’m willing to take.

The screeching and wailing grow louder, to the point where I have to cup my ears. Because of this, I can’t hear the device on my left hip beeping. Fortunately, the beeping is accompanied by a frequent, incessant vibration – one that makes me snatch the device with one hand and squint at the screen. It’s probably the most advanced piece of equipment I have, a remote sensor designed to alert me when there’s supernatural energy in the vicinity. It just now occurs to me that the thing never went off when I was in that hallway – or when I was here the first time – or at any point until the ghosts started getting violent.

The battery levels on the device are fine, so that can’t be it. I frown and place the machine back on my hip, because at this point it’s not alerting me to anything I don’t already know. The supernatural energy is fairly obvious at this point, in large part because of how violent the ghosts have become. One of them reaches out and tears off Grayson’s suit coat, tossing it aside before a slimy tentacle traces an outline over his jaw.

That brings Grayson fully back to the consciousness, and he gags as he recoils. I don’t blame him; that slippery stuff is nasty enough on walls or ceilings or clothes… but to actually have it touching your skin? I’d probably be struggling to keep my dinner down too.

“Let him go!” I order, as if I have any agency over these spirits.

This no longer concerns you.

A force pushes against my chest again, and the pain is searing as I skid along the invisible ground. I grit my teeth against the sensation, resisting the urge to grab the area that hurts. I don’t know why this matters to me so much, but I’m trying to make a point of not showing pain or fear in front of the spirits. I doubt it would actually do any good; maybe it’s just a point of pride with me. Still, the throbbing in my ribcage is impossible to ignore, and it’s a chore just to get back to my knees.

By the time I look up again, even more spirits have joined the fray. I don’t know where they’re coming from, but where that had been a handful of ghosts, there’s now… at least a dozen. Maybe more than that. It’s hard to keep count when they’re floating around in circles, overlapping with one another. One glowy white-blue spirit blends in with another and it’s impossible to tell them all apart.

This time, Grayson does scream, and it makes me recoil. I struggle to get back to my feet, still doubled over from the pain in my midsection. Like hell, this doesn’t concern me anymore. The ghosts I was supposed to set free – who I thought were on my side – are now trying to tear Grayson limb from limb, and for some reason, I can’t let that slide.

It’s not even like these are other people ganging up of Grayson. This isn’t living-on-living violence. And by all accounts, Grayson’s an ass, so… why does it matter to me that they stop? And why do I get the feeling I haven’t been told the whole story?

“Stop!” I bellow out, as loud as my vocal chords will allow.

To my surprise, the spirits do stop. They’re surrounding Grayson, who steals a sideways glance in my direction. His eyes are wide, and I can tell he hopes I know what I’m doing. Sad thing is, I really don’t. I’m playing this by ear. I haven’t been doing this for very long and there’s no handbook to tell me how to deal with hostile spirits. Vengeful ghosts aren’t exactly my wheelhouse.

“You told me you needed my help.” I focus best as I can on the leader, whose name I still don’t know. “When this all started, you pointed me to Grayson and you asked for my help. You never said a word about making him suffer.”

You played your part, little girl.

Little girl? Oh, no, this see-through motherfucker didn’t…

“Uh-uh.” I take a step forward, ignoring the pain. “I’m not letting you play me like that. And I’m damn sure not gonna let you hurt Grayson. Put him down.”

Never mind that I can’t actually do anything to these spirits. The corporeal cannot affect the uncorporeal without all sorts of magic know-how… of which I have exactly zero. It suddenly occurs to me that if this is going to become a long-term profession for me, it might behoove me to learn some occult. Being helpless like this isn’t much fun.

He must pay…

“So you’ve said.”

Grayson yelps as his body plummets several feet. But before he can hit the ground that’s not really there, one of the spirits grabs him by the ankle. He shivers at the sensation, glancing down to see one of those translucent tentacles wrapped around the bottom of his leg. He then looks at me in a panic, and I open my mouth to reassure him, only to find the words aren’t coming.

Cause really, how can I reassure him when I’m not sure how this is gonna turn out?

“Listen to me.” I decide to try talking to Grayson instead. The tie around his neck has loosened to where he can breathe again, and the color has returned to his face. A little too much color, since he’s still upside down, but hey, at least his skin isn’t the color of death anymore. “Whatever it was you did, you need to apologize for it.”

His face scrunches up in confusion. “What?”

Granted, it’s not the most logical plan in the world. It might not work. Hell, it might even backfire. But at this point, what other choice is there? These spirits seem pretty intent on killing Grayson and taking their sweet old time about it – and it’s not like I’ve got a proton pack strapped to my back with which to threaten them.

“You got a better idea?”

The look on Grayson’s face makes it obvious he doesn’t. Still, it doesn’t look like he’s keen on saying the words. Fortunately, I happen to have some incentive handy in the form of a taser I always keep on me. It’s usually just to keep the pervs and the creeps away, but if I can make Grayson think I’ll zap him if he doesn’t cooperate, I’ll take it.

“Alright, El Presidente,” I say, dropping to a knee and turning on the taser inches from his face. “Don’t say I never tried to help you. But if you don’t make with the apologies, I’m gonna zap you and then let them do whatever it is they’re gonna do to you. Then I’m gonna cash the check you wrote and go about my day.”

Not really, but he doesn’t need to know that.

His eyes dart back and forth, between my taser and the ghosts hovering just feet above. The glow of the taser bolt reflects in his eyes, and I can tell Grayson’s torn. He doesn’t know how to handle fear… probably because his life’s been so cushy that he’s never had to face such a dire scenario before. This is probably the kind of president who delegates to others whenever there’s a crisis on campus.

“Well?” I nudge the taser closer to Grayson’s face. “What do you say?”

He can tear his gaze from the taser. “I-I’m sorry.”

“What was that?” I glance up at the ghosts again. “I couldn’t really hear you.”

“I’m sorry, okay!” Grayson’s borderline panicking at this point, which is good. He glances up at the ghosts hovering together, shaking his head as a bead of sweat rolls down his temple. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry for what I did! I’m… I never should’ve just taken the hospital like that!”

The spirits slowly descend upon Grayson, who tries to wriggle his way backwards. Anything to put some space between himself and the ghosts. Many of the spirits screech and howl as they swirl and float around each other. The leader hovers back a few feet, its arms crossed over what passes for the being’s chest. I’m not sure how I can tell this sort of thing, but it looks as if it’s deep in thought.

“I’m sorry,” Grayson repeats. “What I did was wrong. Beyond wrong, just… terrible.”

The leader inches closer to us. I fight the urge to back away and curl within myself; instead, I turn off the taser and pocket it, thankful that I didn’t actually have to use it. I watch the spirit approach, swallowing thickly once its faint glow reflects off my skin. I can feel the chill now, wrapping my arms over my midsection and suppressing a shudder.

Your contrition cannot be trusted…

“Oh, but it can!” Grayson’s shaking and sweating up a storm now. “It can be! I’m so totally sorry, you have no idea…”

I do not mean that you are insincere… only that you are too late in expressing it.

I frown. It was worth a try.

With a yelp, Grayson is airborne again. By the time it registers where he is, and I reach out to grab his foot, he’s well out of range of my grasp. The spirits slither around him like snakes, and the first time one of them passes through his chest, I flinch and turn away. I’ve heard horror stories of pass-throughs gone wrong; ghosts who are able to affect the physical realm passing through a person and coming out the other side carrying one of their organs. I hope beyond hope that doesn’t happen here, but the spirits are so set against Grayson that I can’t discount the possibility.

All I can do now is hope. And maybe pray, even though I don’t do that much. Certainly not as often as my grandmother would’ve liked. Sorry, Gram…

Tell me, Grayson… The leader was floating several feet in the air again, its face inches from Grayson’s. Why did you do it? Why send those patients’ lives into upheaval? Why snatch a sorely-needed hospital out from the community’s grasp?

“Because…” Grayson’s teeth are gritted together and his hands are balled into fists. He’s shaking – not the shivering from the cold of the ghost’s presence, but a full-body shake from someone who’s certain this will be his last night on Earth.

Are we even still on Earth?

“Because,” Grayson tries again, “because of Ben…”

Okay… who the hell is Ben?

Read Chapter 1 | Read Chapter 2 | Read Chapter 3

On Orlando and the Importance of LGBT Characters

I woke up this morning to news that 103 people — many, if not all, of whom were LGBT individuals — had fallen victim to a gunman. A terrorist, a bigot who had managed to get his hands on a semiautomatic weapon and take out his homophobia in what is being called the worst mass murder in American history.

50 people dead, 53 more injured — all because one man’s hate and ease of access to weapons coalesced into the perfect storm of hatred and bloodshed.

I won’t use this space to argue for tighter gun control laws — though we need them. Nor will I use this space to argue that hateful rhetoric has consequences — though it does. I will briefly remind everyone that the actions of one individual do not reflect the views of entire religious faith — one shared by billions worldwide (including the late, great Muhammad Ali).

But I will say this: the tragedy in Orlando, Fla. means LGBT visibility is more important than ever. But why mention that on a page like this?

Because, dear readers, I am bisexual.

Because not only am I part of the LGBT community, I make it a point to reflect that in the books I write. Jill Andersen, the protagonist of my first three novels, is openly asexual. Her partner on the Baltimore police force, Ramon Gutierrez, is homosexual — engaged to marry his longtime boyfriend Jorge Santos.

Mitch, who I introduced to readers in Behind the Badge, is a young trans woman.

This hasn’t yet been explored, but supporting character Whitney Blankenship is bisexual.

Dr. Jack Corbett, the protagonist in my upcoming novel Notna, will be openly bisexual. And as long as I continue to write books and tell stories, LGBT characters will feature prominently throughout. Not just one character per story, either; multiple characters — across every gender, race, ethnic, and religious background.

Why?

Because these people exist. We are among us every single day. You might not ever know it, but LGBT people are there.We go to school. We have jobs. We drink coffee with our friends and we go dancing at clubs and we have all of the same dreams and aspirations as everyone else.

And the more visible we are, as a community and as individuals, the more we challenge the stigma and the hate that leads to tragedies such as Orlando. Obviously, not every LGBT person can be out — for several reasons — and those reasons are to be understood and respected. Still, we must fight for a society where LGBT individuals are more accepted, more welcomed… and that starts with visibility.

If he could, I’m sure the Orlando terrorist would put a bullet in my head, simply because I’m bisexual. And if someone ever does decide that’s my fate, then so be it. But atrocities such as this will not eradicate the LGBT community; if anything, it will strengthen us — as well as our allies.

We are here. There’s nothing anyone can do about that.

And I happen to believe fiction — the stories we tell — can go a long way in removing the stigma and the hate. LGBT representation (when done correctly and without falling into dangerous tropes) is an important step in that ongoing process, and I pledge to continue doing my best to make sure my works are properly representative on LGBT individuals across the spectrum.

It may not sound like much, but it’s my way of telling the Orlando gunman and those who think like him that dammit, we are human and we are not going away.

SHORT STORY: Ghost of a Life, Chapter 3

If you’ve never been held at gunpoint before, let me tell you: it’s not fun.

It’s even less fun when the guy who hired you in the first place is the one pointing that cold hunk of metal in your general direction. My arms go up on their own, because I’ve seen enough TV shows to know this is the appropriate thing to do when someone’s pointing a gun at me. Not that I ever expected to be in this situation – barring the rare instance of Casper having an arsenal – and yet here I am.

“What are you doing down here?” Grayson asks, flipping on the light with his free hand.

“My job,” I answer, noting the white gloves he’s wearing. I arch a brow at the sight; it really does detract from the intimidation factor. He’s threatening to blow a hole in my chest, but God forbid there be any germs on that gun.

“I don’t remember hiring you to break into my file room.”

“No, you hired me to look into your little haunting over at McGuinnis.” I shrug as best as I can with my arms up around my head. The muscles are starting to ache. “I can’t help the fact that it’s led me right back to you.”

Grayson chuckles, an unnerving sound coupled with a look in his eyes I’ve never seen before. It’s almost a cross between amusement and anger… and frankly, it’s a look I hope I never have to see again. “Let me guess, those slimy bastards told you I’m the bad guy, right?”

“Something like that.”

“And you’re taking them at their word? You’re believing a bunch of dead things over me?”

“They said they could prove it.” I shrug again. The pain in my arms is getting so bad that my fingers are twitching. Part of me wants to go ahead and lower my arms, but knowing my luck, he’d pull the trigger at the first movement. Not only would I not get a fat payday, but it’d almost certainly mean the end of my career.

Unless I become a ghost, too. That would be kinda cool.

“Proof.”

“They poofed me straight over here.” A knowing grin creeps onto my face as I chin-nod toward the floor next to Grayson. “The evidence of my trip is right there.”

He glanced down to the floor, the pile of vomit inches from his right foot. I can’t help but laugh at the way he yelps and jumps back, as if he were leaping away from a rat or some other foul creature. He lowers his weapon and fights back a gag – at which point, I lower my arms and bum-rush him, tackling him to the floor and jarring the gun from his hand.

Springing back to my feet – because really, I’m not interested in fisticuffs – I grab the gun and return to the file cabinet. I ignore Grayson’s groans and coughs, flipping open the manila folder and squinting at the tiny handwriting that greets me. I can barely make out every other word, frowning because my supposed jackpot is turning into nothing more than useless scribbles.

I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. I raise my arm to point the gun in Grayson’s general direction. I have no intention of firing, but he doesn’t need to know that. I just need him to stay still while I look for something of value in this heap of intel. I glance up to see Grayson in the corner, far away from both me and the mess on the floor. It’s actually sort of funny to see him up against the wall like that, but at the same time, it’s kind of pathetic.

“You were awful eager to claim that building for yourself, weren’t you?” I begin my interrogation, flipping through more pages. Many of them were now typed over, most likely by a typewriter, so the legibility had slightly improved.

“We needed more on-campus housing,” Grayson argues with a stutter.

“And you had plenty of land on which to erect a new building.”

“C-cost prohibitive.” Grayson swallows thickly, and I catch him glancing over his shoulder. Did he call campus security on his way over here, or was he hoping to take care of me himself? My gut tells me it was the latter.

At least that’s my hope.

“The only way to do that would’ve been to hike up tuition,” he adds.

“So instead of screwing your students,” I argue, “you decide to screw some mental patients.”

“Hey, nothing I did was illegal.” Some of his bluster’s come back. He’s kinda cute when he’s angry – in that impossibly out-of-touch old man sort of way. “The hospital’s lease was up, they weren’t near being able to afford it… I merely jumped on the opportunity.”

“Without giving the hospital a chance to re-locate its patients and doctors in a timely, orderly fashion.”

The way Grayson shrugs his shoulders and purses his lips makes me want to pull the trigger. Not to kill him. Maybe not to even hit him. But scaring the shit out of him would be oddly gratifying. I’d love to watch the bullet lodge itself into the wall next to his ear, then have my nostrils catch the faint stench of him soiling himself. But, entertaining as that thought is, I don’t pull the trigger – because with my luck, I’d actually hit the bastard.

“Good luck proving that.” The smarmy grin on his face damn near makes me shoot. “And even if you do, what are you gonna do? Go to the cops? They won’t work a case on behalf of some half-baked ghosts.”

“Maybe.” I shrug. “But I bet they’d like to know what happened to all those patients.” I squint as I read over one of the redacted files, inconsistent streams of text broken up by solid black lines. “Like, say… Vernon Gomez. I bet his wife would love to know he committed suicide not long after being told he was no longer eligible for treatment.”

His face goes pale. Well, paler than it already is. “You wouldn’t. You won’t.”

“You sure about that?”

“You will refund the money I paid you.” Oh good, Grayson’s reached the bravado portion of the tour. “And I will make sure you never work a case in this godforsaken town again.”

“But I haven’t finished your job yet.” I give the man a coy smile and bat my eyelashes. I’m mocking him more than anything, though I doubt he possesses the self-awareness to figure that out. “You wanted me to get rid of the ghosts, and that’s what I’m gonna do.”

Grayson opens his mouth to protest when I click the safety back on the gun and pocket it. He almost lunges toward me when I close up the file folder and tuck it under my arm, my free hand slamming the cabinet shut. He flinches at the sound and I have to suppress a grin; if nothing else, I plan on scaring him so badly that he’ll never toy with supernatural forces ever again.

“What are you…?”

“I’m Samantha Blanchard, paranormal investigator.” I give him another coy grin, cocking my head to the side. “And you and I are gonna go on a little trip.”

His eyebrows scrunch in confusion. “If you think I’m going anywhere with you –“

My hand on his shoulder cuts him off before I glance up at the ceiling with a shit-eating grin. “Any chance of a return trip, Sparky? You’ll never guess who I ran into.”

It occurs to me in this moment that Merle is the only ghost name I know; the one who originally sent me here still doesn’t have a name, as far as I know, and I hope beyond hope that Sparky isn’t some ghost slur. I’d hate to not give Grayson his just desserts because I’m not well-versed in ghost etiquette.

But in the blink of an eye – an expression I never completely understood until now – I find I worried for nothing. Though for the record, teleporting to another dimension isn’t any more pleasant the second time around. By the time it registers that I’m once again surrounded by pitch black, I drop to my knees and gag so hard that my ribs hurt. Nothing comes up this time, but the sensation is no less painful.

But at least I’m conscious, which is more than I can say for my travel companion. No sooner do we arrive wherever this is, he’s sprawled out on the ground we can’t even see. I swear I can even see him drooling a little.

Pathetic.

So, being the good Samaritan that I am, I kick the guy in the side. “Hey, numbnuts… wakey wakey. Don’t be rude, you’re a guest here.”

I look up and find that we’re all alone. No ghosts to be found. No Merle, no big, long-tailed guy… it’s just Grayson and me. Which is unnerving on several different levels. I don’t care for being stuck in a pitch-black dimension of nothingness, and I like it even less when I’m stuck here with a passed-out douchebag who started this whole mess.

So, to recap: Grayson calls me three days ago, swearing up and down McGuinnis Hall – the psych hospital turned dormitory – is haunted. I check it out and Sweet Holy Jeebus, the supernatural activity is off the charts! But it turns out the spooks aren’t haunting the place; they’re stuck there because of Grayson.

Documents show that Grayson, in a fit to expand his campus and increase dorm housing, snatched the mental hospital out from the previous owners’ hands and just… converted the joint without caring much what happened to the patients. Many had been relocated to other hospitals. A few wound up in foster care. Many of them died not long after the ordeal – and if I had to guess, they were the ones floating around making life miserable for everyone.

So basically, this whole thing started cause Grayson is an ableist douche.

I am so not giving him his money back when this is all over.

“Hello?” I call out, wrapping my arms around myself and fighting back and shudder. It’s not cold or anything; I just hate being surrounded by nothing. If this is what the proverbial abyss is like, then I’ll pass.

“I’ve got President Douchebag here to see you,” I try again.

Still nothing.

This can’t be right. Why would the ghosts send me off to investigate Grayson, and then not be around when I actually have Grayson with me?

A pained groan tells me Grayson has re-joined the Land of the Living – even if that’s not where we physically are at the moment. I bite the inside of my cheek, trying not to bust out laughing at the reaction I know is coming once he realizes we’re no longer in his records room – or anywhere else on Mountain Oak’s campus, for that matter.

Sure enough, he doesn’t disappoint.

“What the…?!”

He leaps to his feet far quicker than I would expect for a man his age. His forehead is coated in sweat, and his eyes are a wide as I’ve ever seen this side of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. He’s in a full-on panic, limbs shaking and breath shallow. It’s simultaneously funny and unnerving, and the sooner my ghost pals show up to deal with this, the better.

“You!” Grayson’s angry now. “Where did you take me?!”

I didn’t take you anywhere,” I argue, because technically, that’s true. “We’re wherever the ghosts are.”

“Then how come I don’t see any ghosts?”

I shrug, not willing to admit I’m thinking the exact same thing. Their disappearing act has me on-edge, mostly because it makes no goddamn sense. They didn’t bring us here so I could take care of Grayson myself, did they? That thought makes me shudder again, because one thing I am not is a professional hitman. Grayson might be a douche to end all douches, but he’s still a human being. I have my limits – to say nothing of the laws I still have to follow.

Grayson’s pacing now, which is grating on my nerves. If these ghosts don’t show up soon, I might just pop him one to knock him out again. Grayson is far less irritating when he’s unconscious. I try not to watch him wandering back and forth, muttering under his breath and running his shaky hands through his hair. In fact, he doesn’t really catch my attention again until he stops in his tracks.

I find him standing perfectly still. No, it’s more than that, actually… Grayson isn’t just not moving. It’s as if all of his muscles have seized up on him. His limbs are perfectly straight. His jaw is clenched. Eyes are wide. They find mine and I can tell me trying to call out for help. A muffled noise escapes from his mouth, but with his teeth mashed together, I can’t make out what he’s trying to tell me.

I glance all around me. “Hello?” My heart rate picks up. “Guys?”

You should not have brought him here.

Okay… I can hear them now. That’s something.

“Why not? I thought you wanted to confront him.”

Oh, we want much more than that…

Something about the way the echoing voices say that sends off all sorts of alarms in my head. I turn to glance at Grayson again. He’s still as stiff as before, but his hands are starting to tremble. Soon enough, the rest of his body follows suit. He screams as best as he can through his gritted teeth, but his eyes are still wide open. I bet he’d squeeze them shut if he could, but something isn’t letting him.

I take a step toward him. A small trail of blue ooze seeps from his tear duct. Another drop of the stuff is coming out of his nose. I cringe in disgust, and I can only imagine how that must feel. I have to briefly cover my mouth and take a step back, shaking my head to try to regain my composure before approaching Grayson again. I touch his arm, which is hard as a rock. He’s growing paler by the second, and he can do little more now than stare at me and whimper.

“What are you doing to him?!” I demand.

He must pay… he must suffer for what he has wrought upon us!

“No!” My hands ball into fists, and for a brief moment, I feel awkward standing up to a vast nothingness. “Not like this! You can’t kill him!”

Why not?

“Because that’s not what I agreed to!”

Presumptuous of me? Perhaps, but my first meeting with these ghosts led me to believe they still had a bit of human decency in them. They had left me with the impression they just wanted to be set free. I never once got the vibe that I was dealing with vengeful spirits.

This is not your concern, human.

“Like hell it’s not!” My voice carries far more than I expected. “I’m here to help you!”

And we no longer require your assistance.

Before I can open my mouth to respond, something slams into my midsection and sends me flying back. I never saw anything more than the pitch black that has greeted me since my return, yet now I’m on my back, gritting my teeth in pain and trying not to lose my lunch again. I double over myself in pain, squeezing my eyes shut before a high-pitched wail startles me and damn near pierces my ear drums.

I look up to see Grayson – still rigid and unable to move – floating higher into the air. The panicked look in his eyes has only intensified, and streaks of blue ooze similar to tear tracks decorate his cheeks. His entire body is trembling, and I can’t help but wonder how he’s still conscious.

“Don’t,” I manage between gasps for air. “Don’t do this. Please…”

Another force wallops me, in the chin this time, and I can’t help but see stars. In fact, they’re the last thing I see before everything really does go black. But before I go, I hear a horrific sound – something like a gargling scream. I can tell it’s Grayson, but before I can react, my eyes slip closed and my head slumps to the side.

Read Chapter 1 | Read Chapter 2

SHORT STORY: Ghost of a Life, Chapter 2

This is so not the job I signed up for.

Can I bill a ghost? Is that a thing?

Hey, I get snarky when I’m nervous. Sue me. I came into this job with the understanding that I was dealing with a garden-variety haunting. Ghosts were spooking up a joint because they couldn’t go elsewhere, and it was freaking the hell out of the living. But that was before one of these things grabbed me by the leg and shoved me into what appears to be the Tron dimension without all the pretty lights.

“Okay…” I purse my lips together and stuff my hands into my pockets. My pants leg is heavy with gunk from where that arm had grabbed me, and something tells me that’s one stain that’ll never come out. Shame, too, cause this is my favorite pair of cargos.

“So let me get this straight… President Grayson calls me out here to investigate a haunting, when in all actuality, you guys don’t wanna be here any more than he wants you here?”

The sound the ghost makes when I mention President Grayson is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. I guess I could call it a shriek, but as I recoil in horror, clasping my palms over my ears in the vain hope that my brain doesn’t start oozing out, I realize that word wouldn’t do the noise justice. It’s a ghastly sound, the sort that sends a violent chill down my spine. I nearly gag at the force of the shiver, gritting my teeth together and curling within myself. Ghosts are not to be trifled with, even if they appear cute and cuddly.

Well, as cute and cuddly as a dead thing can be.

The Wretched One must pay!

The Wretched One… President Grayson? Seriously? I mean, the combover is pretty bad. Why not just let nature take its course and own being bald? Bald can be cool… if you’re Vin Diesel or The Rock. Overweight college professor whose closet is full of tweed and maybe a pair or two of suspenders? Not so much.

Right, combover it is, then.

“What are you saying?” I so desperately want this ghost to be an English speaker. I mean, they all have been to this point, but if I could get this one to not talk in riddles and half-assed prophecies, that would be fantastic.

The one you call Grayson has trapped us here for decades!

I frown and chew on my lower lip… something I’ve done since elementary school when trying to piece together something that doesn’t make sense. My parents tried to get me to kick the habit, worried I’d cut myself or something, but it stuck around through puberty and into adulthood. But hey, at least I kicked that cigarette habit. Eventually.

Three more spirits have joined the conversation, though to this point their contributions are little more than floating through the blackness and occasionally howling in terror. It’s not a terrible sound, all things considered, but it’s not the sort of thing I’d record and then sell to people who need white noise to sleep at night.

The sight of them swirling around unnerves me. Then again, there’s nothing about this that’s calming. I’m in an alternate dimension, with no clue how I got here and no idea how to get back. As it turns out, the job I agreed to is actually the exact opposite of what I thought it was. Assuming, of course, the ghost is telling the truth. I have to at least account for the possibility that it’s not.

Come. You seek answers.

Well… yeah.

I can see you sitting there right now, begging me not to follow the ghost. All this stuff about it being a trap and how this is always how the girl dies in the horror movies. But the thing is… this isn’t a horror movie, and if this spirit wanted to cause me physical harm, it would’ve done so by now, at tremendous cost to itself. Non-corporeal beings are not supposed to physically interact with the corporeal, and that’s true for all ghosts.

Yes, I realize one grabbed my leg and dragged me here. Believe me, I’m still shuddering at the memory. I’m gonna feel that wet spot on my leg long after this pair of cargo pants has been tossed into the incinerator. I don’t have an incinerator, but after this, I might have to consider getting one.

But follow the ghost, I do. I’m glad he’s sort of glowing; otherwise, I wouldn’t know where to go. Hard to have a good sense of direction when your surroundings are pitch black. The other three spirits follow, whispering and murmuring to each other as their translucent tails intertwine and wrap around each other. It’s a fascinating, macabre dance – one that almost has me so transfixed that I lose track of my guide.

Then again, this ghost is so large, its slimy trail so easy to notice, that I’d have to be downright oblivious to lose my way. If anything, I’m watching my step to make sure I don’t get any of it on my shoes. Not only is it harder to get off the soles of my sneakers than dog crap, but if I’m not careful, I’ll slip and bust my ass on the invisible floor. I’d call the spirit the Giant Walking Banana Peel, if I thought the thing had a sense of humor.

The hushed murmurs of the other ghosts grow in volume the closer were get to where we’re going. At least, I assume we’re close; the pitch black is slowly giving way to a blinding white light. For a moment, I think of the light at the end of the tunnel, and instantly, I think of how foolish I would feel if I just let this thing lead me to my death. How unceremonious. How embarrassing.

Once I blink the blindness out of my eyes, I notice that I’m being led into a library of sorts. Only… the term library doesn’t really do this place justice. Walls upon walls of books expanding as far as the eye can see, disappearing into darkness only once my field of vision has run its course. There was nothing else; no tables, no chairs, no lamps. Just books stacked on top of books. My brother Gerald would love this place. I’ve never seen anyone read as voraciously as him, and something tells me he would gladly spend the rest of his life here.

The ghost who had led me here points to his left. The other three spirits scatter, approaching the shelves before returning with several duty tomes in their grasp. Again, I’m struck by their ability to affect physical objects. Maybe that’s only possible in this plane of existence, but I have a stain on my leg that disproves that.

Purgatory is not where we belong. When we are lost upon the ether, we remain in the realm of the living. Only when what is keeping us in place has passed, do we wander into the next step of our journey.

“And President Grayson’s making sure you can’t do that.” I peer sidelong at the books splayed out in front of us. The tomes are hovering in midair, the pages seemingly turning on their own. Half of the passages are written in Latin, a few in Aramaic. Drawings too disturbing to mention litter the fraying, yellowed pages, and I suddenly have flashbacks to a fictional library in Sunnydale, California.

He calls it retribution.

I frown at this. “For what?”

Tell me, young lass… what do you know of McGuinnis Hall?

My frown deepens to the point where there’s a scrunch in my forehead. An old boyfriend called it adorable, even though he used to be a frequent cause of the look. “Just what I’ve been told. Building was a mental institution that got shut down, and when Mountain Oak was built, they changed the place to a dorm.”

That is only part of the truth.

It just now dawns on me that the ghost called me lass. How old is this thing?

Something is haunting McGunnis… but it is not us. We are as much the victim here as the students who fear for their lives.

I tried to do my research on the place before coming over. Unfortunately, information on McGuinnis Hall outside of the rumors and innuendo is scarce. You get the rumors of the hauntings, and the timeline from mental home to college dormitory, but nothing beyond that. One of those ghost-hunting shows came by to film an episode three years ago, but the episode never made it to air. Rumor had it President Grayson threw seven figures at the producers and the TV station to make the whole thing disappear.

“No sense in scaring off potential students,” he had said at the time.

That was Edward Grayson, the stalwart and longtime president of Mountain Oak College. Purveyor of higher education and full-throated advocate for student rights and safety. As friendly as a next door neighbor, as awkward as a 50-year-old man trying to fit in with college-age kids, and a world-class germaphobe, Edward had seemed nice enough the few occasions we had spoken. He’s also pretty loaded, and he’s not afraid to throw that around when it comes to his school.

The offer sheet burning a hole in my back pocket is a prime example.

The one you call Grayson is not as he seems.

Figures. Wealthy public figures who boost themselves as benefactors rarely are. And in Grayson’s case, he spends half his time hob-knobbing with state and national-level politicians, so it stands to reason some of their stink has rubbed off on him over the years. But the ghost flips another page, and when I see the image of a white-haired man with red horns on his forehead and yellow snarling fangs… my heart skips a beat.

There’s a name etched underneath the disturbing etching. It begins with a G, but I’ll be damned if I can pronounce it. I barely passed German when I was in school; no way in hell did I even think of taking Demon Speak 101.

 Grayson did not merely overtake a long-abandoned building to assist with campus expansion. What he did was raid Merciful Souls Mental Hospital until the patients were left with nowhere to go and his Mountain Oak goons could re-purpose the place to fit their needs.

I shake my head. “But… that’s illegal. You can’t just… take over someone else’s building.”

He can, and he did. Another page flips, and this time I find myself staring at an architectural layout of the president’s building on campus. A translucent, slime-covered finger points at a room in the back right corner on the first floor.

Here. This is where all of the school’s records are kept. There you will learn the truth. There you will find everything the one you call Grayson did to us.

So… now I’m a spy? How am I supposed to sneak into President Grayson’s building and make my way into his records room? I mean, for one thing, I’m stuck here – wherever here is. Secondly… I am the world’s worst sneak. I can’t do stealth to save my life. I’m the kind of person who would turn Metal Gear Solid into a shoot-em-up, get frustrated, and put in something like Contra instead.

“And what then?” I shake my head. “Go public with it?”

Yeah, that’ll work; tell the news their friendly neighborhood rich guy is actually a ghostaphobic prick. I’ll either be hailed a citywide hero or led away in a straitjacket, staring up at the stars and rambling on about the fact that King of Cups wants a party, but it’s not his birthday. Or maybe I’ll just smile and drool for the cameras. Whatever gives them better video to feed on a 24-hour loop while the world learns just how nuts I am.

You will leave that to us. Once we are freed from our shackles, we will deal with Grayson as we see fit.

Oh, that sounds cheery…

“Um, just one more thing.” I squint and bite the inside of my cheek as I point at the map splayed out in front of us. “How do you suppose I get there?”

Let us take care of that.

The ghost makes a motion that vaguely resembles the way a person snaps their fingers – and as the library surrounding me is replaced in a flash by a dimly-lit storage room with a black rolling chair and six metal filing cabinets, I’m struck by the thought that the ghost doesn’t have any fingers.

I’m also struck by a wave of nausea, so sudden that I’m retching before I even hit my knees. It feels like minutes before my body stops turning itself inside out, that evening’s dinner now splattered all over the beige carpeting as if I attempted a poor imitation of Picasso. I wipe my mouth off with a disgusted grunt, slowly getting back to my feet. Teleportation is definitely the sort of thing I hope to never experience again.

It also doesn’t help that I just blew a whole bunch of potential evidence all over the floor. I’m sure there’s some of my DNA in that steaming pile, and I can imagine campus police scooping up my barf into a small Ziploc bag for the real police to put through testing. My inability to handle traveling between dimensions is going to land me in prison, and I won’t be able to cash the check Grayson wrote me.

Hey, the guy might be a ghost-hating douchebag, but if that money clears…

Finally back to my feet, I carefully step over the mess I just made, holding my breath. I have six filing cabinets to look through, and a quick glance at my watch tells me I have four hours before sunrise. I’m good, but finding a supernatural paper trail in that short amount of time, with no official law enforcement help?

I’m not that good.

One of the file cabinets slides across the room. The movement and the sound of the cabinet jostling back and forth startle me. My heart skips a beat and I take a step backward… directly into the pile of vomit. Ugh… see, this is why I wear busted-up tennis shoes when out on jobs like this. First tip of being a supernatural sleuth: wear for comfort and function, not for style.

The cabinet in question is glowing a soft whitish blue, as if the ghost who had just played host to me in its home dimension were the one offering me a clue. Considering that the case, I smile and wave at the ceiling, keeping my thanks silent lest I be seen as a crazy person for talking in a room occupied by only me.

And that’s when I see it: a small black dome on the ceiling, tucked away in the corner. There’s a tiny red dot inside the dome, and I shake my head with a silent curse. Of course there’s video surveillance in here! This is 2016… modern technology is kind of everywhere by now. Something tells me ghosts dating back to McGuinnis’ days as a mental home aren’t exactly privy to such things.

But as a thick blue film oozes from the ceiling, encasing the entire dome before hardening into a solid, I start to think I need to stop underestimating my ghost friends. They’re entrusting me with a seemingly important task, and maybe it would behoove me to start believing them. By and large, ghosts are not untrustworthy. They’re not the tricksters some of their other supernatural brethren tend to be. Generally speaking, if a ghost is telling you something, they’re telling you the truth.

Once the cabinet stops glowing, I approach. The second drawer from the top is slightly ajar, which I take as a hint. Please be a hint; otherwise, I would feel even sillier than I already do. The drawer finally opens after three tugs, as if some of the papers had been jammed along the railings. He lo and behold, the paperwork I find in the first manila folder tells me everything I need to know. Everything about McGuinnis Hall, everything about Merciful Souls, everything about…

Ch-chlick.

Uh… crap.

Read Chapter 1