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

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