Tom killed a man with his Chrysler.
Then he stood on the icy road, looking at the twisted body.
They were both frozen in place, staring. The dead man gazed up from the asphalt with bloody eyes. Tom stared down hoping his stare could raise the dead. Nope.
He popped the trunk, chucked the mangled orange bicycle inside. Pulled the man’s wallet out of his back pocket.
Tom dragged the mangled body off the road. But he didn’t stop there. He kept dragging farther into the brush. Through the woods. Across a small creek. Through a thorn bush. Way into the marsh. Till he was waist deep in water, watching the body float between the cattails. The head sunk. The torso sunk. The floating hands fell down. Work boots: size 11 and a half, pointed up like the tip of a canoe.
Tom pushed the boots down until they disappeared too.
At home, Tom inspected his car. A dent this small is responsible for doing that much damage to a human body?
He stripped from the wet clothes, not sure where the smell of the body and the smell of the bog separated. He showered. Burnt the clothes. Burnt the man’s wallet. Tossed the crushed bicycle into a dumpster behind Food Universe.
That night, in bed, Tom thought about the police coming for him.
What if some lucky duck hunter found the body the following day while trudging through the marsh? Would a beagle chasing bark and point and call attention? Would they give Tom the gas chamber? Did they do that in this state? Tom got on his computer and searched his local state laws about the death penalty. “Oh, thank God. They’re against the death penalty here.”
He didn’t sleep the first night. The night after that he didn’t sleep either. The third night he did. After a week, it was as if nothing had ever happened.
Nothing in the local newspaper.
No missing persons signs hung around town.
No one knocked on his door, or any door.
Nobody even asked about the damage to his car. If asked, his excuse was going to be ‘I hit a garbage can full of bricks that some kids put in the road as a prank. Hahaha, funny kids … if I ever find them.”
A year passed.
Strange things began to happen. He was woken by horrible noises. Dishes breaking in the kitchen. The TV flashing on and off rapidly. The stereo tuning itself to the Top 40 music station.
A part of him had been waiting for this to happen; he did the best he could to deal with the haunting.
Okay, a ghost was there. It was no great mystery who the ghost was, especially when Tom came out of the shower and this was written on the steam of the mirror:
I’M GONNA HAUNT YOU! PREPARE TO BE DRIVEN TO THE BRINK OF MADNESS. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
Tom wiped the mirror clean, put a towel around his waist, went out into the living room.
“Alright, Troy! Let’s get this over with.” He plopped on the couch.
He folded his leg confidently.
“What do you want?” Tom said.
An ominous laughter began that seemed to come from every room. Tom broke out in a cold sweat.
“I don’t have time for this! I’m going to be late for work.”
He dressed and went out to his car. When he turned the ignition, there was a small explosion under the hood. The engine went off like a bomb and blew the hood ten feet into the air.
Bad things continued, every evening there was another instance of the occult. The shrieks of goats being slaughtered. His bed shaking and slamming into the wall. The clothes in his closet slick with snot-like ectoplasm that would never come off. The mirrors all had clowns in them when he looked. The sinks filled with blood, or chocolate milk—the ghost had an odd sense of humor. The dishwasher, when opened after the cycle, didn’t contain dishes any longer, it had human skulls.
He yelled, “Wakka wakka!”
Tom took it all in stride but regardless of how cool and collected he was, he couldn’t sleep, became a shell of himself.
Often Tom started to walk upstairs and then just when he got to the top of the stairs he‘d find himself right back on the bottom of the staircase again, and the goddamned toilet was upstairs.
He thought about moving the toilet downstairs, but worried the ghost would just undo his labor.
The night Tom listed the house with a real estate agent, he was woken by a voice, “You can never sell this house.”
Tom gulped. “Well, I’m sorry, Troy, but I don’t like living in a haunted house.”
“The house isn’t haunted.”
“Sure, it is.”
“You’re haunted. I’ll follow you to the next place and … purgatory is a big place, but I’ll find you just like I found you this time.”
“How about we call a truce?”
Instead of a truce, all the windows in the house broke. The living room couch caught on fire. The pantry got infested with black snakes.
Tom checked into the Shamrock Motel while the real estate agent struggled with the sale of his house, which was eventually dropped. Not being able to afford the motel and the mortgage any longer, Tom was forced to move back home.
What he found surprised him.
The ominous voice didn’t wake him up at night. Nothing horrible happened. He went back to his normal routine and nearly forgot all about the ghost of the man he’d killed.
One morning Tom came downstairs and there was Troy, a mangled, bloody eyed, sitting casually at the table, eating a bowl of Raisin Bran.
“This is the best cereal you can keep in the house?”
Tom keep his distance, leaning against the doorway. Mouth open.
“I like Frosted Flakes,” the corpse said.
“Look, I think we got off on the wrong foot.”
“Sure,” Tom said.
“You hit me with your car, dragged me into the muck, but it’s not all your fault. I was drunk. I pedaled out into the road … We’re both to blame.”
“I was drunk too,” Tom said.
“See what I mean?”
“Where’s my bike? Ah screw it, forget the bike. You live alone?”
“You like it?”
“Well, get used to houseguests. I’ve had a change of heart,” the dead man said. “I’m staying. And everything happens for a reason. You killed me, but just recently, it all turned out to be great. For the best.”
“I met this girl. Mindy. She’s on her way here but it’s slow travel. Everything’s changed for me. I hate to sound like a wimp,” the ghost said, “I’m in love. I feel like a teenager again.”
“Love, it’ll do that to you.”
“There’s a problem though.”
“I want things to stay how they are right now and for that to happen, I’m gonna need your help.”
The blood dripped from the man’s eyes and fell into his cereal. The milk turned pink.
“Someone is about to find my body in the muck where you dragged me. I need you to move it.”
Tom thought: I’ll just let them find the body, and then this ghost will just go away. Into the light.
“I can hear your thoughts,” Troy said. “If you don’t help me, Mindy will be angry with you and believe me, you don’t want to deal with an angry Mindy.”
“How bad can she be, I got you whipped.”
“Lemme show you something.”
The closet door opened by itself, a bowling bag floated out, unzipped itself. A green bowling bowl floated up out of the bag. It hung suspended over the kitchen sink.
“Cool, huh? Check out this part.”
The bowling ball burst into 16 pounds of dust, that rained down into the kitchen sink.
“That’ll be your head.”
Tom and Troy went back to the spot. Tom hardly recognized what he saw. It was no longer a deserted country road. Developers had moved in, and were just about to start excavating the marsh to put up luxury condominiums.
Tom parked the Chrysler and went trudging into what remained of the woods. The trees were marked with fluorescent bands, soon to be leveled. The bulldozer was parked and ready to go. In the morning, the work would start.
Tom went farther into the thorn bushes and then lowered himself into the water.
“Why can’t you do this?”
“I can’t affect the material world, unless it involves you. That’s what haunting is, fucko. A displacement of malcontent energy, attached to the source from which it sprung.”
“You’re still malcontent?”
“A little.” Troy said, “My body is just over there. It’s mostly just a gooey sludge pile loosely attached to my skeleton, the bugs had a field day.”
“I don’t think I can do this.”
“Bet you your head you can.”
Tom stuck his arms down into the black water and felt around.
“Dig deeper, dude.”
Tom was elbow, then shoulder deep in the muck. But then, he felt it. He pulled. One of those work boots came up, stinking, slimed, putrid.
Tom yanked the body out of the muck. He heaved the entire way back to the car. Fingers digging into the last of the disintegrating flesh and guts. The skeleton didn’t smile.
They took the body into the sand pits. Tom buried the body nearly twelve feet, while Troy egged him on.
But when it was all over the ghost was pleased. “I like you, man. You’re alright. If you want it, I can get you the combination for the safe at the bank …”
“No, it’s only fair. It’ll be my rent.”
Troy liked to listen to classical music all hours of the day. He read a lot of books, spy-stuff mostly. Tom was always making trips back and forth to the library. The librarian was impressed.
Troy was obsessed with swimming pools, complained constantly about Tom’s lack of an in-ground pool. After the pool was put in, with cracked safe funds, Troy was a much more reasonable house guest.
Tom quit his job stocking cat food.
Mindy moved in before too long. Her long travel concluded. For the first couple weeks, Tom couldn’t see her presence, just sometimes feel the hairs rise on the back of his neck when he was drunk. But then finally he saw her on the back patio doing one armed pushups.
“Wow, look at you go.”
“Being dead hasn’t slowed me down,” she said.
She made fun of Troy’s spy novels and made sculptures out of leaves and blades of grass that she said were impermanent for a reason.
“Sure,” Tom said, updating his OKCupid profile.
Troy and Mindy spent most of their time together floating around in the pool, even in the winter. The classical music constantly blasting from outdoor speakers. The neighbors were troubled by this. They couldn’t make heads or tails of the pool being open year round. The noise of the pool filter always going. The pool rafts floating together, never seeming to separate. Tom talking to the pool rafts. Sometimes shouting at them. Laughing. Laughing. Laughing.
After long enough, Tom even got used to looking at Mindy and her knife wound to the throat. She was a sweet girl and it was tough, thinking about how someone could have done that to her.
“He chloroformed me in the park, pulled me in his car, drove me back to his house. It was terrible. I was chained to a bolt in the floor. Long time.”
“Who was he?”
“Some random wacko. Long time.”
“The world is ugly.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” she said, rubbing her knife wound. It still hurt a little she said, but not as much or as little as you’d expect. Something unknown.
Tom was making a sandwich when Troy came through the wall and into the kitchenette.
“There’s another problem,” he said.
“The police are close to finding Mindy’s killer.”
“Oh.” That would mean that she would be going away.
“I need your help,” Troy said.
“We’re gonna have to go for him.”
“Go for him …”
“Jesus. And do what with him?”
“He’ll live in the basement. We’ll keep him here. Our prisoner. Feed him your table scraps.”
Mindy came into the kitchen too. She wasn’t crying. “We’ll bolt him to the floor,” she said. “It’ll be fun. We’ll torture him!”
“We’ll help you do it,” Troy said.
“Please …” Mindy said.”I couldn’t imagine being apart from Troy. Now that we’ve found each other.”
She latched onto him. Troy beamed.
“Then I don’t have any other options,” Tom said, slipping his shoe on. “Let’s take a drive.”
© 2014 Bud Smith
Image “ghosts!” © Flickr user Johnson Cameraface