Mary and Rachel stumbled out of the library as it was closing at 7pm. They’d gone through the note cards twice. Rachel had gotten most all of them right. “You’re going to ace this test,” Mary told her.
“Yeah, now let’s celebrate.”
“Yeah, me acing the test.”
“Um, I don’t think you’re supposed to celebrate something until after it happens.”
“Really? What about baby showers and bridal showers? If you want, we’ll call it a test acing shower.”
“Why are those things called showers anyway?”
“I guess because you get showered with gifts.”
Rachel began to bounce. “Let’s go to The Drowsy Poet.”
Mary’s nose wrinkled. “It’s open mic night isn’t it?”
She winced. “I don’t like listening to therapy sessions put to verse.”
“Oh, come on, please? It’s my Test Acing Shower.”
She sighed. Rachel had really buckled down while they were studying. She deserved some reward for that. “All right, but a dozen haikus or one sestina is my limit. Understand?”
Rachel nodded and happily skipped to the car. Mary really didn’t understand her enjoyment of bad poetry, but then again, Mary didn’t really have much tolerance for poetry period.
It was a short drive to The Drowsy Poet. It was small café with hopes of being a hip, artistic hangout nestled the corner of a shopping center. It had abstract art done by local artists on the walls with price tags attached. There were tables with lounge chairs, high stools at the bar, and a few sofas pushed against the walls. The lighting was dim. A few groups of young people varying from high school age to graduate school were scattered around the room.
As Mary had dreaded, the small stage was lit with a mic stand set up. As they went to the counter to place their orders, she looked around and spotted something new. There were some internet terminals set up at the back wall. Rachel ordered an iced chai latte and went to grab a seat on a sofa while Mary lingered a moment to ask the barista about the internet terminal set up.
“Five dollars an hour.”
Mary paid and got the login information. She went over to Rachel.
“It looks like they’re about to start,” Rachel said, settling deeper into the sofa. Mary glanced toward the stage. There was a balding guy with a ponytail shuffling some note cards at the mic. She wished she’d brought ear plugs.
“I bought some time on one of the computers to look up some stuff. I’ll be right over there.”
Rachel’s brow knitted. “We could’ve done that at the library.”
“No, we were studying. I’m willing to take part in you test acing shower, but I’m gonna need some distraction. Now listen to emo guys wax tragically about their overbearing mothers and cheating ex-girlfriends while I surf the ‘net.”
“Can’t you wait until you get home?”
“It’ll be too late by then. I won’t take too long.”
“How much time did you buy?”
“How long will this be?”
Rachel frowned. “If you gave it a chance—” she started.
“I know, but I already bought the time.”
She glowered at her, but Mary couldn’t muster much guilt. She settled down at the nearest computer terminal and logged in.
She pulled up Google and stared at the search box for a moment. Vicky really hadn’t given her anything to go on. She typed in ‘claw soul’ and hit search. Nothing useful came back, though she was surprised by the number of Pokemon results. Did people still play Pokemon? She returned to the search box. She typed in ‘bad ghost’ this time. The results were a little better. She focused on reading personal accounts to see if anything was similar to what Vicky described. She wasn’t interested in the ‘paranormal investigators’ because they relied on equipment she didn’t need and their results were usually false. She couldn’t help snickering whenever anyone mentioned EVP’s. How could anyone think a ghost’s voice would appear on a recording device? And the recordings...She’d listened to some of those clips over and over again and could not hear the ‘words’ the investigators were adamant were on there. It was static or background noise, nothing else. There were a few accounts that sounded similar to what Vicky described, but they were mostly one time occurrences, not repeated attacks by the same entity.
“Whatcha reading?” Rachel had come up behind her and now leaned over her shoulder. Mary had been ignoring the poetry readings so hard that she’d missed her friend’s approach.
“First hand ghost stories, trying to figure out what’s affecting Vicky.”
“Not really. I mean some stuff is sort of similar but not entirely. I really need more info on what’s happening at the hospital.”
“So you want Vicky to bug you more in your dreams?”
Mary rolled her eyes at the possibility. She closed all the windows and logged off the computer. A short chubby girl with violet hair was on the stage. She seemed to be just saying random word with weird pauses in between them. She was really irritating. “Have you gotten your fill of poor-me-etry?”
“Don’t call it that, and yeah, that last guy’s diatribe about fat-free yogurt gave me a lot to think about.”
Mary looked at her askance. “Please don’t share your thoughts.”
The bell for sixth period had just wrung, but Mary hadn’t noticed. The world had shifted a little, and she was still thrown off by it. Cy was across the room. The seat beside her was empty. She was so used to seeing him beside her during English that seeing him elsewhere was playing with her spatial perception. He was sitting by Vicky’s old seat, which everyone was still leaving empty. Mary was beginning to wonder if it had a bronze plaque dedicating it to her. He’d gone directly over to it without even a word to her. He’d said something to one of the girls sitting close by, and she’d nodded her head eagerly. It looked like Mary wouldn’t be Xeroxing her notes for him that day. Maybe her handwriting had been too sloppy. More likely he didn’t want to sit by someone who didn’t like his girlfriend. Girlfriend. The word made her want to hurl.
She put on mental blinders during class and wouldn’t let her eyes stray between Mrs. Myers and her notes. She would only look at one or the other. No straying side to side. She thought she caught in her peripheral vision a sandy haired head turned to her direction a couple of times, but she wouldn’t let her pupils deviate from their strict path of teacher and notes. She was here to learn. She was determined to learn. Maybe she’d make honor roll this quarter. She should focus on school more anyway. It would serve her well later in life. Better than silly friendships that couldn’t take a bit of snarking or disagreement. She may have ripped through the note paper a couple of times due to the zeal of her note taking, but it only showed her dedication to learning. She was sure of it.
When the final bell rang, she began collecting her things. She was getting picked up by Gran to go to Mrs. Beadley’s home. They were going to see what they could do about her late husband.
Her notebook slid to the floor rather than into her bag. She looked up in surprise. “Kyle? Hey, what’s up?”
He knelt down and retrieved her notebook. “Just collecting the invalid. You doing okay?”
She took the notebook and carefully put it into her bag. “I’m fine. Any news on Vicky?”
Kyle’s brow furrowed at her question. She’d be surprised too if she were him, but she hadn’t had a dream about the cheerleader the previous night, and she was a little worried. She hated that she was worried and wouldn’t admit to it under torture, but there it was. “No change. I don’t think the docs know what to do with her.”
Cy came up to them but hung back a step. “I’m ready to go.”
“That’s great. Why don’t you go wait by the car?”
“Come on, Kyle. Mom told you to bring me straight home. I need to take my pain medication.”
“You can wait five minutes.”
Cy rolled his eyes and left the room. He hadn’t even acknowledged her. Mary kept her eyes low as she got up and prepared to leave too.
“Hard to believe I’m the bad one.”
“What?” She didn’t know what he was talking about.
Kyle’s mouth twisted, and he wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Oh you know how it is with brothers. One’s the good one, and one’s the bad. The golden boy and the screw-up. I’m the screw-up.”
“No, you’re not. You’re on the wrestling team, are pretty popular, and don’t pick fights and stuff. You’re like All-American. Don’t parents like that?”
“Yeah, but Cy’s always been the center of attention. He has that stupid smile which everyone likes. They’ll bend over backwards for him, and he doesn’t have to do a thing.”
Thinking about it, Mary couldn’t really deny it, but she thought Kyle was being too hard on himself. From what she saw, he did just as well as Cy. She looked toward the door. She didn’t really know how to end the conversation. She didn’t want to just walk away, but Gran was waiting.
“Like right now, you think I shouldn’t be making him wait for me. I should rush down and drive him home so he can take his precious pill and mope around all evening while Mom waits on him hand and foot, even though he can go to the kitchen and get his own stupid sodas.”
She was shaking her head and leaning back before he was done. Kyle was getting kind of intense, and it was giving her unhappy flashbacks to when Ricky had him. “No, it’s just Gran’s waiting for me, and I don’t want us to be late.”
“Late for what?”
“An appointment. We’re meeting a client.”
“Well then, let’s go.” He stepped back and gave an exaggerated bow. She skirted around him and tried to keep from jogging out of there. It was tough to keep from going faster when Kyle fell into step beside her.
“So what are you going to do? An exorcism or something?”
Her eyes darted around the hall to see who was listening, but the place was pretty disserted. Everyone had left with the bell. “No, there’s this widow whose dead husband is haunting her, and she wants our help with him.”
She sneaked a look at Kyle. He seemed to be mulling that over. She wasn’t sure she should’ve told him all of that, but he was making her nervous.
“Sorry for venting all over you.”
“What?” Mary was beginning to get whiplash from Kyle’s sudden turns in conversation.
“I know you’re still sort of friends with Cy. I shouldn’t have said all that stuff to you.”
“No, it’s okay. Everyone needs to just open up every once in a while, right?” She hoped her smile was a friendly one, but it may have had more in common with a wince.
They’d reached the school doors. Mary quickly scanned the parking lot for Gran. A couple of horn toots helped her find her. Kyle also looked in that direction.
“Geez, I hope I haven’t made you late. Tell your grandma sorry for me.”
“Yeah, sure.” She took a few steps and stopped. She turned back. “Kyle, the reason people may fall over themselves to help Cy and not you is because you don’t seem to need the help. I mean you seem really strong and together. People might think they’d offend you or something if they offered. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to or whatever.”
His shoulders relaxed, and he smiled at her. “Yeah, maybe. Thanks.”
“Kyle, come on!”
Both turned to see Cy standing beside Kyle’s SUV in the senior parking lot. He looked pretty impatient. For some reason, it made Mary smile.
“Bye, Kyle. See you around.”
“Yeah, you too, Mary.”
She left Kyle and made her way to Gran in the station wagon. She opened the passenger side door and stopped. Sitting in the seat was Chowder’s body. His ghost was there too of course.
“What’s he doing here?”
“I thought he might help.”
“How?” She put her backpack in the back and slid into the seat with Chowder’s body on her lap.
Gran shrugged and backed out of the spot. “Maybe he could sniff out the anchor.”
Mary was skeptical that the little dog would be useful, but she kept it to herself. She looked at the top of his head. He was ‘in’ his body. He did that if he was being held. She gave him a scratch behind ears. He gave a happy pant but finished it with a little whine. She wasn’t sure what he could be begging for, but figured it out after a second as she looked out the car. She rolled down her window and stuck his head out. Gran couldn’t stop laughing at the sight. She couldn’t hear his happy panting or feel his squirming glee. He was enjoying every second of the car ride. As she patted his back, Mary realized Chowder was very spoiled.
Mrs. Beadley’s home was at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. The front yard was tidy with pretty flowerboxes lining the walkway. Mary followed Gran up the path with Chowder cradled to her chest. Chowder panted happily against her face. He was still ‘in’ his body. The whole day was turning out to be a real treat for him, but if he tried to lick her face one more time, she was going to put him back in the car and not leave a window cracked.
Mrs. Beadley was perched by the door watching for them. She waved, and Gran waved back like they were eagerly expected friends coming for a visit. Mrs. Beadley looked like Sophia from the Golden Girls in a light blue color coordinated slacks and sweeter outfit.
“Mrs. Dubont, hello!” Mrs. Beadley smiled and held the door open for them.
“Hello to you, Mrs. Beadley. How are you?”
“Fair. He’s been rather quiet. I think he knows how displeased I am and is hiding like a sullen little boy.”
“Well, I’d like you to meet my granddaughter Mary. She’s very sensitive to ghosts.”
Mrs. Beadley adjusted her glasses to better peer at her. “Oh how nice, and who is that you got there?” Mrs. Beadley reached out as if to pet Chowder.
She held him out. “This is Chowder. We’re hoping he can help too.” Mrs. Beadley’s hand stopped short of touching him. Her face froze, and she slowly drew her hand back as she realized that Chowder was not a living dog.
“How will he help?” Her voice cracked, and she coughed to clear it.
“We’re hoping he’ll sniff out your husband’s anchor.”
“He’s a ghost too,” Gran supplied.
Mrs. Beadley nodded, but it was clear she was having difficulty handling all of this. They may have sprung too much weird on her. “What do you need to do?”
Seeing her discomfort, Gran went to her side and put a comforting arm around her shoulders. “We’re just going to try and talk to him today. That’s all.” Mrs. Beadley nodded.
Gran looked over at Mary and nodded her head toward the living room. Mary stepped into the room and quickly scanned it. She couldn’t feel anything off there, but that didn’t mean Mr. Beadley wasn’t lurking about. She set Chowder down and whispered, “Go find the ghost.” She felt Chowder leave his body, which felt like a weird tingle and wander off. She imagined he was sniffing around like a dog would do. She had no clue if he’d understood what she’d asked or if he was just exploring.
She looked back at Gran and shrugged her shoulders to indicate that she wasn’t picking up anything. Gran gently guided Mrs. Beadley into the room and set her in a cushioned chair. She drew another up for herself and gently took the woman’s hands.
“Tell me about the last incident.”
Mrs. Beadley nodded. “Okay. What happened was Mr. Connor came by to fix a short in the chandelier.” She raised her eyes briefly to the lights overhead. “To thank him, I fixed dinner. Meatloaf. He said it was really good.”
“Nobody fixes it better than you, Nina.” The man’s voice came from within the room, but Mary had no sense of his location. She touched Gran’s shoulder and motioned for her to keep the woman talking.
“What happened?” Gran asked.
“We’d just sat down when every light in the house started to flicker. Neil, I mean Mr. Connor, went to check the panel. He’s a very nice man.”
“That’s not what Gladys used to say. She was always saying that he didn’t do his part around the house. You’re too good for him.” Gran had picked up a bit of Mr. Beadley’s words.
“He seems displeased and thinks Mr. Connor isn’t good enough for you.”
“Where would he get such an idea? Neil was his friend.”
Mary spoke up, “Gladys. Mr. Connor’s wife Gladys.”
Mrs. Beadley’s mouth dropped open. “Gladys? That was Neil’s wife’s name! How did you know that?”
Gran answered, “Your husband mentioned her. I think Gladys made him think Mr. Connor isn’t good enough for you.” She shot Mary a quick look to confirm what she said, and she nodded back.
“Well that’s silly. Gladys, God rest her soul, was always a bit of a complainer. Neil was good to her and their kids. Marvin, you’re not being fair.”
Mr. Beadley didn’t respond. “What happened next with Mr. Connor?” Gran prompted.
“He went to the electrical panel to check the breakers. Nothing was wrong of course. He came back, and we started to eat. No sooner than he had the first forkful lifted to his mouth, but his glass of tea tipped over and spilled. We didn’t see anything knock it over. It just tipped over on its own. It soaked his trousers. He mopped it up the best he could, but they weren’t fit to wear. I offered him an old pair of Marvin’s. He changed into them, and we tried to eat again. Only now the food was cold. I don’t mean it’d cooled off from sitting out. It was literally frozen. Neil looked at me, and I can only imagine what he thought. And it wasn’t just the meatloaf, everything had been frozen. The mashed potatoes, the green beans, and the biscuits were all frozen. I can’t believe Marvin would do that to me. It was so embarrassing.”
“Then?” Gran asked.
“Then he took her out to dinner, and she didn’t come home until eleven o’clock!” Mary winced at Mr. Beadley’s exclamation. He had a very strident voice.
“He took me out to dinner. It was lovely. We talked for hours and laughed so hard our sides ached. I had a wonderful time.”
Mary looked over at Gran and shrugged her shoulders. She really didn’t know how to proceed with this. Didn’t cops say domestic disputes were the nastiest calls to go on? She was beginning to understand why. They both agreed on what happened but had differing reactions.
Gran stood up and moved to the center of the room. “Marvin, my name’s Helena Dubont. Your wife has asked for my help. You can’t go on haunting her like this. You both need to move on.”
“Move on? What’s there to move on to? Nina’s my world.”
“There is a place beyond this. You’ll join your parents and friends that have gone before you. You won’t be alone.”
“Who will look after, Nina? Who’ll help her?”
Gran turned to Mrs. Beadley. “He’s scared to leave you because he thinks you’ll be alone.”
Mrs. Beadley looked down at her lap. “It’s true. I don’t have any close family to rely upon. We weren’t blessed with children.”
Mary felt sorry for her. She looked to Gran and had to consider the fact that Gran was all the family she had too. If she lost her—Mary didn’t want to consider it. It was just too bleak.
“I would be okay though. I’m not completely alone. There are our friends. They’ve been so kind and generous.”
“And Neil. He’s falling all over himself being ‘kind and generous.” Gran and Mary ignored the snide remark.
“He’s being a Mr. Poopy-pants right now, isn’t he?” Mrs. Beadley asked.
Mary’s eyebrows crept up, as she and Gran turned to look at her. Mrs. Beadley smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “You have the look. He’s being a Mr. Poopy-pants.” Her eyes got shiny, and she ducked her head. “I used to give him the same look.”
“Oh, Nina. I’m never going to leave you. I’m not going anywhere.”
Gran went to comfort her. Mary felt uncomfortable staying there. She wandered out of the room wondering where Chowder had got to. She wandered through the dining room into the kitchen.
“Chowder?” she called to him softly, not wanting to disturb Gran and Mrs. Beadley. She heard a bark from inside the kitchen. She looked around a bit. It was nice and clean. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She tried to sense the anchor.
Another bark broke her concentration. She opened her eyes and looked around the floor. A cabinet door shook. “Is the anchor in there?” she asked. She opened the cabinet and looked inside. Pots and pans were stacked up inside. She reached inside to pull some of it out to take a better look, but Chowder grabbed her sleeve and tugged.
“What is it, boy?”
Another cabinet door began to rattle. She closed the one she’d opened and reached for it, but the one she closed began to rattle again. She moved back to think. Her eyes wandered to the overhead cabinets, and she understood. She moved to open the one directly over the first cabinet.
“Mary, it’s time to go.”
She pulled the cabinet open and found glasses and coffee mugs.
“Your grandmother is calling you. Are you thirsty?”
She felt like she’d been caught snooping, which maybe she had been, but she was supposed to be, wasn’t she? She closed the cabinet. She gave Mrs. Beadley a guilty look, made worse by the fact that the widow’s eyes were red rimmed. “I was, but if we’re leaving, it doesn’t matter.”
Gran appeared behind Mrs. Beadley. She had Chowder under her arm. “There you are. Let’s go.” She nodded and slipped by Mrs. Beadley. Gran gave the widow a hug and said she’d call her in two days, but not to hesitate to call her if she wanted.
Mary didn’t know what to say during the car ride home. She was totally out of her depth. Being haunted by a spouse, someone who’d spent decades with you had to be conflicting. Having that someone there but not there, had to be a hard thing to handle. She glanced over at Gran and wondered how she was feeling about all of this. Grandpa had past away when Mary’s mother was eight. He’d had a heart attack. There were pictures of him throughout the house, along with pictures of Mary’s mother. Mary had been four when her parents were killed in the accident. As awful as that had been, it was sort of abstract to her. She only had fuzzy memories of them. She knew stuff about them, but she didn’t remember them. She didn’t really know what it felt like to lose someone. Had the visit brought those feelings up for Gran? Was she missing them? Did she wish they haunted them?
She turned to ask her that but was cut off by Gran’s excited announcement.
“Oh, look. I think I have a new client.”
Continue to Chapter 5