This Used to be My Job

backlit-burial-cemetery-icon

At almost midnight I stand before Grandma Whitkin’s grave. Buried earlier today. Ideally, I would have done this right after her death but the family doesn’t understand things like this. So I waited until it was just me and her. Just like old times, when I knew her as Susan.

Susan was a healer. Like most healers, she built up a residue of death in her body. It’s not hard to cleanse and purge the necrotic energies but she died suddenly, without warning, without preparing herself. The first time I got close to her at the viewing I could feel it. She won’t rise tonight or tomorrow but someday she would.

I kneel and plunge my left arm up to my elbow into the loose mound of dirt over the grave. Freshly turned graveyard dirt is a powerful conductor letting me reach the necrotic energy easily. I begin pulling it strand by strand out of Susan. It coils in my arm; contained, compressed. I control my breathing as my flesh tingles and fizzes under the skin. When I die, I have special instructions on how to dispose of my arm so no one has to do this for me. This was my job. Ensuring the dead stayed dead.

Well, the dead used to stay dead when it was my job but there’s a reason people like me retire early. I feel a blockage and pull hard. It pops free and a surge of necrotic energy burns up my arm. Something gives, blood flows; I jerk my arm out of the dirt. A ragged tear across my palm drips. I squeeze my hand shut and back away from the grave. Did I pull out in time or … A faint thud comes from the ground followed by cracking wood and the dirt begins to shift.

It’s been too long or I’m just not strong enough to do it properly anymore. The result is the same. After a few minutes, Susan begins to claw herself out of the grave. I pull my revolver and put two in her skull and one in her heart.

I wrap my scarf, I really like this scarf, around my bleeding hand. I wait a while to see if Susan will have a second rising and to see if anyone called the cops about gunshots in the graveyard. It’s all quiet for thirty minutes so I make a phone call.

“Hey Johnny, it’s Denise. I need a clean up in Northside Memorial Park Cemetery.”

“Denise? I thought you were retired.”

“Special job. It went a little sideways. One corpse, buried earlier today.”

“Ok, I’ll be there in thirty with my people. Stay safe. Bye.”

“I’m trying. Bye.” And then it’s just me and Susan waiting in the graveyard like old times.

Sunset Watching

sunset-icon

Little Suzie came out while I was recording the evening conditions. “Tía Mary said to come in for supper,” she said.

“Tell her I’ll be in a couple of minutes.” I checked the barometer and noted the reading in my notebook.

“You tell her.”

I laughed. “Ok, I will.”

“Is the sunset going to be beautiful tonight?” I had made a habit out of watching the sunset and recording my thoughts on it even if it didn’t have much meteorologic value.

“Maybe. Why don’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Look at the sky and tell me what you see.” I flipped to a different section of my notebook and began making notes.

She shaded her eyes and looked toward the horizon. “I see clouds.”

“Are they thick clouds? Thin clouds? Fluffy clouds? Cotton candy clouds?”

“What’s cotton candy?” I forget sometimes how long it’s been since things fell apart.

“It’s sweet and fluffy like a cloud you can eat. Maybe we’ll make some one day. Tell me about the clouds.”

“They’re long and thin,” she said.

“Cirrus clouds. High in the atmosphere where they can catch the light and bounce it back to us. Horizon’s clear so the light won’t be blocked. Could be a nice looking sunset.”

“What’s the most beautiful sunset you’ve seen?”

“The most beautiful sunset.” I paused watching the clouds drift. “After the bombs fell, we huddled in the cellar for two days. We were outside the blast zone of course but we weren’t sure about fallout or like radioactive wind. The cellar wasn’t a bomb shelter it was just a cellar so it was lacking in certain accommodations. We decide to risk going out and into the house.

“When we climbed out of the cellar, the sun was just setting. The sky was washed in brilliant vibrant colors. Reds, oranges, purples, violets. You’ve seen them but not like that. And the scattered clouds caught the light and practically glowed. We were awestruck and just stared until the horizon turned black and the stars took over the sky.

“With the spell broken we raided the house for blankets, pillows, batteries, can food, water, clothes, whatever we thought we might need then we retreated to the cellar still afraid of radioactive wind. But we weren’t so afraid that we didn’t watch the sunset the next day and the one after that. The second night there were no clouds to break up the bands of color. By the third night, the colors were beginning to fade to normal.

“The colors of the sunset are caused by sunlight being scattered by the air. When you have mid to high clouds then the light has something to bounce off and the sky gets some texture and shape. After the bombs, the smoke and thick dust clouds cleared in the first day but the finer dust and ash took longer to settle. So for a few days, there was a thin layer of particulate to reflect the light and boost the colors.”

“Suzie,” her mother, the aptly named Big Suzie, called from the back door, “Dinner time.”

“I’m coming!” she yelled back while running toward her mother.

“You too, Toni.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said and slowly limped back to the house. We were lucky no bombs had dropped out here in the middle of nowhere. Then we were lucky more people came this way. Including Suzie.

“How’s the weather?” she asked, lending me her arm to get up the back stairs. I could have used the railing but this worked too.

“Oh not bad. Might rain day after tomorrow. Temperature is steady for now.”

“And the sunset?” I held on after reaching the landing.

“It’s going to a looker as long as the clouds don’t blow out but I doubt they will. You want to watch it with me?”

“Of course. Dinner first.”

“Of course.” It was a little awkward walking through the door arm in arm but we managed.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Suburbs Suburbia Neighborhood Neighbors Homes

Hi, there neighbor. I’m swinging by to welcome you to the subdivision. So is it just you and your spouse? Partner, good good. And kids? That’s great! There’s lots of kids in the neighborhood. Besides welcoming you, there are some things I need to discuss with you. Can we go inside and sit down? What? No, this isn’t about the HOA and I’m not trying to recruit you into a cult. Cult recruiting happens at the monthly mixers. I’m kidding! Please, I do have some neighborhood regulations and safety rules to go over with you and your partner.

Most are common sense, wearing helmets while biking, no loud music after 11 pm Sunday through Thursday, no fireworks. I know technically we’re outside the city limits until they resurvey and redraw the lines but some of our neighbors are sensitive to sudden loud noises so they’ve been banned within the subdivision and surrounding area. If you give me your email, I can send you a complete list and sign you up for the weekly newsletter.

There is one rule I have to go over in detail. It’s more of an advisory really. Between the start of sunset and one hour after, you are advised to stay indoors. It’s not a curfew. You can go outside afterwards and no one will stop you from going out during but we don’t suggest you do so. You aren’t really going to believe me, I didn’t believe until I saw it, but I’ll lay it out for you.

We call it The Stranger. About once a week a woman, a man, a person or sometimes a child appears in the neighborhood and wanders around for an hour and disappears. It isn’t anyone in the neighborhood. When it first started appearing we tried to keep watch around the subdivision. Eventually, we tracked it back to the empty lots. So we started staking out the lots but it just appears on the sidewalk and starts walking. At the end of the hour, it disappears mid-step. Like a ghost but it’s not a ghost.

If no one engages The Stranger, it leaves on its own after an hour. It doesn’t take much to catch its attention, a nod of the head, a wave of the hand, a smile, even just brief eye contact might do it. Once you’ve engaged it, it will approach you and ask for help finding an address. The address will be close by, usually just around the corner. You can refuse or just ignore it but The Stranger will follow you for the rest of the hour yelling or screaming or crying. It will beg for you to “play the game right” or to “please help me get home” or curse at you. This is annoying or upsetting or potentially traumatic but at the end of its hour, it will disappear as normal with no other side effects.

However, if you lead The Stranger to his, her, their, destination something else happens. When you arrive at the correct address, you are strongly advised not to take them to the wrong address, we’ve already had two disappearances and don’t want any more, they will ask you inside for a refreshment. Accept and they walk to the front door, unlock it and lead you inside. The inside of the house will not match the outside. It will be bigger or smaller than you expect and the interior design will be odd. We’ve had people report Victoria townhouses, log cabins, Gothic mansions, and single room apartments. The Stranger may offer you various sodas or liquors or juices but your safest option is to ask for plain water. Drink it quickly but don’t be rude and gulp it down. They will lead you to a door other than the one you entered through, exit through it and you will be on the sidewalk somewhere in the subdivision. From there you can just walk home.

Should you refuse The Stranger’s offer, they will walk to the front door, unlock it, and enter alone. When you turn to walk back, the neighborhood will be changed. Instead of the modest two-story houses in the subdivision, there may be sparkling geodesic domes, Brutalist concrete cubes, or giant redwoods with doors and windows carved through their sides. Start walking at slow even pace. Don’t loiter in one place too long or the locals may become hostile. If no one approaches or talks to you, after an hour you will find yourself in another different neighborhood. This will continue for no less than three neighborhoods but no more than eight. Four is the average. Sooner or later you will wander back into our neighborhood. Once you are certain you are in familiar territory you may return home.

Should someone approach or talk to you, ask them to take you to your home address. If they refuse, it is advisable to simply walk away and leave them alone. If they agree to help you, follow them. The house they lead you to will not look like your house but your key will unlock the front door regardless. Offer them a refreshment. If they refuse, leave them on the sidewalk and enter the house. When you enter the house you will find your home inside and the subdivision outside.

If they accept your offer, lead them inside the house where you will find your house but different. No one will be home, the lights will seem dimmed, sounds will be muffled. Provide your helper with their choice of drink. Once they are done lead them to the back door or the garage door, just not the front door. Allow them to exit and close the door. When you turn around you will be in your home properly.

So that’s about it. If you just stay indoors from sunset to an hour after you won’t have to deal with any of that though.

Crafting

yarn-and-needles

The needle slips into the stitch on the other needle, yarn loops around it and is pulled through to make a new stitch. The old stitch drops from the needle and the next stitch is ready behind it.

In, loop, pull through, drop.

In, loop, pull through, drop.

In, loop, pull through, drop.

Stitch by stitch, row by row, yarn becomes a hat, a scarf, socks, mittens, or a sweater. From simple processes, complex patterns arise.

Like words into a novel.

Like notes to a symphony.

Like atoms into molecules.

Knitters, crocheters, nålebinders, and weavers take the straight line, turn it upon itself and make all things possible.

Shooting Star

shooting-star-icon

I touch the atmosphere and begin.

The air ignites as it blasts against my surface; tearing bits and pieces off. I’ve traveled millions of miles for these last few seconds. I burn and shine and listen.

How many will I hear? One? Five? Twenty? Or will my final blaze be silent, unwitnessed, unremembered?

I strain to hear past the fire roaring. I struggle to stretch time. Just a little while longer, please.

There almost nothing left of me when I hear:

“I wish-

“I wish-

“I wish-

My light flares for the last time as my body is consumed but my spirit continues within the wishes made upon my funeral pyre.

The Void has Noticed Us and is Hungry

milky-way-icon

I had the dream last night. A cloaked tall dark figure stood before me on a desolate plain storm rolled overhead. The figure reached for me a single skeletal finger emerging from its cloak to press against my forehead and then I awoke. We learn about the dream as children. Sometimes it causes nightmares most grow out of the nightmares sometimes they reoccur. I try to find solace in that thought. But if it was the dream I have little time to waste. I roll out of bed, pad across the carpet, down the hall into the bathroom and hesitate before flicking on the light. There on my forehead faintly glowing with golden light is the symbol of the Chosen. I have just one day to live now.

The Chosen are a sacrifice, a gift, a tribute, to something beyond us. Three hundred years ago men seeking power pierced the veil between worlds and something took notice of us. Our world was threatened with total consumption but a deal was bargained between “the unknowable ones” and “those who strayed from the safe path”.

Every day one human, neither too old nor too young, is chosen to willingly sacrifice themselves. Our debt will be settled when the sun eats the Earth. The Chosen are given one day to resign themselves to their fate. At the end of the day, midnight as measured by the position of the sun from where they stand, the emissary of “the unknowable ones” appears and takes their life. If they try to run or hide or fight, the emissary will take reparations: every life within five miles of the Chosen.

The early years of this new status quo were rife with mass deaths caused by Chosen who didn’t know about the settlement with “the unknowable ones”. Even after the information was spread widely, many people were simply too scared to willingly allow themselves to be killed. Only after the children, who had grown up seeing towns and cities harvested, came of age and shouldered their responsibility to the world willingly did the reapings come under our control.

We are taught from a young age, that if we are chosen, it is our duty to die willingly to spare those around us. Not everyone takes this to heart, however. Over the years some have used to threat of a reaping to become tyrants for their last day. Others merely indulge themselves with luxuries. No one denies the request of the Chosen.

Back in my bedroom, I retrieve my phone, took a selfie, and posted it on every social media account I had. I could stay home alone or spend my final hours privately with family and friends. Say my goodbyes, write a final will, and leave this mortal coil quietly and peacefully.

I have other plans. I have a revolution to start.

Daughter of Earth-5

earth-icon

The Goddess waited in a lonely field. She laid on her back in the tall grass, staring up at the cloudless night sky. Arm outstretched, fingers gliding between the stars. A simple flick of her wrist could sweep the stars from the sky. Maybe one day but not tonight. Soft footsteps caught her attention.

“We could have met in a cafe for brunch or a restaurant for dinner or a library for tea but you insisted on a cold dark night,” the young woman gestured wildly at the lack of human presence nearby causing her coat to flap around her, “in the middle of nowhere.”

The Goddess sat up and smiled, “Hello to you, too.”

“Oh yes, hello and glad tidings, Mother,” the young woman said, sarcasm biting at every word. She sighed and continued sincerely, “How have you been?”

“Very fine.” The Goddess stood up and walked to her. “Earth-18 has started cooling finally and Earth-9 is on the verge of intelligent life.

The young woman allowed her glasses to slip down her nose.

“Why are you wearing eyeglasses? Your eyes should be perfect!” The Goddess stared into the young woman’s eyes. “They are perfect.”

“They’re just flat lenses. When I change identities, I get new frames to help change my appearance. Along with changing my hairstyle and clothes. It’s getting harder with face recognition software. My current identity almost fell apart because of a picture posted on Facebook that got auto-tagged with my previous identity.” She paused continuing cautiously, “You don’t know what Facebook is, do you?”

“I didn’t until you mentioned it. I am lightly touching the global unconscious mind; just to pull words and concepts out as I need them, nothing more.”

“So, I could say Micky Mouse and you would know what that is?”

The Goddess’s face lit up with a smile. “Oh, that’s delightful. Why didn’t you mention him earlier?”

“There’s a lot ‘delightful’ things here but also a lot of terrible things.”

“How is your Earth doing?” The Goddess closed the gap between them an wrapped an arm around the younger woman’s shoulders. “How is your father doing?”

“Didn’t you see him when you returned?”

“No, I came here from Earth-2 directly via quantum tunneling. Wait, what did I say?” She slapped a hand over her mouth.

“Is that how you travel from planet to planet?” she asked. “You never explained how you do that.”

“Yes, but I didn’t realize the people of this Earth had reached that level of understanding. They have words, real words, for it. You haven’t been helping them have you?”

“No. Of course not. The first rule is no interference with the normal development of local civilization. Anyway, Dad is doing fine. His flares and spots are in decline but that’s normal. I can’t understand him like you can but I still talk to him. You don’t need me to tell you any of this. You can just know it if you want.”

“I do need you to tell me about your Earth. I stopped watching when you asked. You wanted privacy so I gave it to you.”

“That was only two hundred and twenty-four years ago. Not that much as changed.”

“Still tell me about it, please.” They started slowly walking through the field.

“No major geological changes, of course. Oh, there was that island that disappeared but it might have been made up to increase a country’s ocean border. Some men walked on the moon–”

“Space Travel! Now that is news.”

“They only went a few times to the moon about thirty years ago. There are a few space stations but nothing really beyond that.”

The Goddess looked up to the sky, her smile brightening. “What about the probes to Pluto, Jupiter, the rovers on Mars? Oh, that one probe that to the comet was ambitious. Oh sorry,” the Goddess ducked her head, “I went a little deeper into the global unconscious mind. Just about space travel. I promise. I won’t do it again. What else has happened?”

“Um, well global temperatures are on the rise. Lots of wars, and conflicts and … and …” She choked on describing the atrocities people had committed and continued to commit.

“It’s ok, go on.” The Goddess pulled her tighter against herself.

The young woman gathered herself. “People are still people; just as horrible to each other but still capable of surprising kindness. I – why did you leave me here?”

“This is your home.”

“But I don’t belong here. I’ve been alone since you left. I have friends but I can’t keep them for more than a few decades before they notice I don’t age like them. And they die so easily.”

“People will always come and go from your life. It’s not about keeping them forever; it’s about being with them while you have time. Also, you asked me to leave, remember?” the Goddess said.

“Not for so long. I just wanted a little space. I little time for myself. You were always right there and you always knew everything. I just wanted a little space not to be abandoned.”

“You are almost eight hundred and sixty-three years old and you will live many many more years. You’ve been living at a human pace for your whole life but out there,” she swung her hand up and across the sky, “Out there away from the human reminders of time, you’ll find it moves at whatever pace you want it to move. I gave you as much space and time as was safe for you. I’ve never been too far to hear you call for me.”

“I wanted to call you but I wanted you to come back because you missed me not because I needed you.”

“It could have been both. Anyways, I’m here now and I’m not leaving but I won’t crowd you as much. We’ll start with ten year breaks and figure it out from there. What do you say?”

“Five year breaks?”

“Whatever you want. Come on, your father will be rising in a couple of hours and there’s a ridge that has the best view right over there.”

The Witch Downstairs – A Francine Non-Adventure

Index

Author Note: This is the start of the second serial story of Francine’s Non-Adventures. The first story was published last year and can be read from the link above. I’m currently working on rewriting parts for my overdue ebook collection.


I knocked on the door with the Coexist bumper sticker on it. The “witch’s door” as many people in the building called it. We had never met but I knew her from reputation. Well actually I had started hearing about her after the ghost in the park across the street started wailing my name on odd nights. I assumed I was supposed to talk to the witch about the ghost and kick off either a horror plot or supernatural drama. I had done neither by getting a pair of earplugs and simply avoiding her floor.

Now I was deliberately invoking a plot hook. After my recent success in dealing with the magic serial killer, without getting too involved, I noticed the plot hooks I normally had to dodge were gone. It was refreshing to not have to worry about spies or wizards or ghosts. Of course, nothing lasts forever and a few weeks later I was back to dropping USB sticks and throwing away magic rings. And the ghost started wailing my name again.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out that taking care of the magic serial killer had satisfied the god-like force that wanted me involved in these “adventures”. So, I decided to talk to the “witch” and see where this plot hook was headed.

The door opened and a woman a few years older than me opened the door. She looked like Hollywood’s version of a New Age Hippy. Loose clothing, scarves tied and draped around her body, long curly messy hair, small glasses perched halfway down her nose. She smiled then frowned.

“Hold on a second,” she said, took off her glasses, and replaced them with another pair from her pocket. As she looked me up and down thoroughly, I noticed the glasses she was wearing didn’t have lenses.

“Um, hi, I’m Francine. I live on the fourth floor.”

“Francine … Francine,” she muttered as she stepped into the hall to circle around me. “Oh, you’re whose name I hear screeched every night from the park.”

“It’s not every night.”

She looked up to my face, “It’s been every night for the last week.”

“Has it? I wear earplugs so I don’t hear it.”

“Earplugs? That’s one solution, I guess. You could just go see what that spirit wants with you. May I?” She gestured at my arm. I nodded and she gently raised my arm up.

“I’d rather not engage with the supernatural directly. That’s kind of why I’m here. I’ve heard you’re a … an expert on the subject.”

“I’m a witch if that’s what you mean. Wow, you are a mess.”

“Excuse me?”

“You got your fate lines all tangled up and twisted around.” She waved her hand in the air under my arm. “Look at that. I don’t know how you make it through a day without tripping over yourself.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Fate lines. They’re possibilities, paths through life that you could take. Most people have a dozen, at most, but not you. You have a couple hundred but most of them are slack like they aren’t pulling you in a direction. They’re just there and you’re all tangled up in them.”

“Ok, I think I do know what you’re talking about.”

“Do you? Then spill.” She stood in front of me arms crossed.

“I think I’m being railroaded by a ‘higher power’ into having for lack of a better word ‘adventures’.”

“Huh. So you have a lot of ‘adventures’?”

“When I was younger. After high school, they stopped. Last year strange things started happening like something was trying to get me involved with new adventures. I started avoiding them and then things got really weird.”

“Really weird how?”

“I’ve seen things that made me doubt my sanity. Have you ever seen a portal to another world? Or magic rings? Or wizards dueling in alleyways? Or heard ghosts screaming your name?”

“No. No. No. Yes. Well, not my name. Your name, yeah. What can you tell me about the ghost?”

“Nothing. I don’t know anything about it.” If I had my way it would stay that way.

“But it’s calling your name.” Her eyes narrowed as she studied me again.

“Yeah, something wants me to investigate the ghost and … do something.”

“Something like what?”

“Well, usually ghosts mean the person was killed or had unfinished business so I guess I’d have to find the killer or finish their business for them in some way. Shouldn’t you be telling me how to deal with the ghost?”

She nodded, “If you know what to do why haven’t you done it?”

“I don’t want to get involved with … all this,” I said waving my arms around me.

She closed her eyes and was silent for a moment. “Then why did you come to talk to me?”

“I need your help.”

“Why my help?”

“Because… Because you’re a witch.” She opened her eyes and smiled.

“Interesting,” she said while adjusting her lensless glasses.

“What? What’s interesting?”

“One of the fate lines has lost some of its slack.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you’re moving toward one of the paths that fate has made for you.”

“So, will you help me with the ghost or not?”

“Of course. I have a fate line of my own that leads straight to you.”


Index

I Can Remember Tomorrow

calandar-icst-icon

It’s not helpful or useful in any way. A memory isn’t something that you can change. Not in a meaningful way. I mean you can misremember something or convince yourself that something different happened but that doesn’t change the past. It’s the same for remembering the future. If I could change it, then I wouldn’t be able to remember it.

That’s how I found you. Yesterday I remembered coming to your house and talking to you but it wasn’t until today that I remembered seeing you in the news tomorrow. ‘Local resident killed in own home.’ I’m sorry I can’t call the police. Your neighbor will find your body in a few hours when they come over for your nightly beer. That was in the article. I don’t think you have much longer. I’m so sorry that I can’t help you. If I save you, then you don’t die. If you don’t die, then there’s no article for me to read. If there’s no article for me to read tomorrow, then how can I remember it today? It’s a paradox, of course.

Sometimes I dream that I remember acting on something I remember from tomorrow. I still couldn’t change anything but I could … I don’t know.

I’ve never been able to talk to anyone about this. Anytime I wanted to try I just couldn’t say anything. I think if I told someone it would change the future even if I didn’t tell them what I could remember of tomorrow. But you aren’t going to make it to tomorrow.

I’ve tried to think of a way to change things but nothing works. My thoughts just run in the same circles over and over. I want to scream but I can’t. Don’t think I’m a slave to my memories. How much of yesterday do you remember? Bits and pieces maybe a few clear spots but if I asked you to replay the day exactly you couldn’t. No one remembers every minute of their life or even of the past day. It’s the same for me and tomorrow.

I know I sound delusional and I’ve thought that myself but you’re the proof that I can remember tomorrow. How else could I have found you before anyone else? I don’t even live on this side of the city. I had to take the bus and walk around for twenty minutes to find your house. How could I have known? I couldn’t have. Are you…? Good. I was afraid I was talking to a corpse.

It won’t be much longer. I’ll stay until … it’s over. It’s the most I can do.

Cold Spots

sun-icon

Summer so far had been especially hot. Sweltering as they say. Our small window mounted AC unit had given up and died a week earlier. Even with the windows open, it was hard to keep our apartment bearable. So we were sitting on the stoop, which was at least on the shady side of the building.

The apartment complex was low rent, part government housing, and not gated in any way so it wasn’t uncommon to see people walking through that didn’t live there. This one guy stood out though. He was walking from building to building offering tenants, also sitting on their stoops, flyers. Again not unusual but the closed trench coat he was wearing stood out.

When he got close to us, I noticed another odd thing, he wasn’t sweating. Even without a trench coat covering most of his body, I would have expected at least a sheen of sweat. He should have been drenched, sweat dripping from his hair, but instead, he looked as cool as a cucumber.

“Hello, ladies,” he said while reaching into his coat. I sat up straighter, tensing until he pulled a pamphlet out and offered it to me. The title read, “Beat the heat!!” with clip art flames on the bottom.

“Sorry, we’re not interested,” I said. Probably a recruiter for a cult.

“You haven’t even heard what I’m offering.” He smiled a genuine, honest, open smile that was still a salesman’s smile. I glanced at Selene, who shrugged, so I took the pamphlet from him.

“Okay, what are you selling?” I asked flipping open the pamphlet. Inside were instructions on drawing sigils and their placement within rooms.

“First I need to ask, do you believe in ghosts?”

“Only on the weekends and holidays,” Selene said.

“Sometimes,” I said.

“Have you ever walked into a room and felt a cold spot or heard of someone experiencing a cold spot in their home?”

Selene laughed. “I’ve heard about that.”

“Good, you know ghosts can affect the ambient temperature of a room in one spot at least. Now, what if you could move the ghost around the room in a controlled manner?”

“Are you talking about cooling a house with a ghost?”

“Exactly. The pamphlet, which is yours to keep for free, has instructions on how to draw the ghost management sigils and where to place them in your home.”

“So you’re giving away your big idea for free?” I asked.

“The idea is too easy to share and duplicate to bother selling. I sell ghosts to power the cooling system.” He reached deep into one of his pockets and pulled out a small octagon box wrapped in string with a wax seal on top.

Selene leaned forward to squint at the box. “So, you’ve got some grandma’s soul trapped in a box and you’re just going to sell it to us to cool our apartment?”

“Not at all. Our spirits are ethically sourced. We do not deal in souls or remnants or poltergeists.”

“How do you ‘ethically source’ something that comes from dead people?”

“The spirits-”

“Ah, so they are souls!” Selene crowed.

The man’s smile slipped to a tight grin. “Spirit is a layperson term we use for the psychically active emotional energy we collect from donors at the time of there death. It’s no different than organ donation.”

“Except there’s a huge difference between a liver and a soul.”

He sighed and began reciting from memory, “We don’t collect souls. At the time of death, a person releases a burst of psychic energy that usually dissipates quickly. In the case of violent or traumatic death part or all of the soul can become attached to this energy creating a classic ghost, remnant, or poltergeist. Since we only collect in clinical settings our donors die peacefully with no chance of that happening.”

“That actually does sound on the up and up.”

“So, are you interested in buying your first spirit, I mean psychically active emotion energy ball?” His smile returned in full force.

“How much?” I asked

“Seven hundred dollars.”

“We could buy three AC units for that much.”

“True but this is a cooling system that will never break down and won’t run up your electric bill.”

“Sorry, we’re not interested. Have you made any sales around here?”

“Nope.” He returned the sealed box to his coat pocket.

“I didn’t think so. Most people around here can barely afford regular ACs.”

The man shrugged. “I’m aware of the financial situation of the area but you can’t find new markets without looking for them. Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you ladies but I must be moving on.”

I watched him walk off to the next building and start his spiel over again.

“Do you think this could actually work?” I asked looking over the sigils closely. Selene touched the final example and mumbled words under her breath. The black ink flashed red and a shock ran up one of my arms and down the other. I dropped the pamphlet. “Damn, warn me before you do something like that.”

“Seems to be a stable containment sigil. A bit more general purpose than I would use but serviceable. The idea is sound if slightly unethical in most cases.”

“What about George? He wasn’t a very nice person when he was alive. It would almost be fitting to put him to work cooling the apartment.”

“You said released his energies.”

“Maybe I only confined him to the cupboard over the fridge? Look we never use those cupboards anyway and it was easier than passing him over.”

“Hmm, well as long as we have a ghost we don’t mind tormenting let’s give it a whirl.”