Cold Spots

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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.”

Ghostly Defense

The world watched live on tv as alien ships hovered over every major city on earth. I never thought I would live to see our hopes and fears about extraterrestrial life play out on CNN. To be accurate I hadn’t lived to see it.

I had died in my sleep years before but it wasn’t peaceful. My killer stabbed me twenty-three times but the first three would have been enough. The violence, my pain, my fear, my suffering bound my spirit to earth. At least I think that’s how it happened. Maybe I’m just a remnant, a torn scrap of a soul. Existence is weird after you die.

Time is moves differently. Sometimes days blurred by; other times a night lasted forever. Then there is moving around. I could effortlessly pass through all walls, ceilings, and floors. Except I couldn’t leave my home. The outside walls were simply impenetrable to me. And worst of all, I had no body. I mean, I was a ghost so of course I didn’t have a body but I also didn’t have, like, a ghost body I could see or feel. I learned to “walk” like I had feet and “grab” things like I had hands. After a while, I fully grounded myself and settled down to quietly haunt my house.

When I was alive, I didn’t care who might live in my house after I was gone. I hadn’t expected to be around to care. Turns out I did care. I drove out several new owners for various reasons. My methods were classic haunting. I opened cabinet doors. I stomped in the hallways at night. I rattled doorknobs. I moved small items. Once I managed to break a window. It was never earth-shattering scary but if done randomly and often enough, anyone will give in. If I had to “live” with these people, then I needed to like them.

Finally, a nice lesbian couple, Lou and Betty, moved in after buying at a discount because of my haunting. They burned incense and left small food offerings, neither of which I could truly enjoy but the gesture was nice. Better than the previous owners who tried to have me exorcised. I stopped being a problem ghost and “lived” in peace with them. They didn’t know my name but knew I had been a woman so they called me Jane.

Years passed. Betty went back to school, meanwhile, Lou wrote a book but never finished the sequel. They had two kids, Diane and then Henry a couple of years later, and a parade of cats most of who mostly ignored me. The main exception was Miss. Whiskers, an older rescue, who hissed near constantly at my presence. After a couple of years, she only hissed when I entered a room.

Through it all they never forgot me. The incense burning and food offerings dwindled and stopped but I didn’t mind. They were nice people and often tried to include me in discussions. “Do you think Jane would like to watch a comedy or action movie tonight?” Most times I didn’t answer. It felt voyeuristic to be an unseen and unheard presence except by knocking on a wall. I did occasionally put on a mild show when their skeptical friends would visit.

When they brought Diane home for the first time, Lou stopped just inside the front door and introduced me to her. I gently held her hand and she tried to squeeze back. At night, I watched over her and as she started to crawl and walk I guarded her steps. Henry was much the same. I fretted all day when Diane began preschool causing the wind chimes hung in the living room to sound randomly. Betty thought it was funny that I seemed more active when the kids were out of the house. I couldn’t guide them away from sharp corners or steady them when they tripped when they were out of the house.

In my death, I had found a family. Then they appeared. Silent massive hovering alien ships. I watched the news from behind the couch as Lou, Betty, and the kids huddled together. We hoped they came in peace but when the pods began to drop that hope died. Alien controlled machines began terrorizing cities around the world.

Nearby, I heard and felt an explosion rumble through the house. They were coming and there was nothing I could do to protect my family. I became erratic; pacing through the walls, flying from floor to floor, causing doors to bang open and closed. I only stopped, when I heard Betty yelling, “Jane stop it! You’re scaring the children!” I froze in the kitchen. From outside I could hear more explosions and people yelling. Then the front of the house tore open. One of the alien machines stood staring in through the hole it had made. It raised what I could only guess was a weapon and took aim.

Time slowed as I launched myself at the machine not caring that I could do nothing. As I approached, I felt heat coming from the machine. It grew in intensity until I felt like I was burning but I continued toward it. I grabbed at the weapon and electricity lit up every nerve in my non-existent body The weapon sagged and the machine staggered back with twitchy uneven movements. I followed it out on to the lawn and reached into the body of the machine. Again electricity surged painfully through me but what was that going to do, kill me? I pressed forward to the hottest part of the machine. A horrible screeching sound came from inside the alien machine and then it collapsed to the ground.

My amazement at my apparent victory was cut short by Diane yelling, “Are you a superhero?!” I turned to see all four of my adopted family staring at me.

“You can see me?” I asked. I glanced down seeing my body for the first time in years.

“Yeah, we can see you. Who are you?” Lou asked.

“I’m … I’m Jane the ghost,” I said opting for the name they would know.

“You’re our ghost!” Diane shouted. She broke into a run towards me and passed right through me. I reached back, grabbed the back of her shirt, and pulled her back inside the house. A hand passed through me followed by a squeak from Betty.

“You really are a ghost,” she said. “What did you do to it?”

“I don’t know. I just touched it.” I heard a crash, nearby. I stepped out on the lawn to get a better look. Another machine was tearing into a house down the street. I was outside; no longer trapped in the house. My adopted family stood behind me.

“Are you going to fight it?” Henry asked.

“Yeah.” I turned around. The front of the house was torn open. “Listen the house might collapse so go someplace safe. I’m going to … take care of this.”

“Are you coming back?” Lou asked.

“Of course. You’re my family. I love y’all. I’m going to keep you safe.” I turned around and started running toward the second alien machine before I could find out if ghosts could cry.

The second machine went down as easily, except for the nonexistent burning nerve endings, as the first. Over the next few days, other empowered ghosts began to appear around the world but ghosts are rarer than most people think. There weren’t enough of us to decisively change the tide of the invasion at first. After we lured a few alien machines on to some Civil War battlefields, we started to have the numbers. The Ghost War had just begun.

The Haunted Air

The Whitmore Hotel was built in 1894, designed by Stephen Newton, and named after its owner Mary Whitmore. For many years it was an unremarkable hotel that appealed to middle-class tourists and businessmen. In the mid-1960’s, rumors that the hotel was haunted began to increase. For the next twenty years, the owners and staff disputed these stories and complaints as overactive imaginations or lies. However as guest numbers began to dwindle in the 1980’s, due to newer ghost free hotels opening, a new policy was enacted to drum up new business. Tours of the haunted floors were created along with an ad campaign to entice those interested in the supernatural to visit. This new direction paid off and the hotel was soon booked solid for months.

People flocked to see the spirits. There was Mary on the seventh floor who wandered the halls. John on the fourth floor unlocked and locked doors with his keys. On the sixth floor, Sarah stayed in her room crying just loud enough to be heard in neighboring rooms. A simple knock would quiet her for the night but those brave enough to stay the night in her room could hear her whispering about her life. Edward rode the freight elevator, announcing the floors it stopped at. The poltergeist on the tenth floor never had a name. It tossed items around at night but music could calm it.

They were strong spirits with ghostly bodies that faded in and out, except for the poltergeist. For a while, they bolstered the hotel’s popularity. People came to see and photograph Mary. They came to ride the freight elevator. They came to listen to Sarah. They even came to dodge ashtrays thrown by the poltergeist. But slowly the novelty wore off. Everyone who wanted to stay there for the ghosts had already done so or knew someone who had. Eventually, the hotel closed.

For five years, it stood unoccupied except by the ghosts and homeless until it burned down. The exact cause of the fire was never discovered. There were rumors of arson to collect insurance money but nothing was proven. Firefighters were called to the scene but in the end, the hotel was a total loss. It collapsed in on itself after only three hours. It is theorized the poltergeist may have become agitated during the fire and created a wind funnel effect that fanned the flames. No one was killed, five firefighters were injured.

The night after and every night since the Whitmore collapsed, Mary and John could be seen in the air “walking” through the now non-existent hallways. Sarah was also visible and audible in her “room” from the ground. Edward would not be seen again for several months until the freight elevator was uncovered in the basement while clearing the debris. After it was removed, he took up station where it once stood on the first floor. The poltergeist remained, ten stories above ground, unconsolable and constantly lashing out. Gusts of wind can be observed in the empty lot even on still nights.

There are currently no plans to build there.

Our Ghosts

When we expand out from earth,
When space, local space at least, is not the great unknown,
When the Moon is just next door and Mars is a long trip but not unreachable,
Will our ghosts go with us?

A cosmonaut died from a cracked faceplate.
Go on an EVA alone, turn off your radio
Say her name five times and listen
You will hear the air hissing out of the crack

Will there be phantom astronauts drifting in orbit?
Will we hear distress calls from ships long dead?
Will there be knocks in the night on the airlock door?
Will the ghosts haunt the ships they once flew on?

A man died in airlock two
Go into airlock two without a helmet
Close the door and wait
His ghost will open the door

They say you can hear voices of dead astronauts in the static.
They say cargo hold three is haunted by men killed when it decompressed.
They say sometimes you see rocket burns in the distance from ships not there.
They say space is a graveyard with no markers.