The One That Got Away
That night I dreamed about sharp, sharp teeth. A rat came up to me in the middle of it and said "you have a lot to learn, kid." Then it ran off.
I woke up to a sunny Sunday morning and an already hot apartment. it was still fifteen minutes before I'd set my alarm to ring. I turned it off anyway and sat on the edge of the bed for a couple of minutes, trying to clear my head. Eventually I slid the temperature on the air conditioner down and showered, contemplating my immediate problems. Clean the apartment. Restock at least the bare bones of my kit. And then meet my new client tomorrow evening, work on Monday, and the house blessing Tuesday afternoon.
I tried not to feel overwhelmed. Instead, I turned on my computer and turned on my favorite guilty pleasure music, a mix of early 80s arena rock power ballads, and got to work on the cleaning.
It didn't go as fast as I would have liked, but it went faster than it would have if I hadn't spent the time singing Journey and Aerosmith. Some of the clutter went into the closet, because I wasn't sure where I wanted to put it and I didn't have time to reorganize the apartment, only to clean it.
I took the bus down to the closest Goodwill and headed inside to look for the bones to rebuild my kit.
It took me three thrift stores to find a bag I liked – though this one wasn't actually a bag, it was a hard-sided train case. It looked like a good size, though, and it latched, which meant that it'd be harder for things to fall out if it was, say, rolling down a hill. Not that I intended to let that happen again.
It had little metal triangles on either side where I could attach a shoulder strap and even came with the key to the lock taped inside.
Three dollars. Not bad.
I paid for it and a few little things – a shell necklace I could break down for cowries, a rosary that had been well-loved and a pocket watch that looked like it still ran.
After that I caught the bus up to something a little more expected- a new age pagan store. I didn't usually like these kinds of places, but there are things you're just not going to find secondhand.
I picked up a few rough stones (tourmaline, bloodstone, and a couple pieces of quartz) and a tiny container of luck oil, figuring I needed it something fierce just now. The store clerk looked at me oddly as I paid, like she was trying to figure out whether to help me out or accuse me of shoplifting. She wasn't the one who normally ran the register in here and I mentally looked myself over – t-shirt and jeans, darker skin, and no obvious rhyme or reason to what I was buying. Maybe she thought I was setting up someone else, but I was the only one in the store. And of course, I wasn't dressed like the usual fancy customers that came in here.
It also doesn't help that I tend to give off an aura of Poor Innocent Me I Have No Idea About This Magic Stuff. Sometimes it saved my life – like it probably had on the train the day before – but mostly it meant that people who should have been my colleagues talked to me like I was still in high school. All it served to do was piss me off.
I wanted to replace my divination tools, but I didn't like any of the tarot decks at first glance and the looks from the sales clerk weren't exactly encouraging me to stick around much longer. I left the store, but I still had about twenty minutes to wait for the bus going back in the other direction. I wandered into the closest open shop, which happened to be a comic book store.
I'd wandered through here a couple of times while waiting for the bus up here. Usually I just poked around the comics until it was time to go, but today I felt drawn over to the counter. There were a number of tiny things tucked behind there where it was harder for kids to get grabby fingers on them.
The dice stood out to me like I was drawn to them. I waited for the guy behind the counter to notice me, and watched the -Gasp! A Girl!- look wash over his face before he asked me if he could help me with anything.
I asked to see the dice in the case, specifically a pair in the front that seemed to be almost transparent. He pulled them out for me and took the bottom off the case so I could inspect them. I let them fall into my hand and experimentally tossed two on the counter, asking how my meeting with the client would go tonight.
The two ten-sided dice gave me a perfect one hundred, which had to be a good sign. I paid for the dice on the spot and added one more bag to my handful. The bus was pulling up just as I left the store and I jumped on. One more problem solved, I thought to myself as I headed home.
Meeting with clients is a delicate business. A lot of new clients, unless they've been referred by someone who warns them, expect me to be older, or maybe white, or maybe to look like Miss Cleo in those old commercials. Short Latina in her twenties? Almost never on the radar.
So I spend a little more time than I'd like to admit dressing up for a new client, making sure I don't look too casual. Out of jeans and t-shirts, I don't look quite as desperately young. Add a little bit of magical-looking jewelry (virtually never stuff that's actually got any power in it) and the calmest, most knowledgeable demeanor they will ever see from me, and you've got my best foot forward.
In addition, I cracked open the plastic on a new hardcover writing journal. I used these for all sorts of records – research, client notes, records of things I ran into on my own. When I was talking to clients, I usually wrote down appointments in longhand and transferred them to my phone's calendar later – people tend to be put off by you typing into a phone while they're talking, even if you tell them what you're doing.
The knock on my door came about ten minutes early, but I was already sitting there waiting, so I didn't mind too much. As I stood, I noticed the candle I'd lit for the thief was out. I made a note to re-light it later as I opened the door.
I didn't know too much about this client ahead of time. She'd said she was referred by an old friend of mine who'd moved out of the area, which was odd but not impossible. She turned out to be only a little older than me, with red-brown hair and blue eyes behind glasses.
"Are you Sophie Garcia?"
It was the same name she'd used on the phone, a nickname I hadn't gone by in over a year.
"You can call me Garcia," I told her. "Please, come in."
"Call me Susan." As she stepped in, I noticed she was leaning on a cane as she walked. I was suddenly very glad I'd finished cleaning up all the mess from the middle of the floor.
"Now then," I said as she settled into one of my armchairs. "You said one of my clients had referred you, right?"
"She didn't say she was a client. But Gwen did, yes."
Oh. My ex. That was not a great sign. Knowing Susan had been referred by my ex-girlfriend made me even warier than I normally was with a new client. "What exactly did Gwen tell you about me?"
She looked embarrassed. "Not very much. She said I shouldn't talk to you about her at all, actually."
I rolled my eyes. That sounded like Gwen alright. "She always says that about her exes."
"Oh, you and she were…" she trailed off.
"I hope you don't have a problem with that." I hadn't gotten any weird vibrations off of her but there were always things that jumped out and surprised you.
"Not unless you do. She and I were involved as well."
I smirked. "No wonder she didn't want you to talk about her with me, then. How's she doing?"
"I haven't seen her since I moved back to Phoenix, but I guess she's doing okay. She had a new girlfriend ready to go before we broke up."
Somehow that wasn't surprising. "It happens. Anyway, I'm sure gossip wasn't the reason you came in today."
"Not exactly, no. I came to see you because of school."
"School?" I raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure Gwen told you I can't do any spells to raise your grades or anything like that."
She shook her head. "That's not it at all, no. My grades are fine. The problem is in the library."
"I got a job there working the overnight shift – it's easy work and I like the people. But I came across a ghost one night and now it won't leave me alone."
"Ah, an exorcism."
"Probably. I asked Gwen what she suggested and she recommended you. She said she taught you everything she knew."
I laughed at that. "I was doing this before I met her, but knowing her, she meant it as a compliment."
Susan nodded. "Somehow I'm more reassured to know that than I was when I thought she taught you everything."
"Yeah, well, let's not dwell on her. So tell me about this ghost." I sat down in the opposite armchair, the fresh journal in my lap.
"It's a young woman, she looks college aged. Maybe a freshman or a sophomore. There's something wrong with her face, to the point where I can't see it, but she keeps asking me to help her."
"Do you usually see ghosts?"
"Yeah, I'm prone to it, but they don't usually ask me for help."
I nodded. "It's definitely odd that she'd be so active. Does she stay in one area?"
"Well, she stays in the library. I haven't seen her outside of it. I first encountered her downstairs in the periodicals but she's turned up all over since then. I guessed she noticed I can see her, because she follows me around all the time."
"When's your next shift? I can come out and check it out."
"Tomorrow night at eleven. I'll be working the circulation desk."
I made a note of the time and the place and agreed to meet her there. We discussed a few other details, and as she was about to leave she asked about one more thing.
"What do I owe you?"
"I never set a price before I meet the ghost. Consider it a free consultation tomorrow; you don't have to take me up on it once I set the price."
She thanked me and I saw her to the door.
Alone again in my apartment, I ran a bath. It had been a long day on public transportation and I needed to get the knots out of my back. I added lavender, for relaxation.
I had just about closed my eyes and started to relax when I felt something bite my leg. I pulled my legs in immediately, and when I felt similar pain in my side I was out of the tub as fast as I could stumble.
There was nothing in the tub, but there we red welts on my skin where I'd felt the bites. "What the crap?"
"Not fun, is it?" The voice was coming from all around me and it took me a moment to recognize it.
"You again," I sighed. I'd forgotten entirely about letting the candle go out.
"Do you have to sound so bored?" his voice was less echoing and more localized, at a spot behind me.
I turned. "I'm a professional. What were you expecting?"
"Not that professional. You couldn't keep me away from those shark things." He sounded almost normal now, and was starting to fade into view, sitting on my bathroom counter.
I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around myself. "Mermaids."
"Those sure didn't look like any mermaid I've ever seen."
"I'm betting the only mermaid you've ever seen was named Ariel."
He hesitated. "Okay, that's fair, missy."
"Besides, I told you not to go in. They'd probably already gotten you by then."
"What do you mean, gotten me?" He looked almost solid now, and had no trouble following me out of the bathroom and into the living room.
"Mermaids can entice you. Kind of like sirens, but they don't have to sing. Their voice can do it, and sometimes their eyes are enough."
"So I was, like, hypnotized?"
I nodded. "So you didn't hear me when I yelled no, and you didn't even flinch much when they bit you."
"That- I didn't? It felt like I did."
"Nope. You were just kind of... bleeding quietly."
He looked down at his arms, which were solid enough for me to see had large chunks torn from them. I was back to feeling bad for the guy, really.
"Look, why don't you just move on? It'll be better for you."
His head snapped up and he looked at me with something like fear. "No! I don't want to go to Hell."
"You don't know that you're going to Hell."
"I was a thief. That's sinning. And I didn't get last rites. I haven't even been to confession in weeks!"
I hesitated a minute before replying, to let my brain sort itself back into Good Catholic mode. It wasn't a point of view I had to take often but I'd grown up with it so it was easy enough, like pulling out an old blanket.
"I can light candles for you if you want. Arrange to have Mass said for you."
"You don't even know my name."
He was right. I sighed. "Okay, fine, let's start from the beginning, okay? Hi, nice to meet you, my name is Garcia. What's yours?"
"Garcia? What kind of name is that?"
"What's yours?" I repeated, glaring.
"Okay, Jesse Daniels, first rule of being dead or otherwise metaphysically unusual is you do not give your full name out casually."
"But you asked for it! You tricked me!"
"You could have just given me your first name. Or your last, which is what I do."
He nodded, sullen. "I guess."
"Anyway, it's much easier for me to help you if I know your name."
"What kind of help did you have in mind? I still don't want to move on or whatever."
"You sure? It's better than staying here. Stealing isn't that bad a sin, you'd probably just go to Purgatory and work off your sins after a while."
"That doesn't sound better. That sounds boring. Or painful, if it's not boring. I don't remember which."
To be honest, neither did I. "But it's better than Hell."
"Why don't I work off my sins here? I can do good deeds! Like, ghostly good deeds. I can be like that Casper kid and haunt the shit out of friendliness."
"I mean- haunt friendily. What's the word?"
"I have no idea. But if you really want to stick around-"
"I guess I can help with that, too."
"If I link your spirit to something, you won't have to focus on staying here. It'll just happen automatically. How does that sound?"
He nodded. "That sounds okay. You'd let me go if I wanted?"
"Yeah. Having a whiny ghost around that doesn't want to be here isn't worth the effort."
"Oh, I totally get- hey!"
"Right now I need to sleep, though. Ask me again tomorrow night, okay?"
He didn't look happy, but he agreed and even left without further argument when I told him to. I finally managed to get into bed, and I fell asleep almost immediately.
I woke up with the last image from my dream in my mind, a large blue foam rat that started talking to me. I shook it off – I didn't have much time for much dream analysis. I had to go work.
Three days a week I catch the bus down to the call center and work my ten hour shift. It's not quite fun, but I've worked plenty of worse jobs. As call centers go, this one's not bad. Most of my co-workers are friendly, most of the people are happy to hear from us, and most of the time we're left alone to do our jobs. The only thing I didn't like about it was the fact that I was required to be up at the ass crack of dawn to get to work on time. Two buses and a twenty minute layover to go four miles? Welcome to Phoenix public transit – it's super efficient, except when it's not.
I was already tired when I got home, and I knew odds were good I'd be up late, so I laid down to take a nap. Just to be on the safe side, I set my alarm so I had plenty of time to get to the library.
When I woke up, I was running late and Jesse was standing there, playing with the alarm clock.
"What the hell?" I asked him as I dashed out of bed to my closet. "Why would you mess with my alarm clock?"
"I didn't mean to," he insisted. "I was just seeing if I could move it."
The alarm slipped through his hands and fell to the floor with a cracking noise. "Sorry."
I pulled on a t-shirt and went back over to pick up the clock. "I have to go out." There were bits of plastic all over the floor, but it seemed to still be running. I set it back on the bedside table.
"But you told me to come back tonight and you'd help me."
I sighed. He was right. "Okay, step one is for me to speak your name and call you in."
"But I'm already here."
"Who's in charge of this, me or you?"
"You are, Garcia."
"Good." I lit a fresh candle, this one a blue seven day votive candle, and rattled off the first thing that came to mind. "Jessie Daniels, I call you forth from the afterlife. You need not wander; you are welcome in this place. Come in and be comforted."
His form seemed to solidify in front of me. "Hey, neat."
I nodded. "Calling you in makes your presence not only allowed but welcomed. Later on I'll find something to bind your soul to, but for now that should be enough to keep you here."
"Thank you," Jesse said.
"Now I'm already insanely late, so I'll see you later," I told him and hurried out the door.
I was very late – I'd already missed the bus I intended to take and just barely got to the bus stop in time for the next one. Luckily my client had me meeting her at her job, so at least I knew she wasn't going anywhere. I was more than half an hour late when I strode into the library and she looked relieved when I caught her eye across the lobby.
"I thought maybe you'd decided not to come," Susan said as I walked up to her. She sounded as relieved as she looked. I hadn't spent a lot of time in the University's library lately but it was like an old friend – most of the libraries in town are to me, even the ones underneath. I knew where the periodicals were but I let Susan lead me down in the elevator and to the spot where she'd first encountered the ghost.
"It was down here. You can imagine how quiet it gets down here in the middle of the night," she said as we stepped out. The periodicals are stored on a series of motorized shelves to save space. For every open aisle, there are three or four pressed together, and you access the one you want by pushing the buttons on the ends of the shelves, sending them sliding along the rails.
She pressed the buttons to open a particular aisle and started down it, carefully placing her cane outside the rails and guides to keep from tripping. I followed her about halfway down the aisle before she stopped and pointed to some faint stains on the carpet.
"I think those are bloodstains. This is the place where I first saw her."
I knelt down and placed my hands on the stains, trying to sense any energy that might be left in them. "Did you try to research the death?"
She nodded. "I couldn't find any reference to someone dying in the library. Nothing at all."
"That's weird. You'd think somebody would report that. Police blotter, at least? When some drunk goes over the banister of their apartment its front page news in the State Press."
"I know," she said. "But there was nothing. I thought that was weird by itself."
"Well, we'll just have to start with her, then." I closed my eyes and tried to feel the energy of the library. There were plenty of people around, but it was less electric than most places that see that much activity.
Libraries tend to be almost meditative, in terms of energy wavelengths. They're quieter than they should be for the amount of traffic they see. To me, they're generally warm and inviting places. Sometimes, if they're old or busy enough, they acquire a genus loci, a spirit of place, and Hayden is one of those libraries.
"Did someone die here?" I asked the library.
"Look out," it whispered.
I heard the engine come to life again.
"Who?" Susan asked as she noticed the shelves beginning to move. She jammed her cane against the base of one, which slowed it down.
"Both sides shouldn't be able to move at once!"
"I won't be silenced!" a girl's voice yelled behind above us. "You can't get rid of me!"
Thinking quickly as the shelves closed in on us, Susan ignored the ghost shrieking above us and laid her cane down into the track the shelf's wheels ran along. She slipped it into place just in time, as the shelves were almost immediately stopped along both ends.
"No!" the ghost yelled.
"Please be quiet, this is a library," Susan snapped. "You'll upset the patrons."
The voice dropped down in front of us and was barely more than a whisper now. "Sorry."
"You've been following me around for weeks now, and when I try to help you, you... you... do whatever this was! What did you think you were going to accomplish, anyway?"
"I just panicked," the ghost said, sounding like she might cry. "I don't want to be exorcised. Then I'd really be forgotten!"
"Why don't you tell me what happened and I'll see if I can help you," I said, hoping to keep her calm and talking.
She was just beginning to solidify when she started talking. "I don't remember a lot. I was down here doing some research. My boyfriend was supposed to meet me but he was running late. I thought I heard him say my name, so I started to turn around, and then I just felt like someone was stabbing me in the face."
"Did your boyfriend hurt you?"
"He wouldn't! He was the sweetest guy, and a total pacifist." She shook her head, and now she was solid enough that I could see what Susan had told me about before – most of her face was a mask of red, almost like she was wearing a lace veil. I'd occasionally run into ghosts that showed all their injuries in gruesome detail, but she seemed not to be the type, thankfully. Some people really dwell on their wounds and visualize them, and some show them only symbolically, or not at all. It's all up to the ghost really – keep that in mind next time you're dealing with a really horrifying one.
"Were you aware of anything after that?"
"Somebody came and took my body. Police, I think? I wasn't really aware of what was going on yet, but I heard them tell someone it had been an accident with the stacks. It wasn't, though."
"So now you haunt the stacks, trying to cause another so-called accident?"
"Well, not really." She put her hands into ghostly pockets. "It just seemed like a good idea at the time, you know?"
I looked at Susan. "You're sure there was nothing about someone dying in the stacks?"
"Nope. Nothing at all."
"Hm. I'll have to follow up on that tomorrow." I made a note in my journal. "Miss... what was your name?"
"Madeline, right. So what do you want? For people to know how you died?"
She looked up at the ceiling. "I don't know. I mean, I feel like people forgot me, you know? Somebody killed me, but they don't even believe that."
"Well, I'll see what I can find out about that, and then I'll come back..." I looked at Susan. "When do you work again?"
"Right. I'll come back Wednesday with Susan here and we'll see what I can go over, okay? As long as you're not bothering people, I'm not going to exorcise you against your will."
"Thanks." She smiled, and I suspected it was the first time she'd had reason to in a while.
"Oh, help me narrow it down. When did you die?"
"Um..." Madeline looked thoughtful. "Maybe two months ago?"
"What's the last date you remember it being?"
"It was right before Homecoming."
Susan looked at me, confused. "But Homecoming was months ago, almost a year. It's July now."
"What?" the ghost looked like she might cry.
"Time's different for ghosts," I told her. "It's okay. It doesn't hurt anything, and it won't make this too much harder. It's not like you died in the sixties or anything, right?"
"Nope. Good ol' 1997."
"What?" she asked.
"Never mind," I told her. "We'll be back soon, okay?"
"Yeah. Thanks. Sorry for scaring you."
Susan and I made our way back to the elevators. The temperature had dropped while we were talking to the ghost and it was quite chilly now. I realized that I'd been so busy arguing with Jesse back at my apartment that I'd forgotten to bring anything for the inevitable air conditioning freeze.
The problem with summer in Arizona is that it's so hot outside, businesses try to compromise by lowering the temperature inside as far below comfortable as the outside temperature is above it. This means that when it's 120 degrees outside, it's about 50 degrees inside any given public building.
Still, I'd be back outside in no time and it was hot enough that I shouldn't have any trouble warming up. I had to hurry if I was going to catch the last bus, though.
"Why didn't you tell her how long it's been?" Susan asked as the elevator doors closed.
"I didn't want to upset her any more than she already was," I admitted. "The last thing I want to deal with is a crying ghost."
Susan nodded. "So... you already promised to come back, but you haven't told me what you're charging."
I shrugged. "This isn't a deal with you anymore. It's a deal with her. You're just the one who put her in touch with me, essentially."
"Oh." She sounded disappointed.
"Is that a problem?"
"No," she said in a way that indicated that it clearly was. "It's just- it's exactly what I got from Gwen, too, I don't know why I expected any different from someone she introduced me to."
"What?" I had to get to the bus stop, but I sure as hell was not letting that one go. Gwen and I were still on speaking terms, but just barely, and mostly because it was easier to keep talking to her than it was to put up with her reaction if you told her off.
"You use me for as long as it's useful and then you tell me to get out of the way and let the real psychics do the work." Susan said it with real bitterness.
"That's not what I meant at all," I told her. "You're welcome to stay involved if you want. And if it's that big a deal, you're welcome to pay me whatever you think is fair, but I'm not going to charge you after I've already promised the ghost something. I told you I'd give you an estimate before you obligated yourself; that wouldn't be fair."
She nodded. "Okay then, that makes sense. I didn't mean to go off like that."
I shrugged. "I know Gwen too, remember? Just don't mistake me for her again and we'll be fine."
Susan smiled at me. "Thanks."
"No problem. I'll see you on Wednesday." I had to run to the bus stop but I made it just in time to catch the last bus. Thank god. I didn't have to get up quite as early on the days I didn't work, but that didn't mean I wanted to walk home at one in the morning, either. Even this time of day, it was warm enough for a couple of miles walk to be uncomfortable.
I tucked myself into bed, waiting to see if Jesse was hanging around, but he didn't say anything if he was.Part 3: On the Road