Bourbon Penn 28

The Haunting of Apartment B

by Maureen O’Leary

A woman on Next Door complained that Apartment B was haunted.

I don’t know what you believe, but I swear this duplex is haunted AF!!. Strange noises, doors slamming, stuff move around and dead rats under my bed. Does anybody know if theres an exorcist or somebody who can come burn sage and get rid of the ghost in this house?

Emily and Silas replied to the post and heard back within an hour. By that evening they were riding their bicycles from her house in the Tahoe Park neighborhood to a Victorian in midtown shaded by massive trees in the front yard.

They stood on the sidewalk holding hands. She loved his strong fingers, calloused from his paintbrushes and pencils. “So should I ask for the money up front, or wait to see if it’s really haunted?” Emily asked.

At some point a landlord divided the house into two apartments that were marked by two mailboxes posted on the grass. The roof looked lopsided.

“Money up front. For sure.” Silas took a step back and jammed his hands into the pockets of his jeans, standing with his weight on his back foot like a ballet dancer in third position. He stood that way at a distance from his easel in his studio apartment sometimes, or as he waited for her to come out of the bathroom at the movies. They were only dating three months, but it was the longest relationship Emily ever had. And the nicest. They’d met at the gym, of all places, but here she was just three months along, letting him in on the strangest thing about her. He didn’t seem to mind, either. In fact, he was fascinated by the fact that she could see ghosts and supported her in trying to make a little money off her talent, if that was what she wanted to do.

“Do you feel anything?” he asked.

“Nothing. I feel no dead people,” she said. He grinned at that, which was what she was going for, but she hoped no real spirit inside the house heard what she said. The dead considered the term dead offensive. Ghost was just a flat-out slur. Glimmer was more polite, her own made-up word for the spirits that she had been able to see and talk with ever since she had memory.

On the porch, Emily put out feelers, imagining antenna protruding from behind her ears. There were no vibrations, positive or negative, and Emily had to admit to herself she was relieved. Glimmers could go bad, and one who was supposedly planting dead rats under somebody’s bed would require extreme caution. Shadow glimmers, as she thought of them, were no joke. One of her cousins had one in a dead ex-girlfriend. She glommed onto his back and didn’t leave until his marriage started to sour and he entered a depression he couldn’t shake. Last she heard he’d lost his job. She thought she remembered that he found a dead animal under his bed as well. One of his cats.

“Twenty bucks?” Emily shuddered and pressed the doorbell. When no one answered, she knocked. Shadow glimmers were sneaky but extremely rare. They were a danger that came from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, no more a risk than getting struck by lightning or dying in a plane crash. Aside from her cousin, the only other shadow glimmer she ever saw was on a homeless man she passed on the street one time when she was a teenager. He had a shadow glimmer as thick as a hump on his back, so heavy he was bent nearly in half.

“Make it fifty,” Silas said. He was the one who had the idea to use the Nextdoor app as a client source. Silas helped write the reply to Haunted Apartment B, settling on the word medium to describe her service since the best she could offer was mediation. Not exorcism if the glimmer was a bad vibration type. Not paranormal pest extermination. Not even sage burning.

A young woman with short blue hair answered the door.

“I’m Sherie,” she said. “Are you her?” She didn’t wait for an answer before letting them to a long, narrow stairway. They followed the woman to the top floor, her big black boots stomping on each step like a child in tantrum.

The hallway reeked of meals cooked in an under-ventilated space and opened to a living room and kitchen. The whole place had a truncated, sawed-off feel, and Emily was acutely aware that they were in half a house. A sullen bald guy in torn jeans sat on the couch and lit a cigarette while Sherie pounded on one of the closed doors yelling for a house meeting. Someone called out an obscenity. She stomped into the living room again and shoved some papers off a wooden chair. “I didn’t know there would be two of you,” she said, nodding at the bald guy. “This is my housemate, Eddie.”

Eddie nodded at Silas. Ignored Emily.

Sherie ran a hand through her hair. “So, do you want to sit down? How does this work?”

“That will be fifty bucks up front,” Silas said.

Eddie hissed. “I am not paying fifty bucks for bullshit.”

Silas put his arm around Emily and made to head down the stairs. “Sorry for the misunderstanding,” he said. She let him guide her, glad to leave. These people’s chaotic energy had the damage potential of cactus spikes on a bare foot. She didn’t need a side hustle bad enough to spend another minute in that airless, dusty room with Eddie and Sherie.

“No!” Sherie pulled a couple of crumpled twenties from her back pocket. “We’ll kick in the rest, I promise. There are thumps on the walls all night long. Dead rats under my bed in the morning. The bad energy is oppressive here. Like, I can feel it.”

“Why don’t you move out?” Emily asked.

“Yeah, Sherie. Why don’t you move out?” Eddie’s sarcasm was thick as tar.

“I found this place. I pay rent here. I shouldn’t be the one to leave. The fucking ghost should be the one to leave.” She looked at the ceiling. “Leave!” she shouted.

Bald Eddie shrugged his shoulders. “If I were you, I would leave,” he said.

“Fuck you.” Sherie stamped her foot so hard the coffee table rattled.

Silas tightened his hold around Emily’s shoulders. She felt his body tense and she wondered if Eddie and Sherie would explode into screaming, shoving, a punch in the face. She glanced at Sherie’s heavy boots, at Eddie’s cabled forearms. She felt the violence coiled inside them like irritated snakes.

A bleary-eyed guy in pajama pants and no shirt came out of one of the bedrooms, oblivious to danger or else so used to the rage between his roommates that he didn’t pay attention anymore. “Is this the medium chick?” he asked.

The medium chick. Maybe that could be her business name. Her LLC. She felt Silas watching her, waiting for her to decide what she wanted to do. He leaned on the doorjamb, his hands in his jeans pockets. Graceful, Silas was. Even in that terrible apartment, warmth spread from Emily’s middle at the sight of him.

“You like him,” a little girl said. She huddled in one of the bay window seats with a view to the street, and left no reflection in the glass.

“I can’t help it,” Emily said. “He’s just so great.”

The girl covered her mouth with her hands as she giggled.

“Who the fuck is she talking to?” the pajama man said.

“It’s a scam, man.” Eddie wasn’t convinced but Emily didn’t care. She could barely hear him.

“They always say swears,” the girl said, her voice thick with unspilled tears. “They scare me so.”

“They aren’t saying those words to you.” Emily’s antennae were buzzing now, rendering everyone in the room blurry. Everyone except this sweet, lonely child.

“They don’t even know me,” the little girl said.

“That’s right.” Emily yearned to hold her, to provide the small human comfort of a hug.

“Men built a wall in the middle of my house,” she said. “I’m lost.“

Direct questions made glimmers disappear, Emily knew this from experience, so she had to imagine the girl dying in one of the upstairs rooms, maybe of the flu, and lingering through the years until her family moved away or died one by one until she was the only one remaining. Remaining out of habit, out of not knowing how to leave. This was a thing that happened. Emily had seen such maroonings before. She couldn’t even say they were uncommon, but they were always terribly sad. Emily had no secret information to help a trapped spirit move on, whatever that even meant. She had no magic words. Most of the time the only help she could give was a little bit of company for a while.

Emily reached out her hand and in the foggy tumult of their periphery there was bitter laughter, acrid smoke, a cry of bullshit. “Come on, my love,” she said to the glimmer child. “Let me show you where the house is.”

The girl shimmered so that her wide eyes shone in the stagnant room, two glittering jewels in the waning light. Her saddle shoes skidded against the dirty hardwood floor after she jumped from the window seat and though she knew better, Emily still half-expected to feel the pressure of small fingers squeezing hers. Of course, she did not. Of course, she felt nothing. The girl had no physical reality and as a normal glimmer, little power beyond the trappings of a minor haunting. Thumps on the wall. Rat carcasses dragged across the floor.

Yet Emily pretended at holding hands, for the girl’s feelings, and guessed at something that would entertain her, a song that would keep her moving down the stinking stairwell.

Ring around the rosie,” Emily sang, and the girl joined in, her sweet contralto rising to the slanted ceiling. Emily pushed open the front door, relieved to breathe fresh air. The little girl laughed.

“Here’s my house!” She pointed to the peaked gables and skipped down the sidewalk on an invisible hopscotch grid.

“You’re not lost anymore.” Emily hoped this was true.

The glimmer hopped back on one foot, her pigtails flying, her white eyelet dress a cloud. “Those people are bad,” she said. “The bald man is always cross and puts dead rats under the blue hair lady’s bed.”

“Do you have to stay?” Emily asked.

“Not anymore,” she said. And just like that she was gone in a shiver of air, a swirl of dead leaves in the place where she had just played. Emily’s nerve endings flattened as if deflated. She always felt a bit of a letdown when they went away, but at least the girl would not be returning to Eddie and Sherie and for that she could be glad.

Inside, the tenants muttered to each other in low, angry tones. Eddie rested his feet on the coffee table, his arms crossed in front of his chest. Silas sat across from him in a wooden chair and when Emily entered, he stood. “Any luck?” he asked.

Emily handed Sherie her cash. “Nobody was haunting you,” she said.

“Eddie’s the one leaving the rats. He’s probably doing everything else too.”

Eddie jumped to his feet, spitting mad and pointing his finger in Emily’s face. Sherie leapt onto his back, pulling him off balance. They crashed into a lamp. The guy in his pajamas yelled for everybody to calm down but nobody was listening, so Silas and Emily ran down the stairs and out, into the fresh air, away from the snarled knot living in Apartment B.

“So much for the house meeting,” Emily said. The residents from Apartment A were standing on the porch, one already calling the police. Another crash sounded from inside along with Sherie shrieking in rage.

Silas and Emily unlocked their bikes and rode away from the now unhaunted house, police cars rushing by them. House grease and smoke filmed Emily’s skin. She smelled the house in her hair.

“She’s gone, you know,” Emily said as they turned down a quiet street. The insides of her elbows were watery with the strange feeling that they’d just had a very close call.

“She?” He rode sitting straight up, his arms hanging at his sides. She gripped the handlebars to keep her own hands from shaking.

“A kid. Stuck inside that apartment with those awful people, can you imagine?” She blinked at tears burning in her eyes.

“Where’d she go? Did she go toward the light?”

“I don’t know.” She moved to his right, the street ahead empty and wide.

“Did she go to heaven?”

“I don’t know, Silas, okay? Just because I can talk to them doesn’t mean I know anything about heaven or hell or if there’s a God. I don’t know anything.” She heard her own sharp tone and hated herself. She wished she was more like Silas. He was patient and gentle as if he had inside of him a deep well of peace. And the little ghost girl was right. She did like him very, very much.

He abruptly got quiet and she tried to pretend that his silence for the next few blocks was the comfortable kind, though she knew it wasn’t. She knew she’d hurt him with her impatience, but the fact was she didn’t know where glimmers went. Countless spirits passed through her life like passengers through a train station, but she was just the station. Just the bench where they rested for a minute before going on or staying put. Anything she could speculate about the girl’s destination was just speculation, and although Emily wanted to believe in a great light, in heaven even, she couldn’t say anything for sure because she just didn’t know.

Emily’s face was hot and her throat tasted like metal. Silas was just asking questions. He didn’t deserve her snapping at him. She turned to her left to apologize when oncoming traffic caused Silas to pull ahead in the bike lane. She looked up and he was smiling at her, everything forgiven because of course it was. This was Silas. Relief coursed through her body, and she lifted off her handlebars to rode with no hands just like he did and she was keeping her balance, the wind rushing against her face, cooling her cheeks as her hair streamed behind her.

A delivery truck rumbled past spewing diesel fumes. Emily steadied the handlebars, the front wheel wobbling. Silas was way ahead, not noticing she’d fallen behind. She pedaled hard to catch him and as she got closer, she saw that a misshapen shadow clung to his beautiful straight back. Her stomach dropped as the shadow moved up his spine, crawling up his T-shirt to his shoulders to rest there. Silas turned and waved, his handsome face dimpled in a grin.

“Want to head to my place?” he called. On his back, the little girl from the house clung like a dark spectral backpack. Her brown ringlets bounced as she peeked from the top of Silas’ head, a wicked grin on her tiny face, winking at Emily with her terrible shimmering eyes.

Maureen O’Leary lives in California. Her work appears in Passengers Journal, Feral Journal of Poetry and Art, The Esopus Reader, Punk Noir Magazine, Dark Winter Lit, Cajun Mutt Press, Black Spot Books’ anthology Under Her Skin, Brave Voices Magazine, and Reckon Review. She is Managing Editor of The Black Fork Review and a graduate of Ashland MFA.