by Brendan Burton
Hey, my name’s Brendan Burton. I’m an HVAC technician by day and a wannabe writer by night. If you enjoyed my story, check out my Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/thefightingwriter.
“Let’s see the damage.”
I slid my key into the oak door of the derelict townhouse and pushed the entry open on creaking hinges. Cardboard boxes stacked as high as my head lined the foyer walls. They brimmed with yellowed newspapers, canned food, and other junk. A quarter-inch layer of dust coated everything. Flecks danced in the sunlight filtering through the dirt-streaked windows.
“Damn.” I pulled the unlit stogie from my mouth and held it in my left hand. “What a mess.”
Dropping the key into the right trouser pocket of my turquoise leisure suit, I stepped inside. I set my faux crocodile leather briefcase on the floor and tapped the toes of my scuffed loafers against the pinewood planks. Still, I should be able to flip this heap. Just need to handle the…ah…tenant.
“Alright,” I said to the dust choked air. “Come out! No use beating around the bush.”
A chill draft blew through the foyer. The translucent figure of an emaciated old man materialized a few feet in front of me. White-haired. White-bearded. With ice-blue eyes that glared out from a sea of wrinkles. He wore a stained cotton wife-beater, and a faded pair of red and blue striped briefs. His feet were donned with two fuzzy slippers. The right was hot pink with a set of floppy bunny ears and the left was baby-blue with a large hole in the front that let his big toe poke through. My resident spirit crossed his thin arms over his bird chest and frowned.
“You the man that used to own this place—” I snapped my fingers to jog the noggin “—Mr. Withers?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Withers in a dry voice. “You can see me?”
“That seems obvious.”
“I’m, uh, what do you call it—” I snapped my fingers again, trying to find the word “—psychic. Yeah, that’s it. Psychic.”
“Oh,” said Mr. Withers, nonplussed. “Why are you here?”
I pointed the tip of my cigar at the specter. “You see, Mr. Withers, I’m the new owner. Bought the place a week ago.”
“And I want you to scram. Take the first train out. Hit the old dusty trail.”
Mr. Wither’s hook nose crinkled. “Huh?”
“Leave,” I said. “Pack your bags and go…well…wherever you’re supposed to go.”
“Oh. That all?”
“Yeah. What do you say?”
The ghost stroked the wisps of his white beard. “…no.”
I frowned and felt the creases of my forehead deepen. “Why not?”
“Don’t want to.”
“That’s not a good reason.”
Mr. Withers blue eyes dropped to gaze at his feet, then looked back to me. “Looks like it,” he said.
“And you don’t need the house?”
“I don’t need much of anything, not anymore.”
“But you won’t leave?”
I swished my cigar in the ghost’s direction and rubbed my free hand across the three long hairs I’d combed over my bald pate. What a pain, a throbbing hemorrhoid buried deep where the sun doesn’t shine. I sighed. If he doesn’t want to leave on his own, well, I’ll have to convince him.
“Don’t you have better things to do?” I asked.
Mr. Withers pondered the question for a moment. “Can’t think of any,” he finally said.
“Don’t want to go to heaven?”
“Ah, come on,” I said. “Surely, you’ve got someone waiting for you on the other side.”
The specter shook his head. “Nope.”
“Never had any.”
“Brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents? Hell…an acquaintance from work, or a favorite hooker?”
“Just me…myself…and my house.”
Lord. That’s sad. Even I’ve got the old lady and my pack of rug rats waiting at home. I scraped the floor with my right loafer. Dust swirled around my shoes. There had to be something that would get him out. Anything.
“Why here?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” said Mr. Withers.
“You’re a ghost. You could go anywhere. See anything, everything. All the wonders of the world are at your fingertips. Why stay in this dump?”
Mr. Wither’s eyes flared. He scowled and said, “This dumb is my home. I built it. Lived in it. Died in it. This is where I belong, and I won’t leave. Not now…not ever.”
I reached up and rubbed my right temple with my right hand, trying to soothe the headache building in my skull. This isn’t going well. Not a bit. I stuck the butt of my cigar in my mouth, gnawed it a few times, and pulled it back out. Diplomacy isn’t doing the trick. I don’t want to twist the coot’s arm, but how do I sell a place with a literal ghost in the attic? Won’t happen. No…I’m going to have to play hardball.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Withers, truly,” I said, “but you aren’t giving me any choice.”
The specter cocked an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“Well, if you won’t clear out, I’ll have you kicked to the curb.”
“Exorcised!” I said. “You know, with the priest, and the prayers, and the holy water. I won’t put up with a two-bit, rent-dodging Casper.”
“Exorcise…me?” asked Mr. Withers, an edge creeping into his voice.
“Ab-so-lute-ly!” I said, punctuating each syllable with a stab of my cigar.
Mr. Withers haggard face twisted with the fury of a tempest. “I see.” His ice-blue eyes burned with internal fire. A field of energy crackled around him. The boxes in the foyer trembled, and the plank floor shook. “That…won’t…do.”
I gulped. “What are you—” I felt a tug behind my belly button and was yanked into the air. The fabric of my jacket and trousers rippled. The stogie fell from my hand. My comb-over whipped off the top of my head.
Mr. Withers drew me forward until we were eye to eye. “You may kick me to the curb,” he said, “but I’ll pull this house down around you, and the priest, and the prayers, and the holy water. You will never have it. Never.”
Boy, did he call my bluff. My teeth chattered. A ripple of fear traveled down the length of my spine. Who would’ve thought the spirit of one old recluse could do so much? Despite the terror coursing through my veins like ice water, my mind buzzed. Calculated. Worried at a possibility, like a dog with a bone. Maybe…maybe I can spin this.
“Alright,” I said, voice cracking. “You got me. You win. Clearly, you are the boss. No exorcisms. Swear it on my momma’s grave.” I cleared my throat. “Now put me down, will you?”
Mr. Wither squinted, and the fire left his eyes. “Fine.”
The pressure in my gut released, and I clattered to the floor. Standing, I brushed my suit off and returned each strand of hair to its proper place. “Lord,” I said, “can you pull that poltergeist routine anytime you want?”
The ghost hesitated before answering, “Yes.”
“And you’d rather level the place than leave?”
“I made that clear.”
“You sure did.”
I bent over and picked my cigar off the floor, blew on it, and jammed the end in my mouth. I straightened to my full height. “Well,” I said, “what if I find a solution that suits us both? I make my money, and you keep your house.”
The spirit pursed his lips. “…go on.”
I grinned. “How do you feel about Halloween?”