Tag Archives: ghost stories

Roscoe: Ghost Town

A mining town

…Tillie says we shall be boarding the 3:10 from Leadville as soon as she can collect the funds from Mrs. Mulaney. I am eager. A queer pall has fallen over the town, I feel as if I can no longer draw a deep breath no matter how I loosen my laces. I dreamed of a spider that held the stars in its web last night. All my sleeps are uneasy….

—Molly Bartlett, journal entry dated June 16th, 1882

The boomtown of Roscoe was not unlike other towns that sprang up during the Colorado silver rush, right up until the point where the entire town’s population vanished in a single day. The town began when William Roscoe was forced to shoot his mule some distance from Leadville after the animal turned its leg on a small bolder. When he examined the boulder in question, Roscoe discovered a nugget of silver that eventually led him to a rich seam of the precious metal. Roscoe (colloquially known as Big Bill) grew up the illegitimate son of a wealthy east coast landowner. Friends described him as a man continually striving for respectability and power. Both came in the form of the boomtown he named after himself, not long after asserting his office as mayor.

Board and feed: 4 horses, 2 pack mules, 1(unreadable)
Note: customer has left a promissory note for the total fee. Collect on Tuesday.

—Livery bill, dated June 16th, 1882

It its peak, Roscoe boasted a population of 4,000-7,000. It had two hotels, three casinos, a post office, a livery stable, a general store, a clothing boutique, and a telegraph station. Most of the inhabitants lived in simple tar-paper shacks, though a few built more permanent housing. Roscoe lived in the mayor’s mansion, a green building that sat at the end of mainstreet. The five-story house was leveled, along with many other of the town’s now-empty buildings, in the earthquake of November 7th, 1882. Still standing is the mansion of Nathaniel and Flora Schilling, built just outside of the town according to Flora’s wishes to remain separate from the common folk that guested her husband’s hotel. Though the dry mountain air has preserved much of the wood, the entire town has been classified as a hazard and closed to public visitors.


—Telegraph by A. Smith, Pinkerton agent, sent June 16th, 1882

The date of the town’s disappearance holds significance in the mythological history of the United States. Nearby Finntown reported the town’s wells clouding over with an odd yellow dust that thickened the water like aspic. Further away in Dubuque, Iowa, frogs were found frozen inside giant hailstones that pelted the city. In New York a man wearing a lady’s coat, bearing a newspaper-wrapped bundle, disappeared into the New York Times office and never reemerged. Countless other small, less-verifiable tales lay scattered on this same date.

Most theories on the town’s demise center around the paranormal. UFO enthusiasts often point to circular burn marks found on the placers as proof of abduction. Other theories range from ghostly vengeance, black magic, and wormholes. The fact that all written records of the town simply stop at June 16th, most barely hinting at anything sinister at all, lends itself to many different interpretations. The theory put forth by Leadville law enforcement was that some drastic change in the mine had lead to a sudden mass exodus of the town. The question of why no inhabitant made the trek to any of the nearby camps over well-worn trails remains unanswered, along with the ultimate fates of the townsfolk. Prevailing wisdom of the time said that the miners had drowned themselves in a tailings pond. This was proven false when all bodies of water in the surrounding areas were dragged, producing no skeletal remains.

[…]Hazel. As this letter reaches you, I yearn for the simplicity of my time in Silver City. I had thought becoming a municipal figure would carry with it great pride and status. Yet my head is heavy as ever, my thoughts turn black with melancholy. There are things I wish to reverse, yet cannot, and as I have polluted myself and others I can never find forgiveness in His eyes. I only wish that you

—Unfinished letter from the desk of William Roscoe, June 16th, 1882

At the time of its disappearance, the town’s population had shrunk to a modest 2,000 or so. The vein of silver that had once seemed limitless was petering out. Miners were drifting to other camps or attempting to find new veins to tap. The town might have dwindled down to nothing like the other boomtowns of the area, lingering on only to become another tourist attraction. In a strange stroke of happenstance, the town’s demise allowed it to live on past the mine’s depletion in a memorable fashion. The motley collection of written accounts, innuendos, hearsay, and folk myth constitute the town’s legacy, and it is a warped legacy indeed.


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Jonelle shut her eyes. Beside her office window was a poster of a waterfall. In large, sans-serif font, the word “calm” was stamped over the sky.

Jonelle took deep breaths.

“Today,” she said on the exhale, “today.”

Driving up to Brentwood, she retrieved the picket-bottomed signs from her trunk and stuck them at main thoroughfares and crosswalks. She left off once she got within a few blocks of the house.

9274 Brentwood drive was clean and neat when she drove up. The lawn was dead. The siding on the east wall separated slightly. Turning off the ignition to her car, Jonelle clasped her hands and made a mental list. The house was close to three schools, two elementary and one middle school. The shopping center at Sunridge was ten minutes away. Convenience. Equity. Think, think.

The front door stuck slightly. She popped a can of 3-in-1 oil from her purse and took care of the hinges. The house had a smell that never quite went away. She opened windows and sprayed Citrus Lavender liquid potpourri liberally, three cans full. She checked light switches, faucets and sinks.

And ten am sharp, she took a deep breath and pasted a smile on her face.

“The front entryway has the original wallpaper. There is some slight wear and tear around the front door, but a few rugs down will make a world of difference.”

Couple, mid-fifties. Claimed to own three houses in the area already. The woman wrinkled her nose. “What’s that smell?”

Jonelle didn’t hesitate. “It’s my experience when houses stand empty for a while, they lose a lot of their familiar homey scents. In here is the den.”

She paced them into a white-carpeted room, footsteps echoing against the baseboard.

“The last owner had this room wired for satellite,” she said, hands out like signboards. “and this wall would comfortably fit any entertainment center.”

The woman scrunched up her nose. The man of the couple took a few experimental kicks at the floor.

“What’s under here?”

“Hardwood. Slight water damage, so if you pull up the carpets expect a bit of work.”

He was frowning down at the rug. “Is that…is that a wet stain?”

“Probably dust,” Jonelle said quickly, “shall we look at the kitchen?”

Despite her earlier tests, the bulb in the kitchen range did not come on. The woman clicked her tongue. Jonelle soldiered on through it, pointing out the brand-new gas range and refrigerator, all included with the house. The couple clicked switches, pulled out drawers, and frowned to themselves.

“How’s the water out here?”

Jonelle flicked on a faucet. “It’s got a little bit of a taste to it, so a filter is recommended. Some soft water tablets would be divine, but you didn’t hear it…” she trailed off.

They were looking past her hand to the sink, where the water ran red.


Jonelle shut the front door firmly but silently.

“Today, she chanted to herself, “I will sell this house today.”

The mysterious stain had disappeared from the living room carpet. The water from the faucet ran traitorously clear. Jonelle frowned at it.

11 am’s showing was a single man, casually dressed and alone. Jonelle brushed off her misgivings and showed him through.

“Three bedrooms that easily convert into a guest or game room,” she said, leading her way through the upstairs hall. Nothing she said changed the placid, bored expression on his face. “The yard was actually zoned for a swimming pool that never got built, so if you are into above-ground models, you’d be free and clear.”

“Yeah, ah.” He snorted. “So is this where it happened?”

Jonelle grew very still. “I’m sorry? Where what happened?”

“You know, it. The whole thing.”

Jonelle was firm. “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“For what? I’m not done.” he sneered. “I wanna buy a house.”

“Please,” she said, “you can leave or I can have the authorities escort you out.”

They stared at each other, in stalemate. Jonelle did not crack.

Finally he snorted and rolled his eyes, shoving both hands into his hoodie pocket.

As she slammed the door after him, Jonelle took a deep breath.

“Today,” she promised.


12:30’s client was a pastor whose natural charm put her in much better spirits. He ate up the house’s quaint colonial features and fell in love with the old walnut tree out back (“I could put a rope swing for the grandkids out here.”) She felt very sure she had closed the sale when he asked to see the attic.

“Why?” She asked before she could stop herself.

He smiled. “Never had a place with a real attic before. Maybe I’ll use it as a rec room.”

Jonelle forced a smile on her face. Ever the gentleman, he refused to let her jump for the trapdoor handle, fetching down the folding stairs himself. Jonelle walked through a cold spot and frowned, but forced herself to climb upwards.

The attic was a blank, bare box. It smelled like heat, even though it was no warmer than any other room in the house. Jonelle held out a hand as the pastor pulled himself up. He took two steps into the room and the smiled dropped from his face.

“No, he said quietly.

“No?” She hated how desperate her voice sounded.

“No.” He shook his head and that was that.

She watched as he pulled away from the house, refusing any of her business cards. On her way back she tripped on an uneven bit of sidewalk and put a run in her nylons. She fished them off, glaring at the front step.


She gave herself two hours for lunch, running around trying to nip little disturbances in the bud. To her chagrin, the front door stuck hard when she ushered the next couple in.

The wife, a plumpish woman in her thirties, gave Jonelle a look of bottomless fatigue. Beside her and her husband were three children and a baby, all boys, all screaming.

“Sitter canceled,” she said.

Jonelle rolled with it. “Well I’m sure your boys will love the space in here…”

She took them out to the yard first. She talked sports and waxed poetic about the yard length. The husband rested his chin on top of the baby’s head as the child burbled away in his front pack. “I dunno, where we are right now has more—”

“Sam, I am not living with your mother anymore,” his wife snapped.

Jonelle felt her heart beat faster. “We’re very close to two elementary schools,” she put in, “one is Fall Creek, a new charter school, all my other clients swear by it.”

“Where’s the high school?” the wife asked.

“Twenty minutes away. But the bus stop is actually right on the corner.”

They gave a grunt, seeming impressed. Jonelle smiled.

The bulb failed on the basement steps, but she had a magnetic light bar ready to go. Sam whistled low, sighting down the length of the concrete room.

“I could put the gaming rig down here, maybe even get a pool table.”

“And get that shit out of the sewing room? God, don’t get my hopes up.” The wife turned to her middle son, who stood in the middle of the room. “Keiran, what are you doing?”

The boy flared his nostrils. “It smells…funny.”

Jonelle hurried them upstairs. “The water heater was just replaced,” she said in the bathroom. The lights were dim, so they didn’t see the rusty stream of water run clear. “40 gallons, which should be enough for any household.”

“Yeah,” Sam said drily, “should.”

A faint screaming noise kicked up in the walls. Jonelle hastily cranked the faucet, the shriek of worn metal threading covering the sound. “Shall I show you the bedrooms?”

The light in the master bedroom did not refuse to turn on, but remained flickering ominously. Jonelle stepped right into another cold spot but clenched herself so it didn’t show on her face. “…And this east wall would just be perfect for the bed. Morning light, outlets on either side—”

“This is a nice place,” the wife said, raking furrows into her oldest son’s hair, “the price is really cheap for how nice it is. Did something happen here?”

Jonelle’s face was a benign mask. “Something?”

“Like, was this a grow house or a meth lab?”

Jonelle laughed a little too loud in her relief. “Goodness no, this neighborhood is very safe. You’re actually kitty-corner from a retired police officer, Bob Albright. He holds 4th of July cookouts.”

Sam made an approving grumble.

Bit by bit, she seduced them with the house. The boys fell in love with the stairs, scooting down them as if on sleds. The wife (Brynne, Jonelle learned it and then used it to excess) loved the proximity to the community center, she wanted to join a craft group. Sam nearly bounced with excitement at the prospect of having the basement all to himself. Jonelle ended the tour in the den, waxing at length about a potential satellite hook-up.

“…and I’m sure any surround-sound set up could easily be retrofitted in.”

“You hear that, hon? Surround sound.” Sam jostled his wife’s elbow. “We could watch Real Housewives in surround sound.”

“Oh, stop.” Brynne smiled, taking years from her face.

Jonelle felt a small glow of satisfaction. “Well, I’m sure you would be a fantastic fit for this place. I do have other offers on the table, but I’m sure Mr. Wellington wouldn’t mind if…I delay…”

Gradually, it dawned on her that the family were no longer looking around the room, but at a fixed point just behind her. Jonelle turned.

On the white carpet was the damp outline of a human body, curled on its side like a shrimp. There was no head.

Sam mumbled a thanks and shepherded his family back out to the car. Jonelle remained, turning off lights and shutting shades. She almost stopped herself from locking the door, but pushed herself to.

On the front lawn, someone had left one of her signs lying on the dead grass. They’d painted “MURDER HOUSE” on the cardboard in red, drippy letters. Jonelle snagged it on the way to her car, numb. She tossed the sign on the passenger seat and then reclined the driver’s side. Jonelle crossed her arms on her stomach and breathed, trying to think of serenity and peace and other nice, soft words. She looked up to the hamsa necklace hanging from her rearview mirror and just barely caught a glimpse of a gauzy, not-quite-there figure pressed up to the house’s front window before it was gone again.

“Tomorrow,” she promised herself, starting the engine. “tomorrow.”

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Death Records

For many decades, Solomon recording studio sat on Fuller street between a used bookstore and a storefront that was called Sal’s Fish Market long after the building became empty. The interior was no more than 600 square feet, not counting the recording space, almost all of it taken up by floor-to-ceiling shelves of plain wrapped records. The sign fell off the building facade about five years into its tenure, so for years the colloquial name for the store came from the errant graffiti sprayed in the cavity left by the sign: death records.

To truly understand the recording studio, one must understand the man first: Zachariah “Scratch” Solomon started his career as a recording technician for the city’s jazz and soul population. What made his fame was the day bebop singer Cal Benson came in to record what would have been his fifth full album. Benson, 43 years old, had a massive stroke and collapsed in the booth without singing one note. Solomon ran to call 911, leaving the recording equipment running untended. In the 25 minutes it took for emergency services to find the studio, Cal Benson lay dead in the booth. It was only when his body was removed that Solomon noticed his error. Curiosity led him to play back the recording of what would become the first of Solomon’s famed “death records”: a solid 25-minute track of what is undoubtedly Cal Benson scatting in his signature style, all recorded after he had ostensibly stopped breathing. Solomon smuggled the recording home and quit the studio by phone the next day.

The process starting at Cal Benson’s death leading up to the only posthumous recording studio in existence is a mystery known only to Solomon, but somehow he managed to scrape up enough capital to open the space on Fuller. He took out ads in Fortean Times and other similar publications, hoping to draw the occult crowd. What he got was a deluge of hate mail from people who found his idea tasteless. His first client came not from the believer side of things but from the private sector: Hyman Grande, a man of some means who owned a real estate block near the store, was dying of bone cancer. He amended his will so that Solomon would be present at his death bed…which he was, a mere seven months after the decree. The record, labeled H. Grande, contained eight minutes of an unidentified voice singing “You are my sunshine”, shuffling and repeating some verses, and inserting heretofore unknown verses in other places.

This was the event that made Solomon’s name. Long after the storefront sign was replaced by graffiti, the curious could check in and make death dates for the studio or, if they so wished, sample one of the many records under the listening bell. Not all records contained music. One labeled “E. Jones” contained a recitation of the opening sonnet of Love’s Labor Lost in the original middle English. Others contain a candid conversation between two unidentified individuals, a man with a stutter attempting a tongue twister, and an animal growling.

Solomon remained a cipher throughout the years. What few people counted themselves among his friends did not know much about him besides his name and profession. It was understood that his family emigrated from somewhere in Europe in the earlier part of the century, and that he had pursued music study until an injury cut his budding career short. Solomon was notoriously tight lipped about a scar that was usually hidden by long shirtsleeves, a burn in the shape of two saxophone keys. The closest anyone came to an answer of why he chose to pursue such an odd niche in the music industry was Norbert Cane, a local jazz pianist and drinking buddy. Norbert once overheard Solomon remark that he had picked up something in the way Cal Benson had breathed shortly before his stroke, and that his ears were “better than most.”

The recording studio struggled on for nearly seven decades. The rent was 12 months in arrears when Solomon died, quietly and suddenly, in the space above the storefront. There had been no sign of poor health. Solomon had not given any indication he was in pain. Yet in the interval between locking up for the night and the hour when his assistant came to open the store, Solomon had time to tidy his bed into a sort of funeral bower and dress in his only suit before dying of unknown causes. Clutched to his chest was an unmarked vinyl record. Interpreting the gesture as his final wish, the attendant brought the portable recording equipment up to Solomon’s death bed. At his poor and city-funded funeral, Solomon’s friends gathered to listen to the posthumous recording of the man who had provided the service to countless others.

From the point when the needle hit the outermost track to the point where it slid into the run-out groove, Solomon’s record was completely silent.

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That Intolerable Noise

Troy was doodling with his headphones on when his roommate stomped into the living room and shouted: “WILL YOU PLEASE. STOP. MAKING. THAT. NOISE?”

Stephen had been a craigslist find, but for all that he wasn’t bad. First impression had read kinda fussy, but he was the first non-methhead of the day, so Troy had no trouble saying yes to him. Three months of quiet passing conversation, no passive-aggressive arguments about when the rent was due. And suddenly, this.

Troy swept the headphones from his ears. “I have it turned down, dude.”

“Not that,” Stephen said, exasperated. “That stupid…there! That!” he pointed, as if the sound had a physical body.

Troy looked around. It was a saturday morning calm. The Bellinis next door were out for the day, so no loud television. The Kellers across the courtyard had their pitbull trussed up, so it wasn’t that.

The refrigerator kicked on. Troy pointed. “That?”

Stephen ground his teeth. His eyes were mad little flames. “You know what it is. It’s coming from you. I’m not playing this game.”

Troy sat up, notebook sliding off his lap. “What games, what…I really don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Stephen was nodding, though, not agreeably but a reflexive jerk of the head. “I see how it is. You know, I pay my rent on time. I don’t deserve this.”

“Dude, you’re being weird.” Troy went to replace the headphones. Stephen knocked them away.

Troy leapt to his feet. “What the fuck?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, did I disrupt you?” Stephen asked acidly. “That’s what you’re doing to me right now. The fact that you can’t even own up to it—”

“I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about,” Troy shouted, getting right in his face. He was a head taller and twenty pounds heavier than Stephen, who finally shrank back.

“Fine,” he muttered after a time. “I’ve said my piece. It’s on you now.”

He stalked back to his room.

Troy capped the pen, shaking his head. The skull lay half-finished on the paper. He threw the notebook and a few supplies in his satchel and sat at a coffee house for a few hours as a peace offering. When he got back, Stephen was out like a light  on the couch, drooling excessively. Troy shook his head and called it a night.


Stephen was already up at the table when Troy stumbled out of bed. He had his robe on over his pajamas, the french press sat half-full of coffee next to marmalade toast. It looked and smelled like a trap. Troy groaned.

“When I signed on to live here,” Stephen said without so much as a ‘good morning,’ “I entered into a verbal contract. And though it may not be as binding as a written contract, I expect certain rights—”

“Jesus Christ, it’s too early for this.”

“—let me finish—rights that should be basic. I feel like my money not only buys me a space in this apartment, it buys me a certain amount of consideration. Would you agree?”

“Dude, I’m not making the noise, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Would you agree?” Stephen repeated.

Troy wiped a hand down his face. “Sure, pal.”

“Good.” Stephen’s face was rigid. “I should think a right not to be harassed would be basic—”

“I’m not harassing you!”

“—let me finish—I would think the right not to be harassed would be basic stuff, but let’s just clarify it now, shall we? Harassment, as I define it, would be repeated and excessive actions designed to get a rise out of me. Would you agree?”

Troy stood and stared at his roommate for a bit.

“Fuck it,” he said, “I’m going for a bike ride.”

“Don’t you walk away from me!” Stephen rose from the table as Troy went to the front hall and donned his sneakers.

“We’re done here,” Troy said.

“We’re not done—”

“I’m not arguing with you anymore. I’m not making any noise, and if you can’t believe me when I say that then maybe you shouldn’t be living here.”

The last thing he saw before the door shut was Stephen’s face, drawn and white. It set off alarms in his head, but he couldn’t go back. Not just then. He saddled up the Raleigh and just pedaled aimlessly for awhile. Families  were out walking their dogs, flying kites and generally being pleasant.

Troy wondered if he really was making a noise he was unaware of. That would make him an asshole, if he never even considered the possibility.

He braked for a jogger cutting across the bike path.

Of course, if he was unaware of it, that didn’t automatically make him an asshole, didn’t it? And Stephen was awfully quick to jump to the conclusion that he was doing it on purpose.

Troy wondered about him. He’d never mentioned family, he’d never brought a girl (or guy) back to the apartment. He was generally neat and self-contained.

Troy freewheeled past a pond as he tried to think back over the three months of his tenancy. Had Stephen given any clues, any motion that seemed innocuous at the time but was suddenly significant?

He drew blank after blank.

Returning to the building with a bagful of chocolate croissants as a peace offering, Troy found the front door on a chain.

He sighed, set down the bag, and knocked.

Stephen appeared at the sliver of open door. “You’ll be happy to know I’ve called the landlord.”

“Dude. Seriously. What?” Troy put his face in his hands.

“If you hadn’t been so unreasonable, we might have settled this amicably.”

“Okay, look.” Troy held out open hands. “Are you going through something personal right now? Is it something at work? You can talk to me.”

“I tried, remember?”

Mr. Dimitriou came shuffling up the stairs. Stephen pressed himself to the gap in the door and yelled, “Sir? I’m the one who called you, right here!”

“Hello, Mr. Dimitriou,” Troy said.

“Don’t you dare try to preempt me, you bastard,” Stephen snapped. “Sir, it’s very urgent. I have to speak with you.

Dimitriou’s tired eyes looked from one man to the other. “Hello, Troy. It’s not the heater?”

“No, Mr. Dimitriou, it’s working fine.”

“Why are you talking to him? I’m the one who called you.” Stephen’s eyes were alight with unhealthy fire. “I would like to report an unlawful harassment. The man who rents this apartment from you has been repeatedly and insistently harassing—”

“It’s been a day, how are you even—”

“—harassing me. I would hate to bring litigation into it,” Stephen’s tone implied that he very much would like to, actually, “but I have shopped around and have several promising lawyers who might take my case.”

Dimitriou took a long, solemn moment to absorb facts. Then he turned to Troy.

“You sublet?”

“Yes, Mr. Dimitriou.”

“You charge him rent?”

“Yes, Mr. Dimitriou, we split the rent right down the middle. I show him the statement.”

“Your problem, then.” Dimitriou gave a shrug of his heavy shoulders and turned to go.

“Wait! He’s making the noise right now, listen! He hasn’t even stopped in your presence, that’s how blatant he’s being. Listen!”

Dimitriou looked at Troy, his grey eyes emotionless. Understanding fluttered between them.

“I hear nothing,” the old man said, and continued shuffling down the hall.

Stephen’s face was bloodless as he unhitched the chain. Troy tried to hand him the bag of croissants, but Stephen’s hands were limp.

“Look, I do believe you’re hearing something,” Troy said, “but I honestly don’t hear it. I’m sorry, have you considered seeing a doctor?”

“Don’t patronize me,” Stephen said. He went to his room and wedged towels beneath the door.


Troy heard little from him all week. It was the next weekend when he came into the kitchen, setting down a prescription page.

“There you go,” Stephen said icily, “a headache medication. Probably wanted to draw a middle finger, too.”

“So he couldn’t find anything physically wrong with you?”

Stephen nodded, smug.

“Did he recommend a mental health specialist?”

“I’m not going to—”

Did he recommend a mental health specialist?” Troy asked more forcefully.

Stephen wilted a little. “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

Which meant, to Troy, that the doctor probably had recommended one.

“Look,” he said as gently as he could, “I feel for you. I really do. But, if this is a mental health problem, you need to deal with it the same way you would an illness.”

Stephen folded his arms. “I know it’s not me.”

Troy said, “well it sure as shit ain’t me.” And left.


Sympathy lingered for about a week. Then it became annoyance. Whenever Troy would invite friends over, Stephen would make a point to make himself known. He would rush out of his room and do the most pointless, bizarre things he could. Trying to make as much noise as possible, Troy knew this. But it wasn’t until the mousetrap in the cupboard that Troy decided he’d had enough.

Troy had opened the cupboard above the sink looking for his box of granola bars. He pushed aside Stephen’s little baggies of quinoa and flaxseed jar and as he was feeling along the cupboard paper he heard something snap before he felt white-hot agony rush to his fingers. He could only grunt in surprise pain as he lifted the spring from his hand. There was a throbbing bar across his fingers from where the trap had hit. He sank them knuckle deep into a bowl of hastily crushed ice.

Stephen didn’t even bother looking innocent. He sat sprawled on his futon, watching a house flipping reality show. Troy stood in front of the TV set and turned it off.

“You need to leave,” he said, “I want you out now.”

Stephen looked shocked. As if he hadn’t considered this was a possible outcome of his actions. “You can’t throw me out for a mistake,” he said, standing.

Troy said gently, “look, this is getting ridiculous. You can’t talk to me, you won’t go to a doctor, and you can’t deal.”

Stephen said, “this is ridiculous. I have my rights.”

Troy said, “my rights include not being attacked in my own apartment. The subletting laws—”

“The subletting laws say you can’t kick me out for prejudice against my mental state,” Stephen said excitedly.

“Well, then, you would have to have an official diagnosis, wouldn’t you?” Troy asked.

Stephen shut his mouth. He really did look desperate. Troy almost felt sorry for him and then he moved his fingers. The twinge brought him back to reality.

“I’ll give you a week,” he said, “and then I want you out. I don’t care where you go, I don’t care who you hook up with, I don’t care what you take, I want you to leave because this is just unbearable.”

“ … If you’d only just stop,” Stephen whispered.

Troy slammed his good hand down on the television set. “I’m. Not. Doing. Anything!”

Stephen looked at the ground and said nothing.


If Stephen was looking for a new apartment, Troy could not see it. Stephen spent the time he was visible to Troy scribbling furiously in a series of notebooks. Troy called the landlord and the building owner just to make sure his corners were all squared. He learned he wasn’t really supposed to be subletting this apartment, but he could be grandfathered in due to an earlier lease. He also learned he could not use excessive force to take Stephen out, but the rules were vague on what that constituted. Just great. All he needed. More vaguery.


The day Stephen killed himself, Troy was at work. He’d given Julie his keys because she needed to pick something up from the apartment, so rather than leave work he simply handed her the ring. Stephen must have been waiting in his room, the ET said. He heard the jingle of keys in the door. He must have been waiting for Troy to come home.

Julie heard someone say, “no Troy, no!” And then a second later she heard a sickening crash as something hit the pavement. Stephen’s door swung open at a touch, and inside was a hurricane of disorder. When Troy arrived home later that day to take stock of the situation, he noticed he was missing a few things. Some furniture, some keepsakes, and an old vase his grandmother had given him. Stephen’s idea was probably to lure Troy into a conflict, they told him. There were signs of upturned furniture in the room, holes punched in the wall, and the window screen had been bent violently outward. He had apparently intended to frame Troy. There were no sign of the missing items in his room, and no sign of abuse on Stephen’s body.

Troy sat water-kneed on the couch with a cold beer as they broke this all to him gently as they could. Yes, he replied,  Stephen was not in a right mental state. Yes, they had quarreled. No, he had no idea any of this was going on.

They cleaned up the scene as best they could, and gave him the number of a crisis helpline. Julie went home to cry on her boyfriend. Troy sat with his arms encircling his knees.

He did not have contact information for anyone close to Stephen. His roommate remained just as enigmatic in death as he had been in life. That left Stephen’s few worldly possessions, still in his room because Troy could not bring himself to open the door again, in flux. It also meant that Troy would probably never see his things again.

Since he could not get up the energy to go to his room, Troy passed out on the couch after a few beers. As he slept he dreamed, and as he dreamed he came back to the apartment.

In the dream, he woke on his bed. It was night outside. The moon made unusually crisp shadows with the things on his nightstand. Stephen was calling him softly from the next room. In typical dream logic, Troy knew that Stephen only wanted to bother him about the noise. He kept silent and still on his bed. He was sleeping fully clothed above the covers, not even his shoes were off.

Stephen’s calling became more insistent. He had to talk to Troy. If he wanted his stuff back, he would have to come and talk like a human being.

Troy sat up. It did not seem at all unusual to him that his things were missing and yet Stephen was still alive. He walked slowly, oh so slowly, to the next room. Stephen was not in his room.

Stephen’s room was different in the dream. Where the window had been now there was an alcove that opened up into a greater hall. Stephens voice called from the end of the hall. Now it was gentler, insisting that Troy come and get his things, and Stephen would never bother him again. Stephen’s voice had an odd buzz to it, one that lingered like a tongue on a battery. It was irritating, yet oddly compelling. Troy had his foot on the first step when the honking of a car alarm started him awake.

He stood with his foot on the windowsill. He really was in Stephen’s room.

Troy step down from the sill, shaken. The wind blew through the open window. It had been closed when the EMTs left. He could see below, in the street where the car alarm was going off. A vase, Troy’s vase that had wilted daylilies in it, was shattered on the hood of the car.

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Phone People

There was an old, white, square office phone at her uncle’s supply depot. It sat on a small table apart from everything else. The plastic was scuffed and grey from age. It didn’t plug into anything. There was nothing to plug into.

Luka noticed it her first day in the depot, but waited to ask after it. There were new rules to follow, more stringent than the ones at home. There was her cleansuit to get used to. There were engines to keep running. Even when she finally did, the question was not posed to uncle Jesse, but the men on the crew.

“I mean, does he keep it as a souvenir, or something?” she asked.

The men looked discomfited. One-ear Pete twirled a screwdriver around his bent middle finger.

“Somethin’ like that, yeah.” He harrumphed a measure of phlegm into a nearby plastic bottle.

“Stick around long enough, you’ll see.”

‘Long enough’ turned out to be three hours later. The phone rang.

Luka started, dropping the filters she’d been rinsing.

“Unca’ Jesse?” she called, “Deej? Phone’s ringing.”

Jesse came waddling through the depot door, shrugging on the loose shoulder of his coverall. He was the only chubby person Luka knew, which meant he had a lot more to offer than her family back home.

“I got it, I got it,” he said hastily. He took a quick breath before picking up the receiver. “Hello, McCalister’s department store,” he said in a polished tone she’d never heard before.

Luka clapped a hand in front of her giggle. Jesse shot her a glare.

“Oh hello, Mrs. Scheuble-Wilkes! What can I do for you today?” Luka’s uncle flicked his pointer finger to the doorway. Out, out.

Luka sought refuge outside.

The crew worked in shifts. Half the men were in heavy coveralls, unloading crates, soaping and rinsing down equipment. The other half were leaning against the wall, chewing tobacco and drinking bottled water.

Luka put her back to the wall and slid down to a sit, walking her legs out in front of her. Deej, the youngest member of the crew, handed her a bottle. She nodded thanks.

“He’s going off in there.” She motioned with the bottle.

“The phone? Oh yeah. He’s gotta answer it.” Deej smiled. He was missing his right top canine. “Cal tried answering it one day. That was nearly a disaster.”

Luka sipped her water, tonging the iron taste, trying to put her next statement together carefully.

“So is it—ghosts? Or some kind of weird radio?” She tried to back away from the first statement.

No need. “Right on the first.” Deej ate a handful of sunflower seeds. “It’s from the people who used to live over that way—” he waved off through the gray lead-cored wall, “—in some place used to be called Avalon Heights. Rich folks, lived in big houses.”

Luka looked at the wall. There were no windows in the depot. “Why do you think they call? How?”

Deej gave a shrug, finding something else to look at. They didn’t like questions here, none of them.

The afternoon was free, so she donned her cleansuit and walked a ways down the direction Deej had indicated.

Avalon Heights. She’d never met a rich person. The word ‘rich’ held no meaning for her. Jesse was rich, he had all the food he could want and power over other people. That was just about all you could ask for.

She took her binoculars and squinted down the tundra created by the blast. However big those houses may have been, there was nothing but wreck now. The few standing walls were pockmarked by shrapnel. Here and there, they were the blurry half outlines of shadows permanently fused to the wall.

Her filter indicator was orange. She treked back to the depot.

It was an insult, considering how carefully she carried herself out in the wastes, that the airlock door closed on her suit and ripped it. That earned her a chewing out from her uncle.

“Fool girl goes outside without a partner, for no good goddamn reason.” Jesse took a piece of precious electric tape from the roll and sealed the suit again. “I will ship you back to your folks, don’t think I won’t.”

“Unca’ Jesse,” Luka said, “why do you keep the phone? Those folk are gone, why not get rid of it?”

Jesse’s face was hard as he answered: “simple girl thinks everything’s goddamn simple. No, we can’t just chuck it. The phone stays there, and we take the calls. It’s part of the package, girl. Came with the building.”

Luka watched him store the tape in his drawer and lock it up. “What’s a department store?”

Jesse’s face was softer. “Another way of saying depot, child. Used to be you could find anything there, not just what you needed. All the time. Didn’t depend on the season or the roads, they always had it in. When your dad and me were young—” he broke off and rearranged some wrenches sitting on his tool bench.

Luka tried to imagine such plenty. “Y’ever been in one?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t like that anymore. That was the start of lean times, child. It was more like this depot, only most of the stuff it had, nobody needed anymore.” He turned. “Now I’ve got nine head of iodine tablets sitting on the floor out there, and no hand laid on them.” He gave her a pointed look.

As Luka sorted goods, she thought about the phone. What it was like to talk to a ghost.

She made it so the next time the phone rang, she was handy.

Luka picked it up and waited.

“Hello?” the voice was a woman’s, irked and sharp. There was an odd heaviness on the line, something that distorted her words like a rock on a plastic sheet.

“Hello?” Luka said right back.

“Is this McCalister’s?” There was a fuzzy background static to the line. Luka tried to imagine the signal struggling in from some grey land.

“Sure,” she said.

The woman’s voice grew angrier. “Sure? Sure? It’s good to know your store’s so casual about customer service, missy, I’ll be sure to pass the knowledge on to my friends. Now are you going to help me or not?”

“I’ll try,” Luka said, which seemed like a safe answer. No one had ever been this angry with her. It was puzzling.

The woman gave a sigh which made the line crackle. “Well, I bought a 24-piece crystal set from your store not three months ago. When I went to use the punch bowl for our Memorial Day gathering, it was chipped.” The woman’s voice made it clear that this was quite possibly the worst thing in the world. “Now, the only time it had been out of my hands is at the register and when it was delivered to my house. What do you think that says about your service?”

Luka squinted. She had never before encountered someone speaking the same language but misapplying so many words.

“Back up,” she said, “you use a bowl to punch somebody?”

The woman’s voice was flat when she said, “let me speak to your supervisor.”

Uncle Jesse pushed open the door and bustled in, furiously beckoning to her. Luka surrendered the phone, still puzzled as her uncle tried to appease the unbelievable voice. A full refund didn’t do it, nor did an apology. A voucher for a free spiral cut ham and 50% off her next purchase did.

“I don’t get it,” she said as he hung up, “you don’t let anyone else talk to you like that. Why you let dead people push you around?”

Jesse put his hand on her scruff and pushed her out of the room. “You gotta make nice with them, girl. Make them think they got you by the scrote so they might consider letting it go.”

“Yeah, but you cut Joe off last week just ‘cause he looked at you funny.”

“That’s different. You have to make nice with the phone people or bad things happen.” He gave her a final shove. “Don’t you worry about the phone no more. I don’t want to see you near it.”

Deej gave her a sympathetic look as she took up a sponge and worked on the engine next to him.

“He talks a hard line, but he’s fair man, Luke.”

“He talks a fool line. Probably just likes to feel important.” Luka worked her aggression into suds. “You really respect him and all that?”

Deej shrugged, which earned him a few points in her eyes. “My dad got lymph sickness when I was young. I got nothing to go back to, so I got no reason not to.”

Luka watched the suds creep down the side of the engine part. “I guess respecting him I could see. Why the hell I should give bossy dead folks respect is beyond me.”

Deej grinned. “Maybe they just want to feel important after all.”

“If they wanted to be important, they should’ve left the big houses and gone underground,” she argued, “like sensible people. ‘Stead of worrying about crystals and punch and what else.”

“Ohhh, you got the crystal set lady?” Deej guffawed. “She’s one of the worst. You can’t just give her what she wants, she has to cut you down some beforehand.”

Luka wasn’t scrubbing anymore. She was looking at her hands, grime clinging to the cracks in the skin.

“Shouldn’t be right,” she said, “such disrespect. Who the hell do they think they are?”

Deej’s grin disappeared and he looked away. “Nothing we can do. Way of the world.”

Luka begged to differ, but she knew to do it silently. She did nothing by pretending to do something all the time, so whenever her uncle spotted her she was carrying something or looked like she was  in a hurry to the next place. One day this turned out to be true: she was hurrying to the room with the phone.

Luka made sure to position herself behind the door, just in case Jesse walked in.

The phone sat in the middle of everything, an island of anachronism.

When it rang, Luka picked it up before it could even finish.

“What?” she said dully.

“Who is this?” It was a man’s voice this time. She tried to imagine the body that had supplied it a long time ago. Tall, broad-shouldered. Probably thinning hair.

“Who is this?” she repeated back.

“This is Preston William Weber jr. Who is this?” The man’s voice was brassier than the last caller, like he was speaking way too close to the receiver. “Nevermind, I’ll tell you who this is: this is the person making less in ten years than I earn in a month and yet decided to throw their weight around. Don’t even try me, you drop-out, I will have your parents evicted.”

Luka smiled. “Alright.”

“I bought an argyle tie from your men’s wear counter. I have bought every single tie I’ve ever owned from your counter. And they have all been of a quality. But this tie,” and he really wound up to a yell, “this tie fell apart in the wash. Do you hear me? I spent sixty dollars on this item and it falls apart when water hits it. Now, do you see that I’m upset?”

“Uh-huh.” Luka wondered what the hell an argyle was.

“Well, what are you going to do to make it up to me?”

Luka took a deep breath.

“What are you going to do to make it up to me?” the voice prompted.

“You’re dead,” Luka said. “You hear me?”


“You’re dead. You were probably sitting in your big house when the flash happened and got burnt to ash. You’re dead, and so’s anyone who cared.”

“This isn’t funny, young lady.” The line was distorting even more heavily. “I may have to teach you a lesson if you don’t smarten up.”

“Fuck you,” Luka said, “what the hell makes you think you can bug people like this? You’re not important. You didn’t do anything for anyone. Just sit in your ash house and leave the rest of us alone.”

There was a commotion down the hall.

Do you want me to come down there?” He was yelling now, the feedback hurt her ear. “I will come down there and make you sorry.

“Go right ahead, fatty,” Luka said as Jesse elbowed open the door, “just get up and walk on your legs that aren’t there anymore. I hope you—”

Jesse ripped the phone from her hands and threw it onto the cradle. “Girl—dammit!!”

“There,” Luka said coolly, “I fixed it. I told him off.”

Jesse’s face was red. He dug the stubby nail-ends of his fingers into the flesh of his forehead. “Fucksakes, what am I going to tell your folks? Why can’t you have half the sense of a dog?”

“He can’t do nothing, he’s dead.”

“No, he’s coming down here now!” Jesse shouted in her face, “that’s what he’s doing! You think this never happened before? What do you think happened to your cousin Emmett?”

Luka said “oh” in a small voice.

Jesse wasn’t angry now. He was looking at her and shaking his head. He was afraid.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “you got to go out there, now. Meet him. I can’t have it happen in here. You understand.”

The weight of what she’d done was slowly coagulating in her stomach. She donned her cleansuit with numb fingers. The crew all looked away from her as she settled the mask on her face.

Deej and Cal met her coming into the airlock. “Luke? You going out solo? I’ll go with ye.”

“You just got back.” Luka tried to talk calmly. “I got to go alone anyhow. I’m waitin’ on a telephone man.”

Cal hustled past her, stripping off his gear. Deej stood his place.

“I’ll go with ye,” he repeated.

She was too frightened to say no.

They sat in the lee of the building. Deej tried to lighten the mood.

“What d’you think he’ll look like?”

Luka stared out into the white tundra. Whatever had made it had bleached all the color, all the life out of everything.

“He sounded like a thick bully,” she said, “the kinda man who leaves an angry ghost. I’m sorry.”

This last sentence she directed at Deej. He blushed through his suit’s faceplate.

“Nothin’ to sorry at me for.” He dug his heel into the scrub at their feet. I hate those phone people too. Wish I had your guts.”

“Wish I had your sense,” Luka said softly. She watched the horizon, watched Avalon Tundra for any signs. She’d never seen a ghost before. Would it be like the pictures her momma had shown her once, oozing sores and burnt flesh? Or would it be a rich person, all punch bowls and argyle?

“S’not fair. I don’t think there really is a ghost. I think—”

As they watched, one of the shadows slowly peeled away from the wall and started walking towards them.

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The Skytown Mining Disaster

Skytown, Pennsylvania was founded entirely on the principle of harvesting minerals. Like any other coalburg in the state, it made its fortune on the backs of immigrant laborers. The name Skytown referred to the fact that the settlement was so dwarfed by the surrounding mountains, the townsfolk felt as if there was nothing but them and the sky. The town’s founder was Ulysses Byrne, a third generation Scotch-Irish immigrant who began as a journeyman in John C. Osgood’s firm and worked his way up. The mine was originally called “Byrne’s folly,” both for its remote location and for its predicted low yield. The coal seam began as a narrow ridge which broadened unexpectedly after sixty meters. The shanty-town swelled as the seam bore richer and richer yields, feeding into what became a vicious cycle. More miners would be needed to mine the coal, the more coal was mined, the more miners they needed. Byrne was typical of the robber barons of the day, using violent tactics to bust unions and refusing to equip his miners with any kind of safety gear.

The term “Byrne’s folly” took on a new meaning when the baron got wind of the Owl’s Keep tunnel in West Virginia. Boasting a rumored length of 2 miles and a yield of 470,000 short tons of coal per annum, the rumor threw Byrne into a frothing envy. He ordered the sudden expansion of the tunnels, slashing the already lax safety rules to suicidal levels. Workers were expected to haul coal even when in the throes of of late-stage silicosis. Skytown became known as the valley of “little blue men” because of the heavy presence of cyanosis in the miners. Rumors abounded that Byrne would take workers too sick to even stand and bury them in the slag heaps so as to make room for the ever-incoming new miners. Despite Byrne’s tyrannical reputation, news of the expanding mine kept a steady income of fresh blood.

The tunnel ceased expansion after ten years, stabbing nearly three miles into the earth’s surface. The mine produced an estimated 800,000 short tons of coal per annum, but this was second only to the bragging rights Byrne enjoyed. He mocked up a parade in the town’s one and only road, driving the only automobile in town: a Winton that had to be hauled piecemeal up the mountain trail and then assembled in town.

Because expansion of the tunnel gave so little credence to safety, an incident was all but inevitable. One an April morning, three months after the parade, the middle section of the tunnel collapsed. Because the workers were largely undocumented, the final death toll is impossible to gauge properly. Byrne undertook no recovery efforts. For weeks the townspeople complained about hearing the voices of trapped workers, hoping the heavy spring rains would fill the tunnel and silence their ghostly cries. Sinkholes began appearing in the town’s soil, which they attributed to the ghost’s desperate escape attempts. To this day, there is a county-wide folk belief in “little blue men” that collapse tunnels out of spite. 

Be it ghost or engineering oversight, after weeks of deluge the pockmarked soil beneath Skytown liquefied and sucked the settlement and all its people into the earth. All that remains to mark the spot today is the former mine entrance, which now extends only a few meters into the earth, and a plaque dedicated to the fallen miners. 

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The Beamis Clock

The Beamis clock has been missing now for many years. Teddy, the family scion, ran into a bit of bad stock in the 20’s and had to sell off a few heirlooms. The New Hampshire house quartered the staff and Teddy himself sold off all but one of his automobiles. Ah, but it was the clock that stuck in his craw.

The clock had stood at the head of the upper hall for as long as I had been executor of the Beamis estate. I never thought to ask after its make and model, just as I had never inquired after the ostrich-plume fan in the sitting room or that hideous upright piano in the parlor. It did not strike me as especially rare or valuable, but Teddy reacted to its absence as if the reds had stormed Wall Street and strung up Charles Mitchell himself.

Teddy’s great-great had fancied himself a big game hunter. He was the one responsible for that garish tiger-throw in the parlor and, apparently, the clock as well. To hear Teddy tell it, Samuel Beamis had cut a respectable swath throughout the wilder parts of the world and retired with not a few enemies. The clock had come from parts unknown. The brass maker’s plate had been scratched out and a fourth hand added to the clock face for some esoteric form of timekeeping. Besides these features, the clock was supposed to resemble a run-of-the-mill bracket clock like you might have on your own mantelpiece. I suggested that, owing to its common appearance, the clock might have been unwittingly sold or given as a gift by an elder Beamis. Teddy suggested I was an imbecile fathered by the milkman, and there split our working relationship until Teddy’s end, leaving the rest of my account to pure hearsay and speculation.

Teddy began a turnover of staff after I left. Soon he was even unable to find servants outside of town because of the reputation the house had gained. The mahogany end table where the clock had sat was said to be perpetually free of dust, a nightmare for any maid, I suppose. Teddy himself was insufferable, prone to buggy-whipping house boys he deemed slow. If Teddy had died at this point, I would not have been surprised. Instead, Teddy disappeared, which was nearly as fitting.

They emptied the house of its three remaining servants and there was quite a spectacle of a trial. The maid wept on the stand of all the misdeeds Teddy would make her perform. I testified on another day and missed it, sadly. I simply distilled my employment by the Beamis family into a few sentences and left the stand unmarked. Quite unexciting, I know. The senior partner in my firm, Claude Stanley, had been the one to broker the Beamis family’s affairs before me. I can only speculate that he’d have much more exciting tales than myself.

As it happens, time passed. I made and lost several fortunes, fathered a family, and they promptly dropped me into a facility for the doddering and decrepit when it was my time. Of the Beamis family, I thought very little, though my mind was much sharper than my descendants would give credit for. The Beamis family manse had stood empty for lo these many years. Then, not too long ago, on a grainy television in the day room, I watched them take a wrecking ball to it.

There were protesters, of course. Nothing so old could go without gaining a few fans, even a rococo nightmare like the Beamis house. I watched them form a human chain as the great iron ball swung and knocked down the widow’s walk Elmyra Beamis had constructed, the grey slate roof, the white walls and decades of history. I imagined Teddy’s chubby face red with apoplexy and wondered if they would find his bones.

The house fell. But then, on the television, there was a speck caught in mid-air. Knowing my fellow inhabitants, it could have been anything spattered on the screen. But the speck persisted as the camera pulled away and showed the crowds gaping at the miracle. I could discern what it was well before the anchor with unfortunate hair identified the floating shape as that of a mahogany end table. He spoke of Samuel Beamis, Teddy’s forebear and the discoverer of the clock.

Yes, discoverer. Samuel had found the piece when breaking new ground on an extension of the house, next to three finger-bones and a gold ring bearing the initials TB. Teddy himself grew to inherit that ring, I had seen it on his finger the entirety of our acquaintance. I wheeled my chair closer as the newsman blathered about ghosts and the madness hung mid-air behind him. He tossed out rumors, a few I’d heard, a few I hadn’t. The tale of Teddy Beamis’s screams coming from an increasing distance seems pilfered from an Ambrose Bierce story. Likewise, the specter of a cheated maid pointing out the site of her remains is straight from M.R. James. Teddy’s disappearance became the tragic attempt of a scion to understand his family’s misfortune, though I doubt the real Teddy’s intentions were ever so altruistic.

In-between the time it took for the news crew to switch cameras, the table disappeared, leaving an entire crowd of people scratching their heads. The phenomena was put down to flying saucers, which were in vogue at the time, and I resumed my nap.

When my granddaughter Amelia arrived for her mandatory visit, I entreated her to take me out to the house. Somehow she bundled me and my chair into a taxi and took me to the site.

A chain fence separated our prying eyes from the ruins. A sign proclaimed it the future nest of a series of expensive condominiums. The carriage house still stood, and the cobblestone driveway was halfway ripped up. I could smell the history blowing over the wreckage. There I had taken toddy with Teddy. There I had been dismissed and had a few clods of dirt thrown after me.

I wondered after Teddy. If he had ever truly understood his need for the clock, or if he had only held a few threads of the tapestry as I have. Amelia draped a granny square knit from odds and ends about my shoulders, a gesture that made me feel older than anything ever had. If the air that had held the table had any leftover mystic qualities, I did not see them.

The evening wind rose up and amelia dutifully packed me away into the taxi. She told me she knew I was pining for my younger days (how she had extracted that from my ramblings, I’ll never know) and had a surprise for me. The face was scuffed and it failed to tick anymore, but she had found a lovely clock for my nightstand sitting just outside the fence of the construction site. As my lovingly larcenous grandchild put Samuel Beamis’s clock in my withered hands, I shook from what she deemed to be cold and exertion and bundled me into the taxi. I half-expected it to disappear in the night, but it still sits on the table where I set my false teeth, very real, very broken. The Beamis clock has come to roost with me, and though I had been there from beginning to end, I could not tell you how.

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Ghost Stop

So, there’s this corner right by my house. It’s all overgrown with pecan trees and pokeberries, and it has a bus stop. Had a bus stop. The sign fell down, but it’s still a designated stop.

I kinda liked that about it. Like it’s a secret only a few people know about. A ghost stop.

Frank, the guy who drives the 92, always swings by to pick me up. I can bike to just about anywhere but the specialty store where I get my gear. So I go out there at promptly 9:25. Frank stops and lets me on. I get whatever I need done and I wait at the city stop by 11:45. Frank drives that time, too, so he brings me home again. Kinda like my own bus service.

Frank and me got on really well. I liked to joke, and he liked me better than the riffraff that he normally toted from the train station to downtown. I liked to think we had a pretty good thing going. So I never really tried to get on the bus when other drivers were operating.

Flash to two months ago.

I have this special thing on my right pedal because my foot’s all messed up. Childhood accident. Well it went out right as I got home from work. This was the middle of the week, so I had work the next morning and couldn’t go on the 9:25 bus with my buddy.

It was five in the evening. The store closed at six. I had a decision to make and I made it.

I was already rehearsing what I would say to the driver as the silver bus careened around the corner. I don’t remember what it was. Maybe it was a joke to test the waters. Maybe it was an apology. All I could think of as that bus turned and didn’t correct itself in time was that I had work in the morning, and they wouldn’t have time to find a replacement.

I woke up in the hospital.

That’s not entirely true. I woke up in the ditch first. Everything was black, so I thought I was dead. I passed out again.

I had fallen in a weedy area, so no one saw my body for a few hours. It turned out to be the old German guy who always walks his dog past my place n the evening. He called the ambulance while his excited papillon nibbled my fingers.

When I woke up, they explained to me that I’d had a bad accident. I said I knew. A bus hit me.

The two guys who broke the news(I think one was an insurance rep) looked at each other.

They said I had bruises from the impact. Where I had hit the bricks and bounced. Where I had landed. But the wounds I had were inconsistent with a car grille impact.

I said I didn’t want to sue anyone. A bus had hit me. I was waiting at the stop and the stupid thing turned to wide and went too fast.

The guy I thought might be the rep cleared his throat. There was no stop on that corner.

No pole, I said, but there was still a stop.

More exchanged looks. The rep rose first, tucked a card in my pocket.

We’ll talk when you’re feeling better, he said.

Later, a nurse popped her head in and asked if I felt well enough to take a call. Well, at least one of my hands was okay, so I agreed and she wheeled in this old cord-phone.

Man oh man, I am so sorry were the first words on the line. It was Frank.

He said I should have told him I was going out. He would have driven in his old truck to pick me up.

You are the high point of my day, he told me, if it wasn’t for you, I’d probably go nuts on the job.

He begged me not to say anything about the stop.

I asked why.

The line crackled. It was probably just the old cord, but it made me feel like someone was listening in.

He said that nobody was supposed to know about the stop. Yes, legally, there had to be a stop every X-amount of feet in the city, but the bus line told drivers never to stop at that corner. He had taken a huge risk even picking me up, but he liked me and didn’t care.

I asked him why all the secrecy.

He paused again. I could hear TV on his end, some king of boxing match.

He said that the stop had been taken out the same way I had. He sounded apologetic. But the same thing had happened. A driver, too much of a hurry, a turn not corrected, and the pole was bye-bye.

Why didn’t they just build another one?

He paused again. It was getting annoying, like he was teasing me, but the poor guy probably didn’t even realize he was doing it.

They did, he said.

And again, after that one got knocked down.

And another one after that.

And another one after that.

Did I get it?

So it’s a bad traffic spot, I said, so what? Why not just put it further back from the road or something?

Because that wouldn’t have stopped the driver, he said.

The same driver, every time? Why didn’t they just fire him?

Frank was quiet again. I’d have thought he hung up, but I could still hear the match in the background.

He died, Frank said. He died in that first crash. He took all the passengers with him.

But even after he died, the sign would get knocked down. The same time, every day, by a bus that no one could find afterwards. That was why they called it the ghost stop.

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Hughes was shown to Leonard-ffolks’ drawing room to wait. Even here, the ever-present cacophony of sawing and hammering bled through the walls. A maid in mob cap brought the tray of drinks, flanked by the man himself.

“Richard.” Hughes rose.

“Hughes, there’s a stout chap.” The two men embraced. “How like you the wainscoting?”

“Lovely. Forgive a layman’s ignorance: walnut?”

“Poplar.” ffolks’ expression was glum.

“Good heavens. Well, it stains up nicely.”

The other man appeared only half in attendance. He had the air of a man tensed for a catastrophe.

“It was walnut. Had them rip it all out.”

“Oh…” Hughes cleared his throat.

“Bad wood you see. The whorls are too inviting.”

“Inviting to what?”

Instead of answering, ffolks picked up a glass and sipped.

“James,” ffolks said, “what do you know of Hindustan?”

“The colonies? Thuggees, fakirs, that sort of thing?”

“Exactly. Savages to the man.” The hammering ceased for a moment. ffolks half-rose, and the noise resumed. He sank with relief back into the settee.

Hughes sipped at his whiskey. “Does this have something to do with the incident in Khunipoor?”

ffolks tensed again.

“Damn it, man. You can’t just dance around the subject forever. What was it that finally brought you back from the colonies?”

ffolks got up and strode around the room, picking up and making a cursory examination of the various curios that littered the room.

“Have you ever been inside a Buddhist temple?”

Hughes thought before replying. “No, but there was that Japanese gent that held a service for us at the gardens—”

“Pah,” ffolks spat. “a frilly little dress party. True Buddhism is heathen and cruel, unnatural.”

This startled a laugh out of Hughes. “Buddhists? Surely not. They’re funny fellows, go around in yellow pajamas.”

ffolks spoke as if he had never been interrupted. “Suggesting that the immortal soul is tethered to this plain, forever laboring for its misdeeds.”

“Not a spiritualist, then?”

“That parlor game? Mere rookery. I’m speaking of a religion based not eternal reward in the afterlife, but of grinding poverty. Almost as bad as the hindoos.”

“It is true then, about the presence of a thuggee cult in Khunipoor?”

“What?” ffolks shook himself. “tosh. The common worshippers themselves are bad enough. Gods with many limbs and heads.”

“But the dragon in revelations—”

“Is Lucifer himself, man. Don’t split hairs with me in this matter, I’ve studied catechism since before you were out of short pants.” ffolks stopped his pacing. “Not that it helped. You can’t press civilization into them with a trowel, much less a bible.”

“So the uprising had something to do with conversion,” Hughes said, too eagerly. ffolks withdrew into himself.

“All you need know is that Hinnom is on earth, and on the subcontinent.” ffolks stopped to run a covetous hand over a cherry-wood shelf. “I’ve done my time. Paid my dues. And yet this would not be enough by their reckoning.”

ffolks seemed to be taking measure of the room. He spoke his next words with caution.

“Hughes…are you at all familiar with the architecture of the east?”

“Done with Georgian taff, are you?” Hughes needled. ffolkes ignored it.

“Their buildings are as irrational as the people themselves. All manner of useless bends and twists, false doors and functionless hallways.”

Hughes did not jest again. ffolkes’ demeanor disturbed him.

“Can you tell me why, Hughes?”

Hughes slowly shook his head.

ffolkes pointed a finger. “To confuse evil spirits. God! The air must be swimming with them if half the precautions I’d seen were necessary.”

Hughes had a slow, descending epiphany. “Your recent renovations…”

ffolkes pointed. “First boy gets it.” He was nearly excited as he huddled before Hughes. “I’ve researched into this. Dug up all the proper books, even talked to that dull fellow who insists he’s a lobsang rama or somesuch drivel.”

“But for heavens sake—why, man?”

“I don’t need to tell you I left the colonies under a cloud. Who knows what shriveled little fakir is hurtling curses at my back?”

Hughes leaned forward in his seat. “As your dearest and oldest friend, I must ask you: are you out of your mind?”

ffolkes drew back primly. “Just precautious, old man. Here. I must give you a short tour.”

ffolkes led him along corridors painted with trick doors, stairs with odd-numbered steps, windows that opened on a wall. Hughes bit his tongue and stepped over contractors who looked at him with dull curiosity.

The tour ended where it began: in the drawing room. ffolks seemed a little desperate as Hughes cited a long journey back and gathered his coat, but did not entreat him to stay. Hughes noticed an evil eye painted above the lintel as ffolkes showed him out.

“…and for god’s sake, don’t be a stranger,” ffolkes said with forced cheer.

Hughes stopped on the threshold. “Forgive me, I must ask. What happened in khunipoor?”

ffolkes’ eyes were shuttered. “Nothing for civilized men to lose sleep over.”

The door shut with a solid thud.


Hughes, through no fault of his own, went some time without thinking of his friend. Business and pleasure kept him away. But, as so often happens, coincidence led him back to it.

The subject was conjured up when he ran into Billings, a fellow school chum. He had to ask whether the other man had heard of Leonard-ffolks and his renovations.

Billings’ face fell. “God, don’t remind me. That poor man…”


“You haven’t heard? You, of all…” Billings shook his head. “it was the bloody renovations, I told him to move out while they worked. They say it was probably some spilled tung oil, went up like a flash.”

Hughes set down his fork. “So he…”

“Burned.” Billings nodded grimly. “Terrible way to go.”

“Can’t imagine.” Hughes stared at his plate, no longer hungry.


The estate was still well-kept, though its benefactor was gone. Hughes kept an eye out for any wayward gamekeeper that might mistake him for a poacher.

Hughs crested the hill that hid the house from view. He sucked in a breath.

A few support beams stuck up like black teeth. Those were the only part of the structure still standing.

Hughes paced the length of the wreckage, sifting through the ash with his eyes. Nothing recognizable.

The newspapers had said there wasn’t even enough of a trace left for burial. Hughes squeezed his eyes shut.

Hiking back over the greens, he encountered an old woman with a bundle of washing.

“Good heavens! You weren’t up at the estate?”

Hughes confirmed that yes, he was.

The old woman blanched. “Terrible, it is.”

“I agree wholeheartedly, madam.”

“Night after night.”

Hughes paused. “Excuse me?”

“The light. The screaming. The terrible sound of fire crackling.” the old woman actually crossed herself. “Poor man. I don’t care what they say he did, no man deserves that.”

Hughes grew cold again. “Are you saying there are…spiritual visitations where the house stood?”

“That’s putting it lightly. Oh, god! If only he’d stop screaming!”


There was room at the inn, even in the middle of the season. Hughes suspected this was the norm rather than the exception. He passed some time in his room glancing unseeingly over his books and, after the sun had gone down, hiked back to the site.

The charred ruins were even blacker in the night. Hughes stood in the yard, stamping his feet for warmth, feeling a fool.

A flash lit his face.

Hughes’s mouth dropped open.

As if viewed through a dirty glass, the house was whole again and being eaten by fire right before his eyes.

Hughes stood rooted to the spot.

Someone screamed.

Hughes jolted into motion, running toward the house. The cries certainly sounded like ffolkes. Hughes ran around the perimeter, afraid to get too close to the apparition.


Hughes followed the sound.

ffolks was in the second-story study. He did not look out at Hughes,he was merely screaming blindly for help.

“I’m here,” Hughes said. He cupped his hands around his mouth. “I’m here, man!”

“Richard! For God sakes, anyone!”

Hughes’s hands fell away from his mouth. He watched ffolkes scrabble fruitlessly at the wall, grabbing continuously at a doorknob that was painted onto the paper.

“Help!” ffolkes cried, snatching at the flat form, “help!”

Hughes watched until the fire faded, and the lot was empty and dark once more.

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Passing Ships

The pool was closed. Drained empty and dry.

Jeremy knew this because every time he walked past, he checked. He undid the deadbolt and knob with the ring of keys that jangled from his waist and surveyed the empty room. The floaters were stacked against the far wall, the diving board removed, and nothing remained in the basin but moisture stains.

None of this explained how he could hear the sounds of people playing in the water from time to time.

Jeremy was never sure if it was only him. Thu, the laundry girl, refused to go down that hall, though this might have less to do with the pool than the deep pile of the carpet snagging her cart wheels.

The Virago had not been a bustling draw, even in her heyday before the stock market crash. No Virginia Rappe-like scandal within its Victorian doors, only a tradition of stockbroker’s children and minor socialites dropping by to view the ever-thinning herd of seasonal delights. Now self-help seminars rented out the ballroom and the cuspidor stood on its own little pedestal, placarded as any artifact should be.

Jeremy worked on his thesis at night and gave thanks daily that he wasn’t flipping burgers. The job was a job was a job. He couldn’t complain, hell, what was there to complain about?

He took a toolbox up to the fourth via the hallway.

Shouts. Squeals. A child begging wordlessly. A man’s voice: “up! Up! Up we go!”

The rattle of the keys. Jeremy popped his head in. Silence.

“Took you long enough,” Banks grumbled. Jeremy had to stand there while he finished the exact right crescent wrench from the box and closed the valve on the pipe shattered by a cover band’s third-rate antics. The pool room was quiet on the return journey.

Sometimes he felt like going into the pool. Just skimming off his clothes, laying in the empty basin and holding his breath. A wild fancy that never grew anything more substantial.

Jeremy wasn’t curious.

No, he was. A bit. It was hard not to be when the haunting was so insistent. He wouldn’t have to continue with his compulsive rituals if the room would just be quiet.

Jeremy bought a baby monitor and placed in the empty room. Forgotten, until weeks later Carthage brought it to the desk.

“Someone screwing around in there?”

The one in Jeremy’s bag hadn’t gone off once.

Working at a hotel carried its own brand of discretion. People wanted things when they wanted them, and it was up to you to provide them, short of a few measures. Discretion was less of a skill than it was a survival tool. Jeremy had to put out a few conversational feelers before he was satisfied he wouldn’t be sacked instantly for prying.

“So like…was someone murdered here?”

Carthage stopped wrenching at the pipe wheel. “Jeremy, I’m surprised at you! This is a four-star establishment. Of course someone’s died here. We might as well name the honeymoon suite heartattack hotel! But no, never in the pool. Apparently it was drained for maintenance and never reopened.”


“Well, a couple of reasons. I guess the biggest one was just that pools stopped being the in thing. Also, regrouting all that tile would be a bitch and a half. No, nothing sinister. Just inconvenient.”

Nothing sinister. That part made sense. It was never someone screaming or the eerie moaning of hell. It was laughing, shouting, the sounds of recreation. The sounds of leisure.

So what made it that way?

Banks caught him with his head against the door. “You feelin’ okay?”

Jeremy straightened up. “Fine, sir. Just thought I heard something.”

Banks snorted. “Great. Rats or ghosts? Neither we could use more of.” he thumbed the hall behind him. “The runner on three left a BM behind the TV, Rosa could use a hand.”

All rooms in the hotel had the same pageant of smells: bare feet, potpourri, bleach, and just a soupçon of shit.

Except the pool. The pool smelled damp. Though Jeremy put his hand to the cement, the tile, even the dry floaters, he never found any moisture.

“Nothing lasts forever,” Thu said, resting the neck of her beer on her lower lip, “everything is transient. This place used to be somewhere.”

“Now it’s nowhere?”

Thu ignored his smartass comment. “There used to be big parties here. High-rollers. Now we’re lucky if we get a few business men and some vacationing families. And in the future, who knows? It might become a palace again.”

Jeremy spun his bottle cap on the pavement. He sat on the box he was supposed to be breaking down. Thu stood, arms folded into herself, leaning against the building.

“Is that what you think is haunting us?” he heard himself asking, “the future? Or the past?”

Thu looked at him, smiling slightly. “Isn’t haunted a strong word?”

“What else would you call it?”

“You feel any cold spots? Doors slam shut on you?” Thu took a swig. “The only thing you’ve told me is you hear things sometimes.”

“That is the only thing,” Jeremy admitted.

“Well, have you ever considered the possibility that you’re completely bonkers?” she said jokingly. Thu lifted her body from the side of the building, rolling away from her hips upward. “If it gets one of those paranormal investigation shows here, have at it. Otherwise, why bother?”

Why bother. The phrase stuck with Jeremy the rest of the week. That was what this place felt like. Like it was between things and couldn’t be bothered to extract itself.

Sometimes he’d look down and find he’d written the exact sentence over and over.

Banks found him in the hall. “Slow this week, Jeremy.”

Jeremy couldn’t formulate a response, and so remained silent.

“Slow last week. Slow the whole month.” He sighed. “Might be cutting back staff soon.”

Jeremy nodded. Banks was gone before he could fully decide whether that upset him or not.

He entered the west hall. Laughing and splashing reverberated in a large, cement chamber. Jeremy removed his shoes and crept in his socks across the fleur-de-lis patterned rug. He dared to place his head to the wood of the door. The sound hushed, but did not stop.

A woman’s voice echoed through the door.

“What’s that, Violet? You seem to have come over a little queer all the sudden.”

“Oh, nothing. Only…I thought I heard something.”

“Really?” Laughter. “Oh, this old place is haunted to the core! One day they’ll have to close it on account of spooks.”

“Seems a shame. Such a lovely old place…”

“Are you coming back to the water?” splashes.

“In a moment.”

And the soft, almost imperceptible sound of someone, perhaps a woman, perhaps laying their head against the door from the other side. Listening.


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