Sunday, November 25, 2012

NaNoWriMo day 25

Maybe life was easier before the ghost, before Mackey questioned his sanity, when a touch of the supernatural didn't come with startling regularity, and when it's common appearance became a new addiction of sorts to Mackey. And now these pangs of longing for love, and for regret at never having known it. The solid wall Mackey had built against feeling such emotions, the defense mechanisms in place since his earliest childhood memories, began to break down with the nightly two minute exposures to the ghost, and he was emotionally unequipped to handle these novel, newfound emotions.

As he rode his bike to and from his factory job, or when he was walking to the liquor store, he'd notice the odd couple, college students usually, holding hands, or a couple with children out at the box store, or even commercials on TV, reminded him of a life he had missed, or did not know could even exist for him. And where there was satisfaction and complacency before, there now was a gaping vacuum, and a sense of loss over what had not yet been experienced and what he could never know. It was too late.

A longing, a want for a better life, to know love could exist, but to also know he was utterly useless and unequipped to take even the first baby steps towards being a man who could love and be loved, sent Mackey into a tailspin of depression.

The heavy drinking resumed. The room got messy again. For the first time in months, he slept through the appearance of the ghost. He grew short-tempered and surly with co-workers. He confined himself to his room and rarely hung out in the dining room. The numbing routine, once a comfort in its predictability, became dread, rote, and Mackey just kept sinking, deeper, and deeper. And the ghost's face grew more and more pained with each night, until one night, Mackey, reeling from a hastily-downed 12-pack, yelled at the ghost.

“Fucking right. You ain't real, but you got it right. That pain you're feeling, babe. That's it. That's all there is. Just you and me and the rest of the ghosts of this world.”

But she showed no other emotions to Mackey's tirade. Moved not. And blinked out as usual at 11:10, leaving not even an afterimage trace of her appearance.

“What can I do to make you real, Steamboat Annie? To touch you? To ease your pain? To live in your time and for you to live in mine?”

It was the week before Christmas and there were no decorations at either the Augusta Inn or Country Acres, except one string of lights in The Colonel's window. “Bah-fucking-humbug to the rest of you,” said The Colonel. But The Colonel was odd that way, and had cardboard cutouts to post on his window for every holiday, even the minor ones like Columbus Day and Veterans Day. But there were no other lights. No Christmas tree. No visible presents. No holiday meals planned. At least not at the rooming house, and few of the townies even had plans with extended family. With the students gone, and virtually half the population missing, both rooming houses felt empty and lifeless. The hubbub and vitality of Bonneville itself seemed drained, as if in relief, as if the party was over before it had even had a chance to swing into full gear.

Heavy snowfall added a further soporific effect. Friday, the 22nd of December, Mackey was sprawled on his couch, playing the same shoot-em-up military game Chalmers had played earlier. It was, in fact, Chalmers's game, loaned to Mackey for the weekend. Of course, Mackey, not having phone service or an Internet connection, did not play within the worldwide network of other gamers. He could pause without impunity.

And so he did, when he heard a knock on the door at the base of the stairway leading up to the attic.

Mackey supposed it was Crow, who would most likely be sleeping in the basement in this weather, and half-hoped it was, because Crow usually brought food and/or something to drink. And Mackey was out of everything except a jug of water and a few crackers. He knew a venture out into the elements was inevitable before the evening was through.

But as he opened the door, it wasn't Crow or even any other resident of the rooming house. It was Morgan, the ghost hunter, who Mackey hadn't seen in over two months. She looked so different, bundled up in coat and with a different hair style, that Mackey didn't recognize her.

He must have shown confusion on his face, for the first thing Morgan said was, “Don't you remember me? We did a paranormal investigation of your room a couple months ago.”

“Don't tell me your name,” Mackey said, pointing a finger straight up. He was embarrassed to realize his voice was slurred. He didn't feel too drunk, but there it was, the lack of motor control in the lips, the sway in his stance, and he was painfully self-conscious of his condition.

Morgan stood there, dripping snow off her boots, creating salt-rimed puddles on the dusty hardwood floor, rocking back and forth on her heels waiting for Mackey to respond.

“Ah hah,” Mackey said. “Morgan.”

“Yes.” Morgan said. She smiled at him, leaning forward, and then looked beyond him up the stairs.

“Do you mind if I come up?” Morgan asked. “I've got some information to share with you, and it may take awhile.”

Mackey hesitated, his face screwing up in concentration. When the pause went on too long, Morgan continued. “Or not. I mean, it's no big deal. I just have some of the results to share with you from our investigation. I'd have gotten ahold of you sooner, but you're painfully difficult to get in contact with. I would have sent you a letter, but I forgot your room number. And, well, you know, life has been so busy. I'm sorry to be so late to get back to you.”

“No. I mean, sure, you can come on up, but I was wondering if you could do me a favor. Do you have a vehicle?”

Morgan nodded her head.

“Cuz I need to get some food and some other things and I was wondering if you could give me a ride. I would understand if you're too busy and don't have the time.”

“No. That's fine. Let me just wait right here while you get yourself together. No need to hurry.” Mackey turned and started to go back up the steps, when Morgan called after him, “I just have to know. Are you still seeing, you know, the vision you told me about?”

Mackey turned around and nodded his head.

“We'll talk more about that later,” Morgan said. “That is so exciting.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mackey said, and turned back around to climb the steps.

He came back down, clomping, barely staying on the narrow stairs with his leather high top work boots on.

“It's amazing how much beautiful detail remains in this old place,” Morgan said as they descended the stairs. “I mean, look at this banister. One can almost feel the residual auras of all of the people who've ran their hands across it.”

She continued, as they approached the landing, “And look at the carving in this newel.”

“The what?” Mackey said.

“This post here where the railing ends,” Morgan said, placing her hand on the carved obelisk atop it. “You just don't see this level of detail in the newer homes. I wonder who carved it. The time and care put into it. The craftsmanship.”

Mackey staired at the newel. “You know what that kind of reminds me of?” he asked. “That old movie they show all the time on TV this time of year, 'It's a Wonderful Life.' There's one of those in that old house the dude bought and fixed up. And the knob on top always kept coming off.”

Morgan tugged at the one in the Augusta Inn. “See!” she said. “This one's much sturdier.”

When they got outside, Morgan asked, “How long have you lived here?”

“Eight years,” Mackey said.

“Has anyone else lived here longer than you?”

“Now, or ever?”

“Well, since you've been here? I wouldn't expect you to know the entire history of the house, silly.”

“No. I think I've been here longer than anybody. Yeah, Stevie's been in room seven only since 2000. Dang, that's kind of pathetic, I guess.”

“Well, you've probably got the best room.”

“It'd be too much of a pain in the ass to move now. I never thought about it, but I've accumulated a shitload of stuff since I've been here.”

“Such is the American way. Well, I've got a theory about your ghost and the particularity of why you're the only one who sees it, and it relates to the length of your tenure here. But first I have an idea. Are you hungry?”

“Sure. That's why I need to go out and get some food. Why do you ask?” Mackey was wary. He thought she might want to go out and eat, and he didn't want to spend the money or deal with the awkwardness of handling the bill. He hadn't eaten in a restaurant in years and didn't feel comfortable in one. All the noise and people, and he felt self-conscious, as if everyone was watching him eat.

“Well,” Morgan said, opening the passenger door of her mini-van. “Hold on a minute. I've got to get some stuff out of the way for you. Kids, you know, and all their detritus.” She turned away from Mackey for a moment, leaned in and shoved various papers and plastic toys aside, and then turned back to him, stood up, and clapped her hands together.

“Well, it's a Friday night in the world and in my household it's pizza night. My husband makes a mean pie, and it's from scratch, too. I don't want to miss it, and I don't want to feel pressed for time with you because, like I said, I have a lot to tell you. Okay, Morgan, I know you're thinking. Get to the point.”

Mackey nodded his head. He was wearing a cotton winter hat with a fabric ball on the end. The ends of his long, stringy brown hair stuck out extra far from underneath the hat, adding to the comic effect.

“No, it's no big deal. Take your time,” he said.

“Well, I was wondering if you'd come over for dinner. We'll feed you. We won't have to rush. I can take you to the store on the way back if you still need anything.”

Mackey screwed up his face in concentration. “Well, you know I've been drinking.”

“Yeah, but you don't seem schnockered or anything. And don't worry about the kids. Leland will clear them out as soon as the meal's over. Kid movies are a Friday night tradition as well.”

“Kids don't bother me,” Mackey said. “I'm just not used to them, but I was kid once, I guess, so I can relate.”

“So does that sound like a good idea, then?”

“Sure. What the hell.” Mackey acted nonplussed, but he'd been overjoyed at Morgan's presence since her arrival. It was if she was a tonic, a rope dropped down in the miasma of his self-loathing, her breathy giddiness clearing out the bad air for awhile.

Morgan lived on the north side of town, just north of the ISNU campus, in a nicer neighborhood where many of the professors lived. In fact, as Mackey learned, Leland, Morgan's husband, taught physics at ISNU and Morgan worked in the audio-visual department at the campus library, overseeing the video equipment and helping researchers find and use micro-fiche. Her job was what got her interested in ghost hunting as she discovered many written accounts of ghostly encounters in local and state newspaper archives.

On the way to her house, Morgan told Mackey that a possible theory to explain why the ghost was particular to Mackey was because he had lived in the house long enough and unconsciously, or consciously, considering the possible open-minded nature of his personality, he had gotten “in tune” with the latent spirits of the house.

Mackey didn't necessarily like this theory, because he thought the ghost was “his.” He had claimed ownership of her in some way because of the particular nature of her appearance. And Morgan's theory meant that anyone with any staying power in the house, and with any modicum of “open-mindedness” or whatever, would eventually see her. And Mackey hoped no one but he would ever be able to see her. But he never voiced this to Morgan. For even though she was the only person in the world privy to Mackey's supernatural visions, he still was suspect that she would regard him as a kookball.

The pizza was very good. And Leland, putting to rest Mackey's fear of intruding on a family tradition, was very welcoming and seemed to enjoy the extra company. He knew about Mackey's vision, too, but didn't speak more of it other than to acknowledge to Mackey that “you're the one who lives with the ghost in the attic room.” The kids called Mackey “Mommy's ghost buddy” and seemed oddly nonchalant about all things supernatural.

And Mackey was almost overwhelmed by the warmth and kindness of this domestic world he didn't know. Is this in some way how she lived, he thought. He'd never been in such a nice home. When they ate, they ate together. No television set was on. There were no arguments. In fact, there was much respect. The kids said “Please” and “Thank You,” and “May I be excused.” Very polite for being ages five and seven. Mackey loved their banter. The seven year old son, Tobias, talked about playing the marimbas in music class at school and showed off his toothless smile. The daughter, Annabel Lee, was a little quieter and introspective, more like her father, but still lived firmly in the world of childhood imagination. Mackey heard the made up dialogue she had with her doll and said to Morgan, “You know, in all the horror movies, it's always the kids who are in tune with the other world.”

“So true. So true,” Morgan said. “They are so much more open-minded and receptive. As we age, experience and intellect tends to cloud up the signals a bit. To experience the supernatural, one must be able to clear one's mind and tune into that other wavelength.”

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