GH Monday: Day 02 Scene 06
Max Beaumont (m) & Wooster
I stopped off at a deli in the Square for a sandwich, chocolate bar and diet soda. I wolfed them down as I headed to the next job that the Chief had sent me via text - a local gym. An ambulance passed me, a banshee clinging to the roof, her hair blowing in the wind as she howled wildly. Not my problem, thank God. Not yet, at least. I finished my food just as I reached the gym, throwing the empty bottle of soda into a nearby bin and feeding the last crust from my sandwich to an imploring Wooster. I wiped my mouth to remove any traces of chocolate, this was a gym, after all, and headed inside. I showed my ID to the girl at the reception desk.
“Thank goodness,” she said, getting up from her desk and asking me to follow her. “We called for someone this morning, we’ve got clients trapped in there. John’s been threatening to call the police if no one came soon.”
“It’s a busy day,” I told her. “The storm’s loosened up a lot of ghosts.”
“Oh yes, I suppose it would,” she didn’t sound too interested in my explanations. She led me into the main gym area. A cluster of shocked and scared-looking gym users, dressed primarily in lycra, were huddled in a corner near three rowing machines. The grey metal of a thirty pound hand weight hurled through the air, hitting a mirror already scarred by multiple cracks. Shards of reflective glass fell to the floor. The ghost was that of a young man, muscled and dark-haired. He paid no attention to me or the other people in the room, as he carefully selected his next weight to throw. He was between myself and the gym users. Which meant of course, he was between them and the exit.
“I”m John,” a man approached me. He was short, with sandy hair and boyish features that didn’t seem to go with his stocky, muscular figure. “I’m the manager here.”
“Has he thrown the weights at anyone?” I asked.
“No one hurt? No sign that he’s seen them or is targeting anything other than the mirror.
“Good, keep everyone out of the way then, they should be fine.”
“You know, they’ve been trapped for hours,” John said stiffly. “I really think someone should have got here sooner. It’s a miracle no one’s hurt yet.”
“Yeah, well, I only go where they send me,” I replied. I wasn’t interested in defending the vagaries of the SDA to a cadjin stranger. After all, even I had no idea why the cows on the Common had been prioritised over this. Unless the SDA hadn’t understood the situation? Or thought that tourist attractions were more important?
The man lifted up a forty pound weight, hefting under his chin like a shot putter. But he hurled it like a baseball pitcher, overarm. The mirror, which covered the full length of the wall, came crashing down in jagged pieces, revealing plasterboard beneath. A woman gave a small stifled cry in the corner where the gym users huddled.
“Just stay where you and keep quiet,” John told them. “You’ll be fine. He doesn’t want to hurt you.”
“Any idea who he is?” I asked. It was hot, so I stripped off my hat, gloves and scarf, then my coat, leaving them on top of a cross-trainer.
“Yeah,” John sighed. “He’s our resident ghost. All the clients loved him, so we’ve always kept him around. Up until today, he’s been good as gold, just comes in, lifts weights, goes again. It’s a real attraction, people get a kick out of lifting weights next to him. But now…”
“How did he die?”
“Oh, heart attack, few years back. One of those things. Fit and healthy guy, runs marathons, triathlons, all that good stuff, then he drops down dead and they find out he’s been living with some sort of heart defect his whole life. Could have lived like a couch potato, eating shit, drinking and smoking, he’d still have lived as long.”
There was an undercurrent of bitterness in John’s voice, but I wasn’t interested in him.
“Hey Matty,” I called out. Sometimes established ghosts can pay attention to a ghost hunter, we can even talk them down from violence, under the right circumstances. But he ignored me, hunting on the rack for another weight.
“How long has he been haunting this place?” I asked John.
“He ever speak to anyone? Show any signs he knew the living were here?”
I sighed. Opened up my backpack as Matty hurled another thirty pound weight at the mirrored wall that was mostly just wall now. The weight dug a hole in the plasterboard.
I took a sheet of paper vellum from my backpack and rapidly wrote an exorcism spell on it, weaving in Matty’s name, the name of the gym and the signs for 30lbs and 40lbs, in case the weights themselves were significant. I could have performed a sung chant, but a written spell, under the right circumstances, is far stronger and more powerful. With an established ghost such as this, who’d been around for so long, I would need that advantage.
“Wooster, come,” I called to my wretched dog, who was at that moment in the middle of wrestling with a gym towel that had been discarded on the floor. He had it pinned down between his two front paws and was pulling up at it with his mouth, tearing it. But the moment I called him he dropped it and ran eagerly to my side. At my command, he started to nip at Matty’s heels, causing the man to drop his latest choice of weight - a 25 pounder. In the meantime, I used sellotape to stick my paper daiman to the wall that had been the target of his fury. I called Wooster off and Matty, no longer distracted, picked up the weight he’d dropped, throwing it directly at the daiman. As the weight thudded against the wall, tearing another hole in it, and thudded to the ground, Matty disappeared.
I waited a few minutes more, to make sure, then turned to John. “That should do it,” I told him.
“Thanks,” he grinned, and insisted on shaking my hand as the gym users gave me a round of applause. I blushed under their American enthusiasm, gathered up my winter clothes and got out of there as fast as I could.
The rest of the afternoon continued in a blur of exorcisms, texts popping through from the Chief as soon as I texted him to tell him I’d finished a job. I wised up and stopped texting him straight away, giving myself time to get a coffee, or just sit down and have a breather. Still, my hands were shaking from the effort by the time I cast my last spell, the ghost of an old, timber house that had appeared inside a newer brick building. The residents were furious, having had to vacate in the middle of the night and spent it in the emergency shelter.
“What took you so long?” a grey-haired woman demanded angrily.
“Lot of ghosts today,” I told her.
“I need to get inside, I can’t spend all day in coffee shops.”
“I don’t know why you vacated in the first place.” I squinted at the flickering white frame of the ghostly building, sitting aslant to the brick one. “It seems safe enough to me.”
“Well, you might be perfectly happy to sleep in a bedroom with someone else’s furniture and what-not,” the woman said. “But I am not.”
“Fair enough,” I replied. It didn’t take long to banish the building - objects are far less powerful hauntings than people or even animals. I was bored enough with the exorcism spell, and all its variations that I’d used that day, to write my sigils in the snow that surrounded the building, using a sung chant to charge them with magic from the air (that piece wasn’t showboating, as my supplies were seriously dwindled from the day’s efforts). The onlooking residents gave a small cheer as the ghostly house disappeared.
“Thanks,” a burly man in a red ski coat came over to shake me by the hand. I looked down and realised he’d tipped me twenty dollars. It wasn’t much, but ghost hunters aren’t often tipped and, frankly, I appreciated being appreciated, after an exhausting day.
“Thank you,” I told him.
I texted the Chief with shaking fingers to tell him I’d finished with the house.
- Exhausted. Can I go home yet?
- Yes. Get a good night’s sleep. Start again tomorrow.
What I needed was some decent food, not all the sugary junk I’d been eating all day to keep going. I walked home with Wooster, who pooped out the gummy bear on the way and then ate it again. I heated up some ready made soup and made some toast, watched TV while I ate it. I have a Tumblr blog on which I post my ghost photos and I checked the blogs I followed to see their new posts. I didn’t post mine, though I had good photos of the girl at the T station, the cows in the shopping centre, Matty at the gym. I have only the one follower, a strange girl who posts photos of shadows, near unreadable, just blurs of dark and shade. I have a suspicion that she might be a ghost herself, only alive online. Either way, one follower hardly compels me to post regularly. Wooster ate his second bowl of kibble of the day.
The food perked me up and I realised it was too early to go to bed yet, not if I didn’t want to wake up in the small hours, wide awake and anxious. There was a lecture going on at the university that I’d wanted to see, being held in the science center. I still had time to get there, if I was quick.
I bundled up again, Wooster in tow and made my way across the Square to the Yard. It was busy with evening commuters, everyone heading to restaurants and bars at the end of the day. Wooster pooped in a dark corner of the Yard, where no one could see him. I left it there, for the squirrels. We were in good time for the lecture, the audience a mix of mage and cadjin, the lecture theatre overheated, the floor wet from people’s boots, dark mats placed temporarily down so no one slipped. I sat at the back, my coat draped over my knees, with Wooster snuggled on my lap, leaning heavily into my stomach, warming me. I was surrounded by cadjin, all the mages sat nearer the front, students and academics alike. I even spotted a few storm-fighters, still in uniform, as was their habit.
The professor was greeted with enthusiastic applause. His lecture was short, but fascinating as he told the story of a young Chinese boy, six years old, found abandoned in a field with his eyes gouged out. The scientists could give him new robotic eyes, but he would still be blind. They would look real, but not be real. That was where Professor Harris came in. He and his team carved sigils onto the eyes using lasers and microscopes, tiny marks that couldn’t be seen with the naked eyes, replenished with magic. They restored the child’s sight and the lecture finished with a short video of the child seeing again for the first time since he’d been found a year before.
The applause at the end of the lecture was even greater than at the beginning and I used the cover of the standing ovation to sneak out the back exit of the theatre. I knew from experience that the question and answer sessions for these things could go on for ages and I was suddenly tired again, wanting only my bed, irritably aware of my own envy for mages who could perform such miracles, while my talents could only stretch to paranormal clean-up. I was all too aware of the mages sitting on the benches below me, the smiles they exchanged, the easy camaraderie. I wasn’t part of their clique, nor did I want to be.
I shrugged on my coat, took out my scarf, hat and gloves from my pockets and put them on. Wooster and I trudged across the dimly Yard, heading home. In the dark corner where he’d pooped I caught a glimmer of silver. I stopped, holding my breath. Yes, it was her. The slave ghost who haunted the Yard. I’d only seen her a few times and I wasn’t sure if anyone else was aware of her existence. She certainly wasn’t official, or I’d have been told to exorcise or maintain her. She was perhaps six years old, with braided hair, wearing a neat dress and apron. The collar around her neck was too big to be jewellery. I knew if I ever got close enough to read it, it would tell me her name and the name of her owner. I didn’t move. She stared at me a while, then disappeared around the corner. I should report her to the Chief, it wasn’t my decision whether she was exorcised or maintained, but I didn’t know which idea I hated more, the idea that she should be sent to oblivion, forever forgotten, or displayed in the Yard for all to stare at, for the tourists to pose for photographs with.
Either way, I would do nothing until I had do. Her haunting was the only freedom the girl had likely known. Who was I to deprive her of that?
© Essie Gilbey, 2014