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"The Ghost Grew Legs," short story excerpt

Tuesday 6/29/21

A ghost receives orders and sometimes the ghost can be incredulous.


“Do what to whom?” the ghost may ask for clarification, though the ghost has processed the words.


Who gives the words? The devil? Don’t be dramatic.


The universe provides the words and they enter into the ghost. No, it’s not like fucking. Try to be classier. Ghosts have no holes in the reproductive fashion or for casual byplay of that nature, though obviously they have holes where eyes once were, and ears, and they may have signs of holes that were blown into their bodies back when the ghost had a proper body.


There’s a decent chance the ghost is noncommittal. It understands the nature of the task, but sometimes has no interest one way or the other if the given person is bludgeoned with fear.

It takes a lot of energy to mount a goodly amount of terror in someone when that is one’s job, not one’s naturally toxic, predatory, or soul-sucking nature.


The ghost may also be depressed as it is and toting that around. It may think, “Look, I can put the fear of God into this fucker, but he’ll never change. I know his kind.”


The ghost in fact may have been that kind itself. A dead ringer. Which is a form of joke for spirits, along with the requisite spirit-based puns, e.g., “I’m not in good spirits today,” which is generally replied to with, “You sure look like a goddamn ghost to me, bitch.”


Thus will the ghost get down. Being ghostly is not a lively proposition as it is. True, it’s not as automatically out and out gloomy as one could fall into the trap of thinking. The ghosts we ponder are of the lamenting sort. Lamenting, or malevolent. Most entities—ghost or otherwise—just want to get through the day. The same is true for the everlasting day—call it the everlasting night. There’s not a lot going for anyone or anything when the aim is merely to kill another day.


Other ghosts are pumped to get going—too pumped, too full of poses, too hung up on bringing attention to themselves. These are the ghosts that burn themselves out and are old ghosts before their time—like at 300 years, whereas for a person that age might be forty or even thirty.


They go too hard, too fast, too soon. They think they know it all.


“I’m gonna tear into this chick,” one of these ghosts is apt to say to itself. “She thinks that’s steam on the bathroom mirror, why, I’ll give her steam, I’ll give her steam up her ass.”


The ghost would be silent if other ghosts weren’t around, but it’s adept at knowing how to get an audience, or when one is nearby, which is the exact same thing as being aware that it’s proximate to creatures exactly like itself.


A ghost that is better at self-reflection will question if its zeal is causing it not to make a ton of sense. An attempt is made to apply logic and a sprinkling of humility. “Wait. The steam will take the form of my face.” So the part about going up the ass is nixed. The ghost wants its visage to be out in the steamy open. It’s a large part of the point. Further, the ghost isn’t interested in the woman’s naked state as she is in the shower. Them days are gone. Higher planes and all. And how long has she been in there? Who showers for an hour?


The ghost will cool its heels, to a degree, with its face in the mirror, waiting for her to be done. The ghost wants to check its watch, then recalls that it does not have one, for time itself is not a part of the ghost’s world. “Ah, remember watches?” the ghost thinks, getting nostalgic. The ghost had an energy drink before heading out for this task. An energy drink for a ghost comes in the form of diluted death. Not from a can. Or a trough, the way a horse would imbibe, ghosts having no arms, usually, for the hoisting of cups, chalices, tankards, skulls with the tops removed, for drinking. The ghost drinks from the river of death, which by strange coincidence, mixes with the river of life.


Back when the ghost was alive this would be akin to a freshwater river and a saltwater river converging, with a catfish eyeing a flounder with suspicion and both thinking, “hey, what gives, motherfucker? Do I need to cut you?”


Ghosts can give. People can give. Life can certainly give way to death but minus the official portion of the latter. There are even some ghosts who honestly believe they are people, and some people who are pretty damn close to officially being ghosts, though they may sport a nice blood pressure reading, tip-top organs, an impressive resting heartbeat that is not out of line with a professional athlete who must be svelte and runs a lot—say, a soccer midfielder or a football cornerback.


A ghost has much to think about while waiting inside a mirror of steam. The ghost also has concerns. Does its face in this mirror prevent someone from seeing what they need to see? And wait—does this chick even look at mirrors? What happens if she avoids them, turns away from her own reflection? Doesn’t even want to look herself in the eyes. Can’t look herself in the eyes. The ghost could be here for nothing. A completely wasted trip.


Then again, what else was on the docket for the day? There was nothing. The ghost is in a rut. How many more years until it can retire? Oh, right—there’s no leaving the gig. Or it seems that way, anyway. Ugh. What a fucking grind. The ghost will have to find something, it tells itself, to increase its feeling of purpose, or generate one in the first place, while thinking again about how long the woman has been in the shower.


What is she doing now? She’s not even standing. The ghost can see her through the glass door, which is, of course, itself covered with steam. She looks like a ghost down there on the floor of the tub. The ghost hopes it isn’t filthy. A lot of people don’t clean the floors of their tubs. There’s mold and mildew. That shit gets baked in. Can be like dirty scales. The ghost wonders if there will ever be an asp made of tile.


But the ghost also has bigger problems. It wonders if it’s seeing other ghosts looking back at it in the shower door. Was this a double-booking? Did someone get the schedules wrong again? Should the ghost even be here?


Woah—that ends up sounding to the ghost like a bigger question than what the ghost initially intended. Then again, sometimes a steam-shape is just a steam-shape. Deep breaths, the ghost tells itself. Deep breaths. Remember what the therapist said. If you can control it, you can own it. The ghost had asked what it meant then that it could control other ghosts within the dynamics of certain relationships, just like other people control other people, and if that made them slaves. “In a way,” the therapist had responded, which struck the ghost as bullshit and a cop-out.


“So what? I have like a fucking plantation then? I’m out there sipping mint juleps and admiring the wisteria in the trees?”


“Calm down,” the therapist had said.


Maybe the woman will be dead soon and she’ll join him, the ghost thinks. The ghost can’t see what she’s doing in there—not exactly. She could be opening a vein. Pills might have been consumed by the the phial-full before the ghost showed up. Then she could get in the mirror with him. Come right into the glass. A new companion. Maybe that’s the fresh start the ghost needs. She could just be masturbating. There’s a degree of whimpering transpiring. The ghost sets to daydreaming to pass the time that it can’t measure anyway. Nightdreaming. It’s night. “When isn’t it?” the ghost cracks wise.


The ghost has heard stories about some other ghosts—rare ghosts—who grew legs once more. The ghost wasn’t even sure about the terminology. “Once more” implied that they’d been ghosts who had legs, lost those legs, and then grew them again. That wasn’t correct. They’d had legs as people, then they were ghosts, then they started growing the people legs again. They had a centaur vibe. Or it could have been that they were people all along—because metaphysics are confusing—and they grew these ghost tops and ghost arms and ghost billows, only other people couldn’t see, but just other ghosts, because ghosts have a different kind of sight.


The ghost of the steamy mirror had aspired to grow legs. To range out into the world with more control. Say. Not having to rely on floating hither and yon, based upon directives, which we’ve established did not come from the devil, but rather the unscrambled chatter of the universe. The static with a few decipherable phrases. That’s where a ghost gets its marching orders. The devil is more apt to work with the heads of massive corporations, people with trust funds, and sub-humans really into asking other people if they also went to Yale and then determining their relative value based upon the answer.


The devil can get more depressed than ghosts. It’s not easy being the devil, but someone has to do it—it’s like patching up a school shooter after his murderous rampage if he’s been shot a bunch himself by the cops (who themselves may be viewed a certain devilish way depending upon whether it’s one of those periods when the cops are bastards who all deserve to die or else they’re more or less just whatever and not in the news as much) and clings to life.

A doctor does what he or she can, because that is the nature of duty, even if wanting to push a thumb into the holes and say, “How’s that feel, demon?” and “I’m giving you more of a chance than you gave those sweet, innocent babes.”


But the ghost realizes that one usually only gets something right after one has first gotten it wrong. Knowledge isn’t about standing behind the arc and draining threes. The ghost had been a passionate basketball player. Didn’t play much anymore. Largely gave it up. Knowledge is about crashing the boards, grabbing the rebound, and laying in your own miss. Fucking stupid giving up ball like that, the ghost thinks. I mean, he pays for the membership. Sure it’s only ten bucks a month, and it’s easy to rationalize, but it’d be easier to justify if he actually went down there every now and again.


The ghost finds itself wanting to sing to the woman in the shower, who is humming now. She vocalizes, too, but she does not use words. Words would still be too much for her, the ghost senses, and this is her way of working herself back up.


The ghost wants to sing a portion of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me,” or the Doors’ “My Wild Love,” but all the ghost can do is hover in the glass, think, wish, mull, reflect back, project forward, and furrow its brow and try to push outward so as to grow legs, as if the ghost is giving birth to a means to advance itself.


They’d pop out of the mirror, dangle into the sink. That’d sure be some sight for the woman once she got out. But maybe the ghost could talk then, it could explain. She could help him through it. The transformation. The ghost would know something of time again, and conceivably it wasn’t three o’clock in the morning after all and the dark night of the soul, was instead a more peaceable hour, and they could take a walk, have a picnic, range and bound. Shoot some hoops.


“You’re gimpy,” she might say, as the ghost took its first few steps outside.


“Be still my heart,” the ghost could reply, to her, to himself, and in general for anyone who was listening and had forgotten to take hearts into consideration anymore.


But the ghost also didn’t want to be selfish, and was presently rethinking the issue of legs. For it seemed to the ghost rather more likely that people grew parts like him—he allowed himself the pronoun—and that was to be avoided. Sad to say. The ghosts should be the ghosts, he concluded, and people shouldn’t have to be. Ought to strive not to grow those other parts. Or let themselves turn into what the ghost in the mirror was—a sobering epiphany that made him despair, but also raised a question of utility. He could be a reminder. In his visitations. His appearances. The times when he was spotted. In lore. Tale-telling. That’s the spirit, he thought. The plays on words were hard to avoid, but his shot told all the same, and if he had a heart, as people think of them, he would have felt it there. Of that he was certain.