This story contains sensitive content

*Warning- Mentions of ill mental health, ghosts, and death- could trigger unwanted experiences*

Do you believe in ghosts?

You know, ghosts. Dead people. Spirits from beyond. Specters. Phantoms. Poltergeists. I know I don’t. It’s just like how when you were a kid you were scared of the dark. Supernatural beings are just the same. You’re not scared of the dark, you’re scared of the unknown; what’s beyond your comprehension. But once you figure out that it doesn’t exist? Well, you’re not scared anymore. 

They say that seeing ghosts can be linked to shock or grief, even mental illness. That’s the obvious answer when you think about it. Then why do most people believe in them? Who knows. I see it every day. “Ghosts” moving papers that are directly in front of an air vent. Figures seen in darkened glass mirrors. Candles going out on a windy day. It’s all the same. Even the feeling of being watched. There are security cameras all around and you want to talk about feeling watched?  Historical figures haunting museums? Everything feels real when you want it to be. 

I get paid to tell people they’re delusional. Throwing blessed tap water around and salt over shoulders. Pointing at air vents and lighting matches. It’s all a bunch of bull to convince you to pay me. So why bother? Because it makes you feel safe, to know that you’re the only danger to yourself, not any outside forces. I take care of the “ghosts” in your home and leave you to deal with your personal demons. But whatever. I get paid.

It was just another day at the job. I was walking the cracked sidewalks on my way to a regular customer, a vertically challenged lady named Berta, whose skin had wrinkles deeper than canyons. Her house was as ancient as she, with decaying vines and an overgrown lawn outside. Stacks upon stacks of string-tied packages of newspapers crowded the living room, probably aging all the way back to the Civil War.  She had let go of herself after her beloved husband had passed away over a decade ago, yet he still apparently showed up to sit in his grand velvet recliner, reducing Berta to tears as she stared at the empty chair. I always felt sorry for Berta; especially since she tipped generously.

She greeted me at the door, her eyes leaking and puffy. Striding into her home every week before, I had only seen the newspaper towers grow, though this week they were nearly up to the ceiling. She smiled weakly at me.

“Would you like me to turn on the air conditioning, dear?” I nodded.

“It is a little warm, isn’t it,” returning her feeble grin. She nodded and shuffled off into the maze of now-historical documents toward a switch somewhere, leaving me standing awkwardly in her entryway. This was going to take a while.

I passed my time by looking through the newspapers. An article from last week’s Weekly Old Folks from a pile nearby showed someone’s grinning grandpa riding a bicycle. Another one called The Daily Fedora announced the premier of Indiana Jones in 1984. Yet another, this time from the bottom of the stack, recounted the lives lost in World War One. Seriously, how old is this lady?! I chuckled to myself. 

Abruptly, a booming clatter ran across the room followed by the whoosh of musty air rifling through thousands of papers. 

“I-I think it should be working now?” A soft voice called from what I assumed to be a hallway. I glanced up, feeling nothing but the same stale air on my cheek.

“No ma’am I don’t believe s”—

A booming clank bursted from an air vent behind me, followed by a rush of dusty air and black and white spots appearing in my vision. The floor rushed up to meet me and I was enveloped in darkness. 

When I woke up, the first thing I noticed was the dull throb in the back of my skull. It felt as if I had been hit with a wrench. As the world around me began to clear, I made out four faces. One was Berta’s, scrunched in worry. Another was an older, eyeglassed man with snow-colored hair and scraggly beard. The next was young, maybe only twenty-five years old, with a wide face and skin pale as the moon. The last was tall and skinny, about my age with dark skin beneath his short-cropped beard. All looked down on my aching head with seriousness and anxiety. There was something else, too- sirens. 

“What- what happened?” I questioned, sitting up. Just by looking around Berta’s entryway, I could tell. Newspaper packets littered the floor all around, stretching from in front of the air vent to right next to my throbbing head. Berta grinned sheepishly. 

“Sir, do you feel dizzy or lightheaded?” The pale man asked.


“Do you have a stomachache or headache?” The tall one inquired.

“No.” With that the older man nodded and went to sit on the velvet recliner that he seemed to have sat in all his life and the two others went to converse in the corner. 

After a few minutes, the two strolled back over and helped me up, giving me some ice and a pat on the back. They informed me that I would be fine and free to go. On their way out, they handed Berta a small, shiny card, to which she pursed her lips.

“I think I’ll head home early if it’s okay, Berta,” I said. She smiled sympathetically, and I walked out, holding the ice pack to my head.

The sun began to set as I walked my usual route home, casting golden hues through the trees and onto the sidewalk. Occasionally someone strolled by, but I didn’t take any notice, instead deciding to take a detour. I strode through the matte metal gate and sat down on a warmed, hard bench. Looking around the park, I noticed that there were more people out and about today than usual. Some were walking, listening to the birds. Some were sitting and having picnics on the grass, and yet others were just standing and talking. Though I had just woken up, a yawn crept up my throat as I pressed the ice pack to my head. 

The bench creaked, waking me from my daze. I glanced up to see a wizened man, with his dark skin weathered with time and a mad scientist’s curly gray hair. He sat down on the bench beside me and began his work, typing away on a rusty typewriter more ancient than he. As I stared, I wondered where he had gotten it.  

Feeling my gaze, he looked over at me. I nodded awkwardly. He nodded back, then went back to his work. Abruptly, he turned back to me.

“What happened?” He inquired, his eyebrows creasing.

“What do you mean?”

“You can certainly see me; I’ve already passed. So what happened to you, son?”  A shiver went down my spine.

“I don’t know. I got hit in the head with a pile of newspapers,” I said dully. “This means that I can see ghosts? And you’re”—

“A spirit, yes. You may be able to see us now due to trauma,which  resulted in a so-called ‘spiritual awakening.’ Newspapers, I dare say?”

“A woman named Berta’s,” I sighed, “And guess what? I’m delusional because of that!” 

“Ah, I am good friends with her late husband, Timothy. You may have met him, he quite enjoys his chair.” The man pursed his lips and typed some more into his typewriter. 

Looking back at me, he declared, “My name is Samuel Abernathy, death date November Sixteenth, 1861, pleased to make your acquaintance,” giving a little bow, he smiled. “I will provide help to you and your company on the topic of phantoms and apparitions.” I shook my head solemnly. 

“I need help all right. Medical help. I think I have a concussion, or schizophrenia, or I need to be admitted to an insane asylum. I assure you, I don’t need to know more about the figments of my imagination. I work with people who believe that ghosts haunt them, and it’s all the same. They’re either superstitious or close to their own deaths.” 

At this Abernathy gingerly took the typewriter from his lap and placed it on the bench beside him. He then took his hand and slapped me. Or at least tried to. His hand phased right through my skull, making my jaw muscles seize up from the bitter cold that lingered in my head for but a second. My skin crawled as goose bumps shot up and down my arms. A wave of fear swept through me, and my face clenched as if I had eaten something sour.

“That, sir, is not what a figment of your imagination feels like,”  Abernathy stated, his deep black eyes dancing dangerously. I nodded, my stomach still doing somersaults.

“On a lighter note, our conference here was not coincidental,” He continued, “Here on my typing machine, I have the names of all who are ‘spiritually’ gifted, whether living or dead. “ He took his typewriter back in his lap and showed it to me. With a chime, the page was finished.  Abernathy ripped it out and pulled a leather-bound tome out of the air to his right. The book was as thick as my head was wide, the worn brown leather cracking and old yet held together as if by magic. He opened the book, releasing a cloud of dust, flipped to the end, and set the page in place for me to see. Second to bottom, John Elser was written in type. My name.

“As I said, this meeting is not a coincidence. The topic I’m here to discuss is your profession,” He said, accusations hinting in his throaty voice.

Confused, I questioned, “My job?” 

“No, your eating habits. Of course your job, young man. You are an exorcist, are you not?”

“No- not really. I don’t actually do anything.”

“Well, by my records, you have maimed and expelled countless ghosts, you and this business you work for.” I stared at him. He was calm and cool, keeping his composure. He had seen countless generations of people grow old. 

“Excuse me for a bit,” I said, standing up from the bench, “I have some things to do.”

After that I quit my job and worked in a Publix. It’s much better now, working there. A bit dull, but it’s fine. Berta moved to an assisted living home a few months ago and donated most of  her newspaper collection to the city dump (and a few to the museum).  Abernathy is settled into the library after successfully making an appearance to Mander’s Exorcism Services and shutting the business down. His book still grows every day though. I’ve managed to help out at the hospital in the trauma ward, where it grows the most. The streets get busier by the day with people and spirits alike.

So the question stands. Do you believe in ghosts? You know, ghosts? I know that I do. Berta does. Abernathy, at a fair stance, believes in them too. But still, I’m asking you. Do you believe in ghosts?

February 22, 2023 15:40

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