A week went by and Nathan Ellingsby hadn’t told anybody about the ghost who had moved into his apartment. Who would believe him? He worked as an auditor for a small life insurance company and surely none of his co-workers would believe that a ghost–a male ghost dressed in late nineteenth century clothing–now lived with him. Actually, the ghost wasn’t really “dressed.” His entire self, turn-of-the-century outfit included, was made of whatever that see-through stuff is ghosts are made of.
“So, are you going to tell anyone about me today?” said the ghost of Charles Davenport as Nathan was getting ready for work. “It’s almost like you’re ashamed of me.”
“I may,” said Nathan, ignoring the rather ridiculous accusation that he could somehow be ashamed of having a ghost in his apartment. Even though Charles had told him that he had been a serial killer in San Francisco, that wasn’t something Nathan should be ashamed of. “There’s this guy who does the janitorial work in the office who’d be the best bet. I remember he told me that he was going to a science fiction convention in New York City one weekend last year. Those kinda people are usually more receptive to things like ghosts and stuff.”
“And stuff? There’s no “stuff” here in this apartment; just me. I lived here for a while back in 1890 before I went to San Francisco. Ah, I was young and alive then, in my twenties, and had some really good times in this town. Killed four people right in this very room. It was over a period of two years…”
“If you died in the earthquake in 1906, why aren’t you haunting the building you died in?” asked Nathan. “Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work?”
“Hello? Earthquake? Devastating fires? Most of the city burned down? There’s a Burger King on the grounds where my rooming house had been. Do you know how frustrating it can be to try to haunt a Burger King? Bright lights from 6:00 AM to 2:00 AM. No dark corners, no shadows. Hardly ever any complete quiet. I decided to hitchhike back here to Providence and check out my old haunts. Get it? ‘Old haunts?’ Anyway…”
“Hitchhike?” asked Nathan. “Why would you hitchhike? Couldn’t you just, I don’t know, materialize here or something?”
“Ghosts can go through walls like in books and movies, but we can’t travel at light speed if that’s what you mean,” said Charles. “I could have flown or taken a train, but thought I’d see more of the country hitchhiking. Killed a guy, too.”
“What? How can ghosts kill people?” asked Nathan while tying his shoe. He didn’t like the way this conversation was going. “You’re like this ectoplasm-type stuff. I think you’re just trying to impress me. Though why, I don’t know.”
Now Nathan actually did believe that the ghost of Charles Davenport could be dangerous. One of the reasons he had been planning to talk to Billy Simpson, the maintenance guy at work, was to see if Billy could help him get rid of Charles. This new revelation, true or not, only convinced him that the sooner Charles was haunting a new abode, the better.
“How do we kill people? We scare them to death,” said Charles. “Or we scare them so badly they have a fatal accident. This guy that picked me up…, well, wait, I didn’t actually put out my thumb by the side of the road; I just eased into his car at a stoplight. Anyway, we were driving through Ohio on some state highway, I was sitting next to him in the front seat and I just materialized. Then I gave him the old tried and true, ‘Boo!’ He drove off the road and right into a tree. What a dope. ‘Course then I had to get another ride….”
“Okay, okay, enough,” said Nathan. “I’ve gotta get to work. If you decide that I’m too boring or something, feel free to leave. No need to wait ’til I get home to say good-bye.”
“Sounds like you’re tryin’ to get rid of me. It wouldn’t be smart to piss me off, ya know.”
Nathan grabbed his briefcase and went out the door more convinced than ever that he needed Billy’s help.
“I know it sounds unbelievable, Billy, but it’s true; there’s a ghost in my apartment,” said Nathan. Nathan was sitting in the lunchroom with Billy and had just finished telling him about his unwanted guest.
“If it was one of these other assholes around here tellin’ me this shit, I’d just walk away,” said Billy. “But you, you’ve always seemed like you’re okay. So, you’ve got a ghost, he’s annoying and possibly dangerous, and you’d like to get rid of him. Give me some details and I’ll look into it.”
“Really? You’ll do that? That’d be great. His name is Charles Davenport, he lived in the building in about 1890, and he claims to be a serial killer who killed four people in my apartment before he moved to San Francisco. That’s where he died in the earthquake in 1906. He claims to have killed people there too. I’m sure he’d tell me more if I asked; he’s really full of himself. If ghosts can be full of themselves.”
“That’s a good start. If he’s dangerous, I don’t necessarily want to meet him before I’ve gathered some background information. I can find most of what I need to know on the Internet. Give me a few days and I’ll get back to ya. I’ll tell ya if I need anything else. The names of those four people he killed in your room might be helpful, but don’t press him for them yet. If he gets talkin’ about them on his own, great, but we don’t want to get him suspicious; you could wind up bein’ Number Five.”
When Nathan got home from work that night, he saw an ambulance pulling away from in front of his apartment building. It didn’t have its lights or siren on and that could mean things were now okay or maybe not ever going to be okay. A couple of people who lived in his building were talking by the curb. “What happened?” asked Nathan. “Was somebody hurt or sick?’
“Old Mrs. Jenkins,” said Allan Birdsong. “She had a heart attack or something and died.”
Nathan mumbled something appropriate and continued up to his apartment. He had a bad feeling about this and hoped Charles would be out.
“Boo!” shouted Charles as Nathan opened the closet door to hang up his coat. Charles had been standing off to one side of the closet and had lurched out at Nathan when he had reached in for a hanger.
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” yelled Nathan. “Are you crazy?”
“Gotcha, didn’t I,” said Charles. “You shoulda seen the look on your face.”
“Well, don’t do that shit anymore. This is my place and you’re a guest; an uninvited guest. You have to behave or find someplace else to live.”
“Is that an attempt at humor? ‘Someplace to live?’ I’m dead, Nathan; there’s no place I can ‘live’.”
“Oh, just forget it; I’m tired and don’t need all this drama. Just leave me alone for a while,” said Nathan as he walked into the kitchen. He had planned to confront Charles about Mrs. Jenkins, but now that he had put Charles into a bad mood he found himself too scared to bring it up. He remembered what Billy had said about being Number Five.
Later, Nathan told Charles he had told Billy about him. Charles had been pouting in a corner in the living room, but now became excited and asked that Nathan invite Billy over to meet him. Nathan, trying to sound casual, said he would talk to Billy the next day at work. He didn’t like the look of what seemed to be a kind of greedy anticipation in Charles’ eyes.
Two days later, Billy told Nathan to meet him for lunch at a little coffee shop about four blocks from work.
“The Internet; gotta love it,” said Billy as Nathan set his coffee and sandwich on the table.
“You found something?” asked Nathan.
“Oh, yeah. It took a little digging, but I found a lot that will be helpful. One thing I can’t figure, though; if he died in the San Francisco fire, why isn’t he doing his haunting out there?”
“I asked him the same thing,” said Nathan. “He said the area his building had been in was now full of retail shops. There’s actually a Burger King where his rooming house…”
“I get it, I get it. Can’t very well do any serious haunting in a Burger King, can ya. So, there were some unsolved murders and disappearances in San Francisco around the time of the earthquake. Nobody was ever implicated, and after the quake, the authorities probably had a lot on their hands for a couple of years. I couldn’t find anything related to our boy after the quake.”
“Gee, that’s too bad, but thanks for checking,” said Nathan.
“Wait, there’s more; lots more,” said Billy. “Here in Providence there was a rash of murders and disappearances around 1890. According to the newspaper stories, the police felt they were close to makin’ an arrest. Then the disappearances stopped and the case got cold. I’m bettin’ that’s when ol’ Charles skedaddled to Frisco.”
“One of the people that Charles killed in your living room may have been a kid by the name of Johnny Ward. He went missing and his older brother, Franklin Ward, was a person of interest for a time, but the police couldn’t break his alibi that he had been in New Orleans at the time Johnny disappeared. Johnny’s body was eventually found under some trash in an alley. So, tomorrow’s Saturday; how’d ya like to go and see if we can find a ghost?”
“Billy, I’ve already got a ghost I don’t want. What would I want with another one?”
The next morning found Nathan and Billy at the entrance of the old North Burial Ground Cemetery. The cemetery was very well maintained and Nathan thought it quite beautiful…, for a cemetery.
“I used the “Find A Grave” web site to find which cemetery Johnny Ward was buried in,” said Billy. “The Ward family has a little grouping of burial sites in the eastern corner. We should be able to find Johnny’s grave pretty easily.”
“I know you said last night that we’d be looking for his ghost. What makes you think there’s a ghost of Johnny to be found? Do people just choose to be ghosts or not be ghosts when they die?”
“There aren’t a lot of scientific studies out there that concern themselves with the rules and regulations of ghosthood, Nathan. There probably aren’t even any legitimate scientists who would actually admit to believing in ghosts. Most of what we know is just speculation.”
“Well, if I was a scientist I’d believe in ghosts,” said Nathan with a shudder. “I got one sitting in my living room right now. Or maybe hiding in the coat closet…”
“That TV show about ghosts goes with the idea that dead people hang around as ghosts until they’ve come to some kind of closure and are ready to “go into the light.” It’s all just mostly guesswork. But our Johnny could still be around because he was murdered. And his murderer, Charles, was never brought to justice.”
They walked the paths to the eastern corner and started a random search of the gravestones. Many of the stones were very old, some dating back to the 1700s.
“Here’s a Ward,” said Billy. “Here’s a few more…, oh, and wait, heeere’s Johnnnny!”
“Ha, ha, you’re a real comedian,” said Nathan. “Now what? Do we just knock or something?”
“As I told you; it’s mostly guesswork. I’m going to let Johnny know that we would like to help him go to the light. If he helps us get rid of Charles, it’s a plus for all three of us. As for my plus in the whole thing, if this all works out, it’ll be the most awesome thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“Johnny Ward,” intoned Billy in his best conjuring up voice. “Nathan Ellingsby and I, Billy Simpson, would like your help in banishing your killer, Charles Davenport, to the Netherworld.”
“Netherworld?” whispered Nathan.
“Quiet,” said Billy.
“If you can’t talk to us now, please meet us at the apartment where you were killed at 11:45 tonight. Bring any help you choose to.”
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” asked Nathan.
“Of course I don’t know what I’m doing,” said Billy. “I’m completely winging it. You want to get rid of Charles, don’t you? What have we got to lose?”
“Well, for one, he could kill us both at 11:45 tonight,” said Nathan.
That night around 9:00, Billy came over to Nathan’s apartment and was introduced to Charles. Charles seemed happy to have Billy as a guest and chatted about circa 1900 events like they had happened yesterday. As the night started to close in on 11:45, Charles started to seem to get a little manic. He hadn’t told Billy anything about being a murderer earlier in the evening, but now seemed compelled to blurt out his life story.
“My parents were both very cold people,” said Charles. “They didn’t love each other and they didn’t love me. I was their only child and was always lonely. When I was fifteen, I turned on the gas of the gas lights in the house without lighting them while they were sleeping. When I reasoned there was enough gas in the house, I threw a match into their room and made for the front door. Fortunately for me, my hair and clothes got singed enough so everybody felt I was lucky to have escaped and felt sorry for me that I was an orphan. I got a job at a grocery and lived above it until I had enough money to get an apartment of my own. This apartment. To most people, I was just a regular guy. But inside, I was angry all the time. I started out by killing stray dogs and cats with poisoned meat. One night, while watching a dog die from the treat I had given it, an old bum asked me for something to eat. Without giving it a second thought, I gave him some of the poisoned meat and watched him die. I found that I rather enjoyed it. Over the next couple of years, I lured four people back to this room with promises of money and food. I hid their bodies under the trash in the alleys. Two of them were bums, one was a prostitute, and one was a little kid who…”
“A little kid who believed you when you said you’d give me a quarter for candy,” came a voice from the coat closet. “I trusted you. I was only ten years old.”
Charles looked first toward where the voice had come from and then at Nathan and Billy. The expressions on their faces told him that they were as surprised as he was.
“Is there somebody in the closet?’ asked Charles in a shaky voice.
“Why don’t you go and see,” said Billy, sliding over and making a little distance between himself and Charles. “Unless you’re afraid.”
Charles shook his head slowly with a look of grim determination on his face. “Ghosts don’t have to be afraid of anything ….”
“Except other ghosts,” said Johnny Ward. “The ghost of someone you killed is very powerful. Much more powerful than the ghost of the killer. And there are quite a number of us who dropped by to say ‘Hi’ this evening.”
Materializing in a mad rush from the closet came a flurry of human ghosts and a goodly number of dog and cat ghosts. They swarmed over a screaming Charles and easily subdued him. Nathan and Billy inched their way to the farthest wall in the room. An exuberant Billy felt like he was an extra on the set of a Hammer Films flick. Through the floorboards rose two otherworldly beings; half human, half canine. They appeared to be spirits, but were not see-through. Their color flickered back and forth between ebony and the red-gold of molten lava. When they grabbed onto Charles’ arms, he screamed in agony. The two powerful werebeasts shackled his hands and feet with red-hot metal chains and started sinking back through the floorboards, carrying their writhing prisoner with them.
With the departure of Charles, the ghosts turned as one toward Nathan and Billy.
“Welcome,” said Billy. “Thank you for helping to send the ghost of Charles Davenport to the Netherworld. You are now free to go into the light.”
Some of the ghosts shrugged and others exchanged glances and gently shook their heads. The dogs and cats settled down on the braid rug under the coffee table.
“Free to go,” Billy repeated as the ghosts started looking around the apartment like prospective renters.
Nathan plopped down on the couch and opened the newspaper to the “Apartments For Rent” section. Billy was still caught up in the whole thing and took the newspaper from Nathan’s hands.
“We could switch apartments,” he said with a smile. “I live above Fast Eddie’s Bar & Grill downtown on 5th and Marston. Even trade?”
One of the stew-bum ghosts wandered up and eased onto the couch next to Nathan.
“Got anything to drink around here?” he asked.
“You got a deal, Billy,” said Nathan, ignoring the ghost. “You got a deal.”
Roy Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a voracious reader for over 60 years. At the prompting of an old high school friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious writer. He has had flash fiction and poetry published recently in Cease Cows, Gravel, Theme of Absence, Flash Fiction Press, Drunk Monkeys, Birds Piled Loosely, Black Petals, Shotgun Honey, Near To The Knuckle, Cheapjack Pulp, and Yellow Mama.