Modern Ghost Hunting, a Short Story
"Modern Ghost Hunting" by Tamara Wilhite
Leslie grinned at the ad on the flyer. “Ghost hunter, available on a per hour basis, rate contingent upon the investigative methods used. Full range of scientific equipment available. Call us.” It listed a number, but not a website. How modern could they be if they didn’t have a website?
Yet Leslie couldn’t help but wonder about the bumps in the attic or the other odd sounds that came at night. He dropped the old fashioned phone book on the table and made a mental note to end the delivery service. His paranoia of wanting to have a phone number listing available if the power went out again, like it often did, especially when he’d had bad dreams. Or good ones. Either way, it was all too often. Leslie started to fix dinner when a friend called.
Home, alone, again. A dud of a date that ended far too soon. If it had gone well and he stayed out all night, he wouldn’t be home alone overnight. If he had too many drinks or a lot of fun and stayed out late, he’d crash upon coming home, sleeping soundly through what night might bring.
But he was here alone, with hours until sunrise. Worst of all, the thoughts of what he’d done to turn the girl off kept him awake despite his desire to sleep, making it all far too nerve wracking. The wind brought little noises that played on his taut nerves, keeping him on edge for the eerier things that came sometimes.
It was two in the morning when he fell asleep. Despite the silence, he awoke. Immediately, he felt the presence. Terror kept him frozen in place. Dread kept him weighted down as he felt it trying to lift him from the bed. He cried out when it attacked him, a bear hug around his very soul. Leslie yelled, kicking at the nothingness.
His body moved of its own volition, as if even more flailing limbs could keep an apparition away. He sat up abruptly, suddenly able to move again. It was gone.
Sweat was poring down his body despite the freezing air. It’s all your imagination, she’d told him, when he told his last girl friend. The last girl he’d managed to convince to come over and stay a night. The last time he’d ever seen her. She had only come that night after he’d told her the affliction that cursed his grandmother’s house. Are you daring me to spend the night in a haunted house, that happens to be yours? Are you trying to show me how big and strong you are, by keeping me safe? Or am I your soft plush toy to keep you safe at night? She thought it was a really bad pick up line, but decided to try it out for its uniqueness. She’d lasted four dates, listened to the idea and not turned it down. Maybe she’d understand the truth, and help him find it too. Whatever had happened, it happened to end their relationship. She’d never spoken of it again; at least, not to him again.
His grandmother had spoken of the apparition as the reason she always kept boarders or guests; the thing only seemed to haunt family members who were alone. His mother might have known more about it, but couldn’t answer questions about it; she’d committed suicide when he was young. Leslie thought yet again of moving. But he only worked odd jobs in a restaurant and music store – he couldn’t afford rent of a real apartment. If he hadn’t inherited the house from his grandmother, he wouldn’t have been able to afford a place to live at all. At least she’d been able to bring in people to rent the bottom floor rooms to make money. The new city ordinances forbade that now, the house being in a historic district and all. Unless he applied for a permit to be a bed and breakfast and got the insurance required for a business and learned how to run a business and … if he fixed it up, but the poor condition brought down the property value, and hence the taxes to a level he could afford.
The thoughts of money reminded him of the ad in the phone book. If he could bring a ghost hunter here, for any kind of investigation, perhaps that person could give him hints of how to get rid of the thing. Or prove it was a real ghost. A real ghost – wouldn’t that make the house a tourist attraction? Get the ghost hunter to confirm it and offer him a share of the profits, that could rid him of his money problems and maybe keep the apparition at bay, too! Or, at least, with the ghost hunter here, the apparition would not attack him.
Leslie popped out of bed and down the stairs, searching for the flier.
“I’m so glad you could come out,” Leslie offered.
“I’m glad I could end your endless calls so easily,” the older man retorted. “I don’t get many calls at 2:30 AM, much less every 2 minutes thereafter until I answer. You do realize that counts as harassment.”
“It was an emergency.”
“Yes, so you told me. Where did you see it?”
Leslie took the ghost hunter up to his bed room. Leslie realized how pitiful it all looked. He had the thin mattress on the floor looked, the charity store blankets mixed with his grandmother’s antique quilts. He had no heat; it cost too much. The ancient dresser and mirrors his grandmother had given him would have added class to the room if not for the thick layer of dust. Leslie had little money, but he had less desire to clean. “I want your cheapest service.”
“You owe me $100 for showing up.”
“And that includes scans, right?”
“It’s $100 for the cost of gas, my time and effort to pack up and come here, and to talk to you. Any sensors or examining equipment usage are extra.”
Leslie grimaced. He’d be out his pizza money for a month just for the ghost hunter being here. More trips to the soup line, then … unless he could sleep better, could he then work better, and make up the money at work? “How much for the simplest examination?”
“What are your payment terms?”
“Cash, up front.”
Leslie didn’t have $150 extra. He might not even have the $100 show up fee. Worried, he offered, “Maybe $50 a month for a few months –“
Desperate, he offered, “I don’t have that cash but I have –“
“It has to be as good as cash.”
“My grandmother had a lot of antique jewelry.” What he hadn’t pawned off over the years to pay his bills and debts. “It’s antique now.”
“Don’t you dare try to pass off stolen goods on me.”
“No, no, this was my grandmother’s house. The jewelry was hers, and I got it when I got the house.” Leslie tried to find a bit of confidence. “I’ll even bring you her original receipt box, if you want, to prove she owned it all.” Leslie had burned a lot of old records for warmth in the fire place, but he had to have something for some of the stuff left.
“You must be bored as hell for this kind of prank.”
“She knew about the ghost, too. It haunted her, too.” Wanting to keep the man’s attention, he added, “It may have even driven my mother to suicide. Does that make it more legitimate?”
“There’s a history of this, then?” the ghost hunter’s accent was more pronounced.
“Yeah. Oh, yeah.”
“Was this a biological grandmother, or just a woman who took that title, or an in-law by marriage?”
“Mother’s mother. Biological mother’s biological mother. It’s a real family history, just like the house.”
“Do you use?” the ghost hunter asked him.
“No.” Leslie corrected himself, “Nothing illegal. Nothing but energy drinks.” The herbal spikes he added were as often from the overgrown garden as from anything he could get from the street. Anything to keep sleep away or make it so hard that nothing could wake him.
“Do you have a job?”
“Two part time gigs.”
“Do you actually get paid for these gigs?”
The ghost hunter relaxed a little. “All right then. I’ll do my examination. Then we’ll look at the jewelry box – and receipts. Cash, later, if costs get to that point.”
The ghost hunter ran around with an EMF sensor all over the house. He pointed to faulting wiring that had needed repairs for all of Leslie’s life. He crawled about in the attic and announced that there were no vermin to blame. The foundation was sturdy, and the wood frame was bug free. Nothing lived inside the walls, thanks to super-toxic chemical treatments Grandma had had done before it was illegal.
“I don’t see anything on the EMF sensor that looks suspicious. I think you’re house is fine. I’ll make my selection of goods and leave.”
“You can’t leave.”
“There’s nothing here.”
“It only comes at night. If you want to see it, you have to stay the night.” The ghost hunter had a funny look on his face. “Dude, I’m hetero. I swear. I just think you need to be here after sunset to know the whole story.”
The ghost hunter was quiet for a long moment. “I’ll take my payment now. After I leave and get some real food, I’ll think about coming back.”
To Leslie’s surprise, the ghost hunter was back shortly after sunset. Leslie grinned as he invited the ghost hunter up to his bedroom. “Is this where you always see it?”
“It comes at night, and this is where I am at night.”
“Have you tried sleeping in other rooms? Perhaps you’re safe in another room.”
“I know my grandmother saw it when she tried sleeping all over the house. I’ve heard it elsewhere, as I’m falling asleep. At least in my room, there’s no furniture that it could make fall on me. All the safety gear from when my grandmother died here make it the safest room in the house.” Leslie added, trying to convince the ghost hunter of the authenticity. “How often to you find real ghosts?” he asked.
“Rarely,” was the vague reply.
The ghost hunter began scanning the walls. Leslie sat down on his bed. He was exhausted. Up since 2 AM the prior night, his body was begging for sleep. The ghost hunter is here, and it doesn’t come if you’re not alone … Leslie decided to take a nap while it was safe.
He slept soundly for a while, hardly aware of the ghost hunter’s prodding. Then Leslie heard the sounds of its approach. It was coming! Leslie opened his eyes and saw the gray foggy blur in the air above him, growing darker and more suspect. He tried to call out to the ghost hunter, but the man was no where to be seen. Had the ghost come back now that the ghost hunter had left him, the hunter convinced there was no ghost? Leslie’s mouth worked silently with incoherent words of fright. As the ghost began to take human form, Leslie saw a face not unlike his own shaping. His hands clawed, seeking something, anything to shield him from the monster. A hard hand seized his shoulder, and Leslie clawed at it like a mad man.
“Hey! Hey! Hey!” the vaguely familiar voice said. Leslie saw the ghost hunter, horrified as he met the ghost hunter’s gaze. “Did you see it?” Leslie croaked.
“I saw one hell of an EMF spike. That’s when I came in.”
“Did you see the ghost?” Leslie creaked triumphantly.
The ghost hunter’s face was a carefully managed poker face. “I saw the EMF spike. That’s what brought me in.”
“Did you see it?”
“I’ve called the authorities,” was the deadpan reply.
“You’re the expert! What are the cops gonna do? You can get rid of it!” What if he could only spot them and not get rid of them? “You can, can’t you?”
“Kid, I wish this was a case of an old house with squirrels or squeaky hinges.” The ghost hunter sighed. “Or even a prank.”
“So you can’t do anything?” Leslie asked, distraught that he’d already paid with jewelry he could have pawned for next month’s water bill.
There was a knock on the front door. The ghost hunter told him, “Stay here.” The ghost hunter went downstairs and talked at length with a patrol officer. They all came upstairs. “You’re going with them,” the ghost hunter told him.
“What? Why? I’m not high, and I’m not going to not pay you. What reason?”
“Kid, you are the worst telekinetic – and epileptic - I’ve ever seen. Your EKG is probably higher than my sensors can sense. You need to be in custody, for your own sake.” Leslie scampered back from the monster in his room, denying the reality of the demon before him. “If you keep seizing like that in your sleep, it could kill you.” The ghost hunter moved aside as the cops put cuffs on Leslie. “And if your EMF output gets worse, you might become a fully active telekinetic, not just moving dust motes into patterns of your nightmares. The family history of mental illness made me think you only need to be referred to the psyche ward, but you’re the real thing. I’ve only run into a few of those out of decades of hunting.”
“But it grabbed me – your sensors spiked! And your ad!”
“The ad was the result of a girl’s stories about you. We couldn’t be sure if you were a telekinetic active only in dream state or a mere delusional. Then again, the two can be intertwined, each feeding off the other. Your dreaming mind has tapped into that mutant brain of yours. The sensations of your ghost are real – but you’re the one generating it. You could, theoretically, if you keep growing stronger, strangle yourself in your sleep, all without anyone laying a hand on you. God forbid, you get strong enough and get conscious control, you could strangle others without laying a hand on them. And that cannot be allowed to happen.”
Leslie briefly wished it was all a bad dream or another bad trip ending with him in jail before a policeman tasered him.