I’m Like a Ghost

On Monday last week, after my last journal entry, I made my way to the Mayor’s office. The house loaned to me by the Mayor is a couple of miles from the town centre, and since there seems to be an ongoing issue with buses here, I decided to walk. I was surprised that I was given a whole house at first, but by the time I was leaving that day, I’d become aware aware of the silence in the street. There has been no sign of anybody entering or leaving the neighbouring houses. Many lawns are overgrown and driveways have long weeds pushing out between the flagstones, despite the advance of winter. There are cars parked outside of a number of houses but they look to be out of time, untouched for decades. One particularly ancient looking vehicle appears to have spilled its undercarriage onto the ground below it and its fabric roof lays draped over the rotted interior.

I hurried to the end of the street and came onto a dual carriageway that showed more signs of habitation. Still, it wasn’t as busy as its overworld counterpart would be, Liverpool Road. Crossing over, I did have to avoid a spike pit, which may be a strong deterrent to most drivers.

After about twenty minutes of walking, I arrived at the municipal building where the Mayor’s office may be found. The structure is a large brick cuboid with long windows up and down each wall, most vacant and dark. The glass sliding door receded allowing me to access a reception that reminded me of a hospital waiting room. There were several people and semblances of people all sat, straight backed and staring blankly. They were each unmoving except for when they’d all breathe in unison. Some of them were translucent.

I approached the receptionist, tapping with too many fingers at several keyboards. Explaining I was there to see the Mayor, he informed me, curtly, that she was out canvassing for the upcoming by-election.

Following the directions I was given (through the bus station, past the church and straight up, turning right before the industrial estate), I found the Mayor knocking at a front door. The creature that answered had a bulbous head and a single glassy eye atop a mass of tentacles. The Mayor handed the creature some sort of small white card before turning away, scurrying back down the driveway. Her footsteps sounded like suction cups being lifted from a window and then pressed back to it, hard.

“Well, Inspector, such a pleasure to see you, you can join me in canvassing,” she said with her rightmost and largest of her three shrunken heads. The others swayed absently. She handed me a stack of white cards she’d been clutching between her long, spindly fingers.

The cards read simply ‘VOTE FOR MAYOR THOMAS’.

“I’m a little confused,” I said, and I was. “You’re already Mayor, are you even allowed to take a seat as an MP?”

“Our last representative sat down quite often.” Her middle head laughed, high pitched and shrill. “‘Jokes aside though, I see no issue in me taking on an additional position and I’ve already maintained a good relationship with the surface governments for years, I’m sure they’d rather I take the seat than some upstart newcomer, yes?”

I agreed. Mrs May seems to be struggling enough anyway, so I doubt she’d take the time to disagree with the Mayor.

It was cold but I decided to help the Mayor. I did wonder why she didn’t have a bigger team but I soon became engrossed in the repetitive act. As we made our way down St Johns Road, we each knocked at a different house and handed whoever answered a white card. At first I warmly greeted each resident but after ten doors I realised that these people really didn’t care what I said to them so I adopted Mayor Thomas’s approach, giving each resident my most sinister stare and silently handing over a white card before edging away. I was exhausted and freezing by the time we decided to call it a day and the dark of night had already settled in. Wishing the Mayor farewell, I was thankful for the glowing road markings as, though they are quite carcinogenic, they do make it easier to avoid bear traps and spike pits on the roads.

Returning to the empty street and the house I now have to call a home, I was reminded of something my mother told me last time I saw her. She told me I’m like a ghost. She said I appear from time to time, but I’m never really there. That’s how I felt as I stepped into the hallway of the silent house. A ghost.

The next day was Tuesday and it was raining furiously. I found myself at the bus station, soaked and shaking despite wearing many layers. Though it was a weekday, the station was almost completely empty. There wasn’t even a sign of any staff members. The bus stops all look fairly modern, made of glass and polished stone and steel. The time tables are old and frail behind their plastic casings and they’re all dated 1968. In Stand 2, I found the only inhabitant of the station, sat exactly where I last saw her about a month earlier. Her face was gaunt and emaciated with her folded skin thin and grey like the whites of an aged egg.

“Excuse me,” I started and she looked vaguely in my direction with deep pits where eyes should be. “I think I’ve met you here before, I was asking you questions about the bus service for a survey report?”

She opened her mouth and her voice was like the wind rustling through fallen leaves. “I don’t know about such a thing my dear. I’m just waiting for the bus.”

“Do you come here every day to wait?”

To this she just stared at me but I felt the answer, even if she didn’t know it. She doesn’t go home, if she still has one. She just waits patiently for her bus.

“It’s a little late but I’m sure it’ll turn up eventually.” She smiled and for that moment, she was an ordinary elderly lady.

“Where are you getting a bus to?” I asked.

Her smile faded and she looked away as she explained. “Hospital, I’m afraid… My husband. He’s been sick for a long time, you see.” She took a long, whistling breath. “The doctors told us he isn’t getting better but that doesn’t matter. All we’ve ever had is each other. We’ll make it.

“I was at work when the call came through and I was brought into the manager’s office. A nurse was on the other end. So, I finished my shift and came here. I’m sure my bus will come soon.”

I thought about what she told me as I walked back, so much so that I almost didn’t see Mayor Thomas handing out her white cards in the town centre. She was completely dry, despite the heavy rain; I’m certain the raindrops moved around her so as not the make any contact. She told me that the government’s exorcist would be arriving the next day for a meeting in her office to discuss how to deal with the demonic entities possessing the local supermarket.

Back at the house, I continued my ruminations on the worlds of the old lady at the bus station. She spoke as if she’d been waiting for fifteen minutes and a bus could turn up at any moment but in the time I’ve been here, I’ve not seen a single bus. I began peeling off the soaked layers of my clothing as I realised that, if she has been waiting there since the time tables were last in date, then her husband surely can’t be doing well, especially considering that there are no hospitals in Undertown. From Huyton on the surface world, one may get a bus to numerous hospitals outside of the town, but there is no outside of Undertown. Beyond the edges of this town, there is nothing at all. I was considering then, as I slipped into dry boxer shorts, that it’s simply unfair for that lady to wait constantly for a bus that won’t come to go to a hospital that doesn’t exist to see a husband who must surely have died by now. I resolved to tell her the truth next time.

On Wednesday morning, I woke to the hammering of even more rain against every window in the house, as though the wind was blowing it from every direction. The outside world was barely visible through the onslaught of slate droplets. I was staring out of the window, feeling as though I was looking out from a submarine, I heard a familiar sound, like a camera focusing but very faint, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I quickly dressed, feeling a little embarrassed, and spent the rest of the morning combing the house for the tiny cameras and microphones I realised were hidden throughout. I found fifty six of the devices, which I took into the garden to hang from the washing line.

Later, after a brief phone call from the receptionist at the council building, I found myself at the Mayor’s office. The room is not too large and panelled in dark oak, with a great old desk, cluttered with papers and files. Behind this, on a high backed chair, sat the Mayor. Sat opposite her was the secret police chief, and as he stood, he seemed to keep unfolding and rising until his back was hunched to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling.

“Inspector, such a pleasure to meet you.” He smiled, baring his jagged, tombstone teeth. His voice was a low rumble, like an avalanche on a distant mountain. “Chief Sibillus, at your service.”

“I’m pleased to finally meet you,” I answered. “Perhaps one of those services could involve not bugging my home, Chief Sibillus?”

“My apologies,” he chuckled. “My officers get bored easily and we don’t often get new residents so I’m sure they couldn’t resist the opportunity.”

A lamp in the corner of the room began to flicker. The doorway darkened and bloated, expanding, until a blazing light blasted out, as if from the heavens. Out of this beam of pure light stepped the exorcist. He peered down his long, crooked nose through thick oval shaped glasses. His eyes were crimson and tiny, like an albino rat’s. His tongue darted out every so often to dampen his flat lips – it looked like a piece of rancid meat. I couldn’t see a single hair on his entire, pallid head.

He introduced himself as Father Burtholm, with a voice that seemed to be out of key. Even Sibillus seemed unnerved. The whole time, Burtholm eyed me suspiciously, until the Mayor introduced me and his suspicious stare turned into a venomous glare.

“How peculiar… I did not expect an Inspector to be present.” He licked his lips. “I thought the government only sent you people out briefly each year…”

“We both serve the same masters, Father,” I sighed. “You should know better than to pry.”

“I serve only one Master, Inspector.” He looked up towards the ceiling.

He took a seat next to Sibillus and I opted to stand near a corner, leaning against a panelled wall. The exorcist began to set out his plan to observe the supermarket for a time, gathering information. He hopes that the supermarket will be cleansed in several weeks. He asked the Mayor and the police chief to meet with him outside the supermarket on Sunday (according to him, Sunday is a holy day and therefore the safest day to get close to the demon infested building).

Suddenly, the door was thrust open and a square jawed man burst into the room. He looked furious and also ridiculous, wearing a hot pink leather suit that squealed and creaked with the slightest movement.

“Mayor Thomas, you’ve really done it now!”‘ He pointed an accusatory finger, though not in the right direction. “You’re already the Mayor, how is it fair that you’re running for a seat in Parliament too?”

The Mayor quivered in annoyance and all of her eyes locked onto the intruder. A droning hiss poured from her open mouths and the copper taste in the air felt suddenly charged with malice (malice has a very particular taste and is a delicacy in some places). The room felt as if lightning could strike at any moment.

“You will leave, Gregory, now.” The Mayor’s middle head said coldly. “You dare to interrupt a meeting with my esteemed guests?”

Gregory gasped in exasperation and stormed out, squealing with each leather clad step. His cropped, grease bound hair waved, though not from any wind. Nobody asked who the man was but Sibillus told me later that he was running against Mayor Thomas as the candidate for the Undertown Conservative Party.

On Friday I went back to the bus station. The elderly lady was sat in her usual place, waiting for her bus. She showed no sign of recognition when I greeted her, just glancing at me numbly. The air smelled like an ancient book with yellow, crumbling pages.

“Excuse me… What is your name?” I asked.

“My name is Dot.” She looked off into nothing. “My bus should be here soon.”

“Dot, I’m afraid your bus isn’t coming,” I started. “I don’t think a bus has come through here in a long, long time.”

Dot shook her head violently, her silver hair standing on end.

“There hasn’t been a bus here in over fifty years, Dot, and I’m sorry but there is no hospital in Undertown.”

The woman howled in anguish, tearing at her hair with long, jagged fingernails. She stood, all of her bones cracking audibly as the stretched for the first time in decades. Then, stepping towards me, she rose from the ground, hovering, arms outstretched on either side, and she screamed. The noise was tremendous, gutteral, but also the shrillest, most piercing sound I’ve ever heard, as though she had many voices. Blood dripped from my ears and nose, my head feeling close to popping. I ran out of the glass bus stop, away from Dot. The glass exploded as I was about to run into the town centre, and I turned to see Dot, hovering there with shimmering shards falling around her like snow, but more dangerous. She watched me, but did not come closer. My hearing still hasn’t recovered fully.

Sunday came after a cold and wet Saturday, and my head still felt how nails must feel after being hammered into a wall. I shook, despite my gloves and coat, as I approached the car park where Father Burtholm, Chief Sibillus and Mayor Thomas had already gathered. As I approached, Burtholm was going through some sort of prayer, but when he noticed me, he halted and sneered, to which I responded with a wide smile, greeting the Mayor and shaking the massive hand of Sibillus. The exorcist seemed insistent on not addressing me as he continued to pray – he was specifically now praying for his own protection, as well as the Mayor’s and secret police chief’s. I strongly dislike this man and I suspect the feeling is mutual. For a man looking well into his seventies, he’s got a childish spitefulness about him that severely limits my ability to even slightly get along with him.

Once his prayer was finished, we all moved over the vast car park toward the supermarket, which is a large white building, looking more like a great warehouse really, than a supermarket. The great windowed shutters were open at the ground floor entrance and the lights were on inside, shining brightly. We stopped several yards away from these as the exorcist explained what we were looking for. He said he wanted to circle the building to check for signs of spirits leaving, which would apparently indicate the presence of a demonic prince or lord, which he said would be a dangerous and powerful being, even more dangerous due to it being able to wander from the haunted place.

So, we slowly edged around the building, watching for any signs of escaping spirits (not that I knew what that would look like). We circled the building several times, but each time there was nothing more unusual to see than the three headed Mayor, the incredibly tall police chief and the terrifyingly gnarly exorcist, stalking around the place.

Finally, Burtholm relented,apparently concluding that there were no spirits escaping. I shared a look of annoyance with Sibillus, who, being in the business of disappearing people himself, seems dubious about the idea of demonic spirits, not that he’d say as much in front of the horrible, rat eyed man of the cloth.

I’m not sure what prompted me to stand staring through the entrance to the supermarket after the others left. I shivered, caught in thoughts of Inspector Edwards and about which of the many aisles he might have met his end in, between discount bargains and below fluorescent lights.

a figure stepped through the entrance and I behind some trolleys, holding my breath. Whatever was moving out into the car park did not seem to notice me. I followed it. It had large wings, hovering over the tarmac silently. It was almost like an angel, except its wings were brown and like a kestrel’s and it seemed to have the head of a big cat of some sort, maybe a leopard’s, from what I could tell. Every so often it would turn, as if I’d given myself away and I’d dive behind a bush or a parked car.

From the car park, I followed the beast right, down a long road, but only for a short while down it, because the creature turned another right and entered the wetland that neighbours the supermarket. Even at this time of year, the he bogs and ponds are hidden behind tall marsh grasses, well over eight foot tall at points. They swayed in a frost flavoured breeze. The gravel path goes among these grasses, but ahead it turned out of view, and the creature with it. A bird with five wings hurtled by overhead, screaming an algebra problem. I was running to catch up by then, and as I turned the bend, I cam face to face with a man, of about an average height, with a slight red glow over his skin. He was dressed quite smartly, but didn’t wear a coat, despite the bite of the wintry air.

He chuckled through porcelain, pointed teeth as I stopped just short of colliding with him, our faces a hand span apart. A pair of horns pointed through his jet black hair.

“Now I knew I was being followed but I thought you’d be somebody…” He paused, staring at me with eyes like coal and his lips turned into a grin. “Well, I thought you were that creepy looking priest, frankly, I saw that disgusting man walking around and I’ve got to admit, even as a denizen of Hell, he freaked me out.”

I was scared but strangely intrigued by the horned man. I couldn’t find my tongue so I stood there, embarrassedly staring at him, dumbstruck.

“You look like you wanna say something.” He smiled wider, revealing even more perfectly pointed teeth. “I have an idea!”

He then proceeded to tell me to go to cafe in the town centre on Tuesday, Rreeco’s Cafe, and knock three times on a table.

“Then you can ask me anything you want.” He winked.

So I said yes, I’ll see you then. It was against my better judgement, but then, how strange could it be, in a town like this?

I guess I’m going on a date with a demon.

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