Authors: Gary Jonas
Tags: #Urban Fantasy
The Fourth Jonathan Shade Novel
This one is for Maggie, who got me back in the writer’s chair.
FROM THE FILES OF JONATHAN SHADE
The ghost of Christian Harris stared at me, his hands held out in a pleading gesture. His words were a bit choked, but I understood him well enough. As he spoke, the rope burns around his throat glowed red, though that could have been a trick of the light. “I’m sorry I threw things at you,” he said. “Whatever you do, please don’t tell my mother.”
“She deserves to know,” I said.
We stood in Christian’s bedroom. According to his father, he’d killed himself after his girlfriend dumped him, but I got the impression he didn’t mean to go through with it. I suspect he simply wanted attention. Most of the time, suicides have decided they’re through with everything, so when they die, they’re gone. Whatever unfinished business pushed them to take the coward’s way out makes them even more eager to move on to their next station in death, whether it’s the Underworld or reincarnation or simply dissipating into the ether. I’ve seen all three in my time.
Esther popped into view wearing her standard flapper dress. She died back in 1929, and she’s still around. She said the years on her own were boring, so she loved to help me with my various investigations. She didn’t like seeing other ghosts, so she’d initially refused to come along on this case, but I was persuasive. She hasn’t learned to channel her ectoplasmic energies, so she can’t change channels on the TV or operate the remote. She was addicted to
that summer, and she had a major crush on David Tennant, so she needed me to set her up with hours of entertainment. Yes, I actually threatened to keep the television off. Sometimes drastic measures are required.
“All right, Esther,” I said. “If you can keep Christian company, that would be great.”
Esther glanced at him and shook her head. “You want me to stay with this flat tire?”
“You can take off any time you want, but you’ll miss out. You’re up to ‘The Silence in the Library.’ It’s a great episode, but if you don’t want to watch it . . .”
“Oh just dry up,” she said. “I’ll watch the dopey old bird.”
“I don’t want a babysitter!” Christian said.
“Too bad, so sad,” I said. I took out my keys and placed them on the dresser. Esther is bound to her old typewriter and needs to be within fifteen feet of it, or at least a part of it, so I keep one of the typewriter keys on my key ring. I turned back to Esther. “Keep him up here. If he starts throwing things again, let me know.”
“He can throw things?”
“Damn near hit me in the head with a baseball bat.”
Esther smiled and faced Christian. “Can you teach me to throw things?”
I left them there and went downstairs to the kitchen. A woman in her mid-thirties leaned against the counter, smoking a cigarette and blowing smoke out the open window. Most of the smoke blew right back into the house, but she didn’t seem to notice. Smokers.
“Mrs. Harris,” I said.
She turned toward me. Her eyes drooped in her long face as if the weight of the mascara pushed them down. “Are you finished up there?”
“Not quite. I know what the problem is, but I’ll need you and your husband to make the call.”
“Harry is still at the car lot.”
Harry was short for Harrison, but that wasn’t much better in my view. Harry Harris or Harrison Harris. Some parents were just cruel. In any case, Harry hired me, and he insisted I keep his wife in the loop. He kept hearing weird sounds coming from their dead son’s bedroom. Along with the noises, there were typical poltergeist activities such as unlocking or locking windows and doors, knocking over stacks of dishes, turning off the television at key moments of a good show. I could get rid of the ghost for them easily enough, but there were a few options, and I’d need the Harris family to make the choice. The fact that Harry was working right now wasn’t going to get Mrs. Harris off the hook.
“That’s why Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone,” I said.
“I heard someone beat him to it,” she said.
“Maybe, but Bell still gets the credit.”
She took a long drag on the cigarette and blew the smoke out the side of her mouth. It didn’t go anywhere near the window. “Harry hates it when I smoke in the house,” she said. “And he always seems to know when I do.”
“It’s the smell,” I said. “Dead giveaway.”
“You don’t smoke, do you?”
“You can call me Aubrey.”
“All right, Aubrey. Here’s the deal.” I hesitated. “Do you want to sit down for this?”
She shook her head and drew on the cigarette again. “Why should I sit down?”
“Because the information might be disturbing.”
She laughed but it wasn’t a laugh of humor, more of disgust. “Right. And here it comes.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Harry hired you because you handle—What did he call it?—
“So you come over here, walk through the house, toss a few things around, and come down to tell me it’s going to cost several thousand dollars to get rid of some ancient spirit from the nearby Indian burial ground.”
“This is Lakewood,” I said. “I don’t think there are any Indian burial grounds around here.”
“Fort Logan Cemetery, then. The ghost of an unknown soldier is haunting us, and you can get rid of him for a price.”
“Actually, it’s your son.”
She glared at me. She and her son had the same eyes. “Oh, that’s just low. Get the hell out of my house!”
“Listen,” I said.
She tossed the cigarette into the sink and moved toward me. She pounded on my chest. “Get out of my house!”
I caught her arms. She was a lot stronger than I expected, but I held her in place until she kicked me in the shin.
“Ow,” I said, stepping back.
She advanced, arms windmilling at me, and I retreated into the living room.
Once I had room, I dodged her and caught her from behind. “Mrs. Harris,” I said because “Aubrey” seemed too familiar now that she was royally pissed, “please calm down. I can help.”
“Can you bring back my son?”
“Then get out of here, or I’m calling the police.”
Esther popped onto the staircase; it was as close as she could get since my keys were upstairs. “Jonathan, did you talk to Christian?”
“I’m a little busy now, Esther.”
“Who’s Esther?” Mrs. Harris asked, her voice a growl. She stomped on my foot, and I let her go. She jammed her hand into her pocket and looked right at Esther.
“You should know that—” Esther began.
Mrs. Harris whipped her hand out of her pocket and hurled some kind of pink sand through Esther’s body. Esther screamed and slammed backward against the stairs. The pink sand flared red and burned into Esther’s waist, pinning her there.
“Shit,” I said. “Christian isn’t haunting this place. He’s trying to get away from your psycho witch ass.”
Aubrey faced me and smiled. “You’re quick.” She spoke a few words of a language I didn’t understand, and her hands glowed with energy.
“Your hands are on fire,” I said.
“I don’t want to kill you,” she said.
“If you’ll promise to leave and never return, I’ll release your ghost friend and let you go.”
Esther shook her head. “I can’t get loose, Jonathan. Christian is trapped in his room. He hasn’t been able to get out of there in two years.”
“Shut up, ghost, or I’ll imprison you in the basement for all eternity.”
“I’ll sing ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ all day and all night,” Esther said.
I stood still, facing Aubrey. “Just so you know, her singing is never on key. So what’s your story?” I asked. “You wanted to play
but it wasn’t working out like it did on TV?”
“Get out or I’ll have to kill you.”
“With what? Your glowing hands? I don’t think you have enough energy there. Might want to slip off your shoes and rub your socks on the carpet a bit.”
“You think you’re funny?”
“I think Bill Hicks was funny. I’m just amusing.”
“You asked for it,” I said. “Were you trying to set up some kind of Oedipus thing here? Maybe you made a pass at your son, but he was grossed out, so you killed him?”
I knew she was delaying so she could draw up more power. The fact that I wasn’t afraid made her nervous, so she wanted to blast me with everything she could summon. I gave her a smile. “Well, I hope you killed him over something more than refusing to take out the garbage.”
Based on her eyes turning red, I knew she’d pulled up as much power as she could.
“Last chance,” she said.
“I think I’ll stick around. I’d hate for you to have worked yourself up for nothing. What was that Pat Benatar song? ‘Hit Me with Your Best Shot.’”
Aubrey let loose with everything she had. The energy flowed over and around me. The television set behind me exploded, and the wall cracked and burst into flame. I guess I should mention that direct magic doesn’t affect me. That’s a good thing when someone like Aubrey goes all full-frontal assault, but it’s not such a good thing when I’m injured and could use a healer.
“Is that all you’ve got?” I asked.
She dropped to her knees, exhausted. “What . . . are . . . you?” she asked, breathing heavily between each word.
“I am Spartacus,” I said. “No, that’s not right. I am Iron Man.” I shook my head. “Actually, I’m just a bit hungry. Didn’t get lunch today.”
She didn’t laugh so I guess I wasn’t even amusing. Tough crowd.
The flames on the wall diminished to mere smoke, and I felt the aroma was an improvement over the cigarette smell. I walked over to Esther. “Can you move yet?”
She pulled free of the stairs. “That was weird.”
“Okay, Aubrey, put your hands behind your head, and lie facedown on the floor.”
She looked at me with wide eyes.
“Relax,” I said. “I’m not going to do anything to you. I’m just going to call a friend of mine on the police force, and you’re going to confess to murdering your son.”
“Just like that?” she asked.
I grinned. “Would you rather I pull up all of my energy and blast you to Kingdom Come, wherever that is?”
I didn’t have any magic, but she didn’t know that, and since I’d laughed off her best attack, she stretched out on the floor with her hands behind her head.
“Christian?” I called up the stairs. “You can come out now.”
“Olly Olly Oxen Free!” I called. “Seriously, dude, your mom can’t hurt you now.”
A few moments later, I saw his ghost approach the staircase with tentative steps. “I’m free?”
“As long as you don’t throw anything else at me.”
He glided down the stairs and saw his mother on the floor. He moved over to her. “I trusted you,” he said.
She turned to look at him, and I saw tears in her eyes. “If I had it to do over again, I’d do it differently.”
“Fat lot of good that does me. The past is set in stone, and nothing can change that.”
“If I could come up with a spell to go back in time, I would. Things got out of hand, and I’m very sorry.”
Christian turned to me. “She thinks I’ll believe her after all she’s done?” He looked back at her. “You can’t go back in time, Mom. There isn’t any magic strong enough to do that!”
Actually, I knew time travel was possible, but the sacrifice required was more than most people would be willing to pay.
“I kept searching for a way to set things right,” she said.
I didn’t believe her, but I had a confused ghost on my hands, so I looked into his translucent eyes. “You don’t have to believe her, Christian.”
“Good. Because I don’t!”
“If you want to be free, all you have to do is forgive her.”
“What? She murdered me!”
“I didn’t mean to,” she said, and that time I did believe her. “It wasn’t supposed to be like that. You were going to tell your father, and I didn’t want to hurt him.”
“You’re sick, lady,” I said.
“Oh for Christ’s sake, I didn’t try to sleep with my son, you moron!”
Christian nodded. “She slept with my best friend.”
“Oh, I get it now, but I’m afraid I’m going to have Simon and Garfunkel stuck in my head all day. Thanks for that.”