The ghost in my attic is Margaret, but she lets me call her Margie. She was seventy-six years old when she died, and now that she’s a ghost she sits in her rocking chair day and night, holding a tiny baby in her arms. The baby rarely moves and almost never cries. His name is Gavin, and he is thin and wrinkly and covered in fine brown hair. Funny looking, as preemies often are, but sweet nonetheless. Margie keeps him wrapped in a blanket of cobwebs, which I think is disgusting. I’ve always hated spiders.
Listening to It Rain
by Sandra M. Odell
Alan found me at Cook Creek, near where it fed into the summer sludge of the North Raccoon River. He dropped down beside me, on the log where we used to tell our folks we went fishing.
Sometimes we brought home a blue gill or channel cat, but mostly we touched and tasted,lazing in the sunshine, laughing when it rained.
“Hey, Ben. What’s up?”
I hitched my shoulders, and kept my eyes on the water.
We skipped rocks and didn’t say much for a while. The creek talked to itself on the way downstream, and somewhere an angry jay let everyone know it. Without a wind, leaves hung limp as dishrags from the branches and the place smelled ripe with green and rot, witness to another muggy Iowa summer.
Finally, Alan said, “You should be heading back to the cemetery.”
“Don’t want to.”
I dared a quick look at him. New lines crinkled sad at the corner of his mouth.
“You got to, Ben. You’re dead.”
At least he had the good graces not to mention my face or back.
Stitches could put a body back together, but never make it whole.
I skipped another rock. “Not my fault.”
How’d he get so old in six months? Black crew cut growing out, a few hairs playing pretend as a beard, something sad and lonesome I wished I could soothe away.
He took a deep breath and, real easy, he said, “Yeah, I know, but you still got to go back. It’s Sunday, and your folks might come around after church.”
“Not my problem.” I wished I could put feelings behind the words, but I didn’t have any no more.
Alan leaned back on his elbows and I risked another look. The sunlight through his shirt hinted at his chest underneath. I kept my hands to myself.
He must have seen me looking, cause he turned and smiled full on. Once upon a time I would have gone all warm at the sight, but I didn’t have no heartbeat no more, either. I didn’t have nothing but the cold, cold grave, and worms for company.
“You get the classes you wanted?” I said before he could open his mouth.
His smile went away a little, and he looked back at the creek.
“All but the college placement biology,” he said. The words were thick and slow in coming. He cleared his throat. “I got Mister Jayger for language arts.”
I nodded, though not so much as to tear out the stitches under my hair. “He still got that ugly station wagon?”
“The Meat Beater? Yeah.”
“He should get himself some decent wheels.”
Alan laughed. “You should have seen him at the game against, um. . .”
He looked away, and cleared his throat again.
We settled into silence. I wanted to say lots of things – “I miss you.”, “You have any idea what it’s like to need something so bad and not know what it is?”, “I’m scared.” Maybe even wanted to cry, but my tears went out of me with my heartbeat, splattered on my bike and the hood of a beat-up fifty-nine Chevy Impala. I looked at my hands, long waxy fingers, dirt and bits of wood and grass under the nails. I wondered what Alan would do if I put a hand on his arm, leaned my head on his shoulder. Would he wrap his arm around me like he used to? Pull away? Run screaming cause I’m so cold anymore? In all the times I’d wandered from the cemetery and all the times he found me, I never even so much as let my hand brush against his. I so wanted to touch him, but the wanting came from far away,tucked in a place I couldn’t reach no more.
My grandpa had no use for Alan’s family, said Alan’s dad had yellow fever and his mom spent years in one of those camps for the Japanese. Ma always said Grandpa was still bitter about the war, and that I shouldn’t listen to him. Herself, she boasted how she talked to Alan’s mom at the bakery if no other customers came around. Alan and me never cared about what we couldn’t and shouldn’t do. We just did because it felt right together.
Used to feel right.
I picked up a rock. “You applied for any colleges yet?”
He nodded, still looking at the water.
“I don’t know why I can’t stay in the grave, Alan. I just can’t, you know? I got. . . I should still…”
He nodded again. I thought maybe I saw tears in his eyes.
“You’re righteous smart.” I tossed the rock in the creek. “Maybe I’ll come visit you in college.”
Alan smiled. He reached out and touched my elbow just for a second. I almost felt it.
The shadows had shrunk and started to grow long again when he stood.
“Come on, Ben.”
I looked at the ground, then at him. “Why?”
He held out a trembling hand. “Because it’s time.”
He flinched when I put my palm in his, but didn’t pull away.
Hand in hand, we walked back across Shilling’s Bridge to the cemetery.
I knew my row and place; so did Alan. His backpack and camp shovel sat behind the mound of dirt and splinters, just out of sight of any passers-by. He let go of my hand and picked up the shovel. There were tears in his eyes when he said, “You need to rest, Ben.”
I eased myself back into my coffin. Hand on what was left of the lid, I finally got my courage up.
“Don’t forget me.”
I hoped it was true when he said, “Never.”
I eased the lid closed, my feet already lonesome for the trail. Alone in the dark, I listened as the dirt rained down on me again.
By D.R Grahl
Recalling your name is difficult when you’re dead.
It happens like this: You’re alive, and then you’re dead. You don’t remember being alive, and you don’t remember how you became dead. Fluty tells me this happens the other way around, too. We couldn’t remember being dead when we were alive, either.
I was an accountant. That’s what Fluty tells me, at least. When you die, you tend to go with these things.
“You were probably boring,” Fluty said once. “You didn’t do much of anything but count.”
“Was I a good counter?” I asked.
“Probably not,” Fluty said.
We reside on the metro most days. We spend time inhaling energy emitting from the passengers. We need it to stay alive—as alive as once can be while dead. Without energy, we’d fizzle out. We’d disappear. I’ve never seen this happen, but Fluty guarantees it’s a terrible thing.
There’s a lot of people on the metro—so there’s a lot of energy. We learned to inhale energy from the passengers, who routinely did it to themselves.
“We should do what they do,” I said to Fluty, “Maybe that’s how we get our energy back.”
“You’re just an accountant,” he informed me. “What do you know about interpersonal relationships?”
I tried inhaling energy from the passengers using their method. I glared at them, and I looked away as their heads turned. I’d select a spot in front of the door, to aggravate them, and I’d wave my hands in front of them to commence an altercation.
These methods didn’t work, though. I’m an accountant, and people rarely give attention to people like me.
But being an accountant has its own benefits: Accountants can fly, and they can do disagreeable things like fart, stare with an open mouth, and be slightly outspoken without being reprimanded. Fluty routinely asks me if I think things are mixed around. He asks me if I think we’ve got it all wrong.
“I remember,” he once said, “This movie I saw. I think I saw it, at least. It was about a family living in a haunted house. They tried talking to the spirits living there.
“What happens in the movie?” I asked.
“It turns our they’re actually spirits, and the spirits in the house are a living family. They’re alive.”
I looked out the window, and I watched the tunnel end. Gravel melted across the glass.
“I think,” Fluty said, “the movie was called Air Bud.”
It was getting light out.
We usually got on just before sunrise, because that’s when the passengers have the most energy. We bob around, listen to conversations, and absorb the tingles erupting from the passengers.
The conversations go like this:
One person begins talking to another person, who usually implies they are invisible. I’m not sure why the passengers do this, but I think it has to do with the energy. People don’t like giving other people energy, and I think they’re afraid of the whole idea. I once asked Fluty why they did this. He said he didn’t know. “Probably reminds them of being dead,” he said.
“Probably reminds them there’s more to things.”
Another benefit of being an accountant is that you get to spend a lot of time figuring people out. Once the first stage of conversation—the part where one party pretends to be invisible—is over, the talking usually starts. Communication is odd like this, and can happen with one person talking, and one person not. But after the first stage, both end up talking. If not, one party leaves. Or they hit the second party in the face.
In event the later route doesn’t take place, the conversation soon leads to proposal of one’s lush sexual life, or commenting on the color of one another’s individual strings of hair.
This part of conversation was about to take place when the metro slowed to a stop.
Fluty and I had seen the kids before. They were from outside the city, where people dress in darker colors and pretend to be dangerous.
Being an accountant, I don’t think too much about different groups—or the things they do. But I remember these kids. They show up once a month, whenever the moon is big, and come into our metro. They usually bring microwaves.
They called themselves the Indigo Children, and The Banishers.
Fluty and I called them The Assholes.
So they bring in these microwaves, and one kid—the one with metal sticking out from his bottom lips—has a thrumming backpack on his back. Fluty goes to suck up the backpack’s energy, but I stop him. “These are The Assholes, Fluty,” I say. “The Assholes. Don’t you remember?”
Fluty reminds me I don’t even know my own name. “Besides,” he says, “They’re probably the dead ones. Have you seen that movie? The one where that happened?”
He approaches the kid’s backpack, he floats over the seats; he slides past the holding rails. “I didn’t know you could do that,” I say to him. “Fluty, where did you learn how to fly?”
The kid, the one with the metal stuck in his lip, shivers, and a plump girl to his left holds up a piece of squiggly metal. “They’re here,” she says, “All around us, can’t you feel them?”
This happens sometimes.
People feel us touching them, prodding them for energy. They usually become upset with us. Then they become upset at one another, for not believing they’re upset with us. The girl looks to the other kids—the two behind them—and says, “Who should I be?”
“Who should I call?”
One boy behind her, one of the ones with a microwave, says, “Be Het! Be Het!”
He sets his microwave down, and I can see there’s an upside down triangle on his too large t-shirt. Sometimes, the younger kids pretend to be women—even if they aren’t. He’s one of these; he has very long hair that’s black, but blonde at the top. “Be Het,” he says again. “It will help you sense them.”
The girl looks to the others. One of them says, “Be Persephone.”
“I will embody Ishtar,” the girl decides.
I begin to move away from them. “Fluty,” I say, “Get away from them, or you’ll get sucked in.”
The Assholes are loud, and their energy is all over the place now. It’s shell-like. Hollow.
I’m against the back of the metro now, I move through the door and hover over the metal plates that connect the cars. The train begins moving and I slide back into the carriage. Fluty is still sucking energy from the backpack. “Come over here,” I say. “Fluty, it’s really not worth it. Remember what happened to The Hat Man?”
Fluty returned to me. Sometimes, being dead fogs up your memory. But The Hat Man was easy to recall. He was the only other ghost we’ve seen.
“That man there,” Fluty had told me, “He’s a gardener.”
The Hat Man had hovered into the train, his feet pointed down—sliding through the floor as he went. “Looks like a gardener at least,” Fluty had said. “I have a pretty good eye for these things.”
Just as the train door had slid shut, the same girl—the one with the backpack—had stood up from behind a woman holding a newspaper. “Who’s This Asshole?” I had asked, and watched as she began walking in circles around The Hat Man. She was holding a microwave then, too. The cord spiraled into her backpack and was a heap at the top.
The Hat Man looked at her and frowned. Several others on the metro looked at her too. They made faces.
She opened the microwave door, facing The Hat Man, and pressed the power button.
That’s how we found out we could be sucked into microwaves.
“I wonder what they did with him,” Fluty asks. The girl has the same microwave that was used on The Hat Man. It rests on the orange plastic seat and jitters as the metro moves.
“Maybe they let him go.” I say.
“Don’t be stupid,” Fluty says. “That man was a weatherman. Weathermen are useless, why would they let him go?”
“Why would they keep him if he’s useless?”
“You don’t understand these things,” Fluty says.
The girl is meditating now, and the others surround her. They wave crystals. She says something I can’t understand, and then says, “I have become Ishtar.”
She looks at the metro floor, and I ask Fluty what she’s doing.
“She’s Ishtar,” he reasons.
“She’s Ishtar,” the kids say.
She looks back at us, and her hair covers her face. One kid, the one with an indeterminable gender, attempts to talk to her. She puts her palm up to him. “Don’t talk to me,” she says. “I’m Ishtar, and I have been known to be mean.”
The others nod. She’s Ishtar, they say again. And she can be very vengeful.
The girl is still staring at us, twitching her eyes and flaking her caked eyeliner. “There,” she says. “Back there, near the door. They’re over there. I can sense them.”
It happens like this: when you’re alive, nobody notices you. Then you die, and everyone tries to find you.
Fluty and I maneuvered around her and approached the others. “Can we just go?” I ask.
“We can’t,” Fluty says. “The metro is moving; if we left we’d be stuck in the middle of a tunnel somewhere. And the next train would roll right through us.”
This seems reasonable enough, I think. But I was tempted to glide out of the carriage; Fluty could handle himself.
The kids turn the microwaves on. There are three of them.
They waddle around each other, so as not to trip over the cords snaking back to the energy filled backpack. They point them in random directions, and as one passes me—I’m jolted with cold energy.
“Fluty,” I say. “I don’t like these things. They’re weird.”
“Don’t get too close to them,” says Fluty, who was now prone and floating above them. “If you do, they’ll suck you in.”
“How are they doing this?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he says.
I wonder what happened to The Hat Man, and I wonder what being sucked into a microwave would feel like.
The girl says, “I’m Ishtar, and they’re floating above you.”
Before Fluty can move, one of the kids tilts his microwave up. Fluty’s foot becomes a whirl, and it funnels into the microwave.
“Fluty?” I say. “Are you alright?”
Before Fluty can assure me he’s alright, he’s flushed right into the microwave. “I’ve got them!” the kid says. “I’ve got them!”
He closes the microwave door.
I soon forget I’m an accountant. There’s nobody here to remind me. It’s nice, though, because I can be whatever I want now. I spend more time on the metro, and leave when The Assholes show up. The girl is always there, and she becomes Ishtar on some occasions, Hecate or Frigg on others.
I soon wander down streets, looking for energy to eat. It isn’t hard to find, and neighborhood gatherings are sometimes better than the metro. They’re spaced out. There’s room to breathe.
I wonder what would happen if I didn’t suck energy. This makes me think of Fluty.
One day, on a sunny afternoon, I find a garage sale. I float around consuming. Sucking. I find a table of humming metal objects. I suck up energy there, and I short out a desktop fan plugged into a row of sockets resting in the grass. The man behind the table hits the thing a few times. It refuses to start up. He goes back inside, and returns with another fan. His wife and infant are with him now. People pass along the street. They look at all the rubbish.
I notice a microwave wrapped in masking tape upon a plastic chair nearby. I go to it, and realize I’ve seen it before.
I turn back to the man; he’s plugging in the new fan. The wife coddles the child.
“Why’s that microwave covered in tape?” a passerby asks.
Being an accountant is like this: some days you remember who you are, and some days you don’t.
The passerby holds up the microwave, see’s it’s been rigged at the hinges, and puts it back down. The man behind the table says, “Easy now. Easy now. That there’s a haunted microwave.”
He smiles to the passerby, the wife laughs and rocks the infant gently.
“Haunted?” the passerby asks. “Like, ghosts?”
The man nods. “Ghosts,” he says. “It’s a ghost in a microwave.”
“It’s up for sale now. It was spooky for a while, but it’s a bit run down. I think our little spirit has had its fun.”
The passerby shakes his head and continues. The wife says, “You know we’ll never get rid of that thing if you keep telling stories like that.”
The man laughs. “Well, it’s the truth. I’m just letting them know what they’re in for.”
On days like this, I remember being an accountant. The man goes over to the microwave and pats it. The metal claps with each tap. “I’m going to miss the thing,” he says. “It was pretty corky.”
Someone once told me we didn’t remember being dead when we were alive. They said that’s why we’re stuck—consuming energy, day after day, and why our memory is so poor.
But, on days like this, I remember the smell of my wife’s hair, and I taste the tang of orange juice. I can feel mowed grass beneath my feet.
“Maybe,” the man says, “if we take off the tape—like this—it’ll look better to customers.”
“Set Fluty down a second. Come help me.”
I can still feel the warmth of the sun, and I wonder if people might begin living. Breathing. I float over to the baby and hover above him. His energy pops, and he smiles at me.
Behind me, the husband and wife peel the masking tape from the microwave door, bit by bit.
The pulled tape howls, and the baby laughs.
Paperclips and Memories and Things That Won’t Be Missed
by Caroline M. Yoachim
The ghost in my attic is Margaret, but she lets me call her Margie. She was seventy–six years old when she died, and now that she’s a ghost she sits in her rocking chair day and night, holding a tiny baby in her arms. The baby rarely moves and almost never cries. His name is Gavin, and he is thin and wrinkly and covered in fine brown hair. Funny looking, as preemies often are, but sweet nonetheless. Margie keeps him wrapped in a blanket of cobwebs, which I think is disgusting. I’ve always hated spiders.
Did you know that ghosts are like pack rats? We collect all manner of things: Barbie hairs and memories and peanut shells and dreams of death. Invoices and autumn leaves and the words on the tip of your tongue. Margie collected Gavin, and now she collects cobwebs from my attic to be sure that he stays warm.
Technically it isn’t my attic; it belongs to my husband now. My former husband. He lives in what was once my house, with his new wife and her two kids and a newborn baby boy. The baby looks like Gavin might have, if Gavin had lived.
Here is the problem with collecting. Whatever you take, the living no longer have. So a ghost with good intentions, who takes away stubbed toes and sunburns, ends up surrounded by pain. A malicious ghost ends up with cotton candy and laughter and baby smiles and — well, it’s hard to stay mean surrounded by all that. That’s why most ghosts collect harmless stuff like paperclips and lint.
Margie wanted to be good. When she was alive, she miscarried five times. There was something wrong with her, something that kept her from carrying a baby to term. When she died, she wanted to help other women, to keep them from suffering the way that she’d suffered. She found a woman, thirty–four weeks pregnant, whose baby had died because a blood clot cut off his supply of nutrients and oxygen. Margie took the lifeless baby and named him Gavin. The pregnant woman, of course, was me.
Remember the problem with collecting? I woke up one morning without my baby, and with no real explanation why. The doctors were baffled, and I was devastated. I had lost my little boy, and there wasn’t even a cheek to kiss, no tiny body for me to hold one time before I said goodbye.
My friends and family tried to help, but they didn’t understand. My husband buried his grief in work and stayed at the office late while I cried myself to sleep. No one remembered the bottle of Percocet left over from when I got my wisdom teeth removed, so no one thought to take it away from me.
Margie haunts the attic, so I mostly haunt downstairs. I spent my first few years of ghosthood collecting lipstick from the purses of my husband’s girlfriends, but eventually I got over my jealousy. He remarried, and the house is nicer with children in it. Now I collect stray socks from the dryer and baby toys that fall behind the furniture.
I’m using the socks to make a quilt for Gavin, to replace the terrible cobwebs that Margie uses. I need perhaps a dozen more socks to finish it. In the meantime, I take the toys to the attic, and give them to Margie. She died old enough that her memory is bad, and she doesn’t remember that the baby she holds is my son. She simply sits in her rocking chair and cuddles his tiny body up against her chest. She tells him how his mother would have loved him, if he’d lived, and she gives him the toys that I bring.
All ghosts are collectors, even my unborn baby boy. He collects static from the radio and warm water from the bath and muffled voices that come up through the ceiling. Anything that reminds him of the womb. He is trying to recreate me.
I am tempted, sometimes, to collect my husband’s new baby. He is pudgy and gurgly and just starting to smile. But he isn’t my baby, and I know all too well the pain that it would cause if I took him from his family. So instead I haunt the house that once was mine, and listen to the children’s laughter, and try to collect only little things that won’t be missed.
Listening to it Rain first appeared in Fireside Magazine, September 2013.
Passengers is a Drabblecast original.
Paperclips and Memories and Things That Won’t be Missed first appeared in Apex Magazine, May 2014.
Episode Art: Brent HolmesRead by: Paul Huntington, Whitney Avalon