A snippet from the next Groundskeeper story, and my prompt challenge for the week. I’m gearing up the writing – frankly, we need the income. It was never supposed to take six months to complete this move, and two households drains even a decent reserve. So there will be publications rolling out from Sanderley Studios starting soon. I appreciate everyone’s support, in all the many ways you give it, if that’s buying a book, reviews, or just comments on the blog and art. Thank you.
Chloe had spread all the clippings out on the long table, and it covered a depressing amount of space. Looking at the paper, she could see what Mr. Cruor had spotted – that some of them were yellowed and brittle, while others were less so.
“Fifty-eight of them.” Mark was walking around the table, which was less eerie than walking through it, Chloe had to admit.
“My boss wanted me to make a timeline.” Chloe gestured. “By finding the newspaper they had been printed in. I don’t even know where to start with that.”
“We can start the hard way, or the easy way.” He grinned at her.
Chloe narrowed her eyes at him. “The hard way is microfiche…?”
“The easy way is I go looking for them.” His smirk increased, something she hadn’t thought possible. Then he burst into laughter. “The look on your face!” He gasped after a minute.
“It occurs to me you could have done this before. And instead, I spent hours…” She put her hands on her hips. “You…”
He waved his hands, palms toward her, still smiling broadly. “Would you have believed me? I mean, you were comfortable with me from the beginning. Oddly accepting. But if I had offered to do it for you?”
She plopped back into a chair and put her elbows on the edge of the table, ruffling but not moving any of the clippings. “Probably not.” She put her chin in her hands and stared down at them. “I’ve always been independent.”
“That’s easy to see from the first time I laid eyes on you.” Mark put a hand on the table, and she eyed the way it was not-quite-touching the surface.
“How do you do that?” She asked abruptly. “I know, I asked before, but this isn’t really about your spatial awareness, which most other ghosts…”
“She’s known so many…” He murmured, and Chloe ignored him.
“You have a sense of reality. Like…”
“Like I’m a real person?” He went very serious, and she flinched from the look on his face.
“Not something to apologize for.” He sat so he was eye to eye with her across the table. She decided not to notice there was no chair where he was. “You treat me like I’m real. The librarians don’t acknowledge me even if they see me. Researchers who make it down here?” He spread out his hands and made an exaggerated shrug, the shoulders of his suit coat rising and falling. “I’m just happy no idiotic ghost hunters have decided the library basement is a good place to look.”
She blinked. “Would they be able to see you?”
“He… I don’t know.” Mark shook his head. “The library breakroom tv is on all the time. But rarely on that channel, and I can’t tell if any of it is real. The show.”
“That explains your grasp of pop culture.” Chloe tapped her finger on the wood, tracing the grain. “Also… the other ghost. Why didn’t you follow him?”
“Didn’t want to get you in trouble.” He replied without a hesitation. “Humans have laws.”
“Ghosts don’t?” She looked into his eyes. He was solid enough to see expressions in them.
“Not in the same sense. That would require community…” His lips quirked up on one side. “Do you really want me to start in on a history lecture, or sociology perhaps?”
She laughed. “I keep forgetting you were a professor or something. I think of you as being my age, hiding from work obligations at the library.”
“Oh, I did some of that.” He got up and headed for the racks of the storage room, with their stacks of boxes full of papers. “Oldest to newest?”
Chloe took a second to switch tracks from talking about ghostly society back to the reality of the papers in front of her. “Seems reasonable.”
“On it.” He vanished by the simple expedient of walking between the racks and out of sight. Chloe found this reassuring. He really did work at not being spooky for her.
She looked down at the clippings while she waited. The downside of this was that she didn’t have anything to do while he went looking. After reading a few of the articles she started to feel uneasy. It wasn’t the topic. And she didn’t think it was how little detail was given in the reports. It was…
She spun around.
Standing behind her was the ghost from the coffee shop. His head hung down almost to his chest, and he faded slowly away until his feet were not visible, giving him the effect of hovering in midair. He slowly extended one hand toward her, the other hand, the one holding the big metal shears, hanging limply by his side.
Chloe gulped around the lump in her throat.
“Wha… what do you want?”
He opened his fist, and there, lying on his palm, was a bloody eyeball.
Chloe heard her own hiss of breath as she inhaled, hard.
The eye blinked at her.
“Mark!” Her shriek was loud enough to make the ghost in front of her bobble backwards, his hand closing around the eye reflexively.
My prompt this week came from ‘Nother Mike, with “He lifted his hand, showing the bloody eye in his palm. Which blinked at us…”
I prompted him in return (these things happen this way!) with “It was only an inch of oil.”
You can see all the prompt responses, or join in on the fun, over at More Odds Than Ends.