Renfield and Ethan Stoker-Belle are the proud owners of a “Spirit-enhanced house.” This used to mean “haunted house,” and the bump-in-the-night types within were known as “ghosts.” Whether you think it political correctness run amok, or simply a verbal showing of respect for the departed, a plurality of the individuals on the Otherside have a strong antipathy for the word “ghost.” You must call them Spirits. Nearly all Spirits find the G-word offensive, for it implies a state of existence inferior to that of the original item. This hoary old stereotype is going to be hard to dislodge from the human psyche; and not helping matters that much is the haughty attitude of some Spirits, who seem to deny that the only thing they had to do to become what they are is die. Still, the dead outnumber the quick by a ratio of nearly thirty to one. Nowadays this vast once silent majority refuses to rest in peace.
Lennie and Penny Realty, a father-daughter enterprise located on the top floor of The Temple of the Dow Lady building in Charleston, Washington, is, for the most part, a normal house-broker in both appearance and function. But L&P also secretly matches the right clients with certain properties that serve as portals through which Spirits may pass to visit the world in which they had lived and died. Interestingly, or unfairly, living beings cannot go through these egresses to the Spirit Realm. This is another matter that needs clearing up before the ancient prejudices are overcome.
Upon connecting the “proper people” to a “special property,” Lennie and Penny educate the new homeowners in the ways of Spirits. This always happens after the check has cleared, the deed has been notarized and new locks have been keyed. These “classes” are held after hours at L&P.
Lennie is aged somewhere between Paleozoic and Jurassic and has an almost lifelike quality about him. He never seems all the way awake, nor does he appear to be in any hurry to become so. His daughter, Penelope, is startling in contrast. Maybe thirty, she’s a small, attractive woman with active Coca-Cola eyes and is prone to burst out with sudden enthusiasms and comments that have only the faintest relation to the current subject. Penny speaks quickly and her hands are always in motion when she speaks. They seem to be attempting to yank the words out of her mind because they aren’t exiting her mouth fast enough.
Renfield Stoker-Belle is an Irish-Japanese American, her husband, Ethan, is what is referred to as a “Heinz 57,” which means that every race possible has appeared in his family tree. The Stoker-Belles are in their mid-twenties, newlyweds, gainfully employed, well educated, almost always amorously all over one another in private—and they are True Believers.
Now that the dance card is set, let’s see what happens:
“No human being has ever seen a Felinespy,” Penny says.
“’A Felinespy,’” Lennie echoes, knowingly.
“Felinespy?” Renfield and Ethan say in unison.
Penny’s hands thrust upwards and the word pour from her mouth. “Felinespies are the Spirits that cats see in the wall, juuussst behind you. Felinespies are mischief makers. They know that most people think that cats are crazy little psychos that gaze and spit at nothing at all—cat lovers feel that way most. The idea is to get kitty to make you turn around. High tone Felinespies know how to leave juuussst a trace of their image for you to see—juuussst enough to plant the seed that something is up in your mind. This can go on for days on end, yet the Felinespy him- or herself remains unseen.”
“Do we have a Felinespy?”Ethan asks.
“Do you have a cat?” Lennie replies.
“Not juuussst at the moment,” Renfield adds.
“Oh, a cat will be necessary,” Penny says. “Still, at present we can confidently say that the egress in your laundry room is utilized by a Mirrorglimmer, Shadowperson, Lippybyte, Footfallfollower and possibly a Candlehuff—the last may only be a draft in the building, further research is required.”
Renfield has been taking notes on her smartphone; she won’t mind if we snoop a sample: Mirrorglimmer: Impressive Spirit able to imitate the shape and voice of persons who gaze into inhabited looking-glasses. Short-term superpower—requires too much energy to be practical. In life, Mirrorglimmer timber found in divas of both sexes. Bet I’d make a bitching Mirrorglimmer. Right?
Footfallfollower: Easiest spirit to become. Usually mistaken for an echo, a Footfallfollower adds the report of one extra step to the sound made by shoes on a cemetery pathway by the living. The buck-private of the afterlife. Class usually inhabited by high school dropouts, shrunken IQs, and jerks who always need to get in the last word.
Although the coursework at L&P is infinitely interesting, it has become time to draw a veil over this vignette, move forward into the beckoning future, and visit the highly active Stoker-Belle laundry room, which is the location of both the Spirit egress and the Wow-Signal Emoji.
North Torqwamni County has always been a lovely and bucolic area that has attracted its fair share of desperados. About a dozen Back In The Days or so ago, the woods were full of moonshiners and sheriffs and bloodhounds and tumult and poorly aimed volleys of buckshot; when gazed back at through corn-liquor goggles, there is something vaguely charming about that era. Sadly, vices change and there’s still plenty of money in vice even though most are reluctant to admit that vice is money. Hence the coming of the meth industry, which—if it ever succumbs to its own Back In The Day—most definitely will not be remembered all that fondly.
Still, there is an approaching terminator at whose encroaching edge pleasant homes and nascent neighborhoods continue to bring bustle and light and cleaner money into the blood-brother shadows of the countryside. There are few “out in the sticks” type neighborhoods left to be found in America, but one hardly needs to summon the blithe Spirit of Sacagawea (although the Torqwamni County GPS is named for that fine lady) to locate the Stoker-Belle residence—even though their friends consistently refer to it as “Way the hell out there.”
The Stoker-Belle home is about one size larger than a tiny house. One bed, one bath, a spacious living room, kitchen and a large attic upstairs, the house suits the couple’s needs perfectly. It also has a laundry room, which is where certain Spirits enter the live realm through the Wow-Signal Emoji (from here, WSE).
Last year, Renfield had whipped-up the WSE to use it for the success symbol in the Stoker-Belle house hunting blog. The emoji conveys great bliss and joy, and a sense of “Zhsuh”—as to get across a heavenly light finding its face. When the newlyweds first visited the home (on a lark because they had heard that L&P trade in haunted houses), the Mirrorglimmer pretended to be Penny for as long as she could. The ‘glimmer also culled the WSE from Renfield’s phone and attached it to the laundry room wall. What resulted may be the oddest house sale in history, but it is what happened. Whenever the WSE appears, it means that a Spirit of some kind is passing through to visit the old neighborhood. Yet once in awhile one will come by to see Stoker-Belles; who are kind and thoughtful hosts.
Renfield is pulling a skirt out of the dryer, which she considers the same as an iron. “Incoming!” she bellows to Ethan, who is in the kitchen. The WSE is glimmering, and through it passes a greenish-blue light which takes the shape of a middle-aged gentleman. Renfield positions herself behind Ethan, who has just arrived, and with the knack known only to a dexterous woman who had spent most of her college years dressing as she drove to class, she zips herself into her skirt and says, “Hello, sir. Welcome to our home.”
The Spirit is better realized than most; although he isn’t completely opaque, he is substantial enough to pass if glimpsed in a crowded room. Maybe fifty-five, of average height and medium build, the man is wearing a charcoal suit and a sober black necktie. His hair is very short and combed straight back, and though he still cuts a handsome figure, he gives the impression that he had been extremely good looking in his youth. He smiles kindly and crookedly at the Stoker-Belles, and he draws his heels together and executes a courtly bow.
As it goes with Spirits upon cross-over, they are able to tap into static electricity to convey either a shape or a voice. Only Mirrorglimmers can do both at the same time. So from the elaborate pantomime this Spirit is engaged in, the Stoker-Belles assume that this fellow isn’t a Mirrorglimmer, yet at the same time he seems too evolved to be an addle-pated Footfallfollower.
The Spirit reaches into his pocket and pulls out nothing. But he holds up his hand as to say “wait” and then “flips” the imaginary coin and nods to the Stoker-Belles.
“Got it,” Ethan says. “A coin.”
The Spirit nods. Then he mimes dropping the coin and then he follows its “fall” with his eyes. He then looks up, closes his eyes and clasps his to his chest and begins mouthing quick, silent words.
All this time Renfield is scrolling through her smartphone seeking a Spirit class to match this gentleman to. “Eureka!” she says. “You sir are a Wishingwellwraith, right?”
The man applauds and smiles.
“Can you really grant wishes?” Ethan asks.
The Spirit laughs silently and winks.
“Oh, hell no, hon,” Renfield says as she holds her phone up for Ethan to see. Her notes say: Wishingwellwraiths face obsolescence. For there are not as many wishing wells as there used to be. Usually confidence men and women in life, ‘wraiths convey a presence of some sort at the bottom of wells and fountains that is able to separate fools from their quarters. Who knows why. It’s not like they can spend the money any more than they can grant wishes. Sound like A-holes, to me—Right?
“Well,” Ethan says, doing his best to get “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” across to the Spirit as politely as possible, “there’s a garden fountain about a mile down the main road by the little store.”
Renfield smiles and agrees. “Yes, sir, around here there’s a sucker born every minute. I wouldn’t waste time if I were you.”
Although the hints are broad, the Spirit isn’t offended. He smiles and once again bows and vanishes from sight.
As Renfield taps seems nice enough for a useless jack-off and the date and time into her phone, the WSE once more appears in the wall. This time there is no image, but a female voice comes through very loudly. The Lippybyte—a disembodied voice, who passes through the egress at least two or three times a week. Usually the Lip says something snarky and goes off to wherever it is she is going. Yet this time she is obviously agitated and her words spill out as nonsense. Taht gnitfirg dratsab dellik em.
“Please say that again, darling,” Renfield says as she sets her device to record. Sometimes Lippybytes speak too quickly and their words come out backwards. Renfield is a quick study. The Spirit repeats what she said. Renfield plays it: “That grifting bastard killed me.”
Ethan and Renfield exchange meaningful glances. Spirits never lie. This, of course, doesn’t mean that everything they say is the gospel–if a Spirit believes that the sun goes round the moon he or she will tell you so. But an accusation directed toward another Spirit was unheard of.
“Tell you what, darling,” Renfield says, “I’m going to get Lennie and Penny over here so we can get to the bottom of the matter.”
“You mean at the bottom of a well,” the Lippybyte says, much more calmly.
“I wonder if this sort of thing is covered by our homeowner’s insurance,” Ethan says, mostly to himself.
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