There was an old record store on 6th street. A small place that was scheduled to close down in two weeks time. I walked up to it and stepped inside. The fan overhead creaked and a radio was going on about the predictions for the Super Bowl. An elderly man squinted up from his newspaper.
“Welcome to 6th Street Records. Everything is 75% off. Is there anything in particular you are looking for?”
“Uh hi. I’m looking for . . . old German ballads.”
The man’s face lit up. “Those are in the right hand corner behind the red case holding Swedish music.”
I nodded my thanks and headed back there. A short while later, the bell by the front door rang and I heard a familiar voice say, “I’m just browsing around. No need to get up, sir.” Seconds later, a familiar head of black hair poked out from behind the case I was looking at. “Hey. Care to explain why we are meeting here?”
“Hello to you too Adrian.” I pulled my best friend’s arm to bring him behind the case. “You know that shady diner off Main? Mom and I were buying groceries and we were walking past it, when I felt a chill run up my back. I felt like someone was watching me and when I turned around, I saw a glimpse of a shadow ducking around the corner of the diner.”
“So? That’s probably just some homeless person who was looking at the delicious food you just bought. Is that it? Can I go? I’m gonna be late to practice.”
“Practice is in three hours. But ever since it happened earlier this morning, I’ve felt like I’m still being watched.” I glanced around at the store around me.
“You couldn’t just call me? Instead, you decide to tell me this here? It’s so dusty. And by practice, I meant I need to get ready.” He used his hands to wave dusty air from his face.
“Mom wanted me to get some German ballads. She just said to grab some random ones. Honestly though . . . Hey. What are we doing here?”
“You gotta be joking me. You told me to meet you here.”
“”I did? Why would I? I didn’t even know this city has a record store.”
“You told me to stop by this store on my way home because you had to tell me something. And didn’t Mom send you on an errand to buy some German ballads?”
“Really? She did?”
I stared at Bethany in disbelief. She drags me out here and pretends I did that to her. I shook my head and looked into her eyes. Wait, what? Bethany has green eyes, not brown. “Uh. Bethany. You wearing contacts?”
“Huh? No. I have perfect vision. I’m hungry, you have lunch yet?” She turned from me and pulled my arm along. “Let’s go since I don’t even understand why we are meeting here.” I jerked my arm back. “Is something wrong?”
“You’re eyes were brown just a minute ago.”
“Are you feeling alright, Adrian? Studying for finals take away your ability to make sense?” She poked my cheek. “You’re not even warm.”
“Nevermind.” I grabbed some random records that Bethany had strangely forgotten about and headed to the cashier. “How much are these?”
“Adrian. Adrian. We don’t even have a player. What are you buying these for? Come on. I’m hungry. Food is calling my name.”
“Mom wanted them. You told me so . . . Anyways. Why don’t you just go buy breakfast on your own? You don’t have any money do you. Bethany.”
The old man chuckled as he bagged the four records I picked up. “So bossy, just like my Charlotte. She used to always think about food. Opened a diner off Main Street for that very reason.”
“Hold up, who’s Charlotte? She’s the owner of the diner off Main?” I stared at Bethany, but her expression was blank.
“My divorced wife. She’s dead now.”
Bethany grumbled. “You suck at storytelling, old man. Tell us what happened to her.” I scolded her for being rude.
“That’s twenty dollars sir. Charlotte was my sweetheart. Married for fifteen years, till we were both forty. She wanted me to close this place and go help out at her diner. Said it was making more profit than this old rack. We got into an argument. Claimed I didn’t support her. We rarely saw each other in those days. I traveled to look for classic records and she worked late hours at the diner. In the end, we got divorced. Three weeks after, some guy attacked her when she was throwing out the trash. Stabbed and killed. The diner has been given to her nephew, twice removed. He lives in Delaware and hasn’t gone down to see the place for the last ten years. Diner’s a dump now.”
“They find the killer?” I asked. Bethany shot me a glare.
“She divorced you because you like music more than working in a restaurant?” Bethany asked. I shot her a glare.
“No. She loved music. That’s why we got married. Used to come by this place, back when my dad owned it, and pop in those old classics you kiddos were looking at. Only one I knew who listened to those.”
“What color were her eyes?” I asked. Bethany punched my arm.
“Kids ask the weirdest questions these days. Her eyes were brown. A ‘dull boring brown’ she claimed, but I thought they were beautiful for all that mattered.”
“You still love her?” Bethany asked. I downright stared at her in disbelief. That was private matters.
“Yeah.” He whispered. “But what’s gone is gone.” His voice cracked. He turned a picture frame on his desk to show me a photo of a young woman in waitress attire standing in front of the new diner.
“Hey. Adrian. She looks kind of like . . . Dad.”
“Bethany.” But it was true. I was looking at my great-aunt, someone I had only seen in photographs. My mom had a fallout with Dad’s side of the family years ago, back when I was a baby and never talks about it. It was the reason we left California years ago and recently only come back, because my dad had died in a car accident a month ago; Mom wanted to tell the family and bond a little in this time of despair and sorrow, regardless of how out of place and unfamiliar we were. Bethany isn’t even my real, blood sister. Mom and Dad found her abandoned at a train station with a note saying, “Please care for her. Her name is Bethany.” They didn’t adopted her, but we treat each other like siblings.
“So now you think some dead woman is possessing my body? Adrian. We are Catholics. We believe in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. We believe in the Resurrection, miracles, and the Second Coming of Christ. We don’t believe in nature spirits, magic, or ghosts.” I explained.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Bethany. If you listen during faith class, you would know that we actually do acknowledge that there are spirits in the world. We don’t mess with witchcraft, those weird o-boards and all those other stuff because we associate them with the devil. Just because Catholicism is against those things doesn’t mean we don’t believe they exist. There are evil spirits in the world and we need to expel them from haunting us.”
“But how? We don’t know where they are. And, is it really smart to go bothering dead spirits?”
“It, or she, has already started to bother us. We don’t have a choice. It’s hunt or be hunted. If she inhabits us, we have to expel her to Jesus Christ. Remember what the priest said during the retreat. Only He who is mightier than us can conquer the spirit.”
“So you’re saying we have to get her to come to us? Wait, but don’t spirits just go on to the afterlife when they die and get judgement there. You know, like Egyptian culture. Maybe she didn’t get buried correctly and couldn’t pass through the door to the afterlife. So she comes back to get people to give her a proper burial. Or maybe she’s some minor goddess who is in the world to bring bad fortune to people because of their wrongdoings.”
“Okay. You watch too many movies. A spirit will continue to bother you and come back to you, like wrath. Once you restore to it once, you are more lenient to keep coming back to it. The only way you can truly not restore back to it was if it wasn’t there anymore. That’s the nature of reality. In this case, she has made a connection to us and is going to keep coming back. Sometimes, life isn’t all about moving forward. You need to pay more attention in class.” Adrian glanced at me.
“Adrian. I think we should give this off to someone else.”
“Maybe. Depending on if she makes another appearance or not.” Adrian opened the front door to our temporary apartment. “Look. Bethany. There are many things in the world we can’t control. There are many things that we can. But something about the coincidence of your eyes and the old records shouts out to me. The question isn’t a matter of what is going on, but when things are going to escalate. Hi, Mom.”
Mom looked up the movie, Seven Samurai, she was watching, “Good morning, Adrian. I made sandwiches; they’re in the fridge. Bethany, do you want to watch with me?” She nodded at the television screen.
Adrian gave me the records and went to the kitchen. I went up to Mom. “This movie again. Mom. Here are those German records you wanted.”
“What are you talking about, sweetheart? I don’t listen to German music nor do we own a record player. There’s a record store in this city?” Mom looked at me puzzled. I started at her. Arian wandered out from the kitchen.
“Mom, I thought you sent Bethany to buy them for you?”
“And I won’t give her any money? Adrian, why did you buy records?”
After Adrian explained to Mom what had happened in the record store and his suspicions, Mom stared at his hard. “How exactly do you plan to capture this spirit?”
“Like that Mom.” I said pointing at the movie.
“You two can’t drag yourself in this kind of danger. If you get hurt, I will never forgive myself. I only have you two left.” I looked at Adrian over her head from my side of the couch. He looked at me. For now, he mouthed.
“Okay, Mom. We won’t get in trouble.” Because we both knew our Mom’s worst fear.
“Adrian. Bethany. I have to tell you guys something. I lied to you kids. I didn’t come back to bond with the family. I came back because your dad was the nephew who got ownership of the diner. Now it’s mine because he . . . died. I came back because I want to sell the place. You two can’t go messing around there. Once it’s sold, we’re leaving for Delaware.”
“Mom. You’re just going to leave this now active ghost problem to the next owner? You’re going to run away and leave all the innocent people in the city at risk of a ghost? They won’t know what hit them.” Bethany said.
“That’s where you’re wrong. There’s no proof that the ghost is violent. She could have just been awoken.” Mom looked at the two of us, her eyes pleading us to go along with her.
“Dad and this ghost had a relationship didn’t they, Mom?” Adrian spoke up after a pause. “You’re hiding something from us.” Mom looked from his stare to the television screen. Later. I don’t feel like saying it now. “Mom. She’s an unpredictable risk to us. We need to know all the details.”
Bethany put her hand over Mom’s. “We miss him, too. Adrian. This can wait for another time, Adrian.”
“No. He’s right. Your dad used to be a detective at the police station here. That kind of job makes a lot of enemies. He was successful and so reliable in solving crimes. One case was investigating the cause behind a series of illnesses running through the area. In the end, it was from Aunt Charlotte’s diner. Dad had to announce that her restaurant was the source. She got stressed from the divorce and lost of customers. She wanted to get back on your father. Threatened to . . . hurt Adrian. She took you from your daycare and brought you to a cliff by the ocean. We got there just in time. Dad didn’t press any charges against her and choose the simple way: he told her that he’ll leave and give up his life here. He told her he was sorry, but it was justice because she had harmed many people. He told her that he didn’t want the family to have to side against her and won’t tell anyone. And before you ask questions, Aunt Charlotte used to watch Dad when his mom, Grandma Erica, couldn’t; that special bond was broken and your dad didn’t want to ruin her life more. If what Adrian suspects is true, she might still have bad feelings about us. It’s too dangerous. I was planning to visit her grave and tell her on behalf of your dad that we hope she rests in peace. That should be our only contact with her.”
“What if she’s already found us?”
The spirit sat on top of her beloved diner.She sang out lines from her favorite book Siddharta, “The flesh disappeared from . . . legs and cheeks. Strange dreams were reflected in . . . enlarged eyes. The nails grew long on . . . think fingers . . . Saw businessmen trading, princes going to the hunt, mourners weeping over their dead, prostitutes offering themselves, doctors attending the sick, priests deciding the day for sowing, lovers making love, mothers soothing their children—and all were not worth a passing glance, everything lied, stank of lies; they were all illusions of sense, happiness and beauty. All were doomed to decay. The world tasted bitter.” People changed. Anyone can go against you. If only she was one of those people who could forget and forgive easily. Oh well. She was a spirit. An evil in the world that was going to do its job and take away people’s happiness. It was her nature.
“Mom. You need to wake up. Bethany’s gone. I think she took her.”
“Oh no, Adrian. Please no.”
I opened my eyes and looked around. The faint moonlight illuminated the room I was in. I saw unturned tables and ripped up booth seats. The tile ground was covered with dust except for the places my bare feet had stepped on. I was still in my cloud patterned pajamas, standing in the diner off Main Street. The worst part was that I felt something in the corner of my mind that was but wasn’t I already sleeping? Close your eyes. There’s nothing here. Hm. I think I will. Good. Sweet dreams.
I ran with Mom into the car. After throwing a duffel bag she had randomly picked up onto the backseat, she withdrew her keys from her pocket. Her hands were shaking so bad, she couldn’t ignite the car. “Mom, I only have my permit, but we need to switch.” She looked up at me with wide eyes, pushed the keys into my hands and opened the door. To the diner.
We sped down the empty streets and when we arrived down the street from the diner, I was surprised to see the man from the record store, leaning against the side of an old, faded blue convertible. Mom told me to stop near him. “I felt something in the air.” He said. “Fern. It’s been a while.”
“It has, George. This is my son, Adrian.” I looked back and forth between the two adults.
“I’d ask you about Halcyon, but I think we have more pressing problems.” He turned and pulled a shotgun from the backseat, where it had been hidden from view. Mom opened the backseat door and lifted the duffel bag out. She withdrew two shotguns that were identical to the old man, George’s.
“Adrian, you know all those shooting lessons I enrolled you and Bethany in? Here’s why.” She tossed him one of the guns. “It’s a special gun that won’t harm living things unless you release that blue safety latch on the side. It was made especially to stun things.”
“Mom, you were a ghost hunter?”
“What nonsense are you talking about? All the guns do are flash bright lights. A spirit can’t harm humans being in a spirit form; it can influence you and that’s about it. Spirits reside in the darkest parts of the world, of your body if it were to attack you. Bright lights should temporarily blind them, giving us time to extract and banish them. George, you got a game plan?”
“You really haven’t changed at all, Fern. I just had a feeling I would need this and to come here. At my age, I’ve learned to trust my gut. Anyways, I think you have a better understanding of the situation going on here.”
“Somewhat. For now, your dead ex-wife has kidnapped my daughter. She’s a spirit and has either been on the down low or just woke up.”
“I missed your daughter’s birth.”
“I unofficially adopted her.”
“I was just planning to go in and find her, now that I think about it.”
“My best bet is that Charlotte already knows we’re here. Charging in all at once is pointless. Our best bet is to get her in a negotiable state.”
I spoke up. “She took control of Bethany before. The first time was in your record store, uh George. I think she made Bethany buy German records.” George’s eyes flashed to my mom.
“Why would a dead spirit remember German records?”
“I thought she was taking revenge on Halcyon for betraying her. That’s why she was dormant for so long.” Mom reasoned.
“We have no idea what we are running head first into.”
“Wake my dear.” I opened my eyes to see a faint outline of a middle-age woman standing in front of me. I sat up and sneezed at all the dust in air, due to my movements of sitting up from the ground. Once I was better, I noticed her nametag: Charlotte. Then I met her eyes. Brown. They were the only color on her whole self.
“What do you want from me?”
“Very straightforward aren’t you? It’s quite simple. I want to use you, because I can’t do anything in this form.” She spun in a circle. “I need you so I can finish what I never got to do.”
“You want revenge on my dad?”
“Halcyon. My dad. Your great nephew.”
“He had another child.” The way she said it thought was most in disbelief than just a statement.
“He unofficially adopted me.”
“I’m not going to harm you. I just need you so I can move some things and talk to some people.” She spun around and floated to sit on top of the bar.
“You can talk to me now. Why do you still need me?”
“I’ve never been able to make a connection with anyone before. You are the first that I’ve been able to associate and use, for lack of words. It’s quite interesting that you, a random girl founded on the streets can be of assistance to me.”
“Are you violent? Trying to get revenge or something?”
“What I do will not harm you, little girl. I just want an opportunity to fulfill what has bonded me to this world and move on. Is that too much to ask for?”
“It is when it’s to an innocent girl who doesn’t know you. It is when you use other people involuntarily.”
“Charlotte?” Charlotte and I turned towards the front door where the old man from the record store was standing.
“George.” Charlotte breathed out in surprise.
“Charlotte. How are you?”
“What are you doing here?” She floated closer to him.
“I felt something in the air. Like all those times before when we were young, and you were about to do something reckless. I haven’t feel anything for years.” After you died.
“I’ve been as good as any dead person would be. For years, I’ve just been on the edge of consciousness.”
“Charlotte, what are you doing with a little girl?” I internally rolled my eyes. Sixteen years old and counting and they call me little.
“Sorry to break up this reunion and all, but Charlotte, you can speak to old man George over there. I don’t think you need me.”
“I don’t. I don’t need you anymore.”
“Charlotte, do you need help?” I looked at him and his eyes were so sad. Get me wrong. I can’t usually tell the difference in eye emotions, but those eyes were full of concern.
She whirled around to look at him. “I. . .I just wanted to see Halcyon and Fern again and apologize to them.”
“Halcyon’s dead.” Mom walked in through the door. “Died in a car accident earlier this year.”
“Oh. I want to apologize. For everything I’ve done wrong to you and your family, Fern.”
“Charlotte, it’s fine. The past stays as the past.”
“Halcyon never forgave me did he?”
“I don’t know. He didn’t like talking about you. Bethany, come here.” I started towards Mom and heard a gasp coming from Charlotte.
“Bethany? Your name is Bethany? My middle name is Bethany.”
“So he did forgive you, Charlotte.” I turned to look at Charlotte and only saw George with his hands half raised.
“Aw. I wanted some action.” Adrian came out from behind a side door.
“Adrian, violence isn’t always a stop you make in a conflict. Sometimes, things run out of fuel and don’t reach that stop.”
“But then people are left unsatisfied.”
“Well, there’s not much you can do if people stop committing. It happens in life. Sometimes, there are things where you just aren’t interested in anymore. You move on to more interesting things going on in your life. She was focused on one goal. As soon as she reached what she needed, she left, because she’s done.”