Page 15 of The Body Departed

Unfortunately for him, I was in a strange and bitter mood, and as I passed him, I said, “Boo.”

He slammed his eyes shut. The kid was a powerful medium in the making, whether he wanted to be or not. Probably not, since he was now making the sign of the cross and might have just wet himself.

Scaring little boys is not the way to go to heaven, I thought.

I continued drifting down the aisle toward the head of the class, where the teacher was droning on about the Spanish colonies of yesteryear. On the wall just behind her were various class portraits spanning many decades.

The class portraits gave me an idea. A very good idea.

Now, just don’t forget it!

I whipped down a hallway, made a sharp right, and found myself in the school’s administration office, which was being manned by a young, serious-looking woman in her early twenties.

The sign on her desk read VISITORS, SIGN IN.

I was tempted to write James the Ghost.

Instead, I drifted past her and down a narrow hallway lined with doors on either side. I peeked into all of them, whether they were open or not, and in the very last room, I finally found what I was searching for.

It was the copy room, and on the wide shelf above the workstation was a very long row of school yearbooks.

25

Ghosts are energy.

I understand this now, although I didn’t before. And when I say “before,” I mean back when I was living. Hell, back when I was living, I didn’t even believe in ghosts, let alone that someday I would actually be one. Then again, maybe I wasn’t a ghost. Maybe all this was one long, bad dream. A very, very bad dream.

Or maybe this is hell, I thought.

At that moment, a very large, balding man stepped into the copy room. He flicked on the light switch and ignored me completely and opened the copy machine’s lid. He punched in the number 30 and proceeded to run off thirty copies of what appeared to be a drawing of a pizza.

Aww, fractions.

While the copy machine chugged away, he shivered and rubbed his arms and looked around absently—and perhaps a little uneasily. His very weak sixth sense was picking up on me.

When his copies were finished, he turned to leave, but then paused in the doorway. The fine hairs on the back of his neck, I saw, were standing on end. He slowly, slowly turned around—and appeared to look directly at me.

Did he see me? I didn’t know. I doubted it. A small part of his brain knew I was there, but could he trust that part of his brain? Most people didn’t. He continued staring at me. I stared back at him. Somewhere down the hallway, a phone rang. Someone answered it. He blinked first, shivered once, and then got the hell out of Dodge—or at least the hell out of the copy room.

When he was gone, I went to work.

As a ghost, I could draw energy from most anywhere: from the air, from the sun, from the living—and even from electronics.

Especially from electronics.

Ghosts and electronics were made for each other, which was why lights in a house often flickered during a haunting. Ghosts, you see, used the electricity that fed the lights as an energy source to materialize.

And so now, with the help of the copy machine, I began to materialize. And as I did so, the lights from its display panel flickered wildly, and the whole thing sort of groaned, like something old and dying.

I felt myself taking shape. First, my torso formed; then, in a sort of rippling wave of solidity, my arms and legs and fingers and toes appeared. I turned my hand over, watching it congeal before my eyes, opening and closing my fingers, making a fist. I sucked more energy from the machine, from the air, from anywhere and everywhere I could find it. Galvanized and crackling with life, I imagined this was how Frankenstein’s monster felt when that lightning storm struck.

Where’s Igor when you need him?

Solid and fully formed and feeling more alive than I had in a long, long time, I was just about to get to work when the secretary appeared in the doorway.

Shit.

Head down and holding a piece of paper she no doubt intended to copy, she absently reached for the light switch—and then paused midreach.

Her head snapped up and she gasped. How she didn’t scream, I don’t know. She put a hand over her chest and calmed herself.

“Oh, my God, you scared me. I didn’t think anyone was in here.”

I just smiled and nodded—and prayed she wouldn’t continue reaching for the light switch. My bullet wounds would have been hard to miss in this form.

“Um, I’ll come back,” she said, backing away. “Do you need any light?”

I shook my head, and she stared at me for another moment, then turned and hustled off.

I knew I didn’t have much time. Ghost or no ghost, a strange man standing alone in the copy room—with the lights out, no less—would warrant an investigation.

I moved quickly over to the shelf filled with yearbooks.

I figured the killer, Eli, was in his late twenties. If so, that would have put him in high school about ten years ago. Which, if my math was right, would have made him about eight years younger than I was.

So I started pulling down yearbooks that corresponded with those dates. I pulled out four yearbooks and opened the cover to the first—and briefly reveled in my solidity. I was nearly 100 percent congealed, and I felt almost human. Well, human enough to turn the pages of the book, which I did now, flipping rapidly to the high school portraits, scanning faces, looking for the killer.

The church’s private school was not a big one, so I was able to go through the high school students rather quickly. Nothing in the first yearbook. I opened the second, repeating the process of scanning faces. Nothing there, either. I pushed it off to the side, opened the third. When that proved fruitless, I went for the fourth. I had just opened it, had just happened across the high school football team photo, when I heard voices coming down the hallway.

They were coming.

Which was a damn shame, since I had just spotted Eli.

26

There were times—rare times, granted—when I was thankful for being a ghost. This was one of them.

As the footsteps and voices drew nearer, I stepped away from the copy machine and, with my source of energy now gone, immediately began to evaporate. Just as I had risen up off the floor, two men, trailed by the secretary, entered the copy room.

One of them immediately flicked on the light, but by that time, I was already hovering near the ceiling and, should they have looked up, would have appeared only as a nearly invisible, misty sheen. And even the mist was fading quickly. Soon I would be gone altogether.

Gone, but not forgotten.

Both men were wearing blue jeans and T-shirts. Teachers, perhaps. Or maybe coaches. Hard to tell, since teachers dressed so casually nowadays. The secretary stepped cautiously into the room between the two men. She looked completely flabbergasted.

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