That is, until I would remember who I was. Then I would peel away from the trio. But each time, it was harder and harder to leave them. There is peace in numbers. I needed peace.
Mostly, I haunted the classrooms and naves and back offices and forgotten rooms. Sometimes I remembered my daughter, but mostly I didn’t. Sometimes I remembered my wife, but that, too, was becoming a rarity. Sometimes I would see a beautiful young woman watching me from the shadows, glowing in her own bright light, and I would wonder who she was.
I knew the day would come when I would tell the boy my identity. That I was, in fact, his killer.
I also knew that how I came to be here at this church, at this time, with him, wasn’t a coincidence. Then again, maybe it was. But I doubted it. Something bigger was going on here, some grand reconciliation that I didn’t entirely comprehend. Too much of this seemed preordained. Too much of this seemed to have the touch of something greater going on.
Or not. We would see.
Still, the time did not seem right to tell Jacob.
Soon, I thought. Very soon.
Pauline checked in on me every now and then.
On this day, as we sat together in the front pew, she informed me that my memory was disappearing at a much faster rate because I was not naturally grounded to the church, that my memory would keep disappearing until I was nothing more than one of the red-eyed entities watching over the painting. I didn’t tell her that I was, in fact, already becoming like them, but I think she sensed it anyway.
I asked her again why I was here and what had happened to me, and with great patience, she told me again. I sensed she had told me this dozens and dozens of times before. Perhaps hundreds. I didn’t know.
As we sat there, Pauline took my hand and told me I needed to leave this place before I lost all sense of who I was. I told her I needed to be here until some resolution came, no matter how difficult the road ahead may be. She had nodded and was about to leave when I put a hand on her forearm. Or tried to. Mostly, my hand just passed through her. As sensitive as she was, she was aware of the gesture, and paused.
“Wait,” I said. “How long have I been here?”
“How’s my daughter?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure she’s fine.”
“I miss her,” I said.
She smiled at me sadly and told me she would be back. I watched her go, and as she exited, the red-eyed beings crawled down from the ceiling and swarmed around me.
Just one big happy family.
I was sitting with Jacob in an empty classroom.
It was late evening and school was out and the teachers had all long since gone home. Only a handful of spooked maintenance workers remained. I wondered what had gotten them so spooked.
Jacob and I didn’t talk much these days. I just couldn’t find it within me to ask about his family, especially his brother. He seemed content with silence. I suspected he was very used to silence after so many years haunting the church alone.
We were sitting in a fifth-grade classroom, surrounded by surprisingly competent student artwork. I spilled out of the small desk I was squeezed in, although Jacob sat comfortably within his. Our sitting, of course, was just an illusion. In reality, we simply contorted our ethereal bodies in a parody of sitting, and if you looked closely enough, we were both rising and falling gently on the ghostly tides of this nether dimension we occupied.
Jacob was humming a song, a Beatles song, I think—“I Want to Hold Your Hand.” But he was butchering it badly, having forgotten the words and most of the basic tune.
I thought about my desire to save my own soul. Was I making any progress? I didn’t know. I had found Mrs. Randolph’s killer, sure, but her killer had turned out to be my killer. And now our killer was the twin brother of the boy I had killed so many years ago.
I doubted it. There was too much going on here. What it was, I didn’t know.
And as Jacob continued butchering the Beatles song and I continued contemplating my eternal fate, a television production crew arrived at the church. And according to all their shirts and equipment and gear, they were here to film something called Ghost Detectives.
The TV crew, making a hell of a racket, set up shop in one of the third-grade classrooms.
Loud enough to wake the dead.
Jacob and I were sitting together in the far corner of the classroom, minus our dunce caps, watching as the film crew quickly and efficiently set up their equipment. Most of the workers were wearing black T-shirts with green lettering. The green lettering said, GHOST DETECTIVES.
I’ve lived in LA most of my adult life. At least, I’m pretty sure I have. I do have a vague memory of living in Phoenix for a brief period, but that memory was elusive at best and I didn’t put a whole lot of stock into it. Hell, lately I didn’t put a whole lot of stock into any of my memories.
Anyway, growing up here in LA, especially near Hollywood, one gets used to seeing such film crews, and the glamour of it all wears off real quick. But this situation was different, and I was admittedly excited.
“What are they doing?” Jacob asked next to me.
“They’re filming a television show,” I said.
“Us, I think.”
He looked up at me, his mouth forming a perfect oval of surprise. “Us? But why?”
“Because we’re special,” I said. Because we’re ghosts, I didn’t add.
“But they can’t see us,” said Jacob. “Nobody can see us.”
I watched the crew scurry about, testing lights and cameras and clip-on microphones. As they did so, another group stepped into the room—three guys and a girl—all wearing the same Ghost Detectives T-shirts. But these four felt different to me. Waves of arrogant self-importance radiated from them.
Ah, the stars are here, I thought.
Immediately, one of them raised a fit. Apparently, someone was supposed to have a coffee ready for him. He was a tall guy with a shiny ponytail, held in place by three evenly spaced rubber bands. An assistant scurried off and returned shortly with a steaming cup of Starbucks. The man received it without a thank-you and promptly sent the assistant, almost in tears now, off to another task. I looked over at the boy.
“Perhaps we should let them see us,” I said.
“I don’t understand,” said Jacob.
I smiled at him. “Do you want to have some fun? Play a game with them?”
He thought about that. I think the concept of fun and games was almost lost on him. I planted an image of hide-and-seek in his mind, and his eyes lit up.