Page 23 of The Body Departed

“About the height of a man,” said Ray.

I stepped to the left.

Ponytail frowned. “Damn, lost it.” He swept the detector around some more until he found me a few feet away. “Okay, found it.”

Always nice, I thought, to be referred to as an “it.”

Ray came over and tentatively reached out his hand. His groping fingers found my face. “It’s, like, ten degrees colder here,” he reported. “A moving cold spot.”

Ponytail grinned. “Looks like we found ourselves a live one, boys.” He then turned and looked directly into one of the camera lenses. “Here be ghosts.”

Oh, brother.

37

Ponytail turned to his young costar. “Walk with me.”

The two stepped away from the cameramen. I stepped away with them. Jacob had lost all interest in having fun and was now skipping down one of the aisles, humming to himself. The kid had the attention span of a puppy.

“Look,” said Ponytail, whispering to his costar, “I’m no more a ghost detective than I am the president of the United States. I have no fucking clue what I’m doing out here half the time. This is, what, our sixth show? The other shows turned up nothing. The ratings are down, and we need this show in a bad way.”

“So you weren’t faking any of that?” asked Ray.

“On my mother’s grave.”

“Your mother is alive.”

“Well, then on my grandmother’s grave. Look, I swear to you, I felt like something walked through me. Three fucking times. And the piano…I didn’t touch a damned thing, I swear to you. The thing played itself.”

“Okay, I believe you.”

“So what do we do now?” asked Ponytail earnestly, and for a moment, he actually seemed a decent enough guy. “I mean, what do they do on the other shows?”

“They usually talk to it and hope they catch something on their voice recorders, which they call electronic voice phenomena, or EVP.”

“Okay, good. Let’s do that.” And Ponytail immediately reverted back to his old, nauseating self. “But let me do the talking, okay? Obviously, this thing is attracted to me, for some reason.” He flipped his hair over a shoulder, heroically accepting the fact that he was the chosen one.

“Sure, whatever,” said Ray. “But maybe we should call the others—”

“No others,” Ponytail hissed. “This is our show, Ray. We both know who the stars are. Who’s gotten the most fan mail so far?”

“I’ve gotten three or four e-mails from a couple of housewives…”

“Well, that’s three or four e-mails more than the other two have gotten,” said Ponytail. “Which means zilch.” He flipped his long hair back over to his other shoulder for no apparent reason. Maybe his shoulder was cold? Anyway, I was tempted to flip it back, but I resisted the urge. Didn’t want the guy to shit his pants. At least, not yet. Ponytail went on. “Ray, you seem fairly, you know, sensitive at times. Have you seen or felt anything tonight?”

The kid thought about it, and as he did so, his eyes wandered up to the ceiling, where the red-eyed sentries were watching everything quietly from above. Then his eyes fell directly on me.

“There’s definitely something in this room,” he said. “But I’m not sure what. Maybe more than one thing.”

“If one of them is the dead music teacher,” said Ponytail, “maybe we could have her, you know, play the piano or something.”

“Whatever is here isn’t the dead music teacher.”

“How the fuck do you know that?”

“Call it a hunch, but I’m pretty sure they’re men, and one of them is standing by us now, listening to us.”

“Jesus, you’re creeping me out.”

The kid shrugged. “Like I said, call it a hunch.”

“But there’s no reports of a man dying here. Just a kid and the music teacher.”

“And the tortured monks,” said Ray.

“That was hundreds of fucking years ago,” said Ponytail. “C’mon, ghosts don’t stick around that long, do they?”

The kid shrugged. “I’m not an expert. I just work here, remember?”

“Okay, fine. Let’s go before they start thinking we’re up to something,” said Ponytail, and he indicated the two cameramen.

As they headed back, with me trailing behind, I spotted Jacob chasing random beams of light from the crew’s various cameras and flashlights. I could hear him giggling. At least he was having his own kind of fun.

Lord, I killed the kid and reduced him to the mentality of a feline.

“Roll cameras,” said Ponytail when they were back with the others. “Let’s see what the hell we’ve got on our hands.”

With cameras indeed rolling, Ponytail cleared his throat and, holding what appeared to be a voice recorder, intoned dramatically, “Is there anyone here with us now?”

I assumed he was talking to me. After a few minutes, Ponytail and the kid looked at each other. The cameramen looked at each other, too, shrugging.

“We’re friends,” added Ray hopefully. “Just here to chat. Can you tell us your name? Can you tell us who you are and why you’re here?”

It’s a long story, kid.

“We mean you no harm,” said Ponytail. “We’re here to, you know, help.”

Good to know, I thought, and wondered how Ponytail intended to, you know, help me. The cameramen looked at each other again, shaking their heads. Ponytail looked confused and frustrated. His ponytail was currently resting over his right shoulder like a sleeping pet snake.

“Can you give us a sign?” he asked again.

And so I did.

38

I once again drew energy from the camera, and once again, it flickered. When I was sufficiently galvanized, I dipped my finger down through the closed piano lid and pressed an ivory key. It might have been the same ivory key, too. Then again, I’m also tone-deaf.

All four jumped at once.

“Aha! See, I told you,” said Ponytail, vindicated, excited. He strutted back and forth in front of the piano like an orange peacock, hands on hips. I think he wanted to high-five someone, but no one volunteered.

Ray said, “Maybe there’s just something wrong with the piano, you know, like a malfunction or something?”

So I pressed another. Then another.

“Jesus,” said one of the cameramen. I noticed his camera was shaking.

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