Page 24 of The Body Departed

And as I kept pressing the keys, the two ghost detectives actually retreated. Some detectives. Ponytail’s cameraman was the bravest of the bunch; he walked right up to the piano and, still shooting, flipped open the keyboard cover. I quit playing.

“It stopped,” he reported.

Ponytail had gone bone white. Or, more fittingly, ghost white. “Oh…my…God,” he said. “That did not just happen.”

“If I were a betting man,” said his cameraman, still standing over the piano, “I would bet that there’s a mouse loose among the piano strings.”

“There’s no way,” said Ponytail, recovering quickly. He wasn’t going to let anyone steal his ghost story—and thus his ratings. And, perhaps more important, his fan mail. “There’s something going on here, something powerful.”

Ooh, I liked that! Powerful. I haven’t been called powerful in quite some time, if ever.

“I agree,” said Ray. “There is something going on here.”

“Oh, hell yeah!” said Ponytail, pumping his fist. “Everyone will be talking about this episode. Everyone.” He paused. “Make sure you edit that out,” he said to no one in particular.

“I still say it’s a mouse,” said the cameraman.

But Ponytail wasn’t listening. He had a sort of faraway look in his eyes that suggested he was already seeing the weekly Nielsen ratings. Perhaps he was already signing his next big contract. Maybe someday he would. But first, he had to get through this night.

“Hey,” said Ponytail’s cameraman. “I think something just tried to walk through me.”

We all turned to look at him. I raised my ghostly eyebrows, curious, since Jacob was at the far side of the room and the three red-eyed sentries were still high above, watching us vigilantly.

“Really?” asked Ponytail, excited.

“Yeah,” said the man. “And since I’m such a fat fuck, it’s still only about halfway through.” He bowled over with laughter. So did the other cameraman. Both nearly dropped their cameras.

“Maybe he’s lost,” said the other cameraman, gasping, barely getting the words out. “You know, stuck in your fat ass.”

Both were nearly crying with laughter. And with the cameras nearly useless, I took the opportunity to draw power from the machines. As I did so, their lights flickered. So much so that everyone turned and looked at them. The laughter immediately stopped.

“Whenever they flicker,” said Ray portentously, “something happens.”

I materialized before them.

39

For the first time in a long time, all eyes were on me.

I had no idea how much of me had materialized. I had no idea how solid I was, or even if any details had come through. Did I appear as nothing more than a bright light? Or could they see a man standing before them, a man in his midthirties, hair slightly disheveled, bullet wounds dotting his chest and head and neck?

I didn’t know, but they sure as hell were seeing something.

Ponytail lost it, shrieking as if someone had doused him with gasoline and set him on fire. He turned, started to run, forgot he was on a raised stage, and pitched forward. I heard a dull crack.

The image of Jacob falling to his death came to mind instantly.

Jesus, what have I done?

Miraculously, Ponytail found his feet. Woozy and punch-drunk and bleeding from a sizable head wound, he managed to stumble out of the nave and out through the side door.

The others barely gave him a glance; instead, they just stared at me in openmouthed wonder. One of the cameramen tried his camera, but it wouldn’t work. No surprise there, since I was using all its juice.

“Are you guys seeing this?” asked Ray quietly, awe in his voice. Surprisingly, there was little fear.

The cameramen nodded, but Ray didn’t notice them; instead, he moved bravely forward and reached out a hand. He gently touched my shoulder.

“So cold,” he whispered.

I noticed something glowing in his eyes, something dead center in his pupils. I realized that something was me. It was my reflection. My reflection.

I’m real, I thought.

“You were shot in the head,” he said, speaking in low tones, as if afraid he might scare me away. “And the neck and chest. All over. Someone killed you.”

I nodded, wondering if he could see me nod.

“Who shot you?” he asked.

I shook my head. He didn’t need to know that. It wasn’t his business, and there was still much I needed to work out with the boy, let alone the brother who killed me.

“Okay, so you don’t want to talk about it. I get it. Can I touch you again? I don’t want to be rude; I’m not sure what the etiquette is here.”

I smiled and nodded. He smiled, too, and gently ran his open hand along my upper arm. When he pulled his hand away, he shivered and said, “Wow, what a rush.”

I heard voices from outside the sanctuary. People were coming.

“You gave my friend quite a fright,” said Ray.

I nodded gravely. I felt bad.

“He can be a bit of a jerk sometimes, I know,” Ray said. “But he’s a good guy. He helped get me this job, you know.”

We looked at each other some more. The power from the two cameras was nearly depleted, which meant I was running out of energy. Already, I felt myself fading.

“Hey, you’re disappearing,” he said. “Was it something I said?”

I shook my head. The voices were now just outside the double doors that connected the cathedral to the school. Ray looked over his shoulder at the sounds.

“They’re coming,” he said, and when he looked back, I was already gone. But not really. I was still standing there before him. Behind him, the two cameramen gaped at the whole scene in wide-eyed wonderment.

And just as the doors burst open, Ray leaned forward and whispered directly into my ear, “You do not belong here, James. It’s time for you to go home.”

He stepped back and smiled, and I stood there utterly stunned as people and cameras flooded into the nave, led by a very pale Ponytail.

40

It was after dawn by the time the film crew finally packed up and left.

The principal was the last to leave. She looked tired and beaten down, and I didn’t blame her. It had been a hell of a night, and I certainly hadn’t helped things by scaring Ponytail half to death. I still felt bad for him. He didn’t deserve that.

I was alone. Jacob was off playing in one of the classrooms. It was the weekend, so he would be playing alone. Early-morning light filtered down through the many stained-glass windows, casting a kaleidoscope of colors across the pews. I liked the display of colors and could watch them all morning long, which I often did.

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