May 2012 – Julie Hobbes’s Apartment
Leg still smarting from the pain, Lachlan straightened only to feel something strong push against his chest: strong and cold. The force sent him stumbling back against Julie Hobbes’s couch. He tripped over the arm and fell to his knees with a surprised shout.
“What the hell?” he muttered under his breathing, rubbing at his sternum.
Goosebumps rippled across his arms and the back of his neck. It felt like the temperature in the room had dropped by ten degrees in the blink of the eye.
The words roared through his head until they felt as though they were vibrating directly through his skull.
GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT.
Lachlan slapped his hands against his ears, desperate to block out the sound but it wasn’t as though it originated from the air, it sounded as though it spoke straight to his brain.
He scrambled up, tripping over his own feet in his haste to get to the front door as a forceful wind whipped against his body. He slammed Julie’s door behind him and slumped against the wall.
Something heavy thudded against the door. Lachlan jumped to his feet and jogged down the stairs. He didn’t stop until he hit the sidewalk, heart thudding in his chest. The cool air felt like a slap to his hot face.
He looked up at the mirrored windows of the apartment building. The lights flickered off and on and then off again in quick succession.
Lachlan rode the bus past his stop twice, lost in his thoughts, before finally climbing off and hiking the rest of the way home.
May 2012 – Java Jolt – The U District
“Jesus, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Lachlan threw his hoodie into an empty milk crate behind the coffee counter and grunted.
“I feel like one.”
His co-worker, one Gale Courtney currently enrolled in the University of Washington’s History Program, sniggered and flushed the La Marzocco with a hiss of hot water and hotter steam. His deft hands paddled fresh coffee grounds into a warm portafilter, tamping and grooming the coffee into clean disbursement before turning the contraption into the group head and pushing the double shot button. Rich, caramel-colored espresso streamed out of the machine into twin shot glasses.
Lachlan started counting the till while Gale filled a white porcelain café mug with hot water, sliding the shots on top and finishing the drink off with a dash of half and half. He set it down next to Lachlan’s empty hand, braced against the granite counter.
“To help with the pallid complexion,” he said with a grin.
“You’re a saint.” Lachlan gave the younger man a heartfelt glance, bringing the cup up to his lips. It tasted bitter and heavenly.
“But really, have a bad night?” Gale’s serious hazel eyes darted over his shoulder, flitting between them without quite meeting Lachlan’s own—concerned but uncomfortable with that same depth of feeling.
Lachlan sighed. “Weird night.”
His mouth opened, the words forming on the tip of his tongue but Lachlan hesitated. He licked his lips and set the cup down so he wouldn’t accidentally splash hot coffee all over his hand. He closed the till and turned towards Gale.
“This girl killed herself.”
“What? Like in front of you?”
“No. It was the day before yesterday. I’ve sort of, um, been looking into it. As a favor to her grandmother.”
“Okay.” Gale started unwrapping the morning newspapers and sorting them out onto the rack by the front door.
“Yeah. I might’ve broken into her apartment.”
His co-worker’s eyebrows shot up his forehead.
“No, that’s not the weird part.”
“It’s not?” Gale asked with a skeptical tone of voice.
“No!” he said too quickly.
The other man snorted. “I wasn’t trying to imply that you did that sort of thing frequently. Which you…don’t, right?”
“No, I don’t. But it’s still not the weird part. I heard something.”
“Something, like…? Graham, are you trying to tell me you’ve started hearing voices?”
Lachlan glared at the back of Gale’s head.
“I don’t know what it was. But it wasn’t normal.”
Gale plucked a copy of the Seattle P-I off the top of the pile of papers and carefully spread it out across the bar. If they were careful not to wrinkle the pages, they could read the paper without paying for it and replace it before any customers arrived. The young man threw a dry bar towel over his shoulder and settled into a bar stool.
“So what was it?” he asked, eyes scanning the front page of the paper.
“Like I said, I don’t know.”
“But it was weird.”
“Like I said.”
He laughed. “Maybe it was a ghost. Maybe it was the dead girl’s ghost.”
Lachlan scrunched up his nose.
“Wouldn’t that be ironic?” the kid asked. “Fuck, did you see this?”
He turned the paper so Lachlan could read the headline placed just above the fold:
FIFTH BODY UNEARTHED IN BRIARWOOD INVESTIGATION
“It says they were arranged like a pentagram.”
Lachlan scanned the first couple lines of the article but it didn’t say anything he hadn’t read already. “Not surprising after the way they found the first four bodies.”
“You don’t think it was interesting how deep this last one is though?”
“How deep? No. It just means whoever this person was, they were the first victim. It’s more interesting that we’re reading about it on the front page. Since when was Idaho front page news around here?”
Gale shrugged and took his paper back. The bell above the front door tinkled before either of them could say anything else.
Six hours later, Lachlan recounted the till for the shift change and clocked off. He undid his black apron, shaking out the crumbs it had collected during the morning rush, and hung it off his hook in the back room.
Spring sun made it too warm for his hoodie as he walked back towards his apartment. Stopped by a red light two blocks away from Java Jolt, his thoughts turned back around to his conversation with Gale.
Lachlan still couldn’t come up with a good way to describe what he’d encountered at Julie’s apartment the night before. Or words to describe the voice he had heard.
“If you could call that a voice,” he muttered to himself.
He started to step off the curve without thinking. A horn blared at him in warning.
Lachlan stepped back, heart thudding in his chest at the rush of adrenaline. If he wasn’t careful he’d wind up looking really dead and not just—
He typed in the search string HOW TO TELL IF YOU HAVE A GHOST into his phone’s browser.