ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG - February 2014
It took me a while to get used to being a real ghost, and I only say that because, since my death, I guess I was in some kind of state of shock.
That’s what Amanda Lee told me, anyway.
My so-called savior was an intuitive and, well, let’s just be honest, a different lady. First of all, when she pronounces her name, it sounds just like that creepy house in the book Rebecca. Remember “Manderley”? That’s how Amanda Lee says her name, except with an “a” at the beginning. “A MANdaley.” I think it’s because of the years she spent living in Virginia before moving to SoCal. She told me a little bit about that after she rescued me from the woods, but we’ve basically been talking about me instead ever since then.
At least, she’s been telling me what she knows of my story.
Based on what my friends had said to the police about that night, the tale went a little something like this: a young college dropout slash Round Table Pizza waitress and her buddies went out late to frolic in the spooky old forest out of sheer boredom. Said waitress drank scads of soda pop because she’d been in charge of carting around her doped up buddies that particular night, then wandered off to take a pee, never to return.
And that’s all she wrote. No body, no trace of evidence that would help the cops to find me—not much of anything, really.
Weirdly, when I heard what’d happened to me, it didn’t surprise me all that much, because the second I snapped out of what Amanda Lee called my “residual haunting phase”—a time loop I was clearly stuck in until she yanked me out of it with the psychic mojo in her voice and the sight of the bracelets from my era—I knew just what I was.
Deader than a doornail. Deader than a shrunken head. Deader than when video killed the radio star.
Very dead indeed. Actually, I had been living that truth over and over for a long time in that forest, so death didn’t seem like all that big of an issue when I became an intelligent spirit. What actually freaked me out more than anything was the fact that I didn’t remember who my killer was. I guess I’d spent so much time in my non-interactive ghost state that I’d gone a little numb. Or maybe, as Amanda Lee suggested, I had some sort of “fright wall” erected in my brain, and that was the only thing keeping my fragile spirit psyche together.
Amanda Lee thinks my memories will all come back to me, though, just as soon as I’m ready to deal. And, being a total rich-lady do-gooder, she promised to help me figure out my deal. To her, I was a real live...I mean...not-totally-alive mystery.
I’d latched on to Amanda Lee’s offer to help me straightaway, mainly because she also told me I’m probably “tethered” to this plane because of being killed, and the only way my soul can find peace would be to take care of my earthly business.
Funny, huh? That word—“tethered.” Like I was a volleyball tied to a pole, winding around it and around it, going nowhere.
About a week after Amanda Lee found me, I felt about as aimless as that ball as I hovered in front of a computer in a teeny casita guesthouse on her property. Since Amanda Lee theorizes that spirits are composed of energy—she mentioned electromagnetic radiation—you could say that I was using my connection with the electricity in the air to manipulate what she called “web pages.” Even if the screen always futzed a bit when I got too close, I had already done a ton of research into my killing and had hit barrier imaginable. Now, I’d graduated to satisfying my curiosity about things such as whether Jane Fonda ruled the planet yet or if there was any place you could still buy Pop Rocks.
By the way, I couldn’t get over this Internet. It was like the mind of a communal, confused, sometimes idiotic, god.
Amanda Lee eased open the door and strolled into the room, wearing designer hippy-dippy boots under a flowered skirt, a long-sleeved sheer purple top over a camisole, and a clump of turquoise necklaces. Pretty hip for her age. She reminded me of the type of cool, got-it-together mom who’d lived on my suburban block when I was a kid—and her house would’ve had the swimming pool that everyone liked to visit because she was never home except to say hi. Her hair was a deep red with white streaks framing her face, pulled back in a low ponytail today. She was tall and slender, with a longish face and high cheekbones, her eyes a clear gray.
She had a way of looking at me all the time with what I’d call a “soft” tone, as if she was always thinking sympathetic thoughts or maybe even pitying my fate.
Poor Casper me, right? The eternal houseguest.
“Anything interesting on the world wide web on a Sunday?” she asked in a voice that a pool mother would’ve used when she poked her head out to ask kids if they wanted any lemonade.
I hadn’t heard a tone like that in...you guessed it, eons. But it wasn’t just because I’d been dead a while. My parents had gone on a fateful sailing trip on their Catamaran a year and a half before I’d passed on. In way, I was relieved that Mom and Dad hadn’t had to go through the pain of my missing person case. Imagine, dealing with their only daughter vanishing off the face of the planet. Ugh.
“I’ve discovered,” I said, since talking was much easier now that I’d had some practice with Amanda Lee, “that I’m still just a stranger in a strange land. One minute, I’m playing Duran Duran’s first album on a turntable, the next I’m looking out the window decades later, seeing thirteen year olds walking home from school with...smartphones?”
I was still getting used to all the lingo.
Amanda Lee nodded, looking pleased with me. If I were a dog, my tail would’ve been wagging.
I float-walked away from the computer. “When I was thirteen, I was utterly amazed at how a record needle picked up sound. It was magic. Now kids can hold every piece of music ever created in their palms. Hell, these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if you can get information chips in your brains and the mark of Satan on your foreheads.”
Once, a friend had told me to read The Late Great Planet Earth after we’d gotten into a weed-fueled discussion about how the world was going to end. It was actually the last book I’d picked up before I died. Funny how I could recall that and not the finer details of important stuff in life like...oh, who’d killed me or anything.
“I’ve already had my mark of evil cosmetically removed with a Martian laser,” Amanda Lee said.
I actually believed her until she laughed. But can you blame me for being gullible, even for a sec?
I wasn’t sure I liked this new age. The 80s had been much...quainter.
As if tuning into my thoughts, Amanda Lee said, “Don’t grow old before your time, Jensen.”
“I’m not sure I have a time anymore.”
I smiled, bringing another one out in her, too. Just in the week I’d been here, I’d learned that she was the only person I knew of who could see me smile or, hell, even see my altered appearance well enough to inform me that I looked like a black-and-white TV version of a person and not so real at all.
And you know what’s also a bummer? Being barred from communicating with other humans, like the gardener who trimmed Amanda Lee’s herb and flower garden or the newspaper guy who tossed the newest edition to the porch of her Mediterranean style house at every crack of dawn. It’s so boring to be invisible to most people. I mean, the best distractions I had going were this Internet thing and the programs and movies on the TV Amanda Lee had also left for sleepless ol’ me.
She sat on a carved-wood, leather sofa, one of many antiques in the casita, then folded her hands in her lap. “I should tell you that I didn’t exactly come here to listen to your existential crisis.”
“But I’ll bet you’re fascinated so far.”
A raised eyebrow paid tribute to my flippancy. Then, “I was wondering if you would like to take a field trip.”
My body went on the fritz, just like a TV did, but it wasn’t from excitement. Not even.
Amanda Lee lowered her voice to an understanding whisper. “It’ll be okay this time, Jensen.”
“I know the first trip was rough on you. But you wanted to see Suzanne.”
Yes, I had wanted.
See, at first, I had gone a little nuts with this spirit stuff, flying around like a maniac, feeling the wind brush all over me. I’d learned right away that I could travel on electric currents and, I mean, it was totally Star Trek time—one place to another in a space-age minute.
It took me a bit longer to sober up and get to the more serious issues, though, like being invisible.
Like visiting friends who’d gone on to a life without me.
My first visit had been during a field trip to an Irish pub in the Gaslamp Quarter. “It might be healthy to get in touch with the past,” Amanda Lee had said in a gentle drawl that had somewhat been ironed out by years of West Coast living. “Suzanne was with you earlier on the night you died before you left for Elfin Forest. Maybe seeing her will trigger a useful memory about your killing.”
So she had taken her car to the pub as I caught a current and surfed it into a dark-wooded room, which smelled of hops and cabbage. While Amanda Lee had ordered a sausage roll, I had floated to a corner of the bar, rocked at seeing my best friend for the first time in ages.
Suze was over fifty-three years old now, and she looked every second of it, with gray glinting in the long, brown curls of hair, with her blue eyes as washed out as the holey jeans she used to wear. It was near the end of her bartending shift, and, afterward, she had gone home to a matchbox of an apartment, eating dinner at the table by herself as she looked out the dark window at the guttering city lights.
The sight of her alienation pierced me. Earlier, she’d been surrounded by people, only to go back to a lonely hovel, almost as if she were a ghost herself.
Before I could even ask myself what Suze might’ve remembered about my last night as a person, I zoomed back to the casita and got lost in the most welcome distraction of the TV. Amanda Lee had left me alone, probably thinking that our field trip had drained me because we’d been so far from my death spot.
“What kind of torture do you have in mind for me this time?” I asked now.
Amanda Lee could obviously tell I was being difficult. “You’ve been wondering about him, haven’t you?”
I bristled, knowing exactly who she was talking about. “Just because I’ve been wondering doesn’t mean I should pay a visit to him.”
Amanda Lee folded her hands on her lap instead of saying anything to that. As if she’d had to compose herself for some reason, she smiled slightly.
“Seeing him was only an idea,” she said.
Had she wanted to say something else to me?
I couldn’t help myself. I float-walked to her, reaching out to touch her out of pure instinct, just like one person would’ve put their hand on another’s shoulder when they thought something might be wrong and they were encouraging the other person to talk about it.
At the contact, she sucked in a harsh breath, shivering. “Jensen.”
I flinched away.
“You know what touching me does,” she said. “You’re chilly.”
But I was confused.
Touching her had done more than make her shiver. I’d actually intuited something from Amanda Lee for the first time ever. I’d made contact with her only once before, but she’d obviously been prepared that time, and I’d only seen a field of gray in her. Understandably, she hadn’t wanted me in her head.
Yet, this go around, I’d seen a sparkling flash in her mind—a diamond image—before it’d gone gray.
Yeah, I’d gotten something all right. At least, enough to tell me that I might be
able to empathize with humans—and maybe not just Amanda Lee, either.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, brushing her hands down her skirt as she stood, then went to access the computer. She delicately typed with her manicured nails until a map showed up on the screen.
“Even if Dean wasn’t in Elfin Forest that night, seeing him might jar your recollection about what happened all those years ago.” She’d thought the same about visiting Suze.
She gestured toward the screen. “I’ve put his location up here, if you’d like to study it.”
“Just think it over.”
After she left, I thought about how the Suze field trip had left me in a funk for days. But I had to admit it—I wanted to see my old boyfriend. The temptation was overwhelming.
I glanced at the directions on the computer. What was I going to do for the rest of the decade—just sit here and not care about solving my own crime…?
From Only the Good Die Young, Jensen Murphy, Ghost for Hire, Book One
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