Whispers in the Dark
"Ghosts are real. Fear is real. But definitive proof is absent because reality is a construct of the human mind."
“Tay-Ann, get that bike out of the house!”
The little girl’s lungs burned from running as fast as she could home. It didn’t help that she had also been pushing her bike because the chain was off. Taylor tried to protest when she found the air to speak. “But mom—”
Terrified, she opened the trailer door into the front yard but the neighborhood bullies were gone. She was safe for another day. Rather than dwell on it, Taylor pushed the bike outside. Once safely in the grass, she flipped it over and lined up the chain to roll it back onto the sprocket. Taylor didn’t want to be caught off guard again.
She looked up but didn’t see anyone. “Hello?”
“You should have turned around and beat their asses. You’re all the same size. It’s not like they’re older than you. Bullies are cowards, kid.”
Taylor spun around to see a soaking wet boy standing at the top of the hill that led down to the river. He looked older, maybe a middle school kid. “Who are you? Did you just move in?”
He patted his pockets instead of answering her right away. Then he looked up as if he’d forgotten she was there. “You got a smoke, kid?”
“My name is Taylor but you can call me kid if you want. Everyone calls me The Kid. And I don’t smoke, it smells bad and only adults do it.” She peered closer but he was kind of faded, weird like an old picture. “You didn’t tell me your name.”
He gave her a weird smile. “I didn’t, did I?”
“Who are you talking to out here?”
Taylor turned her head to see her mom standing in the door. She was so focused on the strangely dressed boy that she hadn’t heard it open. When she looked back at the top of the hill, the boy was gone and she shivered as if a chill passed through her. “No one I guess.”
Taylor woke abruptly but didn’t move a muscle. It was a habit that she’d trained herself into over the years. Memories would sometimes slip into the woman’s dreams and she’d have trouble discerning imagination from reality upon waking. But it was understandable considering the things Taylor had seen.
“You know, you wouldn’t sleep like shit if you had yourself a girlfriend putting you to bed every night.”
Taylor sat up and grabbed the bottle of water from the nightstand. She opened it and drank a few swallows before putting it back. “Shut the fuck up, Rick.”
“Honey, I’m just saying—”
She swiped her hand through his faded body where it stood next to the bed. “You’re always ‘just saying’ and after a while I get sick of the constant nagging. Besides, it’s kind of creepy that you hang out in my bedroom while I sleep.”
He huffed despite not actually needing air. “Gabrielle’s on a tear again, and Ben is mumbling more of his wits and wisdoms. They are tedious.”
“Tedious or not, we’re all stuck together. And what’s she bitching about now?” Taylor threw the covers aside and ran a hand through her shoulder length hair to get it out of her face. Goosebumps raced across Taylor’s nude body in the chill of the air-conditioning.
Without looking, she pointed a single finger in Rick’s direction. “I swear to fuck, if you finish that sentence with a statement about weight or exercise I will spend the rest of my life finding a way to exorcise you.”
With a casual flip of his hand, Rick disappeared. But not before dropping a little attitude first. “Whatever. Find out for your damn self then.”
Rick was a good looking man, like a youthful Ru Paul. At least he was at the time of his death back in the 80’s. Only instead of a famous bald head, or wig-adorned dome, Rick had the most magnificent afro known to man. He was quite proud of it, despite being dead. Unfortunately, he was easily the most dramatic of Taylor’s little paranormal menagerie.
After taking care of her morning business and slipping into some clothes, Taylor walked into a silent living room. Well, it was silent to anyone but her. Gabrielle sat on the couch, chain-smoking imaginary cigarettes and ranting about the ungratefulness of children while Ben regaled no one in particular of the time he lived on 36 Craven Street in London.
“And so I would strip naked and sit in the open, my stones tickled by the cool breeze. Air baths were essential then, you see—”
“Wat are you going on about now, you stupeed old mehn?” Gabrielle was suddenly paying attention. The more riled up she got, the more accented her English became. Taylor had picked her up in France the year before and Gabrielle hadn’t quite accepted her fate yet. She was the newest.
“Just who are you referring to as old, madam?”
Taylor ignored their bickering and stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee. The night before ran late but she got the pictures she needed to prove Jack Simon was defrauding his employer. The idiot actually thought he could claim disability and continue skating in his hockey league. The only thing left to do was show up at the Vahn Technologies corporate office and collect her check.
The arguing from the small living room grew into a cacophony as Rick added his voice to the mix. It was too early, certainly unbearable before coffee. “Shut the fuck up in there!”
Each one of them stopped and turned to look at Taylor. Rick gave another swish of his hand and disappeared again with the words “Someone needs to get laid.”
Ben gave an indignant sniff. “Tis in my day, women would not say such crude and unattractive things.” Gabrielle gave Tayler a secret smile and went back to her imaginary cigarette. All in all, it was a typical morning in the apartment of Taylor Price, private and paranormal investigator extraordinaire. Unfortunately, only one of those titles paid the bills.
An hour later Taylor was caffeinated, clean, and ready to head off to her nine o’clock appointment. She glanced around the living room at her three guests. “I’m heading downtown, which one of you would like to accompany me today?” She glanced to where Ben was staring longingly at her bookshelf. “Ben?”
The founding father gave her a startled look. “Oh no, I’m afraid I can’t go out today. It seems my gout is acting up.”
Gabrielle snorted from her position on the couch. “T'es mort, gros enfoiré.”
Ben spun his head to look at her, aghast. “Madam! I’ll have you know I lived in France for nine years, in a little town outside Paris called Passy. I understand you perfectly and take great offense at your words.”
She gave him a malicious grin, her yellow teeth practically blending in with her sallow, wrinkled skin. “Tant mieux.” If you squinted you could barely make out the beauty she was in her youth, but you had to squint hard. Time and lifestyle had certainly taken their toll.
Taylor sighed, knowing her next words would get the same answer as always. “Gabrielle, how about you? You haven’t left my apartment in a year.”
“You mean seence you stole me from my ‘ome in Paree? Do you blame me? I ‘ate it ‘ere in America. You are all feelthee peegs!”
“So, no then?”
“No.” Wrinkled lips were pursed on the word before they opened again to take a drag on her ghostly cigarette. The ghost brushed her hand over the remote control and the TV came to life. Electronics were the only things they could manipulate, at least that was the case for the ghosts she attracted. There was another type that were best left unspoken of.
Guilt washed through Taylor yet again. She had no control over the ghosts that accidentally attached themselves to her. It had something to do with their energy and her own being drawn together. If she could return all of them to where they came from she’d be ecstatic, but she couldn’t. Instead she went through life with ghosts stuck to her like static-y balloons.
It wasn’t pleasant for any of them. Taylor hadn’t even had a date in over a year. How do you explain to a potential romantic partner that, not only do you see ghosts, but you have three permanent ones living with you at all times? Watching, judging, or just commenting on technique. No thanks.
Taylor glanced back at Ben and took note of the way he stared longingly at her bookshelves again. Suddenly she had an idea. “Hey Ben, if you come with me to the office and my appointment today, I’ll provide you with hundreds of books to read. Perhaps I can even provide a sea of information if my hunch is correct.”
Just the look on his face proved she had him. “How?”
“I promise I’ll show you when we get to the office. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it before but there is a solution to your boredom. Okay?”
He gave a debonair bow and a flourishing wave toward the apartment door. “I would be happy to accompany you, madam. Ben Franklin is at your service!”
Taylor glanced around one last time, assuming Rick was off sulking in another room somewhere. Then she turned and led the way out of the apartment since the ghosts couldn’t actually leave the premises without her. She didn’t make the rules, merely observed them. They took the bus downtown to the office park. It was crowded, a fact that neither of them liked. She felt uncomfortable watching people pass through her companion, and the ghosts never enjoyed human energy when it mingled with their own. He stayed as close to her as possible but Gabrielle was right, he was kind of a fat bastard. At least when he died.
It didn’t take long at Vahn, it never did. She’d been working different jobs for them for a few years now. They paid the initial five thousand dollar retainer at the first appointment. At the end of each job she submitted a detailed list of hours and expenditures, as well as any evidence she’d gathered during the investigation, then they cut a check for her services. Most of her private investigative jobs were equally as boring.
Taylor and Ben made a quick stop at the bank near her office before she led him upstairs in the small building that housed her office. The private investigator was still a little embarrassed by the writing on the door even though she’d had her own business for more than six years. But Rick convinced her it was good. It read: TAP Investigations. Beneath the large business name were the words “We’re worth the price”. Just a play on her name twice over.
Inside was a large desk, numerous filing cabinets, a stereotypical leather couch that suited the occasional afternoon nap, and two overstuffed chairs. One of the chairs and a large potted plant hid the safe that was bolted in the corner. That was where she locked up her laptop, portable hard drive with her backed-up files, her legally licensed to carry gun, and other electronics. Nothing was kept out in the open when she left the office for the night. Her margin always ran a bit tight and it only took getting robbed one time for Taylor to realize the necessity of the safe. That and good locks on the door.
“You mentioned something to assuage my boredom once we arrived at your office?”
Taylor gave Ben a smile and knelt in front of the safe. “Just a minute and I’ll see what I can do for you.” She picked him up three years ago on a trip to Philadelphia. The man/ghost was very sweet, if a little morally gray. He seemed to take his new adventure in stride once he realized his attachment to her. He, more than the others, made her wish she could release them back to where they came from. In the meantime she wanted them to be happy as much as possible.
Once the safe was open she quickly removed the laptop and tablet, leaving the rest inside. “Let’s see what you’re capable of.” Taylor left the laptop on her desk and moved the tablet over to the couch, laying it carefully on the cushions. There she powered it up and gestured for Ben to have a seat. “I know you all are able to manipulate the remote control, and other electronics. Do you know how you do it?”
Ben gave her a curious look and scrunched his bushy white eyebrows up. “Truly, I do not know. A puzzle that has vexed me for ages.”
Taylor pointed at the web browser app on the main screen of the tablet. “Try to select that.”
At first, Ben’s hand passed straight through the tablet. Frustrated, he swiped his hand through it and made the screen slide to the right. He looked at her in amazement before swiping it in the opposite direction. Then with supreme concentration, he was able to bring up the web browser. Ben’s mouth dropped open. “By all the beer and spirits, I have done it!”
She grinned, happy their little experiment was bearing positive results. “Okay, if you want search for information, select this box and a keyboard will come up on the screen. Simply select each letter the way you did the app, and hit this key here.”
No one ever said the founding father lacked for intelligence. After all, Benjamin Franklin was a scientist, inventor, politician, philanthropist and business man by the time of his death. She watched him manipulate the keys, curious as to what he would look up. He started speaking as he typed in his first search.
“Did you know I once invented my own alphabet?”
A sandy blonde eyebrow went up. “Really?”
He glanced away from the tablet and gave her a charismatic smile. “I did. I was also a chess master.”
Taylor smirked. “So are you trying to tell me you’ve been bored out of your mind the past few years?”
He grimaced. “Try few hundred years and you’ll better hit the mark.”
She pointed at a strip of icons just below his search box. “You can select here what kind of results you want to see from your search. Such as, a site with information, videos, images, or maps. That sort of thing.”
He nodded and selected the top site related to his search. “Did you also know I died the same year Washington became president?”
“I did. I looked up a lot of history that I previously had no interest in when you came to live with me. I learned even more after watching Hamilton.”
He snorted then absentmindedly patted her hand, not realizing that it passed straight through. “That’s very sweet of you, dear.” Ben paused in his perusal when he noticed her watching intently. “I just wanted to see it.” He was talking about the Constitution of the United States of America. He looked slightly chagrinned, perhaps embarrassed that that a piece of history was his first search when the world was at his fingertips. “It’s like my child. We always meant the constitution to be a living, breathing document. I needed to see how it’s grown over the years, to see if what we created has stood the test of time.”
The ghost who was usually the epitome of calm practicality appeared on the verge of tears. “I understand, Ben. The tablet is yours and we can bring it back to the apartment when we head home later.”
“I was the only one who signed all four documents.”
“Yes.” He ticked them off on his pudgy fingers. “The Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Treaty of Alliance with France in 1778, the Treaty of Paris establishing peace with Great Britain in 1783, and the U.S. Constitution.”
Tayler smiled at him, proud of his accomplishments though they took place hundreds of years before she was born. “A founding father, indeed.” She turned away but was stopped by his kind voice.
“Taylor,” When she looked back at him over her shoulder, he stood and genuflected. “Thank you.”
One down, two ghosts to go. Taylor moved over to her desk and powered up the laptop. She still needed to balance her budget and check with the message service to see if she had any new client requests. Taylor would almost rather deal with Gabrielle than balance her budget, but it had to be done and it wasn’t as if she could afford an assistant. Not when most of her extra money went toward her non-paying investigations. That was the paranormal part. What else was a woman who could see and talk to ghosts do with her spare time? Especially when she was hopelessly single. Rick’s words, of course.