An icy shiver ran down my spine, bringing me back to consciousness. I groaned softly, and felt around for the blankets in a vain attempt to cover myself again. When that proved unsuccessful, I curled myself into a ball and tried to ignore the faint stream of sunlight that was coming in through the dusty blinds covering the tiny, South-facing window. I shut my eyes tighter, trying to block out the light and the harsh reality that I was still unemployed and had another day of job hunting and interviews. I sighed; there was no going back to sleep.
It was most definitely late autumn here in the city, and I was feeling it. Unfortunately for me, my cheap, chauvinist pig of a landlord refused to turn on the building’s heat until the weather stayed at freezing for at least a week. “No use wasting money if we’re just going to have another heat streak in early November,” he’d said to me only a few days ago, right before telling me that if I didn’t pay my rent by Friday, I’d be out in the cold, praying for a so-called “heat streak”. Asshole, I thought to myself. What he didn’t know, and probably didn’t care to, was that to a Florida native, a high of 55 for three days in a row does not constitute a heat streak.
I stretched my limbs out; having procrastinated as long as I could; and sat up in bed. I felt slightly nauseated, and my head was spinning. Squeezing my eyes shut, I took a deep breath, and willed the sensation to go away. After a moment or two, I had regained my balance, and the dizzy sensation faded. I inhaled a few more times, and tried opening my eyes. The vertigo had passed, and all was well again.
I looked down at my pajamas, and found I wasn’t wearing my usual sleeping attire. My body was covered by a stiff blue gown, the type people wear in the hospital. Rapidly, I twisted my body around to see the back of the gown. Sure enough, it had the typical split down the back, exposing my naked back and legs. At least I was wearing underwear, although I cringed at the thought of someone seeing my purple unicorn panties. Panic washed over me, as I could not recall having recently been admitted to the hospital. The dread in the pit of my stomach only grew as I realized that my memory of the previous night was mostly blank.
The dizziness came creeping back; I sat down quickly in an effort to stave it off before it came back full force. I cradled my head in my hands, digging my fingers into my short, curly blonde locks. “What the hell? What the hell? What the hell?!” I murmured frantically, rocking back and forth. I bit my lip, trying my best not to have a full-blown anxiety attack.”
“Pull it together, Rae,” I whispered. I wasn’t losing it. I couldn’t be going crazy. There was just no way. Everything was fine. There had to be an explanation.
Tea. A hot cup of freshly made chamomile would help me calm down and think this through. I had to have some memory of the previous evening. I was just caught off guard when I saw the weird hospital gown I found myself wearing that morning. I continued to rationalize, thinking of excuses and ways to deny that I had a chunk of memory missing from the day before.
Despite waking in a less than cheerful mood, not to mention my growing fear, my footsteps seemed lighter than usual, a somewhat odd sensation. I had what I liked to call a very “solid, earthy” gait. Sure, it made me sound like a hippie, but it sounded nicer than “elephant stampede”, which is what my mother had said to me on a daily basis for the majority of my childhood. I ignored this oddity, as it didn’t stand out to me as much as waking up in a hospital gown and my underwear, with no recollection as to why. Glancing at my wrist, I was met by another dead end; there was no hospital bracelet to be found.
When I reached the tiny kitchen in the corner of my studio apartment, I was met by surprise. My tea kettle was out of place, sitting on the little rubber pad where I kept my hot pots and pans to protect the counter from the heat. Next to the kettle was a half-drunk cup of tea.
That was odd. I always washed my dishes at night before I went to bed. Living in a small apartment, having more than a few dishes was impractical, but they dirtied fast if I didn’t stay on top of them. My sink wasn’t very big, so it was just easier if I washed them as I used them or at the end of each day. And I knew that I had done so yesterday, since I had used that very cup for soup immediately after finishing my morning tea. Okay, it was ramen, I reminded myself, wincing at the memory of mushy noodles and watered down broth. I hated the stuff, but my current predicament wasn’t exactly putting steak and lobster on my table. It didn’t seem to matter at the moment, as the very thought of food turned my stomach.
I continued to rack my brain, hoping that even a small clue would surface. Still nothing. I couldn’t even remember what I had done after eating my pathetic breakfast the morning before. Feeling slightly irritated and more than slightly confused, I reached for the kettle and put it in the small sink. I turned the hot water to “on”, but no water came out of the faucet. So, the little rat turned off my water, I muttered inwardly. I shut off the tap and set about getting ready for the day. Still cussing out my landlord, I went into my bedroom area to get dressed. I would not be job hunting today. Figuring out what happened yesterday, and how I had somehow ended up in the hospital, took precedence.
The bed and wardrobe/dresser combo took up most of the space in my little bedroom area, and I had to creep between the end of the bed and the wall to get to it. Pulling out the top drawer, I grabbed my little hairbrush from the top of the pile. Thanks to my jerk of a landlord, I would be forgoing a shower, but there was no way I was leaving my apartment without doing something with my unruly hair. I pulled open the mirrored wardrobe door and immediately screamed.
I was looking directly into the mirror, yet I couldn’t see my reflection. I could see the sofa in the living area, which was right behind me, but there was no Rae. Shrieking like a banshee, I turned and darted from the room, and fled my apartment, completely forgetting about my clothing. I dashed out of the building and into the frosty October morning.
My feet hit the sidewalk, and I began frantically looking around for someone, anyone, who might be able to help me. A man was out jogging and I approached him, desperate for help, some explanation of what was happening. The man didn’t notice me, and continued on his path, headed straight for me.
“Hey!” I called out, stepping out of the way before he collided with me. The man continued to jog down the street, never once looking in my direction. I began sprinting again, scanning the area for more signs of life. I encountered others, but they too seemed oblivious to my presence, which frightened me, especially after I realized I was still wearing the stupid hospital gown. Surely they would have noticed a half naked woman running down the street.
I could hear my pulse throbbing loudly in my ears as dread washed over me. Was I dead? The rapid heartbeat drumming in my skull said I couldn’t possibly be. I put two fingers to my throat, feeling for a pulse. I found none. I felt my chest and wrist as well, but still felt absolutely nothing whatsoever. I could hear my heartbeat, but not feel it.
I stood there in absolute disbelief; a million questions ran through my head at warp speed, but my rational mind couldn’t form any explanation. I wasn’t dead, I couldn’t be. You’re not alive, either, my instincts told me. I needed to find help. There had to be someone in the city who could explain to me what the hell was going on.
I turned around and headed towards the hospital, which was located about six blocks from my apartment building. My first step was to check the morgue, to see if my body was there, and if that was a bust, I would check the other floors, to rule out a coma. Also, people died in hospitals all the time. Surely there would be another person like me lingering around, trying to make sense of what was going on.
I reached the hospital sooner than I expected, probably due to the odd weightlessness of my...body? There were more people making their way in and out and around the building, but still I walked around completely unnoticed. I entered the hospital behind an older couple who were walking through the motion-sensor doors at the front. I had no way how to get down to the morgue, as I’d never had the displeasure of having to identify a body. Now I was going there to possibly identify my own body. I shuddered at that thought, and turned my focus to the task at hand.
A janitor was making his rounds, so I followed him, hoping that he’d eventually take a turn down to the morgue. In the meantime, I had a tour guide of sorts to lead me through the unfamiliar labyrinth of hospital corridors. I could use this time to search for my body on the upper floors. My tour came to an abrupt end a few moments later as the man entered a break room and poured himself a cup of coffee. Letting out a growl of frustration, I left him and began to wander on my own.
It felt like hours passed, and still I found nothing. I’d checked all of the floors, even the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and the Geriatric Wing. My body was definitely not there, and neither were any spirit beings. I still hadn’t found the morgue, though I had gotten lost enough times in my search for it. I didn’t care to look anymore. If I was dead, finding my body wasn’t going to help matters, anyway.
I made my way down to the main floor, ready to leave and go back to my apartment and rethink my strategy. As I walked past the desk, a dark-haired man wearing a suit approached the person on duty. He appeared to be in his late 30s, possibly early 40s, and the lines on his face told me he'd seen his share of weird things. Stone-faced, he asked the woman working at the desk for access to the morgue, flashing a badge as he did so.
The woman handed him an access card and pointed him to an elevator I hadn’t noticed. The man thanked her and headed in the direction she indicated. I ran after him, close on his heels as he used the access card to open the door. I followed him into the elevator car and pressed myself against the wall. He jabbed at the button and we were soon moving down into the bowels of the hospital. The car lurched to a stop, and the doors slid open with a "ding". The suit stepped out, and I hesitated a moment as an uneasy feeling washed over me. I gathered up my wits and followed him down the corridor. No matter what the outcome, I needed to get this over with.
The door to the morgue opened and my eyes widened at the scene before me. A table sat in the middle of the room, and a partially covered body lay across the slab. The suit greeted the medical examiner, who was standing to one side of the body, and a younger, red-haired agent, who was on the other side. The agent was bent over the corpse, studying the markings on its skin. I was too far away to see everything in detail, but I was close enough to know that the body wasn’t mine, and I didn't really want to get a better look.
The older agent greeted his colleague, who didn’t look up from his task inspecting the young woman’s body. From my vantage point, I could see that she was a brunette, fairly young, and would have been pretty had her face not been etched with strange markings. The nauseous feeling threatened to creep up once more, and I turned away from the gruesome sight. Directly across from me were several rows of drawer-like handles. I grabbed one and tugged on it, sliding the storage tray out just far enough to see who was inside.
The bloated, swollen mug of a very overweight man rested about six inches from my nose. I suppressed the urge to gag, and slid the door shut. It closed with a slight thud, causing the three gentlemen in the room to look my way. I froze, before I realized it didn’t matter. They couldn’t see me, anyway, right?
The medical examiner looked away first, followed by the older federal agent. The younger one, however, kept his gaze trained on me for a moment.
“Is she supposed to be down here?” He asked, gesticulating in my direction.
“Who?” The older agent looked in my direction again, then back to his colleague, a puzzled expression on his face.
The younger agent continued to stare at me. I shook my head.
“I meant the victim,” he said, recovering the moment. “I just meant, shouldn’t we have her shipped to the crime lab?”
The medical examiner seemed slightly offended by this, and I stifled a laugh. I didn’t think the other men could hear me, but the red-haired agent seemed slightly taken aback by my presence. They began to discuss his suggestion, and I used that time to check the rest of the storage compartments. Instead of pulling out each tray, I decided to try a quieter approach. It dawned on me that, as a spirit or whatever, I should be able to move through things. I tried, sticking my head through the metal surface. I tried not to be disgusted as I checked each one, relieved when a drawer happened to be empty, and creeped out when I found myself awfully close to a corpse.
I pulled my head out of the last drawer, feeling an odd combination of disappointment and relief, as none of the bodies had been mine. Sighing, I leaned up against the wall and slid to the floor, burying my head in my hands. It was hopeless. I was in a hospital gown, yet my body wasn’t in the hospital. I was probably dead somewhere, and this search for my body was becoming pointless.
The agents and medical examiner finished up their conversation, deciding that Agent Moody, whose name I gathered from what I had overheard, was going to call back to their Headquarters and order an immediate transfer for the corpse to be moved to their crime lab, along with the other two that had turned up over the last week or so. Agent Lowe, the older of the two, would stay behind and go over the rest of the evidence before they called it a day. They agreed to meet back at their hotel in a couple of hours.
Agent Moody, the red-haired one, agreed readily, stating that he was in need of some fresh air and would make the call once he was outside. They finished their chatter, and the young man took one final look at me before heading for the elevator. Seeing this as my only chance at getting help, I followed him down the hall and to the elevator.
“Excuse me? Sir?” I called, but he pretended to ignore me, hurrying into the elevator car and pressing the ‘up’ button. The doors began to close, but I walked through them and found myself standing next to him.
“Agent Moody,” I said, once we were moving upwards. “That’s your name, right?”
“You’re not real,” he replied. “Please stop talking to me.”
“If I’m not real, then how can I be talking to you?” I replied, though it was useless. The man had his eyes squeezed shut, and was refusing to reply to me.
“Please, I need your help,” I told him. The elevator came to a stop, and the doors slid open. Agent Moody stepped out, and began a fast paced walk towards the main doors. I was hot on his trail, determined not to let him get away. This was probably the only chance I had for getting some help.
“Just talk to me!” Out the door he went, but I kept up with him. There was a single, cement bench not far from the main doors, with a sign next to it that read “Smoking Area”. The young man sat down roughly, burying his head in his hands and winding his fingers through his now mussed hair.
“You’re just having a nervous reaction,” he told himself, under his breath. He was taking deep breaths, and I realized that he was in the midst of a panic attack. I took a few steps back, allowing him a moment to calm himself, remembering my own freak-out earlier that day. After a few minutes, it was clear he wasn’t going to calm down, so I stepped closer, and sat down next to him.
“Dude, you need to breathe,” I said, gently resting my hand on his back. He shrank away from my touch, and I didn’t blame him. I moved my hand away, resting it in my lap.
“Y-you’re not real,” he whispered, over and over.
“Just breathe,” I murmured, partially reminding myself as well. Though I wasn’t sure I needed it, the action of deep breathing seemed to have a calming effect on me, and I continued to pull in big lungfuls of air. After a moment or so, Agent Moody’s breaths matched mine.
“Keep breathing,” I told him. “Listen to what I have to say.”
“Go away,” he whimpered, his hands trembling in his lap. He was beginning to calm slightly, though his shoulders still seemed tense.
“All those years of therapy,” he mumbled, putting his head between his knees. I sighed, feeling exasperated by his neurotic display. Uncertainly, I raised my hand and slapped him across the face.
“Snap out of it!” He looked at me sharply, raising a hand to his cheek. So, I could still make contact with the...living? I shrugged, unsure of what that meant.
“Will you listen to me now? You’re the only person in this crap hole town who can see me and I need your help.” He nodded, though the look in his eyes was still one of absolute terror. He began to rub his sweaty palms on his pant legs. I heard the hospital doors open and the voices of several people talking at once reminded me that I was standing in a very public place, and though I was invisible, Agent Moody was not.
“We should probably go somewhere a little more private,” I said to him, rising from the bench. He didn’t move, so I reached down and grabbed the lapel of his suit jacket, yanking him to a standing position. He began to follow me as I marched down the street, shuffling his feet slightly and looking around to make sure he wasn’t going to be followed.
A sudden realization came over me, and I froze before turning my back to the side of the building to our left, sidling my way down the block. We walked half a block that way before the young agent noticed.
“Why are you walking like that?” He mumbled so as not to let anyone around hear him talking. This guy was clearly paranoid and in the middle of a possible breakdown. I was freaked out, but I was at least able to function. This guy though, was something else entirely. I began to doubt his ability to help me.
“Did you not notice the fact that I’m wearing a hospital gown? They don’t exactly make these things for modesty,” I said, hoping he would catch my drift and change the subject. He nodded slightly, and continued to follow me down the block. We walked—well, he walked, I shuffled—in silence for a few more blocks.
“Where are you taking me?” I paused, looking up to study my surroundings. I looked at the streets and realized I was headed straight towards my apartment. I had only meant to take him around the corner, or maybe to the local park. However, I had been too preoccupied by my awkward wardrobe malfunction and my brain had gone on autopilot.
I debated with myself for a few seconds. Was I sure I wanted to take this guy into my apartment? I didn’t know him, at all, and even though I was sure that he couldn’t hurt me, I was still nervous. More for his sake than my own, admittedly.
“Uh, I guess I’m taking you back to my apartment. It just seems like a safe place for us to talk. I doubt it would be good for your career if anyone saw you talking to me, considering no one else can see me.” I pointed out.
“Good idea,” he croaked, but I wasn't entirely sure he was really processing what was going on. He began wringing his hands, and looked to me for direction.
“Um, this way,” I told him, pointing to the right. We turned and crossed the street, with me walking backwards to avoid giving him an unnecessary view of my bright purple panties. If I survived this nightmare, I was probably going to die of embarrassment; I never let anyone see my ridiculous purple panties that I only wore on laundry day.
My apartment building came into view with its dull brick, cracked cement, and peeling paint. Agent Moody followed me through the front door and up the stairs, down the corridor and in front of my apartment door.
“Dammit,” I mumbled, noticing the strip of tape across the door. Apparently I was being evicted. “That doesn’t make any sense? It’s only Wednesday. I’m not due to pay rent until Friday. I have two more days to come up with the money!”
“It’s actually Monday,” he told me, his voice sounding almost calm. “I don’t even know why I came here. You’re just a hallucination.”
I ignored him, trying to figure out if I could get us into my apartment or not. I could have sworn I left the door open when I left earlier that day. My landlord must have come by during the time I was gone and closed it up.
“If I walk through the door are you going to start hyperventilating again?” I asked after some deliberation. He shook his head, and seemed to be more relaxed, his anxiety receding.
I closed my eyes and focused; I took a few steps and found myself on the other side of the door. I tried turning the lock, but for some reason I was having a hard time grasping it. Earlier it had come so easily. Maybe the longer I was in this form, the less contact I would be able to have with the physical realm? I concentrated on connecting with the lock, and after a few more unsuccessful tries, I managed to turn the deadbolt.
Agent Moody opened the door, poking his head into the small space. He seemed to be calming slightly, now that there was no one around to see him in the midst of a panic attack.
“I’d offer you some tea, but it seems like my landlord has shut off the water and everything,” I told him, running a hand through my hair.
“That’s okay,” he replied, his demeanor more steady now. I leaned against the wall, gesturing for him to take a seat. Pushing aside a pile of old newspapers, he sat down on my old, frayed sofa and took a deep breath.
“Are you okay?” I asked. His anxiety attack seemed to have subsided, but I couldn’t be too sure. I was beginning to feel tired, which seemed odd to me considering I wasn’t in a physical form, and I didn’t want to exert any energy telling my story if he wasn’t stable enough to help me.
“I think I’m okay now. I’m probably going to need lots of therapy after this, and maybe a room at a psych ward later, but I’m okay for now.” I resisted the urge to groan, instead forcing a smile that probably looked more like a grimace.
“Okay then,” I mumbled, before clearing my throat. “I’m Rae.”
“Darren.” He looked aloof.
“Are you sure you’re okay? You seem a little—well, neurotic. I mean, I know it’s not every day you see a ghost, er, well, whatever I am right now. But you don’t seem to be taking it very well.”
“Sorry. Six years of therapy with a very, very expensive psychiatrist will do that to you.” His forehead had begun to sweat, so he raised his arm and wiped his brow on his suit jacket.
“Six years of therapy,” I breathed. “Six? And they still let you in the FBI?”
“Yup. Just graduated from the Academy,” he beamed, flashing me his crooked teeth. “I’m still doing field training.”
“Right,” I said with a nod. “And you went to therapy for what exactly?”
“Hallucinations. My therapist assured my mom I was just dealing with a high amount of stress from my parents’ divorce.” A sigh escaped him. “They stopped by the time I started middle school. Until today.”
Great. “Well, I can’t explain what’s going on, but I can tell you that you’re not hallucinating.”
“That’s what all my hallucinations have said.” I rolled my eyes. “Though you’re the first one who has ever slapped me.”
Thus far I had managed to keep a thin grasp on my patience, but this was the last straw.
“Look, sorry about your tripped out childhood and six years of therapy and stress management or whatever the hell it was, but I seriously need help. Now do you think you can keep it together for like ten minutes so I can explain?”
He looked at me, dumbfounded, but nodded in response. I took a deep breath, explaining how I had woken up in my apartment, as usual, and how everything had transpired since then. He listened attentively, brow furrowed. Every so often he would reach up and scratch his head. By the time I finished, his copper-colored hair was sticking out in all directions.
“What exactly do you want me to do?” He asked. “I mean, if you’re dead, there’s not really a whole lot that can be done. If you’re a hallucination--”
“Don’t start with that again,” I huffed. “As far as I know, I was fine until this morning. You know, visible to the rest of humanity and whatnot.”
“Okay then, what’s the last thing you remember doing before today?” He asked, reaching up and smoothing down his mussed hair.
“Getting ready to go to a job interview. I’ve been trying to find a job for weeks now.” I gestured to the pile of discarded and pen-marked classifieds. “Obviously, I have been unsuccessful thus far.”
“Great! There’s a clue. We can start there. Did you write down any information anywhere?” He asked, looking around my small, somewhat cluttered apartment. The corner of a little yellow legal pad stuck out from underneath a stack of half-completed crossword puzzles. I pointed to it, and he uncovered it from its hiding spot. His eyes scanned my chicken scratch for a moment before he raised his eyes.
“Wow, you got turned down from Taco Dream?” He asked incredulously. “I worked at the one back home when I was in high school. They hire everybody!”
“Yes, thank you for pointing that out to me, Darren. You’re such an encouragement.” I replied. “That was a week ago, anyway. The last time I recall, it was definitely Wednesday.”
“Okay, the food at Taco Dream didn’t kill you,” he joked, continuing down the list. “Yikes. Trina’s Bar? That’s where one of the victims worked.”
“Wait, victims?” I asked. “Like, that creepy serial killer shit you were working on earlier?”
“Yeah, except I probably shouldn’t be talking about that with you. We’re trying to keep stuff pretty quiet while we investigate. This guy’s pretty slippery.”
“Who am I going to tell, Darren?” I put a hand on my hip, giving him a pointed look. “And besides, if I’m potentially a victim of a serial killer, shouldn’t I be ‘in the know’, as it were?”
“Hmm, good point.” He tore off the pages and tucked them into his inner jacket pocket, then rose to a standing position. “Looks like we’re going to go ask some questions at Trina’s.”
“So, we’re doing this, then? You’re actually going to help me, even though you think you’re losing your mind? Are you sure you’re okay to be wandering around out there?” I bit my lip, not sure if it was a good idea to let this neurotic and inexperienced, yet enthusiastic agent back into public.
“I’ll be fine,” he said, brushing me off. “The fact that you went to apply to Trina’s Bar and are currently having a serious out-of-body experience is enough evidence for me to believe that maybe I’m not crazy right now. And who knows, maybe if we can figure out what happened to you, you might be able to lead me straight to the killer.”
“Great, so we’re helping each other,” I said. “Alright, let’s go. But no looking at my underwear. I’m not walking all the way to Trina’s backwards. Even though I’m not in a physical body, I still seem to get tired.”
“Do you need to rest a moment before we go?” He asked, concern showing on his face. He was scanning my apartment briefly, obviously searching for something.
“Thanks, that’s sweet, but I’m scared that if we don’t hurry up I might be resting indefinitely. What are you looking for?” He looked on my counters and dug through the papers on my makeshift coffee table.
“A photo of you. It might help with the questioning if I have a picture to show. Do you have one anywhere?” I shook my head. “A cellphone with a selfie on it?”
“Yeah, it should be in my bag—which isn’t here. It must be wherever my body is.” I replied. “I have Facebook though. Do you have a phone.” A nod to the affirmative. He pulled his cell out of his pocket, pulling up the Facebook app.
“Look up Rae Edwards.” I said, spelling out my first name for him. He typed it in, and I pointed to my profile picture, a snapshot of me standing on the Golden Gate Bridge when I traveled to San Francisco the year before. He scrolled through my profile pictures for a moment before finding one that showed my face in detail. He clicked on the image, saving it to his photo library. Satisfied, he made for the door, with me following close behind.
“Do you want to take a cab?” He asked as we reached the front of my apartment building. I shook my head. Trina’s wasn’t that far, and since we both knew where we were going, it wouldn’t take us long to walk there.
The first part of the journey was mostly silent, both of us determined to make it to Trina’s before it got really busy. As we rounded the block, I asked him a question.
“So, doesn’t this go against FBI protocol or something? I mean, shouldn’t you contact your partner?” I asked. “You didn’t even use evidence gloves when you picked up my paper. And technically, you broke into my apartment.”
“No, looks like I’m going rogue on this one. And you let me in, I didn’t break in,” he said with a smirk. “It’ll be okay. I’ll get a write-up, maybe be suspended to paper pushing for a while.”
“Doesn’t that bother you?”
“Nah. I’ve been desk-bound before, and it’s not so bad. If there’s one thing I’ve always been good at, it’s filling out paperwork.”
“Seriously? What about your work as an agent. I’d hate to think you’re jeopardizing your career.”
“Honestly? My dad was an agent, and my grandfather, and my cousin works from the office in New York. It’s a family thing, only I don’t really feel like I fit in. My partner can’t even stand me half the time.” He told me with a shrug. “Really, filling out paperwork for a few months would be a vacation.”
I nodded in acknowledgment. “I know what you mean. My parents wanted me to go to law school. I barely passed my learner’s permit test. Keeping all the traffic laws straight was near impossible for me, I couldn't even imagine going to law school.”
He laughed, a soft rumble coming from his chest. I looked away from him, and realized we were standing outside the bar. There were few cars in the parking lot, owing to the fact that it was only seven PM on a Monday. Once he’d gotten past his panic attack, he’d become a lot easier to talk to, and I realized that it had been months since I’d had an easy conversation with someone. I’d been so focused on trying to make it on my own that my social life had gone completely down the drain.
“Shall we?” Darren opened the door, holding it so I could go in before him.
“You’d better not look!” I exclaimed, walking in ahead of him. He followed, keeping his eyes forward.
Inside, the bar was mostly quiet. An 80s power ballad was blaring from a speaker somewhere in the corner. A bit unnecessary, considering there were only five people occupying the space. Two college-aged guys were at the pool table, one leaning on his pool stick while the other leaned in, trying to line up his shot. He brought his arm back, then jerked it forward, propelling the white ball towards a solid colored five-ball. The white ball bounced off the five, sending it towards the center pocket where it hit the bumper and rolled sideways. He groaned in defeat while his buddy let out a loud laugh.
Two nurses from the hospital, still in scrubs, were seated on the far end of the bar, having some after work drinks, engaged in a quiet conversation. Sitting right in front of the TV was one of the regulars, a man named Jim, who had been sitting in that very spot when I’d come in for an application, and again when I was interviewed.
The bartender on duty was Trina, the owner. This was a good sign, as she had been the one to interview me and would remember who I was.
“Can I help you?” She asked Darren in her gruff, smoker’s voice.
“Yes, I was here with my partner earlier today,” he began, pulling his badge from his inner pocket and showing her the FBI seal. “I have some more questions I’d like to ask, if that’s alright.”
She didn’t seem too happy, but she obliged, gesturing to a seat near the beer tap. Darren took a seat, and I moved to stand beside him.
“What can I do for you?” She asked, irritation coloring her features. Darren pulled up his phone and brought up my photo, turning it towards her.
“This is Rae Edwards. She’s been reported as missing, and we got a lead that she might have applied to work here.”
Trina frowned, but nodded in response. “Yeah, I interviewed her last Monday. I had to hire someone to take over for Darcy.” A sad expression crossed her features, but she shook it off. “You think it’s the same guy?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out. Was there anyone there that day that was here the last time you saw Darcy?” Darren asked, putting his phone back in his pocket.
“Just Jim, but he’s always here. And I highly doubt he's ever been sober enough to tie his shoes, let alone kidnap anyone.” As if on cue, Jim slurred out a request for another beer. Trina obliged, filling his glass with more liquid.
“Should she even be serving him still?” I asked, my eyes following Darren’s gaze as he watched Trina take the now-full glass back to the very obviously drunk Jim. As if she had heard me, she walked back over, wiping her hand on her apron.
“Relax, after his fifth beer I start serving him non-alcoholic beer.” She said under her breath. I snickered, and Darren cracked a smile, but didn’t say anything for a few minutes.
“Do you have any more questions?” Trina asked. “I don’t know how much help I can be to you.”
Darren reached into his inner jacket pocket, pulling out the yellow sheets of paper with my handwriting scribbled all over them. “Do you know if Darcy was in the market for a new job?”
Trina bristled slightly at this question, but nodded hesitantly. “She said that she was in need of some extra hours and was looking to pick up a second job. She had a kid, you know.”
Darren unfolded the piece of paper and pushed it towards Trina. “Do you know if she applied at any of these places?”
The middle-aged bartender lifted the paper to where she could see it, scanning the names of businesses before shaking her head. “No, but then again, I didn’t exactly ask her how the job hunt was going.” She turned the paper over, scanning the other side. Something caught her eye and she pointed to it.
“She did mention that she was going to try for a sleep study. I think the lab was on this side of town,” Trina told us. “She even got a friend to stay with her kid and everything.”
Darren took the paper back, looking where she’d indicated. I peered over his shoulder, reading the address I’d written there earlier. Something clicked in my brain and I jumped up and down excitedly.
“Yes! I applied to join the same sleep study!” I practically shouted in Darren’s ear, and he grimaced. “Sorry,” I whispered.
“Thank you, ma’am. You’ve been really helpful.” He reached into his back pocket and retrieved his wallet, pulling out a business card. “Please call if you remember anything that might be helpful, or if you have any questions.”
“No problem. Darcy was my best girl. I hope you find the bastard that took her and killed all those other girls.”
Darren said goodbye, and we left the bar, going back into the cool evening air. It was totally dark now, with the exception of the street lights that illuminated the sidewalk.
“You know, you’re actually pretty good at this whole FBI thing,” I told him. He scoffed in response.
“Was that a compliment?” He asked, quirking an eyebrow.
“No, just an observation. I mean, I don’t know a whole lot about what you do with the exception of watching crime shows, but you got two whole leads for this case.”
“Only because of you.”
“Well, you can have all the credit, especially considering the fact that you’d probably get committed if you told your supervisors that a ghost gave you the information,” I chuckled at the thought of him trying to explain his way out of that scenario. He shook his head as if reading my mind.
“Where to now?” I asked. “Do we go to that address?”
“No, I need to do a little research first. Going out there without probable cause could create a lot of problems legally. I don't want to do anything that would keep us from putting this guy away," he explained. He cocked an eyebrow and asked, "Do you remember if you’ve been there or not?”
I shook my head, following him as he began to walk down the block.
“Where are we going?” I asked. “Back to my apartment?”
“No. I don’t think there are any more clues there, unless you can think of something important.” I shook my head again. “Okay. Shall we go to my hotel? All my equipment is there, and I should probably check back in with Lowe. He’s tried to call me several times.”
“Sorry,” I muttered, feeling guilty for keeping him from his work. I mean, he'd been annoying at first, but it was pretty understandable, and he was actually a decent guy. I didn't want to get him into any serious trouble.
“It’s okay. If all this works out, it will be worth it, so don’t worry about it.” His tone was nonchalant, and we continued down the block in companionable silence for a while. Suddenly, he threw his fist up into the air excitedly and shouted, “I knew it!”
Startled by his random outburst, I pushed some hair out of my face and looked at him sideways. “Knew what?”
“That I wasn’t crazy.” He saw my expression and added, “when I was a kid.”
“Right. And that explains your earlier breakdown?”
“Seriously, after my mom and dad divorced, Mom and I moved into a new house and it was haunted. I kept telling her, but she insisted I was fine for a long time. I was adamant though, and she got worried, I guess, and sent me to therapy. I hated my therapist, and I had to put up with her for six years.”
I stopped, suddenly feeling dizzy. Darren kept walking, yammering about his experience with the evil psychiatrist and the traumatic experience he’d had. He’d walked half a block before he realized I wasn’t walking beside him anymore.
“Rae?” He asked, turning around. I was hunched over, feeling extremely tired. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. I’m exhausted.” I panted, hands resting on my knees. “Can ghosts get tired?”
“You wouldn’t think so,” he helped me lower myself to the ground. “Your arm! It’s see-through!”
“What?” I exclaimed, looking at my arm in the dim light. He was right—my arm was now transparent, and my hand was starting to disappear. Panic welled up inside me, and I reached for him with my other hand. I could not grasp him, and I was beginning to fade into nothingness. Terror gripped me like an iron claw wrapped around my heart. I heard him calling my name as the world around me went black.