Here’s submission #2 for #nycmidnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2011. Prompts were ghost story (genre), steakhouse (place) and a taser gun (object). I’m kind of ok with how it turned out, though I put it together in about an hour (just before the deadline, as usual), so there are a few places where a word or two could be interchanged. I’d have preferred to finagle it to get the twist to be a bit more emotionally impactful for the main character, but whatever: it’s done.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Will killing his murderer’s descendant bring peace and closure to a troubled ghost?
I’ve been in the saloon for a long time now. “Steakhouse,” I mean. They call it a steakhouse now. No matter. It’s still the same to me: a place where the booze flows in and out of the people as the people flow in and out of the doors. I suppose there are worse places to haunt.
I’ve been here for about 120 years, I think. Depends on what year this is, I guess. I don’t pay much attention these days: it seems I’m getting thinner quicker, though I suppose it’s possible that the time is just passing faster and I’m thinning out at whatever the usual rate is. No idea. This is my first go-round as a ghost. Shade. Whatever.
The only reason I know anything about my current condition is because there’s a paranormalist who’s been having dinner here once a month (strip steak, baked potato with garlic salt, green beans) for the last couple of years. He’s trying to sell his book, which is about how ghosts like me reach peace through some kind of closure regarding the circumstances of their death. Sometimes he’s here with friends or colleagues, practicing his pitch for the publishing companies or comparing notes. On occasion (ok, most of the time), when he goes to the bathroom, I’ll make the lights flicker and do that “ooOOOooo” sound against the tiles, just to freak him out. That’s the extent of my ability to touch the real world: some barely audible sound and, if I concentrate really hard, I can affect things that deal in electricity.
Anyway, from listening to the paranormalist and his cohorts, I know that being a spirit means I’m just some sort of energistic impression on the fabric of the universe that was left behind when my body was murdered here all those years ago. I’m not actually a soul or anything, more like an emotional stain on this particular location. The moment of my death was like a flashbulb going off, and I’m the afterimage left on the retina of this place. Strange that I remember things from both my life and my time haunting this saloon – I mean steakhouse.
I can still see the blood – my blood – pooling on the hardwood floor as it spilled out the bullet holes in my body. My body’s not there anymore, but the blood keeps running into that puddle. It never gets any bigger, even though the blood continues to flow. I’ve lost myself for weeks at a time, just watching the blood rush into that spot. From what I gather from the paranormalist, that’s my anchor to this world: I always come back to it and I can never get very far from it. None of the living have ever appeared to notice it, and I haven’t met any other shades here, so I assume I’m the only one who can see my perpetually flowing puddle of blood.
So here’s what happened: I walked into this saloon one night back in 1897, needing a drink very badly. I’d just been in a pretty big fight with my best friend and business partner at our office down the street. Just as the barman was pouring my whisky, my best friend stormed in the front door and shouted my name. I turned around from my place at the bar to see him walking quickly toward me with his hand raised. A six-shooter was in his hand and he emptied it into me.
We’d been arguing because he’d knocked up my baby sister and didn’t plan on marrying her or even helping her take care of the kid when it came. Just before I left the office, I told him he’d better reconsider and have the answer I wanted to hear in the morning or I’d kill him. I threatened to murder my best friend, but he got to me first. He skipped town and my sister died during childbirth.
About five years ago, a man walked into this steakhouse who was the spitting image of my best friend and all the feelings I’d had at the moment of my death came upon me at once. I’d never seen this man before, but I knew instinctively it was him, my best friend and murderer. I reached through the security guard blazer he wore and poured everything I had into the taser gun clipped to his belt. The shock bounced him off his bar stool and onto one of the steak-carving carts. The inside of his forearm was cut pretty bad by the big knife on the carving block and I watched him bleed out onto the floorboards. In the same spot where I’d bled out all those years ago. I couldn’t tell whether it was my blood or his in the ever-flowing pool that is my anchor to this place.
He died there. The papers carried the story a couple of days later: turns out he was the great-grandson of my best friend and sister. He was also the last of his lineage. My lineage, as it turns out.
According to that paranormalist, wiping my murderer’s line from the earth is exactly the sort of closure that should bring a ghost like me peace. But I can tell you right now, I sure as hell don’t feel any peace. And I’m still here. Maybe that’s why I screw with the paranormalist whenever he comes in.
Still, it seems I’m getting thinner – fading away – a little more every day.