VIII: Films About Ghosts
"Of all ghosts, the ghosts of our old loves are the worst." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
=Two Weeks Later=
"You did very well today, Anson." The psychiatrist said much too pleasantly, handing Anson the yellow slip.
"Thank you." He replied, slipped out of his red chair and floated for the door.
He had been lying for a very long time. Slipping between Hank and Anson was no longer an acting job. His alias had become a part of himself, with its own thoughts, memories, and tastes. And Hank had quite the taste for polite chaos.
It had been very awkward returning to school after his untimely absence, having chosen to wander in the desert for a few weeks. The school's guidance department asked him a series of invasive questions, and began questioning his mental health. To each question, Anson scoffed and answered in a bold faced lie.
"No, I was just feeling upset. And I just wanted a new set of surroundings." He had said through tight lips, staring down the bald guidance counselor, who had nodded and continued, asking Anson to see the local psychiatrist for counseling. But first, he had to go back home. Much more awkward than he could have imagined.
When the social worker had opened the door and shooed him toward the open door, his mother lay in wait. She acted quite calm around the social worker, and even waved him off with a smile. But as the door closed and the car zoomed away, his mother's visage had morphed into a depiction of ungodly hatred for her own creation. She had snatched up the nearest wine bottle and cracked it over Anson's forehead, leaving a nasty wound that began a steady stream of blood. Tony had heard the ruckus and had run downstairs and told his mother to stop. Oddly enough, Anson recalled, half unconscious, he had seen her back down, as if she were a dog that had just been called off. It was the typical Fordyce family reunion.
"Same time next week?" the psychiatrist called to Anson as he opened the door. One foot in the hallway, he called back.
"Actually, ma'am, I don't believe I'll be requiring your services anymore." Anson remained quite calm as he spoke, even bringing about an air of uncomfortable elegance. The counselor gasped slightly, and Anson realized he had let Hank slip through the cracks. Placing a hand on his forehead, he took in a large breath and disappeared into the dark hallway.
The fluorescent lights had burned out long ago, and as Anson walked briskly down the hall past the numerous open doors, he stole dim glances into the rooms, not really expecting much. There was the occasional doctor at their desk, a nurse prepping some needles. But then he passed the door: 8B. His quick glance inside caught an oddly familiar sight. A figure caught his unconscious interest, but his consciousness continued walking toward the front desk.
"Next week?" the elderly, mostly obnoxious receptionist scowled. Anson returned the dim glare, but felt oddly weak.
"No, II think not"
Then it hit him, but too late. The door had been closed, and from his previous visits, Anson knew the door to the hall only opened from one side. It was probably some security measure to keep out druggies looking for an easy score. Anson turned his head to the side, now very, very confused.
With the ankh in hand, Charlie marched up the steps to the house he thought he would never visit again: the new Zippler residence. The bricks had warped inhumanly, turning an odd shade of brown and bending at the edges. The walls had little cracks in them; one that snaked down the side of the one-story house and into the ground, like a one way express-lane to hell.
Warily, Charlie stopped and weighed his options. If he rang the doorbell, who would answer? Eric, in a daze; still haunted by the day Becker died? Or Jana, perhaps; the redheaded epitome of sweetness? Or even Brian?
"What if I just walk in?" Charlie thought. "But what of the etiquette?"
His problem soon had a solution, as the green door opened before him, and Jana emerged, clad in gray sweats, her hair pulled back and out of the way of her emerald eyes. Charlie stumbled, falling backward and onto the five stone stairs. The edges dug into his back, and he knew he was scraped, but otherwise, felt rather unharmed.
"Oh, jeez." Jana cried, leaping to help Charlie to his feet.
"It's all good." Charlie replied as he regained his composure. "Sorry."
"No, I'm sorry." Jana snickered. "I didn't expect you."
"Ah. Well, uh" Charlie began, then stopped, and lifted the ankh in his hand to show it to Jana.
"You actually found him, then?" Jana asked, her voice suddenly very grave.
"Yeah. He was out in Southern California." Charlie replied meekly.
"Well." Jana said plainly. "Then let's see if your theory was right."
The two nodded and made their way back into the house. As Charlie passed through rubbing his sore back, he glanced around at the knick knacks about the house. As he expected, there were posters of all the Zippler "family's" favorite bands: Audioslave, Three Days GraceBut then Charlie saw the one thing that he had been waiting for: the Zippler family's lighters, aligned along a shelf in the hallway. But at that moment, Charlie noticed something odd. There were four spaces, and only three lighters.
"Hm?" she whistled over her shoulder, still walking.
"Why are there four lighter spaces?" Charlie asked earnestly, pausing at the shelf.
"You haven't heard?" Jana snickered again. "Apparently, our father had an affair outside ofthe asylum."
"Yeah, there's another Zippler. Lauren."
"What?" Charlie was dumbstruck.
"It's a very, very long story." Jana said, folding her arms. "Dad had her after us three, but gave her away to a different family, so she wasn't in our social papers. Then when you were gone, she shows up on our porch. She even had one of the family lighters. I think dad might've given them to us as infants. Not bright idea, but Apparently, she hiked all the way here from Colorado because her foster father slipped out the truth during some drunken bender. She's cool. Just a little whacky."
"Little whacky?" Charlie asked, turning his gaze from the lighters back to Jana's face.
"Charlie, she's schizophrenic."
With Halloween just around the corner, Amber felt the need to fix up Becker's former house.
The day the five of them returned from the desert, Anson had brought them back to the scene of the crime': Becker's house. His mother had moved out about a month prior, and no real estate agency in Sussex county found it of particular interest, so Anson proposed a group move-in. Of course, Amber knew what he really meant by that.
"Squatting." Porfirio said from the other end of the basement, searching through a box of decorations Amber had brought from Anson's house. "Haven't done this in a while."
Amber looked over her shoulder as she hung up the orange and black ribbon. She shivered slightly as she noticed Porfirio had only a white tank top and jeans on. As she pinned the ribbon in place, she yelled over her shoulder.
"How can you keep warm in that?" she asked.
"Eh." Porfirio responded, pulling out a ceramic bat and placing it on the side table. "I deal."
"Really." Amber scoffed, leaping off the step stool and landing on the cold hardwood floor. "I can buy you a nice jacket. It's almost November, and I know you haven't experienced a Jersey winter."
"No, thanks." Porfirio replied, looking to her. "I don't want to be a burden."
"Burden?" Amber laughed. "I don't want you to freeze to death. Besides, I already had Charlie's parents pull some strings to allow you and Erika to go to HH High. If I even considered it, I'd have already called you a burden."
"Right." Porfirio sighed. "School."
He paused, then looked up at Amber again, who was now adjusting the other side of the ribbon.
"What about you?" he asked.
"What about me?"
"You're too old for high school, aren't you?" Porfirio questioned. "Shouldn't you go to college?"
"Please. Anson told me all these freaks from HH high go to California; to that Red Shore place. The artistic ones, at least. The rest of the freaks go to Sussex County Community College."
"Why not go there?"
"Because SCCC is justI don't know. Below me?"
"Ooooh. Miss high and mighty." Porfirio mocked her in his thickening accent. Amber rolled her eyes and returned to the ribbon. Okay, she thought, so maybe I should go. But where will I get the money?
Then, her brain went into overdrive. She turned to her tank topped companion with a smile.
"Do you want to jam a little?"
Unnerved, Anson squirmed in his bus seat. He couldn't believe his own eyes. He could swear it was Becker. He could swear. But then, he thought, perhaps his own mind was degrading. Maybe Hank was taking dominance over his own memories. His alter ego was starting to eat at him. The little incident at the therapist was just one lapse. But how long before it became two, three, or four more?
He sighed heavily and threw his head back, slamming it into the metal bar on the back of the seat. He cursed under his breath and rubbed the spot on his head where he had hit. His luck was running out, too.
With a passing glance out the window, he realized he was only about a dozen blocks from his new house. Sadly, he stood and pulled the cord hanging around the top of the bus walls. There was a short ring and the bus stopped a few seconds later. Anson shuffled forward and off the bus. In the darkness of the early evening, he took a deep breath and exhaled, enjoying the sight of his own breath in the crisp fall air. He started walking down the sidewalk, knowing the point where it ended was only two blocks or so away. He lowered his head and began watching his own footsteps. One, two. One, two.
Then he felt the knife jammed in his back. The steel pressed into his jacket, threatening to tear right through and into his flesh. Anson froze. A voice roared from behind him.
"Give me all you got on you." It said calmly, pressing the blade harder into the small of Anson's back. His mind stood still, not able to make his muscles move at all. The fear crept in. Dear god, he thought. Oh, my god.
"Give me all you've got!" the mugger repeated, jabbing a bit into Anson's back and causing him to leap a bit in shock. Anson began to panic. Despite the cold, small beads of sweat began to form on his forehead. He still didn't move.
"I said, give me all--!"
"Hey!" cried a third voice. Then Anson heard the sound of rapid footsteps, felt a sharp push, and the mugger's head slammed into his own, knocking him forward and smashing his brain into the front of his skull. As he fell to the ground, he also fell into blackness.
Continuing their original objective, Jana and Charlie marched into Eric's bedroom. He was upright in bed, staring at the clock on the opposite wall, eyes fogged over in a comatose glare. He was unaware of anything and anyone. He had no perception of time or space. Jana sighed.
"It's like taking care of a child." She said sadly. "But with no personality or energy."
Charlie mumbled something to himself and walked over to Eric's side. Kneeling on the sort-of pink carpeting, he looked at Eric closely. He hadn't been shaved in a long, long time, revealed by the small beard growing over his chin and down under his neck. Charlie snickered.
"Nice neck beard you got for him." He said to Jana, who just growled and leaned against the wall. Charlie coughed awkwardly and turned back to Eric. What he was about to do was just a theory. But he had been wondering for a very, very long time.
To his disbelief, Eric turned his head slowly to Charlie, who felt a bit unnerved by the movement. It looked like something out of the exorcist. He very much expected Eric to vomit pea soup in his face.
"Eric, do you remember me? Huh?"
There was no response. Eric's glazed over eyes continued to stare at Charlie, looking into his soul. Charlie coughed again, and reached into his pocket. Still talking to Eric, he removed the ankh.
"Hey, do you remember Becker?" Charlie asked, trying to lay a foundation. "Of course you do. Nice guy. We hung out in his basement a lot. Remember our band, Chagrin? All those cool songs we wrote? Your guitar? The ESP? Or the Ibanez? What about Anson? The weird Italian kid. A-and Jay? Remember him? We went to his dad's services a lot. Church."
All through this questioning, Eric hadn't moved, but as Charlie raised the necklace in front of Eric's face, he switched his gaze from Charlie to the ankh, and began staring at it intensely. Charlie, noticing this, moved it closer. Eric didn't retreat, but instead lowered his head, beckoning Charlie to put it on.
Charlie looked back at Jana, whose mouth was now agape in shock. She clearly hafn't seen him be interested in anything in a very long time. Charlie turned back to Eric, and slipped the necklace over his head. Eric inhaled suddenly, and lowered himself back into a laid down position. He closed his glazed eyes and lay motionless for a moment.
"Jesus." Charlie muttered, looking between Jana, still in disbelief, and Eric, motionless. Then, as if by magic, Eric opened his eyes. Charlie could see they were no longer the clouded, gray eyes he had seen moments prior. They were bright, healthy, and full of life.
"Oh, my god." Charlie heard Jana yelp.
Eric stirred, and sat up normally, rubbing the side of his head. He sniffed the air strangely, then looked to Charlie.
"Whoa, dude. How did I get here?"
"Holy sh*t, it worked." Jana said incredulously.
Charlie looked to the necklace and smiled.
"Power of the ankh." He laughed.
He was trapped on a white plain. The images passed back and forth in no order and no pattern. They flickered on and off like lights, blinding Anson's unconscious eye. He blinked somehow in his grand illusion and then it was black, but the images stayed. Then the white began to flood back in like a mist, coating his mind in a blanket of gray unawareness. Then came the blinding light. From the sky, it burned down, and the figures tainting his thoughts cowered in pain, writhing beneath the light of their new god. Anson felt himself floating upward, trapped in the brink. He flipped his thoughts, and stared into the light, which engulfed his vision and left him in limbo.
Anson opened his eyes. He was on the concrete sidewalk, face up. His head hurt quite a bit, but when he tried to sit up, a voice cried out,
"Don't try to get up yet."
But Anson didn't listen to the vaguely familiar voice, and sat up slowly, taking in the dark sights. Next to him lay a redheaded girl in a blue parka, the knife at her side. Jesus Christ, he thought, I was nearly mugged by a girl?
Then he looked behind him, to the location of the voice of his savior. And his eyes began to flutter; his brain began to twitch slightly. Because who he saw, he had suspected all along. And yet, it was impossible.
But nevertheless, sitting there, smoking a thin cigar, was Becker.