Favorite Ghosts by Bryce Emley

The Holy Ghost is my favorite one. Every Sunday at church after the ushers pass the gold plates through the aisles, Pastor Harris stands in his big grey robe and raises his hands and everybody stands and we sing that song about glory be to the Father, and when we get to the part with And to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and the skin on my arms prickles.

I don’t get that way with every ghost. Like one time Curtis was staying the night with Sammy and they let me stay up with them in the TV room and Curtis told us about the ghost in the Canal Café. His dad told him the place used to be owned by another guy, and he got locked in the freezer and died there before it ever even opened. Ever since then people say the freezer door opens on its own and things move around in the kitchen when no one’s around. I don’t know how they know that if no one’s there to see it, but it still made my arms prickly, but not like in church.

Curtis said his dad said he’d see it in the windows sometimes real late at night. Curtis told him he was planning on getting his dad’s spare key and doing some of his own ghost hunting to see if his dad’s story was really true. He said he was going to go on Sunday night because they’d close early and there was no school on Monday, so his parents would let him stay up in the TV room all night and not know if he left. Sammy said he wanted to go too and said we could probably stay the night if he asked Mom. He didn’t usually say we when he talked about doing stuff with Curtis, but maybe he knew I wanted to go to see if the ghost was like how I pictured the Holy Ghost.

During church the next day I couldn’t pay attention. Mom gave me an envelope to draw on with the attendance pen, but I just stared at it the whole time. When we sang Glory Be to the Father and we got to the part about the Holy Ghost, my whole body got fuzzy.

That night when we went out to get in Mom’s car to go to Curtis’s, Sammy said he forgot something and ran back inside and I told him to get my Gators jacket because I didn’t want to get those shivers if we saw the ghost. He didn’t have it when he came back and when I asked him about it he said he forgot, so Mom just let me take her flannel instead.

While we waited for Curtis’s parents to go to sleep we watched those long commercials for exercise machines and ate Ritz crackers and Curtis and Sammy dipped them into a big salmon ball from the Canal Café. I remember one time we went there for Sammy’s birthday and I ate so much salmon ball I threw up in the bathroom and it was all pink and gunky and I didn’t even want to eat cake after. Now if I look at a salmon ball I feel like I want to hurl, so I just kept my eyes on the TV and ate crackers until they finished it.

Curtis started talking about the ghost again, getting real excited about how much he knew about it. He said the first restaurant was started by a guy named Gino who moved from another country. I don’t know why someone would come all the way from another country just to start a restaurant here, but he did anyway, and when he got here he fell in love with a lady named Dora, who was the Mayor’s daughter. Dora liked Gino too, but the Mayor didn’t like him because he fought Gino’s country in a war and lost his leg or ear or something. I can’t remember which war it was, but Curtis said it like he knew all about it, which he probably did because he watches the History Channel every day.

So Gino asked Dora to marry him, and she said she had to think about it because she didn’t want her dad to get mad. Gino said he was naming his restaurant after her and that he was going to set up a real nice dinner inside the night before it opened, and if her answer was yes she should come meet him there and they’d eat the dinner and he’d just move away with her after. I thought it seemed like a waste of a restaurant somebody moved all the way across the world to start, but when I said that Curtis said I should shut up because I don’t know anything about restaurants. Since his dad owns one he probably knows all about them, too.

The night before Dora’s opened, Gino cooked up the best dinner he ever made, and he waited for her all night, but she didn’t show. He was so upset he picked up the whole dinner in the tablecloth and threw it into the canal then went into the freezer and locked it shut. Curtis said what Gino didn’t know was that Dora’s dad found out about the dinner, and so he wouldn’t let her leave the house. She was finally able to get away and when she got there, there was no dinner or Gino. But the worst part is Gino heard the door’s bell ring when she came in and he tried to scream for her to come get him out, but he couldn’t yell very loud and so she didn’t hear him, probably because his mouth was freezing shut. So now he’s always opening the freezer door and looking out the windows, watching for her.

I told Curtis that sounded a lot like another story I heard once, but he got mad and said that’s because every story comes from another story and that there are only ten real stories in the whole world, but I make up stories all the time, way more than ten, so I think he should have just stuck to talking about wars and restaurants and let me talk about stories.

When the light in the hallway went out Sammy opened up his bag and pulled out a gun. Curtis’s eyes got real big and he asked where Sammy got it, and Sammy said he found it in a boot in Mom’s closet one day when he was looking for Dad’s old baseball cards. I asked Sammy why he never told me about it and he said I was too little to mess with guns, and I was about to say that he was, too, but then Curtis started talking.

Curtis asked Sammy what he was going to do with a gun and Sammy said what if the ghost tries to attack us and Curtis said that’s dumb, you can’t shoot ghosts. Sammy said what about Ghostbusters and Curtis said Sammy was stupid, that those weren’t real guns, but he asked if he could hold it anyway. They pointed it at things around the room and pretended to shoot them for a while, and then Curtis went down the hall to listen for his dad’s snoring. On his way back through the kitchen I heard him open up the pantry door and move stuff around inside it. He came back into the TV room dangling a key from a bass keychain that had a button that made the bass sing Garth Brooks when you pressed it. Curtis said it was time to hunt us a ghost.

I kept in line with them while we walked through the dark neighborhoods and streets, but they were walking too fast and I had to breathe heavy, so I didn’t say anything, just listened to them talk more about if you can shoot a ghost and if Gino’s ghost would look all blue and frozen. Curtis said in the ghost shows he saw on TV, the ghosts looked like they did when they died and they always haunted the place they died at, and Sammy said he bet Gino would have icicles hanging off his nose from his snot. Curtis said Snotcicles and Sammy laughed, but I was thinking about how sad it was that Gino had to spend all his afterlife waiting around like that for Dora, that he’d never get to go to heaven and see the Holy Ghost. I wondered if maybe Gino saw Him for just a little bit, and thought if I saw Gino I’d ask him about it.

When we walked up to the restaurant I looked at all the windows hoping I’d see Gino looking out, and when we stopped in front of the door I cupped my hands against the glass to look inside, but all I could see was the outlines of the tables and the bar and the big plastic alligator that stood up on its hind legs holding the chalkboard with the specials written on it.

Sammy said to unlock the door and Curtis said he was about to and Sammy should let him hold the gun since he got us the key, but Sammy said he was holding it because it was our dad’s gun and Curtis had to hold the flashlight. They jumped when a car drove by and Curtis dropped the key, but then he picked it up fast and the next thing I knew we were inside and the door was closed and the bell was ringing above our heads, but the bass on the keychain was singing “I Got Friends in Low Places” even louder until Curtis smacked it and it stopped and the whole restaurant got quiet.

Curtis turned on his flashlight and asked Sammy if his safety was on and Sammy said don’t worry about it, just point the light. They argued about who should go first while I looked into the darkest spots I could find because those seemed like the places a ghost would hide, and when they finally walked off toward the kitchen side-by-side I followed behind them, looking all around.

As we got closer to the kitchen door I could see Sammy holding his gun like they did in those cop shows Dad used to watch, but the gun seemed bigger than on TV. When we got to the door I could feel my neck hairs getting lighter. Sammy whispered for Curtis to open the door and Curtis whispered that Sammy should go in first just in case and Sammy said that was stupid, he couldn’t shoot anything without the flashlight in front of him. I was about to push the door open myself when Curtis finally whispered alright, I’ll do it, and we all went quiet as he reached his hand out in front of him. When his fingers finally spread apart on the swinging door, he looked back at us and put a finger up to his lips. He moved his head toward the door, then put his ear on it and listened while we watched, waiting for him to push it open, and then Curtis yelled shit and the flashlight hit the ground and went out and I felt something knock me against a counter and there was a crash and a ringing in my ears and we didn’t stop running until we got back to Curtis’s house.

Curtis threw the front door open and he and Sammy ran inside, but I knew Curtis’s parents were still asleep so I closed the door real quiet behind me, like when I have to go pee in the middle of the night and use the bathroom right next to Mom’s room. I held the handle turned while I shut the door real slow, then let the handle twist shut again while I kept the door pulled against the frame so it wouldn’t make that metal scraping sound.

Curtis and Sammy were panting loud and lying on the floor in the TV room when I got there. I noticed Sammy didn’t have the gun, and I started to ask him where it was but he turned to Curtis and asked him what he heard. Curtis said he heard something like a door opening in the kitchen, and Sammy looked at him for a second and then said he thought he did too. He started to say something else and I said Sammy, where’s Dad’s gun, but he kept turned toward Curtis and asked him if it was kind of loud, like when the hinges creak, and Curtis said no, like a click and I said louder, Sammy, where’s Dad’s gun?

They stopped and Sammy looked over at me like he didn’t understand, like he was trying to remember the name of a movie he’d never seen. I asked him if he left it by the kitchen in the Canal Café and he let his head drop to the floor, and I knew then he left it.

I said we had to go back and get it and Curtis sat up and said hell no, I’m not going back there. I waited to see if Sammy would say anything, but he just kept real quiet. I said it again, but he kept lying there. Then I said Sammy, we gotta go back, it was Dad’s and he said alright, we’ll go back.

Sammy got up and Curtis said he wasn’t going, and Sammy said he didn’t care if he went or not, but we were. Sammy and I started walking back toward the front door and then I heard Curtis get up behind us and say shit, alright, I’ll go.

No one said anything this time while we walked. I don’t know if it’s because we went slower, but it felt like it took a lot longer for us to get to that parking lot again, like somehow what Curtis and Sammy heard in there made the streets longer and the yards wider.

We stood outside the door again and I didn’t look into any of the windows because I knew whatever was in there was in the kitchen, and it had to be Gino’s ghost. The door was still unlocked so Sammy pulled it open and me and Curtis followed him inside. The jingle of the door’s bell sounded louder than ever, but farther away too, like when the church’s bell rings across the town while I’m playing outside.

It was still dark in the Canal Café, so Sammy led us slowly back toward the kitchen, and when we got to the door I thought I heard it sort of creaking a little, like someone had just gone through it. When Curtis came up by me and Sammy, his foot hit the flashlight and it came back on again, so I picked it up and pointed it at the door, but it was still as a cinder block. It looked like there was a notch taken out of the doorframe I hadn’t noticed before with splinters coming out of it, so maybe that had something to do with it.

I shined the light around the floor, but we didn’t see the gun anywhere. I asked Sammy if that was where he dropped it, and he whispered back that it had to be. I shined the light up at him, and I could see on his face he was scared but he still knew what we had to do.

Curtis whispered from behind us that we should just wake up early before his dad and come back in the morning when it’s light out. I put the flashlight on him and I could see he looked like he was so scared he might cry. I started to tell him that he knew darn well his dad would be up before it got light out, but Sammy got stern and said we gotta do it now.

It seemed like all of a sudden Sammy got real serious about going into the kitchen, like he needed to go through that door or else he’d never feel right about it, like he needed to know something he’d never be able to know again.

Sammy took the flashlight from me and put his hand on the door like Curtis had earlier, only he didn’t listen for anything. He just looked back at us and then the door swung open and Sammy went forward like it started before he even pushed.

Sammy stumbled in and I followed behind him, looking all around the kitchen where he shined the flashlight, but I didn’t see anything but pots and pans and stoves and the big freezer, just before the light moved away. He started shining along the wall behind us then stopped on a switch over by Curtis and told him to flip it on.

When the lights came on in the kitchen I had to blink hard to get used to it, and after I rubbed my eyes and the blue spots started fading away I looked right back over at the freezer and felt my whole body get cold. The door was hanging wide open, real still like it had been that way the whole time.

I whispered Sammy, Sammy, look at the door.

Sammy said what? and clicked the flashlight off, then looked up at it and got real quiet.

I said Sammy, that door was closed when we— and he said I know, I saw it.

Curtis was quiet the whole time, and when I looked over at him I saw he was just staring at it like he couldn’t figure out what it was. He didn’t look scared anymore, he just looked blank, like he was asleep but with his eyes open, like his face ran out of ways to look scareder.

Before I could say anything else Sammy started walking toward the freezer like he was being sucked in. We couldn’t see past the door from where we were, but I knew something had to be inside that thing. I walked up behind him and as we got close I knew for sure we’d find Gino’s ghost sitting in there, holding the gun and looking cold with icicles hanging off his nose.

But when we got to the door Sammy pulled it back more so we could see in and the whole freezer was opened up. It was just frozen cakes and bottles of ketchup and cardboard boxes.

I looked back at Curtis, but he was in the same spot, just stuck there watching us. Sammy stepped inside and Curtis said I don’t think you guys should go in there. He took a step forward and I turned back to the freezer and Sammy and I walked all the way in. Sammy said he just wanted to look around real quick. We both knew if Gino’s ghost really took the gun he had to have hid it there.

With the door wide open it wasn’t that cold at first, but it got a little colder as we stepped deeper in. We started looking around the shelves, but it was all just food. Curtis yelled back to us again, sounding far away outside the freezer, and then all of a sudden it got real dark real fast and I heard a loud clang and it got so dark I couldn’t see anything.

We stood still for a second while we figured out what just happened, and then I heard Curtis’s voice again sort of quiet from outside the door, saying why the hell’d you close the door?

Sammy said stop playing around and open up.

I don’t know if it was the freezer or what Curtis said that got my whole body fuzzy again. When he said why would I close the door, I don’t even want to be here and I heard how shaky his voice was I knew none of us could have done it.

Sammy clicked the flashlight on and the whole place lit up. He asked me if I closed the door and I said I couldn’t, I was right next to him the whole time. He thought about that for a second, and decided it was true. He said let’s just open the door, no big deal, but I could tell he didn’t really think it was no big deal.

He shined the light on the door and told me to hold it there while he started pulling on the metal lever, but it wouldn’t budge. I put the flashlight down and tried to help him, but it was so stuck it felt like it wasn’t even supposed to move, like the arm of a chair or a bike frame or the neck of a soda bottle. Sammy told Curtis to open it up on his side. Curtis said he’d been trying, but it was frozen shut or something.

Sammy gave up and picked up the flashlight and started looking around the freezer. He said there had to be an emergency switch around there somewhere, and after he felt along the walls for a while I could hear Curtis still trying to get the door open, and when my heart stopped pounding I started feeling cold, even through Mom’s flannel.

Sammy said he couldn’t find anything and then turned around, and when the flashlight lit up the freezer in front of me I saw the gun sitting there in the middle of the floor, sitting exactly straight on its side like it had been waiting for us there the whole time.

Sammy shined the light on it and we stared at it, then he picked it up and started shining the light around like he was looking for someone else in there with us in the little freezer. Curtis yelled through the door that he was going to go look for a phone and he was going to call his dad, but Sammy yelled back not to do it because we found the gun and he was going to figure out how to get the door open.

Curtis didn’t say anything back, so Sammy went up to the door and started trying to kick the lever, then started banging on it with his fist. At first he did it slow and sort of careful, trying to hit it just right, and then he dropped the flashlight and started hitting it harder, like he couldn’t control himself, and then finally he ran his body into the door and stood still.

I picked up the light and shined it toward Sammy. I could hear him panting while he leaned against the door, trying to catch his breath. Then he looked down at the gun in his hand and then looked back at the lever, and then stepped away and pointed the gun at it. I asked him what he was doing and he said to stand back, he was going to try to shoot it loose. I thought about Star Wars, the part where Han Solo tries to blast the door of the garbage chute open and the laser bounces around and almost kills everyone, but when I tried to tell him about it he just lined his eye up with the barrel and told me to hold the light steady on the lever. I wouldn’t do it, so he turned around and grabbed the light and laid it on a shelf to keep it pointed, then aimed at the lever again. I was trying to figure out what I should do, if I should grab the light or take the gun or cup my ears or hide behind a box, and the whole time Sammy was lining the gun up to shoot the metal door and getting his finger on the trigger and then the lever clicked and the door popped open and started swinging out into the kitchen.

We both stood there and watched it open out slowly, and then I heard Curtis from across the kitchen say it’s dead. The door kept opening until it got just a little wider and there was a man standing there in front of us, bent forward a little and watching us with these all-white eyes, holding himself tight like he couldn’t get his gray skin warm, and even though he was standing right in front of us, I felt this lightning of shivers run through me like I was seeing something that shouldn’t be there. He just looked at us, then opened his mouth like he was going to say something and before I could figure out what was happening I heard that loud crashing sound again and my ears started ringing and everything was just darkness and ringing.

All this happened in just a couple seconds, but it took real long, like time got wider like the streets and yards did when we walked back to the Canal Café.

I couldn’t figure out if I couldn’t see or if my eyes were closed, so I blinked until I started hearing Curtis’s screaming pushing the ringing out of my head and I remembered where I was and what just happened. I hit the flashlight with my hand until it came back on again and I heard the gun clank to the floor when Sammy ran in front of me and across the kitchen toward Curtis. I shined the light all through the room, looking for the man who was just standing there in front of us, but there was no one but me and Sammy and Curtis over in the corner, where the phone on the wall was hanging by its cord.

The lights came back on again, and even though the three of us were in there I felt like the room was emptier, like something that had been there a long time was gone all of a sudden, like when mom got rid of the rocking chair that was always in the living room before.

Sammy helped Curtis up, and Curtis’s sleeve was dark, soaking wet and dripping all over the floor and onto Sammy’s shirt as he walked him out the kitchen door. We walked home like that, and when we finally got back to Curtis’s house he passed out in the driveway and I ran inside and got his parents and Sammy and I told them everything. They didn’t believe us, not even the part where Sammy said he didn’t even really mean to pull the trigger, so now they don’t let Curtis come over anymore and we haven’t been to the Canal Café in a long time.

Mom pawned the gun and gave the money to Curtis’s parents. I thought Sammy would be mad about that, but he doesn’t seem to care. He’s different now, like he’s always looking for something, even when he’s just staring at his mashed potatoes and pork chops. He rides his bike down to the lake a lot and sits out where Dad always put his boat in, and he doesn’t like it when I try to go with him, especially when it’s dark, which is when he usually goes.

I like to tell people about seeing Gino’s ghost and why we can’t play with Curtis anymore so they know Sammy didn’t do it on purpose. Usually no one believes me, and Sammy doesn’t like talking about it. I think that makes people think I’m making it up more.

It didn’t feel like Glory Be to the Father.

Bryce is a freelance writer and MFA student at NC State. His work can be found in Best American Experimental Writing 2015, Salon, The Normal School, Mid-American Review, Prairie Schooner, Your Impossible Voice, etc. He’s on staff for Raleigh Review and BULL: Men’s Fiction.

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