William O’Leary, The Ghost
Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It is also a fact, that Ronald had seen it night and morning during his whole residence in that place; also, that Ronald had as much of what is called fancy about him as any man in Nebraska could, which is to say, none at all. Let it also be borne in mind that Ronald had not bestowed one thought on William, since his last mention of his seven-years’ dead partner that afternoon. And then let anyone explain to us, if they can, how it happened that Ronald, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without it undergoing any intermediate process of change: not a knocker at all, but the face of William O’Leary.
William’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects outside the home, but it had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. Or a dark cellar inside a bad lobster. We forget how that saying goes. It was not angry or ferocious but looked at Ronald as William used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up upon its ghostly forehead. (William was unable to wear contacts after scratching his cornea. A thing he did constantly while trying to take out contact lenses he already removed earlier that evening.) The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot-air; and though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid color, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be, in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part of its own expression.
As Ronald Chump fixated at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again, and not the kind Ronald preferred to comment upon. “This is what I get for doing coke in the ‘80s” he muttered. To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue. He did, after all, witness the birth of Tiffany. But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, walked in, and flipped the light switch nearest to the door. He did pause, with a moment’s irresolution, before he shut the door; and he did look cautiously behind it first, as if he half-expected to be terrified with the sight of William’s ass sticking out into the hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws and nuts that held the knocker on; so he said “For fuck’s sake!” and closed it with a bang.
The sound resounded through the home like thunder. Every room above, and every sex swing in the S&M dungeon below shook. (When Ronald had all of William’s belongings removed, the dungeon remained untouched. Not because Ronald wanted to keep it, he thought William’s activities down there were deviant and disturbing, but because he could not find a crew willing to come in and remove the toys.) The sound of the sex swing oddly continued to echo off the walls of the home’s interior in an odd way moments later. Ronald was not a man to be frightened by echoes. Only by small children, poodles, and Kevin Hart, who himself was not unlike a small child. He fastened the door, and walked across the hall, and up the stairs.
[B.J: When I was
younger, there were eight of us living under one roof. Six children and two
adults, although who were the children and who were the adults seemed to vary
often. In order for all of us to get around, my Dad bought a blue Dodge Caravan
in the early ‘90s. Its nickname was “The Big Blue Jew Canoe” and it was almost
as wide as a city bus. Ronald’s staircase was wide enough for that Big Blue Jew
Canoe to safely travel up and down those stairs and enter the home’s second
floor. We are noting this, dear reader, because as Ronald made his way up the
stairs, he thought he saw a hearse go on before him in the gloom, which these
stairs were wide enough to easily support. He wasn’t sure. It was quite dark on
the home’s second floor and Ronald was cheap. He only left the downstairs
lights on to ward off potential burglars. The upstairs was left dim to save on
Up Ronald went into the blackness, not caring a button for that: darkness is cheap, and Ronald liked it. But before he shut his heavy door, he walked through his rooms to see that all was right. He had just enough recollection of the face to desire to do that.
Reading room, bed-room, the room where he kept his collection of human skulls. All as they should be. Nobody under the table, not even the hooker whom had visited the night before and brought him dinner from McDonalds. Nobody under the bed; nobody in the closet; nobody in his favorite suit, which was hanging up in a suspicious attitude against the wall. Skull room as usual. Nothing moved. Not even the one with the weird face that he would often had conversations with.
Quite satisfied, he closed his bedroom door, and locked himself in; double-locked himself in, which was not his custom. Thus, secured against surprise, he took off his clothes; put on his official Ronald J Chump pajamas, which used to be on sale at Macy’s and were made in Vietnam, despite Chump’s insistence that they were made here in America. He also put on his night-cap.
There was a package
waiting for him. He sat down before the fire to take his nightly cheeseburger ,which
was left for him by the hooker next to the bedroom’s fire. One of the sex
workers many duties was to bring Ronald McDonalds as they arrived at his home,
since Ronald couldn’t be bothered to go in person; and it was all the sex
worker could afford to eat based on what Ronald was paying them that night.
There was never a better case for the legalization and protection of sex workers,
then to look upon the faces of those who would sleep with Ronald Chump for
money, and despair.
Tonight, it was a very low fire indeed; nothing on such a bitter night. Ronald was obliged to sit close to it, given that he refused to touch the thermostat, and brooded over the flames. The fire-place was designed to look like an old one. One probably built by some asshole during the Lincoln administration, and paved all round with quaint tiles that Ronald enjoyed describing as “queer.” The tiles were originally designed to illustrate the Scriptures. But now in their place were odes to Mitch McConnel, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and other prominent conservatives that Ronald enjoyed giving money to. There were dozens of figures to attract his thoughts; and yet that face of William, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet’s rod, and swallowed up all of them. If each smooth tile had been a blank at first, with power to shape some picture on its surface from the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a copy of old William’s head on everyone.
“Humbug!” said Ronald; and walked across the room.
After several turns, he sat down again. As he threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened to rest upon a bell, a disused bell, that hung in the room, and communicated for some purpose now forgotten; but if Ronald had to guess, probably also related to William’s sex dungeon. It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he
looked, he saw this bell begin to swing. It swung so softly in the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell, phone, and other electronic device in the house. This included Ronald’s smartphone, which began to blare his ringtone, “Eye of The Tiger” by Survivor, as loud as the little device could. (Ronald had convinced himself that the song was written about him in the 80s, but whether or not cocaine was involved in that thought process remains unknown to this very day.)
This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The bells and ringtone ceased as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging the heavy chains from the sex dungeon up the stairs with them. Ronald then remembered to have heard that ghosts live in haunted houses, the real ghosts, not the fun ones that take you on adventures, and were often described as dragging chains.
The sex dungeon-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.
“It’s humbug still!” said Ronald. “I won’t believe it.”
His color changed though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried “I know him! William’s Ghost!” and fell again.
The same face: the very same. William in his usual grey sportscoat, his purple tie, that giant face and even bigger jaw, which was always smiling … or ready to eat people. Even Ronald wasn’t completely sure. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Ronald observed it closely) of cashboxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. A closer inspection would have revealed that the data found within each ledger and deed pertained to every self-help seminar William had conducted during his time on this Earth. Millions of dollars’ worth. A keen eye could even spot a receipt for the jet he had purchased, which itself was hundreds of pages long. William’s extremely tall and gangly body was transparent: so that Ronald, observing him, and looking through his shirt, could easily see behind him and into the hallway.
Ronald had often heard
it said by critics that William had no guts, since he didn’t run across the hot
coals himself at his seminars that the attendees did, but he never believed
those critics until now.
No, nor did he believe it even now. Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and enormous chin, which
wrapper he had not observed before: he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.
“How now!” said Ronald, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”
“Much!”–William’s voice, no doubt about it. Anyone would recognize it. There were dozens of self-help audiobooks released by William that had all become quite popular on Audible.com.
“Who are you?”
“Ask me who I was.”
“Who were you then?” said Ronald, raising his voice. “You’re particular–for a shade.”
“I’m sorry, a what?” said the ghost.
“A phantom, a Spector, a
poltergeist. You know man, a ghost!”
“In life I was your partner, William O’Leary” replied the ghost. Having never been called a shade before, he wasn’t sure if he should be offended or not. But there wasn’t enough time to contemplate 19th Century English authors and their choice of words to describe the dead.
“Can you–can you sit down?” asked Ronald, looking doubtfully at the ghost.
“Do it then.”
Ronald asked the question, because he didn’t know whether a ghost so transparent might find himself in a condition to take a chair; and felt that in the event of its being impossible, it might involve the necessity of an embarrassing explanation. But the ghost sat down on the opposite side of the fire-place, as if he were quite used to it.
“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.
“I don’t,” said Ronald.
“What evidence would you have of my reality, beyond that of your senses?”
“I don’t know,” said Ronald.
“Why do you doubt your senses?”
“Because,” said Ronald, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheat. You may be an undigested bit of cheese burger from McDonalds, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato or onion. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
Ronald was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the specter’s voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones. But we all know how well Chump’s attempts to appear smart can go …
To sit, staring at those fixed, glazed eyes, in silence for a moment, would play, Ronald felt unsettled. There was something very awful, too, in the specter’s being provided with an infernal atmosphere of its own. Ronald could not feel it himself, but this was clearly the case; for though the Ghost sat perfectly motionless, its hair was still agitated as by the hot vapor from an oven.
“You see this C?” said Ronald, wishing, though it were only for a second, to divert the vision’s stony gaze from himself and to a three foot tall solid gold statue of the letter C, for Chump, that sat next to his bed. “Isn’t it terrific?”
“The Best C,” replied the Ghost. If William could still roll his eyes, he would have. He hated that stupid C and thought it was a criminal waste of funds, but since Ronald had his own charity to pay for such things, even though illegal, William never shared this thought with Ronald when he was alive. What did he care, when it wasn’t Williams money to be wasted.
“You are not looking at it,” said Ronald.
“But I see it,” said the Ghost, “notwithstanding.” The ghost noted to himself what a sick burn this was, and if he could still smile, he would have.
“Well!” returned Ronald. “I have but to swallow this C and be for the rest of my days persecuted by a legion of Jews, ghouls, and goblins, all of my own creation. Humbug, I tell you–humbug!”
At this, the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its sex chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Ronald held on tight to his chair, to save himself from falling in a swoon. But how much greater was his horror, when the phantom taking off the bandage round its head, as if it were too warm to wear in-doors, its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast!
Ronald fell upon his knees and clasped his hands before his face.
“Mercy!” he said. “Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?”
“Man of the worldly mind!” replied the Ghost, “do you believe in me or not?”
“I do,” said Ronald. “I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?”
“It is required of us all,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within should walk among our fellow people, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world–oh, woe is me! –and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”
“But didn’t you offer people in need comfort and relief to their most searing mental problems?” Chump asked.
“I offered only platitudes,
pop psychology, and hot rocks!” As he said this, the specter raised a cry, and
shook its chain, and wrung its shadowy hands.
“You are fettered,” said Ronald, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”
Ronald trembled more and more.
“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it, since. It is now a big chain! A terrific chain! The best chain!”
Ronald glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of sex chain himself: but he could see nothing.
“William,” he said, imploringly. “Old William, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, William.”
“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied. “Happiness comes from the journey, not the destination, and neither of us have travelled much! Comfort is conveyed by others, other kinds of men and women of varying faiths and beliefs, and from some with no beliefs at all! Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more, is all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked far beyond our office unless for work –mark me!–in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our business transactions with others; and weary journeys lie before me!”
It was a habit with Ronald, whenever he became thoughtful, to put his hands in his pockets and shake them to see if there was any spare change he could refuse to give to the homeless. Pondering on what the Ghost had said, he did so now, but without lifting up his eyes, or getting off his knees.
“You must have been very slow about it, William,” Ronald observed, in a business-like manner, though with humility and deference.
“Slow!” the Ghost repeated.
“Seven years dead,” mused Ronald. “And travelling all the time?”
“The whole time,” said the Ghost. “No rest, no peace. The incessant torture of remorse.”
“You travel fast?” said Ronald.
“On the wings of the wind,” replied the Ghost.
“You might have got over a great quantity of ground in seven years,” said Ronald.
The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its sex chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the police would have been justified in indicting it for criminal mischief.
bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages
of incessant labor by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into
eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to
know that any spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be,
will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to
know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunities misused!
Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
“But you were always a good man of business” faltered Ronald, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business! Wrong was I to offer advice to those desperately in need in lieu of therapy, medication, and self-care; and to make them fly halfway around the world and pay me great sums for the privilege of hearing me speak falsely to them!
It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.
“At this time of the rolling year,” the specter said, “I suffer most. Why did I walk through the crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, unless they had enough money to gain my attention and supposed wisdom? and never raise those eyes to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no shelters for the homeless to which its light would have conducted me! I could have built them. I had the means! As do you! But everyone wants to talk about helping the homeless and yet does nothing about it, when homes are what they need and access to assistance and services not far from those homes. But not in my back yard the people cry, as did you, and as did I!”
Ronald was very much dismayed to hear the specter going on at this rate and began to quake exceedingly. In all of his years working in real estate, Chump did nothing for the homeless, and everything to evict as many of the poor as he could, leaving many of them to become homeless themselves.
“Hear me!” cried the Ghost. “My time is nearly gone.”
“I will,” said Ronald. “But don’t be hard upon me! Don’t be flowery, William! Pray!”
“How it is that I appear before you in a shape that you can see, I may not tell. I have sat invisible beside you many and many a day, smelling your farts and watching you shower, as all of the dead can do.”
It was not an agreeable idea. Ronald shivered, and wiped the perspiration from his brow. The thought of dozens of angry ghosts crowding into his bathroom to watch him, and every person above ground, shower was quite unsettling.
“That is no light part of my penance,” pursued the Ghost. “I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ronald.”
“You were always good to me,” said Ronald. “Thank you!”
“You will be haunted,” resumed the Ghost, “by Three Spirits.”
Ronald’s countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost’s had done. “Would Abraham Lincoln be one of them?”
William said nothing in reply.
“Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, William?” Ronald demanded, in a faltering voice.
“I … I think I’d rather not,” said Ronald. “I’d rather stay in my bed, until it’s time to use the toilet and see what’s happening on Twitter” Ronald’s eyes darted over to his clock to see that his Twitter and Toilet time was only six hours from now.
“Without their visits,” said the Ghost, “you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow, when the food court bell tolls one.”
“Couldn’t I take them all at once, and have it over, William?” hinted Ronald.
“They are ghosts, not sex workers, Ronald! You can expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!”
When it had said these words, the specter took its wrapper from the table, and bound it round its head, as before. Ronald knew this, by the smart sound its teeth made, when the jaws were brought together by the bandage. He ventured to raise his eyes again and found his
supernatural visitor confronting him in an erect attitude, with its chain wound over and about its arm.
The apparition walked backward from him; and at every step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that when the specter reached it, it was wide open. It beckoned Ronald to approach, which he did. When they were within two paces of each other, William’s Ghost held up its hand, warning him to come closer. Ronald stopped.
Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear: for on the raising of the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings
inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The specter, after listening for a moment, joined in the mournful dirge, which sounded a lot like Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night.
Ronald followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out.
The air was filled with phantoms of stockbrokers, hedge fund managers, and other representatives of Wall Street wandering hither and thither in restless haste and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like William’s Ghost; some few were linked together with the chains having names upon them such as Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers; none were free. Many had been personally known to Ronald in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a professional wrestler in need with whom it had denied health insurance and a pension. There was another still, who owned New York’s other baseball team and refused to spend any sort of money on them or hire competent people and get out of the way, who was chained to what appeared to be the old remains of their former stadium in Queens. Now the ghost wanted nothing more to spend lavishly and please its fans. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power to do so forever.
Whether these creatures faded into mist, or mist enshrouded them, he could not tell. But they and their spirit voices faded together; and the night became as it had been when he walked home.
Ronald closed the window and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. He tried to say “Hum-bug!” but stopped at the first syllable. And being, from the emotion he had
undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or his glimpse of the Invisible World, or the dull conversation of the Ghost, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of repose; went straight to bed, without undressing, and fell asleep upon the instant.