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Dead Air

2009 story submission by “Ignatius and Myrna” (Josh Gross and Carly Nairn)

No matter how many electricians were called in to address the problem, the lights had flickered in the news writer’s pit at CWBC for more than twenty years. People joked that it was the ghost of the former nightly news anchor Reed Bancroft, who was every bit as dedicated to the network in death as he was in life.

“Copy for Bancroft!” they’d shout out ceremoniously when the lights flickered near deadline. A white sheet with eyeholes that was hung on the makeup room wall had been there for so long that it had eventually been framed.

And though none of the trained skeptics that worked in the newsroom actually believed the building was haunted, they kept the folklore alive as a form of reverence for a man who’d practically built the Country-Wide Broadcasting Corporation, winning more Peabody’s than the rest of the network combined. His reporting on the Korean War was a standard part of broadcast journalism curricula at universities across the country, and many claimed that his steady reassurance had helped steer the nation through the turbulence of the sixties. They never spoke of his decline into alcoholism and senility, or his claims that the network and the news in general were under attack from evil spirits and that he and he alone could do anything to stop it, only that he had eventually had died of a heart attack at his desk one night while preparing copy for the evening’s broadcast, a dedicated newsman to the bitter end.
The only person who actually believed Bancroft haunted the building was Leroy Jackson, the night janitor. And the reason Leroy believed it was because he had to put up with it every damned night while he was cleaning the building.

A wispy grayish Bancroft appeared at his desk every night at one A.M. sharp with a wispy grayish snifter of brandy and wispy grayish cigar that emitted wispy grayish smoke. He read his copy out loud to himself several times over in his soothing trademark baritone, then clutched his wispy grayish chest, and pitched forward, dissolving into wisps of gray on the desk. At two-thirty A.M. sharp, he would stomp out through the closed studio door telling a non-existent producer to his left that the whole world was going to hell, before fading into the carpet. After that, Leroy would have to spend the rest of the evening contending with a random variety of ghostly mid-air rebroadcasts of the Korean War and all manner of petty vandalism. Once, Bancroft had even covered the bathroom stalls with ectoplasmic graffiti about Korean barmaids and a weather girl fired long ago. Leroy had spent hours spraying and scrubbing only to have it inexplicably fade from existence at six A.M.

At first, he hadn’t minded. The reports on the war were a free education the working-class Leroy had missed out on in his youth, and there was a certain allure to being the only one privy to the situation at hand. Sometimes he would talk to Bancroft about his day, or what he’d seen at the movies recently. Occasionally, the ghost would respond, offering thumbs up or down, though it was more common for him not to. Once they’d even passed a wispy grayish flask back and forth, sharing stories about girls they’d known once upon a time. Leroy had never understood how the spectral liquor had worked, but felt there were some things it was better not to question.

But over the years the novelty faded as the mental decline Bancroft had displayed in life continued in death. He became a serious annoyance as he slowed Leroy’s work down considerably with violent rants about Twenty-Four-Hour cable networks and beatniks in go-go boots, as well as frequent and ironic commentary about the threat posed by evil spirits. It was all compounded by Leroy’s decision to give up drinking after a bad fall, an act that made Bancroft’s activities seem less mirthful, and often packaged them with a splitting headache.

Leroy had finally had enough on the day when all the toilets violently expunged themselves towards the ceiling, geyser-like. There were rumors of pay cuts and Leroy wasn’t in the mood for any more shit.

He knocked on the floor manager, Jill Masterson’s office door the next morning. “Scuse’ me Miss Masterson. You got a moment?”

She waved him in and pointed to a chair without removing her eyes from a thick binder lay open on the desk in front of her. “One moment,” she said. Mountains of paperwork covered every flat surface including the chair she’d directed Leroy to sit in. Not wishing to disturb any potential order that might exist, he sat delicately on top of the stack of paper like a child’s booster seat.

After several moments, she clapped the binder closed. “All right, what is it?” she asked impatiently.

“Well you see Miss Masterson, it’s that ghost,” Leroy said. “He always botherin’ me, making extra messes to clean and talking foul’ bout that ol’ weather girl. I cain’t take no more. That ghost needs to go.”

Jill gave Leroy a steely once over. “You mean the ghost that flicks the lights on and off?”

“I can’t rightly say if that’s the same one, cause when I around he more prone to drinkin’ and making a mess, but it’s prolly the same fella. Bancroft’s his name I think.”

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…” Jill said, burying her face in her hands, and sucking in a long angry breath.

“Whatsa matter Miss Masterson?” Leroy said. “You need some water or something?”

“Leroy,” she wheezed. “You do a good job. And I sympathize with your medical situation—”

“Well thank you.”

“Right… but if you come to work drunk again, I’m going to have to let you go. Do you understand?”

Leroy’s jaw dropped, shocked. “I ain’t had a drink for near on two years now Miss Masterson, ever since I hurt my hip.” Leroy protested. “I’m telling you, it’s that ghost folks always going on about.”

“I’m serious Leroy,” she said. “No more.”

Leroy looked at Jill’s set jaw and stacks of work and realized she wasn’t going to come around. “All right,” he said with a smile. “I understand.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Now if you don’t mind…” she re-opened the thick binder and turned her eyes back to the desk.

“No problem,” Leroy hummed pleasantly. He stood up slowly, taking care not to dislodge any of the paperwork he’d been seated on as he did so, and left the office. “Sheet,” he grumbled once he got into the hall. “Guess I’ll have to figure out how to take care of ol’ Bancroft myself.”

The only problem was, Leroy didn’t have the first clue what to do. Once, he’d seen a movie about some scientists with laser backpacks they used on ghosts, but that seemed like it would only make a bigger mess to clean up, which was exactly what Leroy was trying to avoid. He asked a gypsy fortune-teller he passed on the street, but the gypsy wanted $100.

“I tell you I’m a janitor and you ask for that kind of money?” Leroy laughed. “You don’t know nuthin’.”

He chuckled all the way home, despite being no closer to finding a solution to his problem.

So when he got home, he started looking through the yellow pages, under G for ghost. Leroy’s eyes were immediately drawn to a large ad for the Society of Professional Organizations of Occult Kinesis or S.P.O.O.K. It sounded official and offered a free consultation, so Leroy picked up the phone and made an appointment for that afternoon.

The address listed in the phone book was in an alley behind a downtown pizza parlor. A small neon sign glowed the letters S.P.O.O.K. advertising a narrow staircase down to the basement. Feeling he really had nothing to lose, Leroy limped down the stairs and let himself in the door. When Leroy stepped inside, instead of a waiting room like he’d expected, he found himself in a tiny room with bare concrete walls and bright red carpet. There was a skinny young man in his mid-twenties with stringy blonde glasses that looked thick enough to be cut from the floor of a glass bottom boat seated behind a lavish oak desk that stood in stark contrast to the room itself. He was wearing a thick velvet smoking jacket, and there was a hammock in a darkened corner.

He nearly jumped from his seat. “You must be Leroy,” he babbled. “Come in, come in, come in. Let me get you a chair.” He pulled a matching oak chair from a darkened corner and offered it to Leroy.

“Thank you,” Leroy said, sitting down.

“No thank you,” the young man beamed. “From what you told me on the phone it sounds like you have a genuine repeating kinetic spectral orb with corollary pareidolia on your hands. It’s not everyday that we come across a case like that.”

“I dunno nothing bout’ no orbs,” Leroy said. “Really’s more like a drunk ol’ white guy than an orb, but you’re the expert.”

“Oh, right, sorry,” the young man said,” That’s just what we scientists call them, is orbs. I probably should have explained, but I got so excited I got ahead of myself. Oh Jeez. I haven’t even introduced myself yet,” he babbled. “Sorry. I’m just so darned excited here.”

“It’s really no problem,” Leroy said.

“I’m Charlie, Charlie Hort, of the Society of Professional Organizations of Occult Kinesis, or S.P.O.O.K. for short. ” He extended a hand.

“Pleased to meet you Charlie,” Leroy said, accepting it. “So you think you can help me out? Cause I tell you, work is getting awful hard lately, what with my bad hip and that darned ghost, or orb, always fussin’ about. He made all the toilets explode one night. That ain’t no way to behave, I don’t care if he is dead.”

“Well, hopefully we’ll be able to take care of that for you,” Charlie smiled.

“So you know, I don’t mean nothing by this, just curiosity is all, but you look kind of young, you know,” Leroy said. “How long you been at this line of work?”

“Uh, well, long enough,” Charlie said.

“So, your organizations helped a lot of people with problems like mine then?” Leroy asked.

“Every case is different,” Charlie said. “But I’m pretty confident we can help.”

“I see. How many cases you had though?”

Charlie paused, mentally mulling something over. “All right,” he eventually said. “You’ve got me. You’ll be the first, which is why I’m so excited. I’ve been waiting for a case for months now.”

“So there ain’t really no organization in the strictest sense of the word?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, there is. However, at the moment, it’s just me. But I really do know what I’m doing,” he pleaded. “Look, I’ve got spectroscopes and EMF meters and there’s a thermographic camera around here somewhere,” he said gesturing around his office. “It just came in the mail the other day, and I forgot where I put it, but I know it’s here. I even went to M.I.T.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Leroy said. He looked around the office, taking it all in slowly. “To be truthful,” he said, “I just got me one question.”

“What’s that?”

“What you chargin’?”

Charlie smiled. “Special free introductory offer. Good for today only,” he said.

“Then Mister Hort, of the S.P.O.O.K., you got yourself a deal.”

Leroy left the S.P.O.O.K. office with a stack of pamphlets Charlie gave him to read through on haunting and cleansing rituals, before they met up again that night for Leroy’s shift. It all seemed like a bunch of new-age hooey, chanting and making offerings and the such, but Leroy had to be honest with himself that the situation itself was strange enough in its own right, and that adding some hand holding and incense on top of it wasn’t that far a leap into the farcical.

Leroy met Charlie that night at the loading bay door at midnight. He was carrying a large duffel bag full of supplies and wearing a pair of mechanics coveralls with plastic safety goggles over his thick-lensed glasses. “Just in case,” Charlie said, tapping the goggles.

“In case of what, is what worries me,” Leroy grumbled. “Hurry up in here fore someone thinks you’re robbing the place.”

They took the service elevator up to the news floor and Charlie busied himself setting up a variety of instruments to collect data.

“What’s all this stuff for anyhows?” Leroy asked.

“Electro-magnetism. Ultra-violet radiation. That sort of thing.”

“Mr. Bancroft’s more grayish than violet. Kinda transparent really.”

“No, it’s— ”

“You’ll see when he shows up though.”

“At one?”

“Every damn night. I even tried changing the office clocks once, but he kept showing up at one A.M. on the network clock. Don’t know if it means anything, but it’s set to Central Standard Time.”

“No, not really. Sorry.”

“Ain’t no worries,” Leroy said with a smile.

“Wait, did you say Bancroft? As in Reed Bancroft?”

“Yessir. That’s the fella.”

“You never said it was Reed Bancroft. He’s a legend.”

“Does it matter?”

“No, I suppose not. It’s just, exciting really. My first case is a celebrity.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Leroy droned. “You need me, I’ll just be down this way emptying out the trash cans.”  Leroy went back to work as Charlie calibrated his instruments. But at twelve fifty-nine A.M., he put down his mop and shuffled over to Charlie, pointing to Bancroft’s old desk. “That’s the one,” he said. “Dunno whose desk it is now, but used to be Mr. Bancroft’s I suppose.”

“So that’s where he’ll appear?”

“Every damned night,” Leroy said sourly. “So what we gonna do when he shows?”

But before Charlie could answer, Bancroft materialized at his desk, sipping his whiskey and sucking at his cigar. “New York City officials awoke to a firestorm of criticism over their handling of the garbage workers strike,” he rumbled. “No, no, no… that isn’t right at all. It lacks, poetry, panache.” Bancroft scribbled something on his vaporous news copy, and prepared to begin again.

But before he could, Charlie stepped forward directly in front of him, spread his arms wide and shouted, “Spirit! I command you to cease what you’re doing and leave immediately!”

“Sorry,” Bancroft said. “I’m on deadline.”

“You’re–what?”

“I said I’m on deadline. It’s part of work. Something I’m sure you beatniks don’t understand, and frankly I don’t have time to explain it to you.”

“Uh, please leave?” Charlie offered, his voice cracking slightly.

Bancroft suddenly clutched his chest and pitched forward into the desk, shattering into thousands of smoky particles that spread out and dissolved into the desk.

“All that big talk about M.I.T. and all you do is ask him to leave?” Leroy said. “You gotta be kiddin’ me. I coulda done that.”

“Well it worked didn’t it? He’s gone isn’t he?”

“Aw sheet, that didn’t do nothing,” Leroy said. ” ‘Cept for tellin’ you off, this the same stunt he pulls every night. He’ll be back again in a few hours, ‘cept now he’ll prolly be all hot and bothered and make an even bigger mess.”

“Well, there’s more to try. That was just the first step,” Charlie said desperately.

“Let’s hope so,” Leroy scoffed. “Cause right now I’m starting to want my money back.”

“But I didn’t charge you,” Charlie protested. “Oh… I just got that.”

“Good. That means you ain’t completely slow,” Leroy snorted. “He’ll be back over there in an hour or so, and I gotta try and get these floors in order fore then.” Leroy took his mop and walked to the other end of the office, calling back over his shoulder. “Holler if you need something. But my suggestion is your time be best spent coming up with a better plan.”

Charlie didn’t say anything though, just went about checking his instruments against charts in an old leather bound book, and making notes on a pad, until it was nearly two-thirty, time for Bancroft’s second appearance of the evening.

“It’s nearly time now,” Leroy said, parking his cleaning cart between some desks. “What you got in store for us next? A readin’ of the Declaration of Independence?” he chuckled.

“Okay, I get it,” Charlie said. “This is all very funny to you. But this is all stuff from really authoritative texts. Some of it dates back hundred of years.”

“I ain’t no expert, but seems to me since we got a modern ghost on our hands, you might need something new.”

“Well, ghosts are supposed to be afraid of vacuum cleaners,” Charlie offered. “We could try that.”

“I’m the damned janitor and you think I ain’t never run a vacuum cleaner in here before? What kind of fool are you?”

“Look now,” Charlie stammered, “this is tricky business and it doesn’t always work the first time.”

“How you know? This your first time out, remember? Sheet. I been dealin’ with this ghost for near fifteen years now. This point, I s’pect I know more than you.”

“Except how to get rid of him.”

“Yeah, well you got me there,” Leroy said. “Though I ain’t sold you know a thing about that neither.”

“Well that’s cause we haven’t tried this yet,” Charlie said, and hung a large string of garlic around Leroy’s neck. “And, this…” Charlie produced a large stick of sage incense, which he shoved into Leroy’s hands and then lit. “You wave this around the office, while I get out the holy water.”

“Holy water! Now we’re talkin’,” Leroy said. “For a moment there, I thought we was making a pizza cause ghosts don’t like Italian food.” Satisfied, he shuffled off around the office with a renewed vigor, waving the sage bundle wildly, as if the goal was to bludgeon Bancroft with it should he happen to materialize in its trajectory. Maybe there was hope after all. When Bancroft appeared a moment later, Leroy even hollered, “you had it now!” waving the incense around like a sword. “Get em’ Charlie!”

But rather than douse the specter in holy water like planned, Charlie began ringing a bell and clapping his hands.

Bancroft didn’t even slow down, only snarled, “This is a newsroom, not a damned Turkish coffeehouse!” before fading into the carpet, leaving a large stain of ectoplasm in his wake.

“What was that?” Leroy demanded. “You were supposed to make with the holy water and instead you started going on like some damned Hare Krishna.”

“Will you please stop being so critical? This stuff is supposed to work,” Charlie said. “I don’t know why it isn’t. We could try scattering rice on the floor so the ghost has to stop and count it. They’re supposed to hate that. Or maybe painting the door red.”

“Painting the what? You trying to get me fired?”

“No, just— ”

“I think we’s about done for the night Charlie. I gotta get some real work done so I don’t get in no more trouble with Miss Masterson come morning.” Leroy started gathering up Charlie’s instruments and ushering him towards the elevator.

“Wait, wait, wait, wait…” Charlie said dragging his heels “”Maybe he has unfinished business.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?” Leroy scoffed.

“Um, doing the news maybe?” Charlie offered.

“Aw sheet. I didn’t miss a thing not going to school did I? That’s even stupider than the rest of your ideas. It’s time for you to go, boss,” Leroy said, shaking his head. He hurriedly shepherded Charlie toward the elevator. Bancroft would be back soon, and Leroy fully expected to have his hands full when it happened. He was already mentally calculating how many extra mop buckets he would have to prep just to be safe.

“But what are you going to do about the ghost?” Charlie whined. “Let me try again please? Please?”

“You had your chance kid,” Leroy said. “Now I gotta get back to work cleaning up and finding a new ghost hunter that can actually help.”

“Oh come on, you have to give me another chance. No one else has ever taken me seriously. Not the other ghost hunters, or my professors or even my parents. I was practically laughed out of M.I.T. Just, I’m begging you Leroy, please don’t give up on me now. I just need some time to figure out what we’re dealing with here. Please…” Charlie seemed so pitiful that Leroy felt truly awful, but he didn’t really have any choice in the matter. He had a mess and an angry ghost to deal with. There just wasn’t time to play nursemaid on top of things.

“Sorry kid. You gave it a good shot,” he said. “Go back home and order yourself a pizza.” Then Leroy softly pushed Charlie backwards onto the elevator, watching the tears fog up his goggles as he sank silently down out of view.

“Good grief,” Leroy said. “I guess you really do get what you pay for.” He turned back around to fetch his cleaning cart, and saw Bancroft floating, watching him with a mischievous smirk on his face. “I know, I know,” Leroy said. “I’s in for it now, ain’t I?”

“Yeah,” Bancroft smirked. “You are.”

“Well, let’s get to it then,” Leroy said. “I ain’t gettin’ any younger.”

When Miss Masterson arrived and saw the state of office the next morning, she sent Leroy to take a breathalyzer. And though he blew clean, the only thing that kept her from firing Leroy anyhow was a memo from HR explaining that she should consider herself lucky he didn’t want to sue.

That next evening Leroy brought a bottle with him to work for the first time in years. If he was going to be accused of drinking on the job, he might as well do it. And he certainly wasn’t going to share a bottle with that contemptible ghost again. Not after what he’d pulled last night. Drinking buddies don’t stain chalk outlines into the carpet with ectoplasm or dump garbage in the air conditioning.

When Bancroft finally showed, practicing his lines as usual, Leroy’s only response was to lift his bottle slightly in his direction, adding a respectful nod before taking a pull. After the previous night, he’d come to the conclusion that it was impossible to predict what the ghost might do. It was better to just wait it out and then figure out what needed to be cleaned up afterward. After all, some nights Bancroft had been nearly innocuous, barely lifting a pencil much less overturning a file cabinet, or multiple file cabinets, depending on how the war was going that evening. And the way Leroy figured, the less he did, the less likely he was to be labeled a beatnik agitator which had historically been a factor in incurring the full unpredictability of Bancroft’s annoyance.

Things got off to a good start as Bancroft rolled through his dialogue and sipped his ethereal whiskey obliviously before doing his nightly misty meld with the desk and retreating behind the perceptual curtain. Leroy remained stoic, sipping away at his bottle and waiting for the second act, which happily also passed without event. Leroy was beginning to think his plan might actually work. All he had to do was be patient. He settled down into an office chair to rest his hip and finish his bottle.

The spectral news that night focused on one particular offensive in 1952. It had apparently been crucial to the war effort, though ultimately unsuccessful. After several updates, the ghost looked annoyed and sat down on a chair next to Leroy, inasmuch as ghosts can sit.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Bancroft said. “Why don’t we talk about the movies like old times?”

“No sir,” Leroy grunted. “I’s sick of you and your lousy attitude, always calling me a beatnik and the such.”

“Why don’t you quit then?”

“Pooh,” Leroy snorted. “Cain’t get no other job with my hip all janky like this. Lucky to even still have this one with the way you always carrying on.”

“Sorry, but I have to protect the newsroom from evil spirits.”

“Well, ain’t that about the pot and the kettle,” Leroy cackled. “You’s worried about evil spirits, when you spend every night pouring em’ down your gullet.”

“My job is stressful,” Bancroft said. “You beatniks don’t understand the pressure I’m under.”

“Your job? Who is you kidding man, you dead! Been dead long enough that you ought to be used to it by now too. But you’re still going on about the Korean War every night; it’s shameful livin’ in the past like that.”

“World affairs are of a paramount importance.”

“Okay, whatever you say Mr. Dead Man,” Leroy grunted. “Why don’t you just do whatever you going to do, and let me be, so I can get about my own business?”

“No,” Bancroft said firmly, though he was clearly somewhat shocked at Leroy’s audacity.

“No?” Leroy scoffed. “Whatsa matter, out of ideas after them stunts you pulled last night?” he laughed.

“No,” Bancroft sneered. “I’ve got some real doozies stored up, censored government reports and stains you’d never get out, even with bleach. You’d have to replace the carpet altogether.”

“Well get to it then,” Leroy challenged. “I ain’t got all night.”

“The news desk doesn’t kowtow to business interests,” Bancroft replied pompously. “We’re an independent agent.”

“Oh forget you,” Leroy snorted, tossing away his empty bottle. “I’m so fed up with your nonsense, why don’t you just wreck the place and let me do my job already? Like this,” he exclaimed, knocking a large stack of papers to the floor. “Or this,” he said, overturning an office chair. “See, it’s easy?”

“You’ve totally lost it pal,” Bancroft muttered. “I can see the copy now: A local janitor got so confused he made a mess instead of cleaning one. Film at eleven.” Bancroft paused, momentarily. “No, we can punch that up a bit. How about… The CWBC offices were vandalized today in a manner befitting a rogue beatnik horde, though it was later discovered a disgruntled janitor in the midst of a nervous breakdown did the damage. He claimed the office was under attack by evil spirits.”

“I just cain’t take it no more,” Leroy howled drunkenly. “Get out! Get out! Get out!” He screamed, hurling anything within reach at Bancroft. Coffee cups, books and keyboards all whizzed through the air and the misty news anchor, still rattling off potential copy for his satirical broadcast in his thundering baritone.

Finally, Leroy launched a large stapler that sailed right through Bancroft’s smirking face punching a hole in the wall behind him.

“Damn! Now see what you’ve done,” Leroy shouted, stamping his feet. But instead of responding with more potential headlines or accusations of beatnik sympathies, Bancroft dissolved silently into the air, leaving Leroy to wallow in his own mess.

Leroy looked around to be sure Bancroft was gone, then hobbled over to the wall to inspect if it was even possible for him to repair the plaster before morning. But when he looked in the hole, he recoiled in horror as the withered but still recognizable face of the corporeal and very dead Reed Bancroft was staring back at him. Panicking, he grabbed the closest thing to cover the hole up with, and ran from the office as fast as his hip would carry him, leaving a commemorative framed copy of Bancroft’s head shot covering up the hole in the plaster his body was hidden behind.

Leroy called Charlie over and over again, getting no answer, and so eventually going down to the S.P.O.O.K. office and pounding on the door until he was let in; by a bleary-eyed Charlie re-dressed in his smoking jacket.

“Let me in dammit,” Leroy said. “We got us a whole new set of problems.”

“But I thought you didn’t want my help anymore.”

“You may be a world class fool, but you’re the only one who believes me, and we on a schedule, so you gonna have to do.”

“I don’t know,” Charlie said. “You really hurt my feelings.”

“And I’ll hurt em’ again if you keep acting the fool. You gonna help me out here or not?”

“Okay,” Charlie said excitedly. “Just let me get my shoes.”

They got into Charlie’s battered Volkswagen Karmann Ghia and sped back to the office, where Leroy showed Charlie where the body was hidden behind the plaster.”

“Oh jeez,” Charlie laughed, “This makes total sense.”

“What are you talking about? Don’t nothing about this make no kind of sense at all,” Leroy thundered. “Ghosts doing the news, and bodies in the wall. All I want to do is mop the damn floors in peace.”

“No, no,” Charlie laughed. “I mean it makes sense why the other things we tried didn’t work. Clearly Bancroft is still here because his body is still here. If you want him to go away, then his body needs to be buried properly. You should probably tell your boss to have him exhumed from the wall.”

“Uh-uh,” Leroy said flatly. “She’ll just ask what I was doing drunk, tearing up the walls looking for dead guys. How I’m gonna explain that one. I’d be fired before noon.”

“Well…” Charlie said, staring off into space. “I guess we could do it ourselves then. Are there any tools around to get him out of the wall?”

Leroy was about to protest, when he realized that he had passed the point of no return long ago. He was practically in the capitol city of no return by now. “Yeah,” he said. “I think there’s a sledgehammer and some plaster down in the boiler room.”

“Why don’t you go get the tools and I’ll start clearing some space,” Charlie said, hanging his smoking jacket over a nearby office chair.

“All right,” Leroy said. “What’s he doing in there anyway?”

“I couldn’t really say,” Charlie said quizzically. “I’ve heard of bodies being interred in walls to ward off evil spirits before, but that went out of style in the 1700s.”

“Yeah, he’s always going on about protection from evil spirits, saying that’s his job.”

“Really?” Charlie said, incredulous. “Do you think he did this to himself?” Maybe in his will?”

“I dunno,” Leroy said. “People round here sure are fond of Mr. Bancroft, prolly cause they ain’t spent much time with him lately. But I’ll reckon if that’s what he really wanted, some fool at the network woulda let him. I’m starting to think college messes with ya’lls heads something fierce.”

“He was certainly famous enough to pull something like that,” Charlie mused “Oh well. We probably oughta get to dealing with the body now, and figuring the rest of it out later. Otherwise, we won’t be done by morning.”

“True, true,” Leroy said, and started towards the elevator. But just before he got on, he stopped and turned back. “I’m sorry I yelled at you Charlie,” he said sheepishly. “You ain’t dumb. You been real nice to me. And I appreciate it.”

“It’s fine,” Charlie smiled. “Really.”

After Leroy brought up the tools from the boiler room, things moved quickly. Charlie busted through the wall with a sledgehammer while Leroy cleaned up both of the messes he’s made that evening. They hurriedly plastered the wall back up, and then wrapped the body up in a plastic garbage bag, folding it into a fetal position to load into the trunk of Charlie’s car for the trip to the cemetery. Leroy knew he wouldn’t be back before the stuffed shirts showed up in the morning, but things were clean enough when he left that no one was likely to notice. Especially when compared to the state the office had been after Bancroft’s offensive the night previous.

Leroy and Charlie found a nice secluded spot in the back corner of the cemetery and set themselves to digging silently. After the first two feet, Leroy’s hip started bothering him enough that he sat the next two feet out, but he joined back in for the end.

After they put the body in the hole and filled it back in, Leroy took a small bouquet of cyclamen flowers from a nearby headstone and laid them at the foot of the soft dirt mound. The sky was just beginning to pinken as the rose peeked over the horizon.

“Should we say something?” he said to Charlie.

Charlie stared ahead blankly for a few moments, then clearly, steadily, he spoke. “PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistani attack helicopters have shelled militant hideouts in the northwestern Swat district, killing thirty rebels, the military said on Sunday.”

Staring straight ahead, Leroy grabbed Charlie’s shoulder to stop him. “What’s that you going on about?” he said.

“It’s the headlines,” Charlie said. “It seemed the appropriate memoriam.”

“I meant like, magic words to make sure this ornery fool stay dead this time.”

“Oh…” Charlie said. “No. This should do it.”

“Good,” Leroy said, and limped his way back out of the cemetery and towards the nearest bus stop. He was in serious need of a shower and more than ready for bed.

When Leroy returned to work the next evening, he finished the floors in record time, whistling cheerfully as he gave them a much-needed coat of wax he’d been putting off for weeks. The next night he scrubbed clean all the grout in the bathrooms, even polishing the chrome pipes on the urinals.  Leroy felt like he’d been running with weights on all these years and he was finally free to sprint for the finish line. Over the next two weeks the office started to sparkle in a way that no one had thought possible, though the white collar jokesters credited the ghost of Reed Bancroft for the act, as the lights continued to inexplicably flicker.  Miss Masterson even commented that she was glad Leroy had been able to quit drinking, and told him he’d receive a quarter raise if he kept it up. But Leroy didn’t mind. His job was easy now. His life was easy now. His hip even felt better than it had in years.

The only problem was that free of Bancroft’s interference, Leroy was running out of stuff to clean. He regularly finished with his work by two am, leaving more than four hours until his shift ended at six to do nothing but sit and stare out the twelfth floor window at the city lights below, reflecting on his life so far, and what bits of it he had left. Leroy had no wife or children. His parents were long dead. He had a brother somewhere out west, but didn’t have the first clue how to contact him. Leroy now went blocks out of his way to avoid walking past the liquor store on his way to work. Things may never have been easier for him at work, but he was starting to realize that Bancroft had been the closest thing he had had to a friend. Work had become unbearably lonely without him and his nightly old broadcasts. He even found himself jumping and cringing at strange noises he heard from corners of the office, scared they might be the evil spirits Bancroft was so concerned about.

After two months, he decided he couldn’t take it any more. So after he finished the floors, he took a shovel from the boiler room, and made his way to the secluded spot in the back corner of the graveyard where they’d left Bancroft. Grass was starting to grow in over the mound, and the flowers Leroy had laid at the grave had deposited seeds, which had just begun to sprout tiny pink and white buds.

“All right,” he grunted. “You been in time out long enough now. Let’s just hope you learned yourself a lesson or two.” And then he plunged the shovel into the soft dirt, and began to dig.

© 2009 Josh Gross and Carly Nairn

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2 Responses

  1. Josh & Carly,
    Well Done!!

  2. Your story has made it to the East Coast! I loved it and can see a movie in the story. I’m already mentally selecting the cast! Great story!

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