Ghost Writer by Jessica Brawner
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“Hey dude, I’m home!” Mandy called out as she opened the door from the garage.

“Great! I’ve almost got the cooler packed and ready to go. How long before you think we can get on the road?” I called back from the kitchen.

“I can be ready to go in about half an hour, I just need to throw a few things in a bag. Ed should be here tonight to take care of the furry four legged kids,” she replied, heading up the stairs.

I put the last of the breakfast tacos in the cooler and set it by the door before heading upstairs to grab my things. It would be nice to get up to the mountains for a few days without the pets. I hope I’ll have time to work on a few writing projects while we we’re up there. I haven’t been able to concentrate on this stuff in weeks. If I can just get one or two of them knocked out then I’ll be able to focus on my book deadline.

“Come on dudette, let’s load up and get out of here!” I yelled up the stairs.

Opening the door to the garage, a blast of cold air slapped me in the face. “Any idea what the weather’s supposed to be like up in Breck?”

“Snow last I heard,” she replied hauling her bag out the door and tossing it in the back of the truck, followed by her ski gear.

Pulling out of the garage the truck fishtailed on a thick patch of ice, making me cautious. The roads were going to be slick on the way up. Below the Eisenhower tunnel the snow was starting to come down lightly, just enough to wet the windshield, and the scenery was powdered in a light dusting. The sky was a hazy grey as it started spitting snow. For a Friday going up to ski country, traffic wasn’t too bad.

"So glad the traffic’s ok. We should be there in about… two hours it looks like. Sam said last week it took him nearly eight with the crazy drivers."

The clock was reading ten past six when we pulled in to the hostel parking lot.

“Let’s check in and then find some dinner,” Mandy grabbed a couple of the bags out of the back.

“Sure, that sounds great,” I grabbed my bag and followed her in. I wondered how Mandy found this place, it’s a little off the beaten track. The door to the hostel let out into a narrow hallway with ski and snowboarding equipment hung neatly on racks along the wall. We had reserved two beds in the common room –it held eight to ten people but was less than half the price of a private room. The common room was cozy, but not overly warm. The fire in the fireplace didn't seem to be putting out much heat. “Hey, does anyone know where the Orion room is?” Mandy asked the room at large.

“Yeah mate, up the stairs as far as you can go, at the top of the house,” a guy with dreadlocks watching the TV called back over his shoulder.

“Thanks dude,” she made her way up the narrow stairs, with me close on her heels. “I’ve never stayed up here before, I guess they have more than one common room.”

We came to a locked wooden door at the top of the stairs with a placard reading Orion. She slid the key in and turned, opening the door onto more stairs. These led up to an attic loft holding eight matching beds, each with a nightstand and lamp. The two beds in the middle, with towels neatly folded at the foot, held our names. Mandy N., and Jenny C. The ceiling was so low in places that I had to duck my head, and it sloped down towards the head of the beds.

“Well, this is different,” I grinned. “It looks like something out of Snow White and the seven dwarves. Should be fun. I hope you brought earplugs.”

She laughed and stashed her stuff under the bed furthest from the door. “It’s a good thing you have a sense of humor. Looks like we’re sharing with six guys.”

We headed back downstairs and out into the cold to find dinner. The snow was falling harder, blowing sideways and muffling sound. I turned the hood up on my coat, but it didn’t help much. Cold flakes found their way down the back of my neck at every opportunity. At least it’s warmer than Boulder. The weather didn't encourage us to walk very far - I could barely see the end of the block, much less anything coming up the street, and the few cars driving by were going slow. Several of them fishtailed and slid through intersections, but everyone was being careful so we didn't see any accidents.

We found a funky little seafood grill a couple of blocks off Main Street, one of the few that didn’t have a two-hour wait. Over Sangria and grilled trout we celebrated being out of Boulder for the weekend.

The décor at the bar was soothing, funky and eclectic with murals painted on the walls, a traditional mirror with carved wood scrollwork behind the bar, and row upon row of expensive bottles showcased with the spotlights. The Olympic opening ceremonies were on the television and we watched and cheered with the rest of the crowd.

We lingered over dinner then closed out our tab and slipped and slid our way back to the hostel. The snow was coming down harder now, turning into a gale and creating a curtain of white across the town.

“I’m headed to bed, I’m wiped,” Mandy yawned as we made our way up the stairs to the front door and through the common room.

“Sounds good. I’m going to grab my iPad and try and get some writing done downstairs, but I expect I won’t be too far behind you,” I replied.

Someone was already curled up in a bunk trying to sleep so I fumbled around in the dark looking for my stuff. Ah, there it is.

Downstairs an old Victorian lounging couch sat off to the side of the main room. I set myself up where I could see the little TV and could hear the conversation without being intrusive. There were at least three different foreign accents chatting around the dining room table. I picked out French, Australian and something else, all talking in subdued tones with an edge of worry. The Olympics were playing in the background, but no one was watching. Every once in a while, the lights would flicker out then on again.

I sat, staring at my iPad, willing my fingers to type the next scene in my short story. Going back and re-reading what I had already written helped. With infinite slowness my fingers started, the words coming painfully in drips and drabs. For some reason I just couldn’t get a grip on this character. Knowing how the story was supposed to go didn’t seem to help; it just didn’t want to come out yet.

Focusing on my work, I was startled when something large and black moved past me. I gasped and jumped, knocking my iPad over, looking wildly around. There was a large black poodle sitting, staring at me about three feet away.

“Oh, hey guy, you’re a pretty puppy,” I crooned, my heart pounding wildly as I offered my knuckles for him to sniff. He started growling, low in his throat, barring his teeth. I quickly withdrew my hand, but he didn’t stop. The guys across the room looked up, and their mouths fell open, eyes wide with fear.

Trying to move away from the dog I pressed further back into the couch, “Hey guys, a little help over here?” I called, a chill creeping down my neck. They shook their heads, stood and … fled? "Oh come on, the dog’s not that intimidating," I called out as they ran from the room.

As the dog continued to growl I scooted to the far end of the couch. His eyes did not follow me as I moved and he ignored me when I stood up and inched along the wall. It looked for anything like he was growling at the couch itself. I glanced back and let out a scream.

Standing directly behind the couch near where I had been was a figure. Neither man nor woman, it was a creature, hulking, large … and insubstantial. It looked up with a startled expression and disappeared.

My eyes widened and my jaw just about hit the floor. What on earth? Backing up slowly, hands shaking and heart pounding I backed around the corner of the common room. I saw the guys peeking at me through the doorway, one of them with a ski pole in hand, his cap askew, looked like he was going to charge into the room, eyes wide and panicked. He looked so silly that I burst into hysterical laughter, falling back into one of the chairs, shaking.

“Il est parti?” the closest one asked, his English failing him. Luckily it was French and not one of the other languages that abounded.

“Oui, c’est parti,” I responded, voice shaking. “You can come out now.”

The men filed in sheepishly, looking around the corner. “What was it mate?” one of them whispered, pouring me a large cup of something hot. He took another look at my pale face and took a flask from his jacket pocket, pouring out a large dram into the mug as well. I didn't ask what it was, my nerves wouldn't care.

“Well, I didn’t get a good look, but it seemed to be an apparition of some kind. It looked about as startled by me as I was by it,” I replied, holding out my hand and watching it tremble. The academic part of me felt like I was watching the scene around me on a movie screen, one step removed from the reality of the situation.

“Wait, you mean this place is haunted?” the Frenchman said, sitting down at the table. He grabbed one of the mugs, and I could hear it trembling against the table.

“I have no idea, why don’t we ask the owners,” I turned and looked at them as they came out of the private area looking groggy.

“What’s all the commotion about?” the wife asked.

“We would like to know if the hostel is haunted,” I replied, my voice surprisingly calm as I looked them over.

“Um,” she looked at me like I was crazy. “What have you kids been smoking? I mean, I know it’s legal now, but we like to keep it clean here.”

“Nothing ma’am, I assure you, we all just saw what looked like a ghost,” I looked to the other travellers for confirmation and they nodded.

“Well, how peculiar,” she said. “We’ve never been haunted before. Perhaps it was a trick of the light.” She seemed dazed and not really awake.

“I’m apparently seeing things then, as are all of them." She shrugged and wandered back into their quarters.

I sat for a moment sipping on the hot coco laced with rum, feeling the warmth spread through me. After a few minutes the rum took effect and my hands stopped shaking. Looking around I said, "I don't know about you folks, but I think I’ll head up to bed. I've had enough excitement for one night.” I nodded my goodnights to the gathered assembly. Heading up to the dorm room I pondered the events. Whatever it was, it didn’t look angry, just… startled. I wonder what it was and what it wanted.

I lay down in my bunk, thoughts swirling in my head. Popping out my iPad and opening a new document I started a journal entry.

“What an interesting evening, a ghost of all things. And a non-human one at that…” A chill crept over me and I pulled the covers up higher under my arms as I continued to type.

“The dog growling was what initially frightened me, I don’t always much care for other people’s pets, much like other people’s children. When I saw the apparition I was more startled than anything. For some reason the after effects are always stronger - I wasn't scared until we were all back sitting around the table. I wonder if it will come back. I wonder what it was doing.” I froze as my iPad started typing on it’s own.

“Reading your story over your shoulder… I get lonely, and the skiers are mostly boring. Writers don’t stay here very often.”

I squeaked and sat upright, cracking my head against the low-sloped ceiling. “Owwww,” I groaned. “That’s going to leave a mark,” I muttered as I rubbed the top of my head. “I must have been dreaming and typing at the same time,” I muttered.

I picked up my iPad from where it had fallen and stared at the screen. I saw words forming with no help from me, “I hope your head is okay, that looked painful.”

"Apparently there was more rum in that coco than I thought there was," I muttered. "Or this is all a dream. I probably fell asleep on the couch and this is how my writer's block works itself out." I mentally shrugged. If this was a dream I might as well see where it went.

“Who are you?” I typed back, “If I go to sleep, will you be here in the morning?”

The words appeared on the screen, “I’m a ghost. We can talk in the morning if that will help you believe. I didn’t mean to let you see me this evening, I was just so enthralled by your story I forgot and let myself became visible.”

Taking a deep breath I typed, “Okay, I’m going to go to sleep (Yeah, I'm going to sleep in my dream. Sure.). If you’re real, meet me for coffee tomorrow morning at nine a.m. at the coffee shop across the street.”

There was a long pause, almost enough to convince me I was dreaming, “I have not left this place for many years, but I will try. If I do not, pardon the phrase, appear, it will be because I cannot. Regardless, I will not make myself visible as it seems to cause panic. Bring your iPad. That way we can communicate.”

I typed back, “Very well, if you are not there by ten a.m. I will come back here, pack up and leave.”

“Sleep well then, and until tomorrow.” The chill left me, and the heater suddenly seemed to be working again.

I closed my iPad and plugged it in; the battery was already more than half drained.

***

Sleep wasn’t in the cards for me. I tossed and turned, finally warming up enough to doze lightly before dawn. Waking up around seven, well before most of my dorm mates, I took a long hot shower, courtesy be dammed. Snow was flying sideways outside the window, nearly a whiteout. Mandy was up by the time I was done with my ablutions and I joined her downstairs for a quick bite. The table was discussing last night’s events.

“Dude, why didn’t you wake me up!” Mandy asked as I sat down.

“Why? It was over in like two minutes,” I didn’t mention the conversation the creature and I may have had. Did I dream that? If I say anything they’ll think I’m crazy.

“Still, weird. Hey you don’t mind if I still hit the slopes today do you?” she asked, eyeing the snow out the window.

“Not at all. After last night’s little adventure I have some writing to do,” I rubbed my eyes tiredly. I still wasn't sure if my conversation with the ghost had been part of dream, or if it had actually happened.

She nodded, taking a large bite of one of the breakfast tacos.

“I’ll probably spend most of the day over at the coffee shop if you need me,” I gestured with my chin towards the one across the street as I took a bite of my own taco. Retrieving my iPad I headed across to Cuppa Joe, grabbed a latte and sat down to wait. Several deep breaths later I opened my iPad. The conversation from last night was typed out in clear lines in front of me. Did I type both sides of the conversation?

Promptly at nine a.m. feeling like a ridiculous fool I typed, “Hello, anybody there?”

I felt a chill settle over the table, like I was sitting directly under an air vent. “Y E S”

Jumping out of my seat in surprise I spilt my coffee. The cup clattered noisily on the floor, and an annoyed barista rolled her eyes from behind the counter. "Let me get the mop. Will you want another?"

I nodded my head, still staring at my iPad like it was a snake.

Reaching for it hesitantly I typed, “Do you have a name?” as the one of the other coffee shop employees came out with a mop and began cleaning up my mess.

“Just Yeti,” appeared before me on the screen.

This is like having a weird instant messaging conversation.

“Can you talk out loud?” I asked out loud, forgetting myself. The few people in the coffee shop ignored me, but the girl cleaning up my spill gave me a strange look.

"You feeling alright miss? The altitude does strange things to people sometimes," she said. I looked over at her puzzled, then realized what I must look like.

"I apologized, I'm working on a book. Just talking out loud," I said quickly. "Sometimes it helps with the writer's block."

She nodded looking dubious. "Well, your coffee's ready at the bar. Good luck with the writing."

Paying for the new coffee I stuffed a fiver in the tip jar and returned to my table, picking up my tablet cautiously.

“I don’t speak your language, though I can read it and understand,” he typed.

I’m not sure why I thought it was male, just the impression I had received.

“Can you touch things in the real world? Move them around?” My hands were freezing again, so I wrapped them around my coffee cup pondering the unreality of the situation.

“No, not physical things. I can control electrical impulses… that’s how I make words appear on your screen.”

“Are you a ghost?” I typed as I shivered and sipped my latte. I was fairly certain my hands would never be warm again.

“Yes I suppose. A band of hunters killed me long before this town was here. Back then I was wild and angry and hadn’t seen humans before. I tried to eat them, so their killing was justified I guess. It was a kill or be killed time. I’m not sure why I’m still here though. I remember a shimmering, shining veil that wouldn’t let me pass, but I never understood it. Since then I’ve been stuck in this area. I eventually got bored with being angry, then I was lonely, and there was a man with lots of books. He was alone too, so I learned to read over his shoulder as he turned the pages. He would read aloud at nights, running his finger along each line but he died many years ago now and since then I’ve been hanging around the hostel and town getting snatches of books here and there. I’ve never met anyone who created the stories though! I was so excited I got distracted and became visible. Sorry if I startled you.”

I could picture his head hanging in chagrin. “I… What do you want?”

“I would love to tell you my stories. I haven’t had anyone I could talk to in ages. The few times people have seen me they get scared and run away. Also I didn’t know I could use these funny machines to communicate until you showed up and I tried it.”

His words got me thinking. “I bet you have quite a few stories to tell… and I’m a writer… maybe I could write your stories down and then lots of people could read them.”

“Would that make me a writer too?!” he typed, the words appearing almost instantly.

“I suppose it would. You would be a ghost writer,” I chuckled. “Of course, I don’t live here, so communication may prove difficult…” The business side of my brain kicked in, whirling out ideas too fast for me to follow on how to market these stories.

“Could… Could I come home with you?” the words appeared slowly, hesitantly on the screen.

“Is that even possible? I thought you couldn’t leave this place,” I typed, a puzzled look on my face.

“I am tied to my skull, I can only go a certain distance from it,” he responded.

How very Dresden.

My fingers hesitated over the Bluetooth keyboard, “Do you know where it is then? If I took it with me, could you come too?”

“I think so. I can lead you to where it is at any rate and we can find out.” I saw faint edges start to appear, an outline, barely there.

“You’re becoming visible again,” I typed quickly.

“Sorry,” he vanished. “I’m just excited and I’ll have to be slightly visible if you’re to follow me.”

“Okay, lets do this and see if it works.”

I wonder what Mandy will think of my bringing a skull home with me.

“I don’t want to become visible with so many people around. Go to the south end of the street then turn west. You’ll hit the edge of town after about a block. I’ll meet you there,” he typed.

The chilled feeling vanished. I packed up my iPad, finished off my latte and headed out into the near blizzard. My thoughts were whirling as fast as the snow. I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. Maybe I’ve gone mad. Mother always said I had an overactive imagination maybe she was right.

I walked for about five minutes before coming to the end of the sidewalk. Hovering above the snow, barely visible in the watery light, was the figure from the night before. He was around seven feet tall, covered in coarse white hair with arms that hung nearly to his knees. He turned and headed north along a snow packed path butting up against the mountain. The walking was much more difficult here, with snow up to my knees in some places. Forcing my way through the snow I almost missed the Yeti turned right into an outcropping of snow and rock. He vanished, apparently into solid rock. Very funny. I thought sarcastically, trying to bolster my courage.

Poking around the outcropping I looked for an entrance. My gloved hands encountered an old, rusty grate. Clearing the snow I found the rough hewn entrance to a mine shaft with the metal gate covering it. I rattled the gate, seeing if it would give way, succeeding only in dumping snow on my head and down the back of my coat. The ghost returned, still visible and reached for the lock. Despite the apparent age of the gate itself, the lock had an electronic touch pad. Someone was obviously maintaining it. It clicked open at his touch and he barred his teeth in what I suppose was a smile. I shuddered and tried not to flinch at the sight. The light from the entrance cut a path through the darkness, petering out twenty feet or so into the mine.

He led the way deeper into the tunnel, until even the memory of light was a ghost. Feeling my way along, running my hands along the walls for balance, I could tell that they were becoming rougher and the path more winding. Taking out my cell phone I turned on the flashlight app and held it up. I hope the battery holds out. Never a fan of enclosed spaces I could feel the walls pressing around me, and my breath becoming shallow and ragged.

As the darkness closed in, his outline became clearer. Ahead, in the wavering beam of my light I could make out a rock fall. The yeti pointed to a small opening at the top and disappeared into the rock.

Scrambling and cursing I made it to the opening. The rocks that skittered and slid under my feet threatened to bring the whole pile down. My light shone through the hole, revealing a larger room beyond, and my breath quickened at the thought of the open space. I shifted a few of the rocks, enough so that I could squeeze through the rough opening and inched through on my belly. My thoughts raced along with my heartbeat. This is crazy. You could die here and no one would ever find you. You better hope this whole place doesn’t collapse on you.

The ghost was waiting for me just beyond, floating silent and eerie. The room was a vast natural cavern that glittered in the faint light of my phone. After I made it to the floor of the cavern he reached out and touched my phone. The light winked out leaving me in complete and suffocating darkness. Panic gripped me in a vise and I gasped, looking about blindly, helpless without the light.

Slowly my eyes adjusted. I thought I was hallucinating at first, but small pinpricks of light started to appear. After a while I gazed on a vast glittering, luminescent cave with a dark path running through it. Looking about in wonder I saw the ghost again, hovering over the path. He beckoned, with an expression as old as the hills.

He led me to a niche, almost a bier, about waist high halfway down the length of the cave. In it lay a skeleton, man shaped but with the wrong proportions. The arm bones were too long, the hands were massive, and the skull, elongated, with a prominent jaw, was not quite human. There were arrowheads mixed amongst the bones, and one larger spearhead made from sharp glassy obsidian.

I looked over at the ghost as I reached for the skull with a gloved hand. My hands trembled, hovering over the ancient bones. He nodded as I picked it up, a hopeful look on his face. The skull was heavier than I expected, the bone thick and sturdy. Well at least I’m not going to break it by accident. Perhaps when I get home I can decorate it so it’s not quite so macabre. I can’t believe I’m doing this.

“Well, let’s go,” I said, the words echoing weirdly through the cave making me shiver. I was more than ready to be out of this cave and back into a warm room with something hot to drink. I scrambled back up the rock fall, sending shards of rock scattering and clinking below me. On the other side of the hole, without the bioluminescence, it was pitch black. The difference was startling and I lost my footing, sliding partway down before I caught myself. Picking myself up I dusted off my pants and gloves, checking for any injuries. My ankle twinged where I had landed hard, but otherwise I was unhurt. Turning on my flashlight I started back. There were more turns than I remembered, and the trip out seemed to take forever. I was wishing I had marked my turns with chalk on the wall, and was starting to worry when I saw the vague light of the entrance. Breathing a sigh of relief I ran for the grate. It was still unlocked, and after pushing my way out I closed it behind me.

Outside in the bitter air I took in a lungful of the cold fresh breeze and looked down at the skull. It was beautiful, but I had serious doubts about carrying a skull around town without attracting attention. Shivering I took my coat off and wrapped the skull in it. The bite of the wind tore into me, and I hurried back to the hostel, trying not to slip on the icy sidewalks. Mandy’s never going to believe this… Aaaand maybe I shouldn’t tell her.

The ghost had disappeared when I emerged from the tunnel and I shook my head, pondering what to do. Our little adventure had taken longer than I expected, and the light was starting to fade. I arrived, covered in snow and numb with cold, though it hadn’t taken long to walk the short distance.

Upstairs I wrapped the skull in a towel I hid it under my bed. I took out my iPad, “Are you still here? Did it work as planned?”

“It seemed to. At least, I didn’t feel any negative effects,” I shivered as the words appeared on my screen. My hands were still numb with cold, and the iPad barely registered my touch.

“I need to take another hot shower and hang out with Mandy when she gets back. We’re leaving tomorrow morning around ten a.m. I’ll take the skull with me, and hopefully you’ll come along too,” I wrote.

“Okay, see you tomorrow.” I got the feeling of quiet elation and then the air suddenly warmed around me. I am going to have to invest in warmer clothing. But I suppose it could be useful in the summer when it's hot...

Mandy returned, little bits of snow dripping off her, cheeks ruddy from the cold. “Hey dude, lets hop in the hot tub and then grab some dinner.”

“That sounds fabulous, I’m positively frozen,” I rubbed my hands together trying to warm up while acting normal. “Good day on the slopes?”

“The fresh powder was amazing, but with the wind it was a little hard to see,” her voice muffled as she pulled her layers off. “I’m so ready for some warm.”

We relaxed in the hot tub, joined by a few other folks, the warmth seeping into my bones. I hadn’t realized how cold I had become walking in the cave and then the wind. After venturing out for a quick bite with Mandy I fell into bed exhausted.

I slept late the next morning, waking with just enough time to throw my stuff together, wrapping the skull securely in my towel and shoving it to the bottom of my bag. We stopped on the way out of town to grab a quick bite and lattes before making the trek home. The car, no matter how high we turned up the heat, retained a faint chill, making me smile.

“So dude, did you get any writing done yesterday?” Mandy deftly maneuvered around a car trying to make it up the hill to the Eisenhower tunnel. Cars around us were sliding sideways and backwards, but Mandy's four wheel drive kept us chugging steadily along.

“Some, but more importantly I came up with some new story ideas and that’s time well spent.” The snow was still coming down hard and there were cars off the road on either side of us.

“Cool! Well, we should do this again soon. I had a great time skiing and it’s good to get away for the weekend.”

I nodded, lost in thought. Indeed, a good weekend. And I’ll have plenty of writing ideas for a while. Now lets see if I can believe in six impossible things before dinner.

The End