“What century is this?”
Henri’s best friend, drinking buddy and partner in crime, Boo, shook his head and sighed. “I think you’re about the only ghost I know who can’t tell time. It’s the eighteenth century, my friend.”
Henri sat cross-legged next to Boo in their makeshift hideaway that also served as a dog house for Boo’s wife’s mutt of a dog. It wasn’t the Grand Ball Hotel, but it worked. It was the one place where Boo’s wife, Maxine, and Henri’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Juicy, would never look to find them. Boo had been out drinking, Maxine was on the rampage and Henri was there to help him figure out how to get out of this mess.
Now, Henri usually was a sensible kind of ghost who didn’t take many risks in the afterlife. After all, he was put there for a reason and he didn’t want to risk doing anything foolish so he could advance to the next realm, but finding ghosts for mortals who were looking for ghosts was on home turf even though it wasn’t his favorite century to do it. He knew how undependable all the high tech stuff that mortals of this century used to supposedly find paranormal activity was and never could figure out why the mortals of this century kept using them. Just when these amateur ghostbusters thought they had something, it ended up being faulty wiring in the walls or outlets or something else completely rational. Even if ghosts were really there all along, do you think they’d let some high-tech electrostatic meter pick it up if it did work? Hardly.
But, Henri was intrigued in the fact that mortals would do anything in their power to connect with spirits and even more fascinated in the fact that some mortals didn’t even believe they existed. He often chuckled thinking about it and this was why he loved the Spirit Seekers so much. You might say the Spirit Seekers were a bit different. They were quirky. They didn’t need fancy equipment to know when there was a ghost around. All they had to do was rely on intuition and prickly sensations among other natural down-to-earth ways to find a ghost. Henri, being a ghost in the natural state, knew the Spirit Seekers were as close you could get to the real thing as far as ghostbusters go. If the opportunity ever came up, he would drop everything to go on one of their ghost busting excursions even if it meant leaving Juicy scowling at home.
But it wasn’t like he and Juicy were married or anything, which gave Henri freedom to choose between what he wanted to do or what Juicy thought he should be doing. Juicy had some kind of past life hang up, believing she and Henri were lovers in another life. She continued to follow him wherever he went which infuriated poor ol’ Henri who just wanted to have a good time.
Boo, on the other hand, knew Henri better than anyone. Leaving Juicy without telling her where he was going would definitely lead to nothing but trouble for the French-borne ghost. He knew Juicy had a thing about mortals and rightly so. Even though she was one herself in another life, this was before they took off Henri’s head and murdered her entire family. But that’s another story for another time.
“Well, I’m not going this time,” Boo blurted out. “Don’t even think it. I’m in enough trouble with Maxine as it is.”
“No, this is different. And I’m getting tingly.”
“On no, not that.” Boo knew what that meant. The mortals were calling his friend for another wild goose chase. Or should he say, wild ghost chase.
“Henri, when are you ever going to learn?”
“I daresay never, mon ami affectueux de Coors Lite. I gotta scram. Can you tell Juicy for me?”
“Oh no you don’t. The last time I told her you were going out of town, she turned ballistic and started poltergeisting people. I think I’ll leave that alone. And what do you think will happen when she gets a whiff you’ll be hanging out with Ezra again? I don’t even want to think it.”
“Ezra is my friend, you know that. I watch over her.”
“Ezra might be your friend, but why do you feel you have to stick around at her house all the time? Oh, I already know. You and Ezra used to be ‘more than friends’ in another life. Jesus, Henri. All this past life mumbo jumbo is getting my ectoplasm boiling. How long will you be gone this time? Are you listening to me? Henri? Henri? Oh…Henri?”
Boo turned around and Henri was gone. Vamoosed. Vanished into thin air leaving Boo to wallow in his own misery.
But this story isn’t all about Boo. It’s not all about Henri, Juicy or beheading mortals. This isn’t about sitting in a makeshift dog house because you were out drinking all night and you knew better. Oh no, it’s not all about that at all.
This is a love story—a ghostie love story. It’s about one man’s longing to be with his soul mate no matter what dimension he may have to travel to find her.
It’s about transcending realms, butting heads with what we know as reality per se and finding something too impossibly unattainable and showing to the world that ghosts indeed exist.
Enter The Spirit Seekers.
PART ONE—THE JOURNEY BEGINS
New York, New York
RODGER HAWTHORNE III fiddled with his bow tie and reached into his pocket for one last cigarette before posting his plea to the world. Cameramen and assistants scrambled, setting up lights and background equipment. Unusual Propositions was due to go live in twenty minutes and tension increased with each passing moment.
Digging deep into his pocket, his cell phone slipped out and crashed to the floor. He squatted, gathering the scattered pieces.
Startled, he jumped, sending the pieces flying across the studio floor. A young woman in her early thirties stood before him.
“Oh, you surprised me.” The smile he pasted on tugged at his weather-beaten face. Rodger didn't expect a soul to be around him, especially not this divine creature standing before him.
“I’m Stephanie Brewer, Mike’s assistant,” the woman explained, shaking Rodger’s hand. “You must be the infamous Rodger Hawthorne.”
“Ah, you know me then.”
“I know why you are here anyway,” Stephanie said coyly. “You’re looking for a ghost?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“I’m sure there must be plenty of ghosts hanging around.”
“Yes, there are, I’m sure. But have any of them actually been proven to exist?”
“Scientifically, you mean?”
“Well, if they have, I’m sure they would have been asked to come on our show, don’t you think?”
“Exactly my point,” said Rodger.
Stephanie smiled a contagious grin, showing her softer side which made her even more attractive to Rodger. Behind her heavy black glasses were eyes of a doe, soft and brown, speaking of wisdom and sensuality. Her complexion bore a hint of pink spring roses on a fine Carolina morning, so fresh and so alive.
“Mike didn’t tell me his assistants were so beautiful, if you don’t mind me saying,” he said.
“Mike doesn’t tell people a lot of things,” she said. “Like you make a damn good liar.”
Rodger’s cheeks turned crimson.
“Oh, don’t pay attention to my New York attitude. I understand you are from North Carolina?”
“Yes, Hickory Heights, about a hundred miles from Raleigh.”
“Never been there. I’m afraid my heavy workload comes before sightseeing. I hear it’s lovely there this time of year.”
“We like to think so. The leaves are starting to turn, which makes it quite attractive, er…colorful.” Rodger wanted to kick himself for not finding a better word. Stephanie’s presence put him on edge, shattering what little composure he had built up all morning.
Stephanie remained composed even though she could tell Rodger was a bit nervous at appearing on television for the first time. “I’m sure they are. Attractive. The leaves, of course. Have they shown you your dressing room yet?”
“Well…uh…no,” he said. I didn’t know I had one.”
“Mike should have told you. I guess he leaves everything up to me. Come on. I’ll show you where it is.”
Rodger followed Stephanie down the long corridor past rows of doors until she found the door marked “GUEST.”
“Ah, here it is,” she said, opening the door.
The small cubicle of a room held two worn leather chairs, a microwave that had seen better days, a toaster, a coffee pot and a huge Victorian lighted mirror. Hollywood it wasn’t.
“I’m afraid it’s not much. I have to leave now. Thousands of errands to run before show time. Renaldo will be with you in a moment. Nice to meet you, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, too, and thanks.”
“No problem. Break a leg.”
Rodger watched Stephanie exit the room, then turned toward the mirror. He grabbed a couple of paper towels, dowsed them in water from the faucet and started blotting his sweaty forehead.
“Well, hellooo,” sang a voice in the doorway. “I’m Renaldo and I’m here to fix yer up and make you look bee-yoo-tee-ful!”
Rodger jolted around, nearly knocking himself to the floor. In front of him was a young black man wearing a purple jumpsuit waving a brush in one hand and hair spray in another. He was a dead ringer for Prince.
“Come this way, Mr. Rogers,” sang Renaldo, waving his arms in large circles directing him to one of the chairs. “Oooh, I just looove zat name, Mr. Rogers! How is eet in the neighborhood?”
“Look,” said Rodger, “I don’t know who you are, but I am perfectly capable of making my own self beautiful, thank you very much.”
“Oooo, don’t be seeelly,” quipped Renaldo. “Dats what I am here for. Now turn around and be a good boy. This won’t take but a mineeete.” Renaldo hummed along, fighting Rodger’s protests.
“Don’t touch me!” Rodger yelled, as Renaldo tried to apply face powder to his shining face.
“Oooo, but eet what must be done, Mr. Rogers,” Renaldo protested. “Eet is fer the cameras, don’t you see? Yer dun’t want to look like a shiny eggplant, now do yer, Mr. Rogers?”
“Oh for crying out loud. Do you have a light?”
“Oooo, no, Mr. Rogers,” he said, flicking the cigarette from Rodger’s mouth. “Don’t you know they are bad fer you?”
“What the hell…” Roger leapt from his chair to retrieve his one remaining cigarette, the only thing he had to calm his nerves. “I’ve had it!” He grabbed Renaldo by the back of his purple collar and tossed him out the door.
“But, Mr. Rogers, it’s fer yer own good…”
“The name is RODGER, R-O-D-G-E-R, and I don’t live in your neighborhood!” He slammed the door, hoping Renaldo would sulk off and annoy someone else.
Rodger scrambled in his pocket, but his lighter was nowhere to be found. He marched to the toaster at the far end of the room. Lighting his cigarette with the hot coils, he breathed a sigh of relief and sat back in his chair, contemplating the message he wanted to tell the world.
I look a sight, he thought, swiping at the makeup smeared on his face. He rubbed his eyes and stared at his reflection. Only his reflection didn’t stare back at him. Instead it was that of a young girl with the most beautiful smile on her face. The face of an angel.
As quickly as the image appeared, it disappeared.
“Sarah, come back!”
Rodger jerked around. “Yes?”
A young man peeked his head through the doorway. “Five minutes until show time. Are you ready to go to the set now?”
“Oh, yes, yes,” said Rodger. “Lead the way.”
Stagehands scurried about as Rodger walked the long, dark corridor backstage. Stephanie stood behind the camera crew shouting orders in her best New Yorker accent. He spotted Mike Powers, the host of Unusual Propositions, sitting in one of the velvet chairs on stage. Stagehands adjusted Mike’s makeup and positioned his microphone. Spying Rodger, Mike rose and rushed over to him.
“Good morning, Mr. Hawthorne,” he said, heartily shaking his hand. “I see you made it to the Big Apple, safe and sound. My, your hands are as cold as icebergs.”
“How are you, Mr. Powers?” Rodger steadied his voice, trying hard not to sound nervous.
“I’m just great,” said Mike. “Been fighting a little cold, nothing serious. Are you ready?”
“I hope so. I’m just not sure if I’ll remember all I need to say.”
“Certainly reasonable. Nothing to worry about. We’ve got cue-cards all lined up in case you forget anything, but the key thing here is just relax and be yourself. Everything will be fine, you’ll see.”
“Mr. Powers, Mr. Powers,” called Stephanie. “We’re ready to rock and roll.”
“Okay, be right there,” he said. “Look, Mr. Hawthorne, may I call you Rodger?”
“Oh, yes, of course, everyone else does.”
“Okay, Rodger, you stay back here and I’ll introduce you. You come out and take your seat beside me. I’ll ask you a few questions. Nothing to it.” He walked back to the set and sat down in his chair and waited for the cue.
“Three…two…one,” shouted a stagehand.
“Good morning, everyone. Welcome to Unusual Propositions. I am your host, Mike Powers, and we have some very unusual propositions for you today. With Halloween coming up today’s topic is the paranormal. We have a great lineup of guests to talk to us about a new field in the metaphysical - the spiritual/paranormal. You will remember one of our guests as the world renowned psychic we’ve all come to know and love, Robert Rigby. He’ll be talking about clinical hypnoanalysis, hypnosis counseling, self-hypnosis, and meditation classes that he will be offering in our area over the next few months.
“We also have the coordinator of the ever-popular Psychic Fest, which will be held this year in Knoxville, Tennessee. His name is Charles Duncan, and he is the bestselling author of Who Let the Spirits Out, a fantastic spiritual/paranormal that is topping the New York Times bestseller list. I’ve read the book, and I must say it should be on everyone’s Christmas list this year. He is accompanied by Dr. John Trent, vice-president of the Mid-Michigan Paranormal Society. The story he has to tell fits in very nicely with tonight’s paranormal/spiritual theme.
“I also have a gentleman from Hickory Heights, North Carolina, by the name of Rodger Hawthorne. He comes to us today with a most unusual proposition, but I’ll let him fill you in on the details. You won’t want to miss it. But before we get there, here is a word or two from our sponsors. We’ll be right back.”
Rodger eyed the other three guests with complete distaste. Hmph, he said under his breath. It looks like a damn three-ring circus. What do they know about the afterlife?
Catching the eye of the man on his left, he half-smiled out of courtesy.
“How do you do?” the man asked, holding out his hand. “I’m Robert Rigby.”
“Uh, yeah,” Rodger blurted, “glad to meet you.”
“First time?” Robert asked.
“It gets easier the more you do it. Just remember to go in love and light.”
Rodger turned away from the man, hoping to distance himself as far away as possible. They are all nuts, he mumbled.
“Okay, is everyone ready?” shouted the stagehand. “Two…one…we’re on.”
“Welcome back, everyone. My first guest is a gentleman from Hickory Heights, North Carolina. Many know him as the infamous Rodger Hawthorne, owner of the Hawthorne Tobacco Empire. Come on out, Rodger.”
Applause rang out as Rodger stepped onto the stage and sat in his appointed chair beside Mike. His stomach was in knots as he peered at the audience clapping in unison.
“Nice to have you here, Rodger.”
“A pleasure to be here, Mike.”
“Mr. Hawthorne, you have quite an unusual proposition for us today. Can you tell everyone why you are here?”
“I’d be glad to,” he replied, clearing his throat. “I am here to offer one million dollars to anyone who can prove the existence of a ghost.”
Mike smirked. “One million dollars?”
“Yes. You heard right. One million dollars.”
“That’s a hefty sum, Mr. Hawthorne. Why would you want to pay such a huge amount for the existence of a ghost?”
“Let’s just say I want to get to the bottom of the spiritual existence debate. Do ghosts exist or not? I’m figuring that in order for me to find out for myself once and for all, I have to pull no punches.”
“And what a mighty big punch you have.”
The crowd laughed.
“Mike, I’ve heard that spirits exist, but has anyone actually proved it?”
“I’m not sure exactly how you would prove that ghosts exist; although many have tried, I’m sure. Have you tried to ask a medium to do this for you? I’m sure it would be a lot cheaper.”
“I have tried everything from psychics to every kind of ghost hunter imaginable. I have not seen one instance of proof that ghosts exist. They can use all those fancy thingamabobs and claim they have proof, but it just isn’t cutting it for me.”
Rodger took a breath and continued. “I want to see one. I want someone to bring me a ghost and have the ghost actually standing in front of me. I want it to talk to me. If you can’t do that for me, then you might as well stay home.”
“There you have it, folks,” said Mike. “Mr. Hawthorne wants a real, live ghost. Can you get one for him?”
Applause broke out.
“How do they get in contact with you?” asked Mike.
“I have an email box on the Internet all set up,” replied Rodger. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will carefully evaluate your letter, and if it sounds like your credentials are legit and professional, I will invite you to my mansion in Hickory Heights for a one-week stay in the glorious Blue Ridge Mountains. You will have free room and board for the duration of your visit. At the end of those seven days, I expect you to show me your proof. If you don’t succeed, you return home. If you do, I hand you a check for one million dollars.”
“Okay, everyone,” shouted Mike. “One million dollars. If you are interested, we will post his email address one more time at the end of the show. Spirits, watch out! We’ll be right back to hear a story about someone who insists he talks to his departed wife though self-hypnosis. You won’t want to miss it. But first, a word from our sponsors.”
“It’s a take,” yelled one of the stagehands.
Rodger wiped the sweat from his brow and climbed off the stage, bounding toward the exit as fast as his legs could carry him.