Besides, it didnt seem possible Danny could always have something to bother him with. But he always did. And if he didnt have anything that demanded immediate attention, he wanted to talk. Danny was from Southern California originally, and there was no end to his talk. He would boast to total strangers about the benefits of wheatgrass, which included making your bowel movements as fragrant as a freshly mowed lawn. He was thirty years old but could talk skateboarding and PlayStation with the pizza-delivery kid like he was fourteen. Danny would get confessional with air-conditioner repairmen, tell them how his sister had ODd on heroin in her teens and how as a young man he had been the one to find his mothers body after she killed herself. He was impossible to embarrass.
He didnt know the meaning of shy.
Jude was coming back inside from feeding Angus and Bon and was halfway across Dannys field of firejust beginning to think he might make it through the office unscathedwhen Danny said, Hey, Chief, check this out. Danny opened almost every demand for attention with just this line, a statement Jude had learned to dread and resent, a prelude to half an hour of wasted time, forms to fill out, faxes to look at. Then Danny told him someone was selling a ghost, and Jude forgot all about begrudging him. He walked around the desk so he could look over Dannys shoulder at his computer screen.
Danny had discovered the ghost at an online auction site, not eBay but one of the wannabes. Jude moved his gaze over the item description while Danny read aloud. Danny wouldve cut his food for him if Jude gave him the chance. He had a streak of subservience that Jude found, frankly, revolting in a man.
Buy my stepfathers ghost, Danny read. Six weeks ago my elderly stepfather died, very suddenly. He was staying with us at the time. He had no home of his own and traveled from relative to relative, visiting for a month or two before moving on. Everyone was shocked by his passing, especially my daughter, who was very close to him. No one wouldve thought. He was active to the end of his life. Never sat in front of the TV. Drank a glass of orange juice every day. Had all his own teeth.
This is a fuckin joke, Jude said.
I dont think so, Danny said. He went on, Two days after his funeral, my little girl saw him sitting in the guest room, which is directly across from her own bedroom. After she saw him, my girl didnt like to be alone in her room anymore, or even to go upstairs. I told her that her grandfather wouldnt ever hurt her, but she said she was scared of his eyes. She said they were all black scribbles and they werent for seeing anymore. So she has been sleeping with me ever since.
At first I thought it was just a scary story she was telling herself, but there is more to it than that. The guest room is cold all the time. I poked around in there and noticed it was worst in the closet, where his Sunday suit was hung up. He wanted to be buried in that suit, but when we tried it on him at the funeral home, it didnt look right. People shrink up a little after they die. The water in them dries up. His best suit was too big for him, so we let the funeral home talk us into buying one of theirs. I dont know why I listened.
The other night I woke up and heard my stepfather walking around overhead. The bed in his room wont stay made, and the door opens and slams shut at all hours. The cat wont go upstairs either, and sometimes she sits at the bottom of the steps looking at things I cant see. She stares awhile, then gives a yowl like her tail got stepped on and runs away.
The foregoing is excerpted from Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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