26 February 2010

"Ghost Patrol"

By Curtis C. Chen

It was almost noon when Delia arrived at the cemetery. She showed her ID to the uniforms guarding the gate, then drove down until she found two people sitting on lawn chairs next to a new plot.

Detective Jonas Mendenhall and Margaret Kuhmann had been sitting watch all night over Asher Kuhmann's grave. Delia pulled her jacket closed over her bulky spirit-proof vest—she didn't want to appear disrespectful—and walked up to them.

She stopped beside Mendenhall and extended her hand. "Detective Mendenhall? Officer Delia Novakoski, reporting for duty."

"Took you long enough," Mendenhall said. "Did you bring some coffee?"

It wasn't quite the greeting Delia had expected. "I didn't—nobody told me—"

"Just ignore him, officer," Margaret said, staring at her late husband's headstone: ASHER SAMUEL KUHMANN, 1960-2010. A police shield and a crucifix were carved above his name.

"Detective Kuhmann hasn't risen yet, has he?" Delia asked.

She checked her wristwatch. It had been less than twenty-four hours since the burial. No ghost had ever risen before the twenty-eighth hour, but family and friends always sat watch just in case. If no sensitive was nearby, a ghost would often anchor to one of them instead.

"Nah," Mendenhall said, pulling a necklace out of his shirt. The sense-stone pendant was still clear, showing a single vertical band of light. "It's been as quiet as a, well, you know."

He laughed at his own joke. Delia knelt down between the two lawn chairs. "My condolences, Mrs. Kuhmann."

"Thank you." Margaret didn't move her eyes. "Call me Peggy. That's what Ash called me. Peggy."

"Good ol' Ash," Mendenhall said. "That's an ironic name for a medium, isn't it?"

Delia couldn't let that one slide. "The preferred term is 'sensitive.'"

Mendenhall leaned forward and blew cigarette smoke into Delia's face. "Don't get used to playing dress-up, Officer. This isn't a regular gig. One week and then you go back to directing traffic or whatever you were doing before."

"Missing Persons," Delia said, with more pride than usual. "And if you don't want me here, Detective, why did you request me specifically?"

"Not my idea." Mendenhall slouched back into his chair. "My late partner liked to find new recruits for the post-mortem detail from inside the department. You tested well last year, apparently, and your file was at the top of his inbox when he died." Mendenhall squinted at the grass. "I guess I wanted to grant his last request or something."

Delia noticed Mendenhall's face twitching. Maybe the cynical detective had a bit of a soft spot after all.

"Did you know Ash very well?" Peggy asked.

Delia shook her head. "I never met him."

"You must be very gifted," Peggy said, "for him to have chosen you out of the whole department."

Delia didn't say anything. She couldn't imagine why Ash would ever have picked her. She was an atheist, after all. Everyone knew non-believers were the least sensitive, and they wouldn't spawn spirits after they died. Did Ash Kuhmann know something about her that she didn't?


Photo: Human shadow over Roanoke Colonies stone marker, Outer Banks, North Carolina, June, 2008.