“How they met” is almost a rite of passage for any series. Jim Walker’s importance varies from story to story, but he’s always been one of Lucy’s most “normal” friends, and her relationship with him is one of the best examples of how she relates to ordinary mortals. She still has a tendency to just sort of drag him along on whatever shenanigans she gets up to, whether it’s a Jewish exorcism, summoning a demon, or breaking and entering where she isn’t invited. Poor guy. Since this takes place a while ago, I also wanted to show a difference in Lucy – it’s established that she had been a private detective for a while, but her life by this time had not taken quite the insane turn as it has by the books. This is a Lucy who doesn’t work with the police as often, and who tries to stick with “normal” detective work for the sake of her reputation, though the writing is already on the wall. And as for Jim? Oh, you poor, poor man. You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
This story takes place several years before Blood Hound.
“I heard you can deal with ghosts.”
“Wait, what?” I asked. I was on the phone.
My name is Lucy December. I’m a private detective working in San Francisco, among other things. Among a lot of other things.
“Ghosts,” he said. “I’ve heard that you can deal with them.”
“You just said that,” I said. “I don’t know where you got your information. I’m a private detective, not a ghost hunter.”
The exorcism kit sat on my desk, silently mocking me.
“Ma’am, we’re sorry for being so direct,” the man on the other end said. “But we’ve asked around, and word-of-mouth points to you and your services.”
“I’m a legitimate private detective, and ‘ghost-hunting’ would do so much damage to my reputation that… wait, what?” I sighed. I guess I already had a reputation. “All right, all right. Yes, I deal with the supernatural.”
“There’s a ghost haunting our library,” he said.
“You know, that’s not uncommon,” I responded. “Libraries are creepy, silent places filled with old books. People hear a page rustling, and they imagine phantoms.”
“I know, I didn’t believe it myself until I saw it with my own eyes,” he said. “We have visual confirmation from so many other people that I don’t know what to say. I guess ghosts are real.”
“You don’t sound very surprised,” I said.
The man on the other end kept talking. “I just guess science can’t explain everything. I don’t know, it could be a lot weirder. But if you can do something about it, we need your help. She’s scaring people in here, and the staff doesn’t feel safe. They think she hates them, and say they can feel her hatred as if it’s a tangible thing.”
I sighed. “All right,” I said. “What does this ghost look like? And what’s your name, and where are you?”
“I’m Ron Desanto, director of the Shattuck Library in Berkeley,” he said.
“Oh, the UC Berkeley library?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Shattuck Library.”
“But the Berkley library is on Shattuck,” I said.
“I know that,” Desanto responded. “We’re unaffiliated.”
“So you’re a library on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, but you aren’t related to the library on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley?”
“Exactly,” he said.
I had a headache.
“We’re a privately-funded library that exists on Shattuck Avenue,” he said. “About three blocks north of University Way. We operate mostly on the lend-lease system, though we have our own collection of rare books readily available. We cater to students who can’t find what they need in the massive, university-driven library system governed by the college’s desire for profits and accreditation.”
How appropriate that there would be a protest movement against Berkeley’s public library.
“Can you tell me the nature of the apparition haunting your locale?” I asked.
“A couple of times a week, patrons report hearing a woman crying somewhere in the building,” Desanto said. “And recently, a few of them have seen her.”
“What does she look like?” I asked.
“Old style of dress,” he answered. “19th Century fashion, covered in blood.”
“Okay,” I said. Pretty basic so far. “Has anybody interacted with her in any notable way?”
“Allegedly, the ghost attacked one patron,” Desanto said. We heard a scream, and when we arrived, the student was on the ground and bleeding from a deep scratch on her arm.”
“Uh-huh,” I said. “Did you see the ghost, or can you tell me anything else about that?”
“No, but she described it perfectly,” he answered. “When can you come here?”
“How late are you open?” I asked.
“All night during the school year,” Desanto said. “But since it’s summer, we close at 7:00.”
I thought about that for a moment. Since it was summer, the sun went down at 8:00.
“The earliest I can be there is 8:45,” I said. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“Maybe,” he said. “But the night staff should let you in. I think the janitor and the last of the librarians log off at about that time. If nobody’s there, call me.”
“Will do,” I said. “I’ll be there tonight. I need the address.”
Another job almost ruined because I couldn’t go out in the sun.
I have a condition. It involves heightened sensitivity to sunlight and religious objects, lack of reflections, fangs, and a thirst for blood. I’m also Jewish, which is completely unrelated. Sort of. Granted, I was turned because a vampire had compassion on me, and that compassion was because I had been brutalized in an anti-Semitic riot, so there was a connection. Kind of a tenuous one, but it was there.
I looked back at the exorcism kit. It contained a tallit prayer shawl, a set of tefillim phylacteries, a shofar, and a paperback copy of the Psalms. I couldn’t really use any of it, not properly. For starters, I wasn’t a rabbi. Or male. And if I put the shawl on, it would burn me to death.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to be religious when faith sets you on fire? First world problems.
As silly as it is, it’s who I am, and it’s the only reason why I am what I am – a person, not a monster. Kosher is ruined because I have to drink blood, I can’t observe any holy days or even Shabbat, and I can’t fulfill any of the ceremonial requirements, but I’ve always clung to what I could.
And no, I’m not Yiddish. I’m older than Yiddish. Yiddish is the trendy new kid on a skateboard whose music I don’t understand. I’m older than the split between Orthodox and Reformed Jews. To put it in perspective, King Richard was fighting his Crusade when I became immortal.
I looked around my apartment, and waited for the sun to go down. I didn’t live in a castle, and I didn’t sleep in a coffin, but the place had been too quiet lately, too lonely. It’s a little hard to find roommates when you’re a nocturnal bloodsucking fiend, but loneliness is a bitch, and I usually had a friend or even a lover close by. Somebody. Something. But lately? No. The last person to share my home, a creature out of Greek mythology, had been almost as close as my mortal family back in the day. But that was over, too. It still stung.
I packed the exorcism kit, anyway. I could handle some of the contents with gloves if I were careful, and having the objects at hand should be close enough to fulfill the law. Maybe. San Francisco has been a hotbed of supernatural activity for a very, very long time. Most people think of it as only going weird during the Sixties, but the roots go back long before then. I had lived there for years, and had worked as a detective for almost that whole time. It was a human friend, long gone by this time, who had convinced me to do it. And helping people had made almost as much a difference in my life as the faith. In life, you have to stay active. If you feel purposeless, do something to help people. It makes an amazing difference.
With the sun down, I got in my car and drove to Berkeley. I could feel the change in spiritual atmosphere about halfway across the bridge, transitioning from the deep-rooted supernatural force of San Francisco to the shallower, more scattered feeling of Berkeley. Not that the city didn’t have its own demons, but it had developed far more recently, and the spirit of the town reflected its people – more random and haphazard, passionate but lacking focus or direction. In San Francisco, you could find ancient demons. In Berkeley, a horde of library ghosts made sense. I was still waiting for the day when hippy protester ghosts would start appearing, but it hadn’t happened yet.
That said, it was still a good town. There was this one place, the United Vegan Liberation Front, where they prepared mushrooms in ways I had never imagined. I drove past a block of hookah shops and a Philly cheesesteak restaurant – only one of which was against my religion – and turned onto Shattuck.
Parking made me late. It was definitely, absolutely the parking situation, and not my own poor planning skills. Absolutely just the parking, and totally out of my hands. The streets were filled, but there was a garage nearby, and I only had to drive through it twice before I found an open space.
The general picture of a vampire is that of a sleek, lithe predator, dangerously beautiful, seductively strong. I’m a tiny Jewish girl in a trench coat. But this had its advantages – which is easier to underestimate? A dangerously beautiful predator, or a freaking hobbit?
I exited the garage, and joined the crowd on the street, counting storefronts to try to find the library. Desanto had indicated that it looked like a bookstore from the outside, lacking some of the ostentatious architecture of a public library. Music wafted through the air, coming from the few performers who were still here at nine in the evening. Somebody else had set up shop next to them on the sidewalk, selling handmade jewelry from a rug spread out over the pavement. A stretch of sidewalk in front of the game store was painted pink, marking it as reserved parking for protestors. I kind of liked this town.
A gaggle of students walked past, barely noticing me as I ducked between them. I passed the theater, the official public library, and a few more streets of shops before finally approaching my goal. Across from a bar, wedged in between a Starbucks and sports apparel shop, was what looked like a small bookstore, but bore the label, Shattuck Library. The lights were out and the sign read CLOSED. Well, of course. Right. I knocked anyway, and waited. When nothing happened after a few seconds, I knocked again.
“Great,” I said, punching Ron Desanto’s number into my phone. I leaned against the side of the building and waited for it to ring.
“This is Ronald Desanto, director of the Shattuck Library. I can’t come to the phone right now, so if you would like to leave a message with your name and number, do so after the beep.” BEEP.
“Oh, come on! I said, and then left a message. “Hey, Mr. Desanto, it’s Lucy December. I’m at the library, but nobody is around. Please call me back, or send somebody. Thanks.”
I hung up. If this were a nice, quiet street in the middle of the night, I would have considered trying to pick the lock. But this was the main street of a Bay Area city on a weekend. Yay.
I looked across the street, and lo and behold, there was a bar. The People’s Republic of Beer. Sure, vampires are immune to poison and thus alcohol hadn’t properly affected me in centuries, but the placebo affect was always a wonderful thing. It was a better place to wait than the sidewalk, anyway, so I pocketed my phone and crossed the street.
School was out, but Berkeley was still absolutely a college town. I didn’t try to guess how many fake IDs were present, but most of the clientele were nebulously youngish. I found a seat at the bar and settled in just before a bartender intercepted me.
“Welcome to People’s Republic,” she said. “What can I get ya?”
I looked over the selection behind the bar. Hipster, crap, hipster, hipster, crap, almost crap, hipster, crap, and one label I didn’t recognize. It looked like a lager.
“That one,” I said.
“Which one?” she asked.
“The one at the end,” I squinted. “Anchor something.”
She gave me a sympathetic look, and fetched the bottle.
“Is that it? Just a beer?”
“To start,” I said.
“Put it on my tab,” A man said. He was somewhere in his mid-ish twenties, with the kind of face that could either be ridiculously charming or sleazy, depending on what he said next. His hair was almost – almost – a minor pompadour, but he seemed like the kind of guy who could pull an Elvis ‘do off. Maybe. Again, depending on what he said next.
“So, did it hurt?” he asked me.
“Huh?” I asked.
“I said, did it hurt?” he repeated. “When you fell out of heaven?”
“Are you calling me a demon?” I asked.
He blinked. “What? No, I mean you’re like an angel.”
“But I fell,” I said. “Out of heaven. Painfully. That’s a demon.”
To his credit, he tried to make a save. Badly, but at least he tried. “Well, you know, demons are, uh, se-naughtier, than, uh…”
“So now I’m evil,” I said, and gave him my best glare. He tried to make it look like he wasn’t withering.
“No, no, not at all. It’s just a pickup line,” he said. “I was buying you a drink and throwing you a pickup line.”
“By calling me a demon,” I said, and lifted an eyebrow. “What’s next? Are you an axe murderer, ‘cause you chopped up my heart?”
He cleared his throat, composed himself, and looked me in the eyes.
“Damn, girl, are you a Prius?” he asked. “Because you’re giving me no sounds or indication that you’re turned on right now.”
I cracked up, putting a hand over my mouth to stifle the laugh. “Okay, okay,” I said. “One point to you. Like, a million to me.”
“Will that point let me sit down?” he gestured to the barstool next to mine.
I nodded. “Sure, sure. You know, I had a Prius a few years ago.”
“You did?” he asked as he took a seat. “What happened?”
I did indeed own a Prius once, but I ended up driving it off the Golden Gate Bridge to crush a Nuckelavee to death. A Nuckelavee is a kind of aquatic fairy that looks like a skinned, cyclopean horse-monster with half a human torso sprouting from its back.
“Got in an accident,” I said. “So I traded it in for something more affordable.”
“Was anybody hurt?” he asked.
“Nope,” I shook my head. Well, I had bailed out before going over the bridge.
“That’s good,” he said. “By the way, my name’s Jim. Jim Walker.”
“Jimmy Walker?” I asked. “Dy-No-Miiiiiite!”
He gave me a blank look, devoid of understanding.
“Good Times?” I asked.
Jimmy nodded slowly. “Yes, I hope these are good times,” he said.
“Jimmy Walker? John Amos?” I asked. “Florida?”
“Huh?” back to the blank look again.
I facepalmed. “It was a sitcom in the seventies,” I said. “The main actor and you share the same name. His catch phrase was – oh, never mind.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Seriously, dude,” I shook my head. “We need to get you cultured.”
“Uh,” Jimmy said.
“By the way, I’m Lucy,” I smiled.
“I love Lucy,” Jimmy said.
“Too obvious,” I responded. “But good try, nonetheless.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Lucy,” he said. “Gee, thanks.”
“Hey, it’s cool,” I winked. “It’s all good. Just give up on the pickup lines, Jim,” I stated. “Let your natural charisma shine through.”
“Uh-huh,” he said.
“That’s the spirit!” I grinned.
“So, about that drink?” he asked.
I picked up the bottle. “Yeah, a drink sounds good,” I said. “I’m waiting for a phone call, anyway.”
He grinned, and clinked his bottle against mine. The poor guy was still trying. “So, what do you do for a living, Lucy?” he asked.
“I’m a private detective,” I said. “Can’t you tell from the hat and coat?”
“I just thought you were a hipster,” he said.
“You say that, and you have that hair,” I commented.
“Hey, it works,” he said. “It’s subtle.”
“It’s very fifties,” I said. “But yeah, you make it work.”
“Thanks,” he said. “You make the hat work, too. And the coat.”
“See, Jim, that one’s not too blatant,” I said. “You’re getting there.”
“Hell, you could make anything work,” he said.
“Swing and a miss,” I gave him the raised eyebrow again.
Jim sighed. “I can’t tell if we’re flirting or not,” he admitted.
I shrugged. “Dunno. But we’re making friends, and that’s a good thing.”
“Really?” he asked.
“Well,” I began to say, when Jim’s phone started to ring. His ringtone was the Jurassic Park theme. We were officially friends now.
“One second,” he said, taking it out of his pocket.
“Be my guest,” I nodded, and drank some of that beer. Not bad. Apparently it was a local brewery. I thought briefly about the local vampire bar, and telling the owner about it. He served ordinary beverages as kind of a novelty there, sometimes.
“Yeah?” Jim said into his phone. “What? How long? Aw, dammit, I’m sorry. Okay, I’m just across the street. Tell her I’ll be there in a minute. I’m sorry, sir.”
“Is everything all right?”
Jim hung up. “Yeah, it’s fine,” he said. “I have to go back to work and unlock the door for somebody. Sorry to cut our date short.”
“Hey, it’s all right,” I said. “I dunno about it being a date, but–”
My phone rang.
“Yeah?’ I answered as I picked it up.
“It’s crazy, too,” Jimmy said, not noticing the phone yet. “My boss hired some sort of ghost hunter or something like that.”
“Lucy,” Ron Desanto said on the phone. “I got your message. I’m sorry about that. Are you still at the library?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I’m sending someone over,” he answered. “Thank you for your patience.”
“Sure thing,” I said, and hung up. I glanced to Jim.
Waiiiiiiit a second.
“So, a ghost hunter?” I asked. “Are we talking Bill Murray, or that stupid TV show?”
“Probably the TV show,” he said. “Look, I work at the library across the street. I just need to unlock the door, so if you don’t mind waiting for a few minutes…”
“Nah, it’s fine,” I said, hopping off my seat. “I’ll go with you.”
“You will?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, picking up my bag. “I really don’t mind. You work at the UC library?”
“Kinda, not quite,” he said. “Are you sure?”
“Totally,” I winked.
“Well, if you’re sure,” Jim said, and walked to the door. “Look, I’ve never met this, uh, psychic or whatever, and it might be embarrassing, but the library’s a great place.”
“I’m sure it is,” I said. He got the door for me. “Why, thank you,” I commented.
“I mean, I know there’s no such thing as ghosts,” Jim said as we crossed the street. “It’s just superstitious people, and some con artist who wants to make a quick buck, but my boss believes in all that stuff, and he’s certain about it.”
“Well, the placebo effect can be a wonderful thing,” I said.
“Yeah, but still,” he shook his head. “People’ve got to get rid of their superstitions, you know? It’s why we’re all so ignorant and hateful.”
“Of course,” I said. “They need to keep an open mind.”
“Exactly!” he thought he was agreeing with me. “So please don’t get a bad impression of the place. It’s a really great little library, and we help out a lot of students. I enjoy working there.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” I said.
We reached the Shattuck Library. Of course, there was nobody there.
“Dammit!” he shouted. “Where is she? Come on! He said she was waiting outside!”
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“My boss is gonna be pissed,” he said. “She’s gone. What am I going to tell him?”
“Who’s gone?” I asked.
“The ghost hunter,” he said.
“You mean me?” I asked.
“No, I mean the ghost hunter, who… is…” he realized it. “Aw, hell, no.”
I fluttered my eyelashes.
“No,” he said.
I shot him an award-winning smile.
“No,” he repeated.
“Ayup,” I said.
Now it was Jimmy’s turn to facepalm.
I patted him on the elbow. “It’s all right,” he said. “And I’m not a charlatan.”
“Seriously?” he repeated.
“Hey, it’s like you said,” I said. “Ya gotta keep an open mind.” I smiled again. “Relax, Jim. It’s okay. I’ll tell your boss that you’re a great guy.”
“You’re cheating my boss,” he said.
I shook my head. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
He looked at me. Really looked. It was about half a degree away from a glare, but he didn’t seem to have the heart for it.
“I accept,” Jim said slowly. “That you believe it to be true. Okay?”
“It’s a good start,” I said. “So, are you going to let me in?”
He sighed. “I can’t believe this,” he said, and unlocked the door.
“It’s okay,” I patted his arm again. “Wanna show me around?”
“Sure,” he rubbed at his eyes. “Right. Yeah.”
He held the door open for me again, though this time with much less enthusiasm.
“So,” he said. “Ghosts.”
“Maybe,” I said, walking inside. I didn’t need an invitation for a place of business, only homes, but it was a nice habit. “We’ll see.”
“So what if you don’t find, I guess, a ghost?” he asked.
“Then your boss doesn’t have to pay,” I said. “And we just sit and chat for a while.”
“Yeah, but I this one of those things where you see ghosts that nobody else can?” he asks.
“Nope,” I said. “Your boss specifically said that the ghost manifests at least semi-corporeally. We’ll see her.”
“Uh-huh,” he said.
I nodded. “There are lots of different types of ghosts,” I explained. “Echoes of the living, wild spirits, phantoms that linger because of unfinished business… it all depends. But if this spirit is restless enough to show itself, then you should get an eyeful, too.
“Uh-huh,” he said again. I looked around. Due to creative planning, the place was bigger on the inside than it looked. It bore a slight resemblance to a bookstore, if only because the main room was a little cramped and lined with bookshelves.
“I work over there in the computer lab,” Jimmy said. “Which is misnamed, it’s just one room, but we’ve got the same licenses and access to databases as any university. We also have coffee. Do you want some coffee?”
“I’d love some, Jimmy,” I said, peering at a door in the back. “What’s this way?”
“Mr. Desanto’s office,” Jim said. “Our records, storage, and the rare books collection.”
“Cool, can I see them?” I asked.
“The rare books?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yeah. I have a hunch – You know, rare tomes of eldritch lore, ghosts haunting them, stuff like that.”
“The Necronomicon doesn’t exist,” he sighed.
“Says you,” I said. “Lead on!”
Now, this was a library. A warehouse room, completely lined with wooden bookshelves stacked with… well, I could feel the history. The “rare book collection” was easily twice the size of the regular library, and I did the mental math to figure out that the Shattuck Library rented most or all of the bloc’s main warehouse space to store it all. And it was amazing. Imagine the whole of western society, stacked and filed on the shelves, eons of history and culture and art and religion and knowledge and love gathered in one place. Bibliophile or not, it was overwhelming. By merely living in the world, we stand on the shoulders of giants. This was a view of their footprints.
“Wow,” I said.
“Yeah, isn’t it awesome?” Jim asked. “But you can’t bring food in here, so if you want coffee…” he pointed to the door.
“Yeah, gimme a second,” I said, walking in between the rows. “Can I live here? I’m small. I don’t take up much space. I can just stuff a blanket into half an empty shelf and sleep. It’s okay.”
“Ha, ha,” he fake-laughed, but I could see the genuine grin. “But thanks for the compliment. Want a tour?”
“I will marry you for a tour,” I said.
Thank heaven he understood it was a joke.
“Actually, it’s pretty simple,” he said. “This room still uses the Dewey Decimal system, and you can check the filing cabinet over there. I guess you know how libraries work.”
“I absolutely do,” I said as I walked between the rows.
Of course, we were being watched. I had felt it since I came into the library, but the sensation had gotten more intense in the rare books room. I randomly “wandered” to where it felt stronger.
“You’re heading to the unsorted shelves,” he said. “It’s where we keep new arrivals before they’re properly catalogued. People donate them, or sometimes leave them in their will. But it’s not organized.”
“Gotcha,” I said. Okay, then. One of their new books had to be it. I began mentally planning for a long night of sorting through books, looking for the haunted one. “Hey, would you like to help me with the ghost detecting?”
Jim gave me a look flatter than a female character in a mid-century fantasy novel. Har har, just some literary humor. That was a stupid joke.
I set my bag down. “Actually, I kind of need your help,” I said. “Are you Jewish?”
“Huh?” he gave me another strange look. “I don’t think so, why?”
“Well, ideally I need a rabbi for this,” I said. “Or at least a dude. Which I’m not, as you so graciously noticed back in the bar.”
Jim approached. “You know I don’t believe in any of that, right?”
I angled the pack away so I wouldn’t get the full holiness blast when I opened it. It still felt like standing next to a furnace, though. “Close enough. Anyway, it’s really simple. You need to wear the shawl on your head, and blow on the horn when I tell you to.”
“What?” he asked.
“It’s called a tallit,” I said.
Jim picked up the shawl, which was white with blue stripes and decorated with tassels.
“Now put it over your head,” I said.
“This is silly,” Jim said.
“It puts the tallit over its head or it gets the hose again,” I said.
His jaw dropped. I gestured to the prayer shawl and then his head.
“All right, all right,” Jim said, and began to tie it around his head like a do-rag.
“No, no,” I said. “Just drape it over your head. There you go, you look fine. Kosher. Don’t frown like that.”
“This is humiliating,” Jim said.
“Yeah, the things you do for love,” I commented. “Now, take the shofar.”
He picked it up. The shofar was a horn made of horn – or, more accurately, a horn carved into a horn. It’s why we call musical horns… well, horns.
“Now, tie one of the tefillim around your arm,” I said. “And the other around your forehead. Those are the little black boxes with the yellow straps.”
“You’re messing with me,” he said.
“Absolutely not,” I said. “They come from a verse telling you to wear the Word of God around your forehead. It’s just a little too literal.”
Jim fastened the holy implements on, and stared at me. I admit, he looked ridiculous. What he needed was a fake beard. Or maybe some actual, genuine faith.
I put on some gloves, and gingerly picked up the copy of the Psalms. The leather acted as a barrier between the scripture and my skin, keeping the contact from burning me, though it didn’t feel very good. It was a modern, Christian translation, too – just divorced enough from classical Judaism to ease the pain somewhat, though it was still like holding a hot coal.
“Why are you wearing gloves?” he asked.
“Long story,” I said. “Since you’re using the shofar, this makes you Ba’al Tekiah. That means ‘Master of the Blast.’”
“Blaster Master?” he asked.
“Yeah, close enough,” I said. “Anyway, I’m going to read some from the twentieth and ninetieth Psalm. Whenever I finish a verse, I want you to blow on the shofar. Just a little note each time, okay? No need to go into a trumpet solo on me. Don’t swear or profane God’s name while you’re doing this, and try to follow my cues. And stop giving me that look, you’ve still got plenty of dignity.”
He kept giving me that look.
“You’ll be fine,” I said. “Just be careful and it’ll befine.”
It’s funny, but I was actually jealous for a moment. There Jim was, casually wearing trappings of the faith and heritage that defined me, while I had to treat it like hot uranium. I cleared my throat, and opened the book.
“May the Lord answer you when you are in distress,” I said, beginning to pace around the disorganized shelf. “May the name of the God of Jacob protect you.”
I glanced to Jim. He lifted the horn to his lips and blew, a short blat which sounded more like passing gas than a musical note. Well, we’ve all got to start somewhere. Besides, it was a cheap shofar. I got it on sale.
“May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion,” I said. It was feeling kind of hot in the room. “May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God.”
I was sweating. My eyes felt like I had been staring at the sun. But there was something else going on, too. Something stirred, troubled by all the sudden Torah-reading in the place, I imagined.
Jim bleated another terrible note on the horn, and I continued. “Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand.”
There was a thump somewhere in the room, loud enough to shake the shelves. Jim almost jumped out of his skin. I continued.
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.”
A shriek. A single, sustained, ear-piercing scream echoed in the library. Jim nearly jumped out of his skin.
“What was that?” he shouted. I finished the psalm.
“Lord, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!” I closed the book just as a second wail ripped through the air. The lights flickered, and pages rustled.
“What the heck is that?” I guess all the religious stuff made him think twice about cursing. “Lucy, what’s going on?”
“Our guest,” I said. “Clearly isn’t a fan of Hebrew poetry.”
Books fell off the nearest shelf in a mess, landing in a neat stack together. I took a step back.
“Spirit, what is your name?” I asked looking around. “I demand that you tell us your name!”
The lights went out, plunging us in darkness. Jim almost fell over in a panic, but grabbed the edge of a shelf and held himself together. I held my breath. The lights flickered on and off like a strobe, and in the third blink, I saw her. A human silhouette, illuminated in glowing gray-green. If I had to guess, I would place her style of dress as mid-nineteenth century, and possibly American, but this really wasn’t the time to ask. The ghost’s eyes met mine, and she opened her mouth in another shriek. The library was plunged into darkness again, so black that even I couldn’t see anything.
Jim yelped, much like any atheist would when something supernatural started messing with the lights. I shushed him. Somewhat gently.
The lights came back on. Written on the walls, dripping in what looked like blood, was a name.
Jim began to articulate a word beginning with F when I elbowed him. “No cussing,” I said. “Not while you’re wearing the tallit.”
He reached for the shawl to take it off, but I batted his hand away.
“What are you doing?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
“The ghost is named Abigail,” I said. “Now put your game face on.”
I cleared my throat, and stepped back toward the shelf that felt more haunted. “Abigail, I don’t know what you’re doing here, but you need to leave,” I said. “You’re scaring the nice people.”
The next sound was a deep growl, sounding like a gigantic beast. Okay. Threat taken. I opened the book again, and read from the ninetieth psalm.
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations, before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. Jim, you’d better start blowing that shofar now or I swear I’ll make you eat it.”
He hastily tooted a few notes.
“You turn people back to dust,” I read. “Saying, ‘Return to dust, you mortals.’ A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”
The room began to shake in the Bay Area’s smallest, most centralized earthquake on record. Rare books slid off their shelves, but I continued. Jim tried to keep up with the shofar as best as he could.
“Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death – they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. We have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our, all our days, ugh.”
I stumbled, my stomach lurching. Jim’s arm shot out, and he caught me.
“Lucy, are you okay? He asked.
I nodded. “I’m fine, I’m fine. It’s hard. I’ve just got to finish this. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.”
It felt like I was smoking. I knew I wasn’t, because Jim would have said something, but it certainly felt like it.
“Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
The book began to burn me even through the gloves. My legs felt like jelly. My head pounded with a migraine. My mouth was dry, burnt. Abigail’s tantrum still shook the library, and she screamed like a train whistle. But I moved into the psalm’s home stretch.
“Relent, Lord! How long will it be?” I read. “Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children.”
My knees buckled. I pitched forward, only for Jim to catch me again, holding me up when I lacked the strength.
“Lucy, stop,” he said. “You’re hurting yourself. How the hel-heck are you hurting yourself?”
I took in a deep breath, and finished the psalm all at once. “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands!”
And just like that, the screaming stopped. The shaking ceased. The lights went on. I dropped the holy book like a hot potato and gasped, leaning against Jim. My wrist brushed the tefillah on his arm, and my skin sizzled. I jumped back with a start.
“Lucy?” he asked. “What was that?”
“Never mind,” I said, and tried to look around. Was the ghost still here? Did it leave?
“What happened to your teeth?” he asked.
“Never mind,” I said, trying to hide the fangs. I took a deep breath, and looked around.
“Is it gone?” Jim asked.
“It’s quiet now,” I said.
“What was that?” he asked again.
“A ghost,” I said. “You know, what your boss hired me for.”
“Ghosts don’t exist,” Jim said, and took off the tallit.
I shook my head. “Look, you just saw an exorcism. I don’t know what it’ll take to convince you now.”
“I’m just not superstitious,” he folded the shawl, took off and carefully bundled the tefillim, and stacked them with the shofar on the holy book.
“Then what did you just see?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “So, was that it?”
I shrugged, and turned around, surveying the room once more. “Maybe,” I said. I noticed that Abigail’s name was gone from the wall. “I don’t see anything, do you?”
“Uh,” Jim said quite eloquently.
“What?” I asked, turning toward him.
Abigail stood three inches from my face, the corpse-glow of her ethereal form reflected on my skin. Her eyes burned with green flame.
“Oh,” I said. “Well, shit.”
The ghost’s jaw opened unnaturally ide, and she screamed in my face with a deafening shriek, the force of which was like a strong wind.
“Unholy!” she shouted. “Accursed! Defiled!”
And then the ghost hit me. She just swung her fist right into my gut. The force of the blow sent me airborne, toppling into a bookshelf. Wood cracked beneath my back as I landed, and it rocked on its foundation. I fell as part of the shelving collapsed, dumping me and a bunch of priceless books on the floor.
“Abby, stop damaging the books!” I shouted.
And then the bookshelf fell on my head.
Okay, see, wood is bad for vampires. It isn’t lethal unless it stabs us in the heart, and we heal from bludgeoning as quickly as we do everything else, but it’s nasty in principle, and having that much of it land on your head at once hurts no matter who you are. It squashes you real good, too. So, yes. The correct response would be, “Ow, ow, ow, ow, oh holy hell ow!”
I faintly heard Jim blowing on the shofar, which was a nice, albeit useless effort. I braced my hands against the bookshelf and heaved, pushing with all my might – you know, vampire and all. I felt the heavy wood begin to budge, but my arms started shaking from the strain. Reading the Bible always messed me up.
A ghostly hand punched through the bookcase, shattering and splintering the wood, and grabbed me by the shirt. Abigail ripped me through the shelf one-handed, the wood cutting me all over. When the stars cleared from my vision, we were eye-to-eye again, with her hands wrapped around my neck. She spoke with about as much clarity as one would expect from an insane phantom.
“Agony! Slaughter! Massacre! The tomb of flame! The smoke of memory!
“Grrk,” I said, because her hands were around my throat. She helpfully freed my by throwing me across the room like a rag doll. I fetched up against the unsorted stacks, breaking another set of shelves.
The ghost shrieked, and Jimmy screamed. Really, I didn’t blame him.
I began to pull myself back up again, my head still swimming, just in time to see the late Abigail coming after me, wielding chunks of the broken shelving. I threw up my hands to catch her wrists, stopping the sharp chunks of wood before she could stab me with them. I strained, my arms beginning to shake, the ghost indelibly pressing against me, seething with her undead rage.
“Die!” she screamed. “Die, foul holy one! Leave me alone!”
“Glad to see you’re using your words,” I strained. Was she solid enough for me to shoot her, I wondered? Oh wait, I had left my guns at home, because normally you don’t shoot ghosts. Stupid, stupid, stupid me.
The sharpened wood came nearer, closer to my chest. I felt my grip began to slip. I noticed that her dress was both bloodstained and burned, because you tend to notice strange things when you’re about to die.
Jim dashed in, blowing notes on the shofar. He had haphazardly tossed the tallit back on his head and tied the tefillim around his wrists. The ghost turned her head to look at him, confusion crossing her features.
“Come on, isn’t this supposed to make you go away?” He asked.
The ghost stopped trying to stake me, and my arms went limp. Then she swung the chunks of shelving like a baseball bat, and Jim was barely able to throw his arms up and cover his face before she hit him hard enough to break the wood. He fell and tumbled.
“No fair!” I shouted. “Stop picking on the atheist!” I sprang at Abigail with everything I had, grabbing the ghost around the shoulders. She shrieked in surprise and turned on me, grabbing me by the arms, as well.
“All right,” I said. “It’s over, Abby. Now you’re going to have to–”
She started flying.
We hurtled through the air, careening haphazardly above the shelves. She twisted and turned, and my back scraped against the ceiling, knocking a hole in the plaster. I yelped and slammed my head against hers, hoping that she was material enough for the impact to work. Abigail’s head snapped back, and her flight trajectory wobbled a little bit. I wrapped my arms around her shoulders, pinning her against me, and threw all my weight back at once. Surprise filled the ghost’s eyes before we came crashing down in what had to be some sort of wrestling move.
Abigail was on the bottom, her ghostly body absorbing most of the impact, and I tumbled off into the pile of unsorted books again. One fell off the shelf, bonking me on the head.
“Ow!” I said, and picked it up. Elizabeth Bennet Or, Pride and Prejudice, it said. 1832. “Wow” I commented. First American Edition! Then I noticed the blood on the title page.
And the name scrawled under the date.
The ghost began to rise from the floor, her eyes burning at me as she opened her mouth to shriek again.
“Wait,” I said. “Abigail Daughtry, stop!”
She stopped. Her dead eyes blinked in surprise. I saw Jim start to get up, and waved him off. He gave me an equally confused look.
I began to approach Abigail Daughtry, holding the book. “Was this your book?” I asked her. “Is this yours?”
Her eyes fell on the copy of Pride and Prejudice, and she nodded once, briefly.
“What happened, Abigail?” I asked, walking close enough to touch her. I held out the book, offering it to the ghost. She took it, her fingertips brushing against mine.
I saw everything. Atlanta. Plantations. Pride. A small girl, her eyes bright, full of hope and her head full of her favorite book. A young woman now, venturing forward into a new life. Suitors. A wedding. Her family’s home. Children – three of them. No, four. Happiness. The book stored on a shelf.
And then I saw the fire. Heard the screaming. Saw the mob, dressed all in blue. The North had been in the right in the war, and slavery was one of the greatest evils of the world at that time, but death is death, and slaughter is slaughter. Even though he fought for a righteous cause, General Sherman was no hero. Death, blood, and fire came to the Daughtry house.
To Abigail’s children.
Killed. Looted. Burned. She watched as she bled, helpless as the flames overtook her family and her home.
The vision ended, and I looked up at her. The book must have survived the looting, and ended up here.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I’m so, so sorry. But you can’t keep on doing this.”
Abigail Daughtry’s eyes widened, then began to narrow in anger.
“Wait,” I said. “Please.” I touched her ghostly hand, and showed her everything.
Showed her my family. My husband, my children. My people. Showed her the coronation of King Richard. The riots. The fear. The castle. The siege.
I let her see my husband and children die in the Massacre of York. I let her see the face of the vampire who plucked me from the edge of mortality. The years, centuries spent under this curse. And the warmth of love and friendship I still let myself feel.
“How?” the ghost asked. “Why are you happy?”
I smiled. “Because of faith,” I said. “And hope. And love. You don’t have to linger, Abigail. You don’t have to hate. You can move on.”
She pulled back her hands, and closed her eyes.
“Please,” I said. “Let it go. Leave the grudge behind. You can do what I can’t do. You can go to your family again.”
Abigail Daughtry opened her eyes, and her dress was whole again.
“Have faith,” I said. “You can do it. I know you can.”
A single tear, sparkling like a diamond, trailed down the spirit’s cheek. She smiled, an expression belonging to her old self, young and full of hope.
“And maybe I’ll see you someday when I get there myself,” I said. “But go. Go see your family. Your kids are waiting for you.”
Abigail Daughtry began to fade. I nodded once, and let out a deep sigh. Then I realized something.
“Wait!” I said. “One more thing!”
The ghost, nearly gone, stopped and gave me a quizzical look.
I gestured around the wrecked bookshelves. “Is there any way you can, um, fix some of this? I really don’t want to get my new friend fired.”
Abigail Daughtry laughed at me, and then disappeared.
“Oh, poop,” I said.
Jim approached me. Slowly.
“I think you’re allowed to curse now,” he said.
I looked up and down the room. “Okay,” I said. “Two bookcases are wrecked. I don’t know how bad the books are, but I think if we can stack them neatly, it’ll help mitigate the damage a bit. I’m so sorry about this, Jimmy.”
I bent down and started picking up old books. The damage didn’t seem that bad, not really. “I’ll have to cough up the whole fee just to cover this,” I said. “Do you guys have insurance?”
“That was a ghost,” he said. “A real, live, vengeful ghost, and we fought it with Jew magic, and I’m pretty sure you have fangs, and you’re worried about cleanup?”
“You’re not getting fired over this,” I said. “There was a struggle. You saw it. It wasn’t your fault. I’ll pay for the shelving. Please oh please tell me that the books are insured.”
“They’re… they’re insured,” Jim said, looking at me like I was some sort of alien.
“Good,” I said. “Help me stack these books. Your boss is going to have a heart attack. And yes, I have fangs. Long story.”
Jim facepalmed. In all honesty, he was taking this rather well.
I stopped, and sighed, shaking my head.
“So,” I asked. “How about that coffee?”