Esther sat outside the Milwaukee Art Museum, perched on a bench along the shore of Lake Michigan. Marigold skies above reflected in unperturbed waters below, and between the two sat Esther, eating her dinner and watching the day die.
Esther had visited the museum to see a special exhibition featuring the woodblock prints of Hokusai, the Japanese artist. Specifically, she had wanted to see The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai’s most famous work, in person. She had spent all afternoon standing in front of the image, lost in its every detail.
In the print, a blue behemoth of a wave towered over three fishing boats. The wave reared its foamy crest and spat briny spray at the sailors below it. The men on the boats were resolute, but surely doomed, because the wave was poised to crash down on them with all the fury of the sea.
On her bench outside the museum, Esther ate a few berries and listened to the gentle undulations of Lake Michigan. She took a sip from her green smoothie and tried to imagine what the Great Wave must have sounded like as it engulfed the fishermen and their boats, claiming them all for the deep.
Esther choked on her mouthful of smoothie. She hadn’t even noticed the stranger approach her bench. “I—I’m sorry?”
“Those are nice pants,” the woman repeated. “Where’d you get them?”
“Oh, um.” Esther cleared her throat. “I made them, actually. I’m a clothing designer. I have a shop just around the corner.”
The newcomer was a handful of years older than Esther—late thirties, maybe—and from her jacket to her boots, she was dressed completely in gray.
“Tore my favorite pair of pants at work the other day,” the woman said. “Was a real bitch.”
Esther smiled apologetically. “Life’s a bitch, right?”
The woman snorted. “Life is bullshit, is what it is.” And then, without asking for or waiting for an invitation, she sat down beside Esther and gazed out at the water. “Don’t mind if I smoke, do you?”
Esther did mind, but she didn’t say anything. Instead, she ate another berry and studied the stranger on her bench out of the corner of her eye. Like Esther, the woman was slender and had short hair. Unlike Esther’s neat buzz, however, the older woman had more of an unkempt pixie, and it was a lighter shade than Esther’s raven. Her all-gray look wasn’t an entirely unpleasing aesthetic, but she would have benefited from a splash of color in there somewhere.
“What, um, kind of work do you do?” Esther ventured, for lack of a better thing to say.
The stranger sighed out a smoky cloud, looked at Esther, and with more than a little pride, said, “I kill ghosts. Send the fucking cunts straight back to wherever the hell.”
Esther opened her mouth to reply, could think of nothing to say, and closed it again.
“Most ghosts are harmless, but there are some murderous ones out there, just like there are murderers among us here in life. Stalkers and psychos that prey on the helpless. My team and I track those ghosts down, and then we put them down.”
Esther took a drink from her smoothie.
“Most people don’t even know they’re being haunted until it’s too late,” the woman went on. “There are lots of early warning signs, but people usually don’t recognize them for what they are. Pictures that won’t hang straight, mirrors that don’t reflect right, lights that flicker. Haven’t noticed anything like that at your place, have you?”
“Well, like I said,” the lady in gray went on, “life is bullshit. But I figure that if I can bring a little bit of order to all the chaos in this messy world…then maybe it will all be worth it in the end. Life, I mean. Killing ghosts is my way of bringing order.”
Light had been steadily fleeing the sky above the two women. Esther made a show of looking at her watch and making an oh-is-that-what-time-it-is? noise. “I should, um, probably get going.”
“Yeah. Good talk. Hey, I’m Dimeter by the way.”
“Esther,” Esther replied, extending her hand. After they shook, Esther discovered that Dimeter had pressed a small card into her palm.
“If you notice anything weird,” Dimeter said, nodding at the card, “call me.”
After Dimeter had walked away, Esther looked down at the business card she held. It was creased in the middle, and one of the corners was folded over. It said:
Experts in paranormal activity
Experienced ghost exterminators
On the back, there was a phone number. Because Esther didn’t want Dimeter to see her tossing it in the trash, she slipped the card into her purse.
As Esther finished her supper, the sky above her faded to black. The reflections in the water surrendered their glittering luster to the night, until all that remained were murmuring waves in the darkness.
West Hawthorne Drive was not without its quirks, but to Esther, it was home. Gliding down the short street and around the cul-de-sac on her rollerblades, she thought about what the stranger in gray had said the evening before.
The truth was, many of Esther’s neighbors did believe in ghosts. Many of them claimed to have experienced things on Hawthorne Drive that could only be attributed to supernatural activity. Esther hadn’t lived on the street very long, but had never seen or heard anything out of the ordinary for herself. She had never believed in ghost stories, and she wasn’t about to start.
My latest short story, “In the Shadow of the Seam” has been published in full as part of The Hawthorne Project, a new anthology from Raw Earth Ink!
The Hawthorne Project is a collaboration between eleven authors that collectively tells the story of one crazy week in the lives of the residents of West Hawthorne Drive. It can be purchased in paperback from Lulu and Amazon, and as a Kindle e-book.