Alex Johnson

Walt Winston and the Mysterious Manor

By Spooky

         It was impossible to avoid the International Network of Information – INI for short - since its formation twenty years ago. It dominated the airwaves, snuck into the cracks of the Internet to form its own niche, told people anything and everything they wanted to know.

         I admired them for that. They put giving out the truth above everything, and they didn’t just focus on celebrities or world news. They had a bit of everything – cooking, study tips, even how to be a good housewife.

         And then there was the black sheep. Walt Winston. His infamous Winston Report was laughable at best, idiotic at worst. He played detective as he hunted down vampires, ghosts, and the like. Everyone knew it was a cheap rip-off of news. What I didn’t know was why they kept him.

         Or, more importantly, why they hired me to look after him.

         At least it would be an easy job. Just babysit Walt as he played supernatural reporter – that was it. Then I’d get paid and blog whatever I wanted between assignments.

         But Walt was no child. He was a tall, slim man in his late thirties. His wild mess of brunette hair contrasted with his neatly trimmed moustache, hanging over his lips like a framed mantelpiece. He wore black dress shoes, khaki pants, and a pale pink button-up shirt. Suspenders sealed the deal. He wanted the children to think of him as an old fashioned detective.

         I guess I could see why kids liked him at least. His eccentricity was charming in a way, if not downright ridiculous. Kids liked that a hero. I never understood why.

         Walt’s office was as off-balance as he was. Sure, it had the necessities – file cabinet, desk, lamp, and so forth – but then there were the piles of ignored paperwork. Photos of the Nazca lines and Moai statues were framed on the wall where anyone else would hang motivational posters. Glass-encased fossils and old books in foreign writing littered his shelves. A dream catcher hung over his door. A corkboard hung on the one free spot on the wall. On it were pictures of corpses, an old mansion, and childlike drawings all connected with different colors of string. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

         He spun around three times in his swivel chair before he noticed me, and immediately gave me a white as a ghost smile.

         “Oh, goodie!” He clapped his hands together. “A new customer!”

         “Not quite. Try ‘new secretary’.”

         “I told them I didn’t need another one.”

         “They clearly think you do.”

         He opened his mouth to protest, but stopped before a word had left his mouth. He shrugged, smiled, and tried again. “Oh, no matter. It’s more fun with a little help. Bet the girls’ll flock to me even more with a young man like you by my side.”

         “That’s all good and well, sir, but-“

         “But we haven’t even been introduced! Silly me! I’m Walt Winston, supernatural reporter extraordinaire. And you are?”

         “Robin Hathaway. Journalist. Been at it for-“

         “A few years or something?” He interrupted once, then again before I had time to answer. “Specifics aren’t important.”



         Yet he gave me almost every detail about our first mission together as we walked to the company parking lot. We were going to some backwaters town in Kansas appropriately named Middle of Nowhere. The town’s men kept vanishing to the old Everglade estate on the edge of town, apparently some historical landmark for the town. Those who came back looked empty at best, on the verge of death at worst.

         Something about what he said didn’t quite add up thought. I thought I must have heard him wrong. “What do you mean ‘those that came back’?”

         “It’s quite simple actually. Some died. Apparently they had a great fall, got all bloody and broken, and were covered in glass.” He played with the curled end of his moustache as he spoke. “I’ll spare you the photos.”

         “That’s awful.”

         “More like fortunate.”

         “Excuse me?”

         “Undead are rather irritating to deal with.”

         “Like zombies?”

         “Or vampires. Or reanimated corpses. There are all kinds really.”

         Was he being serious? I really couldn’t tell.

         And then I understood. The INI had paid some folks to come up with a spooky story to get this nut job out of the office. That way people could actually do their job without worrying Walt would to get into their business. What I didn’t get was why they ever hired Walt in the first place. He wasn’t qualified to do anything, let alone be a reporter.

         “Well, here we are.”

         He held the passenger door open for me. I glanced at the abomination for just one second, long enough for the piss yellow color to burn my eyes. It didn’t surprise me Walt drove something like this. I was just embarrassed I actually had to get in it.


         From the moment the key slipped into the ignition and the motor roared to life, Europop CDs began to blast through the radio. It felt like a European sledgehammer was crashing against my temple. I couldn’t think clearly, let alone get some sleep. Worst of all, this ride was going to last twelve hours. I had hardly survived one.

         By the end of this ride, one of us would be dead – me if my ears bled out and my brained turned to mush, or Walt if I lost control of myself before my untimely demise.

         My knuckles turned white as I gripped the edge of my seat. I just had to hold it in. I just had to keep myself from losing it. If I didn’t, I might become Walt’s next case.


         I could finally hear. He’d actually turned down the music.


         I looked up from the floorboards. His brows were actually knit it concern. Not that he seemed to understand it was his fault or anything.

         “Is everything okay?”

         “Take a guess,” I told him. The sarcasm was strong in me today.

         “I’d assume not.” He gave a nervous laugh. “Don’t tell me you get motion sickness. You can open the window if you want.”

         “That won’t help.”

         “Should we pull over then? Get a bag for you?”

         “I’m not sick!” I snapped.

         “Then what’s the matter?”

         They’d really paired me with a piece of work – dense, eccentric, and annoying as Hell. The moment I got back, I was quitting. But, for now, I was stuck. No way was I about to turn down this money. I could get my first paycheck, and then I was out of here.

         “The music,” I said. I took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and then released it. “Your music is giving me a headache.”

         “Oh? I-it’s loud?” Wasn’t that the understatement of the year? He didn’t wait for my response. He turned it down even more, until it was a just a soft hum in the background. “Sorry,” he said. “I don’t usually have anyone coming with me. Music just, uh, makes the trip go faster.”

         So he actually had a human side. He was just a ball of eccentricity piloting a human. Color me surprised.

         “Is this better?”

         “A lot,” I said. “Mind if I rest my eyes?”

         “Be my guest.” He reached over and ruffled my pale purple hair. “I’ll wake you when we get there.”

         I stared out the window, waiting for my head to stop hurting. When that happened, I’d let myself sleep.


         When I woke up, Walt was gently shaking my shoulder. The bright blue sky that had followed us out of the city was replaced by night. More stars than I could count hung overhead, joined by a full moon. So this was the country.

         “Morning,” I said with a yawn.

         “I was wondering when you’d wake up. Looks like I kept the CDs low enough for you.”

         “That you did.”

         So we’d actually arrived without any trouble, at least nothing that woke me up. I guess Walt could be sensitive to others’ feelings when he put his mind to it.

         “What’s the plan now? Drop by the motel?”

         He shook his head. “You can if you want. I have to check in with the mayor.”

         It was all I could do to keep from groaning. He may have seemed more sensitive, but his craziness hadn’t toned down at all.


         “But of course! I need to know if I’ve missed anything in my preparations. We need an inside perspective for that, Robin. Can I call you Robin?” He didn’t wait for a response. “Who better to ask than the man watching over it all?”

         His poetic words fell on half-asleep ears, but I wasn’t going to sit in the motel twiddling my thumbs like a child. I was going with him. It might even wear Walt out a little – but I doubted that. He eagerly motioned for me to follow before prancing in the direction of city hall. The car beeped and locked as I followed him into the night.


         City hall was an old building made of stone in the center of the town. At this hour, a reasonable person would have been asleep, but the lights were still on inside and the door was unlocked. I don’t know what we would have done if the building had been closed. Guessing from how obnoxious Walt had been so far, probably sit outside all night. Either that or hunt down the mayor’s house.

         Inside were tall ceilings, tile floors, and cabinets full of trophies from any major accomplishment this little town had been able to pull together. At the end of the left hall was a door titled “MAYOR” in big, black letters. At least they were straight forward.

         Walt rapped his knuckles against the door a few times. “Mister Mayor, mind if we come in?” he singsonged.

         “But of course,” came a tired voice from inside.

         I didn’t blame him. Even after the long ride, I still wish I was asleep. Being near Walt was just that tiring.

         Walt held the door open for me and then followed me in. The office, to say the least, looked better than Walt’s. Papers were neatly stacked on a mahogany desk. File cabinets stood on either side of the room, each labeled for easy findings. Plaques and framed photos hung on the walls .I wished I was working for a guy like this instead.

         In front of the mayor’s desk was a plush couch the color of hot chocolate. We sat there and waited for the man in charge to explain himself. He was short, round, and his grey head of hair was starting to pull back on his forehead. Lines contorted his face. He must have been in this business a while.

         “Thank goodness you’ve finally come. I can’t bear to think what would happen if we waited any longer.”

         Figures. Of course he’d play along with Walt’s little game. He’d probably been bribed by the INI to keep him busy.

         “It’s my pleasure, sure,” Walt said. He pulled a camcorder out from his bag. “If I may?”

         The mayor nodded. “The INI told me you’d film this. That was part of your price.”

         “Exactly.” He handed the camcorder to me and helped turn it on. “Okay, Robin. Tell me we’re live and press the button.”

         Secretary and cameraman. I guess the pay was good enough for two jobs. “Alright, sir. We’re live in three… two… and one.”

Walt cleared his throat and then turned on the charm. A pleasant grin spread across his face and he winked at the camera, hopefully at his potential viewers instead of me.

Then he began to speak.

“Now from what I’ve heard, Middle of Nowhere has a sort of ghost problem?”

         The mayor nodded gravely. Had to give it to the guy. He was a good actor.

         “Yes, and my, is she a looker. Of course she is. She’s an Everglade.” At our confused expressions, he explained himself. “The Everglades founded Middle of Nowhere way back in 1852. Funny thing is, you’d think smart people like them would settle down in a big city with their talents. They had looks, brains, wealth, and yet the settled down here with their servants.”

         Slaves is what he meant. So they were plantation owners.

         “And you think this lady is one of them?” I found myself asking.

         Walt didn’t reprimand me. He just seemed happy I was actually taking an interest in the investigation. Really I just wanted to call the man on his bluff.

         But he wasn’t startled. The mayor just smiled and stared off into the distance. “Yes, sir. Or ma’am?”

         I shrugged.

         “This ghost – there’s nothing like her. She has long brunette hair that waves like ocean tides. Her amber eyes have hazel flakes that make them sparkle. Her breasts are supple and even make her modest nightgown look stunning.” He was practically drooling as he described the so-called ghost.

         I had to roll my eyes. Even if this was some kind of a scary story, they were sexualizing a ghost. I’d never seen anything like it.

         And yet Walt leaned more forward with every word. I half-expected his expression to mirror the mayor’s. But it didn’t. His brows traveled up his pale forehead. His lips parted in anticipation.

         “I think I know exactly what we’re dealing with,” he said.


         I wanted pick Walt’s brain, see just he thought we were up against, but he ended our interview with the mayor after dropping that bomb. Not even the man in charge knew what he was talking about. I made sure to ask after Walt stepped out.

         Walt was strangely silent the rest of the evening. I couldn’t get any secrets out of him. Nothing could be done about it. Just rest, regroup, and see if I could get the truth out of a groggier Walt come morning.

         The motel I booked wasn’t too far away, and it certainly wasn’t anything special. It was a long building, shaped like a rectangle. In the front, there was an office where we checked in. Two long halls were on either side of the counter. On room was on the left side – second door to the left.

         Inside was an underwhelming single room. It had a mini fridge, a microwave, a single bed that would feel cramped with the both of us in it, and a bathroom.

         It wasn’t much, but it was what the town had available. I guess the ghost brought the other visitors in.

         The night almost felt longer than the car ride. Walt opened his mouth wide and snored, and he clung to me like a body pillow. I don’t how I managed it, but I got some more sleep in.

         Then dawn came.

         I knew I wasn’t going to get any more sleep in, so I pried myself from Walt’s side. The room was unbearably hot. Whether it was from dealing with Walt’s sweat or a lack of AC, I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that I needed a good shower.

         Walt would be out for a few more hours, and he would be out hard. I’d tried to tell him to wake up and move over, but he hadn’t listened at all. I even raised my voice. Had I gotten any louder, my yelling would have woken up the staff.

         That meant I got some peace and quiet.

         That meant I got to sing.

         The warm water worked the kinks out of my body, until I was ready to dry, dress, and get on with my day. I left the towel around my shoulders. It might be a bit until he woke up, and I didn’t really feel like drying my hair.

         And yet I was met with wide eyes outside the bathroom door.

         “Songbird, that was awesome! You didn’t tell me you could sing!” He applauded my efforts. Literally.

         “E-excuse me?”

How had he gotten up so fast? When I left, he was passed out. Now he was on his feet and clapping for me.

         “What? You like your new nickname?”

         “Of course not. Call me Robin.”

         “Nope. No can do.” He waved his hand around dismissively. “Songbird is Songbird. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.”

         Unbelievable. He was really going to stick with it.

         And just like that, I became Songbird. My journalist title might as well have gone out the window with my real name.


         As soon as Walt had showered and dressed, we were on our way to the Everglade estate. Thankfully, it was on foot. I couldn’t stand another minute in that yellow abomination so soon.

         It was no wonder the estate was built so far away from the town. It didn’t match the boring brick buildings one bit. It was tall and majestic, reaching three stories high if I didn’t include the roof. Its walls were painted a deep shade of violet with peaking black roofs that put the best haunted houses to shame. The weeds in the garden and ivy clinging to the sides of the building certainly helped the creep factor.

         Definitely a nice attraction. I’d have to tell some thrill-seekers about it when I got back to blogging.

         We passed the tall, rusted gates and I followed Walt. I thought he’d go up to the front door, but he didn’t. He must have had some sort of a plan he’d fill me in on in just a moment. At least, I hoped he’d fill me in.

         We stopped before the entrance to an overgrown hedge maze. Walt straightened his tie and readied his camcorder. All business.

         He didn’t explain a thing.

         “Why aren’t we going inside?” I asked.

         He looked at me with wide eyes, as if only remembering then that I was there. He winced, looked away, and then spoke slowly to me like I was a child.

         “Now, Songbird, I know this is your first job with me. You’ve never seen ghosts before, so you’re probably very scared-“

         “Not really.”

         “Now, now.” He waggled his finger at me. “Pride will get you nowhere.”

         “I’m seriously not scared.”

         “Fine. Have it your way.” He turned back to the hedge maze. “There might be a ghost in there, and ghosts are dangerous things. Do not get distracted. Do not get lost. Do not forget where you are. Understand?”

         “Yeah, I get it. But don’t worry. I’ve had more dangerous jobs.”

         “I highly doubt that.”

         “Then tell me. What’s so bad about ghosts?”

         He placed his camcorder back in his bag just so he could count “what’s so bad” on his fingers.

         “Let’s see. There’s possession, temptation, scratchy claws that tear your flesh to shreds, gnashing teeth that will rip apart what claws didn’t-“

         I held up my hands. “Okay, okay. I hear you. I’ll be careful.”

         “You better.”

         “I will.”


         I didn’t know where Walt thought he was going. If I was a ghost, I’d be inside – away from the summer heat. Gardens were nice and all, but they were more of a spring thing. He was just wasting time.

         Oh, of course. Had to fill up that episode’s screen time somehow. Even if it was just twenty minutes long and the commercials carried it to the thirty minute mark, Walt still had to get enough material to make the episode interesting.

         Even if he was wasting my time.

         I just wish I knew what was up with him.

         Even as Walt headed though the maze, he spoke in a deep voice, smooth and rich like dark chocolate. I was starting to get an idea why folks watched his show. He slowly told potential viewers about the history of this town, the victims of the ghost, and what the estate was like – all details we’d picked up last night.

         Had to give it to the guy. His mind was a steel trap.

         But I wasn’t quite caught up in his game.

         The hedges cleared away at last, revealing what they were designed to hide: a garden of red roses. In the center was an old wooden gazebo with chipping white paint. A figure sat in there, her back turned to us, but I saw her long brunette hair.

         This had to be the girl.

         Catch her. Call her on her bluff. Go home.

         As soon as this ghost business was history, so was this job.

         “I’ve got this.”

         “Songbird, no!”

         But I had already made my way towards the old gazebo.

“Hi, Miss. Mind if I talk to you for a moment?”

She slowly turned her head towards me. All the way. A full 180 degrees.

My stomach churned as I carefully added a word. “Please?”

The head floated off the neck. Its eyes turned black. Blood began to leak from where pretty hazel eyes once were.

“Get down!”

I didn’t have time to think. One moment, I was standing. The head flew towards me. The next, I was tackled to the ground. My body trembled under a weight.

“Get off! Get off!” I screamed, trying to bat it away.

But it grabbed my shoulders and gave me a gentle shake.

“It’s me, Songbird. It’s Walt.”

“What the hell was that? Some kind of puppet?”

“A ghost.”

I didn’t want to believe it.

I wouldn’t believe it.

“As if.”


         In the end, we decided to pull back. Walt said it was dangerous, that the ghost might come for me again. I didn’t know what to think. Everything I knew about those creepy campfire story creatures – was he trying to tell me those things were real?

         “You were lucky I was with you.”

         Was it lucky? Did that thing really try to kill me?

         I stared down at my hands, at the motel room floor. I was still shaking. Even though my heartbeat had returned to its usual pace, the shaking wouldn’t stop.

         “What was that thing?” I asked. “It couldn’t be human.”

         “I told you,” he said. “It was a ghost.”

         “Ghosts aren’t real.”

         “Then what would you call that thing?” he asked. He knelt down before me to meet my eyes. “A practical illusion? A hologram?”

         We were outside. There was no way it was a hologram. If anything could do what the ghost did, it was either a projection or the real deal. And it couldn’t be a projection.

         “I doubted you. I did exactly what you told me not to.”

         “It’s okay. We’re all doubters at first. But we learn.”

         “From what?” I demanded. “They teach is at school!”

         A smile spread across his face. His eyes lit up – with mischief or happiness, I wasn’t sure. Walt stood and extended a hand to me.

         “Let me be your teacher. I’m the best in the business.”

         I hesitated, then took his hand.

         “I don’t doubt that,” I said.


         I felt my heart began to race again as I saw the mansion in the evening sunset. Compared to the pinks and oranges that lit up the sky, the Everglade looked black. My stomach churned. I began to sweat.

         “This is it,” Walt said. “Our date with destiny.”

         After practically having to carry me back, the rusted gate was shut and locked. We didn’t have the key, but Walt wasn’t about to let that stop him so easily. He climbed over the gate first, before helping me over.

         I remembered his words from earlier. Don’t get distracted. Don’t get lost. Don’t forget where you are. I mentally added one more command.

         Don’t underestimate the supernatural.

         Walt slowly creaked the door open and peered inside. No sight of ghosts so far. He motioned for me to follow him in. I did.

         Inside were lush red carpets, ornate tile floors, and woodwork fit for noblemen. In some past life, this really must have been a nice home for some plantation owners.

         Now all that was left was its shell. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling like chandeliers. Everything was under a heavy layer of dust that made me cough. Even the stairs creaked as we headed up them.

         There was nothing on the first floor, and even more nothing on the second. That left one floor to go.

         Halfway up the stairs I heard something. Sobbing. It was faint, but I thought it might have been a woman.

         “What is that?” I asked.

         “The ghost, most likely.”

         I wouldn’t argue. I’d seen what ghosts were capable of. Crying wouldn’t surprise me anymore.

         Walt turned his camcorder on and described the mansion, perhaps for those who could only listen to his show. He was considerate like that, I supposed.

         He mentioned the large windows that greeted us as we headed up the stairs and the old paintings that hung from the walls. The faces in them were faded from wear, but their outfits looked old. Around the time of the Civil War. They were all the same group of people.

         So those were the Everglades. They were dead and buried now, like this town’s reputation. But they’d had their day.

         The ghost must have been one of them. The Mother maybe? No. It didn’t seem quite right.

         “Songbird, this way.”

         I cast one last glance at the painting before following Walt down the east hall. He stopped at the last room on the left and put his ear to the door.

         “She’s in there.”

         I didn’t say anything. I figured it was more for his viewers than for me.

         Walt slowly closed his hand around the doorknob and it gave way with a creak.

         Inside everything was covered by a white tarp. A fine layer of dust rested on top of those. They hadn’t been moved for a while, but someone had been in here.

         “Walt, look.”

         I pointed at the ground and his gaze followed. I figured his viewers would want to see this.

         “Several footsteps lead into the room towards one of the tarps. I think it covers a chair. The footsteps stop abruptly, but there’s a large, glass window here. It’s shattered. I’m sure you darling viewers can guess what happened to these poor fellows.”

         The victims. Everything Walt said about them added up. The great fall, the blood, the broken bones, and the glass – the ghost pushed them out the window to their death.

         I refused to let us suffer the same fate.

         Walt crept inside but I stayed near the door. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t move. Fear had me frozen where I stood. Walt approached the tarp. The sobs came from under.

         “Miss?” he asked the tarp. “Will you show me your face?”

         The white fabric flew into the air, freeing the dust from it, before falling to the floor. A woman sat where it had rested only moments before. She was in an old, white nightgown and met the mayor’s description to a tee.

         “Darling,” the woman said. She turned to face Walt.

         He’d taken a few steps back when the tarp rose. Fear had been in his eyes then. Now he was captivated, staring at her. I didn’t know if it was the boobs or her innocent smile but, when she opened her arms, Walt ran to embrace her.

         What was he doing?

         He was making the same mistake I’d made just earlier today.     

“Walt, are you crazy?”

The sudden voice made him freeze. He blinked and looked around, as if he wasn’t quite sure of where he was. I suppose ghosts had several forms of possession.

He reached towards the woman and wiped her bangs away from her face. His confusion turned to hurt.


“You’re… not her.” His voice shook. “You’re not Grace.”

His brows knit together as he stared at the woman. He looked offended. Hurt even. I don’t know who this Grace person, but I had no doubt that’s who he wanted to see. This was just a poor illusion.

The woman twisted and distorted in the hideous, eyeless, bloody mess from before.

“You’re not the young master,” she said. “You’re not him.”

A chill ran down my spine.

“Walt, get back!”

Walt stared at her with blank eyes, then slowly looked to me. His collar bunched up as if someone had grabbed him.

“If you’re not him,” the ghost gasped, “then you are a liar.”

I scrambled to get to Walt.

It was too late.

He slammed against the wall and crumpled as he hit the floor. He was gasping and shaking, but he was still breathing. That meant he was still alive.

The ghost turned and began to stalk towards him.

He might die if she threw him around again. He might go out the window.

No way. I wasn’t about to let my new boss become another victim.

“Hey, you!”

Her head spun around as if it were on a swivel. Necks didn’t allow that kind of movement. Her body tumbled towards me as if it were a puppet on some twisted man’s string.

“And you!” Her voice distorted. Funny. I only thought that happened in movies. “You’re with him, I bet! Though it would be fun to trick me!”

“N-no, nothing of the sort. I promise.”

She reached towards me and I began to float above the ground. It felt like someone had grabbed me by the neck and lifted me. I gasped for breath. I tried to get free.

All I managed was a weak “W-Walt.”

Funny. I never imagined I would ask someone for help in my last moments.

Then again, I guess I never planned to die.

“Let my Songbird go!”

He forced himself to his feet and tackled the woman. The body went down but the head just stared at him. Then she bared her teeth at Walt.

I fell to the floor and looked around. There had to be something I could use. I wasn’t about to just let us die here.

And then I saw it.

When Walt tackled the ghost, a few of the other tarps fell. There were paintings underneath, the same as the ones in the hallways. But I could see the faces now. I could tell what I was looking at.

The mayor had been right on the money. This was the old Everglade estate, and a family did find it. There was the plantation owner, his plump wife, two kids, and an older black woman.

She thought Walt had been the young master. One of the kids was a boy.

The pieces were coming together.

“M-Ma’am,” I said. “I think I know where your boy is.”

The ghost looked to me – her head and her body. Slowly the head lowered itself back onto the body. Its hair quit whipping around wildly. For a moment, she was a placated.

I’d use that to my advantage.

“That boy… I think he might’ve run away from the war.”

“Why’s that?”

“You said Walt looks like him, right?” 

She nodded slowly. Her eyes filled back in. Hazel looked a lot better than black and bleeding. Her skin sucked in that color until her skin was the color of the earth.

“Bit more pompous than my youngin’, but ‘bout the same.” As she took on her true form, her accent slipped in.

“So she was the maid,” Walt breathed.

I nodded. “Ma’am, I think he might’ve headed north and found a wife.”

“Instead of comin’ home?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I didn’t know the boy.”

She thought a moment and then she laughed. It was strange. The woman who had tried to kill us both moments before was smiling and laughing. Not haughtily. Not cruelly. She was actually in a good mood.

“Dallas did say he never wanted to run a farm. This must be his son. Explains the resemblance.”

She must have lost track of the years. “Great grandkid, probably, but close enough.”

The woman seemed to find some peace in that. “Well, I reckon he’s better off that way. Must’ve lived a full life. Probably been waitin’ for me up top all these years.”

“Better go see him then.”

“I guess I better.”

The woman faded away, and I felt her absence. She had to move on sometime. I was just happy I could help.

I crossed the room and handed Walt his camcorder.

He looked at me with wide eyes. He still wasn’t quite back to normal.

“You have to finish the show, silly. Your fans deserve that.”

That roused enough sense in the man that he took the camcorder and walked to the window. He filmed the last traces of the sunset as he narrated the conclusion.

“It turned out the ghost was a maid of the old Everglade family. All she wanted was to see the boy she raised again, and so she led men who looked like him here. When she found out it wasn’t them, she threw them to her death. But she’s moved on now, and so shall we.”

He turned the camcorder to face him. I could only hope he was in the image.

“And we’ll move on as well. Until next time. This is Walt Winston signing out.”

He turned the camcorder off and turned to me.

“We should get out of here,” he said.



         In the end, we stayed one more night. It was too late to drive another twelve hours, especially after everything we’d gone through. I didn’t know about him, but I was still a lot of pain from being dropped like a ragdoll.

         Walt said he needed some time alone, so I let him collect the reward from the mayor by himself. He’d have the walk to and from there to collect his thoughts, and then maybe he’d let me into his head. If we were supposed to be partners from then on, he kind of had to.

         The door to our opened. Walt slipped inside. Then he closed the door

         “I’m back,” was all he said. He removed the wad of cash from his suit pocket and placed it on the mini fridge.

         “Welcome back.”

         I scooted over on the bed so he had room to lay down. My back was to the edge of my side of the bed. He settled beside me, laying on his back. I figured it was just so he didn’t have to look at me.

         “I take it you’ll be quitting now?” he asked.

         “What? Of course not.”

         He raised his head to look at me. A single brow quirked. “Most quit after their first job.”

         “Not me,” I said. “I’m in it for the long haul.”

         He laughed and laid his head back. “Someone like you might actually be able to do it.”

         We lay there in silence for some time. The only light came from the open window. You had to appreciate the country. The stars were something else. I wanted to give him the opportunity to say something first, but it didn’t look like he was going to. Guess that meant it was up to me.

         “What’s wrong?”

         “Her,” he wheezed. He cleared his throat, but it wasn’t enough to stop it from cracking. “I thought it would be her.”

         “Grace, right?”

         He nodded. “She was my wife. I, uh… lost her in an accident five years back.” He chuckled nervously, but I could tell he was on the verge of crying. “She wanted to come with me on a real dangerous job and… I… I told her not to. I told her that one was too dangerous. But she said we were partners. Partners had each other’s back.”

         “How did she die?”

         It was an insensitive question. I wasn’t stupid enough to think it wasn’t. But I was also curious.

         “She saved me.”

         I didn’t know what to say to that. What do you say when your boss says his wife died for his sake? So I said the only thing I could think of.

         “I’m sorry.”

         He turned away from me, and I figured I would at least look away so he could cry. I’d even pretend I didn’t hear it, pretend I was sleeping. That was the guy could save some face. Acting happy all the time had to be such a pain.

         I closed my eyes and tried to slow my breaths. It would be a bit before I actually fell asleep.

         “Hey, Songbird?”

         “Yes, sir?”

         “Call me Walt.”

         “Yes, s- Er, Walt.”

         “Could you do me a favor?”

         I raised a shoulder. “I can try,” I said. It might make him feel better.”

         “Could you sing for me?”

         I thought I’d heard him wrong. “I’m sorry?”

         “When I was upset, Grace used to sing to me. I know it’s a bit rude asking you to take her place but-“

         “It’s fine. What do you want me to sing?”


         So I sang an old lullaby Mom used to sing me when I was a kid. On nights where thunderstorms kept me away or a bad dream wouldn’t let me go back to sleep, Mom would sing to me. It wasn’t so hard to sleep then.

         Even though I couldn’t see him, I knew Walt finally let his smile fall. His breath became ragged. He finally started to cry.

         And all I could do was sing.

© The Acentos Review 2016