Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Right Place by Sven Camrath

Tuesday​
If he died here, nobody would find his corpse. The thought soothes him. Lichen-covered slabs surround him; their once-crisp inscriptions weathered away like the memories of those buried beneath. He breathes in the familiar smell of damp moss and rotten leaves, the calm embracing him like a shroud. Behind thorny thickets, pricking anyone daring to intrude, is his hiding spot, far away from the living. The crumbling and overgrown crypt keeps him out of sight, hiding him from prying eyes. He is glad he hasn’t encountered a single person crying over a cadaver in the ground this morning. Such a violent display of emotion is alien to him.

The rain-soaked soil squelches under his boots on his way to the fallen obelisk in the center of his sacred place. Once, it must have been a centerpiece, the pride of a mason; it had toppled and broken into two big chunks. This is where he sits, listens, and waits day after day after day. He brushes off the wet leaves that had fallen on the jagged blocks during last night's storm. He sits on the cold, hard surface, his backpack between his legs. He takes out his weighty thermos, and with a low metallic clonk, puts it next to him. The crypt is behind him; watching him, hiding him, protecting him.

He produces a small, gray device from the pack. With the flick of a switch, its display lights up with a faint red glow. The needle stabs towards the far end of the meter, and once the surge of electricity disperses, it sinks back listlessly. The red light is the only indication that the device is not dead. It is capable of detecting faint electromagnetic fields, like the one from his neighbor's television, never ceasing its plastic drone through the thin sheets of suffocating drywall. Here, in a place that has never known electricity, the needle stubbornly refuses to move, day after day after day. But he is patient.

A second box appears in his hands, black and dull plastic covered with knobs and buttons, a chrome antenna protruding. The lettering on the plastic wore off long ago. A pair of well-worn headphones strangles the device. Their once bright, yellow foam is brittle and has taken on the color of dried pus, but they still work after all these years. He slowly unravels their cord and puts them on.
He extends the antenna and turns one the knobs until he feels the familiar click. With closed eyes he drifts into communion with the device in his hands. The white noise of quickly changing frequencies fills his ears.

"What's that?"

Startled, he jolts from his bench and spins around. The cable snags on his jacket and pulls the headphones from his ears, throwing them onto the wet ground. Ahead of him stands a young woman; she would not be a day over 25, not much younger than himself. She wears a puffy green jacket, black leggings, a matching beanie, and pale skin. She audibly chews a piece of gum. A melange of stale, cold cigarette smoke and mint invades his nose. She gives him a cheeky smile, a fresh scratch on her chin. How had she found him?

His heart is racing. He bends down to pick up the headphones. A large piece of foam had broken off. The woman pays no attention to him and instead peers at the motionless needle on the bench.
"Hey, I've seen one of these," she says, stepping closer towards the device. "That's one of these ghost detector thingies, right?"
That thingie was a finely calibrated EMF meter, but what did she know?
"You’re hunting for ghosts, aren't you?" A glimmer of excitement in her eyes.
He hates it when amateurs call them ghosts; they are spirits.
He grabs the meter and slips it into his pocket to save it from her prying eyes.
"In a cemetery?" she stifles a laugh. "Of all the places, you are looking for ghosts in a graveyard? It's a cool place and all, but come on!"
Is she making fun of him? She’s the one that has no idea about these things. He can feel his face getting hot. Her eyes wide open, she looks around his sanctuary like a child at a carnival.
"Man, I wish the others were here! This is going to be such an awesome hangout spot!"
The knot in his stomach tightens.

She moves her bony hands from her mouth back to one of the large marble chunks. For a split-second, he sees a piece of the woman’s face stuck to the back of his bench; the chewing gum is the same spent color as her skin. She pulls a packet from her jacket. She rips off the crinkling cellophane and lets it fall to the ground. She sticks a cigarette between her pale, thin lips, and gives him an expectant look. After he stands unmoving for an uncomfortable amount of time, she rolls her eyes and pats her pockets. She produces a plastic lighter and flicks it repeatedly. Each failed attempt is followed by a mumbled swear until she finally lights her cigarette. She takes a deep drag and closes her eyes.

"You gotta go to places with tormented souls," smoke trails her as she further desecrates his space. "The ones that still have unfinished business in this world and want revenge or something."
It’s clear to him, she has no idea what she’s talking about. He stifles a cough as the smoke reaches him. He longs for the calming smell of decay.
She leans against one of the moss-covered slabs, looking up into the bone-gray sky as she exhales another cancerous cloud. "Got a lot of free time on my hands, so I watch tons of ghost hunting shows. I mean, they're probably fake, but I did some research.”
He doubts she even knows what that word means.
"Found all kinds of videos and photos on the web. Really creepy stuff you just can't explain, you know?" He barely hears her as the blood rushes through his ears.
"But yeah, this place?" she looks back at the crypt. "People don't die here; it's just where we bury them. You have to go to, like, an abandoned asylum or the scene of an unsolved murder. Places with —" she says, swirling her cigarette around in the air as if summoning a spell, "Energy, you know?"
He can feel a headache coming on; every word of hers becoming a painful stab.

She points at his hand. "Hey, is that ghost radio?"
At first, he doesn’t understand. Then he realizes, she means the spirit box. He had been clutching it ever since she barged in,the headphones still hissing with static.
"Let me see it," she takes a step towards him, one hand reaching for his prized possession. He steps back and hastily stuffs the spirit box into his backpack. He grabs his thermos, metal ringing out as it scrapes against the marble. Now she is paying attention to him.
"I, uh – I have to get back to my friends," She drops her half-smoked cigarette, the wet soil suffocating it with a sizzle. "They are probably looking for me," is the last thing he remembers her saying.

#

Wednesday
No one mourns. An old man makes gravestone rubbings but doesn’t notice him. His refuge is just as he had left it yesterday. At once the pressure sloughs off of him. He picks up the wet cigarette and the cellophane, wrinkling his nose as he puts them in a small trash bag. Yesterday his mind had not been in the right spot to clean up, he feels guilty for not taking better care of his space. He wipes his hands on his coat and walks over to the broken obelisk. A few more leaves have died and fallen. He gently wipes them off.
He sits down and pulls the thermos from his backpack, his brows furrowed as he feels the dented surface. Then he retrieves the EMF meter and flicks it on. A smile appears on his lips as its needle jitters back and forth in the blood-red glow. He quickly pulls out the spirit box, puts on the headphones, and begins to listen. He takes a deep breath and catches a whiff of stale, cold cigarette smoke. Turns out she had been right about something after all.


© Sven Camrath

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