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Authors: John Inman

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BOOK: Spirit
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“No,” Sam said. “Not for a second.”

“And what about the fact that Timmy went berserk with the hockey stick, not when
Sally
called, but when
Jack
did. You have to admit Jack has nothing to do with all this.”

Sam took a cue from my playbook. “Seemingly,” he said.

“And by the way,” I asked, “just what prompted Timmy to start flailing away at the basement wall anyway? Did he hear voices behind the wall? Is that what made him react the way he did? What started the whole thing? You were in the basement with him. I wasn’t. What set him off?”

Sam thought about it. “I’m not sure. One minute he was playing under the stairs, having fun and rooting around among all the junk, and the next minute he was banging away at the wall with the hockey stick and crying and cussing up a storm. There didn’t seem to be anything that set him off. It just… happened.”

I yelled into the kitchen. “Timmy! Why did you try to knock down my wall? What were you mad about?”

Timmy waited until the cartoon hit a slow point before deigning to answer. Around a mouthful of cereal, he called back, “Daddy wanted to play hockey with me, but he couldn’t get out. It made him sad.”

Sam butted in. He yelled out, “So Daddy’s behind that wall?”

“Sometimes,” Timmy said. “Sometimes he’s behind other walls. Ooh, there’s Yosemite Sam!”

I patted Sam’s arm.
My
Sam. Not Yosemite’s. “Let the kid be. Let him eat. I got my answer. I’d rather he didn’t hear anything else we’re talking about.”

Sam nodded. “All right.”

We thought about things for a moment.

“In other words,” Sam said, his voice once again lowered so Timmy couldn’t overhear. “At any given time, Paul could be anywhere in the house. That doesn’t help us much, I guess. Like I said, it’s all happenstance.”


None
of it helps us much
,”
I said over the wail of Yosemite Sam whooping and hollering and bitching that his biscuits were burning. “And about these episodes that supposedly take place when Sally phones? Don’t you think maybe they could all be simply coincidences? Just… you know… like you said… happenstance?”

Sam gaped at me as if I had just popped up out of the ground like a tulip. “
Happenstance?
Let’s do a test,” he said. “Get your phone. Call your sister. Call her right now. Let’s see how your resident ghost reacts.”

“I’d rather not,” I said.

“Why? You afraid he’ll burn down the house?”

“No.”

“Yes, you are.” And he grinned. “So am I.”

I decided it was time to call Sam’s bluff. “If you’re so convinced that Sally killed your brother, maybe you should call the police and tell them. See what they have to say about your little theory.”

Sam looked none too pleased by my suggestion. His whispering was more of a hiss now. A frustrated hiss. “I can’t call the police. I don’t have any evidence.”

“Like I said, Sam.”

“Yes, Jason. Like you said. But I still think something happened here. Something…
wrong
.”

It took a whole lot of soul-searching before I could face the fact that I agreed with what he said. But I did agree. With an ache in my heart, I finally admitted it. To myself and to Sam. “I know, babe. Something did happen here. Something wrong. Not what you
think
happened, but
something
. Proving it, however, is another matter.”

Sam’s sadness matched my own. “But we can try, can’t we? We can’t just let it go.”

“No,” I said, looking away, lost in my own thoughts. Thoughts of childhood. Thoughts of family. “No, we can’t just let it go.”

Sam stroked my hand. “I’m sorry,” he said, and I nodded.

For some minutes now, another question had been bothering me. I decided to air it out. Like dirty laundry. “All those hushed conversations you carry on behind your bedroom door, Sam. What’s that all about? I presume you’re speaking to your parents. After all, the business of finding your brother is truly the only business you came to San Diego to transact. Right?”

“Yes.”

“Are you here at their bidding, or did you decide to come on your own?”

“It was my decision, but they didn’t argue. They want the mystery cleared up as much as I do.”

“Do your parents think Sally killed their son?”

Sam let his eyes wander to Timmy, who was howling like a coyote. Now he was watching a Road Runner cartoon. “They try not to believe it. Believing it would force them to concede that Paul is dead. They’re not ready to do that yet.”

The sound of an explosion erupted from the kitchen TV. Wile E. Coyote never did know how to handle explosives.

“Ghosts only haunt the place where they died,” Sam offered up, seemingly for me to do with the information whatever I chose.

What I chose to do was smirk. “There’s no proof that ghosts exist at all.”

Sam gave me a cockeyed glare. “Then how do you explain the fact that you’ve got one?”

For some moments, an odd voice had been tapping at my subconscious. It was coming from the kitchen. Sam seemed to suddenly notice it too.

Together, we turned our heads to gaze through the kitchen door. Timmy had left the table and was now standing in front of the little twelve-inch TV perched on the countertop. He was on tiptoe, hanging on to the counter by his chin and fingertips, mesmerized by what was taking place on the screen in front of him. He still had his spoon in his hand. Thumper was at his feet. We couldn’t see what was on the screen because Timmy’s poor shorn head was blocking the way.

I held my breath to listen.

That voice. I knew that voice. But it was speaking in a way I had never heard it speak before. The cadence was all wrong. The nasal twang it usually carried was lowered, the voice deeper, quieter. Conspiratorial. It was whispering.

Sam and I moved as one. We eased our coffee cups down on the table and rose to our feet. Side by side, we skulked silently toward the kitchen. Sam’s hand was on my shoulder, his fingers tense against my skin, gripping me, almost dragging me down as if he wanted me to stop. But we kept walking. We couldn’t
not
keep walking
.

At the door, our line of sight was high enough for us to look over Timmy’s head. We could see what the kid was staring at.

It was Bugs Bunny. His fuzzy face almost filled the screen. Behind him, we could see glimpses of the Road Runner cartoon still playing out silently in the background.

Bugs was whispering quietly to Timmy. It took me a minute to accept the concept of a cartoon character whispering directly to
anybody
in the real world, but Jesus, there was no getting around the fact that that was exactly what was happening. While Bugs quietly spoke, with his big bunny eyes focused on the boy in front of him, Timmy nodded his head, as if understanding everything the rabbit was saying. The absolute impossibility of what was happening didn’t seem to bother Timmy at all. He accepted it all with the unerring trust and unwavering innocence of a child.

Which was more than I could do. In fact, it was now my turn to do the bewildered Moe Howard face swipe. I think I did two of them.

Sam was standing stunned beside me, whispering the same words over and over again. “Holy shit holy shit holy shit.”

It was almost funny. Then the rabbit’s whispered words began soaking into my head, and suddenly, it wasn’t funny anymore.

“Sleep in your uncle Sam’s room tonight,” Bugs was saying. “Don’t go back to your room at all, Timmy. You’re not safe there. Promise me.”

Timmy nodded, for all the world like he spoke to cartoon characters every day of the week. “Okay. I’ll sleep in Sam’s bed. Hey, where’s Elmer Fudd? I like Elmer.”

Bugs ignored the question. He pulled a carrot from somewhere off screen and took a bite out of it as his eyes skidded over the top of Timmy’s head and landed on Sam and me. His Mel Blanc voice spoke the exact words I expected to hear.

“What’s up, Doc?” the rabbit asked. But there was no humor on the face. The eyes were cold, the voice almost an accusation.

Half in shock, I lifted my hand in a mind-fucked show of greeting, all rendered in slow motion like I was high on downers or something. “Uh… hi.”

“Holy shit holy shit holy shit,” Sam muttered beside me.

Bugs stared from me to Sam, then back again. “Keep the boy safe,” he said. “Don’t let him back in his room. Make him sleep in Sam’s. Not your room, not his room, but Sam’s. Lock him in if you have to.”

I nodded. “All… all right.”

Sam seemed suddenly to have found his voice. He took a step closer to the screen. His hand was still on me, as if he needed the touch to anchor himself to what little bit of sanity he had left.

“Paul?” he asked, his voice a mere quiver of sound. “Is that you?”

The rabbit simply stared back, noisily chewing his carrot. His big cartoony eyes shifted to Sam, then back to me. His whiskers twitched. A moment later, his eyes fell on Timmy once again.

“Finish your breakfast,” Bugs said, his white fuzzy cheeks growing fat as he offered up a huge bucktoothed smile. “And be nice to your uncles. They’re having a hard time keeping up.”

Timmy laughed a tinkling little laugh. “I know. They’re kind of slow. They love each other. Maybe that’s why.”

Bugs nodded. “Maybe it is. They love you too, you know. You’re theirs now. Don’t drive them crazy.”

Timmy laughed again. “You’re my favorite movie star,” Timmy said.

“Aw, shucks, kid.” And Bugs Bunny’s face slowly filled from the neck up with a cherry red glow. A fat cartoony fuse sprouted from the top of his head, smoking and shooting out sparks, burning down toward the base of his ears. When the fuse disappeared in a tiny puff of smoke, there was a moment of silence before Bugs’s head expanded like a blowfish, his eyes bugged out, and his cheeks puffed up. And just as quickly as it had poofed up, Bugs’s head shrank back to normal bunny size. For a second his eyes were pinwheels, happily twirling in his head. Smoke came out of his ears. Then he laughed his rabbity laugh and took another bite of carrot.

“Does your head hurt? You want an aspirin?” Timmy asked, his face fraught with worry.

“Heck no!” Bugs exclaimed, chewing and chomping on the carrot and whapping himself in the side of the head with a big white paw. “That felt
good!
Ooh. And I like your haircut, Doc. You look a little like ol’ Elmer yourself.”

“Goody,” Timmy laughed, clapping his hands. But even a face-to-face encounter with Mr. Bunny himself couldn’t keep Timmy enthralled for long. He wiggled his fingers in farewell and said, “I’m gonna go eat now. My cereal’s getting soggy.” Dropping down off his tiptoes, he headed back to the table to finish his breakfast as if nothing at all out of the ordinary had just transpired. Bugs watched him go, then turned his eyes back to Sam and me.

“Be careful, Docs. And keep Timmy away from his room.”

“Why?” Sam asked.

Bugs’s eyes narrowed. He curled his lip and emitted a tiny growl. “Just do it.”

Stunned and speechless, Sam and I could only nod. “Okay,” we muttered in unison. Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Bugs’s face softened. He gave us a wink, a friendly finger wiggle of good-bye, not unlike Timmy’s, and then he was gone with a cheery, “Woohoo!”

The sound came up on the Road Runner cartoon just as Coyote tumbled through a cumulus cloud with an anvil in his arms, leaving a tiny coyote-shaped puff of dust behind in midair as he headed for the desert floor a mile below.

Crunching another mouthful of Count Chocula, Timmy giggled when Coyote landed with a tiny, distant thud.

Sam turned to me. The expression on his face wouldn’t have been out of place posted in the dictionary alongside the entry for “shell-shocked.”

“What the hell was
that
?” he asked.

Timmy turned to us, all smiles and good cheer. “I like this channel. Is there any more cereal?”

Chapter 11

 

W
E
STOOD
on the service porch, looking through the basement door like a couple of tourists. I don’t know what we thought we were going to see. Finished with his breakfast, Timmy was upstairs getting dressed.

“Bugs is a personable guy for a rabbit.”

“Shut up, Sam.”

“He’s over seventy years old, you know. He looks good for being over seventy. Don’t you think he looks good for being over seventy?”

“Please shut up, Sam.”

“I wonder why he doesn’t want Timmy to sleep in his room?”

Now that was the real question, wasn’t it? Unfortunately, I didn’t have any answers. I could only shrug. I was still brain-dead from everything that had just transpired. I’d never look at Bugs Bunny the same again. I suspected neither would Sam. At the moment, I wouldn’t even trust the Road Runner as far as I could throw him.

Sam wasn’t finished. “And what did he mean when he said the boy belongs to us now?”

I shook my head and shrugged. It was all I was capable of. Besides, I didn’t know the answer to that question either. Why make an ass of myself by pretending I did?

Sam seemed to have a million questions. “I always thought Timmy was safe in this house. I thought Paul’s ghost would protect him, didn’t you? But maybe there’s some danger after all. What do you think? Bugs told Timmy to stay away from his room. He told us we might even need to lock him into my bedroom at night. I wonder why. Huh?”

BOOK: Spirit
12.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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