Bookstore Ghosts

A Jasper the ghost talking leather daddy short story


Bookstore Ghosts. A man with a beard, sits against bookcases, reading.

The rains had begun.


Jasper loved the rain. He could see the ghosts better, which he didn't like much, but it made the air fresh. The towering elms had lost most of their leaves already, smearing the sidewalk with damp decay as he headed home from the flotation tanks. The tanks were his weekly reminder that the ghosts didn't run his life. Jasper had an existence outside of the screaming voices, the terror, the demands for help, or the simple need to leave this plane.


Floating for an hour in a tank of salt helped with that. The ghosts hated salt. It was his one respite. His muscles felt loose, good. He felt powerful. He was back at the kick boxing gym three days a week and was finally getting himself back into shape. He would never lose his bulk, and his belly was an ever-present reality, but luckily plenty of men loved him just the way he was. He turned the corner onto Shattuck Avenue, figuring he'd taken the bookstore on his way home.


"Hey! Hi there." The voice that came from behind him on the sidewalk sounded young.

Jasper turned, peering out from beneath his jacket hood, looking down the gray, rain-washed street toward the man, his own hood pulled up over his head hurrying towards him. Jasper frowned for a moment, and then he couldn't help it, and stood there in the rain grinning like a fool. It was Timothy. The younger man from the restaurant.


Oh, the folly of a middle-aged man when a younger man had flagged him down on the sidewalk.


"Hello," Jasper said. "Timothy, right?" As if he might have forgotten.


"Yeah, I waited on you it the café last Sunday. Can I walk with you a minute?"


"I was heading to the bookstore if you care to join me."


Timothy nodded and they fell into step together, just two men walking down a Berkeley sidewalk in the rain. University students hurried past them, late to class. Business people ducked into restaurants or other shops. Everyone was in a hurry except for Jasper and Timothy.


Jasper glanced to the side, taking in the younger man's profile. He had a sharp nose, and his cheeks were pink from the cold, pale lips full, with no sign of a pout, which was a point in Timothy's favor. Jasper couldn't abide pouting. He never found it cute or endearing.


Timothy though? He was very cute. Jasper wasn't sure exactly how young he was—late twenties?—but the man looked like he had gumption.


Timothy glanced over at Jasper and smiled. Jasper swore it literally lit up the man's face, clichéd as that sounded.


“I love the rain,” Timothy said.


"So do I.”


And then the bookstore was there, rain-streaked windows showing the mottled colors of books. Science Fiction. Thrillers. Cookbooks. History. Politics. A rack of magazines in the back. He shoved open the heavy glass door, wiped his feet on the mat just inside, slicked the hood of his jacket from his head, and swiped a hand across his damp face. He could hear Timothy just behind him, wiping his own feet. He turned just as Timothy unzipped his jacket, revealing a white T-shirt and the pale column of his throat moving up towards that mouth, those cheeks, and those hazel eyes.


Timothy smiled again. Jasper couldn't help himself; he smiled right back.


Jasper inhaled the scent of books, wet wool, and Timothy's aftershave. Bay Rum. The bookstore was piping out some Emeli Sandé, her bluesy voice mingling with the quiet conversations, the sound of pages ruffling, and Timothy's breathing.


Something bumped Jasper's ankles. Startled, he jerked, looked down, and then laughed. One of the store cats, a sprightly tabby, was rubbing up against his jeans, leaving swaths of fur on the wet black cloth of his jeans.


Timothy crouched down and held out his fingers for the cat to sniff.


"Hey kitty, what’s your name? Hmm?" He scratched under the cat's chin, and behind its ears, smiling the whole time. Jasper sighed. Yeah, Timothy was probably too young for him but damn, he was cute.

Timothy stood, slapping his hands against each other to clear the fur from his fingers. "So, what your favorite section?"


"I like pretty much everything," Jasper replied. "But I'm looking for some science fiction today."


Timothy gave a slight bow and gestured extravagantly with his right hand, motioning Jasper towards the steps up to the mezzanine, where black block letters on an orange wall clearly spelled out Science Fiction and Fantasy.


Jasper felt a little warm inside. It was nice to have any young man pay attention to him that way. He’d thought things were going well with Steve, the man he'd met in the bar. Steve was a big burly bear, like Jasper was. His usual type. They’d been having a good time… until the ghosts intruded.


Then it was Steve who had ghosted him.


Oh well, maybe a slender young otter like Timothy was just what the doctor ordered.


As he topped the short flight of stairs, Jasper felt the change before he saw anything. There was a slice of cold in the corner where two bookcases met. He turned, sniffing at the air. Sure enough, there was that scent he'd never been able to quite define or describe properly. It wasn't quite the scent of ozone, or the smell of ice. But it was some strange combination of ozone, ice, and dust. At least, that was the best way Jasper had found to describe it when he had to.


He felt Timothy's fingers on his jacket. “Are you okay?"


Well shit, that was just great, he was going to have to explain ghosts before he’d even gone on a first date with the guy.


Or he was going to have to pretend like he wasn't standing there staring at nothing in a corner with a weird look on his face. Yeah, right. Jasper inhaled deeply straining at the zipper on his coat. He unzipped his jacket in a rush and inhaled again. Then he turned to Timothy's sweet face, which was looking quite concerned by this time.


"Well, there's a ghost in the corner." May as well rip that bandage right off, he thought.


"Seriously?"


Jasper just nodded; mouth tight. If Timothy left, he left. Better to know now.


He walked toward the corner where the ghost was materializing. A strange, buzzing noise sounded in the back of his skull. He always got that with the ghosts. Unless they were screaming so loud they drowned it out.


"Show me," he murmured. It was as though a gray mist swirled in front of him, a mini tornado. And then there she was, standing there, four feet tall with big fat tears running down her too-pale face. She wore a faded flowered dress, or maybe it wasn't faded, but just looked that way because she was a ghost. Her socks were falling down around her ankles, bagging above her sneakers. Her left hand clutched the paws of a ragged teddy bear that hung forlornly at her side.


Jasper approached slowly. When he was within a couple of feet of the ghost he crouched down, knees complaining.


"Do you need something?” he asked, voice quiet. He could feel Timothy behind him, and shook his head, he didn't have time to pay attention to the young man right now. "Tell me."


The girl turned and began to walk toward the edge of the mezzanine, through the towering bookcases filled with trade paperbacks, and a few hardcovers. She walked to the very end of the aisle, past a rack of old pocketbook paperbacks, the kind people read before e-books took over. She gestured with her non-teddy bear holding hand.


Jasper followed, confused. The ghost seemed to be pointing toward the railing at the edge of the mezzanine, a simple white painted rail with uprights stopping people from walking over the edge.

He crouched down again, figuring if he was closer to her height, he might see whatever it was she was pointing at. His eyes followed the site line made by her little arm. He could almost taste the icy dust of her on the back of his tongue. The taste, and scent, and feel of ghosts was never something he had grown comfortable with, even though he was fifty-three years old and had been seeing them since puberty. Jasper didn't think ghost talker was ever an occupation a person should grow comfortable with.


He glanced sideways toward the ghost, gauging her size. She was fairly small, skinny. And then he saw it. A row of slight indentations in the paint on one of the rails. He moved closer to the rail, still crouched down, peering at it, hoping Timothy would waylay anyone who wanted to shop in this section.

He wasn't sure exactly what he was seeing, but it almost looks like marks from small fingers clutching. Trying to hold on.


He turned, his head still level with the ghost's. Her eyes were still huge, and serious, and the line of shimmering tears still ran down one cheek.


"Did you fall?"


She shook her head, just slightly. Jasper hadn't been looking he wouldn't have even caught the movement.


"Did someone push you?"


She nodded this time, watery eyes taking on a fierce cast.


"Well holy shit,” Timothy whispered.


Jasper grabbed the railing and stood up. Timothy was standing a few feet away, eyes darting from Jasper and down to where the ghost stood. That was strange.


"Can you see her?"


"Not really. But when you are talking to her–it's a her?"


Jasper nodded.


"When you are talking to her, I could almost see… Something. It was almost like a mist or something. And for just one second, I… I thought I saw the image of a girl."


"Well, holy shit to that too,” Jasper replied.


Maybe Timothy wasn’t going to bail on him after all.


Jasper turned back to the ghost. “What’s your name, sweetie?”


::Annabelle.::


And then came the part of Jasper’s avocation that he hated the most.


Annabelle showed Jasper exactly how she died. And who had pushed her.


* * *


Timothy left reluctantly, but only after Jasper assured him he’d be okay. Timothy had errands to run and would frankly be better off out of whatever mess was coming.


Jasper would’ve liked nothing more than to trail the man, carrying his packages or whatever, but he still had work to do here. Ghost talking work.


After asking Alicia, the clerk downstairs, where the manager was, Jasper had headed back up to the mezzanine, only to catch Brad exiting some sort of back room on the second level.


As soon as Jasper mentioned Annabelle, Brad got squirrely.


"What do you mean, you were talking to Annabelle? You some crazy person or what?” Brad wasn’t happy about being confronted in the middle of the store. Tough.


"Some people might say I'm crazy," Jasper replied. He spoke calmly, as though to a wild animal. Brad certainly looked like a wild animal standing there in his plaid shirt, knuckles white, gripping a clipboard, hectic red spots high up on his cheekbones. Jasper didn't trust him. Not for one minute. He could almost feel Annabelle behind him, he shifted a little, continuing to block the aisle. He took one step forward, then another, slowly inching his way towards Brad. He hoped against hope that Annabelle would stay put.


Not a chance. He felt the cool swirl of her on the backs of his hands.


"What you think you're doing?" Brad's eyes were darting back and forth side to side. Jasper couldn't get a clear read on the man. He didn't want to trap him, but he didn't want him near Annabelle either.

Jasper stepped closer, though he could already smell the acrid sweat emanating from the man's armpits, staining his plaid shirt dark. The ghost was about three yards away from Brad.


"You stay away from me, faggot.” A look of terror flashed beneath Brad’s sneer.


Well, that did it. Use the F word and the gloves came off.


“Why did you do it?” Jasper asked. Brett's face stiffened the red spots on his cheek screw deeper brighter, hectic, almost as though the man was about to burst into flames.


"I don't know what you're talking about. It's too bad about the little girl," he said. "But her mother should've known better."


"Known better than what?"


"Known better than to leave her brat here all alone day after day. What are we, a babysitting service?"


Jasper started moving closer again. He still wasn't sure what he was going to do, he just knew he needed to do something. He prayed that something would come to him, some guidance. He didn't usually have to face living people this way. He really hated this case.


Jasper felt a tugging on his pants leg and then another on his hand. Startled, he turned, opening a wedge between his body and the bookcase, and saw Annabelle streak, past him barreling towards Brad, trailing the scent of ice, ozone, and dust.


Shit.


"Annabelle no!"


It was too late. She was all around Brad, whirling like a sirocco, gray ghostly mist flying out everywhere he could see. She had attached herself around Brad's neck, legs wrapping his waist, ghost-heels drumming at his sides. The man was twisting, his face a sweating rictus. The clipboard clattered to the floor. It looked like Annabelle was trying to bite through the side of Brad's face. It was horrible.

Jasper rushed toward the man, but he couldn't get near him. Brad was flailing, arms wind-milling everywhere, body jerking, back and forth and side to side. He was whipping around himself, kicking at bookcases. Books tumbled from shelves. The clipboard clattered, sliding toward Jasper. He jumped and heard it crunch beneath his feet. He didn't care. He had to get Annabelle off the man.


Jasper reached out his arms, trying to get through the whirling mist of Annabelle and the flailing limbs of Brad.


"Don't touch me!" Brad screamed, and ran toward the mezzanine steps, still flailing and whirling, Annabelle moving around him like a demon. He didn't see the small stack of books set to one side of the steps placed there by Alicia, ready to be shelved.


"Brad! Watch…" Jasper’s voice died in his throat. He watched as Brad hit the stack of books and, still flailing, unable to catch himself, he fell, bouncing against the railing, and then down.


Jasper heard a wet crunch and a snap. He heard Alicia yelling.


And then, up the stairs, eyes still huge, face serious, came Annabelle. She slid towards him, still clutching that teddy bear. He didn't know how she had even kept a hold of it. He crouched down and opened his arms she held out her own arms and walked into his embrace. He could feel that she was there, but she wasn't quite solid. He gave a little kiss where he thought the side of her forehead was and then, with a flash of light, she was gone.


Standing up, Jasper heard Alicia screaming and crying, it sounded like she was talking on the phone.

"I need an ambulance! Right away!" Her voice was shrill as the sirens that would be arriving any minute.

Jasper looked over the railing. Brad's head was at a terrible angle. Most of his body was still on the short flight of five steps, head and shoulders and plaid clad arms splayed on the floor below. Jasper looked down. The books were scattered everywhere.


He heard the sirens in the distance.


Jasper sighed. He guessed he was going to have to wait around.


* * *


"What happened then?" Timothy asked. They lay in Jasper’s bed snuggling.


Jasper inhaled the Bay Rum scent of the younger man, and rolled over, placing a hand on Timothy’s smooth chest. He had called Timothy once the cops were done with him.


Funny, usually he would call his sister Katie, but he didn't feel like having to get into the whole story with anyone. Timothy knew the story, at least part of it. Timothy had met him back at the bookstore and they'd walked in the moist evening air heading to a burrito joint for dinner. Jasper was often hungry after dealing with ghosts. He wasn't sure what kind of energy used up but it certainly did. Jasper related all the strangeness in the bookstore, including Annabelle growing solid enough to attack Brad.

Afterwards, Jasper had found he really didn't want to be alone. He decided to take a risk, and ask the thin, fair-haired man back to his Berkeley bungalow. So here they were, in Jasper's bedroom, with the statue of the Goddess Diana on the altar near the bed, the high bed frame with its plum-colored comforter over the blue sheets Jasper had changed the day before. They'd fooled around a little bit, but hadn't had sex. Jasper hadn't been quite ready, and Timothy seemed to understand.


“I'm okay to just hold you all night, Jasper,” Timothy had whispered in his ear.


"You sure that's okay with you?" Jasper had asked


"Of course, Daddy." Jasper could hear the smile in Timothy's voice. It made him feel all warm and squishy inside. He’d never had a man to call him Daddy before.


He thought he just might like it.


He drew Timothy closer, and the man tucked his head in the crook between Jasper's arm and torso, pillowing his face on Jasper's chest.


"What happened next?” Jasper said. "Well, I mentioned to Alicia the Brad didn't seem to like Annabelle's mother much. She was surprised at that."


"Surprised how?" Jasper could feel Timothy's voice buzzing across his nipples. His groin tightened. He exhaled and tried to relax again.


"Alicia said something that really disturbed me." Jasper paused for a while, Timothy just waited. Their legs were wrapped around each other in a sideways spoon. It felt really nice. "She said that Brad was always trying to ask Annabelle's mother out."


"And?"


Jasper ran a hand down Timothy's arm. His skin was soft.


“She said Annabelle's mother always refused him."


And that was the way of it with men sometimes. Just saying no could get a person killed. Or put the people they loved in danger. Jasper was relieved that Annabelle had been able to finally move on, and it hadn't even taken as much effort as he had feared. But he was glad it was all over for now. He hoped the little girl was at peace, and that her mother would feel that. Those left behind often did.

But that was a question for another day.


For now? Jasper was just glad to have Timothy in his bed.


Sometimes ghost talkers needed comforting, too.



 

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