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= Ghosts and the City #1 =

a dark fantasy short story

by John Argo


Chapter 1. Lolo

(1)

Ghosts and the City by John Argo #1Welcome to the Neitherworld, a temporary *while* between time and eternity. You may be surprised to learn that more male ghosts are named Ray than any other name. But this story is less about me than about my best friend Louise. Even in the afterlife, nothing is permanent.

I'll tell you about the day when Lolo was murdered. Expectant ghosts in unusual numbers gathered around the diner where Lolo worked. Their common atmosphere was one of oppressive, gloomy anticipation of violent tragedy. The gravity of the upcoming moment drew them out of the walls, out of the ground, down from the shadowy ceilings. They stood singly and in clusters, vague and grimly gray. Some gathered in the doorway, hanging thickly from the corners atop the door frame, unnoticed by customers entering and leaving. Living people came and went without knowing they had brushed cheeks with someone who died years ago. Some ghosts half climbed up out of the concrete sidewalk and waited, resting on their elbows, while passers-by walked right through them without a clue.

Eye-orbits like dark smoke focused on the door, which had a big, friendly white cardboard sign with red, italic letters: Open. Park Boulevard was a quiet street drenched in sunlight. The area was a bit run down in those days. Long ago, the street carried trolley tracks that were now buried six feet under asphalt.

Lolo was a young, dark-haired waitress in the Park Boulevard Coffee Shop, up in the heights near Mission Cliffs Gardens, San Diego. The shop had an ornate Victorian front, with twin plate glass windows, a double door, and two concrete steps up from the sidewalk. Lolo's china smile and big brown eyes made all the customers fond of her, both men or women. The regulars all tried to sit at her counter section, and tipped her well. Her face, while feminine in a soft way, had a jaunty way of radiating tomboyish assurance that life was great. She worked the crowd with a wry, slightly lopsided smile. Every individual received at least one innocently personal smile, a glance, a wink. Every service was a relationship, a reassurance, a Platonic flirtation. She brought out the parental in older people, comradeship in younger women, and a rapid heart-beat in younger men.

She was slender, of medium height. She always wore an apron—that day, a white apron, with strawberries on it. Her skin was just a shade dark, because she had some Iroquois in her genes, which added something slightly exotic to her features. She always wore some kind of decorative pin in her short, straight ebony hair, like a red ribbon, a tortoise-shell comb, or a blue lacquer cat. Seasonally, it might be a pumpkin, a turkey, or a snowman—though it had not snowed in San Diego that anyone could remember, and she'd laugh and say it gets plenty cold in Montreal. In summer, it could be a surfer with his arms outstretched, catching a glossy hair-wave around the corner of her temple. Louise Maurian-Wheeler, our Lolo, was from Montreal, mothered by a Francophone Maurian and fathered by an Anglophone Wheeler. Lolo was in San Diego to study Art at San Diego State University. She worked at the coffee joint to make ends meet. She told everyone there was a boy named 'Enri back home, studying to be a docteur at McGill, whom she planned to marry when she went home. She spoke English well, but with that twangy, lilty French Canadian accent that sometimes made people laugh good-naturedly when she stumbled over an 'ard phrase or two, like those with lots of h-words, as in 'ard of 'earing, and she'd laugh with them and shrug. It meant a good tip, and she was a consummate performer. She also stumbled over piles of r's when they were mixed with h's, as in you are 'ere. More fond laughter, more tips.

A six-foot-two giant with wild red hair and beard named Wallace Fleisch, aged 35, lived nearby with his mother. They were of German stock, and in German their name means Meat (hence the English 'flesh').

This guy Meat would start drinking beer from quart bottles at nine every morning. He'd wander up and down the sidewalk under the palm trees on Park Boulevard, waving his beer bottle and talking with people real and imagined. Maybe he was speaking to the gray, vague figures that stood in doorways, on corners not waiting to cross, in windows looking down. If he saw them, the ghosts did not reply, but stared at him mournfully. Ghosts could not see the past well, living in a sort of eternal present, but they could see heavy, oppressive future events coming. Mr. Meat was shrouded in unhappy, violent auras.

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