Sarah Jensen works at the county morgue. It’s the only job available, her probation officer tells her. She’s a lousy thief, it seems. Gah, she hates scrubbing stainless steel. She’s the only one in the morgue because her shift is from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. As she sprays more disinfectant on the table, she thinks of the man that arrived as a DOA this morning. The gossip queens think he was in an adulterous affair, and the husband shot him. She’s curious about what he looks like. She turns towards the rows of drawers and knows precisely which one he is laid to rest in. Should she dare look? Sarah is known for lacking impulse control, so naturally she goes right for the drawers. She listens for anyone approaching, but it’s eerily quiet. She opens the drawer, and peeks under the sheet to see his face. He’s handsome with dark hair, a slight shadow of a beard, and she bets he probably has beautiful eyes too. He looks like he is sleeping instead of dead. She tells herself, "I will never find a man like him. I’m woefully plain and skinny." A man like him dates exclusively gorgeous women. Sarah stares at the man, wishing he was still alive, when she feels someone behind her. She jumps like she has 50,000 volts of electricity going through her.
“Sarah, what are you doing?” he yells too loudly. She’s sure her face must be on fire. Mr. Pellan, her boss, moves quickly to her side and yanks the sheet out of her hands. “You know the rules.” His face turns scarlet, and his plump rosy cheeks are throbbing with anger. He reminds her of a pudgy little Santa Claus.
“Sorry Mr. P. I’ve been hearing so much about this man that I took a tiny peek. Please don’t fire me, because I’ll go back to jail if I lose this job.” She lets the tears fall down her face. Sarah is sure the tears will work.
Mr. Pellan says, “We have to trust our employees. This is a dead man who was once vibrant and alive twelve hours ago. We must respect the dead, young lady. I’m sorry you’ll go back to jail. Your work isn’t up to par here anyway. I suggest you get your life together, think about others rather than yourself. All your problems stem from your lack of boundaries, and you aren’t following the basic rules of this establishment. Don’t. Mess. With. The. Dead. This is a murder case, and everything is to remain sterile. You’ve been scrubbing with those gloves?” He wrings his hands in horror.
“I didn’t touch him, I swear.”
Mr. Pellan is wearing an expensive dark suit with a matching tie. Sarah stares at his rotund belly that is protruding and trying to escape a few buttons on his starched shirt. She thinks he looks like Porky Pig. Then she lets a giggle escape. She doesn’t mean to but it comes out anyway.
“Sarah, get your coat, and bag immediately. You’re fired.” Mr. Pellan shouts for the other janitor. “Mark, get in here and watch to see that Sarah leaves and don’t let her steal anything.” Pellan adjusts his tie and turns to leave with a sharp clip in his stride.
Sarah puts on her scruffy peacoat and walks out the door into brisk fall weather. She hurries home, and searches for her mother. At the age of twenty, Sarah already has a rap sheet for stealing. Most of the time it’s been petty shoplifting but the most recent time she’d stolen a Rolex watch worth over $10,000.
“Mom, I lost my job, because I peeked at a stiff.”
“Seriously? What are you going to do? You know better, right?”
“Yes, I do, but after all the gossip I was curious. Mr. Pellan will not allow anyone to open the drawers of the dead.”
“Honey, I can’t pay for another shrink. You still have the medicine you’re supposed to take, and I can’t force it down you. You’re an adult now. I’m at a loss how to help you. If your dad was alive, he could help you. He loved you so much.”
Sarah runs to her room, closes the door, and flings on the bed to cry. When she falls asleep, she dreams she can see her father. He tells her that he will love her no matter how much she screws things up.
When Sarah awakens from the dream, she feels a little calmer. She’s staring at the ceiling in her darkened room when the ghost from the morgue steps out of her curtains. She’s speechless. She stares at him for the longest time.
“Are you really a ghost or is this a dream?” Sarah whispers.
He isn’t talking, just hovering off the floor, and his facial expression is one of confusion. Then he disappears. Sarah decides it’s another dream and falls asleep once more.
The next morning, she calls her boyfriend Theo. “Hi, sweetie. Can you go hiking with me?” Sarah imagines Theo sitting in his favorite chair with his red hair neatly combed, and dressed to perfection as she talks to him.
“I guess. I’m not doing anything. Ma is after me to get a job though.”
Sarah loves his perfect lips, and he always smells like the ocean after he shaves. He constantly makes her smile and laugh too.
“You want to go hiking at Eagles’ Run? I need to get away. Come on. It will be fun sleeping under the stars or other activities.” Sarah snickers.
“I’ll pick you up in two hours. Dress warmly because it gets cold at night."
As the couple climb a trail leading to the top of the mountain, they take water breaks frequently. It’s late afternoon before they get to the top. Theo pitches their tent and sets up their camp. Sarah wanders around taking pictures. It’s not long until sunset. They sit on their sleeping bags and watch the sunset. As she feels the warm rays dissipate, she admires the beauty of the sun when it slides behind the mountain view. They decide to start a fire with the wood they collect.
Sarah sees the ghost appear behind the flames of their camp fire. He seems to want to talk to her. She peeks at Theo to see if he notices the ghost but he doesn’t. He just continues telling her about a new video game he bought. Sarah becomes nervous because she believes she might have serious mental issues. The ghost vanishes again; her anxiety mounts. Are there really ghosts, she asks herself.
“Sarah, are you listening to me?”
“Yeah, I mean sure. I’m listening. Theo, what would you say if I told you I have a ghost that is attached to me? Yesterday, I got fired. I was looking under a sheet at a dead man. There is so much gossip surrounding his death, I just had to see what a rich playboy looks like.
“Which part of him?”
Sarah slaps his leg, and says, “Don’t be stupid. I wanted to see his face.”
“I doubt a ghost can come this far.”
“I read a lot about ghosts. I believe a ghost can attach to a person if they have a strong need for unfinished business. This man was murdered.”
Theo hugs Sarah to reassure her. She is elated he doesn’t laugh at her. “Honey, I’m really tired, so do you mind if we party tomorrow night? I brought us some vodka and weed."
“Sure, I’m pretty worn out too. I had some crazy dreams last night. I want to explore some tomorrow. Every time I’ve been here, it’s been a day trip.”
Something awakens Sarah in the middle of the night. At first, she doesn’t see anything, but the tent flap is open, and she sees the ghost again. “What do you want?” she whispers to the ghost. “You are scaring me. Go back to the morgue, and I’m sure Porky Pig will take care of you.” Sarah turns over so she doesn’t have to look at him again. Pretend he isn’t there….
The next morning the two eat a protein bar and decide to head north. They walk until they need a break. It’s almost lunch time. Theo plops down beside Sarah. They sit on a beautiful bank of moss. The weather is sunny with only fluffy clouds riding the sky. A small breeze teases Sarah’s hair so she closes her eyes in relaxation while the warmth of the sun tickles her skin. They chow down on a peanut butter sandwich.
Suddenly, Theo jumps up, grabbing Sarah off the moss. She is about to blast him with a stream of profanity because he jerks her arm so hard. Then she grasps the problem. There’s a bear. Not a cute, cuddly one but a tall-as-a-tree kind of bear. The bear is standing on his hind legs now, and his ferocious huffing makes Sarah feel like all her wits have fallen out of her brain. She and Theo freeze.
Theo whispers, “We need to slowly back up and if he tries to attack, we run like hell. This must be his territory.”
The bear gives one more huff and falls on all fours.
Theo panics and using a shrill voice says, “Run. Sarah. Run.”
Sarah feels she doesn’t have a choice now so she follows Theo. The bear begins chasing them.
Theo looks over his shoulder with Sarah close behind. Theo misses the sharp drop into a ravine. He tries to stop but he loses his footing and falls head first into the ravine. Sarah screams his name but she still has the bear getting closer so she sits down and tries to slide into the deep ravine on her buttocks. When she lands at the bottom, she stares at the bear which remains at the top of the steep ravine. The irony isn’t lost on her. The only smart one is at the top. The bear decides he is rid of them and waddles off.
Sarah sighs in relief, her heart still pounding, and looks around for Theo. She stands up to locate him and finds him lying on his back on some rocks. Sarah rushes over to him, but he doesn’t answer her. She panics and shakes him to wake up.
She notices the blood seeping from his head so she checks for his pulse, and finds it is barely there, so she reaches for her cell phone and attempts to call 911, but there is no reception. What can she do to help him? She takes off her scarf and places it behind Theo’s head to stop the bleeding. Next, she looks around for a place to climb but the sides of the ravine are dirt with just a few scrubs sticking out. How is she going to get out? She starts rocking herself for comfort and cries over her misfortunes. Sarah wipes the snot on her sleeve, dries the tears, and tries to reassure herself that someone will rescue them. There must be other people hiking, right?
The ghost appears, hovering above her. The sun is behind him, shining with a golden light. He seems to be a part of the sunlight. She wonders if he is an angel now.
She asks, “Can you save us?”
The ghost says, “Finally, I can talk. My name is Cassidy. I don’t see any reason to help you. When I went out the door with you at the morgue, I thought you cared about me. Now I see you only care about yourself. You can’t sit here and wallow in pity. What about Theo? If you don’t climb out of here and get the boy some help, he is going to die.”
Sarah imagines he has been promoted to an angel. “Please help us. I can’t possibly get up these deep banks of the ravine. It’s impossible. Can’t you just fly down here and pick me up?”
“No. You will have to get yourself out of this mess. I could hear your thoughts at the morgue. I didn’t know that woman was married. She lied to me and said she was divorced. I’m divorced so I was careless and didn’t bother finding the truth. Now, I’m dead, and my children will not believe I lived a good life. You’re sitting here feeling sorry for yourself while your friend is dying. I bet you don’t want to mess up your pretty nails climbing that bank. You need to accept some responsibilities. I heard your mom say you have some emotional issues and I sympathize. However, it does not excuse you from being a kind and compassionate person. Think about others instead of always yourself. Get back in counseling and quit spending your money on drugs and alcohol. Spend it on things that matter.”
Sarah is mad as hell but she knows he’s right. She dries the last of her tears and tries to think of a way to climb the ravine. She looks all around for something to help her when she gets a brilliant idea. She turns to tell Cassidy and sees that Theo is floating beside him, looking down on her.
“No…no…Theo, go back. You can’t die. You’re my best friend. Cassidy, please do something! Make him go back.” Sarah bursts into loud sobbing cries. “If you fix this, Cassidy, I will promise to take my medicine and work to be a better person. I am truly sorry you’re dead.”
Sarah feels something pulling her, but all she can see is light. Then she hears her mother’s soothing voice. “Sarah, darling, wake up. You're having a nightmare. I can hear you from the kitchen, sweetheart.”
Sarah sits up in bed and rubs her eyes. It’s light outside. She throws off the covers and says, “Mom, I need to apologize to Mr. Pellan, and see if I can get my job back. Also, will you call that counselor you found and get me an appointment? Thanks.” Sarah throws on some jeans and a t-shirt. When she goes into the kitchen, she grabs a pill out of the cabinet, and then gives her mom a big hug and kisses. “I love you, Mom.”
Her mother pats her back and tells her the same.
As she puts on her boots and laces them, she thinks about her ghost. If he comes around tonight, Sarah wants to tell him she will try to help him clear his name. She believes he was real.
Sarah throws open the door and scrolls down her cell phone contacts to call Theo. Her mom is all smiles.
“Theo, let’s go to a movie tonight.”
BIO: Sandra Niedzialek has B.S., MA, and M.Ed. degrees. She has taught band, drama, reading, and English. Now that she is a retired high school principal, she wants to be a writer. She loves magic realism, fantasy, mystery/suspense, and fiction. She lives at the beach with her husband, two dogs, and one cat. Her favorite hobbies are reading, collecting teddy bears, and writing. She has two sons and four grandchildren.