WHAT’S GOOD FOR THE GHOST… • by Peter Wood

Riley pulled the bed covers over his head, but the damned ghost just moaned louder. He was exhausted after being in the University physics lab past midnight making more time machine modifications. He wished he could find a quieter place to live, but free housing in the “Physics House”, a rundown 50s ranch near campus, was hard to beat.

He sat up. “What do you want?” he asked.

The ghost vanished.

“Thank God.” Riley flopped down.

***

Riley was having a nice little dream about relaxing under a beach umbrella when the ghost screamed like a banshee.

Riley’s heart pounded. In the moonlight he made out an old grizzled man. He couldn’t spend another night without sleeping. “Stop it, you jackass!”

“I cannot,” the ghost said.

“Who are you?”

The ghost smiled. “I was Tom Beck once. I lived in this house.”

Riley crossed his arms. “Do you have to scream every night?”

“It is the way of the spirit world.”

Riley rolled his eyes. “Not with every spirit…”

“I suffered great pain. My wife divorced me.”

“Did you kill yourself or something?”

“No. I had a long insurance career. I died of pneumonia years later.” Beck rattled his chains and howled. “I was divorced in this house! Ah, the agony! The injustice!”

“She probably left you for complaining too much,” Riley muttered.

The ghost wailed again and vanished.

***

Riley materialized in 1951 in the cavernous mailroom of Amalgamated Insurance. A young man wearing suspenders and a flowery tie sat on a chair reading the sports section. He cursed and slammed the paper down. “Why do the Yankees get all the good players?” A stack of manila envelopes teetered on the floor.

Riley suppressed a yawn. “Is your name Tom Beck?”

Beck couldn’t have been more than twenty.  “Sorry, I was taking a break.  I’ll get to the mail right away.” He squinted at Riley. “Who are you?”

Riley was not in a good mood.  “My name’s Walter Riley. I’m somebody who needs some rest.”

Beck shrugged. “Why’s that my problem, chief?”

“You’ll understand in a seventy years.” Riley marched up to Beck and punched him in the face.

Beck reeled backwards, scattering the envelopes on the concrete floor. He held his nose. “I ought to call the cops! What’s your problem?”

Riley pressed the remote for the quantum accelerator and rocketed back to the future.

***

“Divorce! Divorce!” the ghost howled. “Why couldn’t we work it out?” Why?”

Riley threw his pillow, but it passed through the ghost and hit the wall with an anemic thud. “Shut up! I’ll punch you in the damned nose again!” Riley yelled.

“I no longer have a nose. I am in the realm of spirits. Spirits!”

Riley jumped out of bed. “You don’t remember me, chief? Mailroom. 1951. A guy punches you in the nose? Ring a bell? That was me.”

Beck blinked. “You?”

“Yeah, smart guy. And, I’ll  go back and hit you again if you don’t stop haunting my house.”

“My boss thought I was crazy. My wife said I’d been drinking. Nobody believed me that you punched me and vanished.”

“Stop your damned whining.”

“They thought I did it to myself.”

“Just let me sleep.”

“They thought I was crazy!” More chain rattling. “CRAZY!”

Even after he had retrieved his pillow and put it over his head, Riley could still hear Beck.

***

In 1951 again, Riley stood behind a mail-sorting Beck.

Beck tossed a catalog into a slot. “Why do so many people have to mail stuff? Jesus.”

Riley cleared his throat.

Beck spun around. His nose was bandaged. “You again?” He put up his fists in an exaggerated pose like he was auditioning for a boxing movie.

Riley sighed. “I might have overreacted last time, but you have to leave me alone.”

“I don’t even know who you are.”

“I’m sort of haunting you.”

“You’re a ghost?”

“No. I’m from the future. You’re haunting me.“

“I’m a ghost in the future?” Beck’s eyes opened wide. “And they say I’m nuts.”

***

It took Riley twenty minutes to convince Beck that he was a time traveler. When he disappeared and reappeared with a copy of a 21st century paper, Beck finally settled down.

“Look, man,” Riley said. “You’re a pain in the… You complain a lot. A lot. No wonder your wife divorces you.”

“We’re going to work it out,” Beck said.

“Yeah?”

Beck sighed. “I guess we don’t. I’ve slept at my folks place since you punched me. She said she was sick of hearing about the attack.”

“I have a feeling that’s not all you complain about.”

“Thanks,” Beck mumbled.

Riley put his hand on Beck’s shoulder. “You might work things out if you were just more positive. You’re kind of… pessimistic.”

“I’m a realist.”

Riley shook his head. “No, you’re annoying. Just listen to me for a minute.”

***

Riley crawled into bed at one a.m. It had been a long day. Four hours counseling Beck. Then endless tinkering with the time machine. He doubted Beck even listened to him. Still, the threat of repeated punches in the nose seemed to grab his attention.

“Oooh!” an unworldly female voice shrieked from the shadows. “I love this place.”

“Hard to believe we lived here,” Beck’s voice said.

“The new house was bigger when they made you head of premium collections, but this is so quaint,” the female said.

Riley made out the shimmering outline of Beck. A gray-haired grandmotherly apparition floated near him. Riley pretended to be asleep. He didn’t need Beck to recognize him.

Beck winked at Riley.

“Honey, let’s go back to the other house.” Beck pointed a translucent finger at Riley. “Haunting only one person’s no fun.”

“Why’d a fraternity buy our mansion?” the woman wailed. “Why?”

Beck laughed. “Frat boys need scaring.”

The ghosts cackled and vanished.

For the first time in weeks, Riley slept uninterrupted.


Peter Wood is an attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina where he lives with his surly cat and patient wife. He has had stories published in Asimov’s, Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories and Every Day Fiction. Pete notes that the only advantage a ghost has over the poor soul being haunted is that the ghost is dead. So, how can one level the playing field? Also, Pete is unaware of NC State University having a time machine, but he will continue to look for one as his daily running route takes him past the campus.


This story is sponsored by
Odyssey Writing Workshops — Dedicated to helping writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror improve their work, we offer one of the top workshops in the world each summer; live, interactive online classes each winter; and many free resources.

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Every Day Fiction

  • First, thank you for giving me a little giggle this morning.
    I will go back and read it again. But, right now after only 2 hours of sleep, it was a riot.

  • First, thank you for giving me a little giggle this morning.
    I will go back and read it again. But, right now after only 2 hours of sleep, it was a riot.

  • I enjoyed this because it was a good piece of writing and it dealt with the paradoxes of time travel. There is no point anybody saying that it has been done before – because that is the whole point of time travel 🙂 Good stuff..

  • I enjoyed this because it was a good piece of writing and it dealt with the paradoxes of time travel. There is no point anybody saying that it has been done before – because that is the whole point of time travel 🙂 Good stuff..

  • I especially liked the title. Clever stuff :>

    • Pete Wood
      Thanks, Derek. Titles are really hard for me. I'm glad this one worked.
  • I especially liked the title. Clever stuff :>

    • Pete Wood
      Thanks, Derek. Titles are really hard for me. I'm glad this one worked.
  • OK. I read it again. I think that I might have fumbled my vote earlier. It should have been 5 stars. If it was indeed fumbled I apologize. Maybe I could borrow Riley’s time machine and rectify the vote and tell my younger self to not drink so much Jägermeister in 1993.

    Nice bio to round the story out a bit as well.

    • Pete Wood
      Thanks, Ward. If I had a time machine, I'd go back to October, 1986 and convince John Macnamara to pull Bill Buckner at first base.
  • OK. I read it again. I think that I might have fumbled my vote earlier. It should have been 5 stars. If it was indeed fumbled I apologize. Maybe I could borrow Riley’s time machine and rectify the vote and tell my younger self to not drink so much Jägermeister in 1993.

    Nice bio to round the story out a bit as well.

    • Pete Wood
      Thanks, Ward. If I had a time machine, I'd go back to October, 1986 and convince John Macnamara to pull Bill Buckner at first base.
  • Carl Steiger

    Time machines and ghosts make for an irresistable combination in my book. Thanks for this fine bit of whimsey! (And if frat boys moved into my mansion, I’d haunt them too.)

  • Carl Steiger

    Time machines and ghosts make for an irresistable combination in my book. Thanks for this fine bit of whimsey! (And if frat boys moved into my mansion, I’d haunt them too.)

  • Genghis Bob

    Okay, that was great fun, and it was great, and it was fun. Five stars.

  • Genghis Bob

    Okay, that was great fun, and it was great, and it was fun. Five stars.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    “This is funny! FUNNY, I say!”

  • Paul A. Freeman

    “This is funny! FUNNY, I say!”

  • This is pretty amusing. 🙂

  • This is pretty amusing. 🙂

  • Diane Cresswell

    Pure unadulterated fun! Great reading! Like the idea of this story, could use a time machine to go back and haunt a few people… teehee. Love the story.

  • Diane Cresswell

    Pure unadulterated fun! Great reading! Like the idea of this story, could use a time machine to go back and haunt a few people… teehee. Love the story.

  • joanna b.

    Neat, imaginative story. I enjoyed it immensely during a morning of complaints from almost everybody. I particularly loved the line, “No. I had a long insurance career.”

  • joanna b.

    Neat, imaginative story. I enjoyed it immensely during a morning of complaints from almost everybody. I particularly loved the line, “No. I had a long insurance career.”

  • MPmcgurty

    I’m going to take this as it’s written, all in good fun. Entertaining. 🙂

  • MPmcgurty

    I’m going to take this as it’s written, all in good fun. Entertaining. 🙂

  • Pete Wood

    Thanks for reading and commenting, everybody. I’m glad y’all liked it.

  • Pete Wood

    Thanks for reading and commenting, everybody. I’m glad y’all liked it.

  • Normally, time travel stories numb my brain and glaze over my eyes. Most of the time it is because they go nowhere: a gimmick, an attempt at whatever (my opionion). However the interlude use of the tool, making it work plot forward between who is haunting who, is highly creative, easy to get into, and appreciated. Nothing like a bleeder to the face to wake you up.
    I thought the ending forced, but by then I was hooked.

  • Normally, time machines and related travel stories numb my brain and glaze over my eyes. Most of the time it is because they go nowhere: a gimmick, an attempt at whatever (my opionion). However the interlude use of the tool in this story, making it work plot forward between who is haunting who, is highly creative, and easy to get into; appreciated. Nothing like a bleeder to the face to wake you up.
    I thought the ending forced, but by then I was hooked.

  • Connell Regner

    A really good piece of light entertainment.

  • Connell Regner

    A really good piece of light entertainment.

  • GJL

    I love a good ghost story and a good time travel story. This is both. Clever and well done.

  • GJL

    I love a good ghost story and a good time travel story. This is both. Clever and well done.