I understood the swiping, I’m not an idiot. I’d dated my share of guys, but the stakes were so much higher this time around. I would swipe right and as soon as someone else did, we’d be in this thing. Like, forever. And that felt really strange to me, but Cassy, the girl I trained with, said not to overthink things. She gave me some basic rules. Don’t swipe based on looks. Avoid the super rich or celebrities, they’re not as interesting as you think. On the other hand, avoid the extremely poor, as they’re so busy working three jobs, they’re almost never home. Pick someone who seems a little lost, a little lonely. And feel free to take my time.
So I did. I swiped left on photo after photo. Guys, girls, the elderly, children. I had no idea what I was looking for, until I saw Charlie. He was in his 30’s, quiet-looking, a little sad, and handsome in a small-town librarian kind of way. He wrote poetry and lived alone in a family house he inherited. Somewhere up in Oregon, near the beach. Nice, I like it cloudy.
I swiped right and was informed we were a match. I wasn’t sure what would happen next, but then I was in his bedroom, tucked into the shadowy corner between an armoire and a reading chair. He was in bed, softly snoring. He sat up quickly and said, “Is someone there?”
I took a chance and said, “Hey, it’s me,” but he didn’t say anything back, just looked around for a moment and then went back to sleep.
And that was the first night I haunted Charlie.
We settled into a routine fairly quickly. Charlie would wake up early and walk on the beach while I explored the house. After breakfast, he’d head into his home office to write, which was basically a lot of him staring out the window with a cursor blinking on a blank screen on his monitor. Lunch was followed by an afternoon stroll and then he’d send some emails before making himself dinner. He looked like a good cook, but I couldn’t tell as I had no sense of smell. The night was usually spent reading by the fire and very, very occasionally watching porn in his office but I’d give him his privacy for that because no thank you.
At night, the house was mine. He often left the windows open so there was a nice breeze and I would run the hallways, loving the way my dress trailed behind me. Charlie never saw me, even when he got up to use the bathroom. Sometimes I’d catch him sitting alone in the dark, asking if I was there, like he wanted to catch a glimpse of me. I had no idea why, until I found a shoebox filled with old photos in his office closet. I took out a framed picture and it was like looking into a mirror. She had a crooked smile and long hair like mine, and holy shit did it make sense now. Charlie picked me because I looked like his dead girlfriend.
I sent a message to Cassy and asked if there was a way to find out what happened to his girlfriend, see if she could take over haunting him. Cassy’s response was, what the fuck am I doing? Don’t get involved, just haunt him until he’s dead, and then move on.
But now my days felt even more empty than before. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Charlie was disappointed in me. Sometimes I caught him on the app, looking at other ghosts. He never swiped right, but a mid-30’s brunette would always give him pause. His walks along the beach took longer and longer, and once he came back with the cuffs of his pants all wet and I started to get scared. I messaged Cassy, but she didn’t respond, so I was on my own.
One night Charlie wrote a bunch of letters by hand, put them in envelopes, and labeled each one: Aunt Helen, Mr. Teabottom, Rudy, Mags. He left without a coat and I thought, fuck this is it. I chased after him, but he left the property and I was stuck there on the edge watching him disappear into the fog that hovered over the beach. I screamed his name, but my voice just sounded like a shrieking wind or a couple of cats fighting.
I waited there in the grass, wishing I could feel the cool dew against my calves, the wind against my cheek. But there was nothing for me except time and soon enough, that was gone, too.
After I was sent back, there was a new girl named Mei and it was my job to train her so I told her what Cassy told me, about avoiding the very rich and the very poor. I added in to try and avoid those who are super sad, and she said, “But isn’t that everyone?” and I started crying right in front of her. She patted me on the shoulder until she found a match and then she was gone.
After that, I swiped for God knows how long and I have to admit I was tempted to swipe on guys who looked like Charlie, but I knew the truth, that it would be never be him, and even if it was, that I couldn’t save him. That wasn’t my job. My job was to haunt him, and I did that. I just wasn’t expecting Charlie to haunt me back.
I swiped for a long time before I paired with a little girl in Ireland. Good, more crummy weather. She was pale and red-headed and not at all sad, and she never saw me but she drew pictures of me sometimes and that made me happy. As happy as I can be, I guess.
Where Bob DeRosa comes from, nice guys finish first. His screenwriting credits include Killers, The Air I Breathe, and White Collar. His short fiction has been featured in Escape Pod, Dark Moon Digest, and the Simon & Schuster horror anthology Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man. Bob lives in Los Angeles with his wife Jen and their three delightful cats.