This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.

Forced Perspectives – Snippet 44

“So this is going to be an invisible ghost.” Loria had tried to sound sarcastic, but her voice had quavered; What would become of her if Harlowe were simply insane? Had she wasted nearly two years on a heartbreakingly attractive fantasy? — and driven away a man who loved her, and whom she might have loved?

Harlowe seemed to sense her misgivings. “You’ve experienced a bit of what the twins can do,” he said quietly. “You’ve seen some edges of humanity begin to fall partway into our egregore already, the events you call black hole phenomena. But the idea of a ghost is inconceivable?”

“Oh, shit, whatever.” More than anything else, she felt all at once very depressed. “Let’s do your trick.”

Harlowe lifted the toothbrush. “When I nod to you, tell him why he should get into the book. Keep your eyes on the floor then, and try to break up your sentences. Apparently it’s not a good idea to speak to ghosts in recognizably complete sentences.”

“Why he should? What reasons do I give him?”

Harlowe waved the toothbrush impatiently. “Improvise. Here goes.” And he licked the toothbrush and said, loudly, “Pratt! Come over here!”

Loria kept her eyes on Harlowe, waiting for his nod. Why don’t you just jump into that book there? she thought. There’s a nice nonexistent girl in it, waiting for you. She hoped nobody would come in while this crazy exercise was going on.

“Pratt!” called Harlowe again, and again he licked the toothbrush. Loria managed not to gag. “Pratt!” Harlowe repeated.

And then Loria jumped back, convinced for a moment that two birds had got into the sacristy and were swooping around her head; but when she focused on one of the flapping things, she numbly comprehended that it was bodiless human hand. The other one, also now visibly a hand, bounced off a cabinet, dropped several feet and hovered a yard above the linoleum floor.

Loria’s shoulders thumped against the wall beside the nave door, for she had reflexively backed away fast from the spectacle; her face was stiff and the breath was stopped in her throat. Now, with a sound like cloth tearing, the churning gray silhouette of a man flipped into view between her and Harlowe, and when the darting hands fluttered to the smoky wrist stumps and clung there, the silhouette assumed color and three dimensions.

The figure was recognizably young David Pratt, though it rippled like a projection on an unmoored bedsheet. It appeared to be in pain — its chest was heaving as if it were panting, though it made no sounds, and at each spasmodic constriction a red vapor jetted from its gaping mouth.

“Look at the floor!” snapped Harlowe. “And talk to it!”

“Send it away!” said Loria hoarsely. “This isn’t –“

“Tell it to get into the goddamn book! And look at the floor!”

Loria stared down at her shoes. “David,” she said, emptying her lungs. She inhaled, and managed to croak, “get — in that book, you can — relax, forget everything. Good God.”

“There’s,” whispered the thing that stood between her and Harlowe, “a nobody in the book.”

“Wouldn’t you,” she faltered, “like to be with — a nobody? Instead of — somebodies?”

Still staring at the floor, in her peripheral vision she saw the Pratt ghost expand to enormous size and then shrink to a buzzing dot; and the dot wavered out of her sight toward the counter.

She heard Harlowe slam the book shut. A momentary wave of hot air swept past her.

“Got it myself,” he said.

She looked up and saw the book, closed now, on the counter. It was distinctly shivering.

Harlowe lift it in both hands. “You saw it,” he said. “I doubt you’ve ever killed anyone, so some lover of yours must have died on or near a freeway in the last year or so. I hope it wasn’t Elisha. He’s still our Judas goat.”

She had had only had two others. Dazedly she hoped it was Brad, who had moved away and stopped answering her texts when she had believed she was pregnant during her senior year at UCLA.

She looked at the book in Harlowe’s hands, and realized that she was smiling. Pratt’s ghost had been real after all, and Harlowe had trapped it in that battered paperback book, just as he had said he would. He wasn’t insane, or if he was, it was a splendid and effective insanity. The egregore was not a delusion, and she would finally be able to dissolve her ignoble identity into the transcendent entity that would be God, or as good an approximation of the fabled Deity as there would ever be.

She looked at Harlowe, noting the habitual black turtleneck sweater, and the blatantly artificial dark-red color of the hair that curled around below his ears, and the high shine on his ridiculous red cowboy boots.

“Are you resolutely celibate?” she breathed, not sure what answer she hoped for.

Harlowe looked away from her, then took a step toward the door to the nave, clutching the paperback book. “People like us have better things to do than to form adhesions,” he said, and then he was striding away toward the door.

The familiar six notes from Strauss’ Death and Trasfiguration sounded from her pocket, and she called, “Wait” to Harlowe as she pulled out her phone. She glanced at the screen and said, “It’s Elisha.”

Harlowe had stopped, and now he hurried back, gripping the book in both hands. “Find out where he is,” he said.

Loria swiped the screen. “Elisha!” she said, “Where are you?”

“The St. James Infirmary,” came Ragotskie’s voice from the phone; and he went on to sing some old-sounding bluesy lyrics about a guy visiting his dead girlfriend in a hospital, and then how she’d never find another man like him.

“Well no, not if she’s dead, honey,” said Loria. She covered the microphone slot with her thumb and whispered to Harlowe, “I can hear people chatting, and surf in the background.” Lifting her thumb, she said, “I didn’t know they meant to kill you, Elisha! I’m so sorry! Where are you? I need to see you.”

She heard the distinctive clink of a bottle on a glass, and then Ragotskie said, “I hope you mean that, Agnes, for your own sake. I don’t think your egregore is going to happen, and if not, it’d be nice if you walked away from the failure with a functioning conscience.”

Now she heard a dog barking, not far from Ragotskie’s phone.

Again she covered the microphone slot, and whispered, “I’m sure he’s at the On the Waterfront Café, in Venice. We used to go there.” She uncovered the slot.

Harlowe nodded and ran to the nave door, the heels of his cowboy boots knocking on the linoleum floor.

As he yanked it open and hurried out into the nave, Loria said into the phone, “Why do you think it’s not going to happen, Elisha?”

“Well if I told you,” he said, and his voice was constricted with bitterness and satisfaction, “you might be able to save it, and lose your — your poisonously lovely self. That was Harlowe’s boots I heard, wasn’t it? This is a burner phone, but I’m going to hang up now just in case your murdering Messiah can track it. Goodbye, Agnes. I really think some of these days…well, you never heard of Sophie Tucker, but,” and then he sang, “you’re gonna miss me.”

The connection ended with a click, and Loria dropped the phone back into her pocket. That’s okay, sweetie, she thought as she walked toward the sacristy door herself, just take your time over that beer.

Probably it was Brad who had died on a freeway. And good enough for him.