Forced Perspectives – Snippet 17

Vickery sat down in the easy chair closest to the couch. “I remember he thought the paintings were tethers, to keep a ghost from dissipating. I doubt they still work, if they ever did.”

Castine took a big sip of her drink and then set the glass on a magazine on the table. “And now you want to go talk to some ghosts — in your nest under the 15 freeway. That’s still possible, I gather.”

“Sporadically, these days.” He took a liberal sip of his own drink. “There’s a dirt road that takes you to the overpass, and I drive out there a couple of times a week, and the freeway provides enough rapidly moving free wills to generate the old current.”

She waved her hand in a circle indicating the surrounding area. “Your neighbors wonder about that?”

“There’s a lot of dirt roads that lead out into the desert in every direction from here, and I make sure I’m seen taking them all, at one time or another. I get in a good deal of shooting practice in real remote spots. That’s covert, but I always conspicuously take a metal detector, and I’ve dropped a few hints about Roswell and the Von Daniken books.”

“So Bill Ardmore is a saucer nut.”

“If anybody was to wonder about him, sure. A UFOlogist. I’m going to cook us up something to eat, and then we can drive out to my freeway nest. I’ve got eggs, bacon, onions, cheddar cheese — how about a big old omelette?”

“Drive out tonight? It’s — it’ll be dark.”

“The 15 has a fair amount of traffic at all hours, since it’s the way from L.A. to Las Vegas and back, so there’ll be current. And the ghosts come through clearer after sundown — I think ultraviolet interferes with their composition.”

“And they don’t attack you?” she asked, clearly remembering one they had encountered last year in the Hollywood Forever cemetery.

“I dragged a roll of chicken wire to the shelf under the bridge, and made a barrier, like a Faraday Cage. It’s an old trick I learned from the freeway gypsies in L.A. Does an omelette sound good? Or I could do scrambled eggs, fried eggs –”

“But you just had a, an episode, a vision of that awful house, a couple of hours ago! What if it were to happen again, out — ” She waved toward the window, clearly meaning: out there in the desert, at night!

“I’d come out of it again pretty quick,” he said stolidly. “Either one of us would.” He tipped up his glass for another sip and got one of the ice cubes as well as a mouthful of bourbon.

“I’ll go with you,” she said firmly, “in the morning.”

For several seconds neither of them spoke. Vickery chewed the ice cube.

Then, “You’ll be safe here,” he said gently. “Lock the doors, and I’ll give you a gun. And when I come back, I’ll knock — ” He reached out and rapped knock-knock-knock, knock on the table, ” — before I put the key in the lock, so you’ll know it’s me. I shouldn’t be more than two hours.”

“Oh, damn you, I’ll go along,” she said angrily. “Omelette, cooked through, not runny. And I want a gun anyway.”

Vickery nodded respectful acknowledgment and stood up to go back into the kitchen.


Only a few surfers still bobbed on the darkening waves out past the surf line, and a chilly onshore breeze had driven most of the beachgoers to pack up their towels and coolers and head for their cars, and the parking lot was a good deal emptier now than when the woman with the two pre-teen girls had arrived. The three of them scuffed quickly now through the loose sand around the volleyball nets, their shadows stretching out in front of them to the parking lot pavement. The woman wore a blue cotton dress that fluttered around her legs, and a leather purse swung on a strap over her shoulder; her eyes were hidden behind sunglasses and her mouth was a tight line. The girls wore identical Batman T-shirts and denim shorts, and they glanced at each other and bit their lips to keep from giggling.

“Oops!” whispered one of them to the other, and then they both looked away, shaking as they hurried to keep up with the woman.

Six notes of Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration chimed faintly in the wind, and the woman snatched a phone out of her purse. “This is Agnes,” she said, angling the phone through her disordered chestnut hair, “speak up, it’s windy.” Then, “We’re leaving right now, as a matter of fact.” She nodded emphatically as she walked. “Yes, I think you could call it that! A big black hole event on the beach. Yes — yes, a whole family, six people, at least, all babbling in unison. Something about Dr. Zhivago, and buying clothes in Hesperia. What? I said Dr. Zhivago — How should I know? No, this family was drunk, they didn’t connect it with us. Yes, all of them, they had a jug of wine under a blanket, I should have called the cops.”

The three of them had reached the pavement, and the woman paused to take off one of her flat canvas shoes and knock sand out of it. The girls were barefoot. “No,” snapped the woman, bracing the phone awkwardly between her ear and her shoulder, “I wouldn’t really have called them. I’m not an idiot.” She took off her other shoe. “No,” she went on, “just therapy wading, not even up to their knees! I know — ” she glanced at the girls, ” — their history. Here, I’ll let Amber explain.”

She thrust the phone at one of the girls.

“I’m Lexi,” the girl said, but she pushed back her wind-blown brown hair and took the phone. “Hello, Uncle Simon.” After a few seconds she said, “Well, we were wading, and Lexi slipped –”

“I thought I slipped,” said the other girl.

“And so I caught her, to keep her from falling. Yes, by the hand, but we were just holding hands for a second! We didn’t mean to start that family all squawking away!”

She nodded several more times, blinking away tears. “Don’t let Agnes leave us here! We won’t do it again!”

The other girl was now wringing her hands and glancing anxiously back at the sparsely populated shore and the sea beyond.

“Make her promise not to leave us here!” said the girl with the phone. A moment later she held it out toward Agnes Loria. “He wants to talk to you.”

Loria was shaking sand out of her other shoe, and now took the phone impatiently with her free hand. “Agnes again,” she said. “Elisha? Yes, he’s texted me a few times, but I haven’t had time to reply.” She frowned then, her shoe evidently forgotten in her hand. “He did?” She listened intently, then said, “Of course he will. I’ll let you know where.” Again she was silent, and Lexi and Amber exchanged nervous looks.

“And the twins,” Loria went on, “should I — oh! Okay. Holiday Harbor Marina now? Where’s that?” She dropped her shoe to dig a pen and an envelope out of her purse, and she scribbled briefly on the envelope. She lifted the pen and didn’t speak for a few seconds, then glared at the girls. “No, I was far enough away, but I felt the black hole effect — like I was a big super centipede. Right, we’ll see you there.”

Loria tucked her phone and the pen and envelope back in her purse and put on her shoe. She was frowning.

“The sun’s going down,” wailed one of the girls. “We’ll die out here!”

“Ass — asphyxiate,” sobbed the other.

Suddenly the thoughts in Loria’s mind all collapsed, replaced by an impression of frightened fluttering, like a bird helplessly falling in vacuum. She could feel that her hands were extending, fingers spread, and after a few seconds she was aware that she was holding two other hands.

Then her thoughts flooded back, and she took a quick step to catch her balance. She saw that she was holding the twin’s hands. At least they weren’t touching each other.

Loria mentally replayed the recent conversation. “Don’t be silly,” she said, a bit breathlessly, “I’m not going to abandon you. You’re both part of the big family, right? Come on.” She let go of their hands and started toward the car, which was parked at the back of the lot, by the narrow road that separated the beach from the big waterfront houses. “But I think I’m going to make you two wear gloves, all the time.”

“We can’t wear gloves,” objected the one that Loria was pretty sure was Amber. Tears still streaked the girls’ faces, but their momentary despair was evidently forgotten. “Without fingerprints, there’d be no difference between us, and we’d melt.”

Loria’s face was chilly with a dew of sweat. It was them, again, she thought. They were in my mind for a moment, and this time they made me hold their hands because they were afraid of being abandoned. A week ago I found myself violently tearing open a bag of Toritos, after I had told them they couldn’t have any. I wish their identities — identity? — would stay in their heads!