November 25 2015

GHOSTS: Act I, Episode 38

Best Friends

Act I Episode 38 Best Friends“Hold your hands where I can see ’em and don’t make any sudden movements.”

The voice is hard as granite, but a underlyin’ tremor hides beneath the surface, ready to bust up the rock like it’s fragile as clay. Sweat and rottin’ meat flavor the air.

The kids at school used to tell stories about the meat they ate at Christmas. Ham. Turkey. Is this what Christmas smells like?

The backs of my arms stick to the carpet. I open my eyes and try to lift my hands like the man said, but a weight on my chest keeps them in place. Whatever holds me down is lighter across my stomach and heavier on my sternum. Wood and metal. The scythe. I smile. Red glue cements my curled fingers to my best friend. Like holdin’ hands. I’ll never let it go.

A gun points at my forehead. The man behind it looks worried. Maybe even a little frightened.

“You ain’t gotta be scared o’ nothin’, mister,” I say. “It’s just me an’ my friend. The bad people are gone now.”

“What the … fuck?” He shifts weight. Two others flank him. All of them wear caps that say “GBI.” The one on the right keeps the muzzle trained on my head as he reaches for the sickle. I jerk it away and scream, “No!” They all startle and lean into their guns, fingers ready to pull triggers.

“Drop the weapon,” the wide-eyed one in the middle yells. “I will shoot you if you so much as twitch.”

“Don’t take it away!” I beg. “Please, it’s my only friend. I got no one else.”

Another man walks in and eases between two of the gunmen. “Lower your weapons,” he tells them and pushes the muzzles down with a palm. The men obey. “What’s your name, young lady?”

“Sarah Coolidge.”

“Is that your momma?” he gestures with his chin to my left.

Clutching the sickle, I follow his gaze across the red-stained carpet. Momma stares at me through dull, lifeless eyes. Some of her scalp is missing. I nod. “That’s her. Thought I left her in the cellar.”

He scans the room as if following a trail. He kneels beside me. “I’m Jim.”

“Are you the law?”

“Yes, Sarah. Can you tell me what happened to your momma and this man here?”

“I killed ’em. Momma tried to turn me in for what I done to Daddy. I didn’t mean to hurt the Lawman, but he was with Momma. He knew what I done. I got scared. I had to protect myself. I had to get out of this goddamn place after all I been through.” I shake my head. “Eighteen years they beat me, Jim. I just … I couldn’t take no more. I’m real sorry. I couldn’t take no more.”

A pity-tinged “Mmm” sneaks past his tight lips.

I sit up. The guns level on me. I let the scythe go. “I just wanted to be … seen.”

November 24 2015

GHOSTS: Act I, Episode 37


Act I Episode 37 DesegregationWashington turns right.

She’s been here for weeks, turning left at the T every morning. Why did she turn right today?

Her and Adams join formation without a word.

What the hell?

Sergeant Cleveland stops in front of me. Red dust swirls around her feet. She checks me over from cap to boots, nods, and moves on to Tyler. Thankfully, everyone passes inspection, including the new additions. We ain’t seen Chokeman in a while. Like to keep it that way.

“At ease, soldiers,” Sergeant says. All right feet remain in position. Left feet drop into a relaxed stance. “It’s been a privilege to work with you these last few months. I’ve trained many soldiers, and you’ve been some of the best. Several of you will be up for promotions in the near future.”

Johnson and Arthur hide smiles. Tyler and Garfield keep their heads down.

“For the next few days, you’ll be completing a series of hands-on training exercises. You’ll be broken into two teams. Private Adams will be in charge of red team, and Washington will command blue team.”

A burst of outrage clogs the hot, stuffy air from every direction. Contents under pressure is a understatement. I can practically see the fire and smell the brimstone steamin’ from Johnson’s ears. She’s focused on Washington like a lion on a gazelle. Her upper lip curls. Her jaw works back and forth. If she ain’t careful, she’ll lose a tooth or two to all that grindin’.

Sergeant Cleveland continues, “Today, Red’s job will be to secure Blue’s crate of weapons, which is housed in the storage building. During this simulation, you’ll be authorized to use any means at your disposal to protect or seize, depending on your team’s goals. Captain McDonahue and I will assess strengths and weaknesses. Questions?”

Oh, there’s questions, but ain’t nobody askin’.

We’re dismissed to our teams. Washington, Madison, Tyler, Johnson, and me head to the depot. We’re defendin’ against Adams, Garfield, Harrison, Buchanan, and Arthur.

Washington orders, “Don gas masks, body armor, and helmets. Madison, cover the front entrance. Tyler, you’ll man the tear gas. Coolidge, you’re up in the rafters with a rifle. Johnson, you’re on the weapons crate.

“That’s a bad move,” Johnson argues. “I know how Arthur operates. She’s storming this box, balls-out. No plan. No mercy. No prisoners.”

“Arthur ain’t runnin’ the show over there,” Washington says. “Adams is. Do as I say.”

Johnson scowls at Washington but holds her tongue as she gets in position. We fall in, armed and masked.

Seconds later, an explosion obliterates the door and half of a wall, blowin’ Madison to smithereens. Blood showers my fatigues. Shock freezes me. Live rounds? Shit!

“No!” Tyler cries.

Tear gas canisters fly. They have no effect against our masks, but it’s impossible to see through the thick cloud. I fire blindly at the hole in the wall. Boots shuffle near the weapons crate.


“Fuck!” Johnson roars.

A thud follows.

Smoke clears.

“Got it!” Harrison shouts triumphantly.

November 23 2015

GHOSTS: Act I, Episode 36


Act I Episode 36 Ambush“Coolidge, wait up,” Johnson calls behind me. I slow down but don’t turn around. “I need to speak to you about a little problem,” she says when she catches up.

I know what this is about. Washington.

Johnson falls in step with me and keeps her voice low as we head toward the Boneyard for inspection. “I want you to handle Washington. Like we did Grant.”

Like you handled Grant. I wasn’t involved in that shit.

“What do I get out of it?”

She shrugs. “Your choice of top or bottom bunk? Freedom from prying eyes spying on your shit? Vengeance? Take your pick.”

“She ain’t done nothin’ to me.”

“Not yet. But you saw what was in her pockets. You don’t get one of those GBI badges unless you live that life. You enjoy having the law up in your grille 24/7?”

“More like 8/7, and most of that’s durin’ sleepin’ hours.”

She leans close. Her arm touches mine. “You telling me you aren’t the least bit concerned that the GBI—the people you shot and killed—sleeping downstairs from your bunk doesn’t make you nervous?”

My steps lag for a couple beats, then speed up.

“That’s right.” She sprints ahead, turns to face me, and walks backward as she talks. “We heard what you did. Harrison wasn’t kidding when she said she kept up with the news on the outside. She saw your trial coverage up in Atlanta. You killed your parents and a GBI agent. In cold blood. If you did it back then, you can do it now.”

If Johnson thinks she can bully me into doing her biddin’, she can kiss my ass.

I push past her. “I’m done with killin’.”

“Then, what the hell are you doing in R & R? You do realize they’re training us to murder people, right?”

“That’s different. I don’t know the enemies we go after. They’re faceless. Killers in their own right. They deserve to die.”

“And you know her? What’s Washington’s first name, then?”

She got me there. I shrug.

“You don’t know anybody here. But if you do this job, I’ll introduce you to some people. Make you some friends. Whatever.”

“I’ll think about it.” We near the top of the T where the hallway ends. Arthur, Buchanan, and Garfield wait for Johnson there. They eye me and cut sly glances to each other.

“Don’t think too long. Or too hard,” Johnson advises. “If you miss your window of opportunity, you’re fucked.”

Arthur backs up Johnson’s threat with a menacing grin and folds her arms over her chest. The four of them head toward the Boneyard. I stare after them until their footsteps are replaced by a quieter, single set.

Washington passes me with her head down.

“Hey,” I call.

She stops and looks at my feet.

“What’s your real name?”

She meets my eyes. A ghost like mine lives behind them. My stomach clenches.


I nod. Rukiya Washington turns left. I turn right.

November 20 2015

GHOSTS: Act I, Episode 35

Liberty Lane

Act I Episode 35 Liberty LaneIt’s been a month since the explosions. I’ve been alone at Arrendale, livin’ off the food in the inmate kitchen. It’s the best I ever ate in all my days. I have actual meat on my bones.

My belly is full. My eyes are open. My heart is eager to move on. I ain’t got much choice seein’ as how I’m almost outta food.

I don’t know what waits for me beyond these prison walls, but one thing is sure. For the first time in my life, I’m truly free.

Using some prison browns as sacks, I pack the rest of the food and water and a change of clothes. I find a gas mask in one of the weapons lockers. They must’a kept these in case they had to use them tear gas canisters against the prisoners. If a bomb really did go off around these parts, I need protection, though I don’t know shit about the dangers of nukes other than they’ll kill you. I put the mask on and stand in front of the door.

I’m a little scared heading alone into the world without nobody to tell me where to go or how to live, but I reckon I’ll figure it out. That’s always worked for me before.

Holding my breath, I push open the door.

The atmosphere is hazy with dull brown and yellow highlights. The grass beyond the prison is dead. The horizon is a scary shade of orange. It’s hot as blazes.

I wander past the razor wire.

Nothing but dust and death.

But it’s all mine to explore.

I kick at the hard ground and look up to the sky. Anemic fog obscures the sun. “Dear Lord, I ain’t had the inclination to speak to you before now, but I sure would appreciate some advice. I ain’t never been in charge o’ myself, and I don’t know what to do.

“I’ll confess. I murdered some folks. That makes me a bad person. But Father Joseph said if you’re truly sorry for the sins you done, God will forgive you.

“I am sorry for killin’ the Lawman.” No point lyin’ about Daddy, Momma, and the rapists at Arrendale. God knows if you lie. “According to the judge, I owe someone my life in exchange for what I done took from him. If you’ll show me who that someone is, I promise to pay them back. I don’t wanna leave this earth owin’ nobody.

“Can you give me a sign? Where should I go? What should I do?”

The mists swirl and open like the entrance to a cave. A road looms. A massive crack splits the right side of the pavement like a giant sinkhole. Facing left, I hike up the backpack strap and grin at the future laid out before me.

“I dub this stretch of asphalt Liberty Lane,” I declare as I skip across its dirty, pot-holed surface.

Liberty Lane will lead me to salvation. No doubt about it.

November 19 2015

GHOSTS: Act I, Episode 34

Why’d You Do It?

Act I Episode 34 Why'd You Do ItWhen I come to, I raise up on hands and knees. Dried chunks of rotten sick cling to my cheeks. Cold drool swings like a rope from my mouth. Tremblin’, I wipe the vomit from my face. “What the hell—”

“Why’d you do it, Sarah?” a soft male voice asks behind me.

I jump to my feet and spin around. The Lawman. Two of him. The one with my sickle buried in the center of his neck, splayed over blood-soaked carpet, and his shimmery twin sittin’ beside ’im, puffin’ a cigarette behind a curtain of smoke as wispy as he is.

My stomach rolls. “I—I don’t know. Momma turned on me, and … I snapped.” I meet the spirit’s washed-out eyes. Even without life, they burn through me.

A wild shot of adrenaline racks my whole frame. I done somethin’ bad. Real bad.

He exhales a thick cloud and stands. “I had a family. When you brought that scythe down on me, you killed a part of them too. There’s no coming back from murder in cold blood. At least, not without a big sacrifice.”

Steadying myself on the arm of the couch, I lower my head.

“You got something dark living inside you. Look what you did.” He gestures to his and Momma’s hacked up bodies. “You dragged your mother’s corpse up here from the cellar and posed us like dolls. You drank tea and made a toast to Luna over our bleeding bodies before we were even cold.”

Frowning, I press a palm to my forehead. I feel sick. Shaky. “I don’t remember any of that.”

“Doesn’t change the fact that you did it.” He steps closer. I back away. “You’re fucked up, girl. Somewhere down the road, you lost your humanity. Or maybe you never had it. Either way, you’re an abomination. God turned his back on you, and now you gotta make your wrongs right.”

I swallow the bile zippin’ up my throat. “Yes, sir.”

His eyes assume a eerie glow, like freshly birthed vengeance. “I’m gonna have to haunt you, Sarah.”

I clutch my stomach. “I reckon that’s fair. For how long?”

He cups my chin and forces me to look at him. His brown skin is ashy and sunken. His face is sad. I shiver. “As long as it takes. Once you make peace with yourself, you’ll be free of me. Until then …”

I bounce my gaze around the crime scene that used to be my home. Why did I do it? Why?

Because the shit finally piled up so high, I either had to let it crush me to death, or shake it off for good. Killin’ was necessary to my survival, like breathin’ or eatin’.

A siren sounds. A police car’s blue and white lights brighten the gloom.

“Make this right,” the Lawman intones as he fades into the shadows.

“I will,” I vow, too dizzy to stand.

The sirens cut off.

I pass out.