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Dead Endings Book 2: Chapter 2

A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #036 back issue.

A week passed, and New York City was still baking like a gym shirt tossed into a dryer without the benefits of the wash cycle first. The air was heavy with the scent of garbage and sweaty humanity. Even the fried offerings from street vendors could barely be detected over the stench wafting off molten asphalt left by road crews trying to patch the sea of potholes on 3rd Avenue.

Cailen sat on the curb by the 77th Street Metro station, lazily polishing off a melting rainbow pop as she watched a pigeon drag a discarded plastic baloney ring into a dark alley. What it intended to do with the meat packaging she could only guess, but she hoped dearly that it involved the squirrel she had seen enter the space just minutes before.

She’d spent the better part of her morning chasing down books she needed for a project, and was taking a break people-watching before she hopped a train back to Brooklyn. Midday on the Upper East Side didn’t provide the most stimulating mix of pedestrians, but it was hot and she wasn’t quite ready to return to their non-air-conditioned apartment.

With a content sigh, she popped the last of the popsicle stick into her mouth and got up. She glanced hopefully into the alley where the pigeon had disappeared, but nothing out of the ordinary seemed to have occurred, so she tossed the stick into an overflowing garbage bin and ambled down the street.

As Cailen passed wall after wall of gleaming glass storefronts, she belatedly realized where she was.

That playback should be around here, she thought absently. With the glasses.

She was near the spot where she had spied a semi-sentient playback on past occasions. This particular spirit was a very average-looking older gentleman who seemed to have succumbed to a mysterious end. Aside from a single cracked lens in his horn-rimmed glasses, Cailen hadn’t seen any other damage on the dead man’s body. It was also mystifying that he had always smiled as he stood at the corner, thumbing through a small notebook and occasionally meeting her eye as if they were sharing some private joke. He was a non-threatening fixture outside the Wells Fargo–and an intriguing one at that. Or had been…

Cailen paused, taken aback, and frowned at the unoccupied corner. No one, spirit or living, stood there now. She peered up at the street sign overhead, half-expecting she was in the wrong spot. She was not. A minute passed as she processed this info.

“The pigeons will kill us all,” said a voice by her ear.

She jumped.

A disheveled old man had sidled up beside her. Shading his bloodshot eyes, he squinted at the spot where she had been staring. “They don’t sell hot dogs there no more,” he informed her, sorrowfully.

Cailen took a half-step to the side to put some space between them. “I was just…just looking for someone.”

The old man shook his head. Tangled locks fell free from a battered corduroy cap. “Ain’t nothing there now,” he said sadly.

Keeping one watchful eye on the man, Cailen studied the spot again, this time using her other senses. Stretching out her second sight as far as she could, she delved for echoes of the spirit, then for anything supernatural at all. Her probing was met with silence.

“I loved those hot dogs…” the man mumbled.

“Hot dogs are a thing to be missed,” Cailen replied absently. The quality of the silence made her palms itchy. It was like…like…

“He floated away.”

“What?”

“Up, up, and then away,” the man elaborated, arms gesturing expansively.

Cailen took a closer look at the man. On second glance, he was actually closer to middle-age; sun and hard living had ravaged the corners of his mouth and hollows of his cheekbones, but the eyes were bright and still had a quality of youth about them. His mismatched clothes and slightly sour smell suggested that he was one of Manhattan’s homeless, but Cailen didn’t want to presume. She wasn’t entirely confident of her own scent or fashion sense that day.

It was his comment that gave her pause. A small light bulb in her head had gone off at the mention of “floating.”

“Did you see the guy who used to be at that corner?” she hazarded.

The man turned his bloodshot eyes to her.

“The guy who, um…” Cailen made a meandering gesture of her own, “…used to wait there. Small book, glasses…”

There was a lengthy pause.

“The dead guy?” the man finally asked.

Cailen nodded vigorously. “Yes! So you can see them. Yeah, the dead guy.”

The bloodshot eyes widened. “You see dead people?”

“I…what? No, YOU saw the guy! The guy who floated. Did he, uh, float away?”

The man took a step back, and then another.

Cailen pressed forward. “When did you last see him?!”

He shook his head and edged further away, as if she had a cold he didn’t want to catch.

“The pigeons…” he whispered, and then scuttled off.

“Yeah, well, Tesla loved a pigeon, so they can’t all be that bad!” Cailen yelled after him.

She watched his retreating back until he disappeared around the corner. It was just her luck to stumble across an interesting tidbit and be left hanging. But still…

Cailen crossed the street and stood in the spot where the dead man had always waited. Again,  the sucking silence of his absence bothered her. Instinct, and a feeling like she’d just stumbled across a tantalizingly half-finished Sudoku puzzle, made her cross back to the other side and make her way up 3rd Street until she reached 79th.

The multi-paned windows of the surrounding high-rises beamed the day’s heat back at her as she loitered under the eaves of a ground floor pharmacy. There were more people here than two blocks back, probably thanks to the multitude of food trucks camping out at the edge of every hydrant. She spotted a particularly battered vehicle selling churros. The sight of the crunchy little sticks usually filled her with joy, but today, the only thing they evoked was unease.

“79th Street,” she muttered. “A churro truck and death balloons, huh…”

She sauntered up to the truck and leaned against the side of the vehicle to eyeball the crowd. A small boy leashed to his chatting parents by a monkey backpack stared at her with owlish eyes. She gave him a nod and resumed scanning the area for Jason’s “balloons.”

The sky was a soft, robin’s egg blue punctuated by wispy clouds. A gaggle of pigeons flew overhead, marring the view. Cailen shaded her eyes and frowned. She couldn’t spot anything unusual, string or otherwise, in the sky. No unearthly figures hovered around the people in line, either. Everyone looked ordinary enough.

She made a wide circuit around the truck. Nothing.

She took a quick stroll around the block. Nothing.

Bored, she returned to the truck and ordered some churros. As she crunched on the fried treat, she considered her options. Jason’s info had been pretty specific, but what were the odds that she’d get a repeat sighting a week after the fact? Nothing in the area stood out to her. Not that that meant much. Her own limited abilities were pretty useless unless a ghost was practically staring her in the face.

Cailen grumbled around the last bite of churro. Aside from the potential sighting from the mystery vagrant, she didn’t have much news to go on. And faced with actual effort, her interest was beginning to drop. It was time to call in the big dogs and get things moving. Well, the small dog, anyway. The small, yappy one with the nose for all things undead.

She clicked open her ancient flip phone and dialed Everett’s number. He picked up almost immediately.

“Yo, Scooby. I need you on 79th and 3rd. How soon can you get here?” Cailen asked before he could even speak.

“Cailen?” Everett’s surprised voice replied.

“Yup. When can you get here?”

There was a muffled sound, then he said, “I’m out with my girlfriend right now. Can we do this tomorrow or something, whatever this is? What is this, anyway?”

Cailen was momentarily speechless. “…You have a girlfriend?!

“Yes…?”

“A girlfriend.”

“Yes.”

“You.”

“Yes.”

“…”

“…”

“…A girlfr–”

“Yes, dammit! What do you want, Cailen?!”

Cailen shook her head and got back to the task at hand. “I need your nose. Ghost business. Remember back at the bar the other week when Jason mentioned that weird sighting?”

“Yeah…” Everett said slowly. “The balloon thing, right? You have a lead or something?”

“Something,” she agreed. “You in?”

A kind of eager silence salivated on the other end of the line. Cailen heard more muffled sounds through the connection before Everett’s voice returned. “All right. I can be there in twenty, trains willing.”

“Good enough,” Cailen said. “I’ll wait by the churros truck.”

“Done,” he replied, and then the call went dead.

Satisfied, she snapped the phone shut and slouched against the truck to wait.

Proceed to Chapter 2, page 2–>

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