Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Weekly Story #25: Sea of Tranquility Plumbing

Can you tell I work in Customer Service?

  • The Moon - Socialite/Plumber - Astrology

 

SEA OF TRANQUILITY PLUMBING

An upscale home with state-of-the-art technology in the most bustling colony on the freaking moon, and Ulric couldn't get his toilet to flush. The party started in only an hour, and the plumber was half an hour later than he promised. Too much later and the guests would have plenty to eat and drink and nowhere to crap it out. All his investments, all his deals led up to tonight, when he would finally get a chance to mingle with some of the moon's best and brightest. And now Ulric would become the laughing stock of the entire colony, if not of the entire moon.

He stood at the window, staring out at the gray dust and rocks, and at the trams zipping back and forth from one dome to the other. Those trams would be bringing in his guests all through the night. Maybe, just maybe, one of them would have the plumber. Maybe, just maybe, it would turn out the problem was something simple, easy to clear up.

The bell rang. Ulric crossed the living room of his condo to the front door and pressed the button to unlock it. "It's about damn time you—oh, it's you."

Ulric's cousin Nadine raised her safety gear—the low gravity made it easier to bump into things—over her head and passed it over to him. "Is that how you say hello in D Colony? Nice place. You have moved up, haven't you?"

"You're early."

"I was already in this dome, and ran out of stuff to do, so I thought I'd stop by." She picked out a meatball from the snacks Ulric had laid out on his kitchen table.

"Well, you couldn't have picked a worse time. I'm waiting for a plumber. The toilet isn't working."

Nadine froze mid-bite. "Well now you tell me."

"It only started an hour ago. And I checked, it's happening to the upstairs toilet, too. So if you have to go, I don't know what to tell you. I just know if that plumber doesn't show up soon, I'm taking this right to the Colony Committee."

The bell rang. "Maybe that's him," Nadine said.

"It better be." Ulric answered. "Oh, right this way."

He stepped back as the caterer wheeled in a cart full of heated containers and laid them on the table among the snacks.

"Is this everything?" Ulric said. The caterer said yes, Ulric paid him, and let him go. The door slid shut behind the caterer.

"You don't think you're overdoing it with the food?" Nadine said.

"What kind of party doesn't have plenty of food?" Ulric straightened the pans. "I happen to know the head of fuel services goes absolutely nuts over old American food."

"Is that who you're cozying up to?" Nadine sniffed. "I thought I smelled buffalo sauce."

The bell rang once again. "All right," Ulric said. "If this isn't the plumber, I'm just telling them to go home."

He opened the door, and on the other side stood a young man in a jumpsuit with a patch that said "Sea of Tranquility Plumbing."

"It's about damn time," Ulric said. "What the hell took you so long?"

"My apologies, sir." The plumber drifted in. "I had a job over in K Dome that took longer than I expected. Which way's the bathroom?"

"This way." Ulric led him down the hall, into the second door on the left. "Right here."

"All right. Do you know if anyone else in this dome had any trouble?"

"I haven't had a chance to ask. Just take care of it right away." Ulric went back to the living room, where Nadine was peeking underneath the foil on the trays the caterer brought in. He whipped one off and snatched up a buffalo wing. "I swear, Nadine, I swear."

"Look, he got here, there's plenty of time, no point stressing out."

Ulric munched on the wing and looked over toward the hall. He heard water flow behind the walls. The plumber stepped out of the bathroom. "You need anything?" Ulric said.

"No, I'm done."

"Thank God, I can pour some scotch!" Nadine said.

"Done?" Ulric dropped his wing, and after swiping his hand twice, managed to catch it before it hit the floor. Sometimes having a fraction of Earth's gravity was a blessing. "How can you already be done?"

"Turned out it was fairly simple. I just had to do a service reset."

"A service reset? On a toilet?"

"Right. This being the moon, and a 100% artificial environment, all water has to be carefully monitored and regulated by the dome's computer network. So I reset the connection to the server, that cleared the memory, and it restored water access to your toilet."

"Seriously?" Nadine said to Ulric. "You brought a plumber up here just for a service reset?"

"I've never even heard of such a thing."

"You have to forgive my cousin," Nadine told the plumber. "He's a little new to the moon."

"Well, newer homes don't necessarily have this problem," the plumber said. "Everything gets rerouted and reset automatically. This one looks like it's still using second-gen plumbing. If it ever stops again, just open the tank and hold down the blue button. That should take care of it. Do you want to pay now or should I send you a bill?"

"Why should I pay you?" Ulric said. "All you did was push a button."

"You hired me to do a job, and I did it."

"A job I could have done myself."

"But you didn't," Nadine said, then sipped her scotch.

"I'll send you a bill," the plumber said, heading for the door.

"I'm not gonna pay it!" Ulric said. "I'm taking this straight to the Colony Committee!"

The plumber walked out, and the door slid shut behind him.

"You realize, of course," Nadine said, "the Colony Committee might be less than willing to side with someone who tried to stiff a plumber on his pay."

"Do you want to stay for the party, or don't you?"

"Oh I'm staying." Nadine finished off her scotch. "I want to hear all the ways you spin this to all your new friends."

The bell rang. Ulric answered, and welcomed the head of fuel services and Mrs. Head of Fuel Services. "Welcome! Welcome! You're early, but it never hurts to be the first one! Make yourself at home!"

"Happy to be here," the head of fuel services said. "But before I do anything else, which way is your bathroom?"

"Down the hall, second door on the left."

"Thank you!"

The head of fuel services took floating steps down the hall as Ulric nodded smugly at his cousin. "You're just in time," he told Mrs. Fuel Services. "We just got the plumbing fixed."

The head of fuel services stuck his head out the bathroom door. "Excuse me, where's the toilet paper?"

"Toilet paper?" Ulric said. "There should be a roll in there."

"It's almost gone, and I couldn't find any under the sink."

Ulric knew he'd forgotten something. All he had was one roll upstairs, and he'd meant to get more earlier that day.

Nadine grinned smugly at Ulric, and poured another glass of scotch for Mrs. Fuel Services and herself.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Weekly Story #24: The Seventh Symphony

Well this turned out to be more than I expected when I first started it. In other stories I've written, including Thresholds of the Grand Dream, I take a more cynical approach to childhood/teenage crushes, but I just couldn't do that this time. I truly want the best for Morris.For reference, you can listen to Beethoven's Seventh Symphony here. The anime song that Morris watched is here. I confess my ignorance as to how high school orchestras actually work, and call poetic license for all the things I got wrong. Hope you like it!One sad note, though: this was the first time I missed a week. That's right, I missed my goal to write a different story each week. This was the week I went to Doxacon and caught a nasty cold. But I'm still on track to publish a story a week!

  •  Concert - Teen/Grandparent - Crush

THE SEVENTH SYMPHONY

I. Poco sostenuto - Vivace

Morris crept through the front entrance of the school to find the lobby stuffed with people. There were classmates—some of Morris's fellow freshmen—along with some upperclassmen and a ton of adults—parents, teachers, and a few alumni. Most of them were in semi-formal wear; boys and men in at least a button-down, girls and women in evening gowns. At least Morris wasn't the only one wearing a tie. Granny had insisted he wear one. This was a symphony, she'd said, not a rave.

He and Granny went to the cashier table, where Arnold Holbert from Biology was in charge of selling tickets. Morris mostly ignored Granny's attempts to chat with Arnold, and searched through the crowd. He touched the pocket on his chest, feeling for the gift he needed to give tonight, or he'd never give it at all. Mae was here somewhere. The show started in five minutes. She'd never be late.

And she wasn't—Morris spotted her as soon as he and Granny made it to the auditorium. Mae was chatting with her friends in front of the stage, wearing a red dress, holding her oboe. There she was, a radiant musician, and here he was, a nobody from her English class. What business did he have interrupting her and her friends, right in front of the auditorium, in front of everyone?

"Aren't you going to sit down?" Granny said. "You're the one who insisted we come."

She was right, he did. He filed into the row of seats behind her and sat down, his eyes still on Mae. Morris had thought that showing up to her concert might get her attention, show her that he was interested in what she did. Sure, he didn't play any instruments, and sure, Granny's interests were more in 70's stadium rock than Beethoven. But Morris read up on Beethoven and the Seventh Symphony and even looked up a performance on YouTube, all to prepare for Mae's performance. Now he and Granny sat close to the back, buried in the crowd. Even if Mae looked in his direction, she'd never notice him.

Morris never told Granny about the gift he'd bought for Mae. Morris had never spoken a word about her. He knew Granny would make some remark that meant well but wouldn't be as funny as she thought. Or worse, she'd try to help play matchmaker. Morris would never survive the embarrassment.

Mae left her friends and took her place on stage and began warming up on her oboe.

II. Allegretto

Mae was going to be so happy when this was done. Beethoven's Seventh had consumed every waking hour of her life for the last month. If it wasn't the new orchestra leader pushing everyone harder than Mr. Onder ever did, it was her parents demanding she practice the moment she finished her homework every single night. She'd hardly had time for friends. She hardly even had time for homework. She barely had time to compare notes with Stanley, the other oboist. The entire symphony begins with an oboe melody. It would live or die based on her and Stanley's performance.

Her oboe was practically a part of her now—where her fingers ended, the oboe began.

All she had to do was get through this performance. Her friends had come to show their support, and were all going out for pizza afterwards. Mae could almost taste the cheese and olives already. If anything went wrong with the performance, she just had to hope it wasn't her fault.

The lights still showed the audience building up in front of the stage. Mae had learned to ignore them, to pretend the audience wasn't even there. This performance was for her, her conductor, and her fellow orchestra members.

The lights dimmed. The auditorium went quiet.

The conductor, Mr. King, took the stage, and began his introductory speech. Mae didn't hear a word he said. She was playing the entire symphony in her mind, running through the most difficult parts, and the parts where she might draw the most attention. It hadn't been like this under Mr. Onder. Back then, just the previous semester, the school orchestra tended to focus on shorter, lighter music. If they performed anything from a symphony, it would be a selection, not the whole thing. Then when Mr. King came along, he blindsided everybody by assigning Beethoven's Seventh, and expecting perfection right out of the gate. Maybe that was Mr. Onder's fault for not preparing them for a full performance. Either way, it would have been nice to have more buildup. Not that it mattered. Mae was going to nail this.

The last thing Mae thought about before Mr. King finished speaking was the test she'd taken a few weeks ago on Of Mice and Men. It was the shortest book she could find on the list for English class, and she still couldn't find time to do more than skim it because of this symphony. If it hadn't been for one classmate, Morris, telling her the bigger details and what Lennie and George's travels and struggles meant, she wouldn't have stood a chance on that test.

Quiet filled the auditorium again. Mr. King tapped his baton.

The symphony began. Mae began.

She began to relax once the clarinets joined in.

Then when the strings began to play, it was all just momentum carrying her forward.

III. Presto – Assai meno presto

Shelley thought the orchestra sounded fine, for a bunch of high schoolers, not that she could necessarily tell good classical from bad. They could be fouling up every other note for all she knew. Poor little Morris was sitting next to her, even more rigid than that conductor's baton. She'd wondered what could have inspired her grandson's sudden interest in classical music. Now that the show had started, it didn't take a rocket scientist to see it. His eyes hadn't left that girl in the red dress since they arrived. He was as transfixed with her as he was with the music.

Now she understood what the tiny oboe keychain on his dresser was for. She'd been this close to actually buying him an oboe and getting him lessons.

She'd first met his grandfather at a concert, though it was nothing like this. She and Paul had wound up at the same Alice Cooper show, and they crashed into each other while he was coming out of the bathroom and she was carrying her snacks back to her seat. As they argued, and then talked, they forgot all about Alice's music and theatrics.

But Morris couldn't have a run-in like that while the girl was still playing. At least he hadn't set his sights on someone a little less accessible, like Beyoncé.

As the second movement started, Shelley wondered if there was anything she could do to help. He'd probably be too embarrassed. Teenage boys always are—his father was the same way. If only she knew more of Morris's friends. She'd only been taking care of him a few months, ever since Martin lost his job and Belinda broke her leg. They were running on unemployment insurance, disability claims, and fumes, and had no time, money, or energy to take care of a teenager. Shelley was only too happy to help. It had been lonely since Paul died, and it was nice to have someone young in the house again.

Except he spent so much time inside, either reading or playing or one of his online games. He still went out to see his friends, but for the most part, Morris tended to be rather solitary. Shelley could tell his parents' situation was getting to him, not to mention their prospects for the future. This performance—and that girl in the red dress—was the first thing in a long while that really energized him. She wanted him to be happy. But how to do that without destroying him?

IV. Allegro con brio

The orchestra got to the fourth movement, which made Morris picture a wild dance party. When exploring the symphony on YouTube, he'd even found a Japanese song from an old anime that set the movement to nonsense lyrics about eggs. It was as much the opposite of the second movement as Beethoven could have come up with.

And the whole time, Mae remained poised, and her playing remained smooth. Morris was impressed with everybody, for that matter. He'd always known the Hayashi twins as major goofballs, yet now they both sawed on their violins like maniacs. Rita from History looked like she was going to pop playing her trombone. And he was pretty sure that was one of the Juniors on the wrestling team on the cello. Mr. King had shaped them into a force to be reckoned with.

It made Morris start to seriously wonder, why the hell wasn't he playing an instrument?

The movement ended. The eggs were finished. The auditorium roared in a standing ovation. Morris stood on his seat to join in. She nailed it.

As they headed out through the lobby, Morris tugged on Granny's wrist. "Can we stay a little longer? I know a few people in the orchestra, and I wanna congratulate them."

Granny raised her eyebrows. "That's fine with me. So you had a good time?"

"Yeah, I'm glad I came. How about you?"

"Not bad. Not quite on the level of the Alice Cooper concert where I met your grandfather, but it was nice."

"You seriously met him at an Alice Cooper concert?"

"Didn't I ever tell you?"

Morris spotted the Hayashi twins. "Hold that thought. Joe, Jim! You were amazing! Didn't know you had it in you!"

"Ha, thanks," Joe Hayashi said on his way to the exit.

Morris kept an eye out for any sign of red. He saw Rita pass by, and then the wrestler with his cello.

"Was there someone in particular you were waiting for?" Granny asked.

Morris groaned. He couldn't say it out loud, not in front of Granny. Not—

"Morris? From English?" A hand touched Morris's shoulder, and Mae in her red dress was standing beside him. "Wow, I wasn't expecting you to be here."

"I—um…"

"Listen, I wanted to thank you for helping with that Mice and Men test a few weeks ago. I've been having such a hard time with this symphony, and flunking that test would have just wrecked me. I couldn't have done it without you."

"Oh. O…Okay. You already thanked me though."

"I did? Well, that's when I took it. Now I'm thanking you again. Every little bit helps. See ya."

And she began to head off, as Morris meekly drew the oboe keychain out of his pocket. "Uh…"

He suddenly felt his grandmother's hand thrust into his back and shove him forward. He tumbled into Mae. In the brief moment of confusion, he helped keep her oboe case from falling to the floor.

"Uh, thanks?" Mae said, then looked down into his hand. "What's that?"

He held out the oboe keychain. "I got this for you. I found it at a yard sale, and I thought you might like it." As he sputtered it all out, every possibility whirled through his mind. What if she thinks it's stupid? What if she already has one? What if she has an even better oboe trinket from someone else?

"Oh," Mae said. "For me?" She plucked it up. "It's so cute. Thank you."

"Y-you're welcome," Morris said as she began to turn away.

He felt another shove from behind. "Wait!" He checked behind her to find his grandmother's wicked smile. He knew she was going to embarrass him tonight, and she'd finally done it. But now Mae was looking at him again, and he had to say something. "Um, I don't suppose you're doing anything tomorrow?"

"Well…" Mae thought about it. "Tonight's Sunday, so tomorrow's just gonna be school, homework, and oboe practice."

"Right. Right. Dang it." Morris thumped his forehead with the ball of his hand.

"But I might be free this weekend," Mae said with a grin. "And until then, I'll see you in class." She grabbed his hand and gave it a soft squeeze. "I love the keychain. See you tomorrow!"

"S-see ya." Morris watched her carry the oboe case outside, with her father holding the door open.

He turned back to Granny. "I'll get you for this."

"Eh, it's not quite meeting at an Alice Cooper show, but every little bit helps, right?" She chuckled. "I'm definitely glad I came."

"Just don't make a big deal about it," Morris said. "Especially with Mom and Dad."

Granny took her keys out of her purse. "Make a big deal out of it. Got it."

"Granny!"

But the embarrassment passed as the two of them went out into the night. All that mattered was that Mae had gotten her gift. For the rest of the evening, Morris's mind drifted between the red of Mae's dress, the grin on her face, and a song about eggs.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Weekly Story #23: The Pantry

I was having a similarly busy week when I wrote this next story, so I made it shorter to get it done on time. As you can see, I didn't even come up with names for the characters. The prompt was:


  • Pantry - Grim Reaper/Anyone - Winter

Sometimes they write themselves.

THE PANTRY

It was late at night, and I felt like a snack. As soon as I opened the door to the pantry, I let out a long, piercing scream. A figure in a black cloak stood inside, holding a scythe. Under the hood was a polished, yellowed skull with ancient symbols carved into the bone. The figure stepped—or rather, hovered—through the door and raised the scythe. I screamed again.

The reaper halted with the scythe still above his head. I couldn't figure out how he'd managed to fit that in such a cramped pantry. "Wait," he said. "You can see me?"

I screamed again.

"You're not supposed to see me," the reaper said, his voice a deep, primordial rumble. "This can't be right." He lowered his weapon and looked back into the pantry. "I thought this was…"

He turned back toward me, his cloak swirling like a black mist. "You. Are you Mr. D_____? Is this 350 Edgecrest Drive?"

I screamed again, and backed up against the kitchen counter.

"Stop that," the reaper said. "Do I have the right address or not?"

Finally the right synapse fired, and I realized the reaper hadn't killed me yet. I tried to steady my breathing. At first I wondered if this was some demented prank by some psychopath in a Grim Reaper costume, but no, that was a skeleton under that cloak, and its bones were moving on their own. And I'd never heard anything like that voice. If a bottomless pit could talk, that was what it would sound like.

"Answer me!" he said. "I'm looking for 350 Edgecrest Drive!"

"N-N-No," I said. "This is 3500 Edgecrest Circle. My name's F_____."

The reaper pounded the handle of his scythe on the floor. "I'm at the wrong house," he said. "That's twice in one century. I'm getting sloppy. I'm sorry to trouble you, Mr. F_____. Is there anything I can do for you before I go?"

"Do for…?"

"Appearances aside, I am an angel. Was there something you needed in the pantry?"

"I… Well, I was going to get some Pop Tarts."

"Seriously?"

"Is it going to kill me?"

"Touché." The reaper set the scythe against the wall, entered the pantry, and came out holding a box of blueberry Pop Tarts. He laid it on the counter and picked his scythe back up. "Enjoy your snack, Mr. F_____. Until next time."

"Wait, before you go," I said, "maybe you can tell me… How long do I have? Before… you know, next time?"

"Even I don't know that. And if I did, I wouldn't tell you." The reaper gripped the handle with both hands. "I just know it is not this night. Farewell."

The reaper faded to black, and the black faded out of sight, until I was once again alone in my kitchen. Somewhere, an unlucky Mr. D_____ at 350 Edgecrest Drive was probably already having an unfortunate encounter in his own pantry. Outside the night was as black as the reaper's cloak.

I gobbled up the Pop Tarts without heating them, and never slept a wink that entire night.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Weekly Story #22: Something Lurks Among the Boards

Bit of a late one this week. The last few days have been hectic, and as of this moment I have to go run an errand. Right now, I'll just say that I got the name "Cordwainer" from Harlan Ellison's old pseudonym (which he in turn got from Cordwainer Smith). You may recognize Maureen Brandon from a previous Weekly Story. From conceptual continuity to actual continuity! This project is truly evolving!

  • Lumber Yard - Director/Actor - Haunting

 

SOMETHING LURKS AMONG THE BOARDS

The shoot had become a disaster. Director Cordwainer Yates sat in his trailer with a coffee in his hand—he never drank, not after that incident at the Oscars—and stared out the window at the lumber yard. He and his crew had been filming what was supposed to be a routine action scene for the movie Dirt Cheap, and after five days, still had yet to actually finish it. Outside, some of the film crew were loading some logs back onto one of the shelves. The logs had rolled off during a take. They hadn't fallen on anyone, but they did manage to trip up Yates' star Taylor Brandon. It was a miracle Brandon had gotten out of it with only a broken leg.

And since of course Brandon specified in his contract that he must do his own stunts, Yates had no double either. With no star, he had no scene. No scene, no movie.

Yates had spent most of the night brainstorming. He couldn't change the location. He had already scouted fifty lumber yards before deciding on Windy Hill Lumber. If he wanted to change, he'd have to start scouting all over again. And it couldn't not be a lumber yard. Doing Dirt Cheap without the lumber yard would be like doing Terminator 2 without the steel mill.

He looked over the storyboards. It was possible he could work around Brandon's bad leg. Shoot from the waist up. Get a double for long-distance shots, just as long as he doesn't do any stunts. Use camera tricks, blue screens, and post-production for the rest

Sure, if he wanted it to look like a B movie.

There was a knock at the door. Yates answered, and it took all of his strength not to cry out "For the love of God." His star's wife, Maureen Brandon, was standing in front of him. "Maureen!" he said, forcing a smile. "I wasn't expecting you."

"I just got back from the hospital," America's Damn Sweetheart said. "Brandon's asleep in his trailer. You're lucky I'm too exhausted to call our lawyer right now."

"And you're lucky I'm too exhausted to care about lawyers. How is he?"

"Oh, he's fine. Hogging the rum, but he's fine. Can't wait to start shooting again, but you know how bull-headed he can be." Maureen opened a cupboard and searched through it as if it were her own trailer. "Don't you have anything to drink?"

"Maureen."

"Right, I forgot, the Oscars thing. Look, Taylor and I can't take too much more of this. Any more screwups, and we walk."

"You're not even in this movie."

"But it's important to Taylor. What would it look like if I didn't stand by him?"

She certainly wouldn't look so desperate to project a squeaky-clean image. Dirt Cheap was a typical role for Taylor, but Maureen was the one who needed everybody to forget how she accidentally exposed her secret past porn career by sending out doctored photos of his mistress.

"We'll figure something out," Yates said. "Assuming this lumber yard doesn't kill us. First that fire. Then the choreographer getting food poisoning. Now this. I'm starting to think this whole place is cursed."

An odd expression appeared on Maureen's face. "Funny you should mention that When we were at the hospital, I heard one of the nurses mention something about a ghost."

"At this lumber yard?"

"I think so. I wasn't listening that carefully."

"Great." Yates gulped down the last of his coffee. He needed more. "So what am I supposed to do? Hire a priest? A ghostbuster? Scooby-Doo? The producers are gonna want an explanation, and I'm gonna have to do better than a friggin' ghost story from a friggin' nurse."

"I'm just telling you what I've heard. Now that I think about it, I have heard a lot of weird noises the last few nights. I thought it was just animals from the woods."

"Probably was. They're right on the other side of the fence. You didn't hear any voices saying 'Get out,' did you?"

"Ha ha," Maureen said. "Although this morning my lipstick wasn't where I left it."

"That's me with my wallet any given Tuesday." Yates got up and loaded his Keurig. "Tell Taylor I'm glad he's all right. Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?"

"No, I've made myself clear. I'll see you tomorrow." Maureen went to the door as Yates' mug filled up.

As soon as she opened the door, she froze. "Um, Cord," she said, "I think you should come out here."

Yates picked up his mug and sniffed the coffee. "What is it?"

"Just come look. I don't know how to describe it."

Yates went up to the door. "What the hell?"

"That's what I'd like to know," Maureen said.

Between the trailer and the rest of the lumber yard was a row of oak planks, originally stacked on top of each other, now standing on end exactly three feet from one another.

"Who did this?" Yates said.

"You're asking me?" Maureen said. "They weren't like this when I got here."

They weren't. Yates hadn't seen anything unusual when he looked out the door or answered the door. This could only have happened in the last few minutes. The crew members had stopped picking up logs to stare in befuddlement at what had appeared behind them.

Yates groaned. Of all the people to be right, why did it have to be America's Damn Sweetheart? "So what do we do?" he said. "Is it telling us to leave? Does it want to be in the movie? What?"

A gust of wind rocked some of the boards. They collapsed on top of one another with a clatter like machine gun fire. Yates and Maureen covered their ears until the noise died down.

Maureen said, "Didn't the owner mention anything when you spoke to him?"

"Her. And no. But I think we need to have a word with her."

And Yates and Mrs. Brandon marched from the trailer, across the parking lot, up to the main warehouse. One of the bay doors had been left unlocked so the crew could use the interior at their leisure. Yates pulled it up and went in. The lights were still on. The owner would no doubt still be in her office. Yates walked through the sawdust-covered aisles, with Maureen pacing pensively behind him, past the massive shelves stacked to the top with boards, planks, and beams. Some of the rubble and ash from yesterday's fire still sat in the open. The air conditioner hummed.

The main office was embedded in the far corner of the warehouse. The owner of the lumber yard, Alice Yankrest, sat at her desk. She had just turned seventy, and the angles of her face reminded Yates of a fine wood carving. She looked up from her paperwork. "You need something?"

"Yeah," Yates said. "Hope I'm not bothering you."

"Not at all. Oh, Maureen Brandon? I'm a big fan." Alice shook Maureen's hand. "Any updates on Taylor?"

Maureen said, "He'll be okay, but a broken leg's a broken leg."

"That's too bad. Let him know how sorry I am this happened. If there's anything I can do—"

"Well—"

"Look," Yates said, "right now I just want to get the movie finished. That's not why we're here to see you. Are you aware that just now there were several planks standing on end right outside the warehouse?"

Alice blinked. "Standing?"

"All of a sudden, while our backs were turned. Strangest thing I've ever seen. Did you hear them all falling over a few minutes ago?"

Alice shot from her desk to the door and turned the lock. "I should have known."

"Known what?" Yates said. "This wouldn't have anything to do with what Mrs. Brandon was telling me? About some kind of—"

"About the ghost?" Alice stepped around her desk and dropped back into her chair. "That ghost has been a headache ever since I inherited this business."

"Yeah, rumors can be rough," Maureen said.

"Who said it was a rumor?" Alice laid her arms on the desk. "People have been hearing strange noises and seeing strange things around here ever since my grandfather ran the place. I've seen it myself, in the security videos, roaming through the aisles in the middle of the night. If this is the ghost" She looked off to the side. "But he hasn't been this aggressive since"

Yates couldn't believe this. He was surrounded by nutbars. "Assuming this is a ghost, what am I supposed to do? Is he trying to make us leave?"

"Hm." Alice leaned back. "The last time the planks stood up That was back in '88. Some kids were sneaking onto the lot to drink. The ghost always seems to respond to the presence of alcohol."

"What, he's some sort of Prohibitionist?" Maureen said.

Alice chuckled. "The exact opposite. My grandfather told me about it when I was little. When he ran the lumber yard, back in the 20's, there was an especially ruthless crime boss controlling all the local liquor. He hated competition. If you brought even the slightest drop of someone else's moonshine into town, you were gone, and they'd never find your body. Finally, a rival gang lured him here, to this lumber yard, after hours, and gunned him down. We've had the ghost ever since."

"So what does that mean for us?" Yates said.

"You don't have any liquor in any of your trailers, do you? Beer and wine wouldn't be an issue, but liquor seems to drive him wild."

"I don't," Yates said. "Haven't touched the stuff in ages."

"What about the crew?"

"I don't know. Most of them are staying offsite." There was only enough room on this site for a few trailers, for himself, the Brandons, and the other lead actor, Rubochev. The stagehands all seemed from Yates' interactions with them to be fairly professional—the kind who would at least drink somewhere else when all was said and done—but of course that didn't mean someone wasn't sneaking shots between takes. "That leaves the actors, and—"

And one's wife had been looking for rum in his trailer only minutes ago. And she was standing right here, pretending to read the human resources signs on the wall.

"So if we get rid of the booze, he'll leave us alone?" Yates said.

"Probably can't rule it out. You don't have to get rid of it. Just take it somewhere else."

"Okay." Yates glared over at Maureen. "I'll check around, make sure any liquor gets sent to the hotel. Maureen, you think you can help?"

"I think so," Maureen said with the chill of a blizzard.

"If we find anything, we can save it for the wrap party. Thanks for your help, Ms. Yankrest."

Alice sighed. "Thank you for putting up with my strange, strange family business. Before you go, Mrs. Brandon, could I perhaps get your autograph?"

In an instant, Maureen's face switched from a storm of cold to a burst of warmth. "Why certainly!" Her voice had jumped an octave. She grabbed a pen off the desk. "Who should I make it out to?"

"'Alice' is fine."

"I'll go on ahead," Yates said.

"See you later, Cord," Maureen said. "So Alice, what's your favorite movie?"

Yates skulked down the aisle from the office toward the main doors. As long as he got this stupid scene finished and could move on to the next location, he didn't care if it was a ghost or a live mob boss. He was going to give it whatever it wanted. With any luck, Taylor Brandon would be too crocked to stop a certain director from clearing out his liquor cabinet.

Just as Yates left the aisle, something hit the ground behind him with a sound like a shotgun. He spun around, heart pounding. A two-by-four had slid lengthwise out of its shelf—no, it would have had to be pushed out—and fallen right where Yates had just been walking. It teetered, and toppled, and clattered on the ground across the aisle. Yates watched it lie there as he took several deep breaths. If he'd been a little slower, it would have hit him right in the head.

"All right, all right!" Cordwainer Yates said. "We'll take care of it. Geez! For the love of"

And he turned his back and left the warehouse. He could deal with the metaphysics later. As far as Yates was concerned, ghost or not, this was just another self-appointed big-shot barging onto the set acting like he owned the place. You'd think he was a producer.