The author stared at the screen for several minutes with a blank expression on her face. “Where were we? Something about ghosts? And shopping? Why on earth are we writing about shopping? I hate shopping.” She took her fingers off the keys and leaned back in her chair. “Do I really have to write today? Can’t I get a day off?”
“You took a day off yesterday,” grumbled the audience. “You barely wrote 300 words. You’re supposed to be doing 2000 a day. What’s the deal with that?”
“Hey,” typed the author with shaking hands. “Hey.” She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts before continuing. This next part must be phrased perfectly. She agonized for several more minutes over the most descriptive word choice, the most expressive phrasing. The audience must understand her meaning precisely. At last, she nodded her head knowingly at the cat, who had no interest whatsoever in the discussion taking place on the computer screen between his almost certainly not schizophrenic human and her imaginary audience.
“I’ve had a really long day.”
“What kind of lame excuse is that?” scoffed the audience. “Oh, boo hoo, I had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning. Waa, waa, waa.” They made exaggerated frowny-faces and rubbed their eyes with their fists as they mocked her.
“Oh, really mature,” retorted the author. “I’d like to see you crank out 2000 words a day while juggling two day jobs and a moderate video game addiction.”
She was not helping her case.
“We don’t want to hear your excuses,” declared the audience, folding their arms and jutting out their chins. “And anyway, this whole breaking-the-fourth-wall gag isn’t nearly as clever as you think it is. None of us are impressed.”
“Hey, it’s writing, isn’t it?”
“You’re just padding out your word count with guff you know you’re going to cut in the end. This is a serious horror novel, or something like that. It’s a cheap trick, and we don’t appreciate it.” Then they slapped themselves in their stupid faces. “Hey, stop that. Our faces are not stupid.”
The writer grinned maliciously, remembering the control she had over the words on the screen. Seriously, it was like some kind of super power.
Nevertheless, the audience persevered. “Trust us, we’re not nearly invested enough in the story yet to suffer through this kind of nonsense.” They picked their noses while they tried to string together a coherent sentence. “See, that’s the kind of nonsense we’re talking about. You’re not George R.R. Martin, here. You still need to win us over.” Each and every one of them then removed their pants and hopped around in circles like confused bunny rabbits. “That is not going to help matters.”
It was all getting to be a bit much, really, and even the author was starting to have a little trouble keeping up. Anyway, the audience did have a point. It might be a little early to start testing their loyalty. Even if they were a bunch of stupid jerks.
No, that wasn’t going to cut it at all. If the best she could do was jerks, then maybe they were right. She quickly opened a thesaurus. Blockhead, dunce, fool, imbecile… Ah, there we are. Nitwits. You don’t see that word used often enough these days.
Even if they were a bunch of nitwits.
And so, feeling a bit more in the swing of things now that she’d had a good verbal sparring session with an entire crowd of imaginary friends, the author got serious and turned her attention back to the story again, after only two or three more hours of procrastination.
After we got me a new blue jacket, some warm winter socks, and a pair of blue gloves that wouldn’t let the water in, Granpy and me went back to the car. The ghost was still on the sidewalk, right where we left him, which wasn’t a surprise because ghosts usually like to stay in one place. When we went past him I smiled at him again, and he smiled back with his big baby smile. I touched Granpy on the arm and pointed to him, but I didn’t say anything, because seeing ghosts was now Our Secret, and it would ruin the fun if people saw us and tried to send us to a specialist.
I looked up at Granpy to see if he’d seen the ghost smile, but he was only looking at me, and he didn’t have a happy face. He was getting his Line. That’s the line that he gets in the middle of his forehead sometimes. It can mean he’s thinking really hard, or he’s worried, or he’s angry, but I never know which one it is until I ask him.
We got in the car and he drove to the entrance and paid for our ticket and we started driving home. We stayed quiet until we got on the highway, which is what we always do, because I don’t like talking when there’s so many things going on outside the window. But when we got on the highway and the world calmed down a bit, Granpy started talking to me.
“Princess, do you remember earlier when I said you shouldn’t talk to that man?”
I remembered, so I said yes. And I was excited, because I knew that now we would get to share our secret.
“Do you understand why I said you shouldn’t talk to him?”
I didn’t expect him to ask that. I started to think about the answer, and Granpy waited Patiently because he knows sometimes it takes me some time to Gather My Thoughts.
I hate it when people ask me questions, because I am never sure what kind of question it is. There are questions that have a right answer and a wrong answer, like, what’s two plus two? Then there are questions where there are lots of right answers, like what kind of music do you like? When someone asks those ones, it means they want to know your opinion. Then there are questions that aren’t really questions, like how are you? I used to think that was the second type of question, but then Granpy taught me that when someone says How are you? you’re supposed to just say Fine, thank you, even if you’re not fine. I still don’t know why, but he said it’s Just Polite.
The hardest questions are when I don’t know what kind of question they are. The answer to What is two plus two? is Four, but the answer to Do you know what two plus two equals? is Yes. But if someone asks you Do you know what two plus two equals? what they really mean is What is two plus two? so you’re supposed to say Four. These are the Tricky question. That’s another thing that Granpy taught me after the specialist came to my class and told the teacher I was Just looking for attention. We practice sometimes, because there are a million million confusing questions that people ask all the time, and if you don’t know the right answer, they laugh and say you’re stupid, or they get mad, or they call your house and say you’re Just looking for attention in school with your Disruptive Behavior again.
I was trying to figure out what kind of question Granpy was asking. Maybe he wanted me to say yes or no, or maybe he wanted me to guess why he’d said I shouldn’t talk to the ghost. While I was trying to figure it out, Granpy realized he’d asked a Tricky question so he said, “What I mean is, why do you think I said you shouldn’t talk to him?”
That was a much easier question to answer, so I didn’t need any more time to Gather My Thoughts. “Because you don’t want us to have to see the specialist,” I said, and gave him a big smile so he knew that we were In On It together. But he still had his Line, and it was getting bigger.
“Why would we have to see the specialist?” he said. That was an easy question, too.
“Because that’s what happens when you tell people about the ghosts,” I said.
And he asked me if I thought that man was a ghost, and I said Of Course he was, and Granpy asked me why I thought that, and I was really happy because these were all easy questions.
“It’s easy to tell who the ghosts are, because no one ever looks at them, even if they’re jumping around and trying to talk to everyone, because nobody else can see them.”
We had to stop talking then because we were getting off the highway, but Granpy didn’t smile, and his Line was still there, and I started to think that maybe that was the wrong answer.
The first thing we did when we got home was take all my new clothes inside and cut off all the tags and the labels and put them away in my room. Granmy watched us and smiled and told me that she liked my new blue jacket and gloves and socks very much because they were So Cute. Then Granpy said that maybe we should have a talk, so I sat down in my chair at the kitchen table, and he sat across from me, and Granmy sat next to him. Granpy still had his Line, and it was as big as it could get, and I started to get very worried. I looked at the table while Granpy Gathered His Thoughts. The table is made of wood and it has lots of swirls in it and every time I look at one of them, I remember it, but if I look away, I can’t remember exactly where they all are, so it’s a good thing to look at while you’re waiting.
“Princess, the man you saw today was not a ghost,” was what Granpy finally said. His voice was very serious, which was a little scary because Granpy’s voice is almost never serious.
I realized that he was probably scared. It was his first ghost, and he didn’t know what was going on. I remembered back to when Granmy helped me look under the bed when I was a little kid, and I learned that I didn’t have to be scared. I knew that I should help Granpy not be scared, too.
“It’s okay, Granpy,” is what I told him. “You don’t have to be scared of him. Ghosts can’t hurt you, I’m pretty sure.”
But Granpy shook his head. “He was not a ghost, Princess. He was alive. He was a homeless man. Do you know what that means?”
I did know what that means, but again I wasn’t sure what kind of question it was. I guessed that he wanted me to explain what homeless means, so I did, and it turned out it was the right answer, so I was proud of my good guess.
“That’s right. The man at the parking lot was homeless. There’s lots of reasons a person can be homeless. He might have a Mental Illness, or a drug problem, or just be Down On His Luck, but that doesn’t make him a ghost.”
I could see that Granpy was Missing The Point. “It’s easy to tell who the ghosts are, because no one else can see them. If he was alive, then why didn’t anyone look at him?” That’s what I said to Granpy, and I smiled because I knew that would make him understand.
But Granpy still didn’t look happy, and he still had his Line. I looked at Granmy and she had a Serious Face on, too. I wanted to tell her to show Granpy, help him understand so he wouldn’t be scared anymore, but she just sat there and didn’t say a single word, which made me a little angry. It wasn’t fair that she always took care of me but she wouldn’t take care of him.
Granpy took a Deep Breath and then he said, “I know it’s not very nice, Princess, but most people don’t look at homeless people because it makes them uncomfortable. They’re scared they might be dangerous, and they don’t know how to help them, and very often they smell bad, so people just pretend they’re not there.” Then he tapped his fingers on the table, which is something he does when he’s thinking, and then he asked me another easy question. “When you see these ghosts, do they look like that man today?”
And I said of course not, they’re all different people and they all look different. Then Granpy said, “What I mean is, do they look any different? Is there something that makes the ghosts look different than living people? Aren’t they see-through or floating or anything like that?”
And I told him no, of course not, because I’d told him before and he should have known that. But maybe he’d forgotten, so I explained to him that they look just like everyone else, just out of style and sometimes they talk funny or do odd things, and people can walk through them. Then Granpy said I See, and then he said, “Okay, we can talk about it tomorrow.” Then, “How about spaghetti for dinner?” So we stopped talking about it and had spaghetti, but the whole night he still had his Line, and when I went to bed, I had a bad feeling inside and I had more bad dreams.