by M. C. Tuggle
I entered the combination and the lock box clicked open. The instant I grasped the tarnished key, the spirit who lived in the house I was about to show murmured its latest instructions in my ear. Decades in this business had taught me to mask my thoughts, but the spirit’s odd terms must’ve made me frown, judging by the puzzled look on my buyer’s face.
Mr. Tad Dunlop squinted at me. “Is it here? Can you see it?”
“The spirit prefers not to reveal itself. And it wants you to walk through alone.”
Dunlop gave me his famous sneer. “Are you kidding, Lucille? You aren’t going to show me around, point out the features?”
Dunlop expected everyone to snap to attention when he demanded something. So it was with the greatest care that I inserted the key into the lock and turned it. When I pulled the door open — with the most deliberate caution — musty air poured onto us, and a dusty strand of web swayed from the transom. I smiled and motioned him forward.
Dunlop didn’t move. “What kind of a realtor are you, anyway?”
“You know the answer to that question, Mr. Dunlop. I list haunted houses. But all parties must be satisfied: the seller, the buyer, and the spirit who is bound to the property.”
Dunlop studied me a moment and smiled. For some strange reason, I found myself thinking of barracudas.
“Lucille, I like you. You remind me of my grandmother.”
I responded with the sweetest grandmotherly smile I could manage.
“But you know I can make you sell.”
I gazed up into the coldest grey eyes I’d ever seen — in a living person. “Mr. Dunlop, I negotiate with the dead. Some of them have nasty dispositions, and quite a few have what you could call an offbeat sense of humor. I once argued down a client who held his severed head in one hand while he discussed his terms. So don’t imagine you can frighten me.”
Dunlop leaned back and let out a jarring roar of a laugh. “Damn, I love your style. Please call me Tad.”
I nodded to let him know I’d heard him.
“Lucille, I’ve done it all. I’ve made a dozen fortunes. I’ve had the most beautiful women in the world. I’ve starred in my own TV shows, I was almost elected president. A house with a real live ghost would—”
“Yeah, whatever. Look, I’m going to throw the greatest parties ever in this place. I’ll have my own ghost. And I always get what I want. Is that understood?”
I reached inside and flicked on the light switch. Almost half the lights in the crystal chandelier lit up the living room. I looked Mr. Tad Dunlop in the eye and said, “Please understand this, Mr. Dunlop: spirits are not fooled by our pretensions. They see our naked souls. In the time it takes to walk through these rooms, the spirit can fathom who you are and tell if it can share its house with you. If it doesn’t like you, you cannot buy this house.”
Dunlop peered over my shoulder into the foyer. “So you can hear this thing?”
“It’s a spirit, Mr. Dunlop. A ghost. They communicate with me because they trust me. Are you ready to go in?”
He responded with an amused snort. “Sure.” And with that, he strode into the yawning foyer, turned a corner, and was gone.
As I waited, I focused on the distant sounds of Tad Dunlop banging about from room to room. My hearing is still quite sharp, and I expected to hear chains jangling across the floor, glasses crashing, or tortured moaning. The thought of Tad Dunlop screaming at any moment filled me with childish anticipation. But other than stairs groaning under Dunlop’s footsteps, doors creaking open and shut, and light switches clicking on and off, the great house remained silent.
The buyers I normally deal with revere their ethereal housemates as gateways to the spirit world. I shook my head in disgust at the idea of Dunlop buying what he considered a pet ghost. But this was not my decision. The spirit had asked me to remain here so it could focus on its prospective housemate. Surely it would turn him down — yet Dunlop had convinced three young women to marry him over the years; anything was possible.
Fifteen minutes later, Tad Dunlop marched back into the foyer, licked his lips, and smiled. He leaned close and said, “I’ll take it. I’ll pay the full price, in cash. If there are any other offers, I’ll top ’em all.”
“Well, as I told you, that depends on... What’s wrong?”
He frowned and jerked his head left and right. “You hear that?”
I held one hand up and concentrated.
Dunlop ignored my sign to be quiet and said, “Sounds like a damn horsefly buzzing around my ears.” He swatted at empty air.
It was the spirit trying to communicate. I said, “Could you please repeat that?” The buzzing stopped, and I recognized the voice I’d heard earlier. But I could not believe what it told me. As I comprehended its latest instructions, my hands instinctively covered my mouth.
Tad Dunlop scowled. “What is it?”
I shook my head. “In... in all the years of dealing with ghosts, I’ve never heard anything like it.”
“What? What’s it saying?”
“Mr. Dunlop, you will not buy this house.”
I took a deep breath. “Because the ghost says so. You scare the hell out of it.”
Copyright © 2016 by M. C. Tuggle