The Ghosts You Meet in Maricopa
At night, we ghosts get together at the abandoned amusement park right outside Maricopa. There’s a line of roller-coaster cars sitting in the tall grass, bright paint baked and flaking, overgrown with wild rose and wisteria. Nobody really planned it. Most of us just found ourselves drawn there—some place our parents took us once. It’s nice sometimes, just to sit there and listen to the cicadas humming with other people who know what you are going through.
There’s Lem, the Ghost of Preventable Workplace Accidents. He is very enthusiastic about his work. Some nights he tells us about his latest jobs. Lem explains how he sets it all up. How sometimes he unplugs their coffee pot in the morning, so that by the time lunch rolls around and they haven’t had a cup, they start slipping, get a little drowsy, forget to buckle into their safety harnesses or put on their hairnets or take off their jewelry before getting on the lathe. Lem is the kind of person who will let the word “degloving” roll across his tongue like a fine wine.
Paulson is the Ghost of We Regret to Inform You. His job is like this: there is a kid, just eighteen years old, who is sent out into the desert with a rifle in his hands, and he doesn’t make it a whole day before he steps on something he shouldn’t have. Paulson comes home with him, rides all the way in the belly of a C-130, nestles into his box of personal effects. When the boy’s mother opens it up, Paulson drifts out and settles over her shoulders, between the knobs of her spine. When she has taken everything out of the box, all that’s left is a thin layer of dust. A pale, fine powder, so different from the dust in Arizona. She remembers that her son told her once that it was like moon dust, and for a brief moment she has a ridiculous idea—that if she had a telescope, she could look up at the moon and see him there, waving back at her. Paulson stays with her as everything starts to seem heavier, until eventually even lying in bed feels like swimming with a pocket full of stones. And one day she opens up the medicine cabinet and takes a little bit of everything and those words come bubbling back up unbidden, moon dust, moon dust, and this time when she lays down she doesn’t feel heavy at all.
Then there is Lucas, who is not a ghost at all. He is a man of flesh and blood, the one they call the Hammer Man. He can see us, though no one is sure how. He says he enjoys our company, that being around us makes his insides quiet. His compulsions do not frighten us. He couldn’t hurt us even if he wanted to, and he doesn’t want to. He never deviates from his routine: all of his victims are in high school, blonde with blue eyes. He mutters darkly about revenge. Who can say for what? He says, isn’t it strange how you itch less after you kill the mosquito that bit you? Lucas cases out houses with high, concealing shrubbery. He likes to press up against windows, peek through cracks in the blinds. He buys shoes that are three sizes too large and stuffs the toes with paper to throw off the investigators. He is a clever boy, but sooner or later he will make a mistake. They always do.
There is only one ghost that scares the rest of us. He scares us for the same reason that we scare the living—because none of us are sure if he’s real. But we like to believe in him just the same. We imagine that the Ghost of Ghosts has been watching us all along, watching how well we perform our duties. One day, when we have done our fair share, he will sweep us up from our rusting roller-coaster cars and send us tumbling back home, floating down the streets like plastic bags, back into our old lives. One last chance to finish whatever business we left undone, so that the next time we go, we won’t end up in that amusement park outside of Maricopa. We will slip free, come untethered, rise above it all. And we won’t remember anything.