Fangirl and Rip

Fangirl, Rip and the Loon

The wildest star of 1930s cartoons makes a comeback…

I.

They made an unlikely pair, on the surface, which made their friendship appear just as unlikely. Get to know them, however, and you would soon discover exactly how strong that friendship was. And what, if anything, might break it.

Fourteen year old Morgan Robertson possessed the size, strength and speed of a formidable athlete, though she had no desire to become one. Likewise, while she had been deemed not unattractive in her appearance in the past, she was neither haughty nor vain in nature. That was because, at least in her own thought, her brain was “messed up”, and “messed” her up regularly in turn. Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as a toddler, she had grown up determined not to let it interfere with her efforts to lead a “normal” life. Unfortunately, she fell prey often to the biggest problem “Aspies” were prone to facing. That is, obsessing over things their neurotypical peers considered trivial in the extreme.

Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Her regular companion, also fourteen, shared many of her concerns and passions, as well as her boundless energy, even though she wasn’t an Aspie in the slightest.

Roberta Ripley- “Rip”, to Morgan and her few other friends- had her own share of disabilities and infirmities to deal with. She had been born premature and diminutive, with two different colored eyes, buck teeth, and a club foot, the latter of which forced her to get around on a digitally-enhanced cane. But her disabilities were not liabilities to her. She was highly brash, and very confident in displaying her feelings and opinions. In contrast to Morgan, who, unless truly provoked, tended to keep her highly torturous inner thoughts to herself.

They had met as pre-schoolers, both trying to get access to the same library book on a shelf. Even then, the size difference between them was noticeable, and Rip initially feared for her life in the bigger girl’s very presence. Quite the opposite happened to what she believed might. Morgan, who was able to reach the book where Rip could not, volunteered to take the book down and read it to the latter, since it was obvious that they shared an interest in the subject. Thus began their joint interest in science fiction, soon to be joined by fantasy, horror, the paranormal and the occult in all its forms.

Not that they didn’t have their own separate interests within those broad fields. Morgan was deeply enthralled by the original twentieth century version of Doctor Who, just as Rip adored the original edition of Star Trek from around the same time. Their loyalties were affirmed by the program logo and Starfleet uniform replica on the red and yellow shirts they habitually wore respectively, as they were now. Yet neither understood what the other liked so much about that show, but didn’t press the point other than the odd genial tease. After all, their relentless desire to prove the true and real existence of aliens, ghosts and other cryptozoological beings required them to always be on the same mental page.

And that was especially true if the snotty members of the sci-fi club at the high school they were now attending would even deign to admit them as members. Which was what they were now trying to prove they were worthy of being.

II.

The seemingly abandoned house that they were now approaching, flashlights in hand, was the subject of their current quest. Long unoccupied, or so it seemed, it had long been rumored to have been the abode of some minor Hollywood celebrity of years past, though time had obscured the nature of who- and even what- that celebrity truly was. Nevertheless, when presented with the “opportunity” to investigate the manse and verify the reality of that situation as their “initiation” into the club, Morgan and Rip were not going to refuse. Especially because, if they succeeded, it meant that Morgan would no longer be taunted by hated nickname, “Fangirl”, nor Rip by various anthropologically derived jibes, as members.

Outside the club- well, that was another matter. Everyone who had followed them up from elementary and/or middle schools used those names. And it wasn’t going to stop any time soon.

Owing to Morgan’s athletic physique and longer legs, she was the first to approach the building, and then had to wait a moment or so before Rip waddled up on her cane.

“What took you so long?” Morgan asked, in jest, when Rip arrived.

“That never gets old, Morg’,” Rip said, dripping with sarcasm. “Try to find something new.”

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, Rip.”

“My feelings are already hurt by being here with you!”

They laughed at this, another private joke, softly, to avoid attracting unwanted attention, as Morgan had instructed her friend when they first set off on this outing.

“We don’t want to attract….you know….” she said, and left the sentence hanging in the air, as if Rip understood.

She didn’t.

“What don’t we want to attract, Morg’?” she asked. “I thought we were trying to smoke out the creatures of the night.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about.”

“What, then?”

“Well…..guys.”

“Guys?”

“The bad ones. You know- the rapists and the murderers.”

“Real life, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, if it’s any consolation to you, you’re the only one of the two of us they’d think about raping. They’d just put me out of my misery.”

“How is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“Don’t you know a joke when you hear it?”

“Not all the time, Rip. Sorry. One of my Aspie moments again.”

Rip nodded in acknowledgement, as she always did as such times.

With these concerns in mind, the duo made their way silently into the edifice. Finding the room most resembling a parlor, they unpacked the backpacks that they were toting. They travelled light, as they knew most ghost hunters did, carrying only sleeping bags, toiletries, and a portable Coleman stove for warmth. The latter, with the bright red glow it emitted when on, would also serve as a primary mechanism of attracting whatever spirits might reside in the building if there were any. Or so Morgan came to assume, after consulting some of the reference books she had used to quickly educate herself on her favorite topics, and had come to rely on, rather than the more spurious claims of much of the Internet.

“Now all we have to do is wait for whomever resides here to show up,” said Morgan, determinedly. “There aren’t that many ghosts that can resist an amber light like that one.”

“They might be here already,” Rip added.

Morgan glared at her indignantly.

“What?” Rip answered. “I’m just saying….”

“That’s not comforting, Rip,” Morgan said, with her hands on her hips. “If we’re dealing with evil ghosts here, and not friendly ones, we might be in trouble if they appear without notice.”

“You took the words right out of my mouth!”

Neither Morgan nor Rip had said that. It was a third party. The girls whirled around in shock- and faced the source of the very male voice that had spoken the words.

He was transparent in appearance, not solid. He floated in the air instead of walking on the ground, as all ghosts do. That, therefore, was what he was. However, what kind of ghost he was, to say nothing of his current state of mind, was exceptional, and deserves further elaboration.

He was, to begin with, a bird. Or, more accurately, how a bird would look like if he had the spine, arms, legs, shinbones and brain of a human being. And if that being was clad in a suit and waistcoat of what had once been high quality material but was no longer such. Specifically, he was a bird of the Linnean classification Gavia immer, more commonly known as a loon.

Likewise, his breath and body radiated the fact that he had been, in the immediate past, consuming the intoxicating substance known as alcohol. In combinations of various degrees with the fermented juices of apples, cherries, grapes, peaches and apricots, and the residue of burnt corn, wheat and barley.

In other words, he was drunk.

Rip mumbled an expletive in surprise at being surprised herself. Morgan remained silent, in shock, for a moment. Until she managed to piece together what was going on.

“You’re…..the ghost of Clampett Manor!” she exclaimed. “Aren’t you?”

“I ain’t the Man in the Iron Mask, if that’s who you want,” he said, his speech impaired by both drunkenness and an impediment that caused him to overemphasize the letter “s”, just as a Scottish person would “roll” the letter “r”.

“But,” he continued, “I am interested in who you two are, and what you might be doing here. I have had a lot of trouble with people coming in here trying to fix up or sell this place without my saying so. Or my getting a cut on the deal if they even get that far. And then I have to do my business on ’em. You ain’t no realtors, are you?”

“We’re too young,” Morgan protested, in fear. “Only adults can be realtors. We’re just teenagers.”

“Besides,” said Rip, only slightly less afraid that Morgan, “you probably know as well as anybody that this is a dump nobody wants. Ghosts always hide where people aren’t around. Because then they figure they can live most of their ethereal lives unmolested. And you’re a ghost.”

“I know that,” answered the spirits-laden spirit. “I’ve been like this for….what year is it now?”

Morgan supplied that information.

“Man!” was the answer. “Time sure moves fast when you ain’t got nothing going for ya! So it would have been about seventy years I’ve been like this, since I kicked the bucket on “real” life just after WW2 ended.”

“But what kind of ghost are you?” Rip asked. “You don’t look like a human being at all!”

“Neither do you,” the ghost shot back caustically. “With that face, you look less like one than I do.”

Rip laughed, as she had a sense of humor about her homely appearance. Morgan, however, did not. She hated any kind of insults with a passion. Especially ones directed at her and/or her best friend, of which there had been one too many for both of them in her mind.

“So they actually let kids like you go around without a bag over your head, now, huh?” the ghost continued his comic assault on Rip. “That’s strange. Back in my day, they would have locked you up in the zoological gardens for looking like you do!”

Rip laughed again, but Morgan still didn’t. She clenched her fists in anger, but did nothing else. Yet.

“And you got the old man stick, too, don’t you?” said the ghost. “One of them cripples, aren’t ya? Bet you probably wandered off the bus from your insane asylum in as deep a fog as the one I’m in now. Right?”

“Stop that!” Morgan ordered.

Noticing her speak, the ghost turned his attention to her.

“You must be the zookeeper sent to bring her back, ain’t ya? You may be tall, kid, but you don’t scare me any. Just ’cause you got them stilts underneath those spindly arms and that skinny ass of yours don’t mean you know any better than me on anything!”

He might have continued in this vein, but then Morgan, her patience exhausted and her anger aroused, attacked.

With a wordless, bestial roar, she leaped forward and swung her fists at him. In her rage, however, she had forgotten entirely that he was a ghost, and physical attacks of the kind she was making would thus have no effect on him. So her hands simply passed through him harmlessly, though she was determined to make him pay for his insults one way or another, and disregarded this.

“Shut up!” she screamed at him. “SHUT UP! Do not insult us like that. Do NOT! Or else I’ll….”

“MORGAN!”

Rip shouted at her friend like a human giving a dog a command. Morgan stopped, puzzled but humbled, and turned to her associate.

“He insulted us!” said Morgan, desperately trying to justify her actions.

“No,” Rip said, firmly. “He was joking. Weren’t you…..uh……”

“Larry,” said the ghost. “Larry Loon. At least, that was the name I got stuck with in the pictures.”

“Didn’t you hear me laugh?” Rip continued. “If I had actually been insulted, that wouldn’t have happened. Believe me!”

“But he said….” Morgan responded.

“She’s right, you know,” Larry added, cutting Morgan off. “I didn’t mean nothing serious by it. That’s the kind of thing I used to say all the time- on-screen, I mean. And people laughed at it ’cause they got that it was a joke. Obviously, you can’t.”

“Are you insinuating that I don’t have a sense of humor?” Morgan retorted.

“Not if you use words like ‘insinuating’,” responded Larry. “The smart ones like you are always the last ones to get the giggles. ’Cause you prefer lording it over us dumb saps to sharing in our democratic joy!”

Morgan was about to attack Larry again, when Rip struck her in the knee with her cane.

God damn it, Rip!” Morgan exclaimed as she held her injured knee in pain while jumping up and down. “That hurt!”

“So you can’t take a joke, but you can feel pain,” Rip glowered at her, contemptuously. “Real mature, Morg’. I think an apology is in order. Don’t you?”

Seeing that she had no other option in this regard, Morgan followed those instructions to the letter.

“I’m sorry, Rip,” she said.

“Not to me.” Rip gestured towards the spirit. “To Larry.”

Seriously?

“Seriously.”

“And what if I don’t?”

“Then we are finished as pals.”

Finished?

“For ever.”

“But I don’t want to lose you!”

“Then DO it!”

So Morgan approached Larry, humbly and without malice.

“Listen….Larry,” she said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…hurt your feelings, but I thought you had hurt ours, and….”

“I can understand you feeling that way, kid. My wife felt the same way you did when I told those kind of jokes, and threw her fists out at me just like you did. Only I was alive then, and it actually did me some damage.”

“You were married, Larry?” Rip asked.

He cast her a knowing look.

“Why else would I have died here, and not in the place where I once was?” Larry said, ruefully. “No offense intended to the both of you this time, but I got into a lot of trouble when I was alive because of dames. Mean and evil ones. Like the aforementioned wife. Who took most of the money I made from me, owing to the fact that she was a human being and I was “merely” a fucking fictional character!”

“A fictional character?” Morgan repeated, in disbelief. “How can that be? I thought fictional characters were…”

“…beings with no lives beyond the ones you know about,” finished Larry. “No existence beyond the ones made for them. Especially “cartoon characters”, like myself, who are literally “sketched” into existence and “rubbed out” just as easily. Well, that ain’t the half of it, dearie.”

“So, if you’re a cartoon character,” Morgan asked, “does that mean Rip and I are in one right now?”

It was Larry’s turn to laugh.

“I wish!” he said. “If it was, I could just do most of the shit I did in the films without consequence to me or anyone else. Not like here. I could have had a better life than the one that got given to me by fate. I wouldn’t be stuck here like a damn recluse and getting blotto all the time. Which is pretty much how it’s been since I became a damn ghost for no good reason whatsoever. As is typical with us ‘toons.”

He reached into the pocket of his waistcoat, took out a handkerchief, wiped his brow, and then put it back.

“And I’ll bet you two ain’t never heard of me, have you?” he added. “That’s the kicker.”

“No, Larry,” Morgan admitted. “I’m pretty sure we haven’t.”

“Although Morg’ and I know our cartoons,” added Rip. “You can bet your life on that. They can really make you feel better when you’re bummed out. And we’ve been bummed out more than our share in our lives. But a good joke usually helps, even if one of us-“-she eyed Morgan here briefly before returning to Larry “-doesn’t always get that it’s a joke. I’ve been the subject of more than a few, so I can tell them coming from a mile away. Why else do you think I laughed when you started wisecracking at me?”

“I figured that when you decided to laugh- and you to get mad- rather than start running away babbling the usual crap about ghosts,” Larry said, comically rolling his eyes in frustration and making Rip laugh, as well as Morgan, this time.

“There’s a perfectly good reason why you wouldn’t have heard of me,” he said, now getting serious. “The ones you know best are generally not the ones from my time. They’re the newer, and supposedly, “better” ones. Or they’re the schmucks who got lucky enough to get in with corporate sugar daddies to keep their flicks in circulation. I wasn’t that lucky.

“See, in my time, there weren’t none of this electronic shit you got now. Not even any damn television, which is probably where you seen most of your cartoon flicks now. In my time, if you wanted to see ’em, you had to haul your ass down to your local motion picture theatre, pay your admission fee- if you could afford such a luxury, and a lot of people couldn’t, even if it was just five or ten cents. That was important if you wanted to actually see who was entertaining you. The only other option then was the radio, and you couldn’t see nothing that went on there- you just got the words. And you only saw ‘toons like me if the theatre owner was generous enough to include us as part of his vaunted program, because most of us didn’t get past seven-minute short status, like I didn’t. And shorts didn’t get the kind of respect features did. Disney was the only one of the old guys that got that, because he was the only one who really figured out how to do it in a way that worked for the audience and him. The other fellas just couldn’t be bothered. But it was better than today. The flicks they got today ain’t even worth the highway robbery they charge, and they got nothing short except all the damn ads they play beforehand.”

“So you know about how it is today?” Morgan asked.

“Certainly,” said Larry. “Much harder to avoid the world when it intrudes into it. The aforementioned realtors and clients always seem to have stupid gab-fests about this damn “Internet” thing and what they read and saw on it, and all the damn things they can do with their phones. I thought the only thing you were supposed to do with a phone was call somebody. You sure as hell couldn’t take a phone around with you like that then, the way they were built. They locked people up in asylums for less than that, then, like they should do with some of these idiots now!

“So I know what this stuff is, even if I can’t possibly use any of it out here. And I do get out and about for a jaunt every once in a while. But the more you do that, the more apparent it becomes to you that you are trapped in a place where you do not belong. Which is extremely saddening.

“I know I did belong-once. Back in the late ’30s, I had a good thing going. They didn’t come more popular than Larry Loon, I’ll tell you that. Otherwise, why would I have had that tribe of kids in every small town theatre that literally worshipped me? The Loonatics, they called themselves. I only know of them by the photos in the press, ’cause it was impractical for me to do the kind of press junkets and tours the live stars all got to do. But they were all bright eyed and bushy tailed by the looks of them. Some of them were even older kids like you two. Only in those days, only the boys wore pants and shirts like that in public. That’s how you knew they were boys. With most of you lot now, you can only tell what sex you are when you open your mouths, since you look so much alike now it’s scary.”

“But, if you were so popular,” Rip asked, “how did it all far apart? Why would you not still be in Hollywood, being a star? Why would you end up here?”

“Thereby hangs a tail,” Larry said, bitterly. “Mine.

“First of all, at the height of my success, my studio went bankrupt. One day there, next day GONE. That happened a lot, then. You didn’t have that big corporate safety net around you when you fucked up big time then, like you do now. And my spendthrift ladies’ man studio boss sure fucked up his money situation! Within days, the cops had taken everything of value away, including my pictures. Wouldn’t even give me copies of the prints for safekeeping! They just let ’em rot away in some mold-encrusted vault. Another thing they know way better than to do today, but not then. So, now, nobody except Larry Loon himself knows who Larry Loon even was.

“If I’d made a lot of money, I could have retired, and taken it easy, like some of the live stars did when they quit. But I didn’t have any ’cause I never was given any to begin with. I could have tried something else, sure. But forget that, too. You human beings whine and bitch about what “hard” lives you supposedly have. You make me laugh. Any hard luck you have is nothing compared to being some evolutionary freak Darwin himself wouldn’t love!

“Because that’s all I am, and all I ever was. A joke. And not one of the good ones I told on-screen, either!

“Certainly, my ex-wife thought that about me after we got married. I told her one joke about her face resembling a dog’s ass after I’d had a few, and she presses assault and battery charges on me. Even though she beat me up worse than that, knowing that I could take it and wouldn’t die. And the courts are rigged to favor you folks at the expense of us “fictional” people, so I lost what little I had, and had to flee L.A. with my tail between my legs.

“But it serves me right for falling in love with a human broad. We animal-type ‘toons think we can move up in society easy that way, but it never works out. For them or us.

“So this particular place was the farthest I could get on the bus on what I had left. And this particular place was already abandoned when I found it, so it suited me fine. If Hollywood landlords wouldn’t let me have a room after I lost my house, no way was anyone out here going to let me have a room. So I stayed here, drinking, and getting more to drink when I ran out. Until my liver ran out on me, and I ended up like this.”

For dramatic emphasis, he turned his back on them.

“Alone,” he finished.

He choked back an awful sob, one that Morgan recognized as the kind she herself had uttered many times before.

She knew his pain, as if anyone could.

So did Rip, if the tears she was now shedding at his story were any indication. But Morgan, as was typical for her, cried more.

“We can’t let this go on,” Morgan whispered to Rip. “He killed himself once because he thought no one loved him anymore. Once is enough. We need to help him.”

“Sure,” Rip agreed. “But what can we do?”

“We can let him perform again, is what.”

“How are we gonna do that?”

“Show him to the club. They wanted proof that someone was living here. And we just found that someone. We can get him to perform one of his old routines for them.”

“You sure he’d want to do it?”

“Why wouldn’t he? He lived for that, and his life was taken away from him by forces beyond his control. This is a way to restore that to him. And I’m sure if we talk to him nicely, and not in the jerk-face way I was before, he’d want to do it. But you should ask him. He likes you more.”

“He warmed up to you right quick once you apologized. I really felt that. But I can do it if you’re not sure how he’s gonna take it if you do it.”

She did.

And he said yes.

III.

“You’re both out of your minds! I suspected as much when you first applied, but this proves it.”

Torah Lord, the imperious seventeen year old who ran the high school sci-fi club like a tin-pot dictator, was the speaker. On behalf of the four established members of the group, who always carefully vetted new candidates for membership. Of the four, she had been the most opposed to letting the two “freshies” join. Ironically, she had drawn the lot which now gave her the “privilege” of deciding whether or not they would.

Now, it seemed they’d given themselves enough rope to hang themselves with, and she was fastening the hangman’s knot.

“Damn it!” Morgan responded, balling her fists in anger. “You’re not even giving us a chance to prove our case. You said yourself that you wanted to find scientific proof of the existence of a ghost in Clampett Manor. We found said proof. What the hell more do you need?”

“More than just your goddamned WORD, you talking beanstalk!”

Torah raised her bespectacled, brown-haired self out from behind the desk she had been seated at. Although she was closer to Rip in size than Morgan, her chronological age superiority- and assumed intellectual one- made Morgan and Rip cower before her, like impotent Israelites dealing with Goliath on the warpath.

“You two talk a good game about the stuff you “believe” in,” Torah continued, crossing the arms of her conservative white blouse, before letting one arm drop to the side of her equally conservative tan skirt. “However, although we both profess to be “interested” in the same thing, the materials which inculcated you into the mysteries of fantastic speculation are not the same as what got me going in it. By any means. My idols are true ones. Who know the truth about how the fact-based realm of science has altered the world and exposed all the sham pretensions and flimsy excuses bad people use to enrich themselves at the expense of us good ones. Yours, conversely, are cheap fabrications built around outmoded superstitions, which are bought into by people who knew or know NOTHING WHATSOEVER about being RESPONSIBLE SCIENTISTS! Responsible ANYTHINGS, when it comes down to it. And yet these people who don’t know the difference between shit and shinola when it comes to science get to live and die fat and lazy, while mine own heroes comparatively starve to death!”

“That’s only because people who make movies and TV shows make more money, and on a more regular basis, than people who don’t do anything other than teach school and write textbooks…” Rip began.

Shut up, you!” Torah snapped.

Rip lapsed into silence in the face of her withering stare and words.

“Well?” Torah asked Morgan.

“What?” Morgan demanded in turn.

“Aren’t you going to show me your ‘little friend’? That’s what I came here under the pretext of doing, isn’t it?”

“Sure,” Morgan said.

She nodded to Rip, who ambled out to the hallway door.

“LARRY!” Rip shouted.

From a far distance came a call often heard on Canadian lakes and rivers on summer evenings. The wordless, haunting cry of the loon.

“Get your ass in here!” Rip ordered.

He did.

At the expressed instruction of his two new acquaintances, Larry was sober and not drunk in his carriage, for he had told them himself that he performed better without alcohol to encumber him. They had honored his wish by relieving him of the contents of the few liquor bottles in the house he had not personally emptied by pouring the contents of said bottles down his kitchen sink. In return, he agreed to let them take the numerous undamaged bottles down to the local distilleries and breweries so that they could collect the deposit money on all of them. Which added up to a considerable amount of money, even when split three ways.

He was also better dressed, though in the more casual attire he favored when performing.

Which was as close as 1930s film censorship would allow when it came to full frontal nudity.

Torah was not prepared at all for his materialization in front of her, so, immediately when he appeared, she staggered backwards in shock.

“Lord,” said Rip, by way of introduction, “Larry. Larry, Lord.”

“Delighted,” said Larry. “If I may, mam’selle, I….”

He seemed ready to bend down and kiss Torah’s hand as a gentlemanly sign of affection. But she did not want him to do that. At all.

“Get away from me!” she ordered, if one can do such a thing while petrified. “You’re just a figment of someone else’s imagination other than mine. A bad figment, at that.”

Morgan and Rip seemed ready to protest that insult, but Larry silenced them with a glare before they could speak a word.

“I’ve been called worse,” he said, before turning his attention to Torah.

“Lady,” he said to her, as he opened the left flap of an invisible vest and removed a very real cigar from it, “those two dames over there are my friends. And if my hearing didn’t betray me just now, you ain’t never said nothing resembling a kind word to them. Not to anyone, by the sounds of it.” He somehow lit the cigar with an invisible match and started smoking it, blowing smoke into Torah’s face and making her cough. “So you and I got to come to an agreement about how you treat them in the future. If you don’t want Lawrence L. Loon coming down on ya like a ton of bricks. Okay?”

“What are you trying to do?” Torah exclaimed. “More to the point: what are you doing smoking? Whatever that is!”

“This,” Larry said, removing the object from his mouth, “is a cigar. You know what that is, right?”

“I…”

“In case you don’t, it is the leaves of the tobacco plant, cut and dried in its natural form, and then rolled into joints, like the one I have here. You might be more familiar with its daughter, the dainty cigarette. That’s usually what you ladies like, if you do it at all. Men prefer the real thing, though.”

“You’re a boor. Don’t you realize what that will do to your….?”

“I’m a fucking ghost. Remember? No internal organs to damage. But it’s like anything else. If you don’t do it all the time, it won’t hurt ya. Here.” He opened the invisible flap of the invisible vest and pulled out another cigar. “You try one.”

“Are you insane?” Torah was outraged.

“Naturally,” Larry said, rolling his eyes. “I’m a loon. We all are.”

He added a nervous titter that always punctuated that line in his films, since it was his catchphrase. Morgan and Rip were delighted. Torah was not.

“It’s bad enough you exposed me to your second hand smoke,” she fumed. “But the very idea that you would make me expose my untainted lungs to that ticking carcinogenic time bomb makes me so mad that I could….”

Larry silenced her by grabbing her by the mouth and forcing another cigar into that orifice. With the same invisible match he used before, he lit the cigar. Immediately, with a loud BANG, the cigar exploded in Torah’s face, leaving only a ruined nub in her mouth. Black ash covered her face, giving her the appearance of that racist talisman of the 19th century- the blackface minstrel.

“Oh, my God,” Larry said, in mock horror. “Sorry ‘bout that. Forgot you’re a human being. This particular brand is rather peculiar to just my tastes. Anyone else tries to use it, it reacts badly on them. Completely forgot that. When you try to be friendly with people ya just met, this kind of stuff happens all the time. But I bet you already knew that, you being so smart.”

“Ah knows you ain’t no gemmeman, is what ah knows!” Torah growled, in blackface minstrel dialect. Before realizing what she was saying, and covering her mouth, to Morgan and Rip’s delight. Torah then shook her face to rid herself of the grime, which obliterated the debris and restored her normal appearance and voice. But she remained enraged.

“I’m going to show you some other things I know, you BASTARD!” she snarled.

As Morgan had earlier, Torah swung her fists, and her legs as well, at Larry. However, as had Morgan before, she made no contact. She walked right through him instead, coming to that knowledge only after she had done so.

“God Almighty!” she said, suddenly knowing the truth. “You really are….a…..a…..a….”

“What am I?” Larry asked, rhetorically.

“A g-g-g-g-g-g-g-GHOST!”

With that, Torah left the room.

Out the back wall.

Through which a person-shaped hole made itself apparent after she had left.

“I figured that would happen,” Larry said. “She went all Casper on us. That always happens with the ones who really can’t take a joke.”

He started laughing hysterically, and Morgan and Rip soon joined him.

It seemed to be the right thing to do.

This story was originally published in a different form at Vocal in April 2021:

David Perlmutter is a freelance writer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

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