Time for the annual NaNoWriMo excerpt!
Yeah, I know. I’m not excited, either.
Like I said, I hate this freaking story but it won’t get out of my head, so I’m writing it. Again. Sorta.
So to spare everyone too much pain from scrolling past a long rambling excerpt, I’ll just give you a short one. And a short one that only needs a (relatively) short preamble so that you know what the hell’s going on.
(As if you care.)
So this story takes place in a world where (some) people have the ability to see ghosts, and a portion of those people work for the Bureau of Death, Dying, and Deceased, which regulates ghosts and ghost-human interaction as much as possible.
The main character, Nick, works at the Bureau as a ghost realtor. His job is to relocate ghosts that are haunting houses in living-zoned areas to literal “ghost towns,” which are towns that have been converted for ghosts only. Basically, he gives a ghost a deed to an empty house in the ghost town so they can “haunt” it legally and without bothering the living.
People at the Bureau are ranked by “Witness Level,” which is essentially how many different types of ghosts they can see. Witness Level is roughly correlated with age; the older you are, the more ghosts you can see, generally. The main conflict of the story revolves around Nick’s Witness Level increasing dramatically when he is relatively young and how he reacts to it. But that’s not super relevant here. The relevant stuff here is that as Witness Level increases, ghost realtors start having to deal with bigger, more volatile ghosts, so they typically work with a partner. This is the scene that introduces Nick’s partner, Ben. While Nick is quite sympathetic to ghosts, Ben is…not.
Oh, and the “destabilizer” is basically like a ghost Taser. Realtors carry them but are only supposed to use them if they feel their lives are in danger.
Yeah. Stupid, right? Anyway, here’s the excerpt:
Ben thundered into Nick’s office later that afternoon. He led by his voice, which had such a carrying boom to it that it hurled itself into the office well before Ben himself made his appearance in the doorway.
“Nick!” came the voice, followed by the heavy thud of Ben’s boots, then by the large, wide man wedging himself through the doorway. “I’ve got somethin’ fer ya.”
Benjamin Price was the size of a refrigerator and marginally more intelligent than one. He was never without a cowboy hat and at least one article of clothing made from alligator. Sometimes it was the hat itself, but more often than not it was his boots, belt, or vest. You could smell Texas in his accent and tobacco on his breath. He was the color of Wonder Bread except after exerting himself, in which case the white would give way to such an alarming shade of bright red that one almost ventured to ask him if he’d forgotten to take a breath in the past three minutes.
He was this particular shade of red as he burst through Nick’s office door, puffing but pretending not to, with a small box clutched in one of his meaty fists. When Ben said, “I’ve got somethin’ fer ya” to someone, he usually either meant he had a stern word or a lousy piece of advice, which is why Nick was surprised when the enormous man plunked the box down upon Nick’s desk and panted, “A present.”
Despite working with Ben for the past five years, Nick still got a kick of just how out of breath his co-worker got just from hauling his massive self around the office. He waited with a patient smile until Ben’s breathing finally calmed, then glanced down at the box. “A present for what?”
Ben parked his behind on the corner of Nick’s desk. It creaked unsettlingly beneath his weight. “I heard you moved up a Witness Level. Figured you’d need somethin’ to help you with the tougher ghosts that you’ll be dealin’ with now.”
Nick had to laugh. “Tougher ghosts? I’m a Level 4 now, Ben. Blue Types. Caspers. The worst thing they could do to me is accidentally bump into me in a hallway.”
“Never hurts to be prepared.” He tilted his head toward the box. “Open ‘er.”
Nick knew what it was before he even laid a hand on the present, but he humored Ben and pretended not to have a clue until the box was opened and the protective plastic cover was removed from the gadget within.
“A destabilizer?” He held it between the very tips of his forefinger and thumb as it if was trying to bite him. “Really?”
“Fer the ghosts.” Obviously.
“Thanks, but I already have one.”
“Not like this one, ya don’t.” In his enthusiasm, Ben leaned forward, causing the desk to give another pained creak. “You’ve just got the company issue, and that model’s three years old now. This new one is better. It’s safer ‘cause it’s got a two-factor shooting system. It won’t go off in yer pocket by accident. And it’s more powerful. Higher voltage. Makes fer scramblin’ up those ghosts a lot longer so ya got more time to get reinforcements.”
As always, Ben made it sound like an encounter with a ghost was a fight for one’s life where only an army could defend you if you entered at a disadvantage. If only his enthusiasm for relocating ghosts was as high as it was for destabilizing them. He’d be a better realtor than Nick.
Nick opened his mouth to speak, but Ben stopped him with a roll of his eyes. “I know what yer gonna say. ‘I’ve never used one. I don’t like destabilizing ghosts. Blah, blah, blah, ghosts can feel the voltage.’ I know what yer gonna say. But on one of yer jobs one day, yer gonna be blindsided by some big-ass ghost who won’t respond to yer touchy-feely way of relocating it and yer gonna wish you had one of these more modern destabilizers to deal with it.”
Nick gave him a forced smile. “Well, when that day comes, as I writhe in agony on the floor with twenty broken bones, my only thought will be, ‘that Ben was sure right.’” He was still holding the destabilizer; he moved to put it back in its box.
“Hey, wait,” Ben stopped him. “At least humor me by switching it out with yer old one. Ya still got yer old one, right?”
Nick sighed as he opened his lower right desk drawer. “Only because I’m required to.” As much as he hated to admit it, the new destabilizer did look like quite the impressive piece of equipment compared to the older model that he produced from the drawer. Even in its yellow holster, Nick could see that the company-issued weapon was made of an inferior metal as compared to the new one and, as he made the switch, realized just how much heavier it was compared to the sleek, streamlined version that Ben had presented him with.
“There ya are,” Ben said with satisfaction as Nick worked the new destabilizer in his old holster. “Yer a regular sharp-shooter now.”
“I’m still not going to use it.”
“You will,” Ben said with a frightening level of confidence. “Some day you will. Just remember to aim at their heads. I read an article that says a destabilizer fired at the head will discombobulate them for a full twenty minutes longer than a shot anywhere else on them.”
“‘Christ, Ben,’” he mocked. He then reached over and gave Nick a playful punch in the shoulder that nearly sent him reeling to the floor before he hoisted himself from the desk and headed out the door. “Yer welcome for the gun,” his voice boomed from the hallway.
Nick spent a moment massaging his shoulder where Ben’s fist had crashed into it, then picked up the destabilizer. He held it in his hand for a moment, then opened his bottom right desk drawer and tucked the weapon deep beneath a pile of folders. Upon closing the drawer, he promptly forgot about it.