Dreams and Apparitions
In which Dodger accuses and is accused
Dodger didn’t remember making it back to his berth. He had every intention of going back to his quarters, calling for Boon and having a knock-down drag-out right then and there. But it wasn’t until he woke to the smell of food that he even realized he had fallen asleep. It was the best night’s sleep he had gotten in at least a week, maybe longer.
Dodger rolled over on his bunk, still dressed in his shirt and slacks from the day before. His jacket was folded over the chair, and his shoes were parked on the floor by the bedside. Dodger eyed a silver tray sitting on the desk across the small room. The vial of medicine was on the desk beside the tray, instead of in Dodger’s pocket where he last remembered placing it. Dodger was also covered in a thin sheet, which meant someone had put him to bed. Probably Ched.
“Huh,” Dodger croaked to himself. “I must’ve been tired.”
You were, Boon whispered.
Dodger started as the spirit materialized in one darkened corner of the room. “I didn’t realize you were there.”
“Why is it that I can feel you sometimes, but other times I can’t?”
“I try to make my presence known when I can so that you aren’t startled by it.”
The ghost’s words brought back Dodger’s frustrations from the night before. Though, to be fair, after a good night’s sleep, he wasn’t as angry about the whole thing. He was still mad, but not as pig-biting, or cock-crowing, or mule-kicking or any number of barnyard metaphors.
“What time is it?” Dodger asked as he pulled the tray across the desk and inspected the repast.
“Almost noon,” Boon said.
“Noon? I haven’t slept that late in a long time.”
“I know you probably wanted to wake sooner, but-”
“Yeah, but you were right the other day.”
“I must’ve needed the rest.”
Boon took on a smug look. It didn’t suit him. “Yes, you did. And I’m glad you finally got a good night’s sleep.” The smugness slipped into worry once more. “You did, didn’t you?”
“Oh sure. It was grand.”
“You looked quite peaceful.”
Dodger raised an eyebrow. “You been peepin’ on me?”
“Not at all! You collapsed in the hallway. Lelanea found you on the floor and had Ched come put you to bed.”
“I must thank them for that.” Mystery solved. On to more serious matters. “Maybe you can tell me something else, since we’re being so helpful today.”
“I’ll do my best,” the ghost said.
“You’ll do better than that,” Dodger said as he lifted the lid and ogled the tray of pot roast and mashed potatoes. His mouth watered, but the food would have to wait. He closed the lid and faced Boon again, ready to tell the spirit off. “I know what your game is. I know why you’ve been hiding. I know why you’ve been avoiding me when-”
“I am so sorry!” Boon shouted in a mournful plea. His look of worry exploded into a mask of panic as the spirit wrung his hands in anxiety and desperation. “I couldn’t help it. You have to understand. I couldn’t help myself. I would never in a million years willingly listen in on a private conversation like that, but you put it all out there for me to witness.”
“So you were listening to us?” Dodger asked, surprised by the audacity of the so-called ‘honest’ spirit. First, he eavesdrops on Dodger’s private conversation with Lelanea, then he blames Dodger for having the conversation in the first place. What nerve!
“I told you, I couldn’t help it. It’s like I was drawn to you and her.”
“And I promise to keep it a secret?” Boon gave an unsure smile, his ethereal teeth whiter than the light of his being.
Dodger challenged him with a dark frown. “Wrong. And what do you have to say for yourself?”
“I don’t understand. What am I supposed to say? I apologized. I promised to keep it between us. What else can I do?”
“What else can you … damn it, man! How could you do that to her?”
Boon furrowed his brow. “Do what to who?”
Dodger stared hard at the confused spirit. Yup, it was genuine confusion on the dead man’s face. The trains were getting to the station, but the passengers weren’t boarding. “Wait. What are you talking about?”
“Why? What are you talking about?”
Dodger leaped from his bed before he remembered he couldn’t touch the spirit. It was his full intention to grab the dead man by the lapels and shove him against the wall, but he settled for getting as close as he could to Boon’s face. “I’m talking about the fact that Lelanea can see you!”
Boon went quiet at that, and though Dodger was burning to know what in the hell the ghost was going on about, he thought it might be best to follow the momentum of his anger through this time, lest he lose it again.
“The day we met,” Dodger said, “you made me promise not to let Lelanea know I could see you. I thought it was to spare her the knowledge that your spirit lingered here, but that’s not it. Lelanea can see you. Can’t she? She can see you and hear you and feel you all over this Godforsaken train. And if she can, then the doc probably can too. Heaven only knows why you want to pretend otherwise, but I am not going to be a part of it anymore.”
“Dodger, please!” Boon begged.
“Don’t you ‘please’ me. You’re lucky. Do you know that? No, you don’t. You are so lucky, and you don’t even realize it. These folks love you, Wash. They care for you. Care about you. And they are scared for you. They need to know that you’re okay. They need to know your spirit isn’t off being tortured by whoever or whatever the doc pissed off enough to send those thugs after you in the first place. They need closure, Boon. They need to know the truth.”
Dodger heard the wisdom of his own words even as he spoke them. And he was just as embarrassed as the spirit by their meaning.
“And that’s why you won’t give it to them, isn’t it?” he asked.
Boon didn’t answer. He stared down at Dodger in silence, a gleam coming to his eyes. Tears? Maybe.
“You won’t communicate with them,” Dodger said, “because you’re afraid that’s the only reason you’re still here. That you’ll go away if they know you’re fine.”
Boon closed his eyes, a telltale sign that Dodger was right.
“Geesh, Boon,” Dodger groaned as he sat back on his bed again. “I’ve been so blind and so stupid. You aren’t haunting the guns or me. Are you? You’re haunting her. You’re haunting her, and you won’t be at peace until she knows.”
Boon winced at this.
“You have to tell her,” Dodger said.
“I can’t,” he whispered.
“You have to.”
“I can’t. I can’t leave her. She needs me.”
“We all do, Boon. But you can’t go on like this. It’s eating her alive.”
Boon said nothing to this.
“If you won’t tell her, I will,” Dodger said.
“You promised!” Boon shouted. His words echoed in Dodger’s head, half spirit speak, half verbal conversation.
“You’re torturing her.”
You promised! the spirit shouted again, this time straight to Dodger’s mind.
Dodger grasped the sides of his head. “Stop that. You ain’t gonna get me to agree by torturing me too.”
The ghost’s wail faded, replaced by a cold declaration. “We all have secrets we’d rather not share.” His voice had a threatening touch to it, which was something Dodger had yet to hear from Boon.
Dodger lowered his hands and stared up at the spirit looming over him. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means I know a bit about you too. About what you did.”
“I’ve done a lot of things in my life worth gossipin’ about, Boon. You’ll have to be a bit more specific.”
Boon hesitated, as if reconsidering the narrow path of deceit upon which he’d set out. “I know why they took you away from your mother when you were thirteen.”
Prickles of chilled gooseflesh crept along the length of Dodger’s spine. This was getting uncomfortable. “And just what do you think you know?”
Boon looked up to him, the anguish of his confession burning in his eyes. “You murdered your stepfather in his sleep.”
Dodger almost fell to the floor as the words struck him. A blow to the gut couldn’t have dropped him any harder. He braced himself against his bed, struggling to breathe, his mind reeling from the truth the spirit spoke. “You have been spying-”
“I didn’t want to know,” Boon said over him. “I would never look inside someone’s mind without invitation. I’ve told you as much, and I spoke the truth.”
“Then how in the hell could you possibly know that about me?”
“Because you invited me into your dreams. Into your nightmares. You pulled me in. You showed me the truth.”
Another blow. It was bad enough to relive the terrible deed over and over, but to know someone had been watching him the whole time? It was unthinkable. It was infuriating. It was embarrassing. Dodger’s cheeks burned with shame, a heat almost as unbearable as the fire that consumed his family home that fateful night so many years ago. No wonder Boon had spent the last few days avoiding him. What distress the spirit must’ve suffered to learn that his brand-new partner was no better than the criminals they fought. No. Dodger was even worse.
“I’m not here to judge you,” Boon said. “I understand why you feel you had to do what you did.”
Dodger snapped his face up to the ghost with a snarl. “You don’t understand a damned thing. You didn’t live through it. You weren’t there.”
Boon shrank at this, taking a few steps back until he drifted halfway into the desk and chair behind him. “You’re right. I wasn’t there.”
His inflection suggested otherwise, as if what he said wasn’t an outright lie, but more along the lines of a half-truth. And in a certain sense, Dodger supposed the ghost had been there. If the spirit spoke the truth about what had happened, then the same night terrors that woke Dodger to his own screams were all but forced upon the spirit. He saw what Dodger saw and, from the sound of things, felt what Dodger felt.
“I did what had to be done,” Dodger said as he sank onto the bed again.
“No one can fault you for that,” Boon said.
Dodger snorted. “She did.”
“The human heart is a strange thing.”
“He didn’t love her. I loved her.”
“Anyone can see that. Surely she did. Again, I’m not here to judge you.”
“Good, because I don’t care what you think of me.” Dodger stared hard at Boon. “I did what needed doing. I’ll make no excuses for my past.”
“And I ask for none. All I desire is your sympathy.”
“We both have things we’d rather not speak of, Dodger. Things we’d rather others didn’t know. Understand?”
Dodger understood that Washington Boon wasn’t as fresh faced and innocent as he seemed. Son of a gun! The wily spirit was blackmailing him!
“All right then,” Dodger said. “If that’s how you want to play, I’ll keep my promise. But what you’re doing to her is wrong. Her and the doc. They deserve better.”
“Better? You mean from someone like you?”
Dodger’s nostrils flared, but he kept his rage in check. No need starting a fistfight with the ghost. He’d only end up punching the wall and hurting himself in the process. Besides, he thought he heard a touch of jealousy in the ghost’s voice again. At least that was something to soothe his wounds.
“I shouldn’t have said that,” Boon said, his boldness collapsing into his usual anxiety. “I apologize. I’m just frustrated. I can’t do what you ask of me, yet I know I should.”
The heartfelt apology took the wind out of Dodger’s angry sails. “Half a dozen in one hand and six in the other, huh?”
“Precisely. Then we understand one another?”
“I reckon so.”
“Thank you for your continued discretion.”
“Likewise.” Dodger considered the agreement a moment before he asked, “Does Ched know about you and Lelanea?”
The spirit came over all flustered, huffing and puffing, his face turning a faint pink as he stammered an answer. “W-w-well, I’m n-n-not certain. I suppose that there’s a ch-ch-chance the man knew about us.”
“I meant does Ched know she can see your spirit?”
“Oh that?” Boon relaxed with a deep sigh. “No. No he does not. And as far as we are concerned-”
“He won’t. I heard ya the first time.”
“Silly me.” Boon grinned. “I thought you meant did he know about …” Boon’s words faded, as did the thought. The spirit looked off to the distance, toward the back of the line, distracted by something only he could see. “Brace yourself!”
Before the spirit could repeat the command, a jolting cacophony rushed up from somewhere toward the back of the line. It had the distinct echo of an explosion—the crack of a report resonating within the aura of a rich, deep boom. This was followed by the screech of metal grinding against metal. The entire train jolted to the left, then the right, pitching Dodger to the floor before he had a chance to follow the ghost’s advice. Dodger rolled around, slung back and forth across the small space of his berth much in the manner of a tumbleweed tumbling about.
Only tumbleweeds didn’t face the threat of broken bones.
Or bruised egos.