By: Paige K Duffy
It was with extenuating circumstances and skepticism that the man stepped foot in Anderson Hall. As it was, his line of work tended to be tedious, and he never really looked forward to it. Despite that distaste, he had never considered quitting and getting another job. His work was something he was talented at, and it supported his lifestyle. That was all he needed.
“There was an incident two years ago,” Jasmine Graham had said, fidgeting enough to make static over the phone line. The man didn’t know what sort of nervous tick she had, but it didn’t matter. Graham had introduced herself as one of the Resident Assistants for the upcoming year at Cunningham University, a small college tucked away two towns over from the man’s office. “A girl living in the dorms ended up screaming about a monster that she saw. She broke the mirror in her bathroom, and refused to have it fixed until she graduated last May. The mirror’s been fixed, but students are still paranoid.”
Graham had subsequently asked the man to come in and check out the dormitory in question, Anderson Hall. It was a common train of thought on campus that the dorm was haunted, and Graham had been hoping to prevent any further incident, especially now that she was going to be in charge of one of the floors. The man was used to this sort of behavior from his clients.
Always, it’s really about saving their own asses from trouble.
The man didn’t believe in ghosts or monsters, despite his profession. It made no difference to him how many ‘hauntings’ he got paid to put to an end. Anything supernatural was just a manifestation of the human consciousness, a sense of paranoia that ended in seeing things or attributing perfectly normal phenomenon to another entity. It was only worse when you dealt with groups—it started out as a joke, turned into a rumor, and after time people started believing it.
What had happened with the girl and her mirror in Anderson Hall was simple. According to Graham, it was well established at Cunningham that the hall was haunted, and most people believed that. The student, probably worn down from her studies, had pushed herself too far, looked in the mirror in less than the best lighting, and thought she had seen something. The rumors about the ghost had occurred to her, and so she broke the mirror.
In the end, Occam’s Razor was the best way to stare down any situation the man encountered. And the simplest way to handle anything that was supernatural was to assume that it wasn’t real.
He didn’t say any of this to Graham, just agreed to meet with her and look at the building. She was grateful, and guaranteed him money in any amount he needed it. The man had his doubts about how a college student would accomplish this, but he didn’t ask. He could handle the situation with the money at a later time.
Before the man left his office for the hour drive to Cunningham, he made sure to get all the details out of Graham that he could. The rumor itself was a simple one, and fairly common. Someone had died, become disfigured, and now haunted the building. The ghost stayed in mirrors, waiting for people to look in. Since the spirit had been disfigured in their death, they wanted a new body, and would drag anyone who dared to look into the mirrors long enough inside for the sake of taking them over. As the man had expected, it was absolute hogwash.
Graham had tried to save face over the phone. “I mean, of course I don’t believe it,” she had said. “I know stuff like that isn’t real. But the students do, and it’s my job to take care of them. So if you could look into this and give me a clean report, that’d be great. I’m sure that if they know a trained exorcist came in and took care of things, they’d forget about all this ghost business and leave it alone. Anderson Hall could be peaceful again, and no more broken mirrors.”
It had been a lie, though. Everything in Graham’s voice let the man know she thought the ghost living in Anderson Hall was real. Her voice shook as she said the words, a sort of nervous tremble akin to laughter in her tone. She seemed to be on the verge of adding “and the poor thing can rest in peace” onto the end of her sentence. In reality, Graham wanted the ghost to be gone for her own peace of mind.
But, really, exorcist. The man hated that word, even if it described what he did. It meant that he was someone who got rid of ghosts and monsters, which was true. He looked around, found items that could be connected to whatever ghost story his clients were concerned about, and went through the motions. He imitated ceremonies, doing whatever was necessary to make people believe that things were fine. After that, they stopped seeing and hearing things, because their subconscious believed there was nothing to worry about. They would go back to seeing the world as normal. The only problem with the man’s title was that it gave people the impression that he believed these things were real.
The man had once gotten a letter from an unknown sender. He didn’t remember its contents word for word, but the general idea stuck with him. Other letters and messages he got were sometimes praises, saying that he was brave to face down these sorts of things. Some were thankful, giving far too many words to gratefulness than the man bothered to hear. But this one was different. This particular letter had criticized him for encouraging people to believe in such things, just for the sake of his own profit. It was nothing but hate mail, and the man was frustrated.
He did not, under any circumstances, want people to believe in monsters and ghosts. In fact, it would make him incredibly happy if all the ghost stories in the world disappeared overnight, even if it meant he would be out of a job. The man had accumulated enough savings over the past eleven years of his business to at least support himself for some time in fairly decent living conditions, given the fact that he got some minor job on the side to help bring in extra funds. He couldn’t deny the part of the letter that accused him of taking advantage of people’s misguided beliefs for his own benefit.
Graham unlocked the door to Anderson Hall, giving the man access. “Um, if it’s not too much to ask,” she said, the same nervous tremble in her voice that had been present on the phone. “Could you maybe do this without me coming with you? I really don’t want to be around if you have to perform an exorcism.” The man shuddered at the word, but Graham didn’t seem to notice at all. She probably never bothered to read body language. “You can have the key, just get it back to me before tomorrow morning, okay?”
She offered the ring the key was attached to, several other keys and cartoon key chains rattling together. The man took them, noting which key was for the hall before shoving the entire mess into his pocket. He remembered Graham mentioning that the other RAs wouldn’t be arriving until tomorrow, and no one was supposed to be in the dorms until then. That was probably why she was nervous. “And on the off chance that I don’t finish up by then?” he asked.
“You can come back tomorrow,” Graham supplied. “The normal students will be starting to move in by then, so it’ll be no problem if you start moving in and out of the building.” It was meant to be reassuring, but the girl’s expression showed that she wasn’t as convinced as she should have been saying such a thing. “All things considered, though, it probably would be best if you finished up tonight.”
“That’s fine.” The man preferred things to be that way, too. He was used to rush jobs, and getting things done while other people were around could be a hassle. Then again, if he performed his, for lack of a better term, exorcism in front of a crowd, the impact it would have would be all the greater, and the chances of the ‘ghost’ staying in Anderson Hall would be even less likely. The man would have to think about it. “I’ll do as much as I can by then,” he said.
“Okay, just be careful. If you can, please try not to damage anything. This is a place that people live, so we need to keep it in as good as a condition as possible.” Again that tell-tale tremble was in her voice. The man could read it easily. If you break anything, I’ll have to pay the damages and be in trouble, so for my own sake, please don’t. Graham was as self-centered as anyone else in the world.
The man had to do his best to be reassuring, though. She was a customer, and he didn’t want any fuss when the time came to pay the bill. “If I do have to break anything, it will most likely be a small, singular item,” he reported. After all, that was where all the books and movies gave ghosts connections to the human world in. Since they weren’t real, humans had to use fiction to supply the rules, and those were how they believed ghosts worked. “If that item is anything of value, I will cover the expenses from my own personal funds.”
That would eliminate any connection Graham would have to supply to the money. She took the words as the proper solution, nodding her approval. “That should be fine, then. Though, if possible, I would like it if you could tell me what that item is beforehand, just in case…” Curious, Graham tilted her head. “You don’t own a cellphone, do you?”
“I don’t.” The man thought that cellphones were noisy things, more of a hassle than they were a convenience. Going out on work was supposed to be a way to get away from communicating with others, a way to not be tied down to answering every beck and call. He had a hard enough time organizing all of his work trips while in his office. He didn’t need to be pestered while he was working, too. The only value the man saw in cellphones was in emergencies, but even then, he didn’t have anyone that would contact him in an emergency, and he didn’t have anyone to contact if he was the one in trouble either.
“Um, well, I guess that will make getting a hold of me a bit difficult,” Graham mentioned. “And if you happen to get into a situation that needs immediate action, coming and finding me probably isn’t an option…Still, I would like it if you could come and visit my home if you do have the time. My address is in the contact information I provided you with the other day.” The man nodded. The files were in his car, the only one parked in the middle of the empty student lot. “In that case, I’ll stay home today. Please come and find me if you need me.”
Graham turned to walk away. She hadn’t driven here, instead walking. If the man remembered properly, she lived in the same town, so it probably wasn’t too much of an issue. “Oh, and thank you so much for your help. I’m glad that you agreed to come out here,” she said.
That was about as closest as the man felt Graham had come to speaking her true feelings. The tremble in her voice was gone, replaced with some sort of warm gratitude, and she’d probably write him a letter of appreciation in the future. That only confirmed the fact that she believed that there really was something haunting Anderson Hall. The man would have to put some extra effort into this one, enough to convince the RA that the monster in the mirror was gone once and for all.
He had worked harder cases before. He had completely eliminated slews of monsters and ghosts from people that had lived their whole lives believing in them. He was hired by people across the entire country for this express purpose, and he was good at it. Getting rid of one ghost in less than twenty-four hours when he had a solid story attached to it would be no problem whatsoever.
His pseudo-exorcisms were a placebo. Even if he was getting rid of something that never existed, so long as he tricked the mind, people would be happy. And while the man didn’t give a damn about their happiness, he did care about the money they would pay as a result.
As a result, he still took his job very seriously.