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Helen and Eric spent the rest of the afternoon taking selfies in front of the dinosaur ghost poop.
“This is awesome,” Eric said. “We’re going to be famous.” He put his arm around Helen. “Smile,” he said.
Helen tried to smile, but her anxiety level was rising. Oh my gosh, he’s so cute, she thought.
Just then, her iPhone started playing “La Cucaracha.” Looking down at the phone, she saw James’s face glaring up at her. As in all photos, he was sticking out his tongue and using his fingers to make devil horns over his forehead.
“I’m sorry, Eric. I have to take this,” she said.
“No problem,” Eric said. “I’m going to post these photos to Twitter and Instagram.”
Helen walked a short distance away and pressed the answer button. “Hey, Baby,” she said in a voice normally reserved for talking to actual babies.
“Don’t ‘Hey Baby’ me, Babe. Where the hell are you?” James asked. She heard a sound and knew he was crushing a beer can against his forehead. A golf match played in the background.
“I told you,” she said. “I had to do that thing. With the dinosaur bones. You know, to help me get into grad school.”
She looked over at Eric. He was smiling and dancing around while talking into his cell phone. He was obviously celebrating. She wanted to go celebrate with him.
“Yeah, well, I need you here,” James said.
“But James, this is important.”
“Oh, and I’m not?"
"Of course you are."
"If that's true, you'll come home right away. I can’t find the remote control anywhere, and I’m sick of watching commercials.”
“Did you look under your butt?” Helen asked.
“What did you say?”
“Nothing, it’s just that the last time you lost the remote, you were sitting on it.”
“Damn it, Helen! I’m not sitting on the remote.” There was a sudden pause on the other side of the call.
“James? Are you there?”
“Okay, this time I was sitting on it, but the next time it could really be lost. I need you to come home right away.”
“Don’t ‘Baby, please’ me, Babe. I said, come home right now.” The call ended.
“Darn it,” Helen said. She gazed up at the sky and screamed, “I am so sick of my boyfriend!”
“Thompson! Who is this person?”
Helen was startled to discover that another character had stumbled into their scene. He looked to be in his early sixties. He had thinning hair and a white beard that he stroked in between puffs off a rather elegant walnut tobacco pipe.
“That’s Helen, sir. She’s been... helping me.”
“I see. Perhaps if you weren't out here getting “helped” by some harlot, I wouldn't be missing a bloody stegosaurus!”
“Now, see here...” Eric began.
“No, Thompson, you see here. You see here this instant. You’re fired!”
“What?” Eric looked as if he’d been punched in the stomach. “Please, Dr. Watson. Allow me to explain.”
“I think you have explained quite enough, Thompson.”
“You asshole!” Helen cried. Even as she spoke she could hardly believe the words coming out of her mouth. She went over to Dr. Watson, grabbed the arm of his tweed jacket, and began leading him toward their discovery. “Eric has done nothing wrong here. If you would just close your mouth for one second and listen, you would realize that Eric has made the paleological find of the century.”
“Helen, there’s something I have to tell you.” Eric said.
“No, Eric. I won’t let him do this to you. Dr. Watson, come look at this. It’s right behind this boulder over here.”
“Helen, I've been trying to tell you. Look at your phone.”
“What about my phone?” Helen released Dr. Watson. She glanced down at her phone. It looked fine.
“Check the camera roll,” Eric said.
“And just what is it I’m supposed to see?” Dr. Watson asked. He was standing by the boulder.
Open your eyes, why don’t you? Helen wanted to say. She continued to scroll through her pictures. What was it she was supposed to see?
“I've had quite enough of this. Thompson, I want your office cleaned out by the end of the day.”
The pictures! There was Helen, and there was Eric, but where was the poop? It had vanished from every single photo. It was almost like you couldn't take pictures of ghost poop or something.
She dropped the phone and ran to the boulder.
Eric hung his head.
Dr. Watson hopped in his jeep and drove away.
Helen searched the area, but it was no use. It wasn't just the pictures. The entire poop had vanished.
Eric came up next to her. “There goes my career.”
Helen nodded as if realizing something. “Of course it disappeared,” she said. She searched her bag for one of her thingamabobs and then used it to scan the vicinity. “The poop was just a temporal imprint. Like ghosts themselves, their poop is only visible for a short time before it returns to the ghost netherworld from whence it came.”
She gathered her gear and started walking to her car.
“What are you doing now?” Eric asked.
“I have to go.”
“Wait,” Eric said, running after her. “What are we going to do about this?”
Helen stopped, leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll meet you at your office later. We’ll get to the bottom of this, but there is something I have to take care of first.”
“But... but... but...”
Helen slammed the door of her Volvo and drove away.
“But I don’t have a ride,” Eric said softly, but there was no one around to hear him.
Back at her apartment, Helen dropped her purse on the kitchen counter and called out to James.
“James,” she called, “we need to talk.”
She followed the noise from the television into the den. A professional badminton game was playing (one of James’s ten favorite sports), and a bucket of chicken bones (gross!) rested on the floor beside his recliner. James was no where to be seen.
He must be in the bathroom, she thought.
“James,” she said, going to the bathroom door. “I've made a very important decision. When you come out of there, we need to talk. Is this going to be a long one?”
Looking down, she noticed red liquid sliding under the bathroom door. “Oh no,” she said. “The water turned red again. I’ll call the super. James, don’t try to fix anything. James? Do you hear me?” She reached for her cell phone, and started scrolling through a list of names. She could see the bathroom light through a crack in the door and heard water running in the bathtub. “James, turn off the water. You’re making a huge mess.”
She reached down to turn the knob, noticed the door was ajar, and gave it a gentle push. She gasped when she saw James on the toilet, slumped over, another bucket of chicken bones resting beside him.
Running to him, she called out, “James! James, wake up!”
Red water continued to overflow the bathtub. James is dead and the pipes are broken: this is too much for me to deal with right now, she thought. She pressed two fingers against his neck and confirmed her worst fears: he didn't have a pulse. And what happened to your shirt?
A trio of slice marks ran down the front of his wife beater, almost as if some kind of large animal had attacked him. She lifted his shirt, probed his rolling belly fat, and found three scratch marks, not deep enough to end his life--that appeared to be a result of a heart attack--but clearly visible. Whatever did this wasn’t human, she told herself.
It was difficult to see through all the steam rising from the hot water faucet, but she managed, with shaking fingers, to tap out the numbers 9-1-1. Looking up, she stared at the steam-covered mirror.
“What is your emergency?” A woman’s voice asked.
Helen continued to stare at the mirror, unable to speak. In crude, rudimentary scrawl, someone had written in the steam. It was difficult to read, but Helen clearly recognized the single word and understood its implications. This is what it said: ROAR.
Continue to chapter 6
Continue to chapter 6