Adeline felt that itchy feeling she always got when it was ten minutes to closing and no one was in the store. She was always tempted to leave early and go home to a bubble bath and her cat, Sir Gawain. Then she would look at the computer system that clocked her in and out and her compulsion to stay until exactly 9 o’clock would keep her frozen at the counter like some timeless, ageless princess of the thrift store. Time seemed to expand as if someone had put it in the microwave, then—Adeline’s brain switched into motion and she was gone before the clock struck 9:01.
The store was quiet, save for the rickety air-conditioner that clunked on a few minutes later. It picked up the dust from the second-hand boots and swirled it about uselessly.
Main Street Thrift was a large thrift store, comparatively. Near the front of the store, in front of the cash register, there were various knickknacks: sunglasses, teacups, porcelain masks, buckets with jack-o-lantern faces, picture frames. To the left there was a mock living room set up with mismatched furniture and bookshelves lined with broken cameras and computer parts. Further down was a single row of torn children’s books and Anne Rice novels.
To the right of the register, it had one large room that looked like it had once been a dance studio—mirrors lining one wall and a tacky, fake hardwood floor. This room was filled with sad, old gowns and wedding dresses. Without so much as an attempt at a smooth transition, the room opened into the rest of the store. The ceiling became ten feet taller and the floor was adorned with peeling grey carpet.
This part of the store was filled with encrusted clothing and accessories. Endless racks, organized by season (and by color for whatever reason). Two large rectangular windows at the very top of the far wall let a mixture of street light and moonlight fill the vast chamber.
Then, in the silence, from the children’s corner there came a slight rustle, as if someone were hiding in the middle of the clothing rack. Whispers began to spread down the line, rippling the coats and jeans and then the button-up shirts until the dance hall of dresses flitted with restless excitement.
“Is she gone?” Someone asked in a hushed tone.
Then everyone began to ask until the store echoed with whispers. A transparent old man popped into existence at the front of the store. He picked up his fedora off a dusty coat rack and put it on. He picked up a teacup and filled it with a transparent liquid from his finger tip. He took a gentle sip and nodded. As he slowly became more saturated, more opaque, he picked up a tiny bell in the shape of an angel and tinkled it.
The store was instantly filled with other transparent people, no more than twenty in all. They were shrugging on clothing and heading to the living room for the early evening meeting.
Augustus, the old man in the fedora, took his place behind a sharply unlevel podium that had a children’s bible sitting open on it. He closed it and set it on the floor, making room for his notes that appeared seemingly from nowhere.
“Good evening, fellow go-betweeners.”
“Good evening, brother,” most of them chanted in unison, like some schoolchildren accustomed to the structure. Two people looked terribly out of place, however. One was a young woman in a puffy ball gown and the other was a middle-aged man in a suit coat with patched elbows.
“I wanted to announce that, unfortunately, Mrs. Weatherly’s jumpsuit was sold today.”
Everyone nodded knowingly, except the two confused people—the girl and the man in the suit coat.
“She and her stories about her dog, Muffin, will be missed dearly, but she chose to go with her clothing.” Augustus paused here.
“You will also notice that Bernie is no longer with us. As some of you know, he made a breakthrough with us early last morning and moved on.”
Scattered applause passed among them. Augustus smiled and changed demeanor.
“Now for something completely different. It appears this morning we have two newcomers. Come on up and introduce yourselves.”
The girl in the puffy dress approached the podium like a beauty queen receiving her crown. She waved superficially at everyone.
“Hello, my name’s Sally. I’ve been haunting from my old closet at my parents’ house for ten years. I guess they finally decided to move on. My great aunt Urma told me they would. She said they would keep her diamond necklace there for eternity because it was timeless and they never knew her all that well, but that my dress would just remind them of me and hurt them too badly. I guess she was right, because here I am.” She said all this in one breath and then smiled and tilted her head.
“Very good, dear,” said Augustus. “Now for you, sir. Come on up. Don’t be shy.”
The man in the patched suit coat looked confused. He did not look as if he cared for the idea of being brought to the center of attention. When he reached the podium he took a moment to look around at everyone.
“Hello. My name is Bill and—” he paused as if his mouth were dry. “And I’m having a horrible nightmare.”
Augustus suddenly looked concerned. Everyone exchanged looks and was silent.
“Surely you know by now what’s happened to you, man?” Augustus said.
“What do you mean?” The man sounded paranoid. “That I’m in a terrible, terrible nightmare? Because I can’t see any other explanation—” As he said this he examined his own transparent hand.
Augustus cleared his throat.
“Excuse us, Bill, but we are not accustomed to fresh souls here. It seems kind of strange that someone would sell your coat to a thrift store upon the day of your death. Perhaps you even sold it yourself and then there was an accident…”
“But I didn’t.”
Everyone else looked horribly uncomfortable.
”Maybe you were murdered,” someone said. It was a little, doll-like girl in a red dress. Everyone turned and stared at her as if she were a predator. They were still, silent, and palpably scared.
“Maybe,” said a woman dressed in a yellowed wedding dress. She was gaunt and had long, dark hair. Her eyes were sunken, almost bruised-looking. Her voice, sharp and deep, had cut the air. She was not standing around the living room area, but was instead sitting in a rocking chair that sat on the other side of the door at the entrance some fifteen feet away.
“Mrs. Tallow. How nice of you to join us,” Augustus said in a way that seemed to put everyone else at ease, for they had been stiller than the grave.
“My ex-husband at least waited until the next day before he sold my dress. It’s been worn by three other girls, and I can say with confidence that none of them are married any longer.”
“Yes,” said Augustus, unimpressed. “You told us that story when you arrived five years ago.”
“Though we never cared to ask who would marry you in the first place,” whispered Nelly Triffle, an old woman in a green Christmas tree cardigan. The new girl Sally giggled.
Ignoring this, Augustus addressed Mrs. Tallow. “Perhaps this means you have volunteered to be Bill’s mentor while he resides here. Seeing as you think you can sympathize.”
Mrs. Tallow stood, rising to an impressive height, and glided silently back into the racks of the dance studio room.
Bill did not seem to mind that he had been declined by the woman.
“Who will look after Bill tonight?” Augustus asked the rest of the room.
They all shifted and averted their gaze—all except for one. A small arm could barely be seen above the heads of some people in the back. It was raised and waving as if to answer a question.
“You can put your hand down, Samuel, and come here,” he said and turned to Bill. “Samuel may seem young, but he’s been here a while. I’m sure he’ll make an adequate mentor.”
Samuel was indeed young. He looked as if he were seven years old. His straight black hair was cut into a bowl shape and bobbed as he made his way forward. He wore rainbow suspenders and knee-high socks.
“Bill. This is Samuel.”
“My parents came here thirty years ago from Vietnam to raise me in America because they wanted a better life for me. I was born at Miracle Grace Hospital in Ohio. I went to school and I had lots of friends. Then one day I got into the car to go see a movie, I remember I was excited about the movie because it had dogs in it and I liked dogs, and my dad was driving and he didn’t see a truck that hit us on the side where I was sitting.
“The next thing I remember my parents were sad and looking at my clothes. My mother said that she couldn’t do this and left the room. My dad put the clothes in a box in the attic and I would come out every so often. One day they got a dog. I liked him, I played with him a lot.
“The next thing I know my favorite suspenders belonged to another boy and I followed him around. He didn’t like going outside or doing anything fun. Pretty soon he stopped wearing them too and his mom used them to hold her skis together. Have you ever been skiing? I haven’t and I don’t think that lady had either. I sat in their attic forever it seemed.
“One day, though, they sold my suspenders to a second- hand store, whatever that means, and a pretty girl bought them. She wore them only once at a party where the boy she liked spilled his drink on them and I made him trip on his face in front of her. I stayed in her closet for a few years and spied on her. We were in love, but she forgot and sold my suspenders to here last year.”
Bill was only vaguely paying attention to the boy. He had been flicking himself in the arm for the last half hour to wake up.
“So who were you?” Samuel asked after a pause.
Bill looked up at the boy.
“I was … am a university professor of sociology,” Bill said stubbornly.
“Augustus was a professor too! Well, he was a teacher anyway. He taught kids how to ‘think outside the box.’ He says I’m very good at that.”
“Are you?” said Bill, disinterestedly.
“Yes, like I can tell that you still don’t think you’re…” he leaned in and began to whisper, “d-e-a-d yet.”
“Why in God’s name, pardon the expression, when we die would we turn into ghosts that haunt our old clothes?”
“Not everyone does, just those who really had an attachment. And it’s not just clothes. Some people are attached to whole houses or pencils or something. Matt J. over there is attached to his camera.” Samuel pointed out a large young man who held a beta tape video camera. He was currently taping Sally, who was spinning in circles and laughing.
Bill shook his head.
“Why are we ghosts at all? There is no such thing!”
Samuel gave him an annoyed look.
“Gee, mister. For someone who knew stuff when he was alive, you sure are dumb as a dead guy.” And with that he hopped off the piano he was sitting on and walked over to play with a little girl who was serving tea to her doll.
With no real books to read and no working radio, Bill spent the rest of the night avoiding everyone else by looking through the copious rows of clothing.
Not everything was haunted, of course, but Bill had to wonder about what kind of person would haunt them. Tacky sequined t-shirts and plaid coats with mysterious pockets. Worn-out belts and chipped high-heels. But the most confusing thing he came across was in the winter section. Hidden amongst the heavy coats was a pair of faux fur pants. It took Bill a while to find the zipper, the location of which only made the pants that much more bewildering.
“I figured you for more of a leather pants guy.” It was Sally, the beauty queen.
Bill put the pants back, embarrassed, and mumbled something about ‘just looking.’
“Some of us are telling stories. Care to join?” She motioned over to the living room area where almost everyone was gathered (Mrs. Tallow was nowhere to be seen).
“Stories about your deaths?” Bill presumed, in a manner that said ‘I don’t want to be a part of such things.’
Sally shook her head.
“I don’t think so. Made up stories.”
Bill sighed. He had come to the conclusion in the last hour that this was not a dream, mostly because while the premise of the situation did not make sense, everything within the confines of this world was consistent. This probably meant that he was either A) crazy or B) a dead ghost man haunting his favorite suit coat. It did not really matter which, because in either situation he had something he had to work out before he moved on, so he might as well just go with it.
The woman, Mrs. Triffle, was telling what must have been a very humorous story because the group around the living room was bursting with laughter. Sally and Bill took a seat and people began discussing who would go next.
Sam’s hand was the first in the air. Everyone looked at each other uncomfortably.
“Well, he hasn’t gone in the last few nights,” Mrs. Triffle said, reticently.
Everyone murmured in agreement and Sam beamed with an unnatural happiness.
“Once upon a time there was a little boy,” Sam began.
“All your stories begin with a little boy!” said the girl, Annie, with whom he had been playing earlier. Her voice was drenched in a petulance that made Bill cringe.
Sam looked at Augustus, pleadingly, who made a simple gesture that said ‘carry on.’
“Once upon a time there was a little boy…” he started again. “A little boy puppy. And the puppy died and haunted his collar.
“For a while the collar sat in his owner’s coat closet, getting all gross and dusty. The dog would come out when his owner went to work and bark at the mail man at noon like he always used to do and fall asleep at the foot of his master’s bed.
“One day, though, his owner got a new dog and put the old dog’s collar on it. This made the old dog mad. He made the new dog have all kinds of bad dreams and stuff.
“After years of this the new dog died, making the old dog very pleased with himself. Only the master was very sad about the new dog, even sadder than he was over the old dog’s death. One year later the master died of old age in his bed and the last word he spoke was the new dog’s name.
“For twenty years the old dog haunted his collar as it sat in a yicky old box in someone’s attic. He could never bring himself to move on. His master would be there, but…” Sam’s voice got caught in his throat here. “but would his master be happy to see him? Would he even be waiting for him?”
Everyone was silent. Evidently, this was not the usual story given by Samuel. The naturally cheerful boy now had a face that was streaked with tears.
Augustus stood up swiftly and went over to comfort the boy.
“There, there, Samuel. Why don’t you go over to the toys and see what new things we got in today?”
Sam nodded and made a quick departure. After a few minutes of soft muttering the stories resumed. Sally told one about a Barbie that came to life as a life-sized woman. Just as Bill was beginning to think that it sounded familiar, Augustus came over and took him aside.
“Would you go and talk to him? I think he’s taken a liking to you.”
Bill looked over at Sam, doubtful.
“It will be good for you too, I think,” said Augustus, nudging him in the right direction.
Bill took a deep breath, steeled himself, and approached Sam.
“Find anything good?” Bill asked.
Sam shook his head.
“I know you’re over here to talk to me about my story. I always make them up on the spot, which is why people don’t like them.”
“I liked it.”
Sam glared at him, thoroughly unconvinced.
“It was sad,” Bill tried again. “Does that mean that you’re sad?”
Sam turned to him, earnestly.
“I’m afraid that my parents aren’t there yet, you know. That they haven’t passed on. I want them to be there. Heaven or wherever. And … also I don’t. What if they don’t like me anymore? What if they got a new son and they only love him now?”
“Look, Sam. You’re parents still love you. You were their son. People live their whole lives in shadows like your’s.”
“What do you mean?” Sam asked and suddenly Bill no longer looked like he was in the chatting mood.
They were silent for a moment.
“You’re not very good at this, are you?” Sam sighed as he stood. He left Bill and rejoined the story time.
Bill’s time at the Main Street Thrift Store marched on uncomfortably. He found himself attending store times and meetings, but sticking to the back and never contributing. After the first week, Mrs. Triffle stopped trying to include him. They all did. It was as if they had begun to treat him as a ghost of ghosts. He was haunting them more than they were haunting the thrift store.
After one morning meeting, however, Augustus approached Bill.
“I can’t help but to notice that you don’t feel at home here,” he began.
Bill shrugged. He did not want to be at home here.
“Look,” Augustus said, flustered. “You are an academic man—”
“I beg your pardon?” Augustus asked.
“I was an academic man. Then I died and went to hell.”
“Pull yourself together, man. This is not hell. We’re ghosts. Which means you are still needed here.”
“Why am I needed? I’m a shadow of a shadow. Nothing I ever knew in life even matters now.”
Augustus looked as if he could have slapped him. He sighed and regained his composure.
“I’ve been here for a good while now. Too long, I dare say. I’ve seen lots of people come and go, ghosts I mean. I’ve seen them work through their problems and be set free. I’ve also seen people get stuck, people go the wrong way, and I’ve seen them fade away altogether.”
Bill liked the sound of fading away just then. He avoided Augustus’ gaze.
“I’ve made it my job in death what it was in life: a guide. I’m helping everyone reach their potential. What did you do when you saw a student lose their way?”
“I didn’t baby my students. I let them know that if they went astray it was their own damn fault,” he muttered.
Augustus raised an eyebrow.
“Alright then,” he said. “I guess it is your own damn fault.” With that, Augustus stormed off, leaving Bill in an even greater depression.
He tried to remember what it was like to be a professor. These things were slipping more and more from him every day. From what he could recall, he had been a very callous teacher. He had never bothered with students that didn’t seem interested. He let people who slept and skipped do as they pleased and then he would quietly flunk them at the end of the semester and block their emails. But for the students who put everything into the work, he had been a dedicated, compassionate man. Or so he liked to think.
Bill had never won a best teacher award nor had anyone ever told him that they loved his classes, but he always figured that that wasn’t the important thing. The important thing was that they learned the subject (and the lesson that life was not going to baby you). He had always wished that someone had taught him that before he made a fool out of himself as a young man.
Someone had once asked Bill if he always wanted to end up as a professor. This question had shocked him. He thought that it was evident that this was what he wanted—was destined to do. “Didn’t you have a dream, though? Something you wanted to get famous from or something?” He had replied lamely that you can be a famous professor and that had ended the conversation.
Secretly, Bill always worried if he left an impression in the world or not. Only vague things came to mind—the rare occasions when people gave him credit for something.
“Maybe I should just fade away and pretend that this life never happened at all,” Bill said under his breath.
He closed his eyes and concentrated with all his might on clearing his mind, making himself empty, transparent. Then a thought occurred to him: Augustus was trying to ask him something. He was asking about his academic background. Maybe it was only out of pity. And maybe it was something lame that Bill would not find fulfilling at all to answer, but Augustus wanted his expertise for some reason or another. Got to take what you can get, Bill.
Augustus was flipping through some old records and talking with Mrs. Triffle about them.
“I never much cared for this Barry Manilow,” Augustus was saying as Mrs. Triffle shook her head in disagreement. She was about to say something when Bill approached.
“Augustus. I apologize. You were going to ask me something, weren’t you?”
Augustus looked up at him and nodded.
“Yes, Bill, I was.”
“If you’d still like to ask, I promise I’ll be more amenable this time.”
Mrs. Triffle pretended to see someone at the other end of the store and left them. Augustus looked around and made sure they were alone before he spoke.
“Like I was saying earlier, Bill. I’ve been here a very long time. Longer than I’d like. I think I’m done.”
The words stopped Bill’s thoughts for a second.
“I’m done. I’ve helped a lot of people move on; it’s been what’s kept me here. I keep thinking the next one is the last one, but I get pulled in to stay by the next and then the next. It never ends.”
For the first time, Bill saw Augustus look truly distressed. Somehow, he even looked older, frailer.
“What do you want me to do?” Bill asked, confused.
Augustus stared him in the eyes for a good while before he spoke.
“I want you to take over for me. Help these people.” These words were a whisper.
Bill had neither agreed nor disagreed to this, but over the course of the next week he came out of his shell a bit. He participated in story time and held conversations with people individually, learning a good deal about various time periods (like how teenage girls in the 80s really felt about Scott Baio). It was really quite interesting from a sociological point of view. The one person he had been avoiding, however, was Sam. His mentor had not bothered to hide his disappointment with him ever since their last conversation. Now it was time, though, to make amends.
Sam was trying on over-sized coats with Annie.
“You look like a vagrant!” Annie said, giggling.
“Not a bad coat, though,” Bill said.
Sam turned to look at him and then looked back at Annie.
“Did you hear something, Annie? I thought I heard something, but it must have been the wind.”
“It wasn’t the wind, silly. It was Bill!”
Sam crossed his arms and looked defiantly away from Bill.
“You’re no fun anymore,” she said and pouted off.
“Sam—” Bill started, but Sam turned away again.
“Sam, look. I’m sorry I’ve been a bad student,” Bill said, awkwardly getting on his knees to be even with the boy.
“What did you mean when you said that I was lucky?”
Bill looked confused.
“Before you said that I was lucky I wasn’t alive or something. It hurt my feelings.”
“Sam, no. I didn’t mean that. I meant that it would be hard for someone alive to be better than you—to your parents. It would be hard for them. But it’s probably harder for you, being dead…”
Sam looked at him.
“Did that happen to you?”
“Did what happen to me?”
“Did someone always compare you to a dead person or something?”
“Something like that,” Bill admitted.
“Was that so hard? To tell me about your life?” he said, slyly.
Bill smiled and shrugged.
“Are we friends again?” Sam asked, sticking out his hand.
“Of course,” Bill said as they shook hands.
That next evening Bill was resolved to tell Augustus that he would take the responsibility, but flecks of doubt swirled around his mind. Sam would be doable, but what about Mrs. Tallow? She didn’t seem to even come out of her dress rack anymore. What if more people showed up like her? How could he agree to take over the position of guide when he wasn’t even sure he could do it? What if Augustus moved on and everyone here didn’t want him as their guide or if they did, he simply failed them?
Bill found Augustus after the nightly meeting.
“What makes you so sure I can do this?” he asked bluntly.
“Nothing … yet,” Augustus admitted.
This set Bill to thinking. How could he prove his worth? He would help someone pass. Someone difficult. Go for the gold.
He spotted her gliding back and forth in front of the mirrors in the old dance studio. She was examining her dress with a vacancy that chilled Bill. She didn’t seem to see anything. Her cataract-grey eyes did not move, nor did any other part of her. She was like a wooden doll on a track, hovering back and forth.
“Good evening, Mrs. Tallow,” Bill said, taking care to make his voice loud.
“Good evening, professor,” she replied without flinching.
“Do you have a moment?”
He shuffled his feet in the silence that followed.
“I believe I have an eternity.”
“Could you tell me how you died?”
Mrs. Tallow stopped floating. She turned and stared at him.
“I’ve already told you that.” Her voice was calm. Bill was completely unnerved.
“Yes, uh, well. Could you tell me in more detail? You know, start at the beginning.”
“I suppose.” She glided over to a chair in the corner and Bill followed.
“When I was young and foolish,” she began. “I met a man named Tallow. I did not love him, but I didn’t seem to think that mattered. He offered me a new life. So I married him. It turned out that he despised me, but wanted my father’s money. If you had ever met the man, you would not have realized this. He was comely and meek, sniveling even. And I was beautiful. Even my insidious father, who had turned away dozens of suitors, approved of Mr. Tallow.
“It was our wedding night and I was somewhat dreading the consummation. He seemed to be nervous himself, but not about lovemaking, as I was soon to find out. He waited until I took off my dress and then stabbed me three times in the heart. I remember the pain vividly. All of these fools here died in comparatively peaceful ways. Only those of us who were murdered will ever know what it feels like.”
She paused here to look Bill directly in the eyes. Bill felt like she was going to jump out at him and snarl. When she did not he took a deep breath.
“I’m not convinced I was murdered,” he said.
“Yes. It is strange that you don’t remember,” she said in an airy, distant voice.
“So, after you died he sold the dress?” Bill pushed, changing the course.
“Yes. A week later, after the funeral.”
“Why didn’t you haunt him? Or the house, or something else?” Bill asked.
“He was an idiot. The police caught him the day after he sold my dress and hung him. My father saw to that.”
“I see,” Bill said, looking around. He was searching for something else to say or something else to ask.
“You want to know why I stay with the dress and ruin weddings.” It was a statement.
“I guess, although it seems obvious,” Bill said.
“Oh?” Mrs. Tallow contested.
“Yes. You do it because you think marriage is a sham. You think you save the women the trouble, right?”
Mrs. Tallow was silent. Her face looked as though she had just eaten something very sour.
“No, professor. I don’t think marriage is a sham. I think most people actually love each other, or think they do. I haunt this dress because I hate them and their happiness. I hate them all. Why should they get the life I wanted? What makes them deserve it? Nothing!” Spit flew from her mouth as she ejaculated the last word.
Bill’s eyes widened. Mrs. Tallow actually seemed to be growing in height.
“Everyone deserves to find love,” Bill said, shocked at her rage.
“Did you ever find love, professor? I don’t see you pining over some long lost strumpet! Only the fools get love. Only the weak, ugly, self-indulgent fools!” She was now growing faster. Soon she would be taller than the ceiling allowed.
The others had begun to gather around the opening to that room to watch the horrible scene. Like all men who badly needed to say something, Bill stood speechless.
“I was beautiful! Beautiful, you hear!” Mrs. Tallow was now screaming.
This triggered something in Bill.
“Maybe,” he shouted up at her. “But I think all this hatred has made you ugly. I mean, my god, you’re the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen!”
“What?!” Mrs. Tallow was livid. Smoke started to surround her.
“What the devil are you trying to do, Bill?” Augustus had worked his way to the front of the crowd.
Bill ignored him.
“Just look at yourself in the mirror! You’re like a demon!”
Mrs. Tallow did not look in the mirror—not right away at least. First she let out a bone-shaking screech. The electricity of her engorged spirit shot out in all directions, catching the racks of dresses on fire. This seemed to surprise her as much as anyone else. In her wild turning she caught a glimpse of her reflection.
The sound she made then was one of ultimate disgust. She was like Dracula cowering from the light, Frankenstein’s monster flinching from fire.
“What have I become?” She shrank back to her normal size.
Augustus and a few others ran into the room and started trying to put out the flames by smothering them with blankets from the bedding section. This seemed to only fan the flames.
With some reticence, Bill went beside Mrs. Tallow.
“We need to go. Your dress will burn up,” he said as kindly as he knew how.
“Let it burn,” she said, stripping off the dress.
Bill watched her throw it to the ground and pass through the conflagration.
Outside, everybody gathered to watch the life go out of the old thrift store on Main Street. Bill went to stand next to Augustus.
“I’m sorry,” he told him, quietly.
“What?” Augustus had been lost in thought, staring at the flames.
“I’m sorry, Augustus. I messed that one up big time. I guess I’m not the guy.”
Augustus laughed then. Not the hysterical laugh of a mad man, but the full chortle of someone who was privy to a joke that the other person was not. Bill cocked his head in confusion.
“As far as I’m concerned, my bags are packed!” Augustus managed.
“What?” Bill asked, feeling as though he was beginning to hate that question.
“I’ve been trying to get Mrs. Tallow to pass peacefully for 30 years.”
“That was peacefully?” Bill was incredulous.
“For a second there I thought she was about to be pulled into, you know, hell. Instead she passed on! Incredible.”
“I burnt down the thrift store,” Bill said, obstinately.
“I was getting tired of that dump anyway.” It was Mrs. Triffle who spoke then. She was beaming.
“This whole thing has inspired me. My Ted is probably waiting for me on the other side by now. Sure he had halitosis and ignored me to watch football, but he was the love of my life, the fool.” She laughed boisterously.
It was then that Bill spotted Sam. He was sitting on the curb, separated from everyone, looking very sullen. He excused himself to walk over to him.
“What’s the matter, mentor?” Bill asked him, taking a seat next to him.
Sam looked up at him and sighed.
“I’m not your mentor. You don’t need one.”
“I want to go home,” Sam pouted.
“Then why don’t you?” Bill asked.
“Because I’m still scared. I don’t want to leave everyone!”
“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” Bill said. “You see Augustus and Mrs. Triffle?”
“They’re going to go with you. When you pass you’ll get to see them all the time too.”
Sam wiped away the wetness from his face and sniffed.
Then Sam’s face split into a giant grin. He appeared to be perfectly fine, almost as if nothing had been bothering him a second ago.
“Just kidding,” he said, jumping up. “I knew that they would be. You did a good job getting Mrs. Tallow to pass. I thought she’d never leave.”
Sam ran over to Augustus and the others, leaving Bill to gape at him.
“I guess now I don’t need you,” Bill muttered. He joined them and they all took a moment to watch their past home burn.
Adeline was not having a good morning. First, she overslept. The night before had been rough—a long-distance fight with her boyfriend. Then she spilt coffee all over her shirt in the car. When she pulled up to her work, however, all of that vanished on account of it being burnt to the ground.
The police and fire department were there in force, taping off the area and rummaging through the ashes. Adeline got out of her car and approached the first officer she saw.
“What the hell happened?”
“Fire, ma’am. I’m gonna have to ask you to step back.”
She was going to protest—say something like “But I work there!” Instead she went across the street to watch the activity. As she started to sit down on the curb she spotted a suit coat with patched elbows—it was folded neatly on the sidewalk. She picked it up and instantly recognized it. A man had brought it into the store the other day. She remembered thinking he looked very intelligent, and also very sad.
After looking around to see if anyone was watching she searched the coat pockets. She was never allowed to do that at work. It wasn’t her job to sort the clothes. She just manned the counter. In the inside breast pocket she found a note. It was folded delicately into fourths.
Dear whoever you are,
I hope you make more of a difference in this life than I have.