Lichen-covered slabs surround him; their once-crisp inscriptions have weathered away like the memories of those buried beneath them. If he died here, no one would find his corpse. The thought soothes him.
The smell of damp moss and rotten leaves embraces him like a shroud, calming him. Here, behind a tangle of thorny thickets, pricking anyone daring to intrude, is his hiding spot. The crumbling crypt within, entirely overgrown, obscures him from the eyes of the living.
He did not encounter a single person cried over the rotting remains in the ground. Seeing such violent and foreign displays of emotions always puts him in a sour mood.
The soil, soaked from last night’s storm, squelches under his boots as he makes his way to the broken obelisk in the center of his sanctum. It used to be a centerpiece, a mason’s pride; now broken and forgotten, it lies in two large pieces ahead of him. This is where he sits, listens, and waits day after day after day.
He brushes off wet leaves that have fallen on the jagged blocks during last night’s violent storm. He sits on the cold, hard surface, the crypt in his back. From the backpack between his legs, he takes out a weighty thermos, and with a dull metallic thud, puts it next to him.
From the bowels of his pack, he produces a small, gray box. He flicks a tiny switch and the display on the front of the otherwise bland device lights up with a faint red glow. A needle stabs rapidly towards the far end of the meter. Once the surge of electricity disperses, it sinks back listlessly. Now the dim, red light is the only sign that the device in his hands isn’t dead.
With it, he can detect faint electromagnetic fields, like the ones all around him in his cramped apartment. Even his neighbor’s noisy television is a disturbance, the device confirms. In this silent place that has never known electricity, the needle stubbornly refuses to move, day after day after day. But here, he’s patient.
A second box appears in his hands, black and dull plastic covered with knobs and buttons, a chrome antenna protruding. The lettering on the plastic has worn off long ago. A pair of flimsy headphones strangle the device. Their once bright yellow foam is brittle and is now the color of pus. He slowly unravels their cord and puts them on.
He extends the antenna and turns one knob until he feels the familiar click. As the white noise of quickly changing frequencies fills his ears, he closes his eyes and drifts into communion with the device in his hands.
He jolts up from his bench and spins around. The cable snags on his jacket and pulls the headphones from his ears, throwing them onto the wet ground. Ahead of him stands a young woman; she would not be a day over 25, barely younger than himself. She wears a puffy green jacket, black leggings, a matching beanie, and pale skin. Her mouth open, she chews on a piece of gum. A melange of stale, cold cigarette smoke and mint invades his nose. She gives him a cheeky smile. There is a fresh scratch on her chin. How had she found his spot?
His heart is racing. He picks up the headphones. A large piece of foam has broken off. The intruder pays no attention to him and instead peers at the motionless needle on the bench.
“Hey, I’ve seen one of these,” she says, stepping closer towards the device. “That’s one of these ghost detector thingies, right?”
A finely calibrated EMF meter. But what did she know?
“You’re hunting for ghosts, aren’t you?” A wide grin and a glimmer of excitement in her eyes.
He hates it when they call them ghosts; they are spirits.
He slips the meter it into his pocket to save it from her prying eyes.
“In a cemetery?” she stifles a laugh. “Of all the places you are looking for ghosts in a graveyard? I mean, it’s a cool place and all, but come on!”
His face is getting hot.
She gawks at his sanctuary, like a child at a carnival.
“Man, I wish the others were here! This is going to be such an awesome hangout spot!”
The knot in his stomach tightens.
Her bony hands move from her mouth to one of the large chunks of the obelisk. For a split-second, he sees a piece of the woman’s face stuck to the back of his bench; the chewing gum is the same spent color as her skin. She pulls a packet from her puffy coat. She rips off the crinkling cellophane and lets it fall to the ground. With a trained motion, she sticks a cigarette between her pale, thin lips, and gives him an expectant look.
After he stands unmoving for an uncomfortable amount of time, she rolls her eyes and pats her pockets. She produces a plastic lighter and flicks it repeatedly. Each failed attempt is followed by a mumbled swear until she finally lights her cigarette. She takes a deep drag and closes her eyes.
“You gotta go to places with tormented souls,” smoke trails her as she desecrates his space. “The ones that still have unfinished business in this world and want revenge or something.”
She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. He stifles a cough as the smoke reaches him. He longs for the calming smell of decay.
She leans against one of the moss-covered slabs, looking up into the bone-gray sky as she exhales another cancerous cloud.
“Got a lot of free time on my hands, so I watch tons of ghost hunting shows. I mean, they’re probably fake, but I did some research.”
As if she knows what that word even means.
“Found all kinds of videos and photos online. Creepy stuff you just can’t explain, you know?”
Blood rushes through his ears. He barely hears her.
“But yeah, this place?” she looks back at the crypt. “People don’t die here; it’s just where we stick ‘em in the ground. Go to, like, an abandoned asylum or the scene of an unsolved murder. Places with —” she says, swirling her cigarette around in the air as if summoning a spell, “Energy, you know?”
He feels a headache coming on; every word of hers is a painful stab.
She points at his hand. “Hey, is that a ghost radio?”
At first, he doesn’t understand. The words make no sense to him. Then he realizes she means the spirit box. He had been clutching it ever since she barged in. The headphones are still hissing with static.
“Can I see it?” she takes a step towards him, one hand reaching for his prized possession. He steps back and hastily stuffs the spirit box into his backpack. He grabs his thermos, metal ringing out as it scrapes against the marble. Suddenly she is paying attention to him.
“I, uh – I have to get back to my friends.” She drops her half-smoked cigarette. The wet soil suffocates it without a sound. “They are probably looking for me,” is the last thing he remembers her saying.
The next day, no one is mourning. There is only an old man making gravestone rubbings. He ignores his hurried return to his refuge. The moment he feels the crypt’s shadow on his skin, the pressure sloughs off of him. Everything is just as he had left it yesterday. He picks up the wet cigarette stub and the cellophane, wrinkling his nose as he puts them in a small trash bag. Yesterday, his mind had not been in the right spot to clean up. He feels remorseful for not taking better care of his space. He wipes his hands on his coat and walks over to the broken obelisk. A few more dead leaves have fallen. He gently wipes them off before he sits down. He pulls the thermos from his backpack, his brows furrowed as he feels the dented surface. Then he retrieves the EMF meter and flicks it on.
A smile appears on his lips as the needle wildly jitters back and forth in the blood-red glow. Quickly, he pulls out the spirit box and puts on the headphones, listening. He takes a deep breath and catches a whiff of stale, cold cigarette smoke. Turns out she had been right about something after all.
The Right Place originally appeared in a previous version in Secret Attic Booklet #12.