Twenty years ago, before the advent of BooBlocker© tech and the regulatory safety standards of modern vehicles, Trevor Marks and his parents had traveled the road to Apparition Cove to visit an ailing uncle. Trevor had been in the back seat of the blue Fiat, engrossed in his comic book and fighting carsickness (he had yet to understand the correlation of reading and winding roads), when the car had grown cold despite the sunny weather. Ice crept across the windows and the pages of Beowulf: Slave to the Dragon Queen crackled.
Trevor tossed the comic aside and used his warm palm to melt a port in the frost on the glass. He’d been promised that unregistered shades roamed the forests and the sudden cold was—per his research—a good sign that one was near. He’d only seen the creatures in cemeteries (caged and broken spirits that whined behind their fences) so he longed to catch a glimpse of one in the wild.
“Where is it? Where is it?”
“Where is what, Trevor?” His mother had turned around in her seat to look back at her son. “Dean, look!” Her voice dropped to an excited whisper as she grabbed her husband’s shoulder. “We’ve picked up a hitchhiker! Oh, I wish I had my camera. Honey, pull over. I need to get the camera out of the back.”
“There’s no place to pull over on this road, Beth,” his father had replied.
Ghost-flesh pebbled his arms and Trevor buzzed with excitement. “Hitchhiker? Where?” He peered out the window, straining to catch a glimpse of someone’s unfinished business. Then, it breathed on the back of young Trevor’s neck.
The hitchhiker had leaned close so, when the boy turned around to face him, their noses were almost touching. The creature’s eyes were white and the inside of his wide-open mouth was black. Its spotted tongue, when unrolled, reached to the seat. The tongue seemed curious in its movements. Not curious as in, my, isn’t that interesting but curious as in, I wonder what you taste like. The tongue lifted and curled and sniffed the air warmed by Trevor’s skin.
“Honey, don’t be scared,” his mother warned. “They feed on fear.”
“I’m not scared,” Trevor said, truthfully.
“That’s right, Trev,” his father agreed. “They can’t hurt you if you’re not scared.”
“I’m not scared,” Trevor insisted. And Trevor was very brave but his hindbrain—far more in tune with the tremor in his father’s voice—released his bladder and an unbidden keen traveled up Trevor’s throat. The ghost mimicked the sound and then licked Trevor’s cheek.
If you’re not scared…
Twenty years later, the scar on Trevor’s cheek tickled like a millipede. He punched the steering wheel. The horn barked. The surrounding redwoods ignored the sound.
“I was not scared,” he said, out loud. He punched the steering wheel again and this time he let the horn howl for several seconds. I was not scared then, I am not scared now, and I will never be scared again.
Trevor chose to believe that he was not afraid of ghosts. Trevor also chose to believe that he was not bothered by the fact that the winding road to Apparition Cove led deep into the Ghost Coast Reserve and was, therefore, not subject to the regulations regarding the management of non-corporeal entities.
Because of his childhood trauma, and despite his assertion to the contrary, Humboldt County Deputy Coroner Trevor Marks hated the road to Apparition Cove because he was terrified of ghosts. The only reason he wasn’t driving full-tilt in the opposite direction was because modern technology had all but eliminated the inconvenience of interacting with the ether realms.
In addition to the crystalline polymer treatment on the windows and magnetic hexes on all access points of the state-issued SUV, the deputy sported BooBlocker™ shades over his prescription contact lenses and wore a state-of-the-art, low-current pulse disrupter that doubled as a time-piece on his left wrist. His sidearm, a standard-issue Ion Hammer, had one—or seven—aftermarket enhancements that could be quickly detached if a superior officer requested inspection of the weapon, as they were wont to do in the case of Trevor.
Trevor’s skin was snaked with ink that writhed in elaborate detail under the cover of his uniform. The ink was temporary and would fade with time but he had the designs refreshed and updated on a regular basis. Science touted the psychological benefits of personal hexing but equated the apparent results to the power of suggestion and often referred to the placebo effect. Suggestion or placebo, Trevor didn’t care. He kept his bases, and skin, covered.
His SUV’s on-board OS chimed softly before she spoke.
“Spectral entity ahead. Please remain on course. Do not stop for…” the system processed the information for another moment before continuing. “Little Girl Lost.”
A thick bank of fog rolled across the road. Trevor knew that if not for the protective polymer on his windshield, he would have seen the pathetic form of a female child in the road ahead. She might have caused him to instinctively swerve off the asphalt and possibly smash into the already battered guardrail. He pressed his foot harder against the gas and instinctively held his breath as the vehicle plowed into the wall of mist. The OS RoadTracker© program kicked in and displayed his route on the inside of the windshield, allowing him to stay on course despite the sudden lack of external vision.
When the fog cleared, the road ahead was straight so Trevor hit the gas hard. The SUV surged forward. A sign read ‘Apparition Cove’ and an arrow pointed down a dirt track to the right but the GPS advised Trevor to keep straight, so he did. He had a job to do. If that ridiculous reality television star Bonita or Bonella or whatever wasn’t going to handle her family’s unfinished business, it was up to him, as Deputy Coroner, to handle it in her stead.