After Hours by Brandon Meyers
“And please, Mr. Rush, do not fret about the various shakes and settlings of the museum in the late of the night. This is, after all, a well-matured structure with a goodly amount of history. Like any old building, it has its ghosts.”
I gave an understanding nod and a smile. “Don’t worry, Mr. Tillsbury. Your museum will still be standing in the morning when you return. I think I can assure you that much. As for the rodents, however, I shouldn’t hope to be able to say the same for them.” At this, we both laughed.
“Excellent. Well then, I’ll leave you to it. Good eve, sir.”
“And to you,” I said, shifting my bag of extermination equipment off my shoulder and to the floor. My name is Edgar Rush. By day, I am an exterminator of the highest caliber for all levels of pests; by night, well… I’m still an exterminator. Though this isn’t my first night job by any means, the feel of this place is rather odd.
The aging Mr. Tillsbury had contracted me this afternoon to take on what he had dubbed an “emergency situation.” Apparently, the tenants of the adjoining complex of apartment buildings had been reporting disturbing pest noises for the past few months and were threatening Mr. Tillsbury with a legal suit concerning the inadequate pest control of his small museum.
Certainly nothing out of the ordinary for a professional such as myself, but even I had to admit, this was a most peculiar building. While it boasted to be the only standing teacup museum within a four-hundred-mile radius, I had to wonder seriously about what kind of a demographic such an establishment catered to.
But that wasn’t the strange part. I had thoroughly inspected the premises on my arrival, and had found absolutely no evidence whatsoever of an infestation. While the neighbors swore that the museum was assuredly a host of a serious rodent nest, I had an immediate inclination to believe that the tenants were lying in order to force their odd neighbor out of business. I imagined that Mr. Tillsbury had to have been fairly wealthy to keep such an obviously stagnant operation running, and therefore did not share with him my initial diagnosis. After all, it is a kind of moral value of mine to not let a fool keep his money.
So, I was either looking at an actual inhabitation of a pest much smaller than rodents, cockroaches possibly (although it would have to be a hell of a nest to be audibly perceived), or the neighbors were lying and I would have to make myself comfortable on the hall couch for the night until Mr. Tillsbury came to relieve me in the morning with my rather sizable removal fee.
A quick scan of the sub-basement told me all that I needed to know; the neighbors were indeed wily liars, and Mr. Tillsbury was going to be served a nuisance suit regardless of my involvement.
I had been asleep on the dusty couch for what the wall clock said was four hours when I heard a hooting and hollering racket coming from the central showroom floor. The clock read midnight, to the second.
“What on earth?” I said groggily. I slid from the couch and tumbled headfirst over the decorative footstool that sat perched beside it.
Limping slightly, I entered the front hall to a spectacle that I surely couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams.
There were people everywhere. Actually, upon closer inspection, they appeared to be people, but were in fact somewhat less than completely visible. I know it must sound certifiably mental, but I was looking at a room full of what could only be the spiritual remainders of those long-dead. Or possibly some kind of elaborately sculpted figures of colorful haze, induced by a rogue rotten ingredient of my night’s supper.
But seeing the eyes of a few glance in my direction, I somehow knew it wasn’t a hallucination due to bad pork. The men and women glided solidly about the room, as if dancing to a speakerphone that was inaudible only to me. Who or whatever these ghostly figures were, they were having a party.
A lanky man with spectacles whisked quickly by me and stopped in a swaying state that suggested inebriation.
“I say, sir. An excellent bash, indeed. Wait a moment,” he said, pausing to look me over. “Well, you’re not ripe at all, are you? How did you get invited? Clarice!” He stumbled off in another direction and lost control of the object in his hand. One of the museum’s teacups and saucer went smashing to the floor, though devoid of any liquid contents.
Looking around the room, I could see that each of the beings clad in quite outdated clothing were carrying one of the museum’s showcase pieces. In fact, the finely carved wooden displays spread throughout the room all sat empty.
I slunk back against the wall and tried to edge my way to the door, but a younger-looking woman had eyed me and was rapidly on the approach.
“Well, hello there. What a fine looking gentleman, we are.” Her pale gray eyes slid up and down my gray-uniformed frame. “Hmm... would you care for a drink, love?” Long, silvery hair danced airily over her emerald formal gown.
I stared at her in disbelief. “Actually, I think I’m alright, thanks.” I tried to back away, but found myself pressed against the frame of a doorway.
“Well, that’s not much fun, is it? My, my, you certainly are easy on the eyes for a live one.”
“I actually seem to have intruded upon your festivities,” I explained. “I seem to be having a spot of indigestion, and really should be going now.”
“Nonsense, love,” she said and seized my arm, pulling me further into the room with surprising force. “Here, I’d like to introduce you to Mr. William Tethys. William, meet my new friend. Oh, what was your name, love?”
“Edgar,” I choked.
“Of course you are. William, this is Mr. Edgar.”
“Rush. I- It’s my surname. Edgar Rush.”
“Right,” she said with a fascinated understanding.
“Charmed,” said the squat apparition to whom I was being introduced. “Tell me, dear Clarice, did you invite this one from one of your haunts?” He raised his eyebrows accusingly at Clarice, but with a note of humor.
“Oh, William, mind your tongue. I do believe he’s one of the caretaker’s guests.”
“What? No, I’m actually an exterminator.”
“A what?” Clarice asked. When I started to reply, she continued: “Never mind all of that. What matters is that we are all here to have a good time, and you’ve somehow found yourself privy to party among the ranks of the best of society.”
“Oh, surely we’re not the—” William began.
“But of course we are, William. Now, where did the drink server get off to?” With a swoosh of cold air, Clarice had vanished. William, seeming uncomfortable, turned to visit with someone he obviously recognized. It was at about that moment that my body seemed to have caught up with the reality of what I was witnessing and decided it would be a good time to faint.
When I was shaken awake, I had expected to find myself lying lazily on the entryway couch, looking up at a rather dissatisfied Mr. Tillsbury. Instead, I was looking into the face of a wrinkled woman who reminded me uncomfortably well of my late Aunt Elise.
“Edgar, darling, are you alright?”
“Ma—wha—Aunt Elise? Is that you?”
“Well, I should certainly hope so, Eddie. I’d be sad to say that five years time had wiped me completely from your memory. Come on, get up off the floor. Sleeping like that’ll get you in our shape if you should catch pneumonia.” It was one of those things that only an Aunt could justify and make sound completely legitimate. Even from the grave, apparently, my Aunt was still capable of sharing inane tidbits of wisdom.
“Please tell me what’s going on here, Auntie. This is some sort of dream, isn’t it? I’ve fallen down on the job and inhaled some chemicals, haven’t I? I mean, you’re dead. The last time I saw you was at your funeral.”
“Ah, yes,” she said with a fond look in her eye. “That was quite a turnout, wouldn’t you say?” She brought her attention back to me and said. “No, Edgar. I’m afraid this is no dream. Though, how you came to be here, I’ll not be able to guess at.”
“I was hired to do a job here for Mr. Tillsbury.”
“That would be the caretaker. That explains it then,” she concluded. “Listen, Eddie, I would really love to chat, but I’ve got to be going. Other parties to attend. You understand? Give my love to your mother.” With a squeeze on the shoulder and a smile, she fluttered and faded from view.
I spun to see the party queen Clarice making her way quickly back to me.
“Oh, Edgar. I’ve been looking all over for you. What do you think of the party, so far? It’s wonderful isn’t it?” From nearby, another glass crashed to the floor.
“Oh, it’s excellent, it is. But listen, Clarice, I really do have to be going. I’ve actually got some work to do this evening.”
“Nonsense, Eddie, darling. You’ve got to come with us. There’s another party that’s starting in ten minutes at Nottington’s Cathedral.”
“Is this what you do all the time then, party?”
“I don’t follow,” Clarice said innocently.
“Well, you. The, err…deceased.”
She began to laugh violently.
“Oh, Edgar dear, you kill me.” At this, she laughed even harder. “It’s a shame you can’t join us. Nottington’s is always sure to be a sensational gathering.”
“Maybe next time,” I said.
While I was sure that eyes were watching the both of us, a glance around the room showed that the fifty or so party guests still remaining had much more important things to watch than someone still among the living as he tried to comprehend their leisurely social activities.
“Oh well,” Clarice said. “I’m sure that one of these evenings I’ll be able to convince one of you to accompany me.” With that, she reached out and touched my forehead with a gentle finger. “Will you at least offer me a dance?”
“Oh…sure. Would you care to dance?” I shot a glance about the room, and as if reading my thoughts, music appeared out of nowhere.
I held Clarice’s slightly cool body in my arms and we danced a dance that I’d never thought myself capable of. It was without name, but if I had to place it, I would have likened it only to the tango, but much more rhythmic.
And we danced for what seemed like hours. Only the music filled my head while I watched the woman whose features seemed to keep changing sway with my own body. I’m unsure about what precisely happened after we began dancing. All I remember is that she was there with me, moving in the moment. My blue eyes met her coarse grey. Whispering silver-blonde hair swung loosely behind us in our movements. At that moment, I was no longer frightened and confused, but actually carefree. I was enjoying myself, and now I was sure that all the eyes in the rest of the room were surely on us.
The melodic notes must have ended at some point, but when or where I did not care to take notice. I was enveloped in the pure enjoyment of the moment. Things had begun to softly darken around the edges, as though the lights were being flicked off individually. The last sight I can recall is the way that Clarice’s outline seemed to generate its own pulsing luminescence. And then the darkness overcame me, and I must have lost consciousness for the second time.
When I came to, I was looking into the face of my employer, though it was in a much friendlier state than I had expected to see it the first time.
“Mister Tillsbury! I’m sorry, sir. I think I must have inhaled some gases last night when I was fumigating.”
“Nonsense, young man. You know better than that, surely. After all, you were present for the party, were you not?” He was smiling broadly, leaning over me so that his long overcoat touched the floor.
“The party?” At once my thoughts shifted to the gathering of wayward spirits and I smiled at the thought of the everlasting dance. I could see the faces of all the happy attendees, each in the dress of some time period long past.
“Indeed you were. For I can see it all over your face. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to keep the details of this business to ourselves. After all, was what you witnessed not incredible?”
“You knew? But, wait. What about the rats? Why did you have me—
“Formalities, my boy. I am fully aware that the rotten-hearted tenants next door would like nothing better than to see me leave, but, as you can see, there is nothing remotely dangerous happening here during the nighttime hours. Perhaps a bit of noise, but what is that in comparison to the happiness of those wandering souls? They do so enjoy it. And more so, for yourself, the important thing is that you will be fully compensated for what was surely the easiest night’s work of your life. I trust that you are for the better or worse, relatively unharmed?”
“Well, yes. But if you knew about the… err, them, why didn’t you just tell me to begin with?”
He gave a sharp laugh and smiled at me. “If I had, would you ever have believed it?”
“What about your teacups? They were smashing more than a few of your showcase pieces. Do you not care?”
He tossed his head back and laughed. “Mr. Rush, do you honestly believe I give a damn about that bargain-basement drink-ware? Goodness, no. What I’m concerned about is the well being of someone I lost long ago, and would go to any lengths to give her an opportunity to enjoy the afterlife as she once did while living. Her and many others like her.”
I shrugged, climbed to my feet, and accepted my money willingly enough. While not entirely uncomfortable, I was more than ready to be on my way.
On the way out of the entrance hall, however, a picture that I’d not noticed on my way in called out to me. It was of a beautiful young woman, who had an enchanting smile on her face and wispy golden-blonde hair.
A plaque was affixed to the bottom of the frame.
Clarice Milton Tillsbury