Stanley Reed propped his head up with his elbow and massaged his forehead with his knuckles. “Think!” he commanded himself, the blank page on his monitor waiting to be filled. “Think!” he tried again, clenching his eyes shut, hoping to find inspiration on the back of his eyelids. A light bulb went on. Literally. Figuratively, he was still completely in the dark, but in reality, the light in the bathroom of his shitty studio apartment had turned on.
This wasn’t the first time that a crackhead had broken into his home, so when Stanley grabbed a hammer from underneath his writing desk and walked the four paces past the bedroom to the bathroom, knocked on the door, and shouted, “I know you’re in there!” he was startled to hear a voice reply in a calm fashion and Brooklyn accent, “Good. I thought I was being too subtle. Come in.”
Despite his better judgment and the better judgment of most rational individuals, Stanley opened the door to the bathroom. It was empty. He spun around looking until he got dizzy and stopped. The room didn’t get that memo and kept on spinning. “I’m up here!” said the voice. Sure enough, lying on the ceiling with his face to the floor, the man who had called floated with a big grin on his face. “My name’s Roger. Nice to meet you.”
Stanley thought he would faint, but realized that he didn’t have the resolve to go through with it, instead opting to spout gibberish. “But…how…I don’t…Wha…”
“Get it all out of your system now,” Roger said, slowly rotating until his feet were aiming at the floor. “If you don’t come to terms with it now, you’re going to wake up one day and have a real breakdown. This one guy I knew, heh, he just ran out when he saw me. Tried to pretend it didn’t happen. A week later, he gets out of bed, decides he’s still dreaming, and jumps off the roof of his building. He’s a nice guy, but not much in the brains department.”
“You…you’re a…you’re…” Stanley stammered.
“I’m a… what?” Roger smirked.
“Uh, a ghost.” Stanley managed to say. It felt so good to say it. There was no uncertainty about it now. He was talking to a ghost. Or he was completely insane, but he was pretty sure he was talking to a ghost.
Roger descended to the floor, the soles of his translucent sneakers passing through the dull linoleum. “Damn straight,” he said. Questions darted through Stanley’s head like a swarm of bees, each taking a jab at his psyche. Only one stuck.
“Why?” he asked.
Roger raised an eyebrow, “Why what? Why am I a ghost? Why I am I here?” Stanley stared vacantly. Roger rolled his eyes. He could see through the top of his own skull when he did that, and even after eight years of being a ghost, he still thought that was pretty neat.
“I guess the first one,” Stanley muttered.
“Why am I a ghost?” Roger said.
“Yeah, that one.”
“I’m a ghost because I died.” Roger shrugged. Stanley turned on his heel and made to leave the bathroom. “Wait!” Roger shouted. He did. “Sorry. Ghost humor. I was in college. I wanted to be a published writer, then, well…” Stanley turned around. He felt sorry for the specter in his bathroom.
“Go on,” Stanley said gently.
Roger sniffled, “There was a car accident. No one’s fault, really. Some guy’s tires blew out, and I swerved right into a statue of some founding father or other. I think it was Samuel Johnson but I don’t know.”
“Then I died, genius.” Roger snapped.
“Sorry.” Stanley whimpered.
“Naw,” Roger said, “It’s okay.” They stood in silence for a minute or two. Roger shuffled his feet and said, “Do you want to know why I’m here?”
“Yeah.” Stanley answered. “I’ve been watching you. You got some good stories, but you just gotta get your foot in the door before you can get them published.”
“Exactly!” Stanley shouted. Finally, someone who got it.
Roger nodded, “And that’s where I come in. I’ve got some stories; ones that’ll get you the breakthrough you need. I just want to see them published.”
Stanley nodded emphatically, “Great!” he said, “Tell me all about it.” So Roger did.
It was good. No, that’s not true. It was fantastic. It had intrigue, romance, action. There were affairs and fistfights and even a few murders. And two months after Roger told Stanley the story for the first time, the tale of the evil Mr. Norton Lindquist and his sordid life was number three on the New York Times Bestseller’s list, and Stanley Reed was famous.
And that is how he ended up in a Barnes & Noble’s in Raleigh, getting ready to read excerpts and sign books for his adoring fans. He was in the bookstore’s bathroom, straightening his tie in the mirror. Roger hovered by his side. “Give ‘em hell,” he said, beaming with pride.
Stanley smiled, picked a piece of spinach out of his teeth, and smiled again. “Will do, buddy.” He gave himself one last look-over. “You ready,” he asked. Roger became invisible. “As I’ll ever be,” said his voice from somewhere in the room.
Stanley walked out of the bathroom, past the humor section, the biographies, and the coffee table books, to where a few dozen folding chairs sat, occupied by an excited and impatient crowd. The chairs were all directed towards a table with fifty copies of his book on it. One copy had a light blue post-it sticking out at page 182. Stanley opened the book to that page, and read aloud:
“I am a gentleman of refined taste,” said Norton, “Do you see the paintings I allow to grace my presence? Matisse. Renoir. Picasso. Cezanne. I surround myself with greatness, Ms. Gray, because anything else would be an insult. I would not suffer the works of a master to be defiled in the home of a lesser man, nor should I have my greatness befouled by anything below me. It is indecent, if not immoral, to lower myself by association with something so far beneath me. Like you, Ms. Gray.
“While I do allow things of lesser worth into my home, it is only temporary. Like toilet paper, or light bulbs. They serve their purpose and are disposed of. So you may pack your bags, Ms. Gray. And leave my sight.”
Stanley closed the book with a dramatic flourish. The crowd applauded. Except for one man in the back, who simply raised his hand. Stanley pointed at him, “Questions?”
The man stood up. A gaunt man, elegantly dressed in a shockingly expensive suit. He had silver hair slicked back. He had a British accent. “Yes.” He said. “Where did you get the inspiration for this story?”
Stanly smirked. “Sometimes things just come to you.”
The man grimaced. “Bull shit.”
Some of the more prudish of the guests gasped, some chuckled, but all were uncomfortable.
The man smiled in hatred, reached into his shirt, and pulled out a revolver. “Do you know how I know you’re lying?” he asked, leveling the weapon at Stanley’s head.
Stanley gulped. “N…Nuh…N…No.” He whimpered.
The man cocked the revolver. “Because I’m Norton Lindquist!” He screamed, and fired.
People fled the bookstore en masse. All except for Roger and Stanley. Stanley hovered over to Roger. “What the fuck!” Stanley screamed. “Why! Why did you give me a true story!”
Roger stared at his shoes, “Well,” he said, “I was a journalism major.”