6 oz. Burger, Munster, Tomatoes, Pickled Onions, Dijon & Mayo

I’m at the Penny.

Last night after my 3:00 AM tussle under the house, Rafe handed me my cat and said, “Meet me tonight, at the Penny.” I stood there on the porch, dumbfounded, holding Sweetie, watching as he disappeared into the dark. Sweetie was purring, seemingly having forgotten her ordeal in the crawlspace. I sure as hell hadn’t forgotten it. I took her upstairs and tossed her on the bed where she began grooming herself. I hoped she was getting rid of the fleas and diseases she might have picked up on her adventure. I took off my crawlspace clothes, piled them in the laundry and went to bed where I spent several wide-awake hours, fruitlessly trying to figure out what the hell had happened.

I made it through the day, but even though I tried to read my Publishers Weekly review book, all I could think about was Rafe and if he was going to show up at the Penny, and if he did would he have any answers for my many questions. I walked down the hill shortly after five o’clock and snagged a table with no problem. It was pretty early, so I didn’t worry when I didn’t see Rafe anywhere in the bar. I ordered the cheeseburger of the day (excellent) and had just finished it when Rafe walked in, pulled out a chair and sat down opposite me. He looked up when the Big Guy came over to the table. “Hey, Raphael,” BG said, nodding at Rafe. He slid my glass toward me.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Jagermiester,” BG answered. “You’re going to have to start drinking out of your comfort zone if you’re ever going to finish the 69.” BG was in schoolmaster mode tonight, playing the role of coach to the lagging athlete.

“I’ve never tasted it.” I took a sip.

“It’s an herbal digestive drink that had a clever American distributor,” BG said. “He took what is essentially an after-dinner drink popular with elderly Germans and turned it into the preferred libation of Metalhead bands and their fans all over the world.”

It had an herby fennel taste. Not good, not bad.

“It’s only 35% alcohol, so you’re probably going to want another one when you finish that.”

“Thanks, Coach,” I said, as he went back behind the bar. I took another sip. He was correct; I was going to need something else to get the taste of this one out of my mouth. I looked at Rafe, who was observing me as if I were a mildly interesting scientific specimen.

“I’m doing the 69 drinks thing,” I said to him. He nodded. BG came back to the table and placed a shot glass in front of Rafe. It held a clear liquid. The glass had a faint mist on the outside, as if it had been chilled. I couldn’t think of any drinks that were served in a chilled shot glass.

I gestured to his glass. “They seem to know you here.”

“Yes. I have a room upstairs.”

This was surprising, though I’m not sure why. Everyone has to live somewhere, right? I had never seen him in the bar. “I’m pretty unobtrusive,” he said, as if reading my thoughts. “I blend in with the woodwork.” He smiled to show he was making a joke, but it was true, his skin was the same color as the long pew I was sitting in and the wood of the walls and the plaques honoring the Club 69 drinkers. We each took a sip of our respective drinks.

“I imagine you want to know about Ada,” Rafe said. I frowned. “The little girl who made off with your cat last night,” he explained.

I was glad that we were keeping the small talk to a minimum. “Yes, I certainly do want to know about that little girl,” I said. “And a lot of other things as well. I don’t know where to start; maybe you could help me out. Do you know what’s going on underneath my house? Provided I’m not making it all up in my head. After what happened last night, it looks like maybe I’m not crazy after all. Unless I’m hallucinating you.” I took another sip of my drink. This Jagermiester was going to be hard to choke down.

“You’re not hallucinating me. Nor did you hallucinate Ada. That’s the girl’s name.” He stopped and seemed to be deciding how to approach the subject.

“There was a time when people believed more in spirit matters,” he went on. “People in your time are more skeptical.”

“My time? Spirit matters?”

“You call them ghosts.”

“And what would you call them, Rafe?” I couldn’t stop the sarcasm from creeping into my question. I don’t know about those of you who are reading this, but I was getting tired of not knowing what was going on.

“It’s as good a term as any, though I prefer spirits. Let me try to explain. And I realize this is going to sound as unbelievable as anything you’ve already experienced, but keep in mind you have seen things that are inexplicable in your world. And yet you believe them to be real. The fact is, there are bones buried beneath your house. Those spirits you see are the spirits of the real people who were once alive, then died and were buried under there. Or rather, and I’m beginning to think this is more likely, they were hidden in the ground and your house was dragged over the top of them.”

“So Ada’s bones are buried under my house. When did this happen?”

“She died around 1850. She was 16 years old. An enslaved child of mixed parentage. By all reports, a clever, independent child.”

“16 years old? Why do I see her as a mashup up of Raggedy Ann and an animated character from The Nightmare Before Christmas?” Do you know what those are? And what’s this talk of my world and your world?”

“I certainly know what a Raggedy Ann doll is. They were popularized around the turn of the last century by a man who wrote stories about the character. I’ve never seen this animated film you’re referring to, but I know what an animated film is. I don’t know what a ‘mash up’ is. You see Ada as something your mind can accept; it doesn’t matter what she looked like in real life, or that she was much older when she died than the doll you see. Her actual self in this world, her protoplasm, is an undefined shape, kind of a white, misty form. Your mind can’t except this mist as an entity, so your brain transforms this unformed material into something you can understand. The child/doll you see.”

“So is she real?”

“Oh yes, she’s real. But she shouldn’t be here. She should be at rest, not crawling around under your house tormenting your cat. She should not be intruding on your world.”

“And why is she intruding on my world?” I was trying my best to keep the level of sarcasm in my voice down to a low roar. Even after all that I had seen, it still sounded crazy to me. He sounded crazy.

“I’ve tried to piece it together but it’s still not yet clear. These things seldom are. It’s going to take me longer to put it all together.”

“Can you explain why you’ve been digging around under my house?”

“I’m here to giver her a grave. A proper grave. That is my job. I’m here to give her peace.”

I had no idea what he was talking about. I looked down at my glass and found that it was empty. Thank God.





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