Turned out Squirrely’s real name was Darryl Whitcomb. Seamus had made me ride out with him to Darryl’s hideout, an old abandoned mine shaft a few miles outside of town, so that he could spill the beans about how exactly he came by the notion that he was being haunted. I didn’t like the idea of tangling with ghosts, I preferred dealing with things that I can wrap my hands around, and I wasn’t too pleased that we were even considering taking the job.
See, ghosts are....depressing. Most folks think ghosts are spirits that just can’t let go of the mortal world and spend eternity roaming familiar patches of land or haunting a house. That isn’t quite the case. Rarely is a ghost a complete spirit; they’re almost always just a fragment of a soul that has somehow gotten tethered to an object. Normally it isn’t a house that’s haunted, but a favorite picture frame or a pocket watch that had been worn everyday. Ghost’s know just enough to know that’s something is missing; they long to join the rest of their soul in that place that exists beyond the living realm and they can’t rest until they find it.
Vengeful spirits with murderous intent are almost unheard of, outside of campfire tales, and tethering a spirit to a concept like revenge or justice would require an almost unholy act of betrayal. Which made me think that my old friend Squirrely here must have done someone a grave disservice if he was being personally plagued by a violent spirit. I had my money on murder.
“I’m a murderer,” Darryl said, stirring the coals of the campfire he had built at the mouth of mine shaft. “I maybe killed a dozen or so folks over the years.”
“Well, that answers that,” I said, getting up and brushing off my pants. “Good luck to you, son. You’re going to need it.”
“Sit down, Titus,” Seamus said. “Let’s hear him out.”
Darryl wouldn’t meet my eye, just stared into the fire. “I fought for the South during the war. I was a good shot. A great one. I could just point and hit whatever I wanted, didn’t even feel like I had to aim. Like my arms just knew where to point. Pistol, rifle, cannon, didn’t matter. If I was pointed at it, I could hit it.
“I was in a handful of battles, mostly in Virginia, and I’d spend them just hanging back and picking off blues. Like I was shootin’ cans off a fence post. And then one day I shot a civilian.”
I’d sat back down and took out my flask, handed it to Darryl. He met my eye, thanked me, and took a swig.
“I don’t know what she was doing there. Camp follower, maybe? Some farmer’s wife or daughter? I don’t know. I put a slug right through her throat. She just stood there, blood gushing out of her, looking around until she saw me. We stared at each other for....forever. And then she just pitched forward.
“I deserted two days later.”
Seamus and I exchanged a quick glance. I still didn’t like the look of this guy, something about him rubbed me the wrong way, but I could tell Seamus wanted to help him. Probably because of his own little ghost problems.
“So when did the apparition first appear to you?” Seamus asked, reaching into his coat and pulling out his pipe. He claimed pipe smoke helped him think. “Has it been following you since the day of the incident?”
“Oh no,” Darryl said. “Its been months since....you know. It was little things at first. I’d stay at a hotel and wake up with my bed across the room. I’d taken to drinking so I didn’t really question it. Stuff would go missing or wouldn’t be where I set it.
“And then one day I was in the shitter doing my business, when I got punched in the gut. Hard.”