Ghost in the Machine (2007)

Trying to get back to having fun here, this is from 2007 and still my most favorite thing I have ever written.

We turned around on the well-lit, median-divided street right in front of the large church. The time was nearing midnight and the post office we were looking for was on Turtle Creek. Like most of the locations we had already serviced in the past week, this was another street name that I knew subliminally. The majority, however, were known from Dallas traffic reports heard on the radio. Turtle Creek rang a bell because of The Mansion, perhaps the most prestigious hotel in the city.

And that is why we were turning around: I passed our street because it was nothing like I expected.

Turtle Creek didn’t even cross the road we were on (Northwest Highway), but only offered itself as an offshoot – a tiny arm dangling like a fragile limb on Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. The sign on the corner had seen better days. It was atilt and a little angled, making it hard to see upon our first approach. When I made the turn, it felt like we had crossed a time continuum of sorts.

The well-lit street and the shopping center were a mere 300 feet behind us, but it was almost as if they no longer existed at all. A high-rise condo unit, obviously new, loomed to our left. While it should have been bustling with urban activity, even at this late hour, all that stood out was an open window, light on inside, ergonomic furniture spartanly placed yet clearly visible from street level three floors below.

I didn’t see the parking lot of the post office at the north side of the building, so I parked by the curb that faced the front entrance. An eerie chill ran sprints up and down my spine. The wind, a cackling accomplice to the oncoming storm, seemed to gather strength and confidence as we loaded up our supplies from the car: a laptop case and a set of three rulers.

We approached the small structure, now dwarfed by devolpment, and I was in a hurry because of the threat of rain. At least, that is how I lied to myself. Honesty is much easier with time, so now I can freely admit that I was creeped out. A little scared, even.

Upon entering the post office, I saw the machine almost right next to the door. She saw something else. “Look!”, she exclaimed. “Check out the old-time P.O. boxes!” I took a moment to glance and noted that she was right. The brown and beige themed boxes looked like vintage Depression Era receptacles, frozen by fear – or stubborn by nature.

As I unzipped the laptop case to prepare the white board that notates which machine we are servicing, I saw the other door.

It was wide open, almost inviting that idiot teenager in a stereotypical horror movie to walk through it. I approached it out of curiosity and faux bravado. The hinge at the top of the door was broken and the wind was preventing it from closing, thus offering a front row view to the new set of condos being built just across the street from this morsel of the past. The brown paper protecting the sheetrock skeleton of the monster was beginning to tear, the first victim of meteorogical phenomena making its ominous approach. The sound of flapping submission was disconcerting.

“There is a spirit here.”

As she spoke those words, I was looking at the other “wing” of this tiny edifice we were in. One of the P.O. boxes, a measly ten feet from the broken door, was open. A set of keys was still firmly hanging from the key slot, the contents within – if there ever where any – conspicuously missing. There were no cars in the parking lot, adding more layers to this burgeoning mystery. While Encylopedia Brown might have had a field day with all these incongruities, I just wanted to crap my pants.

I hurriedly completed my tasks relating to the machine. After all, that was the reason I was there. No one was paying me to investigate spirits, open boxes, or broken doors. No amount of Scooby Snacks would sway me on this.

She found this amusing. “What’s wrong, baby?”

I told her I just wanted to get done and get out of there. She was really tickled by my uneasiness, evidenced by her uncanny ability to egg it on. And while that stop was probably within our three minute average service time, it felt like forever. A forever that was frozen, undaunted by a world that continued to spin around it.

Once back behind the wheel, I began our trek to the 7-11 on the corner for drinks and a bathroom break. Guys were there power-washing the parking lot, people were buying lottery tickets, and an employee was looking at his inventory so he would know what he had to order to restock the shelves. However, my mind kept drifting back to that brick building a few hundred feet – yet years – away.

“The spirit that was there worked in that post office for forty years”, she said. “He was nice.”

“I don’t care”, I replied.


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