Business, Unfinished and Unpleasant

By: Uriel Saiger

View all Uriel Saiger's works

Some say that immortality lies in legacy, that your mark on the world and the people who inhabit it is a piece of you that will live on after you. Yet how long can that last? Eventually, it is forgotten. Kingdoms fall, civilizations crumble, ruins are buried in dirt to create a foundation for what comes next. Despite this, something lives on. The dead live on in the hearts of their friends and descendants, who keep their traditions and honor their memories and treat them with respect, and through them, some traces of those lost souls lives eternal.

But for those who fall in battle, their faces are scarred beyond recognition? Those who are buried alive without so much as a rock to mark their grave? Those who are pushed into the ocean, the instinct to get air into their lungs instead filling them with water? Their only legacy is pain. The pain outlives them, leaving a scar on the world, a wound left open despite blood no longer flowing from it. And it is the burden of the living to feel the pain of the dead.

Frederick Woods was not having a good day. He had missed his bus to work, he hadn’t had his morning coffee, and the ghost he’d been assigned to was being especially difficult. 

“For the last time,” Frederick said to the specter on the other side of the glass, “Nobody set your house on fire. You left your oven on, and it burned down. We can’t help you get revenge on an arsonist that doesn’t exist.”

The ghost sat up from the chair as he spoke, although perhaps it would be more accurate to say it simply rose, as it hadn’t really been ‘sitting’ to begin with. This particular ghost was less solid than most, taking the form of a wispy column of smoke that only vaguely resembled the outline of a person. 

“Lies! It was that fleshbag Schmidt, I know it was!” Replied its echoing, raspy voice.
Frederick pinched the bridge of his nose. “Right, right, your neighbor who was on vacation during your time of death. Listen, I understand it was upsetting, but for all you know-”
He was interrupted by a CRACK as jagged lines spread out from where a wispy tendril had bashed the reinforced glass that separated the room down the middle.

“I KNOW that he always had it out for me.” It hissed. “Always knocking over my trash, always stealing my mail, always spraying graffiti over my shed! It had to be him.” 

Plumes of smoke wafted from the cracks. Frederick tried his best to look exasperated instead of afraid.

“As I’ve already told you, Mrs. Donald,” and as you’re likely to ignore again, Frederick thought grimly as he spoke, “we here at the Unfinished Mortal Business Resolution Agency are here to help you deal with whatever is keeping you from moving on, within reason. I’m sorry if this wasn’t clear, but convicting a man whose footprints have never been found on your property, who was out of the country when your house burned down, and whose only motive to do so is a long-standing animosity between you two that has never escalated to destruction of property or violence, is not within reason.”

Even before he was halfway done speaking, Frederick could already tell it wasn’t listening to him anymore, which was expected, but disappointing. Every ghost he’d been assigned to had something of a one-track-mind. Despite this, he knew what the protocol was.

U.M.B.R.A. Guidelines section #20-9;

When interrogating a spirit, remember that, while they are capable of reason, whatever was important enough for them to return to life is likely their highest priority by multiple orders of magnitude.

As a result, they are not likely to be open-minded.

Be patient with them, but be firm with policy.

That was, at least, the policy based on the theories of the Parapsychologists (who were delighted that their field of study was no longer the stuff of conspiracy and myth). Frederick couldn’t help but be a bit more cynical after all the dead men and women he’d stared down from across the ectoplasm-proof glass in an U.M.B.R.A. facilities interrogation room (which, regardless of which building it was in, was always dank, cramped, and stuffy). There was nothing behind their eyes, nothing but anger and rage and pain and a need for release. Nothing but a husk of the people they once were, with only their worst qualities remaining.

Frederick pinched the back of his hand to refocus his mind. He didn’t want to think about Nora right now. 

“I think you might be a bit overwhelmed.” He said, interrupting the ghost mid-rant. “Let’s take a short break and then we’ll resume our conversation.” Without waiting for a response, he got up and walked out the door. 

Standing behind it was the familiar face of Sasha, giving him a sympathetic look through her spectacles. 

“Rough time?” She asked (Sasha never sounded sarcastic, so Frederick was never quite sure if she asked because she wasn’t sure, or if it was just out of courtesy)“
“You wouldn’t believe it.” He replied sourly. “Everything I say goes in one smoke-wisp and out the other. They won’t listen to any voice but their own.”

Sasha tsked disapprovingly. “I get ghosts a pain, but that lady in there did have to go through dying in a fire – that’s pretty traumatic. Maybe try to be a bit gentler with her?” 

Frederick rolled his eyes. “I don’t do ‘gentle’ Sasha. Especially not with those things. They don’t hear anything but a firm hand.” Sasha looked like she was going to respond, but Frederick was already getting annoyed, and she didn’t deserve to be snapped at. “I should go back in before they get too mad.” He said. She nodded, not looking pleased, but making no statements telling him not to. He nodded back and walked back in, sat down on his chair, looked across the glass, and froze. On the other side of the glass was a lone folding chair, and nothing else.

He shot up from the chair, eyes darting around in a panic. Where was it? Some ghosts could turn invisible, but this one had seemed too angry to employ that kind of subtlety. He had to find it before—
Fredericks thoughts came to a screeching halt as the smell of smoke entered his nose.

His gaze turned back to the cracks in the glass wall where the ghost had struck it. Plumes of it were still wafting from the cracks. The glass meant to seal  the ghost on the other side of the room. The ghost who was made of smoke. As fast as he could, Frederick pulled his shirt over his nose, although he knew it wouldn’t do much. Already his mind was going back to the training that had been drilled into him.

U.M.B.R.A. Guidelines section #74-1

When in an enclosed area with a hostile spirit, get to an open area immediately. Doors and windows should be destroyed if necessary.

Frederick ran for the door, which, despite being unlocked, refused to open. Knowing what he had to do, the part of his mind that wasn’t overtaken by panic and survival instinct winced preemptively as he stepped back, then charged into the door. It creaked, but there were no other visible effects. He kept trying.

Once. No luck. The scent of smoke was getting stronger. Fredericks eyes stung as he resisted the urge to cough, knowing if he started, he wouldn’t stop.

Twice. Nothing but a bruised shoulder. At least, he hoped it wasn’t anything worse than a bruise.

He backed up for the third time, gritted his teeth, and slammed his full weight into the door, swinging it open with a crash. He stumbled out into the hallway, having lost his balance once it opened. Sasha was gone, and Fredericks left arm felt like it might have dislocated something. If he had been less filled with adrenaline, he would have worried about where she was or if his injury needed immediate attention. At the moment, he barely registered either of those things.  The only thing that mattered was to keep moving.

 He stood up and ran down the hall, nearly running into another agent as he turned a corner. While Frederick managed to keep his balance, John, who had been bringing him a beverage, was not so lucky, the coffee he had been carrying spilling all over the floor and scalding both of their skins. 

“Jeeze, Fred, watch where you’re-” Frederick cut him off by grabbing his wrist using his still-functional right arm, pulling him to his feet. 

“No time. Sound the alarm, then run as fast as you can.” John’s face immediately turned panicked, but he dutifully pulled out a small controller from his pocket and pressed a button. The ceiling lights turned red as an alarm began to blare, but Frederick had already broken into a sprint seconds before. 

He kept running, past cubicles of people rushing to get out, past dozens of doors, many slamming open as people ran, rushing towards the exit. He finally saw the neon sign above the door and slammed it open with his good arm, not even bothering to close it-doors might stop a human, but to a ghost it was nothing. No, they were bound by something different.

Frederick’s eyes darted around the front yard where people were running out of. Was everyone out? As fast as he could, he counted, recognizing many faces but barely registering their names as he tried to get a head count. They were missing a dozen or so agents-were they still in there? He couldn’t hear the sound of any footsteps from the hallways, but maybe they’d gotten a back entrance.

That comforting delusion shattered as he heard a scream and turned to see Sasha, fallen on the floor, being dragged back by a tendril of smoke. She had her nails dug into the floor, but she was slipping.

The part of Frederick that still believed he could save everyone, the part that had led him to join U.M.B.R.A in the first place, tried to run forward to save her. The part of him that was older and had lost too many people to believe such a foolish thing held it back. Frederick knew what protocol was here. He took out his own controller, not breaking eye contact with Sasha. Her eyes widened in realization and fear as he shouted, in as calm a tone as he could, “I’m sorry.”

U.M.B.R.A. Guidelines section #86-22

In the event a hostile spirit has gotten loose inside a building, evacuate as many agents as possible. Do not attempt to rescue any agents that seem to be trapped or stuck. If the spirit is nearing an exit, the building is to be destroyed in as dramatic and destructive a method as possible, forcing the ghost to begin haunting the site and trapping it.

Frederick closed his eyes and pressed the button.

 

THE END

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