Any Sport in a Storm: A Very Unscary Ghost Story
by Stormy Stormheller
Feedback to: Stormy
"Couldnt you have, I dunno, felt this coming or something?" Sandburg made a circular gesture in the air that Jim supposed meant the huge gobs of rain that splatted against the window, rattling the aging glass, and rapping a sharp tattoo on the tin roof directly above their heads.
"Im a Sentinel, Chief, not an arthritic. And Im not your personal weather vane, you know."
"Uh-huh. Do you think that dresser is Empire or Eastlake?" Sandburg walked over and stroked the top of the chest of drawers where it wasnt covered by yellowing doily. He pulled open a drawer and began examining the corners. "Or Gothic revival maybe?"
"How would I know? Im not your personal antiquarian, you know."
Jim liked to say things like that: "Im not your personal houseboy", "Im not your personal taxi", "Im not your personal nursemaid". Jim liked to say these things because they reassured him he wasnt Sandburgs personal anything. Which was, of course, entirely untrue. He picked up after Sandburg and picked him up when his car wasnt working. He brought Sandburg soup when he was ill, and even when he wasnt. Jim was indeed, Sandburgs personal everythingeverything but weather vane, it seemed. He hadnt sensed the storm coming and now he felt responsible for their ruined fishing trip.
When his sloshing through tiny hamlets had led them across this great old bed and breakfastThe Sporting LifeJim had claimed it was intentional. He was a card-carrying member of the "I meant to do that" school of machismo. Although it had almost felt as if invisible hands were guiding the truck, he was prepared to take full credit for this little piece of serendipity, especially since Sandburg seemed to like it so much. So he was once again Sandburgs personal something: he was Sandburgs navigator of backroads and locator of fine old inns. He was the Guides Guide and, also the Guides provider, apparently, having told Sandburg to put his emaciated wallet away and presented his gold card once again.
As theyd lugged their gear up to the tiny third-floor room that was the Inns only vacancy, Sandburg had proclaimed, "For ABDs, theres Sentinels. For Sentinels, theres tests. For everything else, theres MasterCard." Jim had been forced to goose Sandburg for that one, sending him yelping up three stairs in a single bound, much to the amusement of Tim, the innkeeper.
"Whatre you looking for?" Jim asked as Sandburg pulled the drawer entirely out of its casing.
"Dove-tailed joints," Sandburg answered, easing closed the drawer that probably pre-dated runners by about a hundred years. "And milk paint." He was totally absorbed in his explorations; which was, Jim had noted, the only time Sandburg spoke in short phrases. The rest of the time he was Jims personal radio station: all Sandburg, all the time.
Jim crossed the tiny room in two steps and butt-checked Sandburg a half-a-foot to the side. He ran his fingers over the side of the dresser and slid his hand down the back. He knocked on the wood, turning one ear toward the rapping sound. He opened a drawer and sniffed it. He refrained from tasting it. "Its solid wood, circa 1856, originally from a farm house in the next county."
Blair rounded on him, eyes wide. "Howd you figure that out? Which senses did you use?
"Sight, Chippendale. And you can purchase this lovely item for your own living room or den at a mere $1200.00. Theres a sign stuck on the mirror."
If Blair had had any decency, he would have blushed, but of course he was cool about the whole thing. "Oh, I see it now. Guess that makes me a Sentinel, too." He moved around the room poking and prodding at walls, furniture and other bits and pieces that were available for poking and prodding.
Jim shoved his gym bag under the high bed and hung his Jags cap on the mirror frame where it dribbled rainwater. He lost himself for a moment in the convergence of the new liquid rivulets with those set deep within in the aging glass. He sensed a zone-out coming on and pulled himself back slowly, just like Sandburg had taught him. He grounded himself on Sandburgs mumbling and surfaced again. "What was that, Chief?"
"Thought you were a Sentinel."
"I heard what you said, Sandburg. You just werent making sense."
"I was trying to come up with a pun: weather vane, whether vain. Your mirror-gazing inspired me." He grinned. "Couldnt quite make it work, though."
"Weather vane, weather vane. Gee, thanks. That clears it right up." Jim knew exactly what Sandburg had meant, but it suited him to pretend he didnt. In actuality, he could hear every nuance of Sandburgs speech. Recognition of subtle shifts in speech patterns was a skill theyd actively worked on. It helped Jim recognize when perps were lying. Sandburg had announced, suddenly, that they were finished with the speech thing. By that point, Jim could easily tell Sandburg was obfuscating, it having just occurred to him that now Jim could tell when Sandburg himself was playing fast and loose with the truth. Instead, Sandburg had set up some dirt-tasting tests, which Jim had flatly refused to do, regardless of the emailed advice from some nutbar attached to the Chicago PD.
"Okay. Im taking a leak." Sandburg kicked his damp backpack into a corner and squeezed into the tiny bathroom that had been added under the eaves.
"Thanks for sharing. Im not your personal urologist, you know."
Sandburg emerged a couple of minutes later, buttoning his fly. "Thanks for getting us out of the rain." Jim looked away, not wanting to know if those were raindrops or more recent additions on Sandburgs khakis. "I was pretty nervous on those back roads."
"Im a good driver, Chief."
"The best. Thing is, though, not everybodys got their own personal Sentinel behind the wheel. Its never your driving Im worried about."
"Not your personal Sentinel." Jim didnt put much heart in the statement. If not Sandburgs personal Sentinel, then whose?
"Anyway, this place is real neat. This pamphlet here says its haunted." Blair made a few unspooky whoos and whaas in Jims direction, but when it failed to get a reaction, he returned to the pamphlet. "Says here it was built in 1867 for a wealthy lumber baron, Archibald Xavier Reynard."
Sandburg stood with his back to the four-poster bed that was way too big for the small attic. He threw himself backwards and landed sprawled across the frilly white bedspread, seemingly oblivious of his damp hair and clothing. He did kick off his shoes, though, toeing them off the high bed so each one dropped to the floor with a resounding clunk. Jim wanted to pick up one of the shoes and drop it again just to bug the people in the really nice room below theirs; talk about waiting for the other shoe to drop. He refrained though, since hed apparently been assigned the role of designated adult on planet Ellison-Sandburg.
Blair continued reading the brochure to Jim, just assuming he was interested. Well, he was, actually, but he continued to shuffle around the tiny room while Sandburg read.
"Seems he married a young cousin, Elizabeth Stewart Ransom, but put her aside when she didnt produce a child right away." He turned the page, but the logic of the brochure defeated him. He ran a finger across the page a few times. "Yada-yada gingerbreading. Yada-yada Arts-and-Crafts movement. Yada-yada central air. Okay. Here it is. So Archie locked Lizzie in the attic and took up with a series of other chicas." Jim was almost certain Sandburg was paraphrasing, and he bounced his sight off the lenses of Sandburgs glasses to confirm. Sure enough, the word "chica" appeared nowhere among the overblown prose.
"He locked her in the attic, huh?" Sandburg glanced around, taking in the dormer windows and sloping walls. "This is the attic, isnt it?" He looked creeped out for a moment, then shrugged, taking things with his usual equanimity. "So one day one of the girlfriends, one Abigail Tituba Oglethorpe, arrives to find old Archie stabbed to death in the front parlourthat must be where we checked inand ran to the authorities. They figured the wife did it, but when they came up here, they found she was still locked in; the door only locked from the outside. She was suffering from dehydration, but quickly recovered. Ol Archies partner refused her claim on his business holdings and the only thing she had left was this house. Am I boring you, Jim?"
Sandburg levelled his professorial gaze at Jim whod been roaming the tiny room aimlessly, touching things and wondering if he should bother unpacking. "Go, on. Sandburg. I can do two things at once, you know."
The "look", however, had its desired effect and Jim sat down on the rooms only chair, first moving Blairs rain-soaked jacket off the arm and hanging it to dry. He felt like a schoolboy whod been caught daydreaming instead of listening. Mentally, he rolled his eyes. If he had to stop and listen every time Sandburg spoke, hed never get anything done. Still, this was Sandburgs vacation, too, so if he wanted to get all historical about their washed out fishing trip, he should go for it. It was just like Sandburg to find something interesting in their crappy turn of events.
"Seems Archies girlfriend was ruined and came crying to Lizzie and guess what?"
"Somebody else got stabbed?" Jim asked with some interest.
"Its not a case. Its a love story," Sandburg admonished.
"Yeah. I love a good love story. Especially one with a dead husband."
Jim waited. Sandburg waited.
"Go on. Im interested. I am. Im lis-ten-ing." Jim drew out each syllable in an awful imitation of the sitcom shrinks tag line.
Sandburg chuckled, taking a second to find his place. "No. See, Lizzie and AbigailGod, did they only have three or four names to choose from back then? Anyway, Lizzie and Abbey set up house and gradually took in other "ruined" girls over the years, helping them get back on their feet, giving them a place of refuge back in a day when the Pacific Northwest was Mans Country and women had few rights. They were together for forty years."
Sandburg looked up with fire in his eyes. "It doesnt say what they did to survive, but I did a paper on this kind of thing for my Masters. Did you know the first gay couple in Seattle"
Needing an immediate escape or hed be stuck on "the Gays of our Lives" for hours, Jim interrupted with the first thing that came to mind. It was almost as if someone spoke through him: "We ran a brothel. We performed abortions. We dispensed condoms made from sheepskin. Barren women came to us and left with babies that, for all their ignorant and neglectful husbands knew, were their own. What in heavens name do you think we did, Sport?"
"We?" asked Sandburg, looking at Jim.
"What?" asked Jim, looking around.
"We, Jim. You said we." Sandburg looked concerned.
"I did not. I said, she or they or something.
"Uh, Jim. You said we and you said it funny. Not like you."
"I did not say it funny, Sandburg. Dont you think I know what I said? Im tired from all that driving. Im going to take a leak and brush my teeth and then Im going to bed." He snatched his bag from under the bed. "And by the way, the business partner did it." He flounced into the tiny cubical under the eaves, only smacking his head once. He knew that he really had said it funny and, indeed, that hed said it at all disturbed him, but not as much as the flouncing did. He wasnt the flouncing type, having been thoroughly de-flounced in the army. He splashed water on his face and deliberately refused to look in the mirror.
By the time Jim emerged from the bathroom wearing nothing but boxers, Sandburg was under the covers and only a single lamp was burning on the empty side of the bed. Sandburg had taken the side under the sloping wall and left Jim the area where he could actually stand upright. Considerate, Jim thought as he switched off the light and crawled under the covers.
"You dont have to hang off the edge, Chief. Youre entitled to half the bed, you know."
"I didnt want to, like, crowd you. Youre not uncomfortable with this, you know, the one-bed thing?" Although it was Sandburg who was doing the asking, it was Sandburg who sounded really uncomfortable. Heat was radiating from his side of the bed, more up near his head than down near his dick, which the Sentinel in Jim recognized as embarrassment rather than horniness. Although there was that, too.
"Im a big boy, Chief. Army Ranger, remember? I have faced greater threats to my person than this."
"Its just that, you know, I thought maybe"
"That was years ago. You asked. I said no. Its done. Its not bothering me. Youd think youd be over it by now. Not good with rejection, huh?" Jim poked at Sandburg to show he was teasing, aiming for ribcage but getting the inch of hairy stomach that peeked out between T-shirt and boxers, instead.
Sandburg pushed Jims hand away instinctively, "Hey, not your personal Pillsbury Doughboy, you know." He laughed, though, easing the awkward moment.
Jim giggled and poked at Sandburg again. A small part of his mind noted the uncharacteristic giggling. He chose not to examine it too closely, and instead, inflicting the dreaded purple nurple upon his unsuspecting bedmate.
"Ow. Ow. Ow." Sandburg clamped both hands over his right nipple. Jim headed for the left one, aiming for a matched set. Recalling the piercing, though, he faked left and dove south, tickling Sandburgs waistline as if it were in the Army Ranger handbook.
The tussle that ensued between them was both silly and loud. Jim wondered what the downstairs occupants thought of the shrieks and squeals. He thought he was winning until a right hook with a lavender-scented throw pillow left him wheezing and down for the count. "Uncle!" Jim cried, between giggles, willing to concede before Sandburgs superior force.
Jim felt himself in uncharacteristically high spirits and wondered if hed be able to sleep at all. He scarcely finished the thought before he conked out. It had, after all, been a long day.
~ ~ ~
During his thirty years on this earth, Blair had been wakened in the night many times: by mama and Bubbeh, by Rhimposhe and Yogi, by bunkmates and school chums, and later by the boys and girls, then men and women hed taken as lovers. Hed never, however, expected to wake up to the soft kisses of his friend and roommate, Jim Ellison.
"Jim! What are you doing?"
"Just rest easy, Sport, and let me love you."
"But Jim!" Words of protest failed him and he allowed himself to be taken to dizzying heights by the swirl and dance of Jims gifted tongue. "Jim!" he repeated.
"As you wish, Sport. I can play at being a man for you this night." Jim dove back in, pretty much preventing Blair from saying anything else, not so much by the expedient of sticking his tongue back in Blairs mouth, but by the sensual caresses and expert touches that undid any attempts on Blairs part to question further Jims out-of-character behavior. Confusion battled with prudence battled with arousal battled with love. The most coherent thing he said for the next couple of hours was, "Sport? What happened to Chief?" to which he received only soft sighs and heartfelt groans as answer.
~ ~ ~
Next morning, Blair awoke cuddled in Jims arms. "Jim?" he asked, not sure what to make of the whole situation.
Jim opened his eyes, and was instantly awake. Blair knew he would be and rose up on one elbow quickly so Jim could retrieve his arm. Jim more than retrieved his arm; he not so much leapt from the bed as teleported across the room, somehow managing to cover himself with an afghan in the process. He looked confused and angry; a combination Blair was well used to, although never before in these circumstances.
Blair, never one to wake up as quickly as Jim, just stared. Thinking about the night, he could feel a goofy "got some" smile spread across his face. Interestingly, a mirror version appeared on Jims face. To Blair, it looked a lot like love.
"Jim. What is up with you?" Blairs hair was a rats nest of snarls after the sweaty athletics of the night. He yanked a handful back where it actually stayed, for once. "And what was up with last night? What was the whole Sport thing?
"Dunno, Sandburg. Do we have to talk about it? It just was. Okay?"
"But you arent interested in men, Jim."
"What gave you that idea?" Now Jim looked like his usual cranky self, but with the silly smile added to the mix. "You think youre the only guy round here can get a boyfriend?"
"I You But you turned me down. I figured you didnt swing that way. But if you like men then it was just that " Blair looked both confused and miserable. " just that, you didnt want me." The final word spoken in a voice so small only a Sentinel could have heard it.
Jim back-pedaled quickly. "No. No. Blair. Cmon. That was never it. It was " Well, gee. Now they were talking about it, which was exactly what Jim hated. Talk was cheap but it had cost him a marriage, so he knew hed better tread carefully here. Especially since the cavalcade of emotions crossing Blairs face had just moved into curious and impatient. Hed never get out of this one alive. One explanation coming right up. "It was just that we were working together and living together and I didnt want to make any more commitments with you. I hardly knew where I ended and you started by then." Jim had been staring at the bedspread while he talked. He braved a look at Blair now, not knowing whether hed get joy or tears or what.
Blair looked pissed. Uh-oh. Busted. "Uh, Jim. At the time I made my solitary pass at you, we were not yet living together, nor did we have any notion that we would be, since neither me nor my personal Sentinel had noticed that my next-door neighbour was a fricking drug lab! And as for working together, at that point, my ride-along pass was good for just sixty days. We were both under the impression that that was all it would take, so you know what, Jim? I aint buying." He crossed his arms over his bare chest, his T-shirt having disappeared at some point during their lovemaking. "Try again."
Jim toyed with the bedspread, almost getting lost in the intricate pattern of whorls and knots. Finally, he said, "Twuzzasnssthng."
"What? It was a what? Not a Sentinel, here, you know."
Jim stalled and dawdled as long as he felt he could. As he heard Blair draw breath to say something more, Jim answered, "It was a senses, thing. Okay?" Jim was almost yelling now and quickly lowered his voice, idiotically looking around the room to see if anyone was listening. Even Sentinel senses couldnt tell if the people on the floor below were eavesdropping unless they said something like "Shhhh! Honey, Im trying to listen to the two guys upstairs fight." Well, after theyd had to listen to the two guys upstairs making vigorous and audible love half the night, maybe they were entitled to a little closure.
"Im waiting, Jim. In what way was rejecting me a Sentinel thing?" Only Blair could have achieved foot tapping on a far-too-soft-for-Jims-back mattress, in holey gray sweatsocks that hadnt been gray when hed bought them.
Jim looked around the tiny dormered room one more time and then whispered his rapid-fire confession. "Back then, when my senses first came online I didnt have much control and I was afraid if we got into bed Id come too soon and then youd think I wasnt any good and then it was too late and we really were living and working together and I kept trying to figure out a way to get with you but stuff kept coming up and you had girlfriends and I had pheromone girl which only proved that a relationship was really a bad idea especially with you and I had really, really decided we werent ever going to be together and" Jim paused, having run of things to say in one long, run-on sentence.
Blair looked thoughtful, examining the bedspread as Jim had a moment before. "You know, Jim. Weve got to talk about this. If you could just"
Jim quickly sought the refuge of the tiny bathroom, banging his head on the low doorframe again.
Once hed taken his morning piss, Jim looked in the mirror. Two women in old fashioned dress peered back at him, laughing behind their hands in a most genteel manner, although Jim thought if he could hear as well as see them, hed be treated to a series of snorts and guffaws that were not lady-like at all.
The taller of the two, with long black hair, blew him a kiss, mouthing words at him. He didnt need to be much of a lip-reader to catch, "Youre welcome, Sport." They turned, linked arms and retreated further into the depths of the streaked old mirror until he couldnt see them anymore.
Jim flew out of the bathroom. He was shaking and sweating, but refused to say what hed seen. He waited for Blair to cajole him into telling, hoping he didnt sound like he was losing it completely. At first he gave only minimal detail like a police report, but then, at Blairs insistence, told the whole story. It had taken only seconds to happen, but Blair made him go over it again and again for at least fifteen minutes.
"So you were possessed." Blair said finally. "Was it Abbey or Lizzie, do you think?"
"How should I know, Chief? Whichever one called her johns Sport. Im not your personal psychic."
"Actually, Jim, thats exactly what you are. Or more like my personal medium. Did you only have sex with me because one of these old time hookers thought she was working some john? Should I offer you cash or do you take MasterCard?" Blair was obviously hurt.
"Aw, cmon, Chief." Jim scratched his head, at a loss for what to say even though he knew he really should say something. Blair rose with great, if wounded dignity and took his turn in the bathroom. Hed grabbed yesterdays clothes on the way in and emerged a few minutes later, fully dressed.
Jim also had taken the time to dress and was just zipping up when Blair returned. Jim stepped directly into his path, which, due to the size of their garret, took exactly three steps. He wrapped his arms around Blair. "Hey, no. It wasnt like that. Lizzie-Abbey-whatever might have given me the kick-start I needed to make my move last night, but it was really what I wanted. Have wanted for a long time. Tell me its what you wanted, too." He stepped back, holding Blair by the shoulders, searching his face.
Blair held out a moment longer, then raised his eyes to Jims. "Yeah, Jim. Ive wanted this pretty much since the day I met you. When I said you were the embodiment of my thesis subject, I meant you were pretty much the embodiment of everything Id ever wanted." He batted his eyelashes. "I was afraid you were just making sport with me last night."
Jim laughed and pulled Blair close again. "Ill make sport with you anytime, Chief." He glanced out the tiny dormer window. "Hey, it looks like a nice day out. Lets do some fishing." He stepped away from Blair and began to pull his things together.
"As long as its sport fishing." He goosed Jim, sending him stumbling onto the bed, then grabbed his own backpack and charged down the stairs before Jim could retaliate.
~ ~ ~
"I hope you enjoyed your stay at The Sporting Life, Gentlemen. Be sure to tell all your friends."
While they waited for the bill to print, Blair asked. "Guess a lot of ghost hunters come here, huh? The history of the house is fascinating."
"If it wasnt for the ghost story, wed never get anyone except rained-out campers like you. Were pretty far from the beaten path." He glanced around, then whispered conspiratorially, "Thats why I made up the whole haunted house thing." He grinned like hed done something particularly clever.
"Its not haunted?" said Jim staring at Tim.
"So theres no ghost? No getting possessed?" asked Blair staring at Jim.
"Possessed? Ha! Repossessed, maybe, if I cant get more tourists up here." Tim shook his head at the idea, laughing as he tore their receipt from the small printer and handed it to Jim.
"Its all a made-up story to promote tourism." Tim continued. "An inn located behind Gods back like this one has a much greater draw if its haunted than if its a pre-fab construction built in 1952. Take a look around. Its a big square box. I added the wrap-around porch and the gables and went through the place with a coopers hammer antiquing everything I could reach. I got the old furniture at garage sales, the ceiling medallions and crown moulding at Home Depot."
He took back his pen once Jim was finished signing. "Really, guys. What did you think?" He laughed and waved them off. They headed for the truck not looking at one another, not saying anything either.
Jim started the truck, then turned it off again. "Blair. I " He began. Blair looked straight ahead, but his body language said "confused" rather than "pissed". "I guess I must have wanted itwanted youand managed to fool myself into believing I was being possessed. Uh, Dutch courage, I guess, only with less alcohol."
"Yeah, I guess." Blair looked thoughtful. "Sentinel courage, maybe."
Glad that had been dealt with without another big discussion, Jim nodded and started the truck again, The radio came on with the engine, but after just a few bars, Blair reached over and turned it off again. "I so dont want to hear that right now."
"Hear what?" Jim asked absently as he backed down the drive to a spot that was wide enough to turn around.
"Sarah McLachlans Possession."
Jim felt a cold chill go down his spine and crunched down the gravel driveway very carefully.
~ ~ ~
"That was splendid, Lizzie, causing dear Tim to tell that untruth about our beloved home. Now those nice boys believe last night was entirely their notion." The two spectres hovered over the inn, just above the attic room where Jim and Blair had spent the night.
Lizzie ducked her head and the pale vapours that formed her face took on a slightly pink tinge. "Thank you, Sport. Thats another nice couple weve helped. Im so glad weve been permitted to carry on our lifes work even into death.
"Wouldnt that make it our afterlifes work?"
The ghosts chuckled and shared a kiss, growing wispy and less tangible until a strong breeze blew and their forms intermingled just over the chimney pot.
~ ~ ~
Blair wasnt quite sure that he believed Tim about the origins of the house. Hed taken an architecture and design course once, when hed needed an extra credit. Wanting a last look at the place, he craned around in the passenger seat to peer out the back window, view obscured slightly by fishing rods. "Hey, Jim. Look!"
"What? I cant take my eyes off the road here."
"That smoke, coming out of the chimney. Its shaped like a heart."
Jim glanced in his rearview mirror, noticing immediately what had caught Blairs attention. He could just make out two ageless faces, and arms locked in loving embrace.
"You saw that, right, Jim? What else can you see using your Sentinel vision?"
"Im not your personal Sentinel, you know."
"Sure. Jim. Sure."
Betad by Rentgirl2 and Etui, thank you kindly. Many thanks to Ankaree for the beautiful artwork.