My grandmother had a never-fail solution when it came to catching ghosts:
Brew some coffee.
We always served twelve cups: three black, three with sugar, three with cream, and three extra sweet and extra light.
Because my grandmother always said, “Even ghosts have a preference.”
Until they don’t. Or rather, they have so many, I’m not sure I can keep track. Our never-fail solution is failing—rapidly
The aromatic scent of Kona blend fills the lobby of K&M Ghost Eradication Specialists. It mixes with the heady aroma of lilacs floating in a crystal bowl on the coffee table. Someone—possibly my business partner, Malcolm Armand—has scattered fashion magazines across the scratched surface. Normally, our clients don’t come to us. When they do, they’re not looking to update their style.
Instead, we go to them. We are K&M Ghost Eradication Specialists after all, and even the friendliest sprite needs encouragement to vacate the premises.
Right now, two dozen of those sprites, each in their own tiny Tupperware container, are bouncing around the lobby with gentle thump, thump, thumps. They’re everywhere—underfoot, under the coffee table, and in our storefront display.
I lean down and scoop up a container. The sprite inside dances as much as the small space will allow. I try to gauge its intention, its personality. Sprites don’t have much of either, but they love attention, which is why you’ll find them playing pranks at three in the morning.
This one swirls under my scrutiny—definitely an attention seeker. I shift my grip and search for something more, something familiar. I run my fingers around the seam of the lid, hoping for a clue.
Nothing, not even a whisper. I’ve never caught this one before.
Still, it’s sweet and not much of a threat. I hand the Tupperware to Tara Davenport, our pre-teen summer intern. “What do you think? Gold star?”
Since the ghosts can’t—or won’t—stay in any one place, we’ve been using star stickers to keep track of the ones we’ve cataloged. Gold for good, silver for iffy, and red for an all-out troublemaker.
Tara nods, the beads in her hair jangling in a way that sets off the sprites around her. The beads are translucent, almost like little ghosts at the tip of each braid. I’m guessing the sprites approve of this fashion choice.
“Yes,” she says and pulls a sticker from a sheet. With the utmost care, she places it on the side of the container. The sprite inside does a backflip.
“Does it have a name?”
Tara is only twelve. In some ways, she’s more attuned to the supernatural than even the most experienced necromancer. The sprites, I think, see her as a compatriot, one of them, more so than all the adults around trying to catch and catalog them.
“Unicorn.” She rolls her eyes and bites her lip. “It says its name is Unicorn.”
Laughter comes from the laptop situated on the receptionist’s desk. Malcolm and I have never had a receptionist—or much for them to do. Still, we have a desk.
On the screen, Malcolm’s brother Nigel Armand taps away at his own keyboard. “Unicorn number nineteen, now logged.”
I shut my eyes and sigh. I’d bet my stash of one hundred percent Kona coffee that not one of these sprites is actually named Unicorn.
Nigel laughs again, and even Tara giggles.
“Not to worry,” he says. “I’ve got other key identifiers for them.”
I nod like I know what that means. Nigel is revamping our database. Since all these new ghosts came to town, we’ve struggled to keep track of them all.
Even though his addiction to swallowing ghosts is under control, it’s better that he’s not here in the office since it’s currently an all-you-can-eat ghost buffet. On the screen, I catch sight of his grin and the shock of pure white hair, a legacy of his addiction.
“How does it take its coffee,” Nigel asks Tara.
She turns the container in her hands and tilts her head. The ghostly beads sing out a happy tune.
“Black with extra sugar.” She pauses and raises her chin like she’s tasting the air. “But it has to be organic raw sugar.”
Of course it does.
If my grandmother caught ghosts with the equivalent of 1950s diner coffee (but excellent diner coffee, mind you), then we’re now looking at catching ghosts with the equivalent of a Starbucks. Almond and soy milk. Flavored syrups. Cinnamon Dolce sprinkles. You name it, these ghosts want it.
Business might be booming, but I’m out of my depth with these new ghosts.
I push the fashion magazines aside to clear a space where I can sit on the coffee table. Technically, they’re not so much fashion magazines as wedding ones. They have names like Bridal Best Bet and Your Dream Day. There’s even a Martha Stewart Weddings lurking somewhere in the stack.
I rub my hand, or more accurately, my left ring finger. The engagement ring Malcolm gave me sits there, the sensation strange and wonderful at the same time. The moonstone glimmers like the otherworldly. Sometimes I swear it glows in the dark.
I love my ring. I love Malcolm. Technically, I’ve said yes. I cast a glance at the magazines.
Just not to the dress.
Sunlight glints on the bay windows of our storefront. The gold lettering of K&M Ghost Eradication Specialists sparkles. Somewhere out there, Malcolm is biking up and down the side streets of Springside, uncapping thermos after thermos of coffee in an attempt to lure and catch more sprites so we can catalog them.
He’s been gone for hours. We’re nearing the end of the last batch he caught, and he must be exhausted. I’m almost hoping he returns empty-handed. We’ll call it a day, go get breakfast for dinner at Springside Pancake House, and ignore our pesky ghost problem for an evening.
I rub the ring on my finger one more time. Yes. We deserve that.
What I see instead is Malcolm careening down the center of Main Street. He’s pumping his legs so hard, his feet slip from the bike’s pedals. He swerves, the bike crashing into his cherry-red convertible before he bumps up and over the curb.
He doesn’t stop, not to check for scratches or when six precision-made German thermoses scatter in his wake.
I jump up. My hand gropes for some Tupperware. Maybe today’s brew lured something more dangerous than a sprite. My fingers meet nothing but wedding magazines.
Tara tosses me a large container the moment the bell jangles over the door. Malcolm bursts inside, breath ragged, face flushed with exertion. He stumbles forward, and crash lands in the center of our sprite collection. Tiny containers skitter across the floor.
“Get it.” His chest heaves with the words. “Get … it.”
Frantic, I glance around, my gaze keen. I’m expecting something fierce and unflinching—the sort of ghost that crawls inside your head and destroys dreams.
Instead, before the door closes, in slips a nearly insubstantial sprite.