MayShortReads10: A Hard Night’s Work

Inspector Jigaboo growled. The spirit seated on the bench plopped in the air slightly, like a little splash of water when a fish jumps out and back in. It was one of the new-dead, still unused to Feardom. Jiggs, (he hated the name but knew his deputies call him that behind his back), knew that on this planet, the living expected only monsters to growl while unsubstantials like him weren’t associated with any sound. He was a kind soul so he shut up immediately.

Spirit 2X04 had arrived at an unfortunate hour – right in the middle of the rush hour night. He’d materialized right into the peaktime traffic of ghouls making their way to under children’s beds and set off an entire street of dogs baying when he shrieked. That damn Netherworld pass was jammed again and the poor souls ghosting them would have to stay back early to clean up the mess.

Jiggs drifted up and waved to 2X04. He’d recognize only living human gestures at this point of time and Jiggs had had to deal with enough of disoriented new-dead to learn a bit of the local lingo. He was gesturing for him to come along. There were his usual rounds so he decided to drop the kid at the Netherworld pass, instead of letting him make a nuisance of himself to the Feardom watch staff.

Ideally the orientation officers would take charge the minute new-dead crossed over and assign them to the appropriate journeys. This one may not even be slated for Feardom but had materialized through the cracks. Jiggs knew he wouldn’t be rerouted, not immediately. There was no room for one more bureaucratic nightmare. There were too many of them on this planet already and they were notoriously territorial.

They drifted along and Jiggs began his usual tour-operater speech that he gave to the new-dead that seemed to fall into his lap every couple of months or so.

“That’s the Factory.”

he said, gesturing to his right. Jiggs could see the kid’s thoughts running in the direction of tall buildings spewing black smoke.

“No, not that kind of Factory. Well, the same kind. It’s the only Factory in Feardom. They make raw fear.”

“Raw fear??”

Jiggs thanked Ixtra spirit that new dead didn’t have working bladders or 2X04 would have voided his. Embarassment would dilute fear and hence his fear-creating potential. If the kid was to fit into Feardom, he’d have to learn to curb those.

“Yes. Mostly they use it to make Fog-of-fear that the government sprays on the living to keep them indoors, asleep and manageable during heavy traffic. Look, there’s a fear dispenser going by after his nightly rounds. Every street gets one whiff, some high population ones get an entire canister.”

The fear dispenser whizzed by, obviously in a hurry to finish up late. Then he abruptly darted back and sprayed a multi-coloured wisp into the air and zoomed off.

“Religious fear”

said Jiggs, a disapproving clink in his voice. And sure enough, there was a worship place on the horizon. The fear dispensing had eased up considerably around these places in the past century. This particular one must be a new sect and have requested a special, fresh Fear Fog every night.

“Being dead is very different from what I thought.”

said 2X04.

“Don’t worry. Feardom is a jolly old place once you get used to it.”

“It sounds horrible. Fearsome.”

“It’s supposed to. Fear runs our economy, you know. We sleep in comfortable coffins and cupboards and bed bottoms during the day because of the bounty it brings us.”

That’s wasn’t quite true, Jiggs knew but he was the face of Feardom to these newbies after all. No point indulging their foolish notions. Feardom wasn’t a rich state but it got by fine and there were jobs to be had for the hardworking ghoul, for the spirited spirit and even for the occasional unsubstantial like him, struck with wanderlust.

They passed the graveyard and unsurprisingly 2X04 slowed down to watch. The new-dead were so fascinated with their deaths. Jiggs growled again and the spirit jumped. In a kindler tone than his growl, Jiggs explained,

“That’s just the nightly bone market. If you ever take up special spook assignments, you can come rent a couple of bones or even a whole skeleton here. Be careful with your spirit though, these hawkers are thieves.”

Jiggs pulled the kid behind a parked car and they watched. Two ghouls seemed deep in conversation and after a lot of plopping and gesturing, one handed over a bone to another.

“It’s completely clean. Maggot-certified. Look, there isn’t even a trace of blood.”

Jiggs harrumped, which to the kid would have sounded like a snort.

“Maggot-certified, my painted pineapple. That one’s been stolen from a dog’s dinner and stuck into the ground.”

The buying ghoul didn’t seem to know or care though and it departed with the bone.

They turned and rose into the air when the kid nearly flew right through something.

“Officer Koriko!”

Jiggs exclaimed, spotting his old friend.

“Jiggs, thank grishooms it’s you!”

“What’s up, Koriko? You here to bust that fake bone hawker?”

Koriko frowned across its round yellow face and looked towards the kid.

“No, not tonight. Listen, I’ll take over from here. I need to take this one back.”

“Why, what’s he done? He’s barely been dead 3 hours now.”

“Three hours?!! Oh my dear dashing demons! Jigaboo, he’s not new-dead. He’s near-death.”

Jiggs understood Koriko’s unease. The near-death experiences were expensive mistakes that had to be covered up with elaborate stories, not to mention the gargantuan paperwork. The kid had seen too much. What would they do with him now? They couldn’t send him back without a very expensive memory-wipe. And that might erase his brain and keep him in vegetable state for years. It would be a bureaucratic nightmare of monstrous proportions.

He looked at Koriko’s worried face and the kid’s bewildered one. Grunting to himself, he turned.

“Relax, Koriko. He ran right into a Fog of Fear trail. He’s been neutralized already. Just take him back and tell them he’s only been around a couple of minutes. That’s as much as he’ll remember anyway.”

Koriko nodded and his face relaxed into its usual jovial grimace. Taking the near-dead spirit by its hind wisp, he glided away. Jiggs growled at how easy it was. Fear arose from the unknown, after all. Why not use it occasionally to make life in Feardom a little easier?

It's a ghost!
It’s a ghost! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

13 thoughts on “MayShortReads10: A Hard Night’s Work

  1. The concept was very interesting, and the pacing was spot on.
    The whole idea of Fear and Feardom is very appealing, simple and yet layered.
    I really loved the tiny details, grishoom, Ixtra and the like

      1. nah, it would only have taken away from the story if it had been infodumping. You ran the risk, but I think an intelligent reader will grasp at context, so you’re in the clear.

        1. @febinmathew: Whew, thanks! Still learning what basic elements need to be communicated in every story in a series and in different ways so readers who’ve read all don’t get bored with repetition.

      2. My pleasure.
        You can’t give away everything at one go, but you also can’t parcel it out so that your stories can’t be very good standalones.
        One of my personal favs, Jim Butcher, does this brilliantly in The Dresden Files.
        14 or so novels in the series, yet he’s done a good job of never being repetitive AND you can pick any book in the series randomly and not feel out of place.

  2. there are quite a few memorable phrases,”new dead were so fascinated …, maggot certified be careful with your spirit though, these hawkers are thieves.”,

  3. What a non-descript title Hard Night’s Work has, hasn’t it? I’m going to congratulate you again for stepping outside what seems to be your normal zone of comfort. It was a complete story, in a complete world. Our new spirit could have done with more characterisation. But I have to complement the tone, the colour mapping and the completeness of economic functioning that you created for yourself. It’s doesn’t have much of a progression, this story. And I wish that fact that we knew (about fear fog or whatever) was more directly related to the solution, thus allowing us to go ‘Ah, right. She mentioned that’. Which was an easy enough change to make. But it’s a short story. A photograph of a scene, and it does that fabulously.

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