(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)
JD started for the mass of junk, a intimidating wall of littered items densely packed over the ancient concrete slab of the garage floor. He set his hands on his hips, and sighed. He had no idea where to start.
It occurred to him then that there really was no starting point. Everything had to come out until they found what they were looking for.
He grabbed a box from the top of the loosely assembled stack, and lifted it to look inside. Immediately the bottom of the box disintegrated under the weight of its contents and they scattered and rolled everywhere, into the garage to be lost among the other sundries, and outside, to scuttle away across the crumbling driveway. He tried to watch everything at once, to see if the pipe was among the falling rubbish, but couldn't keep up. He sighed heavily again.
"Dude," Dillon said heavily from behind him, "this is gonna take a while."
"Yep," he intoned, and Wendy giggled.
"It'll go faster than you think, guys. C'mon, let's get going."
She waded in as well, picking items up one by one and checking them to see if they could house anything inside. When she was convinced it couldn't, she'd set it aside on the driveway. When she checked those items that held others, she also set those aside. Bit by bit they moved down the first of the large layers in front of them, chatting to keep the time moving. It was only when they started stepping on and over things they'd removed that they paused.
"You know what?" she said, stopping and inspecting the debris around them, "this is not only going to take a long time, it's going to need some planning. Organization. We have to do better than this or we'll break our necks trying to empty the garage."
JD looked around him, his hands covered with dust from untold years of collection over everything.
"Hmm. You're right."
"So whattaya wanna do, Wen?" Dillon seemed intensely interested for someone so easily bored.
"Well," she said, looking around. "I wonder if we should take everything out and then look it over. Get everything out here in the driveway first. Check all the stuff one at a time and then figure out how we can put it back so no one gets hurt. Now OR later."
"I didn't know bein' a ghost guy meant cleanin' out garages, dudes," Dillon chuckled. "Hell, I don't even do this for my mom 'n dad."
"I didn't either," JD grumbled, staring at the palling array still in front of them. "We're not even an eighth of the way through this crap."
"Who keeps all this shit anyway? I mean, c'MON, people -- toss somethin', y'know?"
Wendy giggled again. "I know. It's not like any of this is precious or anything. Look at the shape it's in."
JD shook his head. "Well, the garage IS the storage place of last resort, usually. I guess, since they obviously don't keep their cars in it, they just dump everything they don't know what to do with out here."
"So, how about that idea, crew? We empty the garage first, and look through all the stuff after that."
"That actually doesn't sound like a bad idea," JD agreed. "Maybe Dillon and I can bring the stuff out here and you can sort through it all, Wen?"
"Dude," Dillon said, "what 'bout the stuff we can't move?"
Dillon dipped his chin to gesture to the riding mower.
"Oh," JD said, realizing there were probably other things like that inside. "Uh ... well, we can worry about those things when we have everything else sorted through."
"Yeah, okay," she said, "I'll go through the stuff you bring out here. Then we can all work together when you're finished."
"IF we finish," Dillon spat. "There's only so much daylight during fall-time, y'all. And it ain't gettin' any lighter." He squinted up at the heavy, black clouds rolling in from the west.
"Good point," JD nodded at him. "We're going to have to get all this stuff inside before dark, so we'll have to work quick."
Wendy sighed. "I forgot about that. We'll have to work fast."
"Awwwww," Dillon groaned, "this SUCKS."
JD nodded. "Yes."
"Why're we doin' this again?"
"Because the ghost wants us to."
"Oh. Well, why the hell ain't HE helpin'?"
JD shrugged. "Considering all the trouble we've been through, it's the LEAST he could do."
"Complaining won't get it done, gang," Wendy reminded them gently. "Let's get what we can out and I'll start going through it."
The task actually seemed a bit easier with some sort of plan decided. They all three carried things out, as much as they could gather, and set it farther down the driveway to one side. When there was enough of a pile, Wendy began to sift through it all, checking everything. Dillon and JD continued to work inward, moving things to carry them out as bit by bit the front of the garage cleared. Wendy was working quickly, but tried to be thorough as well. She was able to keep pace with the two of them for a bit, but the items started piling up.
JD set another few things down and looked at her as she dug about in a box. "You okay, hon?" he asked.
She looked up, and blew a lock of her hair out of her eyes. That simple gesture was so incredibly sexy to him that he actually froze, eyes glossed over as he watched her. She smiled, seeming to read his mind, and traced her lips with the tip of her tongue.
"You like it dirty, lover?" she teased. He blushed. "I'm doing okay. I'm falling behind, though."
"It's okay, we can stop and let you catch up if you want."
"No, better keep going. We need the bulk of the time to go through it all and put it back. I guess it really won't matter if we're neat in putting it all away, but it'd be nice for the homeowners if we could clean things up a little."
He nodded. "If you want one of us to help you instead of unloading, just say the word."
She grimaced and shuddered, brushing away the dried carcass of a spider from a dusty, withered web. "UGH. Okay, I will. Thanks, baby."
He returned to his work. Dillon was remarkably quiet, just shuffling along with arms full of junk. They were dusty, dirty and occasionally sneezed as billowing clouds of grayish brown powder puffed from the debris as they shifted it. Fanning the air in front of their faces and blowing through tightly puckered lips to get it away from them, they both finally stepped out into the open air for a moment. Dillon froze, posing with hands held out from his body, eyes partially closed, then convulsed wildly and sneezed, all four limbs doing something different during the seizure. JD laughed, and rubbed his nostrils quickly, violently as a sudden itch attacked him.
Finally, there was nothing left but a few larger boxes against the walls, a duet of locked metal cabinets, and the riding mower, layered heavily with the dust it collected over the years and the fallout of what they'd disturbed.
"Well," JD said, "that's pretty much it. There's really not a lot else we can take out."
"Wendy came up behind him, wrapping her arms around his middle. "Good job, guys. And I've gone through a good chunk of the crap already. So far nothing, but we've only got about a third more of it to check."
"Dudes," Dillon said, making his voice that of a man dying of thirst in the desert, "need ... fluids ... too ... much ... duuuuuuuuuuuusssttt --- ack! ack!"
"Oh, stop it," JD said, rolling his eyes.
"Actually, I'm thirsty too," Wendy said, squeezing JD's waist. "Should we make a drink run?"
"Yes," Dillon croaked, "for the love of God, yes."
"Drama queen," JD teased.
"Okay, I'll go get something at a gas station or whatever. You guys want to keep working here?"
"No," Dillon shot quickly.
"Yes," JD corrected, glaring at him.
"No, I don't," Dillon adjusted.
"Why don't you come with me, then, Dilly. You want a break, sweetie? We can all go. It'll only be a minute."
"No, it's okay," he said, staring into the garage. "There's only a little left. I'll just keep working here while you go. You and wimpy there."
"All right," she said and pecked him on the lips. "Miss me while I'm gone."
Dillon made a whip-cracking sound behind them, and Wendy laughed her lilting, jovial, viral laugh that made JD lose focus. He had a silly smile on his face as the two of them walked away. In a moment, her car raced past the low, pad-locked gate across the driveway entrance and Wendy beeped the horn, waving and smiling at him. Dillon stuck his tongue out and wiggled his fingers with his thumbs in his ears.
Shaking his head and still grinning, JD turned back to the work at hand. Sighing heavily again, he looked over everything around him. The love-struck expression faded quickly from his face. In front of him, the driveway was cluttered with materials. Behind him, the nearly empty garage had only a few things to look through. It didn't matter; both would have to be addressed. He knelt down to go through the piles where Wendy left off.
He was turning things over in his hands, putting them back in the containers and checking everything when a shadow fell dimly over him in the quickly-softening light.
"You guys back already? Sheesh, THAT was quick."
There was no answer.
"Wen?" JD grabbed another box and fished through it. "Dillon?"
He froze. He looked more carefully at the faint shadow over him.
He turned quickly. He saw the black, wet eyes set in the sunken sockets, the ashen, blue-veined skin writhing with worms and maggots, the pus-encrusted mouth and matted hair, the yellowish-green teeth and purple-black tongue ...
He opened his mouth to scream but it was far too late. The ghost seized him by the jacket at the chest and near the waist, hefting him in one swift smooth motion and pulling his face within inches of that decomposed visage, the clammy breath on his skin. He reached up to push the phantom away, but the vice-like grip held him fast.
"THE NOTE!! FIND THE NOTE!! IN THE GARAGE!!!"
JD wailed in terror, turning his face away, his body flying into the garage, the toes of his shoes dragging roughly along the pebbly, cracked concrete. He pushed with all his might uselessly against the apparition, but was propelled quickly toward the back of the garage. He saw it coming from the corner of his eye, and tried to brace, grabbing the ghostly arms with his hands and trying to break the iron grip. The ghost backed full-speed into one of the cabinets and slammed JD's body against it, the loud BANG! of the sheet metal drowning out the sound of his grunt as the sudden impact jarred him violently.
The two hands still held him, and he tried again to grab them, to break their unearthly grasp on his jacket, but it was like trying to bend solid metal rods. JD was pushed back a few inches then yanked forward hard, slamming him into the cabinet again, the door crumpling and his face spreading softly over the hard metal surface. Back again, and forward fast -- BANG! BLAM! CLANG! Again and again JD was smashed against the doors of the rattling cabinet, trying to turn his head so that his nose wouldn't be crushed, one hand on each of the specter's arms as it tossed him about like a dog with a chew toy.
He tried to put his leg up to stop himself but the force was too great and the distance too small for him to raise his knee.
Each blow made him grunt in pain as the wind was pushed from his lungs.
He turned away again, tossing his head back in resistance, and saw someone at the gate of the driveway.
A woman, a dog on a leash in tow, was watching with wide eyes, hand over her mouth as if in shock.
He reached toward her, his body jactitated again and again.
"Help *ugh!* me! Please! I *hhnnh!* need *unnhh!* --"
He couldn't finish the sentence, his hand still wrapped around the wrist at his waist, the other reaching back in plea for the woman to help him. He realized in horror that his grunts sounded almost carnal, and with him convulsing spasmodically against the cabinet it must look like he was --
She turned quickly and dragged the dog away, muttering something, the last word of which he could hear: "... disgusting!"
He collapsed suddenly as the hands clutching him disappeared. He tried to catch himself as he fell back and his shoulder scraped hard against the old riding mower, knocking him onto his side as he landed.
Dazed and panting, he tried to brace and scramble away, but what he saw froze him in his tracks.
The doors to the cabinet, under the beating, had been so badly mangled the cheap catch holding them closed had bent. They’d fallen open, sagging and creaking, twisted on their hinges, contents exposed.
He took another moment to quickly look around, making sure the shade was gone. He fumbled to his feet and dusted himself off, stepping gingerly toward the cabinet.
Cans of paint, old rags, paint brushes, roller trays, insecticides and gardening chemicals, hoses and nozzles, tent spikes, an old and mangled set of barbeque utensils and other things all stared back from the shelves. On the top shelf, near the rear of the cabinet, was a rusty, corroded old metal coffee can.
From its top stuck a single, capped piece of age-yellowed PVC pipe.