The Ghostly Typist

This is something I wrote for my Intro to Fiction class last semester and it stuck with me! I finally got around to editing it a bit and felt like sharing. 🙂

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Back in 2006, I worked the 9-5 shift at Ford’s Appliance on Saturdays and Sundays mostly by default, because I was the new kid and no one else wanted to give up their weekends to sell last year’s televisions and microwaves at prices that no other store could surpass. Figures, I suppose. The workers, all except Ford himself, didn’t love the place. Ford’s Appliance had been slowly going bankrupt since 1993.

I didn’t mind the weekend work too much. I figured that I couldn’t be the new kid forever, and it wasn’t like I had much else to do on the weekends since my wife left. I worked the back room, where we kept all the extra appliances that didn’t sit storefront, that was quiet, and after Nicki, quiet was a blessing. Once in awhile, one of those old-timers, the ones with nothing to do but find someone to listen, they would come into the back room because I was just about as captive an audience as could be. There was one, Alfred Benson, and he and I got to be sort of friends. He’d become sort of a regular, every Saturday, when his knee didn’t bother him too much—he was shot in ‘Nam, a story he told me at least every other week—well, he’d come on into the back room and we’d talk for awhile.

I didn’t mind too much. I sort of started to look forward to Saturdays. Talking to Alfred sure beat talking to boxes of appliances most of the time.  So Alfred came in like normal one Saturday, and I was expecting an update on the lawnmower that his fool neighbor done and left out in the rain or how his granddaughter Eliza’s liking college. But instead he looks at me, takes a pause, and asks, “What kinda printers you got here?”

I nearly fell over when I heard this, because for one, this man had never once come into Ford’s Appliance to do anything but loiter, and for another, every chance Alfred Benson got, he let me know he didn’t like all this newfangled technology and I’d only be selling it to him over his dead body.

I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to be rude, and besides, I was a salesman, I had to make a living somehow. So I clamped my mouth shut, took him to the front, and showed him the four models of printers we have. Course, all of them were about thirty dollars too expensive, and that’s the first thing he griped about, said he needs to think on it before making any rash decisions, and I told him yeah, makes sense.

Next thing he said was he needs my professional opinion and we’d better sit down. I led him to the back room again, thinking, maybe I should call the local senior center and ask them if printer paranoia is a sign of some kinda dangerous disease. I mean, I’d had customers ask me all sorts of questions about appliances, but never once did they say I’d better sit down. But we sit down, and he gives me a good hard look, and said he’s got to tell me something.

At this point, I felt pretty darn relieved, because that’s how he’d start all of his stories, so I figured we were in the clear for some kinda dementia or something. I also offered to grab us a coupla cans of cola out of the break room, because I knew his stories got long and he was gonna need some refueling about fifteen minutes in.

I picked up my box cutter as he settled in with his soda and we both began to get to work—Alfred talking, me opening and assembling appliances, just like we usually do on Saturdays.

“I’m a religious man,” he began his story with, “and I never believed in no foolery before. I go to church every Sunday when my knee will let me.” He paused, let that sink in for me. “Now, ‘fore I get to telling you why I’m asking you about a darn waste of money, I got to tell you that a coupla months ago, my trusty old Remington broke.”

“Not,” he continued, putting up a finger as I glanced over, “not my shotgun, that thing’ll still be blasting ‘til the day Jesus comes again. No, my typewriter up and died, and let me tell you, I was disappointed because I’d expected quality out of that piece of equipment. Paid a good forty dollars for it back in 1953, you know.” I nodded. The old man, far as I knew, still used a typewriter for everything: Christmas cards, paying bills, sending letters to friends. I’d gotten more than one typewritten letter when he didn’t feel up to coming into Ford’s.

“So my grandchildren get the foolheaded idea of buying me a darn computer for Christmas, and let me tell you, that thing is still sitting in its box. I was bound and determined to find myself another typewriter, so I went to a coupla local estate sales, you know the Petersons?” He paused, took a drink of his soda. “I always found the estate sales more interesting than the funerals,” he said.

“I finally found one, a typewriter, a few weeks ago, and I didn’t know the man who’d died.  Angelo DiLenti, that’s what it said on the sign—sounded foreign, you know, so I was a little cautious, but he had this beautiful sleek black typewriter there, and sensibly priced at only twenty-five dollars. Finally, I thought, a man with sense, shame that he’s dead. So I buy it and bring it home and you guessed it, works like a charm, maybe even better than my Remington, may she rest in peace. Wrote a few letters, worked on my war novel. Perfect. Didn’t know the brand, didn’t matter.”

He paused then, long enough for me to look over. He didn’t like pausing in his stories, said it created “unnecessary drama”. Another drink of cola as I sliced a new box. Toaster oven. Little to no assembly.

“So I wake up the next morning and I’m going about the day, nothing too crazy. My knee starts getting to me and I’ve got to sit down, so I pull out that new typewriter and think I’ll send a letter to cousin John because I haven’t heard anything from him in awhile, you never know with those younguns. But when I pull it out, there on my typewriter is words that were not there the night before, they look Italian.  Ciao, nuovo proprietario. I was curious, so I pulled out the old Italian-English dictionary Verna and I got for our trip to Spain, may she rest in peace, and it took me a darn long time to translate it, but finally I got it and it means Hello, new owner.”

I nearly drop my box cutter when I hear that. Usually, I start tuning the old man’s story out about five minutes in, but right then, he had my attention. “Where did that come from?” I asked. “Some sort of joke?”

“That’s what I thought, too, that maybe someone at the estate had typed it and I just didn’t realize until right then. I sorta dismissed it, the thing worked fine and if someone was trying to play a practical joke, they weren’t going to get to me that easy. So I put in a new sheet of paper and started writing my letter, like I’d set out to do. I go about the rest of my day, too, don’t think about it too much.”

“Now it gets to be around bedtime and I haven’t given a thought to the old thing all day, I’m  just settling in to go to sleep, but for some reason I’m feeling jumpy as a cat. Got up twice to check the stove was off and the door was locked. I haven’t done that since Verna left me for Jesus. It’s getting later and later and I can’t fall asleep and eventually I think, that typewriter’s giving me chills just sitting out there, so I pick it up and put it in the closet.”

“ I’m just about to fall asleep when I think I hear a ‘tic…tic…tic…’ and it sounds just like the keys of a typewriter going. I get up, turn on the light, check the typewriter—still covered and in the closet, so I thought, must be my hearing’s acting up again and I fell asleep. Now all that night I had the weirdest dreams, that this young, skinny man with black hair was following me around and speaking gibberish, and in the background was always the ticking of those darn typewriter keys.”

“I woke up the next day feeling irritable because of those dreams. Well, I go to pull the typewriter out of the closet, uncover it, and there’s another page with words on it, and this time, I’m spooked a bit. That thing was in the closet all night and no one has touched it except me. There’s more Italian typed up there on the page, so I pull out the translation dictionary and work it out, and it says Welcome, new owner. My name is Marco Moretti. I thought, well, that’s nice of the ghost or whatever, to introduce himself, and so before I know what I’m doing I type back on the page Alfred Benson. I don’t know what had gotten into me, and as soon as I’d done it I felt darn foolish, so I put the typewriter back in the closet and went on with my day.”

“I can’t stop thinking about it, though, and so by mid-afternoon, what am I doing but pulling that typewriter back out and checking the page. I wasn’t exactly expecting anything to be on there, but I couldn’t help myself. And there on the page were more words written under my name, so I start translating again and this time it says Alfred Benson, my owner. I was killed on my wedding day in 1885 and once again I type back before I can think Sorry to hear about that.

“As soon as I typed that, the keys began clicking furiously by themselves and the ghost had filled up the whole page with more Italian. And here,” he said, pulling a sheet of handwritten paper out of his pocket and handing it to me, “I translated all of it.”

Back many years ago I was a happy man. I was destined to marry the beautiful Sofia DiLenti, and we were the happiest lovers that ever lived. However, her brother hated me and vowed he would take my life if I married his sister. I was foolish and young and did not believe him. Sofia and I ran away to Sicily to be married in 1885, a small occasion with many flowers and one beautiful girl. However, Angelo followed us and true to his promise, stabbed me seven times on my wedding night, and by doing this cursing me to serve him even in the afterlife. I served him, and then served his son for many years. His son died recently, yet I am still chained to this worldly object until one serving me takes blood of the DiLenti clan. Alfred Benson, my owner. Avenge me or find yourself with me.”

I handed the note back to the old man in silence. He had finished his soda and crushed the can slowly, his hands visibly shaking.

“By that point, I was pretty spooked. I decided even if I paid twenty-five dollars for that typewriter, it might be best if it stays out in the garage until the garbage man comes on Wednesday. And let me tell you, that newfangled computer in the corner of the bedroom was starting to look a lot better. At least less haunted. I do things I never do anymore now that Verna’s gone, running errands and vacuuming the carpet and hell, even dusting.”

“So I get to bed last night, and I’m relieved that I’m about to get a good night’s sleep. I’m just about to fall asleep and wouldn’t you know, soon as I close my eyes, what do I hear but that ticking again, slow and painful… tic… tic… tic… like when you walk too fast and you can hear your heart in your eardrums. And I’m thinking, well, logically I can’t hear that from all the way out in the garage, my mind’s just tricking me, Alfred, get yourself to sleep. I’m tossing and turning for an hour or so before finally falling asleep to more weird dreams. Same as the night before, with the strange dark-haired man again.”

“Now this morning, I wake up and I can feel something’s not right. First instinct, I run out to the garage to see what that typewriter’s done now—I get out there and the floor’s covered in what looks like my printer paper. I pick up one piece, and over and over, filling up the whole page, it says the same thing in Italian and this time I don’t have to translate. Alfred Benson, my owner. Avenge me or find yourself with me. Alfred Benson, my owner. Avenge me or find yourself with me…

The old man trailed off with his story while I stared at him, unsure of what to say.

“I didn’t know what else to do, so I picked up every last one of those sheets and burned them.” He stretched his hand out and I could see the ink smudges covering it.

“I’m thinking maybe a computer and printer might not be as terrible an idea as I thought,” he said. “Darn waste of money, that’s for sure. But at least they come with peace of mind.”

I didn’t say anything for the next few minutes. I thought maybe the old man was trying to pull a fast one on me, that any second he was going to break and laugh at me for believing such a wives’ tale. But then I saw the haunted look in his face and the wince every few seconds, like he still heard the hammer of the typewriter ticking in his head.

“You know,” I said, because I couldn’t think of anything else. “I think maybe we could slap a discount on that one printer out there. I’ll even come help you set it up if you want.”

“Sure,” he said, defeated. “We just gotta stop at the dumpster first.”

 

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