You Should Not Have Asked, by Shana Figueroa
“Tell me a ghost story, will ya?” Don asks Mike.
Two men are waiting to kill. Marine Staff Sergeants Don Banks and Mike Stoyer sit alone in the top floor of an abandoned building, in an empty town, in the desolate northern region of Afghanistan. They comprise a sniper team, on vigil for the arrival of a high-value al-Qaeda target they’ve dubbed “Breakfast Boy”; when he shows up to meet with his al-Qaeda friends in the morning, as intelligence analysts with their crystal balls predict, the men call it in and Breakfast Boy is served a Hellfire missile from a Reaper drone. If Breakfast Boy’s escape is imminent before the Reaper can do its job, the men will kill him and his posse from their sniping position on high. Either way, the team is itching for the show to begin.
Don and Mike go way back. They met at sniper school and became fast friends: Mike, the orphan from Tallahassee who was raised by his grandmother and learned everything the hard way, and Don, the high school football star from Des Moines who joined the service to make his family proud. Don attended the funeral of Mike’s grandmother when she finally passed away after a long fight with cancer. Mike was almost Don’s best man at his wedding, until Don discovered she’d been cheating on him with one of her community college professors; Mike was nice enough to beat up the aforementioned professor for his friend. Mike follows Don to his family’s house for every major holiday, and Don follows Mike to bars to get wasted and pick up girls. Each has something the other desperately needs, like two halves of one fully-realized person. The two men are brothers, brought together by their love of country and blood spray – until one asks a question he should not have asked.
“Nah,” Mike lounges against a wall of the crumbling building, chomping on a peanut bar.
“Come on, man, this is boring as hell,” Don pleads, referring to the hours they’ve been waiting for Breakfast Boy, who’s not expected to show up until dawn at the earliest, four hours from now. “You’re always writing in that blog of yours. You can spin a mean tale, don’t lie. Come ahhhnnnn…” Don shakes the pen-sized red flashlight underneath his chin, using their only source of illumination besides the sliver of moon to get Mike into the spirit that permeates the dread town, a place where people used to live and love and sing and dream, brought to ruin by human conflict.
Mike considers Don’s request. “You first.”
“I don’t know any ghost stories that aren’t already movies.”
“Neither do I. Make something up. We’ve got all night.”
Don considers dropping the request, but the prospect of staring at the walls for four hours convinces him to muster his meager imagination and give it a go. “Okay, so, once upon a time –”
“That’s a horrible way to start a ghost story.”
“It’s my story and I’m gonna start it the way I want to.”
“How about, ‘It was a dark and stormy night’?”
“No, it was once upon a goddamn time.”
Mike sighs, “Whatever. Just get on with it.”
Don continues, “So, once upon a goddamn time there was this ghost, and –”
“Whoa, you’re just gonna jump right to the ghost? Where’s the build-up?”
“You know, you can just tell the damn story instead, like I originally asked.”
“No, I trust you that it’ll get better. Go on.”
Don went on, “There was this ghost and it haunted a carnival. See, it was the ghost of a dead carnie, because it was the nineteen twenties, when that weird carnival stuff was popular. The carnie ghost was the bearded lady, and she had been rejected by the lobster man for the chick with four breasts. Four huge breasts, actually.” Don makes grasping hand motions against his chest. “The bearded lady had killed herself because she couldn’t take the pain of rejection, and now she haunted the carnival, specifically the lobster man and his multi-boobed girlfriend.
“So, eventually the carnies figure out that they’re being haunted, on account of objects flying around and crazy dreams and weird bearded lady-shaped shadows and that kind of thing. They call in an exorcist to get rid of the bearded lady’s ghost, and the exorcist is like, ‘You are all sinners and going to Hell, but since you gave a nice donation to the church I’ll do a séance for you.’ So the lobster man, the exorcist and the four-boobed lady sit in a circle and hold hands, or claws in the case of the lobster man, and they chant and they’re able to communicate with the bearded lady, and she’s like, ‘I hate you all! And the four-boobed lady is my mother!’ And they’re all like, ‘Whoa, OMFG!’, and the exorcist whips out his ghost-busting ray gun that he got earlier from some aliens and zaps the bearded lady away to Heaven. Oh yeah – then everybody dies gruesomely. The end.”
Mike laughs so hard that it’s a full minute before he can talk again. “That’s the worst story I’ve ever heard.”
“No, it’s not. I know you read Twilight fanfic.” Mike concedes that Don has a point. “Now it’s your turn.”
Mike ponders the possibilities for a moment. Unconsciously his hand strokes the barrel of the sniper rifle, and he spots a spider crawl into view through the jagged hole where a window used to be that overlooks the town. It creeps along the sill, a spider larger than any in the U.S., its legs softly rat-tatting, then it disappears again, either back outside or further into their room, Mike can’t tell.
“This one is inspired by true events,” Mike begins. “It was a dark and stormy night, when I was driving back to my place after Thanksgiving dinner at your parent’s house three years ago.” Don recalls that night. He frowns.
“I decided to stop at a bar to have a drink and wait for the storm to calm down. A couple hours later, the rain finally died to a trickle and I decided to be on my way. I’d driven a few miles when I saw a woman on the side of the road trying to change a flat tire. Well you know me, I’m a real gentleman, so I decided to pull over and help her out, and to my surprise the woman turns out to be your sister, Tina.” Don’s face grows pale.
“She was happy to see me, I could tell, even when I pointed out that her spare tire was flat, too. When I told her that she’d either need a tow or a new spare from an auto shop, I knew she’d go the auto shop route just for the chance to ride with me. So Tina got in, and as we were driving she started telling me all about how she’d been having car trouble for a while, and though it really didn’t have anything to do with the flat tire, she was mad at her boyfriend for not letting her get the car fixed earlier because he was a real tight wad and didn’t want her to spend money on something that wasn’t a serious problem yet. She went on like that for a while, the gist being that she was sick of her boyfriend and was looking to move on to something better, if you know what I mean.
“She kept going on and on about what a tool her boyfriend was, and at the same time she’s really working her nice Thanksgiving outfit, that white sheer blouse and short skirt all wet and clinging to her hot skin. She was, like, thrusting her tits at me; her nipples were practically poking my eyes out. It was obvious that her boyfriend wasn’t giving it to her, and she wanted it from me. She really wanted it from me. I wondered if it would be weird, you know, getting it on with your sister because she kinda looks like you, but then I decided what the hell – I’m there, she’s there, why not?
“So we pulled over and started making out, and she whispered into my ear that she liked it rough – I had no idea she was such a tiger – and she was struggling and screaming and I was holding her down, ripping off her clothes, and it was really hot. Then I started choking her, and she loved it! After I came, I noticed that she’d stopped moving and was staring at the roof of my car, eyes all bulged and unblinking. Oops, ‘Fun Guy’ Mike had a bit too much fun.
“I figured that our friendship might be strained if you found out about the little accident, so I drove farther down the highway, through some back roads and into the woods where I knew there was a decommissioned farm with a deep, forgotten well. I pushed the cover aside and dragged Tina’s body over. She looked surprisingly good for a dead woman, so I kissed her one last time; her lips were still warm, and her damp hair smelled like coconut. I wished her the best, and threw her in. Then I drove home.
“Here’s the spooky part. I didn’t think much about it for a while, but a couple months later I started having these nightmares where everyone in the world has disappeared except for Tina and I, and she tells me that Judgment Day has come and I should confess my sins so that God will accept me into Heaven with everyone else. The nightmares became more and more and more frequent, until I started seeing her when I was awake, in the shadows when I walked down the street, in half-seen reflections off shiny surfaces, in the pupils of peoples’ eyes if I stood too close. Your sister haunts me to this day, begging me to confess.”
Don says nothing and there is silence for many seconds. Mike is amazed at how much he looks like his sister right now, moments after she died when her face was a mask of bulging horror.
Without warning Mike buckles into peals of laughter. “I got you! Hell of a ghost story, huh?”
“You… made that up?”
“Of course I made it up! You really think I’m being haunted by a ghost? Come on, man.”
Don looks like he might shoot his best friend. “That was not funny.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be funny; it was supposed to be scary. You look pretty freaked, so you got what you wanted. Hey, man, you asked for it.”
“Fuck you. I have to take a leak.” Don stands and walks away while Mike continues to chuckle. He stalks to an alcove next to the stairwell that they’ve repurposed as a latrine, but instead of relieving himself Don leans against the railing and stares at the ground.
One day she was there, and then she wasn’t. “Please, if you’ve seen her, call us, call the police. If you have her, please let her go. We just want her home.” Don’s mother had cried to a crowd of local news reporters while holding up a picture of Tina with shaky hands. His father had wept silently beside her. They’d bought a billboard sign offering a reward for any information on Tina’s whereabouts after the case had gone cold. Months passed; years passed. The empty void where Tina used to be had swallowed their lives. They hadn’t celebrated Thanksgiving since. These are the things that haunt Don; Mike was right on. A sob rises in his throat, but he chokes it back. He can’t let Mike see him cry.
Don takes a moment to steady himself and considers calling Mike out on his cruel joke, when a strange light catches the corner of his eye. He gapes as what at first looked like a moonlit shadow grows brighter and coalesces in front of him to form a human-shaped wisp. Don is frozen as the wisp evolves into a woman with the stature and face of his sister. Her stare holds Don as she lifts her delicate arm and points behind him.
He snaps his head around just in time to see Mike raise the assault rifle.
Don dives down the stairs as bullets tear through the wall where he stood half a second ago. He crashes to the bottom and scrambles to his feet, barely avoiding another volley of gunfire as Mike rounds the top of the stairs and bolts down after him. Don pulls his side arm and shoots in Mike’s direction as he flees, but he knows it’s not enough. Mike has the assault rifle, the sniper rifle, and the radio.
Don slams into a locked door and fumbles with the doorknob. Before he can kick it open, another barrage of bullets forces him down the stairs to the ground floor. It’s an empty lobby-type area of open space, with nowhere to hide.
He bursts through the front door and sprints for the safety of the empty town and its endless hiding places, the absence of gunfire behind him raising his hopes that he’ll make it – but his desperate escape is cut short by the crack of the sniper rifle.
Don is face down in the dirt before he registers the baseball-sized hole in his shoulder. He flops around like a million-dollar race horse with broken ankles, and for what feels like an eternity all he hears are his anguished wails. Finally the sound of footfalls precedes the appearance of Mike, looming over Don with the sniper rifle clutched to his chest.
“I didn’t want to tell you, but that bitch would not leave me alone! ‘Confess, confess, confess!’ She was constantly clawing at the back of my eyelids and squeezing the innards of my chest as I slept.” Mike falls to his knees next to Don. “Why, why wouldn’t she leave us alone?” Tears fill his eyes. “We’re brothers.”
Don tastes blood as it bubbles up from his lungs and trickles out the side of his mouth. He looks up through foggy eyes at the stranger he loves as a brother.
“I hate you,” he chokes out.
Mike stands. “I’ll never have another friend like you.” He stares at his partner and considers letting him bleed to death, but decides instead to be merciful and aims the rifle at Don’s head. Don thinks he can see all the way down the barrel to the bullet waiting patiently to carve a path through his head. He begs God to grant him one last wish and summon the fires of Hell to swallow Mike, and for a moment he thinks his wish might be granted when a glow rises behind Mike. He lowers his rifle and spins to see Tina in her ghostly form, now wet and rotting from her time in the well. Her eyes, however, are intact. They burn.
“I did what you wanted, now leave me alone! What else do you want from me?” Mike’s eyes bulge and he trains his rifle at her, a man hysterical enough to think he can shoot a ghost. Before he can try, the ghost lifts her eyes to the clear night sky and points at a star moving toward them. Mike’s radio crackles; he unclips it from his belt and brings it to his ear: “Hellfire missile inbound, ETA five seconds.”
Don and his sister smile.
The investigation into the incident yields no reasonable explanation as to how the Americans managed to bomb their own G.I.s. The official report determines that Reaper operators received an order to bomb the town earlier than expected, though command and control had no record of any such order being issued, and analysts confirmed that the intended target was nowhere near the area at the time. The entire drone program was called into question and months of congressional testimony ensued, culminating with the resignation of two colonels and a three-star general. When the dust cleared, all anyone could say for certain about the bizarre incident was that it was an unfortunate case of friendly fire.
Shana Figueroa is currently an officer in the United States Air Force and is stationed in Ohio with her husband and two young daughters. She writes fiction in her spare time, with the goal of one day becoming a full-time author. Figueroa’s work has been published in the Duffel Blog, an online humorous fake news outlet, and in the e-zine Inner Sins.
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Tags: betrayal, creepy, crime, death, family, ghosts, loss, murder, secrets, Shana Figueroa, spirits