How Doc Holliday Saved Me

It’s three in the morning. I’m sitting on my bed, trembling from the nightmare I just had, too afraid to go back to sleep, too afraid to even turn the lights off. The nightmares started two weeks ago when I moved into this apartment building, which is why I decided that this place is haunted. The nightmares are not like any other nightmare I ever had. Nothing happens during these dreams. They’re just like visits from some really troubled spirits.

I’m tired and awake at the same time and sleep doesn’t seem like an option, so I get up and read my organic chemistry book and before I know it, my alarm is going off. I wake grateful for those few hours of ghost-free sleep. The whole time I’m getting ready for class, all I can think of is what I’m going to say to my landlord to convince him to let me break my lease. In fact, that’s all I can think about all day. It’s got to be something really good and desperate. He’s a real bastard, my landlord, but he’s got to have a shred of compassion somewhere deep inside. I’ll tell him my mom is really sick and I need to go back home to New Jersey. I don’t feel bad about using my mom for an excuse, because I don’t have one. I did have one but she left before I was old enough to talk, so I never knew her.

“The doctors say it looks really bad,” I tell the landlord, who’s leaning back in his chair smoking one of those long, thin, brown cigarettes that looks like something a woman, not a man, should smoke.

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, but how can I help you?” I listen for any evidence of mercy in his voice but there’s none. I suspect that he knows I’m lying. He probably lies all the time so he’s good at detecting when he’s being lied to. I’m not feeling too positive, but I force myself to go ahead. “I need to move back to New Jersey to be with her, so I have to leave and I can’t rent here anymore.” Hoping for some sympathy, I look right into his eyes, which look like two gray marbles that lost their shine.

“I’d like to help you, Bree, but a contract’s a contract. My hands are tied.” He’s a much better liar than I am and I feel slightly envious of his ability. I’m sure he’s seeing right through me. Even if he did believe me, I don’t think he’d care. He’s not like an ordinary human being. He’s asocial or afflicted with some other mental disorder that makes him incapable of feeling emotion. I’ve never hated anyone before, but I think I really hate this guy. I leave dejected and head upstairs to the ghost chamber.

I wonder if all the other apartments in the building are haunted. Nobody else here seems distressed. Maybe they’re all drunk or stoned and wouldn’t notice a visit in their sleep, or maybe this is the only haunted place in the building. That would explain why it was the only place available and why the landlord seemed so anxious to rent it to me.

I’m jarred out of my thoughts by a knock on the door. I open the door to find a guy holding a pizza box and wearing a pair of bell-bottoms that makes him look like he walked out of 1974.

“I didn’t order a pizza,” I say.

“Oh, sorry about that,” he says with a nice smile of straight white teeth that don’t look like they belong to a pizza delivery guy. The rest of him is cute too and I’m wishing I didn’t feel like such a wreck and that I remembered to put makeup on this morning. “It’s for the people down the hall but they’re not answering. I knocked on both of their neighbors’ doors but they’re not answering either.” He looks at me with hope that I have a solution but the only thing I can think of saying is that he can come inside and wait a few minutes and then try back at the door down the hall. I normally wouldn’t make the offer but the guy seems harmless and so pathetic that I feel bad for him.

“I’d offer to try and get in touch with the people down the hall, but I don’t know who they are,” I say as he’s coming in. “In fact, I don’t know anybody in this place.”

“How long you been here?” he asks, sitting down on the only chair.

“Not long, only a couple weeks, but it feels like forever.”

“Why’s that?”

I normally don’t divulge my problems to anyone, let alone strangers, but I’m out of sorts and frazzled and I feel comfortable telling him about the nightmares because he doesn’t seem like the type of person who gets freaked out by supernatural stuff. Besides, I’m feeling really alone and need to talk to somebody about what’s happening and the pizza guy might be the only thing coming my way.

“They’re not like regular nightmares. More like visits from really disturbed spirits.”

“Figures,” he says. “Everybody knows this place is haunted. Rumor has it that it was built on top of an Indian burial ground. They cut down all the headstones and just built this place like there weren’t any dead bodies in the ground. They also say that for years it was used as an insane asylum and a sanitarium and that Doc Holliday died here.”

“Who’s Doc Holliday?” There are so many other questions I want to ask, but this is the first one that comes out.

“A cowboy. A badass cowboy.”

“I don’t know much about cowboys or the wild days of the West. I’m from New Jersey.”

“What brought you out here?”

“Originally a boyfriend, but then we broke up and I decided to stay for school.”

“Why did you end up moving into this haunted place? Nowhere else?” He says this like he already knows the answer, and he does. There was no place else and when I tell him that, he nods smugly.

“Now I’m stuck,” I say, staring down at the box of pizza he placed on the floor.

He just sits there like he’s deep in thought, maybe trying to figure out a way I can get out of this place, and comes back with, “I’m sure you’ll think of something.” Then he says he’d better head out and tells me if there’s still no answer down the hall, he’ll just leave the box there and get the money next time. He says they order pizza all the time. I hit him up with one more question as he’s leaving: “So this place must be pretty old then if it was around in cowboy times?”

“This place is so old that the bricks are coming loose.”

***

The next day after class, I stop by some New Age store down the road, thinking they might have something I can use to get rid of the bad spirits coming into my dreams. At the very least, they’ll probably be into my haunted-house story. The place is dark and small and crammed with crystals and incense and smells of burning sage. There’s a lady sitting at the counter dressed in bright orange. She’s got a twinkle in her eyes like she knows some important, cosmic truth.

“Hello,” she greets me.

“Hi. I’m looking for something to get rid of bad spirits that are coming in my sleep.” I get right down to business. She seems delighted to hear what I’ve come in search of and gets up from her seat with exuberance. She shows me some pink and purple crystals and says to sleep with them right by my head. I’m happy they don’t cost a fortune and I buy them and leave.

I come home and put them right next to my bed on top of the textbook that functions as my nightstand. They’re as close to my head as possible and I’m trying to stay hopeful that they’ll get me through the night, but they prove themselves worthless. In fact, the ghosts seem even more aggressive than usual, like they’re angry that I tried to keep them out. The way I’m thinking is starting to scare me. How would the ghosts know my intentions? Maybe they’re getting inside my head and making me crazy. I remind myself that the pizza guy said that everybody knows that this place is haunted, and then, I don’t feel like I’m losing my mind. I can’t wait to see the pizza guy again.

I think about him all through my classes the next day, not in a romantic way, but in a way, like he’s my salvation. I hustle out of class and ride my bike super-fast, but get caught in a dust storm right as I’m approaching my street. It’s scary, but not as scary as going to sleep has become. I’m relieved to get home without having blown away. As soon as I get home, the rain starts, but it’s not like any rain I’ve ever seen. It’s coming in my apartment window horizontally, going all the way across the room that’s at least five hundred square feet. I don’t know whether or not to close the windows, because I’m afraid they’ll get shattered by the force of the rain, plus I’m afraid to get anywhere near them, so I go sit in my closet, where the rain can’t go.

I close my eyes and curl my little body up into a ball and start to cry. I rarely cry, but know that the lack of sleep has something to do with my tearfulness. Also, I think this place is going to be the fucking end of me! I see the faces of my best friend and my brother and cry more, thinking, what if I never see them again? Just as the tears are rolling and the rain is coming, I hear a knock.

“Who’s there?” I shout so I can be heard over the rain.

“Pizza guy.”

“Be there in a minute.” I get up quick, run into the bathroom, dry my tears, and put some lipstick on in hopes of making me look less like a depressed zombie. The rain outside suddenly subsides as if by magic and by the time I get to the door, it stops completely. It stopped as quickly as it started. I open the door to find him dressed in the same exact getup he was wearing last time. Weird. He’s holding a pizza box in one hand again too so I guess that he had no luck delivering a pizza to the people down the hall.

“No answer down the hall again?”

He shakes his head back and forth and asks me if I would mind if he comes in so he can get off his feet. He says his feet are killing him. I look down at his shoes to see a worn-out pair of Converse sneakers that look as outdated as his bell-bottoms. But even more bizarre is that he’s completely dry.

“Why aren’t you wet from the storm?”

“I ducked in just in time,” he says. “Never seen anything like it.”

“Yeah, what was that?”

“Got me,” he says as he sits down. “Some kind of freak storm.”

“Seems to fit with everything else around here.”

“What do you mean? Still getting those visits?”

“Every night. God, I wish there were a way out of here.” I collapse on the edge of my bed.

“It’s going to be tough getting out of here with your landlord. He’s a real jerk.” He says this with authority in his voice, like he knows the landlord.

“What do you know about him?”

“Heard he kicked some poor old lady out who couldn’t make her rent. Who kicks an old lady out on the street? It’s heartless.”

“When I went to ask him about getting out of my lease, I told him my mom was real sick and I wanted to go back home to be with her. He said his hands were tied, like I don’t know that’s total bullshit. God, I hate him.”

“I don’t blame you,” he says as he gets up. “Well anyway, better get back to work.” I wish he didn’t have to go so soon.

“Hey, what’s your name anyway?” he says to me on the way out the door.

“Bree.”

“Like the cheese?”

“Yeah,” I say, jaded from having heard this joke my whole life.

“Mine’s Keith.” Even his name is from the seventies. “Like Keith Richards.”

“That miracle of science,” I say. He laughs, but then he scratches his head like he doesn’t quite get the joke.

I close the door behind him and am hit with a hunger pain so strong that it hurts. I go to my refrigerator, which is bare. I leave my place to go shopping. Outside, tree branches and debris are scattered everywhere. I get to my car to find a huge, old tree right on top of it, covering the front hood and half of the door on the driver’s side. I’m not shocked, partly because I’m so tired and partly because weird stuff is starting to seem normal.

I’m going to need help getting this big tree off my car. I wish Keith were still around. I look for some good Samaritan, preferably male, to walk by, but I’m not too hopeful. It seems that the storm has scared everyone indoors. I see a small blond girl coming out of the building and I just stare at her, hoping that she’ll take sympathy on me. She does. She walks in my direction while looking at the tree smothering my car.

“Is that your car?” She speaks in a baby voice.

“Yeah,” I say. “Just my luck.”

“I’ll go grab my boyfriend,” she offers. “He can help you move it off.”

“Thank you so much!”

I’m happy when I see her boyfriend is tall and husky and he moves the tree off my car like he’s taking a blanket off a bed.

“Thank you so much for your help,” I say as he’s cutting branches with a giant-size pair of scissors.

“Sure,” he says. “You got a chip in your glass. Better get that fixed before it spreads. Get it fixed at that place up the street and they’ll give you ten free meals at Sizzler.”

“Oh, thanks for the tip,” I say, trying to seem interested.

After he’s done removing the tree, I see a big dent in the hood. Luckily, I don’t give a shit about the cosmetic appearance of my car and I decide that as long as it runs, I won’t get it fixed. Better yet, I’ll get a high estimate on the damage and put the insurance money toward my tuition. I get inside my car and I’m relieved to find that the motor runs and when I drive in the parking lot, the car seems fine. So I drive it out of the lot and go shopping for food.

When I come back, I eat and crash by ten only to be awakened at three in the morning by another ghostly visit. I turn on the lights and find myself praying. I’m not religious and I haven’t prayed in years and I’m not sure what to say, so go for a simple prayer: “Dear God, please help me out down here. I’m having a real bad time.” I grab a book and read myself back to sleep.

The next day, I’m so tired that I nod off during one of my classes. I’m depressed and just want to go to sleep somewhere, so after class I find a couch in an isolated part of the library and fall into the best sleep I’ve had in weeks. I don’t wake up until it’s dark outside and I get out of the library and ride my bike home fast for fear of missing Keith.

I get home, settle in quickly and in minutes, I hear a knock on the door. I slap some lipstick on and answer to Keith wearing the same thing again. I’m starting to think these are the only clothes he owns. Pizza delivery isn’t the most lucrative business, after all.

“Hey, Keith, good to see you,” I say like he’s a long-lost friend.

“No answer again.” He has a big grin on his face, like he’s not upset that the people who call for pizza delivery are never home.

“May as well come in and take a load off.”

“Thanks a bunch, Bree.” I’m glad he remembers my name. “Those ghosts still bothering you?”

“You know it.” I make a big sigh to show my disgust. “I’ll try anything at this point.”

“You try talking to them?”

“I told you I talked to my landlord.”

“No, not him, them.” He points up.

“The ghosts,” I say through a laugh.

“You said you’d try anything.”

“Well, I meant something realistic like waking up super early before they visit.”

“What time is that?”

“Well, that’s the problem. The visits are like three in the morning so I’d have to get up at like two thirty and that’s not gonna work. Besides, even if it was later like five or six in the morning, I can’t wake up early. I never could.”

“Morning people. I don’t trust them.”

“Huh?”

“I don’t trust morning people. They’re always up early, making trouble.”

“Guess I never really thought about it. I just don’t like waking up early is all. I had to get up early when I worked for a supermarket one summer.”

“Hey, I worked at a supermarket too one summer. I bagged groceries. Well, I started off being a cashier but I got demoted to bagging. My dad never had much faith in me and after that, he had less. One morning he’s dropping me off for work and he says to me, ‘Son, just act like you’re too stupid to know the difference between frozen peas and canned peas and then everybody will leave you alone.’”

“He sounds like a jerk.”

“Yeah, he was a jerk.” He says this like he’s realizing this fact for the first time in his life. Then he says he has to get going. On the way out, I ask him if the people down the hall ever paid him for the other two pizzas and he says, “They sure did.”

After he leaves, I take a bath and have a glass of wine in hopes of having a better night’s sleep but I’m awakened again at the same time I’m awakened every night—three in the morning. I hear Keith’s voice in my head suggesting that I talk to the spirits and my own voice reminding myself that I have nothing else left. I need to give whoever I speak to a name, so I decide that Doc Holliday is my man because that’s the only name I have for any of these ghosts.

“Hey, Doc Holliday, I know you can’t answer back, but can you maybe give me some kind of symbol if you hear me. I’ll take anything.” I look around and listen hard for any sounds. I don’t see or hear anything, but then I feel something on my left shoulder. It’s super subtle, as light as the breath of a mouse. I decide that this is enough.

“Thanks for listening. I’m much obliged, as they used to say in your time. Not that I know much about cowboy culture, having grown up in New Jersey and all, but my dad was a big John Wayne fan, so I know something about the days of the Wild West. Sorry I didn’t know who you were, but now I do and I’m asking you…no, I’m begging you, please help me out. I got nowhere to turn and I haven’t slept right in days and I’m tired and scared I’m gonna lose my mind if I have to stay here too much longer. I heard somewhere you can go crazy if you’re really sleep deprived. So I gotta get out of here and my landlord’s a cold-hearted bastard and he won’t let me out of my lease. If he could just go away somehow or become a decent person. I guess that’s asking for a miracle though and you don’t perform miracles. I’m sure you could though if you wanted to.” I don’t want to offend him. I decide I’d better wrap this up before I say something really stupid. “So listen, thanks for hearing me out and I’d so much appreciate anything you can do. Take care now.”

After I’m done talking, I sit quietly and notice that the place feels better than usual, like I can turn the lights off and go to sleep and not worry about any more visits for the night. So that’s what I do and I sleep sound through the rest of the night. I even sleep through my alarm, which goes off for ten minutes before I hear it. As I get up to turn it off, I hear the scream of an ambulance outside. I look out the window to see that it’s pulling right into the parking lot of my apartment building. The paramedics get out and run a stretcher to the entrance of the building. I stand by my window, mesmerized. About a minute later, they’re carrying a man out on the stretcher. I wonder if my eyes are fooling me when I see it’s my landlord.

I grab my keys and run outside, where I see the building handyman and I ask him what happened. He tells me a brick fell on the landlord’s head when he was doing something in the basement. He says he didn’t see it happen, but he heard him scream and when he found him, he was face-down on the ground with a brick on his head. I hear Keith saying how the building’s so old that the bricks are coming loose and telling me to talk to the ghosts. I’m sure it’s the Doc who orchestrated the whole thing.

***

After I get home from class, I learn from one of my neighbors that the landlord died. When I get the news, I pretend like I’m real upset, but I feel a great relief inside. I don’t feel like a murderer. I didn’t tell the Doc to kill him; I only asked for help. I left it open. I can’t help it if he thought that killing my landlord was the solution. I guess I should have figured. Cowboys are a pretty violent bunch, especially the badass ones, like Doc Holliday. I assuage the little bit of remorse I have by telling myself that my landlord’s better off dead; that he was a miserable, terrible person; and that now he won’t be able to hurt people, like me, and the poor old lady he threw out on the street. This last thought gets me moving on.

It’s five o’clock and I should be seeing Keith any minute now. I can’t wait to tell him what happened. He’s not around though. I wander the hallways but still don’t see him. Maybe he came earlier today or maybe he’s not coming at all today. I wish I knew the name of the pizza place he works for so I can get in touch with him.

I go back to my place and try to get some homework done, but it’s no use. I have to talk to Keith, so I go knock on the door down the hall. Some thin, pale lady with black big-rimmed glasses that match her hair answers the door.

“Hi. I live down the hall. My name’s Bree?” I say this more like a question than a statement because I’m taken off guard that someone actually answered the door. I guess I wasn’t expecting someone to answer the door because no one ever answered the door for Keith. She seems nice enough and tells me her name is Doria. I can’t imagine her eating a pizza under any circumstances, but I go ahead and ask her about Keith anyway.

“Hey, I know this is a weird question, but have you seen the pizza guy today?”

She looks at me like I have twelve heads and doesn’t say anything. So I say, “You know, that guy who’s always trying to deliver a pizza to your place.”

“I never got a pizza delivered here,” she says while maintaining the twelve-heads expression. “In fact, I never had a pizza delivered to me in my life. I rarely eat pizza, but if I was going to eat it, I wouldn’t have it delivered.”

I get shivers down my spine and feel my head float away from the rest of me. Could it be that Keith was just something I imagined? If so, I may be insane. Or maybe he was a ghost. That would seem like a more likely explanation, given that ghosts are definitely in the building. I must find out for sure, but how? I know. I’ll knock on all the doors in the place. I thank Doria for her time and I’m off. When I leave, she’s still staring at me with that same look on her face, like her face froze in time.

I go about knocking on all the doors in the building. Some don’t answer and some do. The ones who answer all give me the same confused expression as Doria. I describe the outfit he always wore, the color of his hair, how he always carried a pizza in one arm as if it was an extension of him. They just continue staring at me, their stare getting more confused by the second. I’ve gone through every apartment in the building. All I can do now is wait and see if Keith shows up again, and then, when and if he does, I’ll make him take me out to his car to see if he really is a figment of my imagination or a human being. I’ll find out one way or another.

***

Each day blurs into the next and one day, I wake up and realize that two weeks have passed since my landlord was killed. I probably should have found another place to live by now, but I’m in no real rush because the visits from the tortured spirits have stopped. Maybe they just needed some kind of sacrifice, like my landlord.

I wish that the visits from Keith, the friendly ghost, hadn’t stopped, but they did and I now accept that he won’t be returning. He must have been sent by the head ghost to help me out, which he did. It all makes sense now: The same seventies outfit he always wore, the way he didn’t get my Keith Richards joke, the way the pizza never gave off an aroma, how no one ever answered the door, and most of all, how I was the only one who ever saw him.

I wonder if Keith was the one who killed my landlord, if he was the one who listened to my plea, if he was one of the ghosts that visited me in my sleep, or if he was Doc Holliday himself. Maybe he was doing all the haunting and calling himself Doc Holliday because he always wanted to be a badass cowboy. Maybe he talked to Doc Holliday and convinced him to kill my landlord and to lay off haunting me. I guess I’ll never know. I guess nobody really knows how things work in the spirit world.

 

 

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