“A Tiny Haunting” (Excerpt)

A WAXING MOON HANGS ITSELF in the sky over Scottsdale, its silver face dampened by a passing cloud. Anna, Jock, and I greet each other in its sensual glow, commenting on the autumn chill and admiring the lush details of Anna’s garden. The yard is ringed in mature olive trees and white-bloomed shrubs—gladioli, mums, and cabbage roses; in a dark corner a full-bodied elm tree rises from a mound of mulch while sweet alyssum creeps around a stone path across the lawn, the grass showing a vivid shade of green under the lattice of moonlight. It’s an impressive plot of land, if entirely outsized for the house it’s meant to showcase. While stylish and clean lined, Anna’s home is no bigger than a shipping crate, hovering a full foot off the ground on hidden skids. It was prefab and assembled on site, Anna tells us, a product of the tiny house movement…surely we’ve heard of it?

I assure her we have, but Jock only lowers his chin in a partial nod. He’s taking to Anna so silently and so subtly that he doesn’t even seem to be aware of his desire. It is a virile, autonomic thing. He stands between us, macho and stoic, his legs rooted firmly in the grass and hands tucked inside the pockets of his Cardinals hoodie, but it’s clear to me—he’s magnetized. His body inclines toward Anna in breathless increments, and in response she fakes disdain with a coquettish lowering of the eyes—that trope of a gesture, a mating feint, an ugly dance. I’m no more blind to Jock’s romantic lapses than he is to my occasional bouts of envy, but having been business partners for the better part of two years, we’ve learned to tolerate each other’s petty offenses. It’s the pathology of brotherhood, the common abuses of a too-familiar friendship.

Anna Chalmers is also a familiar element, of sorts. Jock and I once shared a homeroom with her back at Saganitso STEM Academy in Flagstaff, where she sat attentively in the front row wearing pinstriped men’s shirts and ballet flats decorated with silver horse bits, her sand-colored ponytail slicked back and resting high on her crown. Though our acquaintance was brief—she was gone before summer—the five-year gap between then and now has made the idea of Anna, a specter from our past, lavishly mystifying. She is a woman now; moreover, a different sort of woman than anyone would have predicted. As she leads us into her home, Jock takes mental note of her physiognomy: her face, faintly anguished; dyed black hair and kohl-smudged eyes; the pallid, tattooed forearms, St. Peter on one and Hellboy on the other, masterful in black ink, the Sistine Chapel in line art. I find the grownup version of Anna Chalmers mildly repulsive. Jock, on the other hand, is cultivating the possibilities. There is a danger in their contrasts—a scorching, sexual danger—and he is wondering what it might feel like to break her open.

To communicate the obvious: the timing isn’t ideal.

Anna’s reached out to Jock and me—the Northern Arizona Paranormal Society—not for erotic theater but for support. She is desperate to rid herself of a ghost.

—from Conjunctions 68: Inside Out: Architectures of Experience