Oculus School for Ghosts
“Bartard! Bartard!” A voice rang up the empty well of souls.
Appearing from thin air, the presence known as Bartard stood at the side of the presence that had summoned him in a raucous tone of voice. The presence turned and acknowledged him, “There you are.”
“What seems to be so urgent, Mr. Biggs?” He asked with a hint of sarcasm mixed in with his subservient, longanimous style.
“We have new students a-foot.” He cleared his throat.
With a quick undetected roll of his eyes, the short stout presence known as Bartard, bowed and handed the presence known as Mr. Biggs a slip of paper.
“I am so not in the mood for this.” Mr. Biggs stomped his foot. His chubby face was turning red as he spoke, “There are over twenty names on this docket.”
“I am aware of this, sir.” Bartard shook his head ever so slightly.
“How come there are so many?” Mr. Biggs asked.
“Bad day on the highway, I suppose.” He tried hard to hide his all-knowing smirk.
“They seem to come in bunches lately.” Mr. Biggs put the docket on his desk behind him.
“Well, you are the principal after all.” Bartard shrugged, adding a final dagger to the conversation.
“Yes. Orcus School for Ghosts.” He put his hand to his multiple chins, “I long for the day when I can put in my termination papers.”
“You and the rest of the staff.” Bartard mumbled as he walked away.
Twenty souls assembled in the courtyard in front of the school as Mr. Bigg appeared on the second story balcony. He peered over the newcomers wondering which of them would pass the final exam. Recently there seemed to be a high failure rate which he had come under scrutiny, but he held to strict standards that governed the craft of haunting. Haunting was a simple affair, but there were strict rules that regulated the contact between the living and nonliving. There had been numerous incidents recently that had to be carefully reviewed by the board to determine what action needed to be taken to minimize the impact of transgression. Mr. Biggs was the chairman of the board on this committee and transgressions usually fell upon those not qualified to haunt. Only those presence who had a diploma were allowed to have contact with the living through a certified haunting.
How many times had Mr. Biggs sat in a hearing listening to the testimony of a presence over their contact with a living loved one. During this unauthorized contact between living and nonliving, the presence was always guilty of letting the living loved one know that he or she was in good hands. Like there was a choice, really?
“Welcome new souls, I am the principal of Orcus School for Ghost and you are my newest students.” He said as part of a ritualistic greeting, “Many of you will not graduate from this institution. Do not stress over this, but know you may not haunt. Only those who have a diploma from this school may become full fledged spirits as I am. We are very strict in this matter, so please do not violate these sacred rules.”
As he looked out into the courtyard, he knew there were more than twenty souls gathered for enrollment. Already he could see problems with this new class. They chattered and laughed too much for his liking. In order to graduate, a student needed to be serious and dedicated. None of those he saw in the courtyard before him seemed serious enough for what lay before them.
With a limited number of options to choose from, he called, “Nora, I need you to get the new students situated.”
“Yes sir.” But she did not feel the urge to gather up the gaggle of newbies milling about in the courtyard. “Do you really think we can find just five good candidates that can complete the training?”
“You have overestimated the talent and ability of these new students.” He shook his head in dismay.
Blessed with efficiency, Nora wrangled the noisy rabble into the conference room where Mr. Bigg stood in the front of the room with a microphone. He urged them to settle down and find a chair to sit in while he addressed them.
“You will refer to me as Mr. Bigg as most presences around here do.” He paused for one final scan of the room where over forty new souls had assembled. The reason he knew this was there were forty chairs arranged in the conference room and yet over half were left to stand, “Welcome to Orcus School of Ghosts. We do have strict rules regarding our curriculum of proper protocol for contact with the living. Some of you sitting…or standing in this room, may have been alive a short time ago, but in case you were not aware, you have become a presence. What this means is you are no longer among the living. If truth be told, life is short and eternity is forever. Yes, women in the back.”
“Why is that?” She asks.
“Ma’am, if I knew the answer, I would be running this place.” He sighed.
“So where are we exactly?” A man piped up.
“This is a holding area.” He explained. “And until we determine where you belong, you will remain here.”
“Seems kinda of sketchy.” The man shook his head before sitting down.
“Nothing is perfect. We are under a lot of regulations with the goal of making sure you are placed where you belong. This school for instance was set up to accommodate contact with the living, but you must be certified.”
“I was a certified plumber.” A man in the back spoke as he raised his hand.
“Were. No longer.” Mr. Bigg closed his eyes.
“I belonged to the union.” I continued, “And my wife will get my pension.”
“Good.” He nodded.
“She’s my ex-wife. She’s a money grubbing-”
“We have a lot to get through. These certifications are not easy.” He held up his stout hand, “So if you excuse me, Nora will pass out your class assignments.”
As he spoke, Nora passed each of them a paper. There was a murmur.
Mr. Bigg walked the halls the next day to see how the new students were faring. Sybil was holding a class on casual contact that seemed to have a lot of gaffes and awkward encounters. He had never really cared for Sybil, because she had a very unorthodox approach to the matter of contact with the living. Her understanding was the presences or students wished to return to the living world, but as he had often seen, the world had been very cruel to some of them. There were a lot of street people. In Oculus, there was a sense of belonging. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but no matter how he changed the rules, it always ended up, the school became their new home. There were worse things.
The bulletin board in the front room could be a source of misery for some since notices were posted about where the presence were to be placed. Not everyone went on the up elevator, some were put in the down or spiral elevator. He had heard the screams as the button was pushed and he loathed it, but there had to be a set procedure, because without it, this place would be chaos.
“He’s a dictator.” Lucifer once said as Mr. Bigg waited by the elevator where the screams of the damned could be heard.
“Don’t say that.” Mr. Bigg retorted.
“Why? Can’t speak the truth.” He sneered.
“What would you do if he put you on this elevator?” Mr. Bigg jerked his head toward the catapult to Hell.
“I would rule the place.” His laugh was a low guttural snarl. Mr. Bigg envied Lucifer. He was by far the handsomest angel of the flock with his dark complexion and neatly trimmed beard. His face did not break out in pimples whenever he ate candy.
“Send me down there, Seamus. Seamus Bigg.” He dared him, “I will get in and all you have to do is press the down button.”
“What are you? Scared?” Lucifer chuckled.
“It’s not that.” Bigg shook his head.
“Then what is it, Seamus?” His fingers slid over the controls. “This school is a joke.”
“Why do you say that?” Bigg stood rigid.
“Because they are always passing down edits about this or that concerning this school.” He howled with laughter. “If a presence wanted to encounter someone from the living world, then so be it.”
“It is against the regulations.” Bigg stuck out his chin.
“There is a garden down there with two people.” He proclaimed. “I will go down there and play around a bit.”
“Watch me, Seamus.” His long tongue ran over my forehead before he disappeared.
Death became the border. Every person who was put on Earth had to suffer the pain of death once Lucifer returned. There was gossip about a trial and then putting him in the elevator just as he told me he wanted.
“I hated doing that.” He said at a meeting, “But Lucifer defied me and I could not let him get away with it. It hurt me to press that button. I will miss him. He was truly my favorite, but that is just between us.”
Divine intervention was prohibited, but Seamus knew of instances where the rules were bent for a more favorable outcome. Fairness never seemed to be considered. He pretended that it did not bother him, but seeing Pharaoh's army drowned in the Red Sea did not sit well with him.
“I think we need a school.” He blurted out in a meeting. Everyone looked at him as if he had lost his mind.
“What for, Seamus?” He shook his head.
“If we are to use divine intervention, there should be rules.” He pointed out, “I feel that this would improve our relations with the land of living.”
“Seamus, these living humans will one day die anyway. What difference will it make?” He laughed.
“It could make a big difference.” He would not relent on the matter.
“Perhaps you are right.” He shrugged, “I shall put you in charge of this undertaking.”
The name came from a character of the Roman perception of the underworld where a boatman would transport souls to the other side of this river for a fare.
“What in the world are you doing Seamus?” Gabriel put his hands on his hips as some workmen hung the sign that read, “Oculus School for Ghosts.”
“We are creating a school so we can learn how to interact with those from the world of the living.” Mr. Bigg stuck out his gut as a gesture of pride and a job well done.
“You are nuts.” Gabriel laughed.
As stated earlier, haunting proved to be a simple matter, but there were those who felt they could disregard the rules which found its way to yellow journalism and less reputable publications that sold copies based on sensational stories and nothing was more worthy of such attention as a good fashion haunting. Sometimes, Mr. Bigg would appear at newsstands and peruse some of the stories. He would cringe whenever he saw a haunting by someone he actually knew or associated with.
“What’s the big deal, Seamus?” He was asked at a meeting.
“The big deal is we have created this line between us and them and then we ignore it.” His plump face turned red.
“Is that such a big deal?” He was asked by the chairman.
“I think it is.” He said with determination.
“Hmpt, I’m not so sure.”
“It will create chaos. Without proper haunting rules, we will blur the line until we don’t be able to tell who is who.” He stood there panting.
“So be it.”
“Oglethorpe, is that you?” Mr. Bigg was standing by a well near a farmhouse.
“Yes, Shamus, it’s me.” All that could be seen were his heterochromia eyes.
“What are you doing there?” Mr. Bigg asked.
“Waiting for Sylvia.” He answered with an echo from the well.
“Well, I died when I was in love with her.” He rose out of the well.
“Yes, it was terrible.” Oglethorpe nodded. From what Mr. Bigg knew, he was not the sharpest tool in the shed.
“How did you die?” Mr. Bigg asked.
“I fell in a well and drowned.” He affirmed.
Sylvia came out of the farmhouse to get a quick smoke, but when she saw the ghosts by the well, she screamed and ran back into the farmhouse.
“We’d better vanish.” Oglethorpe suggested.
“Good idea.” Mr. Bigg agreed as they both disappeared.
“There is an art to a good haunting.” LaMark lectured in his class while Mr. Bigg sat in the back of the lecture hall. Waving his lithe hands, he made a stack of papers levitate. The students applauded, but Mr. Bigg did not. “Class dismissed.”
The students filed out leaving LaMark alone with Mr. Bigg. As he put his papers in his briefcase, he smiled and asked, “What did you think, Seamus?”
“I do not wish to comment.” He shrugged. “There are times I do not wish to be thought of as just a ghost.”
“I get it.” He pointed a finger at Seamus.
“Do you?” He sniffed.
“Sure, sure, we think of ourselves as the wise ones who have lived their lives, gathered the wisdom of our existence and brought it back here.” LeMark smiled and closed his briefcase.
“Did we?” Mr. Bigg shook his head slowly. “What did you learn in your lifetime?”
“Hard to say.”
“Say it, Mr. LeMark.” Mr. Bigg stood between him and an escape route.
“I spent my life in the coal mines.” He said after some thought.
“What did you bring back with you?” Mr. Bigg asked.
“That I hate the dark.” He bowed his head, “And the coal dust. Black lung got me before I reached thirty-five.”
“Ah, whacha gonna do about it, eh?”
Mr. Bigg went back to his old neighborhood in Pittsburgh to his favorite watering hole.
“Brett, why don’t you rack ‘em up.” One of the men at the bar elbowed the fellow next to him.
“Wager?” The man next to him asked.
“Of course. Ain’t nothing for free.” The old man chuckled.
Mr. Bigg knew he would be dead by the end of the year.
Brett racked them up on the worn out old pool table and put a cigarette between his lips. Lung cancer would claim Brett before he turned fifty. While he was only thirty three, time had a way of flying by. The treatment would be expensive and painful.
Mr. Bigg watched them trade jibes and chalk dust. He had last entered this place twenty years ago, a week before his fatal heart attack. When he lifted himself out of his mortal coil, he rose in the sky. Time no longer mattered. Time was no longer a factor. At first it was hard to get used to, but once he did his presence seemed to be quite at home. Sure, he was a pain in the ass, but the truth was little by little all of his cronies would soon be here with him.
He was known as Mr. Bigg for two reasons; one he was a large man and two he liked to push his weight around.
The Oculus School for Ghosts was his contribution, his monument to making this a better place. He knew one day it would no longer be needed as the line between the living and the nonliving would be erased just like every line ever drawn in the sand.