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The dwarf methodically opened the mailroom door and stepped aside to let Marv pass. The room was lit with dozens of candles and an animal skin lay draped on the table Marv used for sorting. The Dark Landlord was using golden cup to pour a viscous liquid that glowed faintly red as it flowed into an intricate pattern on the floor.

“Master, I have brought the Gheschtillian,”

The Dark Landlord spoke ominously. “Splendid. That will be all, Barclay. You may retire for the evening.”

“Very good, sir.”

With head bowed, Barclay backed out of the room. As soon as the door closed, the Dark Landlord chuckled and shook his head. “Barclay’s a hoot, huh?”

“Heebee jeebees not withstanding. Hey, what did he call me?”

“Later. So how ya doin’, Marv. I know, I know, the whole hand-delivery thing’s tedious but I must say, the tenants really like you. You know, they don’t get a lot of visitors and that midwestern charm of your goes a long way.”

“I’m from Utah but thanks. So now that my self esteem is flying high, what is going on? Does this have anything to do with whoever it is you’re summoning this week?”

“Ha! Funny you should ask. As a matter of fact,’re still single, right?”

“Yeah,” The word crossed his lips like a mountain climber on a ledge. “I don’t like where this is going,”

“You see, Marv, it’s like this. I am NOT an ambitious guy. As far as the afterlife is concerned, runnin’ this place is just my speed. Sergei Volkov on the other hand, he’s always got big plans for something. He wants to turn this place into a hot spot for ‘higher-end’ spirits. He’ll do a primo job on the place but, riff-raff, if you know what I mean.”

“So, he owns the building?”

“Well...kinda, sorta, technically. I mean, when he was alive, he and a couple of his guys bought the property. They’ve all been dead for, like, eighty years. Kids are all dead, too. Volkov’s convinced everyone else to give up interest in this place so he’s got the leverage. So that’s where you come in,”

“What? Me? What do I have to do with any of this?”

“Now Volkov’s is a total asshole when it comes to business BUT he is devoted to his family, especially his daughter. Long story short, I cut a deal that may save us. I figure he didn’t think I could pull it off but he’ll never bust a deal.”

Marv slid onto a nearby stool. “I have a feeling I may need to sit down for this.”

Quite pleased with himself, the Dark Landlord continued. “The deal is that if I can marry her off to a Gheschtillian, I get the building in all perpetuity. Hah!”

Marv jumped up. “Gheschtillian? What the hell does that even mean?”

“Well literally, it means ‘help me, there’s a goat in my kitchen’ but the in afterlife, it’s a person who can act as a bridge between the living and the dead.”

Marv cocked his head.

“Okay, most people can only see the spirits of family and sometimes close friends. YOU see all of them, right? And when they touch you, it feels kinda funny, like hitting your funny bone. Am I right?”

Marv plopped back down on the stool for a moment before slowing rising. He began pacing in front of the mail slots. With each pass, his eyes lingered on every name.

“So this is the only way?”

“Short of a living heir, yes...Look, you were not easy to find. I had to call in favors all over the damn city. And getting you assigned here? Sheesh. Can you imagine what it was like teaching Barclay to use the internet?”

Marv threw up his hands. “I have a life, you know. I mean it’s a lot of movies and sudoku puzzles but it’s something...And I just met someone for Chrissake. So, yeah, we haven’t gone on an actual date but I think we really had a moment.”

“You're talking about the housesitter up in 411, right? Oh yeah. Very cute. Lovely voice. Great cheekbones.”

“You are NOT helping me make my peace with this!”

“I get it. I’m sorry.” The Dark Landlord made himself busy, adjusting candles and comparing the design on the floor to a picture in an old book.

“Look, it may not be that bad. Have you considered that? Like, Volkov’s daughter died when she was in her late teen so she’ll probably be young forever and’ll probably be immortal, way. Oh, and he said he’d go all out on the honeymoon. Vallhalla’s really jumpin’ this time of year, Mt Olympus is gorgeous, the River Styx has some some excellent B&B’s. I tell ya’, Sergei’s got the hook up.”

Marv rolled his eyes. “So when is all this happening?”

“Let’s is Wednesday,” The Dark Landlord started counting on his fingers. “Uh...that would make that...tonight.”

Fuming, Marv resumed pacing.

“You hear that?” asked the Dark Landlord, looking up from his book.

“What? The sound of blood vessels popping in my brain?”

“No, not that. What’s that scratching?”

The faint scratching gave way to whimpering and barking. Marv quietly moved to the door and opened it quickly. Mrs Washington almost fell into the room. Wide-eyed, she stood frozen for a few seconds before wrapping Marv up in a bear hug.

“Oh, Marv. I don’t know what to say,”

“Thanks, Mrs W, it’s just ow, ooh...hey, Webster,”

“So what will you do? Where will you live?” Mrs Washington asked frantically.

“Wow. I didn’t really think about that,” He turned his head to the Dark Landlord. “Hey, DL, so wh…”

Mrs Washington grabbed both of Marv’s arms, snapping his attention back to her. She stared intently into his eyes.

“I’ll be right back,” she said resolutely before turning on her heels and rushing back out into the hallway.

Marv called after her. “Wait! What are you gonna do?”

Her head popped from around the corner. “I’m getting everyone. You’re doing this for us so we all need to be here.”


Created: Jun 24, 2017


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