“Please, have a seat,” says Dr. Baylor.
Anna’s arms are folded over her chest as she sits down, taking note of the various types of mason jars scattered around the office. She wants to ask about them, but decides against it. Dr. Baylor takes a seat at his desk, crossing his legs and interlacing his fingers in his lap.
“So, Miss Hirsch, what brings you here today?”
“My heart beats really fast sometimes, like someone’s coming to get me. I get these adrenaline rushes. My stomach starts hurting and I have some trouble sleeping.”
The sound of his fingertips on the keyboard of his laptop is like rain pattering on a windowsill.
“And are you working?” he asks.
“Yea, I’ve got my own thing going...”
Anna expects him to scoff at her line of work.
“People call me to get rid of ghosts.”
“You’re an exorcist?”
“No, I’m an extractor. Exorcist comes with too much baggage, like demons and stuff. I don’t just help the client. I help the ghost, too.”
“I see. So, you believe in ghosts?”
Anna squirms in her seat and feigns nonchalance when she props her elbow on the arm of her chair. She doesn’t want him to think she’s bonkers, but she doesn’t want to lie either.
“There’s a lot of money to be made in this line of work. You don’t make a dime telling someone they’re crazy. Gotta feed the need, you know?”
Dr. Baylor doesn’t make eye contact as he leans back in his chair.
“Describe your life recently. How’s work been? Are you socializing?”
“Umm, I work a lot. I’m kind of an introvert, so I don’t hang out with people too much unless it’s to meet clients. I paint. Is that enough?”
Dr. Baylor smiles and asks, “Has work been stressful? I can’t imagine ghost-handling being easy.”
“I should probably just get the hell outta here…”
“Miss Hirsch, I can’t help you if I don’t understand you.”
“Well, in that case,” Anna says with an eye roll.
“Just answer the question. How’s work been?”
Anna’s palms are starting to sweat and the last thing she wants is for this guy to call her a schizoid.
“It’s been friggen’ crazy. One of my clients almost died and I got there just in time to stop it. Her boyfriend almost killed her.”
“Did you have a confrontation with the assailant?”
“So to speak.”
“Did you have a confrontation with a ghost?”
Anna says nothing.
Dr. Baylor returns his hands to the keyboard, filling the silence with his virtually manifesting thoughts. Anna begins to imagine her padded cell and the window that doesn’t open.
“You know, Anna, I can prescribe you medication, but it’s always better to actually extract the thing that’s causing your symptoms in the first place.”
“I like what you did there.”
He scribbles on a pad and hands her a prescription.
Anna lifts a brow. “Valium?”
“Low dose. Take it when the palpitations start. And avoid belligerent ghouls.”
Anna scales three flights of stairs in the parking garage and sucks one last drag from her cigarette before flicking it at the banister. When she started the business, she knew she would run into a real ghost here and there, but was hoping the majority of her clients would just be grief-stricken widows. Now, she’s receiving supernatural death threats and it’s making her reconsider her career path.
Anna attempts to unlock her car when someone shoves her into the driver’s side door, one large hand on the back of her head. She screams for help and presses the panic button on her remote. Her attacker yells at her to shut up as he searches her pockets for a wallet he can’t find. Sensing his panic, she braces herself and shoves back, getting one boot up on the car and then falling to the ground when he loses his hold on her. He kicks her in the ribs before making a run for it, not daring to look back even though his hood hides his face.
“Mother fucker,” Anna gasps, bracing her side with her arms as she tries to get on her feet.
She decides against chasing after him as she picks up her crumpled prescription from the ground. She winces and then silences the alarm on her car.
You’re too late, asshat.
“Are you alright? I was just coming out of the elevator when I saw you fall,” says Dr. Baylor, a little out of breath.
“Yea, yea. I’m fine, doc. All he took was my dignity.”
“Who? Were you mugged?”
“What the hell do you mean? You didn’t see him take off when you saw me fall? The coward.”
“Miss Hirsch, I saw you propped between the cars and then fall down…”
Anna shakes her head and starts the car, reaching to close the door. She notices Dr. Baylor looking at the blood dripping from her lip.
“I probably just missed him. You know, Miss Hirsch, there’s something to be said about the person who fights back.”
Anna freezes, staring at the steering wheel.
“They’ve got nothing to lose,” Dr. Baylor says.
“Well, Baylor. I guess you’re starting to understand me.”
Anna pulls the door shut and backs out, leaving her psychiatrist staring after her. She doesn’t bother calling the cops, knowing it’s a waste of time if they’d be chasing some disgruntled spectre. She just wants to get that Valium and throw it back with a couple bottles of High Life. Maybe she should just wait tables. Or conduct seances for sorority parties.
As she descends the parking garage to the exit, she notices the security officer asleep in his office. Fueled by leftover adrenaline and rage, she puts the car in park, gets out and walks straight in. The officer nearly falls from his seat, startled awake.
“Hey, your garage is fucking haunted. You know, just in case you thought your job was getting boring.”
Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal
For more in this series, see The Extractor, Beloved, Bury Their Own, and A Tremor in Your Name.