Chapter 45

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After the second Walsh address is a miss, Herman finally asks Zandra the question on his mind since they entered the taxi. It's not a yellow car ubiquitous to metropolitan areas, but rather a minivan with the Stevens Point Taxi insignia attached to the sliding door with a magnet.

"What's that thing on your lap, Zandra?" Herman says as the taxi driver gives a polite beep to a squirrel attempting to cross the road. He points at something that looks like an old radio, only smaller and more rectangular. A single speaker is mounted below a digital radio dial along with a few unusual buttons. They're labeled "SWEEP FWD," "SWEEP REV," "SWEEP RATE."

Zandra grabbed the object before the left Sneak Peek earlier that morning to look for the family of Dvorak's kidney donor. She made sure to pop in fresh batteries.

"This?" Zandra says and taps a nicotine-stained finger on the object resting atop the flowing purple gown covering her knees. "This is a ghost box. I can't believe you haven't seen one before."

"A ghost box? Does it hold spirits inside?" Herman says and scratches the same itchy patch of dry skin on his chin he's been clawing at all morning. He has to dig through his beard with black fingernails to get to it. The flakes get caught in his beard on their descent to the floor. He shakes them free and repeats the process over again, surprising himself by how much dead skin accumulated over the years. The taxi driver coughs and rolls a window down. Despite his scrubbing earlier, Herman still smells exactly as one would expect for having lived in a trash heap.

"No spirits, but it does contain something else," Zandra says.

"Like what?"

Oh, Herman. Always the true believer. Can't have too many useful idiots at your side when you're playing the psychic game. He'll be a nice prop for later.

Zandra clicks the ghost box on and lowers the volume before hitting the SWEEP FWD button. The box sounds like someone rapidly skimming through radio stations. Nothing but static comes out of the speaker, and the stations change too quickly to make out any music or voices.

"Hear that?" she says.

"Hear what?" Herman says. "You should take that back to where you bought it from, because your radio is busted."

"Actually, it's working perfectly. It just needs two things: someone in tune with spirits and a few cooperative spirits," Zandra says. She recalls the pamphlet that came with the ghost box after she ordered it out of a catalog. "In years past, a medium would call up a spirit and then act as the conduit for the entity to communicate through. The medium would physically speak for the spirit while in a trance. Take that technique and update it with modern technology, and you've got..."

Herman's eyes go wide as he finishes the sentence for her. "...a spirit medium in a box. Zandra, this is incredible. Does it really work?"

"Would I be where I am today if I used tools that didn't work?" Zandra says. Her success is her proof.

What's that saying in the Bible? Judge a tree by the fruit it bears? How very convenient for matters of faith to start at the end rather than the beginning.

"Sorry," Herman says and tugs at the bathrobe to stay decent. Having not owned underwear for years, he sports an oversized pair on loan from Zandra. It's likely to be a permanent arrangement.

"It's fine, but I just, I, I'm sorry, too, I guess. I snapped at you when I shouldn't have, and, and I, it's just a lot of pressure lately," Zandra says, suddenly feeling the full weight of her stress press her into the size of a postage stamp. She closes her eyes and exhales deeply before continuing. "Spirits needs an energy source in order to manifest themselves into the physical dimension we occupy. Sometimes it's a person. Sometimes it's a light bulb or electrical appliance. Other times it's something as simple as a radio."

Never mind the energy the sun sends to Earth dwarfs anything a light bulb can produce. Funny how those ghost box manuals don't mention any of that. The planet should be crawling with spirits from sun up to sun down.

Herman says, "That's brilliant. The electricity in the ghost box provides the energy the spirit needs to manifest, allowing it to access the radio's speaker. All it needs to work is someone like you to call the spirit up in the first place."

Zandra nods and says, "Because spirits operate at different frequencies, the ghost box rapidly scans radio signals and isolates anything coming through that isn't static. The words fly by just as quickly, but they're there."

"Meaning we can have a real-time conversation with a spirit," Herman says.

"Exactly," Zandra says. "I've hosted conversations for my clients and the loved ones they lost for hours at a time."

Best 50 bucks I ever spent. That one investment paid for itself 1,000 times over, and I even got to write it off as a business expense on my taxes to boot.

"Think we'll get to use it?" Herman says.

"If this is finally the right Walsh house, we just might," Zandra says as the taxi comes to a stop on a dirt road outside a rambler. The odds are good this is the one.

Make that 1,001 times.

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