When Ginny and Bobby were teenagers, they stayed in a haunted house and saw a ghost. Now Virginia and Robert are all grown up, and it's their last chance to see the ghost a second time, before the house is torn down. That's the deceptively simple premise of Richard Butner's moving story, "Circa."
Butner's story, in which the ghost turns out to be something very different than you expect — both times Robert sees it — becomes a metaphor for lost love and tragic friendship, and the sadness of growing old, as much as it is about the supernatural or any kind of dread. So it's fitting that "Circa" appears in Interfictions Online, a "Journal of Interstitial Arts" that's grown out of the terrific Interfictions anthologies that we praised recently.
The Interfictions anthologies, and the new online magazine, are devoted to fiction that defies genre categories. And if you like Interfictions and want to support the publication of stories that are challenging and fresh and strange, you should give to the new Indiegogo campaign which is seeking $8,500 to continue publishing this strange magazine. (Their pitch video is above.)
Here's how "Circa" begins:
An email, from Virginia to Robert: "They're tearing the house down next Monday."
He closed the file he was working on and called her on the phone.
"Hey, Bobby. What are you doing this weekend?"
"This is Whitemantle you're talking about?"
"What other place would it be? We should stay there again. Auld lang syne. One last chance for you to see your ghost."
"Our previous sleepover turned out so well," he said.
"That was a long time ago. I'm not eighteen anymore. I'm assuming that you're no longer eighteen."
"I thought your job now was like, grand high wizardess of historic preservation, or something. Whitemantle can't be preserved? It's historic."
"It is historic. We tried. There's another circa 1790 house downtown. City doesn't think they need two. We did what we could, but it's a goner. The land is too valuable. And our budget is already tapped this year from all the places we did manage to save all across the state. I'm heartbroken, even if it doesn't sound like it. With this job, you get used to being heartbroken."
"Is husband John going to be camping out with us? What does he think about this idea?"
"Eh, that ended last year. I thought I wrote you. What are you going to tell your girlfriend?"
Robert snorted. "You know relationship status–single, engaged, married, it's complicated? Well, it's complicated. I'll explain later."
And so Robert told Linda, the jeweler with all the piercings who had moved in the year before, that he was getting together with a group of old high school friends, and he packed some things and drove the seven hours back to Budleigh that Saturday. His parents were gone and it was not a place he visited often. Virginia was the only person from his school years whom he kept in touch with. He hadn't actually seen her in two decades. He didn't get an invitation to her wedding, and he had never asked her why. She didn't do social media beyond running an account for the preservation group. They exchanged email regularly and cards every December and then every few years they would have an epic phone call. She was always so busy, saving this old textile mill or that old school. He was much less busy.
But he remembered the house. He remembered the ghost. Ghosts were supposed to be scary, but he was not scared. It was just another memory, fading like all the others. Lots of people had seen ghosts.