“I’m sorry, Professor Campbell. I wanted to finish your class. I loved it so.”
Standing in front of the open refrigerator, I shut the door hard enough the entire thing rattles. Food doesn’t seem important at the moment. Hard to worry about matters of the body when a ghost is talking to you. I easily place the voice, even though I teach over a hundred students. I suppose I’d been expecting this visitor, though I'd hoped the situation would not come to this.
“Laura?” I don't know why I ask. I know the voice belongs to the bubbly, red‑haired student from my class on modern science fiction and fantasy literature. “Laura, what happened to you?”
“I wanted to say I’m sorry I didn’t make it to the final,” Laura replies. “It was a great class.”
I feel a soft flare of energy and Laura’s disembodied voice fades to nothing. My cozy flat feels even smaller than it is and I have an irresistible urge to walk out of the door. Despite the circumstances, I’m still hungry. I skipped breakfast to grade term papers, my final task before summer break. Grabbing my car keys, I leave the flat. I drive to my favorite sushi restaurant, where I spend the better part of an hour picking at my food. I manage enough to settle my growling stomach, pay the check and walk back into the spring sunshine. I am about to start the car when Todd’s voice startles me so that I almost jump out of my skin.
“Chase was at the apartment. He seemed upset you weren’t there.” Todd says.
I lean my head against the steering wheel, waiting for my heart to stop thumping. Most of the time I know when the dead are near me. Today, I am distracted enough I wasn’t paying attention.
“I know he’s looking for me. He’s been calling all day.”
“What did he say?” my dead friend asks. Even though I cannot see him, I can hear a note of curiosity in his voice.
“Haven’t a clue,” I respond, the words coming out clipped and annoyed. “I turned my phone off.”
“What did you do that for? I know he’s hoping you can help him on his case.”
Chase Robinson is my best friend who is alive. He is one of the few people I know among the living who not only knows the oddities of my life but accepts them without judgment. He would not be surprised I am sitting in my car talking to a ghost. He would ask me what Todd was saying.
When I fail to respond, Todd continues, “It’s not like one of his usual cases. There are five girls from the university missing. One of them is your student. I’d think you would be a little more concerned about finding out what’s happened to her.”
“She’s dead,” I say, my voice flat and lifeless.
“Oh, Bryce. I’m so sorry. She was a favorite of yours, wasn’t she?”
“Yes.” Though I have little to say, my mind feels like it is spinning with thoughts. How can someone so alive, so full of energy and hope, be arguing with me about how Heinlein’s space travel novels are one writer’s wish to leave an increasingly restrictive and polluted land on one day in class and vanish off the face of the Earth the next?
“I don’t suppose she told you what happened to her?” Todd asks.
“No. You know how it is with the recently deceased. I tried to get her attention, but she wanted to tell me how sorry she was she didn’t get to finish my course. Then she moved on to wherever we go in the afterlife.”
Todd makes no response to this and I am not surprised. I don’t know where we go when we die, but there seems to be some sort of metaphysical rule keeping the dead from sharing such knowledge with the living. I do not pretend to understand how the universe works. I talk to ghosts, not gods and angels.
“I know it’s hard for you to understand, Bryce,” Todd begins after a long pause. “But what’s important to the dead isn’t the same as what’s important to the living. I’m sure Laura told you what was important to her.”
“It seems ridiculous. How can telling me she was sorry she missed a final compare with what happened to her, or who her killer was?”
“You know as well as I do most folks stay long enough to say they’re sorry about something, then they move along. It’s the folks who stay around longer, like me, who have more to say.”
This is something I am well aware of. Oh, it comes in different forms. I’m sorry I’ve left so suddenly. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you about drinking and driving. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the congenital heart defect I’ve lived with since I was a child. I’m sorry I didn’t say “I love you” one more time. I’m sorry I didn’t finish your course, I loved it so. I’m so damn sorry.
“Well, Bryce, I’m sure you are doing all you can. Don’t let Chase’s investigation turn you into a basket case.”
“Basket case. What does that even mean? I’ve lived in America for over twenty years and your idioms still don’t make any sense to me.”
“It means don’t let it drive you crazy,” Todd explains, his voice calm and low, as if he’s explaining it to a small child.
“But why does it mean crazy? It’s nonsensical.”
“Who knows. It makes as much sense as ‘deft as a brush’ does.”
“Daft, Todd. The phrase is ‘daft as a brush,’ and I’m beginning to think you are.”
“Fine, Grumpypants. I’ll come back to visit when you’re in a better mood. I stopped by to tell you that Chase is trying to contact you and I have.”
“Thanks, Todd. And I’m sorry. Finding out Laura is dead rather threw me.”
“It’s all right,” Todd says. His voice is warm and I imagine I’ve been forgiven. I rely on audio cues to guess the feelings of ghosts. I’m clairaudient, not clairvoyant, which is a fancy way to say I hear the dead but don’t see them.
A feeling of pulsing energy and I determine Todd has left me to my grumpiness. For a long moment, I sit in my car, weighing my options. I am clairaudient, which has proven to be completely and utterly useless in trying to figure out what has happened to the five young women who have disappeared from the University of Louisville. I am also, on rarer occasion, claircognizant. Sometimes knowledge of something pops into my head. It isn’t often a gift which can be forced, but perhaps a little meditation would help.
Instead of heading back to my flat, I start my decrepit Neon and go to Cherokee Park. It is a beautiful spring day and I have a yoga mat I take with me to my class on Saturday mornings in the boot of the car. Perhaps a little outdoors yoga and meditation will give me the insight I seek. I drive around the scenic loop of the park and find an empty parking space near a grassy field, crossed with walking paths and sprinkled here and there with park benches.
Finding a level spot on the lawn, I unfurl the mat and do enough poses to let me ease my forty‑eight‑year‑old hips into the half lotus I prefer for meditation. I close my eyes and slip away.
The meditation brings me the calm I have sought. As I begin to bring myself out of it, my breathing deepens and my eyelids flutter. Here is the small space in time I was hoping for. The place where the mind is somewhere in between the concrete world we see around us and the world we visit in our dreams. The place one finds in between sleeping and waking…in between meditation and watchfulness. If I’m to get a flash of insight, this is the place I will find it.
Have I mentioned my life is a joke? As my eyes flutter open, I see her, sitting on a park bench. The image flickers and disappears before I can ascertain whether or not she has bad intent. Have I gotten a glimpse of some clue which will help me find out what fate has befallen my student? No. That would be too useful. Me, I’ve seen a ghost.
I scoot off my Yoga mat and begin rolling it up. My movements belie the grace of the Yoga moves I performed. My hands move with little grace. The mat is rolled far too tightly and springs outward as I click the straps into place and release it. I know why. To use the expression which so confused me when I first came to this country, I’m pissed. I’m pissed because I have learned nothing about my late student and also because I am forty‑eight years old and I know I will not be able to ignore the fact I need glasses for much longer.
I am clairaudient and claircognizant, but clairvoyant I am not. At least, I didn’t use to be. I am vigorously ignoring the small signs of aging which plague me from time to time, but I cannot dismiss how, as my middle‑distance vision gets a bit fuzzier, my glimpses of beings who are not present in a concrete way are happening with more frequency.
Over the years, I have spoken to quite a few people who professed to be clairvoyant. About twenty percent of these people I judged to be charlatans, based on how these people talked to what they said was a ghost, but I was hearing only their part of the conversation. Around three percent of these people seemed to be mentally ill. They appeared to hear voices and acted as if they could see a being I could not, but those voices were not coming from any being I could validate. All of the other self‑professed clairvoyants I have spoken to‑‑ those I could verify what they “saw” matched up directly to what I “heard”—those people all had one startling thing in common. They all had poor natural eyesight. Every last one either wore glasses or contacts.
It makes sense, in an odd way. I hear the dead with far more ease if I am a little distracted and not paying close attention to the concrete world around me. Perhaps those who see the dead can do so because their natural sight is a built‑in distraction for the subconscious mind. It is the subconscious mind which is at work here after all. Ghosts have no actual form to show us, no lungs to give breath to their voices. Ghosts are made of energy, an energy I can “feel” when they are near me as you can “feel” a living person standing near to you when you have your eyes closed. For unknown reasons, my subconscious mind interprets this energy as a voice, while the mind of a clairvoyant interprets it as a form. The dead have no form. They cannot touch the concrete world or the living, but they can sure muck up your electrical equipment if they’ve a mind to.
I have never before met a single person whose mind could interpret this spiritual energy into both form and sound. Bruce Willis movies aside, clairvoyants cannot hear the dead as I, until the past few months, could not see them.
I need a drink. I need glasses and I need a drink, not necessarily in that order. It’s difficult enough to hear the dead. I have no desire to see them as well. I had no desire at all to catch a glimpse of the young woman on the park bench, lost and forlorn, gazing at the clueless park patrons walking by her, an expression of sadness mixed with confusion on her face. I can no longer see her, but I can feel her presence. Though I want nothing more than to throw my Yoga mat into my decrepit Neon and drive to Molly Malone’s for a nice pint of Harp, I feel sorry for the sad figure I caught a glimpse of. Perhaps she wasn’t one of the folks who, when dead, decide to hang around the world they are no longer a part of. Perhaps she needed someone to say her “I’m sorry” to and then she could move along.
Walking over to the park bench where I had seen her, I tuck my Yoga mat under it and sit beside her.
“My name is Bryce,” I begin softly, mindful of the living people out enjoying the sunshine. “You know, Miss, you don’t need to hang around this world any further if it makes you sad. There are things you should be doing, places you should go. If there’s something you need to get off of your chest, I would be happy to listen. Then perhaps you would feel free to move on.”
The energy I feel beside me flares wildly and flickers out. The girl has not moved on, she’s simply moved somewhere else. Perhaps I startled her. I wonder if she realizes she is dead?
Driving the Neon back to my flat, I park it in the street in front of my building and walk the block and a half to Molly Malone’s. I was quite serious about getting a pint of Harp and having an Irish pub so close to where I live is a convenience I cannot ignore today. Before I know it, I’m watching a soccer match on the TV above the carved wooden bar and into my third pint. So what if it’s Tuesday afternoon? Unlike you, I do not have to work tomorrow. Besides, I’m depressed. I’m depressed about my dead student, a sad ghost in the park I don’t even know, my failing eyesight, and the fact I am forty‑eight years old. Tuesday afternoon means I can enjoy my pints in peace without some horrifying live music performance playing far too loudly over a bad sound system. I love Molly Malone’s. It’s beautiful with its wood‑paneled booths and carved bar; it’s mirrors and stained glass windows. It reminds me of pubs I used to frequent in the land where I was born. However, their taste in live music, as well as their aging sound system, leaves much to be desired.
Half‑way through my fourth pint, I’m watching the end of the match and contemplating ordering a sandwich when I feel a presence on the barstool to my immediate left. I glance furtively into the mirror behind the bar. Damn and blast! I had hoped it was a ghost. No, not on this ridiculous bitch of a day. Staring back at me is my young friend, Chase. Officer Robinson has tracked me down. Moving my pint a little to the side, I let my forehead thunk onto the bar. My hair falls forward, hiding my face from my frowning friend and I feel like an ostrich trying to become invisible.
“Exactly when are you going to get a haircut,” he quips, his mood lightening with amusement.
“Exactly when are you going to move out of your parent’s house?” I snap back, my voice muffled by the surface of the bar.
“You turned off your phone.”
“I had nothing to say.”
“There’s a sixth girl gone missing,”
“You can say that again.”
I lift my head and it feels weighted down by the combined cares of the world. Propping an elbow on the bar, I then prop my chin in the heel of my hand and stare at nothing, not even bothering to focus my eyes on anything. This is when it strikes, fast as lightning. Insight. Perhaps the pints have accomplished what my meditation could not. Clear as the bright June day I had a picture in my head. Raising my head off of my hand, I spin towards Chase.
“You got something?” he asks, recognizing the shock on my face for what it is.
“A name?” he asks and I can hear the hope in his voice.
“No,” I reply. Wouldn’t it be brilliant to have the killer’s name come bursting into my head from out of nowhere? It doesn’t happen that way. Claircognizant or not, the subconscious mind makes us work for the answers we seek.
“A picture, or a symbol, I don’t know which.”
“Describe it to me.”
Chase understands me and whatever gifts I possess better than any other living person I know. We’ve known each other for three years now, ever since the day I first saw him walking down the sidewalk outside the Bingham Humanities Building, where I teach most of my classes. The instant I saw him, I experienced a strong flash of insight and felt compelled to tell him about it. The picture which flashed into my mind was of a young girl in a dusty room rather like someone’s old garage. The girl was crying and she was trapped under a large purple dinosaur.
Nonsensical, I know, but that’s how it works. Reality mixed with words and symbols is how the subconscious mind works. Officer Robinson had a young sister who had been missing for two days. When I described the young woman I saw in the vision, Chase handcuffed me, read me my rights and tucked me into his patrol car. I wish I was joking. Can you blame him? He thought I was some pervert who had kidnapped his sister. As Chase was driving me downtown, I kept talking. I described the girl, I described the room. I left out the dinosaur part because I didn’t want the angry young police officer to think I was any more insane than he already did.
I was describing an old metal lunchbox which was sitting on a dusty shelf in my vision when Chase suddenly pulled to the side of the road and turned to face me. After demanding I repeat what I said, Chase pulled the car back onto the road and turned toward the nearest highway entrance. Forty‑five minutes later, Chase was parking in the drive of an abandoned house near where he lived. The house was on a pond and a small, decrepit boathouse which was leaning at a crazy angle stood near the shore. Though he did not take off the handcuffs, Chase took me out of the car and led me into the rickety shack. Barely inside the door, we found Chase’s sister; hungry, dirty and dehydrated but unharmed. She had been playing in the boathouse when an old, rotting rowboat had fallen from its pegs on the wall, trapping her underneath. After Chase had unlocked the cuffs and we had gotten the boat off of the girl, I noticed the childish scrawl on the side of the boat. It had been christened “Barney.” The subconscious mind is quite the jokester.
Jokester mind or not, I had been given the information needed to find little Tanisha and the compulsion to tell perhaps the only living soul who was able to determine the location of the room based on my description, sans large purple dinosaur.
Chase called 911 and he waited with Tanisha while I went down the drive to wave the ambulance in. Then I rode with Chase; this time in the front seat with no handcuffs which was a big improvement.
At the hospital, Tanisha was admitted for IV fluids and observation and I kept Chase company until his parents could arrive. We had a lot of time to talk. I told Chase about my odd flashes of insight. Chase told me about an old childhood lunchbox he had left in a neighbor’s decrepit boathouse and an adventurous sister, 15 years his junior, who knew she wasn’t supposed to play there. Despite Chase being almost exactly two decades younger than me, we’ve been the best of friends since that day. We remain close. So close, strangers have sometimes mistaken him for my young boy toy, though both of us are exceedingly straight. Chase is a cross between my best mate and the younger brother I never had. At this moment, I wanted nothing more than to help my best friend find the killer who took the life of my favorite student. Maybe the clue I was finally given will help me do exactly that.
“What did you see?” Chase asks, his expression both impatient and hopeful.
“Sorry. I was thinking about the time we found your sister. I saw a lake or a pond…”
“Was it the same place we found Tanisha?”
My mate’s voice holds more hope than impatience now and I hate to disappoint him. “No. No, I don’t think so. Coincidence.” I close my eyes and concentrate on the image I was given.
“I see a lake or a pond…it’s very green, I don’t mean the water is green, you can’t see the water at all. Green covers everything…algae or something. It’s everywhere, the surface of the water, the banks, dripping off of the trees.” I open my eyes for a moment and take a fortifying swallow of my pint of Harp. Closing my eyes, I see the picture as clear as if I was viewing a photograph. “There’s a woman standing by a broken down dock which is also covered in green. I can’t see the woman’s face well, she’s wound up in green strips of something…but this green is different…dark, almost black…it’s a dead green. Below her waist the color of what covers her changes. It’s red, dark red. It remains strips of something covering her, but it’s dark red, wet, glistening. Disgusting, it's disgusting.”
I slowly open my eyes and squint in bar lights which seem brighter than they were a few moments ago. “That’s all I have. Damn. It doesn’t sound like much of anything.”
Reaching out and grabbing my dwindling glass of ale, Chase drains the rest and returns the empty glass to the bar with a solid thump.
“Should you be drinking, Officer Friendly?” I stare grumpily at my empty glass.
“I’m off the clock and not in uniform,” he says and then grins. “I can do anything I bloody well want to.”
Chase should never attempt to impersonate me. It sounds ridiculous, all mixed up with his softly southern accent. He ignores me as I glare at him and flags down a cute, blonde bartender to order us both another pint. As he orders, Chase is all smiles. His voice drops to a gentler tone and he laughs at the weakest of jokes. He’s flirting and she doesn’t seem to mind. It’s not surprising. He’s taller than me, with curly dark hair and blue eyes. He has a devilish smile and a good heart. I’m gobsmacked he doesn’t have to beat women off with a stick.
To be honest, it is sometimes rather depressing going out with him, even if he is my best friend. Don’t get me wrong, I’m handsome enough, I suppose. I get enough exercise to keep fit. I still have my hair, which Chase so disdains. I suppose if I was seeking attention, I would get enough to be going on with. I’m only saying no woman in her right mind would look twice at me with Chase as my wingman.
Depressed again, as the pretty blonde slides our pints onto the bar, I grab mine and drain a quarter of it in one go.
“Take it easy, old man.” Chase teases me about my age far too much.
“Get stuffed, you swotty man‑child.”
“Look, I know it doesn’t sound like much, the description you gave me, but I’ll do some research tomorrow. Maybe something will come of it.”
“I want the bastard found.”
“I know,” Chase says, giving me a pat on the shoulder. “So do I.”
It’s nine o’clock before I start back to my flat. I’m right pissed and this time I do use the phrase as a British ex‑pat should. My pace is slow, but I take pride in not veering or stumbling. As I walk under the first street light, it snaps off and the sidewalk darkens. I ignore these antics and continue my measured pace towards home. The second streetlight I pass under also turns off.
“Bugger off,” I mutter under my breath. The streetlight turns on again briefly and then goes dark again.
“I said bugger off,” I snap, my voice coming out louder than intended. “Whoever the hell you are, I don’t feel like talking. I’ve had a bloody bitch of a day and I simply can’t be arsed.”
Getting drunk seems to bring out the dialect of my youth, something which amuses my American friends no end, I assure you. Brilliant. Now I'm transformed into a pitiful, aging drunk, walking with slow steps down the darkened sidewalk cursing and talking to no one. Most nights, I don’t mind the streetlight trick. Having little effect on the concrete world, ghosts often use this as a sign of affection for someone they’re fond of. However, in this case, no one is talking to me and it comes off as more of a childish ploy for attention. Tired, drunk and depressed, I have no patience for ghostly theatrics. I begin to sing a song to myself, in my head. A couple of false starts and then I get into the swing of it. “Manic Monday”. Ghosts tend to hate the repetition in such songs. I’m not fond of it myself, but mental singing is something I’ve grown apt at. If I keep my mind thus engaged, I do not pick up any otherworldly voices.
It takes me three tries before I get my key seated in the lock of the front door of my small flat. I had been on my fourth pint when Chase arrived at Molly’s and I realize I have no idea how many pints my friend bought. I have to constantly remind myself Chase is half my age. If I try to keep up with his drinking speed, I’ll end up under the table. It’s not yet ten o’clock, but I’m tired. Undressing clumsily, I flop face down on my bed and fall asleep with record speed.
The intense need to take a piss wakes me at six am. I stumble into the loo, head pounding and eyesight blurry. I do not suffer much from hangovers, but I realize I neglected to actually order any food at the pub the night before. Before I leave the loo, I tap a couple of ibuprofen out of the bottle in the medicine cabinet and drink from the bathroom sink, using my hand as a cup. I suppose there are those who keep a glass in the bathroom for such things, but as a man living alone, I have never bothered.
Shuffling towards the kitchen, I have caffeine and toast in mind. Caffeine will help the ibuprofen kick in and I have hope some toast will settle my stomach. As I walk through the small living room of my flat, I see a fuzzy outline of someone sitting on my sofa. Stopping, I rub my eyes and try again, my sight comes into sharper focus and the image disappears. He’s still there. I can feel him. Ignoring the ghost sitting on my sofa, I make my way into the kitchen and turn the burner on under the kettle.
“Rough night?” I hear. The tone is one of amusement. The voice is one I know all too well.
“Remind me not to drink with twenty‑somethings.” I reach into the cupboard for a mug and a packet of Earl Grey teabags. Bagged tea is not as good as loose, but this morning I do not feel up to dealing with the strainer. The kettle sings a song even more monotonous than “Manic Monday,” and I deal with the tea, setting it on the kitchen table to steep while I make toast.
"Don't drink with twenty‑somethings."
“Very helpful…thanks, ever so much. What brings you here at this ungodly hour of the morning, Todd?” I transfer the toast to a plate and grab the butter dish. It strikes me as funny I have a butter dish but no bathroom cup.
Todd Jenkins is a former coworker of mine. Five years ago he passed away in his sleep. Todd had sleep apnea. One night his breathing paused and didn’t pick up again. Todd had no unfinished business, his children were grown and his wife well provided for, so I was surprised he lingered instead of moving on. All Todd will say on the matter is he’s got folks he’s looking after. I suspect he is waiting for his wife, who turned seventy‑eight last month.
“Some woman followed you home last night, Bryce. Some stranger.”
One of those people Todd takes care of is me. He’s never pleased when strange ghosts show up. Ghosts cannot truly affect the living, but they can induce nightmares and muck up anything electrical in your house. Strange ghosts often follow me around. Todd has told me this is because I “shine brightly.” Ghosts see things differently than living people
“Was she the one pulling the tricks with the lights?” I ask.
“Yes. And she seemed none too pleased when you wouldn’t talk to her. Had herself a little hissy fit.”
“She still around?”
“No. She took off when you started singing. I would have told you last night, but you sang until you passed out. Does it have to be such a crappy song?”
“It works, doesn’t it? I met a strange ghost in the park yesterday; she may have followed me home. Listen, don’t drive her off if she comes back. I think she’s recently passed and she may simply need to talk to someone. If she didn’t come into the house and try to cause trouble, I imagine she’s all right.”
“If you say so. Let me know if you don’t want her around and I’ll boot her butt out.”
Todd is a combination of friend and metaphysical bodyguard. He doesn’t stay with me all of the time, but he often checks in at night to make sure no one is bothering me while I sleep. Having been dead for years, he knows the ropes and is capable of driving off any spirit he doesn’t approve of. I’ve had several deceased friends help me in this way through the years and it’s a godsend. When I was a teenager, before I had such ghostly companionship, it was common for me to have as many as a dozen ghosts of strangers following me about, shouting at me for attention. It’s when I learned to sing in my head. Of course, back then it was “Antmusic” and “Goody Two Shoes” rather than “Manic Monday”. Though I have nothing against him personally, the dead cannot abide Adam Ant.
As I eat my toast and drink strong, black tea, Todd tells me about his family. His wife is moving into an assisted living complex. Todd has checked it out and it seems nice enough. His grandson is expecting his first baby and Todd’s wife is about to be a great‑grandmother. The other children are doing well, with their families and their jobs and it all sounds so ridiculously pleasant it makes me grumpy and I snap at my dead friend.
“You don’t have to live alone, you know.” Todd's voice more kind and gentle than I deserve after snapping at him.
“I’m not ready for anything else.” An old excuse.
“Bryce, it’s been ten years. You deserve more than living here alone. Surely you know she wouldn’t want you…”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I snap again, interrupting.
“I said I don’t want to talk about it. Not today.”
“Or any other day. Don’t blow your top over it. But maybe you wouldn’t drink so much if you had something to come home to.”
“I’ll get a cat.”
“Not good enough. Well, I’m off to check on the missus. I’ll stop by tonight and make sure the new girl isn’t causing you trouble.”
We say our goodbyes, I feel a flare of energy and Todd is gone. From what the dead have told me, a ghost does not have to travel from one place to another. They simply think of where they want to be and there they are.
The normal tasks of any given day occupy me for most of the morning. I shower and dress in shorts and a t‑shirt, enjoying a level of casualness in my dress I cannot get away with during the school year. Checking my email, I delete a plethora of spam which implores me to increase my penis size—unnecessary, I assure you—and also tells me thirteen people from my high school are frantically searching for me. I attended a boarding school in the UK, so it is not bloody likely. I am not interested in any of them either. It was a long time ago.
There is little actual mail in my mailbox and after answering a note from my sister and a question from the head of my department at the University, I shut down my laptop and think about what I want to do with my day.
What I want to do is not much of anything, I realize. Spring semester at school ended three weeks ago and I am not yet into the swing of my summer habits. During my break from work, I do a lot of writing. I write literary articles for the trade journals. The articles are the writing I’m proud of. I also write sappy, historical romance novels for a well‑known publisher that I’m certain you have disdained at some point during your life. I’m also certain that you’ve read one or two, even if you won’t admit it. They are quite popular after all, so someone must be reading them. I am not proud of that endeavor, but the publishers pay me well and they are short and easy to write. It takes me about a week to knock one out and the money augments my teacher’s salary nicely. The few people I know who are aware of this odd literary habit of mine have asked me why I don’t write something “real.” Honestly, I have no desire to write the next great novel. The bodice‑rippers are easy, put money in my pocket, and I enjoy writing them. I do not think of myself as a writer; I am a professor. The writing I enjoy most is the literary articles, but they do not pay much if anything at all.