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Excerpt for Ghost Phone by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Ghost Phone © 2018 by Foxglove Lee


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system.


This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


Cover design © 2018 Foxglove Lee

First Edition June 2018



Ghost Phone


from the

Queer Ghost Stories

series


By Foxglove Lee



Chapter 1



The shop was cramped, packed with junk, and not particularly well laid out. Still, Braden was convinced he could find something Leon would like.

“Get him this,” Ali suggested.

When Braden turned, he found his boyfriend holding an old pin-up calendar.

“I don’t think my mom would want that in the house.”

“Why not?” Ali asked as he flipped the foxed and yellowed pages. “Who wouldn’t want a bunch of sexy ladies hanging on the wall?”

Braden rolled his eyes. “Since when do you have an eye for sexy ladies?”

“I understand their aesthetic appeal.”

“Of course you do. You’re an art student.”

“I’m a student of the human experience,” Ali replied. Setting the calendar back on the shelf, he approached Braden slowly. He had that dark look in his eye, and Braden knew exactly what it meant. Ali was coming in for a kiss.

Braden suddenly felt hot all over. He shot the shop owner a guilty glance. Was the bearded old man watching? Sure he was. Two young guys in his shop, why wouldn’t he keep an eye out? Probably thought Ali and Braden planned to rob him, or at least shoplift.

Shuffling into the next aisle, Braden let out a nervous laugh. “How about some taxidermy? An owl? Or… what is this, a mink? What do you think Leon would say if we showed up with a stuffed mink?”

“I don’t know,” Ali said. “He’s your stepfather, not mine. I’ve never even met the guy.”

Braden glanced toward the front counter, but the shopkeeper had gone back to his crossword puzzle. Quietly, Braden asked Ali, “Are you nervous?”

“About meeting your parents?”

Braden nodded.

Ali looked up, like the answer was posted on the wall somewhere. Or maybe he was just taking in the sights: collectible cola signs and out-of-province license plates. Eventually, he shrugged. “Meeting your dad went fine. Are your mom and Leon less… tolerant?”

The shopkeeper looked up and Braden swallowed hard. He didn’t want the old guy to realize he and Ali were a couple. Maybe that was stupid, but this was a small town and not everybody was as open-minded as he’d like.

“Tolerant,” Braden said. “Yeah, they’re tolerant. Sure they are. But tolerant’s a stupid word anyway. Tolerating someone isn’t the same as welcoming them with open arms.”

The old man with the beard slipped down from his stool and made his way out from behind the counter. Oh great, he was coming their way!

“That’s not really what I’m worried about,” Braden rambled, hoping the shopkeeper wouldn’t intrude on their conversation. “I’ve just never really gotten along with Leon, that’s all. I mean, maybe getting along isn’t the right way to put it. He’s not a jerk to me, and I’m not a jerk to him. We really try, for my mother’s sake. We just don’t have much in common. That’s why I want to get him something antique-y for Father’s Day. He likes that kind of stuff. And so do I. That’s sort of like sharing an interest.”

“Since when do you like antiques?” Ali asked.

Before Braden could answer, the bearded old man set a hand on Ali’s shoulder. “Pardon my eavesdropping, but did I hear you’re an art student?”

“That’s right,” Ali said. “Right now I’m working on a paper about how narrative is established without the use of figural elements in Islamic mosaic work.”

“Intriguing,” the shopkeeper said, leading Ali to the other side of the shop. “I’d like to hear more about that. But first, let me show you a few of the finer pieces I’ve managed to get my hands on over the years.”

From what Braden could tell, Ali was totally into it. He said, “I hope you’ve got some amateur Victorian watercolours. Those are a guilty pleasure of mine.”

“Mine too!” Old Beardo said, thumping Ali jovially on the back. “I’m glad you stopped in today.”

As the pair disappeared into another alcove, Braden heard Ali saying, “I’m glad we stopped in too. You’ll have to give me some pointers on beard maintenance. One day, I’d like to grow mine out as long as you’ve got yours.”

Braden rolled his eyes. Ali and Old Beardo could talk watercolours and facial hair to their hearts’ content. He’d like to find a gift for Leon and blow this popsicle stand.

The sign outside said “Antiques,” but so far all he’d laid eyes on was the kind of stuff he remembered from his grandmother’s house. He knew mid-century modern was popular and all, but that’s not what he was in the market for. And he knew for a fact that Leon wasn’t into paintings, or he’d have joined Ali and Old Beardo on the other side of the shop.

Just when he wondered if it was time to throw in the towel, Braden noticed an open door toward the back of the shop. Beyond the door was a staircase. Were customers allowed down there? The lights were on. Oh, there was a bathroom sign, so people were obviously permitted to enter the cavern of despair.

Braden entered.

This was more like it! At every turn, he came up against the kind of stuff Leon would be proud to own. Lots of larger items down here, lots of furniture. Braden wouldn’t be buying that. First off, it was pricey, but also furniture is pretty personal. You have to know what you have space for.

He made his way toward the back of the basement, drawn in that direction by the shimmer of a gilded mirror. Really cool-looking, but too big.

While he was back there, he found something even better: an antique telephone. Braden had never seen one in real life, not an actual antique. He’d seen reproductions that were useable today, but this was different. This was the kind of telephone that had to be mounted on the wall. It was attached to a piece of wood with beautiful patination. (See? He knew about antiques. Why did Ali think he wasn’t interested in this stuff?)

The receiver came in two parts. The part you talked into stayed in one place. The part you listened into was attached by a cord.

Braden picked up the black cup and held it to his ear. No dial tone, obviously. No sound at all, besides a faint echo, like the sound you hear when you hold a seashell up to your ear.

This antique phone was the most phenomenal gift Braden could ever hope to give his stepfather. But could he afford it? That was the question.

“There you are,” said a voice from the staircase.

Braden jumped, but it was only Ali. “You scared me.”

“Sorry. What’d you find?”

“This old phone. Leon will lose his mind if I give this to him. I’m just not sure I can afford it.”

With an easy shrug, Ali said, “Let’s ask Gerry.”

“Who’s Gerry?”

“The guy I was talking to. He owns the place. I bet he’ll give you a deal. He likes me.”

Braden thought it was more likely the old man was just being extra-nice to Ali to show he wasn’t a closed-minded small-town hick, but Ali didn’t need to know every thought that crossed Braden’s mind. Anyway, acting extra-nice was better than the alternative.

Ali took the telephone off the wall. “Oh wow, this thing’s heavier than it looks.”

“I can carry it,” Braden offered.

“No, I’m good.”

“It’s for my stepdad. I can carry it.”

Maybe Braden spoke a little more harshly than he should have, because Ali handed him the phone and muttered, “Whatever you want.”

As soon as he had that phone in his arms, Braden regretted offering to carry it. Holy Mackerel, was it heavy!

When they got to the main floor, Gerry the Bearded Shopkeeper was occupied with other customers. Braden carried it to the cash desk. Really, he just had to put it down. Gerry soon noticed them and came over, leaving the other customers to browse. When the old man’s gaze locked on the telephone, he turned white as a sheet.

“Oh,” he said. “Where did you find that?”

“In the basement,” Braden replied. “Why? Is it not for sale?”

Gerry chuckled nervously. “Everything in my shop is for sale. It’s just that this piece… this piece is…”

“Expensive?” Braden asked. “Because I can’t afford to spend too much. With Father’s Day this weekend, I just want to give my stepdad something he’ll like. This is something he’d love.”

“What do you say?” Ali cut in. “Will you do us a deal, one beard aficionado to another?”

The old man didn’t even crack a smile. “It’s just that this telephone is…”

“Old?” Ali asked. “Looks old. What year was it made? Do you know?”

Gerry looked like he was about to faint. “I would say 1890s.”

“Wow!” Braden said, sharing a wide grin with Ali. “That’s even older than I thought.”

“Yes,” Gerry went on. “Well, these coffin-style telephones were being mass-produced in oak by the 1890s. Prior to that, they’d more than likely have been made of mahogany. After that, you’d see some fluting at the top, less of a boxy style.”

The old man showed them all the features of the phone, but he didn’t seem too excited about selling it. Hard to imagine not being excited about a piece like this one. It was the coolest antique Braden had ever seen.

“So,” he said. “Moment of truth: how much does it cost? I don’t see a price tag anywhere.”

“Goodness,” Gerry sighed. “I’m not sure I can let you have it.”

Braden didn’t know how to respond, but Ali said, “My good friend, here, needs a gift for his stepfather. He really wants to impress the guy, get him something great. And this old phone would be just perfect.”

“Yeah,” Braden added. “Leon would love it.”

“Leon?” Gerry asked, like the name had sparked some long-forgotten memory. “Not Leon Lorento?”

“Leon Lorento, yeah, he’s my stepfather. Why? You know him?”

“I did,” Gerry replied. “Many years ago.” A peaceful look came over him when he said, “This would be a gift for Leon, then?”

“That’s right.”

“And you mentioned you don’t get along?”

Braden felt a little put on the spot by that question. “We just don’t have much in common, that’s all.”

“You don’t live with him, do you?”

“No, I live on campus during the school year. In the summer, I stay with my dad.”

A grin crossed Gerry’s lips, so sly you could see it plainly through the big beard. “Okay,” he said, smacking the cash desk decisively. “In that case, make me an offer.”

Braden looked to Ali. He wasn’t sure how much a phone like this was worth, and he didn’t want to offend the shop owner with a lowball offer. “I don’t know, man. I mean, I’ve got forty bucks?”

“It’s a deal,” Gerry said, offering his hand so they could shake. He shook Ali’s hand too. The guy seemed really happy to make that sale, which was kind of sad. Was he that hard up for cash? Braden had a strong suspicion the phone he’d just bought was worth way more than forty bucks.


Chapter 2


“The guy at the antiques store said it was made in the 1890s,” Braden announced as he presented the old phone to his stepfather. “As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to get it for you. I thought it would fit in great with your other stuff downstairs.”

“It will,” his mother said. “It’s really neat. What do you say, Leon? Isn’t that one neat old phone?”

Leon sat back in his chair, considering the coffin telephone. They’d eaten dinner and devoured half a cake between the four of them before Braden and Ali went out to the car to bring in the big surprise. Braden had been so excited about it he’d wanted to present it to his stepfather the moment they arrived. He couldn’t wait until Father’s Day.

But tradition dictated that gifts always followed cake, so he’d at least waited until after dessert.

If he’d given Leon the phone first thing, maybe Ali wouldn’t have had to undergo such a thorough interrogation. Not that Ali seemed to mind talking to Mom and Leon about the most intimate aspects of his life, beard, and religion. Ali liked meeting new people. He was always eager to chat with anyone. That’s one aspect in which he and Braden were nothing alike.

“We’ll set you boys up downstairs,” his mother had offered.

“Sounds good,” Braden had replied, feeling awestruck that his mom and Leon were letting them share the basement bedroom.

The feeling subsided when they brought their cases downstairs to find that his mother had set up the pullout couch for one of them.

With his mom and Leon upstairs, Braden had said to Ali, “Who gets the bedroom and who gets the couch?”

Ali looked at him flatly. “It’s not like your parents are going to come down here and check on us in the middle of the night. We’ll both sleep in the bed.”

“I don’t know…”

“We’re adults, Bray. We can make our own choices.”

“I know, but this is my mother’s house. They obviously want us sleeping separately. It would be disrespectful to go against them.”

“Maybe they just set up two beds because they didn’t know if we’d want to sleep together. Maybe they didn’t want to force us.”

“Maybe,” Braden replied noncommittally.

* * *

“I assume it’s no longer functioning,” Leon said, turning the telephone around to look at the back.

“No, it’s just for decoration,” Braden replied. “But you have lots of stuff that’s just decoration. I thought it would fit in great.”

Leon opened the little door at the front and looked inside. No wonder the phone was so heavy. That wooden box was packed with old-timey tubes and wires, not to mention two big cylinders that looked like dynamite wrapped in paper. Gerry from the antique store hadn’t showed them what was inside.


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