When Andrew woke up, there was little trace of the gloom that had seemed so prevalent the previous evening. Out the window, everything seemed bright and cheery, all the desert flowers in full bloom.
By the time he came out of the bedroom, Blake had already gotten breakfast burritos. Andrew had eaten breakfast burritos before, certainly… but one of the first things he noticed simply by looking at the menu of the restaurant the night before was that what they called Mexican food back home and what they called Mexican food here were two very different things. With that fact firmly in mind, he looked at the slightly greasy to-go bag with some apprehension.
“Go ahead and eat up,” Blake said, already enjoying his burrito.
Nervously, Andrew unwrapped his own burrito and took a bite. As he chewed, he figured it might not be so terrible at first, but then the burn quickly built up, and he began to worry when it would stop building.
“Haven’t they heard of mild here?” he demanded hoarsely, reaching for his drink.
“Don’t let them hear you say that here,” Blake laughed. “They seem to think that mild means, ‘more chile, please.’”
The burrito was good, despite having chile hot enough to peel paint, and Andrew was able to finish it, if only barely.
“What kinds of things are there to do around here?” he asked.
“Well, I may have said this before, but Santa Fe’s kind of a weird town,” Blake said. “There’s not really a shortage of things to do here, but people do tend to be kind of cliquish. You have your driver’s license, right?”
“Well, I’m nervous to do this… not because I fear you being a bad driver, but because I know that most people here really are bad drivers,” Blake said. “That, and the roads here, particularly in this part of town, are pretty weird. They were made for horses and wagons more than cars, and it’s very easy to get lost on some of the narrow roads, and not be able to turn around for some time, but you can use my Ghia while you’re here.”
Andrew found himself grinning widely. Some years back, Blake had taught him how to drive a stick shift on that car. He’d always held a special fondness for it. “I’ll take good care of it,” he promised.
“Please do,” Blake said. “Anyway, going back to things to do around here. People come to this town to be artists of one kind or another, just like people go to Hollywood to be movie stars. So, plenty of art galleries around. There are always some plays or screenings of indy films. Lots of hiking too, if you get tired of the people.”
“For someone who lives in Santa Fe, you sure seem cynical about the place,” Andrew said with a laugh.
“Maybe it’s my inner hipster coming out,” Blake said. “I want to say I lived here before it was cool, but I guess it’s just my reasons for being here that aren’t as cool.”
“Just scraping by as a physicist until you can finally sell that movie script, huh?”
“Of course,” Blake said with more than a hint of irony.
“What about ghost hunting?” Andrew said after a moment’s hesitation. People generally had a dismissive attitude toward his hobby, sometimes acting as though it made him a freak. They would ask a lot of awkward questions, preach religion to him, and say that he should be into football or other, more normal things instead. He found himself scared that Blake would do the same.
Blake seemed only mildly surprised, but to his credit, didn’t preach or act weird about it. “Yeah, plenty of ghost stories around here. You’re getting into that stuff?”
“Kind of,” Andrew said with a dismissive shrug.
“Fine by me,” Blake said. “Follow Canyon Road into town a bit. Some really old buildings here. Also, check out the downtown area - the oldest house in America is somewhere in there.”
“Sounds promising,” Andrew said. “I’ll check it out after you head to work Monday.
When Monday came, it didn’t take long for Andrew to discover something that Santa Fe sorely lacked in: parking. It also didn’t take long for him to start weighing the potential benefits of homicide for whoever laid out these roads. But, the responsible parties had probably already been dead for two hundred years or more. He ended up passing over the Canyon Road area entirely in disgust, then went on to downtown.
While the downtown area surrounding the plaza was maddening in its complex maze of one way streets and blocked-off roads, it seemed almost simple in comparison. Perhaps predictably, the plaza was filled with hippie types. Some were selling sage bundles, others were playing guitars and drums. Along the sidewalks were a number of Native Americans selling their jewelry.
Then, the tourists. Andrew wasn’t quite sure how to describe some of them. Some put him in mind of kids from the fifties in bad imitations of old west clothing, playing Cowboys and Indians.
It wasn’t easy for him to find his way around, and the area was surprisingly large. He was in no particular hurry though, so he simply wandered, stopping to take photos whenever it seemed appropriate. There was a large old church that he found intriguing, and the “oldest house” had been made into a small museum with an attached curio shop. Other than that, nothing seemed especially remarkable to him as a ghost hunter. The buildings were old, but it was hard to believe it with how they had been renovated and filled with modern art, curios, and authentic souvenirs (made in China).
Andrew wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but he didn’t find it. After wandering around awhile longer, he went back to Blake’s house.
While the outside of the house was sunny, and he could hear insects and birds singing their various songs of the summer, things seemed still somehow too quiet. When he went in the house, the strange and inexplicable feeling of gloom was there. He found himself wishing that he had found something else to do downtown to kill more time until Blake got back from work, but decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble to go out again. Blake wasn’t kidding about the driving being rough.
He poured himself a glass of iced tea and plugged his camera into the computer. He idly began sorting through the photos, looking carefully at each one for something to make it stand out - an orb, a misty figure - anything. He didn’t have much luck finding anything of note, but posted his favorites on Facebook for his friends.
His e-mail inbox was fairly predictable - more propaganda letters from the two sides that his family had been split into. His mother was more overt about her intentions. “You realize that you’re making me look bad, and your father will win, right?” one went so far as to say. One from another relative accused him of having no respect for the family. He quickly began deleting e-mails, skipping reading a number of them. Why should he have respect for his family at this point? What had they done for him? They acted like having a casual, unprotected fuck was such a big deal; that the simple act of conceiving him, whether or not it was even intentional, made them somehow god-like.
Andrew did what he could to distract himself from his family and what would inevitably be waiting for him when he got back home. He suddenly realized that things would likely be even worse, because now the bulk of the anger had been shifted in his direction for embarrassing the family. He tried not to think about it, putting on music and immersing himself in social networks and forums.
As time passed, he became vaguely aware of a sense of being watched. Andrew turned off his music and looked around his bedroom. No one was there, and nothing seemed out of place. Feeling uneasy, he went back to what he was doing.
He then heard a loud thump, as though someone stomped on the floor boards behind him. He jumped as he sat in the chair, then spun around, rapidly scanning the room and the hallway beyond. Again, nothing.
Still, the feeling of being watched. “Blake, is that you?” Andrew said.
Andrew tried not to think about it, shifting his focus back to the computer. Just as he started to again become immersed, he heard another thump, even louder. This time, he felt the thump in the floor boards, and it set the picture frames to rattling.
“I’m really not in the mood for your shit!” he said in a loud voice, trying, but not quite succeeding to yell. “If I find you, I will kick your ass!”
Andrew still felt watched. He did his best to ignore it, though his nerves were now on a hair trigger. He busied himself on Facebook, doing anything he could to keep his mind occupied. He even tried a couple of the Facebook apps he’d long ago sworn off that various friends and relatives kept spamming him with.
By the time Blake got home, the sun had dipped below the horizon, and Andrew had answered through apps numerous prying questions about himself, about his thoughts about people on his friends list, and was now a fictitious mob boss. He was also fairly sure he had picked up a number of adwares on his computer that he would clean out later, wondering idly why such things weren’t illegal yet.
“I generally don’t do a lot of home cooking,” Blake explained as him and Andrew ate pizza at one of the restaurants downtown. “With the hours I work and that I am used to living alone, it just doesn’t seem practical.”
“I’m not complaining,” Andrew said.
“Did you find anything interesting today?”
“Not really,” Andrew said. “Just a bunch of signs declaring this building and that as historical places. I think even the public restrooms had historical markers. The weirdest things I could find were the tourists.”
Blake laughed. “Well, I guess the ghosts are more likely to come out when you’re not looking for them. Maybe they’re camera shy.”
“Speaking of ghosts, have you ever noticed anything weird at your place?”
Blake seemed slightly surprised. “Not really, he said. “A few creaks and groans, but that’s fairly normal in a house.”
“That was probably it, then,” Andrew said, shrugging off what had happened earlier.
“It is a pretty old place, though,” Blake said. “Parts of it are, anyway.”
“Your bedroom, the living room, and the basement pretty much were the original house,” Blake said after a moment's thought. “They’re well over a hundred years old.”
“I wonder what sorts of stuff the place has seen,” Andrew said.
“Well, in the more distant past, there was a lot of farmland in that area,” Blake said. “For the last hundred years or so, the area’s always been an art district… although my stretch of road is somewhat removed from the art district area. The picture I saw of the original house… it looked smallish and run-down - a place you drive by without a second glance, and would assume it’s abandoned. It got renovated somewhat in the sixties, then came together more in the eighties and nineties. Any particular reason you ask?”
“Heard a couple loud thumps while I was there today,” Andrew said with a shrug.
“Don’t think I’ve heard any thumps, but I guess it might be easy to forget if I had,” Blake said. “Could be an animal under the floorboards. I guess it is possible that my place is haunted, but never given much thought to it. Never saw much to make me think about it.”
When they finished eating, Blake showed Andrew some of the sights in downtown. Although Andrew had already wandered the area on his own, he enjoyed the time with Blake, and learned more of the history of the area than he had by himself. When he went to bed that night, he felt none of the gloominess of earlier. The bedroom felt peaceful; happy, even.