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It was my birthday on the 25th.

My mom says I was the best Christmas gift she ever got, and maybe that first one counts as a joyous occasion. But the 30 since have been forgettable. In some cases, literally. On December 25th, people have Jesus on the mind. Not Al.

(I’m Al, by the way.)

You’re thinking that I’m being way too butthurt about it, and the rational part of my head agrees with you. But I’ll go my whole life without having a birthday to myself. That kinda sucks, you know? Having to share it every year. I mean, the lootbags at my grade school birthday parties had Santa on them. Add in the month-long leadup of Christmas carols and the fact that I’m getting older, and it’s a becoming a generally unpleasant time of year for me.

My mom makes sure to wish me a happy birthday before mentioning Christmas, and I usually get to spend it with her and my sister, which is nice. Until the Great Turkey Dump of 2014, my girlfriend made an appearance, too. But most of my friends are too preoccupied with shopping and family gatherings to do anything more than grab a coffee. If my “special” day even blips on their radar.

So, as has become tradition, I threw a birthday party on the 26th. Birthoxingday.

I invited about 30 people over to my place. Some friends, some coworkers, the one neighbour I actually talk to, and a former FWB I hoped to reconvert. 15 said yes, 8 actually showed, and the 1 that might possibly have had sex with me chose this week to visit her parents in New Brunswick. But it worked out perfectly since I live in a downtown Toronto condo that fits about 10 people standing shoulder to shoulder.

I’m just glad my neighbour showed; I needed some of his seats. See, the Great Turkey Dump of 2014 brought with it a kind of hormonal twister that first slept with three of its coworkers and blamed it on me, and then stole the couch, the two home-made bar stools, and my computer chair while I sought refuge at my mom’s.

Don’t date Lindsay Woods, Reddit. She’s a bitch. And I know it’s a common name, but I wouldn’t take my chances if I was you.

But anyway.

Everyone’s having fun. Drinking, eating turkey leftovers, playing Apples to Apples, drinking more, eating chocolate leftovers, playing Cards Against Humanity. I’d opened a few gifts: wine, a French press, wine, whiskey, whiskey (am I an alcoholic?), but when I got to the last one (wine), I noticed that Dave and Bo - guys that I’ve known since birth - hadn’t brought me anything.

Again, not trying to be butthurt, but that kinda hearthurt.

Bo noticed my face and held his hands up defensively. “We got you something, I swear. It’s just late. Dude was supposed to–” and then Dave slapped him across the chest.

“Shhhhaddup,” Dave said. “It’s a surprise.”

“You fuckin’ weirdos,” I said.

And it’s true. They’re fucking weirdos. I’m a pretty stable guy (or “predictable” according to Lindsay), I love my job (“lack motivation”), I’m into reading (“antisocial”), playing video games (“loser”), and I’m generally a law abiding citizen (“a pushover”). Dave and Bo have motorcycles, briefly dealt drugs for the Hell’s Angels, have tattoos, piercings, beards, knife collections, and Bo is studying Chinese medicine while Dave thinks the Illuminati is monitoring his emails (“exciting and carefree”). We’re mostly close because our sisters were friends when we all did the slo-mo Slip n’ Slide™ in ‘84. We don’t always have things to talk about, but we’ve been through a lot. And I trust them with my life.

But fuck their gift.

The guy ended up being 4 hours late. Everyone had gone home but the three of us. Dave was checking his phone like a compulsive itch that struck every ten seconds. Bo chainsmoked. I stifled yawns as best I could.

“Look, I don’t really need a gift,” I told them.

“This guy said he would be here at 10,” Dave said to his phone, ignoring me.

“Who even delivers this late on the day after Christmas?” I asked. “Just call him. Leave a message. Cancel the order.”

“Nah, I’m not doing that,” Dave said. “We paid in advance.”


“I’m out of cigarettes,” Bo muttered. He crumpled up his empty pack and tossed it at (but not in) the garbage bag I’d set hanging from a cabinet handle. “D?”

Dave put his phone down and patted his pockets. “Nope.”

“I’ve got some of Lindsay’s,” I said, pulling the Virginia Super Slims out of a drawer.

“Bitch sticks,” Bo dismissed.

I shrugged and stuffed them in my pocket.

Dave’s phone buzzed on the butcher’s block. “Finally.”

“It’s not heroin, is it?” I asked before he picked up. “If it’s heroin, you can send it back.”

Dave shook his head and swiped to answer it. “Lester, yeah. You’re late.” He rolled his eyes. “Alright, whatever. I’m coming down to get you. Sit tight.” He hung up and went to the door. “BRB.”

When he shut it behind him, I opened a couple Steamwhistles and put one in front of Bo. “Any clues?”

“It’s fucking cool, there’s your clue,” Bo said. He grinned wider than I liked.

“And it’s not heroin.”


“Is it drugs? Weed I’ll take, but not coke or LSD or anything.”

“Not drugs.”

“Is it a–”

“Fuck, just wait like 30 seconds?”

I was gonna point out that I’d already waited four hours, but instead I took a sip of my beer and laughed.

Dave came back in with, well, a seventy-year-old homeless man. Scraggly beard, dirty face, long sharp nails poking through gloves with the fingertips cut off. He took his toque off when he entered and held it against his chest. I’d say he looked bewildered. Lost. His eyes blinked constantly. His mouth moved as if speaking silently. He fluttered between smiling and frowning and wincing and plain, blank stares.

“This, is Lester,” Dave said.

“Howdy,” Lester said. He held out his hand and I shook it, jotting down a mental reminder to not touch my face or eat anything until I’ve washed up. “This your place? It’s n-n-n-nice.” He scrunched up his face when he stuttered.

“Uh, thanks Lester.”

Dave stood behind Lester and plopped both hands on his shoulders. “Our pal Lester is here to haunt your home,” he said.

I cocked my head to one side. “Haunt my home?”

“Haunt your home.”

Bo stifled laughter by almost shoving his whole fist into his mouth. A few squeaks made it out.

“What does, uh, what does that mean, exactly?” I asked everyone in the room. “He’s going to live here?”

Dave gave Lester a slight push. “Lester, why don’t you walk him through it,” he said, laughing silently to himself.

“Yes sir,” Lester said. He still cradled his hat against his chest, fingers working at it nervously. He launched into a practiced, monotone speech, averting his eyes up and to the left. “My name is Lester White-Arnold. I am a V-level c-c-conduit, which means that spirits from the other wo-wo-, the other, the other realm use me as a gateway into this one. I offer a service where I invite a friendly s-spirit into your home for a fucking fuc- a fuc- urgh! Sorry, I’m sorry.” He stopped to catch his breath. “For a fee. A fee.” He looked back at Dave, whose Joker smile quickly melted into something more neutral. “Your f-f-friends told me you have an affinity for the occult. They said it’d give you a k-kick.” He ended with a cough.

“They told you I have an affinity for the occult, huh?” I repeated. In reality, I’m about as rational-thinking as a person can be (“lacks spirituality”, and “hates God”). I locked eyes with Dave and his dumb smirk came back. “Well, thanks for coming Lester, but that’s not necessary. You can go.”

Dave threw his hands up. “Awwwww c'mon!”

Bo frowned, too. “This cost us eighty bucks, Al.”

“This is insulting,” Dave continued. “Poor Lester came all the way here from Yonge and Dundas and you’re insulting him.”

“That’s like 7 stops, Al,” Bo said.

I held up a hand to Dave. “Lester, I have to be honest: I don’t really believe in the occult. My friends made a mistake.” And I guided him toward the door with my hands.

“Asshole,” Dave muttered.

Lester caught wind of the joke. He looked up from his boots. “Right. Right. Of course. It will only take a few s-s-sec-s-,” he paused. “A minute. Then I’ll be off. I’d hate to take your m-money without delivering.”

“That sounds fair,” Dave said. “That sounds fair.”

“And you say you don’t believe in this s-s-spirit mumbo jumbo, so there’s nothing to lose,” Lester added.
“It’ll be fun,” Bo said.

I looked from face to face. Bo and Dave were smiling. Lester’s face quivered almost angrily. I sighed. “Okay. Go ahead.”

“I have your p-p-permission?”

I nodded.

Big mistake.

Lester got to work fast. He snapped up a tea candle from my coffee table and lit it. I didn’t see where he got the matches from. He lay it out on the kitchen island, mumbled through some foreign language (I’m assuming Latin?) and then put on his hat and walked to the door. “Good n-night,” he said.

And he slammed the door.

The whole thing took less than 30 seconds.

“The fuck?” said Dave.

“That was a fucking dick move, guys. Holy shit, that was a dick move.”

We stood silently for a moment around the kitchen island. The tea candle snuffed itself out. “I’ll be right back,” I said.

My building’s only elevator was counting down from 7. I trotted down the stairs, stumbling and catching myself around 3. (Keep your hands out of your pockets on the way down, boys and girls.)

I found him racing toward the bus stop at the corner. “Lester!” I shouted.

He looked up, then away. “What do you want?”

“I’m sorry about all that,” I said. “I just, I wanted to apologize. That was really rude of us.”

He turned his back on me and kept walking. I followed him until we hit the corner.

“Where do you stay? If you don’t mind me asking. There’s a shelter over on Jarvis. If you need.”

Lester looked at me and narrowed his eyes into slits. He was quiet now. “I don’t do well indoors,” he said.

It was warm last night, relative to last season. But it wouldn’t stay that way. “Winter’s coming,” I said. I didn’t mean to reference Game of Thrones (“that porno fantasy shit”), but he didn’t get it anyway.

“You’re a nice kid,” he said. “Not like your friends.”

“They’re nice, too. Sometimes.”

He leaned out into the road and saw the green lights of the streetcar blinking in the distance. Then he inhaled sharply through his nose and looked at me, right into me, with wet eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry. Don’t stay there tonight. Don’t. Promise me you won’t go back in.”

“Lester, I think you should stay at the shelter. They have people there–”

“I’m not fucking crazy, kid. Not when I’m outside.” It’s true. He didn’t seem crazy anymore. Just a regular-ish, somewhat-more-dirty-than-normal old man. He scratched at his face. “Christ, I need a cigarette.”

“Oh shit!” I fished the Super Slims out of my pocket and held them out. “Bitch sticks, but…”

He snatched one from the pack and lit it. This time I definitely didn’t see the match. Just a small, floating flame, an inch above his jagged thumbnail. It puffed out before I got a good look, but what little I saw was enough.

“What the hell?” I asked.

“I gotta come clean, kid,” Lester said. “I don’t do this as a public service. I do this for me.” He stuck a thumb into his chest. “I wasn’t lying about being a conduit. I’ve been one since I was seven. But if I said the spirits are friendly, let me clarify that they definitely ain’t. They’re downright evil. Straight out of Hell.” The cigarette shook in his hand. “Most people, most people I give something small, you know. Just to clear the clutter.” He tapped his head. “They get a weak one. It knocks over books, shuts doors, creaks the floorboards. Maybe they get a feeling of dread. Some nightmares. They think it’s a thrill. But you? You were all so mean. So I gave you a bad one. The worst. I thought you deserved it.”

I was still a bit dumbstruck by the fire trick, so I went along with it. “What does, what does this mean?”

He looked out again for the streetcar. It waited one light away. “It means don’t go back to your apartment.” He smacked himself in the head. “Dammit Lester, you should’ve kept him! See, in my head he’s contained. He’s subdued. But out here?” He went silent. “You shouldn’t go back into that apartment. You can’t.”

The streetcar squeaked to a halt in front of us and drunks started climbing aboard. They’re the sole riders of the late-night streetcar. “The Vomit Comet” it’s called.

“Look, I’m not saying I believe you,” I said. “But why don’t you come back upstairs with me and just vanquish him or whatever? Exorcise him? I’ve got some leftover turkey you can have.”

The drunks finished embarking, and only Lester remained. He face wasn’t flitting from one emotion to another. He just looked scared. “I’m not going back upstairs. I’m never even coming back to this neighbourhood.”

He climbed up and the door cranked shut. Sparks burst overhead as the streetcar took a surge of power, and the red and beige “Vomit Comet” lumbered away.

My phone rang. “Hello?”

“Come back upstairs, Al.” It was Dave.

“What a fucking stupid idea, man. Inviting a fucking crazy person into my place?!”

“We are sorry.”

I turned from the bus stop and began walking toward my building. “You fucking assholes. I’m coming back up now, but–”

Dave and Bo ran up to me. “Hey man,” Dave said in front of me. “Come back upstairs,” Dave said in my ear.

I covered the receiver. “Dave, where’s your phone?”

His eyes bugged out and he reached into his pocket. “Shit. Upstairs.” He looked up at my building. “You wanna grab it for me?”

“The fuck is happening up there?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Dave said.

Bo pushed him aside. “It’s not nothing, man. It’s fucked. I think that guy is legit.”

I looked at my phone. “I think so, too.” Whoever was on the other end had hung up.

“The lights went out. Shit started rumbling. That was it for me, I booked it.”

“This pussy,” Dave said to me, pointing at Bo.

“You yelped, mother fucker.”

Dave laughed. “Fuck you.”

“So now what?” I asked.

“We’re getting shawarma,” Dave said.

“No, with my apartment.”

“Oh.” They exchanged a look. “I don’t think we’re going back up there, man.”

“What about your phone?”

“Fuck my phone,” Dave said.

The magic had worn off a little. I remembered that Dave thinks the Illuminati is after him and Bo thinks sticking needles into someone’s back can cure cancer and erectile dysfunction all at once. So I stood up tall and said, “I’ll get it.”

I rode the elevator back upstairs.

The hallway seemed dimmer than usual. My door handle had a heat to it, more radiating than burning, like holding a pot through an oven mitt.

I turned the handle, but didn’t push. I waited. Then I let the handle go and knocked instead.

Footsteps on the other side. Slow footsteps. Deep footsteps. The floor strained underneath them, I could tell. There was a gravity to each one, pulling me in. The dread overcame me quickly.

And then the sound of dialling on the other end, muffled by the door. My phone rang, and I pressed it hard into my head. I didn’t say anything.

“Come. Inside.” It was Dave’s voice, but the cadence was all wrong. He sounded asleep. Dreamy.

“Who is this?”

A beep, and then the call ended. My phone kicked itself back to the home screen. I stared at it, and then the door.

Two inches. That’s all that separated me from whatever stood on the other side. Not thick enough. I felt like throwing up. I had to get away.

I took the stairs. Didn’t want to wait for the elevator. Didn’t want to be trapped inside.

Dave and Bo were waiting outside. “My phone?”

“Fuck your phone,” I said.

We got shawarma. I crashed on Dave’s couch. Kept the lights on like a fucking child.

This morning I woke up and my voicemail was full of Dave. “Come. Back.” “I’m. Waiting.” “Where. Are. You?” “Come. Back. Al.” One of them was just laughter.

I’ve got three month’s lease left. Anyone know a good exorcist? Any thoughts on how to get my clothes and furniture out? I need everything but the TV. I was thinking of telling Lindsay she can have it if she’s willing to pick it up.

Credits to: Punchmeat


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