From the author: You can buy a lot of strange things at the county fair, but can you really buy a ghost in a bottle? Here's one guy who says you can!
Well, of course I thought it was a joke at first, Officer. I mean, who the hell knew you could bottle a ghost?
No, sir, I didn't break the bottle over Ross's head. He's my sister's husband, why would I do that? I mean, I never really liked the son of a bitch, but—
Yes, it's true we got into a fight at their wedding. A little disagreement is more like it, really. But that was a year and a half ago, and the bastard was drunk. He insulted Carrie's virtue, his new wife, for Christ's sake, right there during the toast! My little sister! What was I supposed to do?
No, I haven't spent the last year and a half trying to think up ways to get him back. If you'd just let me—
OK, for the tenth time, here's what happened. I went down to the county fair with some of the guys after we got off shift. We just wanted to get a couple of beers, look at the "local scenery," if you know what I mean, and maybe take in some of the rodeo. And my buddies Tim and Allen wanted to check out that singer, you know, that girl who made it to fourth place on Nashville Star last year. The radio stations had been advertising her all week.
No, I don't remember the singer's name. You know, that Taylor Swift wannabe with the big tits. It's not important!
So, on the way to the pavilion, I see this little booth with this guy shouting something about ghosts in a bottle, get your ghosts in a bottle! I nudge Tim with my elbow and say, "Get a load of that." There's a group of people standing all around the guy, so we walk over to listen.
He says, "Folks, this is your once-in-a-lifetime chance to get your very own patent-pending Ghost in a Bottle. I employ professional ghost hunters to track down phantoms, specters, and poltergeists, and then I use my own personal patented technique to trap the ghost in specially prepared vessels—"
"You mean beer bottles!" Tim shouts.
"—specially prepared beer bottles," the guy goes on without missing a beat. "Ghosts like a cold one just like the rest of us, sir." And the crowd laughs at Tim instead of the huckster. That guy was slick, I'll tell you that.
What? No, the bottles didn't have beer labels on them. He must've soaked 'em off. They just had these little homemade labels. So anyway, the guy yells, "Folks, for the infinitesimal sum of four dollars and ninety-five cents, tax included, you too can have your very own Ghost in a Bottle! But do not open the bottle, or you risk releasing the wrath of a very irate spirit!"
No, of course I didn't believe it, not then. But I thought Miranda — she's my girlfriend — would get a kick out of it. So I tell the guy to give me a ghost, and make it a good one. He hands me a bottle this unearthly shade of green, with a label that says "Ghost in a Bottle (Patent Pending). Scorned woman. Open at your own risk."
Sorry, what? Yes, Miranda's my girlfriend. I told you that already. We've been going together for about six months.
She said that? No way, man. She never told me she was seeing other guys. I don't believe it.
Look, you want me to finish telling you the story or not?
OK, so I'm paying for my ghost, and Tim starts laughing at me. He says, "Man, I can't believe you just threw away five bucks on an empty beer bottle. What a rube!"
So the huckster, he says to Tim, "Sir, I can see you're a disbeliever. So just for you, sir, I'm going to give a little demonstration." He turns back to the crowd. "Remember, folks, I do not recommend trying this at home. You may think you have a good-natured spirit, but ghosts are completely unpredictable. Only because I am an expert with many years of experience can I safely do this." He picks up a little bottle, like one of those whiskey miniatures, you know? And he says, "This here happens to be the ghost of a little baby girl, only two years old when she died. She was wandering around, all confused, the poor thing. We only just caught her yesterday, and now I'm going to let her go, release her here among this compassionate crowd, because I know that with your prayers she will finally be able to find her way to the peaceful Hereafter that she deserves."
"What a load of crap," Tim says.
But then, see — this is the unbelievable part — the guy holds the little bottle up and unscrews the cap, and this greenish light wells up inside the bottle and then streams out, swooshes around the guy's head and flies straight up until it disappears.
Tim still didn't believe it. "Some trick," is all he says.
Me? I thought it looked pretty darn real. I mean, no way could that guy rig up a light and make it do that. But Tim was starting to get impatient, so I just took my ghost bottle and followed him over to the pavilion. He grabbed us a couple of beers and we sat down.
My other buddy Allen? He was a couple of tables over, talking to some blond chick. Looked like he might be getting lucky that night, if you know what I mean. So anyway, I'm sitting there listening to the music and watching the girls line-dance in their tight little denim skirts and their cowboy boots, and I'm starting to feel kind of mellow. I hold my ghost bottle up and, you know, I think I can see a little light through the green glass, kind of waiting to get out.
Then all of a sudden I see Ross chatting up this cute little brunette in black jeans, black boots with red trim and a red satin shirt with the fringe across the front, you know?
No, my sister Carrie was home with the baby. Son of a bitch never takes her anywhere because he's too cheap to pay a babysitter. So anyhow, Ross puts his hand on this chick's ass and squeezes it. I start to get up and Tim sees what's going on and tells me to sit back down. But I shake him off 'cause I'm only going to have a word with Ross, you know?
OK, yes, I had the bottle in my hand. I just happened to be holding it. So I ask Ross where's his wedding ring, and the little brunette gets mad and stalks off. So Ross gets all belligerent and tells me to mind my own business, and then the son of a bitch shoves me so hard I almost fall over. I'm ready to give him a piece of my mind, but instead I think, you know what? Let's see how this scorned woman ghost of mine takes to a two-timing bastard. I think how funny it would be to scare him a little, and see his face if she slimes him or something, like the ghosts in that movie. I try to unscrew the cap, but it's too tight, so I smash the bottle against the edge of a picnic table.
No, Officer, it broke on the table. I didn't hit Ross over the head with it.
Look, what's it matter how the bottle broke? It gets smashed to bits and this greenish light comes out and sort of swarms all over Ross's head, and he goes rigid and starts twitching and then he falls down. I swear, that's exactly what happened.
Well, the glass could've got mixed in with the blood and his hair when he fell. That's right, he fell. That's when his head must've started bleeding, and there was glass everywhere.
The light? It kind of flew up and dissipated. Just like the baby ghost the guy showed us.
Oh. No, I didn't know. On arrival, huh? I hope the son of a bitch had life insurance so he can finally do Carrie some good.
No, that doesn't mean I wanted him dead. It's just that it ain't no big loss, you know? No-loss Ross, get it?
Well, if you don't believe me, ask Tim! He saw what came out of the bottle.
Well, then, ask the other people! Or find the guy selling the ghosts!
No, I didn't know Miranda was seeing Ross. That don't make sense. She knew he was married to my sister.
I said I didn't know! If I'd have known, I would have cut her loose!
No, Officer, I said “cut her loose.” Not “cut her!”
So look, did you find the guy selling the ghosts or not? Older guy, mid-fifties maybe. Looked like he was a smoker, had that leathery look, you know? He was wearing a brown cowboy hat and a denim shirt.
You're kidding. Just because you couldn't find him, you're gonna arrest me?
Can I get my phone call now?
This story originally appeared in Alternate Hilarities: One-Star Reviews of the Afterlife.