In court, ghosts shared the workplace with the living in parallel sessions. Naturally, those with a heartbeat could not see the dead, and those without one had the impressive ability to completely ignore the people alive. Life (after death) followed its course.
The courtroom was small, and it was a Monday, one of the busier days in the courthouse. The judge had ruled on two other cases before Getulio’s. The first was improper conduct. A ghost had pestered an old foe from when she was alive and thought she had the right to do so. Then a home invasion. The fellow just wanted to be a poltergeist. It had been his dream ever since he died. Upon hearing his sentence, a hundred years in Caicó, the warmest town in Brazil, he threw a tantrum and tried to torment the living.
“Order, order!” The ghost judge banged the gavel incessantly, startling some of the people in the room.
Those specters were clearly in the wrong — ghosts should either protect the living or leave them alone — but Getulio’s case was different. He was innocent. Although that phantom atmosphere of the courtroom sure made him feel guilty.
After the ghost guards secured the room from the poltergeister, the judge carried on. “Let’s start the trial of the case FG 31/03/42. The Underworld State vs. Mr. Getulio Lima; date of death, March 31st, 1942; no prior record; accused of ghostly malpractice. Mr. Getulio, you have the floor.”
The defendant stood up. Getulio was bigger than a basketball, but not by much. He had the shape of an upside-down teardrop and was almost entirely transparent, with subtle optical distortions shaping his contour. Eyes and mouth were slightly more opaque, enough to be noticeable. Getulio wore glasses. Ghosts, too, had bad eyesight.
“Your Honor of the Underworld, I am responsible for the mortal Ana Alice de Alcantara, a med-school undergraduate in her last year of college. She lives in Vitoria, a city on the central coast of Brazil, together with three girlfriends, who are currently unguarded.” The ghost used the tail end of his body to adjust his glasses. “I feel like I’m doing the work of four ghosts, Your Honor!”
The judge, more elongated and bluer than Getulio, frowned, and his lips disappeared for a moment.
“That is not for you to decide. Carry on without further complaints.” He banged the gavel again, and the sound echoed sharply through the chamber.
The mortal judge by his side shivered; those damn old water pipes from that ancient building were a distraction. But she was not the only one who was momentarily aghast. Getulio was spooked by the gavel’s noise and cramped his face tight, gathering all the elements of it in the center of the ball that was his body and head. Courtrooms could be really intimidating, no matter if one were dead or alive.
One of Getulio’s eyeballs emerged to peek and check on the judge’s mood. After confirming it was safe to talk, the other eye and mouth returned to their places.
“Alice is strong and a hard worker,” Getulio said. “She can be clumsy sometimes but has a heart of gold. I’ve been with her since she started med school.”
“And is it true that she is still afraid of you?”
The accusatory tone made the friendly ghost’s body warm up. The opposite of a chill ran through his whole body, going up, down, and bouncing back.
“Well, it is not like that, Your Honor,” he stuttered. “She is more sensitive than others. It is not of me she is afraid. Your Honor, Alice needs time to adapt to new situations. It takes longer than most for her to be comfortable.”
“It has been five years, Mr. Getulio.”
“But, but,” Getulio insisted, “you see, Your Honor, only Alice is scared. Maria, Luiza, and Catarina are not affected by my presence. It shows I’m not guilty, surely?”
Getulio bounced in his place as if attached to a spring. The mortal defendant by his side was restless, but he couldn’t figure out why. The mortal judge saw a sign of guilt in this behavior, poor thing.
“Let’s evaluate the facts,” the ghost judge continued. “On March 14th, 2015, you were designated to work on this case. Alice came home after the first day at college. The house was empty, and the lady was tired. You bumped into a cookie jar in the kitchen and made a mess. Alice ran away to the streets, screaming, and only returned home after Luiza arrived.” The judge stopped reading to shoot a reproving glance toward the defendant.
Getulio was invisibly nervous, stealing the heat around him. A new trial of the living was about to start. The new defendant sat by Getulio’s side and complained about the air conditioner. It was too cold.
“Sir, this was a small mishap,” Getulio explained. “You have to understand. It was my first day at work. You see, I had never haunted anyone before in my afterlife. I had just graduated from the Ghost Academy.” As he spoke, Getulio’s face slowly melted to the bottom of his body. “It was an accident.”
The ghost judge raised his voice, “An accident? How could you let this–?” Before he could finish the sentence, the mortal judge stood up suddenly and pushed the plasmatic ball out of the bench they shared. The ghost judge rolled three times in the air before stopping. He blushed white in embarrassment. As payback, he darted through the mortal judge’s body, who felt an indescribable frostiness and decided that, indeed, the air conditioner was too strong.
“Turn it off,” she commanded.
The mortal lawyer beside Getulio rolled his eyes and murmured, “Women.” Getulio found this to be an opportunity to educate the lawyer, so he imitated the judge and crossed his body as well. The mortal man trembled uncontrollably, and Getulio cackled, forgetting for a moment where he was.
The judge was not in the mood for pranks. He asked for order, silencing Getulio, then continued, “July 2nd, 2016. Alice and her friends were gathered in the living room.”
“A terrible name for a room in a haunted house, I must add.”
Getulio’s interruption earned him a glare from the judge, who was not amused. Getulio, realizing his lack of decorum, deflated and shut his mouth again.
“You repeatedly blew cold air in the ladies’ ears and caused several shorts in the electrical circuits of the apartment. It resulted in screams and commotion.” The judge became more transparent, irritated by the reading. “Do you deny that, Mr. Getulio?”
The memory of the night brought a smile to the ghost’s face. That was one of the best days at work.
“Sir, there are some missing details in this story. It was a winter day. It was super cold; like 17ºC! It’s only supernatural to become more excited in this condition. The air becomes energized, and the body spirited.” Getulio inflated himself, thinking about the winter, the best season for ghosts. “The damned summertime is the worst. My body contracts and gets heavier, and I become sluggish. It is horrible when you have to work, and the only thing you can do is sink into a corner, stagnant.” Upon realizing the growing impatience on the judge’s face, the ghost got back on track. “Plus, Catarina lit up incense, and that night I ended up getting inebriated without noticing.” Those last words were spoken softly, almost inaudibly.
“Do you think this is an excuse for such behavior?” yelled the ghost judge.
The mortal judge’s heart raced suddenly, and she started to tremble, apparently without any reason. Maybe she was hungry, she thought. That was it, hunger! Lack of sugar in her bloodstream. She ordered the living to take a few minutes of recess.
The yell also affected the ghost defendant. Getulio shrunk until he was the size of a tennis ball.
“They were having fun,” Getulio let out without thinking. The judge did not react, so Getulio continued to babble while returning to his original form. “They were gathered sharing horror stories, all four under a single blanket. I was just helping to set the mood.”
Getulio forced a smile, and the judge grunted.
“April 25th, 2017,” the judge continued. “Your protegee adopted a cat. You terrorized the animal, who kept meowing for a whole week.”
“That was not my fault, Your Honor. Delila was a kitten, and I was literally in my corner. Still, every time she saw me, she meowed. I tried to get closer and make friends, but she got flustered each time. I even thought this would get in the way of my job and reported it to my superior.”
The judge turned a page on the case file, then another. “It says nothing about it here.”
“But it’s the truth! I have the protocol number here with me.”
The judge asked one of his assessors to verify the information. Getulio had never seen a ghost this big before, shaped almost like a human. When he approached the defendant’s bench, Getulio recoiled slightly.
The information was validated. The defendant sighed in relief and added, “After a while, the cat got used to my presence, and we became friends. We used to sleep all together in the bed, Alice, Delila, and I.
The judge’s face crumpled imagining the scene.
“And what about the incident on September 14th, 2017, the day Alice was startled by her friend and screamed in fear? Or on May 10th, 2018, when Alice was so scared she had to sleep in her friend’s bedroom? Or January 16th, when your protegee refused to enter the house because she said, and I quote, ‘It’s full of ghosts?’”
“None of it is my fault, sir. There wasn’t any other soul there, I can assure you. And by then, Alice had already gotten accustomed to me.” Getulio quickly glanced to both sides and whispered, “I think it was PMS. During those days, she gets real sensitive and flustered. And not because of me, because of life itself. It’s scarier than any supernatural forces. Sometimes, the four of them synchronized and argued a lot. On this day you mentioned in September, Your Honor, Maria was walking down the corridor to Alice’s room when Alice walked out of it suddenly. Alice screamed and dropped to the ground. She thought Maria was a ghost. I personally found it hilarious, but Maria got really upset. For some reason, she got offended by being mistaken for a ghost. You see, Your Honor, I should be the one offended, am I right?”
The judge growled at the defendant’s antics. The session of the living was starting again, and it profoundly annoyed the ghost judge. The courtroom was full of life again, too warm. Those were truly adverse working conditions. The judge lost his train of thought and paged through the case file to remember what was next. The defendant seemed to be in the right. There was nothing left to do but observe the protegee.
The courtroom’s tv monitor turned on with static, causing a real commotion among the living. The transmission happened in a frequency that only ghosts could see. The video showed Alice sitting in a chair in a hospital room.
“Today is an important day, Your Honor,” Getulio said, unaffected by the unnerved mumbles and whispers from the mortals. “Alice is taking the test to become a medical resident at her dream hospital. She wants to be a geriatrician.” Getulio puffed the region where his chest would be and smiled. He was proud of his girl.
Alice was next in line for the physical exam test. Her feet tapped the floor nonstop. Alice took a heavy breath, drew the palms of her hands together in front of her mouth, and whispered, “Oh, guardian angel who always looks after me. If you’re here, give me a sign.” Then Alice prayed in a wavelength only ghosts could hear. I would be more confident with you by my side.
Getulio’s eyes filled with plasmatic water. He brought the tale end of his body in front of his face, pretending to adjust the glasses. This was the first time Alice addressed him directly.
The judge was also touched and allowed Getulio to haunt Alice from afar. Alice smiled when her neck hair bristled. Her guardian was there for her.
In the living world, a new defendant came in with a wide-open stare and dilated pupils. The woman sat by Getulio’s side and looked straight into the ghost’s eyes. Scary.
“For the love of God, this room is haunted!” she yelled. “Our Lady of Fatima, please protect me. I want out. Let me out!”
The woman tussled with the guard, and Getulio moved backward to avoid her punches. He ended up bumping into a chair and knocking it over. Every soul in the room fell silent for a moment, then three people in the audience screamed and ran. The remaining five stayed and laughed. In any case, chaos ensued. It would be best for the ghosts to flee from the tumult (and the heat). The ghost judge decided to end the session and granted Getulio the right to keep guarding Alice.
Getulio couldn’t resist whispering “boo” into the ear of the mortal defendant on his way out, who, as a result, threw herself on the floor and kicked at the guards.
“Order, order!” The mortal judge banged the gavel incessantly, startling some of the ghosts in the room.
This is story is dedicated to V. Gabriela G.G. <3
Carla Ra is a scientist by day, sci-fi writer by night.
You can check out her anthology ARTIFICIAL REBELLION here.