Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Prisoner in my Own Home

I've led a pretty sheltered and charmed life.  I can't really sit here and say that I've known a whole lot of hardship or sadness.  My parents are both still alive, married, and in good health. I have a good relationship with my brother. I've never had a major health scare or been shot or gone through a divorce. I have friends. I have a decent job that pays well, and a house I own. Since I'm childless and husbandless, I pretty much get to do whatever I want.

So I don't understand where this overwhelming feeling of being tired of everything has come from. I'm just tired of my life, I think. And it's a pretty decent life.

I blame the pets.

Somewhere, somehow I have become a slave to my pets. I feel like a prisoner in my own home, and I'm sure it's my own fault as animals don't know any better.  I just don't know how to fix it.

The other day I looked at the litter boxes downstairs and wished I could cut the litter boxes by at least two.

That will never happen.  Remove one litter box (I have four), and the drama that ensues would make one think that the end of the world is nigh.  All the cat experts tell you that you should always have one more litter box than cats, but honestly, when dealing with my cats? You almost need three litter boxes per cat.

And they use them too.

I clean litter boxes five times a day sometimes.  And not just one litter box.  ALL four of them need to be cleaned at least three times a day.

Percy starts it off by pooping in one litter box, then moving over to the second litter box, and peeing in it.  He then proceeds to scratch all the litter into a scatter across the floor.  Then he goes upstairs and squeezes out God knows what else that's left in his bowels into the third litter box.  If he could get his ass into Willow's litter box, he'd use that too. 

So I clean those.  Not five minutes later, Puckett is in one litter box downstairs.  She sits in it for ten minutes, scratching around a bit, then goes to the other litter box, does her business and takes off. 

So I clean them again.  Then Willow gets in, and since she has just recently started to use the downstairs boxes again and has stopped peeing on the floor, I try not to discourage her.  Meanwhile I'm screaming inside wanting to kill all three of them.  because as soon as I clean what Willow did, the whole cycle starts over again.

It's like Percy cannot handle the boxes being clean.

I decided to rebel one day and cleaned the boxes only once.  Percy kicked all the litter out of the box, including some poop, in protest.  So I cleaned everything up, bleached the floors, and added some fresh litter. Within seconds he was in the box again.  He didn't actually do anything other than squeeze out one tiny drop of diarrhea, but it sure stunk up the place so I had to clean it AGAIN.

I'm sure you all think I'm making this up. Trust me, it's too stupid to make up.

My best friend has four kids.  She's been changing diapers for the last seven years (the youngest isn't a year old yet, but I think he's the last one in diapers).  Potty training them was a bit of a struggle, but I think she had less toxic waste to deal with than I do on a daily basis.  Also, hers all have eventually learned to use the toilet, and while they sometimes forget to flush (I've spent a week with her family and that's a fun surprise in the guest toilet), at least they don't poop in a box around the clock.

My dream, my own personal private dream that I have shared with anyone, is to give in to California Guy and tell him, yes, yes, he can have Willow. Please pack her, her litter box, her dishes, and her kitty tower up in your truck and take her away.  Then I can move two litter boxes to the fourth landing where the cage is (and once Willow is gone, will be thrown into the dumpster), and get rid of all bathroom activity from downstairs where I spend the majority of my time anyway.

Except this last week. I've taken to hiding in my bedroom with the laptop binge-watching Downton Abbey just so I don't have to look at or smell the litter boxes.

The dog is the cleanest one.

Oh wait, never mind, as I got up the other morning and there was not one, but two puddles on the floor.  One soaked in the carpet, the other dried and tacky on the hard floor outside the bedroom.  I looked at the dog and asked her, "What the fuck, Tess?" And she looked back at me with those big brown, old dog eyes and wagged her tail.

She's old. She's afraid of the dark. She's losing her eyesight. I can't get mad at her for tinkling on the floor when it's not really something she can control.  She would never do it if she could hold it, as she's not a spiteful dog or one who potties on the floor when she' mad or upset.  She just drank too much water one night and couldn't hold it and she's too good of a dog to wake me up when I'm sleeping. A courtesy not shared with the cats as my alarm clock now begins at six o'clock when Percy scratches for twenty minutes in the litter box. Then at seven Puckett scratches in the litter box.  Then at seven-thirty willow scratches in her litter box in her cage.

Tess probably assumes if she wakes me up she'll get hollered at.

Incidentally I sleep a lot lately.  I almost dread going home anymore because every time I step through the door I am bombarded by three cats demanding their food bowls.  The litter boxes are overflowing. I feed them and then they promptly, one at a time use the litter boxes again. So I have to clean the boxes because they are overflowing, and then I have to clean them again after mealtime because they get filled up again. How the hell do three cats generate such waste?

If they want to make spies talk they should just force them to come to my house and take care of my three cats for a week.  The Cowboy is my designated pet sitter for when I go out of town, and he says he can't imagine having to deal with this on a daily basis. He said a week is enough to drive him right out of his skull.

And of course besides the constant screeching for food, the constant scratching the litter boxes, the fact that my house perpetually smells like poop and pet food (why is that stuff so pungent??) even though I clean my house all the time with bleach, there is also the constant begging for attention.  I'm so tired when I get home from work and after I clean up after my animals, I really have no energy left for attention. I crawl into bed, turn on Downton Abbey, and slide into near catatonic state for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile Willow is on the bed, Percy is in the corner of the bedroom, Puckett is stretched out beside the closet doors, and Tess is at the foot of the bed.

I can't escape. I can't get out. I'm trapped in a hell of my own making.

I'm a prisoner in my own home

He looks so innocent, Bogarting the dog's toys and posing for the camera.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Long Way From the Beach

I don't fancy myself a food blogger, but I do fancy myself a blogger and a food lover. 

Depends on the food, of course.

The other day God must have left his bathtub faucet running because the heavens opened and a torrential rain the likes of which rivaled past hurricanes poured down on my town, eroding soil, washing away tentatively planted seeds, and pelting vulnerable surfaces with hail.

It was fun.

At lunchtime I sloshed through the water-logged streets with pea-sized hail clattering against my windshield, and tried not to get completely drenched when I ran from the car into the house.

Since the weather in Wyoming is supposed to be dry, it's not often we get an ocean dumped on us in one day, but as the years have gone by we have definitely seen more humidity and more precipitation.

I blame climate change.  Or maybe the cloud seeding.  I'm not sure, but I do seem to be erupting in acne every spring and it's pissing me off.

This particular day of tidal wave "gooshing," I'm pretty sure fish were swimming down the gutters and spiny anemones were taking up residence in the "rain pools."

It seemed like a good day to go home, lock the doors, and attempt a beach-inspired dish since the usual mountainous climate decided to mimic beach climate in the middle of hurricane season.

I'm a huge fan of seafood and there is nothing I love more than shrimp.  Big shrimp, little shrimp, cocktail shrimp, butterfly shrimp, you name it.  The only way I won't eat shrimp is fried and breaded, mostly because I'm gluten intolerant, and also a little because it's disgusting and shrimp doesn't need to be breaded to be awesome.

On this horrid, drenched, angry coastline-esque type of day, I decided that some shrimp chowder would really hit the spot.  I'm sort of a slap and dash cook - I like to slap things together in under thirty minutes, and add a dash of this and a dash of that and see how things turn out.  They usually turn out.  Sometimes they are not amazing, but edible.

There are other times it absolutely does not turn out like that awful gluten-free lemon cake, or the gluten free cinnamon rolls I thought would be a great idea.  Also, the first time I attempted gluten-free banana bread.  I added too much xanthan gum and the batter crawled up the beaters, ate the mixer, and took over the counter top.

It was a mess.

I have yet to master gluten-free cinnamon rolls, croissants, bagels, or baklava.  Some things just require that stretchy elastic gluten, and I am not enough of a gourmet cook to pull this off.  Other things like my gluten-free pizza crust are actually pretty good.

Shrimp chowder is not hard to make, at least the way I make it.  It stared with heating olive oil and garlic, with some sliced green onion tops.  I didn't want to go out into the monsoon to actually pull the onion bulbs out of the earth, so I settled for the green tops I saved in my freezer from last summer.

Aside:  my onions have taken over the garden.  One day they popped up in my boxes and have since conquered two boxes and several patches in the front yard.  If someone needs onions, I have them.  I don't even remember planting them.

Next to the chowder I added something around half a stick of butter (I don't measure stuff), and tossed in several heaping spoonfuls of cornstarch.  Roux, here I come!  It got all sticky and gummy to which I added white wine (not half the bottle, but probably a quarter?) and let everything simmer happily.  I use Beringer's or something else cheap when cooking with white wine, though I have been known to dump the glassful I'm sipping into the pot because, well, it's there.

Now came the fun part.  Add the shrimp!  I used raw, unpeeled, untailed shrimp.  So I let them thaw and then peeled off their little armor and pulled off their tails.  When hand-eating shrimp I can just chomp them off at the tail, but in chowder, I don't want tail in the broth.  It puts one in mind of chewing on plastic shavings.  It's weird.

I also added a whole chopped russet potato.  I think one is supposed to use those little red potatoes that go great with Swiss Raclette, but I don't usually keep those on hand (and I don't have a Raclette oven). So russet potato it was. 

I filled the pot with a cup of whipping cream (unwhipped) and two more cups of water, then added frozen veggies.  Then I turned up the heat and waited for some bubblies to show up on the surface to let me know things were simmering nicely.

At this point I threw in the garlic powder (even with four cloves already in there), the onion powder (ditto), a tiny pinch of pepper (I don't like too much pepper, though California Guy might put the whole pepper shaker in), and a handful of unrefined, completely natural, totally organic, was-just-recently-mined-from-the-Great-Salt-Lake-like-yesterday sea salt and voila, the chowder was ready to cook on low heat for half an hour.

It boiled over, of course.  It always does.  I don't know why because I'm not a great chef who knows these things.  I think it has something to do with the cream and covering the pot.  Or not.  Do I look like a chemist?

When it was ready to eat, the lovely smell had completely enveloped the house, so I spooned it up into a bowl and added a perfectly crusty gluten-free roll to go with it (crusty gluten free is not as hard as it sounds - we'll cover those another time).  A tiny bit of the most amazing goat cheese in the world, and dinner was served!

Ah, dinner.  The perfect meal to go with a raging storm outside.  If the weather is going to insist on behaving like the beach, then I should at least have an ocean to look at.  But I supposed this will have to do for now.

Shrimp chowder, crusty bread...mmmmmmmm

Pair it with this amazing Viognier and you have a little bit of heaven on Earth.
Other good pairings are Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios and, if you are into reds more, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs.
I advocate for the Viognier.

Top it off with a slice of White Chocolate Ganache Lemon Tart and we are ready to begin summer.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Torture Chamber

Apparently I am now into torturing my dog.

At least that's what she seems to believe every time I put her in my car.

Tess' behavior in the car is infamous.  Over the years she's developed some weird anxiety that has escalated to the point where she is impossible to have in the car without some kind of restraints (or Valium, though in truth, the dog Valium didn't work).  It borders on dangerous and reckless driving, hurtling down the highway in a tin can at 75 mph with a whining, bouncing, whirling dervish blowing its coat all over.

She has very nearly run me off the road before.

Drunk driving? Try driving under the influence of dog.

I don't get it.  I have friends with dogs who sit demurely and elegantly in the backseat, just staring out the window, hardly moving a muscle.  One friend has a black lab who likes to escape and doesn't feel the need to come back right away even when called.  My friend has only to pull her car out of the driveway and call Bella that they are going for a ride, and the dog is right there, ready to leap in the backseat where she will sit like a perfect lady and enjoy the ride.

Not my dog.  She's the one that can't ride in the bed of a truck because she'd be hanging over the side, practically falling out.  Take a corner too sharply, and she'd land right on her head in the middle of the street.

She wasn't always this way.  I adopted Tess from the Casper Humane Society, a two hour drive from my town.  When I first laid eyes on her she was ricocheting off the walls of her kennel, yapping like a dog possessed, and I was skeptical about loading her in my car.  I thought she'd tear it to pieces.

I drive a Honda Accord.  With velvety cloth seats.  It's not exactly dog-friendly, and it's definitely not hyperactive-crazy-dog-friendly.

I loaded her in the car, and she was fine, even for two hours.  The very next day I loaded her into my friend's truck for the seven hour drive down to Denver, and while she did explode in a tornado of fur, she did fairly well (she was in the extended cab, not the bed).

I drove her thirty miles every night for almost four months when I was dating the Drug Dealing Felon.  She's always been a bit of a whiner in the car, but I always attributed that to excitement because she does the same thing when we are about to walk out the door for a nice long walk.

So, what the hell is her problem lately?  In the last two years she has become increasingly worse about the car.  She doesn't balk at getting into the car.  She runs for the backdoor and jumps right in when I open it.  It's not until we hit the road that she starts screaming like I punched her in the beak, and spinning around, bouncing from one window to the other, or trying to scrabble into the front seat.  Nothing works.  The "travel pills" the vet prescribed to calm her down? Doesn't even faze her.  She barely gets loopy and she just behaves worse.

On the weekends when we drive two hours to visit California Guy I'm about ready to murder her as soon as we get there.  Some people have suggested that perhaps she knows she's going away from home and her territorial nature kicks in, causing anxiety.  Others have suggested since I adopted her from the shelter there maybe she thinks she's going back.

All good theories except for the fact that the ride home is almost always three times as bad as the drive down.

The last few weeks I decided I have had enough.  The pills don't work and there is no point even putting down a blanket to protect my seat because by the time we get to our destination she has wadded it up into a ball in one corner of the car from all the jumping around and stupidity.

I also do not appreciate a big furry tail slapping me in the face every time she feels the need to spin.

I got to thinking about how horses are cross-tied in their stalls to prevent them from moving around too much while getting tacked up or having their hooves cleaned or being examined by the vet.  I thought it might work on a dog.  I bought a super-duty highly durable backseat cover that supposedly attaches to all parts of the backseat to keep her from messing it up.  Then I took two leashes and wrapped one around each of the backseat headrests.  I put Tess' harness on her.  It has a D-ring on either side.  I attached a leash to each D-ring and secured her to the backseat.

You would have thought I was purposely trying to destroy her life the way she complained.  Within the first five minutes of the drive, she whined and screamed and yelped and tried to twist this way and that.  The cross-ties prevented her from jumping back and forth or spinning around.  She tried to duck under one in a spin attempt, and got it wrapped around her chest.  She tried to untangle herself and managed to wrap the other leash around her chest.  She made such a mess of herself that she found herself strapped to the back of the backseat, in a sitting position, completely stuck.  At one point she tried to climb up the back of the backseat, and what? Sit by the back window?  I yelled at her to get down, sit, and shut up.

She did.  Quietly.  For the remainder of the trip, which was almost an hour and a half.  I have never gone anywhere with her so still and quiet.

Honestly, we strap children in when we drive with them.  It's the law.  Children under a certain age or height or whatever must be strapped in a car seat (also so they can't bounce around and spin in the backseat). Dogs should be no different, but the setup in the back of my car does look a little like a doggy torture chamber.

If the dog's idea of torture is having to sit politely and quietly during a car trip, then I am torturing my dog almost every weekend.  Usually when we get to our destination she's worked herself into such a tizzy that she's dying of thirst and will drink a gallon of water.  This last trip where she was forced to sit still and quietly, she did not dive into her water dish the moment we got home.

She did, however, prance away from me when I took off her harness with the doggy equivalent of one finger in the air.

Really, I'm doing her a favor.  One slam on the brakes and she'd be through the windshield if we did things her way.  Now when I hit the brakes she's bound so tightly to the seat that she doesn't go anywhere and she doesn't get hurt.

She's also not dying of thirst.

If that's torture chain me to the wall.

The Pup Pit 
It looks scary, but no pups were harmed in the creation of this contraption.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What Does One Do When One's Calling is a Wrong Number?

I used to believe my calling in life was to be a steward of animals and possibly plants.

I also used to believe my calling in life was to be a writer, but taking care of plants and animals seemed a lot easier.

I don't think I believe this anymore.

God called upon man to be steward of Earth, tending to its vast array of plant and animal life.  We have failed miserably as a species due to our ambition, selfishness, and complete lack of regard where "lesser" living things are concerned.

I have failed miserably in my personal calling due to a complete lack of talent when it comes to raising living things.

Now, please don't panic.  I have not murdered my cats or Tess, nor have I accidentally killed them due to not taking care of them properly.

But I do seem to be doing something wrong. 

My cats are unhappy.  The more I feed them, clean their litter boxes, and buy them toys the more unhappy they become.  I'm not sure if it's because they are spoiled and have me wrapped around their paws, or if I'm just not feeding them the right food, cleaning out the litter boxes enough, or buying the right toys.  The cats are now proud owners of a four-story kitty tower, crinkle tunnel, a fun toy that looks like a Frisbee with a ball rolling around in it, various catnip mice, a fishing pole toy, and more rubber balls than one can play with in a lifetime.

The other day while vacuuming I came across no less than three foil-wrapped chocolates shoved either under the refrigerator or the stove.

Even though my cats have an infamous amount of toys, they seem to prefer digging chocolates out of my glass candy jars and batting those around the kitchen.

The new kitty tower was a gift from California Guy back when he thought it would be a fabulous idea to load up three cats and drive them two hours to his place so we could all spend four days of Christmas together.

He has never suggested moving the cats again unless it's permanently to new living quarters.  He finally brought the kitty tower to my house.  It's huge, blocks the TV from one angle, and the only cat who actually will have anything to do with it is Willow.  To be fair, Percy does appreciate the scratching posts, but he would rather perch on top of the refrigerator.  Puckett's favorite spot will always be the dog bed.  When Surina visits, she sleeps on Surina's bed even thought it's not nearly as comfortable or as squishy as Tess' bed.  I think she does it to make a point.  All beds belong to her (including mine).

The food has just been a nightmare.  I feed my cats I/D.  Willow will only eat Natural Balance, salmon and sweet potato formula, so she gets fed separately and I have to put her bowl up when she's done.  When I leave town for a night, she's pretty much screwed.  I put her bowl in her cage and leave Percy's bowls in the kitchen, but I just KNOW the little asshole finds her bowl, hogs out on it first, and then goes to eat the rest of his food.  Willow must get something because she doesn't act starving when I get home, but in three litter boxes there are no less than three piles of diarrhea each due to the fact that Percy's stomach can't handle Natural Balance.

And on top of all of it, they just get crankier and crankier with me, blaming me for all their problems.  Percy, I'm sure, blames me for his stomach issues rather than just admitting that he can't eat Natural Balance and has to make do with I/D.  I have zero sympathy as I'm in the same boat.  I had to give up gluten, most dairy, and I can only have coffee and chocolate in very limited quantities.

Tess got in the trash the other day which is only the second time in nine years she has done that.  She has toys, food, water, chew bones, and she's not even food motivated.  There was no reason for her to get in the trash, and she didn't eat anything out of it.  She left a mess and one avocado pit with scores from her teeth that must have escaped and rolled down the stairs because I found it in the cats' water bowl.

So she has every toy a dog could want, but she prefers to chew on an avocado pit?  I'm lucky she didn't try to swallow it and choke to death.  Clearly the poor thing was bored to death, a suitable complaint given it's been months since I've walked her due to my own health issues.  I'm not doing right by my dog, so I've been walking her again ever since that episode.

Never mind about her notorious behavior in the car this past weekend when we visited California Guy.  She was a worse nightmare than usual.

As for plants, it is once again growing season.  I planted three containers of herbs and three containers to start cantaloupe seeds.  Three weeks ago.  Only the basil has sprouted.  everything else is giving me the finger and staying hidden for another month until the really nice warm weather comes.  I also planted carrots seeds and some peas.  Right before a huge thunderstorm hit flooding my boxes and washing out my seeds.  I haven't killed my houseplant yet, but it was on the verge of dying before I realized the poor thing needed a serious pruning and probably also a repotting. 

I'm afraid to repot it.  I know I'll end up killing it.

And my little crabapple tree that grew in the corner of my yard?  Dead.  Something happened to it last summer and its leaves never came in very well.  As soon as spring hit this year it remained looking all skeletal and twiggy with only a few of last year's dead leaves still hanging on.  We had to chop the poor thing down.  It used to be so beautiful and would blossom every spring.  I was going to twist colorful lights around it and have yard parties in the summer.

It's getting to the point where I kill everything I touch.  I have a black thumb, not a green one.  One of my coworkers left me all her plants when she resigned and moved to another state.  I have four plants in my office I fear for.  If another coworker wasn't helping me water them, I think they'd already be dead.  I have these visions of grandeur to grow a bountiful crop over the summer.  All I ever seem to yield is some carrots and a few peas.  I can't even grow a zucchini and EVERYONE can grow a zucchini. 

Meanwhile I'm just pissing the pets off more and more. No matter what I do I cannot make them happy.  They shoot me accusatory looks every time I walk by. Puckett glares at me if I try to sit on the couch. I can't walk into the kitchen without at least two cats giving me the song and dance about how I don't feed them enough.

Steward of plants and animals?  Yeah, I think that ship has sailed and sank. 

Writing?  Well, one story I wrote did just get accepted to be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Incidentally it's about my cats.

I left out the part where they find me lacking and inadequate.

Willow loves her new cat tree.

The basket is her favorite feature, though she is the only one who fits in it.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

All in a Day's Work Part 5

And finally...the conclusion.  Next week we will return to our previously scheduled animal antics.

Something else, however, stirred the air, and as Eric watched in horror, several forms of young women began to materialize. The whispers echoed throughout the room to the background noise of the screaming chimpanzees. The girls floated translucently in the air before them, their features blurring around the edges, their hair undulating around their bodies in constant motion. Their eyes were black and they all wore long, colorless nightgowns. The girls held hands as if engaged in some demented game of Red Rover. They floated towards Eric and Sam, kept at bay by the salt border. Eric added more salt to keep the border uncompromised, but Sam seemed to have other ideas. He edged towards the salt, and before Eric could reach out and grab him, he stepped out of the circle and extended his palms towards the girls. The wind buffeted against Eric harder as the girls formed a circle around Sam, each one reaching out to touch him gently with her fingers. As they touched him, they slowly turned corporeal. They danced around him, their hands cemented to his body, and Eric could see the evidence of their mistreatment glimmer almost imperceptibly over their bodies. Bruises flickered across their faces, burn marks on their arms, cuts and scrapes on their calves as the hems of their nightgowns fluttered around their ankles. One haunting beauty who appeared to be the ringleader kept her hand on Sam's shoulder, using him like a human battery to maintain her energy. The rest of the specters dropped their hands from him and linked hands with each other, creating a chain. They moved towards the doctor, the ringleader holding firmly onto Sam and pulling him along.
“Stay away from me!” Doctor Goodenough screamed, backing away. “Don't you touch me! I was only trying to help you.”

The girls hissed wordlessly and continued to stalk him. Eric raised his voice as he recited his incantation. Sam was out of his hands now. The young man would either perish in the ghostly rumble or be spared for his ability to power the incorporeal.
The girls reached Dr. Goodenough and surrounded him. At the same time the ringleader released Sam who collapsed to the ground. Dr. Goodenough screamed, a human sound at first that dissolved into a chilling wail, and finally blended with the howling of the wind as the girls consumed him. The spirits melded together, swirling together in a cyclone and sucking up some of the debris that still blew about the laboratory. Eric wanted to run to Sam and pull him back into the circle, but he didn't know if he would survive it. Sam powered ghosts to become corporeal and that seemed to make him an asset to the spirits. All Eric had to protect him was the sage, salt, and book of incantations.
“Sam!” Eric yelled over the screaming of the spirits and the howling of the wind. Sam lay still on the ground where the ghosts had dropped him.
An unearthly screeching arrested Eric's attention. From the other room five or six hunched shapes barreled towards him. The chimpanzees screeched as they bore down on him, and Eric raised his voice, reading a passage from his book over and over. The pack of creatures parted around the circle, leapt over Sam, and jumped into the chaos of poltergeists spinning in a mess of debris. With a loud crack the debris split apart, pieces smashing into each wall of the room. The wind died down. The lights flickered above, then went out completely, leaving only Eric's pile of burning sage to light the room. Eric sat frozen for a moment, eyes wide, his heart hammering in his chest. Of all the exorcisms he and Holly had ever performed, he'd never experienced anything like this. He'd battled vampires, werewolves, demons, and witches, but nothing had ever rattled him so thoroughly.
One more reason to hate ghosts.
“Sam?” He whispered into the darkness. He waited another moment. Nothing stirred or made a sound. “Dr. Goodenough?”

The heavy feeling of presence in the room had lifted, though the stench of death still lingered. Eric waited a few more beats before scraping up his courage. He stepped out of the salt ring and approached Sam.   He checked for a pulse and felt relief at the strong beat in Sam's wrist.
“Sam, Sam, wake up. It's over, I think?” He patted Sam's pale cheeks gently.

Sam's eyes fluttered and he muttered something. Eric reached in his pocket and pulled out a small vile filled with liquid. He dashed the contents over the young man's face.
Sam's eyes flew open and he rose halfway, wiping his face with his wrist. “What the hell?”
Eric held up his vial with a sheepish smile. “Holy water.  I don't have smelling salts. Are you okay?”
Sam groaned and placed a hand against his forehead. “Ugh.  Ghost sickness always makes me feel like hell. What the fuck happened?”
“I was hoping you could tell me. The girls sort of...ate Dr. Goodenough. And then the chimpanzees came, and everything sort of exploded.”
Sam squeezed his eyes shut as though his head pounded with pain. “Dr. Goodenough did unspeakable things to those girls. So they got their revenge.”
“Did he torture them?”
“He thought he was helping them."  Sam tried to get to his feet and stumbled. Eric supported him with an arm around his shoulders.
“Easy, kid. Don't get up too fast.”
“He developed that drug that was supposed to help them with their symptoms,” Sam said. “And he experimented on the chimpanzees.”
“The girls said something about it was his fault they were dead?”
“Did you see what was in those cages in the other room?”  Sam rubbed his temples with two surprisingly long, elegant fingers. “Got any aspirin?”
Eric dug some out of his bottomless messenger bag and handed it over with a bottle of water.
Sam took them with a soft snort of laughter. “You've got everything in that pack, don't you?”
“Helps in my line of work,” Eric said.
Sam swallowed two tablets before continuing. “I guess when they shut this place down they didn't bother to check in the basement. The chimpanzees were left down here to starve to death in their cages.”
Eric's eyes widened. “That's terrible.”
“As for the girls, well, they all went stark raving mad from the experimental drug. They committed suicide by cop, basically. When the place was shut down they went after the authorities like a pack of ravenous wolves. They couldn't be contained.”
“How do you know this?” Eric asked.
“I get visions from the ghosts. When they touched me, I made them corporeal and they dropped me right in the middle of their nightmare.”
Eric shuddered at the thought, grateful that he didn't have Sam's abilities.
“So what happened to Dr. Goodenough?” He asked.
Sam got to his feet shakily. “The chimpanzees tore him to shreds when he came sniffing around here the other night. He was trying to make amends with the girls, tried to get them to move on. Instead of waiting for me, the girls that haunted him got into his head and manipulated him into coming here. So they could take their revenge, I assume.”
“He told you that?”

They told me that,” Sam said. “You have to listen to the whispers. Even insane ghosts occasionally make some sense.”
“So they're gone?” Eric asked as he started to pack up his stuff. He left the salt on the floor where it lay, undisturbed, in its perfect circle.
“They're gone,” Sam said. “At peace, I hope. I can't say for sure about the good doctor. He's probably stuck in a whole new nightmare.”
Sam headed for the stairs, a hitch in his gait the only indication that he suffered any injuries from his ordeal. Eric hurried after Sam, making sure not to look too closely at the cages lining the back wall, the shadowy lumps within testimony that they did not stand empty.