TUESDAY: Life for Rent


Copyright is held by the author.

“Sign says ‘Life for Rent’. Is that you then?”

At first glance, I noted a tall, skinny man clad in a brown suit. The man scratched the end of his nose. His eyes darted nervously around my office.

“Yup. It is,” I said. I would have gestured for him to sit. But a) I didn’t have any other seats in the office and b) he was a ghost. I’d never seen a ghost sit. They sort of . . . hovered.

“My hours are 11 pm – 5 am. You’re early.” I made a waving motion with my hand for him to come back later.

“Mind if I wait here?” he asked. I shrugged. Whatever. Not like these people had any boundaries anyway. For years, they weaselled their way into my mind whenever they damn well pleased. Until finally, I figured out how to keep them out unless invited.

I felt his eyes boring into the back of my bent head.

Finally, I looked up. “All right. How can I help?”

The man disappeared for a moment but flickered slowly into view like someone dribbling paint onto a canvas.

“My wife’s gone and slipped inside my daughter. I need your help to get her out.”

“OK. I don’t really do exorcisms or whatever this is.”

“I was told you could.”

I pursed my lips for a moment, then gestured to my sign again.

“So, yeah. Let me explain. The nature of my business is you get to borrow my body to do something you can’t necessarily do in your . . . current state. For example, you want to finish that winning hand of poker? Great. I’m your guy. Once I held someone’s baby for the first and only time. Hell, I even had to punch someone once. I’ve pretty much seen it all.” I took a breath. “But what you’re talking about? Not for me.”   

“What do you charge?”

 “$10,000 an hour. And I expect payment first. I’ve been stiffed before. No pun intended.”

“I’ll pay you one million dollars to let me use your body for twenty-four hours.”

My head snapped up. “I can probably find a way to help.” I handed him a contract to read over. “In a nutshell, I won’t kill anyone, especially not myself. Basically, I won’t do anything that’ll land me in jail.”

After a quick perusal of the document, he looked at me. “Understood.”


It started when I was around eight with voices in my head. My parents thought I might be schizophrenic, but after several neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists examined me, that was ruled out as a diagnosis. It’s not like I really wanted to be a medium. But by the time I was a teenager with a reputation as a “freak of nature,” zero friends, and no dating prospects, I decided I’d just go with it. What else did I have going on otherwise?

In college, I tried again to appear “normal,” to ignore the voices and just live my life. Everyone else had the chance to forge a new identity outside the confines of high school, why not me? But not only did my problem worsen, the voices were no longer just that. I started seeing ghosts. Like the kid in that movie, “I see dead people.” And they all wanted something from me. Every single one. I resigned myself to the fact that life is short, and people usually die with some unfinished business.

After some soul searching, ha! — I decided, if I’m going to be doing the spirit world’s bidding, I may as well charge for my time. Not that the deceased exactly have Venmo, but my contract states there must be a live person involved who foots the bill.

Usually, people rent me for an hour or two. I explain to them that it’s not as though I disappear from my body. I just sort of make room for them. And I expect them to vacate when their time is up.

Lately, I’ve grown tired of being everyone else’s vessel. It certainly makes it difficult to sustain a relationship with any living person. But I’ve been renting out my body for ten years now, have a good reputation in the spirit world as a man who gets the job done, and figure this is it for me until my time comes.


After we’d settled the fee and the payment process, Vincent explained the situation in more detail. His daughter, Juliet, recently divorced, sick of her career, and facing an empty nest, contacted a medium to seek advice from her mother. The problem was… the medium was inexperienced and though she successfully made contact with the other side, she then lost control of the session. In an effort to salvage the wreckage of Juliet’s life, her mother possessed her so she could “fix the mess Juliet had made.”

Vincent filled me in quickly, then looked up from where he’d had his gaze trained on the ground.

“I think this is my fault. We’ve been fighting lately, and well, Marge was just looking for anything else to do. Careful who you marry. It’s not actually ‘til death do you part.”

I sighed. “I see. Well, I’m not a family counsellor, but we can try to remedy this situation.” I opened a file on my computer. “So, first I need some information. Daughter’s name, address, phone number. As soon as I clear the payment, we can get started.” Something occurred to me then.

“Wait a second. How am I going to convince your possessed daughter to pay me? I doubt your wife will go for that since she doesn’t want to leave the body.”

Vincent nodded his head in agreement. “Yep, that’ll be the challenge. Any way we can delay payment slightly? Just until we get her out?”

I rolled my eyes at his suggestion. “Right. So you and your wife can just drift off into the ever after without paying me?”

Vincent leaned in. “What can I say to make you trust that I’m good for the money? I really need to make my wife come home.” He passed a wispy hand across his face. “I miss her. Turns out, I can’t do this eternal life without her.”

I don’t normally take pity on my clients. They reap what they sow. And they had their chance at life. But something about Vincent got to me that day. I narrowed my eyes at him. He stared back at me with rheumy eyes. With his boxy suit hanging from his skeletal frame, he really was a pathetic old creature. I hated to see him wandering the evermore alone.

“Fine. But I expect payment within one business day after completing the assignment.”

Vincent bobbed up and down somehow, not really jumping, but more like one of those inflatable, gyrating characters people use to advertise their business. He extended a hand.

I glanced at his outstretched hand and smiled. “I think your hand shaking days are past, buddy.”


Vincent thought we’d have to do a whole séance thing for him to possess me. I laughed at his naivete.

“More like I take a deep breath and invite you in. Not much more than that.”

“Will I be able to feel a body around me?”

“Valid question. Yes. You’ll be able to control my body. But you can’t make it do anything I haven’t done before. Like for example, I’ve never played basketball. So, if that’s something you wanted to do? Too bad.”

“OK, I get it. Are we doing this now?” he asked.

“No time like the present.”

I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. “I’m going to count backwards from five. When I get to one, walk into my mouth.” I checked to see that Vincent was listening. He was hovering inches from my face. “Five, four, three, two, and one.”

Vincent pushed his way inside of me, causing me to gasp. Though I’d been in this line of work for years, the initial shock of being possessed always took a moment of adjustment. Vincent picked up my arms and inspected my hands. He approached a mirror and ran my hands over my face. Then he lifted one leg at a time.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered. He forced my face into a massive grin, then broke into a quick dance. He frowned then. “Got two left feet.” He shook my head slightly.

Finally, he checked the time, grabbed my phone from the desk, and stuffed my car keys into my pocket.

After a particularly harrowing ride to Juliet’s house, Vincent parked my car across the street from the address he’d given me. He reclined my body back in the seat and stared out the windshield. It was still dark outside, but the sun was due to rise any minute. Through my eyes, he watched as the sky turned grey, then lavender, then finally pink. My whole body expanded with the air he filled my lungs with before slowly deflating upon the exhale. He let out a low whistle from my mouth, then climbed out of the car and spread my arms wide, inviting the first rays of sunshine onto my face.

“What a beauty,” he whispered. I peeked out of my eyes at the scene unfolding in front of us. Guess it had been a while since I’d taken in a sunrise.

Finally, we both detected some movement inside the house. Vincent sauntered to the front door and rang the bell. After several minutes, the door opened. A woman, presumably Juliet, stared into my eyes. Her hair, haphazardly piled atop her head, accented her angular face. Self-consciously, she pulled her thin robe around her body.

“May I help you?” she asked. I won’t lie. It was weird staring into her eyes knowing Juliet was behind them much as I was behind Vincent’s. It made me fleetingly think of those four-eyed fish, two eyes underwater scanning for food, two eyes above water scanning for predators.

Vincent stepped through the doorway, clearly forgetting he had someone else’s face and body, making him unrecognizable to his daughter and wife.

“Margie. I’ve come to get you.”

Marge took a step backward, narrowing her eyes. “You old coot. I told you not to come after me.” Vincent tried to take her into my arms. She pushed and wriggled until she was free. “Juliet needs me. She asked me to come.”

“She didn’t ask you to possess her, Marge. Now stop this nonsense.”

“The girl was ready to take her own life, Vincent.”

Vincent leaned against a wall, a whoosh of air leaving my body as he digested the news.

“Come in. I’ll make you some tea. We can talk like civilized people.” Marge gestured for us to follow. Vincent propelled my legs after her and angled my body into a chair.

When she set some tea in front of him, he grasped it in my hands and drew it to my lips. Without a single puff of air to cool the beverage down, he tilted the hot liquid down my throat.

“Yow!” Vincent screamed. I mentally ticked off another several thousand bucks I would charge him in damages. That would leave a mark!

Marge smiled at him. “That hurt?” she asked. “Feels good to have any sensation though, don’t it?”

Vincent nodded my head, slowly. Marge sat in the chair opposite him and leaned in.

“I was thinking. Juliet clearly doesn’t want this body anymore. But I do. What if we just . . . you know . . . stay.”

I strained my eyebrows trying to move them, but Vincent had full control.

“Stay? You mean steal this man’s body?”

Marge gave Vincent a devilish grin. “Who would ever know?”

I could feel Vincent mulling the thought over in my brain. I tried to scream at him or at least to flail inside letting him know I did not approve of the notion whatsoever. Trust him? He asked me to trust. What a piece of shit. When I got my body back, I looked forward to giving him a mighty large dose of my mind. I struggled some more with Vincent. But he was strong. It felt almost like a hand reaching inside me, pushing me deeper into the recesses of my frame. I hated to admit it, but it scared me — the thought of never having my body back was inconceivable.

“Shush,” I heard him say.

“You talking to me?” Marge asked.

“Nah. This boy. He wants me out.” Vincent scratched my nose. It was a weird tick of his.

Marge sipped her tea. “I’ve been doing some reading. The longer you stay in there, the weaker he’ll get. Until one day, he’ll practically disappear. I can barely sense Juliet anymore.”

She was right. I stopped struggling. I needed to conserve my energy. There was one thing she didn’t know — unlike the medium she hired, I am a seasoned professional. I refused to lose control of the situation.

After they finished their tea, we all took a stroll. Marge took my hand, initially startling Vincent with such a subtle human connection he must have long forgotten. He squeezed her hand tightly. After settling on a park bench, they watched people for a while. Vincent scooched my body closer to Marge’s, smoothly wrapping an arm around her thin shoulders.

“Let’s get ice cream!” Marge suddenly said, as an ice cream vendor set up shop fifty feet away. “I’ve dreamt about ice cream so many times.” She slid off the bench and pulled Vincent to my feet. He reached in my pocket, pulled out my wallet, and extracted some bills. I balked a bit at the audacity, but remembered I was keeping my cool.

Several minutes later, they both excitedly licked their ice creams, sheer delight at the creamy, sweet embodiment of their mortal memories.

“What else should we do?” Vincent asked. He seemed eager, as if he’d committed to the whole “let’s steal these bodies” notion that Marge planted in his, well actually, my mind.

Marge lifted a hand to my face. “You got a little . . .” she said as she wiped at whatever it was with a napkin. She leaned in closer. Her eyes searched ours for a moment.

Inside I whispered, “do it.” Vincent jerked my head back.

“Stop!” he said.

Marge jumped.

“What? What is it?” she asked.

“I got the sense he wants us to kiss. So, we’d better not.”

I silently cursed myself.

Together, they decided to take our bodies to the beach. We all got into my car and when we arrived, piled out.

Marge ran ahead to where the sand met the walkway and crouched, removing her shoes. “C’mon, slowpoke!” she cried.

Vincent propelled us after her and followed suit with removing my shoes. The two of them ran like children to the water’s edge, rolled up our collective pants, and waded in.

Marge turned to us, her expression radiating with elation. “Isn’t this just wonderful?” she asked, twirling in the whitewash, her face turned to the sun, eyes closed. “To finally feel the sun on my skin again. To smell the salty air!” She cupped some water in her hand, then flung it at us. “Oh, how I missed all this!”

As quickly as her face illuminated, it dimmed when she saw the expression Vincent must have been giving her. He approached, reaching for her hands.

“Marge, we can’t stay. It’s Juliet’s turn. We need to help her, get her on her feet, but it’s not fair to take her one chance away. You and I both know — it’s all we get.”

Marge held my hands and searched our eyes, then dropped her gaze in resignation.

It was my chance. I urged Vincent to move forward. As Vincent wrapped my arms around Marge in an embrace, I could just make out a shadow of Juliet inside, straining to make her presence known. She was still there. It wasn’t too late. I pushed up and out with all my strength. Vincent’s decreased resolve to stay had weakened him. As he yielded, I exhaled him in a rush of air.

I tilted my head, angling it down toward Juliet’s body. I tried not to think about how weird it was to basically kiss two people at once, but I had to do what I had to do. Without further hesitation, I grabbed Juliet, planted my lips to hers and inhaled sharply. Marge retreated, so I inhaled more deeply, careful not to pull her inside of me. Almost like a rubber band stretched taut, she snapped back, racing toward me. I pulled away from Juliet and exhaled as forcefully as I humanly could. Juliet’s knees buckled as she fell toward the water. I helped her to her feet. Quickly, she took inventory of her body, swiping her hands over her face, then her torso, and lastly her arms. Her face crumpled with tears and laughter simultaneously.

“Oh, thank God! Thank you! I’m back!”

Faintly, I heard Vincent say, “I’ll make sure you get paid by the end of the day.”


Several weeks later, I stumbled upon Juliet’s number as I was filing some paperwork. After she’d paid me what her father owed, we shared an awkward hug goodbye. But I couldn’t seem to purge her from my mind—wondering if she felt more attached to her mortality since it was nearly stripped from her. I rubbed the check she’d written between my thumb and forefinger, then finally folded it in half and shoved it in my pocket.

When she answered, I started babbling like an idiot, clearly inept at dealing with living, breathing people. “So, how would you feel about a re-do of our trip to the beach?” There was a pause. “With me. In case I neglected to say that.”

“I’d love to,” she said.

Later, Juliet and I walked on the sand right where the wet etched a jagged line in the dry. She stooped to pick up a shell.

“This is a pretty one,” she said as she pressed it into my hand. I grazed her fingers with mine as I accepted the gift.

“So? How’re you feeling? About everything?”

Juliet took a step toward the ocean, wrapping her sweater more tightly around herself. She tilted her face toward the sun, much as Marge had, and closed her eyes for a moment.

“Better. I wish I could thank my dad. For giving me a second chance. I’m not mad at my mom. I sort of get it. And it’s weird. Once I got to see things through her eyes, well, I realized what I would have been giving up. So, in a way, I owe her a thank you as well.”

“I think you just told them.” I gestured to where I could see them, standing near us on the beach. I waved. Marge winked at me. Juliet searched the area where I was looking, shielded her eyes from the sun for a moment, then turned to face the water again.

“Guess they’ll always watch after me then?”

“I don’t know about always. But at least until they know you’re, you know, OK.” Quietly, we watched as tiny ripples became waves before curling over the sand.

She nudged me with her shoulder. “Feel like an ice cream?”

I smiled at her. Tentatively, I reached for her hand. She opened her palm, meeting mine halfway. Our fingers entwined as if they’d done so for years. We walked down the beach toward the pier, heeding the siren call of mint chip.


Marge watched as I ripped up the check.

“Eventually, I have to tell her about how her mother manipulated her. And me for that matter. She may wonder why I never cashed the check.”

“She’ll understand. Someday, if you have kids, you might too.” Marge disappeared for a second, then trickled into view again. “I kept up my end of the bargain. You should be a free man.”

“Thank you for that.” I nodded my head at her.

“I guess this is goodbye then. And well, thank you.” She flickered, then disappeared.

I watched her apparition as it vanished, sighed, then leaned back in my chair. I allowed my eyes to travel around my office. I’d collected so little over the years — nothing I couldn’t part with other than my computer.

Finally, I stood and walked to the door. My “Life for Rent” sign swayed when I opened the door. I pulled the sign down, threw it in the trash bin, turned out the lights, closed the door, and walked into the night.