Selling Salt
by: J. A. Flores
02/27/11
JAFlores.com
Jerry had known Mark since high school and his friend had always been a little odd. While a friendly
enough guy, Mark had always been quiet and withdrawn, anti-social might be a good word to describe
him except that he wasn’t particularly shy. Mark liked to keep to himself .but had no trouble fitting
into a group. Jerry really had never talked to him in school; they had had a few classes together but they
never really hung out to any great extend. After graduation they had gotten the same job at the local
movie theater and had developed somewhat of a buddy relationship. They hung out after work from time
to time and talked about their similar interests, usually movies and other media.

Jerry had always thought Mark was a little odd, perhaps eccentric was a better term, but in the last few
months Mark’s habits had been getting a little stranger. A few times he had come into work looking as
if he had stayed up all night, not like he had partied or anything but just that he had not slept at all; Mark
had made the excuse that he been pulling all-nighters studying for tests, but Jerry had a lot of the same
classes and besides no test in community college ever required an all-nighter. Mark also seemed a little
more withdrawn than usual, not quite as talkative and more prone to change the subject whenever asked
about his personal life. Perhaps the strangest change, however, was his spending habits. Not being
particularly well off, Mark had always been pretty frugal with his cash. However, lately he had been
throwing around money like he was dying.

Standing in Mark’s apartment, a three bedroom that went far beyond the range of a humble
projectionist, Jerry was struck by the realization of just how much money Mark was throwing around. His
apartment was full of crap, there was no other way to say it besides crap. Nothing went with anything
else, nothing matched, and there seemed to be no discernable order to his decorating motif; he had an odd
decoration mix of Asian, African, Native America, Western, Punk, Americana, and others styles Mark
didn’t even recognize just thrown about haphazardly. He had half a dozen bookshelves literally
stuffed to the brim with a selection that put Barnes & Noble to shame. As for his DVD collection, the guy
had at least seven hundred stacked on shelves, piled into corners, and strewn about the apartment, many
still in the original wrapping. With just a cursory glance Jerry saw that he had two, three, and in some
cases four or more copies of the same movie! It was like Mark was living a real life “Brewster’s
Millions� or something!
Mark spent wildly, and yet he always seemed to have money! His parents weren’t at all loaded and
his paycheck was the same as Jerry’s, maybe even a little less since Jerry had worked at the theater a
few months longer. The weirdest thing, though, was that whenever Mark paid for something, Jerry noticed
that he always paid in $50 bills. Even when he got change from one purchase, he still paid for the next
with a fifty. And if the place didn’t have change, he would just get more useless shit rather than use
something smaller he had gotten back before.

At first Jerry had thought Mark was selling drugs, it was the only thing that really made sense given Markâ
€™s current quirks. The only problem was that Mark wasn’t that kind of guy. He didn’t smoke
tobacco or drink alcohol much less dabble in hard or even prescription drugs. Jerry had experimented with
his share of mind-altering amusements and had a few dealers on speed dial, and quite frankly Mark didnâ
€™t fit the profile. Perhaps even more than anything, Mark knew Jerry was an occasional toker and
never had he offered him anything, be it in friendship or as business.

“Hey, Mark.� Jerry called out while holding two DVDs in his hands, bought unopened. “Why do
you have four copies of ‘Expendables’?�

“Do I?� Mark responded from the kitchen, his tone flat and unbothered. “I guess I keep
forgetting I have it already. It’s a good movie, take one if you want.�

“I already did.â€� Jerry muttered under his breath and tossed the cases onto the packed shelf. â
€œLast week when you had three copies.â€�

Jerry wandered into the kitchen, stepping over three unopened WWE action figures and a Buddha statue
carved from real jade thrown onto the floor. He found Mark mixing something in a pitcher. He asked what
he was doing simply out of the need to say something to which Mark murmured that he was mixing tea for
later; Jerry saw that it was imported tea from a bamboo box and looked expensive.

“You got anything to eat? I’m friggin’ starving.� Jerry muttered as he opened the pantry.
There was no food, no spices or mixes, no cooking ware, only salt. Boxes and boxes of salt. The sight
overwhelmed Jerry and he found that he was knocked speechless. After gawking at the wall of salt for a
solid forty-five seconds, Jerry’s mind managed to refocus and he croaked out a nervous “Okay,
dude, what the hell? Are you selling dope?�

Still unable to take his eyes off the bizarre pantry of salt, Jerry heard Mark chuckle softly just before he
shook his head and responded “No, not dope. Salt�

“Salt? You’re selling…salt?�

“Yep.�

Jerry wanted to ask the obvious question of who exactly would buy salt, but the words fumbled over his
numb lips. Fortunately, Mark was ready for the answer to the phantom question.

“Ghosts.� he said in a very straightforward manner, as if he were simply saying nuns or yoga moms.
That bigger oddity got Jerry’s attention away from the salt. With a feeling quite akin to suffering the
effects of a fever dream, he ran his tongue over his teeth.

“Ghosts.� Jerry repeated the word as if he had never before heard the word mentioned in the
English language. His friend’s reply was a lazy nod. “You’re selling,� he gestured
drunkenly towards the pantry, “salt…to ghosts.�

Again Mark nodded, but with more energy and his lips forming an impish grin. He had never told anyone
about his little side business, never had a reason to. Now that he was faced with a friend wordlessly
demanding an explanation for all of his queer behavior, Mark found that he was filled with a sense of
enthusiasm to expel his secrets, much like a master criminal or magician finally able to tell just how they
get away with their tricks.

“A few months ago I came across this story, an urban legend if you will.� Mark enlightened his
friend. He moved to shut the pantry door while Jerry simply stood in the middle of the kitchen, his eye
transfixed on Mark. “It said that if you go to a graveyard you can sell salt to the ghosts that are there
and get money for it. I decided to try it.�

The apartment was so still and silent that the ever so soft ‘tink’ of Jerry’s eyelids very slowly
blinking was clearly audible. He groaned out a very extended “Okay.�

Mark’s eager eyes flashed with excitement.

“There are a few rules you have to follow of course. You have to be at the graveyard before midnight.
Wear a jacket with a hood, because with the ghosts around it’ll be cold even in summer and you donâ
€™t want them to see your face.â€�

Jerry opened his mouth, couldn’t get the words out, and shut his lips with a plop.

Mark continued “Find a comfortable spot to set up shop; it’s best to have it picked out before you
go at night. You’ll need the salt, of course, and some scraps of tissue paper. Just sit in the graveyard
and at midnight that is when the ghosts come out. They will approach you and hold out a hand for the salt.
�

He spoke the next few words slowly and with the grave seriousness of a dire warning as if he fully
expected Jerry to believe such nonsense and try it out himself.

“You must never, ever look up. You’ll see the outstretched hand in front of you, but do NOT look
up. Just put some salt into the scrap of tissue paper and put it in into the hand.�

“And then what? They just give you money?� Jerry heard himself say from out of nowhere.

Mark nodded. “They will actually give you a hell note, which is like ghost money. When the sun comes
up, the hell notes will turn into real money, fifty dollar bills, actually. You have to spend the money in a
week, but you have to buy things, you can’t just give it someone. Any change you get you have to
destroy; you can burn the paper bills, but the coins you have to bury with some salt. Now, you have to
stay until morning; do not leave until the sun comes up! When the sun comes up, collect your stuff and
walk out of the graveyard, do not run and never look back.�

A sudden thought struck him and he chirped “Oh! And you have to take enough salt to last until
morning. Do not, do not, do NOT run out of salt!�

There was a long silence that would have been awkward under any other situation. Finally, still not able to
bring himself to believe anything he had heard, he asked if it really worked. In response, Mark, grinning
slyly, simply passed his hand from the pantry door towards his living room packed wall to wall with junk.

Jerry burst out into a made cackle. When he had saved enough air for spoken words, he blurted out â
€œYeah, right man! Tell you what, cut me a little out of your secret stash because whatever the hell youâ
€™re smoking has got to be some good shit!â€�

Mark only smiled and snorted a bit of amused air through his nostrils as he looked away at the pantry door.
                                                                              *       *     *

Jerry looked at his cell phone as he quickly made his way over the headstones and past the tombstones,
not bothering in the least with who or what he trampled. He had a black backpack slung over his
shoulders and he wore a red hooded jacket even though it was a nice, balmy evening with a temperature
low of seventy-one. He felt like a complete and utter asshole tramping about through a cemetery in the
middle of the night, but he did take solace that at least no one was around to see him being said asshole.

‘At least, no one living.’ he chuckled uneasily to himself, feeling like an even bigger asshole if that
were possible.

It was only twenty minutes to midnight. He stopped in his trek and glanced around. It was not a full moon,
but it was bright and the sky was clear so he had little trouble seeing. He decided that he was in as good
enough spot as any and took off his backpack. He took out his supplies, starting with a blanket for the
grass because there was no way he was going to be sitting on the dirty ground of a god-forsaken cemetery.

For the past few days Mark’s little ghost story had dwelled on Jerry’s mind. At first Jerry had cast
off his friend as a doped up idiot. There was no way that such a thing as selling salt to a ghost was
possible! However, the story would not leave his thoughts. Fueled by curiosity and his current financial
difficulties, Jerry began to justify Mark’s psychosis. He did have to admit that if such a thing were
true it would certainly explain a lot about his weird little friend. Finally, Jerry decided that it was worth a
shot. After all, salt wasn’t expensive and if it didn’t work he had wasted other nights in far more
insipid ways. But if it did…goodbye creditors and hello hookers!

Jerry pulled out two cylindrical containers with a pound each of salt. He had considered getting more, but
he really didn’t want to waste more money on something he’d just end up throwing out if this
stupid scheme didn’t pan out. Besides, he really wasn’t ready for the odd looks he’d get from
the cashier for walking up with a bunch of damn salt and tissue paper. He opened up the containers,
spread out the tissue scraps, and took a seat. Looking at his cell phone he saw that it was eleven-fifty.

Jerry sat there for what seemed like forever, his head down and his face flushing slightly. It was warm
under the jacket’s hood but it was the thought that he looked and subsequently felt like a freak that
roasted him. Midnight came and went, but Jerry didn’t notice as he began to feel his eyes grow heavy.

All of a sudden, he heard a distant low grumble, almost like an animal but it was constant and even. The
pitch rose and fell slightly, but it did not get louder. He shivered as a crisp chill breeze washed over him
but not disturb his blanket or the very light tissue paper. He began to lift his head to look around on
impulse, but caught himself and thrust his head back down. He eyes fell onto a hand, ghastly pale and
very thin but broad as if it belonged to an effeminate man. It was only the hand floating under his eyes
and it spooked him with a sharp gasp. He then realized that there was an arm attached to the hand, but it
was hazy and black like an out of focus picture of someone wearing a sweater. Jerry sat staring
mesmerized at the hand questioning whether it was real or if he had fallen asleep.

The hand stirred as the fingers folded and unfolded, the motion violently jarring Jerry back into life. His
hands shaking in nervousness and more than a bit of fright, he snatched up a scrap of paper and the
container of salt and poured. Taking great care, he gingerly placed the packet into the palm of the hand,
taking extreme care not to touch the ghoulish flesh. The fingers wrapped around the packet and very
slowly pulled away from his view. On instinct his eyes began to follow the hand but he realized what he
was doing at the last second and cast his eyes back down. Suddenly, another hand appeared, this one
offering a piece of paper that very much resembled currency. Jerry took it and the hand vanished.

It was a bill, but not like one he had ever seen. It was a little larger than an American dollar but not by
much. The paper was thin but strong and it was painted in hues of blues and whites. There was strange
writing on it, more like symbols than words, but nothing he could recognize. Perhaps strangest of all was
the picture in the middle of the bill, a portrait of John F. Kennedy with what was presumably the
president’s name written in the strange words under it. Why the ghosts had decided to print JFK on
their money Jerry had no clue, but it was only one of a dozen questions flooding his mind. He flipped the
bill over and saw that the back was just as strange. It had a picture of a large building that almost looked
like a large library or courthouse. In each of the four corners were stars with 1,000 in the middle of them;
there was also a larger 1,000 star next to the building. There was the strange writing as well.

Jerry flipped the bill over several times and examined it with a mixture of awed wonder, nervous fright,
and giddy excitement. He became aware of another presence in front of him. He put the bill down and
saw another hand, almost identical to the one before, ghastly white with a fuzzy black sleeve. Feeling
even more nervous, Jerry took up another piece of paper, filled it with salt and placed it into the palm
without looking up. Same as before, the ghost handed over a hell note exactly the same as the first.

When another hand appeared a few minutes later, Jerry repeated the process, this time more in control of
himself. A wave of exhilaration swept through his body when he took the hell note and placed it with the
others, his mind reeling with elation. Mark had said that in the morning each of the ghost bucks would
turn into a real fifty dollar bill, so in only five minutes Jerry had made a hundred and fifty dollars all with
an initial investment of two dollars for two pounds of freaking salt! Another hand appeared as Jerry’s
imagination sparked into life with visions of what his first purchase would be; he was really leaning
towards a hooker, but not some street walking skank, that was for damn sure! He was thinking porn star!

The hands kept appearing and each time Jerry passed out salt and took their money. In less than an hour
he estimated that he had around a thousand dollars. No wonder Mark bought so much useless crap all the
time. Jerry wondered why Mark bothered working at the movie theater at all. This was like winning the
lottery! No, it was better than that! As long as the stores always had salt in stock, Jerry would be living
like a rock star! There was no stopping this party!

Another hour passed and Jerry felt the container of salt getting very light. He emptied the last few grains
into the tissue and passed it to the ghost hand before collecting his fee. He tossed it behind him without
care and reached for another container but realized that that was the second one; he had already emptied
the first an hour before.

“Oh well.� he muttered to himself. “Guess that’s all.�

He collected his $2,500 worth of ghost bucks and stuffed them into his backpack. Just as he was about to
get up and leave, another hand appeared and stopped him cold. He remembered that Mark had told him
that he couldn’t leave the cemetery before dawn. The tone he had used had implied that if Jerry did
leave something bad would happen. He briefly considered jumping up and running for the gate, but
assumed that ghosts could fly a lot faster than he could run. He decided to do the only thing he could
think of, he sat there.

The hand curled and uncurled its fingers. Unfortunately, Jerry had no salt to give. He hoped the ghost
would eventually get the hint and just go away but it didn’t, it just stood there curling and uncurling its
fingers. Jerry wanted to tell it that he was out of salt, but the words clogged in his throat so he just sat
there.

A second hand joined the first. A few minutes later a third appeared, and then a fourth. Jerry stared down
at the seven hands that waggled ever so slowly in front of him and a sharp chill electrified his spine. A
bead of apprehensive sweat formed on his brow and fell to splatter like a raindrop on the blanket. Two
more hands had joined the group, all waiting for their promised salt. By the time eleven hands were
shoved under his face Jerry could take no more and wheezed out a pathetic string of words.

“I’m out of salt.� he gasped out, feeling sick to his stomach. “I’m done, I’m out. I
have no more salt. Please go away. Please. Just go…go away.�

The hands stopped moving. They lingered for an eternally long moment before slowly withdrawing. Jerryâ
€™s heart exploded with a burst of sweet relief so intense that it nearly made him collapse. He trembled
the way one would having walked away from a horrendous car wreck unscathed, feeling both wonderful
and dreadful at the same time.

Jerry sat there for a long time with his head hanging limply on his neck. He tried to pull out his cell phone
to check the time, hoping and praying that he could make it until daybreak, but his hands were quivering
much too badly to be of any use to him. It was really unnecessary, he knew he had only been out for a
few hours at most, and there was at the very least still two or three hours until morning. But the ghosts
were gone, and that was a good thing. He thought that maybe if they knew he didn’t have any more
salt to sell they would leave him alone and let him leave.

Never once forgetting why he was in the cemetery in the first place, he grabbed the straps of his backpack
and looked up. There were eleven ghosts crowded in front of him, all with ghastly pale hands and wearing
tight black shirts. Their faces were like dusty snow except for their mouths and eyes which seemed to be
bottomless black pits of empty nothing. The group was hazy and glistened like fog. A sharp moan
sounded, the air filled with the angry howl of the spirits. They stirred and Jerry screamed and screamed.
                                                                       *       *     *


Mark walked into the cemetery just as dusk began to settle. He carried a large army duffle bag on his back
stuffed with the supplies of his trade. In his hand he carried a black backpack. Jerry was listed as a
missing person, having disappeared without a trace five days before, but Mark knew that he wasn’t
ever coming back to town. He didn’t feel the least bit sorry for telling Jerry about the business; he
was, if anything, disappointed in his friend that he hadn’t been able to follow simple little rules.

Mark opened the backpack and took out a stack of paper bills. They looked like play money, the kind that
would come with a toy cash register. They were blue and white with strange writing and a portrait of
President John F. Kennedy. Mark gently placed the bills on the ground, said a short prayer, and then lit
them on fire. Once they were all burned to ashes and scattered among the graves, he began preparations
to open up shop. He briefly wondered if maybe one of the many hands he would see that night might
belong to Jerry.