Ghosts: House Ghosts (Short Fiction Derived from Actual Experience)

Readers, the following short story is from my collection Rest In Fleece: Ghosts, Tall Tales and Horror Stories.  It is drawn from some true events and while some was made up out of at least half cloth, several events really happened.  I leave it to you to guess which.  Read on, below: 

House Ghosts

My first impression was mixed. It was an undeniably lovely house. Not large but attractive: a midcentury modern with open beam ceilings, wood floors, clerestory windows, and privacy:  no big windows facing the street.  It had been restored, but not ruined.  Surrounded by large camellias, azaleas, rose bushes, and shady trees, it was an established, well-kept domicile in a good part of town.

But there was something.  I felt watched.  One never felt quite alone there.  Others who came mentioned it too; it wasn’t just my imagination.  It wasn’t malevolent, not at this point.  Just present.

After unpacking, I chose what I thought the nicest en suite for my own. It looked out onto the garden in back and was situated at the end of a long hallway, apart from the other rooms.  I’d be able to write in peace there. 

But I did sense that someone was eyeing me as I unpacked. Again, it felt neutral, but I found it somewhat annoying.

I decided perhaps it would be wise to bless the house. I’m clergy, you see. I’ve done that often when asked, and people often remarked that their homes felt lighter afterwards.  So I found my holy water (I always keep some about) and my prayer book and went through each room myself, asperging with the holy water and asking God to bless each room, and then the yard.  That should do it, I said to myself. 

Back inside, everything felt fine.  But I still felt observed.  And, when I entered the living room, I saw the coffee table leaning on its side, with some books and a vase balanced on top.  Strange?  Sure.  But not eerie. In the movies, these things scare the crap out of people. But at the time, it just looked stupid.

Time for the Sopranos; I was binging on Sunday reruns.  I relaxed, put my feet up. Then there was a resounding crash. I got up to look and beheld my new bottle of pinot grigio, which lay shattered on the kitchen floor.  I’d left it out to Breathe, but this was hyperventilation.  I wondered if the ghost (for I had by now accepted that I had a housemate) was from the ‘twenties and had been a Dry, advocating for Prohibition. If so, he was a day late and a dollar short. Well, ten dollars, counting my pinot.

There were no further disturbances that night. Ghosts need sleep, too.

The following day, the lights blinked on and off.  I shrugged it off.  Like, big whoop.  I still felt watched; but I just watched back. 

I was gone that day: I had chaplaincy duty at St.Ga’ways Memorial. I spent the day working with patients and staff.  It was interesting though.  I stopped by to see Dr. Benedict, who is known to be psychic. He right away asked me if everything was okay. I said it was, but that I thought I had a spirit in my new place.  He asked to look at my hand (he had a real gift for reading palms.  The staff loved him).  I held it out, and he peered at the lines.

“Chaplain,” the doctor said, “You should take this seriously.  Something is going on with that place.  I wonder, do you feel safe there?”

“Sure I do.  I blessed it right after I moved in, and there have been shenanigans (I told him about these) but nothing scary. I mean, the coffee table, really?”

“Well.   Don’t laugh. The next thing may not be so harmless,” he cautioned me.

“Thanks, Doc.  I’ll let you know how it goes.”  We parted, then. I went back to my office to chart my day’s visits, and then returned home.  As I approached the door, I heard a buzz of voices, like a party.  It sounded fun.  (Except that I had not been invited).

When I opened the door, it was silent as the grave.

I decided the best offense was ‘don’t take the bait.’ I ignored the whole thing.  Fixed dinner, did some laundry, ironed a clerical shirt and sat at the computer to check my email. 

I’d received the usual commercial mailings: food ads from Safeway, clergy attire sales from Wippell’s (the Cadillac of vestment makers), and yet another email from the Bishop, hitting the clergy up for donations: this time it was his “mission to Bangladesh” (i.e. his cruise to the Bahamas). 

But what was this? I’d almost stuck it in the spam file, unopened. But I bit. Naturally, it was from my house mate.  It was not typed, however. It looked like an old-fashioned letter, the kind written with ink from a fountain pen, and on good paper. 

“Dear Fr. Jane,” it said.  You women have no business being clergy. Stick to cooking and sewing. Don’t even think about offering me communion. Yours, A High Church Ghost.”

I got this kind of thing from certain parties in the congregation from time to time; I’d always respect the viewpoint and never took it personally.

I typed back:  “Dear Ghost.  You owe me $9.95 for the pinot grigio. Sweet dreams, Fr. Jane.”  Then I went back to my crossword from two days before.  When I came to 7 down (“Pest”) I shot off a P.S.: “How many letters in your name?”

***

That night, there was noise coming from the kitchen.  For God’s sake.  What now?  I rose, threw on a robe, and padded down the hall. A meal was being prepared.  James Beard’s American Cookery was open to the ‘omelet’ section.  There were broken eggshells on the counter and their former contents sizzled in a pan on the cook top. Cheese was being sprinkled on top, but from midair. 

 “Don’t tell me you’re hungry,” I say.

“I miss food.”  I hear nothing, but the comment is scrawled in flour on my formerly clean counter top.

“Then go to Denny’s,” I say.  “And clean up this mess!”  I retire.

***

In the morning, there was nothing out of place, and all had been cleaned up. Except for one thing.  There was a plate on the table with an omelet: half eaten. 

***

At a clergy breakfast, I broached the subject of ghosts with some colleagues.

“No such thing,” said Bob (Presbyterian).

“Oh, there sure are,” injected Mary, but then she was from a spiritualist denomination.

“Tell me more about that.” This from Joe, who was, at times too obviously, a therapist.

“Why do you ask?” from Mark, the Catholic priest, clearly the only one who was actually listening.

“My house has one,” I replied.  I shared the events of the past couple days, in a calm way. For actually, I wasn’t the least frightened:  just inconvenienced.  I hadn’t been attacked.  My sleeve had been tugged by this entity for some reason. I began to wonder why.

***

First, I investigated the history of the house.  It was old, but I could unearth no murders or other crimes to which it might have played host. I visited with some neighbors and no one hinted at anything amiss. I asked about who had lived there before, evidently it had been an air force couple who had recently been stationed someplace in the Pacific.  Guam?  Okinawa?

I thought about whether the ghost was attached to the house itself, or whether it had moved there as I had:  the house had been vacant, perhaps the ghost had moved in first, expecting to have the place all to itself.  There were no clear answers, but the latter made more sense.

Ba-rrinnggg.  It was the phone. I picked up, and heard static and vague whispers.  This was odd, but made more so by the fact that I’d just read When Your Phone Rings From Beyond.  Its author postulated that ghosts can place calls from the other side.  (No. I don’t know if they still use pay phones). After a few pointless “Hello’s,” I still heard nothing that could be categorized as a reply, so I ended the call. And decided I’d stick with reading history for now.

Returning to the study to work on a sermon, I couldn’t find the legal pad with my notes.  I always placed it in my walnut inbox, on the desk. There was no sign of it anyplace.  I had no time for this, so I sat at the computer and worked for an hour or so.  When I went to get an iced tea, there was the legal pad:  on top of the milk. (Yes, in the fridge.  Don’t ask). 

Things kept vanishing and reappearing in unlikely spots: the toilet brush greeted me from the front seat of my car.  The newspaper (opened to the sports section) was under the china closet. A bag of kitty litter in the living room (I don’t have a cat).

***

I’d invited some friends to see my new place. We were sitting round the table when the sounds of footsteps and doors opening and snapping shut could be plainly heard.  We all knew no one else was home.  My guests were from the South, and very well-mannered: other than some raised eyebrows, they ignored it all.  I followed suit.  But it was reassuring that it was an observable, objective event and not my imagination.

***

One night, I awakened, must have been three a.m.  I saw no one but was sure something was standing in the doorway, boring holes in me with laser eyes.  Unnerved, I froze.  After awhile the feeling passed.  But in the nights that followed, I felt its presence.  It had a different quality than my first ghost: this felt menacing and dark.  For the first time, I felt fear.  I blessed the room again, but that had no discernible effect.  The presence remained. 

***

Later, on a morning after another long, sleepless night, I went to the kitchen for coffee and toast.  There on the counter was some spilled flour (did I mention I don’t bake?) with the finger-traced message: “She’s dangerous.”  I smoothed out the flour and wrote “Can’t you take her out for a year or so?” In a few minutes my message was replaced with “Not funny.”  I shook my head. What was I doing! 

“Look,” I said. “I can’t move, my lease is signed.  Work it out amongst yourselves.”  With that I went back to St. Ga’ways for a staff meeting and some patient calls. 

I ran into Dr. Benedict in the cafeteria.  He asked me how things were.  I said “Crowded,” and shared the latest developments.  He shook his head and frowned. 

“This is precisely what I warned you about,” he asserted with a frown.  “Keep it up and you’ll have a vortex.” 

“I already own a hairdryer,” I jested.  He was having none of it.

“Listen, Rev. There must be, in that house, an open passageway for spirits.  The problem: no one screens them at the door.”  The doctor frowned and said he’d consult his spirit guide. (This doesn’t sound like any doctors you know, right? But Ransom Benedict was a highly psychic individual, and his scientific education had done nothing to change that. He observed things, he ruled out all possible explanations before going to the Other Side.  But too much had happened, in his life and in the lives of his patients, for him to write off.  So many strange stories had circulated around phenomena in the ICU, the near death experiences, the sense of a loved one’s presence before the patient expired.  While he had seen mostly harmless manifestations, he thought back to one that wasn’t.

“Jane, do you recall that patient that came in on a legal hold, the one that you and Fr. Les visited?”

“As if I could forget!”  Dr. Benedict referred to a patient who was brought in under what was called a “Legal 2000” which, decoded, meant he was deemed a danger to himself or others. In this case, I’d have put the “others” first. When Les and I entered the room, it was to the sight of three burly male nurses (one, a former defensive back for the Seattle Seahawks) struggling with a scrawny, unaccountably strong man in a hospital gown.  The patient had somehow broken out of three point restraints.  The nurses, who each outweighed and out muscled him, as a group had a very difficult time getting him into a strait jacket.  He looked at Les and I and started to speak in a disjointed, eerie way.  His words ran from Latin to Aramaic to Hebrew to Greek to Farsi to English. The air was cold in his room.  He emitted powerfully negative waves of energy, and his eyes were the kind you might see in a nightmare.

I was quite unnerved at the time and felt sure this was a case that cried out for exorcism.  Les agreed, but we knew how slowly that might evolve, how many barriers there were, and both concluded it would doubtless be a lost cause. After all, this was some nameless indigent patient, not the son of a rich church patron or power broker. 

“You may, if you are not very careful, have something like that on your hands,” said Dr. Benedict.  Please consider moving.”

“I can’t do that, Doc.  I can’t afford to and if I could, I wouldn’t.  I like the house.  Why should I be the one to leave?  Let them search the For Rent ads.” I said goodbye and left for my rounds. 

***

Back at home, it was a fairly normal night (if you didn’t count dining room chairs standing in a pile).  I spent my evening as I usually do: a phone call, some videos, some laundry.  The night was uneventful. It was the morning that shook things up.

At again three a.m. I awakened to the feeling of being stared at in a powerfully hostile way.  I looked at the doorway and as I did, small specks of bright light began to form.  They circled about lazily and gradually melded together into what appeared to be a female form.  She was dressed in an antique style of clothing that might have been colonial era. She had brilliant red slits for eyes and was pale as well as translucent: the hallway could be seen through her as well as behind her.  She emanated waves of evil, dark energy.  Now this, at last, was something truly frightening.

“Can I help you?” I managed, in my most reassuring chaplain voice.

She said nothing but raised a skeletal hand and pointed at me, frowning.

Then like Joe, I fell back on (really I did):

“Tell me more about that.” 

She looked at that moment, ferocious.  She started to glide towards me.  I felt increasing and irrational terror.  I grabbed some holy water I’d been keeping at bedside and sprinkled some at her, saying a fast prayer as I did so. 

Pssssssssst. The water hissed as it passed through her and became steam.  She said, not with her mouth, but in harsh, grating words I heard in my head:

“Get out. Now.” As she spoke, furniture began to levitate, pictures swung on the walls, and some awful rumbling noise thundered in the background.  The room temperature had dropped:  suddenly it was Saskatchewan in December. I can’t begin to express my awe, fear, and yet too, a sense of faith, knowing that I had been right that there was more out there than met the eye. 

As the tumult increased, as it became unbearable:  it quite suddenly stopped.  All was quiet.  The air cleared and for the first time since I’d moved in, I sensed I was truly alone in the house.

***

A glass of pinot noir was called for. I went to the kitchen to get one and there on the counter, scrawled in cornmeal, was the legend “You’re welcome.” 

***

That being said, when an opening came up in another state, I jumped on it, and within two fortunately peaceful weeks, I was in California. I had had a very close call and only by chance had a disastrous episode been narrowly averted. 

Had I deserved it? Was it karma?  I don’t think so.  Who was the evil spirit?  I have no idea.  In books, we can create photo finishes.  Like so many supernatural events that occur in real life, there are loose ends, many questions, and few if any answers. I have written it off as inexplicable. 

It did affect me.  I suffer the odd panic attack these days.  I look behind me.  I have troubled dreams. 

There is more than we know.


 

Copyright © 2019 Bookemjano – All rights reserved
To learn more about real ghosts, please see About Ghosts: A Useful Handbook.  For some great ghost stories, please see Death Be Not Loud, Rest In Fleece, and Sepia Seepage.  To learn about ghosts in modern fiction, please see Infectious Ghosts. And so much more, at: Jan’s Amazon Page
 
 
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Ghosts: Underwood (Original Short Ghost Fiction!)

Readers, here’s a short fiction selection from my book, Rest In Fleece: Ghosts, Tall Tales & Horror Stories.  Enjoy this creepy tale, and if you like it you might check out my amazon page at the link below, where most of my books are but 99 cents! 

Underwood

“Damn, this listing’s getting stale,” thought Lee, a somewhat harried realtor.  She knew that every month on the market eroded a home’s saleability. (Lee had a weakness for realtor-speak).  She’d inherited the listing from another agent, who had worked the property carefully and comprehensively.

The curb appeal was undeniable: a pretty Spanish territorial.  The barrel tiles added charm and the elegant, custom wrought iron front door welcomed the visitor.  The stucco had just been redone.  The landscaping was nice enough, and the yard quite well-kept, enclosed by a high wall.  The interior of the home was immaculate and had not even required staging: the current furnishings were of high quality and the rooms were well-designed.  So why hadn’t it sold?  

A drive-by was in order, thought Lee.  She got into her Audi and headed for Druid Lane in Underwood, a suburb, but a community that was set off, at a distance.  It was part of the best school district in the city and was considered very nice area, if a bit inconvenient, due to its separation by a river, a bridge and a series of hills. It couldn’t actually be seen from town.

As she drove over the stream, Lee had an odd feeling.  She was intuitive. Something was out of balance.  Lee was a Libra.  The signature scales of her sign were to her more than a mere symbol.  Balance was all.  If she sensed something amiss, it always presented as a vision of the scales, with one side weighted down.  And this is what she saw in her mind’s eye as she crossed over the water. She looked at her GPS. No matter how often she came to this area, her keen sense of direction would abandon her and she’d find herself wandering, befuddled.  However, she let her logic override her sense of confusion and drove on.  Yes, here we are, she thought.  The Lethe River, and now Wood Road. 

There were rumors about the hills.  There was a kind of urban legend about them.  One day after work, Lee had stopped for drinks with some other realtors.  George had had a few and was rambling on, as one will.  He said once he had been so lost in those hills he nearly hadn’t made his way out.

“I should have listened to the old guy,” he added.  You know, Mr. Charrone, that older man who lives by the water, before you get to the bridge?  Well, he told me the hills had a miasma about them.”  

Mr. Charrone had said that the native American people had avoided the place. Centuries ago, when European settlers arrived, they gladly stayed where there would be no conflict with the local tribes, remote as it was in those days. Underwood area developed rather on its own, apart from the rest of the growing city to the east.  It remained prosperous but small, and had no direct access from the freeway or the main highways.  The only way in and out remained Wood Road.

***

In her car, Lee pulled up the second of the hills. The surrounding forest was green, rich with moss and overgrowth.  She wondered whether one might even walk through it. There seemed no space for even a small pathway.  The sky overhead, while still sunny, darkened, and Lee was immediately plunged in shadow.  Her car began to drift. Not meander off the road, but drift:  it moved, but silently, with the engine no longer engaged, it felt as if it actually floated.  She tried her brakes, which also had no effect.  She was only a passenger now. Someone or something else was driving.

Her car rolled its way down the road (faster than Lee would have driven) and through the woods.  Lee became more terrified by the moment: she feared she might die.  After a time, though, the woods thinned out, it became lighter, and the car once again was just a car.  Looking up, Lee saw Underwood, like a large feline, basking in the midday warmth. Sunlight shrouded the cluster of homes and buildings.  City of God, she thought briefly.  

Somehow she’d been brought here. How? Why?  Lee pulled over at a Starbucks for a coffee and a scone.  She sat at an outside table to think.  For one thing, this place.  In all her years in the business, she’d never sold property here, even though it was considered her agency’s territory. Why, she wondered, had so few done business here? It certainly looked prosperous.  

Then Lee wondered how it was she’d got the listing in the first place.  Agents don’t just hand over saleable properties to other realtors.  That would be giving away money.  And, why Lee? She was not the most senior broker in the office.  Opening her laptop, she looked into the property files.

Ah, here it was.  The last agent to list had been Gilbert Gamesh.  Yes, Gil had . . . what had happened to Gil?  She assumed he’d transferred out.  Lee would look into it.  She returned to her car and followed her directions to the house on Druid Lane.

***

Lee walked around the yard, and all looked undisturbed.  Opening the lockbox, she got the key and let herself in. On the table in the foyer were several cards from other realtors who had been by. She looked through them. 

My, some looked quite old.  Here was Gil’s card.  Gilbert ‘Gil’ Gamesh, Broker. (The name sounded Persian, thought Lee). Sibyl Wise, Associate.  Kat Abaysis, Broker. Percy F. Fahni, Realtor.  Interesting:  each appeared to have come from her own branch office.  But ‘way before her time there. 

Scooping up the cards, she walked through the house, making sure all was in order.  While things looked fine . . . but that was the thing, Lee thought. There was a surface calm about the whole day and this particular place that felt as it if blanketed something quite dark and fearsome. 

She looked quite carefully through each room of the house and then, in the office, she saw what looked like parchment, a quill, and an ink bottle.  It was all set out as though someone had been, just now, writing.  These decorators (Lee shook her head).  Personally, she found this display a tad precious. 

She had decided to put the parchment away in a drawer when she noticed what it was.  Some kind of list.  Each name she’d read on the cards also appeared on it. Some of the ink had faded, so it was hard to read.  Wait. Surely not.  She took out her glasses to be sure. There it was, her own name, at the end!  What?  Was this someone’s idea of a joke? 

Had she not had such a ghastly trip in, Lee might have laughed.  What to do now?  She decided to press on with the job at hand. The listing ad had looked a bit tired, so she took new photos with her camera. Amazing how well kept the place was.  Perhaps the cleaners had just been in. 

As she peered through the lens for another shot, something caught her eye.  The fireplace.  There were ashes there. Quite recent ones, from the look of it. There was the faintest smell of smoke in the air.  Something told her to turn around at once and go home whilst she still could.  She wanted to. But she had professional concerns. Had some unauthorized person been here? She was responsible as the agent: the owners were absentee, she’d understood.  Lee picked up an andiron and prodded at the ash pile.  As she did so, she saw something glisten. 

She scraped away the debris and saw a gold ring, the kind with the monogram initial.  She picked it out, and with a tissue from her bag, wiped her hands and the ring.  It was a heavy, fine men’s ring. The initials were GG.  Gil?  Lee went to the kitchen for drink of water. She was feeling lightheaded.  She saw a mug on the counter with the words Perce Fahni, Realtor of the Year. Clearly she needed to get back to her office and do some research. And out of here.  She saw a wisp of smoke from the fireplace, turned on her heel and ran out of the house, pausing only to lock it.  She quickly settled herself in her car, locked her doors, and drove home.  Fortunately, this ride was without incident.

***

The following day, Lee attended a broker’s open house in another part of town. She saw some colleagues she knew slightly, and went up to say hello. 

“Say,” she asked, “remember that broker from our office, Gil? Where did he get off to, I’ve wanted to ask him something about his old listing.”

“I thought he went to Sicily to retire,” said one.  “No, no, it was Crete,” asserted another.  Yet a third agent thought Gil had got a condo on the Aegean, a lower level one. No one knew for sure. Gil had become the stuff of myth. 

Afterward, Lee returned to the office and sleuthed a bit.  Sibyl Wise had been a top-achieving agent, she’d made oodles of money and then . . . what had become of her?  Lee got into the old file cabinets and found papers with Sibyl’s name. But how odd.  They were dated 1922. 

***

Lee wanted to pass the Druid Lane listing to someone else, but found no one available to take it on. She was thus obligated to show the house when, out of nowhere, she received a call from another agent.

“Hello, Lee?  Hi, I’m Sy.  Oh, Sy Riss.  I’m calling about your Underwood listing. My clients are just dying to see it.  Can you meet us there today?”

This was the last thing Lee wanted to do, but perhaps there would be a commission out of it. She did need the money. 

“Okay, Sy.  I can be there at one.  Um, you sound familiar.  Can we have met?” she asked. 

“Perhaps.  In any case, we shall meet soon.  See you at one,” Sy said, and rang off.

A bit later she drove to Underwood. Her car behaved normally and she felt no apprehension this time. She pulled up to the house (it really was such a pretty place, she couldn’t account for it sitting unsold for so long).  There was a black Cadillac Fleetwood in the drive and the wrought iron front door was ajar. 

Lee went in to join the others.  Sy was showing a tall, well-dressed couple into the living room. 

“Afternoon,” called Lee.

“Oh, Lee. How good to meet you, heard so many great things.  Meet Demi and Dis Dionne.”

Greetings were exchanged forthwith.  Demi and Dis were a tall, elegant-looking couple. Lee’s intuition told her there was something foul lurking beneath their pleasant and attractive façade.  But she would never know. She smelled just a hint of ashes as they approached.  Then she became dizzy, and all she saw was black.

***

A couple weeks had gone by, but no one at the Peers Simmons Real Estate Agency had seen Lee.  So unusual, people said.  Lee was such a worker and almost always came in at least once during a day, no matter how many showings she had scheduled.  No one had been in her home for some time, it appeared (this was later, after the missing persons report had been filed), and no one had seen her since she left for her last appointment. That house on Druid Lane.  People were slightly concerned, but no one had known her all that well, and as time passed, people assumed she had just transferred across town, or maybe to Dana Point. She’d mentioned moving to the beach someday.

***

Gil, Sibyl and Perce were at the fourth hole at the Oaktown Arbor Country Club.  Gil had just hit a beauty with his 3 iron, ‘way into the green, close to the hole. 

“Nice one, Gil,” said Perce.  They got into their cart.

“I love it here,” said Sibyl.  “Oh, look!” she added.  “Here’s Lee!”


 Copyright © 2019 Bookemjano – All rights reserved
To learn more about real ghosts, please see About Ghosts: A Useful Handbook.  For some great ghost stories, please see Death Be Not Loud, Rest In Fleece, and Sepia Seepage.  To learn about ghosts in modern fiction, please see Infectious Ghosts. And so much more, at: Jan’s Amazon Page
 
 
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Ghosts: Hot Date: A Cautionary Tale (Short Fiction)

Readers, here’s a cautionary tale from my collection of short ghostly fiction, Rest in Fleece: Ghosts, Tall Tales and Horror Stories.  “Be Careful What You Wish For.” 😁👻  Enjoy! 

Hot Date

Jake had tired of being single. After his breakup with Trisha, things had been good:  no more bitching about who didn’t take out the garbage, who didn’t wipe the dishes,  who didn’t this, who didn’t that, blah, blah, blah. But after a time, his own company (and having to iron his shirts) got old.  You can only eat so many frozen dinners. 

What to do? Jake’s buddy Cal had done well with online dating services. (In Marin County, the women outnumbered the men seven to one).   So Jake followed suit and claimed he was from Mill Valley.  Jake was actually from Richmond. There were other wee variations from reality in his dating profiles: his height (more), weight (less), his occupation (a better one), his age (younger), and his interests (what interests?).

Jake was, to be brutally frank, an utter cad.  His social rap sheet was rife with many particularly vile examples of assholery. He had been known to excuse himself to go to the men’s room at the end of the meal, then slip out the back door, leaving his date to pick up the enormous tab.  He was also deft at texting other women while on dates, even carrying on phone conversations (a Luddite, he still wore one of those Bluetooth devices over his ear, under the mistaken impression it was a cool look).  The light blinked, hypnotizing his already stupified dates.  Those who managed to stay conscious thought he had a third eye. 

He was disrespectful, late and laggardly. He refused to open doors or pull seats out. His was the Genghis Khan School of Etiquette.  Occasionally (if he wanted something) he’d pull out all the stops and buy flowers (two day old, half price bouquets, from the supermarket).

Jake accepted dinner invitations from women who cooked, and usually by the second course had already found things about which to complain.  He’d say he had allergies. If a woman grilled steaks, he’d be vegetarian.  Fish: he would informatively discuss toxic mercury levels in the ocean.  If he got chicken piccata, he’d whinge about capers.  It was always something. To make matters yet worse, his phone was right there on the table, so he could text other women and receive their calls.

When out on the town, it was not unusual for him to ditch his date for someone cuter across the room. (He liked to keep his options open).  He also (at least once that I know of) had been known to strand a woman by leaving her at one party, while he moved on to the next, better one. 

The holidays were his favorite season. He would hint at wonderful presents in order to be sure the woman got him something good. Then when gift exchange time came, he’d say earnestly “I sent it back, it wasn’t good enough for you.”

He insisted his women all be slender as anorexics, making him king of the unwelcome remark:  “Dessert? Really?” “That top makes you look fat.” “She’ll have the salad, no croutons, no dressing.” 

How you ask, did he get by with it?  Simple.  He was very attractive and dressed well.  He looked good (on paper). No new dates knew how the old ones had gone. When asked how it was that he was still single (this question never came up after a date) he would reply “I just haven’t met Ms Right. Until maybe now!”  People always hope for the best. And so it would go.

***

One night, Jake sees an ad for a new dating service on late night tv, cutting into his movie. Matchsticks dot com.  Our Matches Stick Forever!  He can’t resist. He gets to the website, registers and logs on. It has an immediate effect on him, almost as if the very website emitted a magic that made it unusually delicious and magnetic. 

Jake is certainly blown away. Never has he seen so many unspeakably beautiful ladies in one place. (Usually they were all dogs).  He wonders briefly if this is one of those rip off mail order bride sites.  But no, they’re not Moldavian. 

He decides to try the Matchsticks Matrix, even though it costs him a tenner (generally he is averse to ponying up money in his search for love).  He plugs in his astrological sign (he writes Aries. His real sign is Dungheap), hobbies (he makes these up: lacrosse, polo, fine dining).   He finishes his personal inventory and presses “enter.”  In a very short time his computer dings: he has received an email with a list of potential matches.  He opens it and to a slew of highly eye-catching photos.  He adores them all. 

He ponders his choices: Lillythe, an attorney, a gorgeous brunette.  Hekatie, a ski instructor from Vail.  Isis, a restaurateur. But wait.  Hold the phone.  Who’s this? His eyes bug out like those of a cartoon character who has just ingested a bottle of arsenic.

Her name, it says, is Charlotte Ann Abaddon.  Her motto:  “Call me Bad.” She is completely fetching” tall, blonde, huge blue eyes, long legs. Her profile says she’s a professional, an actuarial accountant with the firm Brackisch, Dante and Sludge.  She models for that fashion mag, Vive le France, and likes wine tasting, opera, poetry and art.  She’s dressed in cool, urban-chic black. 

Profiles like this might intimidate many guys.  But not Jake, whose self esteem knows no bounds: it spills over, drowning his common sense.  He snaps a fast selfie with his iPhone, downloads it to his computer to airbrush, then sends that with a quick note to Charlotte Ann. 

The next day, Jake gets an email from Matchsticks that Charlotte Ann has responded to his message.  He logs on, reads her missive, and is quite giddy with pleasure.  She can’t wait to meet him.  (Again, his intuition, such as it is, sits downcast in the corner of his consciousness, shouted down by the bully: his ego). 

Charlotte Ann invites him to cocktails at the Fairmont. He says yes, and leaves work early to take BART into the city.  He stops at Nordstrom’s to get new clothes (his entire wardrobe lies crumpled in a smelly, moldy pile next to his washer and old newspapers he forgot to take out) and changes in the store.  He arrives early and wanders up to the Hurricane Bar. 

Jake doesn’t bother to soak in the atmosphere at this famous spot. His phone holds more allure. He’s busily texting away when the lovely and statuesque Charlotte Ann arrives at his table. 

“Hi, I’m Charlotte Ann.  You must be Jake.  My, you look so much better than your photo. So often it’s the other way around,” she says, shaking her lovely head.

“So true,” Jake commiserates.  “A pleasure to meet you.  You. Look. Marvelous.” (He spews out that tired Ricardo Montalban line like some third-rate Hollywood agent).

Charlotte Ann smiles (her teeth are Crest White Stripped, and just slightly long) and asks for the drinks menu.  She orders a Zombie. (Hint).  Jake gets a Singapore Sling.  They sit there with their umbrella drinks. For once, Jake is really taken with a date. She is so stunning.  He keeps his Bluetooth in his pocket, along with his iPhone.  He gazes into Charlotte Ann’s eyes and falls, hard.  This is new for him.   He is awash in the rosy glow of love at first sight.  Unfortunately, no second sight was involved.

Soaking in his new infatuation (and alcohol), Jake doesn’t observe little things:  the server knowing exactly how Charlotte Ann likes her drinks, or the bartender reading her hand signs like a baseball pitcher watching the catcher.   He doesn’t for a nanosecond wonder why such a hot ticket is hanging on his every (lame) word, not to mention his endless monologue about football. It’s all there for Jake to see, but it’s hiding behind his hubris: invisible.

Several drinks and appetizers later, Charlotte Ann excuses herself to powder her nose.  Jake waits for her return. He people watches. He waits. He plays with his cell. And waits. 

“Sir,” says the server, and presents Jake with the check.  It’s a steep one: after all, this is the Fairmont.  Jake wonders if he has enough credit on his bank card.  He hands it to the waiter and holds his breath.  Meanwhile he begins to feel slightly sick.  He goes to the men’s room to wash his face.

The door automatically clangs shut behind him. It’s sealed tighter than a bank vault.  Jake is befuddled.  But not for long.  Because his brain fog is a result of the loaded drinks: now he’s in a state of encroaching paralysis. As he stands there, the men’s room makes up for his lack of motion and swings to and fro. (Hey, it’s San Francisco. It’s an earthquake). 

After it’s over (safety first), the men’s room, with a sound like a muffled fart, begins to descend. It’s really an elevator. And it’s going down.  ‘Way down.

No.  Further. 

***

Ding! The elevator stops. It’s been a long ride indeed, and Jake has fallen asleep on the floor. Jake’s consciousness switches to the “on” position at the sound of another fart, which heralds the unbolting of the door.  It is opened by a  . . . wha’? 

A daemon!  Even now, Jake is shallow.  Rather than his destination, he’s all about appearances.  “Eeeuu, so ugly,” he thinks. Look at that scaly skin, the ET eyes, the claws, the tail.  And fat.  Rolls and rolls of it.  If daemons had weight, this one would be an easy half ton. 

Noting the flames and brimstone in the background, Jake now regrets the countless skipped Sunday schools, slept-through sermons, the “I’m not religious.” They were RIGHT.  Uh oh. 

He looks at the daemon again and suddenly recognizes the shoes.  Those Louboutins were the exact same pair on Charlotte Ann’s pretty feet!  Did the daemon capture her, too? No wonder she didn’t come back! He’d better see where she is. 

“Jake, Jake.”  The daemon spoke, but in Charlotte Ann’s voice.

Jake nearly pisses all over himself.  What a turn of events this is. 

“Are, are, are you, uh,” he stammers.  Charlotte Ann cuts him off.

“Yes, the very same.  Call me Bad.  Come on down. Welcome to Purgatory. I’m in charge of this department.”

“Which is?” asks Jake, still numb.

“‘Our Matches Stick Forever.’ Truth in advertising, you know.”  Charlotte Ann took a moment to pick her snout with an aardvark claw, examining her lode before releasing it to the fire pit on her immediate right, where it sizzled a moment. 

“Come on, Jake, sweet pea. Time for our second date.  We have all eternity.”  She shows her teeth (somehow, they are still sparkling white) and prods him with her trident.

——-

 Copyright © 2019 Bookemjano – All rights reserved
To learn more about real ghosts, please see About Ghosts: A Useful Handbook.  For some great ghost stories, please see Death Be Not Loud, Rest In Fleece, and Sepia Seepage.  To learn about ghosts in modern fiction, please see Infectious Ghosts. And so much more, at: Jan’s Amazon Page
 
 
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Ghosts: Sepia Seepage (Original Short Fiction)

Readers, please enjoy this original short ghost fiction, from my collection of the same title:

Sepia Seepage

Carrie loved antique shops.  Her favorite was called Golden Old, on Oak Street down in the village.  She’d picked up many an item there; some for resale on eBay, some for herself. 

Today she stopped by to browse.  She found herself in front of the old sepia-toned photographs.  She thought these so poignant. The people always peering straight into your eyes from the distant past, so formally dressed, posture rigid, and while not frowning, not smiling.  Portraits were considered serious business then.  She sometimes bought these just for the frames.  But she enjoyed poring over them and thinking about their subjects.

She paused in front of one now. It was set in an unusually rococo frame.  Gilded and even jeweled (of course those couldn’t be real stones, but they looked genuine), with scrolls and grapes and vines.  This was quite a find, Carrie thought, picking it up to look at the back to see if there might be an inscription.  There was, in ornate, tiny script.  It said (wait, she needed her glasses) . . . “Monte Haides, Photographers   Underwood Florida USA

The woman in the photo was clad in a formal Victorian dress with lots of bows, frills and a very full skirt. (How on earth did she get that corset so tight? Carrie wondered.  Ah, but she probably had servants.  The fabric was shiny and probably black although it looked dark brown in sepia.  The hair was pulled back on top but full, rounded curls fell to each side.  Her face was lovely, even in the no-makeup, no-fillers, no botox look of those days.  Large black eyes fringed with thick lashes, no lines, a pretty mouth and straight nose.  The woman looked straight into Carrie’s eyes.  She was not smiling but then none of them did.  Carrie couldn’t take her eyes off the photo.

Finally a saleswoman came by. 

“May I help you?” she asked.

“Thanks so much,” said Carrie, coming out of a daze.  “I’m intrigued by this piece,” she indicated the photo, although there was no need, as she gripped it tightly in her hands.

“That just came in, in fact, about half an hour before you did,” said the woman, whose nametag said Nancy.  “It’s quite old and it’s interesting, because although Haides was considered a master photographer, not many of his pieces come up.  I don’t honestly know whether  collectors hoard them or if they were destroyed during the Civil War.  But this is rather rare.”  She paused a moment to look it over.

“The frame is quite nice, isn’t it.  Again, it seems to be one of a kind,” added Nancy.

“Can you tell me who the subject might be,” asked Carrie.

“Not without some research. I can tell you that Haides specialized in society people, and with good reason: they could afford to hire him!  So whomever it is likely came from an established important family not far from Underwood.  Now, take a closer look.  She’s wearing a necklace with a monogram:  can you read it?  Give me a moment.”  Nancy went to a desk and picked up a magnifier.

“Now let’s see,” she muttered.  “It looks like CL.  Perhaps that’s a lead for you.” 

“Why, yes, thanks,” said Carrie. “I’ll take it. It will be fun to see what I can discover.”

Nancy led Carrie to the cash register and rang up the item.  Carrie paid cash, and Nancy wrapped her purchase in tissue and placed it in a pretty bag with handles. 

“Your receipt’s here in the bag,” Nancy said, handing it to Carrie.  “Thank you for shopping.”  Carrie thanked her and took her find to the car, and drove off to continue her errands. 

Once home, she put away her things and then sat down with her new purchase.  What an amazing piece, she mused.  I can’t take my eyes off it.

She gazed into the picture. The next thing she knew, the phone was ringing.  She picked it up (she must have dozed off, my goodness, it was already nine thirty!) to hear only static and some breathy sounds on the other end.  After asking who’s there and getting nothing, she hung up.  Prank caller, college kids, must’ve been.

She placed her photo on her mantle.  She looked at it once more before retiring for the night.

When Carrie got up the next day, she had coffee and again, went in to see her picture.  She couldn’t get her mind off it.    She looked closely.  But wait.  Something had changed.  The woman had moved closer.  Originally, she’d been seated almost in the background.  Look at this:  more detail of her gown could be seen.  Her necklace was now clear to see, an elaborate CL indeed.  And, could it be? Her lips seemed compressed in a way she’d not noticed before.  And she seemed to be staring at Carrie most intently.  Must be just a trick of the light, Carrie concluded.  Maybe she was just staring at the photographer.  Photos took much longer in those days.  Still though, odd.

Carrie went to her job at the insurance agency, where she worked as an administrative assistant to the manager.  It was not exciting work, but the pay was good and the people easy to get on with.  She had a quiet day and couldn’t wait to get home.  While on her lunch break, she took out her tablet to look up prominent families in Underwood in the 1860’s.   There was an Abernathy Williams on the town council and a doctor named Waverly.  She looked on, and found a family, the Wendigues, posed on the front veranda of a large plantation home.  It must have been opulent for the times.  She thought she could make out the woman in her photo, there in the middle of the group. Again, the woman seemed to see her.  It was unsettling, that.  She closed the browser, but still she felt observed. 

Her afternoon was uneventful, although she received another of those static-y phone calls with no voice. But wait: a faint whispering could be discerned between the snaps and pops.  She listened hard, and turned up her volume.  She thought she heard her name, followed by “two days.”  But no, how could that be?

Carrie went home and got ready for her date. She’d been delayed on the boulevard, a traffic accident, so rather than taking time to look at her antique picture again, she rushed to get ready for her date that evening.

Marco was prompt, and she was just ready when the doorbell rang.  She let him in with a hug and asked him to take a seat while she grabbed a sweater and changed bags.  He sat down in the living room.

Her hair wouldn’t cooperate, and she fussed over it longer than she’d meant to. Quickly she stuffed the essentials from her day purse into a nicer evening one and saw Marco, still sitting by the fireplace.  He seemed transfixed by her photo. 

“Ready to go?”  Carrie asked, and slowly, as if awakening from a deep sleep, Marco said “Uh, oh, yes. I must have nodded off.”

“You seemed fascinated by my new antique.”

“I remember seeing it, but nothing else, it’s like I tuned out.  Funny.  Oh, well, come on, let’s not be late for our reservation.”  They left the house and turned on the hall light behind them. In the living room the photo seemed to radiate a faint glow of its own. 

They had a dinner at DaVero’s, their favorite place.  They shared the events of their week.  Carrie told him about her photo and about what she’d learned so far.

“I think I’ve found her family,” Carrie said. 

“You’re really into this, aren’t you,” observed Marco.  “It’s sort of a creepy picture. She doesn’t smile, there doesn’t seem to be any warmth about her at all.  You know, sometimes these old things can carry peculiar vibes,” he added. 

“I don’t believe that,” said Carrie, but was that true?  She was starting to wonder. Now that she was away from the picture, what was it that had pulled her to it?  There were so many other old photos, many in equally pretty frames and all equally intriguing.  But it was as if it had tapped her on the shoulder.  Why had she even stopped by Golden Old yesterday?  It was as if something told her to.  She shook her head.  This was nuts.

The couple had dessert and then left for a movie.  Perhaps it would have been wiser not to have chosen such a scary one.  The ghost was so realistic, and so angry.  Marco took Carrie home, saw her to the door, and left, having an early appointment in the morning. 

Carrie closed and locked the door behind her, and put away her sweater. She got a chamomile tea (really, the movie was just a bit too frightening) and took it in to the living room to watch some late night tv before retiring.  There was an infomercial, and here was a talk show.  She glanced up at her photo, and then stared:  for again, it appeared the woman had moved closer to the front.  Her face seemed larger, more intent, and yes, menacing.  Carrie shivered, turned the photo so it faced the wall, and went to bed.

She had strange dreams that night.  She was in the office when the woman in the picture came in to make an insurance claim.  She said she wanted the money for her house, which had burned down in an unexplained fire of great intensity.  Carrie said she would have to speak with the manager, and the woman stared at her in a steady, ice-cold way.  Carrie felt, suddenly, overwhelmed by terror: for a moment it felt as if the woman was not human at all,  but some kind of evil spirit.

Carrie woke up in a cold sweat.  She couldn’t go on like this.  She got coffee, popped open her laptop and looked up the Wendigue family. 

They had been wealthy plantation owners in the ante bellum era, but more than that, they had been feared.  It was thought that they were practitioners of the dark arts.  Local children had gone missing.  And people who crossed the Wendigues rued the day:  misfortune hounded them.  Finally, the locals  had had enough. According to some, a group of people from town had gathered, along with their clergy, and together they had burned the house down. Most of the family was inside at the time.  Afterwards, the ground was salted, blessed, and sprinkled with holy water to prevent the return of any evil.  But no one would go there, and the land stood empty for decades, until finally it eroded into the neighboring Lethe River. 

Carrie discovered that the woman in her photo was probably Carlotta Wendigue, the daughter of the patriarch, the belle of a ball to which no one local would come:  so young people from other counties and even other states had been invited.  No harm befell them. They were the sons and daughters of the powerful and influential.  They were catered to and treated with care.  Those who attended claimed it was a lovely event. But no one had danced with Carlotta more than the obligatory once.  And the young ladies spoke with her as little as they politely could.  They felt something wasn’t right about her.  Even in the light and gaiety of the party, it still came through.  It was the day after the event that the family gathered for the group photo; and some individual Wendigues had portraits done, like the one that had fallen into Carrie’s hands. 

Carrie went to the mantel to check on the photo.  When she turned it to face her, she gasped.  For Carlotta’s face now took up the entire picture.  And her eyes were pure black.  A kind of electrical  shock seemed to pass from the picture onto Carrie.  

When Carrie came to, she was very uncomfortable.  It was hot and sticky out and she was wearing a heavy silk dress with layers of fabric and flounces.  And tons of clothing underneath, including (she could hardly breathe!) a corset set on “asphyxiate.”  She was surrounded by other people in equally antique dress, all standing round the front of a large plantation house.   There was a photographer several feet in front with a huge, boxy kind of camera with a drape in back.  He held up a bulb and told everyone not to move. 

***

People at the office thought Carrie seemed under the weather that day. She was quieter than usual, and wore old style, very dark glasses (she said she had been for an eye exam).  That night, out with Marco, she ate the fish (a first!).  She seemed rather unwell, certainly didn’t have much to say.  Marco found this unsettling.  He told her he thought he should take her home and make her some hot tea and lemon, and she should lie down, clearly she was coming down with something.  Carrie nodded (she’d quite lost her voice). 

Back at the house, he sat her down in her favorite armchair and brought her the remote and the tv listings.  He served her the tea and some English  biscuits he knew she was fond of.  When he returned, she had nodded off. She must be coming down with something, he thought.  He took a look at her photo before leaving her.  It looked the same.  Except.

There was something about the eyes. Were they looking at him? He shook that idea out of his head and left, locking up behind himself.  He wanted Carrie to be safe. 


Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/state_library_south_australia/14202055668

 Copyright © 2019 Bookemjano – All rights reserved
To learn more about real ghosts, please see About Ghosts: A Useful Handbook.  For some great ghost stories, please see Death Be Not Loud, Rest In Fleece, and Sepia Seepage.  To learn about ghosts in modern fiction, please see Infectious Ghosts. And so much more, at: Jan’s Amazon Page
 
 
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Ghosts: Bonus Post! Cafe Merde (short fiction)

Readers, here’s an original (fictional and, consumer warning, unPC!) ghost story,  Cafe Merde, from my collection: Death Be Not Loud: Ghosts, Haunts and Tall Tales for Restless Nights.  I hope you enjoy it! Read on, below: 

  Café Merde

I’d come to the coast to escape the oppressive heat.  It crept up on one like a pile of unopened bills.  St. Swithin’s Island had been a haunt of the elite since the Gilded Age.  There’d be crumbs from their picnic tables for my column, Dish on Dish.  I wrote, you see,  about food, and those who ate it. 

The haute-r the cuisine the better, to my readers (those who watched on the sidelines): they had six bits for my checkout stand rag, but not six hundred for dinner and drinks. That’s for sure. No, my readers worshiped from afar. They might gawk at one the exclusive bistros from the safety of their minivans: “Look, Fred, that’s the place we read about in Cynthia’s column! Imagine!  And I saw it on Housewives of Savannah, they went there for brunch! So elegant!” 

My readers bought the slop, I mean hype, they were sold: by the networks, by Madison Avenue, by society, and not the least by me, purveying praise for crap disguised as lunch by these greedy restaurateurs and the celebrities they hosted.  This enabled them to bask in the false glow of their own value as reflected by Nielson or Zagat and food writers who were bribed to rave (and who accepted free meals and drinks).  And I made money, too, don’t forget.  It was a popular column if I say so myself.

Damn, though, the humidity.  It beckoned the wildlife:  gorgeous exotic birds, but also multitudinous flies, a wide variety of reptiles and mosquitoes, Lord, the size of aircraft carriers.  Their buzzing sounded amplified, louder than I remembered.  You could almost see their obsidian, deadly eyes.  Lots to feed on here, certainly:  inflated wallets, egos, waistlines and waste (the food these people throw away in half an hour would feed a suburb anyplace else).

So it was that I found myself delighting in a fragrant espresso on the lovely wraparound porch of the St. Swithin Inn.  I’d had a Virgin Mary and toast for breakfast and was jotting notes for my next essay.  It was in this peaceful mindset that I was quite abruptly smacked in the head by the pink quilted Chanel Jumbo of Carson James, who was famous pretty much for just being famous. No one knew from whence she sprung, nor could anyone remember whether she had acted, modeled, or designed couture. She just was, a force of nature, as much a part of the summertime Island as the hibiscus that grew, wild, on the hillsides facing the ocean. She had wealth (or sponsorship, as the villa she’d rented was at least $10,000 per fortnight). In her middle fifties, she looked ten years younger thanks to extensive fillers and the very best spa treatments known to man.

“Oh, so sorry,” she said. “I must watch where I’m going!”  She sounded actually nice.

“That’s okay,” I said.  Was she being genuine or averting a future personal injury claim? (Your Honor, she didn’t give me a second glance! My displaced collarbone and resulting anxiety disorder resulted from the velocity and impact of her $5,000 bag).

“I’m Cynthia,” I offered. She looked me right in the eye and responded: “I’m Carson.”  (Like so many rich women she had a surname instead of Mary or Diane).

“You’re not . . . are you Cynthia who writes for Social Climber?”

“I am indeed.  How clever of you to have known,” I responded, actually stunned that anyone so notable recognized me.

“Honey, I read your column all the time.  You’re the only one who tells the truth about these five-star excuses for diners.” At this, she waved her hand vaguely indicating Main Street, which was about as quaint as it could be without violating the boundaries of kitsch.  But then everything was too expensive for that.  The emperor must have clothes after all. 

We chatted for a bit and she then invited me to come by that night.

“I’m having some people over, why don’t you come?  You could write up the caterer.  It’s Charles  Wankereich. You know, of chez Wanker?” 

I knew, all right.  By far the snootiest restaurant on the island (which was saying something), with competition like Café Merde (pronounced Mayr-DAY), Pazzo, and Jacqui’s . . . Each haughtier than the next. 

Jacqui’s was particularly vile, serving up tap water in fancy bottles as Eau d J for $9.99 a pop, passing off leftovers as fine dining and serving up desserts ($35) which were smudges of Sara Lee cheesecake or chopped up (years past the Sell By date) Dove Bars, which she coated in whipped cream and rum.  That way, customers couldn’t see the fade in the chocolate and thanks to the liquor, wouldn’t care. 

Pazzo, of course, was a Pazzo family enterprise. Richie Pazzo, our local Soprano, was the major shareholder.  (At least the food was good there.  The consequences of it being bad did not bear contemplation). 

Café Merde was the Island’s own “continental” restaurant. Actually, they provided all-American meat and potato dishes (some of which suspiciously resembled Healthy Choice frozen entrees). The entire menu was in French.  Since no one here knew French from Serbian, Café Merde could (and did) get by with anything: “soupe d’oignons français au gratin” was in actuality Campbell’s with Velveeta.  The “filet mignon” made me wonder what had become of Trigger.  There was Trout Al Mundane (it was carp) and Chopped Steak ala Merde (Alpo).  But I digress. 

Carson’s gathering sounded like a marvelous opportunity to get up close to some of the actual cuisine not to mention the creators and consumers thereof.  I said I’d be there.

***

The house Carson had leased was a huge Richardsonian Romanesque pile:  a county courthouse with illusions of The Breakers. Huge, it brooded:  a monster in REM sleep, darkening the sky above it.  I nosed my aging Camaro behind a line of gleaming Bentleys, Porsches, and Ferraris.  The valet took my keys and whisked the car away, assuring me it would be ready when I wanted it if I would just ring). 

Through the massive front doors was a hall reminiscent of a European royal house.  Everything was heavy, rich, marble or fine wood: wainscoted, coffered, carved, and crown-molded to the nth degree. Weighed down by its own grandeur, it didn’t fit the direct and seemingly unpretentious Carson.  Why on earth did she stay in this heap when she could rent any lovely beach house, and for much less?  I wondered why anyone other than the Duchess of Windsor would choose it.

Entering a cavernous drawing room, I joined the other guests. There were some locals and a sprinkling of actors and writers: it wasn’t yet the high season.  Supper was splayed across a long side-table. I stepped closer:  ah.  If this was “fresh” fish and not Gorton’s, call me Julia Child.  And the salad.  Seriously, did Charles really buy the big bag of lettuce at Costco and just add (I paused for a taste) Sam’s Club Zesty Italian?  I shook my head.  The wine?  Not bad, but Yellow Tail, really?  (For what Charles had undoubtedly charged Carson I’d expect Chateau Lafitte).   I sharpened my mental pencil and approached the desserts.  Cream puffs (a bite of soggy pastry screamed “frozen!”), Dutch apple pie (props to Marie Callender) and teeny Baked Alaski (baked Aleutians?).  At least someone in some kitchen had created those.  

I shook my head.  You can’t buy a palate.  As I thus mused, in walked Charles, “the Wanker” himself.  He was dressed like a guest but with an apron, so he could pass himself off as a chef. I now knew better. What a greedy fraud he was. 

“Hello, Charles,” I intoned.

“And you are…” he pretended not to know me. 

“Cynthia from Social Climber.  We met at the Michelin Guide dinner I chaired. I’m here to review the catering.”  Charles had the good grace to blush but Prussian bluster rapidly overcame shame.

“Ah, yes.  Come, have the salad, I’ve got a new one.  It’s a panzanella.”  I could hardly believe Charles doing what was basically a Tuscan peasant dish until I realized he doubtless had mountains of year-old croutons piled up in his pantry: what better way to recycle). 

“Charles. I didn’t know you did Italian. How do the folks at Pazzo feel about that?” I inquired in my best Nancy Drew voice.  Charles paled slightly and said, “I’ll be calling it Salade de Pain.” I nodded sagely.  Charles dashed off to supervise whatever was being “prepared,” i.e. microwaved, in the kitchen and I mingled with guests.

“Cynthia!”  Carson seemed happy to see me. “Come sit with us.”  She was surrounded by stars: two actresses (Mimi Sims and Lala Firestone, one in soaps, one in some meshuggenah sitcom about people in a blue collar neighborhood.  Lala wouldn’t know a blue collar unless it was Louis Vuitton and attached to a five-pound dog).  There was the Episcopal priest from (where else) St Swithin’s, Fr. Icevayne; a crooner (Carlo di Buono, known to be deeply indebted to Richie Pazzo for his warp-speed rise in show business)  and two local matrons, Margaretha von Scheisse and Carole (with an “e”) Devereaux, of the Charleston Devereaux’s). I fit in as would a schnauzer at a cat show. 

For I did not drip with diamonds. I had no diamonds.  I did not wear Hermes.  I wore Macy’s (and gladly). I was not a size double zero (the actresses were in their twenties but had the bodies of twelve-year-olds) or two (Carson and Carole, but I knew Carole had had her midriff frozen and siphoned off, like gas from someone else’s tank.  People were nice enough (to my face: probably Carson had shared that I wrote for Social Climber, their Bible).

“Ah, Cynt’sseya,” said Margarethe in her fake generic Euro accent (she was from Queens but had married into Island money).  “Ve are so heppy ju are weeth us.” (As if).  The others greeted me and Carlo said (his teeth were improbably white):

“We have been having the most intriguing conversation.  Carson thinks this place is haunted.  She’s pretty level-headed.  Now, I don’t know from ghosts but you’ve been writing up the Island for years: have you heard anything about this?”

“Nooo  … “I started to say, and then “but wait.  There was a rumor.  It was years ago when those Texans stayed here?  Remember them? The Perrys?”  Carole nodded and wrinkled her wee bobbed nose (which was now way too small, like that of La Toya Jackson, for the rest of her face).

“Oh, they were something.  We on the Island Commission have considered a ban or at least a quota on how many of Texans may stay here at one time.”  She was quite serious.

“May I ask why?” I asked, innocently, big-eyed and with mental notepad at the ready.

“They were de trop,” Carole elaborated. “They didn’t appreciate our ambiance here.  They put statues of horses and cowboys in front of one house and one, God save us, had longhorns on his Escalade. ” Everyone mournfully nodded their condolences. “Worse than Saudis,” they were thinking. (Whether about the horns or the Cadillac pickup I couldn’t be certain). The priest crossed himself:  this was how the devil gets a foothold. 

“Anyvay, zey may have been trashy” (said Margarethe) “but zey vere not crazy. Zey said they heard noises, knockings, all kinds of deeesturbances, ya?” I nodded. 

“Anything else?”  I asked.

“The Ravenals, one of our oldest families, had this place for decades,” said Fr. Icevayne.  “I remember Dickie Jr. (the son, not the uncle, that was Big Dickie) coming to see me once about blessing the place but his wife (a Baptist) ruled that out as too Popish.  It’s a shame because that might have nipped it in the bud.” 

I turned to Carson.  “What have you observed?”

“At first I thought it was nothing,” she said.  A house this large, there will be noises.  But things escalated.  I hear crashing as if the china department at Saks all got dumped on the floor.  There, of course, is nothing to be seen.  The handle on my door will move as if someone is trying it, but when I open it, no one is there.  But the security cameras picked up some kind of green mist in the hall when it happened.

Then there’s the library, which is probably the worst.  You can hear people talking, even loud arguments. Suddenly a fire will appear to be blowing out of that huge fireplace (this time of year, no one lights fires at all).  The curtains billow out as if a window is open and there’s a gale force wind. Things get moved from one place to the next without anyone actually picking them up. Then, too, the lights flicker. The wiring is supposed to be just fine, the electrician can’t account for it.  So, there’s nothing really menacing, but it’s not normal, either.  Like finding a book from the top shelf (she waved upwards) in the refrigerator.  Now, I’m not that imaginative and I’m far from psychic.  I have no idea what’s going on.” 

“Carson, aren’t you the first one to stay here since the last family left?” put in Carole. “Ten years ago, something like that? I remember they left in a real hurry.  Left all their belongings.  The front door may have even been ajar.  They were very tight-lipped about it.  Their attorney has been trying to sell it ever since but has had to settle for leasing it out.  No one wants it.”

“Of course they don’t,” said Mimi, “it’s not Tuscan.” (something had awakened her Inner Architect).  The locals exchanged a few raised eyebrows:  “young and dumb,” they signaled in their Isle code.

We nibbled crackers and Charles’ “Pâté d’ Wanker” (tofu spread from Safeway) and then – we all heard it – came a thunderous crash. Nothing of course had moved.  We heard a combination of the broken china Carson mentioned and a wrecking ball meeting an outdated building.  Before we had time to even digest that (not to mention the “pâté”) it was followed by footsteps, heavy ones, striding towards us. The lights flickered.  We all looked towards the great hall and soon saw the source:  a tall figure, dressed in what looked like well-tailored evening clothes from the Edwardian age.  Pallid, he was three dimensional, but faded:  a primitive hologram.  He stared at us, shocked.

“Who are you people? And why are you here?”  He sounded angry, if surprised.  He pointed a long finger: “The servants’ hall is in the south wing.  I can’t believe Johansson didn’t direct you to the trade entrance. You are all dressed very inappropriately, we’ll have none of those (he looked at us women in our skinny jeans) around here.  There was then a harsh jangle as he furiously rang for his butler to sort this (and us) out. “And what is this . . . swill?”  he gestured at Charles’ catering efforts with disdain. “My dogs eat better!” he sneered and then vanished. 

We looked around and shivered, if a bit belatedly.  What had just happened?

“There are some very old photos at the parish,” said Fr. Icevayne. Tomorrow I’ll see if he’s in any of them.”

“I’ll check at town hall,” added Carole.  “I can at least find out who lived here after the turn of the last century…”

We passed the brandy and then departed, after being sure Carson would be all right. Her personal assistant was home, she said, so she’d not be alone.  She added that she was more curious than spooked. 

***

I myself decided to see what I could learn from my online sources.  I looked under noted homes in the area and found several; but this one, while large and expensive, was invisible.  How odd.  I’d thought it would be featured, like homes on movie star maps of Beverly Hills.  But no.  I wondered how  it was that such a massive, costly house, gigantic even by Isle standards, was not part of local history, or at least tourist lore.

Next thing I knew (I must have been exhausted, I couldn’t remember at all how I got there) I was back at Carson’s.  It was as if we had not left at all (but we had.  We were clad in different outfits, we were nibbling a (quite excellent) pizza from Pazzo’s, with a respectable Sicilian chianti (Richie Pazzo, say what you will, has great connections in the wine world).  We compared notes.

“There were no records at town hall,” said Carole. “Hard to believe, this place has been around … as long as I can recall.” 

“The church social albums yielded nothing,” added Fr. Icevayne. “Perhaps they were Lutherans.” (This seemed unlikely, as all the old money here had filled the back pews at St. Swithin’s Episcopal).

“I have to tell you.” (I joined in) “I did some digging and there is nada.  I expected to find lots of information about a house this … important. Did the island have a different name back then? Am I missing something? You’ll have to excuse me, I’m feeling pretty wiped for some reason. The damn humidity, doubtless.” 

“Us, too,” chimed in Mimi.  “We figured it was jet lag.”  The two girls looked lovely (as would any pretty young women  treated to the best in beauty products and fashion) but yes, sleepy as well.  Dark circles had appeared under their beautifully made-up eyes.

In fact, the whole lot of us appeared in need of a long nap. Maybe it was something in the air. 

***

“Come along, Reverend,” said Rod.  “I’m glad you could fit me into your busy schedule.” (This last was heavy with attitude. Rod had after all bought and furnished the new parsonage). 

“Yes, sure.  Have we got everything?” Rev. Jimmy Don Renfield entered, wearing a collar (which he never fastened quite the right way. No one from his denomination wore them but here on the island, he had to compete with the Episcopalians and other snob churches.  Thus he’d been known, when his deacons weren’t looking, to slip on a collar when calling on rich members). 

Of course, they were all loaded here. His superior, Elder Catwauler, said his congregation had more money per capita than any in the entire denomination.  The bishop always mentioned this when asking for special assessments for his South East Region.  Clearly, the Elder had no experience with the very rich, who tended to scrimp in some areas. Like tithing.  Renfield sighed. Things hadn’t been the same since the young men had all volunteered to be doughboys and had gone off to fight in Europe. He missed them and their energy, and he couldn’t understand why they were dying for that nasty old continent full of Catholic papists and heathens.

“Yes, (pay attention!) it’s all here,” snapped Rod.  “The water you asked for, the Bible, the salt.  This better not waste my time, Renfield.”  Rod Usher was nothing if not peremptory, especially with those he deemed his social inferiors. Which would, reflected Rev. Renfield, include everyone.

The two walked into the drawing room of Rod’s massive stone house.  Renfield thought of Rod’s place as the Mausoleum.  It was so dreary there, and he’d heard stories. When Rod called for his help, then, he hadn’t been completely surprised.  But nervous?  You betcha he was. 

“Let’s begin.”

Renfield orated “Our Lord, we just want to offer up Rod’s home for you to bless. Bring the light in, Father.”  He proceeded to sprinkle the water about (he had just now blessed it) and not knowing the Latin, he kept repeating “We adjure thee, Satan! (Poor Renfield. He should have said “Abjure.” His English was as poor as his Latin, which does matter in these rituals).  He added “Fall back, Devil! In the name of Jesus,” which he pronounced “Jaysus.”   

As he finished, there was a slash of light and a loud sound, as if Rod’s entire golf club collection had been tossed down the stairs. Mercy!  What was this?

“See, I told you as much!” exclaimed Rod.  “It was NOT the brandy!” 

Renfield rubbed his eyes and saw a strange assemblage. Were they from another planet? (His Scientologist Auditor brother had shared his faith that day at the clergy breakfast). What strange clothes. Servants, they must be. Every one of them looked very tired, and pale.  It’s hard doing the devil’s work, no doubt. Look at that man with the glowing white teeth. A vampire?!  And those two jezebel girls with the streaks in their hair.  What have those other women got on, where are their dresses?! 

The minister grabbed the holy water and threw handfuls of it at the strange group. They had the good taste to shimmer a bit and then disappear.  Well, almost. What was this big box?  “Pazzo:  The Best Pizza Pie inna’ Town!”  “That’s not pie,” thought Rod.

Rev. Renfield got up to leave.  “Your problem is solved, Rod.  It takes spiritual warfare to fight wraiths.  You won’t hear another peep out of them. I trust the House of Usher is now at peace.”

***

“Huh?”  We’d heard that, as the two weird-looking men faded into the air. 

***

As it turned out, the House of Usher, was now at peace.  (Cynthia was mistaken.  It is indeed famous:  in a story by Poe, and at least one lower budget horror film.  Yes, it had indeed been haunted.  But not by Rod.

Carson had been dead for five years.  She had had a reaction to bad fish served by (whom else) Charles Wankereich. Carole and Margaretha were poisoned one night by the Eau d’ Jacqui, which was in fact not tap water but rife with germs from the “reclamation pond” from which she’d drained it.

Carlo, sadly, had been late on the vig he owed Chuckie “Chopper” Rossi, the Pazzo loan shark.  He was found dead of a “heart attack” at the studio one morning. (His dentist sent a wreath).

Mimi and Lala died in a plane crash on the way to St Swithin’s Isle, where they were to film an episode of “Survivor: Rich and Famous!”

Cynthia had … it was tragic, really.  She’d gone to the Isle to cover the restaurant scene for her column. She’d been lounging on the wraparound porch at the St. Swithin Inn when she’d got nipped by a large and deadly mosquito carrying oodles of malaria in its saliva.  It was the size of the Queen Mary.

Fr. Icevayne?  Well, he wasn’t really a priest at all.  He was a Purgatorial Assistant, a daemon named Jenkins (like many rich women, he had a surname, instead of Armpit or Dogfart). His job was mostly ahead of him.  He’d be babysitting these egotistical morons for several eternities. 

Fortunately, he’d brought his Kindle.

***

 Copyright © 2019 Bookemjano – All rights reserved
To learn more about real ghosts, please see About Ghosts: A Useful Handbook.  For some great ghost stories, please see Death Be Not Loud, Rest In Fleece, and Sepia Seepage.  To learn about ghosts in modern fiction, please see Infectious Ghosts. And so much more, at: Jan’s Amazon Page
 
 
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Ghosts: An Original Ghost Story

Readers, here’s one of my own (fictional but still fun) ghost stories, from my published collection, Rest In Fleece: Ghosts, Tall Tales & Horror Stories! It’s a short story with an unusual twist and several articulate ghosts!  Enjoy! 

The Forever Home

I moved to the Elysium Row house late that year. The leaves had turned orange and crimson, and lay strewn across the front steps.  That time of year the evenings chilled: the sun sank into the dark horizon, and took the warmth with it. 

I’d found the house by accident. Well, maybe not; at the time that’s what I thought.  It had so much character.  On this quiet street in the city, so elegant.  When I’d seen the sign, I paused.   Without hesitation I called the number and made an appointment to view it.

It was a beautiful, light, airy space inside. While true to its Victorian heritage, it had been updated tastefully and with quality appointments.  There was a modern kitchen with antique, refinished cabinets and marble counters. Downstairs there was also a formal dining room, a butler’s pantry (equipped with a second small dishwasher and a wine fridge), a living room, a study which could double as a guest room, and one and a half baths.  It was a great space, which as a food writer who entertained often, I’d put to good use. 

The baths had been redone in Restoration Hardware reproductions, down to the heated towel bars. Upstairs were two more baths and three bedrooms. The master was partially housed in a turret and had a rounded window seat.  All the floors were hardwood, with authentic, small hexagon tile in the baths and kitchen.  There was a compact, walled back yard (any yard space in the city was something), which was attractively landscaped, with a seating area under a covered patio.  What was not to like? I felt I could stay here forever.  Which, as it turns out, was rather prescient.

The price was right (maybe too right?). I quickly sealed the deal and my lease began the following week. The house came furnished, so I and my few things were quickly transplanted. 

I had a housewarming party planned for that Friday.  In the rush of shoving boxes into closets, cooking and last-minute trips for forgotten groceries, I wouldn’t have noticed a ghost if it wore a name tag and said “Boo.”

My guests arrived and admired my new digs. “You scored, Mary” was the consensus.  We were having drinks by the fireplace after supper when footsteps were heard in the dining room.  No one was unaccounted for, so I peeked in.  Whoever was there could not be seen; but his shoes made impressions on the rug.  One after another.  I beckoned the others and we watched the prints approach, then stop. 

A hollow chime bounced off the high ceilings.  We all heard it.  After that there was a cold breeze, which ruffled the drapes, and some guests’ skirts.

We looked askance, eyes wide.

“You got yourself a tenant, Mary.” This from Quincy, my editor.  He had a gift for stating the obvious.

“Did the realtor tell you the place was haunted?” asked Diane, a colleague.  “They’re supposed to disclose this kind of thing.  People have won lawsuits.”

“So weird,” said Sam, a restaurateur acquaintance.  “I’ve seen it before.  My last bistro (remember chez S?) was located in that historic building, you know, downtown?  It was beautiful but haunted.  Funny, when there was a flurry of news about it, it brought in lots of new clientele.  But it didn’t scare off anyone: quite the contrary.” 

“Fine,” I replied, “but this is my house. I don’t want customers, living or dead.”  This may have come out a bit too emphatically:  everyone laughed and the tension was broken. 

The evening went on without incident.  After seeing everyone out, I put things away and went up to bed.  Make that, I meant to go to bed.  But it was already occupied: I saw the indent of a body in the featherbed.  It squirmed a bit, as one does trying to get comfortable.  That was all:  except a little later, the occasional soft snore. 

I went to my guest room and, shutting the door, stretched out in the hope of sleep.

The following day, I called the realtor who’d shown me the house. When no one picked up his cell, I called the agency office.

“Hi, I’m trying to reach Seri Barras.”

“But she hasn’t worked here in years,” responded the secretary. 

“She certainly has.  She rented me this house and I have her card in my hand.”

“This is impossible.  It can’t be. Would you hang on a moment, please?”  I heard whispers in the background.  “But no!” “What?!”  “Shhh!”

“May I ask you if you’d be willing to come down to our office? It’s not far from the house. Or we can send someone over?” she offered.

“I’ll stop by.  I’ll be bringing my paperwork with me,” I replied.  I arranged to be there in an hour.

Rivers, Lethe & Mortson’s was an established real estate firm which had been around for as long as I could remember.  There were no bad Better Business Bureau ratings, nor was any negative buzz whatsoever associated with them. I felt confident this was but a simple misunderstanding that would be cleared up in no time.

A dignified, white haired man in a gray suit came up to greet me. 

“You must be Mary. I’m Char Rivers.  Please, come in and sit down.”

“Thank you, Char. As you might imagine this is, to say the least, puzzling.”

“I’m sure we’ll make sense of it,” Char added, in what sounded at the time like a sincere tone. “May I?” He gestured towards the papers I’d brought with me.  I nodded, handing them over. I added

“You know, I couldn’t sleep in my own bed last night!  And the ghost stole the show at what was supposed to have been my housewarming party.”

Char frowned and skimmed the lease forms.

“These appear to be in very good order,” he remarked, his brow furrowed.  But you must understand, Seri hasn’t been with us for years.  She was a wonderful, highly competent and professional broker: she accomplished so much, you’d think she had three heads! But she died in a plane crash over four years ago. Yet, this does look like her  handwriting.  Can you describe her for me, please?”

“Sure. She was tall, with reddish hair, slender, attractive. Also, she had a (what do you call those) – it looked like a dueling scar on the left side of her face.”  I thought possibly someone had posed as Seri.  I was mistaken.

“But that’s her! Even the scar (she used to fence).”

“So, Char, you’re telling me I leased a haunted house from a dead real estate broker?”  He looked unsure of himself for a nanosecond, and then replied

“Yes, it looks that way.”

“But what about my lease?”  Ghosts notwithstanding, I was not eager to move so soon.

“Well, strangely enough, it’s fine.  The owners are longstanding clients here and you’ll see here (he indicates a place on the lease) they’ve signed off.  Legally, it’s yours.”

Sure enough, a spidery, old-fashioned calligraphic signature was splayed across the page, with an accompanying ink blot. How affected, I thought.  We spoke some more, and Char’s courtliness, concern and courtesy, so rare today, won me over.

***

I came home to find my clothes shuttled to one end of my closet by invisible but palpable full-skirted gowns.  In the kitchen, I saw no one, but heard hustle and the occasional bell.  Someone brushed past me.  It was as if I had tuned in to another place; but in audio, no video.

“Here, then!” shouted an officious voice.  “Get to work!” I was unceremoniously handed a towel and pointed in the direction of the dish rack, where a large quantity of damp china stood at attention.  “Henry, you just can’t get good help these days,” I overheard.

Far too intrigued to be afraid (part of me still thought this was a scam) I dried and stacked a large quantity of old Royal Doulton.  The sounds faded then and I got some tea and went to the living room.  There, I saw the andirons at work, poking at nonexistent logs in the fireplace. I ignored this and went to work on my next column: On Bread Alone: with Real Butter. 

A few hours later, I overheard voices in the next room. 

“Callie, the corset has to be tighter. Just pull.  Get Jojo to help.”  This was followed by some soft noises punctuated by a sharp intake of breath. In an almost falsetto tone was added “That’s more like it. Now go get my pink tea dress from the closet. Why is it so crowded in there? You’d think someone had moved in.”

***

I left for awhile to do errands, stop at the office (I worked for People Like Us, a snobbish but beautifully produced, glossy publication. It was ostensibly a spread covering all aspects of gracious living, but in actuality, was all about how to upstage others.  Needless to say it was a highly popular read. 

The publisher was the Conte di Calascibetta, Enrico Portobello.  He was called the Mush behind his back for obvious reasons, but with great affection, for he was, for all his (purely professional) social elitism, a well-liked man.  His was supposedly a long, distinguished noble line.  This may well have been so, although Calascibetta’s largest export may have been mobsters, some of whom shared the Portobello name (but had changed it in order to sound more American. They went with Luciano, Vendetti, and Genovese).

Nonetheless, Enrico himself was of an old school continental genre: fifties movie star from Italy would best describe it.  He was America’s idea of European aristocracy.  He looked like one who knew the ropes. He had an accent of the right sort.  What more did we need?  His word was law in the social world of his wannabe readers.

“Enrico,” I called.  He waved me into his office from across the busy room. 

“Come’a in, Mary. What’s this I hear’a your house is haunted?”  Enrico had an incredibly fine tuned ear for dish, so it was not surprising that he already had a line on this.

“It’s something, ‘Rico. My clothes are crowded in the closet by ghost outfits.  I am helping wash dishes I don’t own.  I overhear conversations.  It’s not scary. It’s like having roommates. Except these people don’t help with the  bills.”

“Cara, it’s for a reason. Don’t ‘a worry. Pay attention.  Maybe they’ll give you recipes.” That’s Enrico, always work first. “You have’a the gift, the second sight. Use it.”

We discussed the upcoming issue and I left to cover the pretentious bistro on the Strand, Café de Mauvais Nourriture.

Arriving, I was looked down upon by the maitre d’ and then seated in the corner, in case the sight of me might class down the venue. Obviously they were clue free as to my identity, but that was good: I could do my job with no interference. 

The menu was typical: lots of items in bad French or Italian, extortionate pricing, dripping with condescension.  This kind of thing is done by those who wish to lure socially insecure clientele with money. 

The real entree here was the putdown.  The wait staff would be trained to cock the eyebrow if a customer asked a question like ‘What is this ?’  The ludicrous pricing implied that if you don’t know, you didn’t belong.  I hated places like this. I decided to say so in my upcoming column.

As for the food: good thing I always carried snacks. The service was laggardly, the soup cold, the salad warm.  The entree, which translated from wikipedia French meant ‘grilled salmon,’ was like a frozen dinner, but not so good, and less of it. The dessert (they plugged these heavily, as desserts and beverages are where profits lie), was disappointing, too.  Cannolis, but more like cannons.  Heavy, soggy and lethal.

The bill, well, they should be ashamed of themselves.  The only exceptional element in this cuisine was the price tag.  Here, they went where no local eatery had gone before :  lunch specials like the above for $150.  If that was special, I’d hate to know what was considered the norm.

***

Maybe I’d got a touch of food poisoning, because it’s hard to explain otherwise.  I went home, and walking through the living room I heard

“Who does she think she is, strolling in here like she lives here?”

“And those clothes, God save them if that’s the way they dress in the future.  That girl wouldn’t know a corset if it fell on her head.” 

“The hair.  Is it male?  And those shoes. They look like boats with laces.”

“She helped with the dishes, though,” put in another voice.

For just a moment I saw a room full of people.  It looked like a Victorian family and their servants, shaking their heads. They were reviewing what looked like the lease agreement. 

“What kind of signature is this?  Did she even use an ink pen?”

“I hear she writes a food column for PLU”

“How would you know, that’s a hundred fifty years after our time.”

“I keep up.”

Then they looked up, saw me, stared, and rippled, like water, before vanishing from sight.  Not from sound though. I heard a door slam and what sounded like a loud fart, followed by “Freddie, really!”

***

A week or so later, I invited my new boyfriend, Jock, to come by for drinks before the benefit we were to attend. I hadn’t been seeing him all that long. He was handsome, if not brilliant or especially well-mannered. You can’t have everything. Enrico had taken an instant dislike to Jock for reasons which were as yet unclear to me. My friend Eve said “He’s good on the surface but something doesn’t ring true.  Just my impression.”  I wrote that off as envy.  Then.

Jock sat in the wing chair by the fireplace as I mixed drinks.  He was yapping about some athletic event in which I had zee-ro interest, but I put on my Look Pleasantly Interested face and pretended to care.

I almost didn’t notice when he stopped, mid-drone. 

“Mary, wha’??”  I looked over. One of my ghostly joint lessees, who could not be seen at this time, was smoking a highly visible cigar, and dropping the ashes on Jock’s head.  

“I told you I had ghosts,” I replied, sounding perhaps a shade too smug.

“But I didn’t . . .” at that point, the fireplace was once again prodded by what looked like self-animated andirons.  A drinks tray came floating in, and a glass of red was handed to me. I sniffed and swirled.  “A nice claret, thank you.”  Jock got some too.  Dumped in his lap.

“Uh, I, ah,” he said.  For once, he was speechless. This was new.  I liked it. 

“Nothing to be afraid of,” I said. 

“Mary, I’m out of here. I’m done.  This isn’t working for me.  I don’t do the Unknown.” 

“We don’t do assholes,” said a sonorous, deep voice, followed by “Bentley!”

With that, Jock, wet lap and all, dashed out the door. It was the last I ever saw of him, except when he got written up in the papers later as a con artist who ripped off women.  Gotta hand it to the ghosts.

***

 I came home from the benefit (dateless) and smelled something delicious, kitchenward.  I looked in to see a bowl of bouillabaisse and fresh hot bread, with butter.  I was starving.  Breaking up saps one’s blood sugar.  And benefit food:  rubber chicken cordon bleu (more like cordon pee-yu. I abstained).  No question, I was hungry.  But even so, the bouillabaisse was the best I’d ever had and believe me, I’ve had lots foisted on me over the years.  The bread was delectable, too.  I said out loud:

“Thank you! This is to die for. Ah, let me rephrase that.  Delicious!” I didn’t see, but heard the chef whose name I learned was Alice say

“I’m so glad you like it.”

“Like it?  I love it! If you were only alive, I’d write it up in my column. But wait.  How would you feel about that? I don’t have to say you’re, uh, deceased.”

“That would be nice, I love the magazine (Maggie gets it sent to the house, she adores it).”

“May I ask your name?” 

“I’m Alice.”

“Alice who?”

“Alice Cleary.  I work for the family here.”

“Still?”  I had to ask.

“Surely. Things are not so different, at least for us.  We found ourselves here and just went on as before.”

“What happened? Did you arrive one by one or all at once?”

“That is hard to say.  We felt as if it was spontaneous. We still don’t know how we, ah, came to be like this.” 

“Would you and your people mind if I do some research? Perhaps I can dig up something (oh, sorry, bad choice of words).”

“No. We’d like to know.”  Then another voice could be heard.

“We would. I’m Azaelea, it’s my home. We Alexanders have been here in town since the 1700’s and we built this house after the War Between the States.”

“What is going on?” I asked.  “How is it that we’re talking to and sometimes seeing or listening to each other (and I heard that about the hair and the corset, just saying).”

“From what we’ve observed, we are in our own time, as are you; but they somehow run together.  It has happened a couple of times before.  Who were those people, Alice, the loud ones?”

“Oh, I think you mean the Fitzgeralds. Zelda and whatshhisname. They drank a lot and their guests were a sight.  And then that Windsor couple, the Duke and Duchess?  They were always on the telephone to Mr. Hitler, and her pugs left spots on the Aubusson, Maggie worked on those for weeks.  That Duchess: such a common woman.”

“Why me?  Any theories?”  I asked, as Alice cleared my plate and brought me dessert: plain cheesecake, like a bite of heaven. She’d star in my next column, no question.

A male voice joined us.

“Gerald, darling, said Azaelea.

“Hello,” he said. “I sense something brought us together for a purpose.  I can’t discern what.”

“Alice, what a delicious cheesecake.  I’ve eaten them all and this is the best.  I am definitely featuring you in the magazine.  We’ll just have to work around the dead part.”

“She’s blushing,” said Gerald. 

***

The next day, true to my word, I spoke with Enrico about Alice.  I’d brought some cheesecake in case he had questions. 

“I’m going to tell the truth, that she’s a local chef with a history of fine cuisine.”

“I suppose’a we don’t have to reveal that she’s dead.  It’s not’a like it’s an ethics issue.  You have her consent.  And she’s alive to you.  What will you do when people want to interview her?”

“Tell them she’s shy.”

***

The new issue of PLU went out to a crowd hungry to out-build, out-decorate and out-cuisine their neighbors.  One reason for our success was the enormous business generated bilaterally for the restaurant industry, the very high end grocers, the wine merchants, the florists, the clothiers.  

The crowd read my review of Café de Mauvais Nourriture, although a few die-hards who were convinced that nouvelle cuisine was still nouvelle, and still put up with miniature servings at Brobdingnagian prices.  The wise reader selected other eateries. 

Meanwhile, the Cafe closed its doors.  Partly because of the above, also due to the chef’s having been caught putting Purina Dog Chow into the soup. This was not made much of at the time, pet food being considered a step up from his usual fare. I heard later he had gone to prison for this. Cooking out his term in the big house upstate, when, after but one meal, the prisoners rioted. For once the warden was on their side. Nouvelle, schmouvelle. 

Of course readers were agog to know more about Chef Alice. 

“Where has she been all this time?”  “In the kitchen,” I could reply truthfully.

“Where has she worked?”  “She’s been with Alexander’s forever,” (also true).  “What, you don’t know Alexander’s?”  I’d ask in a surprised tone.  (Not a one of our readers would admit to not knowing en nee thing, so nothing more needed to be said). 

So you see, it wasn’t really a problem.  Before long, Alice was the most famous invisible chef in town.  Her recipes were requested and sometimes, graciously shared.  It was odd, people thought, that she seemed to use no temperature settings for her baking, nor was there any mention of microwaves, mixer speeds, or food processors. But great chef that she was, no one questioned it. 

***

I had promised the Alexanders I would see if I could learn anything about what might have befallen them.  True to my word, I opened my laptop and looked up old news stories, social pages, obituaries.  And sure enough, there it was.

“Disappearance: The Gerald Alexander household including all family and staff mysteriously vanished last week from their new residence at Elysium Row.  None have been seen since, although the carriage and horses are home, as are their personal effects.  If anyone has information, please contact the police commissioner’s office.”

I would share this.  It seemed most peculiar.

One night I ran into Gerald. Literally. He was there, in front of me.  He was a middle aged, tall man whose affect was both pleasant and in a nice way, genteel. Dressed in what was probably perfect taste in 1870, he looked impressive.

“Mary!” He looked surprised, but no more than I.

“What brings you here, Gerald?”  I asked, understanding it was a relative question.

“The ladies are having a séance in the parlor,” he said.  “The medium sensed a spirit’s presence, and here you are.”

“I’ve been here all along, as have you.” I said.   But it seems odd that we’re intersecting.” 

At that point I heard an odd moaning from the room I called a study; they, a parlor.  I followed Gerald, and this time, not only heard but saw Azaelea, Mary, and some others sitting round the table, which was bouncing up and down. (I could see that the medium and a man with her were moving it with their hands). Azaelea looked quite amazed. 

Also in the room was a “spirit” but it was obviously some kind of fake, set up by the medium. It emanated from her “spirit cabinet” a wardrobe full of what today we call special effects:  items covered in luminous paint, sheets, etc. This was so patently false! I couldn’t resist elbowing Gerald and pointing quietly to what I’d observed.  I could contain myself no longer. I walked up to the group at table and said

‘Madam, I don’t know who you think you’re fooling with all this equipment.”

The woman looked up, saw me, blanched and pointed, stammering:  “A ggggghhhost!”  She looked terrified, as well she might: I had had a bad hair day.  Her confederates both inside and outside her cabinet screamed, dropped their masks and ran out the door.  Their paraphernalia was left behind.

We sat taking each other in, putting voices with faces. 

“Little did she know,” remarked Gerald.  “I hope we didn’t pay them much.” 

“They left it here on the table in their haste to leave,” replied Azaelea, with a smile. “It was old Confederate scrip from the war, anyway.”

“She does seem to have somehow altered our situation, though,” I put in.  And speaking of that, I did look you up and you all seem to have mysteriously disappeared in October of 1870.”

“Mmm.  We’d not lived here at the house all that long. Here are the papers from the sale of the land,” said Gerald, rummaging through his desk.  He found the contract and  held it out for me to see.

“Rivers, Lethe & Mortson’s!” I exclaimed. “I rented from them!”

“Yes, and Char Rivers sold us the property.”

We all silently digested that.  As we could do nothing  at the time, we each moved along to our usual day, except when I got back to the kitchen, my electrical appliances were gone. It was their kitchen now.  My computer, my cel, all my things: gone.  Like that movie about the Rapture: it was all left behind.

I was with them, if not one of them, now.  Downstairs and into the room came another party I didn’t know. She stopped short.

“Why, you’re that girl with no hair and big shoes.”

“Barbara!  Manners!” This from Azaelea.

“Well, they’re very nice shoes, I’m sure.” 

***

There is the sound of a key in the front door of my house.  Being back in 1870, I heard it, but saw nothing.  A realtor is showing the place to a couple. It’s Char Rivers. 

“Yes, I think you’ll find it meets your needs.  As you can see, it’s in excellent condition.  And we take care of all maintenance and landscaping at no additional cost.”

My jaw dropped a mile. 

***

Char, it seemed, had made a boatload (literally!  He owned a Blohm & Voss yacht that was the envy of the marina) by renting and re-renting the Elysium Row house, knowing that people could be sent backwards in time, on what was probably a permanent basis.  (In the unlikely event anyone slipped back to the now, what would she do, sue?  The real story would be too wild to credit).  It was the perfect grift. No complaints from anyone: it would have been quite impossible to communicate them. 

So, there I was, stuck in time.  The Alexanders seemed pleasant enough, but wait:  who was this unattractive woman in a Chanel suit and too much jewelry?  She held one pug dog in her arms while another wet the rug.  A man in a kilt stood beside her.   There was also flapper couple with bottles of booze, and cigarette holders a mile long. His hair was parted down the center. 

***

From the front porch:  “We’ll take it!” said the young woman.  “It’s perfect!  Our forever home.”

***

Copyright © 2019 Bookemjano – All rights reserved
To learn more about real ghosts, please see About Ghosts: A Useful Handbook.  For some great ghost stories, please see Death Be Not Loud, Rest In Fleece, and Sepia Seepage.  To learn about ghosts in modern fiction, please see Infectious Ghosts. And so much more, at: Jan’s Amazon Page
 
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Ghosts: What’s Cookin’? (A short story)

Readers, here’s something just for you: a story from my book, Rest In Fleece: Ghosts, Tall Tales & Horror Stories. If you like your horror stories with a touch of oregano, this has your name on it! Mob Haiku fans as well as Ghosts readers should get a kick out of this one!  Enjoy … and bon appetit! 😁👻👻

What’s Cookin’?

By Jan Olandese 
(Copyright 2019 Bookemjano, All Rights Reserved)

It smelled like gravy. Good, Italian red gravy (known as sauce to others).  The lady downstairs, Mrs. Stregazza, was always cooking something in her big soup kettle on the back burner.  All of us on the upper landing noticed this, day and night:  she was a constant chef. 

What? No, no, she lived alone.  She looked like a babushka, a little old lady in a scarf. She never exchanged a word with any of us.  Just opened the door for her mail, her grocery delivery, her group. 

You see, she was by no means a recluse.  She had this little club, I didn’t know if they played canasta, or traded gravy recipes. But they came over one night a week, like clockwork. They too wore the scarves and the old black dresses.  Like peasant women from Sicily. We never heard a thing, whatever they did was quiet. The gravy smelled stronger those nights, though. 

Odd things began to happen. Mr. Absynthe upstairs from me swears this is true.  His maid dropped his Blessed Virgin Mary while cleaning the mantel, and it shattered into a hundred small segments.  She swept them up, all apologies.   A couple of days later, he came in and there it was, back in its old place.  (No, he didn’t buy a new one. He thought maybe the maid had, but when he examined it closely,  was his, all right: it had that little flaw in the paint on the robe, and there was a tiny chip on the bottom.  Also it had an old sticker from the store he could never manage to remove:  Eartha’s Specialties, it read, the price itself long faded.

My rosary, the blue crystal one from my nonna, began to glow in the dark.  It woke me up, it was so bright.  What on earth, I wondered.  I said extra Hail Marys, I can assure you. 

Tammy, the girl across the hall, whose apartment was directly over Mrs. Stregazza’s, said that she heard banging sounds at times.  She noticed it only happened on the women’s meeting nights.  She got the worst of the gravy smell of course, being right overhead. (It’s a good thing she liked pasta). 

Marcus, the man next door, said he’d seen Mrs. Stregazza by her window one day, scattering something around her living room and mumbling.  We thought carpet freshener, God knows the gravy factor must have been pretty strong here.  But she’d looked up then:  she shook her finger at him and scowled.  He ducked away.  We didn’t see much of Marcus after that.  He didn’t come out for a week, and even then he looked sickly. 

We actually had a psychic in our building.  Her name was Vera and she did readings over the phone and by email.  Several of us were chatting one night by the banister and we decided to get Vera’s take on the strange happenings in the building, since she might have an inside track, so to speak.

We all met at my place one evening.  The hallway smelled like an Italian bistro whose specialty was garlic. We had all invested heavily in air freshening products.

Vera asked that we all be silent for a few moments while she concentrated on the apartment downstairs.  It wasn’t too long before she said:

“Can you smell it? Under the spaghetti sauce, (the gravy, you call it?)”

We concentrated, but were overpowered by the usual.  That was all we got.

“There’s something else.” Vera added. “They’re covering something up, those women.  I notice there are always twelve who come to see Mrs. Stregazza downstairs. Like a coven, they are.”

We’d have laughed it off, but too many weird things had taken place. 

“I sense something very dark,” Vera continued. “I’m getting a lot of names. Gilmore.  Jacobs.  Sanders.  Peretti.  DiAngelo. Do these mean anything to you?”

We shook our heads.  None of us knew them. 

“There are more,” she said. “Bianci, Ricci,  Moretti.  And Stregazza, but of course that’s her name, isn’t it. But it feels like someone else, a relative?  Bruno, Capelli, Colombo.  There’s another.  Amato, I’m getting.”

None of us knew anything.  Vera shook her head and said she felt something quite dark had happened downstairs, but she could do no more now, she was tired.  We thanked her and each quietly went home.

And each week, Mrs. Stregazza had her twelve friends over, and each week the gravy continued to grow in strength and, frankly, in added garlic. Maybe she thought it was a cure-all.  These old ladies, they put everything in the gravy. The men kept it simple always:   tomatoes, tomato sauce, red wine, garlic, oregano, onions (not too many) mushrooms, then of course the meatballs, the sausage.  Cook it for hours.  But the women were always slipping something in.  My nonna used to add some olives, may she rest in peace and sleep with the angels.

***

One day a couple of us had just come home, doors open, arms full of mail and groceries.  We heard a banging from Mrs. Stregazza’s.  It was loud, and persistent as a process server. Then there was a clang! and then it stopped.   This happened from time to time during the next weeks.   Always a pounding, followed by the other sound, then silence:  except, if you listened closely, for the bubbling of gravy on the stove. 

You must always stir the gravy, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn. All of us from Italian families grew up hearing this, from the time our parents stuck us on footstools so we’d be tall enough to learn to stir.   So, we figured Mrs. Stregazza had to be home when the thudding happened.  After all, she seemed to always have gravy cooking. Was she deaf, did she not hear it?  Or, did it come from elsewhere?  Could have been the cellar, sometimes sounds were known travel up the elevator shaft or stairwell.

***

It was around this time we noticed the St. Vincent de Paul truck coming by every week or so. Always to pick up bundles from Mrs. Stregazza.  We figured she was spring cleaning, emptying closets. One day, the St. Vincent’s man left the Thank You For Your Donation card on my door instead of Mrs. S.’s.  She had donated, it said, men’s clothing.  I thought to myself ‘Poor dear, her husband’s been gone lo these many years, and only now is she able to part with his things.”  My heart went out to her, really it did. I told the others and we sighed for her.

Mr. Stregazza must have been quite the clothes horse.  The St. Vincent man kept lugging away vast quantities of what appeared to be menswear.  We thought perhaps she had been a hoarder.

***

The pounding continued at odd hours.  Vera thought she heard a man yelling but she had second sight, so maybe it was a spirit she heard. We gradually became used to the smell of gravy (many of us had grown up with big Italian families and Sunday dinners, so even those of us on diets found it comforting and nostalgic. 

***

One afternoon there was quite a commotion out front.  Some gang kids from the streets had had a shootout right across the street. Some of Mrs. Stregazza’s friends had come by early, with bags of groceries and, it looked like, more clothing for St. Vincent de Paul.  It did my heart good to see that kind of compassion for the poor, among those who were not themselves all that much better off.   You could see the ladies in the hallway, looking out at the gangstas, shaking their heads. 

“He’s ‘a no good, that boy,” said one of the women, pointing at the ringleader. “That Paulie, his mother, bless her heart, nothin’ she wouldn’t do for that boy.  She has rosaries said for him.  He goes to a counselor!” (She spat out that word.  Counseling and the police were not go-to’s among old school Italians in our neighborhood). “For all the good it does. Look at him. Cattivone!” 

Her friends nodded in empathy.  One took out a little gold pencil and notepad and wrote something down.  They went inside then, and the homey smell of gravy permeated the building once again. 

We noticed it got quieter outside after that.  The kids found some other place for target practice.  Maybe Mrs. Stregazza had spoken to Paulie’s mother.  Word of mouth: so effective. 

***

The landlord came by one day and got after Mrs. Stregazza for the cooking smells.  Someone, he said, had complained.  Now, trust me, none of us would beef out Mrs. Stregazza, and she knew it.  We weren’t that kind of building.  We just weren’t.  If things got bad, we might speak to her. But we had become accustomed to the spicy aroma of her gravy.

 The landlord was simply a sleazy rat who made up the story so he could lean on her for more rent, or a fee, or something. Mr. Struhnze went on and on, we heard him upstairs.  Mrs. Stregazza must have said something to appease him, though, because he stopped yelling. 

***

Late one day, it was sometime in August, and hot as could be. The power had (predictably) gone out, so we all opened our windows. The fragrance of Mrs. Stregazza’s gravy wafted up.  It smelled especially rich that day. 

It was because the windows were open that we could hear them.  It was the night her friends came over. 

“Hello, Maria, come in,” said Mrs. Stregazza.  One by one she greeted her friends as they arrived. “Concetta, you look wonderful.”  “Rosemary, what have you brought?  Wine? You shouldn’t have!” And so on. 

We heard the ladies clattering about in the kitchen. Someone must have dropped something; we heard quite the thud.  Then scurrying about.  It sounded as if dinner was soon to be served. 

“Renee, here, have some gravy. Meatballs?”

The sounds of dining could be heard.

“Angie (that was Mrs. Stregazza), this meat! It’s the best yet.  You should be a chef on tv.”

“Here, have a thigh,” said one of them. 

It sounded like a nice social evening for the ladies. How pleasant for them.

***

We’d have known nothing more if it were not for the unexpected demise of Mrs. Stregazza. She choked to death on a small bone.  Such a shame, we felt so bad. We’d have never known, but the St. Vincent man came and his clothing pickup wasn’t outside the door as usual. We called Mr.  Absynthe, who had an extra key in case she lost hers, or needed help.  He found her there, head down in a bowl full of gravy and linguini. 

As a result, the police came.  And while they were there, they noticed a smell even stronger than that of the gravy.  For the freezer had been off since the power outage the night before.  Fortunately, so had the stove. The gravy had not burned. 

The cops followed their noses to the freezer and then there was quite the hubbub, let me tell you.  Sirens and more cops all night.  It was certainly hopping around here, for hours.  They questioned us but we didn’t let on. That would be ratting.

***

It was all in the news the next day.  The ladies, who had met at an abused women’s group, started to meet for support.  They found they had mutual interests:  knitting.  Dancing with the Stars.  Cooking.  So they gathered each Friday night to share dinner. 

The ladies would each bring something.  Mrs. Bruno bought wine.  Mrs. Ricci brought bread.  And Mrs. Moretti brought Mr. Moretti.  She wore black.  He was clad in Tupperware: several containers full.  He had been converted to chops, hamburger, and sausage links.  They put him in the freezer.  There was room on the shelf next to Mr. Stregazza, Mr. Capelli, Mr. diAngelo, Mr. Gilmore, and the others.

The ladies didn’t like disruption.   Paulie and Mr. Struhnze were in there, too.  Each plastic tub was neatly labeled, so the police knew exactly what had been who.

As the police picked up the women, they could be heard discussing aspects of gravy preparation.

***


To learn more about real ghosts, please see About Ghosts: A Useful Handbook.  For some great ghost stories, please see Death Be Not Loud, Rest In Fleece, and Sepia Seepage.  To learn about ghosts in modern fiction, please see Infectious Ghosts. And so much more, at: Jan’s Amazon Page
 
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Ghosts! Ghost Books On Sale!

We all love a bargain! The following titles are now just 99¢ !!  Get yours now! Tell your friends!  🙂 

About Ghosts: A Useful Handbook (nonfiction), Rest in Fleece (deliciously creepy ghost stories!), Death Be Not Loud (more chilling tales!), Sepia Seepage (haunted antique photos – brrr!), Infectious Ghosts: Contagious Magic in F. G. Cottam’s Dark Echo and The House of Lost Souls,   and It’s Your Funeral:  Dead Funny Haiku (irreverent, but you’ll laugh anyway!).

Available here:  https://www.amazon.com/Jan-Olandese/e/B071FK9L75

If you enjoyed reading any of my books, please take a moment to leave stars and happy words in a review at Amazon – it would be most appreciated! Thanks in advance 🙂 

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