Posthumous Show and Tell

Posted: April 15, 2013 in story snippets, Uncategorized, writing
Tags: , , ,

I think I might make this a thing. Monday is show and tell day until I either run out of things to show or someone tells me to stop. 😀

And so I have whittled away at the beginning of my old novel Posthumous to make it work as a short story. Usual rules apply: largely unedited, can’t be held responsible for typos etc etc and so on and so forth blahbity blah. (Should I warn for swearing?) I think you get the idea by now. Happy reading…

 

“This place is supposed to be haunted by a whole family or something,” whispered Meg.

Henry rolled his eyes.

“You don’t think it’s haunted?”

“Doesn’t matter as long as you get paid.”

“True enough.”

Meg poked at a tumbled shelf with one toe. Everything was dismal grey and spotted with water damage. The walls ran with dark marks and the floors glittered with broken glass. She had been right to wear her work boots. There could be anything hiding there in the dark.

She shivered.

“Cold?” Henry cast her a sideways look as he turned into the nearest doorway. He paced the length of the room and came back, shaking his head. Empty.

“Just a little.” Meg wrapped her coat around her a little tighter. It had been warmer when they first arrived but sunset had stolen what little warmth there was.

Something creaked from the second floor.

Meg and Henry looked up at the ceiling. A large dark spot was directly overhead, bowed down as if it were reaching towards them.

“Should I check it out?” Henry asked after a moment.

Meg shook her head. “Let’s finish down here first.”

“Do you even feel anything?”

“No. You?”

“No.” His eyes showed his growing impatience.

Meg smiled. “Since you’re so sure the place is clear, you can wait outside. If you want.”

“Not fucking likely.”

“Suit yourself.” She glanced around the living room. The long windows on the far side of the room were a mass of spiderweb cracks. More than one pane was broken all together. “This place certainly looks creepy enough to be haunted. Half the windows are boarded up.”

“People break windows, not ghosts.”

Meg shrugged. She put a hand to the wall. It felt damp.

“Did they give you the story this time?”

“No. I asked them not to. The less I know, the better.” She put her other hand to the wall, feeling along the scarred wallpaper as if there might be a door hidden beneath the paper and plaster. Faint ripples stood out against her palms, scraping at her and leaving her hands feeling chalky with mildew. Nothing. She dropped her hands from the wall, dusting them off. “Let’s go upstairs, Henry.”

Meg turned, trailing off. Henry wasn’t there.

“Henry?”

She poked her head back into the hallway. It was empty, as was the dining room. Had he gone outside to wait after all? She sighed. He’d been awfully unreliable lately. And moody. She wondered why she let him tag along at all. If anything, he was a distraction because here she was once again thinking about Henry instead of finishing the job she was getting paid for.

“That’s so like him,” Meg hissed, stomping back into the living room. She wondered if she could get a peek of the front yard through the broken windows. She doubted it.

High pitched laughter echoed through the empty halls, just barely loud enough for her to hear. Meg counted to five, holding her breath just in case. She heard it again, quieter this time. Then another faint creak from somewhere above. She stiffened, listening, waiting for more. The quick skitter of feet or an echo of memories was all she needed.

Away from the half boarded windows of the living room, the hall was unbelievably dark. Flashlight in one hand and the other hand on the banister she crept up the steps. Her heart was beating so loudly she wasn’t sure if she would have been able to hear a marching band if they came up behind her. The next step gave beneath her foot. It shrieked like a tiny banshee when she put her weight on it. And when it did, Meg screamed too. She put a hand to her heart, thankful that it had stayed in her chest. Ahead of her, another scream, low and guttural, made it a trio. The sweat that had been cooling on Meg’s body sprang up again with renewed vigor. Had someone been murdered in this house? Was that the victim? The sound had come from the second floor. She wanted to charge forward until she’d found the source of the noise. But that was always a bad idea. Especially without Henry around for backup. Meg frowned. Where had he gone?

The upper hallway was an unremarkable stretch of bare wood plank with closed doors on all sides. Or mostly closed doors. One was open just a crack she saw when she turned the flashlight on it. In the darkness beyond something moved, one shadow passing through another. It was impossible to make out from the top of the stairs. Meg moved forward, flashlight always moving, waiting for another sound or an indication of a presence. She got one in the form of a low hissing voice and another moan. Meg couldn’t keep from shaking, anticipation and cold mixing into a furious tremor. Her flashlight shook, strobing over the walls.

She put a hand out, preparing herself to open the door, wondering what was on the other side.

“I wouldn’t open that,” Henry said, appearing at her shoulder without a sound.

Meg would have screamed again if she wasn’t busy having heart palpitations. Her flashlight slid through her fingers and hit the floor with a clatter, painting the walls in swirling light as it rolled away.

“I told you not to do that!” Meg said, wishing she could hit him. She knew better than to try. Last time she’d only gotten the wall and a set of badly bruised knuckles. “Where did you go?”

“I just popped out for a minute.”

“Popped out. You popped out. Oh, of course.” Meg retrieved her flashlight to hide her agitation. “Why shouldn’t I open the door?”

“You don’t want to see what’s in there.”

For a moment, Meg could only stare at him. Henry with his perfect hair and his perfect calm, arms crossed over his perfect chest. He didn’t seem the least bit distressed by whatever was behind the door. So why should she be? Meg had already seen plenty of terrible things in her life. Headless ghosts, anguished souls caught in their own death echoes. She had watched people burn to death over and over again. So what could possibly be so terrible that he wouldn’t want her to see it? She was immediately insulted.

“I’m not so delicate,” Meg said, charging forward. The moment the door slid open and her light fell on the bed she froze. Her mouth fell open. She wanted to look away but she couldn’t. She just couldn’t.

Henry’s hands wrapped around her, covering her eyes, but she could still see through his fingers. It was impossible to look away.

On the bed, the woman screamed, no, not a woman, she was only a girl, no more than sixteen. When she saw Meg standing in the doorway, she pulled the boy down on top of her, trying to cover herself. The boy, his back to them, kept thrusting, grunting, unaware that they were being watched. The girl slapped at him and pointed. Meg gave him credit for not screaming himself. It wasn’t every day that you got caught having sex in a supposedly haunted house. The two of them were caught in Meg’s unwavering flashlight beam, spotlighted while they grabbed for a sheet that wasn’t there. The boy’s ass was round and white like a perfect moon.

Then Meg started laughing. She couldn’t have stopped even if she wanted to.

“I told you not to look,” Henry said in her ear.

And Meg just laughed.

“Is that the ghost?” the girl asked, still trying to use the boy for cover. He was trying and failing to find his pants.

Meg finally tore her eyes away, closing the door while the two of them searched for their clothes. She even managed a tiny, “Excuse me,” as she did. She leaned against the wall.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Meg asked.

Henry hid his smile between one hand. Badly. “I tried to.”

“All you had to say was ‘not a ghost.’ Is that so hard?”

“But it was a lot funnier that way.”

The bedroom door creaked open again. The young couple appeared, avoiding eye contact, and scrambling like ants fleeing from the magnifying glass. They hustled to the stairs, hitting the creaking step so hard that it made Meg jump. As they turned the corner and disappeared onto the landing, Meg heard the girl ask, “Who was she talking to?” She couldn’t hear the boy’s response. Assuming there was one.

“I suppose there’s no point in looking around anymore tonight,” Meg said. “Is there?”

Henry shrugged and followed her down the stairs.

By the time they made it to the front door, the couple had already disappeared. Meg was glad. She had nothing to say to them. And now every time she looked up at the full moon she thought of teenage behinds.

She rubbed her eyes. She hadn’t found a single scrap of paranormal activity. Well, not anything that she hadn’t brought with her anyway. But she could hardly charge for that.

She trudged out onto the front lawn. The night air was heavy with fog, compounding the dampness she was already feeling.

“I’m tired. I don’t suppose you could drive,” Meg said, already rounding the car and opening the driver’s side door. She looked at Henry over the roof.

“Har de har har,” Henry said dryly. “Are you trying to piss me off?”

“Yes. Yes, I am. You totally abandoned me in there. Again. Where did you go?”

“I’ll explain later.”

“That’s what you always say.” Meg slid into the car and Henry was already there waiting for her. She rubbed her eyes and put her head down on the steering wheel for a moment. She was suddenly very tired.

“Meg.”

She shook her head, eyes closed. “What?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me too. Next week’s the anniversary. What kind of flowers do you want me to put on your grave?”

Henry thought for a moment. “Surprise me.” He smiled faintly, almost glowing in the moonlight.

Meg pulled the car into the nearest driveway to turn around. She checked the mirrors even though there were no cars out so late at night. Immediately her eyes strayed back to the house with its boarded up windows. What a disappointment.

Then the door opened, reversed in her mirrors. A thin childlike form stepped into the moonlight, glowing pale blue like Henry, and waved.

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