There’s only one thing worse than being able to see the dead and that’s having to listen to them. They’re so whiney. Why me? I’m too young to die! Why didn’t I go to the doctor earlier?
When Brenda saw her first ghost she thought she was going crazy. The final destination in a year-long descent into hell that had seen her marriage, her career, her home of six years – all disappear in the messiest of messy divorces.
Other wives got alimony, Brenda got dead people. And to make matters worse, her lying, cheating ex-husband hadn’t been one of them.
Now, four years on, she did her best to ignore them, busying herself with whatever task she could find while waiting for them to leave. That was one good thing about the dead – they never stayed for long. They drifted in, complained, then faded.
Except this one. She’d been in Brenda’s kitchen since before breakfast. Just standing there by the fridge door, a translucent mouse of a woman – mid-fifties, pinched features, short brown hair and wearing what looked like an ankle-length dressing gown. She’d watched in silence as Brenda ate her solitary breakfast and watched a recording of her favorite daytime soap – the so-bad-it-was-addictive, The Rich, The Spoiled, and the Surgically Enhanced.
And all through that the ghost hadn’t said a word. Even when Celeste, who last week had become a lesbian, discovered that Geraldine, her new partner, was actually her father – who’d had to have a sex change ten years earlier when he’d been forced into the witness protection program following his wife’s murder by the albino Mafia. Or was that the Albanian Mafia? It was difficult to tell in the excitement. Celeste was screaming so loud, and Brenda’s coffee had gone down the wrong way.
But the ghost hadn’t reacted at all. Not to Celeste, or the choking Brenda. She’d just hung there, impassive and staring.
And exuding an odor that Brenda euphemistically named, ‘freshly dug.’ That was another thing about ghosts – the slightly musty, slightly sweet smell they sometimes brought with them. Brenda had to keep a can of air freshener handy at all times.
“Well?” snapped Brenda, gathering up her cup and bowl from the table. “Are you going to say something, or are you just going to stand there all day?”
The ghost said nothing. She didn’t even flicker. Her empty black eyes followed Brenda from the table to the sink.
Then, as Brenda was stacking the washing up, the woman spoke.
“He’s coming for you next.”
Brenda swung round in surprise. “Who….”
But the woman had gone. No wisp of fading ectoplasm, no shimmering patch of air. Nothing.
Until Brenda turned to face the sink again and almost jumped across the room.
The ghost was in her sink. Well, half in her sink. The woman was standing there as though the sink didn’t exist – her feet presumably on the floor while her torso rose out of Brenda’s washing up.
“He’s going to kill you like he killed me.” Gone were the ghost’s empty eyes and impassive face. She spat the words out. “He’s been watching you for weeks.”
The ghost turned her head to one side. “I can hear him coming.” The corners of her mouth curled up in a hint of a smile. A far from pleasant one. Her face swung back to challenge Brenda.
“Run! Get out while you can.”
There was no warmth in the warning. Just hostility.
Brenda folded her arms. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell–”
“You’re not listening!” The ghost stabbed an ethereal hand at the back door. “This is your last chance. Open that door and run!”
Brenda stayed where she was, arms folded and determined not to say another word. She’d experienced enough ghostly histrionics over the past four years. Some spirits were angry and confused. Others were just plain angry. And the more you responded, the crazier they became.
A look of contempt settled over the woman’s face. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
And with that, she vanished.
Brenda let out a deep breath and rolled her eyes. What was it with ghosts? Had all the friendly, well-adjusted ones found the bright white light and passed over?
She looked down at her crockery in the sink. Was that ectoplasm on her breakfast bowl? Calcium deposits were bad enough, but ectoplasm…
That’s when the front doorbell rang.
Brenda froze. She glanced towards the living room, then back at the sink. Coincidence? She wasn’t expecting anyone. No one called on a Saturday. No one called most days.
The doorbell rang again.
Okay, thought Brenda, I’m thirty-one and far too old to be spooked by a spook. It’ll probably be Jehovah’s Witnesses.
She stepped into her living room, cast a quick glance around to make sure it was presentable and walked towards the door. Then hesitated.
“Who is it?” she asked, standing a good two yards back from the door.
“Brian Murphy. I’m sorry to disturb you, but my car’s broken down outside your house.”
Brian Murphy? The name didn’t ring any bells, but he didn’t sound threatening. He sounded middle-aged, educated – not the kind of person who’d pull a knife and come crashing through the door the moment she slipped the chain.
But that warning…
“Hello? Are you still there?” asked the man outside.
Brenda bit her lip. This was stupid. It was nine o’clock in the morning. Broad daylight in a crime-free suburban neighborhood. She wasn’t in any danger. This was the Midwest, not New York or London. Her neighbors were probably out in their driveways washing their cars, or playing with their kids. No one would try anything in front of so many witnesses.
She stepped forward and opened the door a crack, letting the chain pull taut across the gap. A middle-aged man peered in, business suit, clean shaven, slightly built. And nervous. It wasn’t hot outside, but three beads of sweat glistened on his forehead.
“My car’s there,” he said, standing back to point at a black BMW parked across the entrance to Brenda’s drive. “Can I … would it be all right to use your phone?”
He smiled – a quick nervous smile – then looked away.
Brenda’s internal threat status rose from guarded to elevated. He wants to get inside your home. Why doesn’t he use his cell?
She swallowed, her mouth suddenly feeling dry. “I’ll call the local garage for you. I’ve got them on speed dial.”
He couldn’t disguise the panic in his voice. Though he tried.
“It’s not a garage I need to call. It’s uh my office. I’m late for an important meeting. My job depends on it.”
Brenda looked at him hard. She wanted him to be telling the truth. She didn’t want a fuss. She wanted a nice, simple, conflict-free life. And he might be telling the truth. Important meeting, career on the line, car breaks down on the way. Who wouldn’t panic?
“Don’t you have a cell phone?”
He closed his eyes and exhaled deeply. “You must think I’m a total idiot. I’m usually so organized but … it’s this meeting. It’s really knocked me sideways. I forgot to charge the battery last night. The thing’s dead. Along with my career and my marriage if I don’t sort something out.”
He looked at her pleadingly. Brenda wavered. He didn’t look creepy. He looked frightened and nervous – which could be explained if this meeting was as important as he said it was.
He could be spinning her a line. You heard about it all the time. Serial killers and their ploys. My car’s broken down. I’ve lost my dog. My child’s hurt. Please, can you help?
And once you slipped the chain or got in their car, that was it. No way back. They’d whack you from behind or drug you. And the next thing you knew you were face down on some cold floor being raped or murdered.
She was not slipping that chain.
“You can borrow my cell,” said Brenda, keeping her voice bright and confident. “I’ll fetch it.”
She’d barely turned away from the door when she heard the click of a gun.
“One more step and I’ll blow his head off.”