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Ms Fortune (III)

It's a wonderful death.

By L.C. SchäferPublished 2 years ago Updated about a year ago 11 min read
Ms Fortune (III)
Photo by Ignacio R on Unsplash

The woman glared through the ever present cloud of stale cigarette smoke at the dead man sitting in the chair.

It was a new chair, too. Drat him. She'd not feel right sitting in it, now.

She stood undecided for a moment, and then stomped off to the kitchen for a drink, banging cabinet doors and slamming mugs and spoons about with much more force than necessary.

Drat him, drat him, drat him!

She was so aggravated, she opened the cupboard and took a long hard look at the two-thirds empty vodka bottle. It stared innocently back at her. After a brief, silent argument, she closed the door on it. This was the most tempted she'd been in ten years.

She made coffee, not her usual tea. She needed something stronger and a toddy was out of the question.

I will not! she fumed inwardly, I will not let him have that much power over me! He will not bring my life down from beyond the bloody grave!

She carried her steaming mug back to her poky sitting room. He was still sitting there. Just as she expected.

"Hello, Cassie," he said. "You haven't changed a bit."

Of course she bloody well had, and he knew it. They both did. The years had ravaged her. The accident had taken a heavy toll. Her spell with alcoholism hadn't been kind. The various medications she'd tried in a (failed) attempt to "cure" her of her ability to chat with dead people, had caused her to balloon in weight. She still had loose skin and chubby arms to show for it. Gone were the waist-length blonde ringlets, the glow of health, the smile that lit up the bar, and the body that didn't creak and wince when she moved.

Meanwhile, he - God, he was just like she remembered. Jet black hair curling over the tops of his ears. The way he was leaning forward on his elbows, looking at her intently with those dark eyes. Cocky. He seemed to have a casual charisma about him, but Cass knew better. It was extremely well practised, the manipulative git.

"Fuck you," she said.

I should have ignored him. He'll be even harder to get rid of now.

"That's not very nice," he said mildly.

Cassie schooled her tongue, her shoulders and her middle finger to stillness, and attacked her cigarette. She drew deeply to calm herself. It wouldn't do to give him the satisfaction of seeing her rattled. He'd feed off her energy, she knew. Of course, all the dead did that to some extent. They could barely help it. Maybe they didn't even know they were doing it. But Liam was different. A true narcissist, he'd done the same while he was still breathing, and to her more than anyone. She'd barely made it out of there alive and herself.

"Go away," she said dully, resolving to give him not another word, not another look. She jabbed at the TV remote and ignored him. If memory served, he couldn't abide being ignored.

It was as if there was another TV playing on the front of her eyeballs, replaying her very worst memories. His fist. Her blood up the wall. Her daughter watching, round-eyed. The inevitable sorries, wilting faster than the petrol station flowers.

Hope, she mused, is a terrible thing.

She pretended to be bored by the daytime TV, but her fingers, trembling on either side of her fresh cigarette, betrayed her.

He can't hurt me, now, she reminded herself.

Another, treacherous part of herself whispered, He can't touch me. But there are still ways he can hurt me.

Does he even know he's dead? she wondered.

++++++

The dead didn't bother her in her bedroom. That was the rule. Bedroom and bathroom were both out of bounds. They had always respected it before. Well, can you imagine if they didn't?

She'd always wondered about that, when she was a little girl. People would say things like, Your dad is watching over you from heaven, and she'd think, Does he know to look away when I'm on the toilet?

But the dead aren't watching over us. She knew that now. They have as much knowledge of our day to day activities as we do of theirs. It costs them to be here. They need an in. A pathway. A conduit.

Like me.

They were usually respectful. Even if they hadn't been pleasant characters while they were alive, they weren't kicking their heels here for nothing. They needed something. Needed her. So they respected her boundaries.

But Liam didn't care about boundaries, except insofar as he could piss on them, and then delight in calling her crazy for being upset about it. He didn't need anything from her except to watch her break. She had nothing to bargain with.

Oh, he was a real gem.

Cass would wake in the night, and he'd be standing by the bed with that winsome, lopsided half-smile she'd once fallen in love with.

"You were snoring, babe," he'd tell her.

She'd be trying to dress, or undress, and he'd be there, behind her, watching. She'd freeze, pulling a shirt or blanket to herself to cover her nakedness. "Out!" she'd hiss, the only word she would deign to give him. Fury boiled in her. At him for ignoring the sanctity of her space. At the way he had found - yet again! - a way to provoke a reaction. At herself for rising to it, and at her own inability to take control of the situation. His malicious chuckle would fade, and the room would feel a shade warmer. She'd set her teeth and refuse to look round, continuing to dress almost as if he weren't there (but still showing as little of her flesh as possible).

Going to the toilet was worse, and having a bath was completely out of the question. Cass resorted to the little hacks picked up from her music festival days, stocking up on baby wipes and dry shampoo to take care of personal hygiene. She stopped leaving the flat. She became constipated.

Day and night, even when he wasn't there... somehow, he was still there. She never knew when he was going to show up, and as a result, he was always needling at the edge of her mind, rent-free.

I cannot believe this. I'm being fucking haunted. Me! Of all people.

Cass went to her chest of drawers and hunkered down, grimacing, to slide open the bottom one. There they were. All her meds. Some of them probably out of date by now. Most of them didn't work, and some only partially. Was there a cocktail that could make him disappear?

Her weight had always fluctuated, and it was the number one thing he'd used to steam-roll her self esteem. Even now, the prospect of becoming round and moon-faced and having to lift fat out of the way to wash bits... It filled her with deep shame the colour of fuscia and she closed the draw again.

++++++

For years, she'd often wondered what it would be like to be alone. At any given time, she shared her flat with at least half a dozen others. All clustering on the edge of the air and jockeying for position, for attention. They buzzed, like gnats. Their voices rose and fell and rose again. Urgent, or petulant. Sad, lonely, worried. Nibbling at her reserves. Leaving her washed out, and often, unwashed. With barely the energy to wipe her face or rinse a plate.

Tell her I love her.

Make sure they know the necklace is to go to my eldest.

I want him to know I'm proud.

If she comes, please tell her...

Tell him...

Tell her...

Please, tell them...

Now, though, it was quiet. Eerie. He was greedily swallowing everything that her previous guests had only nibbled politely at. It was as if a rhino had come in to replace mice. He licked the plate and smiled. The mice, having nothing to feed on, faded away. Even the little cat was gone. She'd grown on Cass, despite dragging a stench of cat pee with her wherever she went.

Each time Cass saw Liam, he was more solid, more real, and more arrogant than before. He acted as if the flat were his, and she the unwanted guest. He came and went exactly as he pleased, and his eyes twinkled his spite at her.

Each morning she woke up and barely had the energy to be shocked at her pallor in the mirror.

He'd given up trying to talk to her. But even so, she could feel him there even when she couldn't see him. Even when she couldn't hear his derisive laughter, she could taste it on her skin.

I hate him. I wish he was de- Damn. Where do we go from here?

+++++++

She'd fallen asleep on the sofa again. Why not? It made little difference. He would lurk regardless. She'd wake, and his filthy grin would be lingering in the air, like a fucked up Cheshire cat. She fancied she could tell just where he'd stood and leaned over her bed.

Nights on the couch did hurt her back, though. She grunted, shifted and stayed where she was. The noonday sun screamed through the crack in the curtains and pounded on her eyelids. A headache stirred, like a dragon, flicking its tail and deciding whether to wake.

It took her several moments to realise there was a real pounding outside. Someone was hammering on the door. "Cass! Cass, I know you're in there! Cass!"

Cass screwed her eyes shut. "God, no! This is the last thing I need!"

It was no good. The knocker was not going away. Cass would have to get up.

The dragon roared.

+++++++

"Is he here right now?"

Kate's long be-ringed fingers clasped her mug. It was actually hers, she'd brought it from home. A dusky pale grey on the outside, and a different shade inside, with a little mottling at the rim. It was round-bellied, the perfect shape to wrap long, slender fingers round. It had probably come from an artisanal pottery studio on the other side of the world. The steam from the herbal tea (she'd brought that with her as well) warred with the nicotine fug and lost.

She didn't say these words cautiously, as someone might say to a crazy person, when they know gosh darn well there is no other body in the room. No, her eyes lit up and she leaned forward, intent on a juicy supernatural tidbit.

"No," Cass answered wearily.

Kate was one of the very few people in the world that Cass would consider a friend, despite seeing her so rarely. She fancied herself a spiritual person. If you were looking at the two of them, you would assume she, Kate, should be the one who spoke to the dead. Privately, she probably thought along the same lines.

She had the build for it. Angular, like a clothes rack built out of joss sticks. She favoured long skirts and tops that were rouched and ruffled. Things that looked mystical, or alluring, or trendy, depending on who wore them. Everything in white, or tie-dye or patchwork, with beaded knapsacks to match in every size. She was older than Cass, but didn't look it. Still a waif, a free spirit. No children. Could talk about chakras in six languages. Dreadlocks, which she defiantly refused to take out, no matter how many of her white friends sent her blog posts about it. Instead she adorned them with beads and runes, twists of wire and semi precious stones.

"I could smudge the place, if you like." Kate looked around hopefully, as if gauging where to begin that venture. Cass wondered whether Kate meant now, and if she had actually brought the sage with her.

++++++

Unseen, the mice chittered just beyond the edges of vision. Not gone. Just faded.

Cass was almost sucked bone dry, but there was a new energy source. Harder to connect with, but still.

Not mice, but leeches.

Not leeches, but little pixies, stitching leather.

For all the times Cass had passed on a message. For all the times she'd comforted a loved one. For all the times she'd tried, only to be disbelieved and scorned. For the time she'd tried to save sweet little Pru. For the time she reunited Anna and her mother.

The mice had had enough of the interloper.

They swelled and grew stronger.

Their chittering grew louder and coagulated into words.

It's OK. We've got this.

+++++++

Kate's precious mug slid from her hands, bounced off the edge of the table and fell to the floor, spilling herbal tea and losing it's handle and a chunk of its rim in the process.

Kate slumped to one side, her eyes rolling back in her head.

"Kate! Kate!"

Suddenly galvanised, Cass bullied sluggish muscles into action, shaking Kate and trying to wake her. But her friend didn't respond. She twitched feebly, almost as though having a weak seizure.

Anger course through her in lieu of actual energy. She raised her face to the room and demanded, "What have you done?!"

++++++

There probably isn't a way to describe exactly how the ghosts in Cass' flat got rid of her ex, without setting the page on fire and doing something complicated with the ashes. How do you describe what's done in another dimension, when using the paltry words crafted for this one?

They sucked enough life out of Kate to be strong enough to block him. Like a true narc, when he was cut off from his energy supply, he went away. They stay, like sentries, in case he comes back.

Kate stayed in hospital for four days. Exhaustion, she was told. She was overworked. Kate knew this was not true. Not least because she'd taken early retirement and had spent the better part of two years travelling. She knew something weird had happened at that flat. She went back there with her sage to cleanse the place, and ignored the twist of Cass' mouth that meant she was trying not to laugh.

The ghosts didn't mind. They liked the smell. It helped with the lingering aftermath of the industrial strength laxatives Cass had taken to avoid an impacted bowel.

"You've not had any more trouble with your ex, have you?" Kate would ask occasionally.

"No," Cass would admit. "No, I haven't."

Kate beamed. She knew the sage would do the trick.

As a thank you, Cass gave her the chair. She wasn't sure whether to tell her it had been used by a dead man, or whether to tell her what had really happened.

On balance, she decided probably better not.

++++++

If you got this far, please leave a comment so I can reciprocate the read!

Feedback is welcome. What stood out to you? Did anything pull you out of the story?

If you enjoyed this story, as you might be able to tell, this is the third one I wrote about this character. You can find the others here and here.

+++++++

Edited to fix mistake.

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Short Story

About the Creator

L.C. Schäfer

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Sometimes writes under S.E.Holz

"I've read books. Well. Chewed books."

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Comments (2)

  • Heather Hubler2 years ago

    This was so well done! You have a beautiful way with words. I'm glad she got rid of the ex!!

  • Michał Przywara2 years ago

    Very nice! It seems darker than the other Madam Sybille stories, perhaps because it deals with her own problems. Isn't that the way it goes? It's easier for us to get wrapped up with other people's problems, but our own are overwhelming. I like that we get some insight into her past, and it sounds like quite a lot happened back then. Liam abused her, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Naturally, I'm now wondering how he died. Cass doesn't come across as a killer, but... well, perhaps we'll learn some day. I like Kate's characterization and the obsession with sage. Nothing better than having an "expert" tell you how to do your job :) The fact that the dead came to her aid, as friends would -- and at the expense of her friend's (temporary) health -- is interesting. It seems there's more to the world of the dead than merely communication, though I suppose Liam's presence also indicated that. Very good, as far as a haunting goes.

L.C. SchäferWritten by L.C. Schäfer

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