idol prize fight | week 11| 1665 words
When the first voice came to Sally Chalmers on a lonely November evening, she dropped the mug of tea she was holding. The mug exploded on the hardwood floor, leaving a puddle of shards and liquid behind, and embedding Sally's cat halfway up the living room drapes.
"(((Sally)))," the voice hummed through the house.
Sally, who was unaware of any history of mental illness in the family, decided the best approach to the probably-imagined voice was to ignore it and clean up the mess. She was prying Bertie off the drapes when the voice spoke again.
"I have a message for you to deliver," it said.
Sally was thirty-four, and had already suffered decades of people bumming rides off of her and asking her to look after their pets while they were on vacation. "Get lost," she said, going into the kitchen for a dustpan and a towel.
"You… refuse the honor of my summons?" the voice asked.
"If it's such an honor, then come back and ask me again in the daytime, instead of creeping around in the dark."
On the drive to work the next morning, the voice was back. "I have returned..."
Sally swerved the car. "Jesus Christ, not while I'm driving! Go away!"
The voice found Sally in the parking lot five minutes later. "Hello, Sally,"
"Oh, for crying out loud. Will you stop spying on me? And you can't talk to me when I'm out in public. People will think I'm crazy."
"Perhaps the office bathroom, then?"
"Ewwww. Especially not there!"
"But you are at work until after dark," the voice said.
"All right," Sally said. "You can come back tonight. But no sneaking up on me! Flicker a lamp a few times first, so I know you're there."
Hours later, Sally drove home for the evening. No sooner had she walked in the front door than the lamp on the entry hall table blinked off and on. Fine, whatever. "Just a second," she called out, as Bertie meowed and rubbed against her legs. She put down her coat and purse, kicked off her shoes, and went into the kitchen and put kibbles in Bertie's dish.
She petted Bertie as he ate. "All right, go ahead," she said.
"Greetings," the voice began. "I have an important message I need you to deliver to my wife."
"What are you, a ghost? Or a demon or something? How do I know you're even real?" Sally asked.
"I am the spirit of one who has passed on."
"So, a ghost," Sally said. "You could just talk to your wife, you know. Why involve me?"
"She cannot hear me. Few among the living can."
Sally opened the fridge and looked inside. "Okay, but why me? It's not like I have special psychic powers or anything."
"The fact that we are speaking right now says you do. And this message is urgent. The man my wife is dating is a swindler and a cheat."
Okaaaay. Sally closed the fridge. "And you expect me to what, call her on the phone or show up at her house and tell her that?" Sally asked. "She'll think I'm nuts. And she won't listen anyway."
"But I must warn her!
Sally thought for a moment. "Are you able to haunt? Have you tried it?"
"Haunt Gladys?" the ghost said. "Never!"
"No, no," Sally said. "Not Gladys. Haunt the boyfriend. When he's with her, or whenever he's in her house. He'll start to find her less and less appealing, and he'll leave."
"Oh." The ghost was quiet for a moment. "I think that might work…"
Sally waited for a minute, but there was nothing more. "You're welcome," she called out. Hello, talk about rude…
The next night, Sally was heating soup in the kitchen when a new ghost arrived.
"Voman!" it said.
"Aaahhhh!" Sally yelled, and threw the soup spoon into the air. Bertie skidded and scrambled across the floor as he ran off to hide.
"Hah hah! Good scare," the ghost chuckled. "Yes. So, now I tell you the thing—"
"Get out," Sally said.
"Vhat? No, I have job for you!"
"Come back when you've learned some manners—or don't come back at all."
Sally cleaned the soup splatter off the floor and counter, and coaxed Bertie out from under the bed. The rest of the evening was blissfully quiet.
Saturday morning, she was drinking her second cup of coffee and doing a crossword puzzle when the kitchen light flickered a few times. She paused and looked up.
"Hello," a new voice said. "Is now a good time?"
Finally. Sally put the pencil down. "Sure, go ahead."
"My name is Darryl James. Walter told me you helped him with his wife? So, I thought I'd try. I hid some important papers away years ago, but now my wife needs them and she doesn't know where to look. Can you help me?"
"I'm sure I can send her an anonymous note. Let me write down her name and address…"
More ghosts came over the next several weeks, pleading with her to contact their friends or families, or tie up unfinished business.
"I don't understand why you all have to drag me into your problems," Sally told one of them. "I do have a life, you know."
"If you say so," the ghost said. "Presumably. But if we could just get back my issue now…"
The demands for Sally's time grew more and more frustrating. She started to feel as if she had a second career as a personal counselor, except the job didn't pay anything and the clients were exhausting.
"You must carry this message through all the land," one ghost announced. "The end is near!"
"Oh, please," Sally said.
"Hubert, do be quiet!"
"Yes, Hubert. You are wasting valuable time, and I believe my turn was next…"
"No one wants to hear about the hidden bottles of brandy you left up and down the Eastern seaboard, Clarence."
"Really, Henrietta? And what of your unrequited longings for the gardener at your parents' estate?"
"All of you, shut up!" Sally said. "One ghost at a time, or everyone leaves."
Bertie was confused by the extra company. More people usually meant trouble, and people he couldn't see were even scarier. He hid behind the sofa, under the bed, and inside closets. Sally started to feel as if she hardly saw him anymore.
Sometimes, she heard from spirits who had come to her before. Walter, who had left without a thank you or a goodbye, returned a month later. "I wanted to tell you that you were right. I kept haunting the man my wife was dating, and he finally broke up with her. She's much safer now, so thank you."
"Good," Sally said. "I'm glad I could help."
But not all spirits were kind.
One night, Sally sat on the sofa with Bertie, a bowl of popcorn, and a glass of wine, ready to settle in. The living room lamp flickered shortly after eight o'clock.
"The Oscars are on, come back later," she said.
"Hey, I did the thing with the lights. What more d'you want?"
"Some common courtesy." Damn, George Clooney still looks fantastic.
"That was it, just now. So listen, I got a thing I wantcha to do."
"Go away," Sally said.
"Why should I? Which one of us here's the ghost?"
"That's it, I'm done. Get out!"
"Nah, I think I'll stick around 'til you do what I came for. Torment you, even, 'cause why not? I got nothing but time…"
Sally was still angry the next morning. Three more ghosts had showed up after the first one, none of them polite, and she was sick of the whole thing anyway. She'd researched options for dealing with her predicament before, but now she was ready to pull the plug.
She did some more internet checking at work, then took a lunch hour trip to an out-of-the-way occult shop called Fire and Bone.
The inside of the shop was dimly lit—a little creepier than Sally had bargained for, but she was desperate now. A young woman in Goth wear whose name tag said, "Raven", stood behind the counter. She looked up as Sally approached.
"Excuse me," Sally said. "Do you have anything to repel spirits?"
Raven raised a stud-pierced eyebrow at her. "What, like some kind of 'Ghost-Be-Gone' spray?"
"Do they make that?" Sally asked. "No, wait, of course they don't. But something that works like that, maybe?"
"This happens more often than you might think," Raven said. "What we usually recommend is a clearing ritual, or performing a healing ceremony at the house or apartment to persuade the ghost to leave."
"Oh," Sally said. "Well, it's not a problem with my house, exactly. It's a problem with me. I'm need a way to keep ghosts from bothering me."
"Poltergeists?" Raven asked. "Or are they manifesting? Or showing you things that upset you?"
"They can do that?"
Maybe I got off easy, Sally thought. "Well no, it's more that I want to keep them from talking to me—or any other kind of communication. Or haunting me. Basically, I want to go back to being completely unaware of them. Maybe a magic amulet or something?"
Raven nodded. "I think I have exactly what you need."
That night, Sally came home to a quiet house where Bertie was the only thing waiting for her and all of the electronics behaved themselves. Bertie sniffed the new ring she wore, the one she would probably never take off again—not if she valued her independence and sanity.
Sally picked him up and hugged him, looking forward to uninterrupted evenings of reading, watching TV, and snuggling her fuzzy little friend.
"It's just you and me, Bertie."
"Mrrrrp," Bertie said. Something was clearly better, even if he didn't understand why.
Sally carried him into the kitchen.
"We should celebrate," she said.
"Let's see if we have anything special for dinner."
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