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Fantasy Horror Fiction

    “You really should stop now.”

That niggling voice is back in my head but I can’t walk away yet. Working as a psychic has never been more lucrative and I am really good at the game. Do I feel guilty about what I do? Sure, but I like being able to pay off my debts more. Today, I have two appointments lined up for the morning and one house call in the afternoon. Which means by three, my day will be done and my checking account will be a thousand dollars richer. Not too shabby for four hours of work. 

My first appointment is Meredith Ponte, one of my six “missing persons” clients. Her daughter would have been around my age, if she hadn’t gone missing fourteen years ago, and that makes sessions pretty easy. Meredith just wants to hear that Helen is living a good life, better than with the late, abusive Mr. Ponte and her mom. When Helen disappeared, her mother convinced herself she had run away and didn’t even report it for over a week, just to give her time to get away. So now, she comes in and I tell her how happy Helen is with her husband and her twin daughters in the suburbs. She comes by every few months to check up on them and I always provide a decent story, not too fancy but not too boring. 

I know Helen is probably dead, statistically speaking, but it makes Meredith happy to see the candle flicker when I make my connection, and to feel the cool breeze when it is broken. She leaves my place with a smile and I drop her checks into the lockbox hidden under the stuffed crow without a qualm. We both get what we want most.

I have to be careful with my next appointment. Any new client has to fill out an online form before our first reading, so I know this is a recent widower. When I plugged his info into Google to plan his session, I found several posts about his deceased wife, Sharon, and her work with the Humane Society. Social media makes my job so much easier.

Vincent Butler arrives just before ten and is a sceptic, fully prepared to be bamboozled. He doesn’t immediately sit down to wait, but walks around the room, peering under and behind the few items in reception, looking for hidden wires. He’s good, but I’m better. He doesn’t spot the tiny camera skillfully hidden in the tribal design in the small pot holding my banana tree. 

Just as he sits down, I open the door to my inner sanctum and ask him inside. Closing the door, I wait for him to take a seat, knowing he expects me to direct him to a rigged chair. Letting him pick his own will throw him off a little more. It’s all part of the game. I let him do all the checks he wants before I sit down opposite him. By the time I present him with a box of red candles to choose from, he is more susceptible to my charms.

After he places the candle in the gold-plated candlestick in the center of the table, I ask him to place his hands palm up on either side of it. When he does, smoothing the cloth a little as he goes, I follow suit, without touching his outstretched fingers. Then I begin to chant, making a show of drawing the spirits to me. 

It took almost two minutes for the red candle to light itself and I was beginning to think he had picked a dud from the pile. All the candles were rigged with a small sensor, triggered when it is removed from the magnet-lined box so the auto-spark unit hidden inside will ignite. I heard his quick intake of air when the fire flared up and I knew, right then, I had him. For the next thirty minutes, I allowed him to talk to Sharon, about how much he missed her and how much she loved the stone he had picked out for her and the flowers he had planted. I was thankful her burial had taken place in town, since it was nice to give him specifics about the back inscription that had not been on his granddaughter’s Facebook page.

Mr. Butler wiped some random tears from his eyes as he left, a believer now. I thought he might even come back, if his grief got too hard for him, but I doubted it. Sometimes all they needed was to be sure their loved ones appreciated their efforts. The crumpled twenties Mr. Butler had placed on the table when his session was over went directly into my wallet. I promised myself that after the house call, I would treat my friend Jennifer to a decent meal at Black Patch Grille. She had made the contact for his session, after all, and he had not only paid the fee, but left a hefty tip as well.

               “You need to stop this, now.”

               I had no idea where this attack of conscious was coming from, but I was getting very tired of it. I had promised myself that I was only going to play at psychic readings for a year, just to pay down my major credit cards, but I hadn’t known how lucrative it was going to be. Let’s face it, the money was fantastic. 

I told myself that I wasn’t as bad as the charlatans who perpetuated the old stereotype, with the long scarves, rings, crystal balls and the like. I use the candles, but they made for a nice visual effect. And I might have a tiny recorder in the heel of my shoe, which would emit a small whisper for the client to hear when I applied extra pressure, but I didn’t use it that often. The wind fan hidden in the lamp in my office, and the tiny cameras, were the extent of my deceptions. More than anything, I used my social work background to tell me more about my clients than they suspected. It was all about paying attention. 

               I left my office early to make sure I could find the appointment address and do a little visual recon before the appointment. When I pulled up in front of the tiny house on Lovett Circle, I had to check twice to make sure the address was right. On either side of the property were brick, two story homes, manicured lawns, spotlights and enough notices of electronic surveillance to make Fort Knox jealous. In contrast, this house looked haphazard and forgotten. 

               It stood in the direct center of the small lot between the larger houses, with a single, overgrown bush near the road. The yard had been mowed but the grass looked uneven, like the height of the mower had fluctuated every few feet. I noticed the far neighbor had a towering wooden fence separating their house from this one. The freshly turned ground was still moist and the shine of the treated lumber had not faded, so it was new. The house I was parked in front of sported a chain-link fence strung along the property edge, appearing to be doubly reinforced to the steel posts. Add to that, this neighbor had nothing on their front porch, although a new gazebo was standing on the side furthest from the tiny house, clearly avoiding its neighbor.

I sat in my car a little longer, examining the exterior of the house. The outside didn’t look neglected, but it did look anti-social, for lack of a better word. The bricks were a dusty rose color, not the dark reds of the neighborhood. The front porch was two steps up from the yard but four more steps were required to reach the windowless front door. A large window to the left of the door was just a grey square. Nothing about the room beyond was visible from my vantage point. 

I took a deep breath and reviewed the owner’s questionnaire answers again. According to the printout, Andrew Clayton had purchased the house at auction two months ago, for his mother. However, on the initial visit, she refused to go inside. She swore that someone had put an arm around her shoulder and whispered into her ear while she stood on the porch. He was hiring me to do a reading of the house to convince her that it was safe. 

During our phone interview, it was clear he didn’t want her living with him. He wanted a clean bill of health for the house as quickly as possible. As he was willing to pay me three times my normal fee to spend two hours in a house located in a neighborhood I would never be able to afford, I had agreed. I grabbed my work bag and climbed out of the car.

My plan was to walk around the property while I waited on him, but as soon as my foot landed on the uneven grass, a black BMW turned the corner and pulled in front of my little car. The engine had barely stopped running when a short man climbed from the driver’s side, slammed the door, and walked towards me.

“Miss Brooks?” he asked, stopping two steps away from me. 

“Yes,” I answered, waiting while he gave me the once over with his eyes. When he looked at my face again, I continued. “Is your mother not joining us, Mr. Clayton?”

He smirked. “She won’t come back until I get an expert opinion,” he said, emphasizing the words with air quotation marks. “She wouldn’t even ride over to meet you. She’s heard of you and that’s was good enough for her.”

“Thank her for her confidence in me, please,” I said, trying to be extra cordial. I didn’t like this man already and I wasn’t looking forward to spending time alone with him in the house. Before I could suggest I walk through the house alone, his cell phone rang and he snatched it out of his pocket.

“This is Andrew. Yeah, I can talk, just give me a second.” He pushed a button on the phone, turned to me and held out a key. “You can do the mojo stuff on your own, right?”

I nodded and took the key from his hand. As soon as I took it, he turned and walked back to his car. Before I was on the porch, I heard the door slam. I made it a point to wander around the porch for a moment before mounting the steps to unlock the door. Even if he wasn’t a believer, he didn’t have to lie to his mother about my being thorough.

The house was smaller inside than it had looked. The door opened directly into the living room and was dimly lit by whatever light could get through the wispy curtains covering the large window. There was a single couch against the wall opposite the window. A doorway to the right opened into bedroom with no natural light of its own. Looking closer through the gloom, I could see where a window had been, but it was now boarded over and serving as an empty shelf unit. A full size bed was stripped and pushed against the front wall, a single lamp on the table next to it. When I ventured over to it, there was no bulb.

I turned, intending to at least set up some candles, in case he decided to check in. As I lifted my bag, a voice spoke again. But, this time, not in my voice and not in my head.

“You were warned to stop.”

I didn’t move but my eyes darted first right, then left, searching for the source of the deep voice. I knew it wasn’t the voice clip in my shoes. Besides, that is just sounds, not words. I took a deep breath, squared me shoulders and chastised myself for being silly. Before I could take a step, I felt five fingertips press into my sternum hard, pushing me backwards. I stumbled and fell onto the bed, flinging my bag sideways as I tried to stop my descent. I twisted my right wrist as I landed on my back on the mattress.

“What the…”

That was all I could manage before a hand pressed firmly against my mouth, the smell of decay filling my nose. Again, that voice spoke.

“You have called and we have come.”

The hand disappeared and I scrambled upright, sitting on the edge of the bed. I listened as hard as I could but didn’t hear any movement in the house. But when I looked through the doorway to the living room, the light had changed, illuminating the silent rooms. I swallowed hard and pushed up off the bed. As I did, a figured walked into the bedroom from what looked the bathroom on the back of the house. 

It was a teenage girl, her hair hanging limply in front of her face. She stopped a few feet in front of me and raised her head to look at me. Her nineties fashion clothes were dirty and she looked like she had been crying. Her face was very familiar, but I couldn’t place where I had seen her.

Her angry voice sounded like glass shards in my ears. “I don’t have any babies and I never did. My daddy made sure of that and my mama doesn’t even know. She won’t come lookin’ for me because of you.” 

She reached out and shoved me back onto the bed.

My heart caught as I realized who she looked like. Before I could open my mouth, the figure morphed, tendrils of smoke swirling around and around her face and hair, becoming a large man. He was holding a rope from one hand and a snarl came from his lips. 

“And she won’t ever find her neither,” he said, his voice gruff and guttural. “Helen is my girl!” He laughed loudly and I could smell his foul breath as he leaned over me.

I tried to roll to the left to get away from the man, but his hands shot out and grabbed my face tightly. Before I could scream, his hands became arthritic and the grip on my face loosened. I was now face to face with an elderly woman, her fragile blue veins showing through the thin skin of her cheeks.

“He knows I hated peonies. He planted them to spite me!”

I pulled away her with a small shriek. She stood there another moment, shaking her head with disapproval. I stood, took two steps and turned, trying to get to the front door. But my way was now blocked by more people looking at me with anger in their black eyes, hands out to paw and grab at me.

“You have to tell Delilah where I put …”

“Why did you tell my granddaughter I was…?”

“There isn’t a hidden box! They are tearing my house….”

“I was killed …”

“My nurse stole my ring right off…”

“Tell James that…”

I did manage to scream then, louder than the voices clamoring for my attention. I grabbed the doorknob, pulling the door open. The bodies pressed against me and I fell down the four steps to the porch, landing on my ankle. I heard the snap of bone before I felt it. When I screamed again, I heard running feet approaching and I thanked God I was going to be saved.

But when I looked up and saw Andrew Clayton standing over me, my voice died on my lips. He was grinning down at me, his lips cracked and his hands on his hips. I could see the flecks of dirt on his clothes and smell the rot coming from him.

“You should have listened when we told you to stop. Now you don’t have a choice.”

He scooped me up and carried me back into the house, slamming the door behind us as the voices got louder.

January 08, 2022 04:11

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1 comment

Jo T
11:11 Jan 19, 2022

Great story!!

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