What you’re about to venture into is my submission for the first round of the #ShortStoryChallenge2015 by NYCMidnight. We were placed into Heats (# 9 for me) and then given the following rules: One week to write / Number of words: No more than 2500 / Genre: Ghost Story / Subject: Agoraphobia / Character: A Divorce Lawyer.
Over 1,400 writers participated and five winners were chosen from each Heat to advance to Round 2 ~ this story received Honorable Mention. Enjoy!
Bess Stanton hung up the phone with a heavy sigh. Why was her lawyer making her go to his office to sign the final papers on her divorce? He could have easily had them couriered to her home; but no amount of pleading would sway him. “You remember the pain he caused you don’t you?” her lawyer had asked and didn’t wait for an answer, “Well this will be the last step.” He had quickly set her appointment for this afternoon. “We just need your signature and you are done.” He over emphasized the last three words like he was nailing the last three nails in her coffin … You. Are. Done.
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Of course Bess remembered that horrible awful disgusting day as if it were yesterday, she twisted the day over and over in her head like she was knitting a scarf that would wrap around the circumference of the earth, knit one purl to infinity. It was the day her life ended. The day her husband broke her heart – and of course the first day she saw the spirit. She shuddered and pulled her sweater tight around her even though it was 75 degrees in the house. She never felt warm anymore.
She’d met him at the door that day as she had almost every day of their 14-year marriage. Ever the dutiful wife, she truly didn’t feel it an obligation to greet him, she wanted to be there, to welcome him home with a smile and open arms. After all, he worked so hard to keep them from lacking anything, it was the least she could do to show her appreciation, to be happy he was home.
“What the hell have you been doing all day?” Bob glared at her as he came through the front door and threw his coat on the hall chair.
“What?” she’d stammered, her bright smile slipping quickly. She had looked back into the pristine rooms. There was no real evidence that anyone lived there and all their friends always remarked that she kept her home like a show house. Even today, she could still remember the scent of pot roast that rippled through the rooms as it simmered in the oven.
“God, I’m sick of you.” He’d said, his eyes cold and his expression colder. “Every night the same old smiling, sheepdog face.” He brushed past her and ducked into his study, slamming the door behind him.
She’d stood there in the foyer looking after him, the front door still gaping wide like her mouth, wondering if he was drunk or sick. He’d been acting odder and odder over the last few weeks but today was different. She turned and closed the door, picking up his coat and hanging it in the hall closet. Unsure of what to do next, she bypassed the closed door to his study and headed to the kitchen to check on dinner.
Bess had set the table and knocked gently on the study door. When there had been no answer she’d eaten dinner alone, the succulent roast sticking deep in her throat. He was still in his study when she had finished watching TV and had gotten ready for bed. What could he be doing in there all this time, she wondered? She had knocked softly at the door again.
“Honey, it’s time for bed.” She said so softly she wasn’t even sure he could hear her.
Just then the door opened and all 6 foot 2 inches of her husband loomed before her. It wasn’t that long ago she could throw her arms around him, plant her face in his chest, and be enveloped by his love. Today he was an impenetrable wall. Grim and imposing. Today, he scared her.
“I’m leaving.” Bob said harshly and for the second time today, brushed past her, roughly bumping her out of his way. She stumbled backward into the wall as he strode past. He carried his briefcase and what looked like an oversized overnight bag that she had never seen before.
“Where could you be going at this hour?”
Bob dropped his bags in the foyer and slowly turned to face her. “You stupid cow,” he yelled. She gasped. He had never spoken to her in such a manner.
“I hate you.” He had continued. “I haven’t loved you in a long, long time and now it’s time for me to have the happiness I deserve.”
“The happiness you deserve?” Bess asked bewildered. “What does that mean?”
He had sighed then like he was explaining why the sky was blue to a two-year old for the umpteenth time. “I’ve been having an affair with Sylvia for the past six years. I love her, not you. I never should have married you,” his words spit out of his mouth like a machine gun. Bob retrieved his coat from the hall closet, picked up his bags and walked out the door.
The door slamming shut was like a period at the end of her life.
Bess’ mind reeled. Sylvia Collinwood was her best friend. Her best friend of 20 some odd years was shacking up with her husband? How could she? But then she remembered what Bob had said … six years. That was about the time that Sylvia’s husband had left her for another woman. The whole situation was incomprehensible. How could she have not noticed the infidelity for six years? She had been too busy being the perfect housewife, the perfect hostess, the perfect … Bess sank to the floor letting the tears roll down her cheeks freely. She felt as if her heart had been cut from her chest. She curled into a little ball in front of Bob’s study, hugging her knees to her chest, and her tears turned to sobs. That’s when she thought she heard something at the front door.
“Besssssss …” her name drawn out like a snake’s hiss. She choked back a few sobs struggling to quiet herself enough to listen, when it came again. “Besssssss.” She’d picked her head up off the cold floor and strained to see over the couch into the foyer. Was it Bob? Had he returned to say he was sorry? To say he didn’t mean it? Declare his love for her? “Besssssss,” came the voice again.
Bess sat up. “Bob?” she called out hopefully. It was then that she saw a flash, a whisper of something, by the front door. Bess rubbed her eyes and began to stand up when the wisp, or whatever it was, sped past her knocking her back to the floor. She screamed as she ducked, feeling a cold, wet wind slicing through the air above her head. She thought she heard laughter right before she passed out.
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The divorce proceedings had dragged out for over eight months. Bess had spent most of the time in a fog, unaware of the day or even what month it was, relying solely on her lawyer to remind her of important dates. She was so alone. Her friends were his friends and they melted into the ether as news of their separation spread. She wanted to scream at them – she was the victim, not him. They should have helped her – stood by her. Instead, she was left alone to wander through the house all day, still cleaning, still cooking, with fervent hope that Bob would return when he came to his senses and realized his mistake.
Bess wanted to be ready for his return. Little by little she stopped going out having found that almost everything she needed to survive could be ordered online or with a quick phone call and brought to her door. The spirits didn’t help. That’s what she ended up calling them … spirits. It was worse at night but now they followed her around the house incessantly whispering her name as they flew by. “Bessssss …” The sound reminded her of when she was younger and her older brother would steal into her bedroom late at night and touch her. She shivered every time she heard it. She had grown used to the spirits torment at night and learned how many sleep-aid pills to take with a heavy shot of scotch in order to quite her mind. When she took the pills she could forget everything and grab a few hours of fitful sleep.
It had been one day last month when, her reflection in the bathroom mirror startled her enough to stop moving and take a long look at herself. She poked and prodded the lifeless skin on her face, amazed at its sallowness and wondered if she’d ever be able to get the dark half-moons under her eyes to disappear. She had dragged her fingers through her dirty and tangled hair. She looked dreadful. No wonder Bob hadn’t returned yet. How could he come home to this? While she stood mesmerized by her appearance, a spirit whizzed around her head and left cackling through the ceiling above the tub. She had grabbed onto the sink to keep her balance and tears formed in the corners of her eyes. Bess had come to accept the spirits at night but until now that was the only time she had seen them. She didn’t know how she would be able to handle them if they came during the day.
“You’re not welcome here during the daytime,” Bess said under her breath.
“Besssssss … came the reply. She could swear she heard laughter coming from behind the walls of her bathroom.
That day Bess had covered her ears and ran out of the bathroom, through the master bedroom, down the long staircase, and fled out the front door. She skidded to a stop as she heard a child scream and saw mothers with their children fresh from school on the sidewalk outside her home. She ran to the fence that surrounded her home, “Did you see it?” she brayed at the now terrified child. His mother quickly hid him behind her legs. “Did it follow me outside?” She screamed at the mother who was quickly shrinking away from her. Bess looked frantically around at the people who were now staring at her, their mouths gaping. Slowly she realized that they were not shocked because they had seen the spirit. They were horrified by her. She uttered a guttural moan and turning, fled back into the house.
That had been the last time she’d gone outside. And now her attorney wanted her to go out. To get in the car. To drive down to Main Street. To appear in his office. She wearily climbed the stairs to her bedroom and picked out a brown, jersey knit, two-piece to wear. Brown somehow matched her mood. Brown was close enough to black to wear to a funeral. She heard a thunder clap outside and the smattering of rain against the windows. Brown was a perfect color for this dreary day.
Bess struggled with her hair. The spirits had torn much of it out over the last few months. She was always finding clumps of it on the floor and would stand, shaking the hair ball in her fist into the air pleading with them to stop. But every time she spoke to them she just heard their abrasive laughter. Laughing at her. She eyed the bottle full of sleeping pills, just one wouldn’t hurt, she thought, to help her get through the meeting. She took two instead with a swig of water from the tap and headed downstairs. At the front door she donned her coat and threw a scarf over her head. She retrieved the keys from the foyer table and immediately began to gasp for air, a spirit must be constricting her chest, she believed. After a few minutes, she was able to regain calm and peered out the window. Seeing no one on the street, Bess ran for the car. It took several attempts to get it to start, but eventually the old thing groaned to life and shuddered as if it was shaking off the cobwebs of the last couple months.
She headed carefully toward Main Street and found a great parking space just across from her lawyer’s offices. Checking her watch she realized she was early and as all sorts of people were wandering up and down the street, she stayed in her car, gathering up the courage to cross the street, enter his office, sign the papers, and slip quickly back home. It was while she was waiting that she realized the spirits hadn’t come with her. She shuddered in the damp cold of the car.
Across the street Bill Granite’s paralegal, Dan, was staring out the window. “Hey, Bill,” he called. Isn’t that your client across the street in her car?”
Bill moved to the window. “Yeah, that’s Bess.” He looked closer. “What the hell is she waiting for?”
“Well the small conference room is ready for you,” Dan said as he turned on his heel and went back to his desk.
“Thanks,” Bill uttered.
Bess stepped out of her car and into a puddle. “Damn.” She slammed the car door shut. Immediately her scarf attempted to strangle her as a cold blast of rain-soaked wind picked up the ends. She clawed at her scarf and stuffed it deep into to collar of her coat. Her teeth began to chatter.
Seeing Bess get out of her car, Bill pulled away from the window and went to his office to get the Stanton’s divorce decree. The husband had signed it several days ago. He wouldn’t be sorry to see this marriage end. Bob was heartless and Bess was creepy. There always seemed to be something going on behind her eyes.
Bess looked over at the law offices across the street. It was so close, but she felt she’d have to trudge a mile to make it to the door. Her vision tunneled and the door to the building seemed to pulsate. “Besssssss …” a wisp passed her left ear. “Besssssss …” another wisp passed her right ear. She’d never had two spirits coming at her at once! She started to cross the street when another spirit sped by her head cackling, then another and another and another.
“Stop! Stop! Leave me be!” Bess yelled as she flailed frantically, twisting and turning, trying to fight off the menacing spirits.
“Oh my God,” Mary cried as her car rounded the bend on Main. She stood on her car’s brakes as she watched the woman lurch into her lane thrashing her arms.
Hearing the squealing sound of rubber on road, Bess looked up to see five spirits with evil grins on their faces heading toward her. Screaming, she staggered toward her attorney’s office and into the path of an oncoming truck.
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