Thursday, April 15, 2021

Hello, you by Phillip Charter

As well as having elephant-like ankles, my ex-wife had a memory like one. I nudged things in the kitchen — an inch to the left one day, then two to the right the next — just to gauge her reaction. Then, once Alison cracked, I’d get my real payback. I’d gone to such efforts to please her when I was alive, following the instructions on her cleaning spreadsheet and settling for the title of fourth-most-important man in her life (behind her sixty-year-old lover and her two poodles). Most of my headaches had come from Alison’s daily allegations or those yapping dogs, so it was a surprise to me when I met my maker at just fifty. I’d been in good health, then suddenly, bang, a brain aneurysm.
Back in the kitchen, Alison fed Benjamin and Gerrald their one scoop of biscuits each. Another act of my rebellion was to switch their food so the portly one kept piling on the pounds, while his brother ate the high-fibre pellets. Alison must’ve thought that Gerry was also sneaking doughnuts on the way to work. After the dogs finished, she disinfected and stacked their bowls in the designated place, then wrote a to-do list for him. As she had the week off from her job as an events planner, she left for her morning power walk instead of the office. I suspected she just walked to the bakery and back. I wished I could follow her, but I’d been tasked to stay behind to complete my mission.
It’s true I never loved the dogs, but I was mortified when they were poisoned. I’m no murderer. The silly pair got into a packet of my slug pellets that must’ve looked like their kibble. Her pets eventually recovered, but Alison blamed me and wouldn’t let sleeping dogs lie. Now, I needed to make her sorry, or I’d end up stuck with her for eternity, just as the new one was.
The new one was Brian, a Brigadier in the British Army, with ruddy cheeks and a public-school voice. Alison always hated my ponytail, so I’m not surprised she went for a short-back-and-sides type. Even though they had married, they didn’t see each other much. I think they actually preferred synchronising schedules to living together in domestic bliss. When I started my haunting a couple of years ago, I wondered where Brian would fit into the pecking order, but he soon had the dogs well drilled.
They were the perfect fit. Alison valued cleanliness and order, and Brian liked classical music and tin soldiers. I’m not kidding, he was even more serious about his battlefield arrangements than Alison was with her coordinated cushion displays. Brian had his miniature field guns and artillery and Alison had her Dustbuster.
While I waited for Alison to return, I twiddled my thumbs in the kitchen and thought back to the moment after my death — my transformation from patsy to poltergeist. When I woke up, I was standing in a white room, and it wasn’t Saint Peter I heard, but a computerised voice.
“Appearance, communication, or movement?” it asked, in a soft American accent.
All I could see was blinding white. “What? Where am I?”
“Nowhere. You do not exist in a physical form. Now you must choose the method for your haunting of Alison Ba—.”
I recognised the voice. “Stephen Hawking?”
“The Intel ACAT system has been selected as the most appropriate voice to represent your creator,” it replied. I suppose I did always admire the man. His wife supposedly bullied him too.
“Homicide victim eight-one-nine, you must now choose appearance, communication or movement.”
“Homicide?”
The voice sighed. “You were murdered, and have therefore been retained to haunt your killer until atonement is achieved.”
I knew things had been going badly between us, but murder?
“Your wife added concentrated slug poison into your food, drinks, and cosmetic products. You had a stroke.”
Talk about a toxic relationship. “She really must have thought I wanted the dogs dead . . .”
“You must now return to the scene of the crime, to haunt her conscience.
“Won’t she be going to prison?” I asked.
Another robot sigh escaped. “A brain tumour was discovered during your autopsy, and what with your advancing age, the police didn’t—”
“Alright, Stephen, don’t rub it in!”
After careful consideration, I chose the power of movement. I certainly had nothing to say to Alison, and I’d always maintained that spirit mediums were a hoax. What The Great Stephen didn’t tell me, was that I couldn’t leave the house until Alison was sorry for her crimes.
I planned to exact the perfect revenge, taking my time to send her over the edge, but after a prolonged campaign of gaslighting, I needed to turn up the heat. Today was the day I would end it.
During the Brigadier’s leave, I’d been hard at work shifting things around, making ever more obvious movements of Alison’s things, and playing fast and loose with The Brian’s belongings. Every time he went to the toilet, I made sure to lift the seat up and splash a small puddle on the floor. I left lights on all over the house, ironed the creases out of his slacks, took in the waists on Alison’s trousers, and shortened the dogs’ leads by one inch per day. The tension had increased, and over the course of one week, they went from cuddles on the sofa, to sleeping in separate beds. While Alison watched evening reruns of Midsomer Murders, he sat with his spectacles perched on his nose studying maps of various historical battles on the table.
Moving The Brigadier’s tin soldiers around was the most fun I’d had in years. I’d quite forgotten that I was supposed to be concentrating on Alison. He was so careful where he placed the miniature guns, horses and flags, attaining military precision with the use of a magnifying glass.
Alison returned and I put my battle plan into action. I really stuck it to Brian’s troops, switching armaments, toppling soldiers left and right, and even removing all of the brigadiers from the scene.
“Alison, darling,” he said, “have the dogs been in here?”
She paused her cleaning of the microscopic honey droplets I’d left on the floor to attract ants. “Don’t be silly. Gerald’s with me, and Benjamin’s in the garden. Look.”
“Hmm. It must have been them nosing around where they don’t belong.”
Alison pointed a finger. “And I suppose it was them who left the toilet seat up again.”
The Brigadier didn’t like that accusation. He was used to giving orders, not receiving them. “Nonsense. I always leave the lavvy as I find it. And please don’t touch my pieces.”
Alison mumbled that his piece wasn’t in any danger of being touched and went back to her cleaning. The Brigadier left to inspect the latrines and rid himself of the charge of leaving the seat up. While he was gone, I quickly rearranged the battle of Waterloo to make it look as though the French had won and Napoleon was buggering The Duke of Wellington.
When he returned, his face went redder than the British uniforms. “This is not a game, woman!”
Alison marched into the conservatory. “What is it now, Brian? Honestly, you and your bloody toy soldiers.”
The Brigadier picked up the nearest piece to hand — a lead field gun about the size of a King Edward potato. “Stay out of here!” he commanded, launching his projectile.
He didn’t mean to hit her, of that I’m sure. But, it clonked Alison right on the head. She stumbled backwards, crashing into the kitchen like a concussed rhinoceros, knocking over the dogs’ food in the process. Kibble everywhere. I watched in amazement as she struggled for footing, and slipped on the wet floor. Her head slammed on the edge of the freshly-wiped kitchen counter and she went down. Alison held her temple, groaning, and rolled under the table, leaving a slimy trail of blood on the lino. She stared up at the underside of the table and probably wondered why someone had stencilled the logo for Slug Away onto the wood. Even if they found a brain tumour when they performed her autopsy, it wouldn’t explain the hole in her head caused by the fall.
The Brigadier was beside himself. He even left The Duke of Wellington to the mercy of Bonaparte and rushed in to administer CPR. The dogs barked and ran around in circles, before hoovering up the biscuits on the bloody floor.
Alison was dead in minutes. If that wasn’t justice then I didn’t know what was. I couldn’t have hoped for a better result. I even did a little jig on top of her body.
The Brigadier phoned the police and turned himself in. It wasn’t as if the dogs could exonerate him. Brian wouldn’t be able to play with his tin soldiers in prison, but at least he’d be used to the strict routine.
With my mission complete, I left the house and felt myself floating up to the white emptiness of Stephen Hawking’s voice machine. Mission accomplished.
“Haunting unsuccessful,” said the voice.
I couldn’t believe it. “What do you mean? She got exactly what she deserved.”
Stephen sighed. “She did not atone for her crime.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I’m happy with the outcome.”
There was a long pause like he was calculating something. “Manslaughter victim three-four-nine will now haunt the agent of her misjustice.”
“Hold on a minute,” I said.
“And she has elected to appear, through selected visions, until justice is served.”
It couldn’t be. I felt a headache coming on and screwed my eyes shut. My temple pounded, and not because of the bright white surroundings. Please no. When I opened my eyes, I saw a plump, perfectly turned-out events planner, wearing a pressed suit and a name badge that said Alison Baker. She had a dustbuster in one hand and a miniature metal cannon in the other. As she looked up, she raised her eyebrows as if to say ‘hello, you.’


© Phillip Charter

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