The deathly silence is about to be broken. She disliked the company of others and death did little to warm her spirit. She had led an independent life and she faced death in much the same way. She was finally alone, finally free from the mindless babble of others, at least that’s what she thought. May Elizabeth Trump was the rarest of spirits and she was none too happy about it either. She was a dead medium, a ghost who can speak with the living, and her services were to become in great demand. Flung into the limelight and smothered with unwanted attention, May soon discovers that it is not only ghosts with long awaited messages that have taken an interest in her. Something dark was lurking in the shadows, stalking her. Even the dead are not left to rest in peace. Dead Medium: A humorous, character driven story and a unique vision of life after death. Not your average ghost story.
Targeted Age Group:: 13 and above
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
When I first came up with the idea for Dead Medium I was sitting in the living room of a stranger. The television had been switched on just for my own amusement and I had been left to sit there alone. Well not alone exactly, there was an elderly woman sitting in an armchair in the corner knitting. She said not a word to me but looked up and smiled on a few occasions before returning her attention to her task at hand.
It was the only time I can remember agreeing to take my mother to see a clairvoyant. She was upstairs in an unseen room with a woman in a baggy tracksuit, whom I saw only fleetingly on my arrival. The television had failed to grab my attention so I started to imagine what mystical events were occurring above my head. I could envision my mother sitting at one end of a small table in a dimly lit room. The psychic jogger was sat opposite her surrounded by ghosts all of which were jostling for position around her. Pushing and shoving each other, even overlapping in places as they all tried to grab the attention of the athletic medium.
I began to realize that if a living person needed the aid of a clairvoyant to contact the dead then surely it was likewise on the flip side of the coin. If ghosts were freely capable of speaking with the living then we would hear them far more often than we reportedly do. Even if they were merely talking among themselves, wouldn’t we occasionally overhear them as we quietly crept down the stairs in the small hours to fetch a glass of water. A further thought occurred to me: if ghosts also needed the aid of a gifted individual, why did it necessarily mean that they had to still be alive. Was there no such thing as a dead medium?
Eventually my mother reappeared from the depths of mystical re-enlightenment with a wide grin, an old cassette tape and an empty purse. I bade farewell to the old woman in the corner who looked up at me and smiled again. The square of wool between her knitting needles seemed no bigger than it had been when I arrived; it was as if she had been merely rubbing two sticks together the whole time I was there.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
On the journey home from a medium, I listened to my mother’s rendition of what she referred to as a reading. I couldn’t help analysing her every word and compiling far less fantastical reasons than she, for that which she experienced in the unseen room. It was at that exact moment May Elizabeth Trump appeared in my mind, wagging a bony finger and complaining about how gullible some people could be.
I consider myself an open minded cynic. I believe that there is something more beyond the curtain of death but I find it hard to accept the validity of the vague or circumstantial evidence that some people claim to be undeniable proof of life after death. May Elizabeth Trump on the other hand had a firmer view on things; she didn’t believe in anything that she couldn’t poke her umbrella at. She was a hard nosed cynic and the perfect candidate to become the main character in my début novel: Dead Medium.
Seventy Five Years Before
A chill rasped through the air, though there was no wind to carry it. The stars shone brightly in the sky, clear but for a single dark cloud. It hovered above a wide, empty meadow, void but for the souls of the dead. It was a gathering of spirits.
On the crest of a hill overlooking the field, the dark figures of a man and a small dog stood motionless. They watched as wisps of sparkling smoke rained down upon the ground. Slithering columns of mist, like the tentacles of a great octopus, swept across the frost laden grass.
They continued to watch in silence as the smog of darkness enveloped each and every soul until nothing but a dead space remained. The man fell to his knees and sobbed, while the dog slowly wagged his tail.
There was little she hated more than the naive and gullible. People who were taken in by any scam or confidence trick, from chain letters to religious promises. If it cost money but promised more in return, the sheep -like hoards would rush in and dish out their life savings on any improbable venture.
May Elizabeth Trump lived alone. She thrived on her own independence and sought the aid of others with painful reluctance. She had always looked after her self and relied on no one.
It was a Tuesday afternoon in late spring and May took a much needed break from her cleaning chores to watch one of her favourite TV shows. She didn’t fully understand why she enjoyed The Adrian Farley Show as it left her feeling angry and frustrated, as often as it made her feel a little superior, a tier above certain other people. May sat in one of her floral embroidered Queen Anne chairs facing her small television set that had been state of the art about 15 years ago. She still wore her pinny over her pastel blue blouse and her charcoal grey slacks. It was her guard against spills and stains. Even at her age she still prided herself on giving a smart, clean appearance, even when there was no one around to appreciate her efforts. May Trump had worked hard for most of her 75 years and the toll paid showed in her wrinkled skin and sagging jaw line. Her eyes had the flickering light of a dying fire which could still issue a flame if stoked, fuelled by a source buried deep beneath the ashes. The pain in her tired joints made sure she didn’t forget her age. She suffered no ills apart from the passage of time but she could feel the downward spiral as her body slowly withered with age.
The television was small but the picture clear and sharp.
“What do you think people are going to say after that kind of behaviour?” May’s clenched fist flew back and forth through the air. Her lips curled up as she shouted at the images on the screen.
“What would your mother say if she saw you right now?” Her fist dropped back down and rested on the arm of her chair.
“Oh that is your mother,” May’s voice took on a surprised tone but only for a moment.
“How do you expect your kids to turn out with you as their only role model?” Her voice regained its previous harshness.
The Adrian Farley Show was an arena for petty squabbles. A smartly dressed young man, Adrian Farley, paced back and forth across the stage firing demanding questions at his guests, usually people who couldn’t solve their personal problems without a TV camera pointed at them. May watched as a young woman wearing an ill-fitting pink tracksuit explained to the audience about how she loved the father of her child, if only she could remember who he was.
May looked up at her brass carriage clock that sat on the mantelpiece above her wood effect gas fire. More time had passed than she had realised and there were still a few things left to do before Margaret arrived.
It was another Tuesday afternoon and that meant another day of listening to the mindless gossip of her one and only friend Margaret. She was only a few years younger than May and had worked with her during the decade before they had both retired. May didn’t particularly like her company but continued to allow her into the house, more through familiarity than friendship. Margaret was a loud and boisterous woman whose huge waistline was only dwarfed by her ever compassionate heart. When ever she entered May’s house her booming voice would make the windows rattle ever so slightly. The noise of vibrating glass was almost inaudible but May had attuned herself to it over the years. May found Tuesday mornings particularly unpleasant. It felt like the slow turn of thumb screws, waiting for that soft tap on the door followed by Margaret’s signature greeting.
“Coo-wee’ it’s only me.” The sound generally brought a chill down her spine. She never once wondered why Margaret chose to visit her every single week. She only ever considered her own view of the habitual friendship.
It was a quarter to two, which gave May only fifteen minutes before Margaret arrived. She switched off her television set and slowly rose from her chair. Her knee joints complained, sending sharp pains up her thighs, but she did her best to ignore the discomfort. She stood still and straight for a moment, before she slowly made her way into the kitchen. She leaned against the sink and filled her old iron kettle with water. She struggled to transfer it to the stove. She promised herself a new, electric one for the hundredth time, before switching on the gas. While the water began to warm up she brought out a tea tray and started arranging items on it. If everything was ready as Margaret arrived she would finish her tea sooner and have less of an excuse to stay. May placed her old stained teapot on the tray and heaped three spoons of loose tea inside. After placing the matching sugar bowl and milk jug on the tray, she removed a brand new packet of Bakewell slices from the cupboard. Another of May’s few pleasures were Bakewells and she sorely begrudged having to share them. Sadly, they were part of the weekly charade and to withhold them would cause more trouble than they were worth. Margaret would get the crazy idea that May wasn’t well, or was becoming forgetful in her old age and smother her in unwanted concern and compassion. She would start nagging at her about visiting a doctor or, even worse, staying with her for a few weeks convalescence. May had made that mistake only once before and she had vowed it would never happen again. After less than a day she had made her polite excuses and left. It had taken her more than a week to get over the stress.
May placed four Bakewell slices on a small plate, that had two others stacked below it, making sure she didn’t leave any finger marks on the soft fondant icing. She fetched two dessert forks, then the kettle begin to whistle.
May almost spilt the boiling water as she poured it into the teapot. The tap on the door and the loud shrill greeting always made her jump. She carried the tea tray into the living room and placed it on a small table between her two Queen Anne chairs. She took one last look around the room. Everything is tidy and in its place, she noted with a sigh and then brushed herself down with the palms of her hands. There was another tap on the front door. A booming voice, which was only slightly muffled by the thick wooden panels, caused a slight rattle in the closest windows.
“Hello, May are you in there? Coo-wee it’s only me!” May dug deep within her reluctance, went to the front door, and found the strength of will to open it.
Margaret was a big woman or as she was fond of saying “No skinny mare me.” She had given birth to four children and she would often tell of how each pregnancy had left her more of a woman than she previously had been. She was a grandmother to ‘My two little treasures’, which was a subject May rarely discussed. If ever the topic of her little Timmy or Mary, ‘My little heart melter’, was broached, there was no stopping her. It was like firing a gun at the top of a snowy mountain and then watching the resulting avalanche form.
“May dear, you are in. How are you?” Margaret pulled May towards her and dwarfed her in an encompassing cuddle.
“I’m fine, how are you?” May muffled a reply, as her face was squashed up against Margaret’s chest and her nose was thrust between her ample cleavage. Margaret’s grin stretched across her face and her eyes emitted a faint glow, as she released May from her squeeze. May took an unsteady step backwards while trying to disguise her gasps for air. It will take hours to get the smell of lavender out of my nose.
“Glad to hear it,” Margaret boomed. She stepped past May and, like a heat seeking missile, zeroed in on the tea tray perched on the table. “I see the tea is all set and ready. Oh my and Bakewells, I really shouldn’t.” Margaret flashed May a quick wink. “But I shall.” She sat down on the chair furthest from the television set, while May closed the door before sitting in her favourite of the two chairs. Her knees flared up again as she bent them but she managed to hide the pain from Margaret.
“I’ll be Mum,” Margaret announced, as she grabbed the teapot from the tray. May shuffled forward in her chair. She was about to protest but before she had raised her hand an inch, Margaret had already begun to pour. May bit her tongue but watched nervously, as Margaret handled her prized china in, what May considered to be, a reckless manner. Hold it by the base; careful don’t clink the cups together. That’s expensive porcelain not your cheap stoneware, I’ll have you know. May kept her concerns silent and forced out an uncomfortable smile.
“Did you hear about poor Penny Saunders last week?” Margaret asked, as she heaped two spoonfuls of sugar into one of the cups and stirred it vigorously. The spoon rattled against the porcelain causing May’s smile to loose much of its cohesion.
“No Marge,” May replied dispassionately, knowing that she would soon hear the entire story in unnecessary detail. May relaxed a little when she saw Margaret place the spoon on her saucer.
“Oh it’s a terrible shame, it is,” Margaret said, as she slipped an empty plate from the bottom of the pile. May reached out and turned her cup, pulling it closer.
“Yes Marge,” she said, as she picked up the milk jug and poured. Her eyes were on her task not her friend. Margaret cupped her mouth with both hands in a gesture of sombre surprise.
“Oh May! It’s all over the town, even the vicar is said to have been in tears over it.” Margaret swiftly dropped her hands again and, in one fluid movement, selected a Bakewell slice from the tray.
Delicately, she placed it on her plate before kissing the crumbs off her thumb and forefinger.
“Is she alright?” May asked, still only half listening while her mind began to wander onto more important issues than small town gossip.
“No May! She’s not all right, not alright at all!” Margaret’s face adopted a serious expression, one which May had rarely seen before. Maybe there was something more going on here than illicit romance, sponge cake recipes, and fashion taboos. I’ve been here before. May remembered at least two other occasions where she had expected something serious and important to come out of Margaret’s mouth, only to be met with the same pointless trivia. It’s going to be about the tom-bola stall at the summer fair again, May picked up her cup and raised it to her lips.
“I’ll tell you what happened, it’s terrible it is,” Margaret said. “They say she was trying to fix her power shower in the bathroom. Eric, you know Eric the Plumber from down the high street near the fountain with the benches? Well, he said she had no business messing with that kind of equipment. He said she should have called him down to do it. I couldn’t help but agree May, he’s very reasonable you know. He fitted my Chris’ bathroom suite last month and he didn’t charge no arm and a leg either, I tell can you.” Margaret paused for half a second to breathe, then continued. “Anyway, it seems she had forgotten to switch off the mains electricity. Now my Alf, you remember Alf? He’s always saying you should never mess with electric unless the mains thingy is switched off and he knows a thing or two about that electric stuff.” Another pause, another breath. “She only got herself electrified, poor woman. I tell you it’s that young Chloe of hers I feel for, the poor girl must be in such a tizzy.” May put her cup back down on the table.
“So, how is she?” May asked, experiencing an unexpected feeling in her stomach. Actual concern was a rare emotion for her, she cared but didn’t know why and found it confusing.
“Not good May, not good at all,” Margaret replied in a slower, softer voice. “She’s dead!”
“No! Surely not, that’s terrible.” The unfamiliar feeling of sadness flooded over May, but she couldn’t help thinking about how avoidable and pointless it was. Maybe she asked for it, messing about where she didn’t belong. Maybe everyone was better off now, without her around taking stupid risks. Maybe they were lucky no one else was hurt. May just couldn’t muster her usual frustration at the stupidity of others. She had to admit to herself, she felt sad.
“I know, I said didn’t I? I told you it was bad. They buried her yesterday out by the old church. It was a bit of a rush job if you ask me.” Margaret picked up her plate again.
“How’s her Chloe holding up?” May asked, as she returned her cup to her lips. Margaret had just taken a large bite of cake; she waved her hand.
“Not good at all May,” Margaret said, wiping the crumbs from her mouth. “It seems that she’s been lumbered with an awful lot of debt. What with there being no insurance and her mum’s wage not coming in, she may have to give up college or lose the house I reckon. I know dear Penny wouldn’t have been happy about it; she always used to talk about how proud she was of how her girl was studying. She used to boast about how smart she was and how she wouldn’t have to struggle through life, like she did, once she got her degrees. It’s a real sad affair I can tell you.” May finished her tea and placed the cup back down as Margaret polished off the Bakewell slice.
“You know what else?” Margaret said, as she picked up her own tea to wash the cake down. “You know Barbara, that friend of mine who works down at the supermarket in the high street. You know the one, she’s got that big red hair do.” May shrugged, she assumed she would recognise her in the street if she saw her but didn’t care to remember her name.
“The one that got into trouble when the customers at the deli-counter kept finding red strands in their coleslaw?” Margaret continued, while May held her blank expression. “Well anyway, she does those Tarot card things. You know predicting the future and what not. A group of us meet up on a Thursday night at her place and play a little gin rummy, sometimes more gin than rummy. Don’t go mentioning it to my Alf mind you, but we sometimes dabble with…other things. Barbara has a bit of a gift for the spiritual. Well, she says that she gave a reading to her sister last month and turned over a death card, which ain’t no good sign. Now her sister has got a friend whose son attends the same college as Penny Saunders’ daughter Chloe. He’s not in the same classes mind you, but he attends the exact same school! Strange that isn’t it, puts a chill right up your spine things like that.”
The conversation continued in a similar trend for another twenty minutes. Margaret had devoured three of the Bakewells and two cups of tea by the time she finally rose from her chair.
“Well, I’d better get off home now,” She announced and May was relieved to hear it. Margaret had spent the last twenty minutes talking about the summer fair, the bargains to be had at the local market and how Alf keeps leaving his golf clubs laying around the house. May hardly registered any of it. She made the right noises whenever Margaret paused for more than a second, which wasn’t often. May just couldn’t get the Saunders family tragedy out of her mind.
“Oh! I’m sorry to hear that,” she lied. “Can’t you stay just a little longer?”
“Well I Guess I could stay,” Margaret wavered, causing May to panic a little.
“No I really can’t May. Time’s getting on and I’ve got to get the dinner ready before Alf gets back from playing golf. He’ll probably be in a bad mood again; he’s useless at the sport.”
In a controlled manner May stood from her chair and saw her friend to the door.
“Same time next week?” Margaret said, as she stepped through the front door.
“Of course, you are always welcome.” May lied, then surprised herself by adding, “If you see Chloe Saunders do give her my best.” Margaret stopped in her tracks, as if she had just walked into an invisible brick wall. She shot May a confused stare.
“May Elizabeth Trump!” She gasped. “In all the years I’ve known you I have never once heard you give your best to anyone.”
“Maybe I’m getting a bit soft in my old age?” May admitted, as much to herself as to her friend. Margaret let out a heavy sigh that seemed to reverberate through her entire body.
“You’ve left it a bit late old girl, are you feeling quite right?”
“Now, you can get right off that train of thought, I’m perfectly alright. I feel just fine, thank you very much.” The problem was that she didn’t.
May leaned against the closed door and gave a sigh of relief. She had managed to convince Margaret she wasn’t in need of a recuperation break and Margaret had seemed happy to leave it at that. May had struggled with the visit today and was glad it was over.
May walked back to her chair and sat down, careful not to irritate her knees. She couldn’t help thinking about Penny Saunders and her daughter Chloe. May cupped her chin, feeling the few whiskers she had missed while plucking early that morning. What a waste of life, such a stupid way to die. Anger welled inside her. Mixed with her still turning stomach, she felt decidedly unwell. She switched the television back on with the remote control. There was another repeat of Adrian Farley Show on; she just caught the beginning of the second half. A young man sat on a velvet green sofa spouting on about how he was ‘The innocent party in this whole sordid affair’. It soon became clear to May that he had married twelve women, all from the same family but not one of them knew about any of the others. May shook her fist at the screen.
“Are you stupid or some such? How didn’t you know?” She picked up her empty teacup. Her stomach still felt queasy. I need to eat something then it will settle. She lifted the lid of the tea pot to find it also empty. She looked down at the last solitary Bakewell slice. As one of her few vices, it stared back at her like a wonder pill with the promise to cure both body and soul. She took a large bite, over half the sticky, sweet slice disappeared into her mouth. The cake had been left uncovered for over an hour and it had become dry and flaky to the touch. May chewed for a moment, then tried to swallow. The mouthful of stale pastry stole what little moisture remaining in her throat. She couldn’t swallow; she couldn’t breathe. She started to panic and tried to spit it out, but all she could muster was crumbs. It had become wedged in her throat and the fragments of fondant gripped at her gullet like putty, preventing her from coughing her airway clear. She fell forward, bending over double, trying to dislodge the cake but with every attempt her strength faded. She eventually lost consciousness and life gradually slipped from her grasp.
May opened her eyes to total darkness. She had a blurred memory of choking and her throat felt raw and blistered. Frightened to move, she tried to make sense of her fractured mind. While searching through the confusion a voice filtered out, it was clear above the humming chaos.
“Never give nothing to no one,” May recognised the coarse, throaty voice.
“A penny earned is your frickin’ penny and nobody else’s.” The image of Mrs. Collins appeared in May’s mind and she remembered the lessons she had learnt from her favourite nurse at the orphanage. May’s earliest memories were of Mrs. Collins. May’s parents were as strangers to her. She had never sought to find them, even though she had considered it when she was young. They had left her at the orphanage while she was just a small baby, so the strong willed nurse had become the closest thing to mother that she had ever known. Mrs. Collins had been her champion and mentor; May held dear all Mrs. Collins’ teachings.
“The world’s full of evil doers and lazy cretins, are you listening girl. Look at me when I’m talking. If anyone asks anything of you, you tell them girl, you tell them to get off their arse and earn it for themselves.”
“Mrs. Collins where am I, what do I do?” May pleaded, still trapped in a dark swirl of patchy memories.
“Charity starts at home and that’s where it should frickin’ stay.” The voice closed in on May, becoming louder. May’s jumbled thoughts made sense again and the confusion faded.
“God helps those who help themselves; who are we to argue with God.” The image of Mrs. Collins was suddenly replaced by another, this one of Margaret. She held a 2ft long Bakewell slice up to her mouth, as if to play it like a trumpet. Like a scene from an old cartoon, Margaret stuffed the entire cake into her mouth before fading into the darkness and May could remember everything.
Maybe it was a dream. May used her hands to prop herself into a sitting position. As soon as she lifted her head a few inches from the floor May could see again, as if a blindfold had been removed. She looked down at her freshly vacated corpse. It lay flat on its back across the lounge carpet. Her legs still in perfect sync with her body’ but the rest of her was at right angles with herself. So it was no dream, you dammed old fool. You killed yourself with a frickin’ cake. Death by confectionery, what an epilogue that’s going to make. She scolded her self some more, then gingerly stood. Looking down at her body, May’s stomach tightened and twisted. Her face had turned blue, with eyes wide open and her mouth gaping; it was not a very dignified look.
May examined the way that she had fallen, and, in one respect, felt relieved. Her arms were outstretched and her right leg lay twisted under her left. I might be dead, and I may look as if I’m a hungry chick waiting to be fed a worm, but at least I’m not spread-eagled across the carpet in some undignified manner.
May’s eyes became moist and a single tear teetered on the edge of existence. The uncomfortable feeling in her stomach rose up through her chest and settled at the base of her throat, where it felt like patient bile. May bowed her head a little and clasped her hands in an unsettled grip. She would be missed by few and her passing would go unnoticed by most. She expected there would be no tears at her funeral and no empty hearts would be left wanting. The most she could expect was Margaret would have to find something else to do on Tuesday afternoons.
May had never really concerned herself about the way other people felt about her but now something was different, something fundamental had changed. Something other than life had left her, something she had held most dear.
“You’ve been so tied up in yourself, selfish and alone.” May spoke the words aloud but they lacked any real enthusiasm. “I’m alone because that’s how I like it.” The only reason May hadn’t moved up into the mountains, to live like a real hermit, years ago, was because she preferred to look down on people symbolically rather than physically take the higher ground. She paced up and down the length of her corpse.
“I have no regrets,” she told herself, shaking her head to add strength to the statement. “I can’t expect the world to stop turning just because of me. I wouldn’t stop for anyone else; I wouldn’t even change my ways to save the world.” May had led an independent life and she now faced death the same way, independently. She had no need for mourners or tears of sorrow but, somewhere deep inside, she felt it would be nice to at least be missed. She had an inward perspective that refused to allow herself to believe that her passing would be treated in any other way. It made sense to her to assume everyone else thought in the same way.
So, that’s it then, I’m dead. Her life was now over and there were no second chances. She had led her life faithful to her principles and was confident in a life well spent. Yet she still felt it had all ended too soon. Life had deserted her too early. There were so many things left undone, there was washing up in the sink for a start.
May suddenly felt watched. She stopped pacing and, unsure whether to be scared or surprised, turned slowly towards the kitchen door. Familiar eyes stared back at her. The cat looked plump but it was mostly fluff encompassing a hardened, stout frame. Years of hunting the small creatures that used to populate May’s rear garden had cultivated a gnarled, muscular body beneath the bushy, ginger fur. He was the size of a small dog and, with eyes like polished dinner plates, stared,adoringly up at May.
“See! I can’t even feed Mr. Kibbles,” She thought aloud. “Now that I’m dead.” May’s recently rebooted brain took a few moments to jog her conscious mind. Mr. Kibbles had died over ten years ago.
It had been a difficult time, May hadn’t realised until he died just how much emotion she had invested in that scruffy ball of fur. Mr. Kibbles looked up at her and mewed. A simple sound, but it wrenched May’s heart from her chest. He strode towards her with his tail held high. May’s legs felt weakened and numb as he weaved around them, purring contently. The knots in her stomach loosened and an unfamiliar warm glow spread through her. She picked him up and held him in her arms for the first time in a decade. The softness of his fur and the slightly fishy smell of his breath, brought old, dormant emotions bubbling to the surface. Another tear formed in her eye, it broke free, and trickled down her face. It fell but didn’t touch the ground. She watched as it passed through the carpet and disappeared beyond.
With Mr. Kibbles still purring in her arms, May started pacing again. What now? What happens next? Do I get swept up by a column of light and ferried upon high into the heavens? Or do I stay and haunt this place? As I have already for so many years.
Mr. Kibbles began to struggle for freedom. His body wriggled in her arms, so she was forced to put him back on the floor. As she bent down she noticed the lack of pain in her knees. She smiled as she remembered how Mr. Kibbles had always set a limited duration when it came to cuddles. He stayed by her feet washing his paws, as if no time had passed and nothing much had changed.
“Okay Mr. Kibbles,” May asked. “What do I do now?” Mr. Kibbles ignored her, in the way cats usually do.
She wandered around the house, looking at her belongings. Trying, but not actually touching anything. She was quite glad she had made her bed earlier and that the majority of the house was tidy. She hated to leave things in a mess. The kitchen was in need of a little attention but she could live with that. The living room, however, was in a wholly unacceptable state with all those crumbs on her armchair and broken crockery scattered across the floor, not to mention the dead body lying on the carpet. She stopped and considered this fact for a moment. Her sense still remained a little clouded but she still had enough awareness to realise that the atmosphere in that room was not going to improve. In fact, as she didn’t expect anyone to call on her for at least another week, things would soon smell pretty bad in there. May turned away from the sight of her body and tried to detach herself from the more emotional aspects of her predicament.
“Okay girl, a clear head and a sensible approach is what’s needed here.” She couldn’t touch anything, except for Mr. Kibbles that is, and this had made little impact upon her until now. A real sense of helplessness washed over her, it was a feeling that May had not experienced since she had first left the orphanage to make her way in the world. Stepping through those great iron gates and leaving behind what little family or sense of community she had ever known. May could remember Mrs. Collins’ face as she offered her mentor a stiff wave goodbye. Her eyes looked on in a critical stare, watching for any sign of weakness in her prodigy. May rewarded her with a tough, fearless appearance, while her heart pounded like that of a startled deer. Mrs. Collins had stood with her arms folded across her chest. A slight nod was all the acknowledgement May received as she left, never to set foot within those great, iron gates again.
May took a slow, deep breath. Physically, a pointless action, but it still helped her gain focus. She gradually swept the feeling aside and regained her composure. It became clear to May, but she wasn’t the least bit happy about it, that she couldn’t solve this problem alone. She sighed, there was no other option left open to her and it grated against her principles like coarse sandpaper. She took another glance at her stiffened body and steeled herself for the inevitable. She would have to go outside and seek help.
She stepped towards the front door, reached out, and tried to turn the handle. Her hand passed through it, without reaction or sensation. However this didn’t stop her from trying a second time. Faced with the same result, she turned to Mr. Kibbles. He watched her with doe-eyed interest.
“Okay cat.” She knelt down to his level. “How do I open this door? You’ve been dead ten years now, so surely you’ve picked up a few pointers.”
He rubbed himself across her knees and then flopped, belly side up, on the floor beside her. She tickled him for a moment, then climbed back to her feet. Mr. Kibbles rolled over and stood beside her. She turned to face the door again. The thought that if her hands could pass through solid objects, the rest of her should be able too had occurred to her a while ago, but she had buried it at the back of her mind. May just couldn’t help thinking of it as an unnatural act of some kind. People do not walk through walls but I guess I’m not people any more. Normal people walk through doors! It was the only justification she could find for what needed to be done.
May closed her eyes and took a slow step forward. There was no unusual sensation other than trepidation. She cracked one eye open to discover that she had not yet reached the door. Her nose was still half a centimetre away from the wooden panel. Closing her eyes again, she took another step, still no change. No resistance, no sense of pressure, or the sensation of the air around her thickening, as she had imagined it would feel like. Another step followed another, until she tumbled forward, falling head over heels because the ground disappeared beneath her feet. She opened her eyes. The three steps that led away from her front door, and the fact she’d forgotten about them, had caused her to fall. She suffered a strange sensation as she fell. It happened in slow motion. The concrete steps didn’t hurt as she rolled down them; she almost rolled as if they were padded. It was akin to falling over in a bouncy castle but without the rebound or the risk of getting landed on by overexcited twelve- year- olds. She finally drifted to a halt, like a leaf falling from a tree, coming to a rest half on, and half off, the pavement. She gingerly rose back to her feet and, with a face as red as a clown’s nose, brushed imaginary dust from her clothes.
May’s house was situated on a wide, busy street with trees lining the road. Their branches overhung both sides and had grown to a shape that accommodated the passing buses. It was mainly a residential area, but still a popular cut through for traffic trying to avoid Main Street at rush hour. May looked up and down the road. There was very little traffic since the evening rush hadn’t begun yet. May could see a large red shape in the distance. As it slowly approached it gained clarity and May read number 46. Regular as clockwork that bus, outdated, unreliable and prone to seizing up at the first sign of wet weather. It was the slowest moving object on the road and May figured that bus drivers were generally used to being flagged down. May took the opportunity and stepped into the road. She waved her arms wildly and cried out, “Help!”, It made her think of Penelope Pitstop and the Wacky Races. The bus however kept approaching and showed no sign of slowing. May kept waving her arms above her head and the bus kept coming.
“He’s going to stop,” May announced to herself but the bus kept approaching and its speed remained unchanged. The drivers face was filled with fierce concentration and purpose. The bus was so close now that May realised, all too late, it wasn’t going to stop at all. With no time to move, May braced herself as the 12 ton vehicle bared down on her. May screamed in another Pitstop moment and saw the driver twist his head sharply towards her. There was no impact and again no sensation, as she merged into the bus. May flowed through the windscreen, then slipped rapidly down the centre aisle of the bus. She finally passed through the engine compartment and back out on the road. She was shaken and confused but she could have sworn that she saw Mrs. Wiggins sat in an aisle seat by the middle doors. She was wearing that stupid blue cloth hat with the little pink feather in it again. May had always thought it gave her an odd appearance and an aura of instability.
“You soppy old mare!” May said, embarrassed about her scream. It was an automatic and understandable reaction, had it been performed by anyone else. A 12 ton, double-decker, bus hurtling towards you with no means to avoid it, was a suitable situation for the employment of such an outcry. May would have made no comment, derogatory or otherwise, had she been just a spectator to the event. However, she was different. She was May Elizabeth Trump and didn’t make a public spectacle of herself, no matter what the circumstances.
She turned to face Mr. Kibbles sitting on the steps by her front door. May skipped off the road just as a green van, with ‘Gracie’s’ stencilled on the side, hurtled past, missing her by an inch. She walked up to the old, ginger tom cat and made a fuss of his head.
“Did you see all that?” Mr. Kibbles looked up at her and mewed. “I think that bus driver might have heard me. I’m just not sure though. It happened so fast, he could have just been looking at you. No, he can’t see you either, can he?” May turned away and took another look up the road. A few cars passed through from either direction but they were moving too fast for her to try the same approach again If anyone was going to see or hear me, they would have to be up close and slow moving, she decided.
She started to walk up the street, following the same direction as the bus. She kept catching glimpses of Mr. Kibbles as he followed her through the gardens to her left. She would occasionally see him leap a hedge or scurry past an open gate. It gave her comfort to know he was there. She had loved very few things in her life but Mr. Kibbles was at the top of the list.
It wasn’t long before someone approached from the opposite direction. She waved her hands above her head as she recognised Mr. Chimer, who lived only two doors away. They were only a few metres from each other but Mr. Chimer remained oblivious to May’s presence.
“Hello… Hello!” May yelled, as the gap between them closed to little more than arms reach. “Can you hear me? Hello!” Mr. Chimer continued walking towards and eventually straight through her. May was becoming annoyed.
“Mr. Chimer!” She yelled at the top of her voice.
“George!” She could feel her tonsils rattle against her throat. Almost immediately, Mr. Chimer stopped and looked around. He looked left and then right before turning in a pivot and staring straight through May; there was no reaction, or recognition, in his eyes. May waved half-heartedly and then watched, as George turned his back on her. He shook his head and walked away.
“George…George, it’s me! May from two doors down. The old Witch! I’ve heard you call me it. I don’t mind George, really I don’t mind. Just hear me, just hear me please!” He didn’t stop again.
She tried to contact three more people in a similar fashion but received no reaction from any of them. Not even a puzzled pause, as she had evoked from George. They had been strangers to her and their lack of response did not concern her as much. George had been the first familiar face she had seen since her death, not counting Mr. Kibbles, and for some reason that fact mattered. May and George’s relationship had hardly been close. They were neighbours and not even fence to fence neighbours for that matter; Mrs. Brown’s house stood between them. May had always thought of him and his family, as the noisy ones from down the road and she knew they all thought of her as the skinflint witch. May understood how her lifestyle alienated her from other people and, as far as she was concerned, that had always been a benefit. She enjoyed being on her own and, at that precise moment, she couldn’t have felt any more alone. So why doesn’t it feel right? Why does it hurt?
She reached the end of her road and turned right onto the main carriageway that led directly towards the town centre. The main road was wider and much busier, cars and vans hurtled by from both directions. The pavement ended on May’s side of the road, giving way to a steep grassy verge that ran the entire distance to the large roundabout which marked the beginning of the town centre. She waited until there was a large enough gap in the traffic for her to cross. Mr. Kibbles didn’t suffer the same delay, as he bounded through the fast moving traffic, merging in and out of the speeding vehicles. May half knew she too could have walked straight out into the road and not encounter any real difficulty. It was partially habit and partially uncertainty that made her wait. Mr. Kibbles was preening himself for the umpteenth time when May finally reached the other side of the road. He looked up at her and mewed.
“Yes, yes smarty pants,” she said to him. “Where’s the fire anyway?”
They walked down Main Street towards the town centre. May used the pavement while Mr. Kibbles kept pace on the wall that ran parallel to the road, leaping over gaps and alleyways. There were more pedestrians on the main road. Most of them headed in the direction of the shopping mall, the main hub of the town. May waved her hands in their faces as they passed her by, but they too were oblivious of her efforts. May still tried to grab someone’s attention, just not as optimistically as before. They were half-hearted gestures now; she was getting tired of being ignored.
The town centre was not far ahead and the walk didn’t seem as long as it had previously. May’s knees would normally be aching something fierce by now and she hadn’t even stopped for her usual sit down breaks. Mr. Kibbles had disappeared into some gardens to her left, but she had no doubt he would turn up again soon. The road widened to accommodate a large roundabout, which stood as a local landmark to indicate the town centre. To her left stood a large detached house, three stories high and surrounded by a big garden. The house faced the roundabout while the road bent around it. Its position created a triangular plot of land in front of the building, large enough to park several vehicles. As May passed by, she noticed a woman crouched down on the large driveway. She appeared to be in her forties and wore a yellow summer dress with light blue flowers scattered randomly over it. She was stroking a large ginger cat, which weaved contently around her; tears stained the woman’s face. May took a further two steps before coming to a halt. That woman is petting Mr. Kibbles!
May turned around and stepped up to the waist high, wrought iron gate marking the entrance to the driveway.
“Excuse me, I do believe that’s my cat.” Surprised, the woman looked up.
“Can you see me?” She asked, standing up. Mr. Kibbles continued to weave about her legs.
“Yes, of course I can! Can you see me?” May replied. The woman skipped more than walked over to May.
“Yes…yes I can, thank God.” The woman smiled inanely, as if she was cooing over a small child.
“Who are you?” May asked, leaning over the gate.
“Who am I? I’m Penny Saunders, this is my house.” The name struck a chord with May and she remembered her conversation with Margaret.
“Penny Saunders? Didn’t you die?” May asked. Penny stumbled backwards, as if the strength in her legs had momentary left her.
“Yes…yes, I guess I am, aren‘t I?” Penny put her hands up to her face, but May could still see the tears as they glistened through her fingers. May realised her approach had been a little too harsh for Penny, the woman was clearly fragile. May had never been very good with social interactions when she was alive and death had done little to warm her spirit. She wasn’t comfortable with compassion and she had little experience dealing with emotional people. She remembered Mrs. Collins teachings and how she had handled May when she had been young and, May hated to admit it, a little delicate.
“Pull yourself together woman. I mean no harm by it.” The brash outburst had the desired effect. Penny wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
“Yes…yes, you’re right!” She said, bleary eyed and red faced. “So, who are you then? Some kind of psychic or medium?” Horrified, May stumbled backwards. To be compared to such charlatans. Such people who preyed on the weak and gullible, profiting from another’s grief. She had neither time nor compassion for the naïve and gullible but the con artists and tricksters of this world were in a league of their own.
“How dare you! I certainly am not!” May erupted, her face turned red while her lips became as thin as a razor’s edge.
“Oh… I… I’m sorry,” Penny replied, while tears threatened to spill once again. “I… I just thought, what with you being able to see and hear me. I assumed you had ‘The Gift’, or what ever it is they call it?” She bowed her head and rubbed her eyes. “This is just typical of me. The first person I talk to in over a week and I’m already insulting them.” May stepped through the closed gate and took Penny’s hands in her own.
“It’s alright,” May said with a smooth and quiet voice; It was not a tone she was used to, and it took a lot of effort to maintain. “As I said, I mean no harm. I’m always a little brash and easily provoked, it’s just my way.” Penny looked up and gave May a half smile, before looking back down at their hands.
“You can touch me? How come you can touch me? Who are you?”
May struggled to keep her voice free from sarcasm. “My name is May Elizabeth Trump and I am just as dead as you are.”
About the Author:
Peter John was born in Bromley Kent, England in 1973. He gained an interest in creative writing at the age of 14 and was published during the 1990’s in several poetry anthologies. Happily Married to Jo since 1996 and currently living in Sidcup Kent, not so far from the tree.
I was born in Bromley, Kent back in the early seventies. I spent most of my childhood riding bikes, playing tag and kicking tin cans around the street, unless there was an actual football to hand. At the age of fourteen I had a milestone experience. Prior to that I had never shown the slightest interest in writing, if I remember rightly I wanted to be an astronaut, but then I got put into detention one afternoon. I had failed to bring in my homework assignment and the teacher had punished me by forcing me to write a short story during the lunch time break. While all the other boys kicked tin cans around the playground, I was sat in a room on my own with a sandwich, a carton of Kia-Ora and an exercise book. I picked at the sandwich while staring at the blank pages in front of me and then it happened. All of a sudden a story formed in my head and I almost instinctively threw in down on the paper. 45 minutes passed in what felt like seconds and the short story which I had called ‘Thinking Crash’ was spread throughout the exercise book in my scruffy, barely coherent handwriting. I had never fallen into a story like that before, where my hand was struggling to keep up with my brain and I didn’t look up once from the pages until I heard the lunch bell ring. Ever since that day I have been hooked. I could have been circling the earth in a tin can and eating my dinner out of a tube if it wasn’t for that one stint in detention; I still like to consider it as a lucky escape.
OPINIONS OF GHOSTS
You would expect me, being the author of a paranormal comedy, to be a great believer in ghosts but you would be wrong in that assumption. You would then presume that I have never seen a ghost and again you would be mistaken, confused yet? I consider myself to be a hopeful sceptic; hopeful because I would really like to be able to break free of my own Cynicism and a sceptic because no matter how hard I try, I can’t. Even after seeing things that I can’t explain myself, I fail to convert myself into a believer on the basis that just because I can’t prove it false doesn’t mean it’s true. I regret this standpoint entirely, I see all the benefits in believing in something as strongly as some people believe in the existence of ghosts and other forms of supernatural beings but I don’t seem capable of stepping over that final hurdle of doubt, and I blame psychics for this entirely. Years of hearing how people have been fleeced for more money than they can comfortably afford by Clairvoyants and Mediums has left me armoured against certain aspects of the supernatural. Con artists and schemers who have promised them answers to the soul burning questions that we all ask of ourselves during times of grief. Is there more? Are they truly gone or are they just behind the curtain of death, waiting for me to join them? Are they watching over me, right here, as we speak My mother is a great believer in the spiritual powers of others and has often remarked on her own psychic ability. I have to agree that on occasion she has made remarkable predictions that have turned out to be true, though sometimes it has been in a ‘ball park’ kind of way. Through out my childhood I have listened to her stories about what this medium said and what that psychic told her but I have also listened to the recording of such spiritual meetings. “I have a name coming through. It’s faint but I think it begins with an A, it might be an O or an E. It’s definitely starts with a vowel or there’s a vowel in there somewhere at least”. My mother never failed to fall hook line and sinker but, even at a young age, I could see the vague and fishing manner in which they all spoke. It made me cynical and suspicious when it came down to beings from another plain of existence and I have yet failed to shrug this guarded approach. Maybe one day I will find the proof I need, or experience something that will turn my head a full 360 until I’m sceptical about whether living people actually exist, but until that day I will remain full of questions, doubts and hopes.
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