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Better Than Nightmares-Fiction by Doug Hawley
Page One Four One-Fiction by A. F. Knott
The Devil You Know-Fiction by Gary Lovisi
Cabin Fever-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Ramona's House-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Visitation-Fiction by Henry Simpson
The Night Driver and the Injured Man-Fiction by Roy Dorman
They Both had Guns-Fiction by Jeremiah Minihan
The Earl of Redcrest-Fiction by Ashley Bailey
Black Cat-Fiction by Stephen Tillman
A Place for Grandpa-Fiction by Paul Smith
Away from Home-Fiction by Bruce Costello
Dolls-Fiction by R. Peralaz
Bright Eyes-Flash Fiction by Jon Park
Heart Attack-Flash Fiction by Rick McQuiston
A Turn for the Worse-Flash Fiction by Maria Espinosa
Rain-Flash Fiction by J. Brooke
Specter-Poem by Chad Haskins
Blue Ghost-Poem by Michael Keshigian
Unfathomable Rhapsody of Psychosis-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Late, Late-Poem by J. L. Hoy
One for the Road, I Guess-Poem by Jennifer Lemming
Edge of Nowhere-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Summit-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Three Tenses-Poem by Meg Baird
Caution-Poem by Meg Baird
Honeysuckle Breeze-Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Old Crow and I-Peom by ayaz daryl nielsen
Moments-Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Developing Land-Poem by Alan Catlin
Sideshow Freaks-Poem by Alan Catlin
Insomnia-Poem by Alan Catlin
Without-Poem by John Grey
Graveyard Stroll-Poem by John Grey
The Two of Us-Poem by John Grey
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

ramonashouse.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2018

Ramona’s House

 

Kenneth James Crist

 

1.

 

“Yeah, I haven’t had many people look at this one…because…well, you know.”

Yeah, I knew. The house had been empty for over a year. It was not in really bad shape, nothing wrong with it that a handyman such as myself couldn’t handle. The real estate guy was still yacking away.

“You can prolly get this ol’ house for a song. They’ve lowered the asking price three times now. They only boarded it up to save the windows. Kids around here are kinda little pricks, ya know. Bust out the windows in a heartbeat.”

“Can we go inside? I’m not buyin’ any house I can’t walk through.”

“Yeah. Let me go get a flashlight outta my car.”

While I waited on Mr. Oliver, the real estate guy, I walked around the house. Two-story, built in the 1940’s, heavy wooden siding that looked like it had about fifty coats of paint over the years. Sitting vacant all this time. Because someone had died in it. Front porch needed some new floor boards. But the roof looked tight and the foundation was good. Lost in thought, I jumped a little when the real estate guy stepped up onto the porch and rattled a ring of keys.

As he unlocked the front door, I asked, “Was it suicide?”

“Nope. Murder. Somebody killed the lady and took some stuff. A little money. Some jewelry. An old portable TV. So far, they haven’t caught anybody…” He adjusted his ball cap and pushed the door open. Turned on his flashlight and we went inside.

Fifteen minutes later, we were back outside. I was surprised at how good the house actually was. And it didn’t even smell. Well, no more than any house might smell when it’s sat empty for a year. Mr. Oliver said the lady had been found in the parlor and it had been several days between her death and when somebody found her. They had called a professional company to come remove the carpet and do the cleaning necessary when a body has been there a while.

I made a low-ball offer of eighty-six thousand, expecting I’d get bumped at least once. The house was worth nearly twice that, after all. The next morning Mr. Oliver called me and said I’d just bought a house. We set up closing and I sent the down payment that afternoon. Because of some good investments, I was now retired, and I could afford to pay cash for the house. It also meant I’d have all the time I needed to work on it and redecorate to suit myself.

Not to suit a wife. I don’t have one of those. Not to suit some other woman, or even some other man. There was just me and Snubs, my American Pit Bull Terrier. Yeah, I know, Pits have a bad rep. Wonderful dogs, often made mean and vicious and uncontrollable, by the same kind of stupid fucks who like to mess up everything around them. They have become the epitome of fighting dogs, used by idiots to bet money on. In some places, they are even banned. Snubs was lucky. I’d been driving through a rather seedy part of town one day and saw a little kid sitting on the curb with a box of tiny puppies. He was waiting for cars to come along and whenever a car got close, he’d throw a puppy into the street.

As you can imagine, I slammed on the brakes and got out. Yeah, I was pissed. I found myself yelling at this little cretin, “What the fuck are you doing? You can’t do that shit! These are lives you’re messing with!”

“Don’t make no difference,” he said, very nonchalantly, “mah Daddy’s goan kill ‘em anyway. Ol’ bitch ain’t taken keer a dem, nohow.”

Long story short, I snatched up the box and piled back in my car and drove. I was suddenly the owner of seven Pit puppies that were not even weaned and had to be bottle fed for another two weeks. I spent over a month getting them placed in homes. All except Snubs. He had one blue eye and one sort of gray and he was “tuxedo” marked, a uniform dove gray on top and white underneath. He was the one that followed me everywhere as soon as he was able to walk. He was also the one the kid had thrown into the street in front of my tire. As he grew up, he filled out into a fine, well-muscled example of everything the breed was supposed to be. He was too pretty to leave alone and, yeah, I took him to a good vet and had his ears cropped and his tail docked and dew claws removed. He was protective, but never mean. Usually the mere sight of him and the sound of his slightly hoarse bark was all anyone needed to convince them to screw around elsewhere.

I went to the closing on the house with Snubs on a sturdy leash and got the usual stink-eye from the realtor and the property owner. Snubs ignored them and went to lay down in a corner and took a nap. Real vicious, that one. After the closing, I started opening up the house, getting plywood off the windows and starting the process of cleaning it up and making it livable. It was nearly a month before I was able to move out of the old apartment, much to the joy of the landlord, who hated me and my dog, and finally occupy my house.

All the cleaning, painting and activity had caught the interest of all the neighbors, and within a day or two of moving in, Snubs and I had visits from no less than six women, four of whom were widows or divorcees, and we had enough pie and cake to keep us fat for a couple months.

We settled in and spent our days cruising junk shops and antique emporiums, looking for items to furnish the place. I had gone from a three-room apartment to an eight-room mansion (or, so it seemed) and I needed stuff.

Snubs went through the usual doggie thing, like, when are we goin home, Dad? Huh? Dad? In due time, he finally got it and settled in well. We had been in the house nine days, when we had the first hint of trouble.

 

2.

 

It was a Sunday morning and we had slept late. Being a middle-aged guy, I had gotten up at three in the morning to pee and Snubs figured that was a good idea, so I let him out. Ten minutes later, we were back in bed, him in his doggy bed and me in my California queen-size bed. It was nine o’clock by the time I shaved and hit the shower and as I got out and was drying off, the day went to shit.

I looked up at the triple-pane mirror on the medicine cabinet and froze. For a moment, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand erect. On the mirror, carefully drawn in the steam, was a heart and within it, the words ‘Love You’…

I tucked the towel in at my waist and slipped quietly into the bedroom and retrieved a small 5-shot Taurus P-85 revolver from the nightstand. Snubs was still laying in his bed, not asleep, but not upset about anything, either. As I methodically went through the house, top to bottom, checking every window and door and looking for any intruder who might be there, Snubs was right there, ready to get in on any fun that might be coming. He had been with me on shooting expeditions. He knew about guns. They didn’t particularly bother him.

There was no one. Doors and windows all secure. I went back to the bathroom, almost convinced I’d imagined the cryptic message on the mirror. The room had aired out and the steam was all gone. By breathing on the mirror, though, I was able to make it come back. It was still there, in latent form now, but definitely there. Then I wondered if it could have been there all along. Maybe a prank, pulled by someone at Lowe’s home improvement center, where I’d bought the cabinet. The more I thought about it, the more I was sure that mirror had been wiped several times when it steamed up and I needed to see myself. I usually just used the bath towel and wiped it. As I did now. I wiped it very carefully, right to the edges.

The next thing I thought about was the numerous ladies who had come to visit, bringing their high-calorie tributes to the unmarried guy and his ‘nice’ dog.

I had done nothing to reciprocate their visits and their generosity, and maybe that had been a mistake. Maybe one of them had a key and just let herself in, quietly moved through the house, avoiding the bedroom where Snubs was pulling his lax form of guard duty and was able to slip into the bathroom and leave the message. At any rate, it seemed I had an admirer. It could be worse, I thought, as the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ ran through my mind. She could have brought a knife and a hateful attitude…

Later that day, I went and bought and installed all new locks.

 

3.

 

Everything went well for another four days. Then came the Restless Night to end all restless nights. I piled into bed at about ten-thirty, after watching the news. In ten minutes, I was out like a light. I have a clock on my headboard that projects the time in red letters on the ceiling, so I know it was twelve seventeen in the morning when a long, mournful, pain-filled wail made me sit straight up and reach for that Taurus again. I sat for a moment, thinking I might have dreamed that horrible, breathy, screech of pain. It had happened that way before, on rare occasions. I had been a cop for a twenty-year career and I had seen enough horrifying shit to keep anyone awake at night and make for the occasional dream-scream.

But, whatever it was, Snubs had heard it too. He was standing at the bedroom door, a low growl rumbling in that deep chest, and I knew he was primed and ready to do whatever was necessary to keep us both safe. I jumped out of bed, gun in hand and grabbed a tactical flashlight I keep on the dresser and we went to check the house.

We checked the back first, because it was the closest, then we went down the hall, headed for the front. That was when the floor above us creaked. In older houses, floors squeak and creak. This house had tongue-and groove oak floors throughout, and they really sounded off when walked on.

I froze in place, and felt Snubs press himself against my leg. I could feel him trembling like there was a low-voltage electric current running through his muscles. I killed the flashlight and reached down to pet his neck. As we stood there, we very clearly heard footsteps move down the upstairs hallway, which was directly above us. This was pretty scary shit, but I was also getting pissed. I thought about stepping into my office and opening the gun safe and getting out something more substantial, maybe my 12-gauge riot gun. But that would take time and besides, the electronic lock would make a beep with each number entered on the keypad. I decided we’d just go for it.

We stepped as quietly as we could down to the end of the hall, (those squeaky floors again, only working against us this time) and I looked up the stairs. Up at the top of the landing, everything was pitch black. I decided stealth would do us no good and a whispered to Snubs, “Go! Go get ‘em! Get ‘em!” Bravely, or foolishly, he shot up the stairs like a rocket, ready to tear someone’s ass up. I followed, two steps at a time, my flashlight and revolver at the ready.

By the time I made the top of the stairs, Snubs was back, tongue hanging out and panting and looking at me like, “What the fuck?” I took my time checking everything upstairs and found nothing. There was only one stairway. Nothing came past us. And nothing was there. “Well, this is fucked,” I said aloud. Snubs snorted and headed back downstairs. I suspect he thought I’d somehow engineered this whole deal just to mess with his head. After all, humans can do some magical things, at least from the viewpoint of man’s best friend.

It took a bit longer to get back to sleep that night, and when I got up in the morning, the message was back on the mirror in the bathroom. Only, this time it said, “Love you, Pete”, and it was in a particularly hideous shade of orange lipstick.

4.

 

Oh, yeah, that’s me. Pete Lauffer. Old fart extraordinaire, buyer and fixer-upper of houses, widowed myself at fifty and, apparently the object of someone’s affection. I thought about calling the cops while I was standing there wondering how I was gonna get that greasy shit off my mirror. Not because the cops could really do anything, but just to start a paper trail, in case I did wind up blowing someone away in the middle of the night. But what did I have? Messages on mirrors and noises at night. I could see the carefully covered feelings of any cops who might show up, wondering what kind of pussy this retired cop was and why he couldn’t take care of business himself. I looked all around the bathroom for the lipstick, thinking it might be there, discarded in the tub or whatever. Of course, it wasn’t there. Just like the upstairs intruder.

Things began to change again four days later, when I ran into Freddie Carlisle at the grocery store. I turned a corner and almost rammed her cart with mine. Hurriedly backed up and said, “Sorry,” and gave her the patented Pete Lauffer smile, guaranteed to soothe jangled nerves. Then I realized I knew her, vaguely. “Oh, hi, it’s, um…” Trying harder than I should have had to for her name.

“Freddie. Freddie Carlisle. I stopped by just after you moved in…”

“Oh, yeah, I remember.”

“That’s okay, I think you had a lotta visitors for a few days there.”

“Well, yeah, it was kind of a whirlwind of activity…”

“I was the pineapple upside-down cake. One of my specialties.” I had to admit, out of all the women who had stopped by in that frantic week, Freddie was the one I was most taken with. She was on the upside of forty, and a very well put-together forty. Blonde hair, most likely tinted by someone who knew what they were doing and worn short enough to look pixie-like. Dark, liquid eyes and a body…well, let’s just say good-sized boobs and a tiny ass. That was enough for me.

“I remember. That cake was really good. I remember you mentioned you were a widow, too. Like me.”

“Really? Recently?”

“Couple years ago. Marcy had breast cancer that got out of control.”

“Don had a heart attack. One. First and final.”

“Yeah…well,” I said, “I’m gonna hafta move along here, and it was nice seeing you again. You suppose we could get together some time? Maybe go out to dinner?”

She dug in her purse and found a business card. Handed it to me. “That number is my cell phone. You just call me whenever, okay?”

As she strolled away, I alternated between looking at the card, (Freeman Motors, Freddie Carlisle, Sales Representative) and checking her tight little butt in her white Capri pants. Holy shit. Just call me whenever.

I was very suave about it. Waited until that evening at about seven-thirty, just after eating my microwaved Hungry Man chicken dinner. I found I was actually nervous. I hadn’t called a woman for a date in literally years. She answered on the first ring. Very professional phone-voice, pitched low and slightly breathy. “Freeman Motors, this is Freddie Carlisle.”

“Pete Lauffer, nice lady. Does that Freddie stand for Frederica?”

“Well, hi, Pete. Yeah, it does indeed, spelled with a ‘K’ at the end. What’s up?”

“I assume you’re at work. Didn’t mean to bother ya when you’re working.”

“No bother. Slow as hell around here. Haven’t sold a car in almost two weeks.”

“Well, tell me what nights you’re free to sneak out to dinner, then.”

“I’ll be loose tomorrow night. I’ll pick you up at six-thirty.”

“You’re gonna pick me up? Okay…”

“I’ve seen your truck. My ride’s nicer. If it bothers you, I’ll let you drive.”

“Sounds like a deal,” I said, and I noticed my heart had sped up a little, “see you then.”

Her ride sure as hell was nicer than my truck. She rolled up about three minutes early in a red Mercedes Benz E-Class coupe. I didn’t make her come to the door. I had dressed in a casual sport coat, no tie and tan Dockers, hoping I wouldn’t be over- or under-dressed. I hustled out to the car and she started to get out. I waved her back and said, “You can drive.” She had opted for a black skirt, just above the knee, white blouse, red belt, matching lipstick and matching ‘fuck me’ shoes. I was blown away. No nylons. Her nice tan let her get away with that. When I got in, she leaned over for a hug and an air-kiss, then snatched the car into gear and we roared off. I spent the first few minutes alternating between admiring her legs and watching the road as she skillfully whipped the car through traffic. She drove it like a Mercedes should be driven, using the performance without abusing the machine, and taking no prisoners.

She drove us to Bishop’s Grill, a place I’d heard about but hadn’t been to yet. It turned out to be more folksy than hoity-toity and the steaks were on the rare side and served sizzling on a hot skillet, tucked into a wooden tureen. Over dinner we talked about anything and everything and I could tell she was enjoying herself. When the check came, there was no bullshit about, let-me-get-that. She let me get it and we stepped on out into the evening.

“It’s kinda early yet,” I said, “would you like to go see a movie or something?”

She took my hand as we walked to the car and said, “Yeah, I’d like that. I have a home theater at my place and I have Netflix. Let’s go see what we can find.” Again, Holy Shit

Her house was actually smaller than mine and just four doors down on the same street. It was newer and had a more open floor plan, except for the bathrooms and the home theater. We settled in with a movie and a big bowl of popcorn and watched a few episodes of some modern western series about a sheriff in Montana or someplace. At eleven, I decided I’d better head home and she walked me to the door. She reached up to put her arms around me and we shared a kiss. Then another. She felt really good in my arms and my crank was screaming, ‘go for it!’, but I resisted, and I felt that was probably the right thing to do. It was too early. I sensed she appreciated my decision. We said goodnight and I walked up to my place. As I was unlocking my front door, my phone buzzed with a text message.

You taste good. See you soon?

I texted back, Damn right. Can’t wait. You taste pretty good, yourself.

I got back a smiley face emoticon. Snubs was overjoyed to see me and to see the grass in the back yard. While he did his business, I brushed my teeth, took a leak and got ready for bed. I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow.

The red numbers on the ceiling said 4:40 when I came about half awake and snuggled up to the warm, sweet-smelling woman next to me. My hand slid over her stomach and upward, to cup a full, warm breast. I started to drift off to sleep, when alarm bells and a-woogah horns started going off in my head.

I snapped awake and suddenly sat up and watched in the dimness of the moon-lit bedroom, as the sheet on the other side of the bed deflated, like a hot-air balloon, that had just landed on the ground. Something (a woman, my mind said) had been there, and then it wasn’t. Like the lipstick and the creaking floor. I sprang from the bed and backed against the wall. Snubs was still in his bed, and he looked up at me with that, ‘what the fuck’ look of his. I stepped into the bathroom, fully expecting to find something new and maybe different on the message-mirror. There was nothing. I took a piss and flushed. Walked back into the bedroom. I was badly shaken and quite sure there was no way I’d sleep again that night. I turned on the overhead light and looked at the indentation in the pillow. Not on my side. On hers. Whoever she was. Whatever it was. I leaned over and grabbed the pillow and held it up to my face. There was the faint scent of perfume. And I recognized it. It was some stuff Marcy used to wear when we were young and full of love and sap. It was called ‘Poison.’

 

5.

 

It was time to stop bullshitting myself and admit that the goddamn house was haunted. Or occupied. By something outrageous or outlandish or maybe even dangerous. Sort of like the old saying about non-poisonous snakes—they won’t hurt you, but they might cause you to hurt yourself.

So far, my “friend” hadn’t done anything to hurt me or endanger me. But it—or she—was getting stronger, and she was scaring the shit outta me. I wasn’t quite ready to put the house on the market and move out. Not yet. But if things didn’t change, and soon, that was definitely an option. Once again, I let Snubs out into his yard and I went to make coffee.

One thing led to another and coffee soon gave way to bacon and eggs. I even made a whole tube of biscuits and Snubs helped me kill them off. Yeah, he’s spoiled, but he’s all I’ve got nowadays.

I showered and dressed and set off at eight to run errands and grocery shop. I had a feeling I might soon have a guest over for an early dinner and, hopefully, some messing around and somehow, I didn’t think Hungry Man was gonna cut it with this lady. I spent about two hundred bucks and I was amazed how little I got for my money. I spent some more at the local package store and got four bottles of wine, two I knew about and two that were recommended by the man at the counter.

When I got home, Freddie was sitting on my veranda, kicked back in a wicker chair with a book. She looked like she was prepared to wait all day, if necessary.

“You could have sent me a text,” I said, “and I would have hurried back sooner.”

“That’s okay. I have a rare day off and I have a feeling we’re gonna be worth the wait.” She helped me lug in groceries and she seemed to be impressed with the wine. When everything was put away, she hopped up onto one of the kitchen counters and sat, swinging her legs and said, “What shall we do now?”

I stepped over to her and ran my hands up her thighs. She was wearing red shorts and a tie-dyed t-shirt, and she looked scrumptious. I leaned in and her arms came up and we started where we’d left off the night before. As we smooched, she managed to scoot forward some, pushing those impressive boobs against me, then wrapping her legs around me. In a couple minutes, we came up for air and I nuzzled her neck, saying, “I’m sorry if this is going too fast, but you feel really good and it’s been a while…”

“Mmmm…really? How long?” Her hands were shoved down the back of my jeans now and I was getting hard.

“Bout a year and a half, I guess…” More smooching, then I got a hand under a breast. No resistance there, none at all.

“Four years, here. And I’m ready to break that losing streak. Let’s go get horizontal. Show me your bedroom.”

I walked her down the hall and into the bedroom and took my time undressing her, kissing everything I exposed in the process. She was reaching to me between my efforts and stripping me, too. When we were naked, she looked me over and said, “God, I’m glad you’re not all fat and nasty.” I sat her on the foot of the bed and pushed her back and moved downward, intending to lick her and make her crazy. Again, no resistance. Some women taste okay and some don’t. And with some, you just wanna live the rest of your life down there. Freddie was as sweet as honey and I gladly licked and tickled her until she grabbed my head and held me tight, locked her thighs on me and came, groaning and gasping, then giggling a little as I got ready to push into her.

She pulled me onto her and her legs opened and she said, “Easy, Big Fella, it’s been a while.”

“Tell me if I hurt you,” I gasped, and I pushed gently, and we were joined a moment later. It was warm and slow, and she was enjoying it, but I could tell she was feeling some discomfort. I surprised myself by holding off for quite a while, long enough to give her another good orgasm. After, we snuggled in the bed and I hoped she couldn’t smell that nocturnal perfume of the unknown entity that had occupied the place the night before.

I was ready for a nap, but sex seemed to energize her, and besides, she had probably had a decent night’s sleep. She suddenly bounded up out of bed and as she moved past me, I tried to grab her cute ass. She giggled and avoided me and scurried into the bathroom. Her gasp was loud enough, I heard it from the bed. Then, she walked back out and stared at me, standing hipshot, and making no effort to cover herself in any way.

“This is not funny, Mister. In fact, it’s a little sick, okay?”

“What are you talking about?” But, in a way, I already knew. I jumped out of bed and walked toward Freddie and she turned and went into the bathroom. I stood in the doorway and did some deep breathing exercises. On the mirror was the orange lipstick again. It read, “Get out, Bitch!”

Freddie was leaning forward onto the vanity top and she said, “What the fuck, Pete? If ya didn’t want me here, all ya had to do was say so…”

“Babe, I didn’t write that…”

“What? Bull—shit! Who else is here?”

“I…I don’t know.”

“The fuck you mean, you don’t know? There are people here and we’re in there…fucking…and you don’t know who’s in your own house?”

“No. Not people. There’s something here, but I don’t know what it is for sure…”

“Oh, yeah, here we go. Whatcha got, Pete, ghosties? Spooks? Spirits?”

“I’ve got no idea…” At that point, she pushed past me and went into the bedroom and started grabbing clothes and slipping into silky underthings. I could tell she was pissed and ready to storm out and I didn’t want that to happen. So, I sat down on the end of the bed, making no effort to get dressed, and told her the whole story, from the beginning, with nothing left out. By the time I finished, she was sitting beside me and holding my hand.

“Jesus,” she said, “that’s pretty unbelievable. If I find out you’re bullshitting me about this, you know I won’t be seeing you again. If this turns out to be some kind of weird turn-on for you, I’m not gonna appreciate it one bit…”

“No. Freddie, I promise, it’s not a trick or anything I’m in control of. Whatever it is, it’s real, and tell ya the truth, it’s started scarin’ the shit outta me.”

She got up and walked back into the bathroom, and this time she didn’t gasp. She screamed. I ran in and saw her staring at the mirror. The mirror was clean, the message was gone.

 

6.

 

I made a pot of coffee and we sat at the kitchen table. We were both fully dressed now, and I was sorry the afternoon delight had been so brief. I was ready for more, but she had other ideas.

“I’ll tell ya what, Pete. Any further hanky and panky will have to take place over at my house or in a hotel or, fuck I don’t care, in your truck in an open field somewhere. But it won’t be here.”

“I’m okay with that. I think whatever’s here doesn’t want you here. I’m not even sure it wants me here.”

“Well, I dunno, it got in bed with you…”

“Freddie, do you understand that I’m not sure about any of this? I’m not sure what’s real and what’s not? I mean, yeah, I think it was there…but I was half-asleep and there was only moonlight…maybe I could have…imagined at least part of it…or dreamed it, I dunno…”

She stood up and walked over to the sink and dumped the last of her coffee, then turned off the coffee maker and came to me. She stood behind me and wrapped her arms around my neck and spoke next to my ear. “Let’s get outta here Pete. If there’s some woman-ghost here, let’s let her have the place to herself for a while. Put yer dog out and let’s roll.”

We walked down to her house and got out the Mercedes and headed out. We drove in the country for several hours, and fifty miles away from the city, we found a barbeque joint where the beer was cold and the ribs were thick and juicy and we sat outside at old, scarred picnic tables and waved away the flies. We ate until we were stuffed and took our time getting back. We stopped by my place, so I could feed Snubs and then we went to her place. We went to bed and I expected we would be more relaxed with each other, and in some ways we were, but we were also just learning each other’s timing and rhythms. At some point, we slept.

Two more days went by and Freddie was back to work, doing long hours and not much pay, unless she sold an expensive car and got a fat commission. I spent time doing yard work and deliberately trying to wear myself out, so I’d be able to sleep all night. Snubs helped me by digging holes and carrying off my tools whenever he got the chance. On the second night, I was beat, and I found myself nodding off during the ten o’clock news. I said the hell with it and took myself off to bed.

There was a storm that night and lightning knocked out the power, so there were no lighted numbers on the ceiling when I woke up with an intense boner and someone’s mouth working it slowly. Jesus, she’s back, I thought, and then I just surrendered to the sensation. In the pitch-black, relieved momentarily every few minutes by remote flashes of lightning, she worked me up to the extreme edge of orgasm, then she would back off and let things settle. Soon, she moved up onto the bed, and straddled me. She seemed to have no weight, but she was becoming very strong. In the slight flashes of lightning, I could see that she had been moderately pretty and dark-haired. When I slipped inside her, she was as warm and real as any woman I’d ever loved. Her breasts were large and rather pendulous, with thick, hard, dark nipples. I took them in my hands and tasted each in turn and she ground her hips into me. As I came inside her, she arched back, and I heard that banshee wail again, the same as the night of the upstairs floor creaking. And she dug her fingers into my chest hair and pulled out a handful. As we finished, she faded until, on the next lightning flash, I could see through her, and then she was gone. On my belly was a nice big load of my own semen and a bunch of my own hair.

I leaped out of bed and headed to the bathroom to clean myself up and I noticed Snubs was not in his bed, or anywhere within sight. Probably the wailing ran him off, I reasoned, and grabbed a washcloth. I was grasping at anything to keep my mind away from the fact that I had just had sex with a ghost or spirit or phantom of some kind. And it wasn’t bad. My chest stung a little, but I’d had rougher sex. Now the mystery of the mirror messages was solved. My nocturnal visitor was evidently here before I bought the place and had now become infatuated with me.

I walked the house and found Snubs cowering in the front living room, behind the sofa. It took some coaxing to get him to come out, and even then, he spent some time sniffing around me. Whether he was smelling my sex-sweat, or that perfume, (Poison. It’s called Poison) or the smell of death, I could not know, and he could not tell me. But I was satisfied the entity was real. What had happened was not some half conscious wet-dream, although I guess the result was the same. I knew I was up for the day and I went and started coffee before I hit the shower.

As I got soapy and steamy and clean, I thought about the house’s previous occupant. Murdered, Mr. Oliver had said. But he’d never mentioned her name. I thought about possible ways I might find out more and the library came immediately to mind, but then my next thought was, what about the Internet?

When I stepped out of the shower, my eyes automatically went to the mirror, but it was blank. I realized I had been holding my breath, and I let it out with a sigh and a thank you to whatever deity was now in charge of my life.

I made coffee and heated up a couple of Pop-Tarts. I didn’t want to take time for a real breakfast. I had research to do. I turned on my laptop and let it boot up, then started the search engine. To start with, I put in my own address, and to my amazement, that was all it took.

Police were called this morning to 8556 Norway Place on a ‘check welfare’ call, where they discovered the nude body of the resident, Ramona Clark, 41. A detective at the scene said it appeared she had been dead for several days and that she was most likely beaten to death. The detective would make no further comment on this ongoing investigation.

Neighbors stated Ms. Clark lived alone and was employed at Claire’s Boutique in the Westerly Mall. When she failed to appear at her workplace for the second day, employees at the Boutique called police to check on her.

I ran more searches and read about the investigation that really went nowhere right from the start. Ramona had no ex-husband, no boyfriend, no stalkers. She had mostly kept to herself except for vacation trips. She had been on a Mississippi River cruise the previous spring. I looked at the dates on the articles and realized I had moved in one year and one day after she was found murdered.

So, I didn’t know a hell of a lot more that I’d known before, except now she had a name.

 

7.

 

As I was paging through more articles, and not learning anything new, my cell phone buzzed and I found a text from Freddie.

Cat got yer tongue?

Nope. How ya doin?

Horny as catshit…

We should do something about that.

Yes WE should. I’ll be off today @ 5

Should I bring wine?

Yes, pls.

K. See you then…

There seemed to be a lot of cat-thoughts in her conversation, but that was okay. I was pretty sure I could deal with Freddie. At least she wouldn’t fade out and disappear on me…

I spent the afternoon napping on my sofa and watching TV. I caught an interesting news story out of Austin about some crazy bastard who was sending bombs to people, and I thought about Ted Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh. I had some weird shit going on at my house, but at least nobody was trying to blow me up. In fact, the only thing that had happened to me was a pretty messy orgasm—not my first, by any means—and some hair loss, which would grow back.

I walked on down to Freddie’s house after I knew for sure she was home. She came to the door in a bathrobe, her hair still damp from the shower. She smelled wonderful and holding her was amazing. We headed straight for her bedroom and played for an hour, then camped out in the kitchen in our underwear, sipping wine and nibbling whatever we could find in her fridge—grapes, cheese, crackers, part of a summer sausage. We shared kisses while we ate and soon she was in my lap and we were feeding each other and giggling like kids. Soon, we hurriedly shoved things back into the fridge and cabinets and raced back to the bedroom.

By nine o’clock, we were exhausted from love-making and I stayed the night. At around three, I got up to get rid of some wine and when I came back to bed, we had another session and went back to sleep, holding each other. At seven AM, I woke up to Freddie singing off-key in the shower. I went in to join her and we actually behaved ourselves. When we were toweling off, she said, “Well, I guess the honeymoon’s over…”

I was wool-gathering and I said, “Huh?” Clever rejoinder, there.

“We just had a shower together and we didn’t attack each other once.”

“I was almost afraid to after last night.”

She grinned at me and said, “Me, too. Besides, I gotta get to work. I’ve sold two cars this week and I’ve got good leads on two more. This may be a record-breaker.” Then, she looked at me and said, “What happened to your chest? Yer missin’ some hair, there…”

“I…I was thinkin’ about shavin’ it all off…but I didn’t know if you’d like me that way and I lost my nerve.”

“No! Don’t you dare! I like yer furry chest. It tickles me, and I like that.”

“Okay, I’ll leave it alone, then…” I had just told Freddie the first lie of the relationship.

As I left, she had her car keys in hand. I kissed her and patted her ass and said, “Go get ‘em, Tiger.”

“You go rest, old man. I’ll call ya…”

I walked on down to my house and dealt with Snubs, who was frantic with love and had decided to show it by trying to knock me down. He wasn’t missing any meals, but he had sure missed his daddy.

I did house cleaning and a couple maintenance chores until noon and then decided a nap might be a good thing. Instead of curling up on the sofa, I went to bed. Stripped to my shorts and crawled right in. No guilt about it, either. I had worked hard to please my lady and she was right, I needed rest. I dropped off in about three minutes.

An hour later, I was awake. The bed covers had been pulled down and also my shorts, and something invisible was touching me, licking me and sucking me. I was transfixed, both by fear and by pleasure. I could see the slickness of her saliva on me and I could feel everything, but I could not see any part of her. I finally gasped her name.

“Ramona?”

I was rewarded with a pause in the action. I could still feel her hand wrapped around me, and then, very faintly, I could see the darkness of her hair and the shape of one breast. I whispered to her, “I want to see you. All of you. Show me.”

And she began to manifest. That is the only word that I could find to describe it. Very gradually, she began to take form. Her face came first and it was a lovely face. She showed it for only a second or two, then she bent back to her task, taking me back into her mouth. And then I could see her shoulders, her back, the curve of her hip, her shapely white legs, everything.

In another minute, I said, “Can you turn over? Can I do that to you?”

She did not speak. She turned onto her back and pulled her legs up and moved them apart, her toes just barely touching the bed. I moved to her and began nuzzling her, right where a woman loves it the most. She shuddered with pleasure and became even more substantial, and I could smell her sex as well as taste it.

I only performed cunnilingus on her for a minute, because I was afraid she would fade away before I could finish with her. I needn’t have worried. I slipped into her and she locked her legs around me and she urged me deeper. I moved until I was completely on top of her and I held her tightly as she came again and again, raking me with her fingernails and even biting me on my neck and chest. It seemed that her lust was endless, and we continued for quite some time, until finally I could hold off no longer and I fired what seemed like a gallon into her. And, at last, I heard her speak. She said, “Oh, Pete…” and then she was gone. And I had sheets to change…

Forty minutes later the bed was changed, the washer was running and I was getting out of the shower. My cell phone was buzzing on the counter. I checked it and found a text from Freddie:

No nookie tonight. One of the guys called in. Gonna hafta work.

Sell anything?

Not yet, but I think it’s a done deal.

Okay, stay safe.

Okay. Think I’m in trouble.

What? Why?

Think I may be fallin for this guy that lives on my street.

Hmmm…that could be good or bad. We better talk…

K. See ya later.

There was a smile on my face I couldn’t get rid of for a while. I really liked Freddie. But I didn’t know if I was really interested in being in love, or getting hitched or any of that jazz. I’d have to tread lightly, I thought, as I looked myself over in the mirror. The bite marks were fading, and Ramona hadn’t torn me open anywhere that I could see.

 

8.

I curled up on the sofa with a beer and a bag of jalapeno chips and started watching Forensic Files, with Snubs curled up beside me. Within a half hour, my eyes were heavy and I dozed off. I woke up with Snubs growling, standing beside me and staring at the hallway.

I put my hand on his thick, hard neck and felt him vibrating against me. “What’s goin on, Buddy? Somebody messin around?”

He jumped down and ran down the hall toward the stairs and I got up and followed. He stood at the bottom of the stairs, looking up.

I followed his gaze and saw Ramona, standing on the landing at the top of the stairs. She was naked and very substantial. She beckoned to me. I held up one finger and took Snubs and put him outside. I went back to the stairs and she was gone. I went on upstairs, on the off-chance that she might have stuck around, but it seemed she was gone again.

In the spare bedroom, where there wasn’t even a bed yet, there was a photo album in the middle of the floor. I had never seen it before and I had no idea where it might have been. I was pretty sure I had been everywhere in the house, but apparently not. The album was open to a page near the middle and there were two pictures there, both taken at a park somewhere. Ramona was recognizable in both and in both there was a man with her. I picked up the album and leafed through it. There were lots of family pictures, but throughout the whole thing there were only two pictures with the unknown man in them.

I wondered if she was trying to give me a message. Was this guy the one who killed her? I pulled the pictures out and flipped them over. One was blank on the back. On the other was written in blue ball-point, ‘Me and Luke, 6/16/08’.

So, Luke, who the fuck are you? I kept the pictures and slipped them into my back pocket. To the air in the room, I said, “Thank you, Ramona. I’ll look into this.”

It was going on four when I got to the police station. At the front desk, a crusty old sergeant tried to shine me on, but when I produced retired police ID, he relented and called back to their homicide unit. In a few minutes a florid, slightly overweight cop named Gilmore came out and got me. We went in the back and he offered me coffee. I knew about police station coffee, but I could smell it and it seemed it might be fresh. I tried a cup and it wasn’t half bad. We went to an interview room and took a seat.

Detective First Class Neil Gilmore was one of those deceptively easy-going cops, who seem about to nod off whenever they’re listening to you, but they don’t miss a thing.

“So, what’s this about, Pete?”

“Do you remember a homicide case a bit over a year ago, a woman named Ramona Clark, who was found murdered in her house over on Norway Place?”

“Yeah. You’re the guy who bought the house?”

“Yeah. How did you know that?”

“Lucky guess. Go ahead.”

“I was wondering, one old cop to another, if there have been any leads on the case lately, or if it’s a cold case now?”

“I hate the term cold case, Pete. I stay on these things and as far as I’m concerned any homicide is always an active case, but right now, that one’s in, ah…shall we say, hibernation?”

I pulled the pictures out of my back pocket and handed them to him. He looked them over on both sides and then said, “Well, I’ll be god-damned. Luke Johns. Where the fuck did you get these?”

“I found an old photo album in the house when I was doing some renovations. They were in it, along with a lot of others. He was only in those two shots, though.”

“You know what, Pete? We interviewed this guy and he told us he didn’t know this woman, never met her, etc., and yadda-yadda, and here he is. We can put him with her and we even have the date. You suppose you could bring in the rest of that album?”

“I could do that, or you could have one of the night shift troops come by and get it if ya need it right away.”

“Okay, we’ll do that. The sooner the better, I’d say. Thank you very much, Pete. This may just blow this case wide open…”

I drove home and after calming Snubs down, I trotted upstairs to grab the photo album, so I’d have it handy whenever the cops came to get it. Of course, it was gone. I stood for a moment, completely perplexed, thinking I might have put it somewhere without thinking about it, but no. I was sure I’d left it right there on the floor. Now, I was gonna look like an idiot when the boys in blue dropped by.

Finally, I stood right in the middle of the room and said, “Ramona? The cops were very interested in those pictures and they’d like to see the rest of the album. Where did you hide it, Babe? I need it…Ramona? You really want this guy caught? Yer gonna hafta help me out, here…”  Nothing. Well, shit. Just then, the doorbell rang and Snubs started going ape-shit downstairs. Under my breath, I said, “Fuck!”, and ran down to get the door.

Gilmore had sent a two-man car and I got the dog settled down and asked them inside. One of them said, “Really like what you’ve done with the place…”

I guess I must have registered a quizzical look with him, because he said, “We were on the initial call, when Ms. Clark was found.”

“Oh, okay. Well, I…seem to have misplaced the item they sent ya for. I’m sure I’ll find it in a day or so and I’ll be glad to bring it in, but…”

“Photo album, right?” The younger copper had tilted his hat back and was looking at me a little strangely.

“Yeah, it had a brown cover with some kinda gold strip making a square on the front…”

He reached past me and picked up the album from the kitchen table and said, “Like this one?” His partner was smiling slightly, and I said, “Um, yeah, that’s it. Damn, it’s hell to get old…”

“Okay, we’ll get this right down to the station…” I knew when they got in their car, the laughter would be uproarious.

After they left, I said, more to myself than to Ramona, “You know those guys think I’m an idiot now…”

I walked down the hall and stepped into the bathroom to make some water and saw the mirror. It said, “Get rid of her…” The message was fading, even as I read it. In a moment, it was gone.

Later that night, Ramona came to me in my bed and we did what we had become accustomed to. This time, she was almost gentle, but as she climaxed, she wailed and moaned, and tears fell on my chest. And when I looked into her eyes, I saw the smoldering coals of ancient forest fires and ruined burned cities, and then she closed those smoldering eyes and she was gone. As I was dozing off, I realized there was no mess to clean up. Ramona was growing stronger and more solid, more real all the time.

9.

 

Days went by and the summer was waning. I continued to see Freddie, but it was like she was on the side, almost like when I was with her, I was cheating on Ramona, whom I lived with, like it or not.

Snubs had gotten so used to her appearances, he didn’t get freaked or even excited anymore. A week after I turned over the photos to the cops, they picked up Luke Johns in Wilmington, Delaware. He waived extradition and they brought him back. He balked at a DNA test and yelled for a lawyer. They got him his lawyer and also a warrant for the DNA. His profile matched that of swabs they had taken of the bite marks on Ramona’s breasts, neck and shoulders. The bite marks had been withheld from the media.

On the advice of his lawyer, he never confessed, but a plea agreement was worked out to keep lethal injection off the table. He got life with no possibility of parole. And I got a call from Detective Gilmore, inviting me to a bash he was throwing at his place for the homicide division. Nothing fancy, beer and brats, come casual, but by all means get your ass over here.

I went. I was tempted to ask Freddie to go, but then decided I didn’t want to deal with all the questions. It was a decision I would come to regret and very soon. I realized I was keeping my activities with Ramona a secret from Freddie, even though she knew I’d had an encounter and she’d seen the message on the mirror. At the same time, I was keeping my activities with Freddie a secret from Ramona, as best I could. I had no idea if Ramona’s spirit could travel from the house, even as short a distance as four houses away, or if she was trapped where she was. I hoped she wasn’t able to follow me and watch as I frolicked with Freddie.

The party ran pretty late and I had enough alcohol that I shouldn’t have driven home, but I made it okay. When I stumbled into the back yard, Snubs was not to be found. I unlocked and opened the back door and he met me, all wags and affection, but not nearly as manic as usual. But I knew I had left him outside. Before I went anywhere else, I looked over the lock on the back door. It appeared to be intact and working normally. I could not see any evidence that the lock had been picked or the door jimmied in any way.

I stepped into the kitchen and turned on the light. Everything appeared normal, but Snubs was still acting strangely. I thought about that .38 revolver in my bedroom and I figured I’d better get that first, then check the rest of the house. When I stepped into the bedroom and turned on the light, I found Freddie. She was face up in the middle of my bed, the large butcher knife from the countertop set in the kitchen shoved up under her ribcage and into her heart. I reached out to her and took her slack, cooling hands in mine and bent my head down to her, whispering, telling her how sorry I was. In my imagination, I saw her, lured to my house somehow, maybe forced inside and then killed while trying ineffectively to fight off something she could not see. Dying because of the jealousy of a woman already dead. My God, why didn’t I just flee the house when that first encounter happened? Why?

Then, from behind me, I heard a grating sound almost like fingernails on slate. I turned to look and there Ramona stood in the doorway, her eyes glowing with evil and with blood on her hands. The grating sound was the laughter of one who was already dead and could never be blamed for the result of her jealousy. I closed my eyes and wept, even as I struggled to hold onto my sanity.

I don’t know how long I stayed there, holding Freddie’s dead hands in mine, but when I came around, it was to the high-octane stink of gasoline. I jumped up and ran into the living room, where I watched in fascinated horror as my red, five-gallon can of lawnmower gas levitated across the room, slowly turning, four feet above the floor, spewing gas onto the furniture and carpet. Again, I heard Ramona’s voice. Again, that low, grating laughter. And I ran. I found Snubs cowering near the back door, and I snatched him up bodily and bolted for the truck. I was suddenly as sober as I’d ever been in my life and I realized if Ramona could kill with a knife and handle a gas can, striking a match would be child’s play.

I started the truck and started backing for the street, when I saw the first flash of fire inside Ramona’s house. Because it really was hers. It had never been mine, and she was proving it now.

I drove all night and finally stopped, exhausted, at a mom-and-pop motel on the west side of Cleveland. I have no idea where we will go. I know I will never convince anyone that I didn’t kill Freddie and burn down the house. What am I going to say? “Well, see, there’s this woman who was murdered in that house and now, she’s a succubus and we’ve been screwing our brains out, but she got jealous of the woman who wound up dead in my bed and…oh, fuck…”

I know it’s only a matter of time before the police will track me down. And I hope that happens first.

Before Ramona does…


Kenneth James Crist is one of the editors of Black Petals and has been a published writer since 1998, having had over a hundred short stories and poems in venues ranging from Skin and Bones and The Edge-Tales of Suspense to Kudzu Monthly. He is particularly fond of supernatural biker stories. He reads everything he can get his hands on, not just in horror or sci-fi, but in mystery, hardboiled, biographies, westerns and adventure tales. He retired from the Wichita, Kansas police department in 1992 and from the security department at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita in 2016. Now 74, he is an avid motorcyclist and handgun shooter. He is active in the American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard, helping to honor and look after our military. He is also a volunteer driver for the American Red Cross, Midway Kansas Chapter. He is the owner of Fossil Publications, a desktop publishing venture that seems incapable of making any money at all. On June the ninth, he did his first (and last) parachute jump and crossed that shit off his bucket list.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2018