This story is by Shane Fitzpatrick and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Legacy or Chocolate Broccoli.
“I love you more than sausages, dipped in ketchup!”
My daughter, Annette and I, played nose to nose about whose love was greatest.
“Mixed with mayo too!” came her giggling reply.
“Oh! Better than mine Annie.”
Our nightly routine started with her Mum, Jean, who passed away with cancer three years ago. It felt right continuing it. We kissed good night and I pulled the pale pink duvet up around her shoulders and wavy blond locks as I clicked off the main light and switched on the purple nightlight.
Stars illuminated the corners and ceiling of the room. She whispered in a low tone, a nighttime mantra.
“Love you more than chocolate broccoli Daddy.”
“Love you too banana-fluffy-pants.”
I descended the creaky stairs, avoiding the louder boards that ached in pain where a long overdue beer awaited me. A cool breeze tickled my bare feet, reaching the bottom step. Turning the TV on low, it crackled, the signal interrupted.
Something moved in Annette’s bedroom.
The baby monitor sputtered with a clunk. Climbing the stairs, I expected to see Annie standing in the door frame, rubbing her eyes. A rushing gust of air came down the stairs.
It knocked me against the exposed red brick wall. I bounced off one step and settled four further down. The front door was pulled open violently. Loose debris flittered in from the front lawn.
The lights flickered off for a couple of seconds, then came back on slowly. I sat transfixed, breathing deeply. Hairs on my neck and arms stood to attention.
Childhood memories of Jean’s resurfaced. She said this day might come. Stifling the shaking, I clenched my fists tight. We moved into this house after Annie was born. Jean told me stories of having her feet played while she slept, whispered voices in her head.
The following morning I cooked a pancake breakfast, tentatively asking Annie if she remembered anything from last night. Her usual quiet morning self, she shook her head. As she ate, memories registered.
“Daddy, why did you tickle my feet last night? You were wearing white wellies!”
Putting coffee to my lips at the same time, I spluttered hot liquid everywhere. We both laughed.
“What? Wh-why would I be tickling your feet?”
An abject thought popped into my head. I hid my face, mopping up the coffee.
“I dreamed it. You weren’t wearing pants and had big hair. Like you when you get out of bed!”
“Really? You said I was wearing wellies? White ones?”
Jean always wore pumps and sneakers, something she lived in. Her athleticism and height never led to high heels.
“Really big ones! That go up the legs.”
“Yeah, boots! Really long ones.”
I swallowed hard. I had made a mistake once with an office temp. Just after we were married but before Annie was born, who gave me a sexually transmitted disease. She wore knee high boots over her long, tan legs. She was dressed as a seventies disco girl, replete with an afro.
I don’t think Jean knew about my indiscretions. I was an idiot, but it kind of turned me on.
I was pulling into my drive, passing Sean and Annie’s house when I saw the lights flash on and off. In a brief moment, as their front door swung open, I saw the facial outline of Jean. She looked irate. We shared most things, being cousins. Walking into my own home, I pulled out the letter Jean had written me before she passed.
I needed reminding.
My self-loathing occupied me for a couple of hours. Being reminded of past blunders distracted me from the previous night.
Annie spent half the day bouncing on our neighbor’s trampoline like she used to do with her best friend. Her friend’s Mum, Susan, was a cousin of Jean’s. They had girls the same age and both were homemakers. Susan always kept me at arm’s length, until her daughter, and Annie’s best friend, passed.
Her stiffness in my company softened, more so since her husband ran away with a younger female work colleague. He couldn’t cope with his daughter’s loss.
Two nights ago, over glasses of wine and sob stories, we kissed. Like teenagers, we were eager to take our pants off and make up for lost time. Self-restraint returned just in time as the monitor fizzed with Annie’s movement upstairs.
I asked Susan if she remembered Jean talking about the supposed family curse, telling her about the preceding nights’ events.
“Yes, I do. She mentioned an exorcism. Sean, is there something in the garage that has that information? A box or something?”
“Yes! There’s a chest.” I knew about the box. I had to lay the grounds.
We uncovered the trunk underneath the workbench. It was covered in dust, stiff to move. Opening the casket, an antique handheld, grimy mirror lay on top. Susan brushed back her black hair from her face, excitement filling her brown eyes in the treasure hunt.
Inside were instructions on how to prepare a house for an entity invasion. Susan’s eyes widened, grasping an old leather-bound book. I watched her unfurl pages carefully, taking in each morsel. Overcome with lust, I cupped my hand on her chin and turned her face toward mine.
She didn’t hesitate. Our tongues became intertwined. Bodies followed suit on the garage floor, in behind boxes, shielding us from the street. I felt a chill in the summer air, as we lay post-coital, partially dressed.
Her attention was mine.
We made lunch, giggling at each other. Once fed and not thinking about carnal desires, we set about protecting the house. In the woods behind the house, we plucked wild rosemary and sprigs of lavender to ward away evil spirits. The black tourmaline gemstones from the chest were placed around the porch outside.
Holy water was poured over rosemary which was splashed at all doors and windows. Susan took her time. I casually omitted the basement entrance. The book advised pouring chamomile, cayenne, and clove outside the room of haunting, where Annie’s room was.
In the bedroom, rosemary was placed under her bed in a pillowcase. Lavender essence was sprinkled on her pillow. All the mirrors upstairs were to face each other, to reflect a spirit’s own distorted reflection. According to the book, they steer away from their own transparent selves.
Annie went to bed shortly before nine. She was asleep quickly, leaving myself and Susan kissing on the living room couch. My breath frosted in the humid summer air. The monitor crackled until a clear voice came through.
“SEAN YOU BASTARD! WHORE!” It wasn’t Annie’s voice.
“Get out of the house! My house!”
We rose suddenly, buttoning our clothes. Susan’s hands shook. Her eyes darted left and right.
“Sean, who is that?” whispered Susan.
“I don’t know,” I lied. Susan trembled.
My acting skills were being tested.
“Stay close to me.”
Susan nodded timidly, utterly plasmaphobic. We made our way into the hall. She gripped the bottom stem of the banister.
“Susan? You want to help?”
“I’m going upstairs to check on Annie – the basement door hasn’t been blessed – can you go there and splash holy water on it? It’ll take a second. Otherwise, IT will get in!” I pointed toward the rosemary sitting in a bucket of holy water.
I kissed her full, knowing that she needed convincing. I bounced up the stairs, seeing Annie sleeping soundly. The wind circled outside, whipping up a frenzy. The black tourmaline stones were keeping Jean initially at bay. She had basement egress though. Timing was everything.
Sean was an overconfident, chauvanistic dick.
Susan hadn’t read through the entire book. Most spirits want a conclusion, an ending to their torment. I intended to give our spirit just that. Someone to focus on. I heard the basement doors slam open hard against the concrete outside. I read the incantation aloud.
“Accipere inter infirma!”
Jean had advised me of the Latin incantations of casting out invasive haunters. I doused myself with the holy water, flayed my body with the rosemary and crouched down behind the old mirror in the basement.
Within seconds, the wind dropped. My breath didn’t freeze. Annie slept soundly. I had to do what I had for the remainder of my family. For myself, my dead wife and my daughter. To sacrifice a neighbor. Sure no one would really miss her. Take the weak one.
Sean couldn’t act quickly enough. He was the architect of his own downfall. I would lovingly look after my cousin’ s daughter.
I stood on the landing, confident in Susans’ departure, warming my hands.
Jean’s cold, livid eyes met my gaze at the bottom of the stairs.