This story is by G.M. Kelly and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“You and I have something in common, Mr. Jones,” said the woman as she leaned back in her conference chair, crossing her legs.
“So, this was the infamous recluse of Backman Enterprises,” thought Ben, as his eyes traveled from her bare shoulders down the length of her designer sheath. Elsa Backman could rival women half her age and she knew it. Ben was intrigued.
“Oh, and what is that?” he asked with a roguish smile. “And please, call me Ben.”
Elsa studied him for a minute. With his flyaway hair and preppy demeanor, Ben looked younger than his 33 years. “He looks so innocent,” she thought. “But then again, so did Ted Bundy.”
“Well, Ben, we’re both ghosts. You’re a ghostwriter and I’m,” she paused, leaning forward and holding his eyes captive, “a ghost maker.”
Ben’s mask cracked; he squinted, Excuse me?”
Elsa’s lips curled into a knowing smile that never reached her eyes. “Let’s just say that invisibility isn’t unfamiliar to me.”
“I see,” he said.
“No, no you don’t, Ben. But you will when you write my biography.”
“I’m excited about the opportunity!” he gushed. “I’ve brought…”
Elsa held up her hand, “No need for your bio. I probably know more about Benjamin E. Jones than any other person on this planet, other than you, of course.”
A pregnant pause fell between them.
Ben took a sip of water, but swallowing was difficult. The highlights of his life flashed before his eyes like a movie on fast forward – Jerome’s concussion on the football field, Charlene’s failed drug test, Richard’s expulsion from school, his therapist’s suicide. She can’t possibly know. I was so careful.
Elsa sat back enjoying his discomfort. She knew that behind Ben’s mild mannered facade lay a sociopath with a pathological need to control – to succeed at all costs. For Ben, life was a game where winning wasn’t good enough; he needed to destroy his competition in the process.
Elsa coughed and moved on, “Let me get to the point. I want you to travel with me for six months and dedicate yourself to learning everything there is to know about me. I want you to make my biography headline news. Can you do that?”
Barely back in control, Ben chose to say nothing, letting his bobbing head speak for him.
“At 8:30 AM sharp this Friday, we will sail out of Quayside Marina and travel to places where I’ve made my mark,” she said standing and walking to the conference room door. “As per my agreement with your agent, $200,000 was deposited into your bank account. I suggest you go home and pack.” And then she was gone.
Ben sat for a moment thinking. He was starting to have some serious reservations about this assignment. But God knows, he needed the money. Taking a deep breath, Ben shivered away his anxiety and let greed trump sensibility. He strode out the door and straight to the bank.
Two days later, Ben stood on the bow of a 200+ foot super yacht — the B.E. Mine. Looking around and finding the deck all clear, he faced into the wind, stretched out his arms and shouted, “I’m the king of the world!” After a few minutes basking in his good fortune, Ben headed inside to survey his new home.
B.E. Mine was luxury personified, stem to stern – a floating 5-star resort complete with its own Jet Ranger helicopter. “Yup, I could get used to this,” he mused as a smug look flitted across on his face.
Two months later, Ben felt like jumping overboard and swimming home. Elsa Backman might be one of the richest businesswomen in the world, but as far as Ben was concerned she was certifiably nuts. Instead of interviewing her to capture her life story, he was being dragged around the world visiting — of all things — cemeteries!
He could understand holding vigil at her family’s graves, but none of the others were even remotely related to her. But in his role as the dutiful biographer, Ben kept track of all the locations, names and dates – for what purpose, he had no idea.
The night after this twentieth gravestone duty call, Ben racked his brain about his next move. How do dead strangers help me ghostwrite this woman’s biography?
Staring out at the rolling waves from his stateroom he felt a cold familiar sensation. Grabbing his notebook, he started scanning down the list, one name and date at a time. And then the pen dropped. Yesss!
Ben spent days scouring the internet for anything about the people who’d died – where they lived, their occupations and next of kin. He made dozens of calls and spoke to everyone he could find connected to the deceased. And what he discovered made his intestines quiver. “Death follows her like a shadow,” he whispered. He started writing.
Over the next three months, Ben kept mostly to himself as he chronicled the lives and deaths surrounding Backman Enterprises. Elsa didn’t seem to care one way or the other as long as he joined her at the next graveyard on her agenda.
Exactly six months after sailing from Quayside, B.E. Mine returned to its slip. Ben, already packed and itching to escape, looked around for Elsa. She wasn’t on deck. With relief he hurried off the boat and headed to the one place he felt at peace — his parents’ resting place.
A twig cracked behind him. He didn’t bother to look around; he knew who it was.
“They were good to you, weren’t they, Ben?” came the voice he was all too familiar with.
He slowly turned to Elsa, letting the guileless demeanor he donned for the past half year dissolve, “What that hell are you doing here?”
Elsa appeared not to hear him. “Not all parents are as kind, Ben. My father was quite the opposite. After my brother’s drowning, he sent me away to avoid publicity and hide my condition from prying eyes.”
Elsa waited for a reaction. None came.
“I suppose I can’t really blame Daddy. After all, I was the one who pushed Henrik overboard. You see, Ben, my dear brother’s appetites had gotten out of control and I was afraid of what he would do when he found out I was pregnant…” She paused, “…with you. He had to die.”
Bile rising in Ben’s throat ended in a menacing growl, “You killed all those people who’s graves we visited.”
“Not all; some were removed by my father. Others died by suicide,” she said.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake Ben!” Elsa barked. “They don’t call them hostile takeovers for nothing. Stop acting so naïve; it doesn’t suit you.”
Composing herself, Elsa turned and nodded towards the graves, “Did they ever mention me to you?”
“No,” came a hiss.
“Good, then they kept their part of the bargain – total secrecy. And now I’ll keep mine.” Elsa handed him a thick manila envelope. “It’s all yours Ben – every dime, every business, every asset.”
He hesitated before finally accepting the package.
With one last cold smile, Elsa turned and walked to an idling limousine, calling over her shoulder, “And don’t bother trying to find me, Ben. Remember, I’m very good at being invisible.”
Arriving home, Ben discovered a dozen phone calls from Backman Enterprise requesting his “urgent presence.” Word travels fast.
Ignoring them, Ben locked himself in his apartment and wrote – only venturing out to buy food. You want headlines, Elsa; I’ll give you headlines, you bitch!
Weeks later, with the last edits made, the biography of Elsa Backman was complete. Ben headed out for some fresh air and checked the mail. Interspersed with reams of Backman Enterprise correspondence was a thin envelope with no return address – not even a postmark. How did this get into my locked mailbox?
In it was a handwritten note, “Remember Ben, the root of all evil is not the love of money, it’s the lust for power. And now that you have that power, what are you going to do with it? Elsa xo”
Ben looked at the manuscript and then back at the note. A slow familiar burn bubbled in his gut. Closing his eyes, he opened his mind to an inner voice he hadn’t listened to for many months.
Publishing the book will feed her, Ben – the monster you want to destroy. Isn’t it time to turn the tables and feed your own instead?
Slowly Ben’s lips drew back. Yes, yes it is.
Ben picked up the manuscript chronicling the atrocities of his ancestors and tossed it into the sink. Then he lit a match.
As the flame fell, his malevolent leer grew wider, “The game, as they say, is afoot Mommy Dearest. Wanna play?”