Dissections logo scissors body by Deena Warner

 


Dissections logo pterodactyl by Deena Warner


 

 

 

 















Artwork: Girl in the Window by Will Jacques

Artwork: Girl in the Window by Will Jacques


Sensitive
Kathy Lanzarotti

Annie’s first glimpse of the Conlin house almost made her forget the headache that throbbed steadily in her right temple. It was adorable. Curlicued black vergeboard, leaded lattice windows and mortar stuffed clinker brick. She wanted to take a bite out of it, like the big beautiful peanut butter cup that it was.

According to state records the house was built in the 1920s, which meant questionable wiring and plumbing. Lots of knocks and creaks and wheezy whistles. The classic panoply of “unexplainable” sounds.

Plus, this client’s house put the story in storybook cottage. Annie had nearly dislocated her shoulder fist pumping when her online search turned up an article about the former owner’s daughter who disappeared after a night out with friends.

She had raised a toast to the Internet gods with a fresh bottle of chardonnay, cold and sweaty from the fridge.

It was official. The Conlin house was a peanut butter cup.

Two great things that go great together.

Of course, the whole thing was tragic. The girl had never been found. Boo-hoo and pass the Kleenex, Annie had thought as she poured more wine and contemplated a chocolate chip cookie.

Annie loved a good ghost story. Mythology, the occult, vampires, cryptids, demons and Ouija boards, haunted houses, for sure. The fact that she had never seen a ghost or had any sort of psychic or supernatural experience didn’t matter. Annie was a great actress despite what they thought at theatre school.

This was an easy one. The heavy lifting had already been done. Annie didn’t have to make the client believe her house was haunted she was already at least half way there. The money in Annie’s Venmo account accompanied by a tongue lolling ghost emoji was all the proof she needed of that. The only thing Annie had to make Ms. Honour Conlin believe in was Annie.

Floating up on a cloud of patchouli in lacy poet sleeves slouched under multiple rosary beads would be the reddest of red flags. So Annie dressed professionally, if the profession in question was grifting ghost hunter. Black leather look leggings with a black t-shirt covered by a black jacket with silk lapels and sleeves rolled over to show off a neat black pinstripe. She agitated the long shaggy layers of her dark hair with her fingers, primped her white forelock, a fortunate genetic anomaly, as she gagged slightly on the cloying odor of a weeks’ applications of dry shampoo.

“Let’s do this,” she said to the car before she opened the door and stepped out. The cold breeze offered temporary relief as she carefully navigated the bruisy pink and purple brick walkway. Her aching brain made the pattern blur and vibrate.

She could still taste the tannins from last night’s bottles of chardonnay, even though she’d brushed her teeth three times. Her breath was probably bad, one of many unheeded distress signals from her vital organs. She fumbled in her purse, found the plastic blister pack and tipped the last rectangle of peppermint gum straight into her mouth.

She made a silent bet with herself that the doorbell played Westminster chimes, and won.

The client referred to herself as Honey in her email and on all of her social media accounts. A name that, to Annie, conjured images of pasties and poles in a darkened room. Honey was fifty-seven years old and had worked as a psychiatric nurse for twenty-five of them. This meant she was way too smart to believe in ghosts. Not that Annie was in any position to judge.

Honey had two daughters. One was an accountant in Las Vegas, and the other a college freshman in Chicago. Honey’s ex-husband, the girls’ father Richard, had sprouted hair plugs, white Chiclet veneers and a whole new family somewhere in Florida, according to Facebook and Instagram.

This made Annie feel almost guilty for pretending to be able to talk to ghosts.

But then, she wasn’t the one who clicked on her website and didn’t think it was a load of bullshit.

The door opened with a screech.

“Annie!” she said. “I’m Honey, please come in!”

She was slight with an expertly highlighted pixie cut and cheekbones Annie couldn’t stop looking at. Well, she could, but if she looked just over her bony shoulder and into the sunken living room she would fixate on the bar cart, and at that moment a drink would have made everything better.

Honey told Annie about the sounds coming from upstairs in a clear and pleasant voice. A voice for radio. A voice that made Annie like her instantly, which made her feel even worse.

“Constant pounding,” Honey continued. “Like footsteps.” She slid the dainty gold cross at her chest across its thin chain. “The door slams are what started it, but you know, I thought it was just a pressure change.”

Annie nodded along as her brain bounced against her skull.

“But then there’s the pulsing, like the bass line of a rock song, it’s very strange.” Honey shook her head but her hair stayed in place. “Anyway, it’s the corner bedroom.” She pointed up the stairs and Annie lifted her head slowly to follow the elegant rose tipped fingers with her achy eyes.

“I’m sorry, I’m being so rude,” Honey said as she held a hand to her forehead. “Can I get you something to drink?”

Annie’s eyes darted to the bar cart, to the lovely crystal decanter and the rainbow prism that had alighted on one facet of the stopper. Then her sluggish mind caught up and she realized what Honey was actually offering at 9:15am on a Tuesday.

“Water,” she croaked. “Water would be great.”

“I have Pellegrino, too.”

“That would be lovely,” Annie said.

Bubbles. The second best thing for a hangover. Ice cold, throat scratching sweet, sweet carbonation.

Honey walked briskly to the kitchen and opened one of the largest refrigerator doors Annie had ever seen.

A forceful collision of wood on wood echoed and pinballed down the stairs.

“See?” Honey bounced over, frosted bottle aimed at Annie’s outstretched hand. ”That’s what I mean!”

Annie nodded, her extraocular muscles screamed in alarm as she looked towards the sound.

“Show me the room,” she said.

The walls were bubblegum pink. A lacy valance topped a sashed window. “It’s coming from here?” she asked.

“Yes,” Honey gripped her cross in a taut fist. “My daughter’s room.”

Annie lowered her eyebrows. “Can I have a moment alone?” she asked as she held a finger to her temple and dipped her head so she wouldn’t topple.

“Of course.” Honey stepped out of the room and shut the door.

Annie’s eyes seemed desperate to squeeze themselves out of their sockets to escape the pounding in her skull. So she closed them and let the full weight of her hangover push her head forward until her chin dropped to her chest.

Why did she keep doing this to herself?

“Oh for fuck’s sake!”

Her eyes jerked open and she steadied herself against the white post of the canopy bed.

It was a girl. Annie guessed about 17. Her hair was glossy black and pushed into a messy half ponytail with bangs that fringed her round face. She was dressed in an orange and pink striped cardigan over a white camisole, a brown mesh choker around her neck.

I had a sweater like that once. Annie thought to herself. In blue and green.

“Hungover much?” The girl asked with a roll of her bright blue eyes. “This is who she hires!” She flopped back on the bed with the force of the absurdity. “Oh well, birds of a feather and all that.”

“What?” It was the only thing that Annie could come up with. The information slowly worked its way into her well-marinated cerebrum. The daughter was in college according to Facebook, and she was blond like her mother. “Wait, who are you?” she asked.

The girl groaned, covered her face with a pineapple shaped pillow and flopped onto her back. She pulled it away. “I’m Becca,” she told the ceiling.

“Becca,” Annie mouthed it as she plumbed her memory. She raised her face to the ceiling to make it easier. Honey’s daughters were Lyra, which she remembered because she thought it was a beautiful name, and the other one was...Ellie? No! Ella?

The girl slumped onto her knees. “I’m the reason you’re here.”

Annie tilted her head.

“Still not getting it?”

Annie was on a ten-second delay, so, no, she wasn’t. She looked around for a chair.

“I swear to God if you puke in here…” The girl warned.

Annie held up a hand against the thought and took a deep breath. She exhaled and said, “You’re the daughter.”

Becca made her eyebrows hop and smiled at her.

“Have you been hearing noises?”

The girl cupped her hands and dropped her head into them. Her ponytail flopped over in defeat.

“What?” Annie pulled out a brown desk chair and took a seat. She flinched and pulled a copy of Twilight out from under her thigh.

“Annie, Annie, Annie,” Becca’s voice was muffled as she shook her head. She lifted it out of her hands. “Annie. Sweetie. I am the noises.”

Annie propped an elbow on the arm of her chair and lowered her chin to her palm.

“Here.” The girl got off of her bed and walked over to the bookshelf next to the desk. “Let’s see.” She pulled out a thick copy of The Complete Short Stories of Saki and opened it. She pulled out a pint of Smirnoff and held it up to the light. The clear liquid crested behind the maroon label. “Hate to be an enabler, but you’re gonna want to be alert for this.” She handed it to Annie who unscrewed the top and took a sip.

She felt the burn all the way down her throat and the delightful pool of warmth in her stomach. Her sluggish stage curtain of a headache struggled itself open. She took another sip.

Becca extended a hand to her and mumbled, “Um, yeah, don’t drink it all okay?” She thought about it for a minute and added, “Not like it matters, I guess.”

Annie capped the bottle and moved to place it on the desk. Becca lifted it from her hands and put it back into the book’s carved center. Annie inhaled sharply as she watched it disappear.

Becca shook her head. “So, my mom called you in because of the noise?”

Annie nodded as her headache lowered a full octave. She wanted more vodka but didn’t want to ask. “Stomping,“ she said as she settled back in the chair. “And slamming doors.”

“Yeah.” Becca walked back to her bed. “That’d be me!”

“But,” Annie said. “You’re right here. There’s nothing supernatural about this.”

Becca jumped onto the bed and folded her legs across each other, pursed her lips and blinked behind her overgrown bangs. “Umm.”

“I mean.” Annie took a deep breath, amazed at how much better she felt. “She contacted me because she was worried about a ghost.”

Becca bugged her eyes and chewed on her lip.

“But it’s just you.”

Becca nodded again.

“Her daughter,” Annie said.

“The ghost,” said Becca.

“Oh, come on!” Annie slumped forward in the chair a little too quickly. She took another deep breath and held it.

“Yes,” Becca said.

“You’re dead,” Annie said. It wasn’t a question.

Becca made a gun with her right hand, aimed it at Annie, cocked her thumb and gave her a wink. “Much quicker on the sauce, aren’t you, Girlie?”

“Girlie?”

“It’s what my grandmother calls everyone.” Becca smiled. “I guess it’s an Irish thing?” She shook her head and flapped a hand. “She died way before I was born, but she’s really sweet.” She sighed. “Anyway, yes, Annie, I am dead.”

“Sure,” Annie said slowly as she spelunked her brain. Becca. Was the girl who went missing Becca? Something Pierce, she knew that. She squeezed her eyes shut and reached back and back, clawed invisible fingers into the squishy brain matter, grabbed a handful.

Rebecca. Rebecca Pierce.

And so what? Annie found it on her first round of research. People talk, this kid had probably been hearing about Rebecca Pierce since she moved in.

Becca fell back onto her pillow. “Wow,” She repeated. “You are talking to a legitimate ghost. Right here!” She waved her arms to take in the whole room, “In my childhood bedroom in a suburb of a not so major city. You!” she pointed at Annie. “Are talking to me!” She turned her fingers back at herself. “A ghost. Phantom. A haint as they say in the South.” She put her hands together and placed them at her chin. “Proof of the afterlife, right here on a fluffy four poster bed!” she said, as her hands chased each other between the tall bedposts. “And you, Annie, are too hungover-slash-drunk to appreciate it.” She shook her head slowly.

“Ghosts don’t exist,” Annie said.

“I absolutely beg to differ.”

Annie swiveled her head to the bookshelf that held the anthology with the bottle.

“No!” Becca scolded Annie like she was a bad dog. “No more!” She shook a finger tipped by a pink chipped nail at her. “Let’s talk about my dearest mother.” She let the word hang in the air and clenched her jaw.

“Honour,” said Annie.

“What?” asked Becca.

“Your mother,” Annie said. “Honour.”

Becca squinted her eyes at Annie. “There is nothing honorable about Helen, I can tell you.”

“Who’s Helen?” Annie asked.

“My mother.”

“Well, then who is Honour?”

“What is honor,” Becca corrected.

“Wait, stop!” Annie held out a hand and shut her eyes. “Is the woman downstairs, whose name is Honour, your mother?”

Becca tilted her head. “My mother’s name is Helen.”

“Helen Pierce.” It was all coming back.

“That’s her!” Becca opened her mouth to say something.

“Helen Pierce moved out,” Annie interrupted. “She doesn’t live here anymore.”

Becca looked at her and rolled her lips together. “She…what?”

Annie’s stomach threatened to bubble up into her throat.

Becca tried to laugh but her breath caught and became a sob.

Annie swallowed. “She moved out. Years ago. Another family lives here now.”

“Well, I suppose I’m not surprised at that.” Becca blinked back tears. Her lower lip bounced.

Annie held her breath for a count of five. This kid was one hell of an actress. Maybe she had a future in ghost hunting.

“Well, let me tell you about Helen,” Becca stressed the first syllable and squeezed out a smile. “My mother, if you could call her that.” She bit her lower lip so hard it turned white. “She was drunk, as usual.” She looked at Annie. “And she ‘forgot’ to pick me up at the movies.” She made the index and middle fingers of both hands jump. “More like she was passed out! So I did what I always did. I walked home.” She shook her head and looked down. “And it started to just pour.” She lifted her arms, hands open on either side of her head. “And it was cold. And he, he was old, y’know, like a dad.” She shut her eyes, made her Adam’s apple pop. “And he had a nice car, a Mercedes SUV. Dads in Mercedes SUVs aren’t supposed to…”

Annie let her chin fall back onto her palm. This would be so much easier with more vodka.

“It was dumb. It was dumb. It was so fucking dumb.” Becca picked at her thumb, raised it to her mouth and nibbled the cuticle. “But I just…I was just pissed off and tired and cold and I just wanted to go home. I wanted to be home! Where it was warm. I wanted to be here, in my bed.”

And the Oscar goes too… Annie thought.

“Well, I guess I got my wish.” Becca squeezed her eyes shut and gave a mirthless chuckle. “Lucky fucking me.”

“So, what do you want me to do?” It was only after Annie heard her voice that she realized she was the one who spoke.

“What do you normally do?” Becca asked.

“Well, usually –”

“Stop right there!” Becca’s voice was sharp and even. “You don’t know what to do because this has NEVER HAPPENED TO YOU BEFORE BECAUSE YOU ARE A FRAUD!” Her face was bright red, eyes slashed with rage. The words bounced around the faux finished walls.

Annie opened her mouth to speak.

“Don’t! Just don’t!” Becca said as she shook her head. “What did I do?” She looked at Annie. “What’d I ever do? To…to…to anyone! I mean, why me?”

“You didn’t do anything.” Annie reached over and grabbed her Pellegrino, twisted it open and sipped.

Becca rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Oh yeah? No shit!”

“I’m sorry,” Annie told her. I’m sorry that you are a messed up psycho. Truly I am.

Becca clapped her hands together. “And now I’m trapped here. And you have no way of getting me out, of sending me home, or to…” She waved a hand in the direction of the window. “Wherever.”

Annie stood up and carefully stepped toward the girl. She reached her hand out and motioned for Becca to take it. Just like in the movies.

Two could play this game.

“What are you doing?” Becca asked her.

“I’m going to help you.”

Becca chewed her lip then quietly said, “If you tell me to go to the light I am going to bash your head against that post.” She pointed to the white pole. “Right there.”

Annie took a second and looked at it.

“I want to help you,” Annie said. Jesus Christ kid, you’ve had your fun. Let’s just get this over with so I can go home. She thought about the bottle of chardonnay cooling in her fridge.

Becca shook her head in disgust. “You can’t even help yourself.” She sighed. “Oh well, guess I’ll just have to try again later!” She pounded the wall behind her hard with a clenched fist, before she fell back on the bed, held the plush tropical fruit to her chest and crossed her arms over it.

“Annie?”

She opened her eyes to a white ceiling and moulding that framed walls painted a deep Federal blue.

“Annie, are you all right?”

Honey stood over her. Annie slowly sat up and put her fingers to the sides of her head, only halfway for show.

Honey breathed in, “Did you connect with the spirit?”

Annie took her hands away. “The girl,” she said and stopped. The room was well appointed, a diploma on one wall, a mirror. Fake peonies stood in two inches of epoxy on the nightstand. She sat up and stepped slowly off of the cherry framed sleigh bed.

“Girl?” Honey asked.

“You said this was your daughter’s room?”

Honey looked confused. “Well, yes, but…” She pointed in the direction of the diploma. “She lives in Nevada. Summerlin South.”

She said it like it was supposed to mean something to Annie. It didn’t.

“She won’t be bothering you anymore,” Annie said.

“You made contact,” Honey whispered.

Annie nodded and moved towards the door. She handed her empty Pellegrino to Honey.

“I made contact,” she said.

It wasn’t like Annie had never thought of her drinking as excessive. But this was bad. Falling asleep in someone’s house? Snoring like a Brobdingnagian with obstructive sleep apnea?

Don’t panic. Don’t lose it. She wasn’t drinking that much was she?

Something to consider since her first thought as she slid behind the wheel of her car was that she needed a drink. Needed to curl up in bed and rethink her life choices with a bottle of chardonnay. Maybe Door Dash a pizza, find a movie. Something mindless and Marvel.

“Bitch, the last thing you need is a drink.”

Annie flipped around.

Becca was curled into the corner of the rear passenger seat. She lowered her head and picked at her thumbnail. “But I do love movies!” How about something more topical though, like The Sixth Sense or The Others? Her eyes were bright, lips parted in anticipation.

Annie shut her eyes, counted to three and opened them.

“Still here!” Becca sang.

“I’m hallucinating,” Annie said. “I dreamt you. I was asleep.”

“Look, Annie, you do need to get the drinking under control,” Becca said. “You look like shit, no offense.” She batted her lashes and smiled sweetly. “I’ll be happy to support you while we figure out a solution to our problem.”

“Our problem?”

“Yes,” Becca sighed. “How to get me home.”

“How is that my problem?” Annie asked. “I’m a fraud, remember? You said so yourself.”

“Well, it’s your problem now.” Becca smiled and pulled the seatbelt around her body with a hiss before she pressed it into the buckle. “Annie, despite your many issues, I like you.” She tilted her head and looked up at the dingy headliner. “It’s not like I get to meet a lot of new people.” She tapped a finger against her jaw. “It seems, Annie, that I’ve grown attached to you.” She smiled sweetly at Annie, a smile that didn’t make it up to her eyes.

Attached. Annie felt the weight of the word sink into the wrinkles of her brain. Her heart started to race, and the hair on the back of her neck dampened. “No,” she breathed before she found her voice. “You’re not real.”

“So say you,” Becca said as she rubbed her hands together. “Come on Annie,” she said tenderly. “Let’s go home.”


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Dissections logo pterodactyl by Deena Warner
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