Footsteps could be heard in the depths of the hallway. Her mother was downstairs, in the living room, slumped in front of a TV she was incapable of watching for being so drunk. There it was again, the creaking step that no-one had fixed. Lucy felt her hands twitch tight against the duvet under which she was snuggled. The storm continued its tantrum shaking the tiles on the roof. A cat´s cry was heard followed by the clatter of garbage cans. The branches of the tree in the garden scratching her window was too much and prompted Lucy to let out a moan of terror. She hated the night. That was why she had a night light plugged in by her bedside. Being in her second year of university had done nothing to quench her childhood fear of the dark. For all the talk of womanhood, Lucy still felt like a child when night came.
Or were they footsteps that sounded the wood or her own breath come back to her as demons – the summoning of a disturbed mind? In her desire to escape, she found herself righting her body against the wielding plumpness of the duvet. The creaking, now in the passageway, forced her feet onto the timber floor with a thump sending the cold running like a deep current from her bare toes up to the hairs on her head. Though she dwarfed all she surveyed, and though she was there as a carer and daughter to help the old woman out, and though her childhood sweetheart was in the clink, she could gain no comfort. For all her ingenuity, she knew she wouldn’t fit into the cupboard, and that nostalgia – which smothered her here, though a powerful force, was not a weapon of self-defense. In the light of the moon from her window, she readied her hands in two puppy fists for whatever was going to come through the door. She prayed the prison service hadn’t failed her as the doorknob began to turn.
The door swung open with a creak causing Lucy to put her hands to her face. Peeping between her fingers, she saw there was nothing in the hallway. She let out a sigh of relief; no need to worry after all. All her fear of the dark had come to nothing: no psychotic boyfriend – nothing. There was a muted sound from the television downstairs but all else was silent. Turning back, she found herself caught by her reflection in the bedside mirror. There was something dreadfully amiss about it. She was lifting up her hand to make out the figure more clearly as she didn’t have her glasses when she noticed what was wrong – the shape didn’t move. She stepped closer but the shape remained the same. Now, she was just being stupid she thought, so she turned on the light. Her eyes bulged in the sockets and her hands reached up to wipe the ghastly image from her sockets but to no avail.
“That’s no way to greet an old friend,” said a voice in the mirror.
Lucy stood frozen in front of the image of her bestfriend – the one she thought had drowned in the Anderson Lake after the boating accident.
Because she thought Alexandria dead, Lucy, who had witnessed the entire episode from the prow of the paddle boat in the middle of the choppy Lake Dexter, had tried to erase the drowning from her memory. Despite decomposition turning the body into a maggoty block of wrinkly fat, one feature remained untouched: the heterochromia that made Alexandria the butt of schoolyard humour – one eye brown and one eye blue. There wasn’t anything funny about her now, thought Lucy.
“Yes, that’s right,” said the spirit who once been a very annoying best friend. “You know who I am.”
Lucy didn’t know what to say. Sorry seemed insufficient.
“You killed me,” said the spirit.
“I did not,” said Lucy. “It was an accident.”
“You rowed over me,” said the spirit.
“Well, it was choppy water, and there was a storm coming,” said Lucy.
“Twice,” said the spirit. “And the second time you hit me with the oar.”
Really, thought Lucy, it was quite insufferable arguing with a spirit over what was little more than a misunderstanding.
“You forget,” said the spirit. “I can read your mind. It was certainly more than a misunderstanding and I am going to prove it.”
Lucy crossed her arms and glared at the clearly dead but still equally annoying Alexandria. It was amazing how quickly you could get used to your bestfriend being one of the festering dead.
“I did not,” said Lucy.
Her certainty gave way as she felt two arms grasp her from behind and she was swung into a vortex with only the voice of her old schoolmate to mark where she was.
“I’ll show you,” said Alexandria.
And show her she did because the next moment, Lucy felt herself suspended above the lake where her ten-year-old self and her best friend were in a little paddle boat in the middle of a choppy Lake Dexter on the afternoon of the accident six years prior.
Alexandria was the friend every girl wanted to have around: a plain Jane without ideas above her station. Next to this withered flower, Lucy was resplendent. There was a pattern to life; I , leader, and, you, follower. Why on Earth did she have to spoil it by becoming popular?
“He wasn’t yours,” said Lucy.
“You bitch!” said the dead Alexandria.
It was difficult to argue with the denizens of the spirit world, especially, when they were suspending you twenty feet above a freezing cold lake.
“You stole Brad,” said Lucy. She figured it was better to come out with it.
Alexandria’s eyelids flapped in the wind, like the sails of a ghost ship. Bones stuck out from the canvas of her skin, and her hair was mottled with mould.
“I did not,” said the ghost, formerly known as Alexandria. “He chose me.”
“You followed me to university because you’re a copycat, you stole one of my dresses, you gave him our friendship bracelet, and you’re were seen kissing him outside the K-Mart. You’re a slut.”
The wind shook Lucy about like a ragdoll sending her limbs in all directions.
“I am not a slut,” said the ghost. “And I did not deserve to die.”
Lightning roared past Lucy’s left trainered foot, and the rain whipped her face. Below her lay the cold waters of the lake. Neither the air nor the ground offered much comfort.
“Just do what you have to do,” said Lucy. “I know what I did was right.”
When she began to drop, Lucy regretted those words, which she were sure would be her last testament.
Without warning the descent was halted and she felt a cold grip around her waist. Upon opening her eyes, she was suspended above the lake, looking into the eyes of the man she had paid to have shanked in the juvenile detention unit. Awkward.
He met her gaze passionately – well, as passionately as cross-eyed quarterback can, with a bandaged prison-made knife sticking out of one nostril.
“I couldn’t watch you die,” said her high school sweetheart, which was unfortunate as she had paid extra to have the mpeg of his execution mailed to a P.O. Box in Arizona.
A scream erupted from above, “Nooooo!”, and Alexandria flew down.
“He’s mine,” said her dead best friend. “You can’t take him.”
“But I love you both,” said the deceased Brad.
Feeling that she had nothing to lose, Lucy spoke out: “You both lied to me and you’re skanks. You deserve each other.”
The two spirits looked at her.
“But I was your first,” said Brad.
“You told me I was your first,” said Alexandria.
“Skanks,” said Lucy.
“Well, I didn’t go all the way like some tramps,” said Alexandria.
Lucy bit her lip; Alexandria had a point. Brad had seemed like a good choice at the time. He had bought her a Forever Friends teddy bear, and she had bought him a ring from the shopping channel: the resulting sex had been inevitable.
After giving herself to him, the discovery of the betrayal – the two lovers kissing outside K-Mart – had been too much; vengeance had been the only option.
“Can’t we all get along?” said Brad.
“Typical,” said Alexandria. “You’re dead and you’re still trying to get into her pants.”
“Look, just kill me and get it over with,” said Lucy.
“But we can’t kill you stupid. Ghosts can only manifest. We can’t actually kill people” said Alexandria. “We’re here to make you see the error of your ways.”
“Learn from two losers, you gotta be kidding,” screamed Alexandria.
It was then that she felt Brad’s grip loosen. He had real butter fingers and when he was alive had lost possession of more balls than an absent-minded vasectomist.
The inevitability of falling, and its suddenness made screaming futile. The two ghosts watched as her body hit the water, and sank under the choppy waves.
“You klutz,” said Alexandria.
Brad look repentantly down at his cold dead hands: “But you said we couldn’t kill her.”
“You didn’t kill her,” said Alexandria. “The fall did.”
“Should we wait around?” said Brad.
“Might as well,” said Alexandria. “She’ll probably stay down there sulking just to spite us but we have time.”
“True,” said Brad. “By the way, did I show you my dolphin tattoo?”
“Uh,” said Alexandria. “You are such a skank.”