The Haunted Letter by Lara Steinke

 The Haunted Letter by Lara Steinke

Art "Bloody Minded" by Akil

I set the letter down on the dining room table and waited for Michael to come home. His name, scrawled in red ink, occupied the front of the envelope, the color chosen for its eye-catching hue. It wasn’t like him to be out at night, I fumed, glancing at the grandfather clock as it ticked toward eleven.

At last, Michael came in rather clumsily, stumbling over the legs of the coat rack before closing the door behind him. A battered pirate hat sat askew on his head, and a plastic sword dangled from his hip. His red and black costume was garish, yet it suited him. He looked slightly dazed, and his breath reeked of orange juice and vodka.

What in the world? I thought. Michael went to a Halloween party? I couldn’t believe it. He never went anywhere.  

He hooked the pirate hat onto the coat rack and staggered over to the table. I hovered in the stairwell, waiting for him to see the letter. The blood-red cursive caught his eye. He picked the envelope up and stared at it. I could almost see a question mark forming above his head. He walked over to his favorite armchair and sank into it. I darted forward to see his expression as he slid the letter out of the envelope.

 

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Michael had been the toughest job I’d ever been given. From the first night, when I blasted him with a wave of cold air, he hadn’t responded appropriately. He had put on a sweater for crying aloud. I increased the drafts of chilly air and watched goose pimples busting out on his arms with pleasure. And what did the dolt do? Spent a whole month cleaning out the grime from his window jams and applying weather stripping.

I fell back on flickering the lights erratically. An old trick but still one of the best. He went out to the breaker box and spent ten minutes flipping switches. For fun, I turned everything off again right when he returned to the house. He groaned in frustration and stomped back out to the box, but my terror meter didn’t flinch.

The next afternoon Michael returned from the hardware store, loaded with all kinds of electrical supplies, and spent the next week replacing every outlet in his aging bungalow. As he fussed over the wiring, I noted my terror meter hadn’t budged. He gave a screw a final twist on an outlet cover and stood back to survey his work with a satisfied expression. Disgusting. There was no help for it.  I had to meet with the big boss downstairs. Some of the best on our staff are scared stiff of him, but not me. I got him wrapped around my pinkie finger.    

“I want a different gig,” I fumed. “You shouldn’t have given me an engineer. He always thinks there’s a scientific reason behind all of my haunting.”

The big boss shook his head. “No can do, Fiona.  Come on.  You’re a star performer.  You gotta hustle this guy, shake him up.  Have you tried blasting him with cold air?”

“Of course,” I rolled my eyes. “He spent the next month weather proofing his windows.”

“That’s annoying,” the big boss frowned. “How about turning his lights on and off?”

“That’s minor league stuff. Besides, he replaced all of his outlets.”  I leaned over, getting in the big boss’s space. “I gotta get through to Michael, or this whole year will be a waste. You gotta give me more mojo.”  I waved the requisition form in his face.  “Sign it.”

The big boss sighed and scrawled his name at the bottom. The paper smoked faintly.       “Everybody is gonna think you’re a favorite, Fiona.  Don’t let this get out.”

 “I’ll keep it on the down low,” I said as I snatched the form from his desk.   My wispy form thickened.  I was now at full poltergeist strength.

Aware I had just three days to get the job done, I was relentless. I started by creaking the kitchen door. Michael came in, frowned at it, and went to the garage to get some lubricant. I sent a plump rat scurrying by his feet when he stepped back into the kitchen. He cursed and dropped the can, which went skittering across the floor. The nozzle jammed and began to spray the cabinets with dark splatters of lubricant. Michael grabbed a trash bag and threw the can in, where the last of the escaping oil hissed like an enraged demon. He tied up the bag and then looked around the kitchen with wide eyes as rivulets of oil trickled down his formerly pristine cabinets.

“Crap,” he said aloud. “This is not my lucky day.” 

Encouraged, I gathered my mojo, flicked the television on, and summoned disembodied voices to cry for help beyond the pale, gray screen. Michael tinkered with the settings for a while and finally turned the set off. The lines around his mouth looked taunt.

As the final day approached, I took my haunting to the next level, flexing reality, causing the house to buckle and sway in the time-space continuum. Nothing. Any normal person would have fled the house. Instead, Michael called the optometrist for a new prescription. I could hear him on his cell phone explaining his vision had been a little “wonky” lately. I sank to the ground in a puddle of fading spectral energy. I couldn’t shake him.  His belief in rational, scientific explanations was rock solid. 

Exhausted, my mojo almost gone, my terror meter needle at the lowest possible reading.  I decided I would reach out across the abyss of time and space and write Michael a letter. It seemed like a good plan. A letter couldn’t be explained away by aging weather stripping, faulty electrical connections, or poorly oiled door hinges. Nope. A letter had to be written by someone.

I found a red ink pen, an envelope and a piece of paper on his desk. Summoning my fading mojo to grasp the pen, I wrote That’s it, Michael. I’m done with you. I’m moving on. I signed it with just my initial. F.  Leave him guessing, right?

Now, I drew closer as he looked at my letter, trying to read his expression.  He let his hand fall to one side, the letter still clasped between his fingers.

“Spectral Presence,” he said.

I shivered.  My terror meter flickered.  Was he addressing me?

He pressed one hand to his forehead.  “You’re doing the right thing, moving on. It can’t work out between us anyway. Just not meant to be.”

I quivered with rage.  Did this jerk actually think I had been haunting him because I had a crush? I attempted to summon the bathroom door to slam contemptuously to signal my disdain for him. Instead, the door drifted closed with a slightly piteous whining of the hinges.  Even to my ears, it sounded like a forlorn cry.

The old grandfather clock began to strike twelve.  The time-space vortex opened.  My gig was up.  I bolted forward and tried to rip the letter from his hand in one last effort to jolt my terror meter into action, but my mojo was too weak. He must have felt the icy air rippling across his skin because he let the paper drift to the floor and brushed his fingers through the phantasmic outline of my wrist.

“I’ll miss you.” His eyes glistened with tears.  “It was nice having someone around.”        

The grandfather clock groaned out its final toll, the time-space vortex slammed shut, and Michael was alone in the room. 


End. 


Lara Steinke was born in Santa Fey, New Mexico, Lara moved to California at the age of eleven.  She has an English degree from California State University Bakersfield.  She’s retired from teaching high school after 27 years. Writing for two years, she’s an active member of Writers of Kern, and is currently working on a fantasy novel, The Valley of Sunder.