Carolyn Steele Agosta
Let the Fun Begin
Episode Ten of Strangely Satisfying Obsessions
There are always unintended consequences to every action. Some are extremely minor. You bend over to tie your shoes, and the intended consequence is that your shoes do not fall off when you walk. The unintended consequence is that perhaps you strain your back a bit, and later, when it hurts, you are short and snappish with your eight-year-old child, who then becomes crabby and bitter toward your five-year-old child, who then yells at the dog. The dog thinks, Why me? What did I do? and chews the sofa pillow, which completes the sequence of unintended consequences. Just think how much worse it would be if you were a ghost, kept for years in a confining and smelly trunk, who has suddenly been set free and now you are really pissed off and don’t know quite what to do with yourself. You would have to do something, right? Of course, you would.
The ghost released from the trunk decided to first celebrate his freedom by spiraling up into the air, leaving the shattered trunk behind. He floated about for a while, looking down at the puny mortal world and thinking resentful thoughts, brooding on the manifold wrongs done to him. Why had he been trapped for so long? Who was it that trapped him? Who was it freed him? What should he do next? He was uncomfortably aware that his disembodied state was somewhat nebulous. Inside the old humpbacked trunk, he’d been concentrated and all-of-a-piece. Now, drifting about in the air, he became aware that some shaft of power had already hurtled earthward, and that the rest of his mass was spreading out, losing force, and possibly turning into mist just at the edges. That was not good. That was an unintended consequence. He needed to act. Now.
An unusual easterly breeze was blowing that afternoon. Drew Wilkes noticed it as he carried a carton of LPs into his antiques store. The LPs were from the collection of the late Lloyd Paxton, a rhythm guitarist back in the 1960s before he became an electrician and entrepreneur, who had every album by the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, the Rolling Stones, and many, many more. They were in pristine shape, as Lloyd had always bought one album to play and one to save. These were the saved copies, still in their original plastic wrapper, with original price sticker. Really rare finds. They’d cost an arm and a kidney, but he knew he could still make a great profit on them.
The breeze ruffled Drew’s hair and he caught a faint whiff of sulphur, like a match being struck. It sent a shiver down his spine. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t like it at all. To clear it from his mind, he proceeded with the carton of LPs into his workroom and began laying them out on the table. Please Please Me, produced by Parlophone, March 1963. With the Beatles, Parlophone, November 1963. A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles for Sale, Help!, and so on, right up to Let It Be, Apple label, May 1970. A similarly complete range of Beach Boys albums, from Surfing Safari to Smiley Smile. Lloyd had not bothered to collect compilation albums or ‘stinkers’ or latecomers with different band members. The carton contained 48 albums, and there were three more cartons in his car with LPs by The Doors, the Kinks, the Moody Blues, the Who, Led Zeppelin, and other bands going into the 1970s. This was the kind of thing he lived for, finding these jewels which would attract just the right buyer, someone who not only understood their value, but who saw them as more than just an investment. He wanted these to go to someone who would treasure them, as their original owner had, and give them a loving home. They deserved it. There were also five guitars in his car, from Lloyd’s collection, and 1,211 rare and collectible guitar picks. It was a good haul.
His wife Joan smiled indulgently as she helped him sort the albums. She’d seen Drew exhibit a renewed pleasure in his work over the past five months, and she was glad for it. Building his antiques store had been a labor of love, but sometimes the daily grind could beat him down. It was finding special treasures like these that kept him excited. Personally, she often grew tired of dealing with other peoples’ leftovers. On her own part, she collected nothing, but she did love to see her husband look happy. His enormous grin as he marveled over each LP warmed her heart, and she watched as he hurried out the back door for the next carton. He was still grinning as he carried it in, when suddenly the sky darkened, and a huge wind knocked him to his knees. He dropped the box of albums and grabbed at his chest.
Her heart dropped to the pit of her stomach and she ran out there, crouching to grab his shoulders and look at his face. “Something’s wrong,” he gasped. His eyes rolled back in his head, and the color drained from his face, and he dropped to the ground, completely unconscious.
Ryan and Amy were in their studio, working on a new commission, a really unusual one. They’d recently composed the theme music for the movie 24 Hours in Tokyo, and Kim Mi Do, the choreographer responsible for the amazing underwater ballet at the end of the movie, wanted to collaborate on a short film. “Ideally,” she said, “we’d have it completed in time for the ASF festival in October. I’m looking at something under fifteen minutes in length. Maybe right around twelve.”
Since then, they’d met several times and discussed the work, as well as watched videos of the dancer who’d be doing the underwater ballet.
“The trick is creating tension in a piece where the tempo doesn’t change very much. She can only move so fast under the water,” Amy repeated nervously, for maybe the twentieth time, as they worked that afternoon.
“We change the key, we go more forte or piano. She creates tension with the way she twists ’er body. Don’t worry, luv, we got this.” To prove his point, he fast-forwarded one of the videos and played a section of the underwater dance without sound, improvising on his cello to prove his point about matching the dancer’s swirls with quick, percussive Martelé strokes. “Piece o’ cake.”
Amy tentatively repeated his improvisation on the piano and he played counterpoint, embroidering on the original riff. With the understanding born of long partnership, they continued, first one of them playing the melody, then the other, and creating variations and motifs as they went. This went on for several minutes, and when they finished, Amy gasped, “Tell me you recorded that!”
“I did, luv,” Ryan replied, setting his cello on the ground and swiftly gathering Amy up in his embrace. “It felt good, right?” He swung her around, off the piano stool, and carried her out onto the back deck, feeling like he could just suck in all the sunshine and fresh air at that moment, filled with contentment. “What d’ya say to a quick snog?” he asked. “I’m feelin’ inspired.”
But as he bent over her with a deep kiss, suddenly he felt a blow to his chest. He stumbled and nearly dropped Amy, and she grabbed at him, both going to their knees. “Efffff me,” he groaned as he fell to the ground. “Pardon my French.” And he passed out.
Vonna looked up from where she knelt at the edge of the garden, working mulch into her flower beds. It was a fine spring day and the first time she’d felt strong enough for physical work, and she whistled a little tune as she dug. When the sky darkened, she didn’t pay much attention, at first. She was nearly finished, and a bit of rain wouldn’t hurt things at all.
But when the sky grew even darker and the wind whipped across her face, she looked up from her work and caught her breath. This was not a normal storm, and she instinctively got to her feet and headed for the back deck, hoping to get inside. Before she could, she got hammered in the back, just as if someone had shoved her, hard. Vonna fell face down and could do nothing else for several minutes, as a blue-green light played over her, pinning her down and sending her grey hair into long, separate spirals, like a headful of snakes. Oliver, she thought, remembering that day two weeks ago when he showed up at the farmhouse, looking for Antonia. His rage had felt something like this, but why would he be attacking her again?
She managed to get up on her hands and knees and scrabble across the back deck like a drunken rat. It took all her strength to get the door open and fall inside, but once she had, and closed the door behind her, she was able to catch her breath. All the hard-won confidence of the past two weeks fell away. Vonna thought she’d reached a point of safety. The Gift was gone, behind her, and she’d broken free from Antonia’s spell, and for the first time in twenty years, she felt released from all the weight of knowing her abilities were so volatile. Now, she felt back at square one, and could have wept in desolation.
Her cellphone chimed and she saw it was Rona calling. “What was that cloud?” Rona gasped. “Are you all right?”
“I think so. I . . . fell, but I’m okay,” Vonna said, still shaking. “Are you?”
“Gary and I were out back, trying out a new grill recipe, and all of a sudden the sky turned dark and the flame went out of control. A big poof and a ball of fire, right in my face! I’m okay, but that was wild!”
“Oh my gosh, you’re sure? What did you do?”
“We just let it burn out, but I swear, it lasted forever. Like something more than just the alcohol was burning. Blue and green flames. Nearly shat myself.” She took a big gulping breath, and added, “After it was under control, my first thought was to call you. It didn’t feel like a mere cooking incident, Vonna. It felt like – well, like something evil.”
“It was.” Vonna let her words just sit for a moment, and she could sense Rona absorbing that idea. “And it’s all my fault. If I hadn’t been so cowardly, if I had kept control of The Gift, none of this would have happened. It’s not Antonia’s fault that I passed things on to her. I don’t know whether this is her or Oliver, but this has gotten out of control.”
“So, what are we going to do?”
“I’m gonna get my powers back.”
It was like having an itch in his brain. An irritation that persisted and wouldn’t ever let him feel calm and at peace. He’d always been tortured by all the what ifs and whys. He judged and felt judged. Other peoples’ thoughtless remarks festered in his soul, and he just couldn’t forget them. He’d always been like this and spent his entire life doubting himself.
Now that he was a ghost, it seemed a trend that would continue. Good grief, he thought. Was he going to be a mess for all eternity?
He floated above Painter’s Creek, sending down a little streak of ill-luck, indicative of his grumpy mood. Why should that person be happy about something? He’d smite that Happy Guy with a heart attack. See how he liked it. It wasn’t a real heart attack, of course, he didn’t have that kind of power, but the guy would feel like it was real. Panic like it was real.
Humming a catchy little tune, he moved on.
So, this was the Afterlife. This was what he’d been missing while packed in that trunk. What should he do next? In old books and movies, the ghost was usually looking for a final resting place – a decent burial or some kind of resolution to a problem they’d had while alive. His Uncle Teddy had been like that. Died of the Spanish flu, been cremated back when cremations were rare, placed and forgotten in that old wardrobe until Vonna had found the urn and buried it. The many indignant thoughts of ol’ Teddy had filled that wardrobe and lingered, but Teddy himself, finally placed ‘at rest’, seemed to have gone to sleep at last.
Was that what he wanted for himself? To somehow find a quiet home where his soul would be at peace? On the one hand, it sounded good. He’d never been at peace during his lifetime, so achieving a state of nirvana had its appeal. On the other hand, he was still pissed off about dying young and being stuck in that trunk. Did he really want to let go of the brain itch? At least it made him feel alive.
Maybe he wouldn’t search for his eternal home just yet. I’m a ghost, he thought. I’m a real, in-your-face, not-just-fiction ghost and my name is Horrible. He felt so good about this decision that he circled back to the lake and Juniper Row, reached down and zapped some muscular guy out on his back deck, hugging a grey-haired woman. That for you, he thought. I had to die a virgin. And here’s a little something for you, Barbecue Folks, and you, Old Lady in the Garden. When he realized his final victim was Vonna, he just smiled. This could be fun.
By Carolyn Steele Agosta
Thanks for reading. To read Parts 1-9 of Strangely Satisfying Obsessions, go here. To read my blog posts and other stories, go here. Or to learn about my books, go here. If you would like to be notified by email when new episodes go online, just sign up at the bottom of the home page.