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"The Ghoul's Evening Visit"

Note: During 2007, I'm resolving to do a much better job of publishing more of my original ficition here. Since the story I'm offering below (now nearly two years old) is pretty much inseparable from the photo, and few literary journals publish story-and-photo tandems, I thought I might as well just publish it here. Thanks to Ron at BigHappyFunHouse for the photo.

The Ghoul’s Evening Visit

Vera and her mother Agnes were surely the most easygoing, nonchalant pair of women in all of Monroe County. Nothing ever fazed them; shocking incidents that would horrify others—grisly car crashes, frighteningly gory industrial accidents and the like—were encountered with little more than a shrug as the women simply moved on in their everyday lives.

“Sad, but it didn’t happen to me,” Agnes would usually say as she turned back to her clothes-washing or bill-paying.

But even when such a thing did happen to Vera and Agnes, they thought little of it. Last night’s events, or non-events if Vera and Agnes were asked, were merely more of the same.

The women were home once again, as usual, as neither of them were particularly social or active in outside activities. Agnes kept house during the day while Vera worked her receptionist job at the insurance agency in town, returning home dutifully at 5:15 PM without a thought of doing anything else. Evenings were spent in front of the television and Saturdays at various domestic hobbies, with only Sunday mornings standing out, ever so modestly, with perfunctory attendance at St. Thomas Methodist. Even the kindly beckoning congregants were unable to entice them out of their domestic routine, and they would promptly return home and resume their quiet lives.

Last night it was The Ed Sullivan Show; on other nights it would be Gunsmoke or I Love Lucy or any number of other programs. Only the programs themselves changed; regardless of which one was on, Vera and Agnes would sit at opposite ends of the narrow-striped couch, room lights dimmed, the only illumination coming from the pale blue flickering of the boxy Philco. The two would sit entranced, captivated by the comings and goings on the screen, bemused by the banter and interplay of the actors, and enticed by the various products offered on the frequent messages from the sponsors.

While Ed Sullivan was on, right after a juggler had magically kept twenty plates spinning simultaneously atop pencil-thin shafts, and just as Sullivan was beginning to announce Chippers the Acrobat Chimp, their home’s front door swung open. The two women barely noticed, with Vera only acknowledging the new arrival’s existence as it lumbered to a halt by the end of the couch, giving Vera the vague impression that it wanted to sit down.

Vera, ever compliant, slid over to the center of the couch right next to Agnes, taking her eyes off of the screen for only a moment, with only a brief uncurious glance upward at the new arrival. The latter sat down laboriously and listlessly, emitting an inhuman groan from deep within.

Vera and Agnes were mesmerized by the rascally Chippers as he swung back and forth between two trapezes, comically ignoring all of his handler’s commands. Sullivan clumsily tried to help corral the chimp, to the endless delight of both the studio audience and the mother and daughter who sat in the darkened room, on the narrow-striped couch. They giggled quietly under their breath, not noticing the deathbed pallor of their guest’s face, the funereal black of the wardrobe, or the all-white, pupil- and iris-less vacancy of the eyes.

Nor did Vera much notice their guest’s intense interest in the odor of her skin. The guest, presumably being blind, paid no attention to the deepening chaos playing out on the television, but instead turned its head toward Vera and conspicuously sniffed the air, at which point, apparently liking what it smelled, it began to salivate as if from extreme hunger. Guttural slurping sounds emitted from the guest’s withered mouth.

On the television, Chippers was finally grabbed by its handler and escorted offstage, and as the giggles of Vera and Agnes gradually subsided and the two dabbed at their eyes, Sullivan made a hasty farewell, thanking the audience for tuning in and reminding everyone of America’s biggest new singing sensation, who would be appearing on the next show. Vera and Agnes sighed in disappointment that the evening’s hilarity had come to an end, even as they looked forward to the next episode.

“Well, I’d best be getting to bed,” Vera announced formally. “Another day of work tomorrow.”

She stood up, as did her mother, who acknowledged the need to go to bed with a silent nod. Only now, for the first time, did Vera address their guest.

“Thank you so much for coming,” she said warmly, turning towards it and extending her hand.

The guest, surprised, ceased its slurping with a start and rose from the couch. Saying nothing, it nodded to Vera, and then to Agnes, as it wiped saliva from its lips with the back of an emaciated hand. The guest turned and walked through the still-open front door, not bothering to close the door as it departed.

January 5, 2007 in Fiction | Permalink