Six Sentence Stories is a weekly writers’ challenge hosted by Denise at Girlie on the Edge blog.
Join us and take part in the form here. This week’s cue word is: Presence
Editor’s note: This is the final part of my micro-story trilogy The Unsettled Author, a ghost tale about a writer who is uncertain if she has: A) descended into an inner world of madness and hallucinations, or B) is being haunted by the malevolent spirit of another writer. Or C) … ?
In part III we discover what ‘C’ is, or rather who ‘C’ is.
Thank you for reading.
The Unsettled Author
My name is Delores Rafferty, the celebrated author of six novels and several collections of poetry, and I was murdered in my sleep by my rival the writer Eleanora ‘C’ Graves.
Strangled to death by her conniving hands which should have been busy with the pen and the page and not the fragile bones of my neck, nor the rolling up of my corpse in a rug from Rajasthan, buried in a cellar on Corporation Street, Birmingham – brief lodgings in the heart of a second-city of no second chances.
She took my manuscripts and claimed them as her own, toasted my talent with bottles of gin as the money rolled in, darling, darling Eleanor, how the press adored her while the interest in my disappearance soon dwindled like a summer of long shadows and the final song of the cicada.
The first thing I did in my afterlife was to take collection of a great number of keys, and I roamed about England, Europe and America in search of Eleanor to enact my bloody revenge, but alas, she was nowhere to be found, only the essence of her; wistful hints, fragments of a spider web pulled apart by the wind, a willowy and spiteful fairy disappearing into the fog, my God – it was as though she were the ghost and not I… had she ended her life in a fit of remorse for what she had done?
Once, I thought I found her, in Ireland, drinking her gin at a tavern called The Seldom Inn – but no, it wasn’t Eleanor… it was the bitter reflection of myself in the bar mirror, and how I cursed myself in that wretched moment for becoming her.
How I curse myself now – while I stare over your shoulder into the mirror of your bedroom, as you do up your hair or button up your best coat; dear reader, writer, artist, Mesdames et Messieurs… it’s nothing personal my presence here, I just have to check to make sure you are not her, to strike you from my list of keys, my house, her house, your house, and to close the door silently as I leave.
The Unsettled Author
It was time to begin my search for somewhere new to live and write, for I was outgrowing my cramped lodgings both physically and creatively – forever bumping my head on the rafters, my shoulders into the door frames, it was always too hot, too bright; as for my literary ink, the well was running dry.
I found new lodgings at 667 Lofthouse Place, a cold and unfurnished terrace with high ceilings and a sea of creaking floorboards, with windows seldom visited by the sun as it made passage across a sky dominated by the chimneys of factories and their porridge-coloured fumes – it was perfect.
The only furniture I required was my bed – to stretch my bones and my imagination at night; and my desk and chair – to implant my frame and the seeds of my creativity during the day.
Before long, there came a great period of output, and I published some of my most famous works at 667 Lofthouse Place; however, my residence there would eventually bespeak of the dreadful malady which would claim both my sanity and my career as a writer – all thanks to my rival.
My rival, who I would hear at the dead of night, her violent scratching sounds upon paper, her jars of ink and pens flung across rooms in temper, the reek of her gin, her phantom cigarettes infiltrating my bedroom in blooms of smoke which curled into fists and fingers fit to strangle me.
My rival, whose words I will never forget, as I awoke one night to find every window nailed shut, the gas tap left on, and the final page of my latest manuscript violated by the crimson ink of her pen: This is my house.
The Unsettled Author
(Mesdames et Messieurs, in response to your queries to Part I)
But what if… I were to tell you that my descent into madness has reduced me to the occupation of a voyeur staring one-eyed through the keyhole into a chamber of horrors; that no matter how many times I take up keys to move to new lodgings, I will always be confronted by the same ghosts and terrors, the same bad omens as bleak as black cats and chacka-chack-chacking magpies unfed and begging for scraps – and those wicked imps at night, sat upon my chest to divine powerful nightmares for a shilling-a-piece entry into a collection of tales you dare not read after the stroke of midnight…
What if… my madness is naught but the hard pip at the core of a writer’s block, seeded indeed by the need to succeed in the vulturous halls of a literary world foaming at its mouth for the next big thing?
What if… I have been locked in an asylum all this while, under the delusion I am some famous writer?
What if… I’m simply finding myself in a temporary pickle, a melancholy pot pourri; floundering around in a quicksand bath, for which it seems there is no plug to pull nor way to climb out?
What if… when you – yes you – I’m talking to you now – are next writing your stories or crafting art at your workbench, your table or desk… what if, suddenly… you feel fingers alight upon your neck, become aware of the aroma of gin and cigarettes, the presence of a stranger within your comfort zone, that voice you recall you have heard before –
And, Lord, O, when you turn around, look, there I am, right behind you, and you recognise your own fragility in the searing corona of my eyes, and you damn my presence and at the same time your own, as we call out in unison: This is my house and find ourselves at the most extraordinary impasse.
The Unsettled Author III micro-story by Ford 04 June 2021
The Unsettled Author artwork – July 14 fireworks photo, clipart and digital render by Ford