Samantha’s Suburban Surprise

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Samantha’s Suburban Surprise

Today, the degradation of the inner life is symbolized by the fact that the only place sacred from interruption is the private toilet.” -Lewis Mumford

I know. This makes you think the story’ll be gross.
Just trust me.

Of all things in the world that work reliably, Samantha thought that toilets should be one of them.  She stood in front of the porcelain necessity and judged it as a failure in its workings.  The toilet in the main bathroom had always been a source of trouble.  For some reason that Samantha and her family had yet to understand, the toilet was low-volume and it often took several tries to yield any results.  Samantha in particular was often vexed at the appliance’s lack of functionality and often made her way to the bathroom in the guest bedroom just to avoid the battle.

Friday morning was no different.  At seven in the morning there were enough things on the mother’s mind.  Joel and Cassidy needed their lunches packed.  Joel had a science fair that was being judged in the afternoon.  Samantha wanted to be there.  In truth, she deserved a portion of whatever praise was heaped onto Joel’s final product.  It had been Samantha’s fingers that had been caked in glue and dirt as the two had tiresomely created a dirt base for Joel’s photosynthesis diorama.  At the end of the night, as her son’s freshly washed fingers and brushed teeth slept three doors down, Samantha had been convinced that it would have been easier and cleaner to take their garden to school.

As her mother put a sandwich in her lunch, Cassidy refused to change out of her dance uniform.  Her mother tried to explain that the recital wasn’t for another two days.  Cassidy adamantly stuck to her fashion decision.  She didn’t care that Samantha’s parents were coming to town just for the performance.

They claimed that they were going to be in the area anyways and that Samantha and Chuck shouldn’t make any plans for them.  They even offered to check into their hotel.  But Samantha’s mom had said it with that tone in her voice.

She had heard that tone when she had brought home her high school boyfriend; the one with the motorcycle and leather jacket, but no helmet.  She had heard that tone again when she informed her parents that she was going to major in Liberal Arts.  Should Samantha’s mother ever hear about the state of their toilet, Samantha knew that tone would come out again.  Somehow, even while smiling, the matriarch could communicate her distaste in a decision without actually putting it down.  It was this ability that Samantha feared would be used if Cassidy’s dress looked frumpy or, God forbid, torn.  Yet, with all the hustle and chaos of the day, Samantha decided the loud battle that would ensue with her daughter was not worth the fight, even if it meant a silent conflict with her mother.

In addition, Samantha had her review today.  If the paperwork had gone through in the way that it should have, the whole ordeal would have been wrapped up two months ago and Samantha would be at her son’s showcasing.  Instead, she had waited for her boss to return from his European vacation.  Then she had waited for him to get caught up from his time away.  And finally she had waited for the man to get through every other person in the office’s evaluations except hers, even though hers were overdue and theirs were not.  Samantha asked if they could meet a day later, but the boss had said no.  Today was the day.  After fifty-seven days of procrastination, the boss had put his foot down and didn’t care whose toes he stepped on.

With all that going on, it makes perfect sense that the toilet, an everyday annoyance at best, was shoved to the back of Samantha’s already crowded thoughts.  She looked across the table at her husband and tried to remember the last time the two of them had gone out together.  Maybe she could con her parents into babysitting.  Samantha’s mother might have the vocal talent of the family, but she was powerless against Samantha’s Bambi-eyes.

Later that night, the four members of the household reassembled under the same roof.  Samantha was the last to arrive home.  She was shocked to see her daughter running around in something other than her recital apparel.  Chuck saw her, put his hairy arm around her waist, and hugged her.  A smile came over her face.

“I convinced her that if she was a secret agent ballerina, then she would have to wear pajamas to go on covert spy missions and save persecuted kittens from enemy clutches.  Plus she could do somersaults as she evaded capture and clutched the fur balls close to her.”

“Whatever works”, Samantha said as she pecked him on the cheek in appreciation.  “You’re brilliant and handsome, and I’d only love you and your scruffiness more if you had been kind enough to cook dinner so I don’t have to.”

“Spaghetti”, he replied.  “I figured since we don’t have dresses to protect, we’d celebrate with sloppiness.”

“One of these days I’m going to show you my appreciation”, she said as she stroked the dark hairs on his forearm.

“I’ll hold you to that”, he grinned.  “Oh, but there is one more thing I need to tell you.”

“Can it wait?”  Samantha asked as she took of her blazer and headed towards the guest room.  “I really have to use the bathroom.”

“Yeah, it’s about that”, her husband called out.

“In a minute, Hon”, Samantha yelled as she locked the bathroom door and turned on the facet.  She had learned much since children had begun sharing the house.  Rule number one was that the door should always be locked.  Seven year-olds didn’t understand when Mom was unavailable to answer their questions.  They would enter without remorse, without hesitation, and no matter how much she reminded them; without knocking.

Rule number two was that to these same kids, any bodily function was hilarious.  Running sinks wouldn’t mute all the noises that the human body makes, but they would more or less do the trick.  In another minute or two Samantha would face the quirks and surprises that her life provided in abundance.  But first she had business to take care of.  Samantha pulled her blouse loose, walked to the guest toilet, and sat down.  It was only seconds later that she heard a squeaking noise as something furry brushed by her bare skin

With a screech, Samantha stood up and scrambled to pull her clothing close to her.  She whirled around and saw the source of the noise.  There, swimming in the toilet, was a rat.

Hi! How’s it goin’?

“Chuck!”

“I tried to warn you”, his voice came from the other side of the door.

Samantha scrambled to unlock the door, her hands fumbling with the doorknob as her eyes continued to watch the beady-eyed creature at all times.  She knew that the moment she took her gaze from the rodent, that would be the second it would skitter off to some remote hiding space.

“You knew this thing was in our house?  And you didn’t do anything about it?”

“Sam…”

“You could have at least put something on the toilet seat lid!  One of those weights that’s cluttering up the garage; the one’s you never use.  Grab a potted plant from the back porch.  But don’t just leave it swimming in there!”

“Why not?  I think he looks rather cute.”

“Chuck!”  Samantha squeezed her husband’s bicep.  “Rat.  Toilet.  Not good bedfellows.  Did you try flushing it?  Making it return to the watery depths from whence it came?”

“I couldn’t do that to Joel.”

“What does our son have to do with that rabid creature with incisor-like teeth?”

“It’s his rat.  Or mouse.  I really don’t know.  Either way, he traded his prize money for another student’s rat.”

“What?”

“I could repeat that last bit, if you want.  It’s gonna be the same answer though.  Our son bought a rat.”

“And you didn’t stop him… why?”

“I told him we’d have to have a family discussion.”

“Ugggggh.  It’s a rat.  It’s filthy!”

“Actually, it’s not as bad as you think.  The other father assured me that they had taken all the precautions and that they are as healthy as can be.  He says they make pretty decent pets.”

“Then why didn’t they keep this thing?”  Samantha started to hop and skip around on the linoleum floor.  Her prior task was not forgotten, only temporarily delayed.

“Well, funny story.  It turns out they have five other ones at home.”

Samantha stood still and looked Chuck straight in the face.  “I don’t want to know that man’s name.  If we ever meet him and I know he’s the one with mice all over his house, I will scream.  Just assure me that we will never, ever, go to his house.”

Chuck only laughed in reply.  Samantha’s response was more dramatic.  She pushed her husband aside, threw the door open and hurried to the other end of the house.

“I thought we were talking”, her husband called out.

“Oh, we’re not even close to done”, Samantha hollered as she nimbly navigated her way around the floor-covered maze of toys and crayon drawings.  “But it can wait a few minutes.”

Samantha hurried to the main bathroom, thrilled to find it unoccupied.  She closed the door and sent a mental note of thanks.  She had never been so happy to see that wretched toilet in all her life.

A Suitable Attraction

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

A Suitable Attraction

We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.” -Fydor Dostoevsky

Pic from Wikipedia

Celeste watched as the water fountain rushed almost to the point of over-flowing.  The brim of the stone-walled bowl tried to contain all the demands that were forced upon it, but the supplier just sending more and more liquid its way.  Celeste decided that the splashes that occasionally hit the ground were not the bowl’s fault.  The poor fountain was simply overworked and overtaxed.  She knew how it felt.

In forty minutes, Celeste was to give a presentation to her supervisors and decision makers.  It was her job to persuade everyone in the room that the funding they were considering allowing her would make their company more profitable.  Celeste was mostly concerned about the extra staff that the money would pay for.  She was doing the work of three people and wanted to share it with at least one other.  The problem was that Celeste wasn’t very successful at singing for her supper.  She had tried to hire support staff for several years and this was the first time that the board had shown signs of willingness.  If she failed this afternoon, Celeste would have to wait at least another year to ask for help.  She would never last that long with the work load that had in mind for her.

That was how the woman in her mid-twenties found herself at the park.  It was only a five minute walk from work and Celeste appreciated the congenial nature of the area.  Women who couldn‘t have been much older than her walked by with their double-wide strollers while talking on their phones.  An old woman walked an excited dachshund on the leash.  Behind the hunched over woman with the purple hair and the excitable pup came a man with bony arms, a loose plaid shirt, and a John Deere cap that was too big for his pale head.  He smiled and waved as his wife called for him to catch up.

Even the squirrels were friendly.  Most of the creatures would scurry away and hide in a garbage can, but one had learned from its years spent in the park.  It stood in front of Celeste, its head cocked to one side.  Celeste stared at the squirrel.  The squirrel looked back patiently.  Celeste blinked.  The squirrel munched on something in its mouth and took a step closer to the woman’s feet.  Celeste held out her empty hands, palms open, showing that she had no treats.  The squirrel squinted.   It seemed annoyed at Celeste’s lack of people food and then ran off to climb the closest tree.

Underneath her dark blue jacket, a small watch lay comfortably on Celeste’s right wrist.  She slid her sleeve back and checked the clock.  She wanted some time to prepare a few sections, but she also desired to be outside enjoying the park for as long as possible.  She brushed a small cluster of crumbs off her suit pants; the residual bits fell and mingled in the tall blades of grass.  She saw with relief that her white blouse was still clean and crisp and her straight blonde hair was free of leaves and tangles.  Celeste was a picturesque executive, properly poised and attired to take charge of the meeting room.

Of course, the situation wasn’t meant to last.

Celeste saw the unexpected variable in her lunch break as it barreled towards her.  She only had time to cry out, “Watch it!“  After that, Celeste was knocked backwards by a bike messenger.  She felt herself being lifted into the air.  A second or two later, she came crashing back down to the ground.  If Celeste had been in control of the situation, she probably would have liked to land on the soft patch of grass that was only inches away.  Instead, she collided on the concrete at the base of the fountain.  She slid along her bottom and felt the concrete and rocks scratch up her posterior.

“I’m so sorry!”  The bike was hastily tossed aside and the operator leapt to his feet.  “I didn’t see you, and there was this kid running in front of me so I had to veer so I wouldn’t… oh man.  I’m so sorry.”

“Ow”, Celeste replied.  She struggled to her feet.  Her hands had been scrapped by the impact, but most of the injury was to her bottom.  “Ow, ow, ow”, she repeated as her injured muscles protested and complained with each movement.  Even with the biker’s hand helping her up, she still felt the pain shoot along her body.

“Are you okay?”

Celeste raised herself to her full height.  Her jacket had scratched cuffs so she took it off.  The blouse had held up remarkably well.  Okay, Celeste thought to herself.  It isn’t ideal, but the top works without the jacket.  She adjusted her white gold chain necklace and freed the lingering strands from their awkward perch in front of her nose.  I can fix this, Celeste reasoned.  The sound of children laughing around her woke Celeste from her confidence boosting.  Now the small ones were pointing as they giggled.  Worse, they were pointing at her.

“Oh, man”, the biker replied.  “Uh, your pants… well, they didn’t make it.”

Eyes widening, Celeste reached for her backside.  Where the dark fabric had once covered, there was now only undergarment.  Horrified, Celeste reached lower until she discovered that, much like the pajamas in Norman Rockwell paintings, the seat of her pants was now a flap that exposed that precious area below the waist.  Even the loose material was torn into strips.  Celeste threw her jacket around her waist and tied the sleeves in front of her midsection.

“That’s great.  Freakin’ great.  Son of a dadgum, mother-lovin’, horse poop pile of squat.  Crud.”

“I really am sorry”, the biker apologized yet again.

“You!”  Celeste turned upon the man intent on having a focal point for her anger.  “You did this!  You and your bike with no brakes and your no-steering!  What the sam hill!”

“I’m so sorry!  I didn’t do it on purpose, I swear!”  The man took off his helmet and revealed a pained expression.  The embarrassment and shame on his face was as clear as the skin on his shaved head.  “What can I do?”

“Do?!  Do?  There’s nothing to do.  I have to give a presentation in…”  Celeste paused to look at her watch.  The result horrified her.  “Twenty minutes!”  The torment of it all was wearing on Celeste.  “There are no clothing stores in a park!  I have people to impress!  What am I supposed to do?”

“Uh, I know where you could get some new pants.  Or maybe a dress.  I guess it would depend on you.”

Celeste’s brown eyes which had previously been fully visible in excitement and frustration now slammed into thin slits of determination.  “Don’t you dare mess with me.”

“I would never…  Look, I just live in that apartment right over there.”

The woman followed the man’s finger and saw a small three-story brick building near the border of the park.  It was nothing fancy, but it added a quiet charm to the open area.

“I’m so happy for you”, Celeste replied.  “Congratulations on living nearby.  How does that make it better?  You have a mall in your apartment?”

“No, a closet.”

Strange and worrying notions started to swirl around Celeste’s head.  She began to back away slowly from the man she had been focusing her anger on.

“No!  It’s not like that”, the man laughed.  “I live with my sister.  She’s about your size.”

“So, you don’t just keep a closet full of women’s clothes in your room.”

“No.”

“You aren’t some weird guy that injures people and then lures them back into your abode so that you can lick their hair or wax their fingernails?”

“What?”

“There are people”, Celeste defended.

“Where?  Where are there people like that?”

“I saw a special on it.”

“Like a news broadcast?”  A smile was introducing itself to the man’s otherwise bare face.

“Not exactly”, Celeste responded.

“What exactly?”

“Okay, technically it was a movie.”

“Uh huh.”

“On HBO”, Celeste said quieter.

“Got it.”

“But it said it was based on true events!”

“They all say that”, the man replied with a laugh.

“I guess they do”, Celeste said begrudgingly.  She shrugged.  “All right, so that may have been a little paranoid.  I’m sorry; this whole thing has thrown me off.”

“No, I’m the one who’s apologizing today.  You’re allowed to be cautious.  But the offer still stands.”

Celeste considered her options.  Either way, she would have to get back to work soon.  If she passed up the offer, she would have to go back dressed like…  Celeste didn’t know what she was dressed like, but it wasn’t someone with the authority to hire more staff.  Without more suitable attire, there really was no point in attending the meeting.

“All right.  I’ll head to your place.  But I have mace in my purse!  Any funny business and you’ll be the one looking for help.”

“Understood”, the man said as he jogged towards the building and motioned for her to follow.  “Despite the initial onslaught you incurred, I really do bring tidings of peace and good will.”

“Sure”, Celeste said as she picked up the pace and thanked her shoes for being flats.  “You’re a winning example to the U.N. for how to exude warmth and decorum.”

The biker pulled his keys from his pocket as they ran up to the front door.  Without pausing, he threw his bike to the curb and bolted up the flight of stairs with Celeste matching him step for step.  At the top of the stairs, the man made a quick right and then unlocked the door.  He waved Celeste inside.

“Welcome to our home, sorry for the mess, no time for the tour now”, he yelled as he opened a door.  “This is Jamie’s room.  She’s out of town.  Pick something you like.”

“Your sister’s going to understand all this?”  Celeste slammed the door shut, not waiting for a reply.

“She won’t be home for another week”, the biker called through the door.  “Besides, she owes me two months’ rent.”

Celeste made sure the door locked and then set her eyes on the closet.  The first things that met her eye were swimsuits and exercise gear.  The articles of clothing would certainly make an impression on the older, male members of the board, but not in the way that she would like.  Brushing past bathrobes and sweaters, Celeste started to get frustrated.  She had ten minutes.  All she wanted were dress pants.  Something resembling professionalism would be great, but she wasn’t finding anything close.  Next up came what she could only assume were bridesmaids dresses.

“Doesn’t your sister ever wear work clothes?”  “I mean, what is with her closet”, Celeste yelled to the hallway.

“She’s a swim instructor”, the man replied.  “We don’t really go for fancy too often.”

“Well every once in a while wouldn’t hurt!”  Celeste almost stopped to consider if she could make a wedding party-reject work, but she continued digging.  Finally, at the back of the closet, she found it.

A tan dress hung in the closet.  In contrast to the gaudy and skimpy clothes around it, the dress was a true standout.  Even in a department store, Celeste would have picked this sleeveless dress.  It was work appropriate, yet elegant.  The shoulders were covered and there was a square cut to the neckline.  The folds and lines hugged the waist casually; not in a confining or suggestive way.  The hemline appeared to reside just above the knees and allowed for brisk walking, which Celeste would need on her way back.

“It’s pretty quiet in there”, the biker called in.  “Does that mean you found something?  Or have you taken to sneaking her television out the window to your accomplice?”

“No”, Celeste answered back.  “I’m actually just trying to get this mattress out the window without opening it all the way.”  She tossed her purse aside yanking off her skirt and blouse as she kicked her black shoes aside.  Her eyes locked in on the hanger which she quickly removed.  She pulled the dress over her head and thanked whatever power above that the dress wasn’t strapless.  Somehow, someway, this perfect dress fit Celeste like it was made for her.  She kicked her shoes back on, grabbed her purse, and threw the door open.

The biker who had been leaning on the opposite wall stumbled to stand up.  “Uh… wow.”

“Zipper”, Celeste demanded as she walked towards him.

“What?”

“Zipper!”  Celeste lifted her hair above the base of her neck and pointed to the back of the dress.  “I need you to help me with the zipper.”

“Oh, right”, the biker said as he moved closer.

Celeste stood impatiently waiting for the final stage to be complete.  Nothing happened.  She was about to turn around when she felt the biker’s hand rest clumsily on her right hip.  Celeste swore she heard a gulp of nervousness from behind her.  The other hand slowly raised the zipper up to its topmost resting spot.  The right hand remained on her hip.

Celeste turned, putting her hand on the biker’s.  She stopped for a moment, facing him, and enjoyed the half embrace of his arm.  “Thank you”, she said kindly.  “I’ll bring your sister’s dress back after my work day.  She’ll never even know I borrowed it.”

Running towards the stairs, Celeste heard a voice call after her.  “I really wish you wouldn’t”, the man replied.

“What?”  Celeste stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked up.  “Why not?”

“You… I… you can’t bring that dress back to my sister.”

Celeste looked at her watch impatiently.  Only six minutes remained.  “Of course I have to.  Why wouldn’t I?”

The biker started to hurry down the stairs, his hand rubbing anxiously on his shaven dome.  “I couldn’t take that.  My sister in that dress; she’s pretty enough.  But you?  I… I’ve never…  Look, that dress wouldn’t be right for her.  Not after the way you wear it.”

“So”, Celeste said cautiously, “I look okay?”

“Stunning.”

“Professionally stunning or corner of Third and Boston at two a.m. stunning?”

“Oh, the first one.  I’d sign whatever contract you’re negotiating.”

“I actually don’t deal with…”  Celeste stopped herself.  “Thank you.”  She looked at the stranger for the first time and took him in.  “In all this craziness I don’t think I ever got your name.”

“Bryan”, he replied.

“Well, Bryan.  If you won’t let me give back the dress then maybe we could go to dinner.”

Bryan stood stock still.  “After all I did to you, you want to go to dinner?”

“Why not?  The first part was an accident.  A painful one”, she said as she rubbed her bottom, “but an accident nonetheless.  Ever since then you have been the perfect gentleman.  Going out of your way to help me, apologizing the whole time; it isn’t something most people would do.”  She stepped forward and rubbed her hands on his head.  “And I like bald guys.”

“Seven?”

“Seven”, Celeste said as she pecked him on the cheek.  “I’ll meet you here”, she called out as she burst out the door.

Celeste sprinted across the grass to her office building.  She had four minutes until the meeting officially started.  She thanked her paranoid nature for setting up the meeting room before her lunch break.  The breeze blew her hair about, but Celeste paid it no mind.  She was enjoying herself.  She might not be a great health buff like Bryan’s sister, but she enjoyed a run now and then.

Celeste couldn’t help but grin.  She was going to own that room.  She was going to show how confident she felt and it would come across in her presentation.  The men and women that she answered to would see how well-thought out her plan was and give her the staff she needed.  Her office rose into view as Celeste covered the distance quickly.

At the street outside her work, she made sure to pause for any oncoming cars or bicycles.  Seeing nothing to impede her travel, Celeste darted across.  She was already getting excited for her victory dinner that evening.

A Late Arrival for Christmas Future

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Late Arrival for Christmas Future

…I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?” –Charles Dickens

Jill was a nervous woman, she always had been.  She feared that her jitters were burdens that she would carry for the rest of her life.  While most women in their mid-twenties couldn’t wait to move out of their childhood homes, Jill had found her own residence only because of her parents’ insistence.

As she got ready for bed, she asked herself once again why she had rented a house.  She had searched for a small apartment surrounded by neighbors, but hadn’t found one.  Often, the timid woman pondered the possibility of finding a roommate.  However she worried that they would turn out to be thieves or perverts.  A girl couldn’t be too safe these days.

Walking down the stairs from her bedroom, Jill checked the front door and the windows.  They were all locked, which is how Jill preferred them.  The only time when the door was ever unlatched was when Jill entered or left.  Every other second was one where a stranger could enter and therefore the door had to be secured.  Jill didn’t know how wide the windows would open.  She didn’t want to know.  The house had air conditioning and the windows had bolts.  That was all she needed.

A dog would have been a very welcome companion.  Jill would have adopted a large one, complete with a loud bark and sharp teeth.  However Jill’s allergies simply couldn’t survive any pets.  An electric alarm system wouldn’t do her any good.  If the thieves broke into the house, they would still have time to attack her before the police came.  That didn’t stop her from placing a sticker warning of her non-existent surveillance system in all the front windows.

One light stayed on at the foot of the stairs.  Jill looked at the glowing orb and took comfort in it.  Logically, she argued that having the light on meant that passersby would assume there were people awake and moving in the house.  But on a deeper level, Jill liked knowing that she could control something.  Every time she placed her fingers on the light switch, she felt as if she was in charge of it.  She couldn’t regulate tornados, lightning storms, or drought, but she could decide whether this glassy sphere was allowed to live or not.

Stepping into her bedroom and quickly locking the door behind her, Jill took in the familiar surroundings.  She knew in her head that there were no monsters in her closet, but she had to check just in case.  The same was true of the area under her bed.  A cursory glance at the windows revealed that they, just like all the clear panes in the house, we secured.  She took off her sweatshirt, pulled her hair into a short ponytail, and tucked herself under the covers.  Her black tank top hugged her securely while her green plaid flannel pants gave her a sort, warm feeling.  She pulled her covers close and settled in for her nightly routine.

Even with her Princess Jasmine nightlight on top of her dresser, Jill was consumed with “what if” thoughts and worries.  While her imagination and constant dread made her an excellent safety and accident assessor at work, those same traits made it an ordeal for her to sleep each night.  She lived in the Midwest where nature wasn’t afraid to scorch the earth or cover it in feet of snow.  Her house was further from ambulances and caring neighbors than she liked.  In addition there were the everyday concerns of carbon monoxide poisoning, slipping in the shower, or lead in her water pipes.  Jill did her best to prepare for every eventuality.  At the end of the day, she couldn’t calm herself down until sleep exhausted her.

Just as the toll of her over-active brain started to send her off to sleep, she felt a cold chill fill her room.  Jill’s eyes slammed open.  An intense breeze filled the room.  The wind, Jill tried to believe.  It’s only the wind.  There was a problem with that theory and she knew it.  If the wind was blowing, why were her chimes silent?

With a gust, the light bulb that had rested atop a plastic magic carpet blew out just like a candle.  Jill’s room was plunged into darkness.  The hairs on the back of her neck were rigid and upright.  Her arm lunged out from under her blankets.  With a quickness that only terror can invoke, she grabbed for the industrial strength flashlight that she kept underneath her bedside table.  As quickly as it had gone, Jill pulled her arm back under the covers and clicked the huge flashlight on.

An orange/pink glow filled the little dome that Jill’s body made under the covers.  She pulled her legs in close to her.  Her knees supported her quivering chin as she held the flashlight at her feet pointing up.  She was getting colder and colder.  It was only September; the leaves had just begun to fall.  Yet Jill’s teeth fought to chatter like it was a record-low December.  Also, though she couldn’t explain it, Jill could swear something in the room was moving.

Jill knew it wasn’t possible.  For one thing, other than her sharp breathing that she tried to stifle, the room was silent.  The doors and windows had been locked, she had checked.  Jill did her best to sooth her excited nerves.  I could have sworn…

There it was again.  Jill was sure of it this time.  Some black shape had moved just past her right knee.  It had been tall, wispy figure.  It wasn’t walking around; its movements above her were too quick.  Could it be…floating?  Jill’s eyes were now wide with terror.  She felt the figure right in front of her.  She knew, even with several blankets between them, that a bony hand was reaching towards her.

Jill sent a shrill scream through the room.  She slammed her eyes shut and shrieked as loudly as she could.  Pure panic pierced the dark area and the scream sent the figure reeling back in surprise.  Her breath was running out, so Jill was forced to pause and inhale quickly.  Then she started with another powerful scream.

“Wait.  Wait one minute”, a voice in the room replied.  The tone was curious, to say the least.  It had a sense of wisdom, of long-gestating intelligence and experience that reverberated around every syllable.  Unlike most old voices, there was no rasp or shortness.  The sound came out as ageless and confident.

Jill was about to scream as she realized that the ebony stalks of fingers were pulling the blankets away from her.  The coverings between the woman and the voice were removed.  Jill wanted to screech at the sight in front of her, but she couldn’t.  She was too shocked.

In front of Jill was a phantasm.  A black robe floated in mid-air.  She would have guessed that this wraith was eight-feet tall, but it didn’t have a solid shape.  As the tattered fabric billowed and wavered about in the uncanny breeze, it showed that the creature had no solid form.  There was a skeletal hand that scratched where there should have been a chin.  But the ghost had no face.  The hood of the robe was quite visible from Jill’s flashlight, but there was no face to bathe in light.  Jill could see the night-black fabric and the hand, but nothing else.  She felt herself starting to faint and tried to focus her breathing.

“There must be some sort of mistake”, the figure said.  “Who are you?”

“Ji… Jill”, she managed to say.

“Jill.  But you’re a woman.”

Jill only nodded.  Her eyes refused to blink as they locked onto the figure.

“So… you’re not a man.”

Jill shook her head.

“You’re not Ebenezer Scrooge.”

Jill shook her head again.

The bony hand scratched the side of the hood, and then the back of its “head”.  “All right, I’m officially lost.  This is London, isn’t it?  Come to think of it, I didn’t see any chimney sweeps or carriages outside.  What’s the deal?”

“This… this is London”, Jill managed to reply.  “But it’s London, Ohio.”

“Hold it.  There’s a London, Ohio?”

Jill nodded emphatically.  “Two of them, actually.”

A second bony limb appeared as the ghost threw both arms up in frustration.  The hood pointed up to the ceiling, but still no head was visible.  “How many Londons are there?”

“I don’t know about the rest of the world, but there are about eight in The U.S.”

“Eight?”

“Yeah, twelve if you count the New Londons.”  Jill couldn’t explain it, but an odd calm was starting to take over.  It was almost as if the situation was too bizarre for her to fear.

“Okay, so we’re in The U.S.; the colonies.  But you folks named all these cities after English cities?  You don’t think that’s a little off-putting for the rest of us?”

“It happened before I was born.”

“I suppose that’s fair”, the ghost said as it hovered to the foot of her bed.  It seemed to be taking in its surroundings.  The hood turned to the left quickly, then the right; its robe swooped and flowed with each brief move, trying to keep up.

“You probably want to be in 1843.  Or at least, a time that’s a little bit closer to it.”

“Correct”, the voice said, regaining the confident manner it had first used.  “Are you saying that I am off my mark there as well?”

“By quite a bit”, Jill offered.  “It’s 2012.”

“Oh bother.  Well I’m just entirely out of my destination, aren’t I?”  A sigh came out of the ghost as the temperature in the room warmed noticeably.  “I really must apologize then.  I don’t normally come into a woman’s room.  It is most rude of me.  I promise, were it not my occupation, I would never engage in such activities at all.”

“No, I think I understand”, Jill said.  “You’re The Ghost of Christmas Future.”

“Correct.  And you’re Jill.”  The ghost paused.  “I’m sorry; I didn’t catch your last name.”

“Stooge”, Jill answered.

“Ah ha.  Now we’re starting to get somewhere.”

Jill almost thought she heard the ghost chuckle.

“Well, Jill Stooge, I do apologize for this most unseemly event.  You can understand my confusion, though.  I was assigned to warn a Mr. Scrooge, who I was told lived in a big empty house in London.  Bit of a silly mix-up, I suppose.”

“The details will trip anyone up.”

“Isn’t that the truth?  I’ve always found it to be so”, the ghost replied.

“Still, isn’t one hundred and seventy years a large chunk of time to be off?”

“You have to understand”, the ghost explained.  “Time is a human concept.  Us non-living characters; things are a bit less-defined for us.  When you exist in all moments at once, what’s one year here or there?  They’re all quite accessible.”

“Must be convenient.”

“Oh, most times.  Though, as this unfortunate accident proves, it can be vexing when we try to interact with you folks.”

“We all make mistakes”, Jill offered.

“Indeed we do.  I shall take up no more of your time.  I’m sure you’d like to get back to sleep and I clearly have someplace else I’m supposed to be.  You haven’t seen any other characters around, have you?  A large, jolly fellow with a beard?  A flame-y sort, probably nymph-like?”

“No, just you tonight.”

“Right.  Well, at least the others got their bearings correct.  I do apologize most fervently.”

“Wait!”  Jill reached for the phantom as it made its way out the wall.  The figure had put the top half of its torso up through the ceiling, but now it glided back towards the woman.

“Yes?”

“I wanted… I mean, since you’re here…”

“Did you need something?  I’ve been such a bother to you I’m eager to make amends.”

“I was wondering”, Jill said with reluctance.  “Is there anything I need to know?  Any changes I should make?”

“I’m not really supposed to go into it”, the ghost replied.  “However, I suppose I could make an exception.”

“So, there aren’t any spirits coming to visit me?”

“Of course not.  It’s actually a rather rare event.”

“No one’s going to haunt me or scare me?”

“Oh dear, no.  Who do you think we work for?  We’re just trying to help.”

“I don’t have to worry about anything?  No disasters coming my way?”

“My dear.  I of course can’t guarantee anything.  But nothing’s been brought to our attention.  May I offer a little advice to the living?”

“Please do”, Jill pleaded.

“Live.  That’s it.  Love your neighbor, hug a friend, and make merry.  That’s what I’m going to try and show Scrooge.”

“Fair enough”, Jill said with a smile.

“I’m sorry, but I really have to get going.   I’d like to straighten this whole night out before those other two turn me into an article of ridicule.”

“I understand.  And thank you for your time.”

With that, the specter was gone.  The light bulb on Jill’s lamp turned back on.  Jill smiled and turned off her flashlight.  She reached up and clicked off the lamp.  As the room settled back into quiet darkness, Jill drifted off into peaceful slumber.

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