A little short story for Halloween… not that little, it’s quite long actually, sorry…
The show was going wonderfully. Already, ‘S’ (who turned out to be Samantha) had thanked Mum for the candles. ‘Phil’ (a little confusion over if it was a Philip or a Philippa – safety with Phil) had thanked family and friends for the lovely service and choice of music (but oddly neglected to name any of the three “favourite” songs used) and ‘D’ (Duncan) had asked Tricia – “Trish” – to keep the ring safe but to move on with her life (the wedding ring was in fact deposited in its presentation case and ever present in Trish’s handbag). All those people were comforted and an audience, perhaps one-third skeptical was now convinced of a life beyond this one.
Why shouldn’t they be? They didn’t seem to care that the departed announced themselves with an initial rather than a name. They were unaware that the studio audience was carefully chosen to have lost someone to a wide variety of accidents and ailments (a dozen bull’s-eyes in every episode). They didn’t know that ‘crew’ members circulated among them pre-show recording conversations… “There’s no way he can know I always keep the brooch in my left inside pocket…” He does now, petal. Oh, and you should probably be aware of that occupied toilet cubicle, it could be anyone in there ear-wigging on your hushed conversations. But, honestly, is it such a bad thing tricking these folk? He was their grief counselor; they arrived bewildered by loss yet a couple of hours later departed the studio happy and at peace. What harm was being done here? None. He was glad to help. Okay, the money he made wasn’t entirely earned but tell that to the rapt audience. Guiding someone through the pain of bereavement isn’t a trick; it’s a calling.
Adam Paul stood unmoving on stage, off-centre, head bowed in concentration. He couldn’t wear an ear-piece on telly and be open to accusations of fraud. It was a game of listening and memory. You know, the production had wanted to him to change his name to ‘Paul Messenger’. How corny can you get? Absolutely not. Never hide behind a pseudonym, the critics will jump on anything like that. Plus, it does look as if you’re concealing something – trust is everything in this business, people had to trust you. Besides, he didn’t want any more red-top journalists rifling through the bins of his personal affairs, that lurid spell of his life was consigned to history.
“I feel like I’m being drawn to this area here,” he said, suddenly in motion and gesturing vaguely to an area of seats comprising a dozen people. A dozen faces of hope. “I’ve got a lady coming through… all right, come on, sweetheart… I’m feeling it’s an older lady and she’s showing me the letter ‘J’.” Adam noticed the chunky, mid-aged man wearing a leather jacket too small for him. He was seated beside a young girl, about 12 years old. His eyes had gone from penny-size to £2 coiners. ‘Older lady’ and ‘J’ clearly meant something to him. So it should. Adam held back going to him; the man was keeping himself in check, waiting for the incontrovertible truth. Adam wouldn’t be able to wait long though, this is television – time is money, baby.
“Why are you showing me that…?” Adam asked under his breath. “Okay, she’s showing me some kind of shed in a garden… it’s not like a suburban garden, it’s more sort of communal. Does that mean anything to anybody?”
The man was now residing in dinner plate territory yet still reticent to open his trap. Adam decided to give him a nudge.
“Who?” He asked the air. “Is it this gentleman…? I’m drawn to you, sir.” The man stared at him, frozen. “She’s telling me about a… I can’t, what’s that…? A briar? I’m hearing briar…” His voice rose a notch on the last word, questioning. “Does the information mean anything to you, sir?” Damn right it does.
The moggy finally let go of his tongue. “I’m Brian.”
“Brian, thank you, that’s what I’m hearing. Do you recognise this lady? I have to say she’s got a beautiful aura about her.”
“My mother’s name was Jenny and she owned a plot on an allotment, she spent many, many hours there.”
“She says thank you…” Adam paused. “Thank you for carrying on, son. Does that mean anything to you?”
Brian was visibly struggling with his emotions. “I didn’t sell the plot after she died. I just carried on where she left off, really.”
An appreciative murmur rippled through the audience. Another soul saved, it was a good feeling. Adam pushed on. “There you go – she’s come through to say thanks for that. I’ve got to say she really is a lovely lady, she’s saying ‘keep your eye on those spuds!’ That’s what she’s telling me. She also wants to say… she loves the picture and the flowers… she’s not showing me roses, these are, I think they’re carnations…”
Oops. Wrong on ‘picture’, right on ‘flowers’. But that didn’t matter, Brian’s confirmation validated both. Adam had noted the frown cross Bri’s face on the word ‘picture’ and moved quickly on to 100% information. It was easy to send one of the production staff scouting out burial sites, see if they’re well maintained, decorated with fresh flowers, candles, photos or trinkets. It was also handy to note the birth/ death dates, for anniversaries or coinciding historical events – for those spectacular readings. Brian was getting quite upset now, the girl beside him held onto his hand and leaned her cheek against his arm. Adam decided to switch the focus, he was feeling confident. Just a brief aside.
“Oh… come through, sweetheart… Okay, there’s a younger woman and there’s a wife connection. Okay? Can I ask, is your wife still on this side, Brian?”
Really, Bri should be wondering why the ‘younger woman’ couldn’t tell Adam the wife is alive and kicking but by now he’s caught up in the swell. “Okay, what’s that…? I’m seeing ‘M’. ‘M’. It’s maybe Mary, or May…”
“Oh, my god…” The words surfed out on a long exhalation. “My wife is April, her sister was May.”
“I’m being shown ‘3’, all named for months.”
“Three sisters, yes…”
“She’s here with your Mum… go on… she’s addressing… I’m getting the initial ‘R’ and there’s a feeling of ‘your girl’… She’s asking ‘how do you like the new shoes?’ Does that mean anything at all?”
If they’re on television, people buy new stuff to wear. The kids in the audience, a high percentage always showed up in new shoes or had just bought a pair for the new school term, or for the holidays, or whatever. You couldn’t miss. Brian was reeling.
“That will be my daughter, Rebecca. She was very close to May.”
“Is this your daughter?” Adam gestured to the girl clinging to his arm, already knowing the answer, already knowing she was wearing the new shoes, already knowing that May never called her Rebecca, it was always ‘Becky’ or ‘Becks’…
Pear-shaped couldn’t possibly describe it.
The audience looked at Brian, then Adam, then back at Brian – principally the seat next to Brian.
“Rebecca has been ill,” Brian began carefully. “She couldn’t come today and at the last minute we decided she shouldn’t travel.”
Adam smiled. In the periphery of his vision he could see the production crew slowly beginning to react. But it was no big deal, was it? Adam hadn’t said it was his daughter; he had asked. He just needed to clear up who had come in her place and he’d be able to work around the error quickly. Actually, Adam was miffed he hadn’t been fed an audience update; his PA was in for a bollocking.
“That’s awful, awful news, I’m very sorry to hear that. How is she?”
“I think she was more upset about not being on television.”
The audience laughed and Adam smiled along with them. See, drama averted. Easy-peasy. “I bet she was, eh. Kids always get their priorities right don’t they! Well, I hope she’s feeling better soon, I do. Who is it who’s come with you today?” The simple question seemed to electrify the audience even more. What was the matter with them?
“I haven’t come with anybody,” Brian told him.
Adam looked to the older woman in the seat the other side of not-Becky. She was currently inching as far away from the girl as it was possible to get without sitting in the lap of the next person. He knew there was no point asking the question but asked anyway – ‘Is she with you?’ – and received a rapid ‘don’t involve me’ shake of the head in reply, like she was watching a really fast game of ping-pong. This was getting ridiculous.
“Does anybody know her…? Stand up, honey, so they can see you…” The girl did as she was told, glancing around at the audience, but no one was looking at her. They were all looking at Adam.
He heard the director, Jackie, call ‘cut’ but it seemed a simple thing to clear up. “Blonde, pony tail, big hairy maroon jumper with white paw prints…”
Brian reacted like he’d been digged with a cattle prod. He stood, unsteady on his feet, wearing an expression somewhere between worry and disbelief. “You’re describing Rebecca…”
Adam shook his head, not following. The audience had grown very quiet – so quiet you could hear the mossies whining in Epping Forest. Messages was currently being filmed in Carlisle. “Didn’t you just say…?”
Jackie took his arm and hustled him off the set. He heard a production assistant thanking the audience and that filming was now completed and could they make their way to the after-show lounge where someone would be along to explain what had happened and their patience was very much appreciated. Adam was backstage in his dressing room before he even noticed the journey to get there; static on set – dressing room, no in-between.
“Wouldn’t you mind ever so much telling me what that was all about? A bit off the beaten track, wasn’t it?” Jackie, originally from New Zealand, had a reputation for bluntness. And you were never quite sure when she was going to go off on one.
“What’s wrong with everybody? It’s like she wasn’t there – you can’t miss a jumper like that.”
“You’re freaking the natives, Adam, cut it out. Hearing ghosts is what this show is all about. Seeing them is another show, not this one.”
“They’re not ghosts,” he said absently. “Jackie, look at me. There was a girl, about 12 years old wearing a loud jumper sat beside Brian. It’s his daughter, he told me. I saw her. Apparently, she didn’t come today and now you’re intimating not only was she not there, no one was there. Something just happened. Didn’t anyone see anything, crew, audience?”
“Carol’s on it now. So you honestly saw this kid, she was there?”
“Look at the video! Christ…”
“All right, mate, calm down…”
“I’m fucking seeing things.”
“I have never seen you like this, Adam, clearly you’ve had an event…”
“I’m a fraud, Jack!” He ploughed on through her ‘shushing’ motions. “I can’t see or hear anything! I counsel people in their grief, that’s all I do!”
Carol, Jackie’s PA crept into the room and they both turned to stare at her. She didn’t seem to want to speak, or at least didn’t know how to begin.
“Well?” Jackie prompted.
“Nobody saw a girl. Steven told the audience that sometimes the images come through Adam very strongly and a forceful spirit will project who they want to send a message to if that person isn’t present.”
“Ah, good on yer, Steve…”
“But there’s more… Mr. Walker’s wife has been calling our reception for 20 minutes trying to reach him – obviously with his moby switched off due to our no-phone policy we…”
“His daughter died suddenly, a seizure of some kind, possibly an embolism. They don’t know yet. She’d been unwell for a few days.”
“Oh, God,” Adam commented after a pause. “Oh, Jesus.”
“Adam, sit down before you fall down,” Jackie told him. He did so. “Carol, does the audience know any of that?”
“No. Obviously, Mr. Walker left immediately, he didn’t speak to anyone.”
“Right. Send them home, assure them everything is fine. Send our condolences to the Walkers along with a big bunch of flowers. In fact, go in person. Oh, and call Adam’s agent, get him to drop in, please.”
“What about the next crowd?” There was one more show to record before close of play.
“Just give us a few minutes, love…” She waited for Carol to leave then stood with her arms folded, appraising Adam with something akin to cautious wonder. “This is far fucking out. I have seen the fucking light today, Adam.”
“Jackie, why am I not sharing your enthusiasm?”
“You can see fucking dead people, mate!” She ignored his head in hands posture. “And when Roz gets here I think you’ll see the possibilities of what we’ve captured on film out there.”
“Do you want to think about what it means to me for a second?” He wondered vacantly.
“Oh, I am, Adam; I’m thinking it means bye-bye Daytime TV, hello World, prime time, America – Oh-hhh say can you see, by the dead’s early light!” She rubbed her hands together vigorously. “Right, look, you’ve got an hour or so till we haul in the next audience for filming. I’ll bring you the details on them, just relax and read up as normal. Let’s get through it, wrap, then we’ll go for a stiff ‘un with Roz and work out what to do next. What I don’t want to hear is you can’t do the next show.”
“I can’t do the next show.”
“Yes you can. I’ll get you a coffee and the portfolio. Have a cig – just don’t set the smoke alarm off…”
Adam watched her go. The odd thing was the image of Rebecca already seemed unreal to him, like it never happened. Like a stunt. But people will talk, the Press will pick it up – ADAM SPOOKED BY GHOSTLY GIRL. Headline news. And it was undisputed proof of an incredible talent. He really could not have known Rebecca had passed away. He certainly couldn’t make up a jumper like the one she wore. He reached for a pack of cigarettes, caught movement in the mirror and immediately transferred his gaze to the floor. Of course she was there, of course she was…
“I suppose you’ve got a message for your Dad.”
“I’ve already given it to him.”
“Nice shoes.” He didn’t look up any higher than her shoes, as if doing so would reinforce her presence.
“I chose them,” Becky said, swelling with pride. “How did you know they were new?”
“I didn’t. I cheated.”
“You won’t have to cheat anymore. I can help you. I can connect you.”
“Thank you for the offer but I’m fine. I’ll just continue as I am.”
“You don’t understand; I’ve been asked to guide you.”
“By whom? Who asked you?”
Becky rubbed her palms together lightly, closed her eyes, concentrating… “I’m feeling this is a female presence, your age group… I’m seeing ‘S’. Does that mean anything to you?”
“I’ll need better proof than just an initial. Who do you take me for? My audience?”
“I’m getting an ‘S’ sound and a ‘zed’… sssszzzz… I’m seeing Susan or Sue-zan… Suzanne. Does Suzanne mean anything to you? I’m feeling she’s connected to you, as a wife might be.”
“Come on, Becks, try harder. Suzanne? All this information can be found in the public domain.”
“She’s telling me it wasn’t an accident. I’m feeling it’s a suicide, but it’s not. Does that mean anything to you, Adam?”
“This has all been reported in the Press, all the conjecture, supposition, everything. None of this information is proof you can actually hear those who have passed over. If you can tell me exactly what I said to her when she passed then I’ll accept your information. It was private, we were alone in a room, nobody could ever know what my last words to Suzanne were.”
“I won’t be hearing your voice from the ether, slut. Cheerio…”
Amazing. She even strung out the ‘o’ on cheery-oooo. Just the way he had said it to his two-timing wife as the rat poison gnawed through her stomach lining.
“Has she got a message for me?”
“Not for you…”
Jackie brought the portfolio and left him to prepare. He didn’t open the document. Adam sat for an hour and drank his coffee, nursed a cigarette, narrowing his eyes as the expelled nicotine stung. He sat for an hour until Carol gave him the nod. He assured the crew he was fine, assured Jackie he had read the portfolio cover to cover and back again. Intro music, applause, lights… One take, no stumbling, straight through the cue card and into his comfort zone.
“Thank you! Thank you very much. Hello and welcome to Messages with me, Adam Paul…”
Behind the set Jackie smiled – the bloke was smoother than a smooth newt. Adam had come through the shock and before her on the monitor stood a consummate professional. This was going to be one hell of a career, one hell of a journey. Also on the monitor and standing just behind and to the side of Adam was a young girl. But, of course, Jackie didn’t see her.
Out on the stage Adam prepared himself, eyes closed. “Wow,” he said. “I need to come over here…” He didn’t so much address a section of the audience, he zeroed in on one of them. “Diane,” he pointed at a young woman who stared at him agog.
“Yes, it is. She wants you to know she sees you with that thing.”
“Thing?” The woman frowned.
“She’s showing me… what’s that… it’s a long buzzing thing. A dildo! A dildo! Oh, she’s very forthright! Go on, love… she says she knows you’re not great looking and it’s the best you can hope for and not to feel guilty about it, it’s fine. Okay?”
Apparently it wasn’t okay but he moved swiftly on. “Carrie? Is Carrie the…?” Adam looked to the back of the studio and pointed to an older woman tucked away up there. “Carrie, does the name Marion mean anything to you…?” He didn’t wait for the affirmative response. “She saw you steal the £70 tucked under the pink porcelain hippo on the mantelpiece. She wants you to know you’re nothing but a common thief and I get the feeling she’s saying it like this…” Adam stood with his fists planted firmly against his hips, glowering. “Don’t you come that with me, young lady! Don’t you come it! Oh, she’s very strict…”
Carrie uttered half a gurgle, half a scream and turned an unfashionable shade of magenta. The woman in the seat beside her (who just so happened to own a pink porcelain hippo) had turned to stare at her in shock and anger.
“I’ve got another ‘C’ – Corinne,” he gestured but didn’t look up. His finger made no mistake. Corinne’s accompanying friends stared at her. “Your Auntie Liz is here and I just want to say she’s a lovely soul, she really is, I can feel that coming through. Oh, she’s… go on, sweetheart, yes, I’ll tell her… Your son Wayne and his friend David, when they go upstairs to his room it’s not to listen to music… up each other’s bums, that’s how she’s saying it, they’re up each other’s bums! Bless her.” Adam grinned. “Oh, she’s a character is Liz! And she’s swatting her hand at me, y’know, teenagers, eh, what can yer do! Alan’s your husband… yes, okay… she’s saying don’t let Alan find out. He already knocks you around every other night – she sees that. He’ll blame you and he will kill you, he talks to himself about killing you all the time. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”
Corinne nodded but was otherwise stoic.
Adam had already moved on. “Ron,” he smiled, facing a distinctly worried man. “And this is Ryan…” He nodded at Ron’s glum 15 year old son. “I’ve got Granddad William here. He loves you and misses you, okay… Yes, go on… right… He does see you masturbating all the time. You little wank machine he’s saying! Oh, he’s a smashing fella is Bill, full of fun. And he’s showing me like an old time music hall thing, he’s doing it in song with a ukulele…” Adam put on his best George Formby voice and mimed strumming a banjo. “Ohhhh – wank, wank, wank, wank, wank, wank, wank – wank-wank-wank-wank-wank…”
“You can’t see that. I don’t do that.” Ryan petulantly told him.
“I can and you do. I can see everything. It’s all in my head, turning over and over… Like Bernard over here, school caretaker Bernard…”
“Don’t,” Bernard said simply.
“His Mum is showing me him trawling the web for child porn with his joggers round his ankles. Do you understand the devastation you’ve caused your Mum, Bernard?” Evidently Bernard did because he began to sob mournfully. “And you…” He swiveled and pointed directly at another audience member. “Debbie. Mavis sees you. Remember Mavis? She sees you abusing the old people in your care. Call yourself a nurse? You’re despicable. Kill yourself.”
He turned to the invisible girl. “I can see all of them, every sinful secret. It’s coming from everywhere, not just in here. Make it stop.”
“Can’t. I’m your spirit guide. I’m guiding them all to you.”
“I don’t believe you. Why am I talking to you? Why isn’t Suzanne standing where you are?”
“What did you tell her, Adam? I won’t be hearing your voice…”
“Kill yourself. I think that message was for me, not Debbie…” He half turned then, mouthing over his shoulder. “Although you should die, Debbie, you’re an utter disgrace.”
By now, most of the audience had vacated the studio of their own volition. Whether through simple displeasure at their hero’s meltdown or fear of having a guilty secret exposed remained to be seen. Jackie didn’t even need to call ‘cut’; the production crew cleared the set. No one wanted to approach Adam, centre stage, transfixed on a spot behind him. Eventually, Jackie had to do something to break the spell. The poor bloke had snapped under the pressure. It was her fault; she shouldn’t have forced him to do another show so soon after Mr. Walker & His Amazing Technicolour Dead Daughter.
“Okay, Adam?” She ventured, weighing up the empty space he was talking to. “Think you might have gone a bit too far there, mate.”
He turned to her. “Your Dad shouldn’t have done those things to you.”
“Right, just stop, Adam…”
“I can’t stop there’s a platypus controlling me,” he said. It was a cartoon rap from Becky’s favourite show, Phineas & Ferb. He even mimed a DJ on his decks. Becky giggled into her hands. “I’m feeling… apologetic. He’s sorry. Say that again, sir… He doesn’t blame you for what you did to him. Your Dad, not the platypus…”
“I’ve got records on my fingers, I’ve got glue on my hands… He says maybe he loved you too much…”
Jackie only meant to crack him one, to snap him out of it. She hit him with her walkie-talkie hand. She didn’t know her own strength (as her father had found out). Jackie was a big unit and packed a wallop. She hit Adam so hard his eye socket disintegrated and the radio’s bendy antenna punctured his eyeball and kebabbed his brain. Even as she watched him convulsing on the floor, Jackie thought, Christ that was a lucky shot…
Sadly, doctors couldn’t save his eye and there were one or two cranial issues (not just the radio but several bone fragments and minced the signals between his head and body). But it’s not all doom and gloom; he’s alive. Better off in Jenny’s veg patch on the allotment, true and he could possibly do without a cartoon rap about a certain platypus on a loop in his skull.
Oh, and the voices of the dead. Don’t forget those. Adam was locked in with them.
Does any of that mean anything to you?
Happy Halloween, folk!
ThereWolf, Oct 2012