“Just who do you think you are?” the woman’s voice sounded panicked and desperate as she whispered in my ear. “Whoever you are, you weren’t prepared.”
In my twenties, I lie face down on the sandy brown and white Berber carpet of the living room. The woman dug her knees into my spine. I managed to hold my tongue, but the gasps of confusion escaped in huffs between my silent tears. My ribs resisted her weight so my lungs could suck in air. They were losing the battle.
Rolling my head to the side, I struggled to get a look at the woman on top of me, just to see her face. My neck wouldn’t turn far enough. Giving up, I positioned my chin on the floor. The weight of this 30-something-year-old piece of crap was crippling and surprisingly heavy considering her size.
A small pink shoe with Velcro strapped onto a tiny foot extends in front of me. I follow the denim-clad leg to a white T-shirt. At least it had been white at one time, but now portions sopped in gushing blood. The mop of long blond hair spilled over her narrow shoulders and off to the side of a small, lifeless body. A little girl’s body.
Cranking my head to the left, a pair of still gray eyes stared over a straight nose and parted lips. He looked like he wanted to say something but couldn’t. A trail of blood escaped his mouth, pooling on the floor in front of him. Disgusted, I squinted my eyes closed. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to me.
“Any last words, bitch?” The voice behind me cracked, breathing heavily in between. Her voice smiled like a lunatic. Even without seeing her, I had no doubt she was crazy, and there would be no stopping her.
“I remember!” I exclaimed, too late.
A gun clicked behind my head.
A clock ticked quietly and methodically in the distance, and I opened my eyes. The high ceiling above gleamed with white recessed squares and mahogany wood molding. Blinking several times, I gently shook my head and pushed up on an elbow. My body stretched down the length of the chaise lounge. The pantsuit I’d had on earlier had been replaced by a V-neck pleated jumpsuit of turquoise, decorative bangles on my right wrist and a Cartier jeweled watch embellished on the left. I was styling. Across from me, an older, no-nonsense woman watched as if she expected me to break out in a song and dance for her entertainment.
“Feeling all better now?” she crooned, her coral-colored lips spreading to expose white teeth in a demeaning smile.
“Better?” I questioned. “I feel okay.”
“Quite the episode, wasn’t it?” the woman finished off.
“And you are?” I shifted my weight to straighten a bit taller, ensuring I wouldn’t be mistaken for a weakling.
“You can call me Ms. Thrope.”
“Ms. Thrope,” I slowly repeated after her with much deliberation. The woman nodded politely. “So, what’s the deal?” My legs swung off the side of the chaise, and I straightened my outfit over my legs, eying out the Gucci leather boots cladding my calves. “Like, these aren’t my clothes. Both of us know that.” I shrugged.
Ms. Thrope paced back and forth in front, no doubt pleased with the reaction. “You’re dead. Where did you think you were, your apartment?” A light titter reflected from her throat. “You’ll never be back in that sad little neck of the woods again.”
“Thank God,” I said, standing up from the lounge, a tiny bit feeble, but steadying myself, “This place is lot less distracting to be in.” I stood and strolled around the spacious room, dragging my fingertips across the mahogany wood mantle that twisted around the fireplace. The ceiling’s chandelier casts pastel colors dancing across the walls in sparkling patterns. “Is this the only room?”
“Of course, this isn’t the only room. Why would someone here need to share private facilities such as restroom and sleeping quarters?” Ms. Thrope pranced past on thin legs clad in a white pantsuit and flat, sensible shoes that matched. Her white hair, cut just above her collar, cut jagged against her jaw. Although she wore no makeup, her cheeks hinted a bit of pink and her lashes framed blue eyes against pale skin. “Your place has everything you could need for comfort. Agreed?”
Casting a glance over her shoulder, Ms. Thrope laughs heartily, “Yes, your place. Everything in here belongs to you.”
My feet stopped abruptly, and my eyes widen enough to swallow the room as the news finally hit. “Did you say I’m dead?”
A blank and non-emotional blink as Ms. Thrope twirled around in a snobbish fashion, lifting her chin. “Yes, you’re dead.”
My mind was muddled unable to recall—I couldn’t remember anything. Perhaps this was part of dying. Nonetheless, I would make the most of the situation. After all, dead or not, I was still a hot biscuit. “And everything in here is mine? All mine? I don’t need to share with anyone?”
Ms. Thorpe allows a throaty laugh to escape. “It’s all yours.” I turned on my heel to tour the ample pad. I took everything in from the huge bedroom with a four-post mahogany bed draped in cream chiffon to the facilities where a large marble shower with matching bath released echoes like a chamber choir with each step.
I swear my mouth gaped open more than it was closed. If I’d been camping, I’d have eaten a shitload of mosquitos. I had the sense of wonderment a child experiences at the first visit to the zoo. “I’m dead,” I murmured, still not fully believing it. “Who knew being dead would be so incredibly delicious?”
“Speaking of delicious,” the older woman rotated and lifted her head a notch, “Did you notice there’s no kitchen?”
“No kitchen?” The most absurd thing ever. “How am I supposed to eat without a kitchen?”
“That’s the best part,” Ms. Thrope’s cheeks pull up in a grin. “Eating isn’t essential.”
Of course, if not alive, why would I need to eat? There’s a sort of message passing between us inaudibly. With a chuckle, Ms. Thrope tossed in, “Remember, you’re dead? But you are more than welcome to call service and have them bring you consumables for the pleasure of it. Just press 0.” She indicated the phone with a touch of her hand next to the lamp. Pausing for a moment, Ms. Thrope inventoried the room and sweetly asked, “Any other questions?”
I strolled past the cabinet beneath the giant television screen hanging flush on the wall. Inside, I found a state of the art sound system. The bar at the back of the room situated with alcohol, mixers, and everything necessary for creating the perfect nightcap appeared an escape for anyone so deep they couldn’t fix their life. My lips stretched across my face, nearly touching my earlobes.
“The only thing better than this would be a totally built guy who’s into me.” I stopped moving and verbally prodded her for an answer. “Is that asking too much?”
The older woman scoffs. Her shoulders rise and fall with a subtle shake of her head. “Nope, but I’m glad you asked me before I left. Once I’m gone, we’re done.” A couple of seconds later, the bedroom door opened, and a tall, dark-haired man with chiseled features appeared. He was wearing a long-sleeved button-up tee and nice slacks with perfectly coiffed hair and a bit of shadow across his jaw. He was so fiery he provided enough heat for a naked Eskimo family.
Stunned, I flipped my face between the stud and the host, whispering, “Is he mine too?”
The man stepped forward, extending his hand. “The name is…”
“Nigel?” Shot in the dark, thinking I captured a foreign accent.
“Yes, Nigel.” His broad smile brightened the room and contrasted against his tan skin. The white linen shirt stirred as his hand grabbed mine and pulled my fingers to his lips, planting a delicate kiss on my knuckles.
I’m not ugly, by any stretch, but this guy possessed power. I nearly passed out and only wondered what his lips would feel like pressed against my own—and other places. His manly smell mingled in the air under my nostrils, and the passion of his warm breath stirred the tiny hairs on my cheeks.
“I suppose that’s all?” Ms. Thrope asked and handed me a small business card. But, enthralled with Nigel, I didn’t bother looking. I simply set the card on the end table. “Uh, hmm,” Ms. Thrope cleared her throat. “I suppose I’ll be on my way then.” Placing her hand on the door, she delivered a final once-over and left Nigel and me engaging in flirty conversation.
I flopped onto the couch and patted the cushion beside me, hoping he had the same idea that danced through my head. Nigel sank into the cushions and draped one arm across the back, placing his hand on my thigh. The attraction he controlled was startling as we stared into each other’s eyes. Forcing my eyes away, I felt my cheeks blush and switched my gaze to the floor. “What should we do?” I asked, hoping he had some terribly fantastic idea.
“What do you want to do?” his voice melted like butter dripping from his tongue, a bit raspy and with his loin-tingling accent.
Nervously tucking a lock behind my ear, I giggled, “I don’t know. How about this?” Leaning over to him, I pressed my hungry lips against his, holding his head in my hands. He obliged, devouring my lips. Moaning, I fell against the couch and wrapped my legs around his waist. I felt as if I could swallow him entirely.
The following morning, the first thing in my vision is Nigel’s perfect face, his stubble growing heavier around the underside of his chin. “What did I ever do to deserve this?” I giddily whispered, pinching myself to ensure it wasn’t a dream.
“You’re dead,” Ms. Thrope’s voice echoed from nowhere but everywhere at the same time. “You’re dead.”
The white linen sheets draping over my body caused little resistance, and I easily tossed them to the side. Nigel stirred a bit, shifting and rolled over. His light eyes brightened the room. With his thick and sexy accent, through a dry throat, he whispered sensually, “You want more?”
“More?” It’s like asking a child if he wants more chocolate sprinkles on his ice cream. Of course, I wanted more! But somehow, there was more to this than having sex 24/7 with a gorgeous body that knew all the right bells to chime. Something was wrong.
“You’re dead,” the voice repeated from the walls of the living area.
“Did you hear that?” I asked Nigel, who pulled himself upright. He shrugged and shook his head.
My eyes shot across the room to the mahogany bureau. The twisting wood held a large mirror stretched across the back. The wood matched the fireplace in the living room, just like all the trimmings and accessories throughout the quarters. But classy places did that, so I didn’t pay attention. I slipped my robe on and fastened the belt, cautiously tiptoeing into the adjoining room. I could feel Nigel’s attention focused hot on my ass like a sizzling branding iron.
I crept across the floor toward the front door, and placed my hand on the knob, curling my fingers around the pearl-finished surface. Twisting the knob to the right, I gave it a firm tug, but nothing happened. The door didn’t even rattle like it was held shut, but the entire thing was some sort of a non-existing illusion.
Flustered, I flew to open the window and grabbed the chords dangling on the side. With all my might, I jerked on the strings attached to the blinds, and they soar up with nothing but plain, a cream colored wall behind them.
“What?” I flipped around, back against the wall, and slid to the floor in defeat.
Nigel stood poised in the doorway wearing a towel around his waist. Normally, my feet would move without thinking, and the towel would be gone. In his thick accent, he said, “You want to come back to bed?”
“No, I don’t want to ‘come back to bed,” I poorly imitated Nigel’s voice and added. “I have to figure this out.”
“Should I go shower then?” he asked. With a flip of my wrist, he picked up on my clear disinterest. Nigel disappeared, and the shower in the bathroom rang in the distance with his intermittent singing. Climbing to my feet, I held onto the wall.
Confused and beside myself, my hands grabbed my hair and beat my head. “What is happening to me?”
“You’re dead,” Ms. Thrope’s voice cried out again, but this time, the voice was closer. I flipped around to look behind me. With furrowed brows, I strolled to the table and viewed the black business card left the night before.
Across the top, in silver letters, the word “Misanthrope” with a ten-digit hyphenated number beneath it. “Miss Ann Thrope. Of course, I should have asked her first name. Perhaps it would have dawned on me she didn’t like humans, with her cold and snotty attitude, but I doubt it.”
An eloquent phone set on the table beside the chaise gathered my attention. Clutching the card, I wandered over and with trembling fingers, picked up the receiver. I tucked the receiver between my shoulder and cheek, dialing the number and waited.
The line only rang one time. An automated message picked up. The voice of Misanthrope spilled from the receiver. “You’re no doubt asking yourself about now what’s truly going on and why you’re here. Don’t panic because I’m about to alleviate your frustration, or rather, allow you the tools to recall your situation.”
My body sank on the chaise, and I continued listening intently. “Look to the liquor cabinet and locate the bottle labeled La Vie Renaissance. When your talents prove useless in figuring out why you’re here, have a drink and relax. You’ll remember.” The line cut flat.
Resting the phone in the cradle, I arose from the lounge and spotted the bottles on the rack across the room beside the television. The full liquor shelf displayed a humongous variety from Bordeaux to champagne lining the shelves. One by one, I pulled the bottles out and examined the labels, searching for La Vie Renaissance. The last bottle I remove is the one I needed. I briskly unwrap the top. The securely inserted cork resisted. Despite my efforts of prying it out with bare hands, the cork refused to budge.
“Bottle opener, bottle opener…” I swept the room, and Nigel appeared in a white robe as if his devilish grin would disguise him. He waltzed passed, grabbing the drawers beneath the bottles, and pulling them open one after another.
“When searching for drinking accompaniment, I hope you’ll think of me,” Nigel smiled, opened the last drawer and withdrew a corkscrew. His large hand held the contraption out. My hand accepted the opener and a projection of electricity struck me as if Nigel was too powerful to contain the energy alone. I drew toward him as powerless as a paperclip to an oversized magnet. Nigel yanked the corkscrew from the air and tucked it behind his back. “In exchange for a kiss?”
I smiled and tilted my head, meeting his lips with my freshly moistened ones. Both of us closed our eyes while my hand embraced his neck. I slid one hand down to pry the corkscrew from him. Breaking the suction of his mouth, I teased him by dangling the corkscrew in the air and spinning away.
The corkscrew screamed a few times and popped out of the bottle. Holding the opening beneath my nose, I enjoyed the aroma with closed eyes. Exhaling, I snatched a flute from the counter and poured a glass. Nigel eagerly awaited his serving.
I handed the half-full flute to Nigel and poured one for me. I waited for his reaction making sure it wasn’t poison. Nigel licked his lips and made a pop sound, saying, “Wow! The smoothest champagne I’ve ever had. Try it.” He took another swallow, set his glass down and meandered toward me with the smirk of a gremlin and opened arms. “Time to turn up the crazy!”
My reflection in the mirror behind Nigel, displayed undeniable beauty, as I tipped my head back, pouring the smooth and fruity tasting champagne down my throat. I lifted my head, and the reflection behind Nigel no longer resembled the bombshell, but a half-petrified skeleton with fragments of flesh hanging from the bone. One eye socket was empty and the remaining hair protruded as threads from a bare sheet. The room spun slowly at first, gaining speed with each rotation. Everything became an ugly meld of sharpened colors as I collapsed in a heap on the floor.
I opened my eyes. I’m no longer alone. Nigel no longer stared at me stunned. The gorgeous white and mahogany room no longer surrounded me. I stood on a front porch and pushed the doorbell. A quick shot around the neighborhood signified it as upper class surrounded by loving families.
Children on skateboards and bicycles giggle as they roll past the house when the front door opens.
“Hello, can I help you?” a thirty-something-year-old woman courteously asked with a smile. Her pinned up blond hair dangled down the side, and she tucks the strand behind her ear. The sweaty shirt and towel draped over her shoulders, combined with droplets running down her forehead, suggest a workout.
“Yes,” I replied, “I’m here to speak to your husband. Is he home?” I moved my hand to a secure bulge at my waist behind me. The blouse, a satiny blue Christian Dior with black slacks and low pumps fit perfectly. My unique jewelry consisted of a gold chain, matching watch, and diamond stud earrings. With my red hair cinched back in a French braid, a few curls teased at the nape of my neck. My soft makeup contrasted my red painted lips.
The woman doesn’t speak, but her mouth turns down a bit at the edges. Vivaciously green eyes roll up and down my body as if sizing up the competition.
“He isn’t expecting me. I’m from the office, and we’ve had a major security breach. We think he may have an idea of who’s behind it. I just want to ask him a few questions. Nothing serious for him, but I pity the person in charge of the discrepancy. We always get our man.” I winked at her and offered a half-smile with one side of my mouth.
“Sure,” the woman says, “Let me get Paul, but you can come in and wait if you like.” She stood aside and pulled the door open revealing a spacious entryway and a vibrant living room. Leading back to the family room, she motions toward a chair. “I’ll be right back.”
I settled down on a high back chair across from a leather sofa complete with woven pillows. A grand piano in the corner of the room posed as an exquisite conversation piece if nothing more. The walls, covered in photos of the happy family, displayed a successful father, obedient wife, and charming daughter at a dance recital. The girl looked to be about eight-years-old and the perfect genetic combination of her father and mother with blond hair, gray eyes, and a good neighbor grin.
The woman returned opening the nearby fridge in the adjacent room. “Would you care for something to drink? I’ve got to get a glass of water,” she said.
“No, thank you.” I attempted to sound cordial but fear I failed considerably.
The woman shrugs and pours herself a glass of ice water. Popping a lemon in it, she planted herself on the couch. Shifting the sweating glass of ice water to her left hand, she extended her right.
“Jane,” she pleasantly offered. I could tell she was trying to make nice after her initially rude welcome.
“Jennifer,” I said, “But my friends call me Jen.” I poked my hand out to accept Jane’s. She pumped my arm up and down, and I indicated the photos on the wall. “Cute family.”
“Yes,” Jane agreed. “We’ve had our scrapes and bruises like all families, but we’ve managed to survive. Knock on wood.” She snickered and knocked on the Mahogany table between them.
I stood and coasted to the wall, admiring the photos. Two large picture windows reflected over the sizeable stone patio in the back. Tan cashmere-textured dupioni silk curtains draped down each side of the windows with white sheers between them. Each side anchored with a tie, and the hems settled ever so lightly on the floor.
“What a perfect family,” I admired. Jane’s cubes created a tinkling in the glass as she stood to join me.
Jane pointed to a photo and explained the event they were celebrating. I nodded my head while I wandered over to the window. But instead of listening intently, I snatched the drape tie from the wall and drifted back over to my host. Jane laughed as she recanted a memory. In a sudden movement, I looped the fabric around her throat, twisting strands and ripping out golden threads of hair. Her tumbler hit the floor, sending water and ice cubes splashing about our feet across the carpet fibers.
I managed to tighten the cord while Jane’s fingers clawed frantically at her neck until she fell to the floor like a bundle of wet laundry. A door down the hallways squeaked open, and footsteps approached as I gawked at the woman’s limp body.
Paul entered the room but stopped when he witnessed his wife’s crumpled body by the piano. “Who in the hell are you?” His breathing quickened and confusion set in as he lunged at me, missing by a landslide when I casually stepped to the side.
“I have a proposition for you,” I had to laugh at his clumsiness. “If you value your life—“
Paul didn’t listen but changed directions. His gray eye sought a target beneath his dark hair and full brows. Determination and vengeance flashed across his features. Stealing a confirming glance at his wife, he pounced at me again. I knew I needed to threaten him to get him to stop and listen.
I removed the gun from my waistband and pointed it directly at him with a steady hand, proving this wasn’t my virgin quest. “Please don’t make me kill you,” I warned in a calm voice. “I don’t want to kill anyone. I’m just here for the money.”
A panicked child screamed, dashing toward her father. Before I was able to react, a flash erupted from the muzzle of the gun. Everything slowed to the pace of molasses, and all I could do was watch the events unravel before me.
The little girl never saw it coming and had no time to react. But I watched the bullet cruise through the air and penetrate her neck exiting the other side. Her tiny body jerked and a torrent of crimson exploded across the wall.
Paul’s wide-eyed expression followed his daughter to the floor; her golden streams chased her head to the carpet and bounced. A loud and reverberating scream of a grizzly bear pierced my ears, and a phase of hatred lit Paul’s face. With a spring, his body hurled itself in my direction, and the gun sounded again, bursting his shirt open. Particles of flesh ruptured through the air followed by a spray of angry blood. Paul’s face ceased to alter as he collapsed inches away on the floor.
“Why did you have to come at me? Why couldn’t you just let it go and save your daughter?” I spat into the lifeless room. I let the gun fall to the floor with a slight rattle. I’d never shot anyone before, and thought I was prepared if it came down to it, but I’d never anticipated encountering a child. Covering eyes with my hands and rubbing them with her fingers, I hoped everything would be gone when I looked again. But nothing moved. Everything was still.
When I removed my hands from my face and turned to pick up the gun, it was no longer where I’d dropped it. A woman’s scream echoed through my mind, and a body thudded hard against my back, knocking me to the floor where I landed on my stomach. Stretched out on the carpet ahead were the pink Velcro shoes at the bottom of a pair of jeans.
For the briefest of moments, Nigel flickered in and raised his glass. “Turn up the crazy!”
“Any last words, bitch?” The voice cracked behind my head, breathing heavily. The woman’s voice smiled like a lunatic. Even without seeing her, I knew there was no stopping her.