(first printed in Writers and Readers Magazine)
Since human beings first appeared on our planet, there have been a variety of beliefs of an afterlife for those who have died. There is also the desire of the grieving survivor of a strong relationship to contact their deceased loved one...
The recently married couple faced each other over a tea service placed on a white painted wrought iron table and chairs in their garden. The weather was neither too warm nor too cool, the sky was a beautiful cornflower blue and the grass was green after the weekend storm. A variety of colourful flowers were blooming between the lawn and the fence that separated them from their neighbour. The perfection of the back yard garden and the weather did not apply to the moods of the couple who sat facing each other.
'Marge, it's been five years! When are you going to acknowledge that your first husband is dead?'
'I know he's no longer alive, David. I knew that since his Chief of Detectives came to my house to tell me Roger was killed in a bombing. I just want to talk to him again...I love you and I accept he's gone and that you're now my husband, but I just want to know he's all right.'
'I respect Roger's memory, but Marge, when you're dead you're gone. Everyone but you seems to know and accept that.'
'David, there's so little we know about the other world...'
'There's so little, because there's NOTHING! When are you going to accept that Marge? For nearly five years you've been trying to contact Roger and like everyone else who's tried to communicate with someone who's dead, you haven't been successful. But you have been a victim of fraud...'
'I accept that. But it's coming to the fifth anniversary of Roger's death. I feel strongly that I will be able to feel his presence on the fifth anniversary of...'
'Then you'll feel just as strongly on the sixth anniversary, and the eighth and a half anniversary and the ninth anniversary...'
'David, I'll make you a promise. If both you and I are satisfied that we cannot contact Roger this time, I promise you there will be no other attempts and I'll accept Roger can't be reached, either because it is impossible...or, he just doesn't want to speak to me again.'
'I'd like to believe that, Darling. But why do you think that this time will succeed when not only has every other attempt failed, but in all of our mutual research we've both discovered that no one else has reliably contacted someone who's dead? If a man like Harry Houdini couldn't talk to his deceased mother or with his own wife from beyond the grave after he died why do you think you can make contact?'
'Because Madame Mystére has an excellent reputation. Because it is the fifth anniversary. Because I feel so strongly that this time will be successful that I can promise you this will be my last attempt.'
'And how do you know you won't be tricked?'
'Because I know my husband and I know it will be him, and I promise you that though you've never met Roger you'll know it will be him too. If it isn't, I promise you that this will be the end of my attempts. You've accepted my love for Roger and my belief in the afterlife, now I want you to accept the fact that I accept that you are my only husband in this world...I've lived up to my marriage vows with you, I'll live up to this vow that I made to you now...'
Since human beings first appeared on our planet, there have been the dishonest who have preyed on the beliefs of others to accumulate wealth and destroy the trusts of those who seek help in their hour of need...The most despicable of these human vermin are those who prey on the grief of those who have suffered the loss of their loved one...
A seedy looking man with a face of rough skin earned through years of riding his motorcycle worked at the electronic apparatus that comprised the inside of an old wooden table. He pressed a button on a remote control that led to a series of large squat thick metal cylinders quickly shooting up and returning to their place. Other buttons that he pressed on his remote control caused the hidden speakers concealed inside the table to produce different loud wailing in both male and female voices. He grimaced in concentration as he replaced the wooden top of the table that fit so precisely there was no indication that the table was hollow with a cover on top of it. The furniture polish that he applied not only gave the table a lustre but made the location of the removable top impossible to see. Mopping his forehead and black hair with a large dirty handkerchief. he replaced the table cloth. It matched the curtains that his female companion was hanging up by the windows.
The middle aged dishwater blonde dressed in an old maroon track suit came down from her stepladder.
'I've got a pair of suckers coming tonight. Are all your tricks ready, Steve?'
'You bet, Joanie! Don't forget to lift the tablecloth and have them examine the underside of the table, the carpet it's sitting on and the room for wires or anything else. That'll relax them. They won't see anything as everything is inside the table.'
'Show me again, Steve.'
Steve showed Joan his black remote control device and explained as he pushed each button.
The cylinders concealed inside the table made a loud thumping noise from inside the table as they snapped upwards then returned to their place.
'The voices of the spirit world...'
The sounds of loud eerie female howling, male howling and two screams played backwards loudly filled the room.
'Sucker, sucker suck...errr', Steve wailed in time with the sounds. He continued,
'This wood is thick enough so the cylinders won't break it but it's thin enough so the sound permeates the table.'
'This is the big one, Steve. She's going to pay three times as much as the others. After her we'll move our location tomorrow.'
'Yeah, if you want to live off the fat heads of the land you have to keep moving. I'll be behind the painting as always...'
'I hope you don't fall out on the floor. I don't think they'd believe you were an Indian spirit guide. A clumsy creep, yes.'
'I haven't dressed in the Hiawatha Spirit Guide suit for ages! I've still got it in case you've got some oldies who can't run fast.'
He chanted in a mock Red Indian accent singing a little ditty drumming on the table, one thump with his left hand, three thumps with his right as Joan mockingly danced.
'By wealthy shores of Dumpy Chumpies, gullible and many frumpies, where the hunting grounds is full of wampum, where the suckers are rich and dum dum, Great White Spirit laugh many ha ha, Chumpies cry when we are far far...'
'Yeah, Cochise, but I still don't want you doing a Geronimo and falling out from your perch behind the portrait.'
Steve walked over to the faux fireplace. Above the mantel was a Victorian type portrait featuring an unknown elderly gentleman that they had picked up for a song in a deceased estate sale.
Steve lifted himself up on the mantel and pressed a concealed switch that opened the painting like a door. He moved inside the recess behind the large portrait.
'I hang onto this rope for support, and I can see you from the eyeholes behind the eyeglasses on the portrait.'
There was just enough room inside for Steve. He held the rope and snapped the painting shut. Joan placed a mantel clock in its niche in front of the portrait over the mantel.
Steve wailed, 'Testttttingggg', then repeated the thumping, breezes and sound effects from his haunted hidey-hole inside the painting.
It was the zero hour when the blind hunted came unaware to their hunter's blind. It was the time when the bird of prey attacks and slays the unsuspecting pigeon. Soon the evil one would be fattened with the pleasure of a kill as the trust and hopes of their victim lie scattered in pieces on the cold ground, dead forever...
The sound of the battery powered imitation antique Westminster Clock chimed and struck eight times, but the sound of the doorbell was still distinct.
Joan spoke in her Madame Mystére faux French accent.
She had just enough French to carry on a limited conversation in case one of her clients was fluent in the language. Joan's Plan B was that she was a Québécois Indian who had limited schooling on the reservation. After they were kidnapped from their loving indigenous parents by the Mounties, they were taken to a convent where the cruel Anglo-Canadian or expatriate American nuns forced the French speaking Indians to only speak English to prepare them for a life of slavery as factory or domestic workers. She fortunately had never had to use that story that she would explain was too painful to remember due to her being removed from her family, never seeing her parents nor her siblings again and being gagged and beaten by the sadistic Maria Monk type nuns as punishment if she ever again spoke in French. Therefore, her alleged hideous and traumatic upbringing explained why she no longer could converse in fluent French. In actuality, Joan had never been to Canada, but she did know that the capital of Montreal was Nova Scotia...
Marge and David entered the room to see Madame Mystére standing behind a table topped by a glowing sphere and a tablecloth in an astral pattern that matched the curtains. When Joan switched roles with Steve he would wear a pointed conical Sorcerer's Apprentice hat made with the same pattern of cloth.
Joan's interior decoration had transformed the lower class living room into a suitable location for a tête-à-tête with the permanently departed. The only furniture in the room was the table with three chairs. There was a passageway that led to a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom where all the normal parlour furniture was stored; each had their doors open for inspection.
Joan's Madame Mystére was overdressed as a gypsy with a turban to conceal her hair and she wore elaborate eye shadow and white makeup to not only disguise her age and appearance but to impress her prey that she looked like she was in genuine contact with the other world.
'Good evening Madame Mystére, it's so wonderful to meet you at last. This is my husband David.'
'I hope this will not be embarrassing for you, Monsieur. We French are used to the Ménage à trois, but...'
'Thank you for your concern, Madame. But I believe I am her only husband.'
'In our world and on our plane, oui. I assure you that you have nothing to be ashamed of.'
'I'm not ashamed, but I am suspicious.'
'I quite understand. May I call you David?'
'Yes you may.'
'May I offer you both an apertif?'
'Mais oui, Madame. The only spirits I believe in are 90 proof.'
'Madame Fleming I quite understand. Before we begin I want to reassure you as much as I can. Now, David, I have champagne and I have Calvados.'
'Nothing for me, well, a glass of champagne if it's not too much trouble.'
'There is no trouble. David, we will be sitting at that table. I have discovered that many people make accusations against my gifts, so I wish you would examine the table. Please.'
David looked under the table and the Turkish style carpet that extended to beyond the chairs and was in one piece. He examined the tablecloth and picked up the globe on the centre of the table and looked at it before returning it to its place. The unseen Steve was behind the painting looking at the scene holding his remote control device.
'Would you please examine my apartment?'
David walked through the flat looking through all the open doors of the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and walk in wardrobe. He returned to have Joan hand him his Calvados in a small glass.
'As you are well aware of, we do not serve Calvados in what you call a snifter.'
'I hope you're satisfied, David.'
'As I also hope...'
David sniffed his glass,
'The spirits are friendly', he sipped the Calvados. 'I'm quite satisfied, Madame Mystére.'
'I think you understand that I would like to be satisfied...'
Marge handed over a large amount of cash. David looked worried, then resigned. Madame Mystére took her payment to the bedroom. Joan smiled as she put it in a drawer, examined herself in the mirror, then left the room with a suitable dour expression shutting the bedroom door behind her.
'You've proved something about the afterlife...'
'That you can't take it with you...'
'Smart arse, but I'm glad he's happy with the booze', Joan thought.
'Now let us sit down'. Joan turned off the overhead light, only the crystal ball globe on the table offered any light.
'We will all hold each other's hands. I think this will reassure you, David, that I am doing nothing with my hands except holding yours.'
'After that Calvados I feel very, very reassured....'
'I call the other world, I call the other world...', Joan's faux French accent turned dramatic.
Watching the scene through the eye glasses of the painting, Steve pressed a button on his device. An unearthly female wail filled the room. Both David and Marge jumped in their seats; only their hands being held kept them from leaving the table.
'Be strong! Have faith! The spirits mean you no harm. I have with me Madame Marjorie Fleming, who seeks her first husband Roger Clarkson...'
Steve smiled and pressed another button on his device; an unearthly male wail filled the room.
'The spirits are on a different plane, the spirits are on a higher plane. The only way they can communicate with our world is through striking the table. Monsieur Roger Clarkson, if you can hear us strike once for "yes".'
Steve held his laughter and pressed a button on his device, a loud single knock from inside the table was heard.
'Madame Marjorie, you may speak to your Roger for only a limited time. You can only ask questions that can be answered by a yes or a no. Once for "yes", twice for "no". Madame Marjorie...'
'Roger! Are you happy where you are?'
Steve pressed a button on his device, a loud single knock was heard.
'Roger! Will we meet again?'
Steve repeated the process.
'Roger! Is there anything I can do for you?'
Steve remained smiling...until the rope he was holding took on a life of its own and tightly wrapped around his neck. The panicked Steve struggled but could not remove it. His eyes showed fear as he died...
A strong male voice filled the room.
'You can't speak to the other world. That's the way it is. These people are not only frauds, but they also murdered a police officer. There were no witnesses on your world but there were in ours!'
Steve's lifeless body fell through the painting but remained suspended in the air by the rope around his throat. Joan looked at the scene in fright as Marge and David still held her hands. Two hands came out from the table grabbing Joan by her throat and pulling her through the tablecloth that parted like a curtain then resumed its former texture. Their hands free, David pulled off the tablecloth to reveal there was nothing below the table.
Marge proudly boasted, 'Now THAT'S my first husband, David! THAT'S MY HUSBAND!!!'
Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND. I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).