An Alternate Ending to Séance
Over in the corner.
Dreadful in her countenance.
Her eyes burning coals
within translucent milk-pale skin.
Faded, filmy vestments fluttering
in a silent sorcerous breeze.
A vengeful and vitriolic revenant.
--Vanessa Sgroi, 2006
Harry Teal stood silently on his front porch, waiting somewhat impatiently for his neighbor and friend, Alan Daye, to unlock his front door and push it open. His bandaged hands throbbed painfully. He still couldn’t believe that two days ago his wife, Dorothy, had set their home on fire. Harry himself had been injured trying to put out the blaze. His wife had adamantly denied setting it, insisting instead that her sister, Alice, had done the deed or more to the point Alice’s ghost. This bizarre insistence was why she was currently hospitalized at Rampart in the psychiatric ward.
“Thanks, Alan. I appreciate your picking me up at the hospital and bringing me home.” He pushed through the door as soon as Alan had it open.
“Oh, no problem. I’m really sorry about what happened. How . . . how’s Dorothy?”
Uncomfortable discussing his wife, Harry simply mumbled, “She’s doing better.” After seeing her today before his release from the hospital, he didn’t really think she was doing better, but he didn’t want to get into it with his friend.
Alan sensed his neighbor’s discomfort. “Can I help you with anything before I go?” He gestured toward Harry’s hands.
“No. No, I think I’ll be all right. Thanks again, Alan. Maybe Connie can drop by later to re-bandage my hands?”
“Sure, sure. I’ll tell her.”
Teal watched his neighbor leave before he ventured further into his living room. The smell of smoke still tinged the air and the coffee table remained on its side in the middle of the room. The fire itself had destroyed the front window curtains, scorched some of the surrounding wall, and cracked a few panes of glass. The burned curtains still lay on the floor where they’d landed when the firemen had pulled them down.
With a sigh, he sat down on the couch and stared morosely at the mess. It needed to be cleaned up, but he was too tired, and too overwhelmed, at the moment to bother. The pain in his burned hands didn’t make the prospect any more appealing.
Several minutes passed before he forced himself to get up and go to the kitchen. Preparing lunch was a slow process, but he managed to make himself a sandwich and a pot of coffee. His worries made the sandwich virtually tasteless, but the coffee helped revive him a little. After pouring a second cup, he carried it with him to the living room.
Sitting on the couch, Harry gazed sadly at the ruined front window. He had to decide what to do about Dorothy. Her 72 hour confinement in psychiatry would end tomorrow. He knew that the best thing to do was leave his wife committed for treatment, but it broke his heart to do so. He’d been so sure she would get over her sister’s death if just given enough time.
Harry sat for a long time lost in thought. His coffee had long since grown cold. The sudden sound of a door slamming shut somewhere upstairs startled him. Deciding it was caused by a simple gust of wind; he stood and started for the stairs to investigate. However, a knock at the front door diverted him.
“Hi, Connie.” Alan’s wife, a school nurse, stood on the porch smiling sympathetically at him.
“Harry, dear. How are you?”
“I’m doing okay.”
“I’m here to change your bandages.”
“Oh. You didn’t have to rush over.”
“Rush? I didn’t rush. It’s after 7:00 p.m.”
Shocked, Harry glanced at his watch.
“Wow. I’m sorry. Time got away from me. Come on in.”
While Connie changed his bandages, she asked him gentle questions about his wife. After she left, he was surprised to realize that talking about it has helped a little. He swallowed a couple of pain pills and lay down on the couch. A resounding thump from upstairs made him jump. It was quickly followed by another, louder, one.
What in the world?
Remembering the slamming door earlier, Harry stood and made his way to the foot of the steps. He slowly started to climb. At first, all was quiet but about half way up more thumps and bangs sounded.
I wonder if there’s a shutter loose.
He reached the top of the stairs and was greeted with silence. The spare bedroom and the bathroom revealed nothing amiss. The master bedroom was a different story. It looked like a tornado had come through. Harry stepped inside the room and all hell broke loose once more.
The temperature plummeted. Doors and drawers banged open and shut. Windows rattled in their frames. Teal spun around to rush out of the room only to see the bedroom door slam shut. Grabbing the knob he pulled, but the door refused to open. As objects in the room started to fly about slamming in to the walls, he tugged harder. It was as if the door was nailed shut. It wouldn’t budge.
Movement to his right caught his attention. Dark shadows coalesced and elongated, eventually resembling a human form. Mute, Harry stopped tugging at the door. The suggestion of a human face formed in the shifting darkness. Bitter eyes coldly pinned him in place. A hole that appeared to be its mouth grotesquely stretched into a silent scream. It started to drift forward. Terrified, he renewed his efforts to get out of the room. A deathly cold hand landed on his shoulder. Shudders wracked his body.
* * *
“Squad 51, unknown type rescue, 1012 Clinton Drive, cross street Schuyler. 1-0-1-2 Clinton Drive, cross street Schuyler. Time out: 19:37.”
As Johnny adjusted his helmet and accepted the call slip from Roy he said, “1012 Clinton Drive? Isn’t that the Teal place?”
“Yeah, it is.”
“She’s still at Rampart, isn’t she? I wonder what it could be.”
“Well, we’ll know in a few minutes.”
The squad arrived in front of the house a few minutes later. A man and woman were pacing in front of the door. The paramedics exited their vehicle and approached the couple.
“Ma’am, sir—can you tell us what’s going on?”
The gentleman shook his head no; however, he gestured toward the woman.
“I don’t know what’s happened, but he was yelling. Screaming really. It sounded terrible! I was bringing him some dessert,” she lifted the plate she was carrying, “and I was just about to knock when the horrible screaming started, from upstairs I think. It . . . it stopped just before you pulled up.”
“Is Mrs. Teal home?” Roy asked.
The gentlemen shook his head as he answered, “No, no. She’s still at Rampart. It’s just Harry. I picked him up earlier from the hospital.”
“Okay, both of you stay here,” DeSoto cautioned.
Johnny knocked and they both called out, “Fire Department!” There was no answer so Gage tried the handle. The door swung open with ease.
The dark-haired paramedic entered first.
“Mr. Teal? Mr. Teal, it’s the fire department!”
A couple of seconds of silence greeted them before crashing and banging from upstairs filled the air. The two rushed for the stairs. Having been through the house once before, they pinpointed the noise as coming from the master bedroom and trotted that way. Finding the door locked, Johnny called Harry Teal’s name.
The noise stopped long enough for them to hear moaning on the other side of the door. Hearing the moans, Roy attempted to open the door without success.
“It’s either locked or stuck.”
Both men used their shoulders to push against the door in tandem. At first, the door refused to budge, but finally it opened under their assault. Yet after they crossed the threshold, it slammed shut immediately.
They found Harry Teal face down on the floor. Gage and DeSoto squatted next to the stricken man.
“Mr. Teal? What happened? Are you okay?” queried Johnny.
Harry groaned and rolled over. Blood was streaming from his nose, accentuating the extreme paleness of his complexion. He was shaking so hard his teeth were rattling.
Roy helped his sit up, but before either one of them could ask any more questions, the room filled with earsplitting noise.
Covering his ears, Johnny yelled, “What the heck is that?” His question was lost in the racket.
Objects in the room that hadn’t yet smashed toppled and broke. Debris from the floor rose and rammed into the walls. The dresser mirror cracked and then shattered.
Helping Harry to his feet, Roy hollered, “C’mon, let’s get out of here!”
Ahead of them, Johnny dived for the door and pulled hard on the handle.
“Roy, it won’t open!”
The blond-haired paramedic joined his partner in his efforts. The door stayed shut. Suddenly the deafening noise ground to a halt. About to sigh in relief, they froze when they heard a quieter, and much more terrifying, sound—the crackle of flame.
Astounded, Gage turned.
“What the hell? Where’d THAT come from?” He coughed. For a fraction of a second, Gage thought he saw someone in the corner, and opened his mouth to say something only to have another coughing spasm.
“I don’t know, but we better get outta here.”
Johnny looked at the corner again, but it was empty except for a broken floor lamp.
Just my imagination.
Unbelievably, the fire was spread over the entire opposite wall and the room was rapidly filling with roiling black smoke. Seeing no other option, Roy scrambled across the room, grabbed the vanity chair and used it to break out the front window.
Looking down on the porch roof, he hoped the couple still waited by the front door.
“HEY!,” DeSoto stopped to cough, “Hey, we need a ladder up here!” Roy breathed just a small sigh of relief when he saw the man run for his garage. The other two occupants in the room joined him at the window.
“Man, Roy, it’s gettin’ real hot in here.”
By now, the acrid smoke had tears running down their faces. Unprotected skin grew taut and red from the radiant heat.
Johnny caught Teal as he slumped to the floor. “Where the hell is he with that ladder?”
“I see him. He’s coming with it now,” muttered Roy hoarsely.
Tense seconds passed as they waited for Alan Daye to get the ladder set in place. Finally, Roy felt more than heard the ladder thump against the windowsill.
“C’mon, Johnny, let’s go!” Roy gestured for his partner to go out the window first, and then he helped Johnny lift Harry Teal on his shoulders. As the pair slowly descended the ladder, Roy raised a leg over the windowsill and gave a final glance around the room. Just as he planted both feet on the top rung, he thought he saw a shadow with what looked like a woman’s face backlit by the fire. He blinked and the image disappeared. Shaking his head in bemusement, he quickly made his way down the ladder.
Running to where his partner was just laying Harry Teal on the ground, he ordered Teal’s neighbor to call the fire department.
“My wife’s already called them,” assured Alan.
Grabbing the oxygen and biophone off the squad, DeSoto knelt next to his partner.
Watching Johnny start oxygen on their victim, he croaked, “You okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, just a couple of first degree burns. I’ll live. You?”
“Yeah, same here.” In fact, both paramedics looked as if they had nasty sunburns from a tropical vacation.
“I’ll get Rampart on the line.”
The oxygen roused Harry Teal and he groaned. Harry struggled to sit up.
“Hey now,” ordered Johnny as he gently pushed the man back down, “just take it easy. You’re okay.”
Looking up at the two paramedics, Harry pushed aside his oxygen mask.
“D-Dor . . .,” he stopped to clear his throat and cough, “I . . . I think Dorothy was right. About Alice.”
Pausing just before summoning Rampart, Roy looked at him and then at Johnny.
“Mr. Teal, I believe . . . I believe you just might be right.”
“Roy, did you see someth—?”
“Uh huh, I think I did.”
Johnny ignored the shiver that raced up his spine.
* * * The End * * *
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Guest Dispatchers Stories by Vanessa Sgroi