The Two Susans.

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This story is now part of SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES.

The two Susans never met, but for a few moments, in this room, they existed for us in a most unusual way.

Our group had been meeting for more than a year.

Every Wednesday night, come rain hail or anything else for that matter.

The group was a little larger on this cold and frosty night. Someone had turned the heaters all the way up, and for a change, I didn’t complain. I could not get my hands to warm up. The noise from the heater was distracting but so was the potential chattering of my teeth.

A kind soul had switched on the urn, but the bloody thing took forever to warm up, and I was seriously caffeine deficient.

The noise of it warming up was also irritating, but I was prepared to forgive it as long as there was coffee at the end of it.

“Don’t bother mate. The bloody thing’s cold.”

The person putting a dampener on my caffeine ambitions was Paul. He is young and enthusiastic, two things I like; me being not young and occasionally enthusiastic.

“I’ll whack the kettle on, it’ll be faster.”

“You sir, are a legend.” My caffeine ambitions were back on track.

I knew almost everyone in the room with the exception of the older bloke sitting a couple of seats up and a teenage girl sitting about eight chairs around on my right.

New faces were nothing new. This group was a lot like that, even on a bitterly cold winter’s night. Word got around that something interesting was happening and friends of friends just turned up.

I’d been pasting up my latest book for the print edition, and I was glad to be out of the house. I love writing, but I dislike the stuff that goes on around it.

My back was a little bit sore, so I gave it a bit of a stretch while Paul put coffee and sugar in our cups.

For some unknown reason, no one had grabbed the comfortable armchair, so I staked a claim in the age-old tradition of throwing my scarf over it — tribal customs of the Hills people.

The caffeine was just starting to seep into my system when the group came to order. I’d spent the previous few minutes in conversation with various friends, doing the weekly catch up. Everyone wanted to know where my beloved was. “Crook as a dog, and it serves her right.”

“That’s not very nice,” was the oft-repeated reply.

“She knows that those bloody grandchildren of ours are walking Petrie dishes, but she will hug ‘em.”

“Grandmothers cannot help themselves.”

“Grandmothers, who are nurses, should know better.”

I wasn’t getting any sympathy, so I packed it in.

“Please say hello for us and tell her to get better soon.”

My beloved is very popular. Sometimes known as the Rainbow Warrior, she is about the height of the average sixth grader and has a heart as big as anything large that you can name. No one takes any notice of me when she is around, and fair enough too.

There was no set topic for this particular evening’s discussion, and the subjects bounced around the room quite energetically.

I was happy to sit and listen for a while, so I hid behind my coffee cup and soaked up the atmosphere.

I really do like these people. They don’t waste time talking about insignificant things. They feel the way I do; this time is precious. We spend the rest of the week wrestling with the world, and then we come here where it is safe, and people show each other respect. All opinions are valued.

It isn’t always discussion.

Sometimes people tell stories.

We have some excellent storytellers.

Like the night that our moderator told the story about his boss winning a full-size, fully operational ocean going dredge, in a poker game.

That story was hard to top, but a few of us gave it a try. I’ve had a couple of goes, but people know that I just make shit up. I can tell by the way they look at me. Mind you, as long as I can keep a straight face, I get them going. Especially the new members, the ones who haven’t been warned about me yet.

“You really came here direct from the airport, all the way from the US, just to be here tonight?”

“No Luv, I just made that bit up. Gotta keep things lively?”

“Don’t worry about him, you’ll get used to it, he does that all the time.”

Not ‘all the time’, just every now and then. When the spirit takes me, so to speak.

The two Susans turned up very late in the evening. I say ‘turned up’, but what I mean is, Betty was talking about a friend of hers who had died relatively young. She was diligently describing her, and I got the feeling that she admired this lady and she was missed. Apparently, she had a bit of style, dressed well and liked to spend time in classy little cafes, the kind that is hard to find these days since the advent of annoying American coffee houses.

She was just about to tell us what had caused this lady to die when Kate jumped in, “The woman you are describing sounds just like the mum of my friend from high school. How did yours pass?”

“Blood clot,  a few days after an operation. Worked on her like crazy but they couldn’t bring her back. What about yours?”

“Mine took her own life six years after her daughter stepped in front of a train. I was there at the time, and so was our friend. The daughter put her red headphones on, turned and waved at us and calmly stepped in front of the 4:05 to Finders Street. I could not believe what had just happened. I ran to where her body landed, and I put my arm around her and sobbed. The ambulance guys had to pull me away. It took a little while, but it destroyed their family, and after battling her grief for six years the mum had had enough, and she left us too. I’ve never forgiven myself for not seeing it coming. I keep thinking that I could have said something, done something.”

“It’s not your fault kid.” I heard myself say. “When people feel the need to leave they will find a way, and nothing you say or do has anything to do with that decision.” She seemed to understand, but it was obvious that she had carried this guilt for a very long time.

After a moment, the two ladies looked at each other and, at the same time said the same thing, “What was your ladies name?”

“Susan.” The two voices spoke as one, and a chill went up my spine.

My group members were not describing the same person but the details of their lives, with the exception of their passing, were close to identical. What were the chances of that?

We were all a little bit stunned by what we had just witnessed, so we sat in silence.

Eventually, our moderator said, “I think that we are going to remember this night for a long time to come. Some conversations just stay with you.”

He was right.

Eventually, people began to stir, and a few of us expressed our amazement at what had just happened. We gathered up our stuff, put the chairs away, emptied the glacially slow urn, and hoovered the carpet. Almost everyone had gone home by the time I reached the front door. It wasn’t my job to turn off the light and lock up, so I had time. I turned and looked at the now emptying room and thought about the two Susans.

I had a few things to tell the missus when I got home, but she was asleep, so I told the dogs.

They were happy to see me, and they listened intently while I told them the story.

I climbed into bed, and so did the dogs. We fought for a bit of space while I thought about the tenuous grip we have on this glorious life of ours and I wondered if my story would end up in a room on a cold winters night somewhere, sometime.

‘The Two Terrys’, now there’s a name for a story.

An AK47 and a Banana.

 

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This story is now part of TRUST and SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES.

A bloody fingerprint on my credit card made the store clerk hesitate for a moment, but I guess he wanted to finish his shift with a minimum of fuss because he put through the transaction, handed back my card and wished me a good day, all without a single change in facial expression.

My facial expression, on the other hand, could be described as a grimace. Not the bloke in the McDonald’s commercials, but the one where you are in a lot of pain and it has to show somewhere, even though you don’t want it to.

There was a chance that a bloody fingerprint was a part of everyday life for this bloke. Maybe, he even kept a chart of how many he encountered in a shift.

There it goes again — my mind.

Probably a side effect of losing so much blood.

It’s difficult to think clearly. Fortunately, a lot of thinking is not required. All I have to do is slow down the bleeding enough so that I am still alive at this time tomorrow. The meeting isn’t far from here and no one takes any notice of a slightly disreputable character in this part of the city. 

Melbourne is good that way; ‘big money’ and ‘down and outs’ mix freely, as long as they don’t get in each other’s way.

The bandages and gauze were enough to cover the wound, but at some stage I was going to have to find the courage to stitch it; was not looking forward to that.

It was Sunday and the tourists were out in force.

Lots of kids, and mums and dads.

Cameras and carry bags, giggling teenage girls and puffed up teenage boys, none of them interested in me.

Twenty-four hours is not a long time in most people’s lives, but it was to me, especially since I acquired that hole in my side.

Once it was over, if I was still standing, I was going sort out the bloke who perforated me, but till then I needed a quite place to sit.

I turned down one of the myriads of laneways that criss-cross Melbourne and I come across a sign that said the Conan Doyle Society was meeting for an afternoon of mediumship. The sign gave a start time, but I had no idea what time it was because my wristwatch was lying in pieces not far from where the fight started.

There seemed to be a bit of activity so I entered.

The building was ancient and I passed through an open doorway — crafted about hundred and fifty years ago.

The walls were brick and there was a faint smell of dust in the air.

“Don’t worry about the dusty smell. It will dissipate in a little while. The building only gets used on Sundays. Ghosts play here during the week.” The lady who told me this was about sixty years old with a smile that suggested that she had left a trail of broken hearts in her wake in her younger days, and now, for all I knew.

The windows of the building were vaulted and filled with clear leadlight. The floors were Baltic Pine and the plethora of humanity that had trodden on them had sculptured them into hills and valleys around the tight knots in the wood.

Timeworn padded chairs were being laid out in rows by helpers who looked as old as the building itself.

A tiny lady, who was not much bigger than the chair she was carrying, said to me, “Sit here young fellow. You’ll get a good view. You look like you could use a good ‘sit down’. You sit here and I’ll get you a cup of tea.”

“You haven’t got something stronger than tea, have you lady?”

“No, but I know how you feel. I could go a good snort myself.”

I laughed and my side hurt.

The cup of tea had milk and about four sugars in it. I didn’t mind.

The chairs continued to come out through a small door, the same door that the cup of tea had come through and I wondered how many more rooms there were to this place.

Within a little while, the hall filled up with people and soon, none of the forty-odd chairs were empty.

Before the cup of tea and the kilo of sugar, I had been feeling quite sleepy, but now I was wide awake.

The lady running the show stepped to the microphone, which I had not noticed and welcomed us all.

She gave a particular welcome to all the ‘newcomers’ and looked directly at me. She introduced the two people seated behind her and gave their names, but I was not taking much notice.

She mentioned that this group had been meeting for about one hundred and twenty years, under various names, and that its current name dated from a visit by the renown author at the turn of the previous century.

A few people nodded and the tiny lady who had supplied my cup of tea said something out loud and the woman at the microphone agreed with her.

Things were getting interesting.

The lady sitting next to me didn’t seem to mind that I looked like I’d been in a fight; which I had.

The speaker introduced one of the people behind her, a Trevor someone, and he spoke to the assembled crowd.

He walked across to one side of the hall and asked a woman if she would like a reading. She said yes, and the fun began.

Trevor described a man in fine detail and asked the woman if she recognised this person. She promptly burst into tears and a box of tissues appeared out of nowhere. Trevor gave her a moment to compose herself and then he went on with a bit more description and ended with a message. “The gentleman wants you to know that it is okay with him if you want to get married again, and could you please make sure that the rose bushes get pruned.”

The proceedings went on for more than an hour and the two people on the platform took turns to read for various members of the audience.

I was enjoying myself, but the ‘over the counter’ painkillers were beginning to wear off and I had a monster headache.

I was feeling sorry for myself when I realised that this Trevor character was speaking to me. “May I come to you, sir? Yes, you, the gentleman with the coat and the upturned collar.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Can you speak up sir, so the audience can hear you, also I’m a bit hard of hearing.”

“YES, I GUESS SO. Knock yourself out.”

“Thank you, sir. May I have your name?”

“It’s Sam.”

“Thank you, Sam. I have a woman with me; she’s presenting in her late sixties wearing men’s work clothes, and she has grey hair. Can you place such a person?”

“Not at the moment, but I had a girlfriend who looked like that a few years back.” I enjoyed the laughter from the audience, but Trevor only smiled.

“She’s carrying an AK47 in one hand and a banana in the other. Can you place that?”

A cold shiver went down my back.

“Yes, I think I can.” I was in shock.

“She’s wearing Army boots and one of them is laced with string. She says that she always carried a banana because she never knew how long it would be between meals. She wants you to know that the wound in your side will result in your death if you don’t have it seen to today.”

Trevor stopped talking and every eye in the hall turned in my direction.

Trevor continued. “This lady is telling me that killing people is not the way. Even though she was defending her country against invasion, nothing good came of killing the soldiers that came under her sights. She says that she has met up with them, ‘over there’ and they have made their peace. The soldier who killed her has done the same. She wants you to know that love is the only way. If you try to hold out, without treatment, to make that meeting tomorrow, you will die from your injuries. Oh, and she said that you should eat more bananas and ring your dad once in a while. Can I leave that with you, Sam?”

“Yes, you can, and thank you.”

I’m not sure why I thanked him; it just seemed like the right thing to do.

The meeting disbanded and food appeared out of nowhere and conversation broke out in several places.

The chairs disappeared as fast as they had arrived and we all stood around eating cake and drinking tea.

I was probably half dead at this stage, but I have to say that those were the best scones and jam and cream I have ever tasted.

I found Trevor and told him about my ancestor who had valiantly and vainly fought the Soviet invasion of her country in 1956. I wasn’t born yet, but family legend had her name up in lights. My ancestors were mostly ordinary people living ordinary lives, except for the convicts who started our line here in Australia; and then there was Maria, the freedom fighter.

Sixty-three years of age.

She could field strip and reassemble an AK47 in the dark.

The AK47 was, and still is, the weapon of choice of the freedom fighter, but for all its virtues, it is not very accurate at range, but somehow Maria became the best sniper in her group.

Sadly for Maria, the Resistance was not able to hold out for very long. It was all over in a couple of days, and at the end of it all, there were only broken dreams and a family legend.

Things got a bit fuzzy after that, but I do remember waking up in the emergency ward at the Alfred Hospital.

I had become quite a celebrity.

Apparently, a diminutive older lady had carried me in on her back, saying that I needed attention for a knife wound.

She disappeared, but not before she rearranged the chairs in the waiting room.

“You’ll get more people in if you spread them out like that.”

The Triage Nurse was okay with the new arrangement and she didn’t think that any of it was particularly strange.

I guess nurses get to see some weird shit in the course of a day.

I was laid up for a while and I had to spin an interesting tale to get the cops off my back, but eventually they said I could go home.

The following Sunday I went looking for that laneway, but the doors were closed and there was no one about.

I’m not discouraged, though; I’ll go back next week and see what happens.

I get the feeling that I’ll never look at a banana or an AK47 in quite the same way, ever again.   

 

  

Whispers Under The Wing.

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This story is now part of TRUST and SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES.

Five is the perfect number; any more than that and bad things happen.

I was a white fella living in a house with a bunch of blackfellas; a whole family in fact. Uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins, with a few aunties and a distant cousin thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, the house is huge. It was built for some mega rich bloke a decade or so after the gold rush. Melbourne was awash with gold money and grand houses were all the rage. Pointless being rich if you couldn’t show off, and a huge house on a big chunk of land was the best way to show that you had more money than the next bloke.

Over time, most of the land had been subdivided and sold off as various owners needed cash. The house needs a bit of work, but it is in amazing condition considering it is about one hundred and forty years old. It stands four stories high with large majestic windows. Every bedroom has its own fireplace and a carved wooden fire surround with scenes depicting Australian flora and fauna. There are many other carved pieces throughout the house and it is these features that are said to have influenced Billy’s grandmother to choose this house.

Billy was the first to make his mark; the first to make his fortune, and in the tradition of the blackfella, if one member of a Koori family makes it big, all members of the family share in that good fortune.

Lightening struck many times with this family and soon Billy’s brother’s followed in his musical success while his sister’s paintings found a market. Many of the cousins are musicians, and painters, and potters, and you name it; if it is creative, at least one member of this huge family is into it, which is just as well as it costs a small fortune to keep this house running. Koories don’t go nuts when they come into money, not like whitefellas do, but even so the house eats up a big chunk of change.

Kooris are an accepting lot but even so, bringing me into the house caused a bit of tension; the only whitefella to be seen.

The neighbours are all white, of course, and they are patiently waiting for this huge family to sell up just so they can get their property values to rise again. I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon.

The way we got together is way too long a story but the important part is that we did, and it only seems to work if all five of us are ‘under the wing’ at the same time. I’m always on the end, which is the worst place to be if something goes wrong.

Back in the day, back when the family members discovered this ability, the younger members experimented with the idea of adding more people to the wing. Trouble is, just like the rest of life, if you pick the wrong people, shit happens.

Someone thought that the ability would get stronger the more people you added, but as I said before, five is the magic number, and the right five at that.

So, the young ones kept adding more and more people until one day they found this bloke lying in a ditch with symptoms just like someone who had been struck by lightning.

The Elders stepped in and forbade any further experimentation, but you know young people. Every now and then some teenager is found all dazed and singed, with his hair standing straight up and smouldering.

Billy always takes the centre spot with his brothers on each side, the annoying cousin gets the end spot on Billy’s right and, as the newcomer, I get the spot on his left wingtip.

The truth is that they need me and they know it, although you would never hear it from them, not out loud. My ability brings something to the group that they have never had before, and they like it.

The only part of the process that gives me the shits is the ‘whispering under the wing.’

When we wrap our arms around each others shoulders our individual abilities are multiplied by five to the power of two. Basically, that means that as a group we are twenty-five times more powerful than any one of us on our own. Now, that is really something, and that magnifying factor only arrived when I joined. Add to that our combined ability to remote view at a huge distance, and you can see why they put up with the whitefella.

Part of our responsibility to the wider community is doing readings for individuals, couples and families. We do this once a week, and by appointment.

The problem, as I see it, is that as soon as we link, the whispers start. I call it ‘bitching under the wing’ and it makes me uncomfortable. Our combined ability means that we can see all the weaknesses of the people we are reading for. The whispers are all telepathic, but it still gives me the shits.

Being in this house, doing these readings, is as close as I have come to feeling like I’m part of something.

No one watches television in this house, there is always too much going on. Every night someone is playing an instrument. There is always someone preparing food in the huge old Victorian kitchen, and the cooks are artists in themselves. I’ve gained a bit of weight since I moved in here. My room is on the top floor and was probably one of the servants quarters. The irony is not lost on me. I have a magnificent view of the city in the distance, and I get to walk up and down the majestic staircase, every day. Some nights I lie on my bed and listen to the sounds coming from this ancient house. I doubt that it has ever been this alive in its long history.

My past is full of confusion and pain, but since Billy brought me into his extended family I have a home and a purpose, as well as a family.

Under the wing, my life is amazing.

Emily.

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This story is now part of ‘Slightly Spooky Stories’.

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This story is now part of TRUST: What it Feels Like To Be a Medium.

I was lucky to get this job.

Not because these kinds of jobs are hard to get but because this is exactly the kind of job that suits my mood.

It’s not that I don’t like people, there are one or two that I wouldn’t set fire to if I had the tools. 

It’s just that people get me down. 

They seem to be comfortable in this world; I’m not. 

They rush around, and they seem to know stuff; stuff I don’t know.

I’m not dumb, on the contrary, I have a good education bought and paid for by loving parents. 

Much and all as I’d like to, I can’t blame them for my predicament; not that I’m looking for anyone to blame; just saying.

I was married, and she stuck it out way past the point where any ordinary person would have thrown in the towel; she isn’t any ordinary person, she’s amazing. I love her with all my heart, and I will someday win her back. I just have to get back to being the person I used to be; I vaguely remember him, and I know I will know him when I meet him again.

The interview process for this job went a bit like this.

“Can you work any night of the week, and on short notice?”

“Yes, I can, but a bit of notice would be nice.”

“What size are you?”

“I’m somewhere between a large and an extra-large, heading for largish, as long as this latest diet works.”

“You’re hired. When can you start?”

“Tomorrow?”

“How about tonight?

“I guess if I move a few things around I could start tonight.”

The few things that I needed to move around were mostly stuff that was on the dashboard of my car and my underwear needed adjusting; that shouldn’t take long.

Turns out that this five-star hotel belongs to a chain of five-star hotels and they have an HR department and stringent rules for the employment of new staff. A six-month trial is absolutely adhered to as is a police check and a rigorous background check including past employers and all education qualifications; none of which seemed to apply in my case.

It turns out that the front desk uniform was quite expensive and they had to supply it. I was the right size for the outfit recently vacated by a bloke named Eric who had been caught with his arm stuck in one of the vending machines. 

Apparently, it took a small fortune in small change before the machine would release him.

When he was told that he was dismissed he asked if he could keep the Mars Bar; they said that considering how hard he worked to get it, they would make an exception and let him keep it; which was kind and understanding on their part. 

It also explained why my uniform smelled vaguely of milk chocolate and caramel.

It’s the first job I ever got simply because I was the right size.

Not that I’ve had a lot of jobs, and certainly not recently. 

Six weeks working in a lottery shop just near the Casino came to an abrupt end when the psycho owner had one too many snipes at me. I’d tell you what I said when I left, but there are ladies present. 

This was followed by a stint in another lottery business in one of those interesting old suburbs just a few kilometres out of Melbourne. All, ‘hipster food’ and ‘dodgy second-hand shops’ mixed with homeless people and indigenous families, and that was just on our corner. 

I lost that job when I needed to be in hospital for a few days. 

It was just before Christmas and my Christmas present was being told that I should not bother coming back; and could we please have our uniform back. 

That job lasted nearly a year, and I quite enjoyed it, even though it played on my nerves being around so many people, and all in blazing daylight as well. 

The owner was a prick, and I made the mistake of getting comfortable. My mistake.

Things got a wee bit worse after that even though I didn’t think that was possible at the time; isn’t it great to know that when you have gone as low as you feel it is possible to go there is still another level of hell that you didn’t know about. 

That bloke Dante knew a thing or two.

I’d been working here for a few weeks, just getting a handle on how things worked when I first met Joe. 

His name was Mr Hoskins, but he insisted that I call him Joe. 

It was 4 o’clock in the morning, and that seemed like a good time for first names. 

He knew what mine was because of my name badge.

When I collected my uniform they told me they would have a name badge for me very quickly which is what happened, but for a few days I was Eric, that was the name that was pinned on the jacket when I first put it on. 

I could imagine an ‘Eric’ getting his arm caught in a vending machine; possibly even a Nigel or a Nick as well, but definitely an Eric.

My locker had all sorts of stuff leftover from previous employees. 

My favourite was a name badge with ‘Habib’ written on it. 

I wondered if Habib had left to work in his uncle’s Seven Eleven store.

I seriously considered wearing that badge for a few days, but I thought that I might like this job, so better to stick with the ‘Eric’.

I love hotels, especially good hotels. 

I love carpet. 

I especially love the carpet in good hotels; and old-time cinemas. 

We didn’t have a carpet when we were kids, and I remember going to the cinema and sitting on the carpet and digging my fingers into the deep pile. I think that my dad thought I was a bit strange, but I could kick a football further than anyone my age, so he probably preferred to dwell on that.

Joe and his young wife had checked in earlier in the day. 

I didn’t know it when we first met, but it was very close to an important anniversary for them, and they had come into the city to spend a few days in ‘the big smoke’.

Joe was a friendly bloke, and he didn’t treat me like an inferior, which was likely to happen in a big hotel. 

I didn’t care how people treated me; I knew then as I know now, who I am. I might be down and dusty, but I know who I am.

Joe just wanted to talk. 

His young wife was asleep, which he said was unusual, so he did not want to disturb her. 

“She needs her sleep. It’s been a tough year.”

A part of me wanted to ask why it had been a tough year, but a little voice told me to just listen.

“Our daughter, Emily, died almost exactly a year ago. I’ve read that losing a child often destroys a marriage. In our case, it has brought us closer together.”

Joe wasn’t worried by the silence, and I certainly didn’t know how to fill it. 

He just stood there, leaning on the front desk, staring into space.

He was an average looking bloke, about my height, clean-shaven, short hair and a little scar above one eye. 

It was the kind of scar that probably had a good story to go with it. 

I’ve got a couple of them, but you have to look hard to find them. At least one of them is in a place that only a mother or a lover is likely to notice.

Joe had good shoulders for an average-sized bloke, and I guessed that he had probably been a swimmer in his youth, maybe even a rower but it was hard to tell from his accent if he went to a private school and a dressing gown and slippers don’t tell you much about a person’s background.

After what seemed like forever, Joe said, “It’s hardest on Mary. Mothers feel these things very deeply.” 

Joe was putting his hurt second. 

I didn’t want to even imagine what that hurt must feel like. 

I’m not sure I would survive, but I guess no one knows until it’s their turn.

Another silence; and this time, I felt the need to fill it. 

“It must be tough, Joe, I feel for you.” 

It was a funny thing to say, one man to another, but I had to say something. 

Joe managed a smile and said, “Yes, it’s very hard. I try to get on with things, and there is always work. Work helps, but Mary has the other kids to look after, and I guess she is constantly reminded. Mothers never stop being mothers. My mum still thinks I’m twelve.”

“A couple of days away will help, though, don’t you think? Who is looking after the little ones while you’re away?”

“My parents. They love having the kids come and stay. So we know they are in good hands.”

“Are you going to see the sights while you are in Melbourne?” 

I was intentionally changing the subject, the way people around this bloke had done ever since his daughter had died. Modern man does not cope well with death, and you can multiply that by a hundred when it comes to a dead child. It’s almost as if we feel like we might attract Death’s attention if we talk about it for too long. It gives me the shits, but I’m just as bad as the rest of them.

“We will, but mostly we are here to see Ian Holmyard.”

“Is he a friend?”

“No, he’s a Medium. A friend of ours recommended him. He’s said to be very good. Mary needs to know that Emily is okay. Neither of us has much time for all that religious mumbo jumbo, but we do believe in God. Mary needs to know that Emily is safe and happy, you know, ‘over there’.”

“Do you believe in an ‘over there’?” 

I bit my lip as soon as I said it. 

Of course, he believes in an ‘over there’, or at least his wife does. They need to believe….. you idiot…. keep your fucking mouth shut!

Joe didn’t notice my discomfort. 

“I’m not sure. I guess I want to believe that Emily didn’t just disappear. I want to believe for Mary’s sake. I don’t mind if this bloke convinces me, but I’m going to need to be convinced. I’m going to need to be alert and remember what’s said because I’ve got the feeling that Mary is going to be in tears, and it’s hard to hear through tears. I know, I’ve tried.”

I’ll bet he has.

“Probably best if you record the meeting then.”

“That’s what Mr Holmyard said. Apparently, you tend to forget what comes through. I don’t think I’m going to forget, but I’ll record it for Mary, and if it goes well, she can play it back whenever she wants to.”

“Where do you have to go to see this Mr Holmyard?”

“He’s coming here, tomorrow night. He’s coming after he has had dinner with his family.”

“Producing a spirit is probably easier on a full stomach.” 

I don’t know why I said that, but Joe laughed and agreed.

It was nearly half-past five, and Joe decided that it was time to get a bit of sleep before Mary woke up. He thanked me for listening, and all I wanted to do was burst into tears. I get like that over nothing, and this certainly wasn’t nothing. 

I told Joe I would keep an eye out for Mr Holmyard because I was on duty at ten, which was when he was expected.

Joe walked back toward the elevator, and his gait was one of a man twice his age. I still had a couple of hours of my shift left and most of that time was taken up with hoping that Ian Holmyard was the real deal.

.

~oOo~

.

When the phone rang, my wife took the call.

She likes answering phones, and no matter how many times I tell her not to answer the phone around dinner time, she ignores me. She ends up in endless conversations with people who have strange accents and want me to change my phone/water/electricity/gas/mobile phone/gym membership/ plan. And occasionally, like every day, donate to saving beached whales that don’t have enough warm clothes and have contracted some incurable disease; even though we have been funnelling billions of dollars into research over the past forty years. Where does all that money go? Why haven’t we solved all the problems? We jumped on Aids/HIV by throwing obscene amounts of money at the problem, so why am I worried about losing my memory/identity and becoming a vegetable. How about we let the whales have second-hand jumpers and do something about the distinct possibility that I may resemble a carrot in the not too distant future. And while we are at it, how about we do something about depression instead of throwing money at glitzy little ad’ agencies who spent their time making ads and brochures about how to get help. “Call this number if you feel like shit”.

I could hear the conversation, and it didn’t sound like someone trying to sell us a book of tickets for restaurants that we will never eat at, it sounded like someone needed help.

“Okay, so that’s 10 pm on Wednesday, Grand Hotel, room 527. Ian will be there then.”

I will?

“Don’t look at me like that. This one is important. A young couple who lost their daughter about a year ago. She contracted a chest infection and died in hospital after having a severe Asthma attack. They did everything they could, but they couldn’t bring her back.”

“I’ll be there.”

“I made the appointment later in the night so you could get a hot meal into you after work. They were okay with the time. They are in town for a couple of days.”

She looked right at me, the way that she sometimes does. “They came to town, especially to see you.” I could sense the gravity in her voice, and also the pride.

She loves what I do even though she doesn’t understand how I do it.

Hell, I don’t understand how I do it.

My life was rolling along, as lives tend to do, and I knew I wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be. 

Nothing fancy, just happy every now and then.

Something was missing, and I could not put my finger on it.

My wife Loraine is a ‘giver’, I’m not. 

She thinks and worries about other people; I’ve got enough to worry about. 

So, by all rights, it should be her with this ability, not me.

When my unhappiness got to be a bit of a problem, I tried all the usual things. 

I got myself twisted into strange shapes in Yoga classes. 

My male friends thought it was hilarious when they found out. 

They subscribe to the Aussie theory that more beer solves everything. 

I tried that too. 

It didn’t work, and it was eating into our budget. 

I tried ‘shrinks’ and antidepressants, and let me tell you those things are murder. 

I’ve never felt that bad, and when my eyesight started to give out, I threw them out and went ‘cold turkey’, which was a huge mistake. 

I rang the poisons hotline and said that I thought I was going to die. “You aren’t mate, but you are going to wish you were dead before this is over.” 

Thanks a lot! 

It took ten days to get that shit out of my system. 

I didn’t die, but I definitely wished I had, and when it was all over, I didn’t feel any better.

Just as a bit of fun, I had a few ‘readings’ done. 

They turned out to be surprisingly accurate, and no one got hurt. 

One lady, who read from playing-cards, told me lots of stuff that would happen and mostly she has been spot on. 

I was leaving as she threw in, “Oh, and by the way, you will become a psychic medium.” 

I think I said something like, “That should be fun,” and promptly forgot all about it. 

That was about ten years ago.

A friend told me about a medium who lived close by so I thought I would check out the experience. 

He brought through my mum and an uncle and an old girlfriend and a former high school teacher. 

By the time it was over, I was dizzy. 

It was a fantastic experience, and there was no doubt that I was in touch with my relatives.

Fast forward a few years, and I see an ad for a mediumship development class. 

I went along and to cut a long story short, over a year I found that I could make connections between spirit and people in the ‘here and now’.

I like having this ability, but I’m cautious who I read for. 

Honestly, most people want to know when they are going to get a boyfriend or if their lotto numbers are going to come up.

This is different; there is a child involved.

For some reason, I have developed a reputation for making a connection between parents and children who have died. 

It can be very stressful, and I usually need a bit of time to recover from these sessions, but it seems important, so I typically don’t say no.

My wife knows that I take these readings very seriously.

.

~oOo~

.

I saw him arrive and at that hour there was a pretty good chance that I had the right man.

He was average height, carrying a few extra pounds and had a walk that suggested a man who knew his place in the world. 

He was wearing a wedding ring and a well-made suit, probably off the rack but beautiful none-the-less. 

He was also wearing an expensive watch. Not one of those enormous men’s watches that scream, ‘I’ve got big balls and a bank account to match’, but more of a sophisticated understatement.

I decided that I liked him, but I still hoped that he was the ‘real deal’.

“Hi, Stephen. I’m here to see the Hoskins, Mary and Joe.”

I liked the way he put the wife’s name first, he knew why he was here.

“They are expecting you Mr Holmyard. Room 527. Just take that elevator and turn to your right when you get to the fifth floor.”

“Thank you, Stephen. Have a good night.”

“These are good people, Mr Holmyard.”

He looked at me and smiled gently. “I know they are Stephen, I’ll look out for them.”

He didn’t have long to wait for the elevator, and I watched the doors slide closed and watched the numbers above the doors light up until it reached 5.

It was nearly midnight before he came back down.

He looked exhausted, which I guess was fair enough. He looked across at me before he left through the front doors and gave me a small smile. 

I knew what it meant.

I wasn’t expecting to see Joe Hoskins again that night. I figured with everything they had been through that he would sleep till morning. But, at 4 o’clock on the dot, the elevator doors opened, and Joe Hoskins shuffled across the thick carpet and leaned on the front desk.

“Would you like to come around here and sit down Mr Hoskins, you look like you are out on your feet?”

“It’s Joe, and as long as I wouldn’t be getting you into trouble, I would love to sit down.”

If management had seen him, I would have lost my job, and I was hoping that no one went through the CCTV footage for that night.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“He was amazing. He said that Emily had been following him around all day and that he usually would not allow spirits to intrude on his ordinary life but that he had made an exception for Emily. It was a bit like ‘take your daughter to work day’, and she kept herself busy and didn’t get in the way.

She said that she was looking forward to letting us know that she was okay and that she was having fun and some older relatives had been looking after her but that she was a big girl and mostly didn’t need looking after, but it was fun to have people to talk to and other kids to play with.”

“How did Mary cope?”

“I don’t think I have ever seen a woman cry that much, but she was happy. Ian told us things about Emily that only we knew. It was her all right. I’m hoping that Mary can find a way to move on now. Not forget; that’s never going to happen, but move forward.”

“I’m really pleased for you, Mr Hoskins. I really wanted this bloke to be the real deal.”

“He is, and it’s Joe.”

“Sorry, Joe. I’m wrapped. Could not be happier.”

“Ian said that a lot of people can do what he does, but they don’t know it until someone points it out; until someone shows them how.”

Joe asked if I would meet them for coffee when they checked out in the morning. It was a bit of a wait after my shift ended, but there was only an empty apartment waiting for me, so I said I would.

I waited in the hotel coffee shop, and I could see the young couple at the main desk, checking out. They gathered up their bags and came in my direction.

A young girl was trailing along behind them, the way that young ones do when they are bored with grown-up complications. She kept herself busy playing with the hotel cat. The cat was usually a bit stand-offish, but on this occasion, the two of them seemed to hit it off.

Joe and Mary were looking forward to getting back home to the comfort of ordinary life.

I was sure that Joe had said that all his kids were with their grandparents, but I miss stuff these days, so I didn’t say anything.

The doorman came in and told Joe that his car had been brought around, and Joe offered to pay for the coffee. 

I wasn’t having any of that, and he smiled and said thank you.

As the group moved away, the little girl stopped and ran back to where I was sitting.

“Thanks for looking after my dad,” she said. “He worries a lot. You made him feel better.”

“My pleasure little one. Which one of the Hoskins tribe are you?”

“I’m Emily, and I’m very pleased to have met you, Stephen.”

Without thinking, I called out as she ran back towards her fast disappearing parents, “Have a safe trip, Emily, it was good to meet you.”

For a moment, Joe Hoskins stopped walking, even though he was across the room and right at the front doors, he looked like he had heard what I said. 

He looked at me but turned to walk away.

Emily waved at me, and the penny dropped.

I’m not that quick these days, and it had been a long shift.

As tired as I was, I was now wide awake, and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing straight up.