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art by Tais Teng

Waiting for Raymond

One of Eric James Stone's earliest memories is of an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. Thanks to his father's collection of old science fiction, Eric grew up reading Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. Eric has attended Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp and the Odyssey Writing Workshop. A Writers of the Future winner, his stories have appeared in Year's Best SF 15, Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and the Blood Lite anthologies, among other venues. Eric is also an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Eric lives in Utah. His website is www.ericjamesstone.com.

I finally pulled myself all the way through the apartment wall to find Dee had finished dressing in her Scarlett O'Hara dress. I always thought she was gorgeous even with her hair a mess and wearing that tatty robe Grandma Kinneson gave her, so seeing Dee dressed up like that would've taken my breath away, if I breathed anymore.
Unfortunately, she wasn't dressed like that for me: it was for Raymond. He was Rhett to her Scarlett. But look how that turned out.
Dee was digging between the couch cushions. Since the remote was clearly sitting on the coffee table, I assumed she was looking for her cell phone. Looking through the cushions, I saw three quarters, two nickels, and six pennies, but no phone. I turned my gaze across the room and spotted the phone under the recliner. It took only a moment to drift over to the phone, but I realized my plan to push it out a few inches so Dee could see it wouldn't work. For a minor poltergeist, materializing sufficiently to affect solid objects is difficult, and I just didn't have the energy.
It took her a couple of minutes to find the phone. She dialed Raymond's cell--it's the first number in her speed-dial--and I instinctively drifted close so I could hear the voice on the other end of the line.
It was Raymond's voicemail that picked up almost instantly.
"Ray, you better not be working late. You were supposed to pick me up twenty minutes ago. Call me as soon as you get this." Dee hung up.
She was obviously annoyed, but not surprised. Despite Dee's punctual nature, Raymond was often late--it was one of the reasons he wasn't good enough for her.
I looked at the clock: 8:52. Raymond was supposed to pick Dee up at 8:30 and take her to a Halloween party at her boss's house. There was no reason for her to worry yet, though: I'd overheard her telling one of her friends that she'd started telling Raymond to pick her up a half hour before they really needed to go.
She went off to the bathroom, probably to check that her hair was still in place after her search for the phone. I could have told her she looked perfect, if I'd had the energy to manifest a voice. But that would probably have freaked her out.
In any case, I didn't follow her into the bathroom--I'm not a pervert.
9:13. Dee tried calling again. "Where are you? Call me." She put down the phone, then picked it up again, muttering, "Battery's probably dead." She pulled her address book from her purse, looked up a number and dialed.
I drifted closer, in time to hear Raymond's voice say, "This is Raymond Phillips in Accounting. Please leave a message and a callback number."
Dee didn't bother leaving a message. "At least he's left work."
9:30. Three more calls to the cell had gone unanswered. Dee sat on the couch, clutching the phone. I could tell by the way she bit her lower lip that she was caught between anger and worry. Raymond might be habitually late, but it was hardly ever by more than half an hour.
At 9:47, the doorbell rang. Dee dropped the phone and rushed to the door. As she opened it, she said, "You'd better have a..."
It wasn't Raymond. It was Mrs. Gutierrez from the second floor. She was crying.
"Mrs. Gutierrez? What's wrong?" Dee motioned the older woman inside. "Are your children all right?"
That was one of the reasons I loved Dee--she was always concerned about other people's problems.
Mrs. Gutierrez shook her head. "I have called 911," she said, "But I think it is too late. Your Raimondo--I was going to the laundry, and I found him at the bottom. His head..."
"Ray?" Dee blinked. "Ray!" I could hear the pain in her voice as she ran out the door and began descending the stairs.
I would have cried for her, if I could cry anymore.
Mrs. Gutierrez followed her. "Be careful. You must not fall, too."
Left alone in the apartment, there was nothing I could do. I was far too weak to follow. It took a lot of energy to leave the place I was bound to haunt--just as it took a lot of energy to materialize enough to affect solid objects. A minor poltergeist like me gathers energy very slowly.
It would probably take me a year to recover from the effort of pushing Raymond down the stairs. But if I could spend that year with Dee, I'd be happy.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Author Comments

I wrote this story for the annual Halloween Short Story Contest held by CodexWriters.com. It was loosely based on this prompt: "Your protagonist is waiting for his/her very late husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/gay lover to come home. They don't know where the person is nor do they have any means to get in touch with them." For a writing class exercise, I had previously written a brief scene from the point of view of a poltergeist in love with a woman who was depressed after the death of a lover that the poltergeist had killed. I realized that I could write the story of when the woman was waiting for the lover to arrive, which would have more immediacy and tension than the depression scene. "Waiting for Raymond" was the result.

- Eric James Stone
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