A Message from Beyond, by Susan Cornford
Mandy knocked on the door quietly; she didn’t want to scare anyone. It was hard enough being around people when you were a ghost without adding to the lore of fear-inducing tales. And she thought of herself as a very modest, sensible ghost, the same as she’d been when alive.
Not having got any response to her knock, she glided through the wood, an action that still gave her a small thrill, and had a quick look around. Jonathan had dozed off in his armchair, which explained his lack of answer. Mandy looked down at her one-time husband and felt a pang of sadness. Not only had she preceded him into the Afterlife, but he’d had to work on beyond retirement age because of business reversals.
Still, that’s what she was here to correct, having made contact with Jon’s old partner (also deceased) who kept up with worldly things and tried to pass on helpful hints to his friends whenever he could.
“Jonathan, dear, please wake up!” Mandy all but shouted in his ear. He always did sleep like a log. She sighed and then looked around the room for suitable objects. Ah, he’d left his teacup carelessly close to the edge of the side table by his chair. The lessons she’d had in this exercise should pay off now. Very slowly the teacup moved itself out into the open air. Jonathan snorted and twitched, breaking Mandy’s concentration. Losing patience, she aimed a forceful mental push at the crockery and over it went, smashing on the hardwood floor.
Jonathan opened his eyes, jumped to his feet and jerked his head around in one direction after another until his eyes alighted on the broken cup. Tears welled up as he leaned down and touched the wet, sticky shards gently. “This one was always Mandy’s favourite and now I’ve broken it.”
“No, it wasn’t, you silly sausage; I only said that because your mother gave it to me.” Jonathan’s face crinkled in confusion and he looked into all corners of the room. “Mandy? Are you here?”
This was always the hardest part, she knew, so she stood right in front of him, put both hands on his shoulders, looked into his face and said, “Yes, Jonathan, I’m here.” A very long count of seconds and then he saw her. More tears coursed down his face as he tried to touch her and, of course, failed. The whole scene rather reminded Mandy of their wedding night. Recalling how that had finally worked out, she persisted on this occasion as well. Jonathan, still putty in his wife’s hands, finally settled down, blew his nose and prepared to pay attention to what she had to say.
“Now, I’ve been in touch with Alex …”
“Alex is there too? How is he? And where are you both? Is it nice? There’s no…”
“Fire and brimstone? No, not that I’ve seen. It’s quite pleasant, but perhaps a little boring. That’s why we still pay attention to what’s going on here. Then we try to help out, which is what I’m trying to do if you’ll let me.”
“I must say you look quite well; none of the effects of your illness still show. In fact, you look pretty much like you did when I first met you at nineteen. Only sort of shimmery.”
“Jonathan! Never mind how I look; just listen to what I say. Alex tells me that what you need to do is…”
“I don’t suppose you’ve seen my Mom and Dad, have you? I really would like to know if they are getting on alright over there. Please tell me at least that much.”
Mandy would have taken a deep breath except she no longer had the need for oxygen, so she rolled her eyes, which she still could do. “Yes, my love, they were there when I first arrived. Everybody was. And they were all happy and well, even Uncle George, who got blown up in the war. Then they all just sort of drifted away to do their own thing. That’s when I noticed Alex and he gave me this message; he said you really were going to need it if you aren’t to go bankrupt and end up a homeless person. So, pay attention!!!”
“You know, Mandy, you are still just as bossy as you ever were and, quite frankly, it was Alex’s bad judgment that got us into trouble in the first place. So, I’m not likely to listen to his from-beyond-the-grave advice now.”
Jonathan’s phone buzzed discreetly; he picked it up and answered. After a pause, he said, “Yes, Cheryl, darling, I have got my list of wedding guests finished. I’ll give it to you tomorrow but now I’ve got to go. Goodnight, sweetheart.” He put down the phone and looked around for his first wife but couldn’t see her any more. He called her name but got no answer. Finally he cleared up the spilled, broken teacup and went to bed.
Mandy knocked on the door quietly; she didn’t want to scare anyone. It’s just that she’d remembered she never liked the big, heavy, ornate mirror her mother-in-law had insisted they hang over their marital bed. Very slowly the taut picture wire started to fray as Jonathan snored peacefully underneath. Mandy had a suspicion she might be seeing some fire and brimstone soon.
Susan Cornford is a retired public servant, living in Perth, Western Australia, with pieces published or forthcoming in 365 tomorrows, Akashic Books Fri Sci-fi, Antipodean Science Fiction, Corner Bar Magazine, Curating Alexandria, Speculative 66 and Theme of Absence.