Anne-Marie stood by the balcony, auburn hair flowing about her shoulders in luxuriant waves. A dress - a gauzy, puffy shouldered little number -- clung to her ample swell and well-defined curves. Clark would have found this display quite seductive, provided the woman wasn't dead.
Talons of fear dug into Clark's neck and shoulders. Dread clamped down hard around his buttocks. He drew in a deep breath to center himself. Then he ascended the stairs.
"Anne-Marie!" he shouted. "I've come to end this curse!"
He tried to project confidence, but realized he sounded like a teenager going through a bad case of puberty. Clark was, after all, well acquainted with this dread specter. She had been the focus of years of personal research. Now, however, the time had come to apply all that he'd learned. Besides, The Committee for Metaphysical Research had agreed to appoint him Chairman provided he could vanquish Anne-Mare.
That was a perk too juicy to ignore.
Clark paused. He recalled the fate of the last man who had attempted to end Anne-Marie's one hundred and forty year reign at Waxford Hall. It wasn't pretty. He had seen pictures. But he couldn't let something that happened in the past stop him. He had gone too far to back down.
Clark managed a few more hesitant steps, though his eyes continued to take in Anne-Marie's transparent form. So blonde. So whisper-thin. Her eyes were like sapphires. Clark could spend hours wading deeper into those icy blue pits of post-mortem sexuality. But he didn't dare gaze for long, though. Her beauty was a trap.
"I'm wise to your games, Anne-Marie!" He averted his eyes. "Be gone from this Hall in the name of all that is Holy!"
The dread specter merely grinned and extended an obscene greeting.
That was it - the last straw.
Clark ran the rest of the way up. He removed the crucifix from his coat pocket and, like the star pitcher he once was, hurled it at Anne-Marie.
It sailed right through her before hitting the floor with a plonk. Clark cursed under his breath.
"Vamos a salir!" she wailed. "Acabamos de desayunarnos!"
Clark had forgotten that, since her death, Anne-Marie spoke only in Spanish. Born in Georgia, she had not left the state once in her life. He was also certain that Anne-Marie hadn't mastered her ABCs prior to her demise, much less a foreign tongue. Anyway, it mattered little. Clark didn't pretend to understand the metaphysics of the afterlife.
"Espero viajar durante las vacaciones!"
He tried to mentally translate her words. Clark suddenly wished he had paid more attention during high school Spanish.
"Voy a usar la secadora!" Anne-Marie's back sprouted huge bat wings. "Acabo de lavarme el pelo!"
Clark's bladder loosened. He scrambled down the staircase. Below, once contentedly sedentary furniture whirled about in phantasmagoric chaos. Sofas banged against love seats. Armoires slammed against curios. Silverware dueled with toiletries. Windows couldn't decide whether to remain open or closed. A chorus of the damned added a chilling soundtrack to the madly swirling anarchy. The chants reminded Clark of the Benedictine Monk CD he had purchased at K-Mart only a week earlier. He absently mindedly recalled that it had been on sale.
"Cual es su nacionalidad!
He looked up. Anne-Marie now sailed directly above his head, laser beams flashing, bat wings flapping, multi-colored prismatic goo dripping from every orifice. Some of the muck fell on his hand, searing layer upon layer of skin.
Clark shrieked: "You scalded me -- you hell-hound whore!"
Anne-Marie chuckled before taking hold of her own head. She pulled and, with a meaty rip, divorced it from the rest of her body.
Clark fought back a primal scream as Anne-Marie launched the thing at him. It impacted squarely against his skull. Colored stars immediately filled his vision. In any other circumstance, they would have been cartoon-funny.
Now they were nothing short of terrifying.
Reorienting himself, Clark vented a sigh. At least she was out of ammunition -- or so Clark thought seconds before another hard object struck his shoulders. This projectile knocked him to the floor. He recovered his bearings quickly, jumping up just as a coffee table rolled over the spot his cranium had vacated.
"Me llamo es Pablo!"
Clark spun around in time to watch Anne-Marie sprout yet another head. She ripped it off and tossed it through the air. Seconds later, another arose atop her horrid neck like the strange blossoming of a flower.
His legs picked up speed, but Clark couldn't escape the onslaught of disembodied heads. They peppered his torso and lower extremities as Marie glided above him, dripping ectoplasm and tossing heads like there was no tomorrow.
And for her -- being dead and all - there was no tomorrow.
Clark shrieked. If only he could reach the door without being pummeled to death. Before his departure, Professor Braughton had informed him that the apparition couldn't leave Waxford Hall. Clark prayed he was right.
"Mañana es Martes! " Anne-Marie taunted heartlessly.
Clark ignored her - as much as one can ignore an airborne, Spanish-speaking, head-tossing specter - and focused his attention solely on vacating the premises unscathed. Clark stretched out his hand. He grasped the doorknob before noticing the devilish shade of red the brass had suddenly adopted.
Scalding currents baked his flesh. Clark gritted his teeth and forced his hand around the knob. The pain was excruciating, but preferable to an eternity spent rotting with Anne-Marie.
He jerked the door open. At that moment, a fragrant gust of lilac scented wind filled his nostrils. It was a liberating scent -- the odor of freedom.
Clark unfolded his arms to embrace the sky. His mouth stretched open in song just as another head impacted against his penny-loafers. Clark looked up. He saw Anne-Marie burst into flames in a manner he could only describe as scary. Bolts of electricity erupted from her blazing form and struck the ground by his feet. An inferno erupted where a plastic flamingo once stood.
His fists clenched. Professor Braughton was obviously a boldfaced liar who coveted Clark's spot on the Metaphysics Committee.
But Dr. Braughton wouldn't get the last laugh. Clark had a plan.
He dodged repetitious shots of hot, flaming death as he neared the field where Anne-Marie had spent the final hours of her life picking primroses and daisies. If only he could make it a hundred more feet . . .
"Me voy el martes próximo!"
Clark didn't even hear her battle cry. His attention was focused on a towering, rust-covered behemoth looming in the distance. It was the same hay-bailer Anne-Marie had fallen headfirst into so many years before. He ran straight for the hulking thing as the specter trailed close behind. Clark then crossed his fingers, uttered a silent prayer, and navigated a sharp right turn just inches from the bailer's mouth.
Spanish obscenity filled the air as soon as Anne-Marie realized she had been duped.
Clark turned around. He watched her grim specter disappear into the machine. The hay-bailer roared to life. It churned away, blotting out Anne-Marie's trilled yelps. The shouting continued up until the machine burst into a holocaust of green flame.
Then -- perfect silence.
Clark smiled as made his way out of the field. The Chairmanship was now his for the taking. He couldn't wait to tell his friends and family --- and to rub his success in Dr. Braughton's face, of course.
From this point on, he . . . HE . . . was the number one metaphysician in America.
And to think I was afraid I couldn't pull it off!
Clark whistled all the way back and continued to do so up until the moment he inserted the key into the ignition of his 1965 Impala.
An instant later, both Clark and his prized car baked in a seething cauldron of flame, courtesy of the pipe bomb conveniently wired to his starter.
Even in her second death, Anne-Marie got the last laugh.
Copyright © 2002 by Kevin L. Donihe.