Dead Set 

This was another losing story (I adore losing stories, don't you?), this one submitted back in 2010 in one of NPR's 3-minute fiction contest. I stumbled upon it the other day and thought, hey - let's self-publish this loser! The rules were: 600 word max, the first and last sentence (in grey) required (written by the judge himself). I thought it was peachy. The judge didn't. 

Some people swore that the house was haunted. But then, some people were misinformed. A person got haunted – the house was merely a convenient venue. A proper haunting took skill to establish; Gavin had been at it for eight months, and could barely sift his semi-corporeal form through the floorboards without unexpectedly drifting up the chimney. Cy, who’d haunted the previous owners, maintained that Gavin’s vocal stylings weren’t so much banshee as banal. If the afterlife had a learning curve, Gavin was stuck at the bottom. Not that there was any rush; he was going to be dead for a long time. 

Cy had left a month ago, pursuing his murdering ex-wife and her boyfriend to their new beach condo. Cy was an accomplished ghost, but Gavin felt thoroughly helpless without gravity, and solid as stone when trying to pass through walls. His attempts at standards like rattling windowpanes and chilling rooms left Cy unimpressed. For Gavin, it was no different from his experience in life. He was hopeless. Cy, shadowy suitcases in hand, had said, “Your problem’s mental, kid. You gotta think dead.” And with that, he’d howled after his ex’s loaded coupe as it trundled off to the coast. 

Gavin’s old boss, Pat Macadam, had bought the house, with plans to double its footprint. Gavin wept; he couldn’t even respectably haunt the existing floor plan. He didn’t feel remotely qualified, and wished Cy could’ve taught him more. That night, rocking and groaning, he awaited Macadam’s return from what should rightfully have been his junket. 

Gavin shut his transparent eyelids to thoughts of his years as Macadam’s lackey. Memories circled - like ghosts themselves: belittling comments in front of the entire department, insinuations about his private life, humiliations, tongue-lashings - and then, Macadam’s theft of Gavin’s big idea, the one ten years in development. Above all rose the image of the awards ceremony, being shoved aside as Macadam strode to the stage, the spotlight on his grinning face. That night, as Macadam went home with a curvy brunette, Gavin went to bed with a bottle of Seconal and awoke to find himself, well, not himself. Final rest was unthinkable. He’d haunt Macadam to madness. 

But if he’d known how poorly he’d do, he’d never have bothered. Couldn’t even hover without being wafted about by the ceiling fan. Just like in life. 

The crunching of tires announced the taxi. Gavin gusted ungracefully to the window to observe Macadam maneuvering himself out of the cab. Fat, Gavin thought. Balding, too, under that rug. Five heavy Vuitton suitcases hit the gravel. Filled with swag, Gavin thought darkly. My swag! My damn swag! A sudden rage boiled within his chest and propelled him headlong into the night air. Shrieking, wailing, clawing, he swooped, snatching the toupee from Macadam’s head. 

As Macadam wheeled around to curse the driver, Gavin roared with a savagery that cracked the night, exploding like thunderous applause. The driver leapt into his cab and sped off. Macadam stumbled, tripped over a suitcase, and collapsed heavily onto the driveway.

Gavin felt suddenly giddy – utterly in control and at long last joyously, deliriously dead.  Hovering masterfully, he gloated upon the man beneath him. Effortlessly, Gavin summoned the memory of saliva and filled his mouth with it.

 Macadam scrambled up and looked wildly about, pawing at the spittle mysteriously glistening on his cheek. An unfamiliar terror took hold, shaking him to his core. Trembling, he fell to his knees in the shadow of his empty house. Nothing was ever the same again after that.



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