She smelled of cinnamon and fetid meat, a mélange of rot. Pinhead black spiders stole pieces of her sight as they skittered from the hollows of her eyes. “Being dead isn’t so bad,” she said. The ghost picked holes in the fabric of life wound around her shoulders, this season’s fashionable shroud. She’d worn her heart on her sleeve for so long she no longer noticed the bloodstains on the cuff. “You get used to it after a while.”
There are memories and then there are memories. “I don’t need this right now.” The setting sun left a smear of red along the far wall. I opened another bottle of Ragnaud-Sabourin in defiance of her, of x-rays, of the inevitability of night. “I have a deadline.”
“I do miss flowers, though. Lilies would have been nice if you’d bothered, or carnations, pink ones. I think I remember what pink looks like.”
“Good for you.” The first swallow of cognac was fire, the second dark caramel and mother’s milk. “You’re wasting my time. I’m not dead yet.”
The ghost smiled, pallid lips drawn back to reveal two rows of even, white teeth. “Such an unassuming little word, hmmm? Three innocuous letters that say what you mean when you don’t mean what you say.”
I looked beyond the ghost to the Paris skyline, points of light kept at a distance. “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t you?” She dissolved then, twisted strands of light and dark unraveling like memories of better days until all that remained were the spiders. And her voice: “You never learned how to live.”
“Screw you, babe,” I said to the dark, to myself. “It takes time to make a living.”
Echoes and memories refused to take the bait.
I hoisted myself out of the chair and presented myself to the pane and the city and the night. I had always been my own man. Resolute. Self-made. Accountable to no one but myself.
I felt the first spider press through the tear duct of my right eye. It tickled my cheek much like her breath in languid afterglow, like a black spot on the film. A sliver of skyline went missing.
Night was coming. I poured two fingers as the city went black. Ghosts cut into my bottom line.
Sandra M. Odell is a happily married, 43-year-old mother of two teenage boys, an avid reader, compulsive writer, and rabid chocoholic. Her writing credits include publication in Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE, Ideomancer, Horror Bound Magazine Publications’ trade paperback anthology Fear of the Dark, and audio production on Pseudopod. She is a Clarion West 2010 graduate, and associate member of the SFWA.