THE TASK AT HAND • by Jack Phillips Lowe

Todd Benway is out in his backyard, assembling the swing set he and his wife bought for their daughter Lexy’s birthday. Todd’s wife, Angela, is by the patio weeding her rose garden. They exchange a smile and a wave. Lexy, who turned six yesterday, is playing happily in her sandbox nearby.

Todd works hard to keep his mind set on the task at hand. Despite his effort, Todd is distracted. The disturbance is the presence of a ghost. Truly, it’s the filmy and blood-splattered apparition of a young woman. It’s fuzzy, but queasily and insistently there. She circles Todd leisurely with her hands at her sides as she glares at him. With each pass, her eyes lock into his. She never blinks. At last, her jaw opens and dangles a moment before she mouths a phrase. What did she say? Todd asks himself, reading the ghost’s lips. “‘Try again?’”

Todd recognizes her. Her name was Kendra. She was a pretty blonde co-ed from a local college. Kendra vanished one night six years ago while returning home from her off-campus job. Her picture had been splashed across the newspapers and TV. Nobody had seen Kendra since then.

Kendra’s ghost manages to be everywhere Todd is. Todd turns to watch Lexy play; Kendra sits beside the girl in the sandbox. Todd goes in the garage to retrieve a stepladder; Kendra meets him there. Todd opens his tool kit to get a screwdriver; a tiny Kendra perches on his wood chisel. A flock of geese honks by overhead; Todd looks up to see Kendra floating behind them. Kendra’s eyes always find Todd’s. Todd, though, betrays no emotion. He remains stoically on-task.

Kendra steps in and puts her nose just inches from Todd’s. She glowers at him with a rage that sends chills cartwheeling down his spine. Todd felt such iciness earlier in the day, driving Angela and Lexy to church. A news report came on the car radio. The announcer said that investigators were returning to the area to renew their search for Kendra, this time using cadaver dogs. Todd raises the swing set assembly manual to his face, seemingly to study a diagram. He is actually hiding from the ghost.

Lexy climbs out of the sandbox. The child walks to her father and stands next to him, watching as he attaches one support bar to another with bolts and lock nuts. Todd doesn’t notice Lexy. His eyes are on Kendra. The ghost now lurks just behind the child, scowling at Todd. Lexy reaches up and tugs on Todd’s shirttail.

“Daddy,” Lexy says, grinning. “I built a castle. Come see my castle.”

Todd pockets his wrench. Through the apparition, he sees his wife stand and walk toward him from her garden, trowel in hand. Todd pats Lexy on her head and kneels down to brush sand off her pant legs.

“The sun says it’s almost lunchtime,” Todd tells his daughter. “Is today burger day or hot dog day?”

Lexy knits her brow in concentration, then breaks into a smile. “Burger day!”

Todd returns the smile. “Okay, go inside and wash up. We’ll play with your castle after we eat.”

“Awesome!” Lexy turns and runs toward the house. “Mommy, it’s burger day!”

Angela beams at Lexy as they pass each other. The couple stands awkwardly as Lexy opens the storm door and enters the house. As soon as the door closes, Angela springs toward Kendra.

“Bitch, I told you to leave us alone!” she hisses through clenched teeth. “Stay away from my family! Stay away from our house! Rot in hell, already!” Angela brandishes the trowel like a knife.

A defiant smirk pulls at the corners of Kendra’s mouth. She blows a kiss to Angela and disappears.

Angela drops the trowel and sobs, burying her face in her hands. Todd touches her shoulder.

“It’s time,” he says quietly, “to move the body.”

Angela swallows and nods. “Again.”

 Todd takes out his wrench and fiddles with the worm-screw on its handle. “Well, you didn’t have to kill her.”

Angela folds her arms across her chest. “And you didn’t have to knock her up while I was pregnant.”

“All right. I know a guy—”

“No. No more ‘I know a guy,’ no more ‘let’s hide her in plain sight.’ This time we dump her where I wanted to the first time: the old State Hospital Cemetery in Kankakee.”

Todd crumples his face. “Kankakee? That’s almost ten miles away.”

“No shit. Since the hospital closed, nobody goes there anymore. They don’t even cut the grass.”

“What about the cadaver dogs?”

Angela rolls her eyes and sighs. “You’re overthinking this again, Todd. How will the cadaver dogs find one whore’s corpse, planted among all those dead loonies?”

Todd shrugs. “It doesn’t matter. She’ll never let us be.”

“Wrong,” Angela says, shaking her head. She takes Todd by the hand and leads him toward the house. “It ends tonight. I am sick of being harassed by a restless ghost. This time, we’ll smother her carcass in quicklime before filling in the damn hole.”


Jack Phillips Lowe is a proud and lifelong resident of the Chicago area. His stories and poems have appeared in Barbaric Yawp, Clark Street Review and Two Drops of Ink, among other outlets. His most recent book, Flashbulb Danger: Selected Poems 1988-2018 (Middle Island Press), is available from Amazon.


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