Fame & Misfortune

 

Amelia was a household name for exactly thirty-six months. Two weeks after that, someone didn’t recognise her in the hairdressers. That was how quickly she lost her fame. Withdrawal symptoms included smiling a pink rictus smile at everyone she met on the city streets, while anger at anonymity coursed through her veins.

Before the show, Amelia was someone to be feared by schoolchildren. She lived in a haunted house with a grocery shop that always seemed to be empty, and nobody came to visit. Once the show began, she was inundated with customers and long-lost friends. Her life was busy and fun and she was known everywhere she went. Amelia didn’t know how to be alone again.

She was on the verge of tears all day long and sleep eluded her. Hugh finally started to show himself. For three years, he hid from the cameras, only rattling the odd pot and pan to show that a poltergeist was actually present. Now that the cameras had left, he was back all day, every day.

Amelia hated him. Hated his swagger with the hawthorn stick swinging in his left hand. Hated that he was happy the show was over. Hugh Carraway was her great, great, great uncle. He had lived in this house all his life, and now, all his death. He waited for the return of his wife and two daughters who’d been abducted by a rival businessman and never seen again. In death, as in life, he refused to believe he would never see them again.

Amelia tried to keep busy as Hugh slouched in her office chair, looking at her through sleepy eyes.

“I’m not going to pretend I miss those people. I’m glad they’re gone and now things can go back to the way they were.”

Amelia’s heart dropped like a stone in a well and the splash sent blood sloshing around her veins. She could not go back to the way things were.

“That won’t be happening Hugh. Things are most definitely not going back to the way they were!”

She glared at the ghost, and he shrugged his shoulders and rose from the chair.

“They are for me!”

Amelia watched him through narrowed eyes as he walked away from her. Her mind spun as she searched for a plan to retrieve the fame that was rightly hers. Hugh had had it his own way for far too long. It was high time the younger generation took over.

She turned away and missed Hugh’s thoughtful look before he disappeared through the wall.

Amelia searched through her address book until she found the number for the local paper. They had approached her a few times while filming the series but her contract forbade her from talking about the show. There was nothing to stop her now.

It took longer than she’d expected to persuade the editor that she had a story worth telling, and the anger at how far she’d fallen was close to the surface when she hung up the phone.

The dim light in the shop didn’t comfort her as it usually did. It only emphasised the empty spaces where the cameras used to be and now that they had left, the customers had left too. They’d only come in to get on TV and much preferred to do their grocery shopping at the local supermarket.

She fetched a sweeping brush and began stabbing at the floor, moving the ever-present dust from one side to the other.

The repetitive movements calmed her.

She checked her watch and saw it was nearly time for the reporter to arrive. She popped into the storeroom to check her reflection in the speckled mirror. Her lipstick and eye shadow were vibrant and strong and her pink cheeks completed the image Amelia wanted to portray.  She arranged herself on her stool behind the high counter and took out a ledger to look busy.

The door pushed open and a teenage girl brought a gust of cold air with her. She stopped just inside the door and raised her head to look around the high dark walls with their many empty shelves. Amelia coughed and the girl jumped. She swung around until her gaze landed on Amelia. Her eyes widened and a smile raced across her face before she stepped forward, hand outstretched.

“Lucy Godwin from The Post. You must be Amelia.”

Amelia held her hands tightly in her lap.

“They sent you? You’re only a child.”

The girl dropped her hand and her look hardened.

“I’m older than I look and I’m a good journalist. To be honest Miss Caraway, if I were you I’d be grateful that I’m here at all. My editor doesn’t think you’re a good story.”

Amelia’s anger flared again and she might have sent the girl packing if a loud noise from the back of the building hadn’t startled them both.

Lucy’s cheeks had lost their high colour and she gripped the counter as if it was keeping her upright.

“What was that?” she whispered.

“Oh Hugh is probably annoyed that you’re here. He doesn’t like publicity.”

Amelia’s good humour returned.

“Why are you giving this interview if Hugh doesn’t like it?”

Amelia raised her voice so that Hugh would hear.

“I own this house! Not Hugh!”

Lucy looked over her shoulder towards the source of the sound and Amelia smiled secretly. She couldn’t have wished for a better opening to the interview. She hopped off the stool with a spring in her step.

“Shall we go into the sitting room and have a cup of tea?”

As she went to lock the shop-door, she patted Lucy’s arm and the girl jumped again.

Amelia ushered her through to the living quarters, and left her in the sitting room while she made a pot of tea.

By the time Amelia returned, Lucy had recovered enough to bring out her notebook and iPad.

“My editor told me you wanted to talk about what went on behind the scenes of the show. Is that correct?”

Amelia nodded happily.

“I do. So much went on that wasn’t shown, and then they canned it because the ratings were not good enough. But if they’d shown what was really going on, there’s no way it would have been canned.”

Lucy looked a bit skeptical and Amelia hurried on.

“You heard Hugh yourself. He didn’t like them being here so he tried everything he could to get rid of them. One cameraman had a heart attack when Hugh put his hands around his neck. He pushed one of the assistants off a ladder and she broke her leg.”

Lucy flipped pages on her iPad and eventually nodded.

“Okay, I see that’s true. These things did happen but there’s no mention of the ghost being involved.”

Amelia’s laugh was harsh.

“Of course not. They only wanted things to go bump in the night. They didn’t really want a ghost who was actually present and could harm them.”

‘Did he do anything else?”

“Oh yes! There were lots of bumps and bruises when Hugh got into a temper. Tins of beans and sardines would fly at them and he was always sticking out his cane to trip them up. He was getting worse too, more angry and vicious. Oh yes, they left because they were afraid.”

Amelia never knew she could be such a good liar.

Lucy leaned forward in her chair, her expression full of curiosity.

“Why do you stay here?”

Amelia opened her mouth to say what she usually did when asked this question. That she owed it to her family to keep the house alive for Hugh. But she was fed up pretending and she opted for the truth.

“I can’t leave because Hugh put a covenant on the house before he died and it can’t be sold outside the family. I spent all my youth looking after my parents and working in the shop. That was before the big supermarkets arrived and it was fairly prosperous.  Now, It brings in barely enough to get by and definitely not enough for me to escape from here.”

Sadness settled over Amelia like a shroud and Lucy surreptitiously took a photo with her phone.

She asked if Amelia could remember any other happenings.

Amelia thought frantically but had to shake her head.

“No I can’t think of anything offhand. When will the article be published?”

“I can’t say for sure. Sometime in the next week probably.”

Lucy gathered her things and thanked Amelia for the tea. The interview was over. They came back into the shop and when they had said their goodbyes Amelia sat on her stool with a satisfied expression on her face. She was going to be famous again.

Cold air on the back of her neck told her Hugh was behind her. She didn’t turn around but flinched when his voice whispered in her ear.

“Don’t be foolish now my dear.”

The air changed and she was alone again.

Three days later the shop became busy. The interview was on page five of the paper. Lucy had made Hugh sound dangerous and the photo she had secretly taken made Amelia look vulnerable and brave to remain living with such a creature in her house.  The production company for the show denied everything but Amelia didn’t care. She was in the papers again.

Amelia felt happier than ever before, but there was no sign of Hugh. The flurry of customers and watchers only lasted a couple of days and then they started to drift away again.

Amelia looked into her future and saw a long, lonely road ahead of her. She needed to find a way to ensure attention forever, and to do that she’d have to ensure Hugh didn’t cause any trouble.

Days passed, and Amelia researched all she could about poltergeists and how to trap them. Hugh rarely appeared, and only to stare at Amelia as she pretended to ignore him. The few customers who did come into the shop complained about how cold it was but Amelia didn’t notice. She believed she had the solution and only had to find a way to implement it.

Amelia went on a shopping trip and spent hours getting exactly what she needed. Her biggest problem was going to be keeping Hugh from finding out what she was up to. She finally hit on an idea. Hugh hated the show so Amelia would set up a TV in the shop and play it non-stop. She had recorded every episode. That would keep him away for as long as she needed.

The handyman she employed turned up just as Amelia turned on the TV, and apart from giving her a few funny looks during the day, he made no comment. When he finished, they both admired his handiwork, the handyman with a puzzled look on his face. Amelia knew he wondered why she wanted an airtight glass case.

Amelia put the rest of her plan into action. She left the door open, and inside she placed two teddy bears that had belonged to Hugh’s children. Perfectly preserved by generations of her family Amelia had finally found a use for them. Bait for an unsuspecting poltergeist.

When she was done, she put a call in to Lucy Godwin. Amelia was cryptic in her message. Lucy was to come to the shop the following morning. Amelia would have something to show her that would make her career.

She turned off the TV and the sudden silence was thick with something Amelia didn’t recognise. She shivered. It did feel cold. Colder than usual. Amelia made a mental note to check the boiler when this was over.

She slipped into the storage room where she’d already left a chair and a thermos of hot tea. She made herself comfortable and waited. It wasn’t long before she heard Hugh’s stick and she tiptoed to the door to peer out.

 

He stood in front of the case, leaning on his stick with both hands. Even in the faint light from the streetlights Amelia could see the desolation of his expression. She sighed with impatience and then stiffened as Hugh raised his head as if he was listening for something.

She didn’t breathe as she waited. He turned back to the case and Amelia relaxed. Still he didn’t move forward. Amelia closed her eyes in despair. He had to go in. He just had to!

Her breathing faltered as cold air enveloped her. She opened her eyes and Hugh stared back at her. His black eyes had lost their sadness and instead they blazed with fury.

Amelia’s hand flew to her chest and she swayed once before dropping to the floor.

……………………..

Lucy Godwin approached the open door with trepidation. Her editor hadn’t forbidden her to come but he was quite sure it was a waste of time. Amelia Carraway was a fame junkie and they had enough of those already.

Lucy knew he was right but the instincts that made her a good journalist told her that maybe there was a story here.

She entered the shop and immediately clutched her jacket more tightly around her body. She felt as if she’d walked into a freezer. All her survival instincts screamed at her to run but her journalistic curiosity was stronger and she forced herself to stay where she was.

A glimmer of glass at the back of the shop caught her eye and Lucy moved towards it. It looked like an old-fashioned telephone box but made entirely of glass. Lucy drew closer, camera at the ready, and her heart jumped madly in her chest.

Amelia Carraway slumped inside the case, her pink lipstick still in place as her mouth hung open in a silent scream. The camera clicked once and Amelia Carraway had her final moment of fame.

 

If you’d like to join a friendly, helpful, writers’ group that meets every Wednesday at 7pm UK time, find us at https://www.facebook.com/WritingNorah

 About me

My name is Norah Deay, and I am a writer. cool

I won my first short story competition when I was 10 years old but it was another 44 years before I felt comfortable telling anyone.

I was 54 when I was first published; I entered a competition to have a story featured in an anthology, and I won.

The rest, as they say, is history. I have more than 130 publications on Amazon. Most are journals and notebooks, but buried in there are 6 books and a few short stories.

As writers, we’re terribly hard on ourselves. Standing in front of a mirror repeating “I am a writer” over and over is not uncommon. We’re afraid our friends and family won’t take us seriously, or worse, if we’re not rich we mustn’t be any good.

Doing it for the money is not why writers write. You can repeat that in front of a mirror too. However, seeing your name in print is priceless.

At least I think it is.