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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Canaries (an excerpt)

Murray Delafosse thought he had a long, comfortable retirement to look forward to. He and his wife had purchased their retirement home, in a nice suburb of Lafayette, Louisiana, with a well-built house and a tidy yard, in May, and moved in a month later.

On July 1, Murray’s wife announced that she wanted a divorce.

Murray had lived in a predictable world, and he liked it that way. Now, he was facing a future that he had never anticipated, where his carefully laid-out plans were in ruins. Depressed and aimless, he looked around him, and saw no particular reason to do anything but hang around the house and watch television.

Matilda Durieaux, however, has other plans for Murray. With Matilda on Murray’s case, there is no chance of his staying mired in inertia. And she isn’t going to let a little thing like the fact that she’s been dead for sixty years stop her from fixing Murray’s life, whether he wants her to or not.

Canaries is available as an e-book from Amazon and Barnes&Noble.

 In the following excerpt from chapter one, Murray is pondering the mysterious noises he heard in his house the previous night, and the fact that a box of books was dumped out on the living room floor -- when no one was in the house but him.

When it was light out, Murray got up, put on a pot of coffee, showered and dressed. His mind kept turning over the previous night’s events, but without coming to any real resolution. He felt like he did when, a few years ago, his nephew had handed him a Rubik’s Cube. He could see what it was, could understand how the thing moved, but whatever pattern it followed made no sense to him whatsoever. His nephew could solve it in a minute flat; watching the boy’s hands moving, this way and that, he felt that he could just as well be watching a magician. There had to be some sense to it, but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out what it was.

He spent the morning picking up the spilled books, arranging them on the built-in shelves in the living room, and prying open other boxes of books and arranging those. There were several boxes marked “Louise’s Books,” and those he pushed off into a corner. The rest of the day was much like the previous one; night came, the heat-up of that night’s dinner, the television shows, the rituals of going to bed, and finally lights out.

That night the disturbance came at a little after 1 AM. He woke out of a fairly sound sleep to the thought that there must be a lightning storm occurring, something fairly common during summer in Louisiana. There were repeated, irregular flashes of bright, white light. But as he came to full wakefulness, he realized that first, there was no thunder; and second, and more alarmingly, that the flashes were coming from inside the house.

He got out of bed. His heart was pounding; was it a fire? An electrical short? It was coming from the living room or dining room, he could see that. As he neared the end of the hall, he could tell what it was; someone was flipping the switches of the living room and dining room light fixtures, quickly and in no apparent pattern. He could even hear the clicking of the switches.

He stepped into the living room, and it stopped, and everything went dark.

With a trembling hand, he reached out and switched on the living room lights. He half expected them not to come on, but they did, and the living room lit up brightly.

There was no one there.

This time, it took him several hours to get back to sleep.

The following night, Murray decided to break his routine.

He readied himself for night time as usual, but instead of climbing into bed, he turned out the lights, and tiptoed back down the hall in his pajamas. He walked into the living room, and sat down on the floor in the corner next to and a little behind his recliner. From there, he could see into the dining room, living room, and kitchen. If anything happened that night, he’d be right there.

He dozed uncomfortably, his head lolling forward; every once in a while he’d rouse a little, shift his position slightly, and then doze a little more. The time passed this way, all quiet, Murray sitting on the floor nodding and rousing, until a little after midnight.

It was probably only his proximity, and the fact that he was hardly asleep, that alerted him when it happened; the noise this night was quiet, almost stealthy. A low, grating noise, like something being dragged across a surface.

He was awake instantly, but made no sudden move, tried to remain part of the shadows in the corner where he sat. He looked into the living room; nothing. Likewise, the dining room was empty and dark.

Then he looked into the kitchen.

Standing just inside the kitchen, next to the counter, was a woman. She was glowing faintly with a pale bluish light, but her form was shimmery and insubstantial; he could see the handle of the refrigerator through the folds of her old-fashioned, floor-length dress. Her features were plain, her jaw angular, her nose a little too long to fit her small, birdlike face, and she wore her hair (of uncertain color because it, too, seemed just on the verge of transparency) in a rather unflattering and untidy bun.

A ghost? he thought, frowning. How can this house be haunted? It was built only twenty years ago.

The transparent woman was moving his yellow ceramic sugar bowl along the counter, pushing it in a sort of experimental way, frowning a little, and then pushing it again. Finally, she picked it up, and held it in front of her face, as if considering what to do with it.

Murray was suddenly galvanized. All of the irritation and frustration of the previous week bubbled to the surface. He had moved his residence; his wife of thirty-eight years had left him; and now, now, there was some ghostly woman in his house, disarraying his things and disturbing his night’s sleep.

“Hey!” he said, in a loud voice, still sitting on the floor. “What the hell are you doing in my house?”

The woman gave a little yelp, and dropped the sugar bowl. It struck the floor, cracked in half, and sugar scattered about the kitchen. The transparent woman turned to face Murray, put one hand on her chest, and then reached out with the other and steadied herself against the counter.

“Holy Mother of God,” she said, in a weak voice. “You nearly scared the life out of me.”

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