Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Living Ghost (a short story)

            The plan was for Ivy to rob the store.  Her husband and their two friends would be waiting in the car.
            It had never really struck Ivy as much of a plan, but Dan, her husband, was so sure that it was sound, and she trusted him.  So Ivy was going to go through the check-out and, when she reached the front of the line, she would hold up the grocery store cashier with the gun that Dan had bought for her.
            Dan, Dale, and Krystal would be waiting in their car outside.  Ivy and Dan had been married for about fifteen years now, and Dale had been their closest friend for most of that time.  Dan knew Krystal through his work.  He was a real estate agent, and Krystal worked as a receptionist in his office.  They had become fast friends, so he had wanted to include her in this caper.  Ivy wasn't sure why.  Maybe Dan just wanted to make her feel accepted.  Or maybe he knew that she needed cash and was trying to lend a helping hand to a sweet kid.  Maybe he even thought she was cute.  Ivy hadn't given any real thought to whether or not Krystal was pretty.  She was just a fresh-faced kid.  All Ivy could see when she looked at Krystal was her youth -- as though the girl was filled with an overabundance of life; she seemed to exude it from her pores. 
            As Ivy approached the boy at the register, her hand fumbled with the gun in her purse.  She really didn't want to do this.  But she was to blame for their current financial difficulty; she had lost her job a few months ago, and Dan was struggling to support the both of them by himself.  So this was Ivy pulling her weight.
            At the last moment, she made a decision.
            "Do you have a gun in there?" the boy asked, seeing the odd bulge of the object with which Ivy was unconsciously still toying within her purse.
            "I do, but that's not important." she said quietly.  "This isn't a hold up.  It doesn't need to be.  I've been watching you; I know you've been pocketing a lot of money.  So, give me what's in your drawer now, cover it yourself, and I'll walk away and never come back in this store again."
            After Dan had convinced her to rob the grocery, Ivy had decided to "case the joint" in order to up her odds of success at the robbery.  She had spent the past week lingering in the store, observing the store's daily routines and the varying behavior of the cashiers.
            The boy paused for a moment.  Their eyes locked.  Then he took out a small paper bag, stuffed the stack of twenty dollar bills from his drawer into it, and handed it to Ivy.
            Ivy took the bag and walked as calmly as she could out of the store.
            In the parking lot, she took a deep breath and looked around for the car.  She couldn't find it. 
            Then Dale circled and pulled up beside her.  Dan and Krystal were still nowhere to be found.
            Dale looked almost surprised to see Ivy. 
            "Dan and Krystal went on ahead in your car." Dale explained.  "We'll meet them there."
            Ivy got in the car, and they drove away.
            She started to peel off Dale's quarter of the take from the wad of bills, but then she decided it would probably be best to wait until they were all together.  Besides, she was feeling a bit bitter; at that moment, it didn't seem quite fair to her that they were all splitting the money evenly when she had had to do all of the work and shoulder all of the risk.  But the thought was a counter-productive one, and so she pushed it aside.
            They arrived at the rendez vous point.  As a real estate agent, Dan had access to a variety of properties.  Dan had arranged for them to meet at a house that wouldn't be going up on the market for another couple of weeks and would be comfortably empty in the interim.
            Ivy and Dale entered the house, and Dale promptly excused himself to go to the restroom.  Ivy walked toward the back of the house, looking for Dan.  She paused at a closed door that led into a kitchen; she heard Dan and Krystal talking.
            "Don't worry.  The likelihood that she'll even make it out of that grocery store is remote." Dan said.  "I mean, what could be more stupid than waving a gun around in a grocery store line?  Someone will hit an alarm instantly.  And, even if she did manage to get away, that would just mean that you and I would have a little extra cash.  If she makes it back, I'll take care of her myself."
            "Oh, Dan." Krystal sighed.  " I'm just so happy that we're finally going to be able to be together all the time."
            Shocked, Ivy was not sure if she felt hurt, betrayed, scared, or just numb.  She began to back away from the door.  Not looking, she bumped into a potted plant, causing it to wobble and then clatter over loudly.
            "Shit.  What was that?" Krystal asked.
            "That might have been her.  Wait here." Dan said.
            Panicked, Ivy threw the flimsy bolt lock on the door.  The door immediately began to rattle as Dan tried to force it open.
            Ivy turned and ran back to the living room in the front of the house where she had left the gun in her purse.
            Reaching the living room, she grabbed her purse and dug out the gun.  Alarmingly, she could hear noises above her in the ceiling.
            The attic stairs fell from the ceiling, folding down into the living room, and Dan descended them, a gun at his side.  He must have bought a second one when he had purchased hers.
            "Get away from me, Dan." Ivy said, pointing her gun at him.
            Dan advanced toward her, lifting his arm to level his gun and take aim at her.
            Terrified, Ivy instinctively pulled the trigger.
            The ferocious noise of the gunshot reverberated in Ivy's ears, and Dan's head burst like an overripe pumpkin, spattering blood and semisolid hunks of gore all over the wall above the attractive leather sofa onto which Dan's now mostly headless body collapsed.
            Ivy gasped and then hunched over, letting out a ragged, drawn out sob.
            As the ringing began to subside in her ears, Ivy became aware of a noise from the back of the house.  It sounded like Krystal had managed to wrench open the door.
            As Ivy turned to face the doorway, Krystal entered the living room.   She too had a gun.
            Ivy didn't really blame Krystal.  After all, she was just a twenty-two years old kid.  Dan had been forty-five, had no doubt manipulated her, promising her the moon and filling her head with lies about his marriage.
            "Krystal, please put the gun down.  Please don't put me in a position where I have to hurt you.  I don't want to hurt anyone."  Ivy told her.
            "You killed him!" Krystal shrieked, dropping to her knees beside the sofa, next to Dan's crumpled body; the gun in her shaking hand was still pointed directly at Ivy.
            "I loved him!" Krystal wailed.
            "You don't even know what love means yet, Krystal.  Give yourself a chance to grow up.  Put the gun down."
            For a moment that felt like an eternity, the two women were locked in a stand-off, each pointing a gun at the other.
            Dale, looking bewildered, emerged from the bathroom at this moment, startling Krystal as he entered the room.
            Seeing a momentary break in the stand-off, Ivy fired her gun, hitting Krystal in the chest.  Krystal fell to the floor, her body shuddering violently.  Ivy approached her, kicking the gun away from her hand.
            "I'm sorry.  I didn't want to have to shoot you, Krystal." Ivy mumbled.
            Krystal replied with a long string of curses directed at Ivy, spoken haltingly because she was choking on her own frothy blood bubbles as she spoke.
            Distrustful, Dale began to back away from Ivy, inching toward the gun she had kicked across the room.
            "Dale, please let me explain.  They were planning to kill me.  I only shot in self-defense."
            He continued to slowly move toward the gun.
            "Don't make me out to be a monster.  Please, Dale.  Don't make me a monster."
            Dale lunged for the gun on the floor, and Ivy shot.
            The first shot hit him in the shoulder.  He dropped onto the blood soaked carpet, scrambling to pick up the gun.  Ivy fired again, hitting him in the stomach.  This time Dale fell flat, clutching his belly and moaning.
            "Fuck." Ivy said.
            Dale continued to moan, Krystal continued to curse, although it was becoming more incoherent, and the ringing in her ears had yet to completely recede.
            There was no going back from this.   If they lived, they were just going to identify her.
            She emptied two more shots into Dale, ending his misery.
            Then one more into Krystal.
            Standing now surrounded by carnage, her feet inches deep into blood, Ivy had gone from a loving wife and good citizen to a mass murderer in a turn of events that nobody would ever possibly understand or forgive.
            She put the gun to her head and pulled the trigger.
            Click.  Empty.
            As the ringing began to subside, it was quickly replaced by the sound of sirens. 
            Ivy's heart began to pound.  Looking around for some means of escape, she took the only avenue she saw.  She climbed the attic stairs, pulling up the stairs behind her, and hid, remaining quiet as the police entered the domicile and began to search its rooms. 
            "I guess we'd better sweep it." she heard one of the officers say unenthusiastically.
            The attic stairs squeaked loudly as they were pulled down. 
            In desperation, Ivy ran to the far end of the attic where there was a small door that appeared to sealed off; it looked as though it had been painted over many times over the years.  She managed to pry it open and then flung herself inside.  Within the tiny room, in the pitch black, she hid amid old Christmas decorations, holding the door shut with her fingernails. 
            The police officer took no notice of Ivy's storage cubby; he performed a cursory visual examination of the attic and then, obviously satisfied that nobody was there, he descended the stairs, closing up the attic behind him.
            She wondered, if she were able to avoid capture, how long she could live up in the attic.  It was fairly comfortable, as attics go.  There was a converted living space with a couch, a lamp, and even an old television, though there was no ready access to food.  At night, she could probably sneak downstairs in the dark and pilfer whatever she could find from the refrigerator or kitchen cabinets.  There was nowhere else for Ivy to go.  She would be wanted as at least "a person of interest" if not, more likely, a suspect in the three murders.  And, if the police found her, the traces of gunpowder on her hands would undoubtedly give her away immediately.  She couldn't go home or walk the streets.  She was destined now to be a ghost, living in the ceiling, the walls, the crawlspaces of this house, haunting it while still alive.
            After a few days, the crime scene was cleared away.  Realizing that they would be unable to sell a house in which such a gruesome crime had been committed, the owners resigned themselves to keeping the house and moved back into it.  Though fearful of being discovered, Ivy was grateful for their presence, for it ensured a consistent supply of food. 
            Ivy snuck around at night scrounging scraps that were unlikely to be missed.  She grew pale and hunched over from living in the attic all day.  Transformed into a gaunt, bent, and sallow creature, she had become a ghost in solid form, hiding in corners and skittering through the dark.  A living shadow, she herself soon would remember only a distant echo of who she once had been.