A fiction story by Melpomene based on characters and backstory as created by Melpomene.
“Welcome to Double Dave’s Dining Delight, home of the ‘double dinner deal’. How may I help you this evening?” Alice tapped a long finger against the cash register and strained to hear the drive-through customer over the static of her headset.
“Uh… what’s in the double dinner deal?”
Resisting the urge to point out the fact that the meal in question was outlined in incredibly huge letters right above the speaker, Alice forced a cheerful tone. “Two double cheeseburgers, double fries and double drinks.”
The sound came from just over her shoulder and she pushed the microphone away from her mouth. “Mike, knock it off.”
The customer sought her attention again. “What’s on the double cheeseburger?”
“Aw, hell,” she muttered and repositioned the mouthpiece. “Double meat, double cheese, mayo, mustard, ketchup, lettuce, pickle, onion, and tomato.”
“Double,” the voice whispered again behind her.
“I’ll have that, but make it double pickle too.”
“Not a problem, sir. Your total comes to six-oh-six at the first window, please.” She pulled the headset off and spun around to face the blank wall at her back. “Mike,” she warned, “stop it.”
She smiled at her customer as his car appeared at her window and replaced the headset over her barely restrained dark mop of curls. After completing the sale and returning the man’s change to him, she leaned back against the wall and waited for the next customer to arrive. As she closed her eyes, her headset suddenly clicked to life spewing static into her ear and she raised her hand to turn it off. A moment later it turned itself back on.
“Mike, I’m serious now. Stop it,” she told her unseen pest. “I mean really, I don’t even know if you bother me because you don’t like me or if it’s because I’m just more susceptible to your influences.”
“Alice,” the voice said in a singsong voice.
“Yes, that’s my name,” she agreed. “You know, I might feel differently about this whole thing if you would just let me see you. And no, feeling you watch me while I'm washing the equipment doesn’t count nor do the fleeting glimpses I get in my peripheral vision.”
“Alice,” the voice repeated.
She shook her head and sighed, after all, it was just another day in Wonderland.
The PTA meeting was going relatively well. Half an hour into the discussion and no one had thrown a punch.
“We aren’t witches,” Zora stated, her eyes filled with loathing, “we’re psychics. There’s a difference, an incredibly huge difference.”
Joyce sniffed once. “It’s all the same if you ask me,” she said, her chin jerking up and away from the controversy she had begun.
“Yeah? Well, no one asked you.” Zora glared across the classroom.
Alice tried to shift her legs beneath the low table and ended up hitting her knee on the underside. “Regardless, let’s just get on with the meeting, alright? I’m sure all of our children are anxious for us to get back home.” She gazed pointedly at Megan, the president of their PTA group. “When is the harvest carnival scheduled?”
Megan’s eyes darted from Joyce to Zora as if she expected them to launch into a free-for-all in the middle of the kindergarten classroom. “We thought October 28th would be a good day.”
“Harvest carnival, my foot!” Zora snorted. “It’s a Halloween party.”
Alice’s eyes caught her sister’s. “Whatever it may or may not be,” she said, her voice strained, “why don’t we try focusing on the children who will be attending it.”
The suggestion gained wholehearted approval from Megan. “Yes, apple bobbing has always been a big hit with the kids. And there’s always the sponge throw and a cakewalk… Does anyone else have any ideas?”
“Why don’t you set up a fortune telling booth?” Joyce asked as she locked her eyes on Zora. “I’m sure the kids would love that.”
Joyce’s sarcasm grated on Alice’s nerves like fingernails being drug against slate although she had always been better at hiding her irritation. While she might not be as quick to react as Zora was, Alice was not one to tangle with and she had heard enough from Joyce Bradson for the evening. “Actually, Zora’s not that kind of psychic… But Claudia is. I’ll have to ask, of course, but I’m sure she’d love to help out.” She shook off Zora’s jab to her ribs. “Come on, Zora, how bad could it be?” she whispered. “They’re just a bunch of little kids; she wouldn’t even really have to do anything. She could just make stuff up.”
“So, how’d it go?”
“Oi… Zora raised some hackles and I volunteered you to tell fortunes at the carnival.”
“Alright,” Claudia drawled, “the first was wholly expected although the second was decidedly less so. Would you like to explain to me exactly how this came about?” Claudia set a cup of tea in front of an empty chair, inviting her younger sister to join her at the kitchen table.
“You know Zora… Just add a dash of Joyce Bradson to egg her on and you’ll get the gist of tonight’s encounter. I know that they never got along when we were all kids in school together but I had hoped that they would one day grow up and at least pretend to tolerate one another.” Alice rubbed her face with her hands. “They’re worse than ever now. I think poor Megan kept waiting for them to come to blows tonight.” She shook her head to clear her thoughts. “How was my little terror while I was mediating the WWF of the PTA?”
“Fine, she and the twins kept busy with the kittens the whole time. I think they’ve finally agreed on names for the little things.”
“Aw, I liked it when they were all Blackie,” Alice murmured and sipped the steaming tea from the teacup that was perched on her fingertips. “I managed to keep their names straight that way.”
Claudia laughed. “Oh, I almost forgot. We got a call earlier asking if we could look into a haunting in town. They offered cold hard cash and, considering the electric is coming due next week, I said yes.”
“Mm hmm… Where this time?”
Picking up a sheet of paper from the tabletop, Claudia scanned her notes. “The Sage. It’s some fancy-schmancy hotel near downtown; apparently it’s one of the oldest buildings in Austin. Just more of the same actually, the manager wanted to see if we could find out why strange things have been going on in a couple of the guest rooms and the dining room, maybe see if we couldn’t get the spirits to calm down a bit. It seems they’ve been getting some complaints about the goings on as of late and the manager’s worried it’ll start driving the guests away.”
“So who’s in on the ghost hunt? You and me obviously. What about Zora? Think we’ll need her special brand of ESP this time round? And while we’re on the subject, how come I’m never the one who gets to stay at home sometimes?” Alice twirled a chestnut curl between her fingers, pulling the long strands of hair out of the loose mass of curls she had created prior to the PTA meeting and racing through her vocalized thoughts in a rush lest she fall asleep while still sitting at the table.
“Because, although I can do automatic writing and occasionally become possessed by our ‘little friends’ and Zora is a whiz at sensing the past in the places we end up, you’re the only one who can actually see and talk to the ghosts themselves. But if it makes you feel any better, I was thinking we should probably all three go on this one. Just to be on the safe side. If the twins were here, I’d drag them along too.”
“Oh yeah, they’d love that.” Alice cut her eyes at her elder sister. “Sounds pretty ominous.”
“I think it is more ominous this time, more so than we’ve ever dealt with.”
Setting down her teacup, Alice turned to face Claudia. “And now you sound vague which is never a good sign. Come on and fess up and don’t tell me that it’s nothing. You forget that I’ve known you my entire life, I can always tell when something’s worrying you, or when you’re lying.”
“When have I ever lied to you?” Claudia scoffed. She rested her hands on the tabletop and gazed evenly at Alice.
“Successfully? Never. And I do believe that was my point. But you used to try to lie to me, like when you were so worked up over Bradley what’s-his-name, that guy you were dating a few years back. You tried to say that you were just preoccupied with work but I knew it was him.” Alice smirked. “And what about when Mama was sick and you saw the black aura around her. I knew you were hiding something but you kept saying you were just tired. If you’ll recall, I did finally get you to confess and we were able to deal with Mama’s death better as a team than any of us ever could have on our own.”
“It’s my job to protect you, all of you.” Claudia sipped her tea delicately. “And given our family, that’s not an easy task.”
“You don’t have to worry about protecting me anymore, Claud. I’m all grown up now. I’m responsible for my own protection as well as the safety of my monster-child.” Alice leveled her eyes at her elder sister. “You were amazing when we were all kids, you know? When Mama would flake out, you did such a great job of stepping in for her and taking care of us. But, Claud, you don’t have to accept that kind of responsibility any longer. Even the twins are adults now, we’re all okay.”
“Have you taken a good look at Zora recently?” Claudia asked. She failed to disguise her chuckle at the mention of the younger woman.
“Yeah well, I wouldn’t worry about Zora if I were you, I’d worry about Joyce Bradson.”
a work in progress