Wednesday, August 15, 2018

#WEP Challenge: Change of Heart

http://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com/2018/08/welcome-to-wep-writeeditpublish-august.html 

 Write…Edit…Publish (WEP) is an online writing community now partnering with the Insecure Writers Support Group (IWSG). We post the third Wednesday of every second month. WEP challenges are open to all. 

I'm supposed to post my feedback preferences, but I'm not sure what to ask for... I'll learn as we go here, so for now I'll just ask for whatever reactions you had to the story.


Change of Heart

“There you go, Ma’am. There was a bit of nastiness, but it’s all clear now.” Jason tipped his hat to the absurdly grateful homeowner and collected his payment, smothering his smile until he was out of sight in his van. Then he allowed a broad grin to escape as he straightened the bills—more than he had asked for, no doubt as a token of her gratitude for cleaning up that “bit of nastiness”—and filed them in his wallet.

“The spirits won’t like you mocking them.”

Jason shook his head. He kept hearing Great-Aunt Mathilda’s voice. How had the old biddy known what he was up to, anyway? He shook his head harder as he continued hearing her warnings. The old lady was crazy. What she said about the spirits proved it. Who but a crazy old lady would believe the ghosts were real?

Your clients do, a part of him argued.

“Well, they’re all crazy, too! Or just plain fools.” Jason realized he was talking aloud to the empty van and started the engine. “Next appointment, Siri?” That was talking to someone who wasn’t there as well, but it wasn’t considered crazy.

“Spirit clearance at 89 Witmore Lane.” The slightly sexy, slightly mechanical voice halted. “You’d better be ready for this one.”

What the hell? That hadn’t been part of his memo. Siri mostly sounded human, but she wasn’t. She couldn’t do that.

Jason shook off another wave of—not guilt, because he’d long since made sure he had no conscience. A frisson of fear? Well, hardly. Jason wasn’t one to be afraid of things that didn’t exist. His only fear was that someone would decide that ghost clearances were illegal, or that one of his clients would realize he was a fraud, because there were no spirits.

He pulled away from the curb and followed Siri’s directions to 89 Witmore Lane.

*
“I am so glad to see you, young man.” The well-aged homeowner greeted Jason effusively. “The spirits have been getting so obstreperous of late, I really didn’t know what to do, until I saw your ad.”

Jason nodded solemnly.

“And you have all that modern, up-to-date equipment,” Mrs. Smith said, gazing admiringly from the device in his hands to his van.

Jason, who knew that behind the curtained windows and gaudy paint the van was an ordinary camper badly in need of some house-cleaning, shifted a little, smiled, and gestured with the complicated device he carried. It was, in fact, a completely inert sculpture he’d picked up at a fund-raiser for the local middle school art department, but it impressed the clients. There were lots of dials and little windows with needles behind them.

“I’ll just get started, then, Ma’am.” He began walking toward the stairs, his eyes on the dials, pointing the ‘sensor’ around him. He was pretty sure that sensor had started life as the spray hose from someone’s kitchen sink, but the artist had turned it into a listening snake. Jason wished he’d been the one with that artistic talent.

He was upstairs when he caught the first movement. Not something seen out of the corner of his eye slipping around a doorway, which had happened several times before and which Jason attributed to an over-active imagination (though he in fact lacked imagination, he was not aware of this shortcoming). The movement he saw was in the main dial of the ghost-o-meter, known to his clients as a “spiritual emanations detector.”

He took a second look, but the dial was inert, as always. Just to be sure, he shook the box a bit. The needle didn’t budge. He turned it over and checked the dials on the other side. No movement.

He turned it back over and resumed his “scan” of the room, and the needle jumped again.

“Dag-nabbit!” He practiced a kind of folksy clean-cut persona for the old ladies. They ate it up. Mrs. Smith wasn’t in the room, but you never knew when the client might be spying on you. Some were so scared they left the house while he “cleared” the ghosts, but others wanted to learn how you did it. Jason always put on a good show. “Dag-nabbit! Am I going to start imagining things now?”

He twiddled with the control knobs for good measure, then continued his sweep, trying to ignore the needle that now jumped with each new movement of the sensor.

By the third bedroom, Jason had forgotten about putting on a show, and was alternately cursing and muttering to himself that there was no such thing as a ghost. If Mrs. Smith heard him, the jig might be up, but he was starting to hear whispers behind him and didn’t care anymore what she thought. He just wanted them to go away.

Actually, he cared enough to want to finish the job and get paid. The greedy part of his mind wondered if he could milk this one for a second visit. The rest of him was fast abandoning his lack of belief in ghosts and just wanted to get out.

He compromised, taking one last sweep around the upstairs hall, then turning to the stairs.

“I do particularly feel them on the stairs, dearie,” Mrs. Smith called from below. “Be sure you do a thorough job there.” She emerged from the kitchen to peer up at him as he made a great show of sweeping each step, peering into the dials and adjusting the knobs.

Jason was on the third step down from the top when he felt the hands in the middle of his back. He had time while he fell to reflect that there wasn’t anyone upstairs.

His neck broke when he hit the landing. The last thing he heard before he died was Mrs. Smith’s voice.

“You were warned not to mock the spirits. They don’t like it. Not one little bit.”

He believed her.

###
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!



51 comments:

  1. Hello Rebecca. Welcome to the WEP/IWSG challenge! I hope you enjoy the experience!

    Love your Jason. Great voice. He got his come-uppance in the end. Mrs Smith was no-one's fool. Don't mock the spirits indeed!

    Thanks for participating! Hope we see you again in October!

    Denise

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    1. Thanks, Denise! I hope to keep participating. I need a little nudge for my writing right now!

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  2. Oh wow, this I didn't expect, him dying. A ghostly story and a good argument for their reality. Too bad he had to pay for his fraud with his life. So the ghosts weren't so nice and kind to him.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

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    1. Well, he wasn't very kind to the ghosts, either! Though I guess he didn't really evict them, since he was a fraud :D

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  3. Mocking the spirits is dangerous. Sad that Jason learnt his lesson too late. Listen to your grandmother boys, she knows more than you realise.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this.

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    1. Thanks! Best to listen to your grandmother right off, because most of us end up eventually figuring out she was right.

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  4. He should have heeded the warning. It's not a job to take on if you have no conscience. I did not expect the ending though! Nice surprise.
    Welcome to the WEP - great entry. And yes, writing for the WEP does wonders for the writing, for me it had me moving into genres I never thought I'd write.

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    1. I've been doing Chuck Wendig's challenges for years (he seems to have pretty much stopped issuing them), and that's really given me a chance to play around with different genres. They usually end up with a humorous twist, though :)

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  5. Now he's stuck with the spirits that killed him, grim fate indeed. Goes to show you shouldn't fake ghost busting.

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  6. Poor guy. I like con artists. Some of them are charming and smart. And they usually con the rich and the greedy, the ones who could afford it. Why did you let those vengeful spirits kill Jason? They should've taught him a lesson instead.

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    1. LOL! They taught him a rather lasting lesson. It would be interesting to see what would happen if he just learned they are real--and then learned how to deal with them.

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  7. Hi Rebecca - this was a fun read ... but I hope there are no spirits behind me!! Poor Jason, but he did deserve it ... or perhaps given us more story as Olga suggests?! Cheers Hilary

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    1. Well, I doubt if you've been irritating the spirits, so you're probably safe :D

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  8. Great story. Compelling and humorous, except for the end, of course. He was warned. You did a great job describing Jason in a few words. I'd like to know more about how he got into this "business" and what led up to his tragic end.

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    1. I can't be sure but I have an idea he hasn't been much of a success at the usual business ventures. There's a hint that he might like to be an artist, but hasn't the talent.

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  9. Fun flash and a fun take on the prompt! Poor Jason. Learnt his lesson too late. Your characterisation and voice was spot on. Thanks for a great read.

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    1. I hope with a few giggles between scares :)

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  11. An surprising take on the prompt, I thoroughly enjoyed. A proper mix of humor and fear. well done

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  12. His cockiness got away with him. Quite a lesson to learn, but he chose a dangerous element to mock.

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  13. This was great! The world is filled with people who are willing to take advantage of others, and Jason felt absolutely real in that regard. I loved the details you included about how the equipment he used came to be. Jason certainly had a change of heart in his belief in ghosts, but it didn't come in time to save him. Well done!

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  14. A change of heart too late; does it still count?
    A fun and satisfying story. Whatever you believe, it's wrong to mock others for what they believe and you certainly shouldn't be exploiting them with their beliefs. Jason got what he deserved.

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    1. If you still have a heart beat, I guess it’s not too late!

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  15. You should be careful around anything that can pass through walls IMO. Or an entity that creates a cold spot, etc. I was sure one closet in the house I grew up in was a gathering place for ghosts. I avoided that storage closet no matter what. This reminded me of Ghostbusters. As a general 'rule of thumb', you shouldn't try to take advantage of little old ladies.

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    1. And I forgot to add, the was a well written story which kept me interested to the end so I could see what come-uppance Jason would be getting.

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  16. Ha ha ha! That ending! I did NOT see that coming. Great twist. Good use of the prompt.

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    1. Thanks! My sons gave me the general idea, and I suddenly realized it would fit the prompt.

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  17. Wonderful piece and a memorable character in Jason. I like the way that you portray his attitude and his spirited demise. And that ending is chuckling good.

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  18. I enjoyed reading this and a great ending.

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  19. It's always nice to see someone getting their comeuppance! Enjoyed this very much. And what an unexpected twist at the end.

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    1. I do like a villain who deserves what he gets :)

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  20. Making fun of spirits and overcharging old people - too much. Don't know if he deserved to die though. I loved your take on the prompt. It was an excellent read.

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    1. I might have been a little hard on him. But you know, sometimes mistakes can be costly! You just don't know who you might be getting on the wrong side of when you start that kind of thing :D

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  21. Eep! I knew something was coming but didn't realise his end would be so sudden! I'm intrigued by these spirits...

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    1. I like having fun with ghosts. I don't believe in the least, so most ghost stories I do are a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I can pretend they are real :)

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  22. Spooky. It's kind of like those TV shows about the paranormal. It would be crazy if a ghost really popped out and chased those guys instead of making a few blips on their special detection gear.

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    1. That would be so much better! And wouldn't they all be surprised!

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  23. Ouch! I knew something bad was coming but didn't expect THAT... *shivers*

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  24. Congratulations on being shortlisted for the August WEP challenge.

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    1. Thank you! And congratulations on your award! I’m sorry I somehow missed your story the first time around, but glad that the awards post called my attention to that! I’ve tried to post a comment on it, but I think the iPad doesn’t like certain kinds of blogs, because I keep losing comments (grr). But yours is a brilliant nod to Asimov, and everyone should go read it!

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  25. Well done getting deservedly shortlisted, Rebecca.

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