by Maria Protopapadaki-Smith
I was still dry-heaving when the police arrived at the scene. I didn't think I'd be going for a run in this part of the woods again, somehow. The sun, still low in the east, was shining straight into my eyes, but this was preferable to looking in the other direction. Not that it would have made any difference - the image of the bludgeoned girl was plastered all over my mind's eye and was unlikely to go away any time soon.
She was young, in her early twenties. There was congealed blood on the side of her head, a dark clump in stark contrast to the fair hair it matted. A halo of cerebral matter, skull fragments and blood framed her face. She was fully clothed - I am not a religious man, but I found myself thanking some unspecified entity for that small mercy.
After being interviewed by the Detective Constable that had been assigned the case, I called my boss and informed him I was taking the day off. I holed myself up in my flat and sought oblivion through bad television and a bottle of whisky far too expensive for the task at hand. It was not till the shadows grew long again and the flush from the booze had brought some colour back into my face that it occurred to me how astoundingly pretty DC Claire Stone was. Would it be inappropriate for me to ask her out, I wondered? Would it be inappropriate for her to accept? Could anything good ever come out of an encounter brought about by a violent death?
It was dark by the time I poured myself the last of the Scotch. As the liquid trickled down my throat, I expected the familiar warmth to course through me. Instead I felt a shiver though there was no breeze coming in through the window. The temperature in the room dropped noticeably. In front of me, the dust motes illuminated by the television no longer danced haphazardly: they were taking shape of some sort. When they had come together in such a way as to form the face of the dead girl, I passed out.
I laughed at myself when I woke up the next morning - so this is why people avoid bingeing on the expensive stuff, I thought. I left for work, catching the 08:20 bus as usual, and the faces I recognised from the daily rat run served to calm me down further. I sat down at the back of the empty top deck and was just about to open my book when I felt a sharp drop in the temperature. I sat there terrified as I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. The figure coming out of the stairwell revealed itself to be a fellow I see most mornings on this service. I berated myself for my foolishness - then my heart lurched as steam leapt off the windows and formed an image of the dead girl in the aisle, next to the man. He was oblivious and carried on looking straight ahead. She looked right at me, raised an arm and pointed at the man, mouthing the same word repeatedly. It took me a few moments to realise she was mouthing "Murderer". The particles that made up her spectre dissipated, and I was left wondering whether I was going mad, but more importantly whether I wasn't.
Later I called DC Stone. She sounded understandably dubious, but said she would join me on the bus the following day. That morning I chose to wear one of my better shirts and my fanciest tie. On the bus, DC Stone sat with me at the back of the top deck, having disguised her appearance somewhat with sunglasses and a hat. I nudged her when the man appeared. Her chin dropped, and she took a sharp intake of breath. She turned to me, looking for confirmation. The instant I nodded she rushed off without a word.
A few days later I was on the sofa, watching television, when I felt extreme cold, like the other times. The spectre formed again out of the dust motes; this time she was smiling . She mouthed the words "Thank You" and came up to me. She put her arms around me and kissed me full on the lips - it felt like a bracing midwinter breeze had passed through me. She then vanished into nothing and had the phone not rung I would have remained standing there, in shock. DC Stone was at the other end of the line - the man on the bus had been arrested for the girl's murder. In a fit of inspired foolhardiness, I asked her out and to my surprise she acquiesced.
On the date, she told me that the man had been the girl's neighbour. Not believing in coincidences, she had concentrated her efforts on him, and had been rewarded with the necessary evidence to convict him. The rest of the date went remarkably well. After, I went home alone sporting a big grin, equally delighted and disappointed that Claire was not a first date kind of girl.
The grin was wiped off my face as I entered my flat and I felt a cold fiercer than I had ever experienced. The dead girl sat in the armchair, facing me. Her arms were folded across her chest and the anger in her look was unmistakeable, as was the word she mouthed: "Cheater". Then she smiled, and pointed at the television: the image changed to that of a kitchen. When Claire walked into that kitchen, my fear shot through the roof. I watched in horror as Claire's kettle exploded in her hands, electrocuting her. After convulsing a few times she lay still on the small screen. The spectre made no sound, but I could hear her cackling.
This was two years ago. I haven't been on a date since, and my evenings have been very cold.
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