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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Paranormal
- Published: 11/01/2016
'Missing you Incorporated'Born 1957, M, from Belfast, United Kingdom
"Missing You Incorporated"
The sound of my cell phone vibrating across the bedside table like some out of control toy woke me from a deep sleep. I had been nursing a bad bout of flu for the last week and this was the first morning I was comfortable enough not get interrupted by sneezing fits. Susan, my wife, being her usual self, made lots of noise showering and getting dressed around seven-thirty to head for work, a racket that would have woke the dead, but I suffered in silence knowing in about an hour she would be gone and peace would prevail, for a while anyway.
So it was to my great annoyance that this modern gadget was telling me to wake upon its orders. At first I tried to ignore it and slid further down under my covers and buried my head under my pillow, but it's intermitting whir was like someone drilling into my skull. I then thought about grabbing it and throwing it out of my bedroom window, only I remembered it was just a new phone that cost me four hundred dollars a few weeks ago so that wasn’t a good option, which only left me one and that was to answer it.
For a few sleep filled moments I struggled to see the screen through blurred heavy eyes. I had two missed calls and one text message from my sister in law, Sarah, the latter urging me to switch on the channel five news. It was 8:51 before I could find the remote and 8:52 that I shot bolt upright wide awake watching the horror that was unfolding before my eyes.
The news feed was from Fox 5. on a screen behind the two anchors, a helicopter view of the north tower world trade center downtown lower Manhattan New York displayed what looked like a bad fire with heavy smoke billowing from the 92nd floor. I could see each of them visibly distressed and slowly ad-libbing as events were unfolding live on-screen, clearly taking instructions from their producers via their earphones. Through the next few minutes they debated between them how a plane could crash into the tower, maybe it was an accident, some failure with on board computer or pilot error or god forbid a terrorist attack. Their faces were the picture of confusion mixed with fear and subdued professionalism. A chill ran across me and I knew it wasn’t from the virus that I had been fighting. somewhere inside I recognized that what I was watching was a deliberate act of radical suicide by some crazy son of a bitch, no matter how they sugar-coated it or tried to analyze it, it was planned and god help the poor people who were on that plane, they and all on that floor were most certainly dead.
The only thing I could think was that Susan would be watching this much closer than me because her office was in the South Tower. she worked for Euro brokers on eighty-four, had done so for the last two years, and it was the reason we found ourselves living in New York. I felt sure that they would be evacuating her building soon if not already so my need to use the bathroom compelled me more than my urge to stay and listen to the coverage, she would ring me soon. Besides I could get a clear view from my window, another reason we ended up here was that the Hudson Crossing Apartment block we were renting was only twenty minutes from Susan’s work. I picked up my cell phone and dropped it into my pocket then pulled back the curtains to let in a little of the September sunshine before I shuffled off across the hall.
Even before I walked in I could hear the dull drone of numerous circling helicopters and the excited wailing of emergency vehicles heading downtown, car horns blared in distant streets and a mans voice boomed undecipherable instructions out of a clandestine loudspeaker. My vantage point would be the fourth floor facing directly into town and when I pushed open my window I could already smell the smoke from the Tower that looked exactly like what I was seeing on Fox5.
The tiles felt cold against my feet and the morning sunshine was making my flu headache feel even worse, prompting me to look for a pain remedy that maybe Susan had stored in the cabinet above the sink, the one with the little mirror on it, the one I looked into last night and saw the face of an unshaven thirty-one year old with bed head, crimson waterlogged nose and bloodshot eyes staring back, and guess what, he was still here this morning.
To my disappointment there was nothing there other than some dental floss and a woman’s pink razor, I closed it over then stuck out my tongue that looked like someone had laid a road on it complete with a grass verge at the sides while sort of keeping my eyes on the Tower at the same time. I noticed the smoke didn’t seem any worse than it had a few minutes ago so I expected Susan to ring any time to let me know she was okay. So when it buzzed against my thigh while I was taking a leak it was no surprise, the only thing was it wasn’t Susan, instead it was her sister Sarah.
‘’Are you watching this Dan?’’ she screamed excitedly down the phone in her ‘Neew Yark’ twang. ‘’Has Susan rang you yet?’’
‘’No, but I’m sure she will, it’s crazy down there at the moment.’’
‘’And then some’’ she replied, ‘’you still sound bad.’’
I looked over again at the Towers ‘’Yeah, I can’t seem to shake this damn cold,’’ I said trailing off as I began to focus my eyes on a plane that was coming into my view. It was low in the sky and seemed to be making no noise. I was aware the Sarah was saying something but my attention on the aircraft had blocked out all other senses. A small glint of sunshine caught its wings as it began to tilt slightly. ‘It's going to pull up’ my rational brain was telling me. ‘pass it by or turn, yes that’s it, its making a turn to get out of the way of the Helicopters that are swarming the building, but wait! Why is it even there, the Airport is nowhere near Manhattan?’
‘’It's going to hit’’ I whispered to Sarah. ‘’Jesus Christ! Its going to hit the South Tower!’’
Everything from that moment seemed to fall into slow motion; over my shoulder I could still hear some expert airline guy analyzing whether or not the pilot of the first plane had lodged a flight plan that he had maybe managed to drift off course, while the anchors thought up some other bullshit question.
‘’What are you talking about?’’ Sarah said into my ear.
I couldn’t speak because terror had gripped me. At 9:03am on September the 11th, 2001, flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World trade center in a ball of flames and black smoke. the sound of the explosion took a few seconds to echo off my apartment building and I knew instantly Susan had been killed. And even though I could hear the screams of Sarah on my phone I felt it tumble from my hand and listened as it broke into pieces on my bathroom floor.
‘’Mr Sommers’’ I heard a voice fade in.
‘’Dr. Hightower will see you now, are you okay? You seemed to be elsewhere’’ said a tall thin woman with a large beak-like nose that bore a set of granny glasses looking far too small for her face, jolting me out of my day-dream by placing her hand on my shoulder.
‘’This way Mr. Connors’’ she pointed, hardly smiling and trying hard to contain her crooked teeth behind a set of parse red lips, her face make up looked over cooked and I was sure she was wearing a blond wig. The smell of cigarette smoke seemed to hang round her like some cheap perfume ‘odor de pall mall’ I smiled to myself, thinking. She looked at me oddly.
I got up from where I was sitting in the small waiting room of Samuel Hightower’s downtown Manhattan psychiatrists suite on the third floor of the Metro Building, twenty Sixth Street. Something I had done numerous times before since the towers fell. Six months I believe, one session per week, making all in all twenty visits up till now, seeing as how it took the United States government one month to organize and set in place free consultations for the bereaved, of those left behind from the nearly three thousand victims. I remember how I was just numb after it all happened, and for days all I could do was watch reruns on fox news showing the planes crashing. Over and over I would play them, sitting in the darkness of our apartment clutching a pillow Susan slept on just so I could smell it and pretend she was sitting with me. Sometimes I would recount what I was doing out loud that morning, moment by harrowing moment, as if she needed to know I was watching her and to reassure her she wasn’t alone when she died. They haven’t found her body yet. Maybe that’s why I can’t let go.
Normally I would knock before entering Dr. Hightower’s office, manners and all that, but today he’s standing just inside with his door slightly ajar and I can see he’s talking to someone. He’s a tall heavy-set man with square shoulders encased in an old-fashioned forties style gray trench coat, tied at the waist with a wide belt, the kind not out-of-place in a Raymond Chandlers crime novel. His back is to me; his hair is short, neatly cut and pure white like snow. In his right hand is an old leather brown suitcase and adorning his wedding ring finger is the strangest band of ornate silver I have ever seen. Like a serpent swallowing its own tail. He is talking to Dr. Hightower in all I can describe as a Germanic accent. For some reason I feel a ripple of goose-flesh run across me as I get closer but shrug it off as nothing. Dr. Hightower see’s me and smiles then indicates to the gentleman I am approaching.
‘’Ah Daniel good to see you’’ he says sticking out his hand and when I take it he encloses his other over mine. His grasp is firm and warm and he shakes my arm enthusiastically like a loose rope. His voice is deep and humorous with a hint of a southern drawl, South Carolina if I was to guess, and I would suggest he fits the bill of a stereo typical well educated black American. I find his confident piano key smile puts me instantly at ease.
‘’Glad you could make it’’ he gushes on. ‘’This is my friend Mr. Cerabus’’ he says unconsciously placing his arm on the shoulder of the trench coat man, a gesture he has a habit of doing with everyone. ‘’he’s been working in the area since that terrible day you lost your poor wife and He specializes in consulting with those who have difficulty letting go, or accepting their loved ones are gone. Over the last few weeks he has kindly offered his help with others much like you. Would you be interested in talking with him Dan? We could set it up next week if it’s convenient, what do you say?’’
Mr. Cerabus turned to face me and what struck me first was the plainness of his expression, emotionless and void of any blemish, his skin was pale and smooth like an alabaster doll and his eye’s were as pink as cheery blossom. I had only ever seen albino children in pictures while I coursed over the discarded magazines that littered the waiting room of my Doctors surgery. A strange unnerving affliction to see in an image at any time, but up close and personal with a grown man made me feel uneasy; maybe my goosebumps were a warning. Again I choose to ignore them.
‘’Mr. Sommers’’ he said in a low voice ‘’So nice to meet you.’’
‘’Dan’’ I said back and offered out my hand, which he never took I remember. But I left it hanging just in case for a few more seconds before putting it into my jeans pocket and feeling like the third man at a date. He seemed more interested in his briefcase than being courteous, was something else that struck me later, and made me also curious about whatever was secreted inside. Weeks later it would give up its true contents.
‘’Please take my card, Mr. Daniel Sommers’’ he said again through a perturbed almost devilish grin, and produced it from his hand like a conjurer might do in his trick. ‘’My services are free.’’
It was rectangular in its shape, just like any other business type I’d seen before, but looked expensively made. I read the inscription on it: ‘Missing You Incorporated’ it said in stylish italics of gold bold lettering set on a smooth black finished polymer. There followed an address I recognized as lower Manhattan not far from the site of the twin towers and a phone number. I remember it felt warm like skin.
‘’Come, see me soon Daniel, let me help you’’ he said in his same low voice, almost snake like hiss. ‘’But I must go now I’m afraid, shall we say Monday at 9am?’’
I hesitated briefly before agreeing; I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d just got myself into but when I talked to Dr. Hightower after Cerabus had left, later in my session with him, he assured me his success rate was a hundred percent. And what had I got to lose, I needed to stop reliving the morning Susan died, end the nightmare that seemed stuck in a never ending loop, and if it meant using Mr. Cerabus to achieve it then why not.
When I stepped out in to the street an hour later a light rain was drifting between the New York skyscrapers creating mini rainbows in the shimmering March sunshine. The hum of the traffic sounded like waves crashing on a deserted beach and I could smell the aroma of distant corner hotdog stands with their sizzling franks and cheap ground coffee. Susan adored the city, the hustle and bustle of everyday life in a town immortalized in a Frank Sinatra song, ‘I wanna wake in a city that never sleeps’ was her favorite line of ‘New York New York’. She used to sing it to me some nights when she had maybe one too many drinks after a late dinner. Teasing me with her Gipsy Rose lee burlesque routine she liked to do as we walked home, never caring what anyone thought about her. Her laughter was addictive, making strangers smile as we passed and giving pleasure to those who maybe otherwise would step aside. I loved her for all of it, and they took her away from me.
I hailed down a yellow cab and went home. The apartment was quiet as it had been since Susan died and I began to notice her perfume which always seemed to fragrant the rooms was now beginning to weaken. It made me reflect how she too was beginning to fade from my thoughts. If it wasn’t for the photographs I kept around me hung on the walls I think I would have struggled to still visualize her face. It made me sad but maybe Dr. Hightower was right, I was reluctant to let her go and when I got off the phone with Sarah later that night after telling her about Mr. Cerabus I had made my mind up to go and see him.
Sarah suggested she should come with me on the Monday, just for support, but I told her it was up to me but thanks anyway, mind you I kinda thought there may have been an underlying hint of curiosity with her regarding Cerabus in her offer. I couldn’t get out of her coming to pick me up and drive to Cerabus’s place however. She could be just as formidable as Susan was so eventually I gave in on the promise she would only drop me off then go on to work. She agreed, unreservedly, so at 8:30am I heard her car horn honk from the street below.
We exchanged the usual pleasantries on the trip with her asking me how I was coping and then before I could answer she would just go off on how Chris, her husband, was driving her crazy with his endless conspiracy theories on why he thought the Government had blown up the towers.
‘Controlled explosions, he said, just in case the buildings would fall on others.’ ‘’I never heard such crap’’ she droned on ‘’I mean I said to him the Government wouldn’t kill its own people, aint that right Dan, you see what I mean don’t you?’’
I stopped listening when she started about her kids being frightened of all the ‘bad people’ in the world and began just looking at her because she reminded me so much of Susan. Same wild Cheery blond long hair cut to her shoulder, same mild tanned complexion and slight frame, a gene she got from her Mexican mother. three years apart, Susan being the oldest, both scorpions, hence the sting in her tail and the formidable character of an Irish father. She looked attractive in her white tee-shirt and jeans.
It took us a while to find the address on Cerabus’s card, even though I knew area zip code I couldn’t think of the building and after a few times driving around in circles just by chance a sign with ‘Missing You Inc.’ above a plain-looking door caught my eye. Sarah stopped in the quiet back street when I said I’d found it and I got out promising to call her later and give her a full run down on how things went. She smiled nervously as I leaned into the car telling her not to worry and that I would be fine. She honked as she pulled away making me jump and sending a few roosting pigeons up into the sky between the tall buildings.
I listened as the sound of the horn hung in the air for a moment before stepping inside. What I found was a set of narrow bare wooden stairs, not exactly what I was expecting as I recounted my first thoughts on the bodacious Mr. Cerabus. In my imagination I saw him as the head of a large corporate business with a pretty red lipped receptionist welcoming me into sparse affluent open plan lounge cluttered with highly tended potted plants, bespoke furniture and well off patients waiting to be seen. To be honest I nearly left without climbing up the flight of steps that actually looked like they may not hold my weight, but I then thought of how Sarah and Hightower would get on my case if I just walked away. So I figured it was worth going up and if Cerabus wasn’t there then well and good.
My first steps were tentative to say the least and the creaking old wood made me even more nervous, but when I was sure I wasn’t going to plunge into some dark basement below I practically bounded up the last few.
At the top there were three doors each with a glass panel, one on my left, one facing me and one on my right, all off a small uncarpeted landing. Etched into the one directly ahead was the same frosted lettering as was on Cerabus’s card, ‘Missing You Inc.’ only this time below there was a short engraving which looked like it was Latin. I figured it was some legal quote from a long dead roman scholar. So I leaned down and read it out slowly as if by doing so it would suddenly become clear-‘hoc est post ostium, pastor animarum’- I whispered to myself, but I was none the wiser, not yet any way. I tried the door, and it opened, so much for me hoping no one would be at home, I thought, but I called out anyway ‘hellooo!, I spoke softly, ‘it's Dan Sommers here, we have an appointment.’
Other than a large oak desk with a black leather seat behind it the room was empty when I stepped in. Over in the corner to my right there was French chaise longue covered with a floral pattern of entwining red roses on a dirty white background. A piece of furniture I’d only ever seen on afternoon antique T.V shows, it intrigued me briefly.
And stretched out on it wearing a gray Trilby hat down over his face, which I assumed was to block out the morning light streaming through a large Victorian window, was Mr. Cerabus. His hands were clasped across his moving chest as if in deep prayer and I swore I could hear a slight deep sleep snore. Had he forgot our meeting? Should I just turn round and leave? it did cross my mind, but before I could slip away he swung his feet around and sat upright, tipping his hat to the floor. He opened one eye to a slight crack then raised his arm to inspect his wrist watch, staring at it for a few seconds.
‘Good’ he said opening the other until his two pink eyes looked at me, yet as if through me.
‘Punctuality is the thief of time’ he said, rising. ‘Oscar Wilde, you’ve read his works I presume, mmmn?-maybe not.’
I stood transfixed as he flounced over to the large desk like a ballerina might carry out her releves before a performance, one toe in front of the other in a light graceful movement. Then he sat and placed both of his pale white skinned hands flat on the bureau, thumbs touching.
‘Please’ he said pointing to the chaise lounge, ‘I’m afraid my décor is minimal, do you mind?’
I sat down perching my backside on its edge and folding my hands into my lap, I had no intention of staying long enough to get comfortable on a raggedy piece of old furniture that looked as if it was over run with bugs I couldn’t see. I discovered it was much lower to the ground than I expected and with my six foot frame my knees were nearly at my chin. From this angle I began to let my eyes take in the rest of the room.
‘I can see you are disappointed’ Cerabus spoke, ‘Socrates once said ‘’the secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but developing the capacity to enjoy less,’ would you not agree Daniel Sommers?’
‘I suppose’ I shrugged ‘but I just thoug-‘
‘There would me more’ Cerabus finished ‘I can cure you, isn’t that what you seek?’
‘Well Yes but I-‘
‘More chairs, more carpets, more flowers sitting idly dying in some glass vase just so they are nice to look at won't fix what’s wrong with you. neither, will an army of Doctors busily analyzing your mental health. No! Only you and I can make this happen’ Cerabus interrupted. ‘And how do we achieve that, it’s quite simple really. With the help of Susan.’
‘But Susan is dead!’ I said raising my voice slightly ‘how can she hel-‘
‘The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected’ Cerabus said.
‘What does that mean?’ I asked him.
‘Maya Angelou once wrote in her poem ‘’When great trees fall" - Great souls die and our reality, bound to them takes leave of us. Our souls dependent on their nurture now shrink wizened. Our minds formed and informed by their radiance fall away. We are not so much maddened as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves. You Daniel Sommers have gone into your cave and only Susan can bring you out.’
‘In years gone by those like me would have conjured up Susan’s soul, brought it to this realm of reality from the darkness it was lost in so that you could invite it to go into the light and be at peace. Once done both then could move on, content, but it needed the partner to believe in the words spoken. Sometimes this was unsuccessful and the soul was damned forever to wander. In the modern world we can use technology; cell phones capture signals from space and transfer them into speech or words on a screen. With a little software adjustment I can allow you to speak to Susan. You’ve heard of E.V.P electronic voice phenomenon? Well this is similar; once the modification is complete within a few days she will contact you.’
‘And I can talk to her?’
‘yes, but only to tell her to go into the light, the alteration lasts for twenty-four hours, she must agree, only then can she leave and be at peace. if not all will be lost forever and she will languish in purgatory.’
‘If I say yes how much will it cost me?’ I asked.
‘I do not seek monetary gain’ he replied, ‘as you can see I am in no need of it. All I ask is you sign my agreement once Susan is gone. It will prove to others of how I helped you and allow me to continue with my work. would you like to carry on?’
‘I will owe you nothing?’ I asked him again.
‘No money is desired’ he replied.
‘I guess it's ok then’ I said and placed my cell phone which I had taken from my coat pocket between his two touching thumbs.
Cerabus closed his eyes and lowered his head; he began what I can only describe as an incantation. Or invocation in some ancient dialect that seemed to make the room hum as if a chorus of tenors were purring in harmony. I watched as he removed his serpent silver band from his finger and placed it on the keypad of my cell. Almost immediately it started to vibrate until it reached a high pitched ring, like someone who runs their wet finger at speed around the edge of a wine glass. I cupped my ears to block out the noise. Then the morning light from the window behind him darkened, plunging the room into a shadowy chamber with only his face illuminated from the glow of the screen. Numbers and symbols I had never seen before began to scroll upwards like the ending credits of a movie, and as they reached a speed converging them into a single blur the hum and ring seemed to harmonize into one consistent tone. Then with a blinding flash as if a rod of lighting had struck the desk between us everything returned to normal- if you could call what went before normal.
‘It is done’ Cerabus spoke handing me back my phone. ‘This time tomorrow you must return with your signature on our covenant. Speak to no one else about our liaison today, do you understand and agree?’
I nodded and rose to leave but as I turned Cerabus grabbed my arm; his touch was cold like death and his skin felt course and slimy like the ridges of a snake. My instinct was to pull away in horror but he grasped me tighter.
‘Do not forget this’ he said giving me a spool of thin yellowing paper sealed with a circle of red wax. ‘Remember our agreement.’
I left closing the door behind me and descended down and out into the morning sunshine, at first covering my eyes from its glare. The street was still deserted and I felt the outline of my phone through my jacket with my fingertips wondering just when it would ring, if ever, and questioning whether all that I had just experienced was just some wild hallucination brought on by my grief and my encounter with Cerabus. I turned to have one more look before I left but when I did the door was gone, so too the sign above it. all that I could see was a solid brick wall.
Later on in the evening at home my cell rang and when I picked it up across its screen ‘‘Unknown Number’’ was pulsating and I could have sworn I heard the same high pitched sound as I did that morning. I looked at it through nervous eyes and began to consider if I answered and it really was Susan, or maybe something pretending to be her, could I believe it, would my sanity be torn to shreds if we talked and send me to a place from where I could never return. I decided not to answer. instead I let it ring until it stopped. Susan was gone, she was dead and I knew it now. I must accept what had happened to her and move on.
The following day Sarah came round, we had coffee, she noticed the difference in me from the day before, and she commented on how much brighter I looked, remarking how the color had come back to my face.
‘What happened?’’ she asked, so I told her the whole story.
‘Show me the parchment Cerabus gave you to sign’ she said and I went to get it from my jacket pocket. But when I searched for it all I could find was a handful of black ashes.
I then remembered what had been written on the door below the sign, ‘Missing you Incorporated’ and composed it down for Sarah. A few years ago she had been a secretary in an attorney’s office, around the time Susan and I were getting married. She had the occasional experience with deciphering legal documents sometimes transcribed in Latin so she had picked up a rudimentary knowledge of the language.
‘What does it say?’ I asked when she had finished the translation.
‘hoc est post ostium, pastor animarum’ - ‘that is, after the door is the shepherd of the souls.'