"In Bad Spirits" from STRANGE SPIRITS- December 2012
Dark, Not Dawn
It felt good to be free for the first time in months.
Nearly bursting with the joy of seeing Jonah again, the woman had only wished to surprise him, to go outside and peek into the family room window of the snow-feathered colonial-style brick house, seeing what he was doing before she revealed that she was out early.
Oh, she could just picture the look on his face when she said it. He would smile at her, making her feel as if she were the only woman in the world. He would forget about all else but her until it was time for her to go away once again.
Perhaps, this time, he would even ask her to stay. Would he be ready to give over all of his heart to her, the woman who loved him more than anyone else ever could?
She trembled with anticipation as snowflakes drifted round her. She moved even closer to the window as she watched the man she adored, with his dark hair that curled up at the ends near his sweater collar, his devil-may-care blue eyes, the slight, ruddy patches of color that flushed his cheeks, the rakish smile that never failed to thrill her.
Despite the biting, winter night sky that surrounded her, she didn’t feel anything but him.
The want of him. The need of him.
Yet, bit by bit, more details inside the family room eventually came into fuzzy focus: him sitting by a flame-warmed fireplace and a Christmas tree, banked by other people, including two elderly folk she didn’t know and two younger ones she did, though she didn’t care to look too hard at the latter. Then there were the spirits who were also no doubt present, knowing the monster-fighting company Jonah kept—Costin and Breisi.
Still, the only person the woman truly saw was Jonah. And as she pressed herself to a corner of the glass, she could hear, so very faintly, the holiday tale he was telling in a loud, boisterous voice that made the group laugh.
As far as she could gather, it was a scary story, and a vague memory of people in Victorian England who told ghost tales on Christmas Eve came to her. It used to be a most frightening night, this one. Were Jonah and his friends reviving that tradition?
It would bloody well suit a group of monster hunters.
When everyone applauded at the end of Jonah’s story, he glanced round, his gaze lingering on one member of the group in particular, as if to see if she was pleased, as well.
The woman who loved him bristled at the sight of him gazing longingly at Dawn Madison.
When Dawn didn’t return his attention, he looked at the floor, his jaw tightening as she obliviously got out of her chair, smiling and collecting the mugs from the elderly couple sitting next to her, then left the room.
Dawn, the hunter. Dawn, the object of Jonah’s misguided fascination.
The woman had known he had false feelings for Dawn. But she had believed with all her heart that they would fade over time....
After a few moments, Jonah rose from his seat, too, exiting the room. The woman outside tracked him by moving from this window to the next, where a buttery light spilled from the kitchen.
The woman outside waited. Watched.
Dawn filled the mugs with warmed egg nog from the microwave, and when she saw Jonah, she ignored him, heading for the opposite exit with the libations in hand.
When Jonah stepped in front of her, blocking her way, Dawn halted.
The woman outside saw the mistletoe that was hanging over them, and something like fury, edged with frustration, ripped through her like claws of ice.
She could hear their muffled words as she pressed herself to a corner of the cold glass.
“Very funny, Jonah,” Dawn said levelly.
He glanced up at the mistletoe. “‘Tis the season, Dawn. Tradition says you’ve gotta give it up for me.”
Outside, the woman pulled back, as if slapped.
But she pressed back against the window, needing to hear. Surely Jonah wasn’t serious. They were meant to be together, and Jonah knew that. So why had he asked Dawn for a kiss under the mistletoe?
A smile tilted his mouth. “Come on. Just a little kiss.”
Dawn gripped the mug handles. “You’re not Costin.”
At the mention of the boss’s name—Costin, the spirit who often used Jonah’s body when he needed corporeal form—Jonah raised his hands and let Dawn pass him by. A mild surrender.
Even he knew that no one crossed Costin. Not even the woman who was watching with her heart breaking.
As Dawn walked by the window, it was all the woman could do to stop from slamming into it, scaring the bitch. She wanted to lash out at Dawn. Jonah wanted her and it hurt.
Yet, if the woman outside dared to harm even a hair on Dawn’s brunette head...
There’d surely be punishment.
She was so upset at what she’d just seen that the woman couldn’t even move from her spot at the window. She was too frozen.
Was this what he did when she was away? Cheat on her?
There’d been so many times the woman had heard him assuage her with pretty words, and it was hard to believe he would betray her like this. Words such as “Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t want Dawn. She’s Costin’s. Besides, you know I love you because of everything you’ve done for us—all the fights you fought, all the battles you helped us win. But you also know that I can’t always be with you. I need time to get my act together.”
“But someday...?” she would always say.
He would only smile sadly, as if wondering why she wanted anything to do with him. A part of her thought that he might be trying to push her away, allowing her to make the decision to leave him.
Yet, she loved him too much to give him up. Ever.
But she wouldn’t stand for betrayal, either.
The woman moved away from the house, knowing no one had seen her out here. Light snow began to fall, and it made her feel damp and cold inside.
Why couldn’t Jonah see how much she loved him?
She had waited for so long, dormant, patient, counting down the moments until she would be free to come to him again, making him see that she was the only one who could ever make him happy.
There was a growing heat in her core, and it made her forget the snow.
All this time, Jonah had been under the mistletoe, clearly gathering his pride, gripping the doorframe. And, when he tightened his jaw again and then left the room, the woman knew that Dawn’s rejection had gotten to him.
She followed Jonah with her steady gaze, wondering if she should find her way inside to tell him what she’d seen, what he’d done when he thought she wasn’t watching.
But he took her off guard a few moments later by coming outside to the driveway in a black winter jacket, cuffing the fresh snow from the windshield of a gray pickup, then getting into the truck and turning on the engine.
What was he doing now?
He never knew that she hitched a ride in the back of his truck, staying hidden as he traveled down the long, white-banked driveway, the vehicle then winding over a desolate stretch of road. Gnarled oak trees flew past as he turned onto a bigger, straighter stretch.
Soon, they were in the midst of a small town she had never seen before, heading into a shopping center near a budget motel, a movie theater, a grocery mart, and a place lit by a subtle neon sign.
Fogerty’s Sports Bar.
After Jonah pulled into a parking place, she didn’t move from the back of his truck. She was still numb from seeing him go against all the sweet words he’d ever whispered to her during their times together.
Surely she had been mistaken back at the house. She was overreacting. He had merely been jesting with Dawn, wasn’t that right? Didn’t everyone play Mistletoe Kisses during the holidays?
When a man in a knit cap opened the door to enter the bar, she slid in behind him. She would make her presence known to Jonah, and they would go somewhere to work this out. Everything would be lovely between them again.
It didn’t take her long to lock in on him in a seat at the bar under a few TVs that played football game highlights. A collection of Christmas Eve rejects had gathered, sipping beers, finding comfort in their whisky shots and each other.
Just as she was about to go to him, he struck up a conversation with the female barkeep. It was as if...
As if he was flirting with her now.
She waited by the door, unnoticed, just as invisible to everyone else as she was to the man who belonged to her and her alone.
Every time he talked to a woman, she flinched. Every time he smiled at one, her frustration simmered, growing into something more. But she never moved from her corner.
She stayed cold. Colder than she had ever thought possible.
An hour later, Jonah had become chummy with a friend of the barkeep, as well, and soon, they all left the tavern together.
This couldn’t be happening. Not her Jonah. He seemed as if he didn’t remember anything he felt for her.
From her corner, she watched him leave with his female companions. She slid out the closing door well behind him, slipping into the back of his truck again, hitching another stealth ride, this time to a small brick house on a suburban street.
She didn’t go inside the door with them, lingering outside instead, waiting, watching for him to come out of the house. Knowing what he was doing with those whores inside.
Light snow fluttered against her, ice-hot.
Hurt. She hurt so terribly.
She wanted him to feel hurt, disappointment, sadness, too, so he would never do this to her again. Ever.
When he finally came out of the house, she rode with him again as he brought the truck back to the two-story, double-winged home where he had started off the night.
Now, as he went inside, she trailed him, falling back so he wouldn’t sense her or smell her perfume. He went to the kitchen, fixed himself a sandwich, then tore into it like a starved man.
When she left him in the kitchen, she moved like a ghost in a horror story, going to the wing where she knew Jonah was staying on his own, clearly away from the other guests she had seen earlier by the Christmas tree. Jonah liked to isolate himself from the others because he enjoyed his privacy too much.
Books about modern warfare littered an end table in his room. Cable-knit sweaters slumped on the carpet, and they smelled of him when she pressed herself against them. And when she went to his bed...
She took a moment to spread herself over the mattress, where she could feel the indentation of where he’d lain. She thought of those two bar girls, thought of him and Dawn beneath the mistletoe.
Dawn. Had her rejection hurt Jonah enough for him to go to those two whores? Was all this her fault?
Fury boiled in her. So did helplessness. Yet, there could be no retaliation against Jonah and Dawn—not if she didn’t want Costin’s wrath.
But someone had to hurt as much as she did.
She screamed in frustration, crashing into his bed, tearing through it. She did the same with his books, his clothing. When she had finished, she rushed to the hall, still ripped by his betrayal.
She went into the adjacent bathroom, its counters holding his razor, his shaving cream.
Coming up to the mirror—a looking glass that didn’t even show her who she was anymore—she pressed against the shaving cream’s nozzle, sending the stuff all over the counter.
Then she smudged it over the glass, preparing to give Jonah a message by exerting pressure against the mirror to form six little words.
WHO WILL BE HURT NEXT, JONAH?
She left the purposely cryptic phrase for him to figure out, then rushed out of the house, intending to show him that pain could go both ways.
From the book: Strange Spirits, “In Bad Spirits”