The Charlatan

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Summary

Natasha groaned as her phone buzzed against her headboard, waking her. Pain arced across her forehead and nausea engulfed her stomach. She fumbled her hand around until she found the phone and grabbed it. With her eyes shut, she tapped the spot where she thought the “answer” button might be on the touch screen. With a hacking cough, she held the receiver up to her mouth and said, “Hello?” A woman’s voice said, “Hello, I’m calling for the owner of Natasha’s Crossing Over Encounters.” Natasha said, “Whaddya want?”

Genre:
Horror / Thriller
Author:
James G. Boswell
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
13+

The Charlatan

The Charlatan

Natasha groaned as her phone buzzed against her headboard, waking her. Pain arced across her forehead and nausea engulfed her stomach. She fumbled her hand around until she found the phone and grabbed it.

With her eyes shut, she tapped the spot where she thought the “answer” button might be on the touch screen. With a hacking cough, she held the receiver up to her mouth and said, “Hello?”

A woman’s voice said, “Hello, I’m calling for the owner of Natasha’s Crossing Over Encounters.”

Natasha said, “Whaddya want?”

“I understand you’re a psychic who can communicate with people who’ve passed on, is that correct?”

Natasha’s bloodshot eyes opened wide and she sat up in bed. “Finally, a customer!” she thought.

She cleared her throat and said, “Ahem, yes that’s right. Sorry, I thought you might be a salesperson. Please, tell me how I can help you.”

She swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up. Then she walked over to the flimsy desk that sat against the wall in her small, dilapidated bedroom. The beer cans that covered the floor clanked against each other as she shuffled through them.

“My name is Serena Henderson,” the woman said, her voice quivering with emotion. “My husband passed away not long ago, but I still feel his presence in our condo. I’d like you to come see if you can communicate with him.”

“Absolutely, Mrs. Henderson.”

“Please, call me Serena.”

“Alright, Serena. Can you give me your address?”

“It’s 1011 Paulson Street, suite 1007.”

Typing on her laptop at her desk, Natasha entered the address and Serena’s full name into a search engine. The first search result was a Whitepages website for “Serena and Michael Henderson.” Beneath it was a link to an article on the city newspaper’s website. The headline was, “Banker’s Suicide Stuns Community.”


Natasha knocked on the woodgrain-patterned door inside the condo complex. It was so solid and heavy that it hurt her knuckles.

The door opened a few moments later. Standing in the doorway was a petite woman with auburn hair. She wore grey suit pants, a white short-sleeved button up shirt, and black pumps. Natasha felt underdressed in her plain black t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes.

The woman looked her up and down with an expression of mild surprise. “You’re the psychic?” she said.

Natasha smiled as she stuck her hand out and said, “Yes, I’m Natasha. Good to meet you.”

After a slight hesitation, the woman shook her hand and said, “Nice to meet you as well. I’m Serena. Please come in.”

Natasha noticed finger-shaped bruises on the underside of Serena’s right arm. They looked old and had a faded, yellow-brown color. She glanced at Serena’s other arm as she walked past her into the living room and saw similar bruises on it as well.

The condo had posh hardwood floors, chrome-plated fixtures and luxurious art deco furniture. Framed artwork of various sizes and styles covered the bright white walls. A large portrait of Serena in a wedding dress embracing a man in a tuxedo hung as a centerpiece. The far wall consisted of floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows. They revealed a perfect view of the city’s skyline.

Natasha looked all around the fancy living room. As she did, she passed an end table with papers stacked upon it including what appeared to be several bills. She noticed each one had phrases such as “PAST DUE” and “FINAL NOTICE” stamped in big red block letters.

“That’s not a good sign,” she thought. “How can people afford a luxury condo like this and still fall behind on their bills? If she can’t pay these, then she probably won’t be able to pay me anytime soon, either. Oh well, I’m already here. I guess I’ll see this through.”

“You have a beautiful home,” she said.

“Thank you.”

“Please accept my condolences for Michael’s passing.”

Serena’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, “How did you know my husband’s name?”

Natasha shrugged and said, “I’m a psychic. I also understand that his death was a suicide, is this correct?”

Serena looked at Natasha with her mouth agape, then her face fell, and she nodded. With sadness in her voice, she said, “Yes, that’s true.”

“Yet, you still feel his presence you say?”

“Yes, even though Michael died more than a week ago, I still feel as if he’s here. Not just from an emotional standpoint, but in a physical sense as well. For instance, whenever I wake up in the morning, I always see an indent on his pillow and the covers tossed aside. It’s as if he’d slept there the night before. Mind you, my housekeeper makes the bed every day after I leave for work.”

“I see.”

“Once, I found his cufflinks and one of his ties set out on top of his dresser as if her was getting ready for work. And a couple days ago, I was making dinner in the kitchen and went into the bedroom for a moment. When I returned, I found a bowl of his favorite cereal sitting on the countertop.” She let out a stilted laugh and said, “He never did like my cooking.”

Tears began to stream down Serena’s face.

Natasha said, “May I ask how he died?”

Serena sniffled, then gave her a puzzled look and said, “I thought you were psychic.”

Natasha cringed and said, “Well… I… you see… it’s not always clear what–”

“He electrocuted himself. While I was out having dinner with some clients, he drew a bath in our bathroom, sat in the water, and dropped a radio into it. The shock blew the circuit breaker, and the condo was pitch black when I got back. I searched the entire place with a flashlight before I found him in there. The sight was horrific.”

Serena started to cry as she turned around and buried her hands in her face. Natasha shuffled her feet and clutched her hands together in awkward discomfort.

A few moments later, Serena said over her shoulder, “I don’t know why he did that. I thought we were happy together. I thought he was happy. Please, help me understand this situation. Find out why he killed himself, and why’s he still here.”

A buzzing sound came from Serena’s pocket. She reached into it and took out her phone, then typed the code in to unlock it. Natasha watched her enter the code.

Serena looked at the screen and said, “Excuse me, Natasha. I got an urgent email from one of my clients. I need to send them a file from my computer in my home office. I’ll be back in a moment.”

“You haven’t taken time off from work to grieve?”

“I can’t. I’m a corporate finance lawyer and I’m leading a major acquisition with one of my firm’s largest clients. Most of my colleagues don’t even know about Michael’s death yet. I’ll tell them when the time is right.”

Natasha looked shocked for a moment and then nodded. She said, “Do you mind if I look around a bit?”

“Not at all. Please feel free to go anywhere in the condo.”

Serena walked toward the nearby hallway adjoining the living room. On her way, she stopped and connected her phone to a charger plugged into the wall and set it down on a small table next to it. Natasha listened as the sound of Serena’s footsteps echoed through the condo. Next came the sound of her opening a door and then typing on a keyboard.

Natasha scurried over to the phone. Using Serena’s code, she unlocked it and opened her email inbox. She scrolled through her emails until she found one with a subject line that said, “RE: I think I have a problem.” The email was a month old and it came from a person named Miranda Johnson. She opened it.

“Hey Sis,

I understand your concern, but you’re overreacting. Just because Michael has been working late a lot these days doesn’t mean he’s seeing other women. You work late all the time too, don’t you? Either way, you’re stressing yourself out over nothing. I’ll call you tonight and we can talk about it some more, ok?

Love you,

Miranda”

The sound of typing stopped. Natasha closed the email app and turned off the screen, then put the phone back down on the table. She hurried over to the other side of the condo where she found a doorway with its door ajar. When she looked inside, she saw that it was the bedroom.

The room’s décor was like that of the rest of the condo. A huge, king-sized bed sat in the center with oversized white pillows and a fluffy white duvet.

The door to the bathroom stood open at the other side of the bedroom. Natasha walked through it and flipped on the light switch. The floor and wall tiles were such a bright white that she had to shield her eyes from the glare. The smell of bleach hung heavy in the air. Next to the shower sat an oversized, pearl-white bathtub. She walked over to it and looked inside.

The lights turned off and the door slammed shut.

“Hey!” Natasha said.

She ran over to the door and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. Pounding on it, she said, “Serena? Is that you? Let me out of here!”

A strange blue light filled the room. Natasha looked behind her and saw that it emanated from the bathroom mirror. In it she saw a man and a woman standing next to each other. When she looked closer, she realized that the woman was Serena. The man was the one she’d seen in the picture in the living room.

“That thing out there isn’t me,” Serena said. “You need to leave immediately.”

The man said, “I didn’t kill myself. That thing killed us both. It will kill you too if you don’t leave right now. Go.”

There was a knock at the door and the lights turned back on. Natasha looked at the door, then back at the mirror. When she did, she saw nothing but her reflection staring back at her.

“Is everything alright in there?” said Serena’s voice through the door. “I thought I heard shouting.”

“What the hell was that?” Natasha thought. “I’ve been partying way too hard lately. I should take it easy.”

“Everything’s fine! I just… had a psychic vision.”

“You did? Come out here and tell me about it.”

Natasha opened the door and found Serena standing there with a concerned look on her face.

“What happened? What did you see?”

“I communed with Michael’s spirit. He told me you don’t need to worry about the money and that you’ll be able to pay your bills again soon.”

Serena’s nodded and said, “Go on.”

“He also said he’s sorry for his infidelities, and that he never meant to hurt you, emotionally or physically.”

Serena frowned. Tears gathered in her eyes as she hugged herself, running her hands over the bruises on her arms. “So, it’s true. He was cheating on me,” she said.

“Yes,” Natasha said. She felt a pang of guilt but managed to suppress it.

“Why did he kill himself?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

“Would it help if you examined the radio he dropped into the tub?

“You still have it?”

“Yes, it’s right there behind you.”

Serena pointed at a clock radio sitting on top of a dresser next to the bed. Its digital display showed the correct time.

Natasha thought, “It’s weird that she’d keep the radio her husband used to electrocute himself. It’s even weirder that it still works.”

She walked over to the dresser and picked the radio up to examine it. When she turned it over, she saw that it didn’t have a power cord. It ran on batteries.

“Serena, there must be a mistake. There’s no way anyone could electrocute themselves with a battery-powered radio.”

Natasha turned around and saw that Serena was gone. In her place stood a bizarre, humanoid creature with long, greasy black hair. Yellow-brown, finger-shaped splotches like bruises covered its skin. Its misshapen limbs ended in sharp talons, and its eyes were white without pupils or irises. It opened its mouth to reveal rows of sharp, needle-like teeth. Natasha gasped and dropped the radio.

END

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