Nothing makes a home feel emptier than wanting someone to be with you in it.
Clawdia was relaxed at the base of the fireplace. Her ears were forward and her front paws were crossed. She looked sleepy. Her eyelids were at half-mast. She blinked her eyes at me, signaling she was content.
Live animal companions represent an unconditional source of love, and are an effective therapy to combat loneliness. I wondered if taxidermied animals could also represent a source of comfort when we're by ourselves.
Was this the reason V had so many furry friends packed with sawdust? Glass eyes watched over her from every direction.
Because she always felt alone.
Clawdia suddenly sprung up and ran to the top floor of the house. She began to meow non-stop. I tried to ignore the unpleasant noise, but eventually it became longer and louder. I went up to check on the noisy nuisance.
She was madly pawing at the locked door. I began to feel a strange, unrealistic feeling.
I remembered what Viola had told me. Inside the crack beneath the Jessamine vines.
I hurried to the courtyard. Wedged inside the crack, was an ornate key.
As I put the key in the lock I felt ecstatic. Like a sensation of shock went into my body.
I turned the key and pushed open the door.
"You made it," said a beautiful, dulcet voice. Viola was standing in the center of an empty room. The room was frigid.
"What's going on?"
Viola looked sad and unnerved.
"Precognition is my superpower. I have psychic abilities to see the future."
"I watched you die. I just buried your body," I cried.
"I am dead. Your superpower is
"What? What do you mean? Are you like, like — a ghost?"
She recognized the bewildered look on my face.
"I'm so sorry Phin."
"So you knew this was going to happen?" My confusion was exacerbated by frustration.
"It was the only way. Your existence was coming to an end. Life is my gift to you Phineas. I finally figured out my purpose."
"No! You can't leave me! You can't leave me alone!"
Viola moved towards me.
"You'll never be alone." She outlined the palm of her hand down my face. "You have a lifetime of my memories. If you ever get lonely, just search for me in your thoughts."
"What will happen to you?"
"The same thing that happens to everything else."
Viola placed her lips next to my ear.
"I'll never forget you Phin."
"I'll never forget you," I whimpered.
V looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and grinned.
Viola turned away and dematerialized.
Life didn't get better after she left.
It didn't get worse, it just got complicated.
My mom died a few years after I turned. She was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The cancer metastasized to her brain. I was there after her passing. Her spirit manifested. I spoke to her apparition.
"You're not in pain anymore."
"Neither are you," I told her.
"I'm scared, Phineas."
"Don't be. Life is what hurts us the most."
Her eyes teared up.
"I love you mom."
"I know," she said softly.
"Go on now. Chester is waiting for you."
She sniveled and smiled.
Dad remarried a woman named Dawn. She waitressed at a small, roadside restaurant. He would order the same meal every time; home fries grilled with chorizo, topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. She was entertained by his inexorable behavior, and adored his deadpan humour.
Dawn was lovely, classy, and artistic. Her and dad bought a Victorian style home and turned it into a B&B. They were married for 23 years until dad died from sepsis. Dawn had dad cremated and kept a small portion of his ashes in a gold heart-shaped necklace. The rest of his remains she requested be buried with mom.
When I explained V's passing to Nasim, she was heartbroken, but she always predicted such could happen.
"She was in pain for such a long time."
Legally, Viola's mansion belonged to the Badeaux family. Nasim claimed property ownership, but allowed me to continue to live there. Her and I became business partners and made the house a haunted attraction. Nasim gave ghostly historical tours and I conducted séances and communicated with deceased loved ones to provide closure.
Nasim was killed when she was 38 years old. She was struck by a vehicle at the intersection of St. Claude and Elysian Fields. The accident happened in the early morning. The driver of the vehicle fled the scene but a bicyclist was an eye-witness. He said the vehicle was a red pick-up with a bumper sticker that read, 'If Jesus had a gun, he would be alive today'.
Every evening I waited at the intersection. I waited from sundown to sunrise. Eventually I saw the red truck with the bumper sticker. I followed the vehicle to a residence in Little Woods. An unhealthy, bony man stepped out of the vehicle. His hair was knotted and his skin was covered in sores. He went into the house and immediately began arguing with a woman. They were screaming at each other, shouting obscenities. The man picked up a bronze table lamp and hit the woman across the face. I acted outside my control and intervened in the violent exchange. I lunged at the sickly-looking man and clenched his throat. The wounded woman began to scream.
"Stop! You're hurting him!"
She crawled to the sofa and pulled a gun out from underneath the cushion. She aimed the weapon at me but before pulling the trigger, I hurled the man at her.
"Which one of you fled the site of a motor vehicle accident?"
The inebriated couple accused each other of the crime.
"Give me one good reason not to kill you," I growled.
The woman fired the gun.
It was that evening that I decided to continue V's avenging course of action. To cleanse defiling monsters from the existence of man.
I've been alive a long time. I lived through a global pandemic killing over 20 million people. I watched a cruel and oppressive ruler exercise power in unthinkable ways. I've seen the Antarctic melt, and I've witnessed apocalyptic wildfires burn the west coast.
Eventually, New Orleans was hit by an anomalous hurricane with winds that exceeded 200 miles per hour. The scale of the disaster was catastrophic.
Thousands of people who had not evacuated died in the storm. Hundreds of thousands of the city's residents were displaced elsewhere across the United States.
The storm surge caused devastating beach erosion, and the majority of New Orleans was underwater. The federal government condemned the city and it was never fully restored. In the end, what once was a beautiful city unlike any other, disappeared forever because of climate change and negligence.
I survived. I always survive.
Because the only things that can kill me are sunlight and Aspen wood.
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