An Unexpected Visitor
Terence spent the remainder of his day, lolling in an armchair by a crackling fireplace. Anubis was a plush pillow on his lap. The vibration of her purr soothed him. For the first time that day, Terence felt relaxed. Surely what he saw in the mirror was nothing more than a stress induced hallucination. Still, the fear was there. It ate at him, even while he slept. What was he afraid of anyway? His own demise? Drowning? Freezing to death? He looked in mirrors everyday, but never once did he foresee his own death. Besides, that wasn’t how the curse worked. He had to make contact with another person’s hand in order to see―to experience―their death. The numbers haunted him most of all. Death dates, scrawled crudely. Each stroke reminded Terence of a dead ant leg.
Anubis slipped from Terence’s palm and padded lightly to the floor. Her disappearance jolted Terence from his state of semi-consciousness. He groaned when he discovered the source of her exit. It was his phone, buzzing vexatiously in his pocket.
“Hello,” he answered, groggily.
“Hi, Terence, it’s Ash. Jaune told me you weren’t feeling well and went home early. I thought I’d just call to see how you were doing.”
“I’m fine,” Terence said, curtly.
“Great. Maybe you’d like to join me and the guys for a couple rounds tonight.”
Terence didn’t respond right away. He was more than a little annoyed with Ash for interrupting his moment of peace. “I’m busy bathing my cat,” he lied. “She’s naked.”
“I’m sorry, my phone seems to be losing its signal. Did you say she’s naked?!”
“Wow! Sorry I interrupted you. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Ash hung up. Surprised, Terence stretched his lank arms over his head and stood. Ash was painfully insistent when it came to his social invitations. Perhaps he too understood sphinx cat maintenance―though Terence doubted this very much.
At 7pm Terence was exhausted. He had no idea why as he’d spent most of the day half asleep. Come this time tomorrow, he’d be suffocating amidst the sea of mourners, flowing through the doors to shake his hand. A woebegone whimper escaped his mouth. How many more tragedies could he view before going insane?
With his cat in the crook of one arm and his hand trailing along the wooden banister, Terence climbed the stairs to his room, which was really more of an art studio. The lower portion of the room contained half finished paintings and sculptures, all staring Terence in the face. It was as though they were begging to be completed.
Anubis catapulted herself from his arms onto the bed. She kneaded and pawed at the covers, purring and meowing for attention. Terence sat heavily beside her. He began unbuttoning his shirt, all the while avoiding his reflection in the mirror.
“God, I’m scrawny,” he mumbled after catching a flash of his protruding rib cage.
“Couldn’t have said it better myself!” A scruffy man rolled from under Terence’s bed. Anubis growled and spat, while Terence stumbled backwards in alarm, grabbing hold of the letter opener on his bedside table. He swung it defensively in front of the man’s face.
“Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my house?!” Terence roared. The man calmly raised his hands in surrender. Terence figured he had to be fifty years or older. His age was hard to determine under the layers of untamed facial hair. It was possible the man was homeless. Every so often, a grubby man wandered from the streets into Amigone Funeral Home. Terence was gloomy and unsociable at the best of times, but when it came to strange smelly intruders, his countenance was abhorrent.
“Are you the same dumpster diving tramp who enters my funeral home?” he demanded, jabbing the letter opener closer to the man’s forehead.
“What? No!” The man lowered his hands. His shaggy eyebrows were raised in genuine mystification.
“Tell your flea bitten friend I don’t want to see him again until he’s dead!” Terence spat. The man fingered the folds of his forehead, easing his way around the glimmering letter opener and mumbling incoherently to himself. His accent was distinctly English.
“My name is Archie Boo Boo. I’m a doctor. Best there is.” He opened up his overcoat to point out the stethoscope around his neck. His even gaze possessed more than a little spark of intelligence.
Upon hearing the intruder’s name, a sudden nausea weakened Terence. His head pounded excruciatingly and he dropped the letter opener. Before he knew it, Archie―if that really was his name―had him by the shoulders, forcing his body into the sitting position.
“Listen to me, Terence,” he whispered frantically. His eyes were big and worried.
“How do you know―”
“Yes, I know your name. I signed a medical certificate of death for a man you transferred nearly a week ago. His name was Alabaster Bloom. Do you remember?” The name did sound familiar to Terence. He set his brows between his thumb and forefinger, but no matter how hard he concentrated, he could not put a face to the name. The bodies and deaths all ran together after a while. Deflated eyes. Gaping mouths. Stiff, curled fingers. They were all the same―a big messy fog inside his head.
“I don’t remember,” Terence said.
“Well of course you don’t!” Archie tugged his salt and pepper beard in exasperation. “You had a concussion and you’re suffering amnesia.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Terence cried. He felt a draft emanating from the window and realized his rawboned chest was still exposed. Embarrassed, he began fastening the buttons to his shirt. Archie noticed his discomfort and snickered. His eyes turned to the ceiling fan.
“You don’t have to feel self conscious around me, lad. I’m a doc―”
“No, you’re not!” Terence leapt from the pale sheets, pinning the man to a wall. He jabbed a fierce finger into the man’s sternum, knocking the air from his lungs. “You’re a trickster. Here to discredit me. I don’t know who sent you, or how you got in, but right now I’m going to give you two options.” Terence could see the man melt under his shadow. He leaned closer and hissed, “Either you walk yourself out the door, or I’ll toss you out the window like yesterday’s trash!” Clearly intimidated, the man nodded and swallowed hard.
“Fine,” he said in a small voice. “Kindly let me go, and I’ll be on my way.” Breathing hard, Terence backed slowly away from the man. Archie shivered and ruffled his oversized jacket. Before turning to leave, he gave Terence a sideways glance and sighed sadly.
“I’m sorry,” he said and slipped into the dark hallway. There were no footsteps and there was no door slam, but when Terence went out to inspect the hallway, the man was nowhere in sight.
“He vanished like a ghost,” Terence whispered to his cat. He took her up into his arms and―for the second time that night―carried her to bed.