Death Ain't No Way To Make A Living
Suze Simon has a gift. She can communicate with the dead. But instead of using her powers for good, she uses them for her own benefit, setting up a scam through her Psychic Investigator business. But when more and more people start to die in increasingly strange ways, she is drawn into a far bigger game. Accompanied by a reluctant dectective and hindered by a psychotic reporter, she sets about redeeming herself by stopping the supernatural force behind the deaths. But she soon realises that there is more to the deaths than meets the eye. How will she fare against this new, seemingly unstoppableenemy?
Prologue - Conning the de Silva's
"The wicked will be punished"- Mrs. Bradley, The Frighteners
"Yup, Simon. Aha. Ok, sit tight, I'll be right there."
I slammed the phone back into its cradle and began to run out of the house, pulling my coat from its hook as I passed. For the first time in months, I did not notice the small chunks of wood that flaked away from the wall as I did this. I guess that's what I get for doing nothing about the repairs. Like I could afford to do anything about them, anyway. And if I did have enough money to repair this piece of junk that I call a house, my first priority would be to get a proper roof. You know, one that does not have foot-long holes in it. Sometimes, I don't even need to get out of bed to shower in the morning.
Not that my shower works.
I slammed the door to my car shut and sped off into the distance, praying that they had got it right this time. There is nothing more embarassing than demanding money from folks who obviously don't think they need to give it. Of course, it takes a little bit of friendly persuasion. Usually in the form of a carefully planted poltergeist. A posession if that doesn't convince them.
My car rattled ominously as I sped around the corners but I continued down the road. I was thankful that there were no cops on the roads at night. I couldn't afford to pay another speeding ticket and outrunning them is no longer an option because they now know where I live.
When I finally reached the house, I parked half on-half off the sidewalk. Well, the driveway was full so what else was I supposed to do?
My knock on the front door was answered by a pretty youngHispanic woman. To say that she looked relieved when she laid eyes on me would be a bit of an understatement.
"Oh, thank you so much for coming!" she gushed. "Especially at one o'clock in the morning. I'm Marta."
Anything for money, girl, anything for money.
"Where is the activity?" I asked, trying hard to conceal the anger in my voice.
The house was quiet...almost peaceful. If you ignored the fact that it looked like a small hurricane had ripped through it. Fragments of plates and glasses littered the floor and books with their spines and pages brutally ripped apart scattered the areas that the china didn't cover.
I followed the Spanish girl to the kitchen, clutching my Jansport as I walked. When we entered the kitchen, I saw that three other people were crowded around a small table. Two girls, who looked to be aged between sixteen and twenty, looked scared out of their wits. The other person, however - a man in his early-to-mid-twenties - looked completely unconvinced.
"Well, everything went quite just before you arrived,"Marta explained. I sighed, hoping that she didn't notice.
"Did...um...did the smoke alarm go off?" I asked. Marta looked thoughtful for a moment or two before shaking her head.
"No, it didn't."
"How about the toilet? Did it start spewing water all over the bathroom?"
"I don't think so."
They are so dead.
"Did the curtains fall down?"
This time I got a response. One of the girls at the table jumped up.
"Yes! And they went all weird...like they twisted into-" She began.
"Into the shape of a human figure?" I finished for her. She nodded furiously.
"Aha!" I said, clicking my fingers. "Residual energy. Emotions taking on physical form...manifestations. Only this time they weren't visible with the naked eye."
I unzipped my Jansport and fished out my candles and record cards. Of course, I never performed real exorcisms. I simply performed a blessing, which caused the air around the candles to stir. To the untrained eye, it looked like some unseen force was throwing things around. If I wanted money off these peole, I needed to give them a show.
"It will cost a hundred bucks for a clearance," I explained. "And there's a ten percent service charge for calls after midnight. "
I think that she would have paid a thousand if I had asked. So, cash in my pocket, I began to melt the candles to the tiles. No chicken blood this time. I didn't want to scare them.They all watched intently as I read from the cards and the three girls ducked beneath the table as the books and pieces of china circled the candles. It was all over in a few minutes, but I was satisfied that they believed their money was wel spent. At least they wouldn't demand their money back. Sorry girls, no refunds...
Although, through the entire performance, the man didn't even flinch. He was beginning to irritate me.
"Thank you so much!" One of the other girls said, her voice full of sincerity. "Jesse said that we shouldn't have bothered calling you. But he wasn't the one whose curtains were walking across his room!"
I turned to look at 'Jesse' and he observed me with what I can only assume was skepticism.
"Well, if Miss Simon's work is done, then I guess that she'd better get going," he said as I shovelled my candles back into my Jansport. I glared at him. I did not like his attitude.
"Well, I guess I will go, since my services are no longer required," I replied, smiling through my teeth. He just glared right back at me. I wondered which one of these girls was unfortunate enough to be his wife, then I noticed the lack of a ring on his finger. He must be their brother. Poor girls...that means he has known them all their lives.
I turned away from him and went to say goodbye to Marta. I froze when my eyes fell on her.
"What?" She asked, taken aback.
There, in the middle of her forehead, was the number '31', as if it had been carved into her forehead with a knife. The blood trickled down into her eyes. Why wasn't she trying to wipe the blood away?
"What's the number for?" I asked her, my voice breaking mid-sentence.
Instinctively, she raised a hand to her forehead and rubbed the numbers. However, it became obvious that she could not feel them as her fingers fell away and a look of confusion spread across her youthful features.
"Number?" She asked, becoming frightened. "What number?"
I would have replied if her brother had not chosen that moment to grasp my arm rather roughly and drag me towards the front door.
"Ignore her, Marta," he said. "She is just trying to get more money out of you. We don't need your help. Now go!"
Then, he flung me violently into the dark, empty street. The cold night air licked at my sensitive skin and I began to shiver.
With one last hostile glance in my direction, Jesse slammed the door shut. Wow. I pissed a guy off in twenty minutes. Cool.
Still, as I slowly drove home, I couldn't forget the image of those ghostly numbers chisled into young Marta's forehead. What were they? What did they mean? I swear, if they are responsible for this, they will be haunting the sewers from now on.
I pulled up to my house just before two am. But it didn't matter. It wasn't as if I had a job. The only way I could make a living was dishonestly. Sure, it did eat away at my conscience sometimes, but what else wasI supposed to do? Sleep on the streets? Move back in with my mom? Ugh, please. I'm twenty-one now...I'm independant...at least I'm supposed to be.
My car rattled again as I slammed the door shut and my passengers voice their disgust at my 'reckless' driving.
"One of these days, you're gonna find yourself in the slammer," one of them said. This man was in his thirties and dressed in a similar way to the guy from Undercover Brother. Except this guy was white and his clothes were different shades of brown. His hair was styled in a Luke Duke kind of way and his boots probably belonged to Billy The Kid once.
A murmur of agreement came from his companion, a woman in her mid twenties. This woman wore combat pants and a tight-fitting white tank which was coveredby a plain black track jacket.
The most noticable thing about these two companions was the glow that surrounded them. Yes, these two people happened to be dead.
Did I forget to mention the fact that I can see ghosts? Well, I can. Don't ask me how...it is something I was born with. It is my job to finish whatever business is keeping them in this world. At least, that's what I was told. And it just seems like the right thing to do, you know?
Unlike the little scam I've got going...
Ralph died in the seventies, hence the ridiculous outfit. Unless I am mistaken, he died in a car accident. Morgan, on the other hand, died at the gym two years ago, which is why she wore what she did. Apparantly she was in the middle of a workout when her heart just gave out. Her doctor had warned her, on account of her heart condition, but she had ignored him, being the fitness fanatic that she is.
"And this scam," Morgan said. "You can't expect to get away with it forever."
"Oh, yeah," I said, half-turning as I trudged up to my house. "About that. I can't believe that you guys just gave up before I even got there! What the hell were you thinking? The brother practically wanted to pound me!"
Morgan rolled her eyes.
"Well excuse us," she replied. "But even us spooks get muscle cramp sometimes."
I ignored her and climbed up the small hill that lead to my front door. I don't know why I use the front door; there is a huge, gaping hole round the back. But to enter that way means trudging through soil that is always the consitency of Ready-Brek. If you slide your foot into it, there is no guarantee that you will get it back...
"Don't get us wrong, hun, we appreciate you giving us a place to stay," Ralph said. "But this house is about ascosy as a hamster cage."
I just ignored him. Not a day went by when my ghostly companions didn't complain about our current living arrangement. I couldn't help it.
My house is only half-built. My boyfriend and I had begun construction three years ago, the summer after we graduated from high school. Construction was slow and a year later, it still wasn't complete. After that,things went downhill. My boyfriend and I broke up, then he died and I just didn't have the money to finish the house. He was rich, you see, and because he was so young he didn't have a will, so his parents were left in charge of everything. They put all of his money into his little brother's college fund.
My life pretty much ended then.
The damp floorboards creaked beneath my feet as I slowly walked to my bed. I didn't have the energy to deal with anything else tonight.
As usual, my bed was unmade.
"He's not too happy about it, either," Ralph pointed out, obviously continuing our short-lived conversation from before. "Or this scam you've got going."
"This scam is all that keeps me from starving," I told him. "And if you guys just did your job properly, I would be raking in a lot more than I currently am."
I ducked behind the makeshift screem I had set up and changed into my night clothes.
"And by the way," I shouted as I wriggled into my boxer shorts. "That thing with the girl's forehead? That was just sick! Don't ever do anything like that again, or I'll exorcise your ass quicker than you can say 'unfair'."
"Girl, I don't know what you're yapping about," Morgan broke in. She raised one of her perfect brown eyebrows. That girl is great at playing dumb.
"Never mind," I sighed and flopped down onto my bed. It wasn't long before sleep took me.
The morning fog woke me as it seeped into my house through the many holes in the woodwork. I was used to it.
"Morning, sleepy head," a voice said as a hand ruffled my bed hair. I raised one of my own hands to swat it away. I wasn't in the mood to deal with anyone right now.
"Come one," the voice persisted. "I made breakfast."
For the first time since I opened my eyes, a delicious aroma invaded my nostrils. Pancakes. My stomach rumbled in approval. He sure knows how to get a girl out of bed.
I pushed down my blanket and allowedghostly handsto help me stand up.First thing in the morning is the only time he can get away with touching me like this.
As I limped into the living area, the voice told me everything that it had heard on the radio that morning and informed me that the newspaper was on the kitchen table.
"Maple syrup?" He asked, holding out a plate of freshly made pancakes for me. I smiled in gratitude.
You know how I said that my boyfriend died two years ago? Well, he still hangs around. In this house, no less. It is extremely distracting, having a ghost with luscious dark brown hair, piercing blue eyes and a body to make even the most difficult girl surrender hanging around the place. Not that there was any chance of us getting it on again. I made the mistake of doing that once...when he first came back as a ghost. I know we broke up, but I was just so glad to see him again. And let me tell you that sleeping with a ghost? It is really strange. For starters, they have unlimited stamina (which is not a good thing, whatever anyone tells you) and then there's the fact that they are as cold as an English summer.
But that was the last time we had any 'relations'. Much to his chagrin.
"Paul," I said sweetly. He could probably see what was coming, but he responded with a nod, anyway.
"Where were you last night?" I asked. "You weren't at the haunting."
Paul let out a small chuckle and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand.
"Do you really want me to answer that?" He replied.
"Actually, I do," I snarled. "You know thatit is the onlysource of income I have. Plus, it's the only thing I am good at. Being dishonest, that is."
"I'm proud of you, Suzie, I really am," Paul told me, his words dripping with sarcasm. I just rolled my eyes. I know better that to let him get to me. I really should kick him out of the house, but my conscience won't let me. It's my fault he is the way he is...dead...bitter.
"I don't want you to be proud of me," I said. "You taught me how to be dishonest and how to cheat and lie. None of this is my doing."
The corners of his mouth twitched a little, but he was trying to hide his obvious amusement. He pushed himself up from the chair he lounged in and began to walk towards me.
"Death is no was to make a living, Suzie," he pointed out. "This house was meant for us, not you...that dream died with me. Go an earn ourself an honest living. Get yourself a nice, clean apartment. You can't possibly enjoy living in this dump."
By now he was close enough to place a hand on my shoulder.
"Your concern is appreciated, Paul, but I don't have to listen to you anymore!" I jerked away from his hand and stomped over to my fridge. I tried slamming the kitchen door (which is basically the only door in the house) shut but he walked right through it.
"I may be dead, but I'm still your boyfriend and I still care about what happens to you," he half-laughed.
I could feel the anger building up inside me.
"God,would you just move on already?" I yelled. "And since it has obviously slipped your mind, I will take this opportunity to remind you that I broke up with you!And it is actually your inabilty to accept that I actually did dump you, the great Paul Slater, that got you killed."
I knew that this was completely untrue, and so did he. But still, he didn't have to laugh. He died two years ago of severe organ failure...and it was all my fault. If I had only appreciated him more, none of it would have happened. True, I did break up with him, but I was in love with him and I guess a part of me still is. The only thing is that the part of me that is irritated by his chauvanistic attitude is more powerful than that.
"I think it was your terrible driving skills that got me killed," he laughed. "But you keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better."
I groaned in frustration. If it wasn't for my damn guilt, I would have exorcised him long ago. Plus, he is strong so he is a great help with the 'hauntings'.
I perched myself on one of the kitchen's many stools and picked up the morning's paper. I don't know why they deliver it to my house; it looks like an abandoned housing project. Still, it always helps to read the obituaries in my profession. There was nothing out of the ordinary today, just old folk who had passed away in their sleep. They always move on straight away, so there won't be any messages to pass on. Once I was done with the obituaries, I began to flick through the stories. One particular headline caught my eye.
'Mysterious death count rises to 21'
No doubt it pertained to the mysterious ilnesses that currently swept this small town. A lot of people had been dropping dead over the past few years. Usually it was because of some sort of organ failure and some of the bodies even showed signs of extremely rare diseases that were though to have been eradicated. In a few cases, the cause of death could not be determined; the victims were perfectly healthy in every way. Nobody knew exactly why these seemingly perfectly healthy people were just dying without do much as a warning.
I sighed and dropped my eyes to read the article. Instead, my eyes landed on the picture accompanying the story.
"Hey!" I exlaimed, causing Paul to jump. "That's the asswipe that threw me out into the street yesterday!"
I felt movement as Paul crept up behind me and read the article overmy shoulder.
"The twenty-first victim of Carmel's recent string of unexplained illnesses was claimed last night." I read. "Twenty-year-old Marta de Silva passed away at approximately one-thirty am this morning. She was pronounced dead on arrival at Carmel General Hospital. Marta is the sister of dectective Jesse de Silva of the CBTSPD, who last year lost his partner under the same circumstances."
There was more, describing all of the past deaths, but I couldn't read anymore.
"I can't believe it!" I gasped. "I just talked to her last night!" I flung the paper aside and began to pace the kitchen floor.
"And her brother is a cop!" I groaned. "Great, now I'm gonna be hauled in for questioning. This is the last thing I need. Does it say whn the funeral is?"
There was a moment's silence before Paul cleared his throat and replied.
"Tomorrow morning," he read. "You aren't seriously considering going, are you?"
I sighed again. I was. Because I had a feeling that young Marta's demise had something to do with that bloody number. There was only one way to find out whatit meant.
AN - Please review if you have read this ... I really need to know what it is like :). You don't have to have seen The Frighteners to understand this fic. I'm only basing this loosely on the film, so ...
Disclaimer - Meg Cabot owns all things Mediator related and The Frighteners belongs to Peter Jackson (yes, that Peter Jackson) and Fran Walsh.