They Said There Would Be Cake

This was my submission to the SFX 2009 Pulp Idol short story competition. The story was short listed but didn’t win anything. I’m still quite pleased with this although it does suffer from the same problem I always encounter with short story competitions – the word limit. Even though it’s a very short piece it does suffer from the 1000 odd words I had to hack out of it to be under limit. At some point I hope to revisit Patrick and his little agency, see what types of ghosts he might encounter.

They Said There Would Be Cake

The house at the end of Wickham Drive was set back slightly from the rest, almost as if the others had drawn themselves away to a respectful distance. It clearly hadn’t been lived in for years, windows thick with grime, weeds swallowing the rusting fence. Patrick pushed his way round to the back door, intending to force it open but found it already hanging ajar. At this point, many people would have turned back but Patrick was here because he had a job to do – Patrick was here because he was a Ghost Detective.

“Cake? What’s so important about cake? And who’s they?”

For clarification, a Ghost Detective is neither a detective who is deceased nor a person that detects ghosts (although that is involved to a degree). A Ghost Detective is an investigator who works, exclusively, for the spirits of the dead whose souls, for some reason, are unable to move on. They would come to Patrick (well leave a note on his office desk during the night) and he would figure out what needed to be put right and fix it for them. A bit like assisted self-exorcism. Soon after a case was closed, it was usual for some sort of payment to appear on Patrick’s desk, cash or old jewellery mostly although value and form varied greatly. It was a lonely line of work but Patrick enjoyed doing it.

And so that was why he was there. That morning he’d come into his rented, one room office and found a scrap of paper with the address “1 Wickham Drive, Eastby” written in felt tip pen on it waiting for him – about as much information as he was ever given. Having no other open cases, Patrick jumped straight on a bus and an hour later was in Eastby, a smallish ex-mining town.

Inside the house has been completely gutted, even the carpets were gone, faded rectangles on the curling wallpaper where family photos had once hung. The air had a thick, mossy odour and occasionally the walls seemed to sigh slightly. Patrick made his way up the stairs and then, opening the first door, almost leapt out his skin when faced with a woman, wrapped in a long, scarlet coat sitting, deep in thought on a rotting, wicker chair.

“Ohbeejaysus!” he blurted in shock.

“Holymother!” screamed the even more shocked woman, leaping to her feet before grabbing the chair and wielding it like a lion tamer “Who the hell are you? What are you doing here?”

“Who are you and what are you doing here?” replied Patrick, trying to sound calm.

“Um – I’m the one holding the chair – you go first.”

She had a point. Patrick took a deep breath and tried to explain quickly, and believably, what a Ghost Detective was. She still looked freaked out at the end but at least she had put the chair down.

“Now you” said Patrick.

Her name was Becky York, or Becks as she preferred. She’d grown up in this town but her family had moved away when she was eight and she’d lost touch with her best friend, a girl called Emily Wethers. Having recently moved back to the area Becks had decided to track down her old friend but had got as far as coming back to her old house, found it abandoned and so wasn’t sure what to do next.

“So how do you know I’m not a ghost then?” she asked.

“Well I can see you can’t I?” replied Patrick earnestly but received a giggle in return which wasn’t an unwelcome icebreaker. He liked this Becks, she was in her twenties, probably only a year or two older than himself. Her friendly eyes were clustered with freckles and she wore her jet black hair, tightly pinned back behind her head, accentuating her high cheek bones even more. She was also the first person he’d ever told about his job that hadn’t laughed or run screaming for the hills so already they were off to a great start.

“Look I hope I’m wrong but I think we’re both here for the same person” said Patrick. “This house doesn’t exactly come across as a place of happy memories does it?”

“You mean my Emily is your ghost? I hope you’re wrong too but it’s definitely starting to look that way.” Becks considered it for a moment before offering her hand and they shook in agreement “So what now? Ouija board? Séance?”

“This isn’t Hollywood you know”, said Patrick. “We do like all detectives – we start by looking for clues.”

“Oh clues – you probably want to see what’s downstairs then” she said with an enigmatic smile and led him back down the stairs to what was once the living room where she flung open the curtains, flooding the room with light and revealing a series of huge letters scrawled in the thick layer of dust on the floorboards. It read: “They said there would be cake.”

“So that’s definitely a clue right?” said Becks. “Either that or kids are getting real surreal with their graffiti these days.”

“Cake? What’s so important about cake? And who’s they?” thought Patrick out loud “This doesn’t sound good at all.”

“You think maybe somebody lured her somewhere with the promise of cake and…” she trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence.

“I think sometimes bad people can do terrible things to innocent, little girls. I also think we need to find someone we can ask some questions – what did you say Emily’s surname was again?”

A quick call on Patrick’s mobile to Directory Enquiries revealed fourteen different Wethers’ living in the region but only one in Eastby and Patrick recognised the address, he’d walked past it a few streets down so together, that’s where they headed.

“So you reckon Emily’s family didn’t want to live in the same house anymore but didn’t want to move too far away? Guess I’d be the same” said Becks as they waited at the front door. A middle aged woman answered the door; she was a short, stumpy woman, grey roots sneaking out from beneath her dyed hair. Her eyes looked tired.

“Mrs Wethers?” asked Patrick “We’re sorry to bother you but could we ask you some questions about your daughter Emily?”

“And who are you?” asked the woman, quite fairly.

Patrick was about to break into his Ghost Detective explanation when Becks cut in: “We’re old school friends of Emily. We lost contact with her when we moved away some years ago.”

“Oh – you had better come in then” said Mrs Wethers. Patrick was glad Becks was here, the police would probably have been called if he’d spoken.

The living room was small but kept in pristine order, a small dog lay sleeping in its bed in the corner. On the mantel piece there was just one framed photo – a young girl, blonde, curly locks, thick framed glasses, grinning gleefully at something behind the camera. They weren’t offered tea or coffee.

“Mrs Wethers, I know this might be a hard question for you but… did something happen to Emily? Something bad?” asked Patrick tentatively.

The woman nodded slowly before replying in a croaked voice: “Leukaemia. Emily died of leukaemia sixteen years ago.”

Patrick had to bite the inside of his cheek to hold back a completely inappropriate sigh of relief. Obviously that must have been a terrible tragedy for the family but it was nowhere near as sinister as any of the scenarios he had been playing through his mind.

“We’re so sorry for your loss” said Becks.

“Thank you” said Mrs Wethers “She was such a little angel, always well behaved, good at school. The doctors, they picked it up too late to treat properly but a couple of those charities helped us out a lot, put her in a really good hospice.”

“Were you with her… at the end?” Becks asked.

“We brought her home for her last few days, setup up her bed down here. We got all the family round and had a great, big party just for her.”

“A party? Was there cake?” asked Patrick a little too enthusiastically and received a look as if he’d just farted at a funeral.

“No” she said and Patrick’s heart sank. “But there should have been. We’d ordered a big one especially from a local cake shop. Emily was so looking forward to it, she really was – but…” her eyes started to swell up with tears. “It never arrived – there’d been some mix up with the dates at the shop. Emily passed away later that same night. She never got her cake.”

“We should go” said Becks sensing they’d struck a nerve. “Thank you for your time.”

They all got to their feet but as Mrs Wethers stopped to unlock the door for them Patrick asked: “If you don’t mind, one last, quick question? We went by your old house but there doesn’t seem to be anyone living there anymore?”

“No” said Mrs Wethers. “After Emily left us, I just couldn’t live there any more – too many memories. It still felt like Emily was there. We moved here but when we went to sell the old house they found it wasn’t built on proper foundations. No one wanted to buy it after that so it’s just sat empty ever since.”

Patrick and Becks walked down to the local supermarket and bought the largest cake they had – chocolate sponge with an extra thick layer of toffee icing and white chocolate curls on the top. They took it back to Wickham Drive, positioned it in the middle of the living room and lit a single, pink candle in the centre.

“I don’t understand how just a missing cake would make her into a ghost though” asked Becks. “I mean I thought ghosts came from murder victims or people who died in plagues?”

“It was more than just a cake to Emily though” explained Patrick. “She knew she was never going to see her mother or any of her family again, never go to high school or drive a car or date a boy. So instead she built up in her mind that if she could just have this one last, sweet, indulgence it might, even in a tiny way, make up for the rest she would never have. She invested all of her hope, all of her dreams in it.”

“But it never came” whispered Becks.

“Well its here now” said Patrick and pulled the curtains shut again. “Good bye Emily.”

“Good bye Emily” repeated Becks.

A week passed and Patrick found himself alone again in his little office, slumped in his chair enjoying the cool spring breeze coming through the open door. Two things were weighing heavily on his mind – the first was wishing that he knew as much about handling people as he did ghosts. He’d really liked being around Becks, it had been nice to have some company for a change, let alone someone so witty and amusing to be around and yet when it had come for them to part ways his bus home had arrived before he could summon the courage or the words to ask to see her again. The second thing was that no payment had arrived for the Emily Wethers case yet which was a concern, not for monetary reasons, but because he was beginning wonder if they had really got it right after all; maybe it hadn’t even been the right ghost. His chain of thought was broken abruptly when a long shadow fell across his desk. Looking up he saw a handsome, young woman in a summery blouse and pencil skirt, leaning in his door frame, arms crossed, hair still pinned tightly back.

“You know you’re not the easiest man to track down” smirked Becks mischievously. “Maybe you should consider a listing in the Yellow Pages?”

Patrick smiled back. “Cheers Emily” he thought.

Title image courtesy telachhe

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Published in: on April 4, 2010 at 1:12 PM  Leave a Comment  
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