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HerculeHastings

R Becka

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Clare wondered exactly how much she had babbled to Ethan/Hank that night in the bar. Was she that talkative a drinker? The man knew about her troubles with Lorne and Becka, and seemed to accept quite readily that she busted spirits for a living. She was surprised by his open-mindedness, but then again, there was an entire film industry claiming that this and that horror story was based on "true events". Although the simplest explanation remains that this was all some kind of elaborate set-up by Hank.

 

He sat silently in the shotgun seat next to her, an elbow propping his chin against the door rest. He was looking out of the window at the passing scenery, although she caught him glancing her way from time to time. She found her eyeing him occasionally as well, wondering if she'll catch him in the middle of a familiar tick.

 

They passed by a middle-aged woman while going up the street to Lorne's apartment. It was really quite a homely neighborhood, not unlike the one she used to live in with Hank. They had a neighbor who maintained a birdhouse and flocks of pigeons would pass through it in the late afternoons. She wondered how he was doing now. It's been years since she had quit the neighborhood.

 

Lorne was sitting on his own, weathered porch as they parked the car in front of his house. She caught the quizzical look in his eyes and said simply, "Part-time help." 

 

Then she noticed the bruises that were starting to show on his neck. He nodded in response to her unspoken query and winced. She frowned at the prospect of exorcising a potentially vengeful spirit. She had done it exactly once before and it hadn't been pleasant. She had gotten knocked about a bit, although certainly nothing like what they showed in the movies.

 

"We'll have to tie you down. She could be possessing you as we speak."

 

They drew up a sturdy chair which she bound Lorne to with church-prayer ropes, while Ethan (she decided to give him the benefit of doubt for now) scattered salt in a circle around the chair like she'd instructed. She took the box of Becka's stuff that Lorne had gathered and peered into it. Among the various trinkets, there was a fish bowl. She wondered how that'd burn as she tipped the box's contents into a covered metal tin repurposed for indoor burning and emptied a small tin of gasoline over it. Then she opened the exorcist's bible and began reading from it with a steady voice. Ethan stood close by examining the miniature wooden cross she had him hold.

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Being tied down on a chair was definitely the type of experience you would want to have only once. Lorne watched helplessly as Ethan, the part-time help, scattered salt on the ground around him. Becka’s things were dumped unfeelingly into the tin, with gratuitous helpings of gasoline. And as Clare started reading passages from the Bible (they sounded different from what Lorne had remembered as a child; but perhaps exorcists had a slightly different version), the fire started and he instantly felt a heavy weight in his chest.

He had missed Becka’s cremation, just one more in the list of his daughter’s important experiences that he had missed. He couldn’t get in touch with the crematorium, of course (though the reason seemed trivial now, on hindsight; he could think of a number of ways he could do that without revealing his identity then). People who had witnessed a cremation before had told him that it was a poignant feeling. No matter how hard one had held back on one’s emotions before, they said, once the body had been wheeled in and you saw the fire light up, all the pent-up emotions and held-back tears would unleash in an uncontrollable torrent. The person was well and truly gone.

It was an embarrassing scene, a grown man being tied up in the chair with the special ropes, tears flowing down his cheeks, watching fixatedly the blaze of the fire as Becka’s toys, clothes and her diary dissolved into ashes. Maybe he should have kept the diary, even though Clare had reminded him over and over to decimate every shred of Becka’s existence. Becka wouldn’t have liked her diary to be burned.

It was all his fault. If he had been around, Becka wouldn’t have died. Then her diary, where she had carefully penned down all her thoughts, wouldn’t need to be burned. He made a reckless move to snatch it away, to salvage the part of the paper that was still untouched by the flames. The rope coldly held him back.

And in a few minutes the fire was out. The only thing left sitting atop the pile of ashes was the fish bowl, charred but whole. The only thing in the tin that Becka didn’t even like.

Ethan calmly untied him again. He tried to stand, but his knees buckled and he fell into a kneel on the ground. Ethan tried to help him up, but he shook his hand away, his head determinedly lowered. He saw Clare gesture towards Ethan, and the latter obediently took a step back.

Lorne took a deep breath and bawled like a baby.

Becka appeared again in his dream that night. They were in the kitchen making pancakes. He burned the first one – there was a noticeable smell in the air. He turned to Becka with a look of shame.

“I’m really bad at this,†he said.

She beamed at him and answered, “Just be sure not to do it again.â€

Then she laughed.

Lorne opened his eyes slowly. He was pleased that he had the dream, so that the last memory he would have of Becka would be her creased-up face, dancing eyes and tinkling laughter. This was the true Becka, after all.

“I’ll definitely not do it again,†he mumbled. “I promise.â€

He visited Mrs Ebonwood the next day, carrying the empty baking tray that the pie had been served on.

“You look much more energetic than yesterday,†she commented. “How’re you feeling now?â€

“Great,†he said simply.

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To Clare's massive relief, the exorcism went uneventfully. Unlike the first time, there hadn't been any spiritual activity at all during the process. This passivity struck Clare as odd, considering that Becka had tried to strangle Lorne only a couple of hours ago. Still, she never could comprehend fully what went on in the mind of spirits. Were they sentient beings still, or merely forces of nature acting out their nature? The Bible, from what she had read, claimed that spirits existed but they went to either Heaven or Hell upon death rather than linger on Earth, which didn't offer much clue on what they thought.

 

She also found Lorne's response curious. The man wept openly this time, as though the exorcism was a funeral and he was mourning the loss of his daughter for the first time. She thought it queer that the haunted would mourn the passing of a closed one with such affection, even if the spirit had tormented them during its supernatural existence. It was as though people selectively remembered only the warm memories in times like these.

 

What had she herself remembered during Hank's funeral? She couldn't recall now, but she remembered weeping into Hank's mother's shoulders during then. She did remember not wanting to believe that Hank was dead, lost to her forever. Three days later, he had returned to her as a ghost.

 

-

 

Since she didn't want to leave until they were certain that Becka really was gone, Clare stuck around the town, Pleasant Glen, for two more weeks after the exorcism. Becka didn't show up again during this time. Instead, Lorne appeared to be moving on with life after grieving for several days. When she last checked in on him over the phone, he had appeared busy - distracted by guests he was having over at his place. This was good. 

 

During this period, she resided in Hank/Ethan's apartment. The man had invited her to and she was still waiting to catch him in the middle of doing something that was undeniably Hank. It was a most infuriating enterprise, however. Ethan had quirks that were certainly Hank-like, but could equally be innocuous. It was stuff like cleaning the saucepans immediately after cooking (instead of waiting until after the food had been consumed like what normal people did), his tastes in trance and 90's pop music (but he hated contemporary pop, which Hank had loved), and making sure that she came first in bed before he did (likely a nonsignificant trait because her previous flings before Hank had been like that as well - a bizarrely fortuitous trend now that she thought of it). He was also good with computers; Clare didn't understand his job, but it mainly involved him working from his computer at home. On the other hand, Hank had been a complete computer newbie who didn't even bother with a Facebook account.

 

There was another thing that hadn't slipped by Clare. She had noticed that the more time she spent with Ethan, the more she hoped not to discover that he wasn't Hank. Sometimes, she caught herself that maybe, just maybe, he was indeed a man whom she had hooked up with in a bar while drunk but who was obviously head over heels in love with her. The evidence did seem to point to this; Ethan had introduced her to his friends (even though it was just two of them), who didn't seem to notice anything different about him. Surely Hank couldn't have assimilated himself so well into a stranger's life, meticulous as he was?

 

The initial agreement was that she would leave after two weeks when they could be sure that Becka had indeed been properly exorcised. However, Ethan had hinted that he would like her to stay and, well, it was a proposition that Clare found herself considering it more and more seriously with each passing night.

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“Lornie, Lornie! Teach me how to do this jigsaw!†Sue called out. Lorne smiled, put away the dishes he was cleaning, and walked over to pat the energetic girl on the head. Sue had taken to calling him Lornie now, a name he took some time getting used to.

“Where did you get this jigsaw anyway?†he asked, appraising its quality. It was a 1000-piece jigsaw for serious players (a level he considered too high for her) and the resulting picture was supposed to be a beach in summer.

“At the toy shop,†answered Mrs Ebonwood as she came out of the room bearing a pile of laundry. “Sue saw it and she insisted on getting it. I told her it looked hard and I can’t teach her how to do it because I’m bad at puzzles, myself. But she said well Lornie was good at it, wasn’t he? And so I had no rebuttal on my side.†She laughed and began folding the clothes.

“It’s been a while since I’ve done it. I may have gotten a little rusty, myself,†he admitted, though he could feel his passions rising again. He could spy in the massive pile of pieces the four corners, and there was one distinctive coloured piece that fitted in that one position… before he knew it, he had drawn up a seat beside Sue and was locking in piece after piece, his brow furrowed in utter concentration.

He was startled out of his reverie by Sue exclaiming that she was bored. He had been too preoccupied playing on his own that he had probably left her fidgeting in her seat. A guilty blush crept into his cheeks as she stood up and headed to her bedroom. He had mistakenly assumed she was as patient as Becka.

“Oh, by the way, Lorne,†Mrs Ebonwood said suddenly, “this is a very impertinent question, but do you have a child? When I went to your house the other day, you looked like you were cleaning out a little girl’s things. I’d never heard you talk about your family.â€

He stiffened. It was the day when Mrs Ebonwood had gone into his house – through a locked door. He had forgotten to ask her about it – he wouldn’t know how to anyway.

“Oh, yes, yes, I did have a daughter,†he said hesitantly. “She passed away, though.â€

“Oh, I’m sorry!†Mrs Ebonwood clapped a hand to her mouth.

“It’s alright,†was his brief reply. “Er, speaking of which, when you came to my house that time… how did you… er…â€

“How did you get in?†sounded like an even more impertinent question to ask. Luckily, as always, Mrs Ebonwood saved him by chiming in with her own story.

“I was going to deliver the pie to you, remember? Then when I walked down your street, there was this girl who was crying by the lamp post. She couldn’t have been older than Sue. When she saw me, she suddenly ran up to me and told me there’s a man in trouble, and I must help. And she led me to your house! I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying, because she was crying so much, but I think she said something about being very sorry, and not knowing what she was doing, and that Daddy can’t die. Why, I thought she must be quite mad. I tried the door and it seemed to be stuck, but I tried again a second time and it opened. You really ought to lock your door, though, Lorne. Well when I went in she didn’t follow me in. I was quite relieved for that, I must admit. So I called out for you and then found you at the attic. How strange! Do you know that girl?â€

Lorne shrugged. His lips had turned so dry that he couldn’t speak. Becka had let Mrs Ebonwood enter through a locked door. She had rescued him in the end.

“Well I’m relieved you were just anaemic after all,†Mrs Ebonwood added with a grin. “I was worried for an instant, after the girl’s rambling. She must’ve stolen into the house and seen you faint and gotten frightened. How dangerous that people can go into your house like that!â€

“I lock my door most of the time,†Lorne hastily said before she could launch into a lecture on why doors should be locked at all times. “I was just going to move things out, that’s why I left it unlocked. And also, why, I was so caught up with the jigsaw that I left the dishes in the kitchen still. I’ll get back to them now.â€

He hurriedly got to his feet and made a run for the kitchen.

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"She did that, huh? Who would have thought? Maybe she did have your interests in mind after all. What? Oh. Yeah, I guess there's not much need for us to contact each other any more… Yeah, good bye, Lorne."

 

Clare ended the call and looked at her cellphone thoughtfully. Dysfunctional as Becka and Lorne's love had been, it had prevailed in the end. The parallel with her own situation seemed possible, plausible even.

 

These days, Clare had stopped trying to see Hank in Ethan. Everything came to a head two days ago when Ethan's parents had dropped by for a visit. They were friendly folks, obviously academic in bent like their son. More importantly, however, they had a sit-down together and talked about Ethan's past, discussed all the minute details about it. Clare, without being conscious of it, had interrogated the three of them and had them confirm Ethan's childhood details. She wasn't certain what Ethan had told them, but they had answered her questions patiently, like teachers explaining facts of a world to an over-eager student. They stopped only at 1a.m., when Clare finally glanced at the clock and realized with an embarrassed blush that she had kept them for more than four hours. The two of them - Ethan and herself - had ushered his parents out of the house shortly after.

 

Once the elderly couple's Bentley had turned the corner, Clare pulled Ethan close and whispered to his ear,"Thank you."

 

Neither of them slept that night.

 

Clare set her phone down and returned to the task she had been busying herself with. She removed the tin of gasoline, the bible, rosemary and other trinkets out of the trunk of her SUV and placed them into a cardboard box. She then sealed it with scotch-tape and marked WARNING! AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY on its lid - a small joke between Ethan - her one-time-part-time-exorcist-help - and her. She brought it up to the attic, set it down gently at a corner and turned to leave.

 

She paused mid-way, and then said out aloud to the silent attic,"I don't know where you've gone now, Hank. But thank you. I wasn't ready to let you go then, but I am now… I guess."

 

She left the attic and returned to the lower levels, hoping to catch Ethan so she could tell him that she had learned how to create Functions on Microsoft Excel now.

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Lorne put down the phone, feeling naked, in a way, after he had related the story to Clare. He had bared something she didn’t need to know, didn’t even ask for. Becka would have wanted to keep this secret. He wasn’t sure why he had even made the phone call. He had not wanted to have anything to do with her anymore. It wasn’t her fault, of course – in fact, she had solved the problem for him – but he somehow felt that all these wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t come.

He realised he really didn’t know anything about her, even with how much they had been through. He didn’t know when and how she had gotten a temp named Ethan (did people want to intern for this kind of jobs?), or what had been worrying her before that seemed to have lifted now. He didn’t even know her full name.

“It’s Becka’s birthday today, isn’t it?†said Mrs Ebonwood when he went into the kitchen. He hadn’t even known she had arrived, and he gave a guilty start at her declaration.

“B-Becka?†he stuttered feebly.

“Her birthday’s in July, right?†laughed Mrs Ebonwood, setting two large bags on the table. “Goodness, you’re her father and you look like this is news to you! Well, she’ll be eight years old today, so I’ve made a cake for her! With 8 candles!â€

She rummaged in her bag, taking out a cake box. Lorne drew in a sharp breath at its contents. She had made a strawberry cake, with pink cream frosting lining its circumference, and the words “Happy Birthday Becka†in cursive. It was a bit too cutesy for Becka’s liking – she had never been a pink sort of person – but a feeling of warmth surged within him. He stared for a long time at Mrs Ebonwood, suddenly seeing her in a new light.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what Becka’s like,†she said as she positioned the candles, “so I made a cake that Sue would like. It’s the thought that counts, though, isn’t it? After all, her own Dad forgot about her birthday and didn’t prepare anything!†She slapped him on the arm jokingly, but the gesture suddenly caused his heart to beat abnormally quickly. He hastily made a grunt of acknowledgment and turned away.

Sue was in school, Mrs Ebonwood had added, otherwise she would have come along to celebrate too. But Mrs Ebonwood also thought it probably wasn’t a good idea to bring Sue to the birthday party of a girl who had passed away.

Lorne didn’t mind. He wordlessly watched Mrs Ebonwood bend over to light the candles, humming a 60’s song that she liked. She had probably been an attractive woman in her younger years, but age and childbearing had made her figure dumpy and round. He found he could imagine a younger Mrs Ebonwood pretty easily, but she gave off a greater sense of security like this. He appreciated her enthusiasm and motherly competence, personified by the shapeless posterior and flabby hips in front of him.

“Mrs Ebonwood,†he murmured, “can I call you Elizabeth?â€

Mrs Ebonwood turned towards him and laughed.

“That’s what I’ve been telling you all this time to call me, isn’t it?â€

Yes, but it was the first time he truly thought that it rolled off the tongue beautifully. Elizabeth. Lorne and Elizabeth, enjoying this moment, just the 2 of them. There would be no drama, just the 2 of them accompanying each other, side by side.

He obligingly lowered his head and blew out the candles.

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