By Betsy Streeter
“I want everyone here to know, even if a message doesn’t come through for you tonight, spirits are all around you, sending you love. The messages that do come through are evidence of this, so do not lose hope.”
Candace Claremont turns in her overstuffed chair and lights a stick of incense on a tiny table on the stage. She pauses to be sure it takes, puts out the match and turns to beam a huge smile at her audience as the thin column of aromatic smoke rises. She stands, puts her hands together and steps forward into the light. It’s a small theatre, and every single seat is occupied by someone who parted with a wad of cash to be sitting there.
“Now, where shall we begin?”
Candace closes her eyes and lowers her arms to her sides. She’s a marshmallow of a woman, a comforting shape like a pie or a big pillow. Her hair, contained in a clip at the back of her head, glows a little under the stage lights.
“I’m over here,” Candace says, stepping toward stage left. In the front row, bodies shift almost as if to try and catch a wave of spiritual energy. Who could it be?
“I’m getting a young male, very young,” Candace says. Right here, with you. Next to you. Do you have a young male?
The couple in the front row, third and fourth seats, solemnly nod their heads. “Yes,” the woman says thinly.
“Passed?” asks Candace.
“Yes.” The man puts his arm around his wife.
“He’s showing me a boat, of some kind. Not a sailboat, a motorboat. Does that mean anything to you?”
The couple look at each other. “No,” says the woman, hesitant. She really, really needs this to be her dead son.
Candace looks at them for a moment. “Well, he’s showing me a boat. A fast boat. Anyone over here have a boat?”
A woman in the third row raises her hand.
“You ma’am, you have a boat. Or a connection to a boat.”
“Yes,” she squeaks, “my son died in a motorboat accident.”
A murmur moves through the crowd.
“Okay, then this must be him,” says Candace. “He’s showing me the boat, but he’s also showing me, an animal. A stuffed animal. Some kind of, it seems like it’s a gift of some sort. It’s got markings on it…”
“Zebra stripes?” says row three woman.
“That could be it,” says Candace. “He’s showing it to me, as if it’s a gift. Holding it out, like this.” She extends her hands in front of her.
“I gave it to him,” says the woman. “As a gift, just before he died. For his birthday.”
Another murmur. Necks crane forward.
“Well then, this must be him coming through,” concludes Candace. “He passed recently?”
“Last year,” says the woman.
“He wants to send you his love,” says Candace, “and tell you that he’s okay.”
The woman buries her face in her hands and sobs.
“He’s okay,” says Candace, “and he knows the pain that you’re in, and he’s very sorry. There’s nothing you could have done.”
“Now,” Candace continues, “there’s another person, a female, older, coming through also. Sometimes they come through together, but they don’t know each other. They just, connect in that way. This is an older female, her name is something like Marcie or Margie, or something like that. I’m feeling like she’s over here…” she crosses the stage and gestures up into the middle seats. Hands go up.
“Do you have a Marcie?” she asks one of them.
“Margie,” says a man.
“Older?” asks Candace.
“Yes, well, about fifty,” he replies.
“Older than you, then?” asks Candace.
The man nods. “Yes.”
“Well, she’s showing me something about a kitchen, some sort of meal being prepared, something like that?”
“Margie loved to cook,” says the man.
“Ah,” says Candace. “And she’s got, it looks like, an apron on, or maybe it’s a dress. Something with a skirt of some kind. Does that make sense?”
“She did have an apron…” says the man, a little hesitant. Did she have an apron? Everyone who loves to cook has an apron, right? His brow furrows.
Candace steps back. “So many,” she says, “sometimes they all come through at once. I’ll have to take a second to sort this out…”
“Here,” she points to a lady in front. “I think this one’s here, with you. I’ve got a man, older man…”
“My husband,” the woman blurts out.
“Well let’s be sure, I don’t want to mix anyone up…” Candace smiles, the audience chuckles. She’s such a warm, reassuring presence.
“He’s got, it looks like, a plaid shirt.”
“Oh! He always wore plaid shirts. Every day.”
“Probably I’m with you, then,” says Candace. “He’s telling me you have a college-aged son. Is that right?”
The woman’s eyes are wide. “Yes, yes we do,” she says.
“He says, well, he’s showing me something like a diploma, is your son applying to graduate school?” asks Candace.
“Well, we’ve talked about it…” the woman says.
“He says go ahead with applying,” says Candace, “he says your son is going to get some very good news.”
“Oh, wonderful, thank you!” gushes the woman. The audience applauds lightly at this lady’s good fortune.
“Okay, Candy, that’s where you lost me,” comes a big, rough voice from the back row.
Candace stops, and shades her eyes with one hand to peer out into the audience. “Yes? Someone had a question?” She is used to hecklers and skeptics, she knows exactly what to do. She has dealt with this hundreds of times.
“No, I don’t have a question,” says the voice again, “I just said, that’s where you lost me.”
Candace smiles reassuringly. “I understand, this can all seem very strange…” She squints from the edge of the stage.
“Well, yes, strange, but that’s not the issue,” says the voice.
People in the audience turn, twisting their necks and torsos to get a look back at the speaker. Seats creak all through the room.
Candace peers harder, finally picking out a man in a baseball cap and blue windbreaker, sitting in the very last seat of the very back row.
Her face goes blank. She can’t believe it. It’s that cap, and that windbreaker. There is no mistaking.
“Gene? Uncle Gene?”
“Yes, Candy, it’s me, ol’ Gene. Nice that you remember me.”
“Dead? Well that’s not surprising is it? Isn’t that what this whole gig is about? Talking to the dead? Good grief, Candy, that seems pretty obvious.”
Candace does not do her work this way. She does not carry on conversations with actual dead people sitting in front of her. At least, not until now.
A woman in the next seat over from Uncle Gene gasps in horror, having realized that she can see the back of his seat through his torso. She shrinks away from him, clutching the arm rest. Gene’s translucent appearance has quite an effect on the rest of the audience too, many of them rubbing their eyes or turning to each other, looking back at him, then at each other again as if this process will clear their vision.
Gene stands up, with great effort. “I can’t push off things hard enough any more,” he complains to the people around him. “Takes forever to get around.”
“Don’t get up,” he says to the people seated in his row, walking right through their legs.
Gene reaches the middle aisle of the theatre, and turns to take in the crowd. “Nice bunch you’ve got here, Candy. Nice people.”
“Well, thank you…”
“So, here’s where you lost me. See, Candy, when you said somebody was gonna get some good news. Who was that? Was it you, there?” Gene gestures with his faded hand toward the dumbfounded woman with the dead husband.
“Um, yes, well, yes, I suppose…” she stammers.
“Look here, lady. You’re a fine person, I’m sure you are. But I’ve gotta clear some things up for you people. Us dead folks, we can’t see the future. Honestly. It’s not like we get a cape and superpowers when we die, become superhuman. I’m the same messed up, irritating person now that I was in life. And I was messed up and irritating, wasn’t I, Candy?”
Candace, who has stood rooted to the same spot for the last several minutes, suddenly reanimates. “Well, yes, Gene, you were pretty irritating. Are. Pretty irritating. What are you doing here?”
“I’m just helping, Candy,” says Gene, walking up the center aisle. “I always took an interest in you, my only niece, didn’t I? And like I said, these are good folks. They’ve suffered the misfortune of losing someone. And they’re here because they want a message from those people. To hear something, anything. That’s all very admirable, isn’t it?”
Candace stares down the aisle at Gene. Her uncle, the crazy uncle nobody understood. And now, here he is again, confusing everybody. Like he did in life. The guy who could be counted on to say something totally inappropriate at every family gathering. But he did always take an interest in her, always sent her a birthday card, wanted to know how she was doing. She realizes now, she appreciated that. A young kid can get lost in all the family events. Gene always took notice of her, treated her like she mattered.
Gene continues. “Well, Candy, if you’re gonna give them messages, give them messages. Real messages.”
A gasp comes from the crowd. Is this dead guy accusing Candace of being unable to talk to the dead? Does that even make any sense?
“You know what I mean, Candy,” says Gene. “None of this sugar-coated bullcrap. You tell them the whole thing.”
He stands and looks at her, waiting. She looks back at him.
Finally, she nods and says, “Fine. Okay.”
“Good,” says Gene. He walks down the aisle to the front of the stage, climbs up (again with some effort given his non-solid nature), stands and looks Candace in the face. He touches her cheek briefly, or seems to anyway, and then he’s gone, exit stage right, fading away with a smile and a tip of his translucent baseball cap.
Candace watches him go and then turns back to her audience, who sit in silence. She takes a deep breath. The incense smoke continues to snake toward the ceiling, seeming thin and insubstantial in comparison to the appearance of an actual dead guy.
“Well, then,” she says, “time to get on with it, I suppose.”
She paces back and forth a bit on the stage, before resuming.
“You, there. Yes, with the yellow sweater. I’m seeing a father figure, passed recently. Yes? Well then, I have to tell you, he’s pissed. Really pissed. I’m going to lay it on you, sister. These are the real messages, the whole truth, so get ready.”
Candace goes on. “This father figure, first of all, he hated those sweaters you have, with the appliqués of deer and squirrels all over them. Hated those. He notices you’re not wearing them any more, which gives him the distinct impression that you only wore them to irritate him.”
Yellow sweater’s eyeballs are popping out of her head. She nods, slowly.
“Ah, so you did. Well, there’s that mystery solved. Also, apparently your sister was a major source of stress for him. Do you have a sister?”
Yellow sweater nods. She has yet to utter a word.
“Well then, your sister sounds like a real nightmare, I have to tell you. Get away from her, he’s saying. She’ll drive you crazy. Give you an aneurism, he says. Lady is poison.”
Candace wheels around toward the other side of the audience. “Okay now,” she says, “over here, I’m getting a couple, older couple, together, both passed. Someone lose their parents? Yes, over here.”
A man in his thirties pokes his hand up. “My parents passed away within two weeks of each other.”
“They are showing me, a sofa. With flowers on it? Big flowers?”
The man’s eyes roll. “Honestly,” he says, “they’re still arguing about the stupid couch? God, you guys, can’t you let it rest?” He’s speaking up into the air.
“They’re right next to you sir,” says Candace. “No need to talk to the ceiling.”
“Whatever,” he says. “Mom, Dad, wherever you’re hanging around, honestly. You’re both idiots. Arguing over a godawful sofa. I should have known.”
Candace waits a few beats. Probably better to let this one go.
“And back here,” Candace redirects everyone’s attention, “last row. I’ve got, looks like, a male, middle aged, seems like he’s … got a shop of some sort? He’s showing me something like a bakery, or a store of some kind?”
“My ex-husband had a grocery store…” says a woman.
“Well,” says Candace, “this gentleman is saying, congratulations. On something. Did you remarry? He’s showing me a wedding ring?”
“Well, yes…” says the woman.
Candace stands still, her face contorts a little. “Um, well, he’s showing me … never mind, what he’s showing me. Suffice it to say, he’s got some opinions about your new husband, it would seem.”
“Of a private nature, if you get my meaning,” says Candace.
A couple of titters from the audience.
“Why, that…” The woman is clearly becoming angry. Of all the people to show up, her ex? What an asshole. It’s not helping that the rest of the audience finds this funny.
“Okay, okay, sorry,” says Candace, doing all she can to prevent a smirk from taking over her face. She turns away to pick up something else, quit humiliating this poor lady.
“Now, here’s something,” says Candace, “I’ve got, a man and a woman again, but different, older, they’re showing me … a shovel?”
Candace furrows her brow, peering into the space above everyone’s heads. “A shovel, and a hole in the ground? Does that make sense to anyone?”
No one moves a muscle.
She looks toward the fourth or fifth row, left side. “Somewhere, over here? I’m getting some kind of connection, to you, sir? Are the two of you together?”
“No, er, yes,” stammers a man. The woman next to him has gone white. “I mean, maybe.”
“Well which is it?” asks Candace. “Because these folks have a shovel, and they’re looking at you two … and they’re showing me, for lack of a better term, a shallow grave.”
The couple doesn’t move. Their eyes are huge. “I, er, we’re, we don’t know anything about a shovel. Nothing at all.”
The woman interjects. “Well, they did love gardening, didn’t they, honey?” She grins a huge grin and nods her head vigorously.
“Oh yes, gardening, of course,” says the man.
“Well I’d say these folks are talking about a little more than growing tomatoes,” says Candace.
“I, well…” the man begins, but the woman jabs him hard in the ribs with her elbow. They both fall silent, staring ahead. The rest of the audience shifts uncomfortably in their seats. A few lean forward, very carefully, to get a look at the couple’s faces.
“All right then,” says Candace, clapping her hands together. “I’m terribly sorry everyone, but I’m out of time for tonight. Thank you for coming, and as always, remember that spirits are all around us … watching over us, and, well…”
Candace stands silently for a moment, and she begins to laugh. Small chuckles at first, nasal in nature, but then the laughter builds into a rich series of loud guffaws, and she must lean forward and rest her hands on her knees a moment just to remain standing. She composes herself somewhat, and, still laughing, walks to the center of the stage and puts out the incense.
Betsy Streeter is an author and cartoonist. Her writing has appeared in Perihelion, Literary Orphans, 1000words, Story Shack and others. Her cartoons have been published all over the world for a super long time, including a cartoon in the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory’s traveling exhibit on black holes in which someone gets sucked into a very dense cake. She has written a YA science fiction novel entitled “Silverwood,” and is at work on a second book in the series. She is debuting a new sci fi comic entitled “Neptunia” at Perihelion in summer of 2013. She lives in Northern California with her husband, 2 kids, 2 cats and Tina the tarantula.