A Shady Plot by Elsie Brown
Para 1, 2 &3 .. Jenkins, the publisher, implored me to write another ghost story, because these were the sort of stories that titillated his readers. Such contents boosted his circulation. He felt his readers just loved my ghost characters.
Para 4 .. I couldn’t disregard Jenkins’s words as his magazine was the only one to accept my writing.
Para 5 .. I had no inkling of a ghost story plot then, but I didn’t worry much as the ideas spring up unexpectedly inexplicably. It had happened like that in the past often. Somehow, the ghost stories find me; not the other way. My first fiction was a ghost story. The plot would elude me for months, but when I decide to give up, it comes rushing in.
Jenkins had sought a ghost story from me in the past, and I could produce one on demand. It is strange when I need money to pay off my grocer or the landlord, he begins to pester me for a story. Such ability to conjure up a plot in the spur of time had made me overconfident about my ability.
Para 6 .. I headed home. Sitting down at my desk, I began to nudge my mind to think of a plot, but it refused to activate. Soon, it wavered off to other mundane things. I began to think of my wife’s incorrigible love for shopping that strained my purse so much. I soon realized the problem was there to stay. Feeling powerless, I brought back my truant mind back to the task of thinking about ghosts and their ways.
Para 7 .. My struggle to enter the world of ghosts was turning to be a fool’s errand. I was getting annoyed with myself.
Para 8 .. I heard a voice that seemed to share my frustration.
Para 9 .. I sprang to my feet both in wonder and delight.
Para 10 .. Darkness was beginning to engulf the earth. Lost in my thought, I had forgotten to light the lamp. The room was semi-dark. Shadows of furniture were visible. As I stared into the darkness, some strange thing appeared to be forming. First to appear was an arm, then came a white blouse, then a leg and a plaid skirt. Finally the full figure of a woman stood before me.
Para11 .. The woman was tall and scrawny, with large eyes. She wore big bone-rimmed spectacles. Her hair made into a ball hung behind her head, but strangely it was visible through her head. It was a weird view. She had nicely formed jaws almost akin to a living being. Over all, she had all the human features, but she wore a very unpleasant look.
Para 12 .. She came near, and looked at me with a piercing gaze. I had never met a woman like this before. I was puzzled at her intent.
Para 13 .. I sat still, thinking how to respond to the situation. At this time, in a very hoarse voice, she yelled, “What are you gaping at?”
Para 14 .. The shriek sent a shiver down my spine. I gulped down involuntarily although there was nothing in my mouth.
Para 15 .. I was nervous. I replied that I just wanted to know the purpose of her visit. Unable to hold back my curiosity, I asked her how she managed to gather herself limb by limb and how she got the sequence of assembly of the parts right.
Para 16 .. She appeared to be surprised at my ignorance. Very curtly she said that I had called for her.
Para 17 .. I was both bewildered and shocked at what she said.
Para 18 .. I expressed my great surprise at her claim.
Para 19 .. Very assertively, she asked me if I was not indeed looking for a ghost the whole afternoon to be able to write a story on.
Para 20 .. I agreed. In the next moment, a very troubling thought left me shivering in fright. I had advertised for a stenographer to help me out. The vacancy didn’t exist anymore as I had recruited someone. Was this lady aspirant for that post? I proceeded to explain the fact, but she cut me short.
Para 21 .. She confronted me with a question that really confounded me. She said she had come to attend the interview in time after finishing an earlier assignment, but I had been very perfunctory towards her. Instead of interviewing her, I had engaged in some frivolous chat.
Para 22 .. Accused of this neglect, I had no option but to apologize.
Para 23 .. She tersely told me not to bother her community anymore as they had decided not to respond to my summons. She even said that they were going on strike.
Para 24 .. I was quite taken aback.
Para 25 .. Again she showed her abrasive self. As if admonishing me, she asked me not to yell at her.
Para 26 .. My fear of the trespasser rose in the same way as my bewilderment. I told her that it was never my intention to raise my voice at her. Saying this, I told how clueless I felt about who she really was.
Para 27 .. Instead of clearing the air, she continued with her threats. She declared that they were going on strike, and that meant no more ghost plots would be available to me anymore.
Para 28 .. The rude words left me gaping in horror.
Para 29 .. I asked her if my earlier ghost stories emanated from her domain, her community.
Para 30 .. Yes, she said authoritatively.
Para 31 .. But I remonstrated saying none of the ghosts in my stories bore any resemblance to her.
Para 32 .. She declared that my readers would be incredulous if my ghost characters looked like her. Saying this, she came forward menacingly. With little grace, she sat on the table disregarding the pens and pencils she was trampling on with her weight. Then turned she towards me.
Para 33 .. To add to my puzzle and discomfort, she declared that she had been a writer in her previous life.
Para 34 .. I was amazed.
Para 35 .. She nodded coolly.
Para 36 .. Then came her startling revelation. She said she had switched her career from a writer to a reader in a magazine in her earlier life. While uttering these words, she appeared to be immersed in thoughts. She confessed that she had passed through very torrid times. During that spell, she assumed that her enduring of extreme hardship was leading her to heaven. Finally, she died and became a ghost. She decided to avenge the misery that had been heaped on her.
Para 37 .. She proceeded to narrate how she came across others who had suffered similar ordeal. She joined hands with her fellow sufferers to form ‘The Writer’s Inspiration Bureau’. She and her coterie went around looking for writers who were mild-mannered and impressionable, and were short of ideas for ghost plots. On spotting the right target, they report the discovery to their main office which deputes one of them to call on the idea-less writer. After the encounter was over, the caller submits a report.
Para 38 .. In great awe, I told her that I had never seen her before.
Para 39 .. As if to show her magnanimity, she said she had come to inform me about the impending strike. That was why I was granted the opportunity to see her. Then came her shocker. She said how she had bent over my shoulders when I was trying to conjure up a plot.
Distraught and utterly confused, I grunted pulling apart my hair. The weird abominable character had touched me. This very thought made me convulse in disgust. What would my wife make of it when she got to know of this, I wondered. The odious visitor’s presence made me tremble with rage and distress. As if to further depress me with another doze of vulgarity, she said how her friends have often been called out of their beds in recent years. She said she was done with me.
Para 40 .. I was eager to assert that I had no truck with her. I was keen to end the encounter politely and see her off.
Para 41 .. My diabolical visitor was in no mood to end there. As if to comfort me, she said that it was not me whom she was referring to. It was the fanatics from Ouija Board, she told me in a reassuring voice. As it appeared, they had a harrowing experience with Ouija Board guys. She said that their earlier errands for spotting gullible targets had been discontinued as a result. They were simply answering questions sitting at their desks in the office. She relapsed to a reflective mood.
Para 42 .. Restless at the incoherent things she was talking about, I wanted a quick end to the conversation. I earnestly told her that I had nothing to do with what had happened to her.
Para 43 .. Looking at me with a condescending stare, she rose.
Para 44 .. She wanted me to mobilize my friends and relations to rein in the hideous Ouija Board characters. Only after this, she and her community would be willing to help me, she said.
Para 45 .. I was about to tell her that I was not up to the task.
Para 46 .. I could hear someone coming towards the door.
Para 47 .. It was my wife. She was calling out to me by my name, ‘John’.
Para 48 .. I frantically waived my hand at the visitor. I wanted her to disappear.
Para 49 .. I begged the bespectacled intruder to leave at once. I certainly wanted not to be embarrassed when my wife came in.
Para 50 .. The ghost understood my plight. She became motionless and started to evaporate. First her gumboots became misty. The vanishing proceeded apace till her whole self began to become invisible. My wife was just entering the room then.
Para 51 .. Before vanishing, she sternly told me not to forget the strike threat. As Lavinia, my wife, came in the visitor made her exit.
Para 52 .. My wife wanted to know why I hadn’t switched on the lights when it was so dark all around.
Para 53 .. I could answer nothing other than saying that I was engrossed in some thoughts.
Para 54 .. My wife was dismissive. She had heard me talking to somebody.
Para 55 .. My wife went a few steps forward to light the lamp. The awkward face I develop when nervous remained out of her sight as she faced the lamp with her back towards me.
Para 56 .. As she said she had bought a very exciting item that had everyone around her swoon over it.
Para 57 .. I was always in awe of her penchant to buy new items. Her excitement made me very depressed as I had to foot the bill anyway.
Para 58 .. I fumbled to say something. I couldn’t dare to ask her what she had bought and what was the cost.
Para 59 .. With great sense of joy and exhilaration, she told me what it was. It was the Ouija board! She said what a bargain it was. But my face became sullen instantly. She was a bit surprised at the sudden change in my mood.
Para 60 .. I was beginning to feel disoriented.
Para 61 .. I dreaded the possibility of my lady visitor getting to know my wife’s new possession, and returning. The resulting shock would have driven my Lavinia to a frenzied eruption of shock, anger and jealousy.
Para 62 .. My wife was amused at my rapidly changing demeanor.
Para 63 .. I had to say that my keen interest in her new Ouija board made me look a little different. But I couldn’t help commenting that it was a foolish thing to buy.
Para 64 .. My wife was clearly upset at my failure to appreciate the item she had bought for me.
Para 65 .. My curiosity knew no bounds. How could a Ouija board interest me, I said.
Para 66 .. She proceeded to explain how the Ouija board could get me any information in a jiffy. Write a book on history would need no visit to the library and no endless pouring over books. By resting my paper on the board I could summon Napoleon, William, the conqueror, or even the Helen of Troy. It was a board with magical properties that could make ideas flow through my mind like a brook cascading down a hill. I could write stories and novels with great ease.
Para 67 .. I told my wife that she was no believer in Ouija boards supernatural ideas.
Para 68 .. Lavinia admitted that she had been thrilled by its appeal. The sheer excitement had driven her to buy it.
Para 69 .. Lavinia vaguely looked around the room as she sat on the arm of my chair. There was nothing to catch her attention. I was relieved.
Para 70 .. I expressed my displeasure to my wife about her purchase. I made no secret of my extreme dislike for that object. In no uncertain terms, I demanded that she should at once go and get the item exchanged for something useful.
Para 71 .. She looked at me puzzled and somewhat annoyed.
Para 72 .. With a stern voice, she addressed me formally by my full name. She said the seller won’t exchange the item as it was under bargain sale. Secondly, she told me firmly that she had interest in otherworldly affairs, and that is why she must retain the Ouija board despite my loathing it. Exasperated, she stormed out of the room. I had no time to react.
Para 73 .. The situation remained rancorous the whole evening. I shudder to broach the Ouija board matter anymore that evening hoping that the tension would wear off in due course.
Para 74 .. After the supper, I went to restart my effort to write, but gave up as my mind’s doors remained shut to anything creative.
Para 75 .. The next day was Saturday. I had to leave early as I had a hectic day ahead. I couldn’t see Lavinia. I was making some money from my writing, but it was not enough for my purpose. I worked as an accountant in a lumber company to augment my income. The money I made from here helped me pay my grocer’s bills and meet the expenses of my wife’s erratic purchases. Friday had been a half holiday causing work to pile up. The pressure of work and my wife’s haughty mood left me with no room to take to writing.
Para 76 .. I disembarked from the taxi, and went in to my house upstairs. From a distance, I felt that the house appeared brighter than usual, but as my mind was still in turmoil, I didn’t take notice of it.
Para 77 .. In the hall inside my house, Gladolia met me.
Para 78 .. In her faltering way, she told me how keen my wife had been to see that I returned early, and had called me to say so. Then she asked me not to start an argument with Lavinia over this which could spoil the occasion.
Para 79 .. I remembered having been given a message by our clerk, but as I was briskly searching for three misplaced receipts then, the message hadn’t registered in my mind.
Para 80 .. I don’t know what was passing through my mind then that made me to blurt out, ‘Company? What company?”
Para 81 .. She reminded me that it was my wife’s Ouija board party. Saying this, she winked towards the kitchen.
Para 82 .. Absentmindedly I went upstairs, freshened up, wore a party suit and came down. But, I did all these so mechanically that nothing remained in my mind. I was so lost in my thoughts.
Part 83 .. The guests appeared to be in high humour as the decibel level was high. I went to the door which was ajar and peeped inside.
Part 84 .. The guests were all elderly women. They were the members of the Book Club which my wife patronized too. They sat in pairs with an Ouija board sandwiched between them. The triangular tables moved making a squeaking sound, but it was drowned by the noise of the animated discussion going on. Apprehensively, I looked around to see if the ghost had sneaked in. That would be a disaster for my wife. A hideous intruder might drive her nuts, I feared. Just then, my wife came in and tapped my shoulders from behind.
Para 85 .. My wife approached me with a very persuasive charming way. With her make-up, she radiated beauty and grace. She told me to pair up with Laura Hinkle in the Ouija game as her partner Mrs. William Augustus Wainright had dropped out in the last moment. Laura wanted a partner.
Para 86 .. I sulked at the suggestion. Before I could do anything to wriggle out of the difficult situation, I found myself led to the seat opposite to Miss Laura Hinkle. The Ouija board was placed on my knees. Laura looked into my eyes so solicitously that I felt a little awkward.
Para 87 .. I persisted with my reluctance.
Para 88 .. Miss Laura wouldn’t let me escape. She nudged me to play with her, but the way she lunged forward made me more determined to resist.
Para 89 .. I was adamant. I stuck to my position.
Para 90 .. Laura was persistent. Oblivious of the reasons behind my refusal, she felt I was hesitating because I didn’t know the rules of the game. Then she showed me how one partner has to put their finger tips in between those of the partner.
Para 91 .. Laura had taken my hand to hers and was holding it tenderly. She was manipulating it to the desired position. She released my hands and the board began to slide erratically. Was it the spirit at work? I was nervous, and wanted to see if my partner was moving the board herself. In that case, the idea of the wicked spirit would prove to be a humbug. I earnestly wanted to discover that my partner was indeed moving the board.
Para 92 .. Laura uttered, ‘Ouija dear, won’t you tell us something?’. No sooner had she finished saying this, than the board appeared to spring back to life.
Para 93 .. Then something very puzzling happened. The Ouija rushed to the upper left hand corner of the board and moved over it with its front leg on the word ‘Yes’. Then it began to fly around so fast that I failed to grab it. Laura bent forward to scribble ‘T-r-a-i-t-o-r’. I was clueless. Why she wrote this word, I wondered.
Para 94 .. I spoke to myself, ‘I don’t know.’ Nervousness and fear gripped me around my throat.
Para 95 .. Laura begged Ouija to explain herself more clearly.
Para 96 .. “A-s-k-h-i-m”. Ask him, Ouija had replied. Laura asked Ouija, whom it meant by ‘Him’.
Para 97 .. In utter disgust, I got up to leave, but the board appeared to drag me down. I dropped back to my seat.
Para 98 .. Laura was intently following the board that had begun to be moving about more briskly by now. She appeared to be trying to decipher what the board was trying to convey. In the background, there appeared to be the blue-eyed huntress overlooking us.
Para 99 .. Laura got to conclude that the messages emanating from the board were directed towards me. She didn’t know why and who was doing the talking. She asked Ouija to clarify who was behind the cryptic messages.
Para 100 .. I was unbearably distraught. Miss Lura Hinkle, my partner, was struggling to spell out a spelling. H-e-l-e-n. ‘Helen’. She uttered the name very loudly. In desperation, I called out my wife to find out if she knew anyone by that name ‘Helen’.
Para 101 .. In the din of the gathering, my wife couldn’t hear the name ‘Helen’. She rustled past her Book Club mates towards me.
Para 102 .. Then came the stunner. She told me how someone by the name of Helen was trying to contact Mr. Hunt through Mrs. Hunt’s and Mrs. Sprinkle’s Ouija. I was thunderstruck and became speechless.
Para 103 .. Struggling to get over the shock of her revelation, I remained quiet. My wife couldn’t comprehend my mind and wanted to know why I showed no reaction.
Para 104 .. I simply gaped at her as if to grasp what she said.
Para 105 .. Seeing my apparent disorientation of mind, my partner Miss Hinkle smiled that looked so silly.
Para 106 .. My Ouija partner disclosed that someone identifying herself as Helen was calling through her Ouija board too.
Para 107 .. I asserted that we knew no one by that name Helen.
Para 108 .. My wife suddenly became unduly inquisitive. Her piercing gaze was trying to delve into the mystery.
Para 109 .. There was a chorus emanating from the Ouija boards in the room. The cry was for my name. I was in a quandary trying to cope with such an unusual and embarrassing development. The Ouija boards hummed with activity and my name got to be heard louder and louder. I was a miserable soul by then being beaten down by so much unwelcome attention. I tried to pull myself up, but failed. My fright and discomfiture was so palpable. I sulked at the crowd of guests.
Para 110 .. Miss Hinkle was watching me intently. She felt I was hiding something very wicked. Her comments made me so flustered that I rushed out of the room.
Para 111 .. I was very agitated. There was no way I could pacify my irate mind. I changed my dress quickly and jumped on to my bed in total darkness. I didn’t like to think of the guests whom I had left so unceremoniously behind, nor did I like to think of the embarrassment I had caused to my wife, the hostess on that occasion.
I could hear the guests departing one by one thanking my wife customarily. She came upstairs. I lay still in my bed, my mind buffeted by the tumult of the Ouija party. Sleep eluded me till 3am. I dozed off after my nerves couldn’t take it anymore.
Para 112 .. When I came to the breakfast table the next morning, my wife was conspicuous by her absence. I assumed she was still in bed. I asked Gladolia, our domestic help, about her. Through her vague gestures she said something which O couldn’t understand. My breakfast over, I went to my study to resume my effort to begin my story.
Para 113 .. I had just seated myself on my chair when I heard a tap in my door. A white piece of paper was pushed in.
Para 114 .. It read, ‘DEAR JOHN’.
Para 115 .. There was a terse, heart-breaking message. She wrote she was going back to her grandmother and her lawyer would soon write to me.
Para 116 .. It was a bolt from the blue. I was utterly devastated. My anguish and sense of loss was overwhelming. I broke down.
Para 117 .. The message did not end there.
Para 118 .. I heard a very hurtful curse saying that I deserved this calamity.
Para 119 .. The letter and the reproachful voice coming out from nowhere had made me slump on my chair. I straightened, but dropped back again. The chain of devastating blows had frayed my nerves beyond my endurance limits. Just then, I could see a pair of white ladies shoes approaching me menacingly across the floor. With a chill racing through my spine, I looked on. The gait was not so unknown as I could remember having seen it before.
Para 120 .. I challenged the intruder.
Para 121 .. The voice seemed to come from a point right above the shoes at a height of five and half feet. When I looked up, I could see a wide protruding mouth. It said, she had no other way.
Para 122 .. I dared her to appear in full rather than in pieces.
Para 123 .. With anger and disgust, she said she needed time to appear in one piece.
Para 124 .. She appeared surprised at my change of attitude towards her.
Para 125 .. She appeared to be trying hard to gather her physical self. The eyes and the nose came out first.
Para 126 .. She blamed me for all the bungling that had happened and the resultant agony for me. As she was saying this, her hair and plaid skirt began to make their appearance.
Para 127 .. I was puzzled. How it could be my fault, I exclaimed.
Para 128 .. She implied that I had kept her awake the whole night before and had summoned her again. She was too tired to reappear again so soon.
Para 129 .. I asked her why she was bothered if she was so tired.
Para 130 .. She said that she was sent to ascertain when my wife was going to get rid of her Ouija board.
Para 131 .. I threw up my hands in despair. I said I regret my misfortune of having seen her. I cried out how she had robbed me of my wife, home and happiness. I persisted with my blame vociferously.
Para 132 .. I heard a voice from outside the room. It was apparently of Gladolia, my cook. She said she was going to leave. She had had enough of the witchcraft.
Para 133 .. I continued to castigate the devilish visitor.
Para 134 .. The visitor told me tersely that she had not come to hear my spiteful accusations.
Para 135 .. Then came in my dear wife Lavinia attired in her brown hat and coat which normally wore while traveling. She carried a suitcase which she kept down on the floor.
Para 136 .. The air was full of some dreadful expectation. The suitcase appeared to portend some approaching evil.
Para 137 .. I lounged forward with all my energy to somehow keep the odious devil out of the sight of my wife.
Para 138 .. My wife avoided my gaze. With a hurt look, she eyed the waste paper basket trying to glean some dark secret out of it.
Para 139 .. She told me detachedly that she was leaving.
Para 140 .. I didn’t know how to react. With no prior thought, I conveyed my readiness to accept her proposition, although I knew I was talking disconertedly.
Para 141 .. Somewhat surprised at my dispassionate response, she demanded to know if I indeed wanted her out of my life.
Para 142 .. I was very keen to avoid a confrontation between my dear wife Lavinia and the wretched witch Helen. My wife was too timid to bear the sight of a ghost. If only, I could make my wife leave the room before I drove away Helen quickly enough, I could save the situation from turning uglier. With this priority in mind, I replied to my wife rather inhumanely that the parting of ways would her a lot of good. But, my intention was to get some free time with my wife to explain the whole matter.
Para 143 .. Lavinia was incredulous about my indifferent stance towards her. My capricious attitude made her suspicious.
Para 144 .. Just then Gladolia barged in to tell my wife to leave my place at once.
Para 145 .. My wife was curious to know why Gladolia was in such panic.
Para 146 .. Gladolia told how mortally she was scared of the Ouija boards. She loathed that devious device, she averred with great force.
Para 147 .. Lavinia wanted to if the Ouija board was the only thing that upset her so much as to leave the job.
Para 148 .. Gladolia readily agreed.
Para 149 .. Lavinia commanded her to go to the kitchen and use up the Ouija board as firewood.
Para 150 .. At my wife’s suggestion, Gladolia recoiled in horror. She swore never to touch that Ouija board again.
Para 151 .. I volunteered to do that job. I said I was ready to stoop to handle the board and consign it to flames.
Para 152 .. Gladolia proceeded towards the kitchen.
Para 153 .. With a look that reflected her torment and disquiet, she demanded to know why I was keen to turn my back on her. What was the secret behind my loathing for her, she wanted to know.
Para 154 .. I wanted to make sure the damn ghost had left before I could open up to my wife. I said something silly to distract my wife as I scanned the room.
Para 155 .. With a stern and commanding voice, she told me to reveal the plot. Why was I so willing to dump her, she must know.
Para 156 .. I gesticulated vaguely to say that there was nothing like that. She had concluded that I had developed a romantic relationship with the elusive devil woman through the Ouija board.
Part 157 .. I protested with all the vehemence at my command. I swore there was nothing secret, nothing sinful. All the while, I was trying to ensure she didn’t look behind me lest she discovered the devilish Helen.
Part 158 .. With a violent jerk, she pushed me back. She screamed to discover who the Satanic Helen was.
Part 159 .. Helen announced her presence.
Para 160 .. Helen stood there with her wretched repelling look that no man on earth would ever like to have a liaison with. Her look would instantly attract disdain rather than love, my wife surmised quickly.
Para 161 .. In a barely audible voice, Lavinia murmured that she had expected to see a real paragon of beauty akin to the Helen of Troy. Now, she was seeing a disgusting witch!
Para 162 .. The visitor remonstrated saying she used to be the Helen of Troy of New York one day. Saying this, she got ready to depart.
Para 163 .. With that she fell down and sank quickly. We got to see her hand vanishing fast.
Para 164 .. My lovely Lavinia fell on to my arms. I kissed her warmly a couple of times. Then, I pushed her to the side. A strong impulse to write seemed to grip me. The scribbling papers and notes were lying on my table.
Para 165 .. I knew I had the most sizzling plot ever in my mind.
[Question-answer and vocabulary practice in Value Pack]