Friday 8 June 2012

#FridayFlash - The Usurper

Alicia stood in the living room, drawing patterns in the thick pile of the carpet with her toe. She'd only started dating Sean three weeks previously, and this was the first time she'd visited his house. On the way from the station, Sean confided that she was the first woman outside of his family to set foot through the front door since he lost his wife nine months previously. Talk about pressure.

"Sweetie, I forgot to do the shopping so the fridge is a little embarrassing." Sean's voice floated through the open door from the kitchen.

"That's okay, hon."

"Do you fancy pizza? We can order something in."

"Yeah, I haven't had pizza in ages. Have you got a menu?"

"Try the telephone table."

Alicia saw no flyers on the table, only an ancient Bakelite telephone. She pulled open the drawer, and was confronted by a mess of old receipts, batteries of assorted voltage and takeaway menus. A leaflet for Raymondo's Pizza lay on the top, pinned down by a silver plastic hairbrush. Alicia thought of Sean with his close-cropped blond hair, and gazed at the long red curls entwined in the bristles of the brush.

"Found it," called Alicia. She closed the drawer and set the flyer beside the phone. Sean appeared in the doorway, drying his hands with a scarlet towel.

"I feel really silly about this," he said.

"It's okay, it happens," replied Alicia. She forced a smile.

"What kind of pizza do you fancy?"

"I'll let you choose. I'll eat pretty much anything. I'll just nip to the loo while you look at the menu."

Alicia ducked out into the hall and padded up the stairs. She found herself torn between relief that she wouldn't have Sean's infamous cooking inflicted on her just yet, and annoyance that he hadn't planned ahead. He could have at least bought something to chuck in the oven – it wasn’t like he didn't know she was coming.

She pushed open the bathroom door and movement in the mirror caught her eye. Alicia started to apologise, sure she'd walked in on someone, but scanning the room, she saw it was empty. Must have been my reflection, she thought.

After flushing the toilet, Alicia looked for the soap, but saw none on display. She opened the cabinet above the sink, wondering if Sean put it away between uses. Her eyes roved across shaving foam, shampoo and spare razorheads. She paused when she reached the pale lavender bottle of violet-scented shower gel. Testing the weight with her hand, she guessed it was half full. Behind it lay a packet of makeup remover wipes, dried out with age.

They must be Manda's, she thought. I doubt that shower gel is Sean's - look, there's his Lynx Africa gel. And unless there's something he's not telling me, he doesn't look like he wears makeup.

Alicia squirted a blob of Sean’s shower gel into her palm and washed her hands. She closed the bathroom cabinet, and started when she caught sight of a figure behind her. Sunlight glinted on long red hair, but when she looked again, the bathroom was empty.

Alicia backed out of the bathroom. Downstairs, Sean ordered a pepperoni and Cajun chicken pizza over the phone. A sharp bang to her left made Alicia jump. She looked around and saw that a small photo frame had fallen from on the bookcase at the top of the stairs. She picked it up and peered at the photo; Sean and a beautiful redhead standing on a beach at sunset. Sean wore a tuxedo, and the redhead wore a wedding dress.


Alicia frowned. She turned to look back in the bathroom, and glared at the mirror. Alicia screwed up her face in a silent snarl, and put the photo frame face down on the bookcase. The redhead in the mirror’s reflection glared back.


Sean stood at the bottom of the stairs, still holding the phone.


“I’ve ordered the pizza.”

“Oh. Erm, I’m really not feeling well, I think I might have a lie down before it gets here.”

“Are you okay?” Concern clouded Sean’s face.

“Yes, it’s just been a long day, that’s all.”

“Alright. Well the bedroom is the room on your right. I’ll come get you when the pizza arrives – he said it would be about forty minutes.”

Sean ducked back into the living room. Alicia headed into the bedroom, and scanned the walls looking for more photos of Sean and his dead wife. She heaved a sigh of relief that only landscapes adorned the walls.

She clambered onto the bed and lay back, her head sinking into the pillow. The firm grip on her stomach relaxed, and she stretched out.

Alicia was on the cusp of drifting to sleep when a knock on the wall jerked her awake. Condensation fogged the glass of the photo frame opposite the bed, obscuring the print of London by night. Alicia hauled herself upright and stared as letters appeared in the moisture.


Alicia didn’t remember the flight down the stairs but she found herself in the downstairs hallway, pulling on her shoes and reaching for her coat. Sean poked his head around the doorframe.

“Alicia? Where are you going?”

“Home. I can’t be here.”


“It’s your wife.”

Sean sighed and a pained expression settled across his features, adding ten years to his face.

“She’s dead, Alicia. She died nine months ago. I’m over it, honestly. I’ve told you that.”

“Try telling her that, then.” Alicia gestured to the grinning reflection of the redhead in the hallway mirror. The front door slammed behind her before she registered the surprise, and fear, on Sean’s face.

She didn't hear him beg for mercy.


Sulci Collective said...

nice build from perfectly innocent residues like hair left on a brush and stuff at the back of the bathroom cabinet, to real menace.

marc nash

Tony Noland said...

The hairbrush was a great touch. Poor Sean... I wonder why his wife is so mad?

Anonymous said...

Ok, that's creepy and I am legitimately a big blouse and will be sleeping with the light on.
Adam B @revhappiness

Icy Sedgwick said...

Marc - I'd have done better with more words but thought I'd try it flash-length.

Tony - She's not mad, just dead...and pissed off about it!

Adam - You big girl!

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

So I'm making toast this morning and thought I'd read your flash while the toast is toasting... then I got lost in your words and forgot about everything else until suddenly the toaster popped up and I just about crapped my pants. Thanks for the morning scare, Icy! It was a good one!

mazzz_in_Leeds said...

you could have gone either way, with leaving it so that it could have been her paranoia/imagination...
But I'm glad you went the other way :-)

tom gillespie said...

There's nothing more dangerous than a dead woman scorned. ..Ohh.. Mirrors.. don't you just love them. Great interplay between what appears to be domestic ordinariness and the increasing horror that slowly engulfs the characters.. fab!

Rebecca Emin said...

I like the build up in this. I'm really glad she got out at the end though. Scary stuff!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Cathy - Haha, you're welcome!

Maria - Would you have expected anything else?

Tom - Mirrors are fascinating!

Rebecca - Yeah, she gets out...but Sean doesn't...

Larry Kollar said...

Wow, the pacing was excellent here. It left me wondering whether Manda was just insanely jealous… or maybe Sean assisted her demise somehow?

Tim VanSant Writes said...

I'm glad Alicia got out. Even without the menacing dead wife, Sean didn't sound like a keeper anyway.

Unknown said...

I'm glad she didn't, let being dead stop her

John Pender said...

Hauled ass out of there just like I would!

Anonymous said...


I'm going for creepy!

John Wiswell said...

Aw man, I thought when they started by going for pizza that a few characters were going to make it out of your fiction cute and okay. I should have known the clutches of Icy Von Doom are merciless.

Jen said...

I love the last line in this, as I said, but I think what I like most about the whole story is that for some reason I just don't like this guy. He says he's over his wife after just 9 months, which I guess is... okay, but then he has all these things of hers in the house. My mind wants to make it that maybe he killed her and that's why she's so angry. I guess I have a violence mind. Good story!

Unknown said...

Sometimes, it takes a while before one is ready to move on. I certainly hope Sean didn't have anything to do with Manda's disappearance, because if you did, I think he's in for trouble. I like the focus on Alicia.

liminalfiction said...

Does this mean Alicia's available? I have a few fictional friends in the UK who may be interested. Fun story, Icy. That pizza sounds tasty, by the way.

Steve Green said...

I think the rest of Sean's day may not be quite what he had in mind, at least Manda was gracious enough to let Alicia leave before teaching him the error of his ways.

Helen A. Howell said...

That's one mad wife! I think this piece would benefit from being much longer, the build up was good, but it deserves more.

I knew there would be a ghost in there somewhere, and you didn't disappoint me! ^_^

Anonymous said...

being haunted by his dead wife. Poor guy. I also think it deserves more. A second piece?

Dijeratic said...

Classic ghost story - excellent from first to last.

Katherine Hajer said...

Even though Manda seemed genuinely, um, negative (I didn't get "angry" specifically), I couldn't help feeling it was Alicia she was looking out for. Not wanting to toss out a dead spouse's personal effects I completely understand and support. But leaving her stuff where she last left it is a sign that Sean's not as accepting of her death as he might think -- or want to convey.

The detail choices in here are great, but what I found most interesting is that while Manda is very direct and firm with Alicia, she never actually threatens her or does anything to interfere with her safety.

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