Only Sunday could see the woman sitting in the booth.
The rest of the patrons had pushed their chairs in, gathering their purses and jackets. The restaurant was closing, but the woman still sat sipping coffee and taking bites of tiramisu. Bussers and servers hurried back and forth, carrying plates and silverware, scooping up the tablecloths, while Sunday, the restaurant manager, stood beside the hostess stand. She shook off her memories of the Other World. She was back, safe, and alive. Back home at her old job.
From where she stood, Sunday observed the way the woman held the spoon with her slender hand, brought it up to her mouth, and nibbled on the creamy cake with two large front teeth. Teeth that rested on her bottom lip, too long to sit in her mouth. She chewed her nibble, twitching her nose and shaking her whiskers. The woman with the muzzle of a mouse. A long skinny tail brushed against the floor beside her feet.
The animal features didn’t bother Sunday. All spirits that didn’t move on to the Other World developed non-human features. The older the spirit, the more animal they became. Sunday had been seeing spirits since she was a child. They smelled of fresh ocean breezes when they were calm and rotten eggs when upset. This one reminded Sunday of her trip to Monterey. She pictured waves crashing on the sandy beach and a cool breezing wafting the scent of salt and seaweed around her. Sunday worried what would happen if that cool breeze turned rotten.
She had experience with all kinds of spirits. She and her father used to help spirits move on, traveling the country under the guise of repairing and delivering antique furniture, but her father had joined the spirits of the Other World, leaving Sunday alone with the living.
Well, not completely alone. She had Matty. She knew he stuck around their hometown for her, knew that the moment she decided she was ready to move on, he would have his bags packed and the tank full of gas.
The spirit lifted the white mug to her furry lips, then she replaced it on the small plate with a delicate clink. Only the spirit and Sunday could see the illusion of dishes and plates that the mouse spirit had summoned. In a moment, someone would be by to sweep the tablecloth from the table. The force, like an abrupt wind, would wipe the spirit from her seat. She’d disappear again, but she’d be back, sitting in the same seat, just as she had for the past week now.
Sunday should have sat down next to her before that happened. She should have communicated with her, discovered why the spirit had not moved onto the Other World, but she remained behind the hostess’s podium, watching. Just as she had done for days.
The sprinkle of freckles across the spirit’s nose and familiar tight brown curl of her hair were achingly similar to Sunday’s. The spirit reminded her so much of her mother. For all Sunday knew, her mother could have died, and her spirit could be visiting her make to amends of some sort. She hadn’t seen her mother since she was seven years old when her mother had walked out on Sunday and her father. The theoretical conversation with the mouse spirit ran through her mind, playing as if it were her mother, full of amends that Sunday didn’t want to hear.
If her mother had died and come to Sunday as a spirit, should she mourn? Of course, she’d be sad to hear of the death. She didn’t hate the woman, didn’t wish ill on her. Well, maybe some ill. She could wish that her mother was stuck in a dead-end job with no clue what to do with her life, that she lived in a cycle of sleeping and working with no hope of an end in sight. She and Sunday would have something in common.
Sunday shifted on her aching feet as she swallowed a lump in her throat.
Perhaps that had been the life her mother had lived with her. A wife, a mother, a monotonous cycle of waking up, working, cooking, cleaning, nurturing, going to bed early—only to get up and do it all over again. Had her mother finally had enough? As much as she loathed her mother, the hurt and betrayal still raw even after two decades, a small part of Sunday wished she could do the same and leave.
She had, for just a moment, almost a year ago. She’d had an adventure. She’d made friends, experienced loss and triumph. She’d stopped the world from descending into chaos.
And then what? She’d returned to her hometown, returned to her job, lived day-to-day life with other people, but the town had grown empty to her. While tables at the restaurant filled and lines at the grocery store grew long, Sunday’s home had transformed into a ghost town. No value, no joy. She wondered why she stuck around, but if she left, where would she go?
The spirit continued to enjoy her dessert, glancing toward the hostess’s podium after each nibble of her tiramisu. The woman was there to talk to her. Spirits regularly sought out Sunday, one of the few Seers who could actually communicate with the dead.
Well, not communicate in the traditional sense. Spirits couldn’t or didn’t talk, but the transmission was enough to get the point across.
Her gift allowed her to understand the spirits’ unfinished business and help them finish it. And she did. Her life was serving customers at the restaurant, then going home to serve spirits. She lived and worked for others’ needs,
if only she could figure out her own.
A new server snatched the tablecloth from the spirit’s setting, and the spirit vanished. Sunday exhaled. She didn’t need to worry about the ghost for a couple days now, since she had the next two off. Next time, the spirit may grow restless, may lose her patience with Sunday.
She stepped around the hostess stand and navigated through the dining room to join the waitress.
“I’ll take those.” Sunday took the bundle of dirty tablecloths from her arms. “Why don’t you clock out? It’s almost midnight.”
“Thanks.” The waitress headed to the lockers in the back.
Sunday carried the tablecloths through the swinging doors into the kitchen. She dumped them into the pile of laundry and stepped toward the large metal sink, the last of the dirty pots and pans waiting to be cleaned beside it.
“I’ll dry.” One of the cooks, Maggie, held out a hand to take the first pan. “You busy this weekend?”
Sunday eyed her, suspicious of her offer to help. Maggie’s raven-colored hair hung limp under a scarf, the front of her apron stained and wrinkled. Maybe they were both getting burned out.
Sunday used to find the job exciting, but she’d fallen into a routine lately, the excitement lost. She knew why. Traveling to other dimensions made broken plates and angry customers seem banal. Sunday understood the problem, she just didn’t know how to fix it.
“I’m working,” she replied.
“Come out Saturday. I know you’re not working then.” Maggie grinned. “You can double date with me and Paul.”
Sunday shook her head. “I’m good.”
“Come on,” Maggie urged. “It’ll be with my friend, Jenna. She’s great!”
Sunday was sure Maggie was right about Jenna, but the setup made her cringe. Small talk, lame jokes, and awkward pauses. Sunday didn’t want to discuss any of it, didn’t want to sit through a dinner where she had to admit that she had no family, wave away polite condolences, and then move on to her work at the restaurant.
“I’ll probably just hang out with Matty,” she said. “I’m tired.”
“That’s all you ever do. Why don’t you date that beautiful man?”
Sunday scoffed. “He’s my best friend.”
Maggie shrugged. “Paul is my best friend.”
“It’s not like that.” Sunday rinsed off the last pot and handed it to Maggie. She would be lying if she said she’d never thought about Matty as more than a friend, hadn’t thought about what it would be like, if that was something she wanted. Yet another thing in her life that Sunday couldn’t make a decision about. She floated in a limbo of indecision, one which quite often left her nauseous and gave her a headache.
Maggie moved on. She’d had that conversation with Sunday before. “Jenna’s a catch. You’ll be missing out.”
“Thank you.” Sunday smiled and took the damp towel from Maggie. She dried the pot and tucked it away on the top shelf above her head.
“At least friends with benefits.” Maggie chuckled, returning to Matty. “Maybe getting laid would fix your sour mood.”
Sunday rolled her eyes. “Isn’t it time for you to clock out?”
“I’ll get laid twice for you.” Maggie winked and untied the apron around her waist. “I’ll see you later.”
Sunday said goodbye, locked up, and walked the block to the bus stop. The streetlights transformed the downtown strip of her small town into shades of orange. The air cooled, but not enough for her to need the sweatshirt draped over her arm.
The coffee-drinking spirit came to mind again as she settled on a bench to wait for the bus. If the spirit wasn’t her mother, what did it want? Anything could be keeping the spirit from moving onto the Other World, the after life for humans and home to other creatures— the monsters and creatures of myth and folklore. Sunday feared her indecisiveness would end up trapping her between worlds, standing beside those spirits and begging Seers for help.
She would talk to the ghost next time. She should have done it days ago. What was she afraid of? It probably wasn’t her mother, and even if it was, nothing would change. She would still be the strange woman who didn’t fear the bumps in the night. If she didn’t act soon, she’d have an impatient, angry spirit on her hands, and she didn’t have the budget to afford damages.
Son of Horus will be out October 25th. Get your copy today!