It was her fault, she supposed. You know, for shutting them all out like that. Now they swarmed around her like bees, buzzing a distracting racket on the edge of perception.
Adelaide had never really liked ghosts. This was probably part of the problem. It wasn't that she actively hated them, or even bothered to take a few minutes out of her daily routine to think mean thoughts at them. She just didn't care much for spirits. Noisy, bothersome bits of ectoplasm that they were. If she could have lived a quiet, un-haunted life, she would have been the happiest woman in all of suburbia.
As usual, the dead had other ideas. Ideas that mostly consisted of possessing bits of her house and trying to talk to her through them. Most people, when faced with a situation like that, would have thought it mysterious, or charming, or scary. Adelaide knew it for what it was: a hassle.
She stood in front of the dishwasher, hands on her hips, as it gnashed its frothy maw at her. Lights danced along the little overhead panel in chaotic clusters. It looked like the face of some flirtatious, iridescent spider.
A little to the left of the dishwasher, in the horribly over-stacked sink, was a pile of greasy plates awaiting transfer. Adelaide could almost hear them calling out to her. Telling her that they wanted to jump into neat, orderly little rows and shuffle into the washer. In a perfect world, she would simply conduct them from afar; apply little bursts of Mickey Mouse magic to the whole messy stack and watch it tidy up on its own. And if that was all too much to dream, then she would settle for a world without ghosts.
"Ia! Ia!" Intoned the dishwasher, and Adelaide sighed. She could do her dishes later. There was a dog-eared paperback over on the couch, bookmarked right in the middle of a good scene. If she had to, she could wait out the haunting.
Ghosts are to household appliances what moths are to light bulbs. That is, if the moths in question have an advanced electronics degree, a Phillips screwdriver, and a good sense of shadow-puppetry.
Adelaide was lying on the couch, legs folded backwards at the knees, with her nose a few inches from the print. Prince Corbin has just vowed never to love again and his meek scullery maid (who was also his secret fencing instructor) had overheard from the broom closet. Curse those echo-y castle corridors! Now Brigid, the maid, was likely to complicate her life further by accepting a proposal by the villainous duke Raul…
The TV winked on. Adelaide shoved the paperback aside and rolled over, searching the couch cushions to make sure she hadn't lain on the remote. Nope. Blast.
It took the screen a few moments to warm up. It was an old set. Practically Paleolithic. When it did finally come to life, the color was off, the picture was skewed, and it was tuned in to Jeopardy. Ghastly, gangrenous Trebek smiled at the camera while chimes rang in the background. He opened his mouth to speak, displaying several rows of light-purple incisors.
"Real Estate values have been plummeting here due to the meddling of one John Ketcham, deceased." Trebek brightened. "Name this North Eastern town." The camera panned over to the contestants, one of which had three heads.
Adelaide sighed and dug into the couch cushions for the remote. In an instant, the camera snapped back to Trebek. He started to yell something. It sounded like "Wai-!" but the flicker-crack of the old TV losing power cut him off.
Reading wasn't fun anymore.
Adelaide stared at the ceiling. It was the most boringly normal thing in the house. Pebbly and white and dusty in corners, looking at it for too long usually made her right eye twitch and gave her an attack of short attention span-ed-ness. Now, it was a blissful release from the rest of the house.
After the little fiasco with the TV, she had unplugged it from the wall and made a show of shaking her fist at it. To let it know it would be justly chastised if it let itself get haunted during one of her soaps. Then she had gone back to the kitchen, side-stepped a jet of bubbles from the dish washer, and tried to make a smoothie. She stopped when the blender purred at her. She also cracked open a can of tuna and left it unattended on the counter to make sure it didn't go wandering. The thought of one of her neighbors showing up on her doorstep with the blender under one arm and a face full of frustration made her cheeks turn pink with embarrassment.
"Excuse me. This was eating from our Duchess' food bowl. Could you please keep it on a shorter leash?"
There was no way she was going to let that happen again.
But she didn't have the patience to baby-sit ghosts right now.
So she lay on her back, arms flung wide on the big upstairs bed, and stared at the ceiling. She thought about normal, and what that word meant for normal people. It meant chores and work and vegging out with your hair in a messy bun while the vacuum cleaner sat idle, watching TV. Unbidden, the scene restructured itself in her mind and became another kind of normal. Her kind.
The vacuum whirred in frantic circles around the couch, wagging its extension cord furiously. High up on one of the armrests, the blender spat and hissed. Meanwhile on the TV screen, Bela Lugosi and the not-Trebek conducted a séance. They were trying to get in touch with the spirit of Christmas past.
Adelaide sighed a frustrated little sigh. It steamed out through her teeth. What she needed was a good exorcism. Maybe that would settle everything down.
She glanced over at the nightstand. There was no King James Bible, but her paperback copy of "Never Kiss a Duke" filled its space. It had almost a weightiness to it. As if the papery span between the covers thrummed with latent energies. She rested a hand on it. It did feel slightly warm.
"Raul ran his fingers through his coal-black beard. He always did this when he was thinking," declaimed Adelaide. All around her, the appliances were deathly still. She had gathered them together in the living room in the hopes that one massive exorcism would fix them all. She didn't want to think about what would happen if one spirit stuck around and re-infected the rest. "Brigid is an attractive, capable woman. He thought. She is a trophy that any man would be proud to own. And if I could claim her before Corbin notices her worth, then my revenge would be complete."
Ooh, that fiend! Adelaide thought, but she didn't say anything lest it wreck the exorcism.
"'Pray tell what you are thinking about, Milord?' asked Brigid from her curtsey. She was wearing her humblest dress. Pale, ruffled calico that toned down the delicate beauty of her features." Holding "Never Kiss a Duke" high overhead, Adelaide jabbed an accusing finger at the toaster. "'Only what a wonder it is that no one should have discovered your beauty before now. I begin to suspect Corbin of blindness as well as lunacy.'"
Did that lamp just move? The shade was slightly askew, and it looked a little pale. You know, for a lamp.
"Brigid stiffened visibly. 'Let us not speak of him. Please, milord.'" Adelaide added some extra intonation to 'lord' to make sure the holy content of the words got across to the ghosts. "'Well, then. What shall we speak of?' The Duke grinned a perfect lupine grin.
'How about fencing, milord?'"
A deafening crack split the air as the power died. It would have been a blown fuse if the house had used fuses, or if they made that sort of noise when they failed. Adelaide stood stalk still, breath held in, not daring to hope. She carefully extended a foot and prodded the TV set. Nothing. Was it over? She studied the arrayed appliances. They looked inert. Maybe. Was the mixer leaning in expectantly?
She sat down on the couch and set her book aside. Somewhere deep in the bowels of her house, the fuse that didn't exist un-died and the electricity surged back on. Unplugged and mobbed together, nonetheless the appliances came back to life. The vacuum whimpered and the radio started a long, lonely piano solo. Her television set found the lifetime channel and settled on it with a static-y huff. One room away, the dishwasher began lamenting and gnashing its racks again. Adelaide blinked.
She picked the book back up, and instantly there was silence. Suspicious silence. She stared out over the appliances and wondered if ghosts got lonely.
"No, but we do get bored," chirped the radio.