Stella woke up with a start. She looked around the room and sighed.
Oh my God! The same nightmare! When will it stop?
She exhaled as her racing heartbeat slowed. Untangling herself from the covers, she made her way to the kitchen. She desperately needed a drink to steady her nerves.
Where is the damned whisky when you need it? She muttered as she turned out the kitchen cupboards. She didn’t keep alcohol at home but she vaguely remembered hiding a small bottle of whisky after her last binge. That’s the trouble with hiding things in a safe place; you can never find it when you actually need it.
“Ow! Ow!” She howled when she kicked the last cupboard door shut.
“You really should be more careful” A voice said.
Stella jumped, pressing her back into the kitchen cabinets behind her, hands on her chest. Her quick scan of the room didn’t reveal anyone else present. She gradually let out her breath which she’d been holding in and wiped the thin layer of perspiration on her forehead. She shook her head, trying to get rid of the cobwebs in it.
She looked around the kitchen again, making sure she was alone then laughed out loud at how silly she’d been, imagining she’d heard someone speak when it could only have been her imagination. Now she really needed that drink! Perhaps in the absence of alcohol, a shower would clear her head and wake her up fully.
She dressed in a polo neck jumper and a pair of worn denim and padded to the kitchen in search of something to quell her hunger. As she rummaged in the fridge for leftovers, her nostrils were assailed by the putrid smell of rotting flesh at the same time as she heard the same voice behind her. This time she knew she hadn’t just conjured it up in her imagination.
“You’re not going to find much in there. You were never exactly the world’s best cook.”
Stella screamed as she turned around. At least she tried to scream but only a gurgling sound escaped her throat. She covered her nose hoping to stave off the wafts of putrefying flesh to no avail. It belonged to the creature standing in her kitchen. She gasped as she recognised him…her…no, it for this was no human. It was from her recurring nightmare. The one she’d been having since Vicky died.
“Who…what are you? What do you want with me?” Stella asked.
“You already know who I am. As for what I want with you, that’s a whole different ball game!” The creature replied.
“Please go away. Leave me alone.” Stella’s voice was barely louder than a hoarse whisper as she backed into the hallway. Once out of the kitchen, she ran all the way to front door, barely stopping to grab her keys. She ran without looking back till she got to the park.
She sat down on a bench, trying to get her breath back. She looked around. The park was full of people. People jogging; people walking their dogs; people talking and laughing; normal people. She would be safe here.
She inhaled deeply and pondered on what had happened at her flat earlier. She couldn’t make sense of it. Was it all her imagination or had she really seen and heard that ‘thing’ from her dreams? Who could she talk to? Who would believe her? She hadn’t even brought her mobile phone with her as she had sprinted out of the flat.
After she’d calmed down a bit, she sighed. She couldn’t possibly sit in the park all day! What would she do when night fell?
I’m going home! She got up and trudged home, dreading what may be awaiting her in the flat.
She opened the door slowly and sniffed. It smelled normal. She left the door ajar and stepped inside, sticking her head around each corner, checking her back to make sure there was no one but her in the flat. When she was satisfied she was alone, she shut and locked the door.
She put the kettle on while she waited for her computer to boot up. She made a large mug of coffee and sat down at her desk. She typed ‘smelly apparition’ into the Google page and waited to see what would come up.
“Aaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!” Stella flew out of her chair, knocking her mug of coffee into her lap, as the ‘creature’s’ face filled her computer screen. She quickly pushed the on/off button and patted her scalding thighs. What on earth is going on? She opened the wardrobe door to get a towel to wipe her soaking clothes and there it was again. She jumped on to her bed, whimpering.
“You didn’t think it would be that easy to get rid of me now, did you?” It asked.
“Look, I don’t know who you are or what you want but you’ve got the wrong person. Please, please go away and leave me alone.” Stella said, shielding herself with her pillow.
“Oh I most certainly have the right person! Aren’t you Stella-May Everest born on the 20th of September 1973?”
“Wha-what do you want from me? Stella asked.
“You need to ask yourself what is it that you have laid claim to that isn’t actually yours? That’s what I want from you.” The creature responded.
“I don’t know what you mean but please whatever it is, you can have it. Just don’t harm me.” She pleaded.
The creature cackled, its gaunt shoulders rising and falling in mirthless laughter. “Harm you? If only you knew! Does the word ‘plagiarising’ mean anything to you?”
“Plagiarising? What’s that got to do with anything?” Stella looked confused.
“It’s got everything to do with this. Let me ask you a few questions. Please don’t lie to me! Did you just get a call from a certain well-known literary agent regarding a manuscript you submitted to her? Did she also say she had three large publishers bidding to publish it as it is so good?”
“Ye-yes I d-d-did. She did” Stella answered, still unsure where this was leading.
“And the said manuscript was written by …?” The creature asked.
“I wrote it.” Stella replied and then she held her head in her hands as she felt a searing pain, like there was fire in her brain. “Ow, ow! It hurts, ow!”
“I’ll ask the question again. Perhaps you didn’t hear me the first time. Who actually wrote the manuscript you passed off to that agent as your own?”
“I said I wrote it, I di…ow! Oh my God! My head! My head’s on fire! Make it stop, please make it stop!” Stelled howled, rolling on the bed, trying to get some relief from the burning in her head.
“Who do you think I am, patron saint of the stupid? Do I have mugu written in bold across my forehead? Well if you insist of not telling the truth, you’ll have to bear the consequen…”
“Just make it stop, I will tell you everything. Anything. Please, I’m dying!” Stella gasped as the pain stopped suddenly, tears rolling down her face.
“Are you ready to tell me the truth now?” The creature asked.
“Yes,” Stella sniffed, “I am.”
“I didn’t mean to be underhand or anything like that. Vicky told me she’d written a story and wanted me to look it over and give her my opinion regarding the plot, story development and characters. She said it was the first part of what would be a trilogy. She also asked me to take off my proof reading hat while reading.
I read it and really enjoyed it. I thought she’d created an excellent piece of fiction and I told her as much. I also gave her a few pointers on how to make it read better. I told her I felt she should send it off to publishers as she stood a good chance of getting it published. I also offered to proof read and copy-edit it free of charge. She was very pleased with my offer and gave me the go-ahead to do it.
Anyway I didn’t get round to doing anything with the manuscript for a whole year as I was busy with other things. Then I heard Macmillan, the publishing house, was looking for manuscripts from unpublished authors so I sent Vicky an email encouraging her to send it off. She was away from home at the time and didn’t have it with her so she asked me to email her a copy of the manuscript so she could forward it to them. I did.
I didn’t hear from her for a couple of months. Then we exchanged a couple of texts in the New Year and I gathered she hadn’t got round to sending off the manuscript. She promised to call me to talk about it.
The call never came. Then I got a text message from a friend in the States asking me to confirm if it was true that Vicky had died. I was stunned. I called her phone; it rang for a while then went to voicemail. Then I called a mutual friend and she confirmed that Vicky had been diagnosed with cancer a few months ago and had indeed died”. Stella stopped to wipe the tears that were rolling down her eyes and blow her nose.
“I was grief-stricken. I couldn’t believe that my friend had been ill and I had no idea. I kept thinking of all the things I would have said and done if I’d had the chance.
After the funeral, my life went on as normal. One day I was tidying up my computer and stumbled across Vicky’s manuscript. I re-read it and once again marvelled at how good it was. I then started to work on it, correcting errors and implementing the changes I had suggested to her. Then I did some research on literary agents, made a shortlist of five and sent the manuscript to them.
Three weeks later, I got calls from three of them. They all wanted to represent me. I hadn’t clearly stated that I wasn’t the author. When I saw the raving reviews they all gave me, I decided it was best I didn’t let on about Vicky writing it. I agreed to go with Felicity Bryan and she pitched it to some publishers. That’s the call you were referring to when she told me how keen they were to publish it as they felt it would be a best-seller.” Stella couldn’t bear to look at the creature.
“Well, well, well! At least you’ve been honest!” The creature shook its skeletal head. “Vicky’s soul couldn’t rest when you refused to acknowledge and credit her with the work. You very nearly plagiarised her work! I was sent by the Keeper of the Eternal Gates to deal with the matter so that Vicky could pass on to the Great Beyond in peace.”
“I’m so sorry,” Stella sobbed. “I meant no harm. It all just got a little out of hand and every time I meant to make it right, something else came up to convince me otherwise.”
“Well, you’re very lucky you came clean. You don’t even want to know what I was permitted to do to you had you carried on the charade. The headache was just the start!” The creature said.
“You can make things right by letting the agent know who the real author is. However Vicky has been gracious enough to allow you ‘co-author’ status. She concedes that you did a lot of work making the manuscript ‘publish-worthy’.”
“I will tell Felicity everything. I don’t want anything to do with the book. I will give all the credit to Vicky. Please, just stay away and leave me in peace!” Stella had to wipe her eyes to see the creature as the tears blinded her temporarily.
It was gone! Disappeared! Vanished! As suddenly as it had come, it had just gone. No puff of smoke. No melodramatics. Just gone!
She knew what she must do. She looked at her phone. It was 4.45pm. She had to hurry. Felicity closed at 5pm. She scrolled to her contacts list, called up the agent’s number from Contacts and pressed dial.
“Hello, Felicity? It’s Stella… Yes, Stella Everest. I’m very well, thanks. Have you got a moment?… Yes, now…No, it can’t wait. Please, it’s urgent. There’s something you need to know…”