The Misadventures of Isabel Instance: V

The story so far: Isabel Instance, librarian and friend to the dead, and her deceased associate Aelfric Fouracre, are investigating the curious case of Gary Simmons, who has put his mother Maureen in the freezer.


The inside of Gary Simmon’s house smells like an old store cupboard. The radiators are on full, and the warm air is thick and sour. The whole place has been neatly filleted: furniture turned upside down and pushed back against the walls, drawers removed and their contents stacked on the floor. “Police?” Isabel Instance asks Aelfric Fouracre.

“Might have been,” he says. “Or that might have been Gary Simmon’s handiwork. I have a feeling he might not prove entirely stable.”

They make their way down the hall. At the back is a closed door. From behind it comes the familiar sound of spiritual complaint: a doleful, hollow wailing. The sound is garbled, but sustains a monotonous intensity.

“I think it’s fair to say Maureen’s spirit is still in attendance,” Ael says, turning to her. Isabel makes a face. “Whatever,” she says flouncily.

He looks sharply at her. “Is that the thing, nowadays? I’ve heard people say that.” He tries it in a variety of styles. “Whatever? Whatever. Whatever.”

She winces. Ael’s always keen to keep up with slang, but it’s rarely a success. The stuff he picks up from her is already passé, for one thing; she is, as she reminds him quite often, a 42-year-old librarian. And his accent is always too correct – he can’t endure imprecision of speech. As a result, he sounds like someone’s Dad. He fits quite well with her dim memories of her own father, whom she always pictures as benevolent but remote. She wonders how offended Ael would be if she were to tell him this. Quite severely, probably.

“Are you going to get us inside, then?” she says.

He nods and advances to the door. His neatness of dress and movement disguises an ursine build. Locked doors rarely detain him long. He leans nonchalantly against the wood. The house is not luxuriously fitted out, and the jamb splinters obligingly. Ael moves quickly into the room. Isabel hears a strangled cry, and steps forward. Ael is standing over a much smaller man, presumably Gary; the ghost of an old woman hovers close by. There’s a brief struggle, which ends with Ael holding the man almost off the ground with one arm. In his other hand he holds a kitchen spatula. He waves it at Isabel.

“I’ve disarmed him,” he says. “I don’t believe it’s loaded,” he adds, looking immensely pleased. Isabel smiles dutifully. Ael very rarely makes jokes, and sulks if they are not acknowledged.

Isabel looks around the room as Ael gets Gary Simmons settled. It’s a narrow kitchen and living room, with two chairs by a formica table, and a hard little sofa facing a TV. Ael puts Gary into one of the chairs, in which he hunches, looking miserably at Isabel. He is not a prepossessing sight: thin, with receding hair, a shiny face, and a hunted expression. Spit bubbles have collected in the corners of his mouth. The ghost – Maureen – circled the room like a sparrow in the shock of Isabel and Ael’s entry. Now she is bent over her son. The light of her form flickers, but she continues to wail in protest. The closeness to speech makes the noise eerie: the angry, undirected babbling of the demented, sounding as if it comes from far away, or underwater, or both. Isabel watches her calmly, though her heart is racing. The recent dead always have this effect on her.

As the noise drones on, Gary speaks in a hoarse voice. “Who are… what are you doing?” he says.

“We’re here to help,” Isabel says, with more calmness than she feels.

“Are you angels?” Gary asks, looking at them pleadingly. Isabel and Ael exchange a glance. “Well,” Isabel begins, but she is interrupted by Ael.

“Yes, Gary,” he says in a deep voice. “We have come to you.”

Isabel gives him a look, but Ael doesn’t notice. Teasing the delusional is typical of him. Part of being dead means he has little sympathy or understanding for the problems of the living: just a scientist’s curiosity. It works, though. Gary’s mouth falls open, and with a cry, he slithers from the chair to his knees.

“Oh God, I always knew. Thank you, Lord. Forgive my doubt,” he says, clasping his hands, and looking at Ael with reverence. Ael’s chest swells a little.

“But as my companion has said, we have come to help you,” Ael goes on. “Before we begin, I think we’d better look at the… ah… freezer itself?”

Gary climbs hurriedly to his feet. “Of course, of course,” he says. “My mother… I just knew it was my destiny to release her. I prayed… and I saw what I had to do. And now here you are, praise be!”

Still muttering to himself, he leads the way to a dark doorway. It gives onto a back hall. An oblong freezer stretches the length of the wall. The lid is frosted over. Grunting a little Gary opens it. Smoky air billows out. The inside is stacked with pizza-boxes and Tupperware, making an uneven bier. Lying crookedly on top is Maureen’s body. The head of the corpse is angled towards them, chin down. There’s something defiant about the posture, as if challenging them to find anything unusual about the situation. Maureen’s ghost has followed them, and stands looking at her body. She radiates extreme displeasure, as apparent as the smoke coiling from the freezer. Isabel doesn’t blame her.

“So beautiful,” Gary says dreamily. His mother’s ghost flexes angrily, but Ael is looking at the body with similar content: the deep pleasure of novelty registering in his heart. Gary slowly lowers the lid.

“I am right, aren’t I?” he says hopefully, looking at Isabel and Ael in turn. “I mean, she is an angel? She’s joined the celestial throng?”

Ael shakes his head. “Not exactly. In point of fact she hasn’t gone anywhere. Her spirit is standing just to your left.”

Gary jumps, and looks blindly in the general direction of Maureen. “Mother?” he cries tearfully. Maureen’s spirit stares at him spitefully. Gary turns to Ael. “Can she hear me? Does she have a message?”

“Not that you’d want to hear,” Ael says dryly.

Gary looks confused. “What… what do you mean?”

“The dead are often angry,” Isabel cuts in. “You can understand that. The shock, and so on?”

Gary nods slowly, and Isabel glowers at Ael. He raises his hands in mute defence. “Come on,” she continues. “Let’s get inside and sit down. Gary, we need to have a talk with your mother. And I think you should listen.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Will le Fleming is a novelist. His debut, Central Reservation, is published by Xelsion and available now. Read more...

On a grey Thursday morning Holly lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, and wished her sister would die. Five hours later her wish came true. Read more...

About this blog
The first post explains all - find it here.