Clarissa Johal: #Paranormal Wednesday-Excerpt from STRUCK

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

#Paranormal Wednesday-Excerpt from STRUCK

The shadows hadn't been waiting.
The shadows had been invited.


After a painful breakup, Gwynneth Reese moves in with her best friend and takes a job at a retirement home. She grows especially close to one resident, who dies alone the night of a terrific storm. On the way home from paying her last respects, Gwynneth is caught in another storm and is struck by lightning. She wakes in the hospital with a vague memory of being rescued by a mysterious stranger. Following her release from the hospital, the stranger visits her at will and offers Gwynneth a gift--one that will stay the hands of death. Gwynneth is uncertain whether Julian is a savior or something more sinister... for as he shares more and more of this gift, his price becomes more and more deadly.


Excerpt:

“She’s not sleeping, Dante. She passed out, duh. Why do you have to be such an asshole? Hey there.”
Gwynneth opened her eyes. Red hair blazed against the light.
“Well, hello.” Red ponytail sat back on her heels and smiled. She would have looked like a model in any other surroundings.
The stark room was lit by florescent overhead lights and contained a single stainless steel sink and table. It was the same room Gwynneth had walked into moments ago, except she was acquainting herself with its concrete floor. A sheet had been pulled over Hannah’s body. She focused again on her attendant.
“You’ve never seen a dead body before?” Earnest blue eyes made the question less ridiculous than it sounded.
“No.”
“You can sit as long as you need to.” She patted Gwynneth on the arm. “I’ll just finish up, and then you can have your time. My name’s Poppy, by the way.” She held out her hand.
She shook it and tried to not think about where Poppy’s hand had probably been moments ago.
“This here’s Dante. He’s an asshole, but he grows on you, like most of them do.”
Gwynneth glanced up at Dante and scrambled to her feet. He scowled back at her.
“My parents were professors of Medieval Literature,” he intoned.
I’m sure they were, Gwynneth thought.
“Be nice, Dante. She didn’t say anything about your name. Honestly, you think everyone is laughing about you behind your back. And they aren’t, you know.”
Poppy picked up a make-up brush and dabbed it into a glass jar. Beige powder dusted her pink mini-dress. The dress had little white flowers scattered across the hem and looked completely out of place in the somberness of the surroundings.
Gwynneth glanced at the sheet and Poppy stopped, mid-pull.
“Do you want to wait in the hall until I’m done? I don’t mind staying later while you have your time alone, but I do need to get this make-up finished. This job is anything but nine-to-five.”
“I-I don’t want to take up your time—”
“Everyone else does. Why not?” Dante grumbled.
“He’s just grumpy because he had to stay late,” Poppy said. “People don’t die just to inconvenience you, Dante.”
“Oh yes, they do.”
“He doesn’t mean it.”
Gwynneth caught Dante’s glare. “I’ll just pay my respects while you finish up. Thank you.”
“Calm down. It’s not going to smudge, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Poppy said as she pulled the sheet back.
Hannah looked different, Gwynneth noted. Younger and…wrong. At the retirement home, she’d always had dark circles under her eyes and wore no make-up. Here, the dark circles were gone and she had on mascara, rouge, and even lipstick. “She would never have worn red,” Gwynneth murmured.
“Well, that’s what she told me earlier, but I think it looks best with her skin tone.”
“Excuse me?”
Poppy continued dusting around Mrs. Engle’s mouth and nose. “She’s been complaining for the past hour, telling me she looks like a harlot.”
Gwynneth glanced at Dante, who seemed unruffled. “But Mrs. Engel is dead.”
“They talk to her,” Dante said.
“Yes, they do,” Poppy added emphatically.
“I’ll be upstairs, finishing up the paperwork.” Dante made a show of checking his expensive-looking watch. “Let me know when you’re done.” He gave Gwynneth the evil eye.
“Right now,” Poppy continued, “I’m pretty sure Betsy’s telling me that I need to have my make-up license taken away.” She waved her make-up brush at Hannah’s face. “And don’t think that because you’re speaking in German, I don’t understand that you’re using cuss words, because I do. You don’t shock me a bit, missy.”
“Her name is Hannah.”
“What’s that now?”
“You called her Betsy? Her name is…was Hannah. Hannah Engel.”
“She says they called her Betsy when she was a child. It makes her happy.”
Gwynneth wondered if she was the butt of some sick, funeral home joke. She forced a small smile.
“So, which color, then?” Poppy wiped the red lipstick from Hannah’s mouth and pulled a plethora of other lip colors from her make-up kit. “Anything to stop your belly-aching. I may not understand German, but I know you’re upset right now. Your children want to see some color on your face. It gives them a good impression of the afterlife.”
Gwynneth’s reality was in danger of shifting ever-so-slightly, and rather than admit that even crazy people needed to work for a living, she chose to ignore Poppy’s oddball behavior. If she worked with dead people all day long, Gwynneth imagined she’d probably end up talking to them too. “Actually, Hannah never wore any make-up. She said it was too much trouble.” Once again, shock threatened to overtake her, along with the coldness of the room. She shook it off with a shudder.
“Most of them feel that way once they get checked into those retirement homes. It’s like they give up. But like I was telling Betsy,” she persisted, “the ones left behind like to see you at your best. A little blusher here, a smudge of eye shadow there… It’s all good.” She waved her make-up brush at Gwynneth. “Now, when we get an accident or murder victim in, there’s a challenge. Their face is like a puzzle.” Poppy stopped herself. “I’m sorry. I forget you’re not used to this. Okay, we’ll go with a lighter pink, then. Is that okay with you, Betsy?” She waited for a beat. “We’ve already discussed the eye shadow, and it stays,” she continued firmly. “I’ll concede with the light pink, but if I don’t do some eye shadow, your eyes are going to look flat.” Poppy pulled a brush from its cover and softened the lipstick down. “You have to stand firm with the dead, or they’ll just push you around. Last week, we got this gentleman in that was so afraid I was going to put make- up on his face that he yelled at me the whole time I massaged his arms and legs down and pumped him full of fluid. Thought I was going to make him look like a drag-queen. I was tempted, trust me. I couldn’t wait to wire his mouth shut, for all the good it did.” She snapped her make-up kit closed and turned her attention back to Gwynneth. “I think she is glad you’re here, by the way. I don’t know what she’s so upset about.” She glanced over her shoulder. “She’s paying her last respects, Betsy. It’s what people do.”
Poppy gathered her sixties-style coat and handbag and paused, as if listening to something. “Gwynneth? Right. She kept a diary, Gwynneth. Under the fifth wood plank in her room. You need to get it. Don’t give it to her children. They wouldn’t understand.” She cocked her head and winced. “Darn it. There was something else. She had to go.” Poppy dragged the ponytail elastic from her long red hair. “Anyway, have your time together. Come get me when you’re done. I’ll be upstairs. Close the door behind you so it stays cool in here.”
Stunned speechless, Gwynneth watched Poppy shut the door, leaving her alone with the body. 

***

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2 comments:

Heather Holden said...

Loving this excerpt! Poppy seems like a lot of fun, and her bickering with Betsy was so amusing. I enjoyed her back-and-forth chatter with Dante as well. Poor Gwynneth, though, haha...

Clarissa Johal said...

Thanks, Heather!