“Use some common sense,” I said, “the dead don’t send text messages!”
Bunty looked up at me. She looked shaken and her voice was tremulous. “I know, Frank, but it says, Harriet Harding. ‘Hi, Bunty, greetings from heaven! Look, I need you to do something for me. More later. Xxx’ That’s how she always signed off, three kisses, x’s, the first one in capitals.”
I took Bunty’s iPhone from her and tapped on ‘info.’ It looked to be kosher. But a text from her dead sister, I didn’t think so! “Well, who’s got her phone now?”
Bunty gestured for me to give her the phone back and sat, holding it against her cheek. “I don’t know. But I don’t see any of the family playing tricks.”
Harriet’s husband was Donald, a farmer, always busy with planting and harvesting cycles, looking after cattle and a hundred other things. Hard to imagine he’d find time in his impossible schedule to play silly tricks on his sister-in-law. Then there were the kids, both at university. Faye studying biochemistry and Alan, musical theatre.
I rubbed my chin. “Hmm. Maybe Al, or more likely one of his chums.”
Bunty sat, staring at the message. “I wonder what she wants. ‘More later,’ she says.”
I needed to get to work. “Guess you’ll just have to wait and find out.”
A few days later, I came home to find Bunty playing the piano. Something she did frequently when we first married, but hardly ever now. “That’s nice,” I said.
She smiled. “Chopin. Nocturne opus nine, number one. B flat minor. Harriet loved this one.”
I looked at the music. The page looked like an ants’ nest, almost black with the number of notes. I watched Bunty’s slim fingers at work, admiring and envious of my wife’s musical ability.
She finished playing and sat with a smile on her face. She looked healthy, her skin pink and glowing and her hair shiny brown. “I got another text from Harriet.”
I felt a sinking feeling in my gut. “Come on, sweetheart, it’ll be one of Alan’s mates, playing silly buggers.” I poured myself a shot of whisky and added some ice. “You want one?”
Bunty shook her head and held her phone out.
I read the most recent message. ‘Play some Chopin for me. Love, H. Xxx.’
“I phoned Donald,” Bunty said, “I asked him what happened to Harriet’s phone after she … passed. I didn’t say why I wanted to know. I think he must have wondered, but he didn’t ask why. Anyway, he said her phone was buried with her.”
“What!” I almost dropped my glass. “Is he sure?”
“Positive. It was something she asked for specifically, once she knew she was dying. He thought it was strange, but he wanted to do what she’d asked him to. He put it in the coffin himself and never told anyone.”
“Well, has she said what she wanted to say yet? You know, in the first message.”
Bunty came over and kissed me on the lips. “Yes, Frank,” she said calmly, “you’re not to play in the golf competition at the end of the month.”
I almost blew my top. “What, the Seven Trees Open? Look, hang on a minute, Bernie and me have been working up to this one all season. I can’t very well let him down now, can I?”
Bunty held my hands and looked me in the eye. “She doesn’t say why, but it’s important you don’t play. Please, sweetheart.” She put her arms around me and hugged me tightly.
Bernie was my business partner, golfing partner and best friend, a no-nonsense kind of guy whose cynical armour sometimes got people’s backs up. The next day I came clean and told him the whole story.
“Look, Frank, it’s bullshit. Anyone can spoof someone else’s number, it just takes a bit of software. If she’s got an iPhone, they can send it from a Mac. Look, we’ve got a pretty good chance in the Seven Trees. Sure, there’s Dan McCormick and Phil Tann, they’re playing pretty well right now. Dan came third in the South Dakota Match Playout at Three Crowns, did you hear?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I heard. Look, Frank, if I was to pull out, couldn’t you pair up with Matt?”
Bernie looked shell-shocked. “Matt Farthing, the semi-pro? Well, if he’s free, maybe. But come on, Frank, you’re not pulling out. Look, it’s one of the other guys who has to be sending Bunty these messages.”
“Hmm.” Not impossible, I guessed, but I doubted anyone knew the intricacies of Harriet’s life well enough.
Between the pressure of a deadline at work and Bunty’s strange behaviour at home, I was getting pretty worked up and hitting the whisky perhaps more than I should. In the end, I agreed to pull out of the golf competition and Bernie got to partner with Matt. Then, on the day of the contest, I was shocked to see a television report that a typhoon had come out of nowhere and hit the tournament. Many spectators and players were injured by falling trees and flying equipment.
“Hiya Phil, how’re you doing?”
Phil Tann smiled up at me from his hospital bed. At least, I think it was a smile. His face was a mass of black and red swellings.
“I’m alive, Frank, that’s the main thing. They say I’ll be able to play again … in time.”
“That’s good. Thank God no one was killed. Everyone’s asking why they couldn’t have forecast that tornado.”
“Nature’s dominion over man, I suppose. Look, Frank, there’s something you should know.”
I looked at Phil lying there, all bandages and tubes and wondered. Thank God I’d followed Bunty’s, well, Harriet’s advice and pulled out of the competition.
“Look, Donald Harding, Harriet’s husband, was ‘playing away’ with another farmer’s wife, Annie Sykes.”
“Yeah, look, and while he was messing around with her, well, me and Harriet ….”
I looked at Phil, trying to comprehend what he was saying.
“And well, I sent Bunty those messages. I thought you and Bernie were too good. I just wanted … to stop you. Looks like karma took a hand. I’m sorry, Frank, it was a stupid idea.”
A nurse came in. “It’s time for Mr Tann to rest now.”
I put a hand on Phil’s shoulder. One way or another, fate had stepped in, and I was grateful it wasn’t me lying there, bandaged up to the eyeballs. “No worries, Phil, just get better.” Though just exactly what I would tell Bunty, I wasn’t sure.
Taken from the book, The Window Crack’d and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Horror and the Supranatural
- To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2021 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.
- If you are interested in joining Write Away, a fortnightly story group (giving a choice of assignments, with the option of writing 250-1000 words) please contact me and I’ll be pleased to send details.
- Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 400!