The final bow – short story challenge part deux

by Julie Frayn on April 10, 2014 in  Fiction - short stories

The first story I submitted in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge kicked a little ass. End of the Line took first in my heat and moved me into the second round. In this heat, the requirements are: ghost story; love affair; private tutor.

This is my first ghost story. I spent (wasted?) a bit of time researching what is realistic behaviour for ghosts. Then it hit me. Realistic? Ghost? Duh…

So here it is, my first – and probably last – ghost story.

The Final Bow

If Gabriel had breath, it would have been taken from him.

“Brava, my lady. Brava.” His hands clapped together with vigour and silence. He relinquished his favourite listening place, the farthest corner of the room opposite the window, his head nestled against the mahogany cornice, his body resting within the lath and plaster wall that separated the drawing room from the foyer.

“Thank you, kind sir.” Adrienne performed a slight curtsy and waved her violin bow in the air.

The form he allowed her to see, like sunlight through smoke, swirled about her chair and came to a stop, floating in front of the oaken music stand. Gabriel’s music stand. “Your feet were too wide.”

Adrienne rolled her eyes. “I’m not a child anymore, Gabriel. If it’s good enough to be invited to sit third chair for Orchestre de Paris for an entire summer, it should be good enough for you.”

Gabriel spun his smoky form and evaporated.

“Oh, come on. Don’t be so damn dramatic.”

He reappeared behind her. “You know how hard that was for me. You were gone for two whole months.”

She sighed, placed the violin under her chin and plucked the E string, the cue that preceded her perfect rendition of every piece. A habit of his that he’d imparted on her. A habit he never tried to break her of these past thirty years of mentoring, listening, appreciating. Falling in love. The pluck of that string was her declaration. She loved him too.

Rich notes resonated through him. His favourite, Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor. Their make up music. He admired the bounce of the long curls of her copper hair, the way the knee-length hem of her eggplant dress swayed with the music. He evaluated her form, focused his energy and tipped her elbow upward.

She screeched the bow down the strings. “I’m not twelve anymore, Gabriel. Stop tutoring me.” She nestled her violin, the Stradivarius that Gabriel had once played in this very room, into the fancy case her father had bought her when she turned seventeen. A week later, the bookcase toppled over on him and he died on the drawing room floor.

“Symphony is in an hour.” She slid the bow into the holder, trailed her fingers across the scarlet velvet lining, and clicked the case shut. “I’m having company tonight. Please stay upstairs. Or at the very least, be invisible.”

“Company? I shall disappear. At m’lady’s convenience.”

She looked over her shoulder at his apparition. “Don’t be such a pill. You’ll love Emmett. He’s bringing his cello.”

“I despise the tubby tones of that bloated instrument.”

“You are a snob.” She snatched a cardigan from the coat rack and slammed the front door. The leaded stained glass shook in the frame.

Gabriel let his manifest form dissipate. It took so much effort to remain visible for her. And for what? Another man. An outsider in his home. Damn her.


“I hope you like zinfandel.” Emmett was tall, not wholly hideous in a twenty-first century, suit jacket and denim pants way.

“Yes, it’s great.” Adrienne carried take out boxes from that horrible Chinese restaurant she so loved, and dropped them onto the kitchen counter. The stench of soggy squid overtook musty wallpaper and lemon furniture polish.

Adrienne scanned the room, cut her eyes to each corner of the tin ceiling, and smiled.

Gabriel blended into the grandfather clock, out of sight as instructed.

She dished food onto plates while Emmett uncorked the wine and poured two glasses. They sat in the breakfast nook, chattered on about symphony gossip, laughed and smiled at one another like shy teenagers.

Gabriel whizzed around them, slipped inside the wine bottle, inhaled the grape and tannins. What fresh hell to have the sense of smell, but not be able to take a damn drink.

Emmett tossed a napkin on his plate and placed his hand over Adrienne’s. His chopsticks flew from the table and skittered across the floor.

“Stop it,” Adrienne hissed.

“Sorry.” Emmett pushed his chair away and retrieved the chopsticks. “It was an accident. I think.”

Gabriel smirked.

Adrienne’s cheeks flushed. “Shall we play?”

Emmett’s face broke out in a big, dopey grin. He took her hand and led her to the drawing room.

She stood behind the music stand. The violin found its place under her chin and at rest on her left shoulder. She cocked her head. One pluck of the E string before the bow eased across the sheep gut. She threw the bow onto the string in the upper third on a down-bow. Eight, nine, ten notes in rapid succession. Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 in A minor. She’d perfected jeté under Gabriel’s tutelage.

She was showing off.

Emmett applauded. The slap of his hands ricocheted off the plaster walls and buffeted Gabriel.

Adrienne played the opening notes of Handel’s Passacaglia on a Theme. Perfect choice.

Gabriel closed his eyes. The hollow space where his heart used to beat ached with the beauty that vibrated through him. The music seduced him, each key filtered as if four silk veils were wrapped around his ears. With each stroke of bow over string, a veil was stripped away until he was exposed, the throaty timbre of each note ravaging him. He slipped the strap of Adrienne’s dress from one shoulder and kissed her alabaster skin, liberated her from her earthly trappings and made love to her, all while her fingers gripped the bow and her head bobbed with each stroke against the strings.

The cello entered. His fantasy ruined, Gabriel flew behind the chesterfield and formed.

Adrienne glared at him.

He smirked and evanesced.

She searched the corners of the tin ceiling for him, never missing a note.

Emmett’s bow flew from his hands and slid across the rug.

“Shit. I am so sorry.” He scrambled to retrieve the bow. “I don’t know how the hell that happened.”

“He’s profane and coarse,” Gabriel whispered in her ear. “He’s not for you, my love.”

“Would you excuse me?” She ran up the stairs and shut the bedroom door behind her. “You promised to stay hidden.”

“I am hidden. You can’t see me, can you?”

“You know what I mean.”

He zipped by her. Strands of copper hair flew into the air and brushed across her face.

“Show yourself, Gabriel.” She scanned the room. “Now, damn it.”

He stretched out on her bed and appeared. “Here I am, love.” He patted the bedspread with one hand.

“Stop that.” She rubbed her eyes and wiped one hand under her nose. “We’ve talked about this. I’m alive. I need human contact.” She stepped toward him. “I need to be with people who age along with me. Look at me, I’m in my forties. You’ll always be twenty-three.”

“I am one hundred and thirty-four.”

She crossed her arms. “Well, that’s better then.”

“None of that matters.” He drifted in front of her and reached for her. His hand evaporated against her skin. “Being together is all that matters.”

“Gabriel, I love you. But not in that way.” She pressed her lips together. “I’m going downstairs to drink wine and play duets with a man who gives me more than cool chills and bowing tips. I’m going to kiss him, and with any luck, we’re going to have sex. That’s what I want. That’s what I need. Can you give me that?”

A silent, invisible storm swirled around Gabriel until it sucked his façade into its vortex and he vanished.

“That’s what I thought.” She rubbed her hands over her bare arms. “When I bring him up here, you’d damn well better be somewhere else.”

A deep baritone note emanated from the drawing room. Adrienne smiled and skipped down the stairs. Soon, staccato bursts of violin punctuated the cello’s lament.

Gabriel darted about the room. He’d worked too hard to have her to himself. He wouldn’t give up now. He penetrated the walls, catapulted through the floor, flew through Emmett’s instrument and snapped one cello string.

“Damn it.” Emmett tossed his bow onto the chesterfield. “I’ve got a spare in my case.” He slid from behind his cello and knocked his wine glass over. Crimson spilled onto the wool rug. “Bloody hell. I’m sorry.”

“I got it.” Adrienne retrieved club soda and paper towels from the kitchen. She kneeled on the rug and dabbed at the stain.

Emmett kneeled to help her. They bumped heads. “Sorry.” He laughed. “Damn, I’ve said that a lot tonight.”

“Don’t be sorry. Weird accidents happen all the time in this house.”

A moment of electric silence followed, their faces a foot apart.

Gabriel watched from his favourite corner of the ceiling. The air around him snapped and roiled. His energy climaxed. He launched off the plaster, aimed for Emmett’s heart, and sliced into him.

Emmett’s back arched. He drew in a sharp breath.

“Are you all right?” Adrienne touched his arm.

Heat seared through Gabriel. He stared into her eyes, pinched with concern. He could feel the warmth of her skin.

He reached up and touched his fingertips to her face. Sparks tingled through him. He leaned toward her, parted his lips, and kissed her. Emmett’s heart pounded in Gabriel’s chest. He yanked one strap of her dress down and ran his lips along her neck, her collar bone, and onto her chest.

“Emmett, stop. You’re tearing my dress.”

Gabriel took her by both arms, his nose an inch from hers.

“Adrienne, it’s me.”

She gaped at him. “Gabriel?”

“Yes, darling. I’m inside him. I have a body. We can be together like we always wanted.”

She shook her head. “No. No, we can’t.”

Gabriel reared back. The man’s heart pounded in his ears. “What do you mean, no?”

“That’s what you want. I’ve never wanted to be with you. Let Emmett go.”

He slit his eyes. “I love you. I’m protecting you from this oaf, like I protected you from your father.”

“My father?” she whispered.

“He didn’t deserve you, always pulling you onto his lap, touching your hair.”

“You killed my father?” She scurried backwards. “H- how could you?” Her wild eyes searched his face. She reached one hand to her chest and grasped a handful of eggplant polyester at her breast. Her chest heaved with laboured breath. “And my mum?”

“Her heart couldn’t handle two good boos.” He gripped Adrienne’s arms in both human hands and stood, pulling her to her feet.“I rescued you. Can’t you see that? We are meant to be together. Just the two of us.” He leaned in to kiss her.

She turned her head away and struggled against his embrace. “You’re insane. Let me go.” Tears streamed down her cheeks. She yanked herself free, stumbled against the music stand and fell backwards onto the violin. Her face contorted. She screamed and clutched at her chest.

“No, Adrienne!” Gabriel threw his host to his knees and gathered his love in his arms. The tip of the bow, his bow, that bringer of aching beauty and haunting music, protruded from her chest. He reached behind her and pulled it free from her back.

“Gabriel. Don’t.”

Blood gushed over his hands and pooled on the rug. “Adrienne. I didn’t mean to. Don’t leave me. You’re all I have.” He ran his palms over her face and a thumb under one vacant eye.

White light streamed from her body and swirled around him.

“No, no, no!” Gabriel grabbed at the light. It slipped through his fingers, flew to the ceiling, penetrated the walls of his prison and left him. He threw back his head and screamed, clawed at his body, writhed and twisted until he broke free of the confines of Emmett’s earthly form.

Emmett gasped for air and grabbed his chest. He looked down at Adrienne, held his bloody hands in front of his face. “Oh God. What have I done?”


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Carolyn Frayn April 10, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Realistic behaviour for a ghost! 😀

I love this short, I hope you dip your toes into the supernatural world again, dear systir.


Julie Frayn May 1, 2014 at 5:56 am

We’ll see… :) It was kind of freeing not to have to stick with reality for a change.

Sean P. Farley April 29, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Yikes! Good job, Julie. I have always wanted to write a really sinister ghost story. I think I’ll have to put that on my bucket list. By the way, loved “tubby tones of that bloated instrument.” :) I LOVE the cello, but what a description!


Julie Frayn May 1, 2014 at 5:56 am

Thanks, Sean! I liked that line too. I guess ghost stories have infinite possibilities.

Ey Wade April 30, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Jesus, that was freakin’ shocking. Poor old Emmett.
You did a good job with that piece. You’d be a terrific horror writer if you went that way.


Julie Frayn May 1, 2014 at 5:57 am

Thanks, Ey. Might try a horror short one day and see how it feels. Have done enough murder and blood, maybe it wouldn’t be too big a stretch :)

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