At Phil’s Halloween party, I’d conversed with a couple of women, but nothing clicked, and it was getting late. A stunning brunette in a red dress walked in, and I watched her drift around the room. Every guy seemed to look through her, but I was riveted when her blue eyes met mine. I would’ve introduced myself regardless, but I felt compelled to meet her.
“Hi. I’m Tony Mancuso.”
She took my forwardness in stride and extended a hand that felt like velvet. “Natalia Cortez.”
“I had the sense you were searching for someone,” I said.
“The right man,” she said, giving me an enigmatic smile.
I played along. “What qualities should he have?”
“Decisiveness. A risk taker. Someone who would do anything for me.”
Just looking at Natalia’s face and figure, I already wanted to kill for her. I said, “I imagine every straight guy on the planet would apply for the position.”
“I’ve not always been a good judge of character, and I don’t have an infinite amount of time.”
I presumed she was referring to her biological clock. My goal with Natalia certainly wasn’t kids.
Adele’s “Hello” started to play. I asked her to dance, and she moved close. Her scent was verbena.
“How do you know Phil?” I asked.
Her blue eyes smiled. “I don’t. I heard music and walked in.”
“That was bold.”
She shrugged a shoulder, alluringly. “Like you said, I’m searching for someone.”
“What do you do?”
“Oh. This and that.”
I assumed she had some sort of nerdy job or was unemployed and thought telling me would be a turn off – as if that was possible.
She continued, “Let’s not talk about me.” Her lips brushed my ear, and a tingle reached my toes. “How about you?”
“I’m an electrician. If you need some juice, I’m your man.”
I never mentioned my service in Afghanistan. The horrific images of what I’d seen and done had been mostly pushed to the back of my mind, the result of a somewhat successful treatment I’d received over the years for PTSD. I drew the line, however, at anti hallucination drugs and the foggy brain they induced. I didn’t want anyone to think I was damaged or crazy – and I wasn’t going to sleepwalk through life.
“You’re a man willing to get his hands dirty. That’s another criterion.”
I chuckled. “My laborer days are behind me. Mostly, I supervise.”
“Yet, you keep yourself fit.”
The conversation was getting better and better. I knew how I wanted the evening to end, and we seemed to be heading in that direction.
Black Sabbath came on, and I invited her onto the balcony where it was quieter. Despite the propane heaters, Natalia trembled, and she accepted my blue Brioni sports jacket around her shoulders.
“Where do you live?” I asked.
“I don’t recall seeing you in the neighborhood. Have you just moved in?”
Natalia’s mouth turned down. “I’ve been here some years, but circumstances have forced me to keep to myself.”
I sensed that she didn’t want to get into the details about her troubles. I found that refreshing. Most women I met wanted to talk only about themselves, unburdening everything to me, and God forbid I tried to solve one of their problems. Tediousness was the toll I paid to get them into bed.
The party was winding down. I took a deep breath before asking, “Can I walk you home?”
Natalia’s eyes twinkled, like she understood my intention. She asked, “Would you mind getting me a glass of water?”
As I left to get her drink, the thought occurred to me that I might be getting brushed off. Sure enough, when I returned to the balcony, she was gone. I wondered what I’d done or said and how I so completely misinterpreted her signals. My musing halted when it dawned on me that Natalia still had my sports jacket. I looked around but didn’t see it left on a chair. I huffed and approached a couple of women.
“Do you know Natalia Cortez?” I asked.
They stared at me strangely. The blonde said, “That’s not funny.”
“What do you mean?”
The other woman asked, “Are you drunk?”
“Hey. No. She left with my sports jacket.”
They turned away, trying to ignore me, but I insisted. “Look, ladies, I’m not kidding, and I’m not high. I just spent the last hour with her.”
I must’ve sounded sincere because they glanced at each other before the blonde responded. “Five years ago, Natalia Cortez was killed in a car accident after a neighborhood Halloween party.”
My eyes widened. “Are you serious?”
“Brunette, blue eyes, gorgeous.”
My mouth gaped. “She was here. Didn’t you see her? In a red dress.”
The blonde smirked. “Someone played a practical joke on you.”
My mind spun. Who had I been talking to?
She said, “I know I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but Natalia was fatal. She always got her way no matter who was hurt. Nobody should die that young, but I can’t say I shed a tear.”
Mystified and a bit dazed, I left Phil’s. Why had the woman played me? She’d targeted me for her sick amusement. That thought raised the heat of anger around my neck. Walking toward my apartment, I entered a cemetery I used as a shortcut. The glare of a streetlamp highlighted one plot, and I was shocked to see my Brioni blue blazer hung around the grave marker.
What the hell?
As I grabbed my coat, I read the inscription. ‘Natalia Cortez. Twenty-eight. Too Young, Too Soon.’
I froze, and a chill ran down my back.
Suddenly, I heard Natalia’s sultry voice. “Tony, I’ve been expecting you.”
I spun, my head on a swivel. “Where are you?”
I realized that I wasn’t just hearing her. She was inside my head. My heart rate spiked.
“My spirit only rises on Halloween. Otherwise, I’m desolate and lonely.” She sighed. “Dead is depressing.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I long for stimulation, my physical senses. I must live again.”
“How could that be possible?”
“I want to return as a desirable young woman.”
“You would enter another woman’s body? I don’t understand.”
“I’ll reincarnate in her. An attractive female, quite recently deceased to minimize decomposition.”
I had an inkling of where this was going but hesitated to face it. She must’ve read my thoughts.
“I could tell at the party – you wanted me.”
My throat became dry, my voice was hoarse. “You want me to kill a young woman?”
She paused before saying, “Think of it as giving life to me.”
I turned to run but realized Natalia had possessed me.
As my mind whirred over how I could rid myself of her, a sexual fantasy with us together as if in a porn flick entered my brain. She must’ve put it there.
“Just a preview,” she said. “Alive, I’ll be there for you, big time.”
I admit, the temptation to do what she asked was strong.
“What if I refuse?” I asked.
“I’ll become a raging, haunting fiend. You’ll learn that sleep deprivation is torture.”
For months I resisted. Every time I passed an attractive woman, she’d start in. ‘Look at that body. You want her.’ The images she could create were Kama Sutra squared.
True to her word, she gave me no rest. As soon as I dozed, she’d have me screaming with terror nightmares. I suffered until I couldn’t go on. I had to do what Natalia demanded.
I picked up a woman at a club and brought her to my apartment. My hands were sweated, my breathing rapid. She thought it passion. I pushed her into an armchair I’d wired and hit the switch. She stiffened with the surge of electricity, but I’d done something wrong, and the power in the building went down. My stomach soured. I called out to Natalia, “Are you in?” but the woman didn’t revive. I tore at my hair in frustration. What was I going to do? Throw the body out the window and claim she’d committed suicide? A building inspector and a cop banged on my door, demanding entry, finally breaking in and discovering the scene. I screamed out to Natalia, but she didn’t respond. I was arrested. At the station, I was allowed to call a lawyer and that’s why you’re here.
Please tell the authorities – Natalia made me do it. They say my story is insane. You’re my only hope. If you don’t get them to listen, I’ll be executed for a murder I was forced to commit.
BIO: Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife Jane now live in Texas. Joe’s stories have appeared in more than one hundred magazines including The Saturday Evening Post, and Shenandoah, and his short story collection, Stories and Places I Remember. His novels include, Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, and the Anthony Provati thriller series, Appointment with ISIL, Drone Strike, and in June 2022, The Art of Revenge. Visit Joe’s website at https://joe-giordano.com/