The Lady in Black

woman in pool

Image credit Mari Lezhava via Unsplash

The lady in black, as the tabloids dubbed her, had drowned in Victor Fountain’s swimming pool five years ago and now she was back. Marcela Saenz was twenty-eight when she died. Mr. Fountain, CEO and President of one of the top software engineering companies in the world, was on holiday with his family at the time and had no knowledge about how the personal assistant for his company’s Marketing director had gotten onto his property.

The coroner declared the case death by misadventure. Based on the contusion on the back of Ms. Saenz’s head, and the amount of water in her lungs, he determined that she must have fallen into the pool, struck her head against the side, rendering her unconscious, and subsequently drowned.

Her body was found by Johnny Morales, an employee of a pool cleaning service, some forty-eight hours after she died. The nineteen-year-old quit his job the next day.

Marcela Saenz drowned in Victor Fountain’s swimming pool five years ago today. The pool had temporarily been drained to repair a cracked drainage pipe.

“Mr. Fountain! Mr. Fountain! Come quick.” Curtis Benson’s company had been servicing Fountain’s swimming pool at his expansive Bel Air, California home for over a decade. He remembered the Marcela Saenz death vividly, and had even beaten the police to the scene because the kid who was supposed to be cleaning the pool called him in a panic rather than the cops. The image of her face was branded into his mind, but she was dead and buried these past five years.

Now he was pounding on the glass of the back patio door of Fountain’s house and yelling, terrified of the apparition of the lady in black who was floating in a waterless pool.

“Yes, yes, Benson.” It was a Sunday morning, and for once, there wasn’t some crisis at his corporate headquarters to drag him into a meeting with his department heads, or a video conference with their Chinese partners over some pesky child labor scandal.

He tightened the belt of his robe as he walked past the large family room, through the kitchen, and into the dining area. The drapes were pulled back, and he could see the paunchy and sweating Benson, his face contorted by horror, hitting his fist on the safety class so hard, it threatened to break.

“Stop that, man. I’m coming.”

Benson stepped back, his chest heaving like he’d just finished a marathon, as Fountain unlocked the door and slid it open.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?”

“You gotta see this, Sir. I swear. I ain’t seen nothin’ like it.”

“Something else wrong with the pool.”

“You gotta see this. In the pool. She’s still in there.”

“She?”

Fountain pushed past Benson, who made no move to go with him.

“Oh my God.”

She was there, but it was impossible. Marcela was floating in the pool just like in the police photos, suspended in water that was no longer there. He’d gone to the memorial service. It was open casket. The mortician had done a very good job at restoring most of her beauty. He knew she was dead and six feet under in Forest Lawn. He’d paid for a very nice plot out of his own pocket. It was the least he could do, after all.

“Benson, are you seeing this? Benson? Benson!” Fountain turned to see the man, who had arrived before his repair crew, was still standing by the open patio door. “Get over here.”

“No sir, not me. I’ve seen enough. We gotta call the cops or something.”

“What are the police going to do, about this?”

Benson screamed and ran, and when Fountain turned back toward the pool, Marcela was standing at the edge looking at him.

“I loved you, Vic. You remember how many times after making love I told you I loved you. You promised me you were going to leave your wife, that we’d get married, but you needed time. I aborted my baby for you, so she wouldn’t ruin your plans. Oh yes, she was a little girl. I’ve always wanted a little girl, Vic.”

“But, but…” He started backing away as she walked toward him. Marcela’s classic beauty was marred, bloated and wrinkled. Her eyes were protruding, the medical examiner explained that was because of a build up of gas. But now she wasn’t just hideous, she was terrifying.

“You had it all planned, didn’t you? The phone call saying to meet you here. You told me you left your wife and kids in Aruba because there was a business crisis back home. You said you lied to them because you couldn’t bear to be away from me. Instead, you hired that man to murder me, make it look like an accident. You had the perfect alibi. You weren’t even in the country. Of course,you could have had me killed anywhere, but your ego got in the way. You wanted me to die here and still not have anyone suspect we were having an affair. Vic, you shouldn’t walk backward.”

“Why…why not?” He quickly looked behind him, and suddenly she was there.

“Because that’s the mistake everyone makes in a horror movie.” Now she was between him and the house, and the pool was at his back.

“Don’t you think I’m beautiful, Vic? Don’t you want to kiss me?” She puckered her lips and leaned her face forward toward his.

He cringed and stepped away from her, nearly vomiting at the smell of her rotting corpse.

“Please, I’m sorry. I’ll do anything. What do you want?”

“You can’t buy me off with expensive clothing and jewelry anymore.”

“Wait, no.” He stopped, realizing she was maneuvering him toward the edge of the pool. No water, so she couldn’t drown him, but…

“I do want something from you. I want us to be together, just like you promised. You said we’d be a couple forever, remember?”

“No!” He rushed her, but when he tried to push Marcela aside, it was like touching dry ice. The agony shot up his fingers into his hand and arm. Victor staggered backward, and then his foot met nothing but air.

Josefina Fountain thought she heard something in the backyard just as she was walking into the kitchen to make some coffee. It was the cook’s day off, and again, she’d forgotten to set the timer on the coffee machine before leaving yesterday evening.

“Vic? Is that you?” She saw the patio door open. “Men. Even if we can afford it, there’s no sense wasting money by having the air conditioner running when you…” She looked out back, surprised that the work crew hadn’t arrived by now.

“Who’s out here?” She took a few steps onto the patio, making sure to slide the door shut behind her. “Vic?”

It was already almost 80 degrees, but Josefina was in a cold sweat. She was afraid and didn’t know why. She found herself drawn to the swimming pool and then she screamed when she looked down.

Victor Fountain was dead at age 53. The coroner declared it death by misadventure. He must have slipped and fallen into the deep end of the empty swimming pool. His skull shattered when it struck the hard plaster on the bottom.

Curtis Benson never told anyone about Marcela. After getting back to his truck, he’d gotten on his cell and phoned the foreman on the job saying he’d had an argument with Fountain about them being late. He said he told Fountain he’d quit, didn’t want to have anything to do with him anymore.

That’s also what he told the police when they questioned him. Yes, he’d seen Mr. Fountain the morning he died. Yes, they argued, but it never got physical. When he left the home, Mr. Fountain was still alive, standing by the empty pool. That didn’t stop the nightmares, though, and the guilt of his deserting a man who was about to be killed. Benson committed suicide five months later, trying to destroy the ghastly vision of Marcela Saenz in his brain with a bullet from a .38 revolver.

As for Josefina, she sold her interest in her husband’s company and moved with her children to Colorado. No one would purchase the Bel Air estate, so she had it demolished. Like Curtis Benson, she kept a horrible secret to herself, but it was one she learned to live with, one that faded with time and distance. She lived in the house for months after Victor died, and there were nights when she could hear his voice muttering out by the pool, as if he were talking to someone. Then there was the scream and the sickening sound of his head being crushed as it hit the plaster.

But the worse of it was the voice of Marcela crooning, “You see, Vic? Now we can be together forever and ever.”

I wrote this for Photo Challenge #223 hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The idea today is to use the image above to craft a poem, short story, or some other creative work.

The photos for this challenge are almost always unusual and surrealistic, and this one made me think of a woman floating at the bottom of a pool in air instead of water. The story, which has been told time and time again, unfolded after that.

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