The set crackled to life. Sammy watched the distortion with a small sense of pride. It actually worked! She flipped the switch at the bottom of the set through its five stages, at each place met with static and the monotonous drone of metal rain. She remembered how her grandfather used to twist the aerial at the top, patiently waiting for the image to clear enough to determine what was happening on screen. With one hand on the aerial, Sammy switched back through the channels, pausing at each to manipulate the steel prongs through as many positions as possible before turning to the next. A voice. Or was it just a trick of the ears? The mind can make things up when listening to white noise for too long, she had read so on Buzzfeed. Still, she stayed on the channel, carefully winding the aerial back and forth. The voice came through again, a woman’s, animated and pitched, though her words were still lost in fuzz. 

Sammy doubled down. 

With a hand on each prong now, eyes fixed to the screen, she twisted and bent the wires, focused and refocused the sound, delicate as a surgeon. 

“…we’ve got some… you… offer… pass up… in a lifetime. I’m talkin’ top quality…” the voice said, fading in and out of scrambled static. 

A picture began emerging, figures moving effortlessly through a vicious snowstorm, a banner at the bottom, moving; a blank space to the side. The figures gestured as they went, the camera never leaving them. The storm of grey particles intensified and the figures disappeared. Sammy slammed her hand into the side of the television. 

Why was there anything on this old thing at all? She could still remember her grandpa moaning to her father about the digital switchover when she had been a kid. Her father had bought his father a brand new fifty-inch TV, HD ready and with Freeview installed. Grandpa’s response had been predictably cold. I already have a perfectly fine television, what on God’s earth would I need this monstrosity for?

Her father and grandfather had never got on. Stingy old man, her father always called him, you know he’s got all that money and never gives us a dime! Sammy felt oddly protective over her grandfather whenever she heard her father talking about him like that. Grampa had always been kind to her; telling her stories his mother used to tell him when they visited, giving her little gifts, things from his life that had once been important to him. 

The attention Grampa gave her had the added benefit of turning Jeremy green with envy. He was their parents’ golden boy, but Grampa only had a soft spot for Sammy, he never so much as looked at Jeremy. 

The will reading had been glorious. Jeremy had looked on the verge of fainting the whole time. You know you have to share some of that with me, he had said after a while, his eyes reddening. Mom, Dad, tell her; she has to share it with me, right? But her parents, ever the diplomats, had just stood there, disbelieving. No, Sammy did not have to share. For whatever reason, the money was hers, and she could do with it whatever she damn well pleased. 

Her parents and Jeremy had taken off for the States again the day after the reading. Telling, Sammy thought, that as soon as they realised they were getting nothing from Grampa, they had abandoned him before his body was even in the ground. Too busy to attend the funeral. How bad could business be that you would miss your own father’s funeral? A funeral populated by one granddaughter, a well-meaning, though clearly senile neighbour and a funeral director. Some send off.

Sammy’s mother had told her Grampa’s heart broke the day Grandma died. Your Grampa just isn’t a people person, she was his connection. Sammy wasn’t convinced her grandfather had harboured any love for her grandmother at all. He had never spoken of her, kept no photos around the house. Even now as she went about packing up the last of his effects, not so much as a passport picture of her. Sammy barely remembered her grandmother at all, she had died so long ago. She only remembered quietness, meek as a mouse. And her smell, dusty, like dull pollen that clung to the nostrils, coated the windpipe. Sammy had only one memory of Grampa referring to his late wife; Samantha, when you marry, be sure not to settle for just whoever. He should be intellectually and financially your equal, do you hear me? Don’t make the same mistake I did.

A wave of nausea hit Sammy, for a moment she forgot about her dead grandparents and the obsolete television set in front of her, bolted to her feet, half ran, half staggered to the bathroom where she vomited up the Weatherspoon’s bacon and eggs. She stared into the bowl at the half-digested morsels floating there. Why did they have to use so much oil? Sammy was excited to finish her course and get back to her life in Philly, away from these foul breakfasts that always seemed to make her ill.

But first she needed to finish things here. She had already laid her grandfather to rest, now she just had to deal with her inheritance. Anything worth selling was in the living room waiting to be picked up off eBay. There wasn’t much, just a small pile of electronics, including the fifty-inch TV, in the centre of the room. Anything that wasn’t sold by the end of the week would be left on the curb for whoever wanted it. The house was already up for sale with an agency and Sammy was quietly confident of getting well over half a million pounds for the place, even after the remodel. A nice little bonus to go with the rest of her fortune. 

She couldn’t help but feel a little buttered up by the money, as though her grandfather had known she would be the only one in the family he could rely on to bury him, to see him off into the next life. She wasn’t going to let him down, not like the others had. She would earn that money, regardless of how disproportionately generous it was. Not like he could use it where he was now, anyway.

The skip outside was gradually filling with the junk her grandfather had accumulated over the years; books, clothes, random documents, boxes, keepsakes and bricker-brac. The agency would sort out the final gutting of the house; removing the ancient furniture and fittings, but Sammy had wanted to go through her grandfather’s things first, just in case. She couldn’t help but wonder, as she went digging around for anything worth salvaging, why a man with so much money would live in such squalor. The exterior was in good repair, well maintained, but the inside showed nothing but neglect, furnished and decorated in the 1970s, then left that way to yellow over time. It felt like a waiting room, a place for someone resigned to death.

Satisfied her stomach had settled, Sammy pressed the lever and sent the remains of her breakfast around the u-bend. She turned back down the upstairs hallway and levelled her gaze at the old TV, still blaring static. There had been a TV show playing, she was certain. How could that be? Maybe carried over from a country which still used analogue television signals, she thought. She hadn’t even managed to get a good look at it. 

The door to the attic caught her eye. The last unexplored room of the house. The door hummed, filled with old secrets. It had felt logical to end with the attic when she was planning her clearance of the house; work her way up from the ground floor, floor by floor until the attic. But now something held her back, a deep sense of dread as she considered pulling the handle and going up into the darkness.

She shook her head; it was her house, she could do what she wanted. Sammy retrieved a chair from the dining room, set it down below the hatch to the attic. Standing on her tiptoes she could just reach the handle. She yanked it, sending a set of wooden steps cascading into the hallway and almost spilling her off the chair. She caught the wobble, smiled. 

The mouth yawned above her, pulsating blackness. Sammy stepped off the chair onto the steps and ascended, eyes widening with each slat. As her head breached the doorway she held her breath, waited to be hit by the ancient stench of mold and insulation. The stench did not come. She paused, allowing her eyes to adjust to the thin light cast from the hallway below. Nothing ahead, just beams reaching up to meet at a great thick spine. Turning, like a periscope from the depths of the house, Sammy surveyed the area. 

Behind she saw it. A great black mass. She held back a scream. A scream would confirm this beast, make it real. She stared at it instead, willed it into existence. Inch by inch, the thing emerged from the darkness as her eyes caught up; a chair, an armchair, in fact. Beside it, a small table on which stood a lamp and something else. Sammy giggled at the absurd sight. Why on earth would her grandfather have such a set up here of all places? 

She rose into the attic, crossed the boards to the lamp and pulled the drawstring to stretch out the ribcage of the house in orange and black. The other thing on the table was an old-fashioned telephone, the kind with a rolling dial. Sammy smiled at it, a piece of history. She followed the cords of the phone and light to an extension cord plugged into the wall, one space free. 

An idea. 

She clambered back into the house, emboldened by her own bravery, unplugged the television set with a metallic pitew and heaved it above her head and back into the attic, set it down in front of the armchair and plugged the cord into the remaining space. She switched it back on. The static hiss was lost in the insulation, swallowed up. Sammy gripped the hornlike wires of the antennae and began to twist once more, kneeling before the screen like a voodoo priestess, her shadow cast in white and grey lurching crazily about the attic. 

The picture floated around the screen, fading in and out.

“… really don’t… offers we have… store… life… forever,” a man’s voice said, straining against the static.

A grin spread over Sammy’s face as the image began to clear. A man dressed in a suit and tie, dark hair, immaculate, Hollywood teeth. Sammy sat back into the armchair, triumphant. She stared at the screen for a second, then laughed out loud. A shopping channel. 

“For those just tuning in, we got some really fantastic deals for you this fine day,” the presenter said, making his way across a courtyard. “Yes, these are the kinds of deals you really won’t want to pass up on, I can tell you that much for sure.”

Her stomach spasmed again. Morning sickness, her mother’s voice said, floating through her mind. Sammy shook the thought away. She and George were always so careful; condom and implant. It had to be the breakfast.

The man on screen was still talking, the image floating around the set. The border at the bottom was barely visible, words trawled across it from right to left, lost in the static. A box at the left of the screen, more words inside; prices?

“Yes folks,” the man said, scrambled, “these really are once in a lifetime opportunities,” he chuckled at this with a wink. “We’re talkin’ prime real estate, the kind money can’t buy. Just look at those sweeping views of God’s Kingdom, ain’t it wonderful? And you yourself could be the proud owner of one of these condos, just ask the neighbours.”

The camera followed the presenter’s outstretched hand, down to an old man reclining on a deck chair, poolside.

“Yes,” the old man said, suddenly animated, “the Basic Package was the best thing I ever did with my life. Soon as I got here, I just had to upgrade to Premium. You’ll see when you get here,” and with that he lifted a brimming cocktail glass to the camera. Cheers.

The camera swept back up to the presenter.

“Yes, Mr Grayson here was one of the lucky ones, part of our limited, one-of-a-kind Upgrade Packages. Now, for you fine folks sat at home, we have some more incredible packages. You could be part of this luxury condominium for the rest of eternity, but reach deep, ladies and gentlemen, shed that which soon will no longer matter and take the plunge. I mean it folks, the Premium Package is there for the taking, right now, at the rock-bottom cost of one bloodline.”

The words continued to come, thick and fast, the endless sales pitch filling the attic. What had he said about a bloodline? Sammy wasn’t sure she had heard him correctly. She leaned in, adjusted the antennae by a few centimetres, trying to bring the text into focus.

It was a list; Basic Package, Premium Package, Silver Package, Gold Package, Platinum Package, Phoenix Package. Below each were telephone numbers, starting with an area code she had never seen before. 

Now the man was inside one of the condos, taking the camera operator on the grand tour. He was listing off the things the Premium Package would include, “washer, drier, refillable refrigerator, full spa access, tennis lessons, the full VIP experience. And when I say VIP, I mean vee ai pee,” he said, peering into the camera, smile plastered across his seamless face.

Sammy turned to the telephone at her side, lifted the receiver, turned the dial. A single tone, then a bright voice answered.

“Welcome to Beyond Shopping,” the voice said, automated. “You have selected our Basic Package. To approve your purchase, please dial one. To select a different package, please dial two. To hear the terms and conditions, please dial three. To hear those options again, dial four.”

Sammy waited for a moment. Dialled three.

“You have selected Beyond Shopping terms and conditions. To hear terms and conditions for the Basic Package, dial one. To hear terms and conditions for the Premium package, dial two. To hear…”

Sammy dialled one and cut the voice off.

“The following are the terms and conditions for the Beyond Shopping Basic Package,” a different voice said, this one a woman’s, pre-recorded. “All purchases are final, no refunds can be made under any circumstances. If you are unhappy with your selected package, you may upgrade to an alternate package, incurring any outstanding cost. Downgrades are not permitted. Once a purchase is made, the buyer may not disclose his or her purchase to any living being. To do so renders the purchase void, with the incumbent cost still to be paid upon leaving the mortal plain, ownership passed to Beyond Shopping directly. With the Basic Package, you will be required to fulfil no more than three daily tasks at the discretion of the staff on hand. Any time not filled with these tasks is open. Failure to adhere to this schedule is a punishable offence. To go back to the menu, please dial one. To make a purchase, dial two. To hear these terms and conditions again, dial three.”

Sammy slammed the receiver down. What kind of scam was this? Selling condos to dead people. Her hand hovered above the phone again. She should tell someone; the police? Her parents? The papers? But something stopped her. A thought. Why was there no mention of money? Surely money had to come into it somewhere.

The presenter was now in a studio of some kind, talking excitedly to the camera still, now a woman stood beside him. She was tall, though not taller than him, perfectly symmetrical, the creaseless face imitated youth though she was clearly older. Sammy increased the volume again.

“… our next lot, as you can see, the Gold Package,” the man said. “Susie Partridge is gonna tell us about this one, now, aren’t you, Susie?”

“That’s right, Greg,” the female presenter said, Susie Partridge. “Now this one’s for our customers who have a few more miles on the clock, if you know what I mean,” she glanced at Greg and the two gave out clipped laughs in unison. “Yes, maybe you feel like like your luck hasn’t quite been in so far in this life? Well this Gold Package is really gonna shake that up. For the low low cost of one immediate descendant’s worth of luck, we are offering you the chance to enjoy your remaining years with the luck of ten lifetimes!”

Greg nodded feverishly at her side. 

“That’s right, folks,” Susie Partridge continued. “The chips will never again be down with this package, and once your time’s up, for the small additional cost of one bloodline, you too can enjoy the remainder of eternity at our Beyond Shopping spa and resort. Those calls are flooding in folks, and I gotta be honest, we don’t have a whole lotta these packages left to go. They’re flyin’ off the shelves! Really folks, for the low low cost of your first born’s luck, that’s it, your new beginning. Who says you’re too old to give it a go? They left you in that retirement home, they left you to rot, waiting for their inheritance. Let ‘em have it, I say! Give them a taste!”

Sammy stared at the screen. This was insanity. What were they talking about? She couldn’t quite place their accents. Sure, it was English they were speaking, but it sounded wrong. Not accented, no errors. Just wrong. The nausea swam up from her core again. She considered bolting for the toilet. Forced it back down instead, swallowed the vomit rising up her throat.

A phone number drifted underneath the grinning presenters. Helpline, it said. Sammy lifted the receiver and dialed. She sat perched on the end of the armchair, listening to the dial tone. The tone stopped after three rings with a clunk.

“Beyond Shopping helpline, Barbara speaking,” a disinterested voice on the other line said. “How may I help you?”

Sammy felt caught off guard. At least there were real people at the heart of this nonsense. 

“Hello, urm, yes,” she said. “I’m just watching your show, thinking of buying the… Basic Package. Could you tell me what that involves? I’m not sure how to make a payment.”

The woman, Barbara, sighed on the other end.

“Simply call the phone number off the screen and you’ll be taken to a sales program. Select one and the payment will be made. You don’t need to do anything more. Will there be anything else?”

“Oh, uh… yes. Um, what exactly do the presenters mean by bloodline?”

There was a pause from the other line.

“Not that I mind,” Sammy said quickly. “I’d just like it clarified before I decide for sure on the package that’s right for me.”

“Take it from me,” the woman said. “Just go for the Premium Package. You never know what’s going to happen with your family. Might as well just cash in now. Trust me, you don’t want to get stuck with just the Basic.”

“What do you mean?”

“Listen, they’re all gonna die anyway. Might as well make some use of them is all I’m saying. Now, is there anything else I can help you with?”

Sammy gripped the receiver, bile and confusion rising from the depths.

“Listen you… bitch!” she said. “What the fuck are you lot trying to pull? Why are you telling this shit to old people? It’s not cool!”

Another pause from the other line.

“Who is this?” Barbara said.

“That’s none of your business!” Sammy said. “Put me on with someone in charge. I want to speak to someone in charge!”

The line went dead. Just the flat dial tone.

“Hello!?” Sammy said into the receiver. Useless.

She slammed it down again. The attic was silent but for the low hum of static from the TV. 

“Sammy,” a voice said.

Sammy jumped back into the chair, eyes flying around the attic. A soft sound like something hitting glass. Dink dink dink.

“Sammy Parker?” the voice said.

“Who is that!?” Sammy shouted.

“Over here, Ms. Parker,” the voice said.

Dink dink dink.

Wide-eyed, Sammy turned to the TV set. The banner had stopped scrolling, now it jittered in place. The two presenters were now staring straight at the camera, unspeaking. The male, Greg, raised his hand to the camera. Rapped on the lens. Dink dink.

“Yes, Ms. Parker,” he said. “Yes, here.”

“Whuh… what do you want?” Sammy said.

“Do yourself a favour, Ms. Parker. Turn off the set and destroy it. Forget this ever happened.”

“What are you talking about? How are you talking to me? How do you know my name?”

The two figures on screen smiled.

“We know more than just your name, Ms. Parker,” the female shape said. “Surely you’ve heard what happened to the cat?”

Sammy hunkered further into the chair. It smelled of her grandfather.

“What did you do to my Grampa?” she said weakly.

The shapes laughed.

“Nothing he didn’t pay for. And pay he did, Ms. Parker. Quite handsomely!”

A spasm twisted Sammy’s stomach, she winced and brought her hands there, as though being winched in from the inside. 

“Coming along nicely!” the male figure said, now no more than a smile and eyes set into shadow. “You will look after him. You and young George Matthews.”

“Who the fuck are you!?”

“Your grandfather was devious indeed,” a shape said. “Gold Package followed by the Phoenix. Clever. We’ll get him eventually though. We always do.”

“Phoenix Package…?”

“Congratulations,” the shapes said, returning to their presenter forms. “It’s a boy.”

With that, the screen cracked. A small shower of sparks from inside fizzing out into the attic and plunging it into darkness.

Sammy sat there in the gloom, electrical smoke filling the air. She held her stomach instinctively. She could swear she felt something in there, moving. Growing. Her grandfather’s voice echoed inside her head. You know, Samantha, if you ever have a child, a boy, Stephen is a rather wonderful name, don’t you think?

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