The skies were bleak, so grim and dusty that they distorted the otherwise perfect rays of the sun turning them into a bare illumination that barely reached their small old home in the hills. The roar of thunder echoed and amplified until it shook against the windows, rattled them as if a physical force demanded entry. A flash of lighting pounced down upon the earth, illuminating the area in sparks, revealing the hidden truth. Shadows that danced and spiraled among their front yard where there should not be. That was how they first realized something was very wrong.
People stayed far away from the house at the end of the rolling hills. They told stories about it’s haunting and the lives of those crazy old people and their six little girls. They cast their eyes downward whenever a member of the family entered the small town as if they were diseased and plague-ridden. They whispered snide remarks behind their backs and gossiped about their oddities. Not even trick-or-treaters passed by their house on Halloween, or carolers during Christmas time. Yet, there they were, shadows, moving rapidly, falling and tumbling among one another only able to be seen with the help of the lightning.
They didn’t understand what was happening or why. They couldn’t hear beyond the thunder and roaring whistle of the wind. What was going on? Why were these people here? They asked so many unnecessary questions, that in the end only cemented their downfall.
The next noise sprung them into action. A loud crackling pop that spiraled through the air completely in opposition to the storm. Their worst fears were confirmed with the next strike of lightning. The sudden glint of metal refracting off the light. The girls ran downstairs, knowing now that they were needed, they had to stop this violence before the bloodshed continued.
But Melanie was too fast, already downstairs she swung the door open, planning to help shield the people, protect their household from danger. At her presence, every head turned towards her. The men and women slowly stood as if in a trance, no longer fighting amongst one another. They garnished Melanie with their attention and adoration. All except for one.
A lone woman stood at the end of the driveway, the owner of the gun. Her eyes narrowed, and even in the darkness, Melanie could feel the hatred and rage rolling off of her.
The woman’s arm lifted, leveling the gun at Melanie’s height. Adrenaline roared loudly in her ears, pumping through her blood. It drowned out her sister’s frantic footsteps, screams and pleads that begged for her to move, to run to safety. Instead, all she could hear was the woman’s simple reasoning. Why this had to be done, why she had to die.
“This, all of this, this is your fault! This is all on you!” The woman yelled into the storm, and without a second thought, without a moment of hesitation, she fired.
It still hurt to move. The bruises were an ugly shade of blue and purple splotches that covered her skin. It would be another long sleeve and pants day. Not jeans though, the rubbing of the material would irritate her already raw skin.
She studied herself in the mirror. Eyes bloodshot red from tears that had formed through the pain and fallen only moments after. The light in her eyes had long since faded and now all that remained was a dull lifeless brown almost black color resembling a mixture of tar and mud.
She had tried to fight last night. She was so numb to the pain that at first, she felt, nothing, but then the monster paused, changed, and found new flesh to pick and tear away. It wanted her to hurt, wanted her to scream until her chords were raw, and against it all she refused. That refusal had done nothing but make her torment worse.
She shouldn’t have fought.
She should have just given in, told it what it wanted to hear. That she was bad, that she was nothing, that she was a waste of space, but she didn’t. The truth was though, she believed she was, had believed it for a long time now. Hell, if the cosmos ended tomorrow she would find some way to blame herself for its destruction. That part of the monster had claimed and possessed her soul, killed her and demanded to turn the rest of her into the same blackness that it was.
Is this what life was supposed to be? She had been told she needed to take her rose colored glasses off and see what the world truly was. That underneath it all it was nothing but ugliness, failures, and disappointments. But the fact of the matter was she had never been able to experience that innocence, that she was at least sure of.
The alarm went off interrupting her thoughts. She needed to get ready, she didn’t want a repeat of what happened last time.
The school day dragged on and she forced herself to focus. Swallowed another pill to dull the pain under her skin. Her P.E. class laughed at her. The only girl who was covered in heavy clothes causing her to sweat profusely.
“You stink,” were the first words her mother said when she stepped into their vehicle.
She said nothing. The car ride was silent, she knew her place. She walked through the front door of a house she hated and began dinner. She didn’t eat that night, couldn’t find it in herself to do so. She set to cleaning the dishes, took another shower, checked her homework and began to prepare for bed.
Shirt halfway on she heard the audible gasp from the doorway, “What happened to you? How did you get those bruises?”
She stared at her mother her eyes full of anger and rage. Her mother shrank under her unexpected gaze, “You should know, you gave them to me.”
“No, I didn’t,” her mother said slowly. Each word paused as she took a new breath to overcome her horror.
“Yes, you did,” she responded pointedly.
“No, I didn’t!”
She didn’t answer, the battle was futile.
Gathering herself her mother straightened portraying a pose of dominance, “I gave you an ass whooping, you deserved it, you just bruise easily is all.” The look in her eyes said it all, “I dare you to say another word.”
But she knew better. She said nothing, crawled into bed and faced the wall signaling defeat. The door closed and she listened to the footsteps of the monster fade away. She was grateful then, grateful for the distance, the small momentary false sense of safety. She finally let the tears come, soundless fat drops that rolled down her face and soaked the pillow and surrounding sheets. It carried on for hours before her body succumbed to exhaustion.
It had been two weeks since Sam’s, well, I just can’t say it. I can’t say the word “accident”. I can’t say death, because I cannot comprehend those words right now. I couldn’t comprehend them at his funeral. I couldn’t identify his body, because it couldn’t have been him. It could have never been, my Sam.
His brother went in and did it. Even when Jeff came out crying I still couldn’t believe him. I still didn’t believe it. I wanted to scream and shout at Jeff. How stupid could he be to not know what his brother looked like? I refused to believe it until I received his belongings, and right there, inside was a single gold wedding band. Scratched and unpolished from years of hard labor. It could have been anyone’s. Hell, it could have even been mine! But there, on the inside of the ring sat a single inscription, “7.2.10, The day I met P.C.” Even that could have been anyone’s initials. Paul Corbin, Peter Chine, but I knew it. I knew it because those initials stood for a nickname only I called him. Penny cheeseball.
No one knew that nickname, not a single soul. I knew him around school, I always called him cheeseball to myself. Head full of strawberry blonde hair, curly, fussy, and unruly. But the first time we spoke he walked into the hardware store where I worked, and instead of paying like a normal human being, with dollars, or a credit card, he paid with rolls of pennies. My manager wanted to kill him, but in all honesty, his oddities amused me. The next day I asked him why did he only have pennies. He told me he collected them, some mantra his grandfather used to say “if you save a penny a day you’ll be rich by 45”. I didn’t believe that one bit, I thought it was the dumbest thing, but the way his face lit up as he told me the story. The obvious joy, love, and respect he had for that man. How much he wanted to believe that, his dedication and determination? I fell in love with Sam, over fucking pennies.
And now he was gone. Was, there’s that word again. People kept saying it at his funeral, they kept using his name in past tense. That he was gone. I cursed them out before running away to the house. I didn’t even stay as they put him in the ground I couldn’t because he wasn’t here. He had to be, he had to be, but my heart knew. The darkness that settled there ever since the news ate away more at me until I crumbled into pieces of nothing. I sobbed I screamed, I cried for hours until my voice was hoarse and my body ached. The grief drove me past the point of exhaustion and before I knew it the sun was pouring into our home.
Stiffness ate at my joints. I’d wound myself into a tight ball and fell asleep on our old wood floor. It hurt, I hurt, but that hurt was from the inside out. I walked into our bedroom on autopilot. Took out a new change of clothes and paused as the smell of Sam’s aftershave hit me square in the chest. Alcohol, spices, and mint. That’s what it smelled like. I turned to greet him, to kiss him and then yell at him for worrying me the way he did but there was nothing. There was no one, and somehow my heart broke all over again.
I ran out of the room and out of that house until my knees buckled and I fell over. Our neighbor, Dana, ran out to me. She rocked me as I cried and screamed into the air that he was gone. Completely and utterly gone. My husband, the father of my future children, the person that I wanted to share the rest of my life with, my soulmate, was gone. I hated the world at that moment, everything and everyone in it, I hated it all. Most of all I hated the person who caused this, who ran my husband off the road all because a fucking text message was more important to them than paying attention to the damn road. If I ever found them, even God wouldn’t be able to help them.
At night it was worse. Everything got worse. It’s funny the routines your body remembers. Sam gets home by 6 p.m. we always have dinner at 6:30. But there was no garage door opening, there was no whistling through the house, no hug, no kiss. For several weeks I would pick up our cast iron frying pan with the idea of cooking something and then remember he wasn’t coming home today. That he would never come home again. My anger, my rage continued to build and build until that Friday at exactly 8 p.m.
He always watched that stupid Syfy show. I always made fun of him for it, but I still watched it with him. He was so in love with science fiction and horror, said we’d need the information one day to protect us against the zombie apocalypse. It was ridiculous, absolutely 150% ridiculous, but I missed it. I missed that routine, I missed him, and something in me snapped. I don’t know what it was, I don’t know what you would call it but it was like a bridge that had exploded from the bottom. The entire structure fell and collapsed, and everything, everything just became hot. I launched over our sofa and ripped that television off the wall. It tumbled and crashed to the floor but I kept hitting it over and over. I hit it until the screen broke and even then I didn’t stop. I threw the vase on the table, broke the remote apart with my hands, I tried to tear the sofa cushions apart but the material was too strong, so I just overturned it. The lamps? Gone. Those bulbs? Broken and demolished the same way my heartfelt. It wasn’t until I got to that blueprint that I stopped. It was the first design Sam had ever had accepted by a client. It was what fueled the success of his company, and I couldn’t, I couldn’t destroy that. I just, couldn’t.
Staring at that blueprint with bloodshot eyes I felt like I found my voice, for the first time since all of this. “Why did you leave me, Sam? How am I supposed to go on without you?”
That rage, the feeling, and acceptance of his loss woke something up inside of me. For the first time in almost a month, I entered our bedroom. I stepped into the bathroom and took a shower. I used his soap, wore one of his shirts, and I know it’s crazy but I swear I could feel him. For the first time, in over a month I swear I felt his arms wrap around me and the warmth there made me feel stronger than I knew I was. It took me hours to clean up the destruction I had caused in 20 minutes or less and I fell asleep on the same couch that I had been trying to break apart.
The doorbell woke me, the incessant ding-dong. I was tempted to ignore it just as I had been for weeks. Whatever neighbor who made me another pity casserole could just leave it on the doormat, I’d get it later. But then I heard his voice, “Vanessa, I know you’re in there, open up.”
I grimaced. It was Jeff. I thought ignoring his phone calls would have told him everything I needed to say. To leave me the fuck alone. But then the banging started and my sleep-deprived mind couldn’t take it. It felt like he was literally knocking on my skull. I opened the door and he paused mid-knock. He took one look at me and I braced myself for him to say something, anything, but instead, he just hugged me.
It was odd, unexpected, and comforting. I realized then that I had been selfish in my grief. That I thought Jeff had Cara, his wife. That he had someone to share that pain with while I didn’t have anyone. That I didn’t want that from anyone, not really. That I just wanted to stay here in this dark hole that kept pulling me under more and more every day. But to know someone, for the first time, felt what I did even at the smallest degree, that someone knew my pain. It made my hole a little brighter. I motioned for him to come inside and as he did, he froze at the sight of the living room.
“I know,” I said quietly fully expecting the judgment. I wouldn’t be mad at him if he checked me into a mental hospital right at this moment.
“It’s worse than I thought. I guess I got that message right on time.”
“Huh?” I asked, “What message?” But he simply shook his head, “Let me get those bags out of here for you then we’ll talk.”
When he came back with a drink for the both of us I scrunched my face, “I could have gotten that for you.”
He gave me a “yeah right” face and sat down next to me.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?”
“I got a little, upset.”
When he didn’t respond I glanced over at him. Jeff was loud. He was frank, unfiltered, a tell it as it is sort of guy. He was almost the complete opposite of Sam. The fact that he wasn’t yelling at me right now unnerved me. “I just, I’ve been having a hard time.”
“Yeah I figured, you haven’t been answering any of my calls.”
“I couldn’t,” I said, “I just, I needed time.”
“Don’t you think a month was more than enough, V? Jesus,” he muttered. “The last time I saw you, you punched me in the face. I thought you were dead.”
“Sometimes I wish I was-” the words flew out of my mouth with such ease they shocked me.
“Don’t ever fucking say that again, okay? You may have only married Sam, but you’re like a sister to me. You’re family and I can’t lose anyone else right now, alright?” When I didn’t say anything he continued, “Do you believe in ghosts?”
“And you wonder why I didn’t answer any of your calls?”
He glared at me. “Yes, I believe in ghosts. Why?”
He paused. I could tell he was considering how to tell me something. “Jeff, just say it.”
“Sam’s been haunting you, but you haven’t been able to hear him. So he left me a message, that’s why I came over here today. He told me it was important, he-“
I busted out laughing. I rocked back and forth. My sides hurting as I tried to breathe.
“I’m being serious, V.”
“Jeff you can’t honestly expect me to-“
“You’ve smelled him around here. Haven’t you?”
I froze, my eyes wide as he continued, “And he’s been trying to get you to cook. Something about how tater tot casserole isn’t enough to keep you going?”
My neighbor, that’s what she brought over recently and I’d been eating it breakfast, lunch, and dinner, “How did you-“
“He told me. In a dream, he told me what to say to you to get you to believe me. I think that’s the only way he can communicate right now but you need to sleep. Actually, sleep, have you been sleeping in your bedroom?”
“No, I-” I began but he cut me off.
“Do it. It doesn’t have to be tonight if you’re not ready. If that’s the case come home with me we’ve got the spare room. But, you need to sleep in your bed to be able to hear him.”
“I,” I stammered, “are you for real right now?”
“You tell me,” he answered with a casual shrug of his shoulders like he hadn’t just told me my husband’s ghost spoke to him.
I thought it over but finally answered, “If there’s a chance, I’m staying.”
He nodded and then he smiled. The first smile I’d seen on his face since he got here. “I’ll let myself out,” he gave me a tight hug, “I’ll be by tomorrow, and we’ll talk about it then, so answer the damn door, okay?”
“Okay,” I said sheepishly.
The night took too long to come. I approached our bed with caution and pensiveness. Should I do something? Was he already here? Should I announce when I’m going to bed so he can come into my dreams? Do ghosts see what you’re wearing when they’re in your dreams? It was crazy to think he’d even be there, and yet, how else did Jeff know all of those things if he wasn’t? If he couldn’t be? I had to believe, at the very least I had to do that if it meant I could see my husband one more time.
I climbed into bed, and fell asleep faster than I had in over a month. I don’t remember dreaming, but when I woke up I felt peace. I felt like I had slept for ten years. I felt energized and simply alive. I began to wipe the sleep from my eyes but paused at the gold shimmer on my thumb. I checked my ring finger to verify but my wedding band and ring were still in place. I pulled the gold band off of my thumb and read the inscription inside, “7.2.10, The day I met P.C.” That ring had been stuffed away in the same bag the police had given me and hidden in a drawer in our kitchen. I hadn’t been able to look at it much less touch it, but suddenly here it was, prominently sitting on my finger.
I whispered up to the ceiling, choking back tears, “Thank you, Sam. I love you too.”