“Happy Almost-Halloween, everyone! Thought we’d get a head start on the holiday by hosting a party all weekend.”
“We’ve got plenty of snacks and games!”
“Damn right we do. Horror movie marathon has been put on a brief pause so we can get started on the first viewing of the weekend. So, head over to the refreshments table for your Bloody Marys and you Scar-garitas and join us at the Void.
“We’re about to take a look at a woman from the mid-west U.S., who has entered that terrifying part of human life that is abundant with illness and pain and death looming on the horizon. But it is not she who has been diagnosed; it is her husband.
“I call this tale:
Hidden Knoll was the kind of town you could find most anything: a decent bite to eat; stores with necessities and entertainment alike (though if you weren’t able to find exactly what you were looking for, you were only a few minutes from another town that might); affordable places to stay. And while the heaviest conglomeration of businesses and residences wasn’t anything like the bustle of, say, Chicago or New York or even Lexington for that matter, it gave even the most alienated bumpkin a taste of city living without them having to succumb to culture shock (though the city-slickers always complained about the lack of free public Wi-Fi and spotty cell coverage).
The town hub gradually formed over the years, businesses and homes went up in the vacant spaces between existing occupants (some miles apart), separated by woods or failing farmland. Unlike many of the surrounding cities, hotspots of growth and activity didn’t pop up seemingly at random like acne on a teenager’s face; it started at the town hall and courthouse and, more or less, spread outward as the population grew. Even still, the suburbs that expanded counted for less than twenty-five percent of Hidden Knoll’s total landmass with the overwhelming majority belonging to nature or the farmers.
Some of these farmers, not needing the land like they used to, sold off small blocks of property to prospective homeowners (to individuals, mind you, not developers, like most do nowadays). Each of the plots of land were segregated by thick rows of trees, or, more accurately, tiny forests.
Beverly Hutchison and her husband, Frank, decided to build on such a lot, specifically number 102 Haystack Drive. It offered more seclusion than the most of the other lots: at least two hundred feet of wooded area on three sides, and left seven acres to play around with—two in the front and five out in the back.
“Plenty of space for you to get your exercise and keep yourself busy,” she said while driving him to the doctor’s, seven months before moving day.
“And for you to do your gardening,” Frank replied, looking over the pamphlet she had kept in the glove compartment of her Toyota Celica. His eyebrows rose at the total amount of house and lawn space, “The kids won’t know what to do with themselves either.” The kids being their ever-growing collection of grandkids that started a little more than ten years prior. Since then, with each of their own three children (Janice, with two boys and two girls; David, with three girls and one boy; and Danielle with one of each and another on the way) pregnancy kept catching like a bug going around the household.
“I wish we’d have thought of this sooner,” she confessed to her husband after weeks of keeping it to herself, “it’d have been a lot easier, especially on you.”
Beverly was, of course, referring to the move. Even for a four bedroom, two bath house, the living space was rather small. Cookouts over summer vacation and gatherings for trick-or-treating, Thanksgiving, and Christmas were getting more and more cramped with each new addition to the family. More legroom was definitely called for. And they weren’t exactly getting younger; Beverly and Frank both were in their sixties, the bedroom they shared sat on the second floor while the laundry room was down in the basement. The house currently under construction was a sprawling single-level home. The only steps on the property went from the sidewalk to the front porch, out to the back, and from the garage to the kitchen—for a grand total of three.
A sudden frown crossed his features as he turned his focus from the paper in his hand to the cast on his left leg.
“What’s the matter?” Bev said, catching the look out of the corner of her eye.
“I think you’ll be doing more running around than I will.”
Beverly smiled and gave his thigh a pat. “A few weeks in the hospital rehab, you’ll be right as rain.”
This time a sigh escaped and he spoke quietly, “I just want to be able to make it long enough to enjoy it with you, even in a wheelchair.” The last words came out in a croak.
She bit her lower lip, trying to will her tears not to come. “You will.” And gave his leg a reassuring squeeze.
That wasn’t Frank being melodramatic, that never was his personality. He was being straightforward as always and that cut into Bev, who was trying to keep an optimistic outlook. She tried to keep telling herself that it was just a busted leg that was the worst of Frank’s problems.
But it wasn’t.
Eight weeks before, Frank injured himself in the remaining days of winter. He was off to Kmart early one morning in anticipation of a Blue Light Special (they were meant to be surprise instances, but he figured out ages ago that the electronics department arranged the best deals between ten and noon on the first Saturday of every month) and slipped on a patch of ice in the parking lot. A cast on his leg and a few weeks on crutches was all the couple was prepared for until the blood work came in.
Acute erythroid leukemia, the doctors called it.
What was supposed to be a drive to the hospital to pick Frank’s clumsy ass up turned out to be a juggling act of appointments for medication, appointments for chemo, being placed on hold while the insurance company tossed the call around like a hot potato. And it was Beverly’s time to put in the heavy lifting.
She and Frank’s relationship was a partnership. To hell with what friends and family said decades prior. They both had an income and shared the domestic duties around the apartment (later, the house they assumed would be theirs forever). Once the kids came along, she did take care of things around the home, but he always helped, even when pulling ten hours of overtime or more. After the youngest entered school, she took a part-time job at Hess’s. Once Janice was old enough to look after Davey and Danielle she bumped up her employment status to full-time. The pair managed to pay off the homestead in half the time. Soon, what was meant to be a “rainy day” fund turned into quite the nest egg.
Up until Frank’s diagnosis, the work was split damn near even. After that, he fell apart. More than understandable, Bev had told her friends and children on more than one occasion. She had no problem picking up the slack (and the kids had no issues coming around while she was out taking care of the bills). Even on frustrating days where customers were the absolute worst breed, she was able to calm herself and keep at it, knowing he’d do the same for her in a heartbeat.
Frank did his best to keep himself busy while he let his leg heal and the meds and chemo do the repair and rebuild work of a wrecking ball. Danielle often took him to the library or other small and odd bookshops around the tri-state. When he wasn’t reading or sleeping off the pains of the day, he helped Beverly with the matters she’d charged head-on into and assisted all was able with the talks at the bank (one part-time income and failing health, and being over-the-hill made the loan officers rather apprehensive) and and prepping the house for the market.
After weeks of sweating it out, the combination of fifteen-plus years of saving and the value of the forty-year-old house, the bank eventually agreed to lend the money before Beverly and Frank’s property sold.
Four months down the road, Frank’s cast was off and he was out and about on both legs. Unfortunately, the drugs were taking a toll on his body. He managed driving them around town for errands and out to the skeleton of the new house, but that was about it. After the construction crews had gone for the day, he spent an hour or two doing his own private inspection, making sure no corners were being cut like those shady developers putting in all those new subdivisions around the area. An hour or two in the afternoon sun was all he could manage nowadays; he even offered himself rest before getting back in his Volvo and heading home.
He was back at work, albeit part-time. No longer on his legs for an eight hour stint, Frank settled for four at a desk, mainly logging reports and receipts with the odd internal or external call for confirmations. It was boring as hell and his face made no effort to hide it. Unless he had to deal with a customer directly, only then did Frank put on a happy facade and kept it on until the customer exited the room.
Two more years. Two short years of uneventful, drab desk work, that’s all that stood between him and full retirement benefits. If he was still able to be out and about for the length of his day, the countdown to his last day wouldn’t be in effect.
Well, what were you gonna do?
Beverly hated his lack of enthusiasm for his job. He didn’t talk much about it anymore, after all how much was one able to say about a place after almost thirty years? No, it wasn’t in what he said, it was in his expression, his body language. The look of…not quite dread, but a close relative of it was etched deep into the lines of his face on every work morning. At first she thought it was a reaction to all the drugs the hospital had him on, the depression and lethargy. Who wouldn’t be after receiving such news after what was supposed to be just a broken tibia? But no, turned out every afternoon there was that extra pep in his step and light burning in his eyes.
Now, wait a minute, maybe it’s a bit of both, Beverly told herself in one of her moments of contemplation. Even on weekends I can’t even get his butt out of bed ‘til the late morning or early afternoon. The looks of anxiety weren’t present on those days, only a twinge of remorse in the hours before church. After the treatments started, he had to start forcing himself out of bed; she hadn’t the heart to do the same on his days off. God’d forgive him for his absence, no doubt about that at all.
The church community Frank and Beverly became a part of thirty-plus years ago was more than supportive. Every Sunday, at some point or another, members of the congregation gave hugs and well-wishes and offered prayers for her husband, and hoped to see him back soon.
“He’s gonna beat this,” Bev often told everyone (including herself when she was alone and in a somber mood). “I mean, yes, Frank has his bad days, but the good ones outweigh them by far, especially once he got out of the cast.
“And now,” at this point she always smiled, “the only bad times are when he comes out of chemo, and even those days are going to become less frequent here soon. I can’t say exactly what is going on when the doctors hook him up, its all gobbledygook to me, but it is a miracle and he’ll be right as rain come Thanksgiving, if not, Christmas.”
This notion never failed to put her in a better mood—an extra bit of pep in her own step.
Three months later, Frank was more or less back to his old self again. It was an amazing recovery which surprised all the docs and nurses (and quite honestly, beat the living hell out of some of them, eyebrows raised and heads shaking looking over his paperwork) and provided much-needed relief for the couple and extended family. Over the preceding weeks he made longer and longer strides between spots of rest, each varying from about ten to fifteen minutes, down to five minute breathers, and then none at all. Frank even went as far as to mention that he might take up jogging.
“But I don’t want to press my luck,” he conceded, but still chipper in his demeanor.
Beverly smiled, as she always did with any improvement on his part. “You get to doing that and I’ll join you, Franklin Hutchison, because I haven’t seen you run like that since high school.”
His eyebrows furrowed a pinch, “I have, too. Bunches of times.”
Bev laughed heartily. “Chasing after the kids and pop flies is hardly the same as running laps around the track.”
“Well, clearly you’re getting old since you can’t remember running after Dani all those times. Truth be told, I can’t exactly remember how many glasses of water I had to fetch you afterwards.”
He wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her.
Frank pulled back from Bev and they stared into each other’s eyes.
“I’m getting better, hon.”
But she didn’t. Neither of them knew, because three days after his proclamation to his wife, Frank found himself strangely tired after a day out. Work had been a snoozefest, per the norm, and he picked up a few dry goods from Kroger, then made a stop to the new place a few minutes after the last construction worker exited the lot. He looked over the progress of the home, confident he and Bev would be in by the end of the month. Which was fine. A red SOLD magnet was going to be placed over the RE/MAX sign on the front lawn over the weekend. The new owners would be in thirty days after that. A few days at the Marriott if construction fell behind for some reason wasn’t exactly the end of the world, now was it? He walked over to the surrounding wood and mulled the thought over along with the logistics of getting all the belongings moved out.
Frank let his eyes wander across the landscape. The trees were so thick with leaves and the ground filled with so much underbrush one might not believe there were any adjoining properties. That might not be the case come winter. Regardless, the place really was quiet and serene. The acreage dipped as he strode further into the back. Birds chirped overhead and rustled through the branches when they deemed he came too close; butterflies and other unidentifiable insects buzzed around, highlighted by the rays of sunshine through the leaves. The grade steepened much more as he closed in on the sound of running water—the creek that ran through the cow pastures. Frank (against his better judgement) steadied himself and made his way down to the creek bed with the utmost care. He stepped across the trickle of water on the dry, flat rocks and followed the flow for a spell. When the brightness of the sun started to dim and edge closer to the horizon, he decided on the trip back, retracing his footsteps and crossed where he had originally, knowing it to be the safest option.
He made it back to the car wheezing lightly and checked his watch. Hot damn, not bad for an old-timer. It wasn’t a run, but save for his time behind the wheel of the car, he hadn’t parked himself for a solitary minute. A minute later he put the car into drive and headed home.
It was overexertion, that was all.
That is what he firmly believed until a light queasy feeling crept into the pit of his stomach. His mouth started to fill with saliva. Frank crossed the kitchen and bent over the sink and wretched. Beverly heard this and came down from the bedroom.
“Frank? Are you okay?” she said, coming down the stairs faster than normal. She turned to her left just as she saw his hunched form collapse on the counter top and topple over on the tiled floor. “Frank!”
Beverly spent the next forty minutes agonizing in equal parts for the wait for the ambulance and then riding in the back next to her husband on the way to the hospital. She only caught the odd word from the paramedics as they tended to him. Only when she was addressed directly (allergies, medication, etc.) did she take her full undivided attention away from Frank. The only words that stuck to her were “heart” and “attack”. Once they were separated at the double doors at the end waiting area of St. Elizabeth hospital, Beverly busied her mind by trying to get in touch with the kids by way of payphone out in the lobby. She then occupied time by filling out the paperwork attached to a wooden clipboard and returned it to the front desk. One by one, they showed up, grandkids in tow.
She tried to keep her tears back, wiped her face clean as she saw their forms closing in. No need to worry the little kiddos. But it was all for naught, as tears were streaming both from David and Janice’s faces. Mostly, the younger ones were somewhat aware of what was happening, but mostly confused, and only crying because Mommy and Daddy were scared and that wasn’t right. Hugs came from all around. And the adults got into one conversation all together while the children, siblings and cousins kept mostly to themselves (with the exception of some light begging for change for a Coke from the machines at the far side of the room).
Minutes crawled by like hours.
As the pangs of hunger hit, they were let into a room on the third floor. The lot of them piled into the room and surrounded the hospital bed. Tubes ran from his arms and his face, hooked up to all sorts of monitors and devices. His eyes were glazed over but he smiled and his eyes crept over every single figure standing around him.
Beverly should have been happy to see him conscious. Not exactly alert, but awake…and alive. He even mumbled when he squeezed the hands of anyone trying to quietly talk to him.
But that smile…
She kept to his side, one hand on his shoulder, the other on his arm, her thumb lightly stroking his wrinkled skin. It was the morphine or whatever the hell else the nurses had him doped up on. He was barely able to keep his eyes open for God’s sake. If her shift had been an hour longer, Frank would most likely be dead by now.
His head rolled toward her and his eyes found hers; he had his lips twisted up that awful way. It wasn’t the IV drips, Beverly told herself. That wasn’t liquid relief causing that glassy, far-off look. Lost deep in those black depths of his pupils, might have been Frank at one point…but it wasn’t. There was someone else back there controlling—observing. Maybe something.
Beverly found herself wishing that he had died on the kitchen floor that evening.
Frank never recovered. It stumped those who were in charge of him; it was not an adverse reaction to the treatments and pills, in fact, he was pulling through it with flying colors. Those that knew him noted that he was getting to be more active than he’d been in a long time, not to the point of putting his body to extreme strain. Initial thought was a heart attack, but no, the highways of his arteries were free and clear—mild congestion, sure, but not to the point of stopping blood flow. He died shortly into his fourth day in St. Elizabeth, in the early hours of the morning. His autopsy was done shortly after Beverly saw his form for the last time. It, like the CAT scans and the other tests before, revealed nothing. Frank Hutchison’s heart simply stopped working.
In the state of Kentucky, there is no law restricting a burial on residential property. It might have seemed morbid, but it wasn’t fair for Frank to be denied the home he had worked so hard for. That is what Bev told her children, anyway.
Getting the permit for a home burial was painless, only about a thirteen minute wait by her watch, and the paperwork and money was handed over to the clerk in the old stuffy courthouse. Renting out the equipment turned out to be even less of a hassle. When the foreman of the construction crew for the house was informed of Beverly’s plan, he offered to have one of the guys to dig up the plot and fill it after the services.
“You’d be able to use the house, by the way,” the foreman called out to her as she pulled out of the driveway.
She stopped the car and rolled down the window. “Sorry?”
The man sprinted up to the Celica. “Yeah, geez, I forgot to mention. My mistake. If you don’t wanna rent out for the gathering and whatnot, your house is ready.”
“Is it? The way Frank was talking, we still had few more weeks to go.”
“Well, my boys have been busting their butts, it’s more like a week and a half. But you’ve got running water and electricity—you’ll have to flip the breakers before you start, that’s all. Kitchen, living room, and one of the bathrooms are all finished. We’ve just got some work in the master bedroom, the spare room, the laundry room.”
“And the driveway?”
“Yes ma’am. Getting the gravel outta here and paving the drive and sidewalk will be the last thing we do and then we’ll be out of your hair.”
She managed a warm smile. “You all have been anything but, and thank you for all the work and help you’ve offered.”
The foreman smiled back. “You’re welcome, take care now.”
Beverly put her car back into gear and made way to her next appointment, possibly the most awkward of all (after explaining to her family the idea of the burial-at-home). The director of Worcester and O’Hara Funeral Home, Edward Worcester, had no services today and was more than happy (despite the circumstances, of course) to meet with her.
He sat with Bev, not behind the mahogany desk, but in the armchair alongside the one she occupied.
“Thank you for seeing me with such little notice.”
“More than alright Mrs. Hutchison. I’m terribly sorry for your loss; my grandpa also asked me to express his condolences when he heard.”
“Thank you, Eddie. Frank had missed everyone from church. He was getting better and said he was planning on attending in the next couple weeks or so. Would you believe that he even toyed with the idea of hosting a cookout? Can you imagine that, manning a grill for that many people in the middle of October?”
The two of them smiled and laughed at the notion. Knowing full-well that he would have done exactly that.
“Now, I got out your file, all the plans that were made out are ready to go, any adjustments that need to be done won’t be an issue. If you’d like to write something special for the paper, I’ll go ahead and take it down.”
“Yes, that’s fine. All we’ll go ahead as we talked about with your father in terms of the visitation and funeral being held here. The gathering after will take place at,” she paused for a second, “at our new house.”
Beverly took in a breath, “The burial will take place there as well; I’m afraid we won’t be needing the two plots designated for us—”
Edward made to speak up, but Bev saw this and kept on, “I don’t wish to attempt to get the payment we made back. That was five years ago, and as far as I’m concerned the money’s gone and spent.”
The man blinked and smiled. “That’s very kind of you, Mrs. Hutchison, but I can’t keep the money. It’s not right. Besides, it’s not like we’re going out of business, the spots’ll be taken up again, no problem…especially the ones you all picked out. Besides, Dad and Grandpa both’d go upside my head if they found out if I didn’t give a refund for the land.”
“I’ll meet you halfway then,” she said. “Half the money returned, and consider it a “pay it forward” deal for the other plot.”
This got another chuckle. “I’d be just fine with that. I just won’t go into specific dollar amount with them.”
Edward leaned forward and picked up a file folder from the edge of his desk along with a legal pad and pen. “Now, the new address and details?”
Frank’s funeral went the same as all the other ones Beverly attended increasingly over the years: somber for the main part, but joyous and even filled with laughter at some of the recollections brought forth from those in attendance. The day was overcast with a gentle breeze and not an ounce of rain dropped. Not one attendee took the chance and either brought long coats or umbrellas, just in case.
For the visitation and services, Beverly managed to keep her composure; not even during the eulogy she gave did her voice so much as even crack. Tears were shed since he passed, of course, but she tried to stay strong for her family; she hated showing weakness in front of them. Tissues dabbed the away the droplets that ran down her cheeks and that was that. Only when the pastor ended the service and called the pall bearers to the front and the casket closed, denying her the sight of her husband forevermore, did she break down and cry.
David looked on helplessly as he assisted with the coffin; Janice and Danielle, tears streaming, came to her side and held Beverly tight and let the sobs come as their mother had done for them many times. As she settled and the tears dried on her face, her daughters led her out to Danielle’s car and the procession made its way to what was supposed to be hers and Frank’s.
The months went on at an agonizing pace. Each day forward seemed longer than the last, especially in the evenings after everyone left and left her alone. It took her hours to fall asleep, even well-after darkness settled and the television and radio had long since switched off. The house that was supposed to be a cozy nook for the remaining twilight years was now a silent tomb. Soon, she just got into the habit of keeping herself awake though the witching hours all the way until dawn. This was fine, as her children were busy with work in the mornings while the grandchildren studied away in school; at the earliest, one of them would show up past two in the afternoon, plenty of time for Bev to prep herself with coffee and wash up.
Retirement was dreadfully dull, especially without the person she vowed to spend the rest of her life with, her best friend from childhood. Cleaning up the house when you lived alone took virtually no time, only on nights when family came for dinner was any sort of significant tidying (and even then it was done within an hour or so). For the first time in her life, she resorted to doing the daily crosswords from the newspaper. And when those failed to be of use (by either completing it or being fed up with it entirely) she visited the local Blockbuster and county library. The silence of a country night was drowned out by a combination of film and music (the latter for when she read through the stack of paperbacks on her night stand). Pale blue light glowing through the drawn curtains and growing sound of birds twittering in the surrounding trees was her cue for bed. As always, she finished her last mug of tea while peering between the blinds of the sliding door that led to the back. The sight of her husband’s headstone several yards back greeted her, standing out vulgarly against the reds and yellows of the trees that both adorned the branches and her lawn. She sighed to herself as she always did after gazing out into the morning light and withdrew her fingers from the door.
Months rolled on into years and Beverly’s family and friends noticed a steady deterioration in her health. When the siblings got together, or the church collective, concerns were raised (never when Beverly was in earshot, mind you) and speculations were made that her husband’s death was the catalyst—the beginning of the end for her. Unbeknownst to Beverly, she proved them wrong and kept on going even if she started going out less; even when she started getting short of breath and started to rely on an oxygen tank; even when she became reliant on a cane to get around; even when paranoia about being stranded out and about with a depleted air tank caused her to become a shut-in and her home became more of a tomb than ever.
And then, one evening, Bev woke with a start. Danielle and the kids left two hours prior and within fifteen minutes she was asleep in her recliner. A flash of lightning caused her eyes to screw shut tighter; the blast of thunder that followed rattled the portraits on the walls and caused her to nearly void her bladder. She looked up at the clock and froze in place, training her ears to listen between the patters of rain and the whipping of branches. There was…something outside. It was quiet—subtle—but it was out there.
She tore the tubing from her nose and tossed it aside. She massaged the pins and needles from her calves that formed from the weird angle she sat in and stood up and crossed the room on strong and steady legs. She stopped immediately and retreated to the chair, bent over, and picked up her cane…and grasped it tightly in both hands—held it in front of her chest, her muscles drawn tight like wound-up springs. Beverly crossed the room with carefully placed steps and kept alert. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she remembered a similar stormy night several months before.
On the evening Frank was admitted to the hospital, David drove her back to the small house that had once been his home. He offered to stay the night with her and keep her company; she refused him and told him to get back to his family, she’d see him tomorrow if he stopped by his father’s hospital room. David kissed her goodnight with a tight hug and was off.
Bev found herself restless and unable to sleep. So, she did what she always had when her mind was going a million miles per second, she put on some music and tidied up. She worked herself up from the kitchen, to the living room, up to the spare bedroom and then to the room designated as Frank’s office.
On a normal day, it wouldn’t have even crossed her mind. It was Frank’s spot, he kept it up. Not that she was forbidden to enter the room, no, it was nothing like that; Beverly often strode in with an iced tea or to keep him company while he farted around with his computer stuff or whatever electronic gizmos he picked up that month. He insisted that seeing as the room was filled with all of his belongings, it was only right that he kept it nice and clean with no worry for her. All the software was kept in the cubbyholes around the desktop computer (it was Greek to her, she often remarked of his code scribblings), a well-padded armchair sat in the opposite corner with a large bookshelf filled with titles like 2010: The Year We Made Contact, Cosmos, A Brief History of Time, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Beverly shook the cobwebs loose and started to turn back from the doorway, but noticed a stack of ancient-looking books that sat both on his office chair and the corner of the computer desk, dangerously close to the edge. She might as well stack them neatly for him. She entered the room and noticed another notebook open on the armchair, the Bic pen still uncovered and very definitely dry as the Sahara by now. She went to close the writing pad and put it on the desk…and noticed the words scrawled in it weren’t the normal techno-babble code he jotted in neat rows. She read over the notes and immediately grabbed for the books, searching for the titles on the spines…and found nothing. Her hands tore at the covers and riffled through the pages, her eyes glanced across a handful of lines:
“…host body may be able to achieve re-ani…”
“…world may cross into ours if the conditions are just right…”
“…purported to have taken control of the host and unable to exorcise…”
Her shaking hands dropped the books and she staggered out of the room; her heart raced as she slammed the door shut behind her; she tripped over her feet and fell against the wall, half wanting to cry, half wanting to puke. She vowed to confront Frank about the books and the notes when he recovered, but that never happened. On the night of his death, Beverly returned home and burned the books along with the notepad.
The rain started coming down in a thick hiss. Lightning strobed through all the window blinds, the thunder continued rumbling, almost drowning out even the sound of the classical piano playing over the radio. Beverly inched forward and closed her eyes as if that helped her ears focus. Sweat started to form across her brow. And then she heard it:
Her Frank had come back—clawed his way through his coffin and through several feet of sopping wet ground. Months of waiting and hoping she’d get to see his face again…and there he was, right on the other side of the door. No more dreading of waking up alone for the next ten or twenty or thirty years.
“Beeeev…,” a hoarse voice gurlged out in the damp.
“I…I’m hooome now!”
Beverly kept the cane firm in her right hand, and let her left linger near the deadbolt of the back door…and drew it back as if it were the bright orange end of a hot poker. As Frank’s words dribbled out against the backdrop of the storm, the elation drained from her entire being. It was Frank standing out there…but at the same time it wasn’t. Beverly didn’t know what the hell kind of intuition was telling her not to open that door for that…that husk, but she opted to listen to it. Frank’s body was outside; his soul was elsewhere.
She turned and ran back to her room. Dropping the wooden stick, she tore open the walk-in closest and reached for an unmarked metal box hidden behind the flimsy cardboard ones. With a grunt, she brought the oblong container to the neatly-folded covers of her bed and fumbled for the key hidden underneath the pajamas in her dresser. The key unlatched the lock with a deep click and she forced the lid up. Beverly pulled the hunting rifle from the foam bed and scooped up a handful of bullets; she chambered the rounds and barrel angled-down made her way through the hall and living room.
She listened again, through the rain and thunder.
Only a thin sheet of glass and $35.00 plastic blinds separated her from whatever the hell was standing outside now. Beverly raised the gun, held it with her right hand and slid the butt under her armpit as she reached forward and turned the deadbolt with her left hand. She took a few steps back and properly raised and held the rifle. The barrel was aimed point-blank at the crease between the door and the frame; Beverly stilled herself, holding her breath—deadly focused.
The door started to slide open. Slowly at first, but picked up speed. A drenched arm snaked through the blinds and swayed to and fro. A dark figure limped through. Soggy boots squelched into the carpet.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, Beverly repeated to herself. Nothing more than a sliver of hope kept her from having her beloved’s body from being cremated instead all those weeks ago. Foolish. She swallowed the lump in her throat and dug up that same amount of courage to squeeze her index finger and put it all to rest again.
“Hello Frank,” Beverly said flatly.
Without further hesitation, she fired.
A flash of light and a sharp crack pierced the night. Being so far from the nearest neighbor with rain coming down in thick sheets, one might have thought it to be another bolt of lightning in the storm.
“Poor Bev, having to put her husband back in the grave a second time.”
“Yeah, well, she could have just roasted him and spread his ashes everywhere–”
“It’s not always that easy to let go…”
“…Hmm…They both fucked around and they both found out.”
“You’re not wrong there. Now, let’s not dwell on the subject of death…and get back to the zombies and witches and all the other creatures upstairs.”
“Oh! The costume contest! We gotta get up there now so you can judge.”
“See you all tomorrow evening for our two other stories! Have a good night and a spooky rest of the weekend!”