The air had a musty tint from the lake as it brushed against Annabelle's cheeks. At first, the scent bothered her, but now she had grown accustomed to it. There was a certain peace about living by the lake, and she would live anywhere as long as she could be with her husband, Harry.
His warm hand brushed against hers, squeezing between her fingers. She smiled and squeezed his hand back.
"You know I have to leave sometime," Harry said, brushing his smooth brown hair.
Annabelle shook her head. "You can be a little late. I'm sure no one will notice."
He sighed. "With the war going on, we have less people in the factory. I need to be there."
"But you are the one running it," she reminded him. "I'm sure the men will be just fine for a few minutes without you."
"Well, with less workers I've had to be a little more hands on, lately," he pointed out with his head down.
Annabelle huffed, but Harry pulled her in for a kiss. For a moment, she felt the same bliss she felt on her wedding day. It had only been three months, but to Annabelle it could be forever or just yesterday. Time was meaningless. She never imagined she would be so happy in married life, but Harry was the most charming, caring, hardworking man, she had ever come across.
"I best be off," he said with a small smile.
"I'll miss you," she whispered back. "You know you're leaving me all by myself for the day."
He put his finger on her chin to tilt it up. "Come now. Minia will be here in an hour for her choirs and…" he shot a hard look behind his wife and added, "well… you can take a walk around and see if you can meet some of our other neighbors?"
Annabelle turned her hand and glance over her shoulder to the house next door that once glowed, but now looked like a beaten shack. The bottom was covered in growing vine. The tree branches nearly touched the ground while the grass grew like a wild jungle. Her neighbor, Marlene, had lost her husband to a plague. After about a months passing, she began to put back on her happy face, but could not manage anything on her own. Annabelle always thought Marlene to be strange. Now, she watched her step outside with her brown hair in perfect locks, clutching a water pitcher. Annabelle could see her vivid plum lips pop in the sunlight. When Marlene caught sight of the couple, her hand flew in the air and she waved it enthusiastically. Annabelle gave her a small wave back and a polite smile.
Harry gave her a curious look but said, "You'll be fine. I'll see you later, okay?"
He gave her one final kiss before leaving for work.
Letting out a breath, Annabelle returned to her large clean home and sat in a small chair next to the empty fireplace to read. After she turned the first page she heard a light rap on the door. The knock picked up its speed as she stood up. Hoping it was Minia here for her choirs, Annabelle opened the door and tried to keep a straight expression when she saw who it was.
"Well hey there, kind neighbor?" Marlene said, waving her right hand enthusiastically, while her other held a woven basket.
Her heavy southern accent sometimes pierced Annabelle's ears. However, she still managed a smile.
"I made muffins," she exclaimed, thrusting the basket over to Annabelle. "Would you like some?"
As she took the basket with one hand, Marlene seemed to take that as an invitation to come inside.
"How did you find enough sugar," she questioned her neighbor. "I thought that was scarce at times like these?"
Marlene shrugged. "Oh here and there, you know. Right?"
Annabelle turned, slighting shaking her head and set the basket down and opened it. She frowned. There was not even anything in, except an old piece of wool.
A chill crept down her spine. Annabelle felt as though someone were breathing on the back of her neck, except it was not human breath. The touch of this air was stale and dry.
A boney hand grabbed her shoulder forcing her to whirl around, gasping for air.
"Marlene!" Annabelle panted, slamming her right hand over her racing heart. "I didn't hear you come in."
"Oh I'm sorry," she replied with a cackle. "I've always been rather light on my feet, you know? Sometimes it feels like I'm walking on feathers."
Annabelle stood up straighter, gently lowering her hand by her side.
"Anyway," Marlene went on, "I just wanted to tell you I made some tea. Would you like some?"
She nodded. "Thank you."
She glanced over towards the hall that led to the front door, hoping to hear a knock. If Minia showed up, Annabelle could easily excuse herself to direct her maid rather than engage in conversation with her eccentric neighbor. However, it appeared Minia was running late, again.
"Oh my, would you look at the time?" Marlene said, poking her head out the window, her eyes pointing straight towards the sun. "I better be off. I've got so much to do today."
Annabelle could not imagine what Marlene would have to do. Clearly, it was not yard work. However, she merely smiled and bid her farewell. Relieved, she sat back down on her chair only for a moment, before she heard another knock on the door.
Please oh please be Minia, Annabelle begged her mind.
When she opened the door, she found her maid standing with a bucket of cleaning supplies.
"So sorry I'm late," Minia said, brushing past her. "I could not find my duster to save my own soul!"
"You know we have a duster here," Annabelle said to her.
Minia let out a childish laugh. "Oh right. Didn't think of that. Well, I should begin right?"
"Yes, thank you Minia. Some simple dusting will do for now."
As Minia got to work, Annabelle returned to her reading. Minia may be young, but she quickly learned her mistress did not care much for excessive conversation. She would usually quietly do her choirs until sunset and then leave.
Annabelle spent the rest of her day reading quietly. She took some time to make afternoon tea, purposely waiting until Minia moved upstairs for cleaning. That way, it would be unnecessary to offer her some.
A chilled breeze touched her cheek. She peered over to the wall to see if she left a window open but they were all sealed tight shut. Annabelle sighed and sat down to resume her book. At the harsh sound of a shatter, she whipped back up. Her china plate had fallen of the shelf. Annabelle walked over and stared at the scattered pieces, wondering how it fell. After all, she had not lay finger on her china collection since she moved into this home.
She glanced over towards the stairs and briefly considered fetching Minia to clean. However that would mean engaging in conversation in which Annabelle did not necessarily feel up to. Also, she did not want Minia thinking she was a clumsy old bat that ran into the shelf and knocked over the plate. She grabbed a small broom and started to sweep the pieces onto a pan. Her eyes fell upon a large piece laying near the wall. When she reached for it, the jagged edge pierced through her finger. Annabelle gasped out, immediately snatching her finger to her lips.
"Oh Mrs. Meyers," Minia said, walking down the steps. "Let me get that."
Annabelle shook her head, holding up her hand. "No need. I've already got most of it."
"But you're hurt," she pressed on. "I can take care of it if you like."
"I'm fine," she insisted, her tone drawing up stiffness.
Someone knocked on the door.
Without a word, Annabelle went to answer it, leaving Minia to finish cleaning.
When she opened the door, she recognized Dr. Peterson, the town Psychiatrist. As his doleful eyes met hers, he removed his hat and held it to his stomach.
"Mrs. Meyers," he began quietly. "I'm afraid I have some tragic news."
Annabelle merely gaped at him, but nodded for him to continue. She could feel her heart begin to pound heavily.
"There was a terrible accident in the factory today, consisting of several serious injuries and one casualty. Your husband did not survive."
The remainder of the week felt like a blur to Annabelle. She was barely able to pick herself out of bed. Minia would still come clean but Annabelle merely sat on her same little chair while she worked. She held her book loosely in her lap but could not conjure up the strength to pick it up and read. Instead she just stared. Her eyes were like fogged up windows.
Marlene came and visited a couple times, but Annabelle could barely recall her visit. Even her chatty neighbor seemed to figure out that she needed to be left alone at a time like this.
Shortly after Minia left, there was a knock on the door. Annabelle did not get up, hoping whoever it was will leave her alone. The rapping continued. Letting out a huff, she went to answer it.
"Hello again, Mrs. Meyers," Dr. Peterson answered with a light smile. "I merely stopped by to check and see how you are coping."
"As well as anyone would expect, thank you," Annabelle replied, beginning to shut the door.
"I wanted to offer my services," he said quickly before the door could close. "People say you have not left your home in days. I am concerned this is not a healthy way to deal with your grief. I think it would be best for you. I can help people. I know I tried the same with Mrs. Andrews and that was well… but you see things from a more logical perspective so I think it would be different."
Annabelle shook her head. "I don't think that will be necessary, thank you."
He sighed but nodded. "Well, if you change your mind, feel free to stop by my office tomorrow morning."
She briefly nodded but closed the door. Annabelle recalled something Marlene said about fresh air the other day and decided to give it a try. She walked outside along the lake. The lake air usually did not do much for her. However, this time, she felt as though it were drawing her in. She slipped her shoes off and dipped her toe in. The coldness pierced at first but then felt numb. Gradually her body lowered in until nothing but her head was left above the water. Taking in a breath, her head sunk in. As she herself did not breath, Annabelle thought of her dear Harry, who would never draw in a breath again from this world. She closed her eyes and her mind portrayed him right next to her. She could almost feel his warm hands clutching hers. Annabelle refused to let her body feel anything else, as she focused her mind on her husband.
Annabelle opened her eyes to find the covers wrapped tightly around her neck. She pushed them down to her waist and rolled over on her back. All the tears seemed to have drained out from her. Now, she felt like a dried out cloth.
The doorknob creaked. Annabelle barely lifted her head and saw the door remained shut. As she began to lie back down, she heard it again. This time the door began to creek open. Her body shot up and she clasped the covers to her chest. She could not even feel her heart beating rapidly.
When the door opened, Annabelle gasped. Her lungs tightened and she could not even breathe.
She blinked, expecting him to vanish in the moment. When he remained put, she blinked again. Her husband, her deceased husband, appeared as real as the covers that touched her skin.
Harry tilted his head and grinned. "Why are you looking at me like that? I know I've been working long hours but you haven't completely forgotten about me, have you?"
Annabelle's jaw dropped but no words escaped.
"It's been hard trying to sort out everything after the explosion," he went on. "I had to go in earlier and stay later and I did not want to wake you."
"I… I thought…"
As he strolled over to her bed, Annabelle felt as though spiders were crawling down her arm.
Harry gently kissed her nose and said, "I hate to do this again, but I have to leave. I promise, I'll try to be home sooner this evening. Maybe have Minia roast some beef and I'll bring back some wine. We can have a nice romantic evening, just the two of us."
"I thought you were dead," Annabelle finally choked out, feeling her eyes strain on him,
For a moment, he merely gawked at her, but then managed a chuckle. "Dead? Sweetheart. You must have just had a bad dream."
A dream? Could that be all it was, just one horrid nightmare?
But she could not deny how real everything felt. She had never had dreams that vivid.
"Well, I best be off," he said, walking over to the door and grabbing his bag. "You get some rest. Minia should be here within the hour."
He smiled at her and started towards the front door. Annabelle leaped out of bed and followed him.
"Wait!" she called out. "I didn't kiss you goodbye."
Harry smiled as she kissed his cheek. Before turning back towards the door, he added, "Maybe if you feel up to it, you can get out for a little bit. Take a walk. Talk to the neighbors some. I hate the thought of you being cooped up in here all day."
Annabelle sighed. "I'm sure Marlene will stop by. She always does. Perhaps she'll fancy a walk?"
He lowered his head and frowned. "Annabelle…"
"What?" she asked with a shrug. "Do you not like Marlene? I don't care for her much either but you have to admit, she is always neighborly friendly."
"Annabelle…" his voice grew dark, like a stiff tree reflecting the moonlight. "Marlene is dead."
Annabelle walked down the road in town, care to walk to the side to avoid the cars creaking by her. She had promised her husband she would rest as he thought her ill, but she knew something was wrong.
Marlene is dead?
According to Harry, she had taken her own life shortly after her husband's passing. But Annabelle just saw her the other day. She seemed just as real as the hat the sat on her head right now. Annabelle recalled Dr. Peterson offering her the chance to talk. Perhaps that would help. Perhaps she was loosing her mind.
Fog seeped over the roads, but she still spotted Dr. Peterson's wooden sign stuck in the ground at a slanted angle.
When she entered the building, she found the little square desk up front vacant. Scattered papers and a pen rested on top but no one was there to use them. She peered down the narrow hall that led to his office.
Annabelle slowly stepped forward and tried again. "Dr. Peterson? It's me, Mrs. Meyers. You said we could talk, remember?"
It occurred to her if she had been dreaming, he would have never made the offer to her.
She stepped in his office and saw a couch with scattered pillows and a chair twisted in front of it. The open window offered a light breeze.
As he appeared not to be working today, Annabelle sighed and turned back.
The door slammed shut, causing her to jump back. She shook her head, realizing it must have been the draft. As she stepped again, another bang crashed her ears. The window had closed down.
"Hello?" she asked, cautiously. "Is anyone else here?"
Having enough spook, she left, desiring the comfort of her own home.
When she arrived at her own home, she paused and glanced at the disheveled house next door. Recalling what her husband said, Annabelle stared at the grass that appeared like a toddlers messy head. She redirected her head back to her own home and went inside.
She glanced at the tiny table beside the door and frowned. Before leaving, she had left a note for Minia explaining she would be away for some time and to just complete her usual choirs.
It was not like Minia to be this late, and Annabelle knew she could not have completed everything this quickly either. She wondered what could be keeping her today.
When she pressed the front door closed, a familiar feeling arose. Annabelle recalled it to be the same sensation as the first time she walked into this home. Everything suddenly seemed so unfamiliar and strange.
She peered out the window and pondered a moment. Annabelle could not recall ever stopping by Marlene's home without invite, but the curiosity compelled her. Knowing she would regret this, she went back outside and walked towards the home, being sure to keep a cautious eye to each side. As she approached the front door, she found it was cracked open. Annabelle still knocked first to be polite.
Could she really have been dead this whole time?
Her mind was split. Either her husband or her next-door neighbor was gone for good, but which one and why did they both seem so real?
"Marlene?" Annabelle tried knocking on the already open door again, this time pushing it further back.
She decided to take a step in. Normally she was not one to pry, but considering Marlene did not even bother to close her door… that is if she was even alive.
"Marlene?" Annabelle tried again, brushing aside a cobweb she just walked through.
Maybe she really is gone.
Annabelle started to turn around but jumped at the sight of the very person she was looking for in the doorway. For a moment, her arms dangled holding the sides of the entrance above her head like Medusa's serpents. Then she dropped them by her side. Her hands brushed off some dirt on her dress and she beamed.
"Well, hello there, Annabelle," Marlene greeted brightly. "I wasn't expecting you."
"I… uh…" Annabelle could not even feel her own legs at this moment. Her throat tightened and she wanted to gag the air.
"What's the matter, sweetie?" she asked tilting her head. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"I'm not…" Annabelle could not gather the right words.
Marlene stepped forward and tried to sound soothing. "Why don't you sit down and I'll make you some tea? You look like you've had a rough day."
Annabelle sat on a small square table by the window, thinking of what to do next. Perhaps she should invite Marlene over to see if Harry could see her or if her neighbor was merely a figment in her on mind.
"Here you are, darling."
Marlene returned with a tray containing a single teacup and a small bowl with a tiny silver spoon by its side. When Annabelle took the little cup, she saw it was empty. However she merely smiled politely and said thank you.
"I'm glad you decided to stop by," Marlene went on, sitting across from her. "I feel like you're the only friend I've got around here. Everyone else seems to ignore me."
"Marlene," Annabelle asked softly, "When you're husband died, how did you find the strength to move forward?"
She clenched her fist together and said, "Well, you see, Annabelle, I believe when people die, they don't really leave. Some of our loved one chose to stay and remain a part of our lives. Johnny, however, has never been one to stay coped in the same place for long. He likes to explore different places. One day, I plan to go with him."
"I see," Annabelle muttered, looking down at her lap.
"You saw him before he left," she insisted with a grin. "I know you did. Some people have the ability to see past the veil of the deceased. I think you have that gift."
No. That's impossible, thought Annabelle, but how else would she be able to see Marlene here now, when the world believed her dead. And Harry. What if he really did die?
Annabelle's body shot up, dropping her teacup. She muttered a brief apology and darted out, but had no desire to enter her own home. She could not bear the thought of wondering all evening whether or not her husband would return home.
She walked into the nearby patch of trees and stumbled across the small town cemetery. Placing her numb hand over her chest, she tiptoed in as though the ground were ice that could shatter at any moment. She knew the truth would lie here, but nothing would prepare her for what she was about to see.
Annabelle passed a stone that read John Andrews. Beside it was his wife, Marlene Andrews. Her heart dropped to her stomach when her eyes fell on the stone that read, Harry Meyers. She wanted to cry, but her eyes were too dried up for tears. Annabelle knelt in front of it and stroked the cold stone. She bowed her head and closed her eyes for a brief moment. When she tilted her head to the right she came her eyes spotted another stone, next to her husband's. This one appeared freshly carved. Her entire body froze when she read the name engraved.
Here lies Annabelle Meyers
Beloved daughter and wife
A/N: Happy Halloween!