My short story was published in Mason County Writes, a yearly journal of stories, poems, and drawings from regional writers.
Mayda Engel looked left, then right, before glancing behind her. She was sitting on a white wooden bench near a cobblestone footpath. Her heart pounding, her breath laboring, her mind wavering back and forth; yes she was meeting a murderer at his request, but no she told herself, he was never arrested, only suspected. His wife’s body was never found, no crime scene, nothing to indicate murder, only malicious gossip eight year ago when the wife of writer Gordon Manton disappeared. Mayda didn’t believe he was a killer, but still, one can’t assume, or at least, should not assume.
As her right hand brushed lint off her cream colored skirt a few pigeons landed in front of her feet. “No food birdies, so off with you.” They stayed; looking at her, with what she thought was certain insolence. Stupid birds. She kicked out her foot and they hopped across the cobblestones. She looked at her watch. Gordon was ten minutes late. What he wanted to meet about he did not say. She had tried to get an interview with him in the past, but even before the disappearance of Annalise, he gave interviews as often as vampires got suntans. Was getting a confession out of the question? It would certainly enhance her career and reputation. Not much of a risk she told herself. No body, no crime scene, nothing to worry about. But what did he want from her?
Gordon was fifteen minutes late. Twenty minutes late. Looking down the cobblestone paths, Mayda saw elderly people out for a stroll, kids playing. She said out loud, not necessarily for the pigeons benefit, “I have better things to do on this beautiful July day than be entertainment for you silly creatures.”
But she stayed.
While debating whether to leave or throw a shoe at the pigeons, Mayda saw Gordon hurriedly coming down the path.
“My deepest apologies,” he said. “I could offer some excuse, but I have none that would justify my lateness, none that would appease you I mean. Late start to the day, things just went wrong. But thank you for waiting for I do need to talk with you, and need your help actually.”
“Do you have something to get off your chest, something about your wife, or just want to talk writing? A confession would be preferred of course.”
“Neither. That is, I mean, it does concern my wife, not her disappearance, but her reappearance at our summer home, the one in the country.”
“What do you mean? Is she back?”
“Well that is what I want to talk with you about. She is there, at the house, but also, not there. It is hard to explain, but . . .”
“Oh for God’s sake, make some sense. What are you talking about?”
“This will sound like I am nuts of course. Believe me, I have considered it. I have seen her in the house more than once, in fact many times over the years, but I am unable to talk with her. Look, I could say she is a ghost, but I do not believe in that nonsense. Besides she is not some shadow, nothing ephemeral, no wisp of a smoky thing, or whatever ghosts are supposed to look like . . .”
“So she is at the house, but she is not a ghost, though she could be, as you seem unsure about what you are seeing . . . well you’re a writer, you paint a picture with words, so relax and get into your writer’s mind.”
“Well let me get to the point. I want you to accompany me to the house, the sooner the better before I change my mind. Maybe I am nuts, but I want somebody to see what I am seeing, to confirm everything, perhaps to give an answer. Would you come to the house? Stay there for a few days, a week, or I don’t know, just to give it a chance.”
“Why not call those ghostbuster people? They can document it, get it on TV you know. Then the world can see Annalise.”
“I sense you are joking, but I am not. You see I don’t think she is dead, I don’t believe in ghosts. It must be something else. I can see her as clear as I see you, but when she sees me I can’t hear a word, a look of panic on her face. Then again I must question my sanity. I need a respected journalist, a skeptic, and you have a no nonsense reputation, somebody who the public, and of course the police, will believe if you see what I see.”
“Thank you for the compliment. I remain dubious, but that is what you want isn’t it? On the other hand, I did write, and I make no apologies, a rather brutal piece about you and your wife, so I have concerns for why you chose me to be a witness.”
“Because if I asked a good friend, or my agent, or my attorney, people like that, then credibility of the witness would be questioned. But if you verify what I have seen, that she is alive, the public and the authorities are better inclined to believe you.”
“Why not bring in a large audience?”
“Because,” said Gordon, “I am afraid that if a large group was there and did not see, anything, then word spreads so fast that I will look ludicrous and any subsequent attempts would be . . . well it just wouldn.t work. You are one person, not much damage done, even if you write one more negative story. I think you are my best shot.”
Mayda bent over, her head towards her lap, she brushed back her short dark hair with her hands. Sitting back and looking at Gordon, his gray hair impeccably combed, she said, “let’s go.”
Nearly 800 country acres of rolling hills and ponds is where Gordon and Annalise purchased a house, bought because Gordon professed he liked the country feel of the area, was tired of the noise and distraction of big city life; rich green lawn preferred to gray hard pavement, birds chirping and tweeting preferred to horns honking, deer and an occasional raccoon or two preferred to angry, hostile people. Three months later his wife Annalise disappeared.
The house sat in front of a large wooded area, the woods enveloping the house on three sides. In front of the house a circular paved driveway winds through a deep rich green manicured lawn.
As Gordon drove his British grey Bentley towards the house, Mayda, seeing the house for the first time, did not think the house was imposing in any manner whatsoever. Influenced by Gordon’s ‘ghost story’ she expected something ominous. Both relieved and disappointed she resolved not to make any judgement the rest of the stay. Watch, listen, and see what happens.
It would be a great story if indeed she saw Annalise. And if she didn’t she would still file a story, one in which people would think Gordon had emotional issues. Of course, she thought, he might be setting up some kind of insanity defense.
Entering the door was a long entryway deep into the house with stairs to the upper floor on the right. To the left was the living room with dark red carpet and floor to ceiling windows.
The entire house was well kept, the furnishings giving the appearance of an Architectural Digest photo spread. The difference is that some of the furniture had protective covering for Gordon spent most of his time in New York. Mayda thought the house warm, friendly and inviting.
“How often do you return here Gordon?”
“Usually on our wedding anniversary, her birthday, and sometimes just to come back.”
“But not on the date of her disappearance?”
“No. That is not a day to celebrate. But I have been coming back more often, usually when I finish a book. I can write here, but I am often distracted. I see things, things I hope you will see.”
“Noises, do you hear noises?”
“There are always noises, even alone in a big house. Wood creaks depending on heat or cold. I paid no attention, not much anyway, of noises, until Annalise disappeared. Since then when I hear noises, they seem louder, more menacing, more imposing. Is it my imagination? I don’t know.”
“Which happened first? You saw her, and then noises, or the reverse, noises and then you saw her?”
Gordon then took Mayda to her room on the second floor, far left from the top of the stairs, a library and bathroom between her room and Gordon’s. Wooden floors didn’t creak when Mayda walked heavily on them as a test. Her mind eased, she smiled. Bright yellow wallpaper gave the room a cheerful look, the window facing the front of the house brought in lots of light.
“When you see Annalise, Gordon, do you see her downstairs or up here, near or in your bedroom?”
“The first time I saw her was in our bedroom down the hall. I had fallen asleep while reading, so the table lamp was on. I don’t know why, but I felt something wrong, even though I was asleep, and that I always found odd, but when I woke up she was standing at the foot of my bed. I thought I was seeing things of course. But she was as real to me then as you are to me now. As I said in the park, no specter, no shadows, nothing like what a ghost is supposed to look like. All rubbish I say. Anyway her mouth moved as if she was talking, but I heard nothing. She then seemed panicked and looked like she was almost yelling. She looked frightened and here is the odd thing, she was pounding the air is if it were a door. Now imagine me standing here and pounding the air. If I were pounding my arms they would not always stop in the same place, but hers hands did. In fact it looked like her fist had flattened out as if she was pounding on glass.
Of course there was no glass. Then she walked hurriedly away towards our walk-in closet, but before she could get inside she vanished into air.”
“I confess I have never heard of anything like that. I don’t know what to make of it. What about other sightings. Does she always pound the air with her fists?”
“Would you like to see the room Annalise and I shared?”
“Of course, but about my question?”
“No, not always. Sometimes I see her just walking into our room like normal. She stops when she sees me, with a resigned, forlorn look on her face. She stands there, her arms hanging down, looking beaten, not physically, like she had been hit or anything, but beaten by something, a hopeless, sad look, her shoulders drooping down.”
“And naturally you have tried talking to her.”
“Every time, except the first time. I was too stunned to say anything. I could not believe what I was seeing. But since then, yes, always. Once I got frustrated and said ‘where are you?’ Knowing that she was standing in front of me I felt silly saying that, but it was simply frustration. No matter what I say, she shakes her head, or cries, or both. Once she screamed with a wide open mouth and I heard nothing. Nothing; how can that be? She showed all the physical signs of a scream. Mouth wide open, eyes large and nearly bulging out of their sockets, neck stiff with those tendons on the sides of the neck stretched tight. Other times she walks into the room, sees me, shrugs her shoulders, and walks out.”
“Does this only happen at night?”
“No, it can be morning, afternoon, evening, middle of the night. Sometimes I can be outside the house and I see her looking out through a window. She evened waved at me from the window and I waved back, though I felt silly doing so. After I waved she shook her head slightly and walked away.”
“You said the first time she vanished into air. Does that always happen?”
“It can, but those times when she walks out of the room, I follow and though she is not there I can’t say for certain that she vanished. A couple of times I followed her down the stairs and she walked into the kitchen, but when I walked in she was gone.”
“If that is the case, I could see her anytime. So I had better be alert for anything.”
Gordon looked at her without emotion, his eyes dark and empty. After an awkward moment she said, “What’s for dinner?”
Over the next five days Mayda read two novels, one by Peter Ackroyd about a mystery surrounding Thomas Chatterton and one by Paul Auster set in Brooklyn; called her office twice; wandered around the house until she had memorized every room, corner, floor, ceiling, and piece of furniture; left the house to explore the garden and was startled by either a large dog or maybea wolf, she couldn’t tell which. She stayed indoors after that. Gordon spent long hours in his study which he kept locked.
At breakfast the next morning Mayda asked Gordon if previously there had been long stretches of time where nothing happened.
“Depends on what you consider long stretches. There was always a sighting, a noise, something every week.”
“Well, to be honest, I’m bored and I do not plan on waiting much longer. This is wasting my time and in case you haven’t noticed there is a lot going on in the world and as a journalist making my living covering news and people, I must get back to work. I can’t sit around waiting for a ghost to show up. Instead of me trying to verify whatever you saw, how about an interview. That is something you can do for me since we are both here. You owe me that for the time I have been here.”
“As I said, I don’t believe she is a ghost.”
“Is there something you’re not telling me?”
Gordon put down his fork, swallowed his bite of pancakes and maple syrup, took a sip of orange juice, and said, “There are more things on heaven and earth . . .”
“Oh wonderful. You’re quoting old Will. Is his ghost here too?”
“No, he haunts the Globe.”
“Then spill it. What should I know that you’re not telling?”
“I would rather show you when I see it,” said Gordon. “It will be easier to explain. If I am correct and I have no idea if I am even close to understanding, but it will be harder to believe than a ghost. If we see it together, you will perhaps understand.”
“So you have seen something other than a ghost, something that makes you believe in something else entirely, is that it? And of course it has something to do with Annalise.”
“I have to say I am disappointed by this shutting me out of whatever you think might be going on. So if something does not happen soon, I will call a taxi and head back to the real world.”
The next day Mayda was packing before breakfast. Before calling for the taxi she thought to ask if Gordon would take her back instead. She walked to his study and knocked, got no answer, opened the door, called his name, heard nothing, then walked into his bedroom. It was empty. She walked through the rooms on the ground floor and saw nothing out of
the ordinary. The car was still in the driveway. Mayda went outside, walked throughout the large yard and garden. There was no Gordon.
At least the day was bright and cheerful she thought. But concern began to fog her mind, her spirit incongruous to the weather. Mayda walked back in the house and starting with the ground floor, checked every room, every closet, everything she could see that could hide somebody, and she thought ‘the somebody’ in question would be dead. Her mind even thought Annalise might be found, her body rotting. But how could that be. There would be a smell. Mayda told herself to stop having these stupid thoughts. Don’t panic. Remain calm.
She reached the second floor, checked everything, even looking at the ceiling in every room. She remembered a jewel thief who said ‘always hide things in plain sight because the police will never look there.’ Once the police came to his home looking for stolen jewelry, but they never found it. They did not look at the chandelier in the ceiling. It was in plain sight.
She walked down stairs and thought she heard a noise, one she could not identify. She stopped on the stairs and listened. It was quiet. Was her mind playing tricks? No. She heard it again. It was soft, not of voices, not anything she could compare it to. Slowly she walked down the steps until, she reached the ground floor.
Mayda heard the sound more clearly. It was a blend of a kind of a hum, a sort of whistle, and a type of whisper; all in tune with each other. The sound was all around, not coming from any direction. She moved away from the stairs, and moved to the left and looked down the hallway.
And then she saw it.
It was a vertical line in the air, long, not straight, but shimmering and wavy. It appeared to radiate waves outward across the hall on either side, the visible shimmering waves bouncing off the walls.
Her first instinct was to run. But she was frozen in wonder.
She approached the vertical ripple cautiously; afraid any sudden movement would make it disappear. She stood in front of it with awe and fear. It was inches away.
Mayda tentatively put her right hand up to the ripple and put her hand slowly into it. Her hand disappeared and she quickly pulled it back. She looked at her hand and it was normal, no sign of anything on it at all.
She bent down slightly and stuck her head inside. She screamed, but heard no sound.
After taking a long sip of a gin and tonic, her hands trembling, her heart still pounding, her mind still in disbelief, Mayda leaned back in the comfy chair in the living room of the house in the beautiful countryside. She knew what she saw, but decided not to tell anyone. Who would believe her? She saw what she saw and she was not sure she believed what she saw. She started to smile, knowing in time, a long time, she would not believe it; it would be some dream she had.
But for the moment she did believe. Believe what is the question. When she stuck her head in the ripple she saw a man and woman embracing each other. Annalise and Gordon. They turned to her, perhaps after she screamed, or thought she screamed. Gordon smiled. Then he took a deep bow and laughed. At least it looked like laughter. Gordon and Annalise walked away, not down the hallway, because they were not in the hallway. In fact they were in a room, one she had never seen before. Everything in the room, which see saw only briefly, was old, like an antique store, only everything looked new.
Mayda never asked herself if she was going to write about this. She had a career. Then she realized that Gordon having disappeared like Annalise would open up a new investigation. Police would ask her when she saw Gordon last. If she called a taxi, then the driver would say he picked up a woman at the house. He would give a solid description. If she drove Gordon’s car, provided she found the keys, where would she leave it. Would someone see her?
Mayda wondered if Gordon knew this beforehand. Did he know if he could disappear into another time with Annalise with me as a witness that . . .
She got up and went to the hallway. The ripple was gone. There was no escape. But it might come back. Mayda waited.
I hope you enjoyed the story. More weirdness can be found in 2 e-book collections of short stories at Amazon.