Someone Else by Jon Gauthier [horror]
Basil watched Janet as she paced up and down the room, rubbing her hands together in that irritating way that only she could.
“It can’t do you any good to worry,” Basil said, remaining perfectly at ease in the leather lounger. Janet ignored him and continued her journey. Basil watched curiously. Part of him—the part that still adored her after nearly 50 years of marriage—actually felt slightly bad.
“Why don’t you just sit down?” he said. “You’re going to give yourself an attack.”
As if obeying him, Janet immediately stopped walking and spun around to face the leather lounger. Then her eyes darted about as if she was searching for a bird that had made its way into the room.
“There’s someone else in here,” she said. She said it so seriously, so matter-of-factly, that it was impossible to not believe her.
“You’re imagining things,” Basil said, not trying at all to hide the condescension in his voice. “After all these years, you’ve finally gone batty.”
Without replying, Janet moved to the other side of the room so she was only a couple of feet from him.
“I think it’s a ghost,” she said. Her eyes were on the ceiling now. Basil sighed and got to his feet.
“Don’t be ridiculous, dear. You know there’s no such thing.”
Janet walked towards the casket and looked at the body inside. She squinted slightly as if trying to work out a great mystery in her head.
“It would make sense, you know,” she said. Her voice infused with thoughtfulness. “They probably all come to these places. Trying to get one last look at themselves before they’re sealed in these wooden cells. Trying to see which friends and family members actually had the decency to show up at their funerals.” She continued to observe the corpse, studying its perfectly pressed outfit and its rose colored cheeks.
“Why would you color a dead person’s cheeks?” she asked. “What exactly is the point?”
Basil walked up behind his wife and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Come on, dear,” he said softly. “No sense in upsetting yourself.”
Suddenly, Janet spun around, her eyes still squinted into mystery-solving mode.
“There is a ghost in here,” she exclaimed. “I just know it.” With that, she made her way past Basil and towards the coat closet. As she flung it open, Basil could hear her muttering to herself in that… that way. That way she muttered to herself all the time.
It had started as soon as he got back from Vietnam. They’d only been married a year when he got drafted. He had left her as a strong and joyful young man and returned with a shredded lower spine and a head full of horrors. Bound to a wheelchair, Basil was forced to watch his young and bright-eyed wife age into a bitter and resentful hag. He couldn’t give her children or any kind of life he had promised. She was nothing but a nursemaid to a broken vet—a role that she accepted because it was her Christian duty.
“Just tell me what you want!” Janet cried. “Why are you here?”
“Give it up,” Basil said. “There’s no one listening.”
Janet made her way towards the casket again and tilted her eyes to the thing inside.
“Is it you?” she asked. The corpse didn’t respond.
“Now you’re just being ridiculous,” Basil said with a scoff. “Actually talking to a dead body. What if someone were to come in here and see you acting like this?”
Janet placed her palms on the casket and hung her head. Basil could see tears starting to fall from her eyes.
“So there is still some heart in you after all,” he said.
“Just leave me alone,” Janet whispered. “I’ve put up with you for half a century. I just want some peace and quiet.”
Basil let out a sigh and moved towards her.
“Do you remember it, dear?” he asked softly. He was beside her now, almost whispering into her ear: “Do you remember how it felt? To feel a life extinguished right in front of you—to feel a heartbeat actually stop.”
Basil saw a chill take hold of her and creep downward, each part of her body shuddering as it slunk across. She didn’t respond. She just stared down at the man in the casket, her face expressionless.
“I saw such terrible things over there,” Basil said. “It was indescribable. I’m sorry it had to come between us.” He put his hand on hers—and for a moment, he thought he could actually feel her skin.
“I remember these hands,” he whispered. “They were so cold on my throat. So much hatred in these hands.”
Janet suddenly let out a gasp and buckled over, the tears flowing freely now. Basil could see the goose bumps on her arms. He felt his mouth bend into a smile.
“Don’t be upset, dear,” Basil said, stealing a glance at his pale body. “I’m not going anywhere.”
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