by Antoinette McCormick
The noises began one night in October.
Three taps on the window, then nothing.
The first time I heard them, I was half-asleep. Thinking they were only the rain’s soft patter against the windowpane, I snuggled under the covers and sank into blissful, boneless limbo.
The next time, the sounds shook me from a sound slumber. “Just a nightmare,” I told myself. I’d had more than my share since the accident in April; so again, I paid them little heed.
But they continued every night that week, and they were always the same: tap-tap-tap on the window, and then, nothing. A “nothing” that was not an absolute silence, but a charged emptiness, an expectant stillness. Each time, I’d surface, clawing at my covers and swallowing a scream. Then, tearful and trembling, I’d sit in bed and stare at the ceiling – not the window – never the window – until my arms ached from hugging my knees.
I cancelled my classes, couldn’t concentrate, and couldn’t eat. After each night’s occurrence, the memory of those sounds lingered with me long into the next day, clinging to me like a second shadow, a darkness even the brightest daylight could not dispel.
Finally, I told the only person in the world who wouldn’t think I was a total lunatic: my best friend, Aimee. A part-time professor and full-time Wiccan, Aimee owned Ananke’s Attic, Middleton’s only occult bookstore and boutique. We met in her shop that Saturday.
“You’re not crazy, Devon.” Aimee shooed a fly away from her mug. She’d propped the door open to take advantage of the beautiful Indian summer afternoon, as well as any foot traffic on Harker Street. So far, the fly and the warm breeze were her only customers. “People living with loss sometimes experience these things.”
Shaking her head, she settled on the stool beside me. “Stephan’s not haunting you, sweetie.”
“No...” Aimee stared through the window at the falling leaves.
“What should I do, then?” I squirmed in my seat.
She shrugged. “Next time, let it out.”
I nearly dropped my coffee. “Out?”
“Your heart.” She squeezed my hand. “Let it out and follow wherever it leads. Just don’t bring back anything heavier than a memory with you this time, no matter how tempted you might be.” Wagging a warning finger at me, she said, “You know what I mean.”
I did. It was a dream I’d had a year ago. A dream, whose ending, even Aimee couldn’t explain. In it, while walking in a strange wood, I found a silver coin inside a ring of birch trees. The coin was oddly shaped and covered in strange symbols. The moment I touched it, the ground gave way beneath my feet. Clutching the coin tightly in one hand, I fell.
It was still in my hand when I awoke.
Aimee wanted me to destroy it, but I could not. Fashioning it into a pendant, I gave it to Stephan on our anniversary. He wore it every day. For luck, he said. He’d been wearing it the night the drunk driver hit him out on Route 103. I hadn’t seen it since.
A display of crystal chimes near the doorway suddenly jangled. Startled, I looked up, but saw only a flutter of red and gold on the threshold – an autumn dervish, driven by the wind.
When the noises came again, I stayed inside the dream and opened night’s window. A solitary figure moved amidst the shadows beneath the trees. I knew it was Stephan, but when I called out, a gust of wind whisked him away in a whorl of fallen leaves.
I awoke crying, but knew then what I had to do. The heart’s reach is as long as its cry is loud, and when its ache runs so deep, no measure to reclaim what has been lost seems too extreme. ‘Nothing heavier than a memory, Devon – promise me!’ Aimee’s parting words reverberated through me, but I couldn’t listen. If I could dream a coin into existence, why shouldn’t I use that power to reclaim what death had stolen from me?
It seemed so simple…
I lit candles for luck, then willed myself into the ring of moonlit birches where I’d first found the silver coin. Sparkling with cold fire, the frostbitten grass crackled beneath my bare feet. Overhead, bare and white as bones, branches of the leafless canopy swayed in the soughing wind, forming curious symbols and portents of mystery.
Behind me, a twig snapped.
Eyes glinting beneath the veil of his long, black hair, he crept to the edge of the trees. Before he could say a word, I pulled him inside the circle, and held him fast. The wind screamed and lightning flashed. Shuddering, the ground opened, and we fled the dreamlands on a roll of thunder.
I opened my eyes.
Success! My heart leapt. Stephan lay next to me in bed. He looked younger, somehow, or maybe it was just a trick of candlelight. I tried to kiss him, but he stiffened and turned away.
Laying a cautious hand on his shoulder, I whispered, “What’s wrong?”
Rising, wordless, he pointed to the full-length mirror by the bedroom door.
As I stared into silvered glass and shadows, my long, auburn curls suddenly flattened and turned white. “What’s happening?” the voice in my ears sounded thin, reedy. Glancing up, I could barely stifle a scream. Not only was Stephan younger than he’d been a moment before, but now, he was shrinking! Beside me was a youth who looked eighteen instead of twenty-eight.
“Death’s due.” He pressed the silver pendant into my palm. “Oh, Devon!”
The window shattered and the candles guttered. Horrified, I watched Stephan become a toddler, a babe, and then, a glowing seed. While he receded, I rushed forward: first, withering inside my body’s bony cage; then, rising above it, a wraith.
Snatched by an unseen hand; spirited into silence…
Here, suspended in night’s cauldron, I am still waiting, waiting… waiting.
An avid aficionado of Fairy Tales, Fantasy, and all things that go ‘bump’ in the night (unless they’re in the woodshed overturning her garbage can), aspiring writer Antoinette McCormick makes her living as a healthcare professional. Recently, her flash fiction, Madness in the Moonlight, was included in a collaboration for the musical group, Alice in Chains. She lives in Vermont.
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