I’ll readily admit that I was drunk the first time I saw my wife’s ghost.
My friends had taken me to O’Shaughnessy’s after Karen’s funeral, and yes, I was planning on getting solid, blackout drunk. What I wasn’t planning on, however, was taking a stupid selfie surrounded by everyone.
If I’d seen Karen outright, I would have dismissed it as a pink elephant incident — case closed — but it was on film. When I found the picture on my phone the next morning, I barely remembered taking it. Even though she was a mere blur in the background, there was no mistaking that it was Karen.
The teenage girl who t-boned us with her daddy’s Escalade had been texting a friend and not wearing her seatbelt. She died on impact, they said. Karen died on the way to the hospital. I kept telling myself that I should have seen a huge SUV in my peripheral vision. I should have slammed on the breaks, or hit the gas, or swerved. I probably would have if Karen and I hadn’t been arguing. “Dammit, Carl!” was the last thing she ever said to me.
As I zoomed in, I saw Karen’s ghost standing behind us, near the dartboard, with an empty, accusing stare on her face. She wore the same clothes she had died in, though perfectly crisp and clean.
Looking up from those condemning eyes, I noticed that my glass, half filled with vodka, had moved an inch. Then it picked up speed and flew several feet through the air, shattering on the hardwood floor. I sat motionless for several minutes, frightened and clueless, paralyzed. What do I do now? I wondered. Does she want to continue our last argument? Eventually, I went back into the kitchen for another drink.
I was working a telecommuting job as a tech writer, so I was able to stay varying degrees of drunk every day while I tapped out user manuals for kitchen appliances. At first, when the ceiling light in my office started blinking on and off, I thought the bulb was going bad. I went into the kitchen to get a new one and noticed the long fluorescent bulbs in there starting to flicker. I walked into the dining room. Every faux flame bulb in the chandelier above the table blinked in unison. I felt a tightening in my chest, and my hands began to shake. Knowing that she was in the same room with me made me want to run out the front door and keep running.
But then I had the strange idea that maybe the blinks were Morse code, maybe she was trying to say something to me, so I found a website explaining all about dashes and dots. I sat in my office chair for five hours recording all those blinks on a legal pad, but I couldn’t decode anything. Eventually the lights stopped flashing.
The next day, in the middle of documenting the finer points of a food processor, I heard a loud thud. At first, I thought someone was knocking on the front door, but one knock didn’t make any sense. I was walking through the kitchen on my way to the front door when I saw the source of the noise. The largest butcher knife from the block had been stabbed violently into the wooden cutting board. It was standing straight up. To the left of the knife a single letter, “F”, carved in shaky handwriting.
I imagined Karen trying to write “F- You, Carl!” only she was so furious she only ended up sinking the knife into an imaginary me. I pulled a bottle from the freezer and didn’t bother with a glass. I calmly placed the knife back with the other knives, turned the cutting board over, and tried to forget the whole thing.
I hadn’t showered in days. Like everyone else with a TV, I knew the shower wasn’t a safe place to go if you were being haunted. So I made sure I was properly inebriated before setting foot in the bathroom. I locked the door behind me. I don’t know why I locked it. The other day, Karen had worked up the strength to lift a foot long, steel knife and drive it half an inch into a piece of wood.
The hot water felt good, though. We had a really fancy massaging shower head. I caught myself mid-thought. I had to remember that I was no longer a “we”. It would take time, but with practice…
Over the pulsing of the water, I heard a strange sound. Listening closer, I knew what it was: a fingertip squeaking down the steamy mirror, a half-real hand, writing me a message. I wondered if she’d brought the knife along. If she did, I was ready. I wouldn’t blame her. As soon as the shampoo rinsed out, I turned off the water. Holding my breath, I waited for the end of the message. Squeak. Squeak. Then silence. All I had to do was work up the courage to pull back the shower curtain, but it felt like an eternity before I could even move.
On the steamy mirror, in two rows of squiggly letters, was Karen’s message: “Forgive Yourself. Let Me Go.”
At once I knew the words were from the real Karen, not the version of her tinged by my guilty conscience. I wiped the mirror clean and unlocked the bathroom door. I got back in the shower and let the water wash away my tears.
Rollin T. Gentry lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, Shelly. A software engineer by day, he can be found reading and writing lots of speculative fiction during his spare time. He’s had stories appear in publications such as Liquid Imagination, Every Day Fiction, 365 Tomorrows, and 50-Word Stories.