01 Feb Something’s in My House Pretending to Be My Wife
I’m currently writing this behind a locked door. I know there’s probably going to be a few grammatical or spelling errors, but that’s the least of my worries right now.
I can hear it pacing the landing and scratching, trying to get in. It’s getting louder. It’s going to break through soon.
Fuck. I’m so scared.
Yet I think back to her- the oval curve of her face, the mass of wound dark curls that cascaded down over her face, that pealing laugh, her long, tapered fingers, like those of a pianist- and I want to cry. She’s gone now. The memories are the only remains I have of her- the real Jennifer.
It was supposed to be the beginning of our new lives. I’d wanted to do something special for her birthday. With a bonus from a recent promotion at work, I had finally found a small ranch house in northern Utah. It was what we’d been looking for- it sat between the backdrop of the woods, overlooking a lake, yet was in driving distance to a small town. Though it came with a hefty price tag, the smile on her face was priceless.
Jennifer had her fill of the frenetic rush of city life. She’d always dreamed of a simple life, of starting a family in rural tranquillity. Our seeming mismatch was a popular topic of playful banter amongst our friends. I never thought that I would settle down with anyone like her. But once you met her, you wanted to give her anything she wanted, even when she hadn’t asked. That was just the kind of person she was.
I still remember the day we moved in. She’d skipped into the house, her eyes glowing, and hands clapped over her mouth. It was the happiest I’d ever seen her. Her joy was infectious, and a smile was already on my face. Then, she’d dived into my arms and gave me a rib-cracking hug.
“This is our place,” she breathed.
“Ours.” I affirmed, smile widening.
As I stood there, my hands threading through her hair, I wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with this woman.
The first days were unadulterated bliss- strolled down the gravel path, overlooking the swaying green fields, the snowy peaks of the distant Rockies, cushioned against the brilliant azure of the mid-morning sky, her hand curled in mine. The evenings were filled with wine and warm discussions about our future together.
It had been perfect.
Until the day we found the body.
I’d been working on my laptop when Jennifer had crashed against the doorway, retching. Tears brimmed at the corners of her eyes, her body shaking with frantic breaths.
“It’s outside,” she gasped, “oh my god, the blood- it’s everywhere-“
I’d been out the door in a heartbeat, with a baseball bat tucked in hand and Jennifer hovering a few nervous paces behind me. She’d guided me out the patio doors and raised a trembling finger to something in the corner of the garden, hidden under the shade of a serviceberry bush. As I got closer, I choked on the smell of decaying flesh, baking under the hot sun. Clouds of flies buzzed around in the air.
Taking a few hesitant steps forward, I bent down to inspect it.
I had assumed that the dark brown shape was a living creature, but it was a boneless sheet of skin, half-leathery from being left out for so long that I couldn’t tell what animal it had belonged to. I had to peel it off the brick, where it left a sticky red imprint. There were no organs or bones attached to it, just a pelt.
Jennifer folded her arms.
“Easy for you to say- you’re not the one who stepped on it,” she snapped, gesturing to a faint red smear at the edge of her white running shoe.
I traded a sympathetic wince.
Jennifer had never been one for blood. Even the sight of it on a screen was enough to make her nauseous. I could see how it freaked her out- hell, even I was by the fastidious way that it had been picked clean.
“Well, it could have been worse- it could have been alive.”
“Not funny, asshole.”
I had another quip lined up but the expression on her face was enough to make me discard it. I scooped up the remains and discarded them out of sight in the woods. It had been the first sour experience there, aside from a few petty squabbles over where to put furniture. I wrote it off as just an inattentive hunter sneaking around before open season and settled back into my own routine.
I should have known something was wrong. If I had done something, maybe she would still be here.
The next few days past without anything unusual happening, which allowed us to push it further into the back of our minds. One morning, I woke up, my arms reaching around to grasp around her waist, only to find myself clutching at crumpled bed sheets, with my wife nowhere in sight.
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I found a piece of crumpled paper on the pillow. I unfolded it, my eyes scanning down the winding cursive.
Out for a run. Decided to leave this because you never answer your phone. Be back in an hour. Love, Jen.
I shook my head with a soft chuckle. We’d been together for almost five years and she could still surprise me.
After folding the note and placing in on my bedside dresser, I’d gone downstairs and fixed myself some breakfast, before returning to my study. As I’d been typing away, the familiar sound of the front door slamming shut, proceeded by a pair of trudging feet drifted into my ears.
“Hey,” I called out, “how was the run?”
In place of the usual cheery reply, there was silence. It was enough to make me stop mid-sentence in the document I’d been pouring over.
I swivelled around, my office chair creaking.
Her feet dragged up the stairs, low and sluggish, lacking the usual bounce in her step that I’d come to recognise.
The footsteps stopped entirely as she picked up on the sound of my voice.
I sagged back into my seat at the sound of her voice. I tried to settle back into routine but found that I couldn’t. There was something about her voice I couldn’t put down. It sounded tinny, like an echo or a recording. It didn’t sound as if she was present. It was hollow.
She’d shut herself inside her bedroom for the next two hours, which added another alarm bell to the chorus already ringing in my head. Jennifer always liked to busy herself. Her latest project had been setting up a game room, which she’d been attending to for the past few days, painting the walls and sorting the furniture. She couldn’t stand being idle for extended periods of time.
It wasn’t like her at all.
I’d mounted up the stairs as quietly as I could, before tapping at the door.
I pushed it open a few centimetres, enough for a small shaft of light to penetrate through. The curtains were drawn so tight that not a speck of sunlight escaped through the window. I made out the bulging outline of my wife in bed, the covers pulled up over her head like a sulking teenager.
“Hey, sweetie,” I’d asked, “are you sick?”
“Fine,” came her muffled reply from under the layers of material.
I rolled my eyes.
Jennifer never knew when to stop. It was something that I both loved and was frustrated by. She was the type of person who’d go into work while running a 104 -degree fever, because she had a ‘meeting with a very important client’ that she ‘couldn’t miss.’
I’d tried to pull the covers off, but they seemed to be part of her now, refusing to let them come off. While trying to be a rational adult, I slid a hand under the pillow to feel her forehead. My fingers recoiled as they brushed against her skin.
“Jesus, Jen, you’re like ice-!”
She buried herself further under the covers. My mouth snapped shut, realizing that she didn’t want to be bothered anymore.
I knelt over her, my hand on her shoulder.
“I’ll make you some coffee.” I whispered.
Aside from the crinkle of linen, silence had returned to the room. Tiptoeing out, I shut the door, returning the room to its former darkness.
As I’d stirred milk into her favourite cup while the coffee maker hummed, my ears were attuned to the slightest sound from upstairs. Though she’d tried to hide away, a flap of the bed covers had allowed me a brief glimpse of her face- drawn and bloodless, one eye wide. In the course of our entire relationship, I’d never seen her in such a state. Coupled with her silence, it only made me worried.
She’d been her usual cheery self yesterday. I couldn’t understand what had brought it on. There hadn’t been any signs of sickness, not even a sniffle. Maybe she was upset? The only other time she was ever this curt was when we were having an argument. Had I said something?
Not willing to annoy her any further, I’d left the brewed cup by her side in silence. She had laid there, corpse-like, with only the soft shudder of her breathing breaking the illusion of death.
For the next few hours, there wasn’t a sound. No coughing or even the wheezy breaths of someone sick.
By then, I was past the point of worry. Her ashen face flashed through my mind to the point it was impossible to concentrate on anything else.
“Jennifer? How are you feeling?” I called out.
There was a rolling groan from upstairs as she shifted over in bed. After a few minutes of waiting, the reply came.
It was spoken in that same drained tone, with no intonation and even less emotion.
I bit back a frustrated retort but decided to give her some space. I headed out on a walk through the forest path, the same Jennifer took on her morning run, my hands tucked in my pockets as I stared up at the towering peaks of the trees.
I was close to calling a doctor- but the nearest one was a quarter of a mile away. Despite Jennifer’s insistence otherwise, doubt bubbled up in the put of my stomach. It all felt wrong.
My view of the trees was replaced by the approaching ground as my foot collided with something large and solid. Picking myself up from the pine needled ground, I tried to twist around to see what it was, only to hear the crack of glass.
Looking closer, I saw the cracked, dark screen of a phone, half-buried under a pile leaves with headphones trailing out next to a single white running shoe.
All Jennifer’s stuff.
But Jennifer was in the house. Why would she just leave all her stuff lying out in the open-
Then, it all clicked.
I raced back inside, the blood thundering through my head to the point it blocked out all other sounds.
“Jennifer?” I half-yelled, “Jennifer, where are you?”
A low hissing sound froze the blood in my veins. As I listened more closely, I was able to make out the sound of rushing water.
I barged into the bathroom, uncaring of the reaction I might get. I needed to see her face, to know that she was alright.
Through the steam-smudged glass pane, I was able to make out the shadowy outline of her body, standing motionless under the rushing shower head with her back turned to me. My nervous breaths felt crushed in the heat of the room as I knocked on the door.
“Jennifer? Jennifer, w-“
Something soft broke beneath my muddied heel. Looking down at the scattered items of her clothes and underwear, I saw something longer and thinner crumpled beneath, that looked like a pale sheet, along with strands of what looked to be dark threads tangled in it.
When I finally realized what it was, the world fell in on itself.
Jennifer- or rather what had been pretending to be her- snapped her head over her shoulder, regarding with glowing eyes. The figure turned, heading towards the door but I was already running by the time it slid open. I only managed to lock the door just seconds before its body slammed against the wood.
I thought that blocking it with a chair would be enough to stop it. But I can see the hinges strain each time it impacts. It won’t be long now.
Among the growls and shrieks, it says my name in her voice, trying to lure me out. The door handle jiggles, and the desire to open it is becoming too much to ignore anymore. I can’t say that I don’t deserve what’s out there.
It wasn’t an animal pelt we found that day. Something was out there, watching, waiting to be let in. And I did- I spoke to it and took care of it, all while it wore the flesh of the woman I loved.
Jenny, I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you.
I’ll be with you soon, I promise.