Death was never a choice for me.
I can still feel it like it happened yesterday. It wasn’t the pain that hurt so much, but more the shock I felt when my husband choked the life out of me.
The year was 1962, we were enjoying a pretty decent living and had a small house just down the road from my parents. A perfect spot to raise our two kids.
That changed September 13, when my husband snapped and took his anger out on me and my twins.
He had lost his job at the production plant in town, and bills were piling up. I kept telling him we could make it. But all Byron saw was a cloud of depression hovering over him.
I didn’t know that sorrow would morph into rage. I can still hear my girls screaming, he took the long carving knife to their stomachs and legs first. I tried so hard to stop him.
In my rush to save their lives, he ended mine, bashing my head against the doorknob and then choking me as my two precious angels watched helplessly.
My last thought before I died was of them.
Dying itself was easy. Darkness. Nothingness. Genuine freedom.
No matter what they tell you about the afterlife, I can at least say that the transition was effortless. Although there was some time in between when I gained my senses back. Not sure how that works exactly, but when I did realize I still had a self, I didn’t even know I was dead yet.
But my children were gone when I faced the empty world again. And so was Byron. In their place, another family had moved into our home, taken away our things, and changed our lives around as though they didn’t matter. As though we were nothing.
I wandered the house in a frantic search, trying to get their attention. It was a young couple like Byron and me. Yet my screams and all my chants got not even a whisper from them. Then I saw my horrid reflection in the hallway mirror and I realized the truth. Scars ran across my body and face, Byron’s final gesture of hate toward me.
He wanted me to be cursed in this hell because of his guilt for being a failure.
And I was cursed. That part of death is true. I couldn’t leave the house. Couldn’t even enjoy the sun. I was a prisoner in the place I called home. And the people that shared it with me only viewed me as a threat.
It was not that I meant to cause any of them harm. I only sought their company. The new couple, Marisa and Edward, had raised a family of their own. Seeing their children play on the steps, the same steps mine had, was enough to make me weep.
It was the first time I realized my influence could be reaching into the material world. My wails were heard by the family and they were frightened.
They looked up toward the top of the stairs, gesturing wildly and going on about something in the distance making a noise. I was so lonely though.
Like a stray dog seeking affection, I tried to make the children feel at ease around my presence. Somehow they seemed to know I was there and would always smile and giggle when they saw me.
I grew to care about that family and, in some ways, view them as an extension of my own. When the fire took them from me, the sorrow returned. It was near to '78, Edward was out on a business trip and Marisa had hired an incompetent nanny to watch the kids.
All because of an electrical outlet fuse shortage, they lost everything. True, the house wasn’t completely gone.
Remodeling was something their insurance company agreed to cover as far as cost went, but after losing their children, the couple divorced and left me behind.
I had wanted so badly to save them, to reach out and get their hands as they were stuck under the collapsing rafters. It reminded me of my two little ones. But again I was powerless.
The age of the house had caused their demise before the fire consumed their bodies, thankfully.
For a while after that, the loneliness ate away at my heart. The house was empty and only my thoughts of anger toward Byron kept me going. I knew somewhere beyond my prison he was still alive. And I was vowing to get him back somehow.
My own demise had fueled this revenge, and knowing the extent of my powers I knew I could get away with it, it would be perfect. He would suffer longer than any human had.
I dared myself to leave the confines of my house many times, yet something still bound me here despite its empty husk. A curse? A destiny? I can’t even begin to tell you.
When the remodeling was finished and another couple came into my life, I decided to dish my anger out on them. They deserved it, after all.
Samuel was pretending to be a good husband to his wife, Lucia, but often when she wasn’t home he would have escapades with other women. I waited until I had seen enough to decide that he deserved to die, and then, using every bit of my strength, I came to him in the middle of one his bondage fantasies. The girl he was trying so hard to rape screamed in shock as she saw my scarred body float above their bed.
I used my powers to rip his spine straight from his body, dangling up against the chandelier in the master bedroom like a piñata. The slut he had cheated with ran from the bedroom like a disgusting coward.
It felt good to get this revenge, knowing I could never be able to do so with my lost lover. But the satisfaction never lasted long enough.
After the rage died down, the feeling of guilt and frustration would return. The years slipped by and the house became empty again. Sometimes children would roam to try and find my spirit, and sometimes I would appease their imaginations and chase them off like frightened rabbits.
I thought this was all that I would have to look forward to for the next century or so until my spirit finally went wherever it was meant to, but that changed when I met Ryan.
Ryan was different from the other homeowners. He was an aspiring photographer and a single parent. I could tell his love for his child, Chloe, was real. I would hear him read lullabies to her and watch them play in my yard.
Despite all the ways I had been hurt over the years, Ryan made me remember what it was like to feel happy. I felt a need to protect them the way I did Edward and Marisa. Often I was aware of things happening that Ryan was not and I would reach out with every ounce of my power to stop an intruder or to ward off other dangerous spirits. I was more powerful than I had ever been before, and it was thanks to this new-found sense of purpose.
One day, I was looking on as Chloe used her swing near the old oak and I saw her slip and fall, tumbling down the hill. Her face hit the edge of the pond nearby and I knew that if Ryan wasn’t alert the child would drown.
I didn’t care that the sun would harm my ghostly body, nor that my presence would be known. All I cared about was saving her.
I reached the lake and pulled her from the water, frantically trying to use my pathetic powers to bring life back to her lungs. She spit up the water and stared at me wide-eyed. I realized somehow her near-death experience had allowed her to see me there.
Ryan heard her cries of alarm from his porch where he had been distracted by a phone call and came down to his daughter’s side to help her dry off.
“What happened, sweetie? Are you all right?” he asked.
“I’m okay… the nice lady saved me,” Chloe responded.
Ryan looked about, clearly not seeing me. I could feel my power draining from being outside. I needed to get back to the house.
“She did, huh? Is she your friend?” Ryan asked. I smiled. He thought I was the figment of his child’s imagination.
“What’s her name?” he asked. Chloe looked at me inquisitively and I answered back, “Call me Jesse.”
“She says her name is Jesse,” his daughter said. I was surprised she didn’t find this new connection to a spirit odd.
They walked inside and Ryan didn’t seem to think anything more of it. But Chloe could still see me. I realized my small act of kindness had formed a connection to the world I had never known.
Over the next year, Chloe played with me around the house. Chasing and going on adventures. She would always be so happy anytime she saw my ghostly face. And her father would only smile and handle his software business, glad his child was occupying herself.
I felt guilty, getting love from a child that wasn’t mine. And also realizing that one day Chloe might forget about me. I didn’t want that to happen.
In my selfishness, I told her to tell her father that I was real, tell him to find out the history of the house. To my surprise, she did as she was told.
Ryan listened as she explained that I lived in the house for ages and that it had once been my home. He didn’t seem frightened really, just surprised. Once his daughter finished the story he seemed deep in thought and then sat down at the table.
“I guess I owe you a lot,” he realized. I froze. Could he see me? No.
But he believed.
“How can I repay you?” he whispered. I wanted so bad to tell him that I wanted to thank him. He was making me feel alive in ways I thought long forgotten.
Then he seemed to have an idea and ran to his new computer. He searched for hours, and I only watched in curiosity. Different searches, but all the same question.
How to bring someone back from the dead.
I held my breath. It seemed too far-fetched to even consider that he would try one of these dark rituals. I couldn’t get my hopes up.
Over the next few months though I saw his attitude changing. He bought books online, occult and alchemy, necromancy. He was determined to make contact with me.
One night, he had success using a mirror. He saw my gaze after finishing a chant and nearly fell back in shock.
“You… I knew it was real, but I just couldn’t believe until…” he said staring at my reflection. I knew I couldn’t speak for him to hear, but his shock melted away and turned into affection.
He touched the glass and wiped a tear away.
“Jesse… I’m going to save you,” he told me.
He studied harder than ever after that. Every spell, every ritual he could find.
Finally, one day, he approached the bedroom and announced he had found the right combination to bring me back into the real world.
He used a knife to cut at his wrists and spilled the blood in an abnormal design on the floor.
Then he lit candles and covered all the mirrors. He chanted, he was sweating. I could tell it was taking everything out of him for this to work. Finally, after three hours, he seemed defeated and passed out.
I touched his cheek and smiled, appreciating his effort. Then he woke up and saw my face.
“Jesse?” he asked in surprise.
“Ryan… you can… you can see me?” I asked. He grabbed my hand. He kissed my face. I couldn’t stop my tears. The blood ritual had worked.
We sat on the floor crying and laughing as he kept looking at me. Then he took me by the hand and said, “Come on then, let’s go show Chloe!”
I followed him eagerly to her bedroom, and he knocked softly on the door. It was so late I knew she was asleep. But Ryan was acting like a schoolboy showing off a frog in front of the class.
Finally, he opened the door and turned on her light.
“Chloe, look who it is!” he told her.
But she wasn’t there. The room was empty.
His face went pale and he checked the locks and windows. I ran outside to see if there was any sign of forced entry.
He reached the top of the steps and then began to laugh madly.
I turned toward him and saw him holding the same knife he had performed the ritual on.
“You did this. The sanctum… when it brought you back, it took her,” he realized. I couldn’t even think of the right words to say. His eyes were filled with rage and anger toward me. He moved toward me to strike.
But his feet stumbled over the step, I watched as it seemed like in slow motion Ryan fell down the stairs with the knife in his hand. It plunged across his face and slammed through his throat as he hit the bottom, impaling him on the floor.
I cried out, yelled to the heavens. Was this my fate? My destiny?
I ran to the room where he kept all of his secret books. I studied them all. I needed to know the truth.
Finding the right ritual, I adjusted the mirror and looked into the spirit realm that I was freed from.
I could see Chloe. I could see other children there too. Edward’s and Marisa’s. And my own. They were all trapped inside. Trapped because of my selfishness.
I cleaned up the mess that Ryan had made. And then vowed to set things right.
I bought the house off the market and turned it into an orphanage. I studied every single text and script I could find over the next year and found one not too long ago.
The right one that could set matters straight. Then I made a phone call.
It was a breezy May morning when the man who was interested in purchasing the orphanage came. I was dressed in some slacks and a white blouse, smiling as his Buick drove up the side of the hill.
His wrinkled features and relaxed expression told me that he didn’t recognize me and I invited him inside to get some tea. The man didn’t even object to the fact that there were no children inside.
We sat down in the study and he told me about himself. As though I didn’t already know.
“Lived across the whole United States like a vagabond back in the day, just me myself and I,” he laughed as he finished the tea.
“Have you ever regretted anything in your life?” I asked him. I already knew the answer.
“Nothing to regret my dear, except maybe never seeing your smiling face before,” he laughed.
“Oh, but we have met before… in this very house,” I said as I took his utensils.
His face twitched and I saw a shadow of doubt.
“Jesse…?” he realized. But by then it was too late. The drug I had slipped into his drink made it impossible for my aged husband to move. I went to the bookshelf and found the dagger and then removed Byron’s shirt.
He sat there helplessly in his armchair as I made the cuts to his chest and arms, the proper length and the proper depth for the ritual.
“What… what is this? How…” he screamed as he felt every single cut I made to his worthless body.
“A life for a life… and yours will be the last this house ever receives,” I told him.
Stabbing the knife straight through his heart I watched with sick pleasure as the life drained from his eyes.
Then the blood from his body poured onto the floor. Into the wood. I finished the ritual by shedding my own blood with his and then opening all the windows.
I waited for a few moments and then looked toward the stairs. I saw Edward’s children standing there.
I saw my own two beautiful angels. And Chloe. They all ran down the stairs and leaped into my arms. They giggled. They shed tears. We walked through the blood and into the light.And I took their hand and led them from the hell we had all been imprisoned in for years.