It was all set to be a typical quiet evening. My husband, Jim, was out of course. Manly business at the pub or somesuch. That’s what he always told me. Of course, it worried me. I would rather have had him home and safe. But who was I to tie him down? Only his wife. And so, with the dinner dishes cleaned and the housework all done, I settled in front of the radio with a cup of steaming cocoa.
I remember nearly choking on a gulp when the music suddenly cut out and a man’s voice started blaring.
“Ladies and gentleman, we’re sorry to interrupt your program, but we’ve had some breaking news.”
As soon as he said it, I knew there was only one thing it could be.
He continued. “It appears the Nestwood Killer has struck again. The victim, discovered earlier tonight is---”
I turned off the radio immediately. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the gory details, not with Jim out and in the midst of the danger. It’s true, he was a man, and the killer seemed only to target young women, but still. What if Jim happened upon something he shouldn’t have? What then? Yes, it was true that he often came back with gifts for me---a trinket or a bauble here and there, pretty little things---and I loved them all. But would I really miss them if he stayed with me at home? Likely not. They weren’t worth the trade of my husband’s life and safety. The risk just seemed so great.
I was pulled from my cycling thoughts by a knock at the door. For a moment, my heart leaped. I sprang from my chair and hustled toward the door. “Jim? Jim, is that you?”
I pulled it open, fully prepared to see my husband before me and to fall into his arms like the girl I used to be. But behind that door, it wasn’t Jim.
Before me stood a young woman. To say she looked awful would be a gross understatement. Her hair hung about her face in uneven, matted strands. Her face itself was ghastly pale with sunken eyes and withered lips, themselves pressed into a frown. The clothes she wore were little more than torn rags. Everything about her worked together to thoroughly unnerve me.
After a moment, I realized I was staring. “Can I help you, miss,” I asked at last.
She nodded slowly. I realized it was the first time since opening the door that I had seen her move.
“How can I help you?” I asked.
She did not answer, but seemed to look at the space behind me. I followed her gaze with my own eyes, confused at first. “Do you want to come in?” I guessed.
Again, she nodded slowly.
Now, I faced a dilemma. I most certainly did not want this strange woman in my house, least of all when I was already so unnerved. On the other hand, she had clearly had a terrible night already from the look of things. In the end, my conscience won out. I stepped aside and let her pass.
Standing beside her in the foyer, I saw for the first time that she shivered.
“I can make you some tea if you like,” I said. “Would you like that?”
Without a word or even turning to look at me, she nodded slowly.
“Very good,” I said. “Follow me.”
I sat her down in the kitchen and set about trying to achieve some sense of normalcy. As I prepared the tea, each question I asked seemed to fall on deaf ears. Not one received a verbal answer. Maybe she speaks no English, I thought.
At one point, I looked over to where she sat and found her studying her one of her hands. The longer I watched, the more I gleaned. It was her left hand, and with the fingers of her right, she rubbed and rubbed at the base of her ring finger.
“Is your ring bothering you?” I asked as I approached with the tea.
She stopped rubbing her finger and took her other hand away. Now I could see clearly that there was no ring, only a band of red, impressed irritation where clearly one had been.
“My goodness,” I said. “That looks uncomfortable. Did you lose a ring?”
She nodded slowly once again, but this time something was different. On her face, at last an emotion flashed. It was so brief, I nearly missed it, but I was certain a look of sadness had been there.
I would have inquired further, but the sound of the front door opening and closing again interrupted our conversation.
“Sarah,” I heard my husband call me from the foyer. “I’m home. And I’ve got something for you.”
I couldn’t help but smile My Jim, I thought, always spoiling me.
“I’m in the kitchen, darling,” I said. “We’ve got company.”
“Company?” he asked, rounding the corner and entering the room. “Who is---”
The question froze on his lips. The color drained from his face. His eyes were wide and his mouth dropped open in an expression of terror I shall never forget.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, meekly.
My eyes were suddenly drawn to the figure rising from the table. The young woman stood upright, her eyes the very picture of flaming hatred. She glared at my husband. For what seemed like an eternity, nobody moved.
Then, with a snarling yowl, the woman lunged forth. My husband ran. Out the door they went and down the street. I tried to follow as best I could, but soon found myself hobbling and out of breath. Just before they disappeared from sight, I saw him turn and hurl something at the pavement. It was something small that glinted in the moonlight when it finally came to rest in the gutter.
I scrambled over to it, knowing almost certainly what I would find. And there it was. I couldn’t even bring myself to pick it up.
Stuck in among the dried, dead leaves was a beautiful, gleaming ring.
Written by Jdeschene