An old man is visited by the spirit of his dead wife
| The old man turned on the lamp and sat in an antique wooden chair by the open window. He looked out at his fields, which were overgrown and choked with weeds. At one time, corn and other crops grew in the fields surrounding the ramshackle farmhouse; but, time and neglect had long since taken their toll. A dirt road cut through the field toward the house; a dying oak stood at the far end of the road. The moon was bright, full and shone its light through the pale clouds. A barn owl hooted in the distance, probably searching for mice. A chilly November breeze blew into the window, billowing the curtains. He pushed them aside and ignored the cold.
Jason had been waiting by this window on this same night over the past thirty years. The years of uncertainty wreaked havoc on his nerves; as time passed, he’d found himself jumping at every sound each year as this night approached. Tonight, his liver-spotted hands shook slightly as he rested them on his bony knees. The time was coming near, he was sure of it. It might even be tonight. He glanced behind him to make sure that his shotgun was still where he’d left it when he entered the room.
Unnoticed by Jason, a small dark figure was gazing at the house. The moonlight reflected off its eyes, which cast a yellowish glow. The cat had been patiently waiting for several hours for the light in the window to turn on. Every year, she waited for him by the tree at the end of the road, but the old man never did approach it. She witnessed the decline of the farm over the years as Jason neglected the fields. She felt despondent about the state of the land. She could no longer remember why she waited for him, yet she always expected him to show up anyway. Taking another look at the lonely light in the distant window, she made a decision. Stretching her lithe body, the cat leapt from the branch and quickly trotted toward the house.
She walked down the middle of the road, where the moonlight illuminated her approach. A mouse rustled in the dead leaves as she passed, but she ignored it; the cat had more important things on her mind. She looked at the window and saw his silhouette sitting by it.
Jason’s eyes scanned the dark grounds anxiously. He made a vow many years ago, but didn't keep it. That was his greatest regret in his long life, that he had not found the courage within himself to keep a simple promise to the woman he dearly loved. There would be a reckoning, he was sure of it... you can't keep a woman waiting for three long decades without one -- especially not Lily, who could be quite vindictive if she felt slighted. A quick movement caught his eye and he struggled to focus on it through his cloudy vision to make out what it was. Whatever it might be, it was coming toward the house. Jason reached behind his chair and took hold of the shotgun. He checked the breech to make sure it was loaded.
“Come get me, if you dare,” he whispered. “I’m ready for you.”
The cat paused at the porch and looked around. It had been so many years since she came this close to the house, she didn’t know what needed to be done next. Looking upward, she saw Jason staring down at her. The trees closest to the house had long ago been cut down, so she could not climb to him. She sat and contemplated what her next move should be.
Jason trembled with anxiety. She had taken the form of a cat and sat in front of the house. Cats had always been her favorite animal, so it was no surprise that she’d chosen to appear to him as one. She was watching him intently... he could feel her penetrating stare gazing into his soul. He no longer felt as bold as he had only a few moments ago.
“Go away!” he shouted. “I’ve left you in peace, why can’t you leave me alone?” Jason stood at the window and took aim at the creature on the ground.
The old man’s voice echoed across the moonlit fields. The cat growled quietly when she saw the barrel of the shotgun swing into view. She bolted toward the house just as Jason squeezed the trigger. The ground behind her exploded when the birdshot struck the dirt. Now she was furious -- he’d actually shot at her, and long-forgotten memories rushed in. Growling angrily, she paced around the porch to find a way in. The screen door had a hole in it so she poked her head through and pushed against the interior door; it easily creaked open, and she paused.
Jason swore under his breath and loaded another shell into the gun. He’d missed the cat on his first try, and that might very well have been his only chance. A creaking sound reached his ears; it sounded exactly like the front door. That couldn’t be right -- he’d locked that door, he was certain of it. Jason furrowed his brow as he tried to recall if he had or not. Had he? He was no longer so sure. Jason eyed the bedroom door nervously.
“Get out of here! Just leave me be!” Jason’s voice trembled with fear.
Ignoring Jason's plea, the cat slipped inside. Now she could finally take care of her unfinished business. She glanced around the house. It looked no different than it had that fateful day so long ago. Once inside, she was unsure of what her next move should be. At first, she only wanted an explanation from Jason; but, after having waited in vain for him for thirty years, she was livid. She seethed with unchecked fury as she thought back to the day she’d died.
Jason killed her -- he’d shot her with the same weapon he now held in their bedroom upstairs, and had promised that he would join her. He never did; instead, he reneged on their pact, buried her in the family plot on the outskirts of the farm and never once visited her grave. There was once a time that they loved each other more than life itself. Her illness had certainly strained their relationship; but, she couldn't imagine that the stress had actually broken it.
Jason winced as he backed away from the window. His arthritic knees pained him and he’d just recently recovered from a broken hip. Jason walked slowly to the hall and gripped the shotgun firmly. The hallway was dark, but the light switch was at the far end of it by the staircase.
“Lily? Is that you? Please go away. I don’t want to do it to you again. Please, just go,” he pleaded. Silence answered him.
Lily looked up toward the sound of Jason’s voice. There was once a time when she would have taken pity on him and left; but, now things were different. Savage rage flowed through her as if it were her own blood and she stood up. A passerby would have seen an astonishing sight at that moment: the transformation of a cat into a spectral woman. Her gown glowed like pale moonlight, her eyes flashed with malevolence, and a sneer cut across her face.
“Please go away,” she imitated mockingly. “Have you really sunk so low as to beg forgiveness like a child? You once were a proud man, yet now you cower from what is to be.”
Jason’s heart skipped a beat. Lily’s icy voice resounded through the decrepit house. At first, he’d hoped that his imagination was simply running amuck. He now knew that his wife had returned to settle things. His body shook as he tried to work up the courage to step into the unlit hall.
“Lily, just let it be!” he implored. “I made a terrible mistake and I’ve paid for it every day of my life!”
“YOU’VE ‘PAID FOR IT’?! YOU MURDERED ME!” Lily roared at him from behind.
The shotgun fell from Jason’s hands as he swung around and faced his wife's spirit, who was now standing behind him. Her beautiful face was contorted into an monstrous mask of rage. Her ghostly gown hung open, exposing the massive wound on her chest. He stepped backwards into the hall as she glided toward him. Once out of the room, Jason ran to the stairs as fast as his aching knees permitted.
“You begged me to do it! I didn’t want to; but, you were in so much pain from the cancer, I couldn’t take it anymore!” he cried.
Lily appeared in front of him. “You were supposed to join me, you swore you would!” she said quietly, her words dripping with absolute fury. She reached her hand toward him and he quickly backed away.
“I loved you! As you died in my arms, I could only think of what I’d done! I held you the whole night and prayed that I could undo it!” Jason's tears poured down his face as he recalled that night.
“You were a coward! We were meant to be together forever, but instead you went on with your miserable life without me. I waited for years for you to come and be with me, but you never did. YOU NEVER EVEN VISITED ME!” Her icy hand suddenly reached into Jason’s chest and squeezed.
His eyes opened wide in shock and his jaw dropped open. Jason’s heart was slowly being crushed; the pain was excruciating. He dropped to his knees and looked up into Lily’s eyes. “Please don’t do this; I couldn't bear to face you after what I did. Forgive me,” he whispered.
“Never,” she sneered
Lily’s face was unrecognizable in her fury. She was a woman scorned and now she would take her revenge. She gave her ghostly wrist a final twist and watched with intense satisfaction as Jason collapsed to the floor, now dead. Now, she could finally rest.
Thirty years ago
The sun shone brightly and a light breeze drifted through the small crowd of mourners gathered around a grave. The tree at the end of the road was dropping its leaves. The autumn air carried the scent of dead leaves on the breeze. The preacher read a passage from the Bible as the coffin was lowered slowly into the ground. Lily’s two children had come from the city with their families for the funeral and were quietly crying while their mother’s favorite music played softly in the background.
A few minutes later, the coffin came to a halt at the bottom of the grave and the pallbearers removed the straps. Jason picked up a handful of cold, moist earth from where he stood and sprinkled it onto Lily’s coffin. His son embraced him as he stepped away from the gravesite. In the days since Lily's death, he'd come to appreciate his new-found freedom from the years of caring for his ailing wife, who became more vexatious each day as the cancer ravaged her body. He now realized that he hadn't been truly happy in years.
“Don’t worry, Dad. The bastard who killed her will get what he deserves.” His voice broke as he wiped a tear from his eye.
Jason nodded; he knew Paul was right. It was just a matter of time.