Guilt and grief takes hold of a small family.
Jason's Unexpected Homecoming
Lynda pulled seven-year-old Ben toward her torso and let him sob as they returned to their car. The funeral for her youngest son, four-year-old Jason, had been small but very sweet like all funerals in the small town of Story City, Iowa. Her husband, Cyril, held on to ten-year-old Jacob's hand. Jacob was clearly upset, but Ben was much closer to his younger brother. For Ben, he'd lost his best friend. The days leading up to the funeral were hard, and both Lynda and Cyril suspected that the upcoming days would be more difficult. The bottoms of the low-hanging clouds were painted with a threatening gray, which hinted that a storm sat nearby.
A month had passed and Jacob had become accustomed to his baby brother's absence, but Ben continued having moments where he'd sob out of the blue. Lynda tried her best to reason with him, and so did his father, but both parents realized that he was grieving in his own way, and they tried not to be too strict. During this time, Lynda noticed an odd behavior Ben exhibited, but she never told Cyril about it.
Four months later, Lynda and Cyril agreed to have another baby. Not as a replacement for Jason, but to return the family count to five. For Lynda, she hoped this time it would be a girl. Another odd behavior became apparent when Ben interrupted their togetherness by knocking on their door. He'd never done that in the past, and the frequent interruptions began wearing on Cyril's nerves. If this kept up, having another child would never come to pass. But Lynda had an idea.
School had started and while both Ben and Jacob were gone, she rearranged the furniture in their bedrooms. She placed their mirrored dressers in just the right position so that when she cracked open their doors during the night, she could see their bed's reflection in the mirrors. Since Ben used to share his room with Jason, she could see both beds. In her mind, this would help solve everything. She could check on the kids during the night without waking them, which meant she and Cyril could continue trying to have another child. Third, she could look in and see why Ben talked in his sleep. It started a month after Jason's funeral, and once again, she attributed it to grief. But she never expected it to continue for so long.
For the next few nights, either before or after she and Cyril were together, she would check on the kids using the excuse of going to the bathroom. It was perfect. On one of those nights, she heard Ben talking in his sleep. She placed an ear to his door. What she heard was not unintelligible babble but a full fledge one-sided conversation. She fingered the doorknob, gave it a slow turn, and pushed the door open just enough to see the dresser mirror. Ben lay in his bed propped up on one elbow staring at the other bed. She opened the door further to glimpse at Jacob's old bed. A young boy who sat on the edge of the bed turned toward the mirror and disappeared.
Lynda burst into the bedroom.
Jacob's bed was empty and Ben looked to be asleep. She bent down and shook him, and when his eyes parted, she asked,
"Ben, who was in here?"
"Huh?" he said, wiping the sleep from his eyes.
"Who were you talking to?"
"No one. I was asleep." He let out a gaping yawn.
"No, I saw you. You were talking to someone. Now, who was it?" she asked with a raised voice.
Ben straightened out and his eyes grew wide. "No one, mom. I was asleep until you came and woke me."
Lynda glared into his eyes. Ben didn't blink or take his eyes away from hers. She could see the fear in his face, but he was telling the truth. She had never accused Ben of being a liar. She leaned back after watching tears well in his eyes.
"Okay, I'm sorry. Go back to sleep and let's forget about it. Alright?"
"Okay, mom." He wiped the tears from his eyes and set his head back on the pillow.
She kissed his forehead and pulled the sheets up over his shoulder. She turned and stared at Jason's old bed. The covers were untouched. As she exited the room, she turned to find Ben had already fallen back asleep. She took another glimpse in the mirror before closing the door and everything was back to normal. Could she be the one suffering from guilt now?
Guilt had plagued her since Jason's passing. She had heard him crying the night he died, but she and Cyril were together in their bedroom and didn't want to be disturbed. Jason had always been a sickly child, and with three boys, finding alone time for the couple became quite difficult. She thought Jason's crying would eventually stop when he fell asleep. The next morning, she was the one who discovered him, and her stress reverberated through the entire family. She became distant until Cyril eased her back into some sense of normalcy.
When Lynda returned to her bed, she stared at the ceiling while Cyril slept. She'd never experienced hallucinations before. Why now? A mental tape reel played tonight's encounter over and over until she drifted off to sleep.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the only occurrence. It happened three more times, and each time the reflection of the boys sitting on Jason's bed vanished. She'd convinced herself that it was her way of dealing with her guilt. One way to resolve it was to move Ben's dresser back. His mirror played tricks with her eyes.
Two weeks later, she performed her nightly checks on the kids and heard Ben talking in his sleep once again. She eased his door open. Without his dresser being there, it forced her to peek around the corner.
Ben spun his head around and stared at her. On the other bed sat Jacob's decomposed body. The rotted flesh around his neck twisted as he turned his head. His blackened eye sockets and nasal cavity remained motionless as his lower jaw dropped to display his baby teeth.