It’s time of year again where it’s time to meet spooky things head on and celebrate the scary. What I have for you is a little tale about a woman who just wants to go home. I hope you enjoy it.
Grace loathed inventory night more than anything else in the world. Staying late, verifying counts, rerunning numbers, rechecking physical stock, basically redoing everything long after the auditors left just to submit the same paperwork three times before she was free to go home was particularly tedious. It was late October, by the time she was leaving the store it would be late. It was going to be dark, dinner would be cold, the kids would already be in bed, and she would be too tired to take a bath. Most likely she would just fall asleep on the couch with an unopened protein drink in one hand and cell phone in the other. Unenthusiastically she checked the latest spread sheet, highlighted a few debatable numbers, and disappeared into the stock room for the hundredth time this evening.
It was nearly 11PM when she submitted the last of the recounts, saved the work, printed it out in triplicate, collated, stapled, and dropped the reports into her team’s mail boxes. Biding a few lingering co-workers good night in the break room, she pulled on her jacket, grabbed her purse, and left the building. Looking up into the parking lot lights, she could see the rain coming down rather quickly. The large puddle that always formed to the right of the door when it rained was rippling rapidly from falling rain drops. Late night shoppers were jogging in under umbrellas or hoodies flipped up to avoid getting wet. Sighing mournfully, she recalled her umbrella was left on the passenger side of the car and wasn’t going to do her damn bit of good now.
Walking out to her car, she could feel the cold rain dripping down the back of her head. It made her skin crawl and she shuddered a bit. It was too cold for her and she swore lightly to herself while fumbling with the remote, opening the door, and sliding into the front seat. Grace glared ruefully at the dry umbrella on the seat next to her.
“I just want to see my kids,” she uttered while starting the engine, she immediately turned off the radio. Already annoyed by the exhaustion and rain, she did not need the extra noise. Putting the car into gear, she tapped the gas, rolled out of her parking spot and sped off the lot. One last stop sign, she turned out on the main road to head home. She consoled herself knowing that traffic was sparse this time of night, even for a city.
The nice part about living one town over was that the drive, during the day, was full of mountainous scenery dotted with snowcaps and stretches of green pine. During the night it was full of animals that didn’t understand the concept of cars, trucks, or SUV’s. Undoubtedly, it could be dangerous and so Grace tried to pay attention to the sides of the road.
Escaping the city lights, the rain was coming down harder and her windshield wipers were flying along. The patter of the rain on the roof was soothing, the kind of night she like sleeping on. Slowing a little as she approached a curve that tended to be a little slick in the rain, a large buck wandered into the road.
“Shit!” Grace hit her brakes and horn hoping to startle it back. The buck began to back peddle out of the road, but the car had already lost traction and was skidding sideways. Bouncing off the guard rail, the car screeched over the wet road and hit a large pine tree on the other side of the ditch. Grace was jostled around hard, her head rebounded off the steering wheel and passenger window, shattering it before the airbags finally exploded. It was instant, there was no time for her to think, and she lost consciousness. The buck bounded away safely on the other side of the road, tail flashing.
Walking along the side of the road, Grace was dazed and confused. Sure she had a concussion, she held her head with her hand while checking her cell phone for reception. There were no bars and she dropped the phone into her purse. There was no memory of leaving the car and this concerned her. Thinking that maybe she should just go back to the car and wait for help, she decided against it knowing there was a house about a mile ahead. She told herself that she could make it, she would just have to push. At least it had stopped raining.
Lights quickly appeared on the road from behind and she felt a surge of hopefulness. Turning around she began to wave as much as her aching body would let her, hoping the driver would stop. The car slowed down and the caution lights began to flash. Becoming weak in knees with relief, she trotted as fast as she could towards the car to meet it. Approaching from the passenger side, the window was lowered.
“Grace?” The voice from inside was familiar. She bent over and looked inside. It was Hannah from work.
“Hannah!” Waves of relief washed over her and she felt herself actually smile. Hannah looked terrified, she was gripping the steering wheel tightly, all the color was gone from her face, and she was unusually quiet. Grace reached up and touched her forehead and winced. “Must pretty bad, huh?” Slowly Hannah nodded with wide eyes and unlocked the doors.
“Can… can I give you a lift?” Her voice was shaking slightly. Grace exhaled and nodded, leaning heavily on the car.
“Just take me home, please. I… I want to see my kids and go to sleep.” A small smile etched onto Hannah’s lips and she nodded a little. Climbing in, she let relief come and it made her shiver. She was growing colder and she looked at the climate controls, the heat was on. She thought to herself it must be the adrenaline wearing off. After a long moment of silence, it occurred to Grace that Hannah lived in the city, about a mile and a half from the store. There wasn’t anything open this time of night in the tiny town she and her husband called home. “So, I’m not ungrateful for the lift, but what brings you this way so late?”
“I moved,” her voice was soft and meek.
“When? I thought you loved that little place on Vance street.”
“I met someone.”
“That’s so wonderful. I didn’t know you were dating.”
“I wasn’t,” she said with a bit of a laugh.
“I’m happy for you. Easiest way to find someone is when you aren’t looking.” The stress from Hannah’s face melted slightly.
“That… that means so much to me, Grace.” Touched by her warmth, she smiled back and tilted her head back. It was throbbing.
“I hate inventory night,” Grace complained.
“Hallelujah, sister.” They laughed.
Pulling into the small town, the car slowed and made a few turns into a nice residential area. Hannah pulled them up into the drive way of a nice two story house. Jack-o’-lanterns glowed softly, lined on the porch railing. Grace smiled peacefully looking at them thinking that Hank and the kids wanted to surprise her with the decorations. She hadn’t even got around to buying pumpkins with work keeping her away lately. Turning off the engine, Hannah looked at Grace.
“Thanks for the ride.” Looking at the lights on in the living room, she could see glimpses of her husband, Hank, standing at the window looking out at the driveway, waiting for her to come inside. A sudden warmth moved up her chest and chased away her chills, it was comforting. Getting out of the car, she closed the door and moved along the walk. The children were up still, she could see them sitting on the living room floor. Hank was still looking out the window at the car in the drive way. Hearing the other car door open and close, she turned around and saw Hannah.
“I just need to see you get where you need to be.” Nodding at one and other, Grace smiled and moved up the porch steps, thankful for a caring friend. Before she could open the door, it swung open and Hank stepped out to the porch, brushing past her. Baffled, her head turned and she looked at him oddly as she stepped inside.
“Hank?” Calling after him, he didn’t seem to notice her. Frowning, she looked at the kids sitting on the floor watching a movie. They shouldn’t be up this late, but she was thankful they were. The pain in her head didn’t seem to bothering her anymore. Clearing her throat softly, heads turned to look at her with surprise.
“Mom?” Her daughter sprang up and ran to embrace her. As her daughter held her all her remaining pain melted away. Her son was a bit more hesitant, carefully gauging the situation, but followed his sister’s actions. She hugged them tightly and kissed them quickly. “Where have you been?” Perplexed at her daughter’s question, she shook her head.
“I’ve been at work, sweetie.” Her son gave her a grave look and slowly shook his head.
“No, mom.” He said in a flat concerned voice, “You’ve been dead.” Laughing at first at his little joke, she looked down at her daughter’s face and saw the same grim and highly concerned expression. He wasn’t joking. Standing upright, she felt her body run cold again as she looked outside as Hank was waiting for Hannah, unaware of her presence.
“No. Dead? No…” Shaking her head, she looked at her kids and closed her eyes. The words began to settle on her, flashes of the accident. Did she leave the car? Opening her eyes, they didn’t look like the same as they did a moment ago. They were much older, taller, but just as beautiful. They still made her heart swell with pride. Could she be dead? Was that why she couldn’t remember leaving the car and Hannah’s odd behavior? Was that why she was no longer in pain? She didn’t want to be dead, her heart cracked in two.
Reality began to settle all around her. The living room began to peel away, not only were there pictures of her and the kids, but pictures of Hannah and the kids, Hannah and Hank. The walls were no longer beige and trimmed with oak, they were a rich red and trimmed in pine. Her daughter had braces and her son had grown into a fine young man. A tear came to her eye as she finally accepted the truth. Looking out at Hank, she could see the grey in his hair. She really was dead.
Hank stood out on the porch watching Hannah slowly walk towards him. He crossed his arms and looked at her confused.
“What’s the deal, slow poke?”
“You didn’t see her?” Hannah stepped up onto the porch and motioned inside.
“See who?” Confused, he reached out and wrapped an arm around Hannah’s waist. He looked inside just in time to see his dead wife with the kids as she looked at him through the open door.
“Grace?” Releasing Hannah, he stepped inside looking at the fading form, a hard lump in his throat. Looking at his children, they held the ghost of their mother while whispering their good-byes. Hannah slipped behind him and spoke softly as Grace faded away.
“She needed to come home one last time.”