This story is by Anne Kenney Ettel and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The sun on that October morning rose large and yellow, filling our breakfast room with an orangey light that promised a satisfying day. I sat across the white, wooden table from my husband, David, drinking strong coffee and eating a tangy huckleberry muffin. David scarfed his down, leaving a pile of crumbs on his plate, while absorbed in the news on his phone. I watched him with a relaxed smile.
Without warning, the serving plate with muffins rose, flew across the room, and smashed against the white wall, breaking into shards and leaving a purple sticky mess behind. David and I flew under the table, crumbs flying and coffee spilling. Not again. I narrowed my brows and stared at David. He looked back, wide-eyed, then his look turned stony.
“Shit!” He growled.
We stayed there for another thirty minutes to make sure it was over. Afterwards, we crawled out and David went to get the broom and dustpan. I clenched my fists and went to our bedroom.
I sat on the bed, taking slow, deep breaths.
I met David two years ago at the bookstore where I worked. His wife, Adele, had died 18 years earlier and he had raised his son on his own. He seemed relieved when he met me, like I had rescued him from some long purgatory. We dated, and married six months later. He owned an old house on the side of a forested hill. David told me that Adele had loved the house and he had raised his son there, so he didn’t want to sell it. I didn’t like the house, it felt depressing, with small windows and dark nooks. So we decided to remodel. We loved the location, and enjoyed hiking up to the historic graveyard at the top, where we could get a view of the town.
Now our home had large windows that let in the light; the furnishings were soft and the colors pastel and cheery. The dark wood and red furnishings before the makeover reminded me of Halloween, 24/7. Yuck.
He loved the change as much as I did. Not long after we moved in, the first event happened.
As we settled in the living room one evening to watch TV, the large couch pillows launched themselves at us. One hit David in the stomach and knocked him over. The other hit me in the head and I fell against a shelf. I got eight stitches at the emergency room. We didn’t tell the doctor the truth, it was too weird.
I tried to talk to David about it, but he claimed it must be a prank. He shrugged and walked into his office to write. I checked the pillows and didn’t find any string or wire. Who would do this?
The next week the bookcase in the sitting room crashed to the floor, scarring the wood. We stared at each other. David didn’t say anything, just sighed and began picking up books.
After I had finished frying potatoes for dinner, the black cast iron pan levitated off the stove and crashed into the enameled sink, ruining it.
“David,” I cried, “What the hell is going on?”
“I don’t know, Sally.”
He wouldn’t meet my eyes.
I wanted to believe him.
He held me and promised that he would get to the bottom of it.
That was three weeks ago.
I came out of the bedroom, suitcase in hand, and walked to the hall.
David looked up, then stiffened.
“I can’t live here until this stops,” I told him, my heart pounding.
“Please don’t leave.”
His eyes shot me an injured puppy look and I weakened for a moment.
“Damn it, David. We’re being haunted.”
“That’s crazy, Sally.”
His pitch rose, uneven, like a teenage boy.
“What would you call it, then?” I felt my cheeks flush.
“Some elaborate prank?”
I could tell that he didn’t believe that explanation anymore than I did.
“Really! Then where are the wires? How was it done?”
David looked away and pursed his lips.
I set down the suitcase and stood so close to David that I could smell the sweat on his skin.
“You promised to get to the bottom of it.” I enunciated each word with care.
David held me close like a rag doll, and I sighed and leaned in.
“I will find out what’s going on.”
His familiar deep voice reverberated against my neck.
Tears pricked at the corners of my eyes. I wished I could believe him.
I registered at a cheap motel on the other side of the hill, and took a few vacation days from work. During the next week I hiked over the ridge, climbed onto a solid branch in a maple tree, and watched David through binoculars. He knew more than he let on, and I wanted to find out what. He pursued his schedule, writing in the morning, running errands in the afternoon.
One day he brought home an old painting and hung it in his office. Next, he installed an ugly bird sculpture in the front yard. What was he thinking? On Wednesday he mounted a crude stained glass rose behind the east facing window. Was he mad?
On Thursday, nothing new happened. The boredom put me to sleep on my perch. I awoke at twilight, startled by a yellow leaf landing on my face. I noticed that David had turned off all the lights except for the hall. He put on his coat. I waited.
Fifteen minutes later I spied a light bobbing along the path. I sat and watched as David hiked past. I slipped out of the tree and followed. There was just enough light to make out his figure moving with quick precision. Dry leaves crunched underfoot and then David stopped. I stepped behind a tree. He looked around, shook his head, then moved on. The wind rustled the remaining leaves on the trees and crickets chirped, hopefully covering the sound of my pursuit. Darkness fell, camouflaging the woods like a shroud. A tiny, silvery moon lit my way to the top. David stopped and looked out at the lights over the city. I hid behind a large memorial bench. He stood for a long time, as still as the graves around us. When he moved on, I followed.
He walked partway down the other side, and stopped by a tall, narrow headstone. It demanded attention with its pointed top and grand calligraphy: Adele.
I shivered as I knelt, hiding behind an old headstone.
“Are you doing this?”
He addressed the stone.
Silence came back to us.
“You’ve made your point. It needs to stop.”
Was he crazy?
Then softly, you promised.
It sounded like a breath on the wind. Did I really hear it?
“I know, and I’m sorry,” he said, his voice low and steady.
Whoa! What the hell?
A breeze picked up, lifting David’s wavy hair.
“I didn’t for a long time.”
“I tried. I waited 18 years. Isn’t that long enough?”
The breeze turned into wind and David’s jacket flapped behind him.
Forever. That’s what you promised.
“I put back some things. For you.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. That I was hearing it at all. What did he promise her?
The wind knocked David to the ground, and he grabbed the headstone with both hands.
Not good enough.
I stayed hidden, not sure what to do. Obviously David had broken a promise to Adele and she was making him pay. Making us pay.
Not on my watch.
I ran to the grave, ready to take on the wrath of Adele.
The gale force wind blew me against a nearby fir tree, scraping my back against the rough bark.
“I love you, David!” I shouted, pinned like an insect on a tray.
I raised my left hand and let my gold wedding ring catch the scant moonlight.
“He’s mine now!”
Battling the wind, David looked over at me, eyes wide.
“Hold my hand, David,” I shouted.
He nodded, his jaw set, and inched toward me from the grave.
The wind howled louder.
“It’s over, Adele,” I yelled back.
David worked against the wind with an unrelenting will.
If he loves me, he’ll make it, I told myself.
The wind blew harder and I felt like I would be blown to the next city.
David grasped my left hand with his and I felt his warmth.
At our connection the wind grew stronger.
The sound of Adele’s silky voice snaked through my brain.
You can have David.
What? I stared at David’s ashen face while the wind forced tree branches around us in a prickly embrace.
You promised not to change the house.
With those words, the tree that ensnared us, broke free and carried us away.