From Beyond the Grave

Author: Onkaar

1
Dick was watching Goodfellas on TV, with a bowl of popcorn on his gut. He always enjoyed his mafia movies with some beer and munchies. ‘Is the dinner almost ready?’ He shouted from in front of the television set, slurping his beer. ‘Almost!’ his wife Jane replied from the kitchen. Jane was a tall (taller than Dick), stout woman of 31. She loved her husband, loved him a little too much. She was especially happy on that day, humming and whistling cheerfully while preparing dinner. She had something on her mind, something of grave importance. Dick didn’t notice this happy demeanor of hers, and if he did, he didn’t address it in any way. In contrast to his wife, Dick was a 32-year-old lanky fellow. He was not unattractively tall, though. He was very good looking and wore a pencil moustache. And albeit he loved his slightly overweight wife more than he should; to her, he always seemed indifferent towards her. I know he’s having an affair, she would often think. I know it; it’s Norma from his work. I can tell by the way she looks at him at those parties when he’s being funny. God he was funny. And admirable with his witty remarks and elegant body language. But she would fix everything, oh yes she would. She has news to share with her husband that would change their lives. She would tell him today. Yes, today is as good a day as any other.
The dinner was ready. Dick put the bowl of popcorn beside him on the couch, turned the TV off and moved to the dining table with his beer, waiting for his wife to set the table. ‘I have something to tell you,’ Jane murmured while setting the table. ‘Let me guess, you need some money,’ was the reply. ‘You always start a conversation like this when you do. How much do you need this time?’ he asked, fiddling with a fork in his right hand, hoping it won’t be too much. ‘It’s nothing of that sort, my love,’ she said. ‘I think you’ll be very happy, Dick, we’ll never look at life the same way after I’ve told you.’ Hearing this, Dick raised his eyebrows and endeavored to ask her what the matter was, but she looked him right in the eyes with a wide grin on her face and started, ‘I’m pregnant, Dick! I took the test earlier today and it came back positive. Aren’t you happy, dear?’ There was a small pause; to Jane it felt like longer than eternity. Dick took a sip of his beer and licked his lips. ‘Honey, that’s wonderful,’ exclaimed he, keeping the fork down on the table. ‘Why didn’t you tell me when I got home?’ he continued, ‘why didn’t you text or call me as soon as you found out?’ Jane winced at that. ‘Oh honey, such news is not made for mobile phones or answering machines. I wanted to look you right in the eyes when I broke it to you; I wanted to see your immediate reaction,’ she said setting the plates.
Dick got up, embraced his wife and told her that that was the happiest he’d been in a long time. They had dinner, talked about a promising future and decided to name her Nell or him James. They both agreed on not finding out the baby’s gender before its birth. After about eight and a half months, Jane delivered a healthy baby girl and they named her Nell as they had decided.

2
Three years have passed since Little Nell’s birth, and, to say the least, their marriage is hanging by a thread. It is mostly Jane’s paranoia and Dick’s indifference. ‘Answer me this,’ said Jane sulkily one evening while sitting in the porch with her husband. ‘And be completely honest. I don’t want to hear any lies.’ She took a pause, opened her mouth to say something and closed it, and then, mustering enough courage, she went on to say, ‘Are you seeing Norma behind my back? If you are, God help me, Dick! Why would you want to ruin a perfect marriage, aren’t we good together?’ ‘Where is all this coming from, Jane?’ asked Dick, lighting a cigarette. Jane and Dick sat next to each other in their patio chairs. It was a dull, overcast day in late June. They could see colossal grey clouds moving sluggishly in the sky. Jane got up, and resting her hands on the railing, began to say something incoherently. Dick also got up, walked towards a rectangular plant container made of plastic and began sifting dirt with his fingers. ‘Norma and I just happen to get along very well,’ he said, rubbing his fingers as if to clean them. ‘There’s nothing between us. What makes you think otherwise anyway?’ Dick asked, mashing his cigarette butt in the ashtray on the railing. Jane went inside the house without saying anything. She knew damn well that they were having an affair. It could have been her paranoia, could have been.
The next day, Dick got ready for work and sat at the table in the living room for his usual breakfast: cereal, coffee and OJ. There was a window at the far end of their living room, which allowed the morning light in directly on the sofa. They hadn’t talked much after Jane’s audacious confrontation the previous day, but Dick wanted to address it. Get it out of the way. Lock it in a box and throw the key where it will never be found. He hadn’t been seeing Norma, of course. They were just a couple of colleagues who got along very well, to quote him. A part of him knows that he isn’t exactly the best husband in the world, or in the neighborhood, at that, but he sure as hell wasn’t cheating on his wife. He loved her and Little Nell way too much to pull something like that. But Jane’s paranoia had only been getting worse. In her defense, Norma was a really pretty woman and the two of them talked and giggled a lot whenever they were together. Dick left for work, kissing Jane on her head.

3
Jane was sitting in the dining room, reading The Rainmaker paperback. An onlooker would have thought that either the book was not interesting enough or Jane just didn’t seem to be all that engrossed in it for some reason. She was turning the pages idly, sitting curled up in a ball in their huge, comfortable sofa, her legs tucked under her. The only source of light was a small fluorescent light overhead which made the yellowed pages of the paperback stand out in contrast to the darkness around them. It was 8:30 PM and she was done with making dinner by 7:45. Little Nell was in her room, going through a picture book. Dick would be coming home any moment now. They would have dinner, put little Nell to sleep and watch X-files season 8 rerun with some wine. Jane marked her place in the book with her favorite Titanic bookmark and moved to the dining table, cogitating deeply.
I am unhappy, she thought. What good is this life? I slog all day long for my family and what do I get in return? An ungrateful, lying, cheating husband, that’s what. While I’m cleaning the house and washing clothes, Dick is having his little office romance with Norma. We have a child together, for Christ’s sake! Her thoughts made her skin prickle with disgust. She would have no more of it. She got up and started pacing up and down the corridor that connected their rooms to the living room. She was passing by Nell’s room, where she stopped and took a moment to look at her dear daughter, who was still busy with her picture book. ‘Mommy’s gonna fix everything, hon,’ she whispered, ‘mommy’s gonna take care of it all.’ Little Nell didn’t hear her.
At about 8:45 PM, Jane heard the noise of keys outside the main door. She knew that Dick had arrived. Dick opened the door and let himself in. Shortly after, the three of them were sitting at the dining table and eating their food amidst impenetrable silence. Dick turned the TV on and knew something was terribly wrong and decided to ask Jane about it; after dinner. She was done. She went into the kitchen and held a steak knife by its haft, its blade still in the brown knife holder. There she stood, contemplating for what seemed to her a thousand hours, and stepped slowly out of the kitchen and towards the dining table. Dick was still finishing his dinner facing the other way, looking at the TV. Jane held the knife firmly in her right hand, tightening her grip as she drew closer to Dick from behind. She raised the hand above her head and swung it down to strike dick at the nape of his neck. Before that could happen, Dick leaned towards Nell to clean her polka dots-printed baby apron. The knife struck him between both his shoulder blades. He grimaced in pain and looked behind, the haft of the knife jutting out from his upper back. ‘Jane, what are you…’ Dick groaned and got out of his chair, his back throbbing with pain. He went sprawling on the floor and laid there on his belly. Jane stared at him with horrendous disbelief. Her eyes widened and her face went pale. She would take out the knife and finish the job. But Dick tried to reach the knife and couldn’t quite get a hold of it, he kept trying.
Jane, more alert now, walked towards her bleeding husband. Blood was oozing out of the wound and his shirt was matted and stuck to his upper back. Dick was panting heavily, his heart a throbbing ball in his throat. He didn’t understand what was going on, why his wife had attacked him. He saw her approaching and kicked her shins with all the force he could muster, knocking her on the floor next to him. In an act of self defense, he managed to get on top of her and tried to talk to her, the knife still jutting out of his back. ‘Jane, Goddamnit! What has gotten into you?’ She was struggling under him, trying to reach for the knife. Little Nell had started to cry, smashing her hands on the table. ‘I’m gonna drag you to hell with me, Dick,’ she said almost inaudibly. Jane managed to get a grip on the knife with her left hand and yanked it out. Dick shrieked in agony. She slashed his arms and was about to stab him in the belly, when Dick grabbed her throat with both his hands and squeezed it. She gasped heavily, unable to breathe. Hey eyes rolled upwards and her tongue was sticking out. She lost grip on the knife and dropped it next to Dick’s left thigh. He continued strangling her, he didn’t want to kill her; just disable her perhaps, knock her unconscious. This went on for a little over 50 seconds before she finally stopped struggling under him. Nell was now standing at their heads, sobbing helplessly. ‘Mommy!’ she cried, ‘Mommy, why did you hurt daddy?’
Dick was still panting, his heartbeat now slowly coming back to its usual pace. He was bleeding from at least four different places. He scrambled across the living room towards the phone and called 911.
‘It’s my wife,’ he managed, coughing an old man’s dank cough, ‘she’s not breathing, I’m hurt too.’ The latter came out as a whisper. And after giving the address, he blacked out.

4
The doctors declared Jane dead (asphyxiation) the moment they brought her in at the hospital, and Dick had lost a lot of blood. Though, luckily for him, none of his arteries were damaged. The doctors guessed he would be hospitalized for 3 days at most and then discharged. The local police got involved, obviously. But with Little Nell’s statement, they ruled it as self defense. She was three but she saw what happened, every terrible detail of it. She was still traumatized and that trauma was not going to leave her for years to come. It would also later haunt her in her dreams.
Dick was having dreams of his own in the hospital; nightmares would be a better way to put it. In most of them he was chased by his wife with a knife in her hand. Once he got up gasping for breath at 4:25 AM. In that particular dream, Jane had not only managed to kill him, but she was driving the knife through the chest of their daughter. It made him sweat and his heart was beating so loud he could hear it. For the three days that he was hospitalized, his brother Patrick had flown down to look after Nell. They let him go on the third day, but Dick did not want to go back to that house; he was not ready. He didn’t have much choice, though. Patrick and Nell had come to the hospital for the discharge.
Patrick drove them to the house after the paperwork was done. ‘You didn’t ask for any of this, Pat’ said Dick, pouring some whiskey for Pat and himself. Then, he walked to the fridge, got a few ice cubes and put them in their glasses. ‘You have enough to worry about with Jo.’ Jo was Patrick’s kleptomaniac wife who, more often than not, got in trouble for stealing little things from the local stores. But she couldn’t help it. None of the kleptomaniacs can. ‘You can’t be serious, Dickie,’ Pat said, pouring soda first in his glass and then in Dick’s. ‘I can’t even begin to imagine what you must be going through right now. Jane, she’s… She’s dead. I know you didn’t mean to kill her, but she is dead all the same.’ There was a silence. After what seemed like eternity to Pat, they clinked their glasses and went about their business. Pat needed that drink for the road, and Dick needed his because he wanted to avoid nightmares. So naïve of him to think whiskey would help; so naïve. Dick was going faster than Pat, three quarters of the glass already empty. ‘You might want to go easy on that,’ Pat said, stroking Dick’s right shoulder lightly with the back of his palm. ‘If you need someone to talk to about anything,’ he continued, ‘anything at all, you know where to find me.’ Dick grabbed his palm and looked at the bottom of his own glass, now completely empty.
They talked for nearly two hours. During that time, Dick had gulped down four glasses, and Pat three. Little Nell was asleep in her room. It was then that Pat realized he’d miss his flight if he doesn’t get going. Pat hugged Dick carefully – aware of his back pain – and left with his bag. It was 11:30PM, and Dick poured himself another glass of whiskey.
5
Sitting alone at the same dining table for the first time after the incident made him feel very uncomfortable, terrified even, and the fact that he was at it with his fifth glass of whiskey didn’t seem to help at all. He sat there, his finger clasped together, inadvertently setting off a trail of unpleasant, dreadful thoughts. He struggled to break free from the trail, but in vain. Soon after, he dozed off on the dining table, his fifth glass of whiskey half empty now. He must have been sleeping for no more than 15 minutes when he felt a cold hand close around his neck. His eyes widened and he got up, looked behind him; nothing. Surely it was a bad dream. What else could it be? He had been through a horrible experience and had gulped down almost five glasses of whiskey.
Dick saw it was 12:15AM on their living room watch. He finished his whiskey and got up to turn the TV off (had he even turned it on in the first place? Well, sure, he was inebriated. He could’ve. Probably). When he started walking back towards the dining table, his breath froze halfway in his throat. He couldn’t breathe; couldn’t move. Spattered around his chair was a pool of blood. His heart was racing in his chest, his brow full of beads of sweat. I’m dreaming, he thought. It’s just one of those dreams. I’ll wake up in my bed and I’ll be fine. I’ll be… He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. When he opened them, the blood on the linoleum was gone. He felt he could breathe again.
He stood there for a while, thinking with a grim expression across his face, which made him look 50 years old. I’m seeing things. Pat was right. I should’ve gone easy with the whiskey. He slumped in the chair again and sat there for a while. One fluorescent light was burning mildly at the far side of the living room, casting his hazy shadow on the left. Suddenly, he could feel cold, pudgy fingers around his neck again. He didn’t have to look back to know whose fingers they were. He closed his eyes and opened them again, hoping whatever it was would go away just like the blood had. But it didn’t; the grip was, in fact, tightening slowly. He started coughing and he now could hear a faint voice of a child’s sobbing. It wasn’t Nell; it was a baby probably a year old. He got up – the grip somewhat loosened, and eventually the pudgy fingers let go – and walked to Little Nell’s room in a drunken haze. Once there, he opened his mouth so hard that his jaw hit his chest and made a thump sound.
There was a baby in a cradle, probably a year old. It was Nell. But it couldn’t be, Dick thought, how is this possible? How could she have gone back in time? Or is it me? Have I gone back in time? God, help me! He heard footsteps behind him. Slow at first, and then gaining pace. He closed his eyes tightly and started breathing heavily. After a moment or two, he opened them and gathered enough courage to look back. He froze where he stood, unable to move. The skin on his arms turned to gooseflesh. Less than five feet away from him, stood a woman covered in raggedy shroud. Her face could not be seen, but Dick knew who it was nonetheless. The berserk woman shrieked and ran towards him. Dick screamed.
Dick woke up in his chair in the living room, almost bathing in his own sweat. The fluorescent still burned mildly at the far end of the living room. His glass of whiskey still half empty. Those terrible dreams again, he thought, if they can be called dreams. He looked around, realized that he’d dozed off on the dining table and took the half-empty glass to the sink where he poured it. He’d had enough. He then checked on Nell, now fast asleep and still three years old. He felt relieved for the first time in those last three days. He went to the bathroom to brush his teeth, but it was damp and warm, as if someone had just taken a shower in here. The mirror was fogged up and written on it, with what might have been a pudgy forefinger, was this: I’m gonna drag you to hell with me, Dick. A shudder ran through his body. He stood there motionless, hoping to wake up again.

Author: Onkaar


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