It might have been easier to forget if she hadn’t stayed, but the house felt too much like home for her to pack away her life and move somewhere else. She loved the creaking floorboards and the lopsided porch; she knew the dirt path that led into the woods better than the trails of her veins beneath the thin flesh of her wrist; the sunlight that pooled in the office window was everything she’d ever hoped for in a studio. She sat by the window, aching for the midday light instead of the dim radiance of the moonlight pouring in, sharpening her colored pencils; the shavings fell into a messy pile on the glossy oak desktop.
She could almost hear him, and the memory sent shivers down her spine. Annabelle, why can’t you sharpen your pencils over the trash bin?
The same reason you don’t shave over it, darling, she’d say, and he would smile at her the same pearlescent smile he always used. Dazzling, she remembered calling it. The image was too vivid; her heart clenched in her chest painfully, a sob welled up in the back of her throat but she choked it down.
She glanced at the clock, only mildly curious; it had been days since she’d slept so there was no longer any lingering concern for a good night of rest before her shift at the factory in the morning. 3:33 AM.
She continued sharpening her pencils, no longer able to see the colors she clasped tightly between her fingers. Soon, she’d finished, and with a practiced sweep of her arm she moved the shavings into the trash bin and made her way down the noisy old staircase to the kitchen. The linoleum tile was cold beneath her feet but she paid it no mind.
She rooted through the fridge, digging out the jug of milk from behind the half-eaten jars of pickles and the container of chili peppers she had always hated and closing the door, her eyes only grazing the collection of Super Mario magnets he’d insisted on cluttering up the fridge door with. She filled her tea kettle with water from the tap and placed it on a burner.
In her peripheral vision she caught a hint of movement, but when she looked, nothing was there. She flicked on a light, hoping to disperse the shadows. She’d left a few dishes in the sink from dinner and while the kettle boiled, she washed them. Halfway through she began to wish she’d tied her hair back as strands fell into her face and tickled at her nostrils. With a damp hand, she tucked the loose curls behind her ear, her eyes only briefly settling on the window pane above the sink.
Someone stood behind her in her reflection, and it took less than a second for her heart to leap up into her throat. Instinct told her to grab the chefs knife from the dish rack beside her as she spun around.
“Don’t be afraid, Annabelle. I’m not here to hurt you,” he said, his voice a low purr that she remembered too well. It hurt her to hear it, then.
Knowing he’d died. Having watched the blood leak from the bullet wound to his chest, having wept over his corpse. Familiar tears clogged up her throat, making it hard to speak.
“You can’t be here,” she croaked.
“Please, just give me a chance to explain. I never meant to frighten you.” He didn’t step closer; perhaps it was the quivering knife in her hands, perhaps he simply understood her terror. She couldn’t tell.
“What is there to explain, Micah? You’re dead.”
He smiled, but it wasn’t his smile - there was no magic in it. It was pale and disused, it trembled at the corners. ”I promise you, I am not.”
“That’s not possible! I don’t believe you.” She was yelling, she hadn’t meant to but the words pushed through the barrier in her throat with such force that she couldn’t help it.
He seemed mildly astonished, flinching under the heat of her shouting. ”I’m standing right here in front of you - what do you mean you don’t believe me?”
“I watched you die, Micah; I held you in my arms and I watched you die.” Her voice was wavering, splintering into a thousand tiny fractured syllables. The tears were going to win out. Her hands quaked with fear and trepidation, the blade of the knife reflecting the overhead lighting like a strobe lamp.
Beside her the tea kettle began to screech.
Over the noise she could barely hear him, but she could see him clearly. The way his face contorted, his eyes darkening behind a milky black screen; his mouth opened, full of jagged, crooked teeth; a hiss like hot metal sinking into cold water broke through the noise of the kettle. ”This is really your fault for staying here; you should have left when you had the chance.”
He moved faster than light, faster than anything she’d ever seen - crossing the gap between them before she could blink. The knife was useless; she couldn’t even scream. The tea kettle screamed for her as his teeth sank into her neck.