I was in the front parlor when he first appeared. I had been sitting in front of the fire, having a drink to celebrate my independence from my abusive husband. We had finally gone to trial that day, after battling back and forth through lawyers for almost six months. I had been so scared that things would be just as they always had. After all, Jeff always told me that no one ever believes or sides with a hysterical female. It's all hormones after all. Get them a little upset and they make up all kinds of silly stories. That was what he told the doctors in the emergency room, after my third trip. He told them that I was mad at him for going out with his friends...that I had flung myself down the stairs to get back at him, to keep him from leaving after a nasty fight. The doctors had believed him - that time and five others.
The last time I almost died. But that time he had made the mistake of leaving finger marks, complete with a bruised outline of his wedding ring, in my throat. The police were arresting him while I was in surgery for a ruptured spleen. They arrested him at work, which is one of the reasons why he contested the divorce so bitterly. He claimed I ruined his reputation at the prestigious law firm where he was employed and that the grounds of abuse were unjustified and unprovable. Luckily for me, the nice people next door, the Parkers, had gotten tired of hearing the screaming and the yelling and seeing me beaten on almost a weekly basis. The night I almost died they snuck over with their camcorder and taped him beating me with a baseball bat, threatening to kill me, telling me that the doctors would believe him this time - just like all the other times. I smiled into my wineglass, thinking about the look on his face when the lawyer put the tape into the VCR.
The judge had ruled in my favor. I got the house, the Jaguar and half the bank account. I had been sipping my wine, enjoying the feeling of safety within the walls that had seen so much anger and violence. I had thought all the doors and windows were shut and locked, I had checked and double-checked them every night since I had been home from the hospital...except for that night. That night Jeff came over, threatening to do the job right this time. I hadn't realized that the parlor window was open until Jeff came crashing through it. That was when he first appeared, my protector. He was tall, very handsome, and he smiled at me so sweetly that I wasn't afraid of him, even though I had no idea how he had gotten in the house. I just knew he was there to help me. Jeff saw him, too. I had never seen him so afraid before. It took me almost five months to figure out why.
I was cleaning out the attic one rainy weekend afternoon five months after the divorce and came across some trunks of old clothing and boxes of personal items from Jeff's family. The house had belonged to his parents, who had died shortly after we met in college. The house and most of their assets had gone to his younger brother, Simon. I remembered Jeff complaining about it at the time the will had been read. As the oldest, he had felt that everything should have gone to him, that his brother must have forged the will.
I had completely forgotten about those brief moments when his real personality had shown through before our marriage. I could now look back and recognize the warning signals that my love-fogged brain had somehow missed. Sometimes I had felt uncomfortable around him, especially when he had been drinking too much and he would start to talk bad about me and push me around in front of his friends. But I always excused him the next day, when he would bring me flowers and then make love to me. He always swore he'd never do that again, and I always believed him. Because I loved him. It only took him three weeks after our honeymoon to turn that love into fear. It took me six years after that to finally get away from him.
I remembered how he had broken down with grief when he had gotten the news that his brother was dead, and me thinking that it was odd because just three days earlier he had been so venomous in his hatred of Simon. But I had put it down to him loving his brother more than being mad about getting passed over by his parents. Then I simply forgot about it. Two months after his brother died Jeff received the whole of his family's estate, graduated from law school and asked me to marry him.
I forgot until I opened a photo album lying in a trunk of old quilts. I forgot until I saw a picture of his brother. Tall and handsome and smiling so sweetly up at me from his photograph. Then I knew why Jeff had been so afraid of my fearless protector. I looked up and saw Simon's ghost. He smiled sadly at me, as if knowing my thoughts, and I knew then, without the slightest hesitation, that Jeff had killed his brother. And I knew it was my turn to be the protector.
I wasn't quiet sure how to go about proving the knowledge of my ex-husband's tragic deed. But I knew I had to find a way. I owed a debt. I intended to repay it.
I sat down in the parlor, the fireplace nothing more than a fond memory in the afternoon heat. I drank a glass of iced tea and let my mind wander back to the night Jeff broke in and Simon defended me.
I had been so happy that night. Lit the fireplace for the first time on my own, and very proud that I could do it. I poured a glass of red wine to celebrate my newfound independence. I was sitting on the overstuffed couch, in my favorite corner, under the afghan when I heard a car pull up in the driveway. Then the pounding on the front door started. And then the sound of Jeff's angry voice. I was so scared, still healing from the last beating. Then all the noise stopped. I was sure the sight of the neighbor's had run him off, but more sure that he was just looking for a way into the house. It was then that I remembered that I had opened the window a crack, to let the smoke out which was caused when I had first started the fire. I hurried over to it, but then the lights flickered and went out. I tripped over the cord to the telephone. I reached over and picked it up, to call the police....the line was dead.
I caught a quick movement out the side of my eye. I was sure he was already in the house. I started running for the front door. I had never been so afraid of him, not even during that last beating when I watched him coming at me with the baseball bat. That night I had wanted nothing else than for him to kill me and have it over with. But this night I wanted to live. I had gotten a taste of what life was supposed to be like again. I wasn't ready to give that up yet.
I had just reached the doorway when Jeff burst through the opened window, police sirens screaming in the night getting closer and closer. He was yelling and screaming, holding a gun in his hand. Then I felt another presence in the room. I looked and saw a tall man with dark hair. He was facing toward Jeff, his back to me. I was startled because Jeff stopped cold. His ranting cut off as if someone had just punched him in the stomach. The look on his face was priceless.
All those years of him hitting me and making me cower in corners afraid of him, I had never once seen anything but contempt and self-satisfaction on his face. And here he was, looking like he was standing in front of a firing squad without a blindfold. I thought for a moment he was going to pass out. He was utterly terrified! He started backing up slowly, groping his way backward towards the window. Dropping the gun, he turned and ran toward it. When he fled through the window, the police were there to handcuff him.
My mysterious hero then turned toward me, smiling the sweetest, kindest smile I had seen in what seemed like forever and a day. He had steel-grey eyes that smiled when he did. I tried to stammer out a thank you, but he disappeared before my eyes. I spotted the wineglass on the table and picked it up, swallowing it in one gulp before going to the door to let the police in.
Jeff spent that night in jail. For breaking the restraining order. For assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. And for resisting arrest, striking an officer and disorderly conduct.
He went to trial a few weeks later. The judge gave him 6 months in a cushy federal prison and fined him $3,000.00. I couldn't believe it. He tried to kill me, hit a police officer -breaking her jaw - and he basically got a slap on the wrist! But I knew that he was lying in that cell, on that little cot of a bed, thinking every single night about seeing his brother. And thinking about why he was seeing his brother's ghost.
His six months were almost up. I knew that he would come for me as soon as he thought my guard, and that of the authority's, was down. I knew it was just a matter of time before he tried to finish what he started. Unless I found a way to keep him in prison. Unless I found a way to communicate with his dead brother. Unless I found the evidence to convict him, I knew I was a dead woman.
I spent weeks in that attic. Going through all of the trunks, looking through all of the albums. I got to know his family very well through letters and clippings I found. But, most of all, I discovered myself falling in love with Simon and his parents. And more and more convinced that Simon's was not the only murder that Jeff had committed. But I could find no evidence of his hatred in that attic - something that, deep down, I had known all along. After all, he had all of those years to destroy it, without my knowledge that it had ever existed in the first place.
One afternoon, I started feeling closed in. I went outside and took a walk down to the little bizarre four blocks down, in what was commonly referred to as "hippie town". I felt better, out in the fresh air, and decided to browse the stalls. The last stall I came to, much to my surprise, was a wonderful, knowledgeable woman named Sarah. She was selling herbs and ointments, amulets and crystals. She also had a sign advertising palm and tarot readings. I started chatting with her about fate and learning about the past history of objects. She struck me as the opposite of a flake - the term most used when describing fortunetellers. But I knew she was my salvation. And that she was going to be the one to help Simon and me bring Jeff to the justice he so rightfully deserved.
I invited Sarah to lunch the next day. I was hoping that she would sense something, without me having to bring it up. I had always been loathed to ask people for help. But I knew I had to do it this time, to swallow all of my pride and ask her. For Simon's sake, if not for my own.
I prepared a light lunch and some iced tea for the two of us. Simon would pop in and out, as he was want to do. I enjoyed it when he would do this; it felt like he was just checking on me, to see if I was ok. It made me feel loved and cherished, something that I hadn't experienced in a long time.
Sarah showed up with a bottle of my favorite wine. I didn't have the nerve to ask her how she knew. I thought I knew the answer, but didn't want it verbalized. If she knew about the wine, I could only imagine how much else she had picked from me the day before. I invited her inside and took her back to patio. I noticed that she was very quiet and when she stepped out onto the stone floor of the patio she turned white as a ghost.
"Are you alright?" I asked her, not seeing Simon around I was worried.
"There was a violent murder here," she stammered. "And it wasn't that long ago. The smell of blood is still fresh in the air."
"What do you mean? I've lived here for over six years. No one has died, much less been murdered."
She closed her eyes, rocking and swaying. I heard her mumbling to herself. The she stopped, opened her eyes and looked right at me.
"I happened nine years ago. They were your husband's parents."
I shook my head, thinking that maybe she was a flake after all.
"They died in a boating accident."
She looked at me very intensely, "No, they were killed by your husband right here in this room and then placed on their boat, which was rigged to explode. They are in touch with me right now. They say you are in terrible danger. They say for you to get out of the house, quickly. Right now!"
The phone rang, making both of us jump.
"It's the police," she said gravely. "He's escaped, even though he has only three more weeks to serve in prison. He knows what you are doing and what you mean to do. He's on his way here now."
I felt the familiar zing of fear run through me. I couldn't move. He was on his way and I hadn't come any closer to proving his guilt. All I had was the word of a booth-side psychic that he had killed his parents in this room.
Sarah grabbed my hand and drug me out into the kitchen, heading for the back door. Before we got half way Simon appeared, blocking our way. And for the first time I heard him speak.
"It's too late. He's here. Go to the attic. I'll try to keep him away from you. Go. Hide."
He disappeared and we ran for the stairs, heading to the attic, to safety. I heard a noise at the front, the sound of an axe hitting wood. Turning around to look, I saw Simon standing at the door, with both of his parents. I ran up the stairs, passing Sarah, dragging her with me. I didn't want Jeff to see where we were going.
Once in the attic, I barred and locked the door. We moved furniture and trunks in front of the door until it was no longer visible. I still didn't feel safe. I knew what Jeff was like when he was angry. But I had never faced him like this. I knew neither Sarah nor I would survive if he got through that door.
I peeked out the attic window in time to see him bust through the front door. I saw him rush in and then back out. He looked up. I didn't move fast enough. I knew he had seen me. He now knew where I was. I heard him roar in anger as he burst back through the front door.
I waited what seemed like hours for him to come banging on the attic door. But he never came. I heard sirens in distance and knew that my precious neighbors had seen what was happening and had called the police. I watched them getting out of their cars, pulling their guns, walk through the front door. Then I saw them back out, go to their cars. I saw one get on the CB while another got sick by the edge of the squad car and then they all just stood there looking at the front door. One of them looked up, saw me and motioned to the others. I opened the window and called for help.
"He's in the house! Be careful! He has an axe; he used it to break through the door. I haven't seen him leave yet..."
I saw them talk to each other and then one of them yelled back at me.
"You're safe, ma'am. Did you see anyone else come into the house after he did?"
"No, no one. Why? What's going on?"
"Your husband is dead, ma'am. The axe you say he broke into with is what they used to kill him. He never even made it up the stairs."
It's been two years since my husband's death. I finally feel safe now. I've never seen Simon or his parents since that fateful day. But I know they are all at rest now. The police investigation led to the patio room. I told them what Sarah had said. They brought in an infrared light and a spray bottle with a strange liquid in it. They sprayed the liquid, cut on the light and shown it around the room. There were blood splatters everywhere. When samples were taken, they matched that of his parents. They re-opened the investigations of his parents' and brother's deaths. It was proven that his parent's boat had been tampered with and the explosion was deliberate.
Nothing, however, could be proven about Simon's death. But that was ok. Sarah told me that he was at peace and had never sought justice for himself, only for that of his beloved parents.
I miss him. Some days, sitting in the attic, I think I see something moving out of the corner of my eye. I smile and turn, thinking it is him. It's usually just the cat I adopted the day after Jeff's death.
They've never found the person or persons responsible for Jeff's murder. But I knew they wouldn't. And I know they never will. No fingerprints, other than Jeff's, were found on the axe. But that's because vengeful ghosts don't have any.