It was dark and quiet. It didn’t last, but for that moment there was nothing. Even the cicadas had stopped buzzing, leaving only silence and blackness like the calm before the storm. My slow breathing was the only thing piercing the stillness of the bedroom, until that was ceased too.
It had been quick- so quick I didn’t even scream. The knife had been in and out like lightning, and then I was gone. Everything was gone.
Then everything was back. The cicadas resumed their chorus and a sliver of moonlight fell across my pale, lifeless face. I blinked, but my eyelids didn’t move. That’s when realization crashed into me like a tidal wave. I was dead. I could feel dread creeping into my translucent body as I watched myself intently, searching frantically for some sign of consciousness. Finally the soft moonlight was replaced by timid fingers of morning sunlight. I leaned over my body, cautiously pulling the sheet off my torso. I recoiled in disgust; my skin was milky white and cold and my torn t-shirt was plastered to my stomach with dried blood. Panicked, I lifted my own wispy, translucent shirt to reveal my pale, see-through, but thankfully uninjured skin. I sighed and looked back at my corpse, trapped in perpetual sleep. At least I look peaceful. I glanced at the clock beside my bed which read 6:37 AM. Then I remembered Chris, my husband. His plane had probably already landed, and he would be home any minute. He would be the one to find me like this. I felt my eyes start to sting, but no tears came. I heard the front door slam, and I looked down at myself sadly. Chris would find me any moment now, but I couldn’t bear to see the look on his face when he did. I glided effortlessly through the locked window just as the doorknob twisted.
I floated away from home as fast as I could. I needed a safe place to go. I needed to distract myself somehow. My brain kept suggesting the cemetery, but I didn’t want to go there. It felt like that would mean accepting my death and moving on, and I couldn’t do that. I still had work to do.
The crisp morning sunlight passed straight through me, making me almost completely invisible as I glided toward the hospital. I saw an ambulance roar past me, on its way to my house, no doubt. I swallowed back my tears and continued walking, ignoring the sirens and the chattering as people came out on their porches to see what the matter was. Soon I had reached the parking lot of St. Bartholomew's hospital. I passed my assigned parking spot, now vacant, and continued on to enter the building. All the familiarity of my old workplace filled me with a certain nostalgia. I walked down the halls, passing my friends and co workers without their noticing my presence. I sat dejectedly in my old desk chair in my old office. Everything was exactly how I had left it the day before. I sighed and tried to calm myself down. From outside my office, I heard my cue to start investigating- some nurses pushing my dead body down the hall to the morgue. I followed the nurses through the doors to the large sterile room, careful not to run into anyone.
The coroner flitted around my body, examining my wound and taking notes on a clipboard. He compared my notes to some other reports on his clipboard while I read over his shoulder. There had been two other recent murders: Simon Abrams and Anabelle Cartwright, and all three of us had been killed in the same way. I sighed. I had known Simon. He was my patient, and it was my job as his nurse to talk to him. He had been in an accident which had severely damaged his brain, and although most of our conversations had just been him babbling, I had actually enjoyed his company. I remembered hearing the rumors surrounding his death in the week preceding mine. There had been whispers throughout the hospital that Simon had been stabbed, but I hadn’t been willing to believe it. I found it absurd that anyone would want to kill someone as harmless as Simon. I guess the rumors had been true.
After a while, the coroner slid my body into a freezer drawer and left the morgue. I took the opportunity to have a look at the other two bodies. Maybe if I saw the evidence, I would be able to find something connecting the murders. I located the drawer for Anabelle first and rolled her out. Her face was familiar. I think she had been one of Simon’s nurses too. I remember seeing her go in to check on him when I was on breaks. That was one connection, we were both nurses. That didn’t seem like a viable link for a murderer, but maybe I was overestimating his creativity.
There was a rustling behind me. I slammed Anabelle back into her freezer and shut the door, afraid I had been found out. I turned slowly toward the disturbance, only to find myself face to face with a dead woman. It was Anabelle, or her ghost. I had just locked her physical body in a freezer.
“Come to chat up the cadavers?” she asked cordially. She seemed so comfortable with the situation, or maybe she had just come to terms with being an exoplasmic spirit. I looked over my shoulder at the freezer I had just closed.
“Yeah. It seemed like a good place to start.” I shrugged.
Her white face lit up. “You’re investigating the murders too?” she asked excitedly.
I nodded hesitantly. “I was one of them.”
Realization dawned in her eyes. “Oh, you’re Corina Ryder! I saw your preliminary coronary reports.”
I smiled. “Yeah, that’s me. You’re Anabelle Cartwright. I just read your file.”
“Have you found out anything else?” she asked . “Any more clues?”
I shook my head apologetically. “The only connection I’ve been able to find is Simon. We were both his nurses, and now we’re both dead.”
She shrugged. “I guess it’s a start.”
“Sorry it’s not much to go on,” I admitted.
She shrugged again. “No big deal. We’ll figure it out eventually.” She smiled encouragingly. “I’m going to go investigate the other nurses. They might know something else.” She turned quickly and disappeared through the morgue wall.
I sighed sadly. Detective work was not my forte. However, that had given me an idea. I turned and drifted as fast as I could to the police station.
There was a meeting going on when I arrived. Several detectives were arguing, waving pictures of bodies and suspects at each other. I silently found a place among them and willed myself to remain invisible.
“This is clearly the work of a serial killer,” one officer decided.
“Are you crazy? There is no evidence that these are serial killings,” another disagreed.
“They were all killed the same way. That has to count for something,” the first defended.
“Just because you haven’t found the answer yet doesn’t mean you have to jump to serial killings!” a third retorted.
“You aren’t pitching any better ideas here, Earl,” the first argued.
Clearly I wasn’t the only one at a loss for a solution. I decided quickly that the authorities would be useless to me, and my efforts would be better utilized elsewhere. I sighed and left the meeting room, utterly discouraged. I eventually told myself just to return to the hospital. Maybe Anabelle had found something else while I was off wasting my time at the police department.
“You didn’t find anything?” Anabelle paced back and forth in the empty hospital ward. “I would think the police might take our murders more seriously.”
“Me too,” I agreed. “It might just be too early to get any real information out of them. I mean, they have about as much information as we do at this point.” I sat on one of the beds. “There’s still hope, Anabelle.”
She sighed. “I guess so. I just feel stupid waiting around for the police to find clues.” She sat next to me.
“The police are anything but useless. They’ll find something,” I assured her, but I was not very convinced myself.
The night was cold in the abandoned ward. Anabelle and I had agreed to remain there for the night while we were waiting for any more developments in our case. I didn’t feel tired at all, but I still laid down. I could tell that Anabelle wasn’t asleep either, but we didn’t talk. We didn’t have anything to talk about.
The next morning dawned bright and cool. I hadn’t gotten any sleep, but I felt wide awake. It occurred to me that ghosts probably had no need for sleep. Still, it would have been nice to make the night pass faster; it felt like I had been staring at the ceiling for several days before the sun rose. I stood up just as Anabelle came flying through the locked door, holding a scrap of paper. She handed it to me speechlessly.
It was a clipping from this morning’s Chippewa Falls Chronicle. The article Anabelle had torn off was announcing yet another murder. I gasped when I saw the picture; it was my best friend, Claudia Vincent.
“Get this. Claudia was connected to Simon too,” Anabelle said excitedly.
I raised an eyebrow in confusion. I knew Claudia had worked at the hospital with me, but she wasn’t assigned to Simon. “Are you sure?” I asked.
Anabelle scoffed. “I’ve done my research, Corina. Claudia brought Simon his lunch everyday.”
I sighed. “Okay, I believe you.”
“I think our best plan of action now is to talk to Simon,” Anabelle said, snatching the paper clipping back.
I nodded. “Okay. Where is he?”
“That’s the problem,” Anabelle sighed. “I’ve been looking for him ever since I died. I needed to talk to somebody about the craziness of being dead, you know, but I couldn’t find him anywhere.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well that’s a lot of help.”
“At least I’ve done some work!” Anabelle retorted, waving the slightly crumpled paper in my face.
“Look, I’m sorry I’m not that great a help, but fighting will not find the murderer!” I pointed out, and she nodded. “Let’s just put out all the information we have, okay? What did you know about Simon?”
Anabelle took a deep breath. “Not much. He was in a car accident which severely damaged his cerebral lobe, so he never made a lot of sense when he was talking. He was always really sweet, though. He seemed so happy all the time.”
I nodded encouragingly. “What did he tell you about?”
“All sorts of stuff.” Anabelle replied. “Sometimes he would be too delusional to form sentences, but other times he would tell me these really detailed stories about himself.” I nodded for her to continue. “Some of them were ridiculous; he claimed he had ridden a unicorn to rob a bank or something like that.”
“And the others?” I prompted.
“The others seemed almost too real. He told them with such detail that I would believe them. They were about all sorts of things: spying on pop stars, breaking into Disney World, playing pranks on people.” She dropped her voice to a whisper even though we were alone in the ward. “One time, he even said he killed someone.”
“He actually told me that story too,” I said suddenly. “You don’t think…” I trailed off. The thought of sweet, harmless Simon killing someone was ridiculous.
“The only way to know for sure is to ask him,” Anabelle said at last.
“It’s worth a shot,” I conceded.
We spent the next several hours scouring the hospital for Simon to no avail. We reconvened back in our ward, but this time we weren’t alone. Sitting cross-legged on one of the beds was the shadowy figure of Claudia Vincent.
“I heard that there was an investigation being conducted here. Mind if I join in?” she asked, smiling. I floated over to her and hugged her. Anabelle remained awkwardly in the doorway.
“Of course you can!” I grinned. “Do you have any information?”
Claudia shrugged. “I know where Simon Abrams is.”
Half an hour later, the three of us were standing outside the gate of the cemetery. I could none of us wanted to go inside. Anabelle looked over at Claudia nervously.
“You’re sure he’s here?” she asked softly.
Claudia took a deep breath and nodded. “Positive.” Anabelle nodded but continued to stare silently at the graveyard. At last I gulped and spoke up.
“We need to go in eventually.” There was a flurry of nods, but still no one moved. I sighed. “I’ll go first then.” I passed through the iron gates and into the cemetery. I checked behind me to make sure Anabelle and Claudia were following and then set off in search of Simon’s grave. I knew its general area because I had visited it with my husband a few days after Simon’s death. Chris and Simon had been good friends ever since high school, and Chris had been pretty distraught when he heard Simon had been murdered. I led the investigation party to a patch of grass near the back of the cemetery which had fewer graves than the other areas. One of those graves was Simon’s.
We didn’t even need to read the writing on the headstones to know when we had reached Simon’s resting place. The shimmering, indefinite shape of Simon sat on the moist dirt of his grave and leaned his back against the headstone. He had his knees drawn up to his chest and his face was resting in his hands. We all walked up to him and stood in a loose semicircle around him.
“What do you want?” he grumbled through his fingers. “If you’ve come to tell me to move on, you can just leave now because I’m not leaving.”
I knelt down next to him. “Hi Simon.”
He looked up at me. “Corina? He got you too?”
I was taken aback. “What do you mean? You know who it was?”
He sighed. “I have an idea, but it’s absurd. I just hope I’m wrong.”
Anabelle knelt down too. “We came to ask you some questions about-”
“About the stories I used to tell. Yeah, I know.” Simon finished for her, earning him an irritated scowl from Anabelle. “They’re true. I did break into Disney World, I did spy on pop stars, and,” he took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I did kill someone. It wasn’t my idea or my fault, mind you, but I was partially responsible.”
“Who was it?” Claudia asked as she knelt down too.
Simon stretched his legs out. “Do you ladies remember the Gayle Gardner murder in ‘83?”
Anabelle nodded excitedly “Yeah! She was a math teacher who drowned in her swimming pool!”
“How did you know that?” Simon asked. “The police kept the details hushed up from the public.”
Anabelle shrugged. “I was looking through the police reports last week. That case was never solved, was it?”
Simon shook his head. “No. The police never caught us. We covered our tracks well.”
“I’ll say you did,” Anabelle snorted. “There was barely any evidence of foul play at all!”
“I know. They almost called it an accident.” Simon sighed.
“That’s what they told the newspapers,” I said. “The papers didn’t even mention the possibility of murder.”
“We covered our tracks,” Simon repeated, not giving any further elaboration.
“So you said you had a partner?” Claudia asked.
Simon nodded. “You may not believe me,” he looked directly at me. “but my partner was Chris Ryder.”
Claudia stared at me. “Your husband?”
I was at a loss for words. Chris, a murderer? It didn’t seem possible, but I had been wrong several times in the past two days alone.
Simon stared at me sadly and nodded. “Chris and I were best friends, and when one of us had a problem, the other helped solve it. Chris’ math professor had failed him purposely, or so he said, and he had cooked up this scheme to scare her into changing the grade. It wasn’t supposed to kill her, but it did.” He looked down at his feet.
At last I found my voice. “So you think it was Chris who did this to us?” I asked, my voice stumbling over saying his name.
Simon nodded sadly. “I’m sorry, Corina.”
“But how did he do it? He’s been out of town for almost two weeks now. He went to Oregon for business.” I protested.
Simon frowned. “He couldn’t have been in Oregon; he came to visit me in the hospital the day before I was stabbed.”
My mouth dropped open. This story was getting worse and worse. “He lied to me, too?” A single tear rolled down my cheek.
Simon sighed sadly. “I’m sorry, Corina.”
I stood up and wiped my eyes, my sadness dissipated. I started on my way back to the entrance to the cemetery at a brisk pace.
Simon muttered something to Claudia and Anabelle as he stood up to go catch up to me. “Where are you going?” he asked when he was beside me.
“To avenge our deaths.” I said simply, my anger simmering just below my calm composure.
“Are you crazy, Corina? You’re going to kill Chris?” he scoffed. “Just go to the police. They can handle the situation.”
I spun around to face him. “The police aren’t likely to believe a ghost, are they, Simon?” I snapped. “The police are useless to us now.”
I started to leave again, but he reached out and grabbed my wrist. “Then we can find a way to anonymously give them the information. You can’t just-”
“He killed you, Simon! Doesn’t that mean something to you? He killed you, his best friend, and me, his wife, just so he wouldn’t be caught. A scoundrel like that doesn’t deserve to live.” I shouted. “He’s a liar, a murderer, and a coward, and he should pay for what he did to us!”
Simon seemed to consider me for a moment. “You’re right.”
I stared at him. “Really?”
He nodded. “Really. No one should get away with quadruple homicide.”
“So you’ll help me?”
“I guess so, but we’ll have to hurry. I sent Anabelle and Claudia to leave a note at the police station. The police will be at your house any minute.” Simon offered me his hand, and together we sped through the streets to my house.
I slipped through the front door with Simon following right behind. I slowly drifted to the kitchen doorway and peeked inside. Chris was sitting at the table with his back facing us. He was reading Claudia's obituary in the newspaper. I narrowed my eyes at the back of his head. He just couldn't glorify himself enough. I tried to tell myself I was doing the right thing. He may have been my husband, but he was a bad man. He had killed all four of us just to hide his involvement in the Gayle Gardner murder. The blood of five different people was on his hands. No, I didn't feel bad about this at all. I looked over at Simon who nodded sullenly. I straightened up and stepped into the kitchen.
"Miss me?" Chris spun around, his face white as a sheet. I smirked. "I know what you did, Christopher. I figured it out."
He shook his head quickly. "No. You're not real. You're dead, Corina."
I laughed. "I suppose you think you took care of that, Chris. I may be dead, but I am definitely real, and you should be scared."
He stood up and faced me completely. "You don't understand, Corina. I didn't mean for you to find out about anything. I wanted to keep you safe."
"Bang up job you've done with that, love." I rolled my eyes and waved my white hands at my transparent body. "I'm dead."
He hung his head. "I know, and I'm sorry. I just couldn't have anyone find out what I had done."
Simon stepped up beside me and interjected, "You would rather kill your best friend and your wife than be found guilty for a murder that's been closed for 15 years? You've got to get your priorities straight." His voice became more forceful. "I was an invalid, remember? Even if I told anyone, they wouldn't have thought anything of it. All I ever did was say nonsense words and make up stories."
Chris was almost in tears. His previously white face had become red and blotchy. "I would have gone to jail. I would have lost my job." He met my eyes. "I would have lost you."
"You're pathetic! You're pathetic, and you're a coward!" I shrieked, clenching my fingers into fists. "I can't believe I ever loved you." Those words really seemed to hurt Chris, but I didn't care. He had hurt me much worse than that.
Simon saw my anger and decided to step in. "I'm going to apologize for ratting you out, Chris, even if it wasn't intentional. However what you did was entirely wrong, and there's definitely no way I can forgive you for it. I just thought that after all this time you would have found a better way to solve your problems." He shook his head sadly.
Chris was now sobbing. "I had to do it. Please understand. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"I'm sorry too, Chris, but I'm afraid it's too late to make amends," I growled, and Simon nodded agreement. "Apologies can only get you so far." I took a menacing step toward him, and he jumped back like a scared puppy.
"Please don't hurt me, Corina!" he wailed. "I'm your husband! I love you!"
"You love me enough to kill me, your wife?" I screeched angrily, taking another step toward him. "Let me tell you something, Christopher Ryder, I think I love you that same amount." I thrust my hand toward him, and he flew against the wall, rattling the windows. I approached him, hand still raised and pointed at him. Slowly, I clenched my hand into a fist. Chris clutched at his throat. I was suffocating him. He gasped for air, his face turning purple. Finally his eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped back against the wall. I slowly unclenched my fist and walked up to Chris' still body, kneeling down beside him. "Some husband you are," I whispered in his ear. I stood up and looked over at Simon, but he was gone. I looked around the kitchen for him, but he was not there at all. Suddenly, my skin started to burn. I gasped in surprise and looked down at my arm. It was slowly fading into wisps of smoke. Then I understood; I had avenged my death by killing Chris. I had freed all four of us to fade away and move on. My legs began to burn and drift away just as I heard a police car pull into the driveway. The car door slammed. The burning was up to my knees now. I quickly turned to Chris and waved my hand over his body, causing it to burst into flames. My torso was burning away as the front door was kicked in and an officer entered, holding his gun in front of him. I turned to him, the burning sensation resting around my neck. The officer dropped his gun when he saw me. I flashed him a manic grin as I felt my cheeks start to burn.
Then everything was gone, for good this time.