Original fic: Waking Up Strange
Waking Up Strange
by jennickels (aka Jen Connelly)
I woke with a gentle breeze across my forehead, yet I did not recall opening a window. How odd. The morning sun peeked through the curtains, shining light on the many dust motes making homes in the draft. It was awfully cool for a mid-August morning.
Unable to shake the chill that had awoken me, I dressed in warm pants and a sweater. I reached for my necklace, but found it missing from my bureau. I seemed to be losing many things lately. Old age they called it. Surely it would turn up somewhere.
Downstairs, the house felt still and awkwardly quiet, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why. I’d been living alone for many years, my beloved Albert having passed some time ago, so I’d grown accustomed to silence. I’d even taken to speaking to the empty rooms as if he could hear me from beyond the aether. He’d think that so silly.
Oh, how I loved him.
But this lifelessness felt unnatural, left my skin crawling. I tried to ignore the uneasy feeling as I started the coffee and poured some juice into a glass. Orange. When I was sure I’d bought apple.
“Getting old, Mellie,” I said with a chuckle.
I heard a noise then, like the creak of the hall closet opening. When I looked, though, I found nothing awry. Was I hearing things also? Albert would get a kick out of my fluster.
Mellie, Albert would have said, you silly old lady—nothing there to be fussin’ about.
I returned to the kitchen, finding Albert’s picture hanging next to the door. Dressed in his best military attire, hat slightly askew, and with that jaunty smile he never failed to catch my breath. I closed my eyes and imagined his hands on my waist as we danced that first time at Independence Hall. He’d been so young and brash. Swept me right off my feet, he did. I removed the framed photo with a soft sigh. In a blink it became a clock—yellow with a sunflower—but only for that second. I was still wondering if I’d imagined it when the coffee machine startled me with a shrill beep.
I chuckled. See, you start thinking odd things are happening, and everything begins to look out of place. Tricks of the mind. I poured some coffee, and smiled all the way into the parlor.
Immediately I noticed the picture above the fireplace—Albert and I with the children when they were younger. A beautiful portrait, but I had taken it down weeks ago, replacing it with a painting my granddaughter, Layla, had made. I’d set the older picture aside to hang upstairs. Yet there it sat upon the mantle, a ghost of the past. I found the painting sitting in the arm chair. Odd.
“Just getting forgetful in my old age, that’s all.”
I laughed—a stilted sound that came at once from my own throat, and also from somewhere behind me. I turned, but found no one there, nor any sign of intrusion. My heart beat like the wings of a hummingbird. The laughing came again, distant and soft, so I followed it into the sitting room. Had someone gotten in, someone playing an elaborate prank? The space appeared empty, everything as it should be.
Unease settled in my chest like a lead weight. I tried to convince myself that my imagination had run amok as it often did when I was a child. I’d been living alone for far too long. And talking to the walls was never healthy.
Foolish old lady.
I found my necklace on the table in the room. How it got there I didn’t remember. My dear Albert had given me the necklace—a beautiful set of hearts forever entwined, our names etched upon them—just before he died. I placed it around my neck, the hearts settling over my own. Then I heard footsteps coming from just above me. My pulse quickened along with my breath.
Someone had gotten in.
I retreated to the kitchen to call my daughter, but found the dial tone missing. What was I to do? I climbed the stairs cautiously, hugging the picture of Albert.
“I’m just an old lady,” I called, as if that would make a difference to a burgler.
The upstairs was as still as I’d left it that morning. I heard the laugh again, and for a moment I stared down an unfinished hall, the walls barren of decorations and discolored with age. I blinked, and it was gone.
“Whoever you are, I know you are there. How evil you must be to pester an old lady like me.”
I crept along the wall to the bedroom that had been mine as a young girl. The room stood empty as it had for years. The oddness of the morning had me shaky and a tad unsure of my sanity, so I lowered myself onto the window seat to settle my nerves. Everything seemed wrong, confusing. Out of sorts. But there was one thing I knew would never change.
With nimble fingers, I worked the moulding loose under the window revealing a secret hidey-hole I’d used since a child. I pulled from it the small tin that held my most prized possessions from the past—a silk ribbon, a small carved dog, the dried flower from a bouquet. I hadn’t laid eyes upon them in many years, but the memories still came easily, flowing freely from one to the other.
“See, not crazy,” I announced to the empty room, chuckling as the words left my mouth.
My hand came up to touch the charm around my neck. I squeezed it in my palm then without hesitation slipped it over my head, letting it fall into the box. I closed the tin, returning it to the wall. Now my dear Albert would stay with my other memories, safe within the hidey-hole.
A warmth settled over me, and I turned to find a little girl behind me. She looked so much like Layla as a child. But when I reached for her she turned and ran from the room.
“Wait,” I called, struggling to my feet.
At the stairs I heard her footsteps on the floor below. I rushed down, hoping to catch her. She waved at me from the front door. It seemed the closer I got the less solid she became. She shimmered in the sunlight, hazy and surreal. She skipped through the open front door. I gave little thought to how it became open, following after the girl. Outside the light blinded. So very bright. When I finally pried my eyes open I saw not the child but the shape of my Albert in the white glow.
“Come my dear, I’ve been waiting so long.”
“But-” I did not understand. “You’re dead.”
He smiled. “Yes, for some time.”
I looked back at the house—it looked faded and worn, the paint peeling, shutters askew. How very odd—like the entire day. A thought hit me suddenly, sending a surge of panic along my nerves.
“Am I dead?”
“I’ve been waiting,” he repeated, holding his hand out. “We can be together now. How does that sound?”
It sounded very nice. The unease I’d felt early faded. I could not even remember why’d I’d been so distraught.
I reached out, my love’s fingers finding mine. And together we walked into the light, hand in hand as we always had.