The noises had started around two in the morning, and while the house tended to make noises during such frightful snowstorms as this current one, these noises didn’t sound normal for a shifting house. I lay awake in bed, not daring to move. The sounds were not scaring me, let me get that straight. I am not scared by much. No, the sounds were confusing me, that was all. I wasn’t sure what to make of them. They seemed to be getting closer, so I silently got out of bed and picked up a knife I keep close to me for use in cases such as this, taking off my nightcap as I did so. I was ready for anything.
“Charlie?” called a voice, soft and cold as a snowflake.
Okay, I wasn’t quite ready for that.
“Who’s there?” I snarled in my raspy baritone, clutching my knife. If there was an intruder, then they’d certainly made a mistake in picking my home to rob.
“Oh, you should know me, Charlie. We met not too long ago.”
“Who are you? Show yourself, you lily-livered coward!”
“Oh, Charlie, you shouldn’t call me nasty names like that. It only adds insult to injury.”
“Come out, please,” I wheedled, changing tactics like a light switch. “I’m sorry about that. I’m just scared, that’s all. Please, I want to see you. I won’t hurt you, promise.”
“You shouldn’t lie, Charlie.”
“Then Charlie, why are you holding a knife?”
I stood, dumbstruck, my bare feet tingling with a chill that wasn’t coming from the hardwoods. There was nobody else in the room with me, and I hadn’t yet opened the door, so the fact that they knew I was holding a knife was a bit unnerving. I am not an easily frightened man, however, and I moved the knife back behind me as if to see if the voice would note that change as well.
“I don’t much like knives, anyways,” the voice continued, sounding as sad as a melting snowman. “The last time I encountered one, it hurt.”
“Charlie, dear, don’t you remember? You were there, you saw it all happen.”
I will point out at this point in time that my temper is not an admirable one. I was still confused and still bleary from sleep, so the fact that this damned intruder assumed that I knew who they were was irritating enough to prod me back into the angry side of things.
“No, I don’t bloody remember!” I snapped in frustration. “Who the ruddy hell are you?”
“Darling, surely you haven’t forgotten the sound of my voice?” The voice hardened, disappointingly harsh tone piercing me like an icicle. “It’s me, Stella. Your wife.”
I took a deep breath, air catching at the back of my throat when the words clicked in my mind. “Impossible- you died months ago-.”
“No, Charlie, it’s not, if you think about it. It’s quite logical.”
“No it isn’t!”
“Yes it is. Don’t be so stubborn. You killed my body, but you didn’t kill me.”
The voice sighed, sounding like a northern wind whose patience was running thin had just swept through my bedroom. “No, Charlie. My spirit, you didn’t kill my spirit.”
“But you’re dead! I killed you myself, with this here knife!” I glanced at the knife in my hand to confirm its existence.
“I am dead,” the voice admitted mournfully. “I’ll never understand why you did it. But you did, and I’m here now, Charlie.”
“No you’re not!”
“Yes I am. I’m talking to you, aren’t I?”
“Have you come to talk me into being a better man, like that stupid Christmas story, whatsit? ‘A Christmas Calamity’ or something?” I snorted, always having hated that story. Anyone with the last name ‘Dickens’ can’t be taken that seriously.
“You fool, ‘A Christmas Carol’, a carol. And no, I have not come to talk to you about being nice. I have come to see if the police have caught you yet.”
“No,” I said proudly. “They found your body, but I covered my tracks well.”
“Well, they’re on the way. I informed the boy next door, Ian- you know, the one who found me in the first place- about my death. He had a feeling that there was foul play and I confirmed it for him, poor soul. They know it was you, my love. I’ll be able to rest in peace once they have you. I knew you should have gotten rid of those boots you were wearing, but you always overestimated yourself. Silly man. You wouldn’t have listened to me anyway.”
Rage filled me, and I lunged for the door. “I’ll kill that boy!”
“You shall not harm Ian,” the voice told me quietly, like a mother informing a child he can’t have a cookie before supper. “He is under my protection.”
“Then I’ll just kill you first!” I snarled, throwing open the door.
Darkness greeted me. There was nothing there.
“You can’t kill someone who’s already dead, my love,” the voice stated, cold as ice now.
For the first time that night, the frosty chill of fear entered my heart.
“Am I mad?” I asked weakly.
“Of course. All murderers are mad.”
“Then am I dreaming?”
I got the feeling that Stella was smiling as the police crashed through my front door, took the knife from my limp hand, handcuffed me, and herded me out of the room.
“Charlie, dear,” Stella whispered as I left the house, “I’ll let you decide that for yourself.”