Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
Josephine Richardson woke up. With a great gasp, she sat upright. It took her a moment to recognize where she was: her room, in front of her typewriter. She laughed at herself for falling asleep at her typewriter again, but it did make her wonder how long she had been asleep. She stood, her bones ground against each other and her muscles stretched. She padded her bare feet to the kitchen. Judging by the sun, it was morning and Marc hadn’t come home last night. Again. Some emotion between disappointment and relief sat in Josephine’s belly. But the sunshine was warm on her skin and she could smell the coffee brewing. She hadn’t remembered starting the coffee, but she must have at some point. Josephine reclined at her table and took a deep breath.
“Didn’t fucking even call to say he wasn’t coming home,” muttered a voice. Josephine leapt up. She pressed her back up against the wall, her heart beating so fast that it may have just jumped out her mouth. A short woman in a bathrobe waddled her way into the kitchen. She had bags under her eyes and a puff of brown hair balanced on her very round head. “Just didn’t come home. Again.”
“Who are you?” Josephine asked. “And how do you know Marc didn’t come home?” Josephine began to suspect that maybe the two knew each other and now she was supposed to play hostess without any warning.
“Rotten piece of shit. That’s what he is,” she grumbled, pouring a cup of Josephine’s coffee.
“Excuse me,” Josephine called. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t talk about my husband that way. And it’s certainly very rude of you to sneak up on me and-”
“Fuck ‘im,” she interrupted in yet another mutter. Josephine wondered if the woman had any decency at all.
Josephine Richardson woke up, her rusty, dusty typewriter in from of her. How could she have let her love sit alone so long? Today she would do some maintenance. She lightly touched the keys. They were cold and uninviting. She’d buy paper next time she went out for groceries. When Josephine stood, she cracked her ankles and stretched her arms. Her room looked wrong. The furniture was different. She chose not to think about it. Maybe she had taken one too many pills last night and they were still wearing off. That sounded like her.
She followed the smell of coffee to the kitchen. As soon as she set foot on the hard wooden floor, she became stiff as a board. Sitting in one of her chairs was a girl. Josephine never spent much time with children, but this child seemed to be around seven. “Did Marc let you in here?” Josephine asked. She was a pretty little thing: fair skin, long dark hair, and big eyes. Josephine had known a girl that looked like that when she was a kid. Alice was the girl’s name and they had gone down to catch toads in the river down the road. Josephine could still recall the time when she had fallen in and ruined her pretty blue dress. Her mother probably beat her with a spatula that night.
“Who are you?” Josephine asked again. No answer. She stepped closer and pulled out a chair to sit. The girl screamed.
Josephine Richardson woke up. She needed more paper for her typewriter. It was curious that she’d fall asleep there when she didn’t even have paper to write on. Everything was an inky darkness. She stumbled upright and pressed a hand against the wall to feel her way to the light switch. The light switch wasn’t where she had last left it. She let out a huff. Things had been strange lately, but she couldn’t exactly put her finger on why. She followed the hall down to their spare room. Maybe Marc had fallen asleep in there. She should check on him. A blue light spilled gently from under the door. She pushed her way into her guest room. The tiny nightlight in the corner cast a soft blanket of light over the now unfamiliar room. Josephine felt her heart pick up its pace as her eyes tried to make sense of the surroundings. This was not supposed to be her nursery. This wasn’t even where she had wanted her nursery. Was Marc trying to surprise her? But whose baby was that?
Josephine leaned over the edge of the plastic crib. A baby, but not hers. She guessed that it was a boy with soft wisps of blonde hair and round cheeks. She reached down to gently touch his hand, needing proof that he was there. The little boy readjusted himself and let out a long sigh out of a tiny nose. Josephine was going to name her baby girl Eleanor after the first lady. Josephine’s heart hurt and her hand fell to her own belly. Her belly was wet.
In the next room, Josephine would find, was the girl. Josephine stepped into the room. The little girl was awake, wide eyes peeking out from a pink quilt. “Can you see me?” Josephine whispered. She recognized that it was a strange thing to say, but everything was strange. The little girl didn’t move. “Do you know where Marc is? He’s supposed to be home by now.” Part of Josephine understood that it must be odd for a little girl to see an unfamiliar woman in her room late at night. Josephine decided that she needed to make herself more approachable. She took a stuffed tiger from the dresser and softly said, “I like your toys.” The girl gasped and ran out of the room, passing straight through the center of Josephine.
Josephine Richardson woke up. Her typewriter’s keys were wet with tears. Marc wasn’t home and no one was speaking to Josephine. “Why’d you leave me with such a mess?” she asked no one. Josephine stuck to the walls to stay out of the way. She would just observe and maybe one of them would eventually notice her.
The little girl played in her room with a friend. “My tiger is magic,” the girl said. “It floats sometimes.”
In the kitchen, the brown haired woman sat with her head in her hands and a cup of coffee under her nose. A man, tall and hungover, sat across from her. Josephine was reminded of Marc. “You sound like a crazy person,” the man told her in a hushed voice.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Andy. Those scratches are pretty deep. She keeps waking up every night, says it’s her magic tiger.”
“Yeah, kids will be kids. It’s you believing her that I don’t understand.” He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.
Josephine pressed her back up against her kitchen wall and let her head thump against it. The woman looked at her. Josephine wondered how the woman could see straight through her all the time.
“Thought I heard something,” the woman mumbled and took another gulp of lukewarm coffee.
“Rachael, I just don’t want you scaring the kids is all.”
“Andy, something is wrong here. Our daughter is waking up with physical evidence. Haven’t you ever seen a horror movie? This is the point in which everything would be fine if the family just left.” Josephine didn’t always know what they were talking about.
The man stood. “Prove it and we’ll leave. Until then, you’re going to drop this.” Josephine thought about Marc. The girls came into the kitchen to join them.
Josephine’s legs began to ache so she sat down in Andy’s abandoned chair and crossed her legs. The chair made a sound as she sat and the little girl with the tiger looked at her, but not through her. Josephine straightened. “Do you see me?” she asked.
The girl didn’t answer.
“Sit down, honey,” Rachael told her.
“No, stop,” Josephine pleaded. She got down on her knees in front of the girl. Her eyes stayed on her and Josephine’s eyes watered. “Do you see me?” No answer. “Do you see me?” Louder but no answer. Josephine reached out to touch her but her mother moved her away. Josephine’s eyes spilled over and she began to sob as loudly as she’d like since no one could hear her anyway. She banged her fist against the table.
The family jumped and fell silent.
Josephine laughed but she cried. She started to kick the chairs. “Can you see me?” she yelled and threw down a glass, watching it shatter. “Can you see me?” she repeated, flinging the cupboards open and ripping plates out to break onto the floor. “Can you see me?” In a sweeping motion, she pushed everything on the counters onto the floor. And there she stood, bare feet on broken glass in the middle of her kitchen alone again. The family had fled from the mad woman. She screamed. The windows broke.
Josephine Richardson woke up. Her typewriter had a single phrase typed on it in red ink on white paper she didn’t buy: “Eleanor is dead”.
Josephine Richardson woke up. Her typewriter mocked her with its existence. It was the only part of her home to stay the same. Marc was gone. Her bed was gone. The crib was gone. And that day was the first time Josephine saw herself in the mirror. She was so pretty in her red lipstick and white dress. She had dressed up for Marc that night. She had even piled her red hair up on top of her head and held in place with pearl pins. They were supposed to go out. Now her dress was stained with a puddle of blood at her middle. She slipped a finger into the bloody holes of her dress and then deep within her punctured flesh. How could she still feel so warm? How could she feel at all? The holes seemed to never end. Josephine wondered if she was a pretty corpse.
Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the little girl looking at her. “You broke our windows,” she said.
Josephine began to tear up. Human communication had become so foreign to her she almost forgot what to do. “Help me,” she whispered pitifully.
“Please stop hurting me,” she answered, voice small and sweet. Her fingertips dripped with fresh blood as the scratches up and down her arms had never been bandaged.
Josephine let out a sob. “How could I have done that? Why is this happening?” But she was just a little girl and had nothing left to say. She was pale and still. “I’ll do whatever you need,” she promised. “Just tell me what to do.” She took the dirty towel that was likely from someone’s shower up and brought it to the girl.
The little girl let her take her arms and pressed the towel against the open wounds. “The doors are locked. Just let us out.” Josephine cried tears of helplessness. “You’re so cold,” the girl commented voice flat.
In the kitchen, the couple Josephine recognized as living in her home coward in the corner by the stove as the room and only that room shook like an earthquake. Many of their dishes and appliances had been broken before when Josephine had found herself inconsolable, but whatever was left of the kitchen was now broken as well. The floor was covered in glass and ceramic while the appliances ran without being plugged in. Fruits and silverware flew through the kitchen without any indication of stopping, blocking any exit the two may have had.
Josephine’s heart raced and her stomach dropped. She carefully stepped inside and attempted to catch an apple or a fork or whatever else flew near her. She heard a deep growl in her ear. Josephine felt a shiver run up her spine. She knew that growl. It was the growl that used to keep her up late at night and the same growl she could sometimes hear in Marc’s voice as he yelled. It was the growl that she had heard when she couldn’t save the first family that moved in in 1957.
Josephine’s time was in 1948 where she lived in a little white home with her husband, Marc. They were only newlyweds when Josephine started to notice the changes in her husband and home. Sometimes Marc wouldn’t come home after work but would instead show up the next morning. Josephine secretly treasured those nights as they were nights where her dinner tasted better and she could sleep in peace. Sometimes she would spend those nights typing away on her new stories and ideas that she knew would never be published. Marc had liked to remind her of that. She thought of going by a pen name, but she had worried then that Marc would find out and punish her for being so stupid.
One January, Josephine realized that she was pregnant. For once, Marc was even happy too with her news. He would call her baby bump “son” but she was quietly hoping for a little girl. They had names picked out, but Josephine would only call her belly “Eleanor”. Eleanor stayed with her for five months before Marc got too violent with Josephine again. After that, Josephine was no longer pregnant. After that, Marc lost his mind entirely and would hurt her every night as he must have blamed her for losing her baby. Josephine then had two reasons to cry.
The rest was blurry, despite how much Josephine would try to remember it. She could recall a knife and the warm blood that soaked through her white dress. She remembered pain, but mostly the buzz of adrenaline that she felt. When she could remember these things, she liked to think that it all ended because she was finally leaving Marc, but she knew that that was unlikely. She wondered if the thing that haunts her still was Marc, but even then, she didn’t think she would be able to tell the difference.
Josephine remembered. She stopped the storm in the kitchen with the willpower she had learned so many years ago. The couple ran for the hallway. Then she felt the three familiar spikes of the thing she had always lived with bury themselves into her back. She cried out, but there were no more windows to break.
Josephine woke up. She laughed at herself for falling asleep in front of her typewriter again. Marc must not have come home. Again.
Credit: Triston Foster
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