“Robert, I’m sorry, but NAPS can’t help you.” Margaret saw him stiffen and began to pull away, so she reached across the kitchen table, sliding velvet sleeves along the vintage linoleum, took his hands and squeezed them. “But – but! I know someone who perhaps can.”
Rob gave her hands a return squeeze but there wasn’t much heart in it. Behind and all around him, his home was cluttered with cameras, computer decks, snaking wires, sensors, empty soda cans, notepads, equipment boxes. All property of NAPS – North Atlantic Paranormal Seekers. They had been with him for a month now, first as visitors, and then for the past week and a half as residents. The core team: director Margaret Hernandez, PhD in Parapsychology; Susan and Brett, her students; and a rotating crew of ten others, part timers, most of whose names he never formally caught. They came and went as NAPS tried one experiment after another, trying capture the dark phenomena occurring in his house.
“Who’s that?” He released her hands abruptly, then wondered if she might think he was rude, so he took them again and gave them one last squeeze. He owed everything to Margaret and the NAPS team. They believed him when others would not. Their presence in the house was an anchor, not to normality, but to basic reality, when emptiness might have otherwise driven him over the edge. Even all this equipment – so much of it everywhere that there wasn’t a flat surface available to toss his keys or make a sandwich – was comforting in a strange way.
“Have you ever heard of Shriexers?”
“No. Shriekers? Another kind of ghost?”
“People. They’re the paranormal community’s worst kept secret. A subculture of, oh, let’s say, misfits, anarchists, outcasts… that type of crowd. They involve themselves in the most dangerous of paranormal phenomena, the worst hauntings, as a kind of… extreme sport, I guess.”
He shrugged. “Ok.”
“Some of them have purple hair and bad tattoos, but they’re well versed in the strangest of the strange. Things that more… respectable paranormal investigators might never encounter.”
“So, you think these guys might have some insight into what’s going on here. With this house. My ghost.”
“One in particular might. Her name is Adriana Priest. She’s young, but extremely knowledgeable in the occult, especially deep phenomena of the sort that those silly ghost hunter shows never cover. Usually she’s away on one of her investigations, but she’s in town now. I think she’d be open to stopping by and giving her opinion on what’s going on here.”
Stopping by for a bit. Offering an opinion – it wasn’t much of a substitute for the supportive presence of NAPS. More than anything, Rob didn’t want to be alone. Not in the house. NAPS may have turned out to be ineffective in discovering the secret of his haunting, but they were a crutch that he didn’t want kicked away just yet.
“What’s with the name? Shriekers. Sounds unpleasant.”
Margaret laughed. “That I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Adriana.”
“Sure, have her come over,” he said. “I’ll try anything at this point.”
Adriana Priest arrived in the afternoon, two days later in the afternoon. Margaret drove her. Rob was on edge. The NAPS team had completed removing their equipment that morning and the house seemed emptier than ever, a gutted cavity.
He forgot his anxiety for a moment when he saw the “Shrieker” herself. Adriana was lingering outside, looking at something in the front of the house. Even at a distance he could tell she was stunning. He hadn’t expected that.
“So, Adriana is an… unusual girl,” Margaret told him. “Very focused.”
“She’s even younger than I thought. Listen, it happened again. Last night.”
Margaret’s mouth tightened into a line. “Well, not much of a surprise, I suppose. What happened.”
“I saw… it, at the end of the hall leading to the bedroom. It just… stood there.”
“You saw it clearly.”
“No. I still can never see it clearly. I see it, but… I don’t. It’s like my eyes slide over it.”
Margaret had left the front door open a crack for Adriana; there was a knock on it now and the younger woman poked her head inside. “Hello. May I come inside?”
“Of course.” Rob went to the door and opened it the rest of the way for her and extended his hand. “I’m Robert Young. You can call me Rob.”
“You have a lovely home Rob, very large.” Her eyes were already scanning the interior.
“Thank you. I really appreciate you coming. And your help.”
“Margaret told me what’s been happening to you in very general terms. I asked her not to go into much detail and I’ve avoided the case notes; this is so I can form my own opinion without bias, you know? I’m so sorry you’re going through this, it sounds horrible. Here’s the thing: based on what Margaret did tell me, I believe I know what’s going on. At least, I’m strongly leaning toward one explanation. But if it’s OK with you I’d like to look around, see if I can find anything that might challenge my assumptions.”
“Yes, absolutely. Of course. The place is yours, whatever you need.”
Rob sat with Margaret at the kitchen table while Adriana slowly walked the house. He found it hard to keep his eyes off her. She was beautiful, but not his type, with a nose ring and overabundance of jewelry – her left ear must have been pierced eight times – and clothing that looked like a fortune teller had raided the closet of one of those hippie Coachella girls. She had mystical tattoos on the undersides of her wrists and the hair on the left side of her head was dyed white.
She paused by the entertainment center. “Are these your CDs?” she called.
“May I look?”
He glanced at Margaret who merely shrugged. “Sure. No problem.”
She squatted and began to flip through his collection – clack, clack, clack.
Weird, he thought.
“Do you have any other music? Like, another collection on a streaming service like Spotify?”
“No, I’m not up on those things. Just those CDs there, it isn’t much of a collection.”
She stood, and he saw her eyes roaming the walls. “I’m going to check out the rest of the house, if that’s alright.”
“Go for it.”
When she disappeared down the hall, Rob turned to Margaret. “She said she knew what was going on. Is that possible? Already? She’d barely entered the house.”
“Maybe. We’ll have to wait and see what she says.”
“She didn’t tell you?”
They waited, occasionally hearing the muffled sound of a cabinet door being closed, or a drawer being opened.
Silence for a while. Then Adriana came back. “Can we talk?”
They sat at the kitchen table, Adriana next to Margaret on one side, Rob on the other. Adriana was casual with her hands clasped. “Rob, may I ask: did a woman used to live with you?”
“Yes, Alice.” Saying her name still stung.
“Was she your wife?”
“Based on my observations of the house, may I assume that she did not die, but moved out?”
“Uh, yeah. Yes. That’s correct.”
“The construction out front – that was going to be a hot tub?”
This is a strange line of questioning he thought. “Yeah, we had the slab poured but didn’t get much further before she, ah, before she left.”
“Where is Alice now?”
“I know these questions may seem strange, but I’m going somewhere with this, I really am. Where is she now?”
“She’s living in upstate New York. She has a new guy.”
“I see. When did she move out?”
“Three years ago.”
“Three years! Um, OK.”
“Is that significant or something?”
“Well, OK. Here are a few things I noticed about your home, Rob. You have large gaps on your walls where pictures used to hang where you haven’t replaced with new pictures. You left the hot tub project unfinished and haven’t had the slab ripped back out. Most of the drawers in your bathroom are empty, except for one that still has a half-full box of tampons. Everywhere I look there are gaps and empty spaces where Alice’s things used to be.”
“So? So what.”
“I’m not attacking you, Rob. I’m getting to the root of the haunting that is happening in this house.”
“Right, I’m sorry. The whole thing is… Go on. Sorry.”
“Let’s talk about your CD collection. Hootie and the Blowfish. Dave Matthews Band, Weezer, Matchbox Twenty, Better Than Ezra, Alanis Morissette. May I assume that these are all bands that you listened to with your wife?”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“You suppose? Please be honest and specific.”
“Yeah. We bought that music together.”
“The CDs were covered with dust. May I assume she liked this music more than you did?”
“I’m just… I’m sorry but I’m just not seeing where you’re going with any of this. How is any of this relevant to the ghost that’s haunting this house and scaring me, scaring me nearly to death every night?”
“I think you are experiencing a void haunting.”
Adriana flicked a white thread of her hair away from her face. “Look, here’s what I think: I think you’re stuck. You haven’t replaced the paintings on the wall because that’s where the art that Alice took with her is supposed to go. You haven’t done anything with the hot tub because that that’s the place where you were going to frolic with Alice. In the front of your house and not the back yard because you wanted to show off your marriage.”
“You haven’t filled the bathroom drawers with your own toiletries, which are piled up in a heap the closet, by the way, because the drawers are for Alice’s things. You left Alice’s tampons in place because that’s where Alice’s tampons go. And the CDs, Rob, first of all, it’s outdated technology that you haven’t replaced, OK, but the CDs are also of a very specific era. It’s when you and Alice were happy together, right? You haven’t added anything of your own to the collection. Nothing modern. Nothing of today.”
“I don’t know if that’s true.”
“Three years, Rob. I would have guessed Alice moved out last month.”
“Some of it, the state of things, is disruption from NAPS…”
“I’m pretty familiar with what it looks like after a paranormal group pulls up stakes. I’m looking at your body posture. I’m comparing how thin you are now to the photo I saw in your office of you with your college friends. Most men put on weight as they get older, their faces widen. Your face is narrower, more gaunt. Be honest with me, OK? Deep down, you feel that Alice leaving, Alice living in upstate New York with some guy, Alice not being here.” She tapped the table for emphasis. “Is fundamentally wrong. It’s not supposed to be this way. And that feeling has taken a toll on you physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
“You’ve got be honest, Rob. This is the key to this problem you’re having.”
“OK! Yes. I feel that way. Yes. We built this life together, and now I’m stuck in… in this fucking place alone. I can’t financially make a move work right now, I can’t restart, I’m trapped in this old existence. And every morning I wake and think she’s next to me, and every morning my gut sinks when I realize the bed is empty. So what? Anyone who’s been divorced has felt that way.”
“She left suddenly. Left you with the house, took what she wanted, left you with the rest. Am I correct in assuming her leaving you was unexpected? Took you off guard.”
“That’s right. Yes.”
“Have you ever experienced psychic phenomena before? Any episodes of foretelling, visions, that kind of thing?”
“Have you experienced any poltergeist phenomena when you were younger? Objects moving around of their own accord, rapping sounds, something snatching the covers off you as you slept.”
“OK. So, this is how a void haunting happens. It’s theoretical! This would be the first recorded case. But in theory, it works like this. We’ll use your specific case as the example. Alice left suddenly. The world that you built with her collapsed instantly. You perceived her absence like a void, almost as if a hole had been punched into your life. In your stress and grief, you began to fill that void with psychic energy.”
“I’m not psychic.”
“All people are psychic to some extent,” Margaret said.
“That’s right,” Adriana replied. “Especially in times of duress. In your case, you could have moved on with your life; met someone new; at least redecorated and thrown out the rest of Alice’s things. But you didn’t. And in this atmosphere, the sense of wrongness, of emptiness, of this void, only grew stronger. Most hauntings are by something; a ghost, a demon, an entity of some kind. But in your case, I think you’re being haunted by someone that you think should be here, but isn’t. You are being haunted by a hole, Rob.”
“I’d bet anything that if we could observe this phenomenon clearly, we’d see something resembling an outline of your ex-wife.”
“I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Mostly what we – I mean, me and NAPS – experienced was this kind of… malevolence.”
“Yes, let’s talk about that. I find that disturbing. Ordinarily my reaction to a haunting like this would be: so what? So an empty spot is roaming your house, who cares? But you say it’s been growing in aggression, and Margaret said the same thing. What’s up with that?”
“I don’t know. It hasn’t done anything to me, other than it keeps… it keeps getting closer.”
“A ramping up of activity is very similar to other hauntings fed by psychic energy, like doppelgangers and poltergeists. This void entity, this Alice Thing, is growing in strength. You’re still feeding it, for lack of a better word. But we’re circling back to the same question: why is it emanating this aura of threat?”
“I don’t know. Really, I don’t.”
“Hauntings are about the past. Is there something in your past, Rob, that you aren’t telling us about?”
“No! The past that’s relevant here is the past I had with my wife.”
“OK! I have to ask.”
“Where do we go from here?” Margaret asked.
“If it’s OK with both of you, I’d like to observe the entity myself. Can I stay here for a few hours tonight? At least until the evening.”
Rob glanced at Margaret. “Um, I don’t know, I think it might be kind of weird. You know, the whole older man, younger woman thing. Unless Margaret can…”
Margaret her head. “I’m sorry, but I’m joining NAPS on a case out of state tonight. I can’t stay here, regrettably”
“Neither of you are going to stay here,” Adriana said. “Rob, I’d like to ask you to get a hotel room tonight. I’m doing this alone.”
“I’m not comfortable with this,” Rob said. He was lingering at the door resisting Adriana’s attempts to shoo him out to his car.
Margaret hadn’t been completely on board either. Before she left she pulled Adriana aside. “Are you sure you’re OK with this? I don’t feel good leaving you alone in this house, to be honest.”
“Margaret, I’m fine. Compared to some of the other things I’ve done, really, this is nothing. A vacation. I can handle this. But…”
“How well do you know Rob?”
“I’ve known him a bit over a month. Why?”
“I’m confused… is he gay? He’s gay, right?”
“He was married, Adriana.”
“Gay people get married. To the opposite sex I mean. Sometimes.”
“He’s just one of those men that speaks… in that way. Metrosexual, I think it’s called.”
“Do you think he’s hiding something?”
“No. You do?”
“Not sure. An entity like this doesn’t just form for no reason, you know.”
Now Margaret was gone, off to her next investigation, and it was just Adriana and Rob. And perhaps, somewhere in the house, behind her back, something that was nothing. Or nothing that was something.
“Out with you,” she told him. “Relax, get a hotel room for a few hours and watch television. Get a drink. I won’t damage your house, I swear.”
Adriana wasn’t comfortable with the way Rob wouldn’t make eye contact – that had to mean something, right? And he was fidgety. He swallowed too much, making his Adam’s apple bounce. Probably it was nothing. Most people exhibited strange tics and stress signs this far into a haunting.
“I don’t care about the house. The house is spoiled. As soon as I can end this thing and sell it, I’ll never look back. But I’m just—”
“I’ll be fine! See these?” She turned her wrists over, displaying the symbols there. “It’s a type of mehndi. Very difficult to get. Lasts at least ten years, can’t be washed off. Negative entities can’t stand these symbols. Imagine someone aiming a heat lamp at your eyes. It’s like that. All the jewelry I’m wearing.” She wiggled her ring-covered fingers, flicked at her earrings. “Talismans and charms. Same thing. See? I’ll be fine. I’ve got my backpack, it has everything I need. Now go relax and leave this to me. Come back tonight.”
She listened until she heard his car start and then drive away. Then she leaned against the door and expelled a deep breath, vibrating her lips. She thought she’d never get rid of him!
Adriana did not like Rob’s house. It wasn’t that it was haunted. She loved haunted. It was a depressing place. It was a long ranch style box, one of those heat-wasting open floor plan McMansions that had been popular with young couples during the economic boom. Even the door against which she leaned was extravagantly ugly, a carved mahogany upgrade that was probably Rob and Alice’s big splurge when they bought the place.
From her backpack she removed a wooden spike. It was wrapped in spare charms and clumps of herbs tightly bound with white thread. She had crafted it the previous evening from the broken handle of a wooden spoon, which she had then sharpened. Several Latin phrases were written in a tiny sprawl along the business end of the stick in a fine point magic marker.
She fished her cell phone out of a backpack pocket and one-button-dialed her friend Claire.
“Hey, what’s up.”
“Nothing much,” Claire said. The connection was good, and her friend sounded close.
“Yeah, how’d the hacker convention go?”
“Oh, it was OK. Not that many attendees. I think the Sporty side is taking over.” She was referring to the internal divide within the community between those who followed a hacker philosophy versus those who practiced Shriexing like an extreme sport.
“You’re a Sporty.”
“I am not!”
“You so totally are. What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing. Just hanging out in a strange man’s house investigating… a void haunting.”
“What? No fucking way. You bitch, how?”
“Margaret at NAPS turned me on to it. It’s this guy who misses his ex-wife.”
“And you know it’s a void haunting?”
“That’s what I’m here to find out.”
“It infuriates me how easily you worm your way into – hold up, who’s there with you? Is Sadie there?”
“No, she went on to scout that Harrison property. I’m alone.”
“It’s cool, I made a ghost spike.”
“A ghost spike.”
“The entity in question, if I’m right about the haunting, is essentially a big balloon of psychic energy. If it gets too feisty – pop!”
Adriana heard the tapping of computer keys on the other end of the line.
“I’m checking the site –” Claire was referring to the primary Shriexer Dark Web knowledge database – “and I don’t see your pre-rep.” A pre-rep was a Preliminary Report format used by Shriexers to outline their initial research and preparations leading up to an investigation.
“That’s because I didn’t do one.”
“Your sponsor is going to dump your ass. He wants pre-reps on everything. Oh, by the way: so does your team.”
“My sponsor loves me,” Adriana replied, ignoring the warning about team regulations. “He even said he’s having a military contractor contact of his design me a new gear bag. It’s going to be tough enough to withstand any run.”
“What a sugar daddy. Also, ha, you said ‘run,’ not ‘hack.’ You’re a total Sporty.”
“I am not! Oh damn, I just heard something. Gotta go.” She ended the call. It sounded like something fell near the basement door. Upon investigation, she found a CD and a case broken in three pieces on the floor. It was Room for Squares by John Mayer.
“Well, that was quick,” Adriana said, loud so the entity could hear her. “Not happy I’m here, are you, Alice?” It was a provoking technique. If the phenomena was ramping up this quickly she might be able to throw accelerant on the fire and get some real activity going. “Didn’t like me insulting your CD collection?”
She listened. Nothing. And then: a scraping sound. It was the kitchen table.
Another CD was there; it had been pushed along the surface of the table so hard that the two front corners of the case had gouged the finish. It was Crash by Dave Matthews Band.
Yikes, Adriana thought. She clutched her ghost spike tight. “Are you an angry person, Alice? Or should I say, your husband thought you were angry, since all you are is a projection of what he thought of you?”
Silence. She really thought that would get a reaction. She decided to press it. “I wonder what the real Alice would think of you? She’s moved on to New York with a great new guy. She left this dusty old dump behind. How does it feel to be stuck here, with the dork loser you wanted to leave forever?”
No reaction. Huh.
She tried a different tack.
“Rob isn’t here right now for you to torment. It’s just me. I’m here. Not Rob.”
A moment passed. Then another. Then came the familiar sound of a CD case dropping. Then another. And another.
There we go, Adriana thought. She found the CDs at the entrance to the bedroom hallway. This was the pressure point she could exploit. Herself.
“So that’s it, you don’t like me being alone in your house. You want Rob. And I’m getting in the way of you two.”
She nudged the broken pile of CD cases with her toe. A self-titled album by Weezer, God Shuffled His Feet by Crash Test Dummies, and Astro Lounge by Smash Mouth. Ugh.
In the time it took to look down and then back up, another CD had appeared in the middle of hall. Carefully placed on the carpet, not thrown. An invitation.
“Yeah girl, I don’t think so. You want me to come down there, huh? So you can pop out like a…” she struggled to come up with something clever. “Like a, uh, funnel web spider?” Lame.
She watched the door at the far end of the hallway. The master bedroom.
That’s where she was. The Alice Thing.
“Why don’t you come to me instead? I’ll be able to see you clearly. I have a lot of practice in seeing creepy things that like to hide.”
The hallway was still. Motes of dust wandered lazily in the sunlight bleeding in from the skylight in the main open space; the other half of the corridor was gloomy. The bedroom door at the far end was shadowed.
“Rob isn’t coming back. Not until you deal with me.”
The bedroom doorknob rattled.
“That’s it, come on girl,” Adriana whispered. The rattling increased. It was violent. “Let me see you.”
The entire door was shaking. But it didn’t open.
Strange, Adriana thought. And then three things occurred to her, rapid-fire:
One: it made less sense for the Alice Thing to lure her close to the bedroom and then spring out from that direction, when the way was clear for Adriana to retreat into the open main house.
Two: it made more sense for the Alice Thing to lure her into the hall and then come at her from behind, so she had nowhere to run. The bedroom was a death trap.
And three: the rattling door was a distraction.
Adriana dropped into a squat and rolled. Something passed overhead where her chest would have been: two blurry arms, attempting to catch her in a death hug.
In the same motion she stabbed upward with her ghost spike. She felt resistance, and something howled. A woman’s scream, but muffled, distorted. Psychic; there was no physical sound.
Adriana finished her roll in a crouch and backed away several steps. The Alice Thing was doing the same. It was a woman’s shape; a cutout in space. The hair flowed, the hips swayed, but where a person should have been was… nothing.
“I told you I could see you clearly,” Adriana said. “Not much to you, is there? Beautiful! Wow, look at you!” She stepped toward the entity and it screeched again, a noiseless projection of rage. It retreated another step. “When I called you creepy just now, don’t take it the wrong way. I like creepy.”
It appeared wounded. Adriana thought it was limping, the outline of the right leg jerking.
“Thanks to you, I’ll be the first person to record actual evidence of a void haunting. Do you know how cool that is? I wish I could photograph you. What are you pointing at, girl? Not falling for it.”
The entity’s arm was out, an index finger extended. Pointing at something behind Adriana. It held the finger vertical and wagged it, back and forth. Naughty, naughty.
“Not looking,” Adriana said. “I’m looking at you, gorgeous.”
It turned – to Adriana’s eye it looked like the outlines of the shape morphed – and limped to the door to the basement. There, the outer edges that defined it became indistinct, and it was gone.
The basement must be its focus anchor, Adriana thought. She looked at the spot it had been pointing at. There was something on the carpet there.
It was a clump of dirt. Wet. Adriana knelt to touch it, and when she got close the smell gagged her.
“Oh… my god!” She covered her mouth and nose. The dirt stank of rotting flesh.
Adriana Priest was sitting on her backpack at the end of the driveway when Rob pulled up. He parked next to her and got out. The sun was setting.
“What’s wrong? How’d it go? Is everything OK?”
She fixed him with an unfriendly stare.
“You lied to me.”
“What? No, I didn’t.”
“I asked you – I asked you – if you had anything in your past. Anything dark. And you lied.”
“No, I didn’t!”
“Catch.” She threw something to him underhand. It was a ziplock baggie containing a clump of soggy soil. The smell hit him immediately and he dropped it.
“It came out of your void ghost. I slashed it with the ghost spike and that fell out. Strange, huh?”
“I have no—”
She held up her cell phone so he could see the screen. She had dialed 911 and her finger was hovering over the call button.
“You can tell me, or you can tell the police. Your choice, Rob.”
He looked at the baggie and the dirt inside.
“You recognize it, don’t you?”
His shoulders slumped. “Maybe. Yeah. Jesus, what is that stink?”
“It’s rotting flesh. Human.”
“You think I don’t know what rotting human flesh smells like? Why is your void ghost full of dirt and decay, Rob? Seriously, spill it or…” She started to bring her phone to her ear.
“OK! Stop! OK! Don’t call the police. Just… don’t call them.”
“It… it was something that happened when I was young. A kid. An accident.”
“Aw fuck, are you going to make me… I haven’t told anyone, ever.”
She shrugged. “Don’t care.”
He stared at his shoes. His mouth seemed to rebel against the words as he tried to speak them. “I had a friend. A guy friend. We were buddies since we were kids, played together, went to school together, all of it. Oh shit, I don’t…”
“Keep going. Seriously, or you’re going to jail. Because I think I see where this is going.”
“Alright! God, fucking bitch. Yeah, I killed him, OK? Happy? I fucking killed him.” He looked left and right, but the neighboring houses were a distance away at the edges of his large lawn, and no one else was about.
Her hard expression didn’t change. “How?”
“When we got older. I had no idea he was into… we were out in the woods, early teens, just screwing around, you know how bored kids do, and… yeah, he came on to me. He was aggressive. It took me completely off guard. I told him to stop and he didn’t, so I hit him. Told him I was going to tell everyone. That set him off. I guess. The idea of being outed like that… He attacked, and I hit him with a stick. A small log, I guess, I don’t know. I was defending myself.”
“Yes! I thought I had just knocked him out and I left him there. Figured he would wake up and shake it off, and maybe we’d work it out the next day at school, or maybe we wouldn’t, and never talk to one another again…”
“But obviously things didn’t go that way.”
“No. I had a feeling, so that night I went back out to the spot and he was still there. Laying in the leaves. So, I came back out again when my parents were asleep, with a shovel. And I buried him, right there in the woods. And that’s it. The police questioned me, and so did his parents, but I told them Seth had been talking about running off for a while, he hadn’t, but that’s what I told them, and they chalked it up to another case of a juvie on the run. And then I moved on with my life, and tried to forget.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“I think most of what you said is true. Not all of it.”
“It’s true. I dream about it. All the time. I dream about the woods, that spot in the woods, covered with leaves and branches, knowing that something – someone is festering underneath. Down below.”
“I know a thing or two about hauntings, Rob, and to get one this strong you’re going to need a toxic stew of psychic guilt. You don’t often get that if you feel a killing was justified. Here’s what I think happened: I think you’re a deeply closeted homosexual. I think you and – Seth, was it? – were screwing around in other ways out there in the woods that day. It went too far, I think you panicked, and you hit him like you said. You fought and you buried him. Who started things out there, Rob? Was it him, or was it you?”
“I’m not gay!”
“I think you are, and maybe that’s why your marriage fell apart. I think Alice knew.”
“I promised you an answer, so here it is: this void in your life has nothing to do with missing Alice. It has everything to do with what she represented, which was the façade of heterosexuality that you hid behind. When that was yanked away, you filled that void with your guilt, your sexual confusion. You filled it with soil from Seth’s grave in your dreams. Your ghost, Rob, is the empty lie of your heterosexuality, overflowing with your toxic, repressed homosexuality. Have fun dealing with that.” She stood and slung her backpack over her shoulder. “Murderer.”
“Wait, where are you going? Don’t – Adriana!”
She started walking, but when he made to follow she took off like a bolt. She was fast, even with her heavy backpack. In a moment was gone around the street corner.
“No,” Rob whispered. “No, I don’t want to be alone, I don’t want to be alone, I don’t –”
“You aren’t alone.” He couldn’t tell who that was behind him – was it Alice, or Seth? And then a grip clamped his shoulder, tightened until he felt his collar bone snap. “Come, darling,” the voice said, “Let’s play house.”
Something that spoke but didn’t speak, that was there in the flesh but wasn’t there at all, dragged Rob up the driveway, into the house – their house – and slammed the door.