Welcome to the February 2019 installment of First Sunday Short Fiction. Please enjoy the story, and remember; if you want to submit a story of your own, you can find instructions on our submissions page.
Let Me In by Michelle Simkins
Let Me In
She can deal with the fingertips scuttling over the glass window of her front door. She can pretend they are tree branches scraping the house. She doesn't mind the muddy footprints on the porch. If she doesn't look too closely in the morning, she can tell herself an animal visited during the night.
It's the voice that sends her diving under the blankets with crawling skin and clenched teeth.
You'd never think a whisper could thunder through the house this way.
"Let me in," the voice says, and she shivers in her bed.
She moved in two weeks ago, not long after she got out of the hospital. The first night she thought she must have dreamed the tapping and the whispers. But the second night she was awake with a book when the begging began. The third night she tried to record it, but in the morning all she heard was static. She tried to photograph the footprints, but they didn't show up in the pictures.
She's afraid to tell anyone about it.
She's afraid she's going crazy.
She's afraid to walk down the stairs alone and look out the front door when the whispering starts. She can't decide which would be worse - seeing something or seeing nothing.
And she's too tired, too sick, to consider leaving.
One late afternoon in July, when the trees are still as a held breath in the sultry dusk, she falls asleep reading on the living room sofa. The tapping and pleading wakes her at midnight. She sits up, queasy with dread, and looks through the window in her front door.
It is there on the moonlight-drenched porch, white fingers tapping on the glass, low voice thrumming with fear and longing. With the skin at the back of her arms and legs prickling, she shuffles through the dark room. Her teeth chatter and her stomach trembles, but she can't resist the sudden compulsion to see it up close. She comes to the door and places her hand on the glass and looks into the eyes of the ghost.
Behind it, fireflies blink on and off in lazy semaphore over the lawn. She hasn't turned the porch light on, and the moonlight renders the ghost in washed-out grayscale, but it looks more solid than she expected.
"Please let me in," it says, and she steps back, removing her hand from the door and cradling it against her chest.
As she watches, it turns its head to look over its shoulder. As if something hits it from behind, it crashes against the door and slides out of sight. When she steps onto the porch, only footprints remain, dark smudges against the faded gray boards.
The next day she stops by the library after her doctor's appointment. She finds the article on an antiquated microfiche that smells of dust and hot metal.
Twenty-five years ago he was murdered on the doorstep of his fiancée’s house. His killer was never found. No one knew why he was out alone in the dark, barefoot and muddy. No one knew anyone with a motive to kill him. The fiancée refused to speak with reporters.
That night she stands at the door and waits for him. She still isn't sure why. Maybe because she, too, is alone and afraid. He appears at the bottom of the porch steps and flows up them at a run. As he begins his nightly routine she puts her hand to the glass again.
"I'm afraid to let you in," she tells him.
He stops tapping and stares at her. Before this moment she wasn't sure if he could alter his behavior or would continue his endless loop of begging and dying. He looks at her while her heartbeat punctuates the silence of the house. He leans closer to the glass.
"You're not her," he says.
But he comes back, and she is waiting. She learns his name: Steven. He learns hers: Claire. He tells her that his fiancée was Jennifer. That their fight was childish, but she always held grudges. That their love died before he did. She, too, has watched love die; her illness was too much for the one she thought she would marry.
She never believed in ghosts before she came here. Now the hours between visits from her ghost seem long. She wants to open the door, but she's not sure what will happen if she does. He might disappear. He might do anything.
He always arrives in the same way and begins his tapping, but when she speaks, it's like a spell is broken, and he remembers her.
He tells her the years since his death were a blur until she spoke to him through the glass and brought him back to himself. She realizes it's the same for her.
"I think," he says one night in August, "you could bring me back to life if you wanted to."
"You've already brought me back to life," she says, but he has already faded.
That night she thinks about how, in stories, ghosts always want to go to their final rest. Sometimes they want to find peace by making things right, and sometimes they want to do it by getting revenge, but they always want an ending.
She should stop being selfish. She should try to help him.
"I'm going to find her," Claire says the next night. Her chest aches when she says it, like he's already gone. "I'm going to find out why she didn't open the door. I'm going to make her talk to you. Then you can rest."
"I don't want to leave you," he says.
Claire blinks hard. She will not cry. "I don't want you to leave. But I want you to be at peace."
"Maybe I already am."
Claire has her hand on the glass. He aligns his hand with hers, and the glass warms between them. His eyes look straight into her own. With the porch light on, she can see that they're blue: the blue of cornflowers, of lapis. She wonders that he ever seemed frightening.
"Let me in?" he asks, and the tone in his voice sends a shiver through her that has nothing to do with fear.
Her hand trembles as she opens the door.
story ©Michelle Simkins, 2011
artwork by Clem Onojeghuo, courtesy of Unsplash
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About the Author:
Michelle Simkins runs Hagstone Publishing from her home office in Gresham, Oregon, where she writes obsessively about herbs, trees, and encounters with the numinous, creates quirky knitting patterns, gardens haphazardly, reads voraciously, clumsily attempts to learn the Irish language, and watches too many reruns on Hulu with her wife.
Learn more about her work and her various obsessions at her website or follow her on Instagram.