Chapter 14: Home Is Where The Hurt Is
I left Andrea right there where she was in the Caden family attic. Everything else was forgotten. Every question that should have been in my mind was gone replaced by one thought: Lacey. Had it been her all along? We hadn’t been on the best of terms when she died. Could there have been a deep bitterness in her heart that festered in the grave until it brought her back? Had she been playing nice all this time just to set me up? When she came back, it was as the woman she once was in the early days of our marriage, not the exasperated woman who had left me to take up with another man. Why? Did she truly love me or did she blame me for her death the way I do?
My mind raced with these questions. I didn’t want to believe it. Please God, don’t let it be Lacey. Anyone but her please. Don’t let her be the force that drove Summer Dennings off the bridge. Don’t let her be the reason Carla was hung from our tree house. Don’t let her be the one responsible for blowing up Jeff Dennings house and killing him in the process. Had she been communicating with these kids through the ouija board, planning a resurrection of herself to take some sort of revenge on me for neglecting her? For abandoning her in favor of my job?
I skidded to a stop outside my house. I sat there for a moment and took a deep breath. My hands were shaking, gripping the wheel. If Lacey hated me so much that she wanted to harm me I don’t know if I could live with myself.
I felt the gun against my skin under my jacket. Would it be better if I just put a stop to it right now? If I just put the gun to my temple and make it better for everyone. No, that was crazy thinking. I had to finish this. See it through until the end. I had to know the truth.
I got out of the car and started for the walk. That’s when I saw the car across the street. A man was sitting behind the wheel. He was slumped over in the seat, wearing a black hat and dark glasses. From where I stood I couldn’t see who it was. But he was watching me. Or was he watching the house?
I turned to face him, torn between finding out who he was and going into the house to confront Lacey. He opened the car door and got out. He didn’t have a weapon that I could see, but still his dark figure looked ominous. Silently, he raised his head and I finally recognized who it was.
“Jacobs, jesus man, you nearly made me draw my piece!” I called out.
He looked even worse than he did outside the ruins of Jeff Denning’s house. He was almost skeletal, a gaunt figure of gray. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days.
“What are you doing here?” I asked him.
“I was waiting for you, Cole.”
“We’re in danger. Grave danger. And I think I’m next.”
I recalled our earlier conversation. He thought that then too, but I thought I had eased his mind on that point. He’s a man plagued by inner demons. There’s not a lot I can do but try and turn him from his paranoia.
“Next for what?”
“To die,” he whispered.
“What are we talking about here? Natural causes? Murder?”
“You didn’t hear, did you?” he asked.
“No. Hear what?”
He looked down at his shoes. “Brandywine is dead.”
“Brandywine?” This wasn’t making much sense.
“Yeah, she walked out in front of a truck. For no reason at all. Just stepped off the curb into its path.”
Suddenly it occurred to me who he meant. Brandywine. The nickname for our dispatcher in the days we were on the force. Her real name was Sheila Brandy. I remembered her vividly. How she had looked at me that night when I told her to divert all cruisers away from the escaped Kaleidoscope Killer. She’d given me a concerned look as I headed out the door into the night. She never was very friendly with me after that. And now she was dead.
“Brandy was a good person,” I said.
“One of the last, Cole. There are only three of us left now.”
“Me, you, and Deacon.”
“Left from what?”
“Don’t you read the papers?”
“No, not here lately. I’ve been busy.”
“In the past three weeks we’ve been dropping like flies. Everyone who was in on it.”
“In on what?”
“The Kaleidoscope investigation.”
“All of them killed?”
“It’s not provable as such. They’ve taken their own lives, been in accidents, natural causes. But I know it’s not natural. Something’s going on. Someone is killing us off. Narrowing the number of us down until..”
“Until what?” I interrupted.
“Until there’s just one of us left.”
“It’s you, Cole. You’ll be the last one standing. Someone wants you to suffer.”
I looked up at the house. Was Lacey in there waiting for me? Was Jacobs showing up fate’s way of saying ‘you’ve been warned’? To tread softly and carry a rocket launcher?
“Go back home, Jacobs,” I told him. “You’re not going to die.”
“Yes I am. And so are you, Cole. You just don’t know it yet.”
He got back in his car, and I shut the door for him. He did look like a man on his deathbed. Fear was eating him to pieces. He took his glasses off and looked right at me. “You can’t stop it,” he said. “It’s unnatural. It’s more powerful than any of us.”
“No, I will stop it.”
I left him there and turned to the house. Yes, I would stop it. Right here tonight. I headed to the house with renewed purpose. All these people dead, and for what? A vengeance without reason?
I stepped up on the porch and opened the front door. “Lacey!” I called out as I crossed the threshold. I didn’t see the door closing behind me. Didn’t see the shadow cross the room. All I could see was the all-encompassing blackness after the blow struck me in the back of my head. Before my consciousness faded, the last glimpse I caught was her face looking down on me. I tried to say her name but nothing would come. Nothing but darkness..
– – – – –
My eyes came into focus. Lacey was looking down on me, her face betraying grave concern.
“Oh God Cole, I’m sorry. I thought you was him.”
I put my hand to the back of my head and felt where she had hit me. No blood, that was a good sign.
“Who?” I grumbled.
“The man who has been hanging around outside all day. He tried coming in earlier, but couldn’t get the door open. I thought he’d finally picked it.”
My head was a little groggy, but the spin the room was in was slowing down. “Jesus Lacey, what did you hit me with?”
She grinned kind of sheepishly. “A chair.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Really? Felt like the whole damn table.”
“Sorry about that. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve been practicing moving solid objects.”
She’d been practicing moving objects? Or was it that she was close to regaining solid form? Had the ouija board communications with the kids been restoring her to flesh? I wanted to say something. I wanted to grab her and ask her why. But I feared the answer.
I stood up and walked to the window. “That the guy who was trying to get in?” I pointed outside to Jacobs’s car. He was still sitting there. I must have been out for only a minute. “That’s Jacobs. He was on the force with me before I quit.”
“Cole, I’m sorry. I thought he was someone bad. I was only trying to protect you.”
She seemed genuine about it. How could I not believe her? But something inside of me, some internal personality flaw refused to let it go. I’d forgotten every reasoning bone in my body and chose not to believe her.
“Lacey, I need to ask you something.”
She looked at me. The tone of my voice told her something was wrong. She narrowed her eyes and I saw her look become one of defense and suspicion.
“Am I the only one you talk to or visit?”
“Yes of course,” she answered.
I walked into the living room and set myself on the couch. She followed me.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
She knelt down before me. Normally in life, she would have taken my hands in hers and implored me to confide in her. Now she could not. She could not physically touch me, and even if she could, my line of questioning kept her at a distance.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“Why? What kind of question is that? I’m here for you.”
She furrowed her brow. “You don’t know? Don’t make me tell you, Cole. It hurts bad enough to see you in confusion.”
“I am confused. We weren’t together anymore. You’d left me and I’d shut myself up in this house wishing you’d come back home. Then you died. Only then did you come back. You could have returned to Deacon. He was your man then, not me. So I have to know. Why did you come back to me? What was so unfinished that has kept you here?”
“Cole,” she spoke, looking at me with a face that read only sympathy and pity. “I have always loved you. But you pushed me away. Turned my affections from you. That’s the only reason I left in the first place. I came back to you after death because I realized the connection we have is permanent. What we have done together requires a peace between us and we cannot be divided anymore. You can’t just stop loving someone.”
I looked away. I didn’t want her to see me on the verge of losing it. A part of me was still in denial; the other wanted to believe her sincerity and heart. I was torn between the twin emotions of love and regret.
“Look at me, love. What we created in our lifetime was blessed. But you got caught up in your life, and I got caught up in mine, and we both forgot what was ours until we lost it. I blamed you for a long time. And you blamed me.”
I knew she was right, but it still didn’t answer the question that swirled around my head. “Do you think of revenge?”
“Getting even with the one who caused you to die?”
“No I don’t.”
“You don’t resent me for not saving you?”
“Oh my darling, I would never resent you for a thing. Why are you thinking these awful things?”
I swallowed hard and wondered just how much I should say. “I was interviewing someone. They said they’d been communicating with you through a ouija board. They said you wanted revenge. That you told them things.”
“What kind of things?”
“That you knew how to raise the dead.”
“No one can do that. Once you’re spirit, you are spirit. You cannot inhabit the flesh again. You know that.”
“They said you wanted to kill me.”
She looked at me. If real tears could have formed in her eyes, it would have been running down her face. “And you believe that? After everything we’ve been through, you believe I would think such things? How could you think me so cruel?”
I didn’t know how to answer her. I didn’t know what to feel. I wanted to trust her, but a seed had been planted and so my response was both vague and yet clear to her. “I don’t know what to believe anymore, Lace.”
She got up from her place in the floor and moved away from me. She was hurt, and I knew then I’d lost her a second time.
“I can’t believe this,” she said. “I came back for you, Cole. I knew you couldn’t make it without me. That you needed me. And yet this is how you think of me? As some cold calculated murderess? I am not the Kaleidoscope Killer, Cole. This is your Lacey, damn you. The friend you once trusted. The girl you professed to love. The woman you married. The mother of your child!”
I looked up sharply as if she had just slapped me awake from a dream.
“Do you think I would rob Jessica of her father, too?” she continued. “It’s bad enough I can’t go to her like you can. You can tell her all about me as she grows up. I have had trouble even leaving this house. And yet you think I want to kill you because you can’t forgive yourself for not being there for me or our daughter. Well to hell with you Cole! This house used to be a place of love, but you’ve made it into a place of suspicion and distrust. I hope you’re happy now, because this is it. I won’t be pushed away again. Have a nice life!”
She nearly spat the last sentence in my face. I watched her face contort; the tears were running down her face now. Anger, hurt, every painful emotion was there on her face. And it was all my fault. I had done it again, chased away the woman who only wanted to love me. Her image flickered and faded and I watched as she dissipated like smoke. She was leaving. Whatever force had kept her here was letting her go. If she had been here for some divine reason, the reason had now been erased.
I put my head into my hands and cried.
“You stupid, stupid, stupid man,” I sobbed. Once again my mind and mouth had run far ahead of my heart. I had disproved the old adage: home is where the heart is. She was right, I had made it a place of hurt.
I reached in my jacket for my pistol. I couldn’t take this. “You are a fool, a disgusting old fool,” I admonished myself. I pulled the gun and placed it against my temple. I closed my eyes. Nothing else mattered. I had lost Lacey again. There was nothing that could keep me here now.
Suddenly a book fell off a shelf on the other side of the room. It had just slid to the edge of its own accord, as if Lacey before leaving had one last message to say. The book hit the floor and opened, the paper rifling briefly before stopping on a certain page.
I lowered the gun and walked over to where the book lay. It was a photo album. I knelt down so I could see the pictures. There was Lacey and I at the beach, the wind blowing through our hair. There was a wedding picture, not a formal one, but she and I getting ready to run out the chapel door into a hail of rice and confetti. There we were cheek to cheek at a Christmas party. And there on the bottom lay her final message. A picture of herself in a hospital bed, I at her side. And in her arms our daughter.
I dropped the gun and kicked it away from me. I grabbed up the photo album and clutched it to my chest, letting out a wail of anguish.
“I’m sorry,” I sobbed, but no one was listening. I was alone.
“Advocate for the dead” 2017 Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved.