Back a couple of months ago, NPR had a contest to write a "3-minute fiction" which started with the line "Some people swore that the house was haunted." and ended with the line "And nothing was ever the same again after that." Well, I didn't get it written in time for the contest, my story runs almost three and a half minutes, and it is not really fiction - but here it is.
Some people swore that the house was haunted.
The crib was empty. The chair didn’t rock and even the cat, who typically claimed every new piece of furniture as his own, avoided it. The man and woman were happy, although they could feel it. There was a general sense of something missing.
But every once in a while, when the morning sun shone in just the right way through the living room window, the woman would catch a glimpse of movement in the corner. The shadow of a thousand leaves from the maple tree blowing in the wind, she might think, without convincing herself. Because it wasn’t just the movement. Sometimes there was a faint squeaky sound like a giggle or maybe a halfhearted cry. ‘It’s only the cat or dog, surely, but the sound isn’t quite right,’ she would ponder. She might even look in the next room to see if maybe she left a window open or a light on, something that would explain the feeling that something or someone was there. This would all pass in a moment, however, and she would continue on her way through the kitchen to move the laundry from washer to dryer.
The woman and the man went to work each day. They ate delicious meals at home when they felt like cooking or out at one of the local places. They were best friends and enjoyed the same activities. They would hike or canoe on the weekends and the husband would plan trips to explore the natural wonders of their country. The vacations were always the perfect mix of relaxation, exercise, and sightseeing.
For her fortieth birthday, he really pulled out all the stops. He spent countless wee hours of morning on the computer while she slept to make all the arrangements in secret. While he researched the best deals and, hotel by hotel, flight by flight, pieced together the trip of a lifetime, occasionally he would look over his shoulder with the strange sensation that someone was there outside the door peaking in at him. He might hear his wife turn over in bed and wonder if she felt it, too. During such moments, he would shake his head and vow to ease off on the coffee drinking and try to get more sleep.
Oh, but he knew that she would flip over this trip, even if no one else he talked to was so sure. Yes, it involved some long flights and bus rides across borders in the mountains of a foreign land. Sure, they would push to complete two backpacking loops in about two-thirds the time the guidebooks recommended. Okay, the weather is notorious for the winds that race down the mountainsides so that even in summer it can snow. It was sure to rain a lot. They would need to buy some new gear. But there was no place else in the world to see peaks so awesome and to stroll by perhaps the only advancing glacier in the world. She would love it. And she did. She was as surprised and thrilled as he had hoped for.
Then three days later, in the middle of third period, the phone in her classroom rang. It was an outside call – unusual. Her heart skipped a beat. It couldn’t be, after all this time. It was. The rest of the day and summer flew by in a blur of anticipation, planning, and stressful interactions with government agencies. More and more often, they both noticed the movements, the giggles, the peaking, and the rocking of the chair although the cat still did not sleep there. She tried to ignore the haunting, tried not to get too hopeful, always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But it happened just as perhaps it was always meant to happen. On a hot day in late summer, at a hotel in a foreign land (although not the foreign land of the birthday trip that was not to be), the strangers put the little girl in the woman’s arms. It was the girl’s first birthday. And nothing was ever the same again after that.