Lydia had a lot of unpacking to do but she was tired and needed a break, pregnancy fatigued her. She filled the kettle and searched for the instant coffee, a mug and spoon. It would have to be taken black this time. Would Jeremy remember to pick up everything on the shopping list? She should have just done it herself, but wanted to get as much unpacked as possible before he arrived home tonight. This was their first house, a fixer-upper that needed a lot of repair, which they would do as they went along. It was quite a distance from the city but the tranquility of the countryside made the drive worthwhile.
The coffee made, Lydia decided to look around again. Venturing from room to room, she envisioned what the place would look like decorated in her chosen colors. A paint and wallpaper sample had been taped on a wall in each room so that Jeremy could see what his wife had in mind. Climbing the stairs Lydia found it chillier than the lower part of the house. She walked down the hall to the last room, the one that had been designated as the master bedroom. Lydia felt a draft and thought she could actually see her breath. Impossible, she thought, it’s not even that cold outside. The weather was unpredictable in late October, but it hadn’t even been necessary to wear a sweater today.
Opening the bedroom door Lydia was amazed to see that all the windows were open; she hadn’t noticed that during her arrival earlier. Closing one window after another, Lydia thought she detected movement out of the corner of her eye. Whirling around, she was in time to see the bedroom door slam shut. Just the wind, she reasoned. Yet the hair on the back of her neck was bristling. I’m being silly, it’s just a case of nerves being out here alone with no phone. It was supposed to be installed today but the installer had already been out and left a note saying he had to restring a new line. It would be another three days before he could complete the job.
Realizing how late it was Lydia headed downstairs to finish the unpacking. As she reached the middle landing, there was a fleeting impression of someone behind her. Then there was pressure on her back and she fell to the bottom of the stairs. Trying to stand upright she winced. The pain in her left ankle was unbearable; it would not support her weight. It was a long painful crawl to the kitchen. Lydia pulled herself up to the refrigerator and grabbed a bag of ice from the freezer. Using the broom as a crutch, she hobbled to the living room. Stretching out on the sofa, she put the ice on her ankle to keep the swelling down.
Lydia hoped Jeremy would not be late leaving the city. She knew her ankle had to be x-rayed. From the pain and the swelling she was certain it was broken, but it would be impossible to drive to the hospital in her condition. Lydia cursed not having a phone and cursed herself for forgetting her cell phone in the city at her mother’s place.
Hearing the front door open she called out, “Honey, I’m in the living room and I need help.” Funny I didn’t hear his truck pull up. “Jer?”
There was no reply. A chill filled the air again, and icy fingers gripped her heart. Convincing herself that the wind had somehow blown the door open, Lydia tried to relax. She couldn’t get up to check; making it to the door and back would be impossible. If the door were open, it would have to stay that way until her husband arrived. Jeremy, she prayed, please hurry.
What was that? It sounded like a woman’s mournful weeping. Her nerves were really going to town on her now. She’d be a basket case by the time Jeremy arrived. Lydia started to laugh but it was a brittle nervous laughter.
She wasn’t sure how long she had slept, but it was now dark. Where was Jeremy? Why hadn’t he arrived yet? If something had happened, how could he let her know? Reaching for the switch on the lamp her fingers touched another hand. Screaming in terror Lydia struggled with the lamp knocking it over in her panic. Hearing the bulb break, her fright intensified. Now she had to get to the other lamp or the wall switch. She wasn’t sure she could manage to reach either one; they were both on the other side of the room. Also, she was not alone in the house and she had no idea who was here or what he wanted.
Knowing escape was impossible in her condition, Lydia tried to steady her thoughts. Come on Lydia, think, that’s your strong suit; there must be something you can do. Her eyes were now growing accustomed to the dark and she saw a figure sitting in the armchair. If she could maneuver to the fireplace, she could grab a poker for protection. It dawned on her that if she could see the other person then the other person could see her as well. Why was this person just sitting there?
“Hello?” She received no reply and could not even hear the sound of the other person’s breathing. “Who are you, what do you want?” Again, there was no response.
Lydia lowered herself to the floor and crabbed her way backward to the hearth, the pain threatened to rob her of consciousness once again. Her fingers sought and gripped a poker. If need be she could flail at the other person with this makeshift weapon until help arrived, her strength failed, or her sanity gave way to the madness that was threatening to overtake her.
Again she heard a woman sobbing. It was not coming from the living room but from upstairs. Okay, there were at least two others in the house with her. The one upstairs crying was not her immediate problem, the one in the same room with her was. But which one had pushed her? Jeremy, where are you?
Lydia could see the headlights of Jeremy’s pickup. He’d be in the house in just a minute or two. She had to warn him about the intruder, but how?
He called out from the doorway, “Liddie, honey where are you, why is the house dark?”
“Jeremy, I’m in the living room hurt. There’s an intruder in here, be careful.”
After sitting in the dark so long, the overhead light was blinding to Lydia. She looked over at the chair; it was empty. Jeremy asked who had been here and where they had gone. Shock, pain and relief overwhelmed her. Through tears Lydia managed to recount the events of the day. It was obvious that he was struggling to believe her, until he sat in the armchair. Jeremy told her the seat cushion was still warm. Someone had been sitting in that chair just before he came in.
* * *
Damn, this was getting out of hand. Lydia was supposed to be frightened, not hurt. What was Marlene thinking, sitting there in the living room? What if Liddie had recognized her? Jeremy and Marlene, his business associate, had become lovers last summer. As often as he tried to end the affair, he just couldn’t. He finally got up the nerve and was going to ask Lydia for a divorce when she announced that they were going to become parents.
Feeling trapped, Jeremy was actually torn between his wife, who had been his high school sweetheart, and his amorous colleague. Telling Marlene about Lydia’s pregnancy did not make his dilemma any easier. Marlene claimed that she too was pregnant and it appeared that both babies were due just days apart.
When Lydia had fallen in love with the old, isolated house, Marlene came up with a plan to get rid of Lydia safely and have Jeremy. Most old houses have a history of one kind or another and this one was no different. It had more than its share of misfortunes and untimely deaths. Marlene suggested that she and Jeremy could frighten Lydia and drive her insane.
It was a win-win solution for Marlene; she would be rid of her rival and have the man she loved. Jeremy was not keen on the plan, he had feelings for Lydia and now she was having his baby. On the other hand, he also loved Marlene and their unborn child. If Lydia were locked up, he could have Marlene, both children and get control of Lydia’s inheritance, which was in trust until the birth of her first child. The fund her grandparents created had been accumulating interest since her birth and was now worth approximately thirty million dollars. He agreed to drive Lydia crazy. It was a scenario that gave him everything he wanted with the fewest consequences.
* * *
Jeremy entrusted his wife to the x-ray technicians assuring her he would return as soon as he completed the insurance forms at the admitting desk. Knowing that Lydia was going to be occupied for some time, he dialed a familiar number from the pay phone. Marlene picked up his call before the first ring was completed.
“Jeremy, I’m sorry…” was all she could get out before he launched into a tirade.
“What the devil were you thinking? If Liddie loses the baby our plan is worthless, I won’t get her money.”
“Lydia’s going to lose the baby? What happened?”
“What happened? What did you think a fall down the stairs would do? If we’re lucky all it will be is a broken ankle. What if she’d seen you sitting in that chair? What if the lamp hadn’t broken?” He was furious.
“Jeremy, I’m trying to tell you, I never made it out there today as planned. That’s what I meant when I said I was sorry. The Jeep broke down. The mechanic only received the parts an hour ago it won’t be repaired until morning.” There was fear in her voice. If the house really was haunted, she wouldn’t go within a mile of it now.
“Sit tight, I’ll call you in the morning with an update.” Jeremy hung up.
Finding Lydia in the cast room, Jeremy was in time to hear a technician finish a ghost story about their house. A friendly argument broke out amongst the hospital personnel as to which ghost was currently haunting the property. Half of them claimed the husband who had accidentally caused his pregnant wife to fall to her death, while in fact trying to save her from falling, was haunting it. The others believed the woman who had killed her seven children, her abusive husband and herself when she learned she was pregnant yet again was haunting it.
Apparently there were several spooky tales involving their house and mothers or expectant women. There were also other ghost stories that the staff could have told, but they only related the ones that hit closest to home with their pregnant patient.
One oddly dressed woman, obviously not a hospital member, stood apart from the others. She pointed an accusing finger directly at Jeremy and declared a young pregnant wife haunted the house. Her husband and his mistress drove her insane and ultimately to death in order to get their hands on her vast fortune.
Jeremy’s face turned ashen.
“Jer, what are you looking at? What’s the matter honey, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
The page went out for a Code Blue in the cast room. The crash cart arrived too late, but they tried to resuscitate the patient for several minutes before finally calling it.
* * *
Several years have passed and Lydia still feels a ghostly presence in the house but she is no longer afraid. Nor has she any reason to be.
Jeremy’s penance is to watch over the safety of his son Martin, as well as that of Lydia and her husband Keith, the cardiologist who was on call that fateful night.
Day after day he is forced to endure their happiness and watch a future unfold that could have been his. Jeremy wondered just how long they meant when they told him he was doomed to watch forever.