“Crabgrass,” a new short story by Michael Cole for Haunted Passages

Crabgrass

Diane woke calling out for someone, startled, in the same way that she would occasionally wake with a laugh, or even crying, embarrassed at the sharp blow of emotion dealt from a dream that was already fading. “Hello?” she said, still half asleep, chasing after a specter that had run a cold finger down her spine and sighed in her ear. It was gone, melted into the inky shadows and cornices. Slowly, the fog cleared and she realized that she was sitting up in bed, clutching the comforter. Her husband Glen slept on his back with his fingers laced atop his chest. Diane wanted to burrow in against him. Glen slept warm. For all her years suffering through hot flashes, it was Glen who really struggled to keep cool. Diane slid closer to her husband but was surprised that he wasn’t radiating heat the way he normally did.

She watched him, his chest rising and falling alongside a soft snore. He smelled like lilacs. It wasn’t unpleasant, just different. Still, Diane thought maybe she would run by the store in the morning and buy new fabric softener. There was something about this floral scent that unsettled her. Diane watched Glen a little longer, turned over on her side, and willed herself back to sleep.

In the morning, she made coffee, as she had nearly every morning for the forty-two years that she and Glen had been married. They used to drink it together over breakfast. It was their ritual. Whether they were too tired, or in the middle of a squabble, or running late that morning, it didn’t matter. They always had coffee together. But Diane had eventually developed a tendency for stomach ulcers, so she had to give up caffeine. Now she brewed half a pot and sat with him while he drank his cups.

Diane was rinsing off the dessert plates from the night before when Glen finally came downstairs. It had been her oldest daughter’s fortieth birthday and she’d made a pineapple upside down cake, the sticky bits clinging to the plate. She felt him in the room before she heard him. Diane was intimately familiar with her husband’s presence. He was and always had been a comfort to her but when he walked into the kitchen that morning, it startled her. The plate slipped out of her hand and clattered against the silverware in the sink. His energy hummed like white noise, pushed on her eardrums and prickled the back of her neck. She turned and he was right there, closer than she thought he would be.

“Good morning,” he said and reached for the coffee, the large frame of his body sliding in close to hers. Diane was aware of the size of him in a way that she hadn’t noticed before. For the first time, Diane felt intimidated by his height, his shoulders. The smell of lilacs tickled her nose.

Diane held her breath and pushed away from him, against the sink. She rinsed a dish that was already clean; she gripped it so hard that her knuckles bulged. Her blood pulsed hot in her ears. This man standing to her left, pouring coffee into a mug with a fox on it, was not her husband. He looked just like Glen and he wore the shabby sweater and trousers that she herself had purchased for him years ago, but it was not the same man. Diane kept scrubbing, unsure of what else to do.

The man sat in the same chair that Glen always sat in. He smoothed out the morning paper. “Come sit,” he said.

“Oh,” she said, “I want to get these in the washer. I’m just right here though.” The man smiled and shrugged. She couldn’t keep looking at him—truly couldn’t. There was something maddening in it. Her eyes kept sliding away.

This was how they spent breakfast. Glen ate oatmeal and drank coffee and Diane washed and rewashed the dishes. She watched his reflection in the window above the sink. It was easier, somehow, for her to look at him diluted in the glass. He thumbed through the paper, sipped at his coffee. Finally, he said, “What do you have going on today?”

Diane’s throat was dry and she had to clear it before she could answer. “I need to go to the store for a few things. What about you?”

Glen wiped his mouth with a napkin and stood up. He crossed the kitchen and leaned in to give Diane a kiss on her cheek. She stiffened and the kiss landed awkwardly on her hairline.

“Yard work. Retired life, eh?” he said and patted her on the rear.

Diane held her breath.

With Glen out of the house, Diane felt her shoulders relax. She went into the bathroom and splashed water on her face, studied herself in the mirror. She lingered on her laugh lines and the crepe paper skin around her eyes. She went upstairs to the bedroom and called her children but no one answered. They were probably still sleeping or having breakfast with their own families. She sent them simple text messages—“Called you. Please call when you can.” She hoped to sound urgent but not panicked. She stood at the window and looked down at Glen who was yanking up crabgrass and throwing it onto a pile of raked leaves. She stood to the side so that the curtains blocked most of her body. She didn’t want him to see her, didn’t want him to glance up and find her there.

That’s him—that’s Glen, she thought. But it wasn’t. In some fundamental way that Diane couldn’t fully grasp, that was not her husband out in the yard. The mannerisms were the same; he sounded and looked like Glen, but he was a stranger. She knew it was irrational—especially as someone who thought the fantastic was a waste of time. She had no interest in science fiction; she favored biographies and history. She didn’t jump at shadows or buy into conspiracy theories. She lived in a straightforward world. The biggest fiction of her life was the ten years that she and Glen had pretended to be Santa Claus. Their household, the old Victorian where they had raised all three of their children, had never entertained the tooth fairy or a single monster under the bed.

Diane had no explanation for it, but her husband had been replaced.

In the yard, Glen stopped raking and stared blankly at the fence for a few minutes.

She watched him all day. It made her vision blur, but she kept looking. Just after noon, Glen came back into the house, stripped off his clothes and stepped into the shower. Diane stood at the closed door and listened, one ear pressed against the oak. She heard nothing unusual, but the smell of lilacs rode the steam that crept under the door.

Later, in silence, she made dinner—chicken thighs with thyme and asparagus. Glen stood in the doorway and watched her. She knew he was there, was well aware of the way that his body filled the space. She pretended she hadn’t noticed him. She needed to study him until she could make sense of things. She needed to be able to put into words exactly what was happening.

“Are you feeling all right?” he said.

She made herself look at him; she made herself smile, a quick tightening of the lips that was more of a sneer. “I’m a little tired. I have a headache.”

Glen stepped into the kitchen and Diane stepped back, as though they were attached to opposite ends of a rod. She tried to make it look natural by turning into it. She reached toward the cupboards and pulled down the plates.

“You didn’t wear your glasses at all today like you’re supposed to.” He playfully wagged a finger at her. “You always get a headache when you don’t.”

“That must be it,” she said.

They ate dinner together and Glen made small talk. Diane tried to keep eye contact but she kept looking down at her plate. She only ate a few bites. Glen offered to clean up the kitchen and she let him.

“If it’s fine with you, I think I may just go ahead and lie down,” she said.

“All right.” He turned to toward her as she turned away. “I’m going to stay up and read awhile longer. I hope you feel better.”

Diane changed into her nightgown and crept back out into the hallway. She stood at the landing at the top of the stairs. Glen sat in his easy chair with a dog-eared copy of Ulysses in his lap. Every time he turned a page, he absently licked the pad of his thumb, just like he always did. He adjusted his glasses. Hiding up in the darkness, Diane watched and wondered who he was.

Diane could not fall asleep. She laid on her back, dreading the moment when the man who was not Glen would come to bed. So far, he had not let the façade slip. Whenever Glen came to bed, he would lean over Diane and kiss her forehead. He had done this for forty-two years. When she heard his footsteps coming up the hall, she pinched her eyes closed. The door creaked open and her heart began to pound. Any moment, he would be over her and she worried she might gasp or jerk away. The way he unnerved her and the waiting for that kiss to come, it was too much. Glen quietly undressed, crossed to his side of the bed and climbed in. He rolled over onto his side and, after a few minutes, began to snore.

Diane wasn’t sure which was worse—not wanting the kiss or not getting it.

***

Around one in the morning, Diane had to do something. She eased herself out of the bed slowly, so as not to wake Glen. She dressed in the hallway. She pulled on a pair of tennis shoes and a put a wool jacket over her nightgown. She needed fresh air, so she went out the front door. She walked down the front steps and decided to go just a little further, just past the gate. She kept walking down the block, constantly looking over her shoulder, until she reached the trolley line. It didn’t occur to Diane to be embarrassed, to worry about running into anyone she knew while riding public transportation in her nightgown. In her quiet anguish, Diane looked like any other person wandering the streets in the middle of the night, lost in thought and wringing their hands.

The trolley made stops. People got on and got off. Some were drunk and talked too loud, shouted, laughed, argued. Others were like Diane, lost and out of step with the world. No one saw her, or they pretended not to, sitting both toward the front of the bus and a million miles away. Diane pulled her cell phone from her jacket. She didn’t want to wake her children but she felt like they needed to know what was going on; she thought maybe they could help her make sense of Glen’s disappearance. She called them, the oldest and then the youngest, her two daughters, and finally the middle child, her son. No one answered. Distantly, but still bitterly, she understood. She was old and her children no longer needed her; they had children of their own. And it was the middle of the night.

Diane realized that she wasn’t wearing her wedding ring. The impression in her skin was there but the ring was not. She rubbed at the bare finger, trying to think of the last time she might have taken off her jewelry. She slept with the ring on, showered with it. Sometimes she took it off when she was cooking, but she couldn’t remember.

The trolley pulled up to the city park. During the day, it was filled with people, jogging, playing catch, picnicking. In the dead of night, the park was just a stretch of black punctuated by yellow-orange sodium light. It was huge and empty. A few people got on the trolley, but Diane was the only one to get off. She slid unnoticed between bodies and drifted into the street.

If she could just find a quiet, safe place, Diane could sit and figure out what to do about Glen. She wanted to confront the man asleep in their bed but she was scared to do it alone. She needed proof to back up what she knew—absolutely—to be true. Diane wandered in the dark. When she could no longer see the street, she sat down under the halo of a lamp. The October air chilled her bare calves and she shivered. Once she started shaking, she couldn’t stop. She sobbed into her hands. Behind her, three men stepped out of the dark and onto the lighted path.

***

“Capgras Syndrome,” said Joan. She adjusted her glasses, absently brushed back the white hairs at her temple. The first rays of sunlight were coming over the horizon and everything outside the hospital window was gray. Diane and Glen both sat across the desk from the doctor. Diane turned away from the man who was not her husband, a scratchy blanket around her shoulders. Glen wore trousers and a windbreaker and his sleep-disturbed hair swooped absurdly up the left side. Lilac wafted into Diane’s face and she coughed.

“What’s that now?” Glen asked, leaning forward. He twisted his hands, blinked his drowsy eyes. He kept looking worriedly between Diane and the doctor, but she thought it all seemed like a performance.

Diane wondered if the young men were still outside, if they had maybe waited to make sure she would be all right. One of them had given her his sweatshirt and it hung down to her knees. He would need his sweatshirt back, but she guessed they were probably gone. They had walked her several blocks, making polite conversation. One of them had a baby coming in December and Diane told him about her grandchildren. She thought they were going to go to the police station so that she could make a missing person’s report, file a statement about Glen, something. Instead, they walked her to the hospital. They had assumed she was just a confused little old lady.

“Capgras Syndrome,” the doctor said again. Joan was old, had been old when their children were young. She always made Diane feel young by comparison. Now she felt ancient.

“I’ve never heard of this ‘Crabgrass Syndrome,’” Diane said.

“It’s a rare—but documented—disorder in which a person believes that someone they are close to has been replaced. Sometimes we see it as a complication of diabetes.”

“But Diane isn’t diabetic,” Glen said.

“We don’t know that for sure. She does have a family history,” the doctor said.

“Oh, this is ridiculous,” Diane said. “I just want to speak to the police.”

Joan leveled her gaze at Diane. “Has he threatened you? Did he hurt you?”

“No,” Diane said. There were tears in her eyes. “No, but you have to understand. I’m not losing my mind. I’ve slept next to Glen every night for forty years. I know the way he smells. I know how he thinks. I know him better than I know myself. I was there when his mother died. I bathed him when he had his knee replaced. This man? This is not Glen. I can’t tell you how I know it—I just do. Please, Joan. Don’t you believe me?”

Glen lifted his hands to his face.

“I believe that you’re going through something difficult right now—something that’s hard to understand,” the doctor said.

Diane remembered her bare ring finger.

The doctor continued. “Even if we’re not looking at something like dementia, it could be just simple depression. Glen, you retired recently and Diane is experiencing what she sees as a decreased role in your children’s lives. These are all major life changes. She may just be struggling to find her footing.”

“My ring is gone,” Diane said and held up her hand.

Joan spoke mostly to Glen. “I want to run some more tests. But this early in the day, you’re both going to be looking at more sitting around until we can get specialists in, schedule an MRI, run blood work. Right now, I think it’s important that she rests.”

“Don’t talk about me like I’m not in the goddamned room!” Diane slapped her hand on the desk, and then thrust it toward Glen. “What did you do with my wedding ring?”

“Your—why would I have done anything with your ring? Maybe you took it off before you got in bed last night?” Glen said.

The doctor kept talking, detailing the medications she wanted to prescribe—an antidepressant and a sleeping pill—and memory exercises that Diane could do alone or that they could try together.

“I don’t think I feel comfortable going home with him,” Diane said.

“I don’t see that you have a lot of options, Diane. Would you rather go into a nursing home? I can’t imagine that would be easy on you or the kids. I know that your mind is telling you something different, but this is your husband. My hope is that this fog will pass.”

Finally, she gave up. As she walked out of the hospital out in her tennis shoes and housecoat, Diane felt a quiet spread through the nurses and the caseworkers, even Dr. Joan. She knew what they thought of her, that they were thinking about their parents or their spouses. They pitied her and they felt sorry for the man next to her, the man who was not Glen.

The drive home was mostly silent. Not Glen attempted conversation. Diane refused. When they got into the house, Diane washed down a sleeping pill with tap water. Glen stood in the middle of the kitchen and watched her.

“I’m going to bed,” she said. She wanted to look him in the eye and make it clear she was serious, but she kept having to glance down. “I would appreciate it if you gave me privacy.”

In the bedroom, Diane locked the door and then dumped out her jewelry box. Everything was there except for the wedding ring. She looked behind the nightstand, got down on her hands and knees and looked underneath. She pulled the cases off the pillows and squeezed the fabric in hopes that she’d feel the metal lump inside. She stripped the bed and shook out the sheets, then remade it. The ring was not there. Finally, as darkness pushed in on the sides of her vision, she climbed into the bed and pulled the comforter up past her chin. Her body was spent, sore even, but her mind raced. She knew that everything had changed but she had no idea what to do next, how to work through this. In the back of her mind were the embers of doubt.

Once it took hold, the medication seemed to paralyze her, but it did little to calm her thoughts. She drifted in and out of consciousness without control, as though someone were shoving her down beneath the surface, jerking her up, and then under again. In the moments when she was asleep, she dreamed that Not Glen was crouched at the foot of the bed, only his eyes peeking over the baseboard. Or that his fingertips were in her mouth, probing the backside of her teeth, caressing her cheeks. She kicked at the covers, rolled, and tried to stretch. She slid her hand under his pillow and thought that she touched the bare backside of Not Glen’s knee. She recoiled, repulsed, and came back to herself.

She could tell from the sunlight behind the curtains that it was midafternoon but she couldn’t get out of bed yet, didn’t want to. Downstairs, she heard voices—not words, just timbres. She heard Glen—Not Glen—he probably hadn’t left the house. She heard other voices and strained to listen: her son, his wife, and her oldest daughter. Diane willed herself to get up and go to the door. She could crack it open and listen. She inched her legs toward the edge of the bed.

Sleep swallowed her.

When Diane woke again, the room was dark. The smell of lilacs pushed into her sinuses and filled her mouth. She opened her eyes. His face hovered just above hers. She gasped but couldn’t move. His eyes bore into hers. She couldn’t look at him and she couldn’t look away; a drop into madness stretched out just under her.

Not Glen kissed her on the forehead. He straightened up and walked out of the bedroom, closing the door behind him.    

***

In the morning, Diane felt more like herself. Somewhere in the nearly twenty hours that she’d been in bed, she’d gotten rest. She heard Glen downstairs, could smell coffee. Diane showered. She washed her hair, which she thought smelled a little like lilac. She brushed her teeth and then brushed them again.

She put on slacks, a button-down shirt, and a cardigan. The dismay was still there, still riding steadfast atop the rest of her thoughts, but it felt more manageable. Her ring finger was still bare and Diane poked unsuccessfully around the items on her vanity, hoping that it might show up. She knew that she had to go down and face him; she even dimly hoped that under the light of a new day she would see that it had all been a mistake, that everything was fine.

Diane descended the stairs. When she walked into the kitchen, Not Glen looked up and her heart sank. It was still him, the doppelganger, picture perfect, wearing Glen’s clothes, right down to his socks. It was not her husband.

“Oh, good. You’re dressed,” he said with a smile. “I was hoping to take you somewhere if you feel up for it. Can I make you breakfast first? Are you hungry?”

“No, thank you,” Diane said. She hadn’t eaten in over a day but she wasn’t hungry. In fact, looking at him, she was a little nauseous. “And where is it that you want to go?”

“You’ll see,” he said and winked at her. It was just like Glen would have done it.

***

He drove along the highway that led out of the city. He fumbled with the CD player and put on music that they both liked, songs that were part of their shared history. Diane was stoic. He turned the music off. He made small talk. “Remember when—” he would begin and launch into an anecdote.

“Oh. Yes. I remember,” Diane might say but that was all. The smell of lilacs was thick in the car, so she rolled down her window. The rushing air muted his voice.

Eventually, Not Glen pulled into a state park. It was a cool morning in the middle of the week and theirs was the only car in the lot. He turned off the ignition and looked at her.

“You ready?” he asked. Diane got out of the car.

Diane knew the path but Not Glen led them through the sounds of nature, trilling birdsong and the gurgle of nearby water. They crossed into the trees, a wall of brilliant reds and yellows made by dying leaves. For half the year, the park would be full of hikers, but Diane thought that it was the most beautiful in autumn. He led her up a dirt path, worn into the ground by years of footfalls. Latticed tree roots made a staircase. They walked on and up until they came to a rocky ridge overlooking a waterfall. The morning sunlight caught in the spray and sent rainbows arcing through the empty air.

“You know where we are?” Not Glen said.

Diane’s eyes watered. “This is where my husband proposed to me,” she said. “Forty-three years ago.” She knew the waterfall well. They had hiked to it on their first official date in college when Glen had wanted to show her his favorite childhood spot. They brought a picnic lunch, peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Months later, he brought her back to ask her to marry him. His hands were slick with sweat and they shook so bad that he dropped the bottle of champagne, and nearly lost her ring over the outcrop where it would have tumbled, lost forever, all the way down to the rocks and clear water below. In the years since, they had returned to the waterfall many times. They brought their children at every stage of their lives, as reckless toddlers and moody teenagers. They brought their grandchildren. This waterfall was, as she made sure her children knew, where Diane would one day want her ashes to be scattered. This was the place where Diane had eagerly accepted Glen’s proposal. She had been ready to build a life with this man who charmed her, loved her, protected her.

He watched as tears slid down her cheeks and caught in the creases around her mouth. He turned to look out over the water. Diane was only aware that she was going to do it right before it happened, but then she felt her palms on his back, against the broad, flat expanse between his shoulder blades. He pitched forward over the ledge. He didn’t yell. He didn’t make any kind of sound. There wasn’t time. Diane peered over to the rocks below. Not Glen was on his stomach. His neck was bent. Blood swirled in the water.

Diane went back down the path alone. She pushed forward numbly, not even hearing the the sounds of the woods around her. She got into the car, backed out of the space, and sped out of the lot. Diane felt like she was home almost immediately, as if she hadn’t been in the car at all.

When she walked into the kitchen, the smell of lilacs overpowered her. She gagged and slapped a hand over her mouth. Diane barely made it to the sink before her body convulsed—once, twice—and she vomited neon stomach acid into the basin. Her eyes stung. She felt her stomach rise again and she retched one last time. There was a clang in the sink, metal against porcelain. There, glinting in the bile, was her wedding ring. Diane scrubbed it with dish soap and put it back on her hand.

She trudged up the stairs to her bedroom. Still in her clothes, Diane rolled into the bed and gathered the covers around her. Her shoes were covered in bits of dried leaves and dirt but she didn’t take them off. Wherever he was, Diane mourned for her husband, the real Glen. She cried into her pillow until she fell asleep.

***

When she opened her eyes, she was surprised to find that it was morning and she no longer wore her clothes from the day before. She was in her nightgown. Her hair was pulled back. She didn’t remember getting up in the night to change. Diane threw back the covers, looked for the dirt. There was nothing. She leaned over the side of the bed and looked for her clothes, her slacks and cardigan. The floor was bare. She crossed the room and pulled open the closet door. Her clothes were hung neatly, the shoes arranged against the baseboard.

Diane smelled coffee and lilacs.

She threw open the door and ran down the stairs. The man who was not Glen sat at the table, a mug in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

“No!” she yelled.

He jerked and spilled coffee. “Jesus Christ, Diane! You startled me! What’s wrong?”

She pointed a finger at him. “You—I—the waterfall—”

“What about the waterfall? Good god, what is it now, Diane?”

“I pushed you! You went over the side and broke your neck! I saw your body!”

Not Glen threw down the newspaper. “Damn it, Diane. We went to the waterfall, you barely spoke to me, and then we came home! That’s it! You ate toast for dinner and then you took one of your pills and went to bed!”

“My ring!” she said and held up her hand. The band was still on her finger.

“Enough, Diane. You’re scaring me. I’m calling Dr. Joan.” Glen stomped out the kitchen, leaving Diane by herself. She heard him talking in the other room. She replayed it in her mind and tried to seize on anything that could anchor her. She remembered exactly how it felt, her hands against the vinyl of his jacket, the blood whorls in the clear water. She remembered the taste of her sick when she spat up the ring.

She ran back up to the bedroom and slammed the door shut.

The day wore on and Diane hid. She rocked back and forth on the floor and tried to tell herself that she was right, that every memory she had was real. A square of sunlight came through the window and crept across the floor towards her. It climbed her body and then disappeared up into darkness. She heard voices—some hushed, some urgent.

The sunlight was entirely gone and shadows had taken the room when he tapped on the door. “Diane?” he said. “Will you come out? Everyone is here. They want to see you.”

Resigned, she dressed. She knew that he could hear her moving around. She imagined what she must look like, her swollen eyes and unkempt hair. She opened the door and he stepped aside. She descended into the main of the house. Her children and her grandchildren were in the living room. Some stood, some sat, but they all watched her intently. The lights were dim, from lamps and candles. Everyone held something but Diane couldn’t see what. A lone kitchen chair sat in the center of the room and Diane knew that it was for her. She sat down and looked at her family.

There was Leah, her eldest, seated on one end of the loveseat, and her two teenage daughters, Bea and Tonia, stood behind her. Theo, Diane’s son, sat at the opposite end of the loveseat. His wife Linda was at his elbow, sitting against the arm of the couch. She held their youngest child, Emma, in her arms. The twins, Jack and Thomas, sat on the floor at their feet. Diane and Glen’s youngest daughter, Kira, stood back and to the side. Everyone was dressed nicely, as though they were finally going to take the family picture Diane had been talking about for years. Even the little twins, who were always moving, always stained with food, sat clean and quiet, their hair combed smartly. Glen wore a suit, Diane noted, but it wasn’t one that she remembered buying for him. No one spoke.

Diane breathed through her mouth, that damned lilac smell pressing in on her face.

“I know what this is,” she finally said. “You’re going to put me in a home. Poor old Mom has finally lost it.” She raised her hands, pleading. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she said and her voice cracked. “I just can’t make any sense of it. I’m so sorry. Oh, I’m so sorry.”

She began to cry. They watched her.

“Glen,” she said. “I’ve been so awful. How could you forgive me?”

“There, there,” he said. He stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. She tried not to flinch. “You tried so hard.”

Diane looked up into his face but couldn’t maintain it. “What do you mean?” she asked.

Everyone lifted what they were holding. Now that her eyes had adjusted, she saw the simple horn shape, like the cornucopia centerpiece that she put out every Thanksgiving. Each person had one, even Not Glen, even baby Emma.

Diane shrugged off his hand and he stepped back.

“You fought it so hard, but it’s time to rest now,” he said. Everyone raised their horns to their lips.

“What are you doing?” she asked. Horrified, Diane saw that the horns looked like they were made from skin of different shades. Some even seemed to have scattered patches of hair. The seams were red with what looked like dried blood.

Each of the people that Diane loved blew into their horns. The sound they made wasn’t musical; it was the thin and reedy sound of air passing over something old and dry. It terrified Diane, sent her vision sliding sideways. She stood jerkily and knocked over her chair.

“Stop,” she said, a moan. “Stop that!”

Something fluttered along her left shin. She reached down to knock it away, but there was nothing. Her family blew again into their horns and Diane felt a tingling in her gut. Her feet went numb. She felt light, as though she were lifting off the ground. She tried to look down but her head rolled backward.

“Stop. Please.” She tried to yell but her throat only allowed a sigh.

It was the most curious thing, she thought distantly, the feeling of that energy—whatever it was that made her—leaving her body. There was no pain, just the weightless pulsing sensation of her soul unsnapping from her physical body. She tried to move her legs but nothing happened. They gave one final push of breath through those awful horns, and Diane came loose. Somehow, she could still see; she twisted around to look at the crown of her head as she floated just above it. The breath through the horns carried her, pushed her spirit up towards the corner of the room.

They lowered the horns. She realized that they were all like Not Glen, all impostors—how could she not have noticed it earlier? They looked up at her, a wisp of something that was not quite smoke, as she quivered across the ceiling. She saw her body also turn and look up, animated by something that gazed at her with raw cruelty. Diane wanted to speak, beg, scream, but it was impossible. She tried to reach out and put herself back in her body, but she had no control. Glen’s body stepped up next to hers as her soul sifted through the plaster of the ceiling. She snagged a little on the joists and drywall but then she was free again, floating through her bedroom.

Diane flowed right out through her window and into the night sky. She saw her house below, saw the flickering candlelight inside. As she drifted higher above the city, she saw other spirits, quicksilver mist riding the breeze, slipping away from other houses. A gust of wind caught her, sent her spiraling up and, as hard as she tried to hold them together, scattered all of her pieces until she was gone.

Michael Cole is a writer and teacher living in Wichita, Kansas. He has an MA in literature and an MFA in creative writing from Wichita State. He is also one of the co-authors of the graphic novels The Cardboard Kingdom and The Cardboard Kingdom II: Roar of the Beast. He can be found on Instagram @Michael.Cole54 or at home, trying to write when his dogs allow.

Image: atlasobscura.com

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