The White Lie

The tapping sound came from the bathroom.

She slipped out of bed and made her way in the darkness to the partially closed bathroom door. Pushing gently, she stepped inside. It was dark, and empty. Maybe.

She grabbed her left hand with her right to stop the trembling. She was fine. Dan was lying in bed only a few feet away. But Dan couldn’t protect her from something that had appeared from the other side of the grave. And she knew that’s what this was, even if he didn’t.

People never believed in the supernatural, until they experienced it first hand. She understood that. Still, it hurt that he didn’t give her more respect, after her all these years together. He knew she wasn’t a person to imagine things that weren’t there. She wasn’t hysterical.

She shivered. Even her bones felt cold.

The tapping continued. The pace increased ever-so-slightly. It wasn’t the sound of water plinking. It was the sound of a knuckle against a hollow pipe. A bone without skin or tendons.

When she poured over stories on the internet, she was fascinated by the paranormal, but standing here, barely clothed, always after midnight, always before three a.m., the darkness so profound she couldn’t see her own hands, she was terrified.

The tapping stopped. A moment later, it began again. More slowly this time.

Her lips quivered uncontrollably. She longed to run to the warm bed and Dan’s arms, but she’d done that one time too many. There was no comfort there. Lately, his mocking had a cruel edge to it. The expression on his face had gradually transformed to one of revulsion. His mind was so solidly disbelieving in the possibility of anything post-death, she’d become a freak in his eyes.

She wanted to wake him and force him to hear it for himself. But he would place his hand on her forehead, checking for a fever. He’d launch into a commentary about old pipes and old homes, shifting temperatures, settling earth, and all sorts of scientific nonsense.

If he heard the sound, if he listened, he’d know it was none of those things.

The tapping had stopped again. She waited several minutes, then returned to bed.

In the morning, he asked how she’d slept.

Didn’t wake at all, she said. I feel so refreshed.

Not at all? His face said he didn’t believe her white lie.

Nope. She smiled.

* * *

His wife was a dimwit. There was no other word for it. Before they were married, she’d never mentioned her idiotic beliefs. It should be considered grounds for annulment. She’d mislead him, presented herself as a normal, rational person, and now…every night she was up, creeping around the house.

At first, she’d tried to make him listen to the things she “heard”. A sound here, a noise there. Then, she’d felt something brush against her skin. She insisted the tiny sitting area down the hall from their bedroom had grown suddenly cold, without explanation. A drop in temperature meant the grave was opening up somewhere.

He wanted to laugh. But he was also pissed. And tired of it.

It had to stop, and he’d figured out a way to make that happen. He’d used her own dimwittedness against her.

A tiny recording device, the tap of a chopstick on a lead pipe, and she was up for half the night now. Every night. He saw the dark circles under her eyes, the tremor in her left hand.

How could she allow herself to be so ignorant? She didn’t go in for conspiracy theories or fall prey to conmen. She didn’t lap up sentimental stories, but with this…she couldn’t stop thinking and talking about ghosts. About being haunted, about the murder that had taken place in their house.

It was seventy-five years ago! There wasn’t any ghost coming back to seek whatever the hell it was that Michelle thought it wanted. Out to get her. As if some guy, stabbed forty times by his wife, dead for all this time, had mistaken Michelle for his own murderous wife.

He laughed. The sound of Michelle in the kitchen, making dinner, stopped suddenly. Silence.

After fifteen minutes, he felt a creeping sensation across his upper arms and back. It wasn’t the feeling of something crawling on his skin, more as if something was on the underside of his skin, moving relentlessly up and down. He rubbed vigorously at his arms, but the feeling grew worse. And the silence continued.

“Michelle?”

He heaved himself out of the armchair. She was deliberately quiet, wanting him to feel the same anxiety she did. He laughed softly. The crawling in his skin was still there.

If she was waiting for him to appear in the doorway, manipulating him with her silence, he was going to let her have a piece of his mind.

When he reached the doorway, he stopped suddenly, unable to breathe for a moment.

Michelle was collapsed on the floor, her blonde hair spread out around her head like spilled lemonade. The position of her limbs and the utter stillness of her face told him she was gone. Just like that. It wasn’t a game or a ploy to get him believing in her stories.

He lurched into the room and fell on his knees. Despite the awful position of her body, he leaned his face close to see if he could feel her breath. Nothing. He grabbed her wrist and pressed hard, but there was no flutter of blood moving through her veins.

He sat back hard, his spine jamming against the handle of the cabinet door.

He closed his eyes. A tapping sound came from just behind him. Not his recording. It was much too close. Right beside him, now.

A tapping like bone on metal.

He pressed his fingers into his ears.

Michelle?

Or something else?

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