Lucas stumbled wearily across the night-shrouded lawn, lured by the remnants of what might have once been his soul, towards the little house that waited serenely innocent and unaware of his approach. He heard the muffled voices of children even as he nearly missed tripping over a carelessly dropped bicycle in front of the porch step. He hesitated at the screened door. Emma was in the kitchen.
Even if he hadn’t been hidden by the darkness, she would not have seen him. Her back was to the door and she was busy at the sink, humming as she washed dishes. He could even see a sparkling little bubble that had drifted up and settled in her dark hair. Lucas could have stayed in that position for hours, watching her. He loved her, he hated her, and he could not take his eyes from her. She was wearing faded jeans and a dark red shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. When she sidestepped away from the sink to a cabinet, he saw that she was barefoot. He sighed and she froze. The cup she had been about to put away dropped to the counter and rolled off as she turned to face the door. Her posture was tense and her hands clenched into fists.
Lucas gripped the handle of the boning knife in his left hand a little tighter. No going back now. He sighed again, opened the door, and stepped into the kitchen. She looked him over without a word for nearly a minute. Her eyes fairly snapped with hate and her upper lip curled. He was more than a foot taller than her, but he felt himself shrinking under her defiant stare. He actually found himself edging back towards the door and the safety of the night, but then she spoke and he was trapped.
“Put that damned knife away before the kids see it!”
He offered it to her and she swatted at his hand. “You think I want to touch that? God only knows what diseases are on it! You carry it around like it’s a fucking security blanket and you can’t even wipe off the blood! If you don’t get it out of my sight, it’s going in the trash.”
He dropped it back into the recesses of his coat pocket and waited for her next move. She found the errant cup on the floor and sent it splashing back into the cooling dishwater. She was muttering under her breath, but at least she wasn’t looking at him anymore. He relaxed slightly, and then she came back for round two.
“Don’t you even think about staying here tonight. That damned nosy old Henry saw you leaving here last week. I don’t need the neighbors gossiping about you. What if one of them went to the police? I don’t need that and the kids don’t need that. I swear to god if you pull that knife out again I’m shoving it up your ass!” He yanked his hand away from the knife as if burned. “You are not killing anyone on this property and you are NOT going to touch the neighbors. What you do away from here is not my problem, but the kids and I are not going to move again just because you are a freak. If you can’t leave us alone, you will follow my house rules or I’ll bury you again myself and I’ll have the grave filled with concrete! How long do you think it will take to get yourself out of that one?”
Lucas gestured towards the empty coffee maker on the corner of the counter. She gave a little snort. “Fine! I’ll fix one pot and then you are O-U-T. Understand?” He nodded and slumped down onto a chair while she wasn’t looking. He reached up to remove his mask, but she heard him. “Don’t do it, “she warned him firmly. “The kids are home. David had nightmares last week. If you can’t take care of yourself, then you keep it on. If you’d take a damn shower once in a while it might help a little.” He grunted and she turned to look. His hand was out in offering to her again. A blood congealed mass of something and four smashed, wilted dandelions were in it. Her face wrinkled. “Hearts and flowers do not work on me. That is disgusting. I just cleaned in here and you’re making a mess.” There was a yelp from another room. “Get rid of those!” She hissed. “The kids are coming in!”
He shoved the rejected gift back into his pocket and reluctantly accepted the wet-wipe box she slid across the table at him. A boy of nine ran into the room cradling his elbow and his face scrunched up in anticipation of a sympathy-gaining performance. He stopped suddenly, pain momentarily forgotten, when he saw Lucas. “Hi, Dad. Mom, Cody’s being a butthead. He hit my arm with the remote because it’s my turn to pick a show.” He held up the injury for inspection. The red spot on his elbow was much fainter than the ones Lucas was clumsily wiping from his fingers.
Eleven year old Cody swaggered into the room. He sneered at Lucas, and then dismissed him from his attention. “Mom, you said no TV until homework’s done and little Davey dipwad hasn’t done his yet. I did mine, so why should I let him change the channel on the show I’m watching, which isn’t even over yet and now I’m missing because he’s being a brat?”
Emma rolled her eyes. She pointed at Cody, “No hitting, no name calling, no TV. Consider yourself grounded.” The finger moved to David. “No TV for you either. Homework, now! I do not need this right now. Both of you, move it!”
David sidled up closer to Lucas. “Dad, did you bring us any presents?” Lucas started to reach back into his pocket, but Emma shouted, “No! Go to your rooms! Go! Now!” The boys fled from the kitchen. There was another yelp, then doors slammed and silence returned. Emma plopped a steaming cup of coffee on the table in front of Lucas and resumed her glare while he silently drank.
“You see what I have to deal with here? I do not need you. They do not need you. You are of no help to us. You don’t contribute anything to the household. You can’t be trusted. Since you died, you don’t have the brains of a flea. You are rotting and you reek. You are an embarrassment. I have two children to take care of. I do not need to be worrying about your dead ass, too. Drink your coffee and get out of my house. MY house, get it? Don’t hurry back.” She stomped out of the room.
Lucas sat alone and sipped at his coffee. Blessed relief! She made him long for his plot in Rose Hill, but he was as unwelcome there now as he was here. He had not asked to be brought back to this world. The incantations those witless teens had chanted over his corpse bound him to life and to the woman who had put him in the ground in the first place. Emma had used him, she had slain him, and now she was forever followed by him. That explained her pissy attitude, but he was helpless in her presence, just as he had been before she smilingly handed him that cup of Drano-laced coffee years ago. Having her make him coffee each time before he would leave was the only retaliation he had. He stood and stretched. The knife slid like magic back into his hand, his only friend. Teenagers…he hated them. He hated their laughter, hated their freedom, and hated what they had cursed him to. For the first time that evening, he smiled. It was time to go back out into the night.