The Haunting at 9 Woodland Close - Chap 3
Once Addie was finally asleep, I started in on the whiskey. Hard. I sat at the kitchen table with my laptop and I began to google my wife’s name, Clara Michaels, and when that turned up nothing, I searched her maiden name, Clara Smith. Sounds made up, right? It’s her real name, though. Well, it was, before we were married.
There’s a million Clara Smiths out there, of course, and my wife doesn’t have social media, so after four glasses of liquor and a lot of swearing, I gave up. No search results from the media yet, mercifully, but that time is soon to end.
After I bit of poking around, I found the paranormal forum that Clara showed me, the one with photographs of our house on it. The photos had been posted by an almost brand-new account with the username nina_sayers69. There was just one other comment from the account posted on a thread about a quadruple murder in Albany, a father who had claimed that his wife was possessed by the devil and had murdered her and their three children. nina_sayers69 had simply written “lol”. Stellar contribution. I read through the replies on the thread about our house and there were ones from a couple of the dumb teenagers who had knocked on our door that time. God, maybe some weirdo hanging around our house grabbed Clara or something.
Another thought occurred to me, though.
Maybe this is all Clara.
Whiskey-soaked paranoia flooded my mind. Clara’s fucking with me. Gotta be. I don’t know how, but she’s doing this, somehow. Hired Gigi. Made this post. She’s hanging around the house to toy with me. I would never have thought her capable of something like this, but there’s no other explanation. Fuck. just look at Kristina. Should have known. What the hell do I do?
My phone began to ring. It was my mother’s number. Ah, shit. The news must have broken. As soon as the call rang out, the phone started to ring again; this time it was my friend Ross. I switched the phone off and put my head in my hands. I stared at my reflection in the dark window that overlooked the front lawn for a long, lonely moment.
My reflection moved.
I jumped in fright, taking a moment to understand what I was seeing. It wasn’t a reflection, it was a face, a face on the outside of the glass, and not just any face; it was a woman’s face, pale and hollow-cheeked, framed with messy, dark hair. I saw it for a flash before she turned and disappeared.
“Clara!”, I shouted. I knocked over my chair drunkenly as I leapt to my feet and began to run after her. I flew through the yard and followed my wife as she ran towards the forest, once again disappearing into the trees, but this time I was determined not to lose her.
“Clara!” I yelled out again, but she didn’t turn around.
I crashed through the trees, the pale ghostlike figure of my wife flickering in the darkness ahead of me like a flame, lighter and lighter, until she disappeared.
“Clara!”, I screamed, as loudly as I could, my lungs burning with the effort. My foot caught on something and I was sent sprawling to roll down an embankment, where I laid in the mud and leaves, breathing heavily.
God damn it. I’d lost her. I couldn’t even call the police, could I? Oh, hi, Ricardo, Daniels? I know you think I’ve beaten, chased and possibly even disposed of my wife, but funny thing. She’s actually hanging out in the woods, or sometimes the attic, and occasionally standing in the garden, staring through the windows, but she’s run away again, and no, I can’t find her. But trust me, she’s out there, the lovable scamp!
I sat up gingerly, brushing myself down, when I heard it. Footsteps, soft and slow. I peered back up towards the path and spotted her. She appeared to glow in the moonlight that fell through the gaps in the canopy, illuminating her pale skin and white dress. I wondered where she’d gotten the change of clothes from. She couldn’t see me. I wanted to shout out to her, but I was worried that she would run again, and I was curious to see what she was doing out here, so I watched her in silence.
Clara was walking along as though she had not a care in the world, and something struck me as odd about her movement. My wife has a distinct, awkward, sort of pigeon-toed walk. It’s subtle, and it’s endearing. I realized that this woman’s gait was different; confident, upright, sure-footed. Almost mechanical. Clara just doesn’t move like that. Does she? I squinted at her in the darkness. It might have been my imagination, too, but I felt sure that this person was a bit taller than my wife. Maybe.
The woman suddenly stopped and looked around, and I felt a burst of fear. Watching her gave me an eerie, sick feeling, a deep primal instinct telling me that something was amiss, that nausea you get when a doll looks too close to a real human. This was not Clara. It just wasn’t.
I thought about those legends you hear, the evil spirit who takes on a human form and tricks you into inviting it into your home, and I shivered.
Stop it. You’re being ridiculous.
The stranger, the Clara-thing came closer, looking around. What the hell was she doing? I was frozen, terrified that the slightest move would alert her to my presence.
God, what was that?
Eventually, the stranger walked away, and I waited for a long time in silence before I made my way back to the path. I began to walk home when I heard a crashing and a sort of slapping sound from behind me. It took me a second to realize that it was the sound of a person running, their bare feet hitting the ground at speed.
I swore and began to run too, my legs pumping as fast as I could will them to. I could see the light of my street ahead and I didn’t dare to look behind me as I emerged from the trees. I slammed my way into the house, locking the door behind me. I thought about calling the police again, but what exactly was there to say? My wife’s evil doppelganger just chased me through the woods?
No, thanks. I’d rather not.
My eyes came to rest on the whiskey bottle that I’d left on the table, and I took it upstairs with me.
I woke up on the floor of Addie’s bedroom tangled in a sleeping bag, her little bottle in my hand. I had no memory of the 2am feed, but obviously I’d done it. The whiskey bottle, now empty, lay underneath the cot. One for her, one for me. From where I laid, I could see one of Addie’s little feet poking through the bars of her cot, her perfect little toes, pink and round as tiny seashells. My head throbbed and every movement felt like a knitting needle being twisted in my temple, my mouth dry and rancid. I looked around for my phone, but I couldn’t find it.
I became aware of a pounding. Not the pounding in my head, but a different kind. Someone was pounding on the door. Had been for a while, I suspected.
I stumbled downstairs, smelling of whiskey and stale sweat. I was still covered in dirt from my little foray into the forest. I wrenched the door open and was greeted by my two favorite police officers.
“John”, Ricardo said. He took a long look at me. “We’ve been trying to call you”.
“I can’t find my phone”, I said in a strangled voice, shading my eyes from the sun.
“Is that it there?”, Daniels asked, peering around me. He pointed. I turned to see my phone on the dining table, exactly where I had left it last night. It was right next to my laptop and my near-empty whiskey glass. The chair I had knocked to the floor was still lying on its side.
“Oh. Yeah”, I mumbled. “Bit of a rough night”.
“John”, Ricardo said. I turned back to face him. “John, we’ve found her”.
The words hit me like a freight train. My mouth dropped open.
“We’ve found Clara”.
The two police officers offered me a ride to the hospital where Clara was, and I accepted gratefully. I probably would have blown over the limit had I drove. I strapped Addie to my chest, and we all headed in together. I was relieved, so relieved, but also alarmed to confirm that the strange person I had seen last night had definitely not been my wife. It gave me a slimy, disturbed feeling, which I tried to ignore.
“They found her late last night and flew her in early this morning. She was in Franklin”, Daniels told me on the drive, his blue eyes crinkling as he smiled at me in the rear-view mirror. Let me tell you, the cops are much friendlier when they know you’re not the next Scott Peterson.
I wasn’t sure I heard him right. “Franklin? But that’s-”
“Yep. Over a thousand miles away”, Daniels said, looking somewhat impressed. “Hell of a hitchhiker, your wife. She’s lucky she didn’t come across any freaks out there. Just a trucker who took a liking to her until he realized who she was and took her to the nearest hospital”.
“Jesus”, I said.
At the mental health unit, the nurses insisted on taking Addie so that Clara and I could be alone. It was sort of a funny thing to say, because they made me wait at the nurses’ station and brought Clara out from her room to see me. I could feel the awkwardness of a space full of people who are pretending not to stare at you, including the nurse who had walked Clara from her room, standing only a few feet away.
Clara’s lip wobbled as she walked up to me and I brought her close, holding her against my chest as she cried.
“I’m sorry”, she managed to say. I felt her convulse against me as she began sobbing, and I rested my chin on top of her head.
“It’s okay, baby”, I told her. “Hey, look, Addie’s here. Do you want to say hello?”.
I felt Clara’s body move as she turned to look at our daughter. She was in the nurses station, being fussed over by a couple of the staff.
“Why did you bring her here?”, she asked. Her voice was different. Flat. I noticed the nurse behind Clara take a step forward.
“She’s missed her Mommy”, I said. “We’ve both missed you”.
“WHY DID YOU BRING HER HERE, JOHN?”, Clara screamed, slamming her fists against my chest. “GET HER AWAY FROM ME! GET HER AWAY FROM ME! I DON’T WANT HER NEAR ME!”.
The nurse behind Clara gestured to someone behind me, and within seconds, there were four nurses on Clara. They pulled her off me and attempted to calm her. It didn’t work. “GET HER AWAY FROM ME! GET HER THE FUCK OUT OF HERE! I DON’T WANT TO SEE THAT FUCKING THING AGAIN, JOHN!”. Clara screamed, spit flying from her mouth as she thrashed wildly. I stared at her as the nurses dragged her down the hall, and she stared back at me, screaming the whole time.
Someone touched my shoulder and I jumped about a mile. It was the nurse holding Addie.
“Come with me”, she said, and led me back to the entrance of the hospital. When we were at the doors, she spoke again. “John, maybe you could go home and get some clothing for Clara so she has some familiar things to wear. That would help her, and it might give her some time to calm down”, she said in a gentle voice as I took back Addie.
I nodded. I knew it was a pointless task to get rid of me and make me feel useful, but I appreciated the thought.
Out in the car park, I could still hear Clara’s screams.