1 Home Sweet Home

As the sun went down, groups of teenagers wearing colorful Bermuda shorts and rock band t-shirts while holding brand-new smartphones were strolling around King Street in Westminster, Denver. They were on holiday for more than a month now, and the ones that had not already left for vacation were passing their time gathering in the local parks, sitting on benches or the grass, listening to music, and telling dirty jokes when they were not busy flexing their new purchases or playfully insulting each other.

Anna walked amongst them, feeling a bit jealous of their carefreeness and she caught herself briefly recalling her years in high school and even later in college, spending endless hours with her friends and older brother in every hot spot in the city, taking road trips and drinking till they woke up in their vomit. And all that while working part-time jobs and changing boyfriends almost every other week. Back then, she felt she had all the time in the world; nobody could stop Anna Brite from her world conquest. A few years later, already married, and with a career that just recently began to feel just a bit promising, Anna already felt older than her twenty-nine years of age.

Getting in the house, she threw her bag on the couch, nodding to Andrew -her husband- who was sitting in his gaming chair with headphones on, dived deep in his usual gaming habits. The young woman paid little attention to him and instead walked to the bathroom and wiped her makeup off before taking a hot shower. Despite the summer heat, it was one of the very few things that could calm her down, especially after a ten-hour shift at work. While drying her hair with a towel, Anna checked her watch and adjusted the alarm to go off after one hour. The clean bedsheets welcomed her naked body as she threw herself on them while the summer breeze traveled through the bedroom window slots and gave her soft skin goosebumps. Anna didn't even notice it, as she fell asleep in a matter of seconds.

Andrew was working his way to an enemy base, coordinating his Wicked Rivalry squad. They were trying to overturn the humiliating five to zero score they were suffering at the moment, with Andrew barking orders at them and hitting the WASD buttons on his keyboard in quick succession. The night was hot, or perhaps it was the adrenaline from all the shouting and fighting; whatever the case, Andrew noticed he was sweating. Thankfully, the same breeze that had Anna instinctively wrap herself up with the covers while asleep provided Andrew the refreshing effect he currently needed to continue his virtual war.

Round after round, his Chromatic Squad managed to wipe the floor with their enemies' pride, making Andrew and the others have a constructive debate on the success of the new tactics they followed to overturn the previous odds. Pressing the AFK message on the team chat, he stood up to stretch his legs. Realizing his bladder was about to explode, Andrew headed to the bathroom, passing by the bedroom and checking on his sleeping wife. Anna was sleeping peacefully, hugging the pillow next to her. Maybe she thought it was him she was hugging, Andrew told himself, but quickly pulled himself back to reality. He very well knew that Anna had little room in her heart for him these days. The aftermath of his violent outbursts, which the doctors blamed on his chronic drug addiction to certain substances, deeply scarred an otherwise calm and loving relationship. After four years of tolerating her husband's careless handling of his situation, Anna finally snapped. One day she packed her things and went to her mother's house, where she stayed for a couple of weeks. Andrew begged and promised her the moon and the stars if she went back to him, and finally, as in the heart of every woman that is still in love, she trusted his words. Andrew was fully aware of his weakness and inability to make good of his word to her. Even when she found comfort in a stranger's arms the last time, he raised his hand on her, Andrew didn't say a word. He silently accepted it out of fear of losing her for good, no matter how much his rage was boiling deep inside. After everything that happened, there was no way the young man could blame her for it. He had failed this marriage long before she did.

The house was quiet tonight. Andrew washed his hands and grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator before going back to his match. Walking into the living room, a strange feeling slowly grew in him. An uneasiness, subtle at first but steadily increasing, crawled its way into his throat. Andrew opened the bottle of water and took a generous sip before placing it next to the monitor. He couldn't stop thinking that the room suddenly seemed darker; even the absence of sound was more profound than usual. It felt as if there was something under this veil of silence. Something that was faintly buzzing. Andrew looked around. The monitor was barely lighting the room, but a slight, almost invisible movement behind the curtains startled him, making him hold his breath for a moment. He wiped his glasses with his sleeve and narrowed his eyes in an attempt to see what was there.

"Blackguard, do you copy?" the voice coming from the headphones on the desk broke the silence. Andrew almost jumped to the ceiling.

Allowing himself to breathe, he concentrated on the curtains again. Smiling with his daydreaming abilities, he decided that nothing abnormal was nesting in the room, realizing that this was due to change if he kept skipping cleaning day. The pile of trash crawling out of the bin next to his feet was evidence enough after all. Andrew was processing the idea of him having a mini-stroke when his friends called him in the chat again and ended up telling himself he would not allow his team to face the perils of battle alone, especially for something petty as brain-cell death. Andrew put his ass on the chair and grabbed the headphones. At that moment, his eyes met his PC casing's glass, mirroring something that was standing right behind him. Before he had the chance to turn his head, a pair of hands snatched him from the mouth and neck, squeezing him to the point of fainting.

The first thing Andrew noticed upon waking up was the "No connection" message on the monitor. Heavily breathing, he jerked back and looked around fearfully. Putting his hand on the desk, he tried standing, realizing his feet were numb, most probably from being still for some time now. His mind was trying to process what had happened before losing consciousness; his thoughts floating scattered all over the place, inconsistent and broken. Deep confusion blend with smoldering silence, and the feeling someone was in the room engulfed his heart; a menacing, intimidating presence, something out of his childhood memories, frightening and disastrous.

A whisper, subtle as silk, filled the place, its source vague and uncertain.

"Where is Anna?" came the whisper. It seemed to Andrew as if it echoed in the room and traveled along its edges. He looked around, thinking he imagined it.

"Where is your wife?" the whisper traveled to the man’s ears again. With the voice being clear as his thoughts, Andrew couldn't deny that he heard it. He blinked his eyes and squeezed the back of his hand to make sure he wasn't dreaming. Something in this situation felt unreal.

He felt staggered. The room seemed small; his breathing became quick and brisk. Boiling fear pumped through his veins making his heart race and his knees weak. Putting some effort into it, Andrew managed to stand straight. Lying still, uncertain of what was happening, he had to muster all his courage to avoid having a panic attack. After realizing that the room’s light switch didn't work, he paced to the bedroom shouting Anna's name, holding the walls to avoid collapsing. Andrew found himself standing at the doorway looking at the empty bed, which only pushed his distress to its limits. Screaming his wife's name repeatedly, he started searching everywhere for any sign of her. The thought of her leaving again tore Andrew apart; this time, it was a given that he would not be able to handle it.

Opening the kitchen door, he tried the light switch. The bulb shined for a split second, then burst to send small pieces of glass everywhere. In this brief moment, Andrew noted that the whole room was out of place, like something terrible and far beyond his wildest imagination had happened in there.

"Come closer. You are almost there."

The voice sounded from somewhere on the floor, as Andrew realized with fear and denial raging through his whole essence. He carefully put his hand on the counter at his side and reached for a small flashlight he always kept there for emergencies. He tried controlling his breathing, hoping his pulse would slow down and calm his heart which seemed ready to escape his chest. He pressed the button, and the flashlight turned on.

Andrew pointed it to the floor, which seemed dirty, with stains of food and flies taking over parts of it, feasting on the leftovers. A decaying smell was filling the air. Taking a closer look, Andrew noticed that there was something else, a small line of thick, black goo along with the food stains. The smell was more apparent as he approached it, following the black line to the corner. As if someone carefully placed it there, the young man discovered a small wooden box. He got closer to it, tears gathering in his eyes.

"See? She's right where you left her. Untouched and undefiled," the whisper came again, bitter with a touch of sarcasm. This time Andrew located it in the hall that led to the kitchen and went with a shuffling sound like old rags dragging on the floor.

He lifted the small box and turned to face the kitchen door. The buzzing sound he heard earlier was there to greet him most disturbingly. A thing that looked like it escaped his drug addiction era nightmares was standing at the doorway. With its long hair covering most of its face, it was peering at him. Its skinny arms ended in sharp-looking claws. Its decaying flesh looked charred. Staring at it, Andrew noticed a ghostly aura emitting from the thing, giving it a slightly transparent texture. The creature put its hands on the doorframe, blocking Andrew's way out. On its wrist, Anna's watch was buzzing; Andrew found it painful to hear. The creature's mouth was drooling, revealing a set of razor-like, yellow teeth.

The young man put his shaking hand on the box and carefully opened it. Tears filled his eyes; his lips started trembling. A sob found its way on his throat. The creature gave him an aversive look and took a step forward. Anna's photograph in the small box laid soaking with her blood.

"P-Please, forgive me," he stuttered, his words vanishing into the relentless hate of his wife's spectral reincarnation.

As the shadow of what Anna used to be was devouring her late husband’s remains, a woman, old as time itself walked in the dreadful scene and put her hand on the creature’s head. It slowly turned and looked at the woman, chewing and spitting little chunks of flesh on her ragged clothes, eyes full of hate and distaste. Upon facing the woman’s gentle smile, the creature cooed in content and then went back to its meal.

“Everything will be alright, child. A new purpose is bestowed to you now,” the woman said, her voice identical to the whispers Andrew heard earlier. With a slight move of her hand, the window shutters closed and the front door locked; darkness engulfed the house that once used to be the promise of happy beginnings.

From that day forward, nobody would come close to the house again. After the district attorney ordered the Police to seal it, various stories erupted, with every narrator adding their own version of what unfolded in it. This kept people away for years to come, and the whole thing became more of an urban legend than an actual event, with not a soul alive to this day truly aware of the truth that lurked behind the myth. As for Anna, her hatred for mankind would only grow stronger in time, since whatever remained of her sanity would never be enough to alter her cursed existence. Or so she thought.

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