It started out innocently enough. What can I say? I was curious. Swipe, match, chat. Tap-tap-tap ding! You have a date with a beautiful woman. This method of finding a soulmate did not exist in my youth, but things are different now. If my life taught me anything, it is that you have to keep moving.
Much time has passed since I was last with a woman. Ever since— Well. I do not wish to dwell upon that nightmare. It is over and done. Nothing I do will ever change it.
It took me many a long, lonely night to accept that.
Abigail caught my eye right away. You might not understand. Brown hair, brown eyes, friendly smile. You might have swiped left. I imagine many men would. I swiped right.
She did, as well. The words “hey there” appeared.
I wasn’t quite certain what she meant. I hesitated over my reply. Finally, I answered, “Hello. Would you care to meet for coffee?”
Coffee, I gather, is a very common courtship ritual.
Abigail is delightful. My every dream come true. Coffee gave way to dinner at a little place on the North Shore, with Lake Michigan in view. Not far, in fact, from where I’d run out of hope on that long-ago night. The atmosphere was dim, candles flickering on the tables. I fought the urge to run. Perhaps, I told myself, fire is a good omen.
I took to lighting a candle before each encounter with my Abigail. The flames calmed me. Strange, considering my history. But perhaps that was the key—in sparking fire on my own terms, I faced my worst enemy.
Abigail enjoyed my company, though she teased me about my old-fashioned ways. Did I fall too hard, too quickly? Perhaps. But I did not care—she was the one. Would she want me, too, if she knew everything? Doubtful. That, however, was a problem easily remedied.
I did not tell her.
We dated all summer and into the autumn. As October gave way to icy November winds gusting over the frozen lake, our relationship faltered. My calls went to voicemail. Replies to my texts took hours, sometimes days. And then, no answer at all.
I had been ghosted.
I might have laughed at that. Instead I sat on the floor surrounded by a dozen lit candles and watched them burn.
I presented myself at Abigail’s door.
Her residence was a squat South Side apartment, not far from the stockyards where cattle had once been slaughtered. The building was a blighted affair, with graffiti on its bricks and broken panes in its windows. I stepped over a hypodermic needle and glowered at a snarling dog on my way to her door. These things cheered me. Surely, Abigail would be happy to escape such a dismal place.
With a box of chocolates in hand—Abigail could not resist chocolate!—I knocked on the door.
“Henry.” She was not, I intuited, happy to see me.
“Are you well, Abigail?”
She nodded tersely. “I’m fine.”
“Ah.” I offered a quick smile. “I had wondered, when you did not reply to my texts. Or return my calls.”
“Um…about that. Look, I—”
“May I come in? Just for a moment?”
“I don’t know…”
“Please. Even if this is the last time we meet.” I held out the confections I had purchased in a Michigan Avenue boutique at a cost that would cause you to cringe. “For you,” I told her.
Her eyes widened at the imprint on the box. “These must have cost a fortune!”
“You are well worth it.”
She hesitated, then said, “All right. Come in. Just for a few minutes, though.”
“Just for a few minutes,” I echoed.
I followed her into a room crammed with cardboard boxes, half-filled with clothing and books. “What is this? You are moving?”
“I do owe you an explanation.” She fiddled with the bow on the chocolates, then pulled it off entirely. “Um…yes. I shouldn’t have—” Her breath left her in a rush. “I should’ve told you that I’m…married.”
Her confession hit me like a blow. “Married?”
She sank down onto the sofa, my gift on her lap. She opened the box and stared at the neat rows of chocolates. “Yeah. Married. But…we were having problems. I moved out.”
I sat down beside her. “Your profile said you were single.”
“I lied. I’m sorry. I was…trying to shock my husband.” Her smile was rueful. “It worked. He’s agreed to see a counselor. I’m going home and we’re going to try to save our marriage.”
“I—I don’t know what to say.”
“I…I’m so sorry I led you on. You’re a really nice guy. You’ll find someone special. I know you will.”
She didn’t know I had already searched for years. Decades. I was done searching.
“Can you ever forgive me?” she asked.
“I—there is nothing to forgive,” I said carefully. “It is true, I had hoped—well. You must, of course, do as you see fit.”
As must I, I added silently. As must I.
“I wish you all the best for the future,” I said. That, at least, was not a lie.
Relief sagged her shoulders. “Thank you for being so understanding.” She tried to press the box of chocolates into my hands. “Here. I shouldn’t keep these.”
“Nonsense. They are yours, regardless.” I sketched a smile. “Try one, please. I know you wish to.”
She chuckled. “We didn’t date for long, but you’ve must have been paying attention the whole time. Chocolate’s my downfall. But…you first.”
I chose a square at random and popped it into my mouth. I tracked Abigail’s slender fingers as she made her own selection. A dark, luscious caramel studded with sea salt. I focused on her lips as they closed around it. At her jaw as she chewed.
I’d chosen a powerful poison. On Abigail, it worked almost instantly. On myself, of course, the substance had no effect.
Her beautiful eyes went wide. Her mouth opened. She tried to speak; she could not.
Her body crumpled to the floor. I stood, beset by sudden doubt. Would my plan work? What would I do if it did not?
I need not have worried. Scant moments later, a wisp of white rose from Abigail’s corpse. The specter turned toward me. Her ghostly eyes were even more beautiful in death than they had been in life.
How well I recognized the panic, the incredulity, the sheer horror on her face! I had felt all those emotions, and more, on the harrowing night the fire caught me. How long ago? I did the calculation in my head. Nearly one hundred and fifty years.
“W-what is happening?” Abigail cried.
I spent decades teaching my metaphysical body to achieve sufficient solidity to pass as living. Now the subterfuge was moot. I allowed my essence to fade until it was as insubstantial as the ghost before me.
“What do you think happened?” I asked gently.
She gazed down at her corpse. Its face was blue. “I’m…dead? And you—” Her head came up. “Are you dead, too?”
“I have been dead for a very long time. They say Mrs. O’Leary’s cow caused the fire that killed me. Privately, I have always had my doubts.” At her horrified expression, I softened my tone. “I promise, being dead is not as bad as it seems to you right now.”
She burst into tears. I went to her, wrapped my arms around her. My essence shuddered with the pleasure of it. Abigail continued sobbing. I did not take offense. She needed time.
“Hush, my love. Do not worry.” I cradled her soul with mine. “I am here with you. For all of eternity.”
Thanks for reading my Paranormal Flash Fiction!