30 Mar Welcome Home
“Welcome Home”Written by Kendra Nicholson Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 15 minutes
Eli was startled by the sound of a key in the front door. He had been resting in the upstairs bedroom. He couldn’t sleep anymore and hadn’t been able to do so in weeks. He missed it. He hadn’t left the house in weeks either, so he was missing many things right now.
He listened as the door opened, and then he quietly crept into the closet, leaving the door ajar. He squeezed as far back into the corner as he was able, slid down the wall, and sat with his knees pulled up to his chest, his arms wrapped tightly around his legs.
Then he waited.
He could hear footsteps downstairs, crossing from the living room through the dining area and into the kitchen, where the intruder began opening and closing cabinet doors.
When he used to get anxious, he would feel his heart rate quicken, his breathing would become shallow, and his palms would feel damp with sweat. Now it feels different. Now it is as though he spent most of his time in a fog, and when something made him anxious, he simply felt more alert. The fog would lift, and things would appear more clearly. The soft focus would become dialed in, and he could see color and sharp edges.
He realized that the intruder was now coming up the stairs. The footsteps were light and feminine.
It was a woman.
He could smell her before she entered the room. Even though he wasn’t breathing, the scent still clung to his nostrils. It was clean and sweet. Lavender and vanilla. He closed his eyes and let it soak in. It brought back memories of his wife that were so intense that he could almost feel her warm body next to his.
He felt the cool darkness of a shadow across the door opening and was shaken from his reverie. He opened his eyes and was so stunned that his mouth dropped open and he stared at her. She stood at the opening of the closet and seemed to look right through him.
She was exquisite. Petite and slender, with dark, shoulder-length wavy hair tucked behind her ears and warm hazel eyes that were brown around her pupils, blending into green. Her phone rang loudly, and he jumped as she turned away to answer it.
“Hello… Yes, this is Becca… Oh, hi! I’m in the house right now, actually… Yeah, I didn’t have any trouble with the lockbox… Oh my god, I love it! It’s perfect! I want to make a bid before anyone else sees it!”
Her voice faded as she exited the room and made her way down the stairs.
Eli crawled out of the closet and stood up. He felt foolish for hiding in his panic. He knew that she would not have been able to see him.
No one can see the dead.
Eli could remember the last time he heard feminine feet padding up the stairs. He didn’t know how long it had been, though. He no longer had any feeling for the passage of time. Caitlin had come into the room, sat on the edge of the bed, and gently laid her cool, dry hand on his forehead.
It took every bit of strength he had to open his eyes. She smiled, took his hand, and said,
“Hey! Look who’s awake!”
Her eyes glistened with unshed tears as she smiled at him.
He tried to open his lips to speak, but they were dry, and he had to peel them apart. He was so dehydrated that his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. He still had canker sores from his chemotherapy, and just moving his mouth that tiny bit proved painful. He grimaced.
“Let me get you some ice chips.”
She said as she started to stand, but Eli squeezed her hand tightly and held her there. He swallowed, trying to moisten his mouth enough to talk, his voice coming out in a gravelly whisper.
“No… Stay… Please…”
She nodded her head, and the tears that she had been holding back began to roll down her cheeks.
He tilted his chin up and to the side, which she knew meant that he wanted her to lie beside him with her face nuzzled into the crook of his neck. Her warmth comforted him, and he tried to stay awake and savor it, but he was so very sleepy that he couldn’t keep his eyelids open, and soon he drifted off.
He woke to the sound of Caitlin crying. He had become accustomed to her quiet sobbing, but this was different. This was a high-pitched keening that sounded almost like an animal.
He felt… different. He realized that the intense pain that had been his constant companion since before his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer was gone, as was his weakness and fatigue.
He sat up and looked at her as she stood stooped over beside the bed with one hand across her stomach and the other over her mouth, and said in a clear voice,
“Caitlin! It’s ok! I’m ok! Cait, please! Listen to me!”
But she didn’t even glance in his direction. She kept staring down at the bed where he had been lying, and she began to speak, saying,
“No…No, no, no… I’m not ready… I need more time! No! Please!”
He turned to look at what had drawn her attention, and it didn’t make any sense.
It was him.
He was lying on his back with his dry cracked mouth open in a surprised “O,” with his eyes open and unseeing.
He could only stare at the scene in disbelief, wondering how on earth this could be happening.
How could he be looking at his own dead body?
Eli didn’t believe in ghosts.
Eli spent the first hours after his death trying to let Caitlin know he was there. She couldn’t hear him speak. She couldn’t see him. She couldn’t feel him. He even tried running past her, waving his arms, but he couldn’t even move the air.
He was without substance.
All he could do was watch her weep. He followed her as she made phone calls to tell people he had died. He watched her kiss his forehead and hold his hand one last time. He stood by and watched them take his body away.
She began packing the next morning. Her parents and her brother came to help. She said she just couldn’t live there without him.
“I’m here, Cait! I’m still here!” he said over and over.
He watched as the house got emptier and emptier. He tried to go outside and follow them to the truck, but when he got to the open door, something stopped him. He couldn’t move past the threshold. It was as if he was tethered to the house. There was no physical barrier that he could see. He was simply unable to get out the door.
After everyone else left, Caitlin took one last walk through each room, touching door frames and windows, and he followed, knowing that this was the last time he would ever see her again.
She stopped at the front door and turned back into the room. She closed her eyes, swallowed, and said,
He was so overcome with despair that he felt an ache in his chest. He ran to her and tried to wrap her in his arms.
Her eyes flew open, and she gasped and shivered.
“Yes! Yes, I’m here!” he said.
She just shook her head, turned, and walked out the door.
Eli sits across the table from Becca, watching her eat a Clementine. What he wouldn’t give to do that one more time. If he were alive again, he would never take an experience like that for granted. He imagines the weight of the fruit in his hand. He could almost feel the smooth, shiny texture of the peel. He pictures himself using his fingernail to pry up the corner of the sticker and tugging it, feeling the resistance as it let go and came away from the skin of the fruit. He imagines rolling it into a tiny tube that he continues to work between his finger and thumb before sticking it to a paper towel that is laid out in front of him. He sees himself poking the tip of his thumb into the top, popping a hole in the skin, and pulling it back with ease. He used to try to get it off in one piece, and he would look at his thumb and see the orange stain under his short nail. He could smell the sweet citrus perfume that used to make his jaw hurt a little, thinking of the tartness of it as his mouth watered. Pulling off the little strings that remained stuck to the fruit after the peel was gone.
He missed everything about being alive.
Now he passed his time following Becca around the house when she was there and waiting for her when she wasn’t. At first, he felt intrusive and creepy, and he would leave the room when she was undressing or showering.
But being dead was lonely, and frankly, it was also incredibly boring.
Eli was bored as hell.
He finally gave in and began staying in the room no matter what she was doing.
He didn’t watch her undress and bathe because it aroused him. He did it because watching her do normal things – watching her live her life – made him feel alive.
He followed her everywhere in the house, like a devoted dog. He watched her undress and shower. He watched her brush her teeth. He watched her eat. He watched her watch television.
She was far more interesting to him than what was happening on the screen. He had even begun crawling into bed with her, lying next to her, watching her sleep at night.
When she would leave the house, he would sit at the top of the stairs and let the fog settle in until she returned, and there was clarity again.
Eli was obsessed with her. She was his life.
Eli stood at the edge of the kitchen watching Becca pour ground sausage crumbles into a colander, draining the fat and water into a bowl. She put it back on the stove and popped open a jar of sauce and poured it in, giving it a stir. She checked to see if the water was boiling yet, then poured some salt into her hand and sprinkled it in.
The activity was mesmerizing. She never cooked like this. She typically brought home Styrofoam containers of takeout from local restaurants. He loved it when she brought home shepherd’s pie from Llewellyn’s Pub down the street. If he closed his eyes and let the smell drift into his nose, he was taken back to the bustling little dining area. He could almost taste the malty, bittersweet coffee flavors in the Guinness he always ordered.
He heard the doorbell ring and saw her grab a kitchen towel and wipe her hands as she hurried to the door.
She opened it, and there stood a woman who looked very similar to her, but a little heavier and a little older. She was carrying a small boy.
“There he is!” She shouted gleefully, “Come to Auntie Becca!” He reached his hands straight out and fell toward her from his mother’s arms. She grabbed him in a hug and said, “I made your favorite!”
“Puh-sketti!” he yelled, and both women laughed.
Eli couldn’t help but smile himself. He hadn’t seen people this joyful for a very long time. Even the last few weeks of his life here with Caitlin weren’t spent truly living. They were spent dying, and there is very little joy to be found in that.
They continued to fawn over the boy, until he wiggled and grunted to be put down. He immediately ran out of the room with his mother chasing him.
Becca finished cooking dinner, set the table, and yelled, “Cara! Jack Jack! It’s puh-sketti time!”
They came in and sat at the table, and Eli stood back and watched. Jack held his small spoon in one hand and ate handfuls of spaghetti with the other, cramming his little fist full of noodles into his mouth. He suddenly stopped, looked up at Eli and stared without blinking, food forgotten.
Eli was stunned. He held up his hand and gave a small wave.
Jack uncurled his fingers and waved back.
He could see him. Could he hear him too?
Jack smiled and said, “hi”.
Both women looked at him in confusion, laughed, and Cara said, “Well, hi to you too!” and went back to her dinner.
Eli slowly put his hands over his face, then pulled them away quickly and said, “peekaboo!”
Jack laughed, and it made Eli smile.
Becca and Cara stopped talking, and Cara said, “What’s so funny?!”
Jack pointed at Eli.
Both women turned to look and saw nothing. Cara looked confused and said, “The wall? Is the wall funny?”
Eli again covered his face with his hands and did it again, “peekaboo.”
Jack laughed even harder this time, and yelled, “peet-a-boo!”
Becca stopped laughing and nervously asked, “what… what do you see, Jack Jack?”
Cara said, “Becca, for crying out loud! It’s probably an imaginary friend! That’s totally normal.”
Becca shook her head. “No, Cara. It’s not. That is not normal for a two-year-old… Jack Jack? What do you see, sweetie?”
Jack pointed at Eli and said, “him.”
“Him? Him who? Who is him? Is someone there, Jack?”
Jack tilted his head to the side and stared at Eli.
Eli pointed at his chest and said, “My name is Eli.”
Jack looked at Becca and said, “Him E-why.”
She just stared for a moment, then she said, “E… why? Eli? Did you say his name is Eli, sweetie?”
Jack nodded his head, pointed back at Eli and “E-why peet-aboo!”
She turned to her sister and said, “Who is Eli? Does he have a friend named Eli? Is there anyone you know named Eli?”
Cara just shook her head “no” and looked at the blank wall that Jack was staring at.
“Jack?” Becca said, “Who is Eli? Who are you playing peekaboo with?”
Jack looked to Eli for help answering the question, so he said, “This is my house. I live… I mean…I lived here. I died in this house.”
Jack turned to his aunt and said, “Him house. Him die.” Then he put his little hands over his face, pulled them away, and yelled, “PEET-ABOO E-WHY! PEET-ABOO!”
Eli sat and watched the computer screen as Becca was doing research to see if she could find him. It didn’t take long for her to find his obituary. It was so strange to read about his own death as she quietly read the words aloud.
“Elias Jonathan Schafer passed away at home on March 20, 2020, at the age of 42 after a courageous battle with cancer, with his wife, Caitlin, at his side.”
She stopped reading and looked over at the wall where Jack had seen him. She nervously said, “Eli? Are you here?”
Eli walked over to the area she was looking at and answered “yes,” hoping that perhaps now that she knew about him, she might be able to at least feel him there.
It had felt so good to be able to interact with Jack. To be seen. To be heard. He needed that. He needed the connection he felt to another human being.
She seemed to be staring directly at him when her phone rang, and she screamed, put her hand to her chest, and laughed to herself before she answered.
“Hey, Cara… Oh my god… I looked up the previous owners and found his obituary. He died of cancer here in the house… I know, right?! I’m completely freaked out. I have always thought ghosts were a load of bullshit.”
“You think you’re freaked out? Try being a ghost when you used to think it was bullshit.” Eli said.
She pulled up Facebook and searched for his name.
“OK… I’ve got his Facebook page here… Oh my god, Cara… It’s so sad…”
Eli looked over her shoulder at his profile picture. It was taken before the cancer diagnosis. Back when he was healthy and happy. In the picture he was sitting at a tall outdoor table at Llewellyn’s with a pint of Guinness in one hand and his other arm around Caitlin. He was smiling, and she was looking up at him. The memory made him ache, and he felt even more empty than he had before.
“He was so young and handsome,” she said.
Eli smiled. “Thanks.”
“I wonder if there’s something I can do to help him move on?”
He quickly dropped his smile. Move on? Move on?! “Where?” he asked out loud, “Where am I supposed to go? I can’t get out of here! I can’t leave!”
The ache he had been feeling deep in his chest was expanding in his torso and moving up into his head. He felt… alive. He could FEEL, and even though it hurt, he wanted to hang on to it, because it was the first time his body had felt a real physical sensation since his death. He was devastated, scared, and angry, and it was so strong it gave him energy.
He looked down at the computer screen, and Becca had clicked on Caitlin’s Facebook page. They used to have matching profile photos, but Caitlin had changed hers.
Now her profile photo showed her smiling at the camera with a strange man who had his arm around her waist, and she leaned into him with her hand on his chest.
The ache that Eli felt became sharp and filled his entire body. He collapsed to his knees on the floor, threw his head back, and howled in agony.
The light bulb in the fixture above the table exploded, and the laptop shut down. Becca shrieked and ran out of the house.
Eli went to the window and watched her standing in the front yard staring at the house and crying while still on the phone with Cara.
He knew she would be back. She had to come back. At the very least she would have to pick up her things. He would have to try to be on his best behavior when she did come back, because he had lost Caitlin, and he couldn’t lose Becca too. He wouldn’t lose Becca.
“Come on, Becca,” Eli murmured, “I can’t let you leave. I need you. Come back home.”
For two days Eli sat at the top of the steps in a fog waiting for Becca to come home.
She finally came back, clutching a flat box to her chest. He followed her upstairs to the bedroom, where she laid the box on the bed and opened it.
It was a Ouija board.
He chuckled to himself at the thought of her trying a Ouija board. He had heard a story on NPR about the lengths that people would go to in order to talk to the dead. The man being interviewed saw it as a bit of a joke. He believed the board merely gave the user a glimpse into their own psyche.
“This is absolutely ridiculous,” said Eli.
Becca pulled the board out and laid the planchette in the center of it, and said,
“I have never felt more ridiculous in my life.”
Eli stood across the room from her, watching and waiting to see what questions she asked.
She took a deep, shaky breath, and said,
“Eli…are you here?”
To his complete and utter shock, Eli began being pulled toward the board. He had no control over his movements at all. His hands were held out in front of him with his arms straight as if he were being pulled over by his fingers. He floated over to the edge of the bed and dropped down to a sitting position with his fingertips on the planchette.
He could feel it. His fingertips were on the teardrop-shaped wooden piece nearly touching her fingers, and he could absolutely feel it.
Without any forethought, in fact, in his shock, he had forgotten that she had even asked a question, he began moving the piece toward the word, “YES.”
Becca gasped and moved her hands off the planchette, and Eli was able to move his hands away too. She sat staring at the board, breathing hard for a few moments. She gathered herself, and put her fingers back on it, moving it to a neutral position.
“OK…so you’re here. OK… My god, this is insane…So…I’m sorry that you’re dead.”
Eli felt no pull toward the board, and when he tried to put his fingers on the planchette to reply, he could no longer feel it. What the hell?
She looked puzzled, then she said, “Oh! Oh, that’s right. It has to be a question. OK… Ummm… Where did you die in the house?”
The feeling came back to his fingers, and as he was debating whether to tell her that he died in this room, because he didn’t want to scare her any more than she was already scared, his fingers began sliding to the first letter.
“Right here?” Becca said quietly. “Right here in this room?”
Eli was desperate to move his hands away. If he continued to scare her, she would be gone forever. He would lose her too. But he couldn’t stop himself. He couldn’t lie, and he couldn’t refuse to answer.
The planchette moved to “YES.”
Becca pulled her hands back as if she had just touched a hot stove. She jumped off the bed and backed away trying to regain her composure while Eli watched helplessly. He felt the small knot of ache begin in his chest.
“Don’t go. Please don’t go.” He begged.
Becca sat back down, put her fingertips on the planchette, and said, “Is there something I can do to help you move on?”
The planchette moved to “NO.”
Becca started to whimper in fear. “I need you to go,” she said. Then she shook her head and said, “Can you go? Can you leave here?”
The planchette moved to “NO.”
She was crying as she asked, “Why? Why can’t you just leave?”
Eli wanted to say he didn’t know why. He wanted to say that he promised he would leave her alone. That he would be quiet, and she wouldn’t even know he was there, but all he could do was move the planchette as his ache grew larger and larger.
“Mine?” Becca whispered. “You are staying because the house is yours?”
“Do you want me to leave?”
Becca got up and started walking backward toward the bedroom door, saying,
“Look, Eli, I am sorry that this is happening, but I don’t know what to do. I can’t live here like this. I have to go.”
The ache had bloomed throughout his body again, and he felt like he was vibrating. He was frustrated with his inability to communicate through the Ouija board, angry and scared that she was leaving, but with all the overwhelming emotion and pain, he finally felt alive.
He felt like he could stop her.
He stood and moved toward her.
“Will you please leave?” Becca asked from across the room.
Eli was immediately jerked back to the board.
His fingers moved the planchette to “NO.”
They both stared at the board in disbelief, and Becca said,
“I have to go.”
“NO!” Eli raged, and the planchette flew across the room, slamming into the wall.
Becca turned and ran toward the stairs. Eli gave a deep guttural scream and flew into the hallway after her. He overtook her, and she could feel his energy. She turned to glance over her shoulder, eyes wide with terror as he threw himself at her.
She was pummeled by a cold wave, and her feet flew out from under her.
Eli watched as she went horizontal and landed on her head about halfway down, then she flipped like a ragdoll onto her back, rolled, and ended up face down on the floor at the bottom of the stairs.
Becca woke confused, taking inventory of the wounds she knew she would have from the fall. She was surprised at how good she felt for someone who had taken such a tumble. She rolled from her belly onto her side and sat up.
She remembered her fear, and got to her feet and started toward the front door when she heard an unfamiliar voice behind her,
She froze for a moment, and slowly turned around and there was a man sitting at the top of the stairs. She recognized him from his Facebook page, but it made no sense.
“Eli?” she said.
Eli nodded his head.
“Oh god…” Becca whispered, “Does that mean I’m…?”
Eli smiled and nodded. He raised an eyebrow and looked down. She followed his gaze, and saw her broken body lying on the floor, eyes still wide with fear, her head facing the wrong direction.
“This can’t be happening…” she said as she turned and ran to the front door, but when she grabbed for the doorknob, her hand passed through it.
She looked back at Eli in horror.
“Welcome home, Becca.”
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A