The story so far:
As I watched the preacher stroll down the walk and disappear around the corner, I couldn't help but be reminded of that movie scene. The Poltergeist movie where the creepy old preacher man creaked along the sidewalk singing and whistling. The thought sent a shiver up my spine. I stood in the doorway a few moments longer, mostly to be sure he really was gone, then I went back to the safety of my living room.
I reached for the picture of Angel and the kids. My heart sank every time I looked at pictures of them, but I just couldn't bring myself to put them away somewhere. The pictures were a constant reminder of my pain and grief. I had spent many nights sitting and staring at the photos since the funeral. Many times I had wished that I could join them. They say suicide is the coward's way out, but the truth is, I am just too big a coward to take my own life.
I went to retrieve a bottle of whiskey from the kitchen. Alcohol numbed the pain sometimes. It's almost counter-productive, though, now that I think about it. I would drink to numb the pain and then sit staring at the pictures. More pain. More drink. More staring. More pain. The cycle continued until I would pass out. I found myself doing this more and more as the anniversary of their deaths approached.
I needed to get out. To get away. Needed time to clear my head. Maybe a short stroll down to the park would help get rid of some of the painful memories. I could stand by the lake. Watch the wildlife play. I snatched my jacket off the coatrack in the hall and headed for the front door. My eyes caught sight of a pair of rollerblades beside the front door. I had been meaning to put those away for a long time. The image of Kristen, my oldest, who would have been seven if she were still alive, trying to keep her balance in the driveway when she first got the damn things snapped suddenly in my head.
I hurriedly exited the house and turned my thoughts and my direction toward the park. The sooner I got there, the sooner I might have a chance at a moment of serenity. Goddammnit, I missed my family so much. I'd have given anything to be able to keep them with me. Anything at all. The misery was pulling me under. A whole year. A whole year of misery. I walked along, head down, eyes on the ground. I wanted to avoid any eye contact with anyone. I was tired of seeing the looks of pity from those that cared just enough to feel bad, but didn't give enough of a damn to try to help. Be there for me. I had few friends left. No one seemed to understand what I was going through.
As I entered the park a figure in black caught my eye. He was leaning against a tree, seemingly watching me. I tried to focus on him but a group of teenage boys with a footbal ran through my line of sight. When they passed, the figure in black was gone. My mind wandered to the preacher-man. I still couldn't shake the creepy feeling he had given me. There was just something about him that felt off. Unnatural. I turned the whole incident over in my head and then I remembered a slight detail that didn't seem important at the time. When I shook his hand, his skin was almost ice cold. At the time, I'm sure, I probably attributed it to the autumn chill in the air, but when he shook my hand before leaving, it was still cold.
I strolled up to the edge of the lake and peered out at all the tiny little boats speckling its surface. I used to love taking my boat out on this lake to spend a quiet, relaxing day drinking and fishing. I never can quite find the time to do it nowadays. I looked across the lake where there was a jagged ridgeline of stone jutting out over the water. How many times had I thought about tossing myself from the top of that in the past year?
Before I knew it, I was nearly alone in the park. The sun had already started to make her descent below the horizon, but I barely noticed. I was lost in memory. A time when the world was a bright place and I didn't reside in perpetual shadow. I sat there awhile longer, debating whether I should just head home or to the bar. That's when I noticed the figure in black again. He or she was leaning against a tree and staring directly at me.
My heart started to beat at the speed of a rock and roll drummer and I was suddenly very cold. I looked out over the lake once more, thinking about the serenity it could bring. Permanent serenity. I regained control of my senses, realizing that I was shivering but not sure if t was because of the cold or because of my cold line of thinking. I turned back to the tree. The figure in black was gone, but was it ever really there? I decided on home and started walking slowly in that direction.
The house was in complete darkness when I arrived home. I had forgotten to turn on a light before I left, so not even the porch light was burning. I sat on the porch swing for a little while. The cold was actually sort of invigorating. I sat thinking about everything. How I thought many times that I had gotten over my loss, gotten through the grief. That the hardest part was over. Everytime I thought I was able to move on, I slid right back. Why did life have to be so hard, so cruel?
My mind wandered to a time when I was a kid. Some distant relative that I had never heard of had died and my mother never really got over it. She spent two weeks in bed after the funeral and for several months she would break down and cry at random times. Anything could trigger a shower from her eyes at that time. A commercial, a broken nail, my poor grades. I remembered thinking she had lost it, had gone completely nuts. Now I knew exactly how she had felt.
A chill wind started blowing and pierced its way through my thin jacket. I decided to go in and have a cup of coffee. I started to go into the house, my heart still heavy, when I got the feeling of being watched. I stood there in the doorway, an uneasy feeling washing over me. I slowly turned around and saw the figure in black standing across the street. It had to be the preacher. It just had to be. Why the hell was he following and watching me?
I slipped quickly into the house, my heart pounding. I moved to the large window in my dining room and peeked out through the mini-blinds to see what the creepy bastard was doing. He was gone. I felt a sense of relief wash over me. I made my way to the kitchen, turning on lights as I went. I made a full pot of coffee and sat at my kitchen table to kill it.
I awoke the next morning still sitting at the kitchen table. My mug lay in a shattered mess of broken porcelain and coffee at my feet. I didn't even remember dozing off. I cleaned up the mess on the kitchen floor, showered, and then headed off to work.
The day dragged on, almost as if time itself were working against me. My mind kept wandering to the queer visit of the preacher and my sightings of him afterward. I kept wondering what he wanted from me. His questions ran continuously through my head. I replayed the scene over and over, remembering the sick feeling the man's presence gave me. I skipped lunch that day. Food just didn't seem appealing to me while he was on my mind.
I arrived home shortly after five that day. I swore I saw the man in black everywhere I looked during my drive home. He was starting to get to me. The funny thing was, while I was thinking about him, I wasn't thinking about Angel and the kids. There was a note on my front door. It was short and sweet. It read simply "Stopped by to speak again. I'll be back later." I didn't care much for the implication that I'd be receiving another visit from the man. My stomach turned and churned, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. The creepy feeling returned instantly and I ran to the downstairs bathroom, afraid that I might vomit.
The rest of the night found me sitting in my easychair. I was on pins and needles anticipating the man's return. I just simply wouldn't open the door, I decided. Afterall, it was my home and I didn't have to let anyone enter my home that I didn't want there. I began to relax a little. The early evening news was on, so I sat watching and chain-smoked about a half a pack of Winstons. After the deaths of my family, I took up smoking again. What did I care?
Hunger set in around eight o'clock. I heated a TV dinner in the oven, sat back in my easychair and devoured it greedily. As I sat watching the news and polishing off the shitty little brownie provided with my meal, the reception went south. Static raced across my screen and poured fron the set's speakers. I got up from my chair to check the connection when, suddenly, the picture returned. Only, it was no longer the news. The screen depicted a home-video looking picture of the park and lake that I so often visited over the years. Standing in front of the lake was the man in black. The preacher. Instead of boats, the surface of the lake was littered with floating bodies. The man smiled and waved. My stomach revolted. My television set was now covered with the regurgitated remains of my dinner.
The sound of footsteps upstairs grabbed my attention. The sound was immediately followed by the sound of children laughing. I turned and looked at the stairs. For a moment, I swore I saw my girls bounding down the stairs. The ghosts that haunt were always there. Everywhere I looked. Dr. Sebastian, the psychologist I had sessions with after my loss, had told me the visions were a product of my own guilt. Had I not been working late that night, I would have been with them. I'd still be with them. Why hadn't I gotten those goddamn brakes looked at? As quickly as they appeared, the visions of my girls were gone.
The ringing of the doorbell brought me fully back to reality. Apprehension siezed hold of me. I knew that it had to be him. The man in black. The preacher. The news had returned to my television as I had faded in and out of lucidity. A reporter was standing in front of a small home excitedly talking about a victim of some sort. I wasn't concerned enough to pay much attention. My attention was on the front door. The bell sounded again and again. Finally, the person, or thing, ringing it gave up. I heard creaking and shuffling as whoever, whatever it was descended the porch stairs. I stood frozen in place.
I'm not quite sure how much time passed, but eventually I mustered the courage to go to the door to make sure my visitor was gone. Looking through the peephole, I saw nothing. I stood with my hand on the knob trying to convince myself to open the door. The knob turned slowly in my grip and the door eased open. No one was there. As I was closing the door I noticed a black hat on the porch directly in front of the door. I knelt down to pick it up. It was his hat and under the hat was a bloody knife.