Jane coughed, a trickle of blood escaping past her lips as she tried to clear her throat. The last kick had sent her into the wall, where she’d crashed into one of the end tables next to the couch. Looking up at her drunken husband, she closed her eyes as another kick landed in her ribs, wincing at the solid blow, curling up and wrapping her arms over the bruised area. She felt the next few hard kicks bouncing off her shins and arms, leaving deep green and black bruises that welled beneath her skin almost instantly.
Jane gritted her teeth, knowing that Jeremy would tire himself out soon. Like in all other aspects of his life, he didn’t have much stamina and would usually tire after only a few minutes of activity. True to form, the heavyset man backed up, breathing raggedly, glaring down at her with a gimlet eye.
“That’s what you get! Not having dinner ready…” The man grumbled, walking over to the couch and flopping back onto it, arms spread wide. “Now go fix me something to eat, I’m starving!”
Jane slowly stood up, her legs shaking beneath her as she moved. She didn’t say a word as she walked past him, merely rubbed her arms as she slowly stalked into the kitchen. She stopped at the doorway, eyes wide.
It’d happened again.
The chairs were stacked up atop the table, neatly forming a pyramid that almost touched the ceiling. She’d been in the kitchen when Jeremy had come home, dragging her out when he didn’t smell anything in the oven.
She’d been sitting in one of those chairs.
“Jeremy…” She called out, uncertain of what to do.
“Dear God woman, do you want me to smack you? Just make some damn dinner!” He called out from the couch, having already flipped the television on. “And bring me a beer!”
“Jeremy, I need you to come and see this…” Jane said slowly, eyes not leaving the pyramid of chairs. She heard him heave himself up to his feet and stomp up behind her.
“Jesus Christ, what is your malfun- what in the world?” He said, his eyes locking onto the stack of chairs. He grabbed Jane by the shoulder, roughly spinning her around. “Did you do this?”
“No! No, I was sitting at the table when you came home, remember? You… brought me out into the living room. This must have happened while you were, um, talking to me.” Jane said, doing her best to avoid the words that would allude to her abuse, for fear of angering him further. Already the pressure on her shoulder was beginning to grow painful.
He let go of her and stalked into the well-lit kitchen. “Then how do you explain this?”
Jane held up her hands. “I can’t! But you had to see it; I can’t believe it with my own eyes!”
Jeremy groused as he walked up to the chairs, reached up and slid one off of another, carefully pulling it out so that the others wouldn’t come tumbling after him. Slowly, he began to deconstruct the pyramid, before casting a baleful glance back at Jane.
“Dinner?” He growled as he set another chair down.
Jane moved to the refrigerator, swinging open the black door to retrieve a pre-wrapped steak, along with half of a yellow onion. She brought the items over to the cutting board, where she began to prepare a dinner of sirloin steak and sautéed onions. By the time Jeremy had brought down the last chair, she’d already cut up the onion deftly into long strands. Jeremy huffed and went to the fridge, fetching himself a beer, before moving out into the living room. Jane just stared at the bloody meat she’d set to the side and sighed; reaching over to turn on the stove top, she pulled her hand back.
The burner was already on!
“Strange…” she muttered, turning down the heat. “I don’t remember turning it on…”
Quickly stirring the onions around in melted butter, she plopped in the steak to the sizzling mixture and began to cook it just the way Jeremy liked it, medium rare. As she stirred the pan back and forth, she heard the creak of one of her cabinets slowly opening, just out of the corner of her eye. Looking up, she saw the cabinet open and looked inside, blushing furiously at what she saw.
Quickly closing the cabinet, she focused her eyes on the steak.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts, there’s no such thing as ghosts…” she said over and over, flipping the steak over so the other side could get a turn with the heat. She heard the creaking once more, felt a breathe of cool air wash down over her neck. Shivering, she merely ignored what was happening and continued cooking. She heard footsteps behind her and turned, expecting to see Jeremy, a slight smile to her face as she thought of the distraction he could bring.
Instead she was looking into the pale blue eyes of a man she’d never seen before, mere inches away from her body. He smelled strongly of earth, strong enough to overpower the stench of cooked onions; he had short hair and a moustache, along with a frown that appeared etched onto his face.
Jane almost let out a sound, but found that her throat seemed to be closed up. Reaching her hands up to her neck, she felt the all-too-familiar pressure of hands on her, but couldn’t see anything. Just the strange man. His gaze slowly left hers and went to the cabinet off to the left, which slowly opened to show the contents once again.
“No,” Jane choked out, eyes widening as her body moved woodenly towards the cabinet, reaching in to grab the seasonings for the steak. Garlic powder, salt, bay leaves… she grabbed them all. Tears streaming down her cheeks she lightly seasoned the cooking steak and onions with one, while mixing in a handful of white granules that quickly dissolved. Setting the salt aside, she shook out two or three bay leaves before picking up the garlic powder, shaking it violently over the sizzling steak.
All the spices melded into one savory pool of fluids mixed in with the onions, which she began to stir with the guidance of the man’s cold arms pressed over hers. Tears rolled down her face as she shook her head.
“No… please don’t make me do this. He’ll be so upset!” She whispered, to which the man said nothing.
They cooked together for another ten minutes before the spirit faded, leaving her with the dinner and a hungry husband, who began calling out for his meal. As if in a trance, she took out a plate and forked the steak and onions over onto it, before pouring the savory fluids. The enticing smells wafted up to her, though she didn’t dare eat it. She moved to the fridge to retrieve another can of beer and brought the steak out to her husband.
He looked up at her from his seat on the couch, eyes slightly calmer than before. “Well?” He asked, holding his hand out for the plate.
With shaky hands she handed it to him, along with the beer. “It’s your favorite… although I can make something else if you don’t want it!”
“No, then we’d just be wasting food.” He said, giving her a hard stare. “This smells different… garlic? Leaves? What made you put these in there?”
Oh God he knows! Jane thought in a panic before she realized she was no longer in control of her own body. She felt her face smile as she heard her voice. “I thought I could make you happy with something other than the bland steak I make you every week.”
“Yeah, well… your steaks are usually pretty bland. I’ll tell you if I like this. If I don’t, don’t do this again.” Jeremy ordered, before looking down at the plate. “Where’s the knife and fork?”
Jane felt to impacts in her hand from behind, before she produced a ridged steak knife and fork for her husband. In her mind she screamed for him to stop, screamed at him not to hurt her anymore. That this wasn’t her fault!
Her body turned and walked back into the kitchen, where it turned on the gas lit oven and opened the oven door slightly. Confused, Jane watched as her body moved to pick up a small box of cheap cigars from atop the fridge, along with a matchbook. Walking back into the living room, where Jeremy had already consumed half the steak, she presented the cigars to him.
“The game will be on soon,” her body said, setting the cigars down. “Enjoy a cigar while I go take a bath.”
Jeremy looked at her with a strange look in his eye. “What’s gotten into you? Normally I have to knock some sense into you to get this kind of treatment. Did our discussion earlier finally send a few points home?”
Her face stretched into a smile. “Oh yes, it surely did. Now I’ll leave you to your game, enjoy your meal and your cigars.”
Her body didn’t even wait for his response as it merely walked into the back hallway leading to the bathroom. She moved slowly, her joints creaking and popping with every step as she opened the door to the bedroom and made her way into the large master bathroom. She slowly stripped down to her bare skin as she turned on the master shower, letting the water turn on to a full steamy blast as she paced in front of the full body mirror, looking at her reflection with some trepidation.
“Why did you do that?” She whispered, looking meekly at her bruised face in the mirror. She didn’t even flinch when her reflection smirked, its grin spreading wider than humanly possible. “Will he live through it this time?”
The reflection’s eyes gleamed and a long black tongue snaked out to lick it’s lips. It shook its head and smiled even wider.
“You know I love him right?” Jane said, suddenly feeling self-conscious about her body, moving her hands to cover herself, her bruises.
The mirror didn’t care. Her reflection leaned its head back in the air, waggling its long tongue obscenely as if laughing. Both she and the reflection turned when they heard Jeremy shout at the television… it sounded like his team was losing.
That was never good for Jane.
Jane turned away from her reflection, knowing the spirit would just continue to haunt her and slipped into the shower. The hot water felt good on her skin, slightly painful from the sheer heat but relaxing nonetheless. She sank down to her knees, allowing the shower to rain down on her back. She smiled as she felt the all-too-familiar fingers of her invisible protector begin to massage her scalp, pulling her hair out and untangling it as she poured some shampoo onto her skull.
“Why do you protect me so? I don’t even know who you are?” She whispered, clutching her chest with both arms as the invisible hands set to work lathering her hair. “Every time he gets… physical, you step in and have something bad happen to him. You know that doesn’t help me in the long run, right?”
The scrubbing on her scalp moved to her hair, thin fingers combing out any knots as it cleaned away the sweat of the day from her locks. It didn’t seem to respond, as if it ever did. All it would do was use her reflection to let her know it was here, especially when something bad was about to happen. The last time she’d seen her reflection move as it had tonight, Jeremy had broken his arm at work when a machine collapsed. He had time off and a cast covering his strong arm, but he made Jane’s life a living hell while he was recuperating.
Jane leaned back into the stream of hot water, allowing it to wash away the suds that had built up in her hair. The fingers disappeared, though a light knocking on the glass of the mirror told Jane that the spirit still wanted to talk.
Whatever, she thought, savoring the heat of the shower over her bruised and tender skin. It can wait until I get out of the shower.
Jane didn’t even flinch when she heard the bangs ringing throughout the house, knowing Jeremy was probably throwing around her good plates. While she couldn’t hear shattering, the noise was muted enough that she couldn’t imagine what else he could be doing. He was a fan of a team of losers, that last season had a total of two wins. His short temper always flared whenever they were losing… she just hoped him taking it out on the plates would mean he’d spare her his fists.
After ten minutes, Jane finally decided that she was clean enough after her encounter with Jeremy and stood up, turning the knob of the shower until the water stopped raining down upon her. Reaching up to the curtain bar, she pulled down a towel and wrapped it around her body, tucking it just above her right breast as she pulled back the plastic shower curtain.
The mirror had fogged up from the heat of the shower, enough to where she couldn’t see her haunted reflection. Instead she just saw the curvy writing in the mirror that made her blood run cold.
Found his gun
“Oh god…” she muttered, shaking in fear. She’d hidden his gun away in his closet (the last place he’d look as he didn’t even clean) after he’d threatened her with it in a drunken rage. If he was having a temper tantrum outside and had found his gun… Jane shivered, and not from the cold.
A loud knocking came from the front door, breaking Jane from her stupor. Someone was here at this late an hour? Quickly slipping on a sweatshirt and some sweatpants, Jane jogged down the hall, quickly darting through the main room so as to avoid Jeremy, to answer the door.
It was a police officer! “Y-yes sir?” She asked, blushing as she knew she hadn’t had a chance to cover up the bruises on her face.
“Ma’am, we got a noise complaint from several of your neighbors, and just as we were pulling in we thought we heard gunshots. Are you okay?”
Jane suddenly went rigid, a cold wave washing over her, causing her to give a full body shiver as her mind calmed, her mouth answering on its own. In a tone full of fear, Jane leaned out. “We got into a fight and he… he hit me again. I went to take a shower and heard some loud noises, but figured he was throwing things around. Would you come in to make sure he’s safe to be around?”
“Would you like to make a report about domestic abuse?” The officer asked, hand moving to his holster as he stepped into the house.
“Oh no, Jeremy would kill me if I did that!” Her voice said. Jane watched as the officer moved into the foyer and onward into the main room. She followed closely behind, her body moving on its own.
“Sir? Are you in there?” The officer called out, hearing the television blaring.
“Who’s that? Who the hell are you?” Jeremy yelled angrily, the harsh sound of his recliner moving indicating he as getting up. The officer, now looking into the room, quickly pulled his gun and pointed it inward, “Sir, put down the gun!”
“You put down the gun freak, get out of here! And take that witch of a woman with you, coming in here and scaring the shit out of me!” Jeremy bellowed. Jane’s body moved close enough to where she could see in the room.
It was dark, and Jeremy was standing with bloodshot eyes, clearly angry. The only light was coming from the partially lit cigar and the glow from the television, enough to show he was holding his pistol. He quickly aimed it at Jane, and was about to shout something.
He never got the chance. The officer opened fire, three precise shots into Jeremy’s chest, knocking him back, his gun flying from his hand. Jane could only stare where her eyes allowed her to look, and her eyes were focused on the Jeremy’s twitching body. In her mind, she could feel a sick smile slithering over her subconscious…
See? It said, forcing her to watch as the officer walked slowly into the room, speaking into a radio on his shoulder. I did this for you Jane, all for you. Now we’re free!
Jane shuddered despite her lack of control over her body. The presence didn’t leave her, in fact it felt as if it was pressuring her even more from within, assuring her it would never leave her… never hurt her.
She felt as if she’d been freed from one master and enslaved by another. And there was nothing she could do.