The next few seconds dragged into minutes as I fought to comprehend Edna’s words.
“What do you mean you’re seeing him, too?”
Edna’s lip quivered slightly as she took a steadying breath and her wispy white hair fluttered in some unknown breeze. Finally, she raised her orb-like eyes to meet mine.
“At first I thought I was going crazy. Just an old woman struggling with reality, you know. I’d see a shadow here, a flicker there. Then it became something else. Instead of shadows it was a definite figure. A man. A man that didn’t seem entirely friendly. He’s never said anything or even touched me, but I don’t like him, Emma. He… He frightens me.”
A heavy sense of foreboding settled over me while I listened to Edna; I knew exactly what she was talking about. But the thing that was needling at me was the question of how Edna knew I was seeing this man. Unspoken pact between us aside, Edna and I don’t generally chat. We are there for each other in times of need, not during the everyday, and I had never mentioned this man to anyone except my online friend, Katie.
“Edna,” I began carefully. “Why did you say you’re seeing him ‘too?’ How did you know I’d been seeing him?”
Edna’s face remained still. I wondered if she had been spying on me, but thought it very unlikely. Finally, Edna exhaled, saying, “Well, I guess it’s about time you know.”
I leaned toward the woman, a bundle of curiosity and anxiety, determined to have an open mind about this mysterious thing I needed to know.
“Emma, you’ve known since you moved in that I have an ability. I know a lot about a person just by touching them. As I’ve aged, it seems that my abilities have changed and grown. I am also able to discern a few things about a person by touching something of theirs. In your case, I came in contact with your mailbox. At first, it was innocent. Some of your mail ended up in my box. After I realized what was happening, I would make a few discreet trips to your mailbox a week. Creepy, I know,” Edna smiled sheepishly. “It’s not the same as when I touch an actual human; its more like I’m listening to a badly tuned radio. With enough listening and a bit of intuition, I can usually piece together what’s going on.”
Edna paused, eyes flicking over my shoulder. I glanced over my shoulder instinctively but saw nothing. I looked back and Edna, the crackling of the fire the only thing breaking the silence. She still looked over my shoulder, her expression unreadable. I stood from the couch, fully turning toward the darkened space behind me. Despite the roaring fire, I felt a chill cross my skin. Then I saw him.
He had the same dead skin, the same eerie eyes peering from within the skull. The only thing that had changed was his mouth. No longer was his jaw broken, hanging from his face as a foreign object. It was right where it should be and his lips were pulled back in a garish smile. My hair stood on end and I felt a scream building within me.
I turned back to Edna, intending to usher her out of the room, but I found she was no longer seated on the couch. She was standing before the fire, the glow of the flames outlining her fragile silhouette. Her grey eyes were clouded over and frozen on the figure of the old man. His smile had grown impossibly wide, beginning to split the decaying flesh around his mouth. He breathed in heavily with a deep rattle. Just as I realized I had never before heard him breathe, he raised his arm and pointed a long, grey finger at Edna. In a voice that oozed from nightmares and dripped from death, he whispered, “Go.”
Without a backward glance, Edna turned toward the fire and crouched down, her old knees cracking with the effort. When she was eye-to-eye with the fire, she leaned forward, as if in slow motion, pitching toward the flames.
“Edna, wait!” I whipped toward the woman, but it was too late. I reached for her and the flames reached for me, gnawing on my skin. I pulled away in horror as Edna began to scream, losing my footing and falling backward, scrambling away from the hearth with both feet until my back was against the couch. Unable to move, I watched as the fire consumed the kindly woman that had been able to see me for who I am.