Breathe

I died on August 27th,1862. My wife held me as I took my last breath, while still attempting to save my life by holding her hands over my stab wounds. The last thing I heard her say was: “John! No, God no give him back to me! John!” I closed my eyes, saw black, and then that was that. An unknown amount of time later, I woke up, remembered that I had died, and then broke myself out of a wooden casket that was laid to rest six feet under the ground. It was difficult breaking myself out of the box and digging myself out from under the earth, but not needing to breathe made things a bit easier. 

According to a newspaper that I later saw lying on the ground, I arose on the date August 27th, 1863. I walked towards things that were familiar. Everything looked the same. The sun was starting to set, and the moon was ready and willing to take its place. The crickets were having their nightly conversations, the rats were running around scavenging for sustenance, and the locals were gathered at the town pub for their daily ale and drunken shenanigans. It appears that life never halted when I died, but I never would have expected it to. 

I walked the uneven cobblestone road until I found my desired location. Home. It was nothing to be proud of, for it was a humble dwelling, but it was home nonetheless. I stood there just looking at it. It was exactly the same as it was the last time I saw it. Well, with one exception. If you peered through the front window a year ago you would have seen a married couple in complete bliss. We would have been dancing to the sound of nothing, just to our bliss. We would have been sitting in our chairs near the fireplace reading the daily paper while listening to the wood crackle and the flames turned it to ash. You would have seen me unexpectedly grab her and ever so gently kiss her forehead, cheeks, nose, and then her lips. We had love in that house. Now all I see is pain and agony. I see her sitting by the fireplace, but there is no fire. There is no daily paper. All she is doing is sitting in what used to be my chair with what used to be my blanket just staring at nothing. Watching a home that used to be so lively now feeling so desolate of any form of happiness was something that I could no longer bear to witness, so I started to walk up to the front door. 

I knocked. Although this used to be our home, this was her home now. The wait for her to open the door was the most anxiety I have felt in a long while. I haven’t felt this on edge since August 27th, 1862. I could hear her walking to the door, with each creak in the floorboards telling me she was one step closer. Then the door was suddenly open, and I saw her for the first time in a year. 

We just stared at one another. There was shock, grief, doubt, and confusion in her eyes. All I felt was the need to hold her. 

John?” She said with an immense amount of disbelief. 

“Yes, my love. Oh, how I have missed you…” I took a step forward to her, and with my arms reached outward ready for an embrace, she took three steps back. I don’t know what I was thinking. Of course, this would be her initial reaction. Her dead husband, alive a year after his fatal stabbing. 

“I don’t know what magicks you have used, but if you think I am going to fall for this trick you surely are mad. Get out of my house. NOW.”

At this point, I could see the fury in her eyes. She was sobbing, shivering from this overwhelming emotion. What am I supposed to say to her to convince her that it was truly me? 

“Hazel, my dear, I cannot imagine what the sight of me must have you feeling. Believe me when I say when I woke up in that wooden box beneath the earth I was struck with a profound sensation myself. What can I say to you to help you? What can I do? What do you need from me?” I was desperate at this point. I just wanted her to know, and believe, that it was truly me. Resurrected from the dead. I found myself on my knees, just pleading for her to listen. She just stood there. Looking at me in terror. 

“My John died one year ago today, right here, in this very room. A rabid woman came in and stabbed him in the chest more times than I count with a rusty old knife. His blood was everywhere, in fact, the stains are underneath this rug. I felt his last breath leave his lungs as I tried to hold his wounds shut with my bare hands. I laid there, on top of his corpse, for hours until the coroner forced me to back away so that they could take his body away from our home. I lived through his death. I have grieved his passing, and I have spent countless hours talking to him at his grave. And you have the audacity to come into my home with your magicks and pretend like you are my dead husband back from the grave? You disgust me.” She was hysterical at this point. She was full of rage and had tears rolling down her face. She spat at me and then walked into the kitchen and sat at the table. 

“I will not tell you again, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!

And so I left, not saying a word, feeling lost. I don’t know what I expected, but surely that was not it. In the life before my ultimate death, I was never the most clever man, and it appears that that fact about me has remained. 

I walked to the pub, where I could still hear cackles of laughter. As a dead man, I had no money, but certainly, someone would take pity on me and help me out with a place to sleep. It was dark now, and the dimly lit streets were a pathway to hopefully some sort of comfort. I reached the pub, opened the door, and walked in. 

I saw familiar faces laughing, embracing, eating, and reading. Life truly has kept moving forward in my absence. As I kept striding my way through the pub to who I believe is the innkeeper, I started to hear whispers.

Is that… That can’t be. No that can’t be John, can it?”

Don’t be daft, John has been in the ground for a year now at this point.”

Who is that foul man?”

“Excuse me, stranger, who are you?”

I turned around and saw a face that I had forgotten about. Many years ago I worked with this man as a farm laborer.  We hadn’t worked together long, just long enough to put seeds in the ground for harvest. Back then he was a man of few words, and I hope that he was also a man of few memories. 

“Just passing through, thanks.” 

“What is your name, sir?” 

He just wouldn’t give up. Do I lie? Do I come up with a false identity? 

“My name is John.”

“And your surname?”

“Listen, sir, as I said I am just passing through. I have been traveling for some time now and would like to just a moment to myself if it isn’t too much to ask.” 

All I heard was a “hmph” come from him, and I knew that my wish of solitude had been granted. I finally made my way to the back of the pub to who I believed was the innkeeper. 

“Excuse me, hello are you the innkeeper?” 

“Yes, what do you want?”

“Yes, thank you, my name is John and I was wondering if you had an extra bed?”

She looked at me up and down with a look of disgust on her face. I had a gut-wrenching feeling that this was not going to go well. 

“Yes, I do. Have you got any money?”

“No, I am afraid that I used the rest of it at the last inn.” A little white lie wasn’t going to hurt anyone. 

“Ahhh I see. So that innkeeper got paid for their services, and I am expected to just give away handouts? No money, no bed.”

“Yes well, perhaps we can work something out. Do you need help with dishes? Cleaning up a bit? I can do labor in exchange for a bed.”

“Once again, no money, no bed. Get out of my pub.”

I left with disappointment. I had no idea why I was back again, and now I have nowhere to stay for the night. I decided to head back towards where I came from, the cemetery. As I was walking I contemplated why I was here on this earth again. Was it God? Was it a medical miracle? Was I never really dead, just asleep? I tried to think about what was going through my mind when I was in the ground, but there was nothing. It was black. So why was I here?

I was close to the cemetery when I started to hear footsteps behind me. I started to pick up my pace, but when I did that the person started to follow my pace. I stopped, hoping that maybe the innkeeper had a change of heart, but when I turned around I was surprised to see who was following me.

“Who do you think you are coming into my town and not answering my questions as to who you are?” He was livid. I could smell the ale radiating off of him, and I could sense that something terrible was about to happen. 

“I told you who I am.”

“Yeah, John. But what is your surname? Where are you traveling from? Why are you here?”

“I am afraid that I am going to have to excuse myself. Have a good night.” I started to turn around when all of a sudden I felt a sharp, familiar pain in my left shoulder. 

“No one walks away from me, stranger.” 

I felt something slice into me over and over again, and I could do nothing about it. After the initial stabbing of the shoulder, I tried to push him off, but he was much stronger than I was. He had flipped me onto my back and started stabbing me in the chest. My last thought before my eyes closed was: 

This feels like it did one year ago…” 

And then, blackness. 

I wonder if the world can guess what day I woke upon. If you guessed August 27th, 1864 then you would be correct. 

The pub was still deafening with laughter, the insects were chirping, the rats were scavenging, everything was still the same. It had been one year since I had last seen my beloved, and although our interaction was less than desirable I just knew that I had to try again. 

So I followed the uneven cobblestone to the home that was oh so familiar, yet so different. This hasn’t been my true home in two years now, but it is the only home that I have ever had or will ever have. Other than the cemetery of course. 

I approached the home and just stared at it for some time. There were candles that lit the rooms and doorways. There was a small fire blazing in the fireplace. And there she was, in her rocking chair with a book in her hand. She was beautiful. Then again, she always was so this was not a surprise. As I was watching her I noticed a hand grab her shoulder. My defenses immediately went up and I was prepared to barge into the home in order to protect my wife. But then I saw her grab the hand, and not in self-defense. It was in a gentle, loving way like she could have expected someone to touch her. She kissed the hand while it was still in her grasp, and then he leaned down and gave her a loving kiss on her forehead. I couldn’t help but notice that they both were wearing gold bands around their marriage fingers. Is my wife no longer my wife?

I thought about leaving for just a moment. If tonight is like the past two nights that I was alive I will surely perish at some point. Do I need to put her through that again? Especially with how blissful she seems to be now? The answer was easy for me to determine. She may belong to someone else, but I have no one else to go to. I need help. I simply cannot keep living and dying this way. 

This was going to be painful for me to see her living her life with another man, but at least she is happy. Maybe he can help her help me. I walked up to the front door and knocked three times. I heard footsteps approaching at a casual rate and then, the door opened.

“What is this? John? Who are you?” The man asked with confusion taking over his face. 

“May I ask who you are?” I sternly asked.

“My name is Stewart, and I am the man of the house. What business do you have here?” 

“Stewart, hello. My name is John. May I speak to Hazel please?”

Ahhhh. Hazel. I see. This is some sort of trick. Hazel told me about how last year some demon claiming to be her John entered this home. This is a nasty trick. How dare you continuously put that woman through this pain…”

“Hello, John.”

And there she was. Standing right in front of me. She patted Stewart’s shoulder to let him know that he can back off, and so he did. She was so close to me that I could smell her. She smelled of lavender, her favorite fragrance. Stewart stood right behind her, but it mattered not to me. There she was. 

“Hello, Hazel.”

“I know what day it is. August 27th. A day hasn’t gone by where I haven’t thought about the events that happened exactly one year ago today. Surely you could understand my reaction, although I wish I would have listened more. You see, I thought you were some demon or warlock using magicks to play a nasty trick on me. But I have had this little voice inside of my head that maybe there was more to the story and that I needed to look into it further. There were talks of some stranger being stabbed to death the night that you visited me last year. Interestingly enough, I found out by the women who like to gossip that the sheriff noticed that the placements of the stabbing were identical to a murder thas he has seen before. Your murder, John. So I traveled to a seer, someone who could help me understand what was happening. I described in great detail to her about that night. The original night. And then what happened a year ago. She looked unphased by everything that I was saying to her, to the point where I was questioning my very own sanity. But then she said something that changed my life.”

She paused. I just kept staring at her, with my eyebrows furrowed together. Did she already know what was happening to me?

My dear, how you have felt so much pain. I can feel the agony that you are feeling. My whole body feels like it is being torn to shreds. But I am afraid if you want the answers that you are looking for then the agony will just become more unbearable. Do you truly want your heart to suffer more than it already has?” 

“Please. Tell me what I need to know. Is it John’s ghost? A demon? A warlock? How do I make this slow torture end!”

“My sweets, you were not the only woman in John’s life.”

“How dare you! That is impossible! John and I were in love, he would never run into the arms of another woman…”

“There is a woman in the town right next to yours that loves your John. In fact, the love that she felt for him drove her mad. She knew that he could never truly love her the way that he loved you, and she tried convincing herself that what he gave her would be enough, but the more he started to detach from her the fonder she grew on him. The thing about love, and the reason why so many consider it to be deadly, is because love can easily morph into something complicated. It can morph into an obsession. A lot of times this happens when one has never experienced the feeling of love before, so they almost become addicted to it. They crave it. They must have it and if they don’t then they want to make sure that the person that they want it from suffers. My dear, she loved your husband, but she ultimately became consumed with him and the idea of them having a life together. It wasn’t until your John told her that he didn’t want her and that he only wanted you was when she decided to enact something so heinous, so vile, that she could herself expect to meet the Devil himself upon her death. You see, she worked with magicks, and she has worked with them her entire life. Hazel, you must listen to what I am about to tell you. There is no such thing as light or dark magick. There are people out there that can choose how they want to use their magicks, and although this woman usually chose to only use her magicks for the greater good, this time she was mad enough to cast a curse upon your John. That rabid woman who stabbed your John on that night was a random woman, oh no. She was his ex-mistress. A woman who knew how to use magicks and wreak havoc onto one’s life. I have seen the curse that she put onto your husband. The curse is that every year your John will die the same way he has died all the times before. In a fatal stabbing. And this will continue for all of eternity unless he himself is able to free himself from the curse…”

“How? How can he free himself?” 

“He must stab the woman the same way that he has been stabbed. She must die by his hand and his alone. If she dies and John wasn’t the one that killed her then his fate with this curse has been sealed and he will live this way for all of eternity.”

“So John needs to kill the woman the same way that he has died. We can make that happen.”

“Never underestimate someone who works with the magicks, my love.”

“What is her name?”

“Deary, before I tell you, are you sure you want to help him?”

“Of course! Why wouldn’t I? Someone should suffer for all of eternity like that.”

“Sweets you just found out that he strayed away from you and into the arms of a madwoman!”

“Be as it may, no one should have to go through this. Sometimes mercy is easier than hate.”

“I see. Well, her name is Elda. I wish you the best of luck, my dear. If you need me you know where to find me.”

“Thank you, Seer. What can I offer you to make up for your help?”

“My dear, just help your husband. Don’t worry about me.”

“So, John, despite your wandering eye and your infidelity I have decided to help you. I loved you, John. We had what I thought was heavenly matrimony, and although you found comfort in her, even if it was just for a short time, it made it easier for me to move on. I love my Stewart. Stewart loves me and although it is a different relationship and it took some time getting used to I feel so at peace. And now I want the same for you.” 

I just stood there, staring at her in awe. I never wanted my Hazel to know about Elda. I have no idea why I did what I did. I have never in my life felt a love like the love that I shared with my Hazel, so I never understood why I also wanted Elda. 

“Hazel…”

“It is okay, John. I have made my peace with what you did, and now it’s your turn. Now. Do you remember where that terrible woman lives?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Good. I have taken it upon myself to fetch a couple of blades that should do the trick. Remember what the seer said, only you can kill her and reverse this curse.” 

“Hazel…”

“Yes, John?”

“Did the seer happen to say what will happen to me once I kill Elda?”
“She did not. One has to assume that you will continue living out your days until you naturally perish.”

“Or I could die and stay dead…” 

“Yes, John. There is also that possibility.”

Stewart, Hazel, and I all jumped on horses and started making our way to the next town over. I, of course, lead the way. It brought up so many emotions while we were taking the path to Elda’s house. I always thought that the way to Elda’s was so mystical. Overhanging trees. The sounds of the wind. The crisp scent of the air. The greenery alone who have anyone stop dead in their tracks and marvel. With that being said, I could also feel the emotions that I used to feel. Guilt, self-hatred, confusion, just to name a few. It was a path that I never saw myself riding on again, and yet here I was. On my way back to Elda’s. 

I could see Elda’s cottage. It was covered in ivy, alone in the woods. If you weren’t looking for it you would never know that it was there.

“See that cottage up ahead? That is where she lives.”

Then, we all stopped. The horses started to make noises of terror, and all of the blood that used to sit at our cheeks vanishes. We heard this cackling. A type of cackling that screams danger. It was Elda.

“John. HA. I have been spending the past two years wondering how long it would take for you to figure out what has happened. I must admit, I thought it would take you much longer. I am impressed.”

“It wasn’t John that figured it out, you daft witch. I figured it out!” Hazel’s voice was already starting to tremble in rage.

“It wasn’t you, you tortured sow. It was the seer. You made little effort to help our poor, sweet John. No wonder why he came my way. You’re PATHETIC.”

Hazel stayed atop her horse, but the worry that I felt for her was starting to increase by the second.

“Elda, I know what I must do in order to reverse this curse.”

“Oh, do you now, John? You could never kill me, John. You might have been able to break my heart, but you would never be able to steal my life.” 

Elda was smirking. She was playing a game that she was certain she was going to win. 

“Do you remember those nights that we spent together, John? Our moonlight walks. Our dances in the sitting area. Our gentle kisses and our passionate lovemaking? We shined brighter than the brightest star on the clearest night. We were meant to be together. You loved me, I know that…”

And then Elda fell to the ground. I was stunned to see who had been standing behind her.

“Hazel! What have you done!” 

“I tried to stop her, John. I tried! But she got me.” Stewart was holding his shoulder, while blood was dripping down his hand. It appears that while Elda was speaking to me Hazel jumped off of her horse in order to attack Elda but then Stewart got in the way when he attempted to stop her.

Hazel then screamed and continued to stab Elda the same way that I had been stabbed. Blood was gushing out from the wounds that Elda received. Her lifeless eyes just stared at me, like she was trying to say “I love you” one last time. And that was when I felt it. The sharp pains that felt all so familiar. 

“This is what you get for coming back, John! This is what you get for driving my Hazel to murder madness!” 

Stewart took what I thought would be my final breath…

I woke up on August 27th, 1865. Everything was the same. The pub was filled with loud heckles. The insects were chirping and the rats were scavenging. The cobblestone leading up to my home was still uneven. 

There they were. Both Hazel and Stewart. Both looked absolutely dreadful as they sat in their chairs in front of the fireplace. There was one measly candle, leaving the house mostly pitch black. 

I knocked on the door and heard both Hazel and Stewart walking towards me. When the door opened, they looked unsurprised to see me standing there before them. 

“Welcome back, John.” 

Hazel’s welcome was less than enthusiastic. I couldn’t help but just stare at her. Usually, I stare at Hazel in admiration, but this time I couldn’t believe that it was actually her. Her hair was knotted and not kept, her teeth were yellow and rotting, you could see her bones underneath her grey skin and her eyes were sunken in with deep darks circles underneath. Stewart looked quite similar to Hazel. 

“Hazel, Stewart, what happened?”

Hazel started to open her mouth, but then she abruptly closed it. She then turned around and went back to her chair and just sat there looking at the fire. Then Stewart started talking. 

“When that woman, Elda, was speaking with you, her taunts drove our Hazel mad. When she jumped off of her horse I knew what she was going to do, so I tried to stop her, but her rage made her stronger than me. Then, the next thing I knew, she stabbed Elda until she died. Then something came over me. Like I was in some sort of trance. I just wanted you to die. So I stabbed you. And I killed you. We didn’t know what would happen to you. We didn’t know if you were going to come back or stay dead so we went back to that seer. We told her everything that had transpired, and to our dismay, she informed us of your fate. Since it was Hazel that killed that vile human being and not you, you will spend eternity dying. There is nothing to do be done. There is nothing to rectify. This is your fate.”

I just stood there, in disbelief. Eternity?

That is when we heard the scream.

“Just remember, I love you both.”

And that was when we watched Hazel take the blade that Stewart stabbed me with and slit her own throat. 

The End.

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