The Way it Had to Be
by Pavelle Wesser
Edna woke up bathed in sweat.
She’d had the dream again, the one where the man was going to kill her. By now, she was familiar with the malicious
gleam in his eyes, the angular shape of his misshapen skull and the stealthy way he advanced upon her. She sat up in bed and
raked arthritic fingers through her hair, which was slick with sweat. The room, however, was very cold, making her shiver.
She listened to the rise and fall of Vinnie’s snores beside her, knowing better than to wake him up. He would only get
She extended her feet to the
freezing cold floor and padded softly downstairs. The house seemed cavernous now that Robbie had left for college. She made
a cup of coffee and sat in the darkness of the kitchen, mopping sweat from her face with a dish towel. A shadow fell across
the kitchen threshold and a stealthy figure advanced upon her in the darkness. Edna screamed, her mug of coffee crashing to
the floor. Hot liquid splashed across her legs.
“Are you crazy?”
Vinnie flicked on the lights. “Why are you sitting in the dark, drinking coffee at 3:00 a.m.?”
She stared at him with hollow
eyes: “Vinnie, I… had the dream again.”
He leaned against the wall:
“You mean the one where Robbie gets into a car accident? Get over it, Edna. He’s grown up now. He can take care
She leaned over to retrieve
fragments of her shattered mug.
“You know, Edna, I’m
gettin’ tired of you creepin’ around this house like a ghost.”
“No one asked you to
follow me, Vinnie. It’s not like we even talk anymore.”
Vinnie slammed his fist on
the counter. “You always gotta’ pick a fight, Edna. At 3:00 a.m. when I find in the kitchen like some kinda’
freak, you gotta’ start with me.”
“Vinnie, you don’t
“I always knew somethin’
was wrong with you, Edna. I never shoulda’ married you. I only stayed with you ‘cause we had the kid. I never…”
Edna threw her raincoat over
her nightgown before grabbing her purse and car keys.
go on and leave. Just get out.” Vinnie yelled from behind.
Edna drove down the darkened
roads toward the one place where a respectable woman her age could go this time of night: the 24-hour grocery store. She shivered
in the cold car, despite which, sweat sprang from her head, sopping her already wet hair, dripping into her eyes and obscuring
her vision. She would see a doctor, she supposed, if Vinnie hadn’t lost his insurance along with his job. She herself
hadn’t worked since having Robbie.
She passed the town lake,
her favorite spot. Mist rose romantically from its surface. Recently, she’d fantasized about jumping into the lake’s
icy depths. She certainly wouldn’t be the first. There’d been Mrs. Higgins, and before her, Mrs. Clarke. A few
men had gone under, too: George Tierson, Jacob Tetzky. The lake was rumored to be haunted. Edna, of course, did not believe
in such things. An involuntary shiver ran through her and she drove quickly onward. Not the lake, not tonight. She didn’t
She mopped more sweat from
her forehead with the water-resistant arm of her raincoat. Lack of sleep, she reasoned, was responsible for many things, chief
among them insanity and car accidents. She swerved down the darkened lanes, trying to control her nerves. A beacon of light
appeared in the form of the grocery store, beckoning with sale items galore. It didn’t matter to Edna, who still could
never afford anything. As she parked and exited her vehicle, she felt the sweat in her hair freeze over to ice.
Clutching her purse, Edna
entered the store, which was flooded with enough light to induce sunburn. She was more thankful for the heat that warmed her
aching muscles, even as the sweat soaked through her flannel nightgown, causing dark stains to appear on her rain coat.
Someone called. She turned to see Andy Brice, a former neighbor.
“Andy, nice to run into
you.” She thought of adding a remark about the odd choice of shopping hours, but reconsidered.
“Is the divorce final
yet?” Andy asked.
She asked carefully.
“Oh!?” His craggy
face reddened. He veered his cart to the side as though avoiding a collision. “Have you checked out the cereal sale
in Aisle Eight? Prices haven’t been this low since the 1970’s.” He dashed away, his cart careening wildly.
Edna stared at his retreating
form as water dripped mercilessly down her face. Struck by an urge to urinate, she clutched her purse to her chest and shuffled
to the bathroom, where she entered a stall. While she was relieving herself, a knock came on the door.
here,” she called out politely. The knocking persisted. She cleared her throat. “There are several other empty
stalls available.” Her words did nothing to deter the knocking.
Finishing quickly, she exited
the stall -- and froze. Instantly she recognized the malicious gleam in his eyes, the misshapen shape of his skull, the stealthy
way he advanced upon her. And that was when the sweat began in earnest, emerging in torrents from ever pore of her skin.
She considered screaming,
but knew that no one would come to her rescue. She would have talked, but he would never have listened. She might have prayed,
but hadn’t attended church since she was five. Instead, she stared up at the ceiling as his body fell on hers. His hot
breath on her already clammy neck filled her with revulsion. She wanted to vomit, but respectable people didn’t do that
in public bathrooms that were convoluted with germs.
She had long known this man
would kill her. She was only sorry it had to happen here in the dead of night, when she really should have been home in bed,
as most dignified people were, as her husband who hated her most surely was. She thought one last time of Robbie, so fit and
able to care for himself as she had never been.
Something cold and sharp sliced
into the soft flesh of her neck. She felt something wet, only this time it wasn’t sweat. And suddenly, she didn’t
care much anymore about bathrooms or germs or all the things that respectable people were and weren’t supposed to do.
She didn’t care at all, because she understood that this was the way it had to be.
# # #
Vinnie circled the mist-covered
lake, shivering. It was hard to forget the Mrs. Higgins’ and Mrs. Clarke’s, not to mention the George Tierson’s
and Jacob Tetzky’s whose bodies had been swallowed up forever by this haunted lake. But was it? He tried to keep his
mind on Edna, who had been missing for twenty four hours. He didn’t want the police to come sniffing around, accusing
him of foul play, especially as he’d already announced to people that he intended to divorce her. Where was she? Had
her nightmares finally pushed her over the edge?
“Edna,” he called.
“Ednaaaaaa …” His voice was swept away by the wind.
Icy sweat trickled down his
forehead and into his eyes as he peered through the darkness. He would have searched for her during the day but that would
have drawn attention to himself. This was the only place she had truly loved. She’d frequently taken Robbie here on
picnics. That was it, wasn’t it? She’d come undone after Robbie had left. And why not? She’d devoted her
whole life to him. Vinnie slipped on the icy ridge that bordered the lake and almost fell. He had to be careful.
voice echoed across the lake’s expanse. Had he really been married all these years to a woman whose name now sounded
alien to his ears? There was a shuffle of leaves from the neighboring forest, followed by the snap of a twig.
He stiffened: “Listen
Edna, I know you’re there. Stop sulking around and come out.”
Through the leafless, overhanging
branches a man appeared and walked stealthily toward him. Vinnie was sure he recognized the misshapen shape of his mongoloid
skull, the malicious gleam of his narrow eyes, not to mention his stealthy gait. But where could he possibly have seen this
man. He stepped backwards and almost fell again, then wiped his face. He seemed to be sweating endlessly.
said the man, “this terrain is tricky.”
“I know,” Vinnie
found his foothold in the frozen earth.
The man stood before him,
the stench of rot coming from his clothes: “What do you know?”
Vinnie took another step back.
“Answer my question.
Do you know?
“Know what?” Vinnie
“Do you know who killed
your wife?” The man’s laughter sent shivers up Vinnie’s spine.
“I should think so.
It was I who killed her.” He tilted his head back and the laughter that emerged had the effect of many knives slicing
into Vinnie’s flesh.
Now he knew from where he
recognized this man: Edna’s dreams, the ones she’d recounted to him over and over again that he’d refused
to let her know he was listening to, though secretly he’d heard every word.
Vinnie’s mouth opened
but no sound emerged. He took another step back when he saw that the man’s dark eyes were as fathomless as the depths
of Hell. Claw-like hands extended themselves toward Vinnie. They were wet: Blood! Edna’s! He could smell the sickly,
metallic odor. Cold sweat dripped from his brow as he took a final step back. The man shoved him, and he fell.
His body twisted
grotesquely as gravity propelled him down. The mist over the lake parted to reveal the roiling mass of churning black water
which sucked its victims into its depths, never to return. As Vinnie took his turn and became submerged within the vortex
of freezing water, he heard hideous laughter: Metallic eyes flashed at him. But he felt no anger for the man (if he could
be called that) who had killed himself and his wife. Possibly, he and Edna would connect in death as they never had in life.
Everything happened for a reason, he knew. And somehow, he sensed, this was the way it had to be.