The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves
This tale from Dr. M.T. Graves will remind you that it isn’t always just the dark, stormy nights that you have to fear.
“You look tired. Here, join me on this bench. There’s a good bit of shade, and the warmth of the sun has already dried up the remnants of last night’s storm.
“Mind if I smoke? I do enjoy a good pipe in the afternoon. The tobacco is an aromatic blend from the Scottish Highlands.
“I noticed that you shuddered when I mentioned the storm. I take it you are not fond of the dark, stormy nights. You remind me of someone else who used to be deathly afraid of them. Would you like to hear about her? Her name was Melinda, and she was an attractive young lady, much like you.
“Oh, forgive me. I seem to have forgotten my manners. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Graves… Dr. M.T. Graves.”
For as long as she could remember, Melinda hated dark, stormy nights, and this one was no different. The books that she had read, the movies that she had seen, everything seemed to point to the evil that accompanied these times. Was that thunder or the sounds of a gun ending the life of someone innocent? Large drops of wind-driven rain beat against the windows, or was that the sound of the fingernails of a madman tapping on the panes of glass, testing their strength? The howling winds could have easily been the savage growls of some forgotten creature of the night. And the lightning — just as her eyes would adjust to the darkness outside, the sudden flash of light would momentarily steal her sight, leaving her imagination to process what, if anything, she saw in that instant of both light and dark.
Poor Melinda. On such nights, she would sit awake on her bed, her knees pulled up to her chin, and slowly rock back and forth. With each night sound — each creak of the floor, each brush of a tree limb against the window — her soft, hazel eyes would dart to and fro from her locked bedroom door to the shuttered window.
Come morning, the sun would rise and peek through the small gaps in the shutters. Slowly, stiffly, Melinda would climb out of her bed, shuffle to the window, open it, and then make her way to her dressing table. The face staring back at her always looked older than the face she saw at bedtime the night before. Bloodshot eyes peered through heavy lids at the haggard face in the mirror. With a sigh and sagging shoulders, she would make her way to the bathroom for a hot shower, and then down to the kitchen for an even hotter cup of coffee. By the time she was ready to head out the door and into the bright, sunlit world, the night’s terrors would be far behind her. It was the day, and — for Melinda — the day held no horror.
Or so she thought.
One autumn near the end of October, the storms came to the small town that Melinda called home. For two weeks, black, rain-filled clouds settled in and obscured the sun, and made it seem that the whole world was in perpetual twilight; and when the nights came, they were even darker. The winds howled, the lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled.
The first night of the storm system passed in much the same way every other stormy night went. She sat on her bed, rocking back and forth, jumping at every sound and praying for dawn’s return. Unfortunately, as morning arrived, no sunlight came peeking through Melinda’s shutters.
The young woman went to her dressing table, leaving her shutters closed. The face looking back at her was the same tired face she always saw after a sleepless night. Melinda yawned, distorting her face even more, before making her way to the shower. It helped to revive her somewhat, as did the subsequent cup of coffee. As she stepped outside, however, there was no bright, sunlit world waiting to push the previous night’s terrors into the recesses of her mind.
All day, steel-gray clouds hung over the town, sending constant drizzle down on the people scurrying to and fro. Distant rumblings let everyone know that this night would be no different than the last.
All of her co-workers, and most of the patrons, at the corner diner where Melinda worked were polite enough not to mention her tired appearance. Many of them exchanged sympathetic glances, knowing that she would be getting very little rest this night as well.
That night, Melinda took her place in the center of her bed, unable — or unwilling — to attempt to fall to sleep. Outside her still-shuttered window, something began to scratch against the wooden slats. Even though she knew of the white pine that grew just outside her window, and on windy days had seen its limbs brush against the side of the house, her mind only vaguely accepted it as the source of the scratching. Moments later, the wind began to blow through other nearby white pines, the sound adding to Melinda’s anguish.
Morning came again, and again it arrived without the sun. The young woman’s daily ritual, which for the second day did not include the opening of the shutters, varied only slightly in that it took her a few moments longer to cover up the dark circles around her eyes.
The day passed, cold and wet. Melinda received many sympathetic looks — and the occasional word of encouragement — during her shift. When evening came, she bundled up, opened her umbrella, and walked the few short blocks to her home.
After a light supper, she decided to lie down and take a nap. Almost as though something sensed her intent, an early evening storm began. Knowing that sleep was impossible, she decided to curl up with a good book.
Melinda was three chapters into the book, her eyes growing heavier with each page, when a loud explosion of light brought her fully awake. Almost immediately, the lights flickered, then went out. In the near-total darkness, she groped her way through her small living room toward the steps leading upstairs. As she started to climb the steps, the lightning flashed again. Out the corner of her eye, she saw something move; it vanished when the house went dark again.
Running the final few steps up the stairway, Melinda hurried to her bedroom and slammed the door behind her, fumbling to get it locked almost before it was completely closed. Once it was secure, she put her ear to the door and listened, expecting to hear footsteps coming closer at any minute. After several moments, during which time her heartbeat returned to normal, the young woman changed, then climbed into bed. It would be Melinda’s third night without sleep.
At work the next day, effects of the sleepless nights were starting to show. Twice, Melinda lost her grip on customers’ drinks, spilling them on the table. A couple of free slices of fresh baked pumpkin pie were enough to set things right.
Unfortunately, it would take more than free pie to set things right for Melinda. As the first week ended and the second began, the constant storms and lack of sleep began to take a physical toll on the young woman.
The scratching Melinda heard became louder, the howling drew closer, and the shadows began to take substance. With the passing of each day, her body grew weaker, while her imagination grew stronger. By the week’s end, the poor girl was barely able to get out of bed, and even if she could, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. It seemed that her bed had become the only place she was safe.
Each night, the witches would circle her house, scraping their long, bony fingers across the windowpanes. The howling demons would run across the roof, seeking an entrance. Yet no creature of the night could reach her in her bed.
Dawn was just a few hours away when the storms finally broke. Almost as soon as the last rumble of thunder died away in the distance, Melinda fell back on her pillow and was sound asleep. Morning came and went, as did noon, but the young woman did not stir. It was late in the afternoon before she awoke, not quite refreshed, but relaxed. The sun was low, just beginning to paint the sky with orange and purple streaks, but still light enough that the streetlights had yet to come on.
Melinda allowed herself a slight smile as she went downstairs to the kitchen. Rather than her usual cup of coffee, she put a kettle of water on to make herself a cup of tea. As she waited for the water to start to boil, there was a knock at her front door.
She checked the water before walking to the front hall. It must be a co-worker coming to check on her, she thought. It wouldn’t be the first time since she had begun calling in sick since the first part of the week.
Melinda pulled the door open, and her smile quickly turned to a scream. Clutching at her chest, the young woman fell to the floor. She never even heard her tea-kettle begin to whistle.
The father of the little girl absentmindedly fingered the brim of his daughter’s black pointed hat that he was holding as he spoke to the police officer. Once their conversation was over, the officer handed the little girl a stuffed bear in a policeman’s uniform and complimented her on her witch costume. Patting her on the back, he wished her a happy Halloween.
“It’s been said that it is always brightest after a storm. For Melinda, that brightness turned out to be the light that beckons mankind from this mortal coil.”