“Not Alone” is one of the outstanding stories of the first biannual International Short Story Contest 2018 written by Yukti Gupta, Montfort Sr. Sec. School, India.
It was a quiet, cold and dark night as it always is in winters; everybody retires to bed early. Suddenly, at the dead of the night, a shriek jerked the people out of their beds.
It wasn’t a usual sight at the lonely and anti-social street to see people scramble out of their beds to help a shouting person. But anyone could make out the source of the voice – Mrs. Thomson.
Ever since her husband died, the twenty-nine year old had regular shocks of agony. She shouted every day, without fail, since the past one week. The first two days, her neighbor, Mrs. Logan came to help her at once; she knew how it felt to be left alone in the world, with no one to help you.
Some other neighbors came to see her for a few days in the afternoon, when she sat trembling with them, over tea. Now, everybody just shook their head and pitied the young widow.
Mr. Thomson was a man of great valor and was a soldier in the Navy. The recent battle with some drug dealers didn’t go as planned and he took three bullets to his chest. Excessive bleeding meant an instant death for him. Relatives, while proud, mourned the loss of their loved one.
Mrs. Thomson’s mother offered to take her in, but Mrs. Thomson denied, wanting to live in the house she and her husband called home. She was proud of her husband, even if she thought that he was stupid for joining the Navy and kept to herself and her job.
But it wasn’t this that mattered her, and Mrs. Logan knew it. She was a clairvoyant. She had already seen Mr. Thomson’s death but thought better of it and consoled herself by reminding herself that she couldn’t control death, even if she knew when, how and where it would take place. But now, she was far from feeling better. She blamed herself for the new widow’s condition, even if she knew she couldn’t help.
Mrs. Logan told Mrs. Thomson about her clairvoyance, only to get reminded that she could have helped the young couple by telling them about Mr. Thomson’s death. The widow cursed her whole heartedly and told her never to come back again.
Now she just followed her orders; she never went to her house. Though she wanted to, but she couldn’t help Mrs. Thomson for the fear of igniting her anger even more.
After she shooed Mrs. Logan away, she routinely had tea with some other neighborhood women at noon. When they asked her if the reason of her shouting had solely been agony, she played along, for the fear of them thinking she was crazy if they knew the real reason.
Mrs. Thomson was a humble woman, she never bit more than she could swallow. When she met Mr. Thomson, she was more than happy. But when they got married, she was ecstatic.
Though twenty-five was a young age to get married, Mrs. Thomson was consoled that she had found her true love. Neither of them wanted kids, and therefore they didn’t have any. But now, she had reason enough to think that that was a bad decision.
Mrs. Thomson had no one to help her to cope with her loss. She felt deprived of something valuable in her life. Though the Government had given her death gratuity, she knew money couldn’t solve her problem as it wasn’t loneliness.
Mrs. Thomson saw a shadow outside her bedroom at the same time every day. She didn’t own a dog, so it wasn’t his; the only person in her life had been her brave husband. She believed that for some reason, he came back to serve his unserved purpose on earth.
His only dream had been to rid the world of at least some of the evil. But killing three drug dealers and getting at least five of the other seven imprisoned for life wasn’t enough. Now Mrs. Thomson believed that he had come back to rid the society of some other evils.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Now, Mrs. Thomson waited for a light thud on the bed, beside her, at exactly twelve midnight. But she expected it so much, that it wasn’t something that made her scream anymore.
Every morning, Mrs. Thomson found the newspaper on the dining table and the door unbolted. She would have believed that a kind neighbor was doing it, but she couldn’t believe that the kind person would know where the milk, coffee and sugar were, for she found a cup of hot coffee waiting for her on the table, beside the newspaper, just as her husband made it.
That wasn’t all. She sometimes woke up to find the laundry ironed and folded neatly, there was always another cup in the dishwasher and the newspaper was always open to a page where the worst crime of the previous day had been reported. The headline was always highlighted.
Now Mrs. Thomson always woke up with streams of tears lining her crestfallen morning face which had once been fresh as a cucumber. She had loved exercising and jogging in the morning with her husband had been like a daily chore. Now all she did was wake up, get ready and go to work. She came back expecting more peculiar things to have happened when she wasn’t home.
Mr. Thomson had come back to haunt her. But Mrs. Thomson knew he loved her, and would never do anything that could hurt her.
This evening, Mrs. Thomson took a major decision. She was going to consult a priest and find out if this was normal.
She drove to the church and went straight in. She prayed for the well-being of every one she knew and found the priest in his room.
She went in and said, “Good evening, Father.” Her voice had grown harsh for she never used it anymore, except her regular screams.
“Ah, you must be Jane. Sit child,” he offered.
Mrs. Thomson sat opposite the priest and explained the peculiar happenings in her surroundings.
“So that’s the case, is it?” He nodded to himself, “But don’t worry, child. We get a lot of cases like this. All you have to do is get your house christened.”
“But that would mean that I would lose him again, wouldn’t it, Father?”
“Yes. But keeping contact with the dead has its own drawbacks, Jane. You think you are going crazy now, but a few days later, you are going to come back, child, saying you are insane!”
“If I move away, would it stop, Father? ‘because I really don’t want him to disappear again.”
“I hope it will, though christening the building usually works better.”
“Thank you, Father!”
“It’s my pleasure, child. Feel free to ask for help, may you need it again. God bless you and the departed soul.”
Mrs. Thomson nodded, smiled a small smile at the priest and left.
She called her mother to check if she was still offering to take her in. Mrs. Thomson started packing as soon as she reached home, not caring what was happening around her. Though she was still in pain, she considered being happy for a few moments. She relived her happy memories with her husband in the house – how they moved in, and how they spent the few, but happy, moments when both were home. She cried a little and laughed a little and was submerged in a flurry of emotions.
When she was done packing, she stuffed her luggage in the car. As she pulled from the driveway, Mrs. Logan saw her leaving and instantly knew that Mrs. Thomson was not alone in the car…