A Pact

READ SHORT STORY BELOW (about 9000 words)

Dear reader, I ask for your forgiveness in advance. We have not properly met, and yet here I am insinuating myself into your thoughts. I wish I could say this process was benign. Sure, we can agree your life involves many activities and this moment we share right now will soon be forgotten.

Furthermore, let us not forget that you’re in control.

At any moment, you may turn away for a sip, or to check your phone. And of course, so that we may absolutely acknowledge the preeminence of your control, let’s confirm right now that at any time you can put this aside and never return. (Which, by the way, would be prudent.)

But the reality of your activities and apparent overarching control, however true, are merely notions of comfort. Because sometimes things change.

Accidents occur.

One may lose employment.

Divorce happens.

One’s health may falter.

People die.

Sometimes, even if rarely, one changes their mind.

In spite of the familiarity of your present surroundings, or at least the expectation that they will remain somewhat the same, right now your consciousness is being affected. “Drugged” might be more apt as a depiction. But that also has connotations of medicine. And I have no consideration that you need to be cured. Or, more bluntly, cured by any means I might offer.

However, to poison has no curative connotations.

Sometimes its effect may be immediate. At other times poison spreads in a subtle and stealthy manner. Insidiously.

But the main point is — at least regarding what you are reading right now — you’ll not die as a result.

Bear in mind, dear reader, that death ends any physical malady. Yet, staying alive harbors the very toxin that you are currently absorbing as you read these words. And to state the obvious, it’s not the words that are toxic. It’s not even the ideas you may be contemplating so far, that are immediately connected to the definitions of these words. No, it’s not so obvious. It’s what’s between the words. It’s what’s unexamined. It’s the ideas and considerations that infiltrate your consciousness ever so subtly to influence your views about your surroundings, including the people you know and don’t know.

And if I may need forgiveness for anything that follows, then I ask for your forgiveness for that, as well.

However, the true forgiveness I seek has nothing to do with this world. It’s solely for what you may carry into the next.


Mick Jagger famously exhorts in “Sympathy for the Devil”: “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.” But if Charlene wrote that song, she would impute me.

Although a little later you may surmise that you and I share little in common, I would suggest otherwise. Many of us seek to improve our lot in life and perhaps that of our family and friends. We accept that life can be challenging. Yet, amidst the challenges and the endurance of this path called existence, sometimes, for those of us less fortunate, we may need to seek justice.

What, pray tell, are you willing to invest, or give up, for such?

If I might be a little more committed to my interests, would you deem that as aspirational? Or vice?

Let’s visit you for a moment. You’ve attained some things. Perhaps you’ve worked to achieve what you have. And in some cases, could it be said that you worked hard? Maybe even harder than at least a few others?

In other words, perhaps we share that in common, as well.

I had intended do keep this introduction brief, and I am one to honor my commitment.


When Charlene died I was left with a dilemma. But, as may occur when one is overcome with the shock and emotion of a sudden and unexpected passing, distress clouds judgment. I mean, even before her heart stopped beating, I was horribly aggrieved as I understood the gravity of the moment. I wanted to run out the front door and scream to the world that a tremendous tragedy had befallen.

The dog, too, was distraught and frantic: running up and down the stairs and howling like a werewolf echoing through the house and outside, sure to send a chill down one’s spine.

For even though we married seven years earlier, most of it memorialized in strife, it was only in that instant I recognized how much she truly meant to me.

Attendant with the emotion of the moment was my immediate dilemma — which would be the same for you if you were in my predicament: what to do with the body?


If I were to tell the tale in a more meaningful way, I’d detail grievances, dalliances, lies, betrayals and other disharmonies that may accompany marriage. I would solicit your sympathy. However, since the deceased has no way of defending herself, I shall decline. For indeed, if she were alive, her tale would contradict most of what I would say, anyway.

Who would you believe?

The contradictions can be so pathological, that I might only get her to advocate a fact by offering its opposite so that she would be compelled to refute such and inadvertently tell a truth.

No. For the sake of simplicity, I shall not dwell too much on such, for I believe “the argument,” by itself, to be so explanatory that the aforementioned dilemma will be appreciated.


Perhaps you’ve been in some disagreement for so long with one person that you cannot conceive of events earlier.

I believe it’s irrational to keep arguing the same point for years when no motion is made toward a resolution. Yet, Charlene believes there’s no resolution possible without continuing to talk it out.

How do you resolve issues when both sides believe the other side is wrong and needs to change?

Personally, I’m willing to accept that some differences will not resolve and live with such. Not so with Charlene. But I also believe she thinks a resolution is inevitable not because it will truly resolve satisfactorily for both parties, but because she presumes the other side (me) will just give up and acquiesce to a pretense of agreement, rather than an actual solution.

For that matter, what kind of marriage would be built upon a false agreement?

To wit, even before we married, there was an occasional tiff about how to raise kids. Although the matter is important, I refer to these as petty quarrels since we didn’t have kids. And who knows, maybe that influenced why we never did.

In her mind, what she deemed “a loving and caring parent,” I deemed as unhealthy over-protection. For example, if a young child exhibits signs of a common cold, would a doctor’s visit be necessary? Additionally, is it OK to allow a young boy, or girl, to climb a tree, in spite of the risk of falling?

Although your answers may inform your side of such an argument, I’m not suggesting that one side is right and one is wrong. Merely that they’re different enough to pose an endless opportunity for related disagreements.

In retrospect, perhaps she was right on the overall matter. I mean, if we had regular arguments about kids, without them, what would happen once we did?

This reminds me of that day a few years ago when I found an empty package of birth control pills in the trash when I was rummaging for a receipt that I tossed, before realizing I had purchased the wrong bullets and would need to exchange them. When I asked her about it, she said she was cleaning out her drawers and was tossing out old stuff. I thought nothing of it at the time. But what if she had been secretly taking the pill for years? Wouldn’t that be the true reason for no children? Would it be appropriate if I were not advised?

However, the point was moot. I had already moved into a different bedroom, at her urging.

At least we didn’t argue (as much) about taking care of Frederick.


Frederick is our black Labrador, whimsically named after Frederick the Great, who was admired by George Washington in the American Revolution, but also by Adolf Hitler in World War II. Personally, my acceptance of her proposed name was aligned with Washington. Charlene commented that she was not well informed of Frederick the Great as a historical figure; she simply liked the name. This may be true, although her German heritage and bellicose tendencies might suggest otherwise.

His name’s militant heritage notwithstanding, Frederick was active, friendly and loyal — and mostly a wonderful family pet. I say “mostly,” because Frederick was unhappy when not provided the opportunity for adequate exercise. And that opportunity was not always consistent.

The maid let Frederick out in the backyard in the mornings when present. Hence, it was primarily Charlene and myself who needed to attend to the dog at other times. Although both of us contributed to his well-being, we were both just as likely not to. Frederick would poop at the bottom of the main staircase to apprise us of the latter.

Which, more often than not, would be left until the morning, when Lucia would dispatch such, shortly after arriving to maintain the house on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

But what if Frederick pooped at the bottom of the stairs on Friday afternoon? Should this reminder to his wayward caretakers remain untended until Monday morning?


Lucia usually arrives at 8:55 and leaves at noon. She vacuums, sweeps, mops, does laundry, cleans the kitchen, takes out the trash, cleans the bathrooms, changes the bed sheets, dusts the house, sharpens the kitchen knives and cleans up after Frederick.

She’s quiet and professional and an integral part of the household. Our appreciation for her seems to rise every year when she and her husband take a week’s vacation in August and another at Christmas. Her absence serves as a reminder that the relationship Charlene and I have developed includes a tacit understanding to not argue when Lucia is present. Furthermore, when she is on vacation, not only have we lost that scheduled ritual of agreed peace three times a week but there is an even greater opportunity for disharmony since the services Lucia provides are unfulfilled. For example, cleaning up after Frederick.

In retrospect, Charlene and I may have enjoyed a better relationship had we hired Lucia for more days per week and also had a replacement when she was on vacation.

Most perverse is that we discussed this several times over the years. We both thought it a good idea, albeit somewhat superfluous since there wasn’t enough housework to warrant the extra days for Lucia. Yet, right now, I can’t help but wonder if, just maybe, we both subconsciously didn’t actually want to reduce the tension. Could it be that the very disharmony underlying our relationship was not, in fact, a sword, routinely cleaving at our day-to-day existence, but was a glue binding us together? Perhaps as some type of magnetic energy that both of us deemed undesirable on a surface level, but nevertheless were mutually compelled to maintain on a subconscious level?

I have no real answers to the matter. But at least it makes life less boring.

Or, were we in an unhealthy relationship?


By the way, what is a good relationship? I’m no spokesperson for humanity, but I would imagine not arguing so much would pertain.

What’s a bad relationship? Again, who am I to say? But if someone is getting physically or emotionally abused, surely that could not be good.

Charlene and I were neither good nor bad in the above context. Well, perhaps it was leaning in the direction of bad. OK, maybe it was bad at times, but certainly not when Lucia was around.

You might ask, why bother? Why stay together?

Who knows. Maybe we are like alcoholics, compelled to self-destruction regardless of any rational consideration.

We certainly weren’t economically attached. She had her own money from an earlier husband who suddenly passed and I had sold my business for a comfortable sum and spent my time managing short- and long-term investments. My schedule also included regular time at the fitness club as well as a new routine of practicing at the shooting range. And reading. Lots of reading. My initial interest in WWII literature had expanded to all American wars and then global wars throughout history. Although I am no advocate for violence, I find myself endlessly interested in titanic struggles to right some wrong. Whether real or perceived.

In the beginning, I believe we generally enjoyed each other’s company, although that seems hard to imagine in the current context. In recent years, we seemed more preoccupied with politely ignoring each other in Lucia’s presence and bickering when she wasn’t.

There is almost always a palpable tension. A continual anticipation of who would be the next to break any current, albeit temporal truce. Which happened regularly. Overall, our relationship was a slow-burning fuse, seemingly innocuous enough that it could exist for so many years with nary a concern. In truth, it was slowly burning towards a detonation of something neither of us ever spoke of, but was as inevitable as getting older.

Why might you stay in a relationship that wasn’t working?

Perhaps, in the simplest of terms, at least for Charlene and I, it might be as natural as desiring to see the end of a movie, even if one has already determined they don’t like it.


Charlene provided Lucia her instructions. From my end, I simply offered friendly greetings and complimented her efforts. Lucia and I also shared a love of literature, although her inclinations were toward true crime and mysteries. She might comment on books she would observe that I was reading and I would ask her the same.

Coming back to Charlene, it seemed she had an infinite capacity to nitpick. The towels need to be hung just so. Apparently, the grout between the bathtub tiles was not always cleaned to her specifications. Laundered bedsheets needed to be consistently rotated in the linen closet, to avoid the use of bed sheets that had been cleaned weeks ago and were not as fresh.

And, let us not forget the kitchen. Charlene was ever so persnickety with Lucia about the appropriate placement of the pots and pans as well as keeping the knives sharp. For her part, Lucia never argued. She just thanked Charlene for her guidance and said she would do better in the future. Personally, I don’t know why Lucia has stayed around for all these years with that kind of treatment.

By the way, there was a time in the past when Charlene attempted to provide me instructions. Although in the earlier years my responses were less professional than Lucia’s, I’ve tended towards a general disregard since then. Might you expect someone to someday get the message that their instructions are for naught if they might be ignored for so long? I no longer hold such expectations.


When Charlene died, Frederick’s reaction was instantly haunting. Running up and down the stairs, barking and baying with a ferocity that was so unnerving, he overshadowed the true import of the moment.

Nevertheless, his awareness, indeed, even his participation in the event seemed so notable as to warrant mention. But let’s be clear: he’s a dog. How much could he be aware of his responsibility? Or was he truly overwrought from loss?

Within the context of our household, I would argue that not only was I a source of greater canine affection, but Charlene was also prone to mistreatment. For example, kicking him for misbehavior. Hence, to what degree might one expect any dog to be bereaved, especially this one?

If Frederick’s howls were an apt requiem for Charlene, then I was at a loss to approach such passion, even if I might categorize my own emotions as a bittersweet dichotomy of lament and electrification. At first.

Then later devolving towards anticlimactic, after a tremendous surge of regret.

For even though the details of the moment were dismaying, how could things have ended differently? The exact timing of her demise may not have been known. But her ultimate conclusion was as inevitable as it is for all, even if hers may have been contrived.

You, yourself, may know of persons who you, too, could surmise “have it coming to them.” But how much accountability would you assume for merely harboring such a conviction?

If you — or any of us — were to be punished for what lurks in one’s mind, who among us would be free from persecution?

Before you cast firm judgment in this matter, consider your own relationship with those in your environment.

For, in the end, my initiative regarding her demise was never more than thought. Albeit, active, intended thought. But active mental conniving, nonetheless.

With that in mind, I trust that you should not indulge in too much over righteousness, for you may risk courting hypocrisy. So, if you find such considerations creeping into your consciousness, please exercise some restraint. Sequester such moralizing aside for now, at least until you have all the facts.



It’s hard to say when the tension started between Charlene and I.

It wasn’t just the arguments about children, it was bickering about life and stupid stuff, such as what to eat, new landscaping or furniture ideas, and who was messing up the house more than the other. (Aren’t homes meant to be lived in?)

I guess, back then, it just seemed to me as a natural part of developing a marriage. What was I to know? It was my first and only marriage.

After a while, I learned the best thing to do was keep quiet. Avoidance. And it’s not that I didn’t want to talk to her. It’s just that such interactions became too problematic.

So, unless we had something we really needed to discuss, I just kind of put it off. Instead, we talked about the weather, when the cars needed an oil change, the various flowers blossoming at different times of year. You know, non-provocative stuff. (Although, truthfully, at any given time, any topic could provoke trouble.)

Even so, somewhere along the line, tensions began to escalate from the quotidian to the sobering.

I would say the turning point was when I got sick.

As well as what occurred after I went to the doctor. The doctor referred me to a specialist. Some tests were taken, including blood tests. It was determined that I had been poisoned.

But where did the poison come from?

The toxicology report suggested that it had built up over time. In other words, it wasn’t one particular dose.

Although it was never proven, the most obvious source was the food Charlene was making for both of us. Of course, she thought that was ridiculous, exclaiming that she was eating the same food!

Although that was true, she was also the one who presented separate plates to both of us. Certainly, there’s no reason to presume she would poison both our dinners.

What’s more interesting is that whatever had caused the toxic buildup in my system, stopped after our agreement to each serve ourselves from common bowls at the dinner table. My health recovered. And once I was better, I mostly forgot about the matter. It’s only in retrospect that the matter seems more disquieting.

By the way, as a point of emphasis, I had no reason to suspect that she would poison me. As a matter of fact, when queried by the doctor, I asserted she would never do such a thing.

Life went on.

Although there was a period of several weeks after the poison discussion when tensions subsided, they certainly increased over Lucia’s Christmas break, now two years ago.


I’m rather fond of Christmas. The spirit of the world seems to be more at peace, even if it’s not true for everyone. Of course, the over-commercialization has made it less peaceful than it could be. In my mind, I would rather Christmas simply be a time of conviviality. The gift-giving, although good in intent, seems to be an important driver of the season’s franticness. A simple solution would be to forgo gift-giving for adults and maintain it only for children.

That way there would be time for more parties.

Having said that, Charlene and I have not participated in Christmas as much as we used to. Yes, we would still give each other some gifts. But in the past, my favorite part of Christmas was just going to various social gatherings with friends and family. But over the years, Charlene was less interested. Although I would go sometimes by myself, eventually I stopped attending, as well. In retrospect, I’m not sure that was a good idea.

So, two years ago for Christmas, we were having a rather quiet season. As mentioned, even our arguments had diminished somewhat. But it was on Christmas morning when Frederick, once again, was compelled to remind his owners that he had needs that required attention regardless of the season.

I would occasionally be the one to clean up after Frederick. Yet, it was, after all, Charlene who had purchased the dog. So, it is my belief that she should take more responsibility for the dog’s care. However, Charlene did not share that opinion.

So on that Christmas morning, I opted to step over the poop at the bottom of the stairs, as I would have done many other times before. I did fill Frederick’s food bowl and topped off his water bowl. And then stepped outside on the back porch for a breath of Christmas morning air.

You might imagine my surprise when I heard some shouting in the house and observed Charlene chasing the dog through the kitchen trying to kick him. When she finally connected her foot to his hindquarters attendant with a good yelp, she apparently felt satisfied enough to leave him alone and started yelling at me.

We’ve had this argument many times.

And I decided to not participate.

There was nothing else memorable about that Christmas, as Charlene spent the day admonishing a bad dog and bad husband.


As told by Charlene, my faults are many. I don’t do a good enough job cleaning the stove when I finish making breakfast. I don’t put items in the dishwasher as she would prefer. She doesn’t like the way I arranged the garage. The top of my dresser is not as tidy as she would prefer. The way that I keep my office is not to her liking. My closet organization is not to her standards. 

She doesn’t even like the various gifts that I have presented her for her birthdays and holidays. When I make breakfast or lunch, or in any way make food for both of us, the best I could hope for is no comment, since she finds fault with whatever I do. 

In fact, now that I think of it, none of my activities are satisfactory. There has not been a kind word uttered from her to me for many years.

Now, admittedly, there are times I have gotten upset. I have yelled. I have threatened divorce.

I have gone days without talking to her. I have left the house for up to a week at a time without saying I was leaving, or advising her of my whereabouts, or leaving a note, nor providing any communication at all.

I have wanted to hit her. Indeed, I have often felt she was goading me to do just that. And I’ve never felt that way toward anyone else. Yet, in spite of my anger, I have always resisted such compulsions.

Am I crazy?


I don’t consider myself a violent man, but as mentioned earlier, I have had violent thoughts. In fact, I would characterize myself as peace-loving, even if I might support a just cause for war.

I have been advised that relationships are hard. That they can improve in time.

But how hard?

How long?

In business, there are challenges. I have demonstrated a tendency over the years to meet those challenges and prosper as a result. My simple philosophy has always been to find a win-win solution. But, on the infrequent occasion where such does not seem possible, I would simply move on as quickly as possible. In my experience, most, but not all, business persons are rational. We are all trying to make decisions that move us in the direction of saving money or making money.

Is it crazy to hope such thinking would be effective in marriage?

Perhaps as some way to make sense of things, I have found myself believing, or at least agreeing with, the principle of karma. Actually, I’m not even familiar with all its ramifications. It just makes sense to me that our own actions influence our future.


For reasons already mentioned, Christmas two years ago was not that memorable. But the day after was. That’s when Charlene murdered me.

She called me into the kitchen. A tarp was laid out on the floor. She said she was going to do some painting and wanted my opinion. This was not one of my finer moments of observing the obvious. I mean, Charlene doesn’t paint. And she certainly wouldn’t be doing any type of labor at night.

Nevertheless, as we were both standing on the large, plastic tarp, she pointed to a spot on the wall and asked if our ladder in the garage would reach it. I turned around to observe the spot and instantly felt like I was punched in the upper back and then my legs collapsed. Charlene had just stabbed me and kicked out the back of my knees. I stumbled for an instant and fell to my side. Yet, I was able to turn my gaze towards Charlene in time to see her raised hands, grasping our largest kitchen knife, slamming down to stab me again.

I was completely befuddled. My perception shifted. I watched her repeatedly stab me as if I was watching her stab someone else. Apparently, I was in shock, since after the initial pain, I felt no more. I was a passive observer, watching a maniacal madwoman viciously and repeatedly stabbing a body on the floor. Even after the automatic defenses of his arms attempting to thwart the blows had completely stopped, she still kept stabbing, aiming for the upper chest.

It was a terrifying sight, but I was not comprehending what I was witnessing as pertaining to myself. It was as if I was watching a horror movie.

Eventually, she stopped.

She looked wild and deranged.

But deranged with purpose. She was a woman on a mission.

Next, she pulled a cell phone out of a drawer. I had never seen this phone before. It was not her regular one. She made a call and said, “We’re ready” and immediately hung up, while unlocking the back sliding glass door.

She washed the knife. Excessively.

Then, she grabbed a roll of duct tape from a drawer, brought it over to the tarp, rolled up the body and taped it securely. She used lots of tape. Lifting the head and torso and legs in succession, each time rolling more tape around the package.

Next, she carefully inspected the area. Noticing a few blood splatters on the kitchen drawers, she grabbed some paper towels to carefully clean them and then flushed the paper down the toilet.

She inspected the area again and was apparently satisfied enough to jog upstairs to the bathroom. There was already a new set of clothes arranged on the counter.

She stripped off all she was wearing and stuffed them in an awaiting trash bag.

Although her shower was brief, it allowed me enough of a pause in my perplexity to recognize that I had just followed her upstairs without a body.

I was aware.

But in a state of extraordinary confusion. I felt no pain. Nor could I talk.

I followed her downstairs, back into the kitchen, just as a man, who I have never seen, opened the glass door and quickly assessed the situation. Without speaking a word to each other, Charlene handed him my phone and car keys and they each grabbed an end of the package and carried it to the garage. My trunk was already open. They lifted the package inside and closed the lid.

He got in the car, she opened the garage door and walked outside to look up and down the rural road, apparently monitoring traffic before signaling for him to back up. She watched him drive away before going back in and closing the door.

I remained confused and in shock.

Back upstairs in my room, I found myself staring at my bed from the vantage of an upper corner.


Burning betrayal. Hate and loathing. Sadness and despair. These emotions cut deep. Although I cannot account for all that happened after I was killed, it became apparent that Charlene reported me missing.

She told the police, relatives and others who inquired, that she and I had another argument and I left without any word as to where. She made it clear that this has happened before. Several times. She said I will probably show up again in a few days or a week or so.

Lucia continued her routine. Frederick seemed disconcerted. He walked in and out of my bedroom and office over and over, more frequently than ever before.

I couldn’t speak to Frederick. At least not in the way I had been accustomed. Nor could I pet him. But it seemed I could still communicate with him. Differently. I had a sense that he could perceive my presence but he didn’t know what to make of it. He liked to sniff around at the bottom of the corner of the room, below where I often hung out at the top of the same corner. He would sniff and then look up at my exact location. He’d leave the room and then shortly return and repeat the same pattern.

It seems we were both trying to understand this new experience.

At some point, I just told him straight, almost like I was yelling, but of course, I was unable to make a sound: “I’m dead.” He departed sadly. And soon after, came back and continued his pattern of sniffing below and then looking up at me, even though there was nothing to see.

What does he perceive?

What does he understand?


Over time, Frederick and I maintained an indefinite preoccupation with each other. On my end, my interest steadily grew. I was fascinated that he seemed to be aware of me. Sometimes he would follow me as I moved around the house. Other times he wouldn’t. Particularly if he was hungry and/or waiting to be fed.

Nevertheless, there was clearly some level of camaraderie. Similar to before, yet, expanding in new ways. I tried sending him encouraging thoughts, as simple as if I was saying, “Hi Frederick,” “Good dog,” etc. Kind of like I might have done before I was dead. Except, now, without a voice. And without my petting him. And without giving him treats. How long would this last?

Even Lucia seemed to have some slight awareness of me. Although it could be my imagination. I would call it more of a tendency to pause and look around when I would attempt to communicate with her. In the same way that I would address Frederick, I directed simple messages to her, such as “Hi Lucia,” “I miss you,” and, “By the way, Charlene murdered me.” I missed seeing her smile, and I didn’t seem capable of bringing that out of her, anymore.

Outside, I could occasionally play with Frederick, although not always successfully. If I seemed to have his attention, I would move swiftly across the yard and he would follow. Other times, he lost interest or ran off to chase a rabbit or squirrel.


Time went on. After weeks and months, the conversations about where I may have gone and when I might return became less frequent.

Charlene seemed to have planned and executed the perfect murder.

My heartache and sorrow ebbed and flowed while it washed over a seabed of bitterness and discontent. I continued to find myself becoming angry in her presence. I tried to let Charlene know that I was around. I’d direct my wrath at her and question why she did this. I was arguing in the same way as if I had a body. But of course, she couldn’t hear me, and other than occasional looks of annoyance, it doesn’t seem I impinged.

Nevertheless, I tried to seek answers. Even if at times, I would make them up. I felt it must have been my fault. That I must have been much worse of a husband than I imagined. That I deserved my fate. That I was never a worthy prospect for the human race.

Other times, I’d get on the other side of a rage-fit and recognize that, no, I wasn’t a horrendous being. That I should not have been murdered. And certainly, she shouldn’t get away with this. At one point, I was so upset that I managed to knock a picture off the wall. Perhaps it wasn’t held on tight and it was going to fall anyway, but it sure seemed to me to break just as I was directing some pointed anger at it. The picture was in my office. It wasn’t a photo, per se. It was a cutout of a newspaper article of a client who lauded my company and me personally for their success.

Am I an evil man? I felt not.

But what could I do?


The idea was not born from rational thinking. It was catalyzed by pain.

It was inspired by the base notion of settling a score.

How might you assuage such treachery?

I’m not proud to say that a vindictive streak informed my vision. But she literally got away with murder. And there was nothing I could do about it.

Or was there?

I had no basis to consider it would work, but I had time. And time was what this plan required more than anything.


I started with the dog. It was really just an extension of what we had already been doing. But instead of communicating with Frederick out of curiosity, I started working towards a goal. I was going to see if I could train the dog without any treats or physical presence. I would only be able to use praise and affection conveyed telepathically. And, perhaps most importantly, patience. Lots of patience.

In this endeavor, it appears I had Charlene’s unknowing support. Although she was never one to pay undue attention to Frederick in the past, she especially seemed to ignore him after she removed me from the household.

Whenever he would direct his attention towards me, I would flow affection and positive thoughts his way. It would be the same flow of saying “Good boy!” Sans the vocalization. Judging by the periodic response of his wagging tail, he seemed to understand my intention at least some of the time.

Not only did I have him chasing me around outside, but at times, I had him chasing me in the house.

I also flowed him a lot of affection and positive reinforcement when he pooped at the bottom of the stairs. Although this latter did not seem to require my positivity.


As noted earlier, Lucia and I both share a love of literature. I like to read history and she liked to read mysteries. Before the change, I would periodically ask about what she was currently reading. It occurred to me she might be sensitive to the possibility of clues.

So, whenever she was in my closet or office, I would flow her thoughts about my disappearance. I can’t say for sure how effective this exercise was, at least until the police visit. And even so, she might have observed these things on her own without any of my promptings.


One day the police arrived. I had been missing for too long and they had questions. I don’t know how much time has passed, since I seemed to have lost my perception of days, weeks and calendars in general. I didn’t need to eat or sleep. Nor was I always present, even if I didn’t understand where I would go.

Anyway, the police spoke with Charlene and Lucia.

Charlene reiterated that I had a pattern of leaving without any indication of such and I’d return without any foreknowledge. She did agree this was the longest I had ever been unaccounted for and that perhaps I left for good.

Lucia, on the other hand, offered some different insights. She divulged that I left without my shoes. Only my slippers were missing. She had been dusting and cleaning my closet for years. She moved them each week to vacuum underneath. Also, my travel bags were in the closet, untouched.

Charlene offered that I might have bought new shoes and perhaps I left without intending to be gone for a while and then bought more clothes and a new travel bag, as well.

Lucia noted that my day planner remained next to the computer in my office. She relayed to the police how I described this book as the central organizing key to my life. She said I never previously left it behind when traveling. Before they left, she showed them my planner in my office, opened to the day I disappeared and poised as if expecting my return at any moment.

As a counterpoint, Charlene stated that my phone was missing, indicating that to be one sure thing I wouldn’t leave behind. She neglected to mention that she was the one who had it disposed of.

Lucia speculated that if my email and credit card records were accessed, there would be evidence of my continued existence — or not.

Charlene’s lips began to twitch.

Finally, Lucia brought the police to the kitchen. She pulled out a large knife. She said she had been sharpening this, as well as all the kitchen knives, for years. They all had a perfect edge. However, this one developed knicks along the blade around the same time I went missing.

The younger officer was clearly attentive, taking plenty of notes. The older officer was more poker-faced, but judging by how his questions became more focused, it seemed this visit had turned more interesting than he anticipated.

Charlene’s feet and hands shifted more frequently and she excused herself to the bathroom.


It has been over two years since my transformation.

Over this period, Frederick and I had developed a unique bond. I can’t say the same with Lucia. Although I have repeatedly directed messages to her, such as letting her know I’m around and that Charlene killed me. I can’t say with confidence that I’ve made meaningful connections.

A notable change is that Charlene became more suspicious of Lucia. My perception was that Charlene wanted to fire her after the first police visit, but thought that would provoke suspicion. So, instead, she distanced herself from Lucia. She tended to be gone when Lucia was in the house and when she was at home, generally ignored her. Lucia was aware of the change, too. Although I’m not sure what she made of it.

But it all seemed to coalesce on the afternoon of Charlene’s demise. As much as the event was previously rehearsed, I was still shocked and surprised when it happened. Curiously, I wished I could take it back.

It seemed too perfectly choreographed, like a synchronism of minds. It was as if Frederick, Lucia and I — and even Charlene — were all working together for the same goal. Yet, it was only Frederick and I that had practiced.

The event started as a routine late Friday morning. I did not know it was going to be a milestone day.

I had been “playing” with Frederick outside before Lucia called him in. I’d lead him around the yard and when he caught up to my location, I’d direct praise at him and then place myself at another location and repeat the exercise.

When Lucia called, I placed myself in the house and Frederick came running in and we continued to repeat the pattern downstairs.

At the stroke of noon, Lucia said goodbye to Frederick and closed the front door while exiting for the day.

Knowing Charlene was upstairs, and likely to appear any moment now that Lucia had left, I raced to the front hallway and stopped. Frederick followed me and started pooping at the base of the stairs when the exact moment I envisioned for so long came to be. Charlene emerged from her room and upon spotting the dog’s activity, instantly erupted into a fitful rage. As she was starting downward, I raced up the stairs. Frederic followed, just as we have done countless times. But when Charlene tried to kick him in mid-stride, I cavorted behind her, inspiring Frederick to run directly into her legs. She lost balance, falling and tumbling to the bottom. I instantly relocated back to the bottom, quickly aware that she was critically injured.

Instantly, I was disgusted and mortified.

Which makes no sense, since this was what I had planned. It was my goal to settle the score, but I didn’t truly believe it would work. And now that she was dying, I was profoundly ashamed.

Frederick began barking wildly and racing up and down the stairs. He was confounded by what just occurred but knew it was bad.

My awareness began to swirl like a maelstrom of horror and repugnance upon the soundtrack of Frederick’s werewolf howling.

Soon after, Lucia re-appeared through the front door, prompted by Frederick’s unusual barking. She had not left the driveway yet, while exchanging texts with her husband, which was part of her routine.

Lucia surveyed the scene and remarked aloud, formally acknowledging my presence for the first time since the change. “Mr. Devensmith, if this is your doing, I understand. But it’s not right.” Then she reclosed the door.

I was as equally surprised by her message as I was by her departure. In that instant, I recognized that Lucia, a model of professionalism, had resolved that she wasn’t going to intervene in this stairway spectacle. It was the most astonishing observation I have ever made of her in all these years.

And so the plan played out as intended. Some hours later, Charlene died, contorted as a human pretzel at the bottom of the stairs with her recently coiffed, blond hair splayed across a pile of poop.

I wanted to run out the front door and scream to the world that a tremendous tragedy had befallen. But I retreated to my bedroom corner in disbelief. Eventually, Frederick stopped barking and curled himself below me.

I hated leaving the body there all weekend, but what could I do?


And then Charlene joined me.

Although the circumstances were not a cause for celebration, you’d think the fact that we could once again mutually perceive each other would inspire a moment of pause.

Not for Charlene.

She was more upset than ever. The irony was lost on her when she exclaimed she was going to kill me.

To a certain extent, it was like old times. Except, instead of sound, I was barraged by emotional waves. Yet, that was not the most significant difference.

It appears I had changed in the two years since our last argument and only now was I coming to recognize it.

In brief, I didn’t react to her vitriol.

I let her rage on and on for some indefinite but lengthy period. I became more intrigued by the fact I wasn’t getting upset. I didn’t yell back. I didn’t call her names. I didn’t try to stop her or have any compulsions to hit her. (Nor could I). I just passively took it all in. Or, more correctly, I just let the waves go by.

At first, Frederick seemed transfixed by the experience. Eventually, he yawned and left the room. Fortunately, or not, his keener sense for non-physical reality did not extend to the majority of humans.

By Monday morning, when Lucia arrived and called 911, Charlene had tuckered herself out.

Frederick, Charlene and I quietly observed the panoply of police, paramedics, firemen, detectives and the coroner as they each came and went. I noted that Charlene’s body was carried away with more dignity than mine and considered that slightly gratifying. As if it somehow diminished my present culpability.

Lucia answered questions for hours.

Later in the day, she took Frederick to the front door. Both looked once more in our direction, seeming to proffer an unstated goodbye, before exiting. I sighed a wistful relief, knowing that Frederick was in good hands. Their departure left Charlene and I in an awkward state of disquiet. What followed, was an extended period of agitated but somewhat diminishing tension.

Finally, I apologized.

Even though I considered it was Charlene who should be contrite, I took the initiative, as the raw reality of my end of this trauma was still settling into my consciousness.

She began yelling again, but her ferocity was less and she soon stopped altogether. And then, as if there weren’t enough unexpected moments, she spoke to me sincerely. “I’m sorry, too.”

Whoa. Who was this? Those words had never left her lips. And even though they had no opportunity to do so now, her words were received as clear as a bell.

We both remained still. A stillness more profound than possible with anyone who maintained a beating heart and breathing lungs. An infinite and intimate hush.

Charlene broke the quietude. “You do know we’ve been doing this to each other for a long time, don’t you?” Although she seemed less condescending, her words struck me as a paradox of absurdity. On the one hand, it was the most preposterous thing she had ever uttered. On the other hand, her words opened a floodgate. I was struck by a cascade of somewhat similar scenarios earlier in history. I was simultaneously befuddled and bemused. New recollections of my existence became apparent. It was as if I had lived in one house my entire life and then one day found a new door that I somehow never noticed. Upon opening, I discovered that the house I had become so familiar with over a lifetime, was merely one small shelf, in a little closet, of a much larger setting. The scale of which, although at first seemed unrelated, almost immediately became attendant with memories that were becoming just as familiar as my little drawer in my little closet. For they were my memories: previously forgotten, but newly vibrant to my attention.

In a rare moment of patience, she left me to ponder this new awareness for some time before continuing, “I don’t know who started it all, but if you look close enough, you should be able to see you did me in last life.”

My comprehension of this newfound history was far too premature to clearly ascertain time and sequence. But what I could establish was a hodgepodge of depictions through past centuries which played like short video clips of back-and-forth malice. Certainly, I was no angel. Yet, I was too transfixed by all this imagery to offer her a response.

Charlene was pensive. She looked around the house, apparently contemplating all that was lost. “I liked this place. I was hoping to peacefully grow old, for once.”

I was still immersed in the magnitude of what all of these video clips were revealing.

She went on, “By the way, I knew you were around these past few years. I just figured you’d eventually leave. But you were too stubborn.”

I was barely aware of what she was saying as I contemplated the patterns of my existence. And indeed, of the times she and I overlapped.

She continued, “Your stubbornness may have kept you here long enough to see this day, but you might not yet recall what’s coming next.” She sighed. “As I lay at the bottom of the stairs for those hours, I started regaining memories like you’re encountering now. What you’ll eventually re-recognize is that to get back in the game, we need to get ourselves born once more. Which I hate. I’m always a miserable baby. But before we do, I’d like to make a pact.” She paused. “Are you listening?”

It wasn’t easy pulling myself away from this trove of pictures, but I acquiesced and gave her my attention.

“Let’s stop this stupid game. Will you agree to that?”

As much as I still didn’t understand so much of what was going on, a sense of rightness suffused in a way that seemed so innately true that my response was irresistible: “OK.”

“Good.” And in true Charlene style, “I’m leaving.” Yet, her next and final words resonated with an earnest caution so untypical of her, I hung on to them well after she evanesced from my awareness, “Don’t get stuck here.”

The house was no longer merely empty, it now seemed immeasurably desolate. It became a vacuum of livingness.

How does one describe a loss of years-long friction that filled every day? You might think it would be pleasing. But I was engulfed with mourning. I had been stuck in that tension for so long that I felt unsettled in its absence.

After the initial fascination with the past images wore off, I retreated to my bedroom corner and sulked. Gloomy months went by. Until Lucia returned one day with Frederick and her husband. Frederick found me right away and barked me out of a quasi-coma until I once again played “Chase the invisible man” with him.

Lucia placed some flowers in the kitchen. While she was giving her husband a tour, I recalled that I had willed the house to her in the event of an untimely death. Although I had made that amendment to the will in a moment of spite, I knew it couldn’t take effect unless Charlene was gone. I had forgotten all about it. Now, I was encouraged that I had.

Other than playing with Frederick, I finally accepted that my presence had outlived its purpose, particularly since it was vengefully conceived. If I was hoping for some righteous vindication to dawn upon me, it never arrived. It was remorse that held me trapped in a tiny corner. No one else, but myself, could engender the will to move on.

And eventually, I did.

It seems that part of the deal of getting born again is to forget the past. Even if some parts manage to resurface, especially early in a new life. But a question remains for me: Will we remember the pact?

by George Alger


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