“Just a Memory”
William M. O’Brien, Jr.
Sixty-six-year old Harold Bristow sat in front of a football game on the edge of his seat.
“All right, Harold. Let’s go.”
Harold did not acknowledge his wife’s presence although she had just come into the room
“Can’t you wait a couple of minutes. This quarter is almost over.”
Joan Bristow stood behind her husband’s chair, crossing and re-crossing her arms in impatience.
The game stopped for the investigation of an out-of-bounds call.
“He was out, damn it!” Harold moved forward toward the TV.
“Now what.” Joan puffed out a blast of air from her nose that was audible for all around.
Harold turned his head toward the back. “He stepped out. Everybody could see it. And now there’s a question about it.”
“All right, Harold. If you’re not going to come, I’ll just go by myself.”
“All right, all right, I’m coming.” Harold clicked off the game and rose from his chair. “I need to see if they have any more of that beer I found there the last time.”
At the store, Harold pushed the cart while Joan shopped. When they rounded the corner of the beer/wine counter he sighted a woman on the end of the aisle whom he thought he recognized.
But that couldn’t be. That was forty years ago, he thought.
“All right where was that beer you wanted,” Joan said, impatiently. “Wake up, for God’s sake.
“Oh…Oh. It was back over here.” He turned the cart around and headed for the other end of the aisle. He found the beer he wanted and loaded three large cans. He turned the cart around and headed for the other end of the aisle, in hopes of getting another look at the woman he had seen.
But at the end of the aisle, there was no one around, just one older woman with a young girl in tow.
“What are you doing now?” his wife asked behind him.
“I thought I saw someone I recognized,” he replied, still looking up and down the main aisle.
Joan ignored the reply. “Well, let’s hurry up. We need to get our items and get home.”
At home, Harold still thought about the woman he had seen. He thought that she had momentarily stared at him also, most likely trying to determine where she had seen him. He was sure she was someone he had known in the past, notably the distant past.
The next morning, Harold thought about returning to the store to see if the woman was there. Perhaps she was employed there.
All that day, he could not get the familiar woman out of his mind, but, for the life of him he couldn’t remember a name. He wished he had gotten a better look at her, but the look he had gotten was drilling a hole in his skull.
That night he had a dream about the woman he had seen at the grocery store. They were in a public garden somewhere he could not determine. But he could see her standing next to an old -fashioned gazebo. Suddenly she began to walk toward him. Harold, growing more excited by the minute, began to walk toward her. But, as he walked, he became aware of a growing feeling of horror.
Five feet from her, Harold stopped. She kept coming, the closer to him, the greater the feeling of horror that was overtaking him. When she was just in front of him, he awoke. Terror and sweat forced him to the edge of the bed.
“Wha…What in the name of God is…” he choked, aloud.
Joan, suddenly awake, rolled over to her husband. “Harold, What’s the matter,” she croaked.
“I…I had a bad dream. I…”
“Well, go get a drink of water and go back to sleep. It’s three o’clock in the morning and I have to get to work in the morning.
“Okay…Okay..” He rolled over away from his wife and closed his eyes. He wondered about the feeling he had in his dream as the figure approached. Shouldn’t he feel good, maybe even sexy? But he did not.
He did not return to sleep, but lay awake thinking, still thinking about what he knew of the woman he had seen. Again, the recognition of the woman slowly emerged but, in a setting, so far in the past that she should have been an old woman at present.
“That’s impossible,” he whispered, hoping his wife did not hear him.
Two hours after his wife left for work the next morning, he headed back to the store on the pretext that he had seen a woman who looked exactly like the woman of memory. And chances are that woman may still be there, maybe an employee.
Knowing the woman of his memory would be very old and possibly even dead, he wanted to make the woman in the store’s acquaintance. She might even be a relative, even a daughter or granddaughter of the woman of his memory.
But what really puzzled him was the terror he had experienced when he had dreamed about her. Weren’t such dreams supposed to be friendly, or at least non-committal.
At the store, Harold searched through each aisle, and then through the produce area and deli. There was no sign of the woman he had seen.
Disgusted, he headed for the parking lot. Outside the main entrance, he looked around to find where he had parked his truck. In doing so, he saw something he was totally unprepared for.
On the end of one of the rows, the woman he had come to the store to find was getting into a car. She wore the same dress she wore the day he had seen her before, a white shift with long sleeves and short skirt.
Before she slid into the driver’s seat, she looked up and turned toward Harold and smiled.
Harold was stricken. He could not move.
Then the woman entered her car, started the motor, backed out, then headed toward the entrance of the parking lot.
After gathering his senses, Harold thought about getting into his truck and following her. But when he got to his vehicle, she was long gone.
“She must be an employee of the store,” he said to himself, sitting in his truck. However, she wore no I.D. for the store, nor was she even dressed as an employee.
Harold spent the rest of the day thinking about the strange woman, who, somehow, had not aged. Even people who aged well show age after forty years. But she seemed to be her youthful self.
That night, Harold got up at one-thirty, as usual, to visit the bathroom and then return to bed. But, instead of lying awake for a short while as he usually did, he fell asleep immediately and began to dream.
The young woman in red and white returned and again this time she walked up to him. When less than three feet from him, she stopped and raised her hands. They were covered with blood.
“Harold, remember me,” she whispered, high enough for him to hear.
Then her face took on a contortion which was as sickening as it was frightening.
Harold awoke in a sweat, his pajama top almost soaked.
“Harold, what is it now?” a sleepy voice next to him asked.
“I… I just used the bathroom and then I went right back to sleep and had another bad dream.”
“Yeah, another one. Like the other.”
“Well, Harold. It’s probably something you ate. You know what they say about eating chocolate and other crap at bedtime.”
“I…I don’t think that had anything to do with it.”
“Well, go back to sleep. I need to get back to sleep.”
Harold walked to the kitchen to get a drink of water, wondering about the curious dream he had just experienced. “What about those bloody hands,” he muttered to himself.
He filled a tumbler with cold water and then returned to bed.
Harold returned to a troubled sleep to be awakened by Joan’s alarm at six o’clock. He rolled over while his wife rose and headed for the bathroom.
Later that morning, Harold fell asleep in a comfortable chair in the living room, something he hardly ever did as he was always highly active in the mornings, especially with his wife gone.
In a dream, the woman in question appeared again, much closer this time than before. He could not see her hands because she was only five or six inches from his face, but this time, he remembered a name. Abigail Fulton. But he knew her forty years ago. Now, she looked the same as she did then. How could this be unless this is a child.
Suddenly, he awoke and sat up. Visions of the supermarket parking lot began going through his head. Abigail Fulton was there, wearing clothes she wore forty years before. And looking like she did forty years before.
Then the vision of bloody hands appeared. Why? He thought.
Now he knew what he had to do. He would consult Legacy.com to find Abigail if she was there.
But when he consulted the site to find this mysterious woman, she was not there.
“Then she is alive,” he concluded. But why doesn’t she show any sign of age? It has been forty years, after all. He looked vastly different, why shouldn’t she.
Maybe that’s not Abigail but her daughter, he thought again. Or even a granddaughter. But what about the dreams.
Now Harold thought about returning to the supermarket to see if, perhaps, she was there. She had been there the last two times he had gone there. Would she be there a third time?
Harold sat back in his easy chair and thought about what he would do next. Then, the idea hit him. He would call Charley Hilts, who had worked with him at a lumber yard back in the seventies. He had kept up with Charley because the two had a lot in common. He had known Abigail Fulton and the two of them used to discuss her over beers quite often.
“Yeah, she was a fox,” Charlie replied after ten minutes of small talk and Harold mentioning the girl in question. “You were really hot for her.”
“She sure was,” Harold replied. “Do you happen to know what happened to her? I don’t.”
“Not really,” Charlie paused for a minute. “There was some type of trouble with her, though. I remember that.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I don’t remember what happened there,” Charlie paused again. “Do you remember Bill Chadwell, the lawyer who used to play poker with us? He was a cop down there back then. He’d probably know what happened.”
“How do I get in touch with him?” Harold remembered the tall lawyer who used to tell jokes in between hands on poker night.
“Knowing Bill, he’s probably still working. Try the District Attorney’s Office.”
Harold said back in his easy chair and thought how he could reach a person in the District Attorney’s office. He guessed the easiest way was just to call the operator, which he did, and was put on hold.
Not too long after, Bill Chadwell picked up the phone.
“Hello, Bill. How are you doing.?” After only a few minutes of introductions and reminiscing, Harold got down to business.
“Say, Bill. Do you remember Abigail Fulton?”
“Abigail Fulton…Abigail Fulton…Oh, yeah. You and Charlie knew her, didn’t you.”
“Yeah. Like I said I was just talking with Charlie and her name came up. That was kind of a…”
“That chick’s been gone quite a while, hasn’t she?”
“Yeah, forty years, I think.” Harold was becoming excited. “Say, do you happen to know what happened to her.?”
There was a pause during which Harold was becoming impatient.
“Yes. That was during my fifth precinct days,” Bill paused again. And then continued his explanation.
“She got herself in a whole lot of trouble. She killed her stepmother with a straight razor. I remember that very well.”
“My God, Bill. I sure didn’t know that.” Harold took a deep breath and paused a bit. “Did she go to jail?”
“No. No. She didn’t. That’s the weird thing. She just disappeared.”
“Yeah, disappeared.” Bill paused a minute to remember. “The officers at the scene, if I recall, found the stepmother pretty badly cut up. She was the first suspect but she was nowhere to be found.”
“Well, Bill, if she wasn’t around what makes you think…”
Bill knew what Harold was going to say. “There was a witness. She saw the murder being committed and charged into the house to try to stop it. What happened then was that the neighbor encountered Abigail in the entrance hall. She was covered with blood and she had the razor still in hand. The neighbor woman was scared shitless and ran out of the house. Abigail didn’t follow. That was the last that anyone ever saw of Abigail Fulton.”
“You mean she just vanished?” Harold visualized the woman at the market with blood all over her hands.
“Nothing was ever found?”
“Couldn’t find anything.” Bill paused a minute to think. “The only blood and fingerprints were that of the murdered woman. And this was weird. Abigail’s bedroom was just a sterile bedroom. Nothing. Just a few keepsakes here and there and nothing. And then this. We couldn’t find any of her fingerprints anywhere. Not on her clothes, not on the keepsakes, the chest of drawers, a desk that was mostly empty. Nothing.”
“That is very weird, Bill.”
“Yes it is. It’s as if she wiped the entire area clean and took a whole bunch of stuff with her.”
Harold thought about telling Bill about seeing Abigail, or someone identical to her at the grocery store, but decided against it. And the dream of her with bloody hands popped into his head again.
“I saw someone who looked just like her at the grocery store, Bill.”
“Oh, yeah. Abigail should be about fifty-nine or sixty now, if she’s still living.” Bill paused again. “I think she was around nineteen or twenty when she disappeared. I don’t remember. The case was closed years ago.”
“This girl I saw was about Abigail’s age when we knew her.”
“Oh, yeah. She was a looker.” Bill paused again. “I guess I better get upstairs before someone comes to look for me.”
“Sure, Bill. Thanks for the info."
After he hung up the phone, Harold leaned back in his chair and thought about what Bill had said.
“She couldn’t be that girl I saw,” Harold said aloud to himself. “God, sixty years old. She couldn’t be her.”
“There’s no way that woman is sixty years old,” Joan Bristow scolded from the kitchen door. “That’s some young chick you’ve been eyeballin’.”
“She’s a dead ringer for Abigail,” Harold shot back.
“And you had some goofy dream about her with blood all over her,” Now Joan stood with hands on hips in front of Harold’s chair. “That is your overactive imagination.”
“I didn’t even know what the woman did until Bill Chadwell told me.” Harold stood up and strode into the kitchen to get a beer.
Late that night Harold was awakened by a rustling sound outside the bedroom window. He sat up in bed and stared at the window trying to figure out if it was the wind or something else.
He stared at the window until he was satisfied that it was just the wind after all, but when he lay back down on his pillow, he barely caught sight of a shadow rising from below the window sill and stalking off through the bushes to the right of the window.
Harold sat up again and stared, sleep still making seeing difficult. The shadow was gone but a picture of Abigail Fulton began taking shape in his mind.
Is she right outside? He thought.
The only sounds he could hear were Joan’s quiet snoring and a branch blowing against the windowpane.
He got up and walked to the window, but because the only light was a streetlight down the street, he could not see much. But he stood at the window for a long time, hoping his wife did not wake and hoping he could get at least a passing glimpse of the figure he had seen just outside the window. Nothing appeared.
The next day, Harold sat in his favorite chair in the front room and thought about calling Bill Chadwell again.
The hall phone’s loud ring disturbed his thoughts about the call.
Thinking that the call was just another nuisance call, he made his way to the hall and lifted the receiver.
“Hello, Harold,” a soft voice said immediately. “I saw you the other day. Do you remember me?”
“Who is this!” he shouted into the phone.
“Why, you know who this is. This is Abigail.” The voice was very quiet and smooth.
“No…No… You’re some kind of kook.” Now Harold was becoming impatient. “I knew Abigail Fulton over forty years ago.”
There was pause, momentarily, which led Harold to think the individual on the other end of the line was preparing some response.
Finally she answered. “Ha ha ha. You were always kind of horny for me. Come to 106 Calaveras Street and see me.”
106 Calaveras Street! The statement hit him like a ton of bricks. He knew the address from long ago, when he had lived on Mistletoe Street just around the corner.
Calaveras Street was part of an old, decaying neighborhood which was old when Harold had lived there. Many of the houses there were deserted, and nearby businesses had moved away years before. Older people lived there who had moved into the neighborhood as young adults with small children. The children had grown up in the neighborhood and left home for better lives. Abigail Fulton had been one of these children.
She had been born to residents of the neighborhood, parents who had divorced when she was young, and her father had remarried and brought his new wife home when Abigail was a teenager. But as he had found out, a few years later the girl had apparently killed her stepmother and then vanished.
Harold hung up the phone and resolved to visit his old neighborhood the next day.
The next afternoon Harold headed toward the inner city with Abigail’s voice ringing in his ears. He had begun to believe the clue to the whole affair lay in finding Abigail’s old home on Calaveras Street. However, when he arrived there, there were children playing in front of two of the houses. Abigail’s old house appeared to be deserted but kids were playing next door, so he decided to return the next morning when the children were in school.
The next day, Tuesday, Calaveras was an empty Street. Now, Harold parked his truck around the corner and headed for Abigail’s old house.
Trying not to be seen, He made his way through a thick hedge and thigh-high weeds to the backdoor of the old house. There he found a locked door, but a window next to it was cracked a bit.
With a little bit of effort, he was able to lift the window so that he could get in.
Once in he went from room to room but found nothing but thick dust and a few ragged pieces of furniture. Several of the walls were covered with scrawling and graffiti. People had obviously lived in the house since Abigail’s time but the last tenants had left it in a shambles.
Backing up to the Fulton house was the old Studers building which fronted on a major thoroughfare. It was also long abandoned but had done business as a Farmer’s Market after the camera and film business had left some thirty to forty years ago. Now, like the Fulton home, it was long vacant.
When coming out of the driveway, Harold looked up to see Abigail, or whoever was masquerading as Abigail Fulton, duck behind the old building. He headed for the rear of the building intent on confronting the woman, whoever she was. But when he got to the rear of the building, there was nothing but a small alley throughway between Studers and the old Fulton property.
Harold looked around the side of the building and found a door with no outside locks but it was tightly locked from the inside. Immediately, he thought about prying the door open as it could not be seen from the street and an overgrowth of shrubs and weeds hid it from the building next to it.
Early the next morning, after Joan had gone to work, Harold headed for Calaveras Street again and the long locked up Studers Building. After parking his car in the driveway of the Fulton house, with small crowbar in hand and flashlight in pocket, he made his way to the locked door he had found the previous day.
Again, he was alone and, although he could hear traffic on the street out front, he could not be seen. He inserted the bar into the door and began to pry it open.
Surprisingly, the door yielded to his prying easily and he opened it to a confluence of spider webs, dust, and hideous smell.
He hated spiders but, undaunted, swinging his bar to and fro, he entered the building and closed the door behind him. A room no bigger than a walk-in closet appeared in his flashlight beam, complete with rotting crates stacked on top of each other completely covering one wall. Another door appeared just to the left of the door he had just opened.
“What the hell is this now?” he muttered to himself.
The inside door would lead to a hallway to the front of the building so, using the crowbar, he began moving the crates away from the covered wall and found almost immediately a second inside door. This door, with just a standard lock, yielded to his prying almost immediately.
A cloud of dust and horrid smell wafted out of the room, pushing him back a step. He tried a light switch inside the door but again, no light. His immediate thought was that if he opened the door to the outside, the light would flood the two rooms and vanquish much of the dust and the smell, but then he might attract attention as people could see through the brush and shrubbery immediately out side.
Instead he flashed his flashlight beam around the walls of the newly opened room and found a small window with two panes smashed out high up near the ceiling.
“So that’s where all this damned dust and spiders and crap is coming from,” he said to himself.
Then he flashed his light across the floor.
Appearing immediately on the floor lay a large pistol.
“My God, what’s that doing here?” he muttered. Further examination of the room found a chest of drawers, a dust covered trash can, and a bed.
Something appeared on the bed and he stepped closer to it.
There, on the bed, lay a human skeleton, covered with rotted clothes that once had been white and red in color.
“Oh, Jesus,” he said, now out loud. “How…How long…”
And now he sensed he was not alone and turned.
There, between him and the door he had just pried open, stood Abigail Fulton.
She was close enough now for Harold to see right through her. She started toward him and he backed up, almost tripping on the bed.
“Hello, Harold,” the wraith said without moving its mouth. It started for him, arm and hand outstretched. Her other arm moved to open her white blouse to reveal a large hole in her stomach just to the right of her navel.
Summoning every bit of strength, he could muster and every muscle in sixty-six year old legs, he threw himself toward the door he had just opened.
Banging both knees on the floor, he painfully stood up, using the door frame as a crutch. Then he staggered toward the outside door.
There he turned around to see Abigail just behind him, now completely naked. He stepped outside and shut the door as tightly as he could. Then, his stomach emptying itself, he limped to his car.
Later that day he called Bill Chadwell and left a message that he stated, emphatically, was urgent.
After learning of the events at the old Studers building, Bill initiated an investigation that determined that after killing her stepmother, Abigail had procured a large pistol from her home and retreated to a secret room she had used as a hideaway in the building, which at that time, was newly abandoned. There, apparently, she had accidentally shot herself with the pistol, how, investigators could not determine.
And Abigail’s ghost? Bill Chadwell could not believe that Harold had seen it, but how had he found the room and the skeleton. And, of course, Harold never visited Calaveras street, or the Fulton home, or the old Studers building ever again.