Sometimes, they say that when you leave a candle on your front porch when it’s raining, a ghost can find its way back home.
I lit a candle on Christmas night. Alone, with only my dog to keep me company, I placed it in a small china cup and set it on the arm of the wicker chair. Sloped, to protect your drink from the rain, and curved in, to set your drink inside, that candle would burn all night, if only the chair would let it.
You’ve never set a candle there, my father would have said. What if it sets the house on fire?
“Then so be it.”
What did I have to live for, if only my dog? He, too, would burn should the house catch aflame.
Charles had never left my side, not even when I tried to fight the wolves that killed my best friend.
I met her when we were sixteen, out in the hills of Tennessee. Dressed in moccasins and with her hair in the braid, I’d surely thought her Indian. But, as it turned out, she bore no Indian bloodline, and no heritage save for the adoptive father that took her in.
She said that his tribe killed her parents before she learned to speak.
That’s why I don’t hate him, she’d said. I didn’t have time to know them. Why hate someone for killing someone I never knew?
Her father’s name escaped me as the years went on, but I remember him being proud and strong, with long, black hair and sunburnt skin. The men in the village called him Red Man sometimes, but never around him, or the daughter they’d come to call the Indian’s Maiden. Their resemblance—so different in some ways, but so uncanny in others—often made people mistake her for the Red Man’s wife.
Never in the Indian man’s life would she be his.
Forever, and through all eternity, she would be mine, and mine alone.
We wed after what seemed like years of being together, but in truth, our relationship before marriage only lasted a few months. Back then, seven was our number—magical, in more ways than one. We met on the seventh day of the seventh month, of seemingly the seventh ending of the decade. Seven flower girls danced at our wedding—three Indian, three white, and one half of each. Seven men graced my side as my best men, while seven women from the Tribe carried my wife’s dress and brought down her veil.
I remembered her being so beautiful back then.
She had to have been twenty-seven.
It pained me to no end that I could not remember her age when we married.
Still, it didn’t matter.
Nothing mattered, not when love caught you and pulled you in two.
We lived in the hills a month or so after we wed. Framed by trees that grew out at seemingly-impossible angles, and centered between two mounds of earth that protected us from the harsh sun as it came up in the west and then down in the south, we could call it nothing but home.
Sadly, like all good things, the house came with the bad.
Abandoned nearly ten years ago, the wood that held it together was slowly but surely beginning to rot. On hot, summer days, the bugs would come out of the woodwork and plague us while we slept, while during cold, rainy nights, the house rumbled, growling as though a beast waken from its sleep would.
It required work that I could not afford.
Somehow, we managed without.
Through the first year, with minor repairs here and there, the house remained standing, despite the wind and the rainstorms we endured on a regular basis.
She used to say that Indians danced whenever it rained and stormed so much.
I didn’t doubt her.
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, you could hear their harsh caws and their low, beating drums. Carried over miles both by the hills and the intensity, their ancient dances and ancestral prayers would startle any man out of his sleep. Once, when I shot up so fast and cracked my skull on the headboard above, my wife woke from her slumber and asked what was wrong.
I told her to listen.
Waiting, at first for moments, then for minutes, she sat as still as a person possibly could. Then, slowly, she smiled.
It’s just the Indians, she’d said. Why are you so afraid of them?
I said nothing.
Her people—or the people—never scared me.
That is, until they came to the house one night and broke down the door.
I used to call them Indians—now I called them wolves.
To disrespect the people who raised my wife—to take their name in vain and tarnish it in whatever way I could—would bring nothing but bad fortune my way.
My wife cooked meat the night the wolves came to our house and forever changed our lives. Thinking back on it, anyone could say how morbidly disturbing it seemed to be—how, unbeknownst to either of us, my wife would cook venison I’d freshly killed with the help of my trusty dog. I knew better though. I knew—and still know—how things can happen for no reason at all.
Some things don’t happen for a reason.
Things happen because they can, not because they do.
Right as we sat down to eat that night, the door burst open, revealing men with faces painted like wolves and clubs adorned with fangs. They wasted no time in dragging my wife from her seat and pinning me to the ground, and they wasted no time in kicking my dog hard enough to tilt his head to the side.
I thought they killed Charles until he whimpered.
I never would’ve guessed the attack would have left him dumb.
As the chaos unfolded in the house—chairs flying, windows breaking and family heirlooms shattering—I watched in utter horror as one of the wolves took a knife from his belt and pressed it to my wife’s chest.
No one knows how it feels to see a knife pressed between your wife’s breasts, just like no one knows how it feels to watch your wife’s clothes being cut apart.
Slowly, with the precision of the finest hunter, the wolf dragged his knife along the length of my wife’s blouse and bent his head to the curve of her naked breast. Like a child, his lips encircled her nipple while his knife continued to trail along the curve of her dress.
First her hip, then her thigh appeared.
After that, it didn’t take long to understand what was going to happen.
Before my eyes, I watched the wolf free himself from his loincloth, mount my wife, and rape her.
He went at it like an animal.
When I tried to look away, another wolf pressed my head into the ground, forcing me to watch every excruciating detail of my wife’s perversion.
It didn’t stop there.
Once the head wolf finished, another took his place—then another, and another, and another. By the time they finished, they’d each took turns raping her, defiling her in ways that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. Some used her mouth, some used her ass, and some entered her two at a time, only furthering pain which I could never even begin to imagine.
After each wolf took his turn, they forced me to my feet, cut the clothes off my body, and forced me on top of her.
They did the dirty work for me.
In my mind, I could still remember the night I raped the woman I loved, and how it felt to watch her look in my eyes just before she died.
I buried her on the property the day after she died.
No one came to the funeral.
Red Man and his tribe had moved on. My father lived in a different state.
To ensure that no one or nothing would ever try to reenact the suffering my wife had endured during her final moments, I buried her one layer at a time—first with blankets, then with rocks, then with dirt and, finally, more rocks. I covered the grave with limestone I’d broken from the river out back.
I used to tell my wife that, one day, the inside of our house would shine with the finest, greenest stones.
Instead, it lined her grave.
I couldn’t afford a tombstone.
By next summer, fresh dirt and grass covered the ground.
Sometimes, when I go outside, I can’t find my wife’s grave.
That’s why I decided to find her ghost.
That’s why I decided to try sometimes…
Rain buffeted the house.
I drew a blanket around me.
Despite the cold, and despite my naked torso, I couldn’t help but feel as though my skin were swimming in sweat. Clammy, my father would’ve said. I felt clammy, and I didn’t know why.
You’ll come back, I thought. I’ve lit a candle for you.
But, really, would she come back?
Did ghosts really sometimes come back?
I fell asleep at the kitchen table, but without regrets, and without the lingering presence of a horrible, tragic night. I’d long since thrown out, destroyed and burned the one my wife and I once sat at. Old memories burned bright, even two years later.
Startled, I jumped out of my seat and threw myself into the kitchen, toward the window where I could once look out and see my wife sitting in her wicker chair.
The candle no longer burned.
I can light it again, I thought, heading for the door. She always used to say that it only raised when the Indians…
Something lingered in the doorway.
A shadow, large and hulking, blocked my path.
“Wha… What ah-ah-are you?” I gasped, backing out of the kitchen. “Who are you? Where’s my wife?”
Do ghosts reply? my father used to ask.
Had they the power, I could not tell. The creature in front of me said nothing.
Taking its first step forward, the hulking black figure turned its head and surveyed the room, as if unsure of its location. Then, with another step, it made its way toward me, stopping only to step around the table.
“I command you to leave!” I cried, continuing to back into the living room. “I did not summon you! Leave, now! Begone!”
The creature shrugged.
A rumble echoed throughout the house.
Had it just laughed?
“LEAVE!” I screamed. “LEAVE!”
The windows exploded.
Rain flooded the floor.
Charles ran out the open front door.
Hurling myself toward my chair, I grabbed my Bible and thrust its surface at the figure.
A second rumble shattered the house.
The splintering of wood snapped in my ears.
The foundation, I breathed.
Before my eyes, the figure leaned forward, pressed its chest to mine, and began to whisper.
Sometimes, it said, we come back.