I still remember Jonathan as he was. The way he smiled. The way he would hold me when I was feeling low. The times he enjoyed me making breakfast, even when it was only a bowl of cereal.
But then I remember the day when I kicked him out. We had an argument about him leaving clothes on the floor when he came over. It grew from there. Suddenly, every little nitpick we had about each other lay bare, nothing was off limits.
He had never hit me before. But it only had to be once for me to not want him there anymore. So, he left.
On the way home, he stopped at a bar to grab a few drinks. He then started yelling at some guy who was playing pool. They got into a fight. Jonathan grabbed a beer bottle. The other guy pulled a knife. One well-placed jab, under the ribs and into the heart, and it was over. Jonathan was dead.
All I could think of during the funeral, when I wasn’t crying, was the irony of us both getting our hearts destroyed that night. At least he didn’t have to worry about his anymore.
I was devastated. I stopped going to classes at university; my professors understood, and welcomed me back when I was ready. I got calls from friends to hang out, but I ignored them.
It wasn’t the same without him. One bad fight, and all of our good times meant nothing. Those good times were all I could think about…that, and wishing we could have had a chance to make up. But that was taken away from us.
Well, maybe. That day, I started to wonder whether there was anything beyond death, if there was some way for me to speak to him one last time.
That night I began browsing the internet. Though there was no shortage of information, most of it strained credulity, and the methods described were impractical. Out of necessity I looked into other areas. I tried the school library, but their selection of books was fairly surface-level, dealing with chant circles and moon magic. I wanted something deeper.
I turned to an old bookstore downtown, the kind of place that smells like something dark and mysterious lives there. Perhaps I expected too much, but only one book looked interesting, a more recent paperback that discussed séances and mediums as the two means of contacting the dead. It wasn’t good enough. I wanted direct contact, not an intermediary. I had no desire to be scammed. The shopkeeper must have noticed my dismay. He pulled me aside, and told me that on occasion people passed through with stranger things to sell, and that he kept those items in storage, and only showed them upon request. The subject matter, he said, gave most people the willies.
I flashed him $75 and asked what it would buy me on the subject of speaking to the dead. He returned from the back room with a leather-bound book in hand. It was well-worn, decidedly ancient in appearance, its cover blank. I flipped through it briefly and realized it was entirely handwritten. The shopkeeper said he had purchased it from a woman whose mother had passed away, leaving her with an attic filled with a variety of books. He bought them all, and this particular book, he said, had been found amongst the others. He never displayed it, as it had little face value, and yet, it looked too interesting to toss.
The book was brimming with information on the subject of necromancy, portions of it in languages I didn’t recognize, but it felt like exactly what I needed. I thanked the shop owner and left.
At home, I read it, and found exactly what I’d been searching for: detailed instructions and incantations for summoning and communicating with the deceased. I had no idea what the incantations said, of course, and no way of knowing if I was reciting them properly. But I had come this far, and wasn’t about to stop now. Thankfully, all the “ingredients” required were fairly common, or easily obtained, and that very same night, I did as the book said, and recited the incantations to the best of my ability.
Nothing happened. I sighed, disappointed. I should have expected as much, I told myself, and felt my heart being torn apart all over again. Dejected, I cleaned up, prepared myself a microwave dinner, popped a pair of nighttime Tylenols, and went to bed. Evening was still hours away, but I didn’t care. I just wanted the day to be over.
I woke to the feeling of an icy finger brushing against the back of my hand.
I sat up and held my breath, wondering who it was, and nearly screamed when I saw the figure standing beside my bed.
It stood motionless in the nearest corner of my room, facing the wall. Instinctively, I reached for the switch on my lamp. Before I could turn on the light, however, a frigid hand pushed mine away. In what little light made its way into my room from the streetlights outside, I saw it shake its head and turn toward me. It was just bright enough to make out the shape of its body and its hair, but little else. A familiar scent came to me then, and I just knew.
He was pale and disheveled, and in the dim conditions I had trouble making out his exact features, but there was no doubt in my mind that it was really him. He was there. I didn’t know how, but he was there.
Elated, I reached again for the lamp on my bedside table, hoping to turn on the lights and get a better look at him. Once more a clammy hand shot out of the dark and stopped me. Jonathan turned from me, as if nervous, or ashamed, about his appearance. I rose to meet him, telling him that he had nothing to be afraid of, that I cared about who he was, not what he looked like. I said I was sorry that we had argued, that I wished he had never gone to the bar, that I wish we had made up instead of giving up.
Silently he hushed me, putting a freezing finger to my lips, and there, in the dark, he held me. I was beside myself, crying tears of joy. I had my chance to make amends and tell him how I felt, and say goodbye. There, wrapped in his cold embrace, I smiled, feeling more at peace than I ever had before. That night, I said everything I wanted to say, told him I loved him, and kissed him one last time. Before long, it was over. I opened my eyes to morning light streaming in through my windows, and sighed. For the second time, Jonathan was gone. For a moment I wondered if it had all been a dream. I felt different, however. Lighter. I still missed Jonathan, of course, but having the opportunity to say goodbye properly, real or not, made what pain I felt just a bit more dull. The important thing was, I was content, and ready to move on with my life.
* * * * * * *
The next night, however, much to my surprise, he returned. Wordlessly, just like before, he wrapped his icy arms around my waist. There, in the dark, he held me close. Again, the cold chilled me, but in that moment, that didn’t even matter. Nothing else mattered. Jonathan was truly there, and as I touched and spoke to him, I began to wonder if I needed to move on at all.
Things went on like that for a week, Jonathan waking me in the middle of the night, always facing away from me in the corner of the room, and always coming when called.
By that time, I felt well enough to return to classes, though I’ll admit I was a bit sleep-deprived, and a bit out of sorts without a cup of coffee. It didn’t come as much of a surprise then, when on my first day back, one of my classmates took an inordinate interest in me, asking repeatedly if I was feeling all right. I insisted I was perfectly fine, just a bit tired.
“Are you sure you don’t need to see a doctor?” she persisted. “You look terrible.”
I didn’t think I looked that bad. Alarmed, I went to the bathroom after class to look in the mirror. Sure enough, I didn’t look my best, but in my estimation, things could have been a lot worse. Surely, it was nothing to call the doctor over.
The next week, Jonathan’s nightly visits continued. I basked in his familiar scent as he embraced me, and it was intoxicating. It drove me wild, and more than once, despite the cold, I encouraged him to come to bed with me. Each and every time, he declined, shaking his head without so much as a word. With each passing day, I began to anticipate his visits, doing my best to stay up as late as possible, but no matter how hard I tried I always fell asleep before his arrival.
My performance at school began to suffer. Where at first I had felt great about returning to my usual activities, I began to think of them as distractions, and lost focus. Jonathan was all I could think about, fantasizing daily about his visits. One day, while hopelessly lost in the throes of reverie, the same classmate that had previously commented on my appearance interrupted me again, inquiring as to whether or not I had been seen by a doctor yet. I frowned in disapproval.
I decided to confide in her about Jonathan and our relationship, in the hopes that she would stop asking. So we met for lunch, and over soup I told her how he came to me, every night, and made me feel more wonderful than I ever had in my life. She looked a bit unnerved, simply nodding in response to everything I said. I could tell she didn’t believe me. That’s when she surprised me by asking what I was doing that night. “Other than seeing him,” she added.
I told her I had no plans other than dinner and TV. She asked if it would be all right if she stopped by to study with me. We had an exam to study for coming up soon anyway, and I had to admit I was behind and could use the help, so I agreed, on the condition that we wrap it up before midnight. I had no interest in delaying my rendezvous with Jonathan.
That night, as planned, my classmate arrived. We had something to eat and began studying. Something seemed to be bothering her, however, and she was oddly quiet throughout the evening. She kept receiving texts as well, which she replied to with a sort of urgency. Eventually, I asked her what was wrong. “Nothing,” she said, and left it at that.
The night wore on, with us studying far longer than I had intended. Midnight was approaching, and I was ready to call it a night. We had class in the morning, and besides, Jonathan would be arriving soon, and I didn’t want to leave him waiting. I invited my classmate back some other time, thanked her for her help and company, and bid her goodbye. I figured that would be the last I would see of her for the evening, and nearly jumped for joy once she was out of my apartment. I could nearly smell Jonathan’s scent again, so sweet, so intoxicating. The anticipation was nearly more than I could bear.
Quickly I changed out of my day clothes, slipping on a nightgown that was Jonathan’s favorite in life, and slid into bed to wait for his arrival.
I must have dozed off rather quickly. I don’t remember falling asleep. But when I woke up, it was just after midnight, and he was there, in the corner. Jonathan. I sighed in contentment, and called to him. He turned in my direction, pulled me to my feet. I wrapped my arms around him and laid my head on his shoulder, taking in his essence, even as the cold of his body siphoned the very warmth from mine. I had never felt so close to anyone in my life, and I was so, so happy.
Suddenly, a loud pounding on my door jolted me. At first I ignored it, but it continued with an unavoidable urgency. Scowling, I broke free of Jonathan’s embrace and threw on a robe, and jogged to my front door. When I opened it, I found my classmate had returned, a look of embarrassment on her face. She ran out of gas, she said, and wanted to know if I could give her a ride to the nearest gas station. Then, in mid-sentence, she froze.
“Oh my gosh, what happened to you?” she asked.
I asked her what she meant.
“You’re so pale. Is everything okay?”
“Of course, I’m fine,” I said, dismissing her concerns. Jonathan was waiting for me in the bedroom, and I was getting irritated.
“You don’t look fine,” she insisted. “C’mon, let’s get you to the hospital. You don’t look good at all. It doesn’t hurt to make su-”
“I don’t need your help!” I shrieked involuntarily. The words came out so loudly I surprised myself. My classmate recoiled a bit, and stumbled backwards a step or two.
“I– I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell,” I said. “It’s just, I’m very tired, and haven’t been sleeping as much as I should, and I need to get to bed. It’s late, and I have class early. Isn’t there anyone else you can call to help?”
Suddenly, from the bedroom, we both heard the sound of a lamp breaking. My classmate jumped.
“What was that?” she asked, startled.
I considered making up an excuse. She never believed me about Jonathan anyway. But she looked so frightened, I didn’t want to scare her any further.
“Oh, that’s just Jonathan,” I said. “I told you, he comes to see me every night. And you’re keeping him waiting. Please, you need to go.”
I watched as all the blood drained from my classmate’s face. She stammered incoherently for a moment, and then began texting someone in earnest. I looked at her quizzically. I was just about to ask what was going on, and what she was so afraid of. It was only Jonathan, after all. He was good for me, and I loved him. Certainly, he was nothing to be afraid of.
My classmate looked up from her phone, and straight into my eyes. “Jonathan is dead!” she cried. “Please, let me take you to the hospital. You need help. Let me help you, please!”
I laughed. Jonathan wasn’t dead. He used to be dead, of course, but that was before the ritual. My classmate just didn’t understand.
“No,” I told her, “that’s ridiculous. He’s alive, and he’s waiting for me. You’re being very rude, and I want you out of my house.”
My classmate locked eyes with me for a moment, and then sprinted across my apartment to my bedroom door. Without hesitation she threw it open and flipped on all of the lights, and charged into the bedroom.
“No!” I screamed. “He doesn’t like it when the lights are on! He doesn’t like the way he loo–”
Before I could finish berating her and march in after her, I saw her stop dead in her tracks. Then she screamed. And she kept on screaming.
The door slammed shut behind her. From behind it, her muffled shrieks continued. I worried that she was going to wake my neighbors.
I heard a sound near my front door, and turned to find my classmate’s cell phone in the hallway. She must have dropped it. I picked it up. It was on, and unlocked. Text messages. I didn’t know who they were sent to, but the ones from her told whoever she had been speaking to that she was very concerned about my mental health, and thought I might be hurting myself. That I was seeing things, and that I might need medication to help with my hallucinations.
It made me angry. I would never, ever hurt myself. But it didn’t matter now.
The screaming had stopped, and everything was quiet again.
I texted my classmate’s friend back that everything was fine, and it was all a misunderstanding. Then I turned off the phone and left it on the counter.
I returned to my bedroom, opening the door slowly at first, to find the lights again turned off. There was no sign of my classmate.
“Jonathan?” I called out into the darkness.
He didn’t say anything to me, as usual, but I could smell him. That same, familiar, intoxicating scent. And I could just about make him out, standing in the corner of the room, facing the wall, by my bedside table.
“Jonathan, it’s me,” I said, stepping around the bed to hold him. “Is she gone? Are we alone again?”
In the dark, I couldn’t quite make out his face, but I saw him nod and point to the window, where the barely recognizable, emaciated husk of a body lay prostrate, draped across the sill. A thin line of frost extended from its fingertips where they made contact with the glass. I’ll admit I was a bit shocked at first. Then, in the dim light of my bedroom, I saw the hint of a smile creep across Jonathan’s lips, and I knew everything would be okay. Jonathan was no hallucination, and I would never kick him out. Telling him to leave cost him his life once already, and I will never let that happen again.
In the dark, Jonathan held me close. For once, surprisingly, he didn’t seem quite so cold. My teeth chattered, of course, and my muscles ached, but none of that mattered. Not anymore.
In that perfect moment, locked tight in his arms, he pressed his lips to mine. And as he did, the most wonderful shiver ran down my spine.