Little Lost Things

[originally published on r/NoSleep]

I’ve never been a particularly organized person. I put things down, I forget where I put them, I find them later. I’m the kind of guy who always finds money in his winter jacket when he puts it on for the first time each year. And the kind of guy who isn’t able to let anyone know that he’s running late because he can’t find his phone. You know my type.

My wife, Molly, used to curb the worst of my tendencies. She instituted the key bowl by the door, the folder on the side of the fridge for the mail. She was big on things having a place, and she’d get on my case when I didn’t put them where they belonged. She’d say things like “The bills can’t get paid if you don’t know that they’re here” and “If you keep losing keys, how can you think the locks are doing anything useful at all?” So while she was here, I was a lot better about things, if only to avoid her giving me exasperated looks.

But last year I came home from a business trip to find that she’d passed away in her sleep, and I’ve been back on my own since then. I meant to keep her routines going in her honor, but my heart just wasn’t in it. It was hard enough making myself eat and shower and go to work at first, and it was so easy to just drop the mail on the table, to leave my keys in my pants pockets, to let everything slide back into my old bad habits.

I knew she’d be disappointed, so I did make an effort. I chucked my clothes into the hamper, rather than piling them up on the floor. I cleared off the flat surfaces at least once a week, instead of just letting clutter pile up. It wasn’t great, but I was making an effort.

And the weird thing was, I kind of developed this idea that Molly was helping me out, too. I’d wander around sometimes looking for a pair of socks that I’d left by the couch, only to discover that they were in with the dirty clothes already. Mail that had been dumped onto the counter would be stacked in its little bin. Things like that. It was like having a poltergeist, only in reverse.

I mean, obviously I figured that it was just that I’d done it and forgotten about it. I was spending a lot of time drifting through life in those days, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do without her. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that I was forgetting about some of the utter banality of life. But it was nice to think that Molly was still with me, still looking out for me, still giving me those exasperated looks.

But even after I got through those early days, that sort of thing kept happening. If anything, the frequency increased. I’d come downstairs in the morning to find little things straightened up, coasters stacked neatly on a corner of the table, things like that. Sometimes it would be bigger stuff: blankets folded, dishes washed and put away. I even started noticing snacks and junk food, the kind of stuff Molly always told me to cut back on, disappearing from the pantry.

This was no longer something I could explain away. I went to get a sleep study done, in case I was sleepwalking or something. The doctor told me that I was one of the soundest sleepers she’d ever seen, and she saw no evidence that I was likely to be wandering around the house at night tidying up. She recommended that I cut back on caffeine just in case, but it didn’t change a thing. I kept waking up in the morning to find that things had been moved during the night.

In desperation, I went to see a spiritualist, someone who claimed to be able to cleanse the house of spirits. I didn’t tell him that I thought that the spirit might be my wife. I just told him that small objects were in different places every day, and he quoted me a price and told me to free up a Thursday. I hated myself a little as I paid him the money, because I knew it was ridiculous, but I’d tried everything else.

When he came over yesterday morning, we walked through the entire house together. He lit a bundle of some kind of herbs on fire, and we let the smoke drift over and around us as we walked slowly from room to room, pausing at each window and door. He chanted something, a quiet incantation, and I just walked in silence and felt increasingly silly. We ended by meditating in the living room, which he said would imprint my presence strongly on the house. My meditation mainly consisted of me wondering how long it would take the smoky smell to leave. I don’t know that that’s exactly what I was supposed to be doing, but after half an hour or so the spiritualist told me that we were done, that the house was fully mine.

As he was leaving, he gave me a sheet listing steps to follow each night for a week to ensure that the energy work he had done would hold. They involved burning some more herbs, chanting about my determination to define my space, and doing a slow path around the house symbolically locking each entry point. It didn’t matter if they were already locked, he said. The point was to keep out the spirit world, and so it was the intention that mattered.

I thought about simply chucking the instructions, but I’d already come this far and so I decided to see it through, ridiculous or not. So last night, I burned the herbs, said the words and paced slowly through my house, miming locking motions at each window and door.

The thing is, though, when I got to the back door, the key wasn’t in the deadbolt. It should have been. That’s where I always left it, so that I could easily lock and unlock the door. I checked the key bowl in case it was there, but it wasn’t. And weirder still, the copy that should have been on my keyring was gone, too.

Last night, as I lay awake in bed thinking about the door in my house that I couldn’t lock, I heard quiet noises from downstairs. I heard soft footsteps, gentle rustling, the sound of the pantry door being eased open and closed. None of them would have woken me had I already been asleep, but awake as I was, I lay there in utter silence and listened to the sounds of someone else at home in my house.

I didn’t sleep a wink last night, although I did close my eyes and pretend when I heard the soft creak of weight on the stairs. I kept my breathing still and even as I felt the mild caress of a hand against my cheek, and heard a voice whisper, “She was never good for you.”

I’m replacing the locks today. I just hope it’s enough.

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