Ronald Saunders first heard his dead wife whispering to him on a Thursday afternoon, round about four o’clock. As he topped up his mid-morning mug with fresh water, reawakening the soggy teabag that lurked at the bottom, she spoke straight into his ear.
“Ronnie. Ronnie, it’s me.”
“Who’s that?” He turned, seeking the unexpected visitor, but the kitchen was empty. Mellow autumn sunlight slanted through the window, showing up the scratches on the battered oak table. Nothing stirred.
“Be careful, Ronnie.” The voice spoke again, a tinny whisper. He looked back at his hands, saw the hot water about to overflow from the mug.
“Phew,” he said, straightening the kettle. “That was a close one. Thanks, love.”
Only when the words were out did he think about what he’d just said. Love, as though it were Eva he was talking to. But Eva had been dead these five years and more.
“I miss you,” the voice said. It was only a murmur, faint and distant, like someone speaking down a bad phone line from miles away … or from somewhere else altogether. “When will you come to me?”
Frowning, Ron turned up the volume on his hearing aid, though it hadn’t been working properly of late. “Eva? Evie, is that you?”
“It’s me.” She sounded closer now, as though she were standing right next to him with her mouth pressed against his ear. “It’s your Evie. Remember when we walked barefoot in the woods that time? The summer heat and the smell of pine?”
A shiver passed over him, the sudden recognition of truth. He did remember. It had really happened. Which meant, against all reason, this was really happening too.
“Evie?” he said. “Evie?”
But she was gone.
“It’s just not possible, Uncle Ron.” Carlisle had a round, easygoing face above a round, easygoing body, and didn’t believe anything unless he saw it for himself. “People can’t speak to us from beyond the grave.” He offered a small grin. “Are you sure you didn’t nod off listening to the radio?”
“No.” Ron loved his nephew, the closest kin he had with no children of his own, but at that moment he resented his patronising smile. “It was Eva. She remembered that walk in the woods we took one summer, when you were just a boy. We took off our shoes, but you said you didn’t want to get your feet dirty. Remember?”
Carlisle frowned. “Vaguely. So the voice you heard, it actually mentioned this? Something you know about but no-one else does?”
“Exactly!” Ron leaned forward, triumphant. “Now do you believe me?”
“Uncle Ron …” Carlisle sighed. “I can’t. I’m sorry, but it’s far more likely that you fell asleep without realising it and dreamt the whole thing.”
“Fine.” Ron folded his arms, glaring at his nephew. “Be that way. But I’m telling you, Carlisle, it was my Evie. And I think she wants me back.”
Over the next few days, Ron heard his dead wife’s whispers more and more frequently, and soon he grew accustomed to the idea. It was comforting, in a way – to know that there was life after death, that she hadn’t just rotted away into the earth as he had always half suspected. Maybe there was a heaven after all. Maybe she was waiting there, waiting for him to join her.
“Nonsense,” Carlisle said whenever he broached the subject. “You’re working yourself up into a state over nothing. There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
Yet always, Ron was haunted by a murmuring voice and a single whispered question. “When will you come to me?”
Then, one night, as he lay sleepless in his bed, Eva spoke to him again. “I’m lonely, Ronnie. I miss you. Why won’t you let us be together?”
“I’m scared,” he admitted to the darkened room. “I don’t want to die.”
“If you won’t come to me then I must come to you.” The whisper curled around his ear, sending a chill down into the core of him.
“How?” he croaked.
“I will be with you tomorrow. Wait at the bus stop where we used to meet. I’ll be there.”
With that she was gone, leaving him staring wide-eyed at the night.
In the pre-dawn fog of an early morning, Ron stood at the bus stop and waited for Eva. He wanted to see her, yet at the same time he was terrified. How would she appear to him? What would she do?
There was a light up ahead. He squinted through the haze as it approached him, getting brighter by the moment.
“Here I am!” Eva’s voice was urgent in his ear. “I’ve come to you!”
“What should I do?” he quavered.
“Just step out to meet me, Ronnie. Just step out …”
Arms outstretched, murmuring her name, he obeyed. There was a blinding flash, a roar all around him – he thought he caught a glimpse of Eva’s face, the swirl of her skirt – then the bus hit him, and he fell down into his wife’s arms.
Concealed in the bushes at the side of the road, Carlisle unclipped the microphone from his lapel and slid it into an inside pocket. Then, with an appropriate expression of shock and dismay on his face, he hurried towards the stationary bus and the huddle of people surrounding the dead man’s body. The transmitter was safe in his pocket; he just had to destroy the matching receiver he’d hidden so carefully.
Ron was lying on his back, a smile on his face. His hearing aid had been flung free of his ear by the impact. Unnoticed by the anxious bystanders, Carlisle brought his heel down sharply and ground it into unrecognisable shards.