By Mark Allan Gunnells
A Story from the collection The Daylight Will Not Save You
The first thing I saw when I returned home from the hospital was Patrick’s book sitting on the sofa where he’d left it. He’d been curled up at the far end, feet tucked beneath him, engrossed in the novel while I watched some sitcom on television when the chest pains had started.
During the fifteen-minute drive to the ER, I had been worried…but not excessively so. He and I were only in our mid-40s, in reasonably good shape, mostly ate healthy and exercised regularly. Even with my husband slumped in the passenger’s seat, grimacing and complaining about the increasing pain, I had found myself unable to consider that it could be anything terribly serious. Certainly not a heart attack. That was simply unthinkable, something that happened to other people. People who were overweight, people who were lazy, people who clogged their arteries with fat and grease. No, I fully expected the doctors to diagnose him with a bad case of heartburn or gas and recommend Maalox or Alka-Seltzer.
But it was a heart attack after all, and quite a serious one. The doctors had worked on him for hours, but in the end Patrick had died on the operating table.
Patrick…died. Two words I still had trouble reconciling. They didn’t seem to fit together, polar opposite concepts. Men in white coats with grave expressions had talked at me for a while, using words that were familiar but also foreign. Myocardial infarction, bypass, coronary thrombosis. All Greek to me. All that really penetrated the fog that shrouded my mind were those two words, repeatedly on a sadistic loop. Patrick…died…Patrick…died…Patrick…died…
There had been papers to sign. So many papers. I don’t think I’d had to scrawl my name so many times since Patrick and I had bought this house seven years ago. They allowed me to view “the body” before taking it down to the morgue, but I didn’t linger. There was no clinging to his cold hand, telling him I loved him and asking him to wait for me on the other side like you might see in the movies. I could tell instantly that the empty vessel under the sheet wasn’t my husband. He was what had once filled that vessel, an essence now spilled out somewhere.
It was nearly 4 a.m. before I staggered up the front steps and let myself into the house. I felt numbed, still in shock no doubt, but the pain lay just underneath, close to the surface, and I knew that soon it would break through and swallow me whole.
I figured I needed to find Patrick’s insurance policy. I didn’t know exactly how all this worked, but I thought I might have to get that information to the mortuary to cover the funeral expenses.
As I thought the word funeral, I felt the strength going out of me and I stumbled across the room and collapsed onto the sofa. For the next half hour, I gave in to the grief, sobs shuddering their way out of me, my face slicked with tears and snot, my mind rebelling at the idea that Patrick was gone, that I’d never again hear his laugh or feel his touch or smell his distinctive scent as we spooned in bed.
Once the tears tapered, I reached over and picked up the book my husband had been reading, some kind of murder mystery. I wasn’t much of a fiction reader, but I remembered Patrick saying this was the last in a popular series he’d been following for years. Opening the hardcover to where he had stuck the bookmark, I saw that he had been only two chapters from the end.
For some reason, this made me start to cry again.
I saw Patrick’s ghost for the first time three days later, the night after his funeral.
I’d been lying in bed for over an hour, exhausted but unable to sleep. The bed felt so empty, a large vacant landscape in which I was lost. The lack of his presence next to me was a void that I felt like physical hunger, and it would not allow me to rest.
Taking the pillow and blanket, I decided to go into the living room and stretch out on the sofa, hoping the change in scenery would make it possible to drift off. Even a few broken hours of sleep would be a blessing. A blissful escape.
It was as I came down the hall and into the living room that I saw him. Moonlight shone brightly through the window behind the sofa, and I clearly saw Patrick curled up at the far end, feet tucked beneath him, a book open on his lap.
I gasped and fumbled for the light switch by the front door, but in the glare of the overhead bulb Patrick simply disappeared. I turned off the light again to see if he returned, but he did not.
I made my way to the sofa and settled in, but I found it no easier to sleep in the living room. As I lay there wide awake, I tried to convince myself that I hadn’t really seen him, that my eyes had merely been playing tricks on me.
I might have been able to do so had I not smelled his scent lingering in the air.
Over the next month, I saw him several more times. Always the same. Curled up on the sofa, reading his book. He would be visible for a moment then vanish, leaving behind only his scent. I would try talking to him in that moment, but he never looked up from the phantom pages. In life, Patrick would often be so unaware of what was going on around him while reading that I’d have to call his name three or four times to get his attention, but now there was nothing I could do to make him acknowledge my presence. I began to feel like the ghost.
I didn’t tell anyone. They would only think me crazy, or perhaps so consumed by grief that I was hallucinating. I considered the possibility myself. In the end, I turned to the internet and researched ghosts and hauntings.
From the information I gathered, it seemed that what I was experiencing was a “residual haunting.” A spirit stuck in a loop, repeating often mundane activities over and over with no interaction with the living. A few articles suggested that residual hauntings were often the result of spirits with unfinished business, and they would only be able to move on once some type of resolution was reached.
The night I read about residual hauntings, I waited until after midnight then went into the guest bedroom that Patrick had used as his library and retrieved the murder mystery he had been reading when he died. I’d tucked it away on a shelf the night after the funeral.
As I stepped into the living room, I saw him again. By the time I settled on the sofa, he’d disappeared. I opened up the novel to where the bookmark still held my husband’s place. After clearing my throat, I began to read the final two chapters out loud to the quiet room. The killer was revealed and justice meted out. When I was done, I closed the book and returned it to the shelf.
I never saw Patrick again after that.
KR: You can read what Steve thought of The Daylight Will Not Save You in his Kendall Review here
The Daylight Will Not Save You
You may have been warned to beware the things that go bump in the night…but do not let this lull you into a false sense of security during the daylight hours.
In this collection, you will find that many horrors await you even in the glaring illumination of the sun.
A would-be hero who makes a tragedy even worse.
A young mother whose thirst for attention leads her to commit an unspeakable act.
A grieving widower who tries to hold on to his lost love.
A jealous ex who seeks revenge in an unusual way.
These and many other characters you’ll encounter within these pages, and they will teach you the lesson that THE DAYLIGHT WILL NOT SAVE YOU…
Mark Allan Gunnells
Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all, he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf.
You can follow Mark on Twitter @MarkAGunnells