The sun’s striking orange rays stained the horizon by the time my long legs carried me back to the outskirts of town to my aunt’s house. As I passed through her rose garden, I inhaled the aroma that surrounded me. She and my uncle lived on his modest income for their entire lives together, but they always had such a beautiful, welcoming home. I enjoyed the contrast with my family estate’s high ceilings, modern furnishings, and coolly-toned rooms.
I stepped inside and met my aunt’s worried gaze. She was sitting at the table in the middle of her wonderfully scented room.
“I’m back, Aunt Carol.”
“Alfred,” she breathed. “I don’t like the idea of you wandering around those woods alone. I love my townsfolk, but they’re not the city bred sort that you’re accustomed to. Mrs. Thomas owns a rifle, you know.”
I did not know.
“I’ve been careful. Please don’t worry about me.”
She exhaled loudly. “Why does your work need to focus on suicide? You could write about the town’s rich history or about the beauty and culture of our east coast.”
I sat down at the table with her. “I do not take pleasure in macabre stories, but I have been troubled by the frequent suicides in this area. Giving them a voice and honoring their names is a cause I care deeply about.”
“You are your uncle’s nephew,” she sighed. “I knew you would never be the same after going to that fancy university.”
“Do you have any information about…”
“No. We are not talking about that. I am going to serve you my renowned baked chicken breast and wild berry salad.”
I mirrored her warm smile. I did not want to risk upsetting her further, especially after she had worked so hard preparing a wonderful meal for us to share.
“Forgive me,” I said. “We shall enjoy this evening.”
While we ate, we spoke of my adventures while at university the past year and of her misadventures attempting to take up her artwork again. She stood up to prepare us a pot of tea. That was when the three knocks on the door startled us both. At five past ten o’ clock in the evening, we did not expect any visitors.
She brought a hand to her neck as I went to answer the door. I opened it only a smidgen to see who came to call. No one was there, but an envelope with my name on it rested on the mat just below. That otherworldly ambience encircled me again.
“No one was there?” my aunt called. “Must have been those children. Some of the boys like to play pranks on the town’s old ladies. No harm done.”
“Someone was here. They left this envelope.”
Her face fell.
“You look as though you believe a ghost or a ghoul delivered it,” I laughed.
“Hush. This is not funny, Alfred. Please, open it.”
Rather than hesitating, I allowed the envelope to fall to my feet as I unfolded the paper. I blinked, attempting to process the four words that caused my heart to beat against my ribcage like a caged rat.
The letter read: Jeremy is not dead.