The air was dramatically damp and the breeze seemed to evoke a smirk as it touched the drab curtains causing them to waver over the sill. She sat up not quite awake and felt an eerily familiar “presence”. Musty perfume filled her nostrils and caused her to sneeze. The loud unexpected sound echoed around the barren walls of the tawdry bedroom. Familiar but also frightening, her skin goose bumped even though it was a sultry night. She couldn’t see or hear anything, only felt it. The curtains drew her attention as they suddenly stopped moving but the ominous breeze still found its way, surrounding her body. The scent of mold and boggy earth was turning her stomach. She felt nauseous and scooped the sheet to her mouth.
She had only returned to New Orleans a few days ago, finding her inheritance had dissolved into a broken down build on acres that were to be replaced with a new apartment complex. Apparently the government that owned the land surrounding her aunt’s home had been designated eminent domain and was land -grabbed by wealthy investors.
Susan never wanted it in the first place, didn’t even want to come here again. She was happy in Arizona with a successful job. This visit was only to settle her aunt’s affairs and get back home as soon as possible.
Everything that woke her up that night disappeared in the morning sun. Another oppressive humidity and heat engulfed the broken down home of her aunt and she wanted to tidy up the paperwork, and be on her way home.
Along with unusual air movement and the smells, came a feeling of regret and guilt. Susan thought, “I should not have neglected her. She must have contacted me ten times in the last few months and I should have come sooner.” When Susan’s mother died there seemed to be no reason to return to New Orleans, and her relationship with her aunt disintegrated. The damp antique atmosphere of Louisiana did not appeal to her and she had no reason, she thought, to return. However, here she was again. The night’s experience nearly forgotten, she headed downtown to her aunt’s lawyer.
“It’s all right here, Miss White. Just look it over and sign. There is nothing left after taxes so I hope you had another reason to come.” Susan felt guilt sink in. She could have helped her aunt but it was too late now for regrets. “Oh, I almost forgot! There is a letter here for you, marked private, from your aunt”. Susan took the letter and sadly left his office. Outside the sun and heat overtook her and again she felt nauseated and faint. She stepped inside a coffee shop and ordered a cup of hot tea.
When Susan returned to the home, finding it also too warm, took off her business suit and donned some shorts and a tank top. It was time to read her aunt’s letter. Carefully opening the seal she was curious to know what in the world could be in it and another wave of guilt consumed her mind.
The shaky scrawl was surprisingly frightening. “I hope you are safely home when you read this, Susan. It is not my intent to cause you any harm. Leave New Orleans as soon as possible if you are still here. At least leave this old home. There is danger here.”
Susan was mystified at these words. What could she mean? With these questions she felt that eerie breeze again, stifling and odorous. Accompanying her already iffy stomach, she ran to the bathroom and felt like vomiting. She ran a cold tap and grabbed a towel and buried her face in the chilled damp cloth. She looked up to the mirror over the sink. It was old and blurry and she didn’t recognize the reflection. She rubbed the glass with the towel to find that it looked like her…her face staring back. Her usual tan skinned beauty was stark white, her hair graying dull. Susan was shocked.
The awful breeze surrounded her once again and she realized the image in the mirror was not her own reflection but her aunt’s ghostlike face. She screamed and ran from the room. She grabbed her phone to call her friend in Arizona but cel service was not available. She grabbed her clothes and toiletries and hurriedly packed her bag. She tried the door, found it locked and no key to be found. Even the open window had been shut down and locked. Was she trapped in here, is this what her aunt meant when she said she hoped she would be okay, and would be home by the time she read the letter? “Why wouldn’t you have warned me sooner, why wouldn’t you have insisted that the lawyer tell me to open it immediately?” Questions were unanswered by the smiling ghost in the mirror.
Then the better part of her mind, the one that made sense, took over and she realized this was only a nightmare, that she fell asleep after returning from the tea shop. Just a horrible dream and she might even be at home in Arizona where she belonged. She grabbed the cool wet towel, covered her face and laid on the bed.
She felt the air movement grow stronger but it wasn’t a cool breeze, it was hot and damp and oppressive. She felt her chest heave trying to breathe through the odorous air but it seemed like she couldn’t get a deep breath.
She looked into her aunt’s image in the mirror again and pleaded with it, desperate to know what was happening. Suddenly she heard her aunt’s voice—no words exactly but a sort of horrid sickening laugh. Susan guessed this was going to be her fate, for not seeing to her aunt, not caring or taking care of her like she should have.
Then the breeze lifted along with the outside darkness, the lights came on and her phone pinged. “Hey Suz, what time am I picking you up at the airport?” Susan was so relieved to hear her friend’s voice she started to cry. “Are you okay?” Her friend asked.
“Yes, I’m just happy to hear your voice. I’m taking the next flight out. I’ll see you in two hours. Thanks!” Susan grabbed her belongings already stuffed in the bag and decided she’d break down the door if need be. “I’m outta here, whoever or whatever you are” she yelled into the room.