By Zach Ellenberger
The call came in late at night, one which I had anticipated for many years. My daughter Rose and I were playing in the living room when the phone rang, startling me. Jake walked into the room to tell me the news that Joseph Kavanaugh died. It had been nearly seven years since I last saw Joseph, a man twenty years my elder. I came to know him as a young girl when he took advantage of my family with promises of a renewed life, indoctrinated us into his cult of worshipers known as The Light and imprisoned me. My parents left me as prey for Joseph, becoming his concubine and indulging his perverted sense of loyalty and devotion while they consumed every lie of his delusional utopia. Joseph became infatuated with me developing what he described as a “sacred bond,” that we shared. Eventually, he declared taking me as his new wife was not only divined, but necessary for the survival of the group. Our child, he preached, would be the vessel for the divine on Earth.
“The coroner asked you to identify the body,” Jake explained. “Are you sure you’re alright to do this?”
“It’s alright. I need to do this. It’s almost Rose’s bedtime; she loves it when you read to her.”
“Sure. Let me know if you need anything.”
Jake was always so good with Rose despite her not being his biological daughter. He was a natural father figure. I, conversely, was a lost soul still trying to find my way in a world from which I had been sheltered away. We met at a turbulent time in my life, being recently released from the thrall of evil men. Joseph’s grip over me became too much and I was determined to escape despite my family abandoning me. When I did, it made headlines publicly exposing The Light. Though I brought Joseph down, I was all alone. That’s when I met Jake. He was ever the patient one; helping me assimilate into a normal life.
Upon my arrival, the front desk clerk led me to the back room. The coroner, Dr. Martin, and a detective stood before the body.
“We apologize for having to ask, but your previous marriage to him puts you as next of kin.”
“I understand. It’s fine.”
The body was covered with a white sheet which Dr. Martin rolled back for my observation. I looked upon the cold, dead corpse becoming filled with anxiety. Joseph’s face looked quite different in death, bloated and misshaped in ways that I must have forgotten.
“Is this the man you know to be Joseph Kavanaugh?” Dr. Martin asked.
I stubbornly nodded my head.
“I’d like a few minutes alone with him, just to say goodbye.”
“Of course,” Dr. Martin accommodated. “We’ll be right outside if there’s anything you need.”
The detective stepped forward.
“Ma’am, I’m Detective Matt Frederick. Please accept my condolences for your loss. I know this is a difficult time right now, but Mr. Kavanaugh had several accomplices still at large that the FBI are currently investigating. If there’s any information you can provide regarding his associates that might attest to any criminal activity in which they were involved, please don’t hesitate to contact me. This is my card; we can help you bring them down.”
“Thank you, Detective.”
I was finally alone with Joseph’s body. I imagined this moment many times before and now that it was here, I didn’t know how to react. What lay before me was the source of all my pain, suffering, anguish and confusion for the last fifteen years. I’ve done much to put my past behind me after leaving The Light and become part of a new community. But I knew there was still the anger that boiled within for having been robbed of my innocence, my family, my peace of mind; instilling fear in me even in death. Standing over him, I envisioned his eyes opening and his grotesque hands reaching out to take me with him to whatever hell was awaiting him. Though it was only my imagination, the terror was still very real.
I spat tearfully in his face. When that wasn’t enough, I pounded my fist against his face; once at first, then again and again without realizing I lost control. When I finished, Joseph’s face was even more unrecognizable. In the moment of rage, his left hand slipped out from under the sheet and that’s when I noticed something that absolutely terrified me. I knew that Joseph had lost the fingernail to his left ring finger in an accident when he was young, leaving only scar tissue. The fingernail of this body’s left ring finger was still intact. This was not Joseph.
I hurried out of the coroner’s office to the parking lot, my heart racing as I desperately searched for my keys when I was greeted by blinding headlights. Two cars now blocked my path with several men hiding behind the lights. I could hear them murmuring in the dark.
“Who is that? What do you want?” I shouted.
“You know who we are, Grace,” said a familiar voice from the shadows. “After all, we are your true family.”
I shuddered, refusing to believe my ears.
“I know what you’re thinking, that this isn’t possible. Well, I assure you it is. We’ve worked far too hard to let it all slip away. I simply couldn’t let you leave with my daughter. She’s our future.”
The voice began to take shape as it stepped in front of the headlights, first appearing as a silhouette. As the figure came closer, my eyes could not believe what they saw. Joseph Kavanaugh stood before me alive and well, accompanied by a group of his thugs. I began to cry uncontrollably and all he could do was smile.
“The Light reveals all. Hello again, Grace. I just knew you couldn’t resist coming to see me once more. Try not to scream, it will only make things worse.”
This story first appeared in Undead Press 2021.
Edited by Marie Ginga.
Zach Ellenberger is a writer based in Chicago where he lives with his wife and daughter. He has published several short stories in the horror genre as well as the historical fiction novel "Potato Kingdom" available in Ebook and paperback on Amazon. You can find his body of work at Zach Ellenberger.