The baby, delivered a month early, was stillborn. After the nurses had cleaned him, they brought him to her, wrapped in a blanket, and placed him in her arms, just as if he were a real baby. Then they shut the door and left her alone. She stared down at the tiny monkey face, the veined eyes shut as if sleeping, and wanted to weep, but couldn't.
Not long after the funeral, she and her husband split up and she moved to an apartment near the park. Most afternoons she walked there. One day she thought she saw a dead cat lying in the shallow end of a pond. Walking closer, she saw that she was mistaken. It was not a cat at all. It was a brown shoe, a man's, waterlogged.
It kept happening. She'd see a dead mouse or a dying gull, wings flapping, and a sick feeling would rise in her throat. She'd fight back the nausea, walk closer, only to see a piece of wood, a plastic bag fluttering—and slowly the terror would subside.
She stopped walking in the park. Things returned to normal. Then one day, while on an errand, she saw a dog, its lifeless body slumped next to a parked car. Droplets of sweat beaded her forehead. Someone stopped to ask if she was all right. She could only point to the dead animal. The man shrugged and walked on, kicking it with his shoe, except suddenly she saw it for what it was: a bundle of tied-up newspapers.
She stayed inside. Because she worked at home—she taught piano and her students came to her—there was no need to go out. Sometimes she asked them to bring her things—milk, soap, a box of tampons—and she deducted the purchases from the lessons they owed. She was content, until late one night she tripped over a dead pigeon outside the bathroom. She ran back to bed and sat up all night, arms around knees, trembling. Morning showed the pigeon to be a gray sock from the hamper.
Over the next few days, the animals took over. She canceled her lessons and confined herself to the bedroom, bringing food from the cupboards—cereal and crackers and cans of pate—and storing them under her bed. Once or twice a day, she'd dash out to use the bathroom.
The animals crept into the hallway. She stopped sleeping altogether. Her food supply was getting low, but she didn't dare leave the bedroom. Soon there was nothing left to eat.
On the first of the month, a neighbor coming home late noticed the woman's lights still on and knocked. When no one answered, she peeked inside.
"I was so startled," she told the police after the ambulance had left. "At first all I saw was a heap of clothing on the floor. Poor thing, it was only when I looked closer that I realized it was a body."
Copyright © 2001 Catherine Nichols
Catherine Nichols works as an editor for a small publishing company in New York City. One of her ghost stories was included in the anthology Cemetery Sonata. She lives in Jersey City with her husband, teenaged daughter, cat, and dog.