Back to Life

Back to Life

Eleanor "Lea" Bachman confronts someone from her past and discovers something shocking.


Crime / Suspense / Mystery / Thriller


Vanessa Shafer (United States)

Two years. That’s how long it had been since I’d gotten the news that there had been a car crash and that sadly Dr. Moser didn’t make it. I’m so sorry, Ms. Bachman. I can still hear the police officer break the news as gently as he knew how, can still feel the pressure of his hand against me as he guides me to the squad car. They take me to see the car, now a shell of what it was. I’d identified the body in the morgue, despite the fact that it had been burned beyond recognition, tears welling up as I confirmed that yes, it was acclaimed psychiatrist Dr. Theobald Moser. We’d had a memorial service, of course, which only cemented the reality further.
My days have been consumed by running. I have a set route that I follow, and the people I pass have come to recognize me. I can see the sorrow in their faces as they nod in my direction: even now, two years after that dreadful day, they still associate me with the black-clad woman at the memorial service, trying to keep her emotions in check. It’s touching, in a way, the many ways they convey their sympathy.
I’d seen it about a month ago, at the farthest point on my route. A tall man, familiar patrician features, mahogany hair interspersed with strands of silver, watching me as I work my way to catharsis. Odd. Very odd. It looked exactly like him, down to his chiseled hands. I think nothing of it the first time, but every day after that I see him in the brownstone, watching me. Until today, I couldn’t bring myself to deviate from the route. This time, I briskly ascend the steps and knock at the door.
“You…but…how…” I sputter in disbelief. This can’t be. It just can’t. The memorial service, the photo montage, everything…and here he stands, in the flesh. “The car accident. I saw the wreckage. They told me you were dead, had me identify your body.”
“I wasn’t in the car, Eleanor.” A little smile plays on Theobald’s face.
“But the policemen, they found your driver’s license in the car. I saw it. We had a bloody memorial service for you, and all this time you were alive, you bloody wanker?” I feel myself beginning to lose all semblance of control. “Do you know how damned hard it was to sit there and listen to all those people eulogize you? Oh my God....”
“I had no idea it would go like that, Lea. Please, you have to believe me. I had no idea anything like that would happen.” He grasps my wrists with one hand and with the other forces me to look up at him. “Lea. I never meant to hurt you like this. I wanted to get in touch with you, let you know that I…that you had been misinformed. I wanted so much to do that. I felt I owed you that much. There’s no excuse for not coming forward. I am so sorry, Lea.”
“But you didn’t. You…I…you let me think you were dead. All this time I thought you were dead. Every time the phone rang I’d check the incoming number. I so badly wanted it to be your number, wanted to know you were safe and this was all some bloody hoax. I wanted…oh, God, I wanted it to be you calling me. And it never was.”
Theobald runs one thumb along my jawline. “The accident was staged, darling. I had to go underground. I had no other option. I was in danger, and probably you as well. Albert Kimbrough has contacts everywhere in organized crime. You name it, he knows people who can do it. God knows how many people owe him favors, Lea. I see the list of people that we know of and it still scares me, the number of people he knows and what they’re capable of doing. Extortion, assault, battery, tampering with automobiles, the list is long and I don’t think we even have the complete list. He’s willing to do anything to silence people he views as a threat.”
“He views you as a threat?”
“Yes. Absolutely he views me as a threat. I know his secrets, all of them. Malignant narcissism, psychopathy, he has it in spades. And when you put a psychopath like him in a corner, he will strike out. He could have gone after you to get to me, Lea. I couldn’t let that happen to you. I couldn’t forgive myself if he had. So the decision was made that we had to stage my death. It was the only option.”
I gasp. “What…How could this be the only option?”
“The idea was to make Kimbrough think I was dead. I didn’t know how or when. He would then make a mistake and be nabbed.”
I close my eyes and breathe in. “For so long,” I murmur.
“We had to deceive Kimbrough, but for the plan to work we had to make everyone believe I was dead. The less people who knew the truth, the better. Even you, Lea. I kept replaying it over and over in my head, how it must have been when they told you. I kept hearing your tortured screams. I wanted so much to send someone to let you know I was still alive, if only to stop your screams. But I couldn’t do that. Just like you had to live with what you thought was the reality of my death, I had to live with the echo of your screams in the back of my mind. And, my darling, it worked. I prayed that somehow you’d read about the arrest, trial and conviction of Albert Kimbrough.”
A tear courses down my face, ignored. “I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not then, not when I thought you were…you know.”
“Dead. I am so sorry I had to deceive you, Lea. So very sorry.” Theobald takes my hand and presses it above his heart so I can feel it beat.

Competition: Friendly feedback, Round 2



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