In retrospect, I should’ve realized there was something bizarre about Analyn much earlier than I did, certainly before we’d been dating for six weeks. But I was a college freshman, barely away from my overprotective mother, and eager to live life.
The first sign was her Halloween costume, which she was wearing when I met her at an early season costume party. It was a white-furred coverall that left only her face uncovered. Her face was also pale white and her eyes had red irises, which I assumed to be part of the costume. I admit it was a good icebreaker; the reason I struck up a conversation. “Are you supposed to be a Snowbaby?” I asked, sure that I must be right. It would be a great costume, I thought. I had an aunt who was obsessed with them, and those little hypothermic cherubic faces freaked me out.
“Way off,” she said, flashing her teeth at me. “Wendigo.”
I’d thought that was a car model, so I just nodded as if I understood.
“I’m Michael Bernstein,” I said.
The second sign was how Analyn talked about her family, always telling me about her traditionalist mother trying to impose her beliefs, her diet, and her dating life, on Analyn. But she would only talk about her mother in the most general manner, and if I asked questions she would change the subject. I thought maybe she was Jewish, which would’ve saved me some trouble with my own traditionalist mother, but she didn’t understand any Yiddish or references to Jewish culture. Then I thought maybe she was Greek.
One of the biggest signs was her complexion. When I met her I thought her skin was just part of the wendigo snowbaby costume, but she had been wearing no makeup at all. I soon learned that her skin really was that pale, and her eyes were that red. And I don’t mean just pale, I mean dangerously pale, leaving-afterimages-in-sunlight pale. Not that she spent much time in the sun, but I assumed that was because of her condition, which I assumed to be albinism. I didn’t say anything about it. Her long hair was black, which I thought strange at first, but I figured there was no reason she couldn’t dye her hair like any other woman.
But by far the biggest sign was the coffin in her living room, in front of the couch. On our third date she invited me up to her apartment. I thought it was a cool decoration, and I complimented her on how authentic it looked, though it was surrounded by fake spider-webs and battery-powered tea lights. Of course, it was October 10th at the time, so the coffin totally made sense. Then.
We went out a dozen more times in October, always at night. She invited me up to her apartment again two nights after Halloween, and the coffin was still there. I shrugged it off. I figured she was the kind of person who leaves the Christmas tree up for a couple weeks after New Year.
I didn’t think about it a great deal until we had Thanksgiving dinner at her place. I was excited to have somewhere to go, this being my first year at college, and I couldn’t afford to fly halfway across the country to visit my folks.
Strange as it may seem, I’d never seen her eat, but I’d assumed we’d eat at the card table in the kitchen. But when I walked in the door the first thing I noticed was the place settings laid out on the coffin. I didn’t want to ruin the holiday, so I kept quiet about it. Very quiet. I have never eaten a more awkward and silent meal. The situation wasn’t improved by the barely cooked steak she served for herself.
I stopped answering her calls for a while after that. It was near the end of the semester, so it was easy enough to keep myself occupied with final projects and studying for final exams. It’s not like I hated her or anything, but she scared me. But once my last test was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I dreaded spending the next three weeks alone in an empty dorm room on a nearly abandoned campus. I held out for one day before I called her again.
“Analyn,” I said. “I miss you. I’m sorry—”
“You don’t need to apologize,” she said. And by the tone of her voice, she meant it. “It’s good to hear your voice.”
We went to a coffee shop. We talked for hours, and closed down the place. I didn’t want to take her to my filthy dorm room, so I asked if we could go back to her place. I figured the coffin must be gone by that time, and if it wasn’t, well… my brain wasn’t making my choices at the time.
“Sure,” she said, in a tone too bright to be authentic. The moment I’d said it, I could almost see vault doors slamming shut in her eyes, blocking me out. That put a bit of a damper on my mood, but not enough that I called the night off.
The moment I stepped in the door, my eyes locked on that damned coffin, sitting in the middle of her living room. She’d cleared away the tea lights and spiderwebs, but there it was. I just stared. I didn’t know whether to say something, or to run, or to just ignore it and pull Analyn by the hand into her bedroom.
“Mike?” she said with a squeeze to my hand, the falsely bright tone stronger than ever. “You coming?”
“I…” I began, but what could I say? That she needed to get professional help? That I was worried that this would all be recounted in an episode of Dateline? “I…”
She stepped in front of me, blocking my line of sight, and put one hand on either side of my head. “You’re bothered by the coffin.” It wasn’t a question.
I just nodded, looking into her red eyes.
She dropped her hands and looked away. “When you called me back, I thought you were different. I was so happy.”
“What… What is…” I faltered.
“You want to know why the coffin’s here?”
She slowly stepped away from me, to the coffin. She put one hand on it and said the most terrifying words I’ve ever heard before or since, “Michael David Bernstein, I’d like to introduce you to my mother.”
And then she lifted the lid.
DAVID STEFFEN is a writer and software engineer living in Minnesota. His fiction has been published in Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, AE, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and others. He is the co-editor of Diabolical Plots (http://www.diabolicalplots.