by Eric J. Krause
Jessica's cell phone rang, and she frowned as she looked at the display. It read, "Mom's Phone." But that was impossible. Not only had they cancelled the service, but they'd buried the phone with her in the coffin. Mom's last request.
No one spoke, but Jessica could hear raspy breathing.
"Who is this? How did you get that phone?"
The breathing continued, but no answer came.
"Listen, I don't know who this is, but you're sick. I don't even want to know how you got my mother's phone, but rest assured I will be calling the police."
Jessica gasped and tried not to cry. That garbled voice came from her mother. She'd held Mom's hand when she passed. It'd been an open casket funeral. This couldn't be her mother. Mom was dead.
"Jessie? Help me. It hurts. I can't breathe."
Jessica hung up. What else could she do? She wouldn't give the sicko on the other end of the line any more satisfaction, and she wouldn't begin to guess how it sounded so much like her mother. She waited, fully expecting a quick callback, but none came. She thought about calling the police like she'd threatened, but it took her a minute to clear her head. She wasn't quite sure what to think, so she decided to forget about it.
A few days later she'd largely succeeded in knocking the incident from her memory. She'd chalked it up to post-funeral stress and a daydream nightmare. So when her phone rang and the display again read, "Mom's Phone," she didn't know what to think. She answered the phone, but didn't say anything.
Her mom's voice bled out of the earpiece stronger than before. "How could you? You should have saved me." And then the connection went dead.
Jessica dropped her phone, fell to her knees, and sobbed. That wasn't her mom, but her own guilt. Not that it wasn't any less real.
How often in the last few years had Mom complained about her insides hurting? When Jessica asked for specifics, Mom couldn't give any, so Jessica refused to take her to the doctors, citing Mom's notorious hypochondria. Only three months ago, when it was time for a regular check-up, did she finally take Mom to the doctor. Of course they found cancer; of course it could have been treated had it been caught earlier; of course Mom went down quick when she heard.
And of course Jessica blamed herself.
Once all of this ran through her mind, she felt better. It all made sense. No one had dug into her mother's grave to steal the phone. And Mom hadn't risen from the dead to haunt her on a cellular level. Life could go on, and though she might still feel guilty, at least the strange phone calls would stop.
That was the theory, anyway.
The next night, moments after she shut off the lights, her phone rang, and the display read, "Mom's Phone." Crap. Maybe she had a brain tumor. She shouldn't wait too long; she'd make a doctor's appointment in the morning. But in the meantime, she answered the phone and decided to tell off her subconscious.
"Listen here, Mom. I'm sorry I didn't take you to get checked out sooner, but you could have spoken up about it. You could have insisted. But you let yourself die more than I did. I'm at fault, but not as much as you."
Silence on the other end. Jessica took the phone away from her ear to see if it had hung up. It hadn't. Mom's voice sounded out, but not through the earpiece.
"I escaped, Jessie. I've come for you."
Jessica turned, her heart in her throat. Mom stood in the doorway. Dirt matted her skin, hair, and burial clothes, which were ripped and torn. Dull white bones jutted out of her fingertips where flesh and nails should be. And the nauseating stench of embalming fluid wafted through the air.
"Fair is fair, Jessie. You let me die."
She hobbled forward, and Jessica bellowed out a scream. It had to be a brain tumor. She clenched her eyes shut. Mom would be gone when she opened them, and then maybe she'd take herself to the emergency room. No way should she wait to make an appointment tomorrow.
Her eyes flickered open, and Mom continued forward. The smell of fresh dirt joined the embalming fluid. Murder shone from her mother's dead eyes.
Jessica let out her loudest scream yet.