Midnight Falls is a cursed town. Or, at least that’s what Adelaide Williams has always been told. It’s not as though people walk around on their tippy-toes, jaws clenched, bracing for the next bad thing. It’s more like everyone is walking around, living their lives, almost unaware that they’re all collectively holding their breath. It’s a sensation that permeates every decision, every interaction, hell — it’s in the air. Adelaide can practically smell it as she rolls into town in her rusted civic hatchback. To her, it smells like summer is rotting away into autumn, and because it’s the right time of year, she thinks nothing of it. She doesn’t yet know that the rot smell has always been there, and always will be — or rather, she refuses to remember. Because the thing about Adelaide is that she has lived here before.
On thirteen of her twenty-first birthdays, she has arrived in town, just like this. And every time, it’s for the same purpose. To take possession of an old family house. A surprise inheritance. On occasion, it is a house that has belonged to a relative she once knew. But more often, it is being passed down by a stranger in her ancestral line, as is the case today. And thirteen times, she has accepted the strange gift. And thirteen times, it has been a deadly mistake. But that’s the thing about fate. It’s not made of precious stone, but rather, of something sticky and pesky that refuses to let go unless you’re willing to fight. It’s as petulant as the past, which is known to claw at the soul with the persistence of a winter cough.
Adelaide has been warned to stay away.
“That town may as well have been built on the mouth of hell for all the good it ever did me,” her mother had scoffed. “Lemme guess. You think you’ll go there and find Prince Charming. Or is it another Jimmy Potter yer after?” Her mother had sneered as she sucked deeply on a hand-rolled cigarette. “Yeah. That’s it, init? You’re the kinda girl that likes to make the same mistakes over and over.”
And this much is true. Adelaide never could learn a lesson. Worse still, she is a habitual optimist. A fatal flaw if there ever was one. It’s why she married Jimmy Potter at seventeen, and told everyone his drinking was under control. By nineteen she was a widow.
In this lifetime, anyways.
But Adelaide has brushed off her mother’s warnings about Midnight Falls, because she decided a long time ago that she is nothing but a bitter, angry woman, who will say anything to hold others back.
As Adelaide makes her way up the rickety steps of the rotted front porch, the unfamiliar shape of her face catches the eye of a jogger passing by. She’s a fit woman in her late forties. A regular runner. Running keeps her sane. Adelaide is a stranger to her, and it sends a chill through her bones. But she has made a new years’ resolution to be friendlier, so she tries on a smile that doesn’t quite fit, and waves self-consciously. Adelaide, who comes from a city full of strangers, doesn’t even notice her.
The key is an awkward fit, and she has to jiggle it around to release the latch, just as she has now had to do thirteen times. As she crosses the threshold, an impossibly large spiderweb wraps itself around her face, and foolishly, Adelaide takes this to be a good omen. After all, she’s heard somewhere (though she can’t remember where) that spiders are good luck. A symbol of wealth and prosperity. Surely, she thinks, a web means just the same.
It does not.
Though she can’t hear it, the spirits are already mocking her.
The past is cruel.
The house smells of damp wood and dust but after three days of spraying lemon and vinegar concoctions, scrubbing in small clockwise motions, and beating rugs over the porch, Adelaide thinks it has gotten better.
Her boxes are running late and have yet to arrive, but that’s no matter. She can make do with very little. She has considered citing this as a special skill on her resume, though grocery stores and gas stations have, in her experience, seemed quite disinterested in special skills. But that was there and this is here. She’s sure things will be different here. And they will be. Though, not in a good way. Because even though her mother is wretched and mean, she’s also, unfortunately, right. This time. Midnight Falls will be Adelaide’s undoing, just as it always is.
All week, she lies in bed at night, listening to the creaks, the pops, and the groans of her new house. It seems to breathe, as though it’s alive, and Adelaide finds the thought oddly comforting. But on the seventh night, something is different.
She is just melting into a dream about Jimmy Potter’s breath on her neck. Her dream-self remembers how it always smelled of sour whiskey, but always tasted of “I’m sorrys” and “I love yous.” How his rough hands always managed to feel like warm butter slipping over her skin. And just as they make their way up her neck, his fingers grasp onto her hair, and yank. Violently.
Because this was never one of Jimmy’s kinks, she jolts awake, only to find that there are in fact fingers wrapped around her hair. But the fingers are not Jimmy’s.
It is the same scream she has screamed thirteen times.
She is face to face with an apparition who is so familiar, it’s chilling. Copper-coloured eyes, glimmering like shiny pennies, spaced farther apart than most. A nose bridge that curves sightly to left, the result of a softball injury when Adelaide was eight years old. Pillowy lips that she’s always considered her most appealing feature.
Adelaide is face to face with herself.
And it makes sense, she suddenly realizes. Because Adelaide has always been her own worst enemy. Has always been the biggest obstacle to her own success. Has always been in her own damned way.
“We told you not to come back here,” the apparition’s voice slithers. “We told you to stop looking back.”
But Adelaide only knows how to look back. It’s why she came to Midnight Falls. A new start in a new place, that is somehow not new at all. An ancestral home; a home full of ghosts.
Once again, the past has lured her in. A trickster, disguised as the future.
As Adelaide sucks in her last breath, strangled and unsatisfying, she knows that she will now be forced to join her other selves. Trapped there in Midnight Falls; all thirteen of them.
She hopes she will do better next time, but somehow, she knows she won’t.
Adelaide never could learn a lesson.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed, check out the next Midnight Falls tale, Beyond the Vale.
Midnight Falls is an ongoing series following a set of loosely connected characters and their strange encounters in the spooky town of Midnight Falls. The stories can be read in any order. See Midnight Falls for more.