by Katie DiBenedetto
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My white porcelain teacup rattles against its saucer in my lap as I shiver awake. Dim light from the waning moon outside the window provides minimal aid as I glance around. I sense it again, that presence lurking. The phenomenon where my mouth goes dry, my heart stops, and my stomach capsizes.
“It is purely in your head,” I whisper to myself, “Calm down,” I run my fingers through my tangled black curls and get up from the chair.
The shiny silver hands of the grandfather clock say I should get on to bed and go back to sleep, but I cannot help myself, it is not that simple. Slinking quietly across the cottage, I peak in every room and throw back every dusty curtain to assure myself I am, in fact, alone.
When I reach my wooden bed, I fold the faded green quilt over uncovering my side and a heavy metallic crack sounds down the hall.
I flinch, knowing in my head it is only the shifting temperature causing the wooden front door to creek and rattle the iron lock, but I cannot help it and I scamper back to check the door again. Short little inhales are all I can manage as terrifying scenes creep their way into my imagination.
“Breathe, you are safe, end this nonsense,” I tell myself, as I go to the fireplace and attempt to warm away the trembling with the glistening garnet coals. I breathe deeper, slowly, one…two… three times.
‘Clang,’ sounds from a few feet away, which my ears register as a reverberating wail while my eyes can clearly see the black metal stoker has fallen over.
“It is only the fireplace poker, you have got to calm down,” I say, but the immediate thought of ‘what knocked it over’ hastens after. I scour the room for any glimmer of a trespassing shadow.
Breathing deeply again, I return to the bedroom. While double checking the closet, my fingers trail down the sleeve of a tweed jacket. Warm, cedar wood scent plays at my nose as I slip into the cool sheets. Slowly twisting the brass knob of the oil lamp on my bedside table, I ease the room into darkness.
Every minuscule sound the house makes, from the tick of the clock to the creaking of the roof, echoes through my head. I try to block it out, sing a song in my mind, but nothing can ease this anxious panic.
A spring rainstorm blows in, demanding attention as it patters on the roof and windowsill. Eventually it transforms into a plinking sound in the tin bucket in the corner where the roof leaks.
My skin is crawling and I cannot get comfortable. Why are the nights so unbearable? What is this presence that infiltrates my brain and causes me to feel like I am under attack?
With a whiff of the pillow beside me, a vision blazes in my mind. Rain drums on the grave marker in the family cemetery. Tiny blue flower blossoms droop under the weight of the raindrops. Tears flood my eyes, my breathing becomes jagged and harsh, a lump forms in my throat, and I swear I hear footsteps plodding down the hall.
I spiral out of control, my stomach clenches and I grip at the sheets as the bottom drops out of the mattress and I sink forever deeper and deeper. My breath turns shallow and labored. The ever-expanding hole fills with water, piercing cold as it penetrates the flannel fabric of my night gown and numbs my toes. Time swirls by and the longer I go, the brighter it gets as a new day breaches. Suddenly I am expelled onto sun-warmed grass and reality stares me in the face with her sharp, biting nature.
I reach out to touch a lingering raindrop on a tiny forget-me-not bud and look up at my husband’s name, freshly carved into that grey stone. With quivering hands, I trace the letters, as yet again I must ingrain the truth into my mind.
“Breathe, this is real, and you have to keep breathing.”
©️ 2021 by Katie DiBenedetto
“Forget Me Not,” by Katie DiBenedetto, was first published on February 25, 2021 in Love Letters to Poe and can be found in Love Letters to Poe, Volume I: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe.
Interview with Katie DiBenedetto, Author of “Forget Me Not”
What inspired your story?
I was thinking on an idea for this story when the power went out and I decided to light an oil lamp to keep working. The wind was howling outside and it was a bit spooky, which all proved to be the perfect inspiration to create “Forget Me Not”.
When working in the gothic genre, the themes of love and loss are also a powerful inspiration for me. With the loss of my brother I have seen and experienced the haunting power of grief and that is where I drew a lot of the emotions from. Knowing you have to keep going and remembering the facts of the new harsh reality of your altered life after a death can be very jarring.
How long have you been writing?
Even before I could actually write I would make up stories to tell people, but I would say my writing really took off in high school when I began to attempt more novel length ideas. My passion for writing really grew and developed then and even became my major in college.
What are you working on now?
Currently I’m working on a fantasy novel trilogy with medieval heroic quest vibes.
What else would you like people to know? Where can people find you online?
I live in Ohio with my husband and our adorable kitty, Nimbus. I graduated from Ohio University with a degree in creative writing. My hobbies include crafting, reading, and tea. Find me on Instagram @tea_fueled_writer.