A Rude Awakening

A Rude Awakening

A Story by Stanley R. Teater

He's had bad hangovers before. But nothing like this.


Jacob Kellogg was awakened by a sudden sense of alarm, as though something had been left undone or out of place.  Not something trivial, but something important. Very important. He pulled the sheets up to the bridge of his nose and stared at the ceiling fan twirling above the bed. What could it be? he wondered.  What mistake had he made that pricked and tugged at his fears and yet hid from his consciousness? He tried to piece together the events of the day before. Unfortunately, his memory was murky at best, as though he was seeing the day reflected in a dirty mirror, a mirror clouded and streaked by a great deal of vodka.  He moved his left hand, reaching over toward his wife.  She was sleeping on her side, facing the wall. When he touched her back she stirred slightly, but continued sleeping.   The feel of the silk nightgown and the warmth of her skin underneath it were soothing to him, but he also felt a stirring, the urge to do more. He moved his hand down to her buttock, and squeezed.  

Suddenly, she sat bolt upright in bed, turned toward him and screamed.  It wasn't a simple shriek, the kind inspired by a mouse or a roach, it was a fullthroated from-the-bottom-of-the-lungs Janet-Leigh-in-the-shower cry of absolute terror. She jumped from the bed and retreated, backing away from him until she bumped into the wall.  Her eyes were wide with fright and her chin trembled.  She brought her hands up to her face and covered her eyes. She shook her head. “No, no, no,” she said. “Please, God. It can’t be.”

“What’s wrong?” asked Jacob. “Were you having a nightmare?” She uncovered her eyes, looked at him, and screamed again.  “Honey, please calm down.” Jacob got out of bed, walked up to his wife and put his hand on her shoulder. She jerked her shoulder away and sank down  onto the floor. “You’re safe. You’re absolutely safe.”

“This is impossible. Impossible. Maybe I am having a nightmare because this can’t be, it just can’t.” Tears were flowing from her eyes. She was beginning to pant, the fear making it hard to breathe. “So why can’t I wake up? Please, God, let this be over. It can’t be real. Please, please, please. This can’t be happening. It just can’t. If I don’t wake up soon I’ll die. I’ll just die!”

“Marie,” said Jacob in a soft soothing voice. “Shhhhh. Please calm down. Everything’s all right. No one’s going to harm you. It’s just me.”

“Just you?” She shook her head vigorously back and forth. “Just you? You’re my husband for crying out loud. My husband.”

“Exactly. It’s just me. You know I would never harm you.”

Marie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Just you?” she repeated. “Just you? Just the husband I buried six months ago?”

“Marie, try to calm down. I’m very much alive. Just breathe slowly, the nightmare’s still in control. Try to wake up. You’ll give yourself a heart attack.”

She wiped away her tears and stared at Jacob. It was a long, deep, penetrating glare.  She reached out slowly, touched the back of his hand, then instantly jerked her hand back as though she had touched a live electrical wire. “My God,” she said. “It really is happening. You are here, right in front of me.” She began to sob. “Why? Why is this happening?”

“No, Marie. I’m not dead. Look at me. I’m real flesh and blood, not some ghost. I got drunk last night and woke up with a hangover. It’s as simple as that. My head’s killing me, but I’m real, not an apparition. And certainly not a ghost.” 

Marie jumped up and, carefully avoiding any further physical contact with Jacob, she ran from the room.  Jacob followed her. She raced into the den, opened a desk drawer, pulled out a newspaper clipping, tossed it on the floor at Jacob’s feet, then backed away from him. He picked up the clipping. It was an obituary. His obituary. It said he had died peacefully in his sleep of natural causes and that his service would be at 10 am the following Tuesday at the Main Street Episcopal church. The viewing would be from 7 to 9 pm Monday at the Clawson Funeral Home. The clipping was dated  August first.  “Marie, this is some kind of sick practical joke. This newspaper has next Sunday’s date on it. Today is, what, July 27th?”

“July?” said Marie. “You think it’s summer?”

“Of course.”

Marie ran to the window and opened it. “Does that look like summer?” she asked, backing away from the window as Jacob approached it.  He looked out at the morning sun glinting off a fresh blanket of snow.

“You’re right by the way,” Marie said. “You did get drunk the night before. When I woke up you were lying there beside me. In those same pajamas. But you were cold and still. Dead. It was the most hideous moment of my life. Until now.”

Jacob nodded. “Dead.” He brought his hands up in front of his face and examined them, turning them over. Then he reached up and touched his face. He could feel the beard stubble, he traced the scar on his chin. Then he slapped himself. Hard. Marie jumped the sound of it. Then he made a fist and slammed it against his thigh. “Dead,” he repeated. “If I’m dead why am I here? Why do I feel pain?” He looked at his wife’s face.

“I don’t know,” Marie said. “I just don’t know.”  

For a long time they just stared at one another in silence,  searching their minds for answers, trying to understand the incomprehensible, the impossible.  Finally, Marie Said,  “Do you really feel no different? Like you just went to bed seven or eight hours ago?”

“Yeah. I feel absolutely normal. My head hurts. I’m a little thirsty. And until you started screaming I was thinking about… well… maybe having sex.”

Marie shuddered and looked away.  Sex had always been something she considered a wifely duty, a task to be done when absolutely necessary, but not with eagerness and rarely with any pleasure on her part.  Sex with a dead man was certainly not going to happen.

Jacob examined the obituary again. His picture was there. It was a rather unflattering snapshot taken at an anniversary party.  “No,” he said, shaking his head. “No, this is not happening. It’s impossible. It’s all an elaborate hoax.” Then he looked back at Marie, who was still trembling, her eyes wide, her breath coming in short gasps.  She’s not that good an actor, he thought. She believes this is real, even if it’s not.

There was a rattling sound at the front door. Jacob and Marie both jumped. “A little early for a visitor, don’t you think?” said Jacob, walking to the living room.

Suddenly, the door swung open. Marie’s sister Alice entered, followed by her husband. “I just can’t believe it,” she said, wiping away a tear with the back of her hand. Her husband took a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to her.

“Yes,” he said, “it’s just so tragic. Poor Marie.”

Jacob was standing less than six feet away from them, but they didn’t seem to notice him. Marie, who was just behind him walked up to her sister. “Poor Marie? What’s wrong, Alice? Why the tears?”

Alice didn’t answer. She scanned the room. “I don’t know where to start,” she said.

Her husband put his arms around her. “We don’t have to do this today.”

“Alice,” said Marie. “What the hell is going on?”

No answer.

“Yes, I know,” said Alice. “But the estate sale people are coming the day after tomorrow, so I really need to get this done.”

“Where would you like to start?”

She shrugged. “Kitchen I guess.” Her husband took Alice's hand and led her out of the room.

Marie turned to Jacob. “It’s like they didn’t even see us. What’s going on?”

Jacob sighed. “I’m afraid,” he said, “that I haven’t come back to life.”

“Of course you have. You’re standing right here.”

“Yes, but they couldn’t see me. And they couldn’t see you.”

“What the hell are you saying?” Suddenly, Marie gasped. “No. No, it can’t be.”

“I haven’t rejoined the living,” said Jacob. “You’ve joined me… in death.”

Jacob held his wife tightly as she wept. And wept. And wept. 

                                    © 2016 Stanley R. Teater

                              All rights reserved

© 2016 Stanley R. Teater

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I really loved this short story and did not expect the ending. I love a story with a twist in the tale and this one was well written with a fantastic ending.

Posted 4 Years Ago

This was an amazing short story! I loved it! I wish there had been more but I understand that when a story is done it's just done, can't do anything about that. I loved how you twisted it, having the reader believe that the husband was back from the dead rather than the wife being dead. I had no idea until the very end. Excellent job!

Posted 4 Years Ago

Let me start off by saying I love the fact that the title is a double entendre. A good concept for a story. A husband and wife essentially figuring out they are both dead. The dialogue seemed natural enough, I'll forgive you for using the whole "dead and doesn't know it" cliche. I personally feel like you should have elaborated on the ending a tiny bit. Maybe not just end it right when she finds out she's deceased, maybe play around with the idea a bit more.

Overall, good story, dude.

Posted 4 Years Ago

This is a well told variance of the theme. I don't believe I have seen this specific alternative in a written or performed format.
The interaction between the two main characters is believable, and there are a couple spots of dark humor that I find an interesting touch. The dialogue seems natural, and the progression of events within the story flows well.
There may be room for a look at the grammar, its generally solid, yet there are places where it might be tighter. An example might be the inclusion of the word "was" in the first line before the words "out of place". In the line that includes the words "I really need to get this done" perhaps "we" is better than "I", as it might suit the emotional content of the exchange between Alice and her husband.
I have to thank Valentine, whom brought your story to my attention, it is an excellent short story.

Posted 4 Years Ago

Chills...just gave me chills man. That ending got me.

Posted 4 Years Ago

a rude awakening for sure,great story

Posted 4 Years Ago

You got me with this one, I did not expect your clever ending. You write so interesting and well. Valentine

Posted 4 Years Ago

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7 Reviews
Added on September 7, 2016
Last Updated on September 7, 2016


Stanley R. Teater
Stanley R. Teater

Cedar Park, TX

Writing fiction has always been a dream. After 36 years working in television station marketing and advertising I grew tired of writing 30-second commercials and promos. I retired and I now write fict.. more..


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