Contest #221 shortlist ⭐️

A Ghost's Testimony

Submitted into Contest #221 in response to: Write a story where ghosts and the living coexist.... view prompt

64 comments

Crime Mystery Drama

After the living and the dead decided to merge worlds, the supreme court was flooded with appeals. With “coexist” being a hot topic in the first half of the 21st century, most people thought it would be a great idea to create a union between the two worlds. They thought they’d get their loved ones back; they thought they’d get access to generational wisdom from their deceased elders back, and perhaps, some old family recipes could finally resurface. People could only think of the missing pieces in their lives that they wanted to finally have sewn up with the help of a familiar, ghostly face around. It was an oversight, to say the least, that with ghosts being (almost) as accessible as the living there would now be witnesses for crimes where before there had been none. It actually caused a lot of chaos across the criminal justice system, especially for police officers who had tampered with evidence to shut a case quickly; for gang members who’d offed witnesses to shut their mouths; and it was a goddamn headache for judges who had to reopen every murder case from the last several decades that now suddenly had a victim who could tell their side of the story.


But for Jeremy Strout, it was a lifeline. He’d been sitting on death row for fifteen years after being convicted of four heinous murders: his wife and three children. At the time of his conviction, there’d been no one there to defend him, just whispers from neighbors who’d said they’d heard him yelling in his house hours before the bodies were discovered. It didn’t help that he was the one who’d called 911 and then was found at the scene of the crime covered in their blood. It didn’t help that he’d sought out anger management before in his past. Rumors swam through town like a broken dam, neighbors speculating that he hadn’t wanted their third child – that little Harley Sue was a mistake Mrs. Strout made Jeremy keep – and that he’d finally snapped under the pressure of three small children and a wife whose fertility had betrayed him.


Jeremy had always denied the rumors, claiming that he loved his family. Sure, they had their problems, and he never denied the hardship of not only providing for three children under five, but living under the same roof as them! Nevertheless, he remained adamant in his defense: he would never harm them.


Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. Statistically, said the prosecutor, people are more likely to be killed by their spouse than any other person in the world. And of course, Mr. Strout could not leave his children to live after killing Mrs. Strout, because who would take care of the children while he was at work! And if he had not done it, then why so much blood, not only on his clothes, but in his fingernails, wedged between eyebrow hairs, and in the wrinkles of his temples? And the even bigger question, if Mr. Strout had not murdered his family, then who did?


There had never been another suspect. The police never really took the time to consider one, their minds made up before they could produce an alternative. It really was easier just to blame the husband. What jury wouldn’t go for that?


“Today our jury gets to hear a new side to the story,” Jeremy’s defense attorney told the courtroom at his appeal hearing, nearly two decades after his family's murders. “From Mrs. Strout’s perspective.” Mr. Alcott enticed the crowd with a smile that said he had a secret, one he was eager to share. Attorneys could be a bit performative in their speeches, and Mr. Alcott was no less confident. The union between the dead and the living truly did save some attorney’s careers, as it had not always been everyday that they could produce eye witness testimony that could turn a case on its heel. Some started getting big heads about it, as if they had more power than the judges, and Mr. Alcott’s once regular-shaped head was slowly growing in size. Jeremy, who’d known him since his family’s gruesome deaths, knew that Mr. Alcott came from a humble and passionate place: he just wanted to help people. And more than anything on this day, he wanted to help Jeremy.


The only problem with ghosts as witnesses was time. The worlds were combined, yes, ghosts were all around. But time for the living and time for the dead, they existed on two separate lines, intersecting at points that were not always convenient. Ghosts floated from here to there, there to here, teleporting across space and time, and their biggest adjustment to being reunited with the living was adhering to the old, third dimensional clock. You could not simply tell a ghost to show up in court at 9AM and expect them to find where that time existed for them. The closest thing living humans had to relate this ghostly state of nonlinear existence was to elderly people with dementia. They hopped from place to place, time to time, without any real sense of how they got there. Ghost therapists, a new occupation created by the psychologists, blended a team of living and dead to try to help condition ghosts into grasping the concept of earthly time, but like any therapy, it was not an immediate remedy.


Realistically, Mr. Alcott could only hope that Mrs. Strout would appear in court. But there was no way to be certain she would find her way there at the right time and place of the court hearing. Yet, still, he spoke as if there were not a single doubt in his mind.


“Today, we will get to hear an eye witness account of the events that took place on October 26, 2023, from one of the victim’s perspectives. And how grateful are we that it is now possible,” Mr. Alcott turned to face Jeremy Strout, seated at the defense table, shackled at his wrists and ankles, both sets of chains locked in place by a hook on the tabletop and the floor. Jeremy was trembling, just as nervous as he was during his first trial (which certainly had not helped his case). He tapped his feet anxiously, and Mr. Alcott took his seat beside him.


“Don’t you worry, Jeremy. I’ve spoken to Mrs. Strout, and I know she wants to be here. She feels just awful that all of this has fallen on you. I have no doubt she will find her way here, even with those kids of yours keepin’ her busy – who’da thought dead kids could still be such a handful? HA!” Jeremy didn’t laugh, so Mr. Alcott cleared his throat. “She’s got a wonderful therapist, Jeremy. They’ve been working really hard on timeliness so she can be here for you today. He's the best therapist around. He worked so hard when he was alive, it nearly killed him! HA – HA! But really, it was the alcohol that did it.”


Despite Mr. Alcott’s poor humor, his assurances did give Jeremy hope. After all, that was all he had left.


The courtroom remained mostly silent as the hours carried on, everyone waiting, now accustomed to the concept of ghostly testimonies and also of their inability to make prompt appearances. If people had thought court cases dragged on before, waiting on a dead person to show up had made the old ways seem swift.


Every so often as the clock ticked, a ghost would find themselves in the pews alongside the other patient attendees, causing a stir in the crowd. An elderly man piped up around the second long hour, reminiscing: “I remember when they built this courthouse in 1949…” Apparently, he had been a little boy with a dream of becoming the president one day, at the time fascinated by the building’s exterior columns and interior mahogany. On the third hour, a child ghostling chased a ball around the court room giggling about how his dad used to work upstairs. On the fourth hour, a former janitor peeked his head in to see if the garbage needed to be changed.


It was the fifth hour when the judge, who had spent nearly all of the hours engrossed in a book, announced that if Mrs. Strout did not find her way here in ten minutes, her testimony would have to be rescheduled and the court would be adjourned. Jeremy’s foot resumed its tapping.


Mr. Alcott nudged him, winking. “She’ll be here.”


Jeremy’s hope was nearly run dry when the clock struck five hours and eleven minutes since the court hearing was set to start. The banging from the judge’s gavel was still resounding while a symphony of people gathering their things and sighing at the wasted day trickled across the room. All of it was at just the perfect volume for Mrs. Strout’s meager voice to almost be missed. Almost.


“Hello?” she said. “Hello? Did I make it on time?”


The noise in the room was like a faucet sputtering out until it finally stilled. Everyone froze in their tracks and turned towards the voice to find an equally meager and transparent figure seated at the witness stand. When Jeremy laid eyes on her, she looked as beautiful as the day he married her. (Not appearing in the form in which one died was a feature of ghosthood that all appreciated.)


“Senora?” Jeremy whispered.


At her name, the ghost frantically searched for its source. When she landed on Jeremy, relief softened and warmed her face. “Jeremy,” she smiled. Then as if her reason for being here suddenly rushed to her mind, she jerked towards the judge, who was still frozen in his half-standing, half-seated stance, considering if he should allow this hearing to take place. “Your Honor, you have to set him free! He’s innocent. Please!” She pleads.


“Senora, where are the kids?” Jeremy asked, worriedly.


His ghastly wife faced him again. “They’re fine, dear. Well, they’re dead, but they’re fine. They’re at the park, playing.”


Jeremy thought of little Harley Sue, not even two when she passed, off at the park playing without an adult. Senora read his expression. “I figure not much else can happen to them now,” she shrugged, forcing a laugh.


Mr. Alcott, who was already up on his feet, cleared his throat and approached the judge’s bench, nodding a hello to Mrs. Strout. “Your Honor, would you please allow Mrs. Strout to give her testimony? We’ve waited all this time, and if we prolong it any further, we cannot guarantee her appearance again.”


The judge was tired and hungry and ready to sit on his couch and kick his feet up. But he was also reasonable. He surrendered a sigh. “Alright, alright, Mr. Alcott. Court re-instated.” He tapped his gavel, and the jurors all groaned as they found their seats again. “Make it quick, Mrs. Strout. We had all day, but that day is nearly gone.”


Mr. Alcott turned to Jeremy, giving him two thumbs up. Jeremy released all of the air he was holding onto. Mrs. Strout nodded and straightened in her seat, running her hands across her lap as if to flatten her dress. Out of habit – most ghosts seemed to retain this gesture – Mrs. Strout inhaled before she spoke.


“The day I died, there was a harvest moon on the rise…the children were loud and the house was a mess and the fridge was nearly empty. I hadn’t gotten to laundry in over a week! It was a pretty typical day in our house, actually,” Mrs. Strout joked. Only a few in the room offered an empathetic laugh.


The judge was less patient. “Mrs. Strout, while I have sympathy for your tragic death and the death of your three children, you are here to tell us if it was that man – Mr. Jeremy Strout – who did it. We do not need a bedtime story.”


Jeremy flinched at another man telling his wife what to do. “Let her speak!”


The judge shot him a daring gaze. Mr. Alcott squeezed his shoulder. Senora thanked him with her eyes, but behind them was a painful secret rising to the surface.


“Of course, Your Honor. I know I’ve already taken up a lot of your time,” she said, addressing the whole courtroom full of people. Then she looked down at her lap, twiddling her fingers. “The truth is…My children and I were killed by one of their parents…”


A gasp echoed across the walls of the room, and an uproar of whispers scattered like static. Mr. Alcott and Jeremy shared a confused stare.


The judge banged his gavel. “Order! Order!”


Everyone started to hush but it wasn’t until Senora shouted that silence fully resumed. “But it wasn’t Jeremy!” Senora was crying now, looking directly at her husband. “I’m so sorry,” she sobbed.


Jeremy’s foot stopped bouncing. His mind was trying to solve an impossible puzzle. All these years, people had assumed he had murdered his entire family, but the truth was he honestly didn’t know what had happened to them. Just like he’d told the police, he’d come home from a long day at work and walked into the most horrific and life-shattering scene he’d ever witnessed. No one believed him.


Senora’s sobs were the only sound in the courtroom as everyone patiently waited for her to collect herself. Thankfully, Kleenex had developed a ghost-friendly facial tissue and one of the guard’s brought it over to her. She wiped her eyes and spoke sternly, as if she had not just been wailing with abandon. “Your Honor, you need to release my husband from prison right now.”


“What are you saying, Senora?” Jeremy whispered.


The next words that Jeremy’s wife spoke were undeniably the most important of his entire life. More life-altering than the ones spoken by the police who arrested him and the judge who convicted him. Senora’s words freed Jeremy Strout from a prison death sentence and cleared his name of all criminal charges. But in the same instance, her words shackled him all over again, leaving him forever haunted by the truth.


“Jeremy Strout did not kill our children,” she said. “I did.”

October 27, 2023 04:35

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64 comments

Andrea Corwin
22:00 Nov 03, 2023

WOW - "Ghost therapists, a new occupation." It's so funny, when he asks, "where are the kids." This is such a unique twist on a courtroom drama, I loved it. Well done!!

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AnneMarie Miles
01:10 Nov 04, 2023

Thank you, Andrea! So glad you enjoyed it!

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Lindsay Flo
17:56 Nov 03, 2023

I LOVE this whole concept!! I’d like to see like, a short story collection about the “coexisting” of ghosts and humans. I loved all the little touches (ghost friendly tissues, ghost therapists) and the humor. My only suggestion would be to have more of a lead up to Mrs Stout’s confession. Otherwise this is brilliant and I loved it!

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AnneMarie Miles
01:13 Nov 04, 2023

Thanks, Lindsay! I do like a rushed ending, lol. Thanks again for reading.

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Caro Robson
21:10 Oct 31, 2023

Enjoyed the story, especially the bit about ghost time vs earth time :).

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AnneMarie Miles
21:19 Oct 31, 2023

Thank you for reading and commenting, Caro!

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Amanda Lieser
17:50 Nov 11, 2023

Oh AnneMarie! Congratulations 1 million times over on the stunning short list! I adored the set up that you gave us and thought it was very realistic because of course there would be some logistics to sort out if we were able to merge are two worlds. I also appreciated that you made this a legal case because so many of those can be sensationalized by the media and society. You did an excellent job of expressing the stakes that each of the characters had for the story. I also appreciated that moment of reunification and relief that your narra...

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AnneMarie Miles
23:19 Nov 11, 2023

Thanks again Amanda! This was such a fun concept to play with. I imagined that a lot of these appeals would be sensationalized on TV, so you hit the nail right on the head with that one. Glad you enjoyed!

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Story Time
17:21 Nov 07, 2023

This is a perfect concept! I feel like this could go right into an anthology. And I love that you're overlapping several genres. Great job.

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AnneMarie Miles
18:42 Nov 07, 2023

Thanks so much, Kevin! This was a favorite for me!

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Danielle Barr
16:03 Nov 05, 2023

Ohhh I loved this one. This is one of those unique angles to approach a story from that I wish I would’ve thought of! Plus you know I love a good knife in the gut on the last line. Masterful!

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AnneMarie Miles
17:01 Nov 05, 2023

Thanks, Danielle! I was happy when I first conceptualized the idea but then I thought maybe everyone had considered it 😅 thanks for reading and I'm glad you enjoyed

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Belladona Vulpa
09:20 Nov 05, 2023

So interesting world-building and narrative! I kept reading to find out the resolution and expected a twist, I just didn't know what would it be: or her killing her children or him not being the real father (so the lover of his wife would be the perpetrator). I wonder why did she kill them, I have so many questions! Nice that he was finally freed and the bittersweet feeling at the end. Nicely done!

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AnneMarie Miles
15:06 Nov 05, 2023

Thank you Belladona! I had a lot of fun writing it. I didn't initially know who was going to be the murderer but I kept thinking of how Jeremy admitted the challenges of living with three children and thought that might be enough to make the mother crack.. but yes I did leave a bit open for the reader to speculate! Thanks for reading!

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10:42 Nov 04, 2023

Wow! this is such a great story. I was on the edge pf my seat until the end. And the best part was the mechanic of ghosts were so well explained, their difficulty showing up on time was funny but really made sense after you described it so well. Great writing!

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AnneMarie Miles
15:02 Nov 05, 2023

Thanks Chris! I'm glad the explanations were delivered well. That seems to be the hardest part for me when it comes to world building. Thanks so reading.

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01:56 Nov 04, 2023

I enjoyed your story. Ghost children not needing supervision at a park would be interesting and very creative.

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AnneMarie Miles
15:02 Nov 05, 2023

Thank you, Karen!

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01:29 Nov 04, 2023

Amazing! 😍 So interesting and lots of fun to read. Vey enjoyable, I love it! 💗 When she said it was one of the parents, I thought that Jeremy wasn't the father of the children... Or maybe just not the father of Harley Sue. The twist was great!

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AnneMarie Miles
15:04 Nov 05, 2023

Thanks, Khadija! Im glad the twist was a surprise because I wasn't sure if it was too obvious. I'm glad you had fun reading it!

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Danie Holland
18:39 Nov 03, 2023

AnneMarie great story! Congrats on shortlist girly 💜

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AnneMarie Miles
01:12 Nov 04, 2023

Thank you, Danie!

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Tom Skye
16:33 Nov 03, 2023

Coooongrats AnneMarie! 🎉

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AnneMarie Miles
17:36 Nov 03, 2023

Thank you so much Tim! 🙂 Fingers crossed I get my next story in before the deadline tonight 🫠

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Aaron Galassi
03:23 Nov 02, 2023

I love the gallows humor! Brilliantly executed! Also, the reveal was powerful. I don’t know what is worse. Living with the knowledge that your spouse murdered your children and committed suicide, or getting convicted for the crime yourself. Can the MC ever really be free with the knowledge that his wife would rather kill herself and her children than fix their marriage? Very interesting story. I loved the whole wrongfully convicted angle you took. Thank you for sharing!

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AnneMarie Miles
12:28 Nov 02, 2023

Thank you Aaron! I am a bit fascinated with wrongful convictions. I mean, that's a pretty scary concept that you can get imprisoned for something you didn't do. And in Jeremy's case, he had to suffer that along with suffering the grief of losing his entire family. I really like balancing the darker topics with humor whenever I can so that was fun. Glad you enjoyed and I appreciate you reading!

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Laurel Hanson
17:48 Oct 31, 2023

Great concept and a super enjoyable read. Thoughtful yet light. Loved the idea of the ghost world being unable to meet the demands of 3D time. I see a tv series here: "Unsolved Mysteries From Beyond the Grave" type of thing.

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AnneMarie Miles
14:03 Nov 01, 2023

Thanks Laurel! Your comments mean a lot since you are such a talented writer. I appreciate you taking the time to read, and really glad you enjoyed. Might take your tv series and run with it if I choose to expand this, which I seriously am!

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Helen A Smith
17:34 Oct 31, 2023

Great story which kept me gripped. Unique concept with the idea of the living and the dead having different concepts of time. It made sense. The humour lifted it and made it enjoyable. Very relatable with some nice touches. Loved the bittersweet ending.

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AnneMarie Miles
14:01 Nov 01, 2023

Thanks for reading Helen! Glad you enjoyed. It was so much fun to write.

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Wake Lloire
21:48 Oct 30, 2023

You’re right, we did have a similar story! I love the way you play with time and the consequences of co-existing. Your writing is really engaging and I was with that poor man the whole way through!

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AnneMarie Miles
00:47 Oct 31, 2023

I didn't want to give away the "mom did it" mystery of my story in my comment to yours earlier. Something about that idea is so sinister. Really appreciate you reading and so glad you enjoyed 🙂

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Mary Bendickson
19:14 Oct 30, 2023

What a hoot to think all the angles having the dead reappear would create! Great job. So happy to see this win shortlist! Congrats!

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AnneMarie Miles
20:42 Oct 30, 2023

Thanks, Mary!

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Philip Ebuluofor
16:53 Oct 30, 2023

Funny. I think she came to mock the living. If they like, they can jail her, right?

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AnneMarie Miles
20:43 Oct 30, 2023

That's a good question! I'd love to explore that idea more. Thanks, Philip!

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Philip Ebuluofor
13:26 Nov 01, 2023

Welcome.

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Nina H
20:02 Oct 28, 2023

What a concept, the dead coming back to speak in the courtroom! You took a serious topic and added some playful dialogue and humor to lighten the weight of the murders. Very well done! And the ending was a great twist!

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AnneMarie Miles
23:45 Oct 28, 2023

Thank you, Nina! It honestly seemed like an obvious topic to me when you consider that ghosts are usually associated with unfinished business. I had such a fun time blending the humor as well as the more sinister topic around the murder. I'm really glad you enjoyed and that the ending felt like a twist! Thanks for reading, friend!

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Kristi Sturgeon
18:52 Oct 28, 2023

Brilliant! I love the intermingled world. There is so much you could do with this! And your descriptiveness--I felt like I was in that courtroom.

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AnneMarie Miles
19:11 Oct 28, 2023

Thanks, Kristi! So glad the descriptions worked. And I'd love to explore this further!

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