Late November in Roscommon County can be deeply weighted in snow, but not this year. This year temperatures were in the high 50’s….no air conditioning, no heat, and all the windows and doors open. Perfect weather for the yearly Winter Charity Bazaar and Karl’s usual hunting trip. While Karl was away hunting his wife, Carol, would gather the treasures for the bazaar because Karl hated the disorganization of gathering what he called ‘junk’ collectibles. Though Carol enjoyed her role in the yearly bazaar, she had a problem with procrastination. Getting started was always hard for her. “I’d rather be outside gardening. The weather is so perfect,” she would say.
Karl never procrastinated. He was very meticulous. Everything had to be done in a timely manner; everything had to be perfect. He was so organized that his clothes were color-coded with matching hangers. Carol, on the other hand, was somewhat less meticulous. The house was not really messy, but everywhere there was a flat surface, Carol would use it as a stacking ground. She envied Karl but also thought he went a little overboard. “I wonder how we made it these past six years of marriage. We are so different. He drives me nuts with his fastidious behavior, and I guess I drive him nuts because I am so disorganized and I procrastinate so much. But, I know we have a physical love that is enduring.”
Lately, though, Carol felt their marriage was nothing but calendared hunting trips. She couldn’t understand the what or why of the trips. Karl never seemed to get a deer or catch any fish. She felt he must just have been a lousy woodsman. She knew the only reason he could take all those trips was because he owned his own internet company which allowed him a lot of free time to enjoy his outdoor hobbies. Carol also worried about his health. He had had a heart attack when he was just twenty-seven and she feared he might have another one. His father passed away from a heart attack at age thirty-seven, so Carol thought they should be vigilant in Karl’s heart care. Karl hunted and fished alone which always put Carol a little on edge. ”If something were to happen to him on a trip, I’d never forgive myself for not going with him.”
On the night before Karl’s expected return home, Carol decided it was time to get to the task at hand. She took a deep breath, threw her shoulders back and soldier walked to the back closet where she stored all her treasures. “I’ll get this done as quickly as possible and then enjoy this beautiful weather, before the snow falls. I’ll go through the keepsake boxes first. These things always go fast at a charity bazaar.” She removed several boxes from the closet and began placing them on the bed, where they could easily be emptied. “I can’t believe I have so many boxes of junk….er….collectibles! I’m not sure I can get this done.” But she had promised Karl that upon his return, it would be done and they would go out to dinner and a show to celebrate.
Carol worked for about 15 minutes, reminiscing about each item, and said to herself, “Time for a break.” As she strolled to the living room and flopped on the couch, she decided she needed to take a nap and then have some lunch. Upon waking late afternoon, she exclaimed, “Wow! I must have really been tired.” She made a sandwich, added fresh berries on the side, grabbed a cup of freshly brewed coffee, and sat down to eat.
Afterward, she meandered back to the bedroom, not really wanting to do the work, but remembering her promise to Karl. She worked a couple of hours and decided she needed another break. She warmed some leftovers, got another cup of coffee and sat down to watch the evening news. “I’ll just lie down for a bit,” she said to herself, “I surely won’t fall asleep because I took a nap earlier.” Wrong! Within minutes, she was fast asleep. She woke about 1:30 a.m. from a soft brush against her skin. Groggily, she said, “Karl, I’m sorry. I must have been in a deep sleep.” She sat up and turned around, but no one was there. She looked around and saw the dog sleeping in the corner. “Must have been dreaming. I might as well go to bed and get some real sleep. I can finish in the morning.” She turned off the light at the head of the sofa and walked to the bedroom. She flipped the bedroom light on only to see that she had left some of the boxes on the bed. “I can’t bear to finish this now.” She flopped on the bed, pushing the boxes over to the far side, and quickly fell asleep.
Early in the morning, Carol was startled by the heavy rain, rain she hadn’t heard during the night. Her skin felt clammy. It was almost like she wasn’t sure where she was or what was happening. But, she just brushed it off. She had a Winter Charity Bazaar to prepare for and was darn well going to finish what she started. She knew Karl would be returning in a few hours. “No more excuses, no time for breaks, and no time to eat!” Carol became more determined. To keep from falling asleep again, she quickly doused cold water on her face. “Now, let’s see. What will I keep and what will I donate to the bazaar?” Carol started with the biggest box. It had old pictures and some old keepsakes from traveling…little rubber magnetic state flags, small wooden and glass trinkets, costume jewelry and the like…things that might sell well at the winter bazaar. She decided to keep the pictures and donate everything else.
As Carol reached across the bed to get the second box, she noticed an envelope with writing on it. It was a small, rose-colored, letter envelope…her favorite color. “It must have fallen out of the other box,” she said aloud. She was just going to set it aside, but something drew her eyes to the back of the envelope. It looked like other envelopes, except it was very damp, almost like it had been in the rain. She turned it over and written across the front was…
DO NOT OPEN until after Thanksgiving!
She immediately recognized Karl’s handwriting. “I’d recognize his writing anywhere… so beautiful! I wonder why he is sending me a letter? HMM…He doesn’t want me to open it.” Her detective voice spoke. “He knows I can’t wait and curiosity will get the best of me. Oh, well.” She reached to put the envelope on the nightstand, but couldn’t put it down. The urge to open it was too strong. She quickly slipped her fingernail under the edge of the flap and slid it across the envelope jagging the edges. She nervously pulled out the letter. It was dated November 18th, yesterday’s date. She gasped and slid down on the pillow as she read……..
I know I am not the best at telling you how I feel,
so I decided to write you this short letter. I just
wanted you to know that I can’t go on living the
way we have, pretending I love you when I don’t.
I never loved you. I don’t even know why I married
You. Hmm..Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Crazy as it may seem,
it’s true. I swear. I can’t live this lie anymore! I will
not be coming home. I am truly sorry if I hurt you.
I never meant to.
Carol held the letter to her breast. “I can’t believe he did this to me. I thought he loved me. He was my rock. What will I do? How will I get along?” Tears welled in her eyes. She fell back on the bed and covered her face of tears. She hardly heard the doorbell ring as she cried. She quickly got up, dried her eyes, and walked to the front door. “It can’t be Karl….it better not be Karl! He’d better not show his face around me ever again!” Anger grew in her body as she mumbled, “It better not be him, it better not be him! Just my luck he forgot his key and wants to come back home. Well, I’m not going to take him back….never….ever!” She pushed and pulled, but the door wouldn’t open. Her anger escalated. She yelled, “I’m trying to open the door! Just give me a….chance.” Finally, the tumbler gave way and the door opened.
“Karl! Why you dirty rot…ten..” Her voice waned. She stopped cold and froze in her tracks. Before her stood two policemen.
“Are you Mrs. Schmitty? Asked the policeman, uttering the words very slowly, while his partner stood by.
Still reeling from the letter, Carol impatiently, in a sarcastic tone replied, “Yes, yes, what do you want? Look, look, I’ve got to…” Her voice trailed off. Their faces told her this was serious.
“Is your husband’s name Karl?”
“Yes, YES, but what’s the matter?”
“There’s been an accident. Do you mind if we come in?”
Carol’s stomach sickened as if she had just gotten a baseball hit to the gut. She tried to calm down, “Yes, plea..plea, please do.”
“I think you might want to sit down.” The policeman was very serious.
“What’s wrong? Why are you here? Has something happened to my husband?” She started to shake and felt like she was going to faint. She still loved him even though she hated him for what he did.
“Earlier this morning, a hunter found an unconscious man near the roadside. He called 911, but by the time help arrived, the man died. He tried CPR, but it was too late. It appears the man had a massive heart attack. We have reason to believe he is your husband. He’s at the corner’s office now. We’d like you to come along with us and identify the body.”
“But it can’t be true!” Carol said with sobbing cries. “It just can’t be true! I just read his letter. He said he was leaving me, not dying.” She began to shake uncontrollably.
“Please….come along with us. Someone will take you home after you identify the body.” The officer was very calm and spoke matter-of-factly.
“I’ll just get my sweater.” Carol continued to tremble.
“Of course. Take as much time as you need.”
Carol opened the closet, removed her sweater, and followed the policemen out the front door. The ride to the corner’s office was not without mixed emotions. On one hand, Carol knew she loved Karl with all her heart, and she knew in her heart he loved her. On the other hand, she was livid over being betrayed for six years.
Upon arrival at the coroner’s office, the officers took her in to see the man that was found. She turned her head and covered her eyes. The shock was too much to bear.
“Ma’am, you need to look and let us know if this is your husband.”
“The officer wants me to do something I don’t want to do,” Carol thought. Knowing she had to look, Carol took a deep breath and then a quick glance at the man on the table. She looked again. Her knees began to buckle. The officer quickly helped to steady her. “Yes, th..at’s my Karl,” she said with a hesitation in her voice. She turned and wept. Emotions were high. “I wish he were alive because I want to kill him for what he has done to me!” Carol could hardly contain her anger and knew it showed on her face.
One of the officers put his hand on her shoulder. “We’ll take you home, now, if you want. We can pick up his personal items on the way out. I just need you to sign some papers first, if you would.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Carol was beginning to calm down. After signing the papers and getting Karl’s things, the officers explained what she needed to do next and then took her home. They thanked her for her cooperation and drove away.
Carol turned and faced the house. Her feet wouldn’t move. “I feel like I am stuck in thick mire and sinking fast.” She just stood and stared at the door. It seemed like hours; it could have been hours. She didn’t know. “I don’t know what I am going to do without Karl. He was my rock. We had our differences. I thought he loved me, and now he’s destroyed me.” She took a deep breath, and slowly and intently walked to the door and placed the key in the lock. This time, the door was easy to open; in fact, it was unlocked. “I don’t remember leaving the door unlocked,” she said to herself. “I can’t remember much from the time I answered the door and spoke with the policemen to now. Everything is so muddled. This has to be a dream; this HAS to be a dream!” she cried out.
As she took her sweater off and laid down on the couch, the thought of the door being unlocked quickly slipped her mind. Almost immediately, she fell asleep, exhausted from her emotions and the happenings of the past 24 hours. She awoke in a cold sweat later in the afternoon to the smell of fresh seared steak cooking. The smell permeated the air. “What is going on?” She thought. “That was a bad dream, or was it?” She stood up, tidied her clothing and moved quickly to the kitchen. She blinked her eyes in disbelief! Karl was standing in front of the stove wearing his chef’s apron and hat, cooking her favorite dinner. He turned and their eyes met.
“Hello, Love! I thought you would never wake up. Must have had quite a night, aye? Working hard on the bazaar? I’ve been home for quite some time. Seeing as you looked so exhausted, I thought I’d let you sleep and make your favorite dinner, steak and baked potatoes, with a rich green, spinach salad. I even found your favorite dressing in the refrigerator.” Karl turned and bent down to check the steak in the oven. “Smells gooood!”
“Now, I know I WAS dreaming!” Carol flung her arms around Karl and gave him the biggest kiss she had ever given him. She couldn’t let go. “I could just kiss you forever.”
“Huh?” Karl was confused.
All of a sudden, Carol began to sob. The tears flowed like a flash flood. She couldn’t stop. She was shaking so much that Karl had to help her to the sofa to sit down.
“Hey, what’s going on? I’ve gotten some great kisses, but this one tops all the others. Why are you crying? And you’re shaking!” Karl became genuinely concerned.
Amongst her tears and sobs, she told him the whole story…about her organizing the keepsakes for the bazaar, falling asleep on the sofa, feeling someone softly brush her shoulder, the rain, the coroner’s office….everything but the letter. Somehow, she couldn’t confront Karl now. She was too confused.
“Oh, oh yeah, well…” The corners of Karl’s lips turned from upward to downward. He went from elated to very concerned.
“I thought I was dreaming. But I couldn’t have been dreaming because I went to the coroner’s office and I identified your body. But now I see you. How can you be here? You’re dead! I just identified your body. Please, someone, help me!” Carol was beginning to lose control of her being.
“Look, Carol, I think I can explain.” Karl calmly spoke.
“Somebody better explain something. I think I am going… NO, I think I HAVE already gone crazy!”
“Look, there was a twin. I never talked about him, because we were separated at birth. We just recently found each other a couple of years ago. A friend of a friend told me he saw a guy in the next town that looked like my identical twin. We both got connected and became very close. That’s why there were so many hunting trips….to spend time as brothers.”
“Why didn’t you tell ME? I have a right to know.”
“Yeah, I guess you do, but we didn’t know how to handle our own feelings about finding each other and didn’t know if you would accept us or not. You see, my twin was recently charged with murder, but they couldn’t prove it, so he was freed.”
“Murder!“ Carol gasped. “What? How?”
“Remember, it wasn’t proven. He was a man of many disguises. He was able to change himself to look like another person through the genius of makeup and technology. You must have heard it on the news. It happened several months ago. He would attack women in their home when their spouses were away, women he’d been watching for months. He’d sneak in and leave a note or letter that the husband was going to leave his wife and later come back, unexpectedly, disguised as the husband and then murder her, or at least try to.”
“But what about the husband? What if he came home?”
“Well, he somehow made sure that the husband didn’t come home. I don’t know how.”
Carol suddenly remembered the letter she found this morning. She began to tremble. She couldn’t breathe. She gasped for air. “How do I know YOU are really Karl and not the suspected murderer?”