series –

The Ghosts

If you have ghosts, you have everything

There’s a reluctant light coming through the blinds when I wake. It’s very early still, the softest twilight of the not-yet-morning. My dreams stretch out their spindly limbs to catch onto whatever part of the waking world they can. Here and there, the fabric of reality shows tiny rips, allowing dark, oozing subconscious to push through.
But the bathroom calls, so I get up and fumble blindly to find my slippers. It’s cold, and the floor is even colder; I better make this quick. Two steps out of bed, and something about how the blackness wraps itself around my vision has me feeling wary.

It’s one of those nights.

It doesn’t take long for me to spot the first one. Good old Shade. Lamp shade, Shady, Shaders, etc. As per usual, she’s hanging out a couple of steps behind me. There’s no point in me looking her way; she’s nothing but a deep shadow, untethered from her surroundings; no discerning features, no face, no clothes, nothing. And she’s a real screamer too—nothing like a bit of extended eye contact to make her blast you with a bone-rattling cry that has your heart beating a million times per minute. So I keep my eyes in front of me, but I acknowledge her presence with a soft “hey babe,” and I keep going.

I sit down on the toilet and close my eyes while resting my head against the icy tiled wall to my right. It’s an attempt to keep me drowsy enough to fall asleep easily once I return to bed while simultaneously staying awake enough to not do anything stupid. You know, like talking to ghosts.

Not even 30 seconds in, and I can hear soft scratches at the door. I ignore them at first, but then it jumps to making mini splashes in the toilet’s water tank. I sigh and give in, looking behind me. Obviously, there’s nothing there. I figure that’s the end of it, but when I open the door, I can see a blur of movement near the floor. I finish washing my hands and want to move back in the direction of the bedroom when I hear scratching again, this time coming from the back. It’s loud too, which is unusual for Scritch; it prefers to hide itself in small spaces and make little noises here and there, just enough to be seen on occasion, but never so often that it doesn’t have plausible deniability.

My curiosity wins out, and I stumble further down the hallway. Scritch is sitting on the floor in plain sight. I notice it’s gotten smaller again. It used to be the size of a Rottweiler, but the years have chipped away at its presence, and now it’s no bigger than a rat. It moves like a rat too. It figures it has my attention, and it slips into the back room, briefly making the cat flap open and close before I can vaguely see it run into the garden. It disappears under one of the shrubs near the back wall.

As I try to follow where it went, I see a familiar shape near the summer lilac: a man wearing a long, classic-cut coat and a non-descript hat. His face appears like a painting — an amalgamation of crude brush strokes and drips of sallow color added by a palette knife. One big smear seems to suggest a thick mustache; a hint of ocher gold could be the frame of a pince-nez. As always, he looks up into the sky, gazing at the paltry stars above us. I step outside and glance up briefly; I don’t remember ever seeing the firmament so clearly and so abundantly; it usually never is in the city. “Guess I’m still dreaming, huh.” Stargazer eyes me, two dark spots shifting right under the brim of his hat, and nods, then shrugs. I’m wondering what that is supposed to mean when he points back at the house.

His wheezing voice forces out the words with great effort, “There’s… another — one — here.”
At this point, Scritch emerges from underneath the summer lilac, wrestling itself into all sorts of erratic shapes. Even Shade appears in the frame of the back door and seems hell bent on getting herself into my view, which is immediately unsettling in the worst way. She doesn’t scream, but there’s an uncharacteristic guttural sound coming from somewhere inside her two dimensional shape.

I take the hint and try to walk as briskly as I can past Shade, praying to the gods of sleep that she won’t freak out on me. I count my lucky stars when I reach the door and feel her presence floating behind me at a safe distance; the sound stops too. Oddly enough, the two others seem to follow me as well.

Walking back down the hallway, I give every shadow a sideways look, but nothing seems out of place. Nothing that makes my chest contract or the hairs on my neck stand on end. It’s only when Stargazer appears beside me and gasps out a barely audible “there —” that I see them too.

They’re sitting on the sofa in the living room, back straight, with their head bent downward as if reading. When I move closer, I can see that they are indeed holding a book. Never seen a ghost do that before. They turn around, and the deep lines on their face fold into a peaceful smile. I recognize them at once, and a hot fear grips me.

“Please don’t run.” Their voice is confusingly familiar. Of course I was going to run. Of course they would know that.

They wait for me to make a decision, and so I do; I stand still and do nothing. They let their fingers tap rhythmically on the cover of the book. I look at it, and they look at it. Their face lights up, and they only say “yes.” I think I understand.

“I’m only here to say this; the time is now, always now. Remember that.” They smirk; I get the reference. Of course they would know that.

Before I have time to respond, a flurry of blue light passes by the window, twirling strings of color that temporarily fill the room and my eyes. Then the ambulance is gone as fast as it came. I blink and find myself awake, in front of my couch, at four AM, with no ghosts in sight.

I inhale slowly, trying to calm my brain while also clutching at any memories of what just happened; otherwise it’ll all be gone come morning. As I stand there, the cold catches up to me again, and I’m forced to rush back to my bed, this time with better hand-eye coordination. Lying down, I stare into the dark and repeat every step and every image, locking it into a narrative in my mind. I keep rotating the events in my head until I hear a slight skitter underneath my bed.

“Yeah, I know, you’re right. Goodnight Scritch.”  I sigh and roll myself into my blanket. “And sweet dreams to the rest of you”, I add silently before falling into the deep abyss again.

Image – To All Appearances, It Has a Hand of Flesh and Blood Just Like My Own (1896) by Odilon Redon. Original from The MET museum. Used under CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication
Font – Bungee font family. Used under SIL Open Font License

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