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Mace & Crown | February 19, 2018

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Creative Enclave: "A Ghost Story" by Patricia Reese

A Ghost Story

by Patricia Reese

“Hello?” A girl’s voice. Soft, sweet. Out of place in this mortal, rotting slab of house, like classical music crackling over a radio.

“I’m sorry for disturbing you, it’s just -” Don’t be sorry. “- I wanted to . . . feel something, I – are you there?”

The decaying floorboards, soft and pale with age, creak gently beneath her careful footsteps. She’s conscious of her impact here, genuine in her need. It’d be refreshing if it wasn’t so terrible. She’s alive, clearly, but only just. Gold glitters along her collarbone, sparkles across her face. Pinks and blues decorate her eyes. Smoke clings to copper hair. She’s just come from some spectacle, but it left her empty. Led her here.

She stops in the middle of the living room, moonlight filtering in through the windows giving her a soft glow. Her converse sneakers (the ones that blister her heels) leave a trail of footprints in the dust behind her. She’ll linger in the atmosphere long after she goes.

“I’ve tried everything,” she murmurs, holding her wrist. “Sex, pain, music, adrenaline . . . nothing works.” Her voice breaks on the last word. “I feel empty. Alone. I just need some recognition, some kind of sign. Tell me I’m alive, tell me it’s worth it, just give me a sign, please. Tell me I won’t always wander through life a, a – ” Her voice is barely a whisper now. “A ghost.” She covers her face with golden hands.

A flutter, where my heart used to be. How can someone so alive know so well what it is to be dead? An echo of a red sky, begging mercy from the sun, she’s flickering in and out like TV static, drained like a car engine trembling and sputtering to near-life. But she’s not empty yet. Her tears warm the room, fester in the faded plum cushions and in those dusty photographs on the mantle. It’s almost life.

It occurs to me at this point that death doesn’t make ghosts any more than a stepping stone makes a traveler. Death is not the catalyst, merely an unfortunate continuation of a life without meaning. Without hope. A slippery spectre stumbling in and out of recognition is no different from a loveless girl searching for feeling in life’s blurred wilderness. Had I been her, once? My memory flutters, have I – how long has it been?

“There really is no point, is there?”

The house is tense with my hesitation, seems to holds its breath, reluctant to speak definitely on the matter. The girl – I can hear her heartbeat.

“It’s hopeless,” she breathes, a shake to her mellow timbre, and turns sharply on her heel as if to leave. Leave?

Wait!

Panic. I wasn’t thinking, I – my hand around her wrist, a firm hold, a brief connection with reality. It felt . . . I felt . . . she was warm.

A gasp; protests from the floorboards as she stumbles back. “Who’s there?”

The house creaks and sighs as she stands there, not quite trembling. Tears wet the glitter around her eyes, on her cheeks. She looks holy in this light.

She reaches out as if to touch me, looks right through me, fingers carving the air, just out of reach. She smiles, a tear wetting the turned up corner of her lips. “Thank you,” she breathes, chuckling softly. “Thank you.”

Her voice, her soft steps, aren’t so strange anymore by the time she turns to leave. I watch her go, stand by the window and watch until she disappears into the world of the living and even then, for a little while after that.