Ghosts

This short story was originally published in Issue 7 of ScratchThat Magazine.

The ghost appears the moment his lips leave mine, an ethereal mist in the corner of the bedroom. She wears my face, as they always do. I watch her over his bare shoulder, willing her to fade into the shadows. Some ghosts wither away as fast as they appear, but this one seems to take her haunting seriously.

She floats three inches from the carpet, presses her spine against the bookshelf. A dusty copy of Paradise Lost settles between her bones. She bites her bottom lip, draws her teeth across gossamer skin. The fine hairs along my arms bristle.

He follows my eyes to the corner, but he can’t see her there, of course. My ghosts don’t haunt anyone else; people walk through them without a shiver, undisturbed by their guttural moans and unearthly anguished shrieks that only seem to reach my ears. My ghosts watch me unflinchingly with empty, black-eyed stares as I pass them in the street on my evening walk, in the aisles at my local supermarket, through the fog of my bathroom mirror.

Most of the time, I try not to look at them when they appear. If I can’t see my ghosts, they can’t see me. But that logic is flawed; they reach for me through the darkness. I mistake their shadowy tendrils for broken capillaries on the skin of my eyelids, and when I rub my eyes, dots of bright white light starburst across my vision. But the ghosts remain, unperturbed by my attempts to erase them. They are infinitely patient, and will wait until I’m suitably preoccupied before they materialise from the ether once again.

I’ve been distracted for too long. He asks what’s bothering me. Is it something he said? I shake my head, blink, and draw my focus back to the curved bow of his lips. They’re softer than I’m used to. The ghost in the corner lifts her brow, her shrouded eyes disapproving. I know she’ll keep me awake after this.

I’ve tried hiding from the ghosts. Chopped my hair over the bathroom sink, dark curls corkscrewing to the broken tiles. Maxed out my credit card on new dresses, drank potent cocktails to forget my name. The ghosts are undeceived. They siphon the alcohol out of my pores, hold me down, and tightly wrap my body in my old clothes until my limbs atrophy. Pull and stretch the hair from my scalp.

My ghosts are never the angry or mischievous poltergeists you see in the movies – my ghosts are simply there. Present. Tethered to me, huddled, and waiting for me to acknowledge them, to speak to them, confess to them, forgive them.

To set them free.

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