Horror - 1st Person
The Ghost Walks
Pearls of sweat cover my brow. My heart beats unsteady. I had a terrible dream: Sebastian, my husband, had gone out to get cigarettes, meanwhile a pandemic and a war had broken out. Nuclear blasts had us living back in the stone age, and worst of all, my mobile phone had been rendered unusable and my social life disappeared along with it. As I dreamt, I told myself to wake up, but I answered to myself that I was not asleep, but dead.
I don’t remember waking up, nor falling asleep, and I feel almost a foreigner inside my own body. Lying on the carpet, I peek at the sunny sky through a crack in the blue curtains. The window needs a good cleaning. Tom stares at me—with all the contempt and disdain only a cat can exhibit—from the comfort of my own satin pillow. His perfect chocolate fur frames the sharpest blue eyes. Lounging on the velvet bedcover and against the damascene blue wallpaper, he looks like a sultan or a maharajah. He’s gorgeous, and he hates me. He doesn’t blink, not even once. He never blinks at me. There’s no fondness or trust between us, only courteous animosity. We both adore the same man, my husband. But he’s away this weekend, at his brother’s stag party, so there’s no need to pretend.
My head feels like it went for a swim leaving my body behind. Did I drink the whole bottle of wine last night? Why don’t I remember? Maybe I have a brain tumour.
I look at Tom, “Blink once if I have a brain tumour.”
Very slowly, he blinks. Once.
“Tsk! You’re awful, you would blink even if it wasn’t true, wouldn’t you?”
Tom stretches on top of my pillow for what seems an eternity, and his claws leave tiny new holes behind. There are a million of those on my pillow already, but none on Sebastian’s. Stretching finished, he walks away.
I follow him into the kitchen and find a bottle of wine, three-quarters full, on top of the bench. The Roomba-vacuum starts its automatic cleaning cycle, beginning at the open plan kitchen. The leftovers of a mushroom risotto are still in the pan on the stove top. Did I cook that last night or the night before? The kitchen is a mess. I’ll clean up later.
The last couple of days seem hazy. I don’t know what day it is, and I can’t find my mobile. I walk to the living room and bump my little toe against the coffee-table’s sturdy leg. Like a wounded animal, I let out a wild cry, but then I have the sudden realisation that there’s no pain. With the precision of a clockmaker, I aim my little toe at the same sturdy leg and bang my foot against it. Still no pain. The cat is right, I have a brain tumour.
Or maybe, I am indeed dead, and the dream was not a dream. I run to the bathroom’s mirror. My green eyes are bloodshot and surrounded by smudged mascara. My roots need to be done pronto if I’m going to continue the ruse of being a natural blonde instead of mousy-brown; the left side of my head already looks like mice have been nesting on it. If I’m a ghost, will my hair stay like this forever?
I walk around our apartment. Everything is covered by a dense layer of dust, even the TV. A collection of spiderwebs join the bookcase to the ceiling. Frantic, I search for my mobile, and miraculously I hear the muffled ringtone coming from the kitchen. I find it inside the fridge. As I grab it, I see “Sebastian” on the screen followed by the low battery notification. And just like that, the phone is dead.
I march to the window. Five floors down, the street is congested by traffic and human-ants rushing to or from work. The Roomba runs straight into my foot, over and over, and I must move to stop the assault. Am I invisible? I hurry back to the bathroom.
The front door opens, and Sebastian’s arrival is unmistakable: the jingle of the keys, the soft thump of the leather wallet landing on the hall table. Tom meows a welcome and Sebastian’s reciprocates by picking him up. “Nettie, Hun?”
His sultry voice sends shivers down my—now invisible—spine. I stay very still, waiting in silence for his scream once he discovers my dead body. And where exactly is my body? I wonder. I quickly check the bathroom, especially the bathtub, just to confirm I’m not just lying there all scattered, legs akimbo, hair looking like a rats-lair—oh!
He calls my name a few more times and the shriek of horror still doesn’t come. Instead, he suddenly stands by the bathroom door saying, “There you are! Why aren’t you answering? You okay, Nettie? Not mad, are you?”
I blurt out, “Can you—” but my voice fails me. I swallow and try again, “Can you see me?”
“Sure!” He says enveloping me in his arms.
His breath is minty while mine stinks, further proving I’m now a cadaver. Maybe he hasn’t found my body yet because I am dead but still inside my body?
Sebastian can sense my uneasiness. “What is it, Hun?”
“I’m… I’m dead. Tom blinked at me. I’m a ghost, but I’m still inside my body.”
“What on earth are you talking about? Why aren’t you answering your phone?”
Knowing he won’t understand, I drag him to the living room, “Come, I’ll show you.”
Tom hisses at me from the dining table as I chase the Roomba around. However, it avoids me every single time, turning away from me if I go too near. I give up and jump on it. “See! I’m levitating! I am a ghost!”
“Gee, Nettie! What’s gotten into you?”
“I’m levitating. Can’t you see?”
“No, you’re riding the Roomba around the living room. Nothing special about that, the cat does it all the time.”
“Precisely. But the cat weighs what? About five kilos? I’m like ten times heavier.”
One of his eyebrows shoots up, “More like fifteen. Nettie, riding the Roomba around the living room doesn’t qualify as being dead, or a ghost.”
“Then how do you explain the dust and the house’s state of abandonment?”
I descend from the Roomba, ethereal and otherworldly. I trace a line on the TV screen, and then show him my dirty index finger and say, “this dust!”
“What about it?” his face crumpled with annoyance.
“Ghosts inhabit abandoned houses, full of dust and cobwebs, duh!” I say, pointing towards the spiderwebs hanging from the ceiling.
“Our house is not abandoned, you’re just not a great… domestic goddess.”
A fly lands on my arm. Am I decomposing already? “Tell you what, I’ll prove it. I’ll walk through the wall.”
Sebastian suddenly turns pale, and rushes to the kitchen, tailed by Tom. “Did you have risotto?” he asks while opening the cupboards.
“I did,” I say facing the wall. Should I walk through our framed wedding photo? Nah, I better keep it simple.
As he walks towards me, holding a jar in his hand, I walk to the wall. “No, Nettie, don—”
But his warning arrives too late. I don’t hear the rest of his sentence as the loud crack of my septum breaking drowns every other sound. Blood flows freely and I feel a bit of pain, but not much. My eyes water up, and everything becomes blurry.
Sebastian grabs my shoulder and turns me towards him, immediately pinching my nose. “Did you use the mushrooms in this tin for the risotto, Nettie?”
I cannot answer him. He’s still holding my nose with one hand, and an unmarked tin in the other. I’m dizzy, so I close my eyes and breathe through my mouth, thinking these things are somehow connected. How can he ask me about what I ate? What’s next? Is he going to ask how much I ate too? Heartless! I think.
An alarm goes off in my head. Maybe these mushrooms are poisonous. Is he trying to kill me? Did the cat tell him to do it? Am I a ghost thanks to a ploy cooked up by the cat, who, aware of my fondness for mushrooms had brainwashed my husband into introducing poisonous ones knowing I would consume them voraciously? Oh, the audacity of the pair!
“Nettie, did you eat the mushrooms? Open your eyes and look at the tin. Did you eat these?”
Reluctantly, I nod.
“How many did you eat?”
And there it is, his heartless second question. “I don’t know. I didn’t count them, you poisonous freak! I hope you and your bloody poisonous cat are happy now that I’m dead.”
“They’re not poisonous, Nettie, they’re… magical. They were for the stag party next weekend.”
“But didn’t you just come back from the party?”
“Gosh, you better have a lie down.”
The Ghost Walks
His raspy, hoarse voice floats in the air, muffled by the thick wooden door, “Nettie, please, open the door. Let me in, Hun.”
It had taken us ages to choose that door, back when our ambitions were still intact. Tom, my husband, always said it was me who’d chosen it. What had once been a walnut tree had morphed into flowy water lilies, wood turned into ephemeral stems that seemed to disappear into eternity while dancing unbound. Natural angles and living fibres had been forced into elegant curves, or brutalized into ascetic lines, until all semblance of nature had been replaced by artificial representation. There was darkness inside the craftsman; he must have had a deep understanding of pain to produce a thing of such beauty.
I look through the peephole. It looks like Tom, and I’m about to open the door, but then I remember the words on the prophecies, and I’m unsure. The church released the secret prophecies of Our Lady of Oronio, right after the nuclear winter had started, when we still had electricity. People discussed and argued with each other about the veracity, authenticity, and trustworthiness of the prophecies, oblivious to the world being dismantled around their heads.
The sultry voice sounds like his. Should I open and let him in? Tom left two days ago. He went out searching for water. He might be an imitation, but he—no, not he, “it”—might not be my husband. “It” might not be Tom. The prophecies warned that the demons would come, dressed as our loved ones, wearing their skin, in order to gain entrance. God, I’m so thirsty. How long has it been since I last had something to drink? Two days? Three?
“What’s the secret word, Tom?” I ask. But there’s only silence. The sun is high in the sky, it might be midday. I look through the peephole again. His head hangs low, as if defeated. He stares at his hands.
“I don’t—I don’t remember, Nettie. Please open the door. It is awful out here. Let me in!”
I grab the bowl by the door. We had prepared the mix as instructed by the prophecies: equal parts of ash and salt, always with a source of light over it. It had sounded ridiculously pagan to me, but we had complied. I pour the mix on the threshold. He knocks, loudly, the door shakes. He—no, “it” is not my husband.
Standing by the door, I lean back against the cold wall. Long ago I had chosen a palette of creams and soft hues of blues and greys to decorate our apartment. I wish I had surrounded myself with livelier colours. Perhaps they would’ve lent me the strength I now need. With my bare foot, I push further the mix of salt and ashes tighter into the crack underneath the door. I beg the mix holds “it” away.
The door trembles as he kicks non-stop for a couple of hours. I don’t dare move, I just pray, silently. Each time he launches another assault, I pray faster. I’m afraid that if I let my guard down, the demon will infiltrate using the tiniest of fissures he might find either in the salt and ash barrier or in my soul.
Suddenly, he goes quiet. The silence is deafening, palpable, eerie. I wasn’t aware of the noise pollution by electricity until it went out. Most people, I included, always thought that civilisation would end with one big bang, and done, that was that. But no; we boiled ourselves slowly in the pot we so carefully prepared.
I don’t know when the end began. Most people pointed to the flu of ‘91, but even before that, human life was worthless while constant progress, expansion and development kept us chasing our own tails. I didn’t grasp back then that someone would have to fall for the rest of us to rise. Someone would have to starve for the rest of us to fatten up, to accumulate. Someone, somewhere, something would have to give. Diamonds enslaved, oil mutilated and gold acquired paradise for a few, while weapons became a symbol for freedom. Initially, we brushed it of as just a cold. The sniffles. A bit flu-ey, nothing to worry about. And as the coffins started piling at cemetery gates, and later overwhelmed crematoriums, we watched in horror, wondering how a simple, little cold could do that. By the time the bodies were simply abandoned outside—if someone carried them out—or people died on the streets, we were used to the smell of rotting flesh. Once a week an official-looking vehicle would come by, and bio-secure suited-up workers would make a heap of cadavers, and nude from both wood and ritual, they would burn the lot. For a few days the smell would change from decay to charred meat.
The sun starts going down. It will be dark soon. I check through the peephole, and Tom is still there, now sitting calmly in the middle of the hallway. His lovely blonde curls and bright blue eyes are still as I remember them. He has the same undereye black circles, and his body shows the same weight loss it did a few days ago. Is he indeed my husband? Have I made a terrible mistake by leaving him outside? But if I let him in and he’s not Tom, a lot more than my life is at risk. My soul and eternity are at stake.
“Tom? What’s the safe word?” I ask softly.
He lifts his head up, alert, “I don’t remember Nettie, just let me in. I brought water, see?” he stands up and shows me a container. “You need to drink, or you’ll die. It’s been too long, just let me in.”
I can’t. I step away from the door and that initiates another attack. I go to the dining table, grab the candle and light it. My last candle: less than a quarter of it remains. The ornate candleholder won’t make it last one second longer, and once it’s out, I will be at the mercy of the darkness and its dwellers. They will take over.
I return to the spot by the door and place the candle on the floor. The hammering on the door diminishes slightly. I sit next to it. Outside the halo of the candlelight, the night envelopes the world.
The market crashed a few months later, and then food shortages followed. Soon after war broke out, and those who had beaten the disease, hunger, and tremors, against all odds, were confined together and, like sardines, wrapped in metal and sent off to fight. With the nuclear winter, the sniffles came back, worse than before.
Silence returns. Sitting with my back firmly against the wall, I close my eyes for a moment, only for a moment.
A loud bang wakes me up. I lick my parched lips, to no avail; they remain as cracked and sore as they were seconds before. My throat burns and I know there will be no respite. I listen carefully and move closer to the door. The candle wavers, it is almost spent. I hear nothing and wonder if the loud bang was part of a dream. How long was I asleep?
“Nettie, baby, please open the door,” there’s sweetness and warmth in his voice, but he—no, “it” doesn’t fool me.
My mouth motions the well-rehearsed ‘prayer for my soul’.
“Please, Hun, please, open the door,” there is urgency in his voice.
“It is not you; you are not Tom. I will never let you in.”
He pummels at the door, screaming my name over and over. I hardly have any strength left, but I keep praying quietly. The candle flickers, the light dims, the demon stirs on the other side, scratching, rasping. The candle goes out, and a frenetic laughter follows: a sign of victory, of triumph.
The barrier of salt and ash won’t hold much longer. Without light, the mix won’t work, and the sun is still hours away. I blink in the darkness a couple of times, and then, I’m done. Suddenly I feel like I’m standing in front of a mirror, and I see my dull eyes staring back at me. Gently, I take my hands and squeeze them. They are cold and lifeless, and the tips of my fingers have changed from purple to almost black. It is hard to let go, but I must, it is not a choice. I wait for a bright light to appear, and yet, I remain surrounded by blackness. I squeeze my hand lovingly once more, and then bereft I walk away, leaving my flesh behind, devoid of any life.