July 28, 2023
By Emma Grace
The ghost arrived shortly after the frost. Like the cold, it occupied the unnoticed spaces first – the drafty corners and dusty eaves. She noticed it creeping in gradually, whispering through windows and cracks.
Sara took a bad fall on the ice outside the supermarket, which bruised her hip for weeks. The worst of it was on the fleshy side, leaking down unevenly onto her thigh. Even after the bruise faded, she imagined an ache hiding there, when she lay on her side too long or whenever Paul gripped it too tight, the pads of his fingers re-imprinting its inky shadow. In the right light, she still saw it, congealed dusky yellow, the last shades of healing, as if it had only sunk beneath her skin, just out of sight, and might reemerge.
The day after the fall, her hairbrush was not where she’d left it. It occupied the same space, always, its own little nook by the bathroom mirror – she wouldn’t have taken it to another room. Paul swore he hadn’t seen it. Her hip protested as she scoured the house, all the obvious places first, and then the less obvious ones that required bending and stretching and grimacing. She finally found it under the couch. You must have left it there, Paul said. You must have forgotten. Other things began moving, too, things that had never left their designated little nooks but now vanished only to reappear in different rooms, under cushions, in a top cabinet she never used.
Paul didn’t notice the ghost. But then he wasn’t in the house as much, wasn’t as observant – his job took him to an office, his friends took him to a bar. Her job, in front of a glowing laptop screen on the couch, gave her plenty of time to pay attention. Shifting positions to soothe her hip, she heard the groans and creaks – the pipes, Paul said, but the pipes had never sounded like that before. The energy of the house was different. Taking a walk around the neighborhood, she felt it – the brief reprieve from watchful eyes, the open air and broad sky, followed by the dread as she stepped onto the porch, the darkness hanging around the threshold like a gaping maw. Something there, waiting for her. Something that moved hairbrushes and whispered horrible things to her in the night.
She didn’t tell Paul about the nightmares, about the waking with a start at four am and feeling something in the room with her. He already thought she was going crazy because of the hairbrush, the pipes.
By the time the bruise had healed, Paul had begun joking about the ghost. She would misplace her keys, and he’d say the ghost had moved them. He laughed when she got upset. Misplacing her keys was normal, she’d say, it wasn’t the ghost. Not like the eyeshadow, colander, ironing board. So it wasn’t the ghost this time, he’d repeat, but in a different tone, like he was humoring a child. As if she were talking about Santa or the tooth fairy.
One night – after they’d fought, and he’d stormed off – she saw a face in the window. The briefest flash as she walked by – pale white, wavy in the aged glass, dark eyes. When she built up the courage to turn around, it was gone. Her knees threatened to give way as she leaned against the wall and choked back her fear.
Paul thought she was making it up. He turned it into another fight, an accusation – he smirked and shook his head and didn’t even look at the window. In the end she pled forgiveness and decided to avoid the window, which was too drafty anyway.
Her hip ached. The cold lingered. She bought a heating pad and an electric blanket. Another bruise bloomed on her lower back, where Paul had accidentally bumped her into the counter in their cramped kitchen during an argument. She bought Epsom salts for the bath and a bracelet that was supposed to reduce anxiety. The nightmares still churned. She got pills from a doctor with a bolded warning on the front that sent her into another dimension, that stopped her dreams but not the nightmares.
Her mother thought she needed to get out of the house. Their phone calls were a litany of ways Sara should be living her life differently. She and Paul should be married. She should be trying to have babies. She should be working a real job, in an office, and then she wouldn’t be so worried about non-existent hauntings. So she stopped telling her mother about the ghost.
Her friends thought it was a carbon monoxide leak, or else some kind of mold, which was totally normal and scientifically provable. This was appealing enough an explanation that she had a handyman out to investigate. Paul begrudgingly paid him for the fruitless inspection before telling her, not quite politely, not to hire any more ghosthunters. She stopped telling her friends about the ghost, too.
The dreams continued, horrible dreams, horrible whispers in the night. The shadowy form of a man in the doorway, watching her. A weight on her chest. One morning she woke from her prescription sleep and there were bruises on her throat. She wore a turtleneck.
Darkness fell early. Snow fell often. Paul worked late most of the week. As the grey slush piled up, Sara stopped going out even on weekends, afraid of falling again, afraid of the sharpness in her hip when the cold set into it. Afraid of returning. Someday, she thought, that dread might subsume her, and she might not come back, which scared her more than staying home with the ghost.
Paul was fed up with hearing about it. He worked all week, he didn’t need this kind of crazy when he got home. He stayed longer at the bars, went without his friends. He didn’t hear the knocking on the walls.
So she stopped telling Paul about the ghost. She ignored the flickering lights above the sink as she brushed her teeth. She left the room when the pipes began to moan. In the morning, she didn’t speak about the night, the shadowy figure in the doorway, the marks on her throat that matched the bruises on her hips. She was silent when Paul came home, silent when he left, silent when he crept into bed in the middle of the night. She bought more turtlenecks online. She refilled her prescription. They were all right, she said to herself: there’s no such thing as ghosts.
Write City Ezine is currently open for short story submissions but closed to poetry through 2023. See submission guidelines for further information.
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