This story is by Hannah Tussing and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“See, Babe, I told you. There isn’t a toaster I can’t fix.” Chezz’s scarlet eyes danced in a way mine hadn’t in years. He held out the newly rebuilt toaster for my inspection.
I rolled my eyes. “We already have eight. We don’t need another one.”
“But this one will make the most beautiful toast,” my boyfriend replied.
I didn’t care to mention that we didn’t need to eat, toast or otherwise. How did my existence come to this?
Before I could stop them, the painful memories I’d so carefully buried burst forth and ripped through my mind like a landmine.
Dull pain flooded my lungs with each breath. Each inhale was hard-fought; each exhale a bit more of my life seeped away between my lips. I closed my eyes, embracing the darkness that had hounded me for so long. I had fought and I could do so no longer. Though none of the nurses were blunt enough to speak the words aloud, I knew my fate: I was dying.
Shivers wracked my body and my fingers tingled. A slow, welcome coldness spread over me. My breathing gradually decreased, and I felt myself slipping away into nothingness. And that’s when I felt it: a vice-like grip on my hand. My eyes snapped open, one last spike of adrenaline shooting through my spine. Pain once again flared across my nerves.
I stared at the shadowy figure towering above me. Twin crimson flames blazed beneath a cowl. My mouth opened, but the words sitting on the tip of my tongue wouldn’t move past my lips. Sudden fright seized my battered body.
Who are you? The words pulsed through my mind.
The stranger’s hand tightened on mine. “Sister dear, do you not remember me?”
His voice sent my mind reeling and a hoarse gasp whooshed out of my lungs. Trozan? But you’re–
A low chuckle emanated from beneath his hood. “Dead?”
“How?” My voice came out in a raspy squeak.
“I can show you. Your powers will be quite useful to us.”
Powers? My mind struggled to process his words as though slogging through quicksand. I’m dying. I have no power.
A mirthless chuckle emanated from beneath the cowl. “Ah, dear sister, that is where you are wrong.”
I don’t understand. Nothing made sense anymore and I wasn’t convinced it was simply because of my weakened physical state.
“You will understand soon enough, do not fear. The pain will be well worth it.”
His hold on my hand constricted, nails digging into my flesh like talons sinking into prey. Then he threw back his cowl and fresh terror squirreled through my insides. It was Trozan, but not as I’d remembered him. Purplish, bulging veins stood in stark contrast to his pallid skin. His eyes gleamed crimson and the malice in them burned into my very soul.
“Wh-what,” I stuttered over the words, “What h-have you d-done to my br-brother?”
His lips pulled back in a devilish grin, revealing needle-sharp fangs. “Nothing. I’m just improved, dear sister. And soon,” his voice lowered to a sibilant hiss, “you will be too.”
Pain ripped across my throat. A strangled cry escaped my mouth and I writhed with what little strength I had left. My pulse rapid-fired in my neck, but nothing could save me. My life gushed out onto the floor; not the slow, steady stream like that of a leak in a tire, but like a volcanic eruption. Red swam across my vision, soaked my sheets, and then, darkness.
A black nothingness swallowed me, and I wasn’t sure if I was dead or alive. The rapid rate at which I’d lost blood told me I couldn’t be alive, so perhaps I was on my way to the afterlife. My fingers twitched and then my toes. A voice called out to me, but I couldn’t make out the words.
Then my eyes snapped open, and everything shot into hyper-focus. I found myself in the dim hospital room. Blood–my blood–painted the entire room, the ceiling, down the walls, and horrific handprints across the bedsheets. My thin nightgown still bore gruesome bloodstains, though they were dry to the touch. My hands traveled to my neck, but instead of blood, my fingers were met with a faint scar.
“You won’t bleed anymore, sister dear.”
I whirled in the direction of his voice, my limbs shaky. Even in the dark, I could make out Trozan’s features as though he were bathed in sunlight. Before I could utter one word, two nurses rushed into the room and their faces paled at the repulsive scene.
“Where is she?” gasped a nurse.
“I’m right here,” I said.
Their terrified gazes swung about the room, and they both looked right past me, no, right through me. I swallowed the terror rising in my throat. I waved and yelled at the nurses, but they ignored my existence.
“We’d best get the doctor.” Both nurses fled the room.
I spun to face Trozan. “Why can’t they see me? What did you do to me?”
“The best thing that’s ever happened to you.” He took a step toward me.
I backed away, the hairs on my arms standing at attention. “Stay away from me.”
“You must come with me, sister dear.” Trozan held out his hand.
“Don’t come any closer, you monster.” My back hit the wall.
He chuckled. “If I’m a monster, so are you.”
“I am not! Tell me what’s going on.” I had an idea of what he’d done, but I wanted to hear him say the words.
Trozan shrugged. “I killed you. You’re a phantom now.”
“Why? I was dying anyway.”
“You wouldn’t be useful to anyone if you’d died that way. This way,” he moved closer until I could see each twisted, bulging vein on his face, “your powers can come to life.”
“Ghosts don’t have powers.”
His lips curled in a snarl. “I said you’re a phantom, not a ghost. Ghosts say boo. Did you hear me say boo? I don’t think so. Don’t refer to us as ghosts again because we are not.”
For a moment, a shred of the old Trozan materialized in his tirade. But as soon as it had appeared, the malice entered his eyes again and my brother vanished into his terrifying new body.
“Don’t believe me? Look at yourself, sister.” He pushed a mirror fragment toward my face.
Horror spiked through my spine at my reflection. The same grotesque veins decorated my pale face and scarlet eyes gleamed back at me.
Trozan grabbed my arm. “Oh, yes.”
Panic seized me and a quaking sensation overtook my body. Trozan’s grip vanished, and I flew through nothingness for a few seconds before landing in the middle of a busy street. A boy walked right through me and horse-drawn wagons clattered by. My hand connected with a wagon wheel, sending the wagon careening hard to the left. The horses squealed, and the driver struggled to control the vehicle.
I leapt to my feet and reached for the lead horse, but my hand passed right through him. The side of the wagon bashed into me, and I tumbled into the dusty street with a sickening crunch. My arm lay at an unnatural angle and I watched, dumbfounded, as my broken bones began to knit themselves back together.
Around me, life continued to move on without me, as though I never existed. Because I didn’t anymore.
My eyes popped open, and the busy street vanished. I found myself once again in my bedroom, watching my phantom boyfriend’s mouth moving as he described his newest appliance repair project. Or maybe something about his muscles. I didn’t know, and I didn’t care anymore. The facade of normalcy his presence lent me wasn’t enough. It never had been.
I closed my eyes and every cell in my body shuddered with the sensation of teleportation. Seconds later, I stepped into a familiar cemetery. Moonlight bathed it in an ethereal glow, highlighting five headstones protruding in crooked angles from the earth. My eyes roved to the lie written on the last stone: SULEKA BALTORI BORN 1851 DIED 1876.
Though the rest of the world might have viewed the headstones as a family joined together again in death, I knew the exact opposite was true.
“Why?” My voice squeaked. “We could have been at rest.”
“Back again, sister?”
A growl rumbled in my throat; fangs exposed. “How dare you show up here?”
Trozan shrugged. “It’s my grave too.”
“You chose this!”
“If you’d embrace your powers, we could–”
“Do you really want to spend eternity with a narcissistic loser that collects rusty appliances?”
I sank to my knees, decades of weariness tugging at my bones. “I just want to die.”
Trozan’s maniacal cackles rained down on me, harder than the tears that fell from my eyes. My fingers dug into the dirt that should have held my cold body. Chezz was wrong. Some toasters cannot be fixed.