This story is by Phoebe Clegg and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It’s cold, there are small bumps covering the skin on his arms, his breath is making small clouds. I feel nothing. Death does not afford you feelings. I’m just here, not solid and not quite free either.
We’re in his bathroom, he’s had a shower and stands in front of the mirror shaving. I want to get his attention, he hasn’t noticed the cold yet. I make a gentle breeze that moves his hair and makes the goosebumps appear on the back of his neck. I watch his body process my presence; a shiver, his head turns, eyes darting around the room, searching me out.
“Hello?” his voice shakes a little.
I knock his razor onto the floor. He makes a small gasp and stares at it laying on the floor.
After a long pause, “Who are you?” he asks.
How I am going to answer that I wonder just as he breathes hard on the mirror. Quickly I write my name in his breath. He reads it silently, and for a long moment just stares into the mirror. I can see he’s upset, there are tears in his eyes, his lip quivers.
“What do you want?” he breathes on the mirror again, I form the words ‘show me the grave’ in the condensation.
“The grave? No, nope, I can’t do that,” he blurts out and then to himself “what would she want to see that for?”
I’m not sure why, it is like a mission of sorts, it’s the only thought I have and I think I need it for closure; like a full stop at the end of my sentence. But, how do I get him to take me there now? I wait. He puts on a shirt and an old dark green knitted sweater. I can’t tell how much time has passed, does he know I am still here waiting, watching? He goes about his morning as if nothing has changed, and I wait.
He sits on his couch, head in his hands. I watch.
He suddenly speaks out loud. “Are you still there?”
I knock The Canterbury Tales off the shelf next to me.
“Subtle,” he says, a small grin turning up the edges of his mouth “that was one of your favourites.” It was, but that fact doesn’t seem to matter to me now.
“I’ll take you there” the words come suddenly and then hang suspended in the air; I want it and fear it all the same.
“Okay?” he questions the air around him. I knock another book off the shelf, I pay no interest in what it is, I just want to be on our way. He stands then and puts the two books back on the shelf, I am close enough that if I had a body I could smell his musky cologne.
“Come on then” he says almost cheerily as he grabs his car keys and heads for the door. I follow.
He drives his car to a wooded area just outside the city and parks. It is peaceful here, no unnatural noise, I feel more fluid out here than I did in the apartment. He walks into the trees along a worn path, but some distance later steps off the path and continues on a route only known to him. Finally we stop at a small clearing, I feel it almost instantly, a sort of pulling. I move toward the source, a spot on the ground, there is nothing there, but I feel it. His voice breaks the quiet.
“Ahh, it feels good to be out here in nature doesn’t it? I do love it out here. I was hoping you would be pleased with this spot. The way the sunlight falls on through the trees, the quiet, things I know you loved.” he’s pacing the edge of the clearing, throwing his arms out as if giving a guided tour. “Yes, a perfect place to plant my little wallflower” he laughs at his joke. But I’m distracted, something else is here, I am feeling more pulling, different from the first, more like someone tugging on my sleeve.
“Yes, a perfect place to plant all my flowers. I planted you with an oak sapling, you know.” He’s enjoying his performance, making flourishes with his arms and voice like a stage performer.
“but alas it seems your body is as useless as you were and it has died” he laughs and sighs dramatically. “Oh well, I will just have to find another.”
I understand now, the pullings, they’re other bodies, more of his flowers; I am not the only one he murdered! and I’m not fading into the light as I had suspected I would when I saw what happened to me, when I got my closure. Fear and confusion drench me. Perhaps there is more to be done, what else can I do? He’s bent over a spot on the ground now, muttering at the dirt, trailing his fingers across the ground as one would the skin of a lover. I watch from a distance, distant.
We’re back in the car driving towards the city, I’m attached to him, unable to leave, trapped again. He doesn’t return to his apartment, instead he parks outside a cafe, he messages someone and then sits back drumming his fingers on the door.
“Are you still here Wallflower?” I don’t answer, something tells me I need to hide.
A while later a woman walks out of the cafe and gets in his car, we drive back to his apartment. His behaviour is still slightly over dramatised and I can see it’s making the woman nervous, she fidgets with the sleeve of her sweater incessantly. Now he’s cooking her dinner, she sits on the couch where he sat earlier. It dawns on me then, she’s in danger! I have to get her out of the apartment, but how? There’s dust on the tv screen, I write in it ‘Run, Danger, Killer’. It’s not enough, I need to get her attention, scare her. I’m not able to have much effect on the physical world but I manage to lift a book from the coffee table and float it a short distance towards the tv. She sees, her eyes widen, pupils dilate, tracking the book to where I drop it in front of my warning. I watch her read it, watch her try to rationalise it, and then decide. She stands, picks up her bag and bolts for the door. He’s still in the kitchen talking at her as she slams the door behind her and hurtles down the stairs. I don’t see her leave the building but I watch as he hears the door close, sees the book on the floor, the message in the dust, the empty apartment. I watch his rage boil over.
“YOU BITCH!” he screams “you know what you’ve done, you’ve ruined it, you selfish crazy cow!” he’s pacing around the room, picking up things and throwing them, I suppose he feels he is throwing them at me. I know now what I must do, I have to stay, warn them all to run, I’ll be the last. As if hearing my realisation for himself he stops yelling and pacing.
“You won’t leave me alone will you?” No I won’t, not till you stop “You’ll try to warn all of them, and I have no way to stop you. My life’s work, ruined by a ghost” he laughs, “how utterly ironic.”
Now we’re standing soundlessly amongst the mess, he’s thinking, hands on his hips. His hands drop, he turns his face up and smiles and without a word he walks to the bathroom and slams the door behind him. I wait. Whatever he is planning I will deal with when it happens, I am here now, I understand my purpose.
It happens slowly, the room gets dark, the furniture fades away first, then the floor, and the walls. I’m in total darkness for a moment, I feel more solid; it’s happening, I am moving on, I feel truly content. Light starts to appear from above, I’m ready. But then there are white tiles on the ground, then walls, a mirror, blood, his blood. My eyes follow the trail of blood to the body, his body. What is happening? He killed himself! Why?
“Did you think you could escape me?” a voice behind me growls. I turn. It’s him, but his face is twisted, his eyes too big, his body bone thin. “Did you think that you could just haunt me, ruin my work, and that I would just let you?” he moves slowly toward me “No, no little wallflower, you shouldn’t have come back, you will never be rid of me now.”
It’s cold, his breath is making small dark sulfuric clouds. I feel hope leaving my body like blood from a cut vein. Death does not afford you an end like life, and I am not free.