SCREAMS!!! Contest Entry 12/3/19 Prompt: The People Who Don’t Exist
SCREAMS!!! Contest Entry 12/3/19
Prompt: The People Who Don’t Exist
I sat in the cemetery, back to a frigid tombstone, watching people who didn’t exist appear and fade in the damp December darkness. They didn’t seem to notice me, but I noticed them. They were pretty much like regular people, but dead. Kaput. No more.
It was their souls I was actually seeing, I supposed, misty and amorphous versions of themselves. They chatted with one another. They argued; they fought. They didn’t seem to show much affection though. Once or twice, I had seen a kiss or a touch, but it was rare. I wondered why that was.
Maybe physical pleasures, touches of lips, didn’t appeal to the soul? Maybe both halves of romantic partnerships didn’t often die together? Or remain here, together, on earth once they died? I shook the thought away. Hell, maybe it was because they couldn’t log into internet dating sites. I didn’t know. What was the point of speculating? It would bring no answers. It never did.
I wished there was someone I could talk to about this, someone that could understand, help me understand. If there were someone like that, I had never found him. Or her. When I had told my parents about it as a child, their raised eyebrow looks then and hushed whispers to the psychologist later had been all the motivation I needed to begin lying.
I had lied and told the psychologist that I had only seen a ghost once. It had never happened again. I had uttered the prevarication while watching a dead patient, probably a suicide, standing behind the psychologist, watching intently as he had written his notes. I had wanted to show him the spirit, wanted to ask him about what I was seeing and why. It would have done no good, however. It would have horrified my already frightened parents, best case, or landed me in some institution, worst case. The psychologist would have said what everyone else did. These people didn’t exist. They were gone. It was all in my head.
I wondered sometimes if it were all in my head. If that were the case, then why were there so many more at the cemetery than anywhere else?
I was here to see one particular, recently departed soul, my on-again-off-again girlfriend, Louise. She had been killed in a drug deal gone wrong three weeks earlier. It had been my fault. I had tried to rescue her, to get her out of a bad situation, but I had only made it worse. I had gone back to where I had first seen her ghost, rising from her body as her arteries squirted the last heartbeats of blood from the crater in her head. Her spirit hadn’t been there.
Her body was buried here, so I thought I might find her. After three nights of searching, I knew that she wasn’t here either. No sign.
I wanted to tell her I was sorry, to offer my life as penance for my mistake. I just wanted to talk to her. Even if she didn’t listen. It might be enough to assuage some of my guilt, to dull the vivid image of her head splattering in front of me like an overripe melon, as the .45 slug tore through it.
They say time heals all wounds. It doesn’t.
The burrowing of guilt’s foul worm into my heart wouldn’t heal. It had been only three weeks, but my heart was already hollow from it. The guilt had already tunneled through and across the feebly beating thing. I knew that guilt’s damage would only worsen with time until it was a complete void, thumping on with nothing inside.
I thought about suicide. If she wanted it, I would do it. But somewhere inside, I doubted she would.
She seemed semi-suicidal herself, in life, but that was only veneer. It covered her vivaciousness, her lust for living. Yes, she used drugs. Yes, she argued and fought. Yes, she was sometimes self-destructive. But she lived her life, made the most of it. She may not have lived it with grace, but she had lived with passion, with the flame born of rebellion.
That fiery fight within her let me know that she wouldn’t want my life snuffed out in solitude, in horrible peace. She would want me to live out the life that guilt and grief’s nasty hollow would drive—one of angst, one of agony, one of inspiration.
I rose from my headstone, dusting off my crinkled pants, spreading the dirt more evenly across them. She wasn’t here. Maybe she was in heaven or in hell. The latter was more likely than the former, I thought with a wry smile, the first upward wrinkling of my lips these last three weeks.
As I turned to leave, I noticed one last spirit searching the ground for something. She mumbled. I listened.
She kept repeating it. One word. A name. So simple. So clear. So obfuscating.
Was she looking for her husband? Her lover? Was he dead? Alive?
Maybe there was a gravestone around here with that name on it. Maybe these were the rare two souls that both wandered the earth. Maybe I could put two people together. Maybe it would make up for… what I had done.
I wandered the cemetery in search of Roger’s grave. Using my phone as a flashlight, dusting moss and spiders from the uncared-for stones, I swept through the rows. Until I found it. Roger Riddle. God rest his soul.
I looked around for a hazy candidate for Roger, but there were no faint forms here, nothing that would indicate his presence. Maybe God really had given his soul a better place to rest? Maybe it would help the woman to know?
I jogged back to where I had heard the woman with the one-word mantra. I waved at her, shouted at her to follow. But she couldn’t hear me. Then I willed it. I wanted her to follow me, and I projected my desire. I still don’t know how. I’ve never been able to repeat the feat.
She looked up and saw me. Her vaporous eyes locked on mine, sending a chill down my spine. I had second thoughts about what I was doing, but I shook them away. I moved, and she followed. I walked the rest of the way to the grave, duosyllabic ghost in tow.
I rounded Roger Riddle’s gravestone and pointed a finger toward it. I watched as the apparition’s translucent eyes slowly followed my indication until the came to rest on the stone.
The spirit’s head whipped around to stare at me once more, its face seething in pure hatred. Wisps of itself burned off like smoke from the heat of its rage. Then, it came for me at instant sprinter’s speed.
Shocked at her sudden reaction, I stumbled backward, heel catching a gravestone, sending me sprawling on my back. The ghost flew at me and into me, right into the middle of my tie. Then, nothing. The silence of the night.
I lay there for a moment. I listened to my ragged breath. I smelled the damp earth of the rain-soaked night. I heard my hollow heart pounding in my chest. What the hell? I had only been trying to help the poor, stupid soul. Was this the wrong Roger? Why was she even looking for Roger? Maybe she was angry at him? Maybe she was jealous if he had ascended to heaven? I had no way to know. I only knew that I had failed to mend her plight, succeeding only in creating more anger, more heartbreak, more pain.
I was shaken, disturbed to a level that didn’t make sense. I didn’t even know this woman, this spirit! I looked at my shaking hand and finally saw my rattled soul.
Maybe people like me shouldn’t exist. People who could see the dead. Maybe attempts to help them would only make things worse, just as they had with Louise. Maybe it was better to leave things be as they were, to not try to make an impact.
It’s not what fiery Louise would have wanted.
I steeled my soul at the revelation then welcomed the aching bitterness of my guilt. I walked out of the cemetery with hardening resolve. I hadn’t found Louise. I hadn’t found Roger. I had found, instead, what I was looking for.