A ghost's love for a woman. Third place, Paranormal Romance Short Story Contest, July 2020
I see it now, I am bound to this house by the love of Emily. Her touch has inspired these walls, the furnishings, the drapes, with the essence of her being, her breath still lingers in the corners of every room, her memory hides behind every door and in the words she wrote in the notebooks littered like lilies for her death, just as she left them. In my wanderings from room to room I feel her presence everywhere, yet she is gone, her spirit taken on the day she left, and I have nothing but the impression of her head on the pillow, the fingerprint on the half consumed glass of wine on the sideboard, the slight smudge left by her forehead on the big window as she gazed out upon the lake on that fateful day.
How could I have known that it was the lake that would kill her? When she called out to me, still dozing in our rumpled bed, that she was going swimming, how could I have understood that I would never hear her voice again? When I rose later and stood mindlessly by as the coffee brewed, I was given no premonition that she was drowning even as the water boiled. And when I stood, taking in the still air of the morning and the mirrored waters of the lake, I heard no sound as she slipped beneath the surface, never to rise again.
Yet the blame rested heavily upon my soul in the days that followed. Already I was imprisoned in the house, unable to leave since she could never come with me and she somehow lingered, intangible, in the walls and the floor and the ceiling. A hundred times I cried and cursed my worthlessness that had failed to save her, that proceeded in meaningless tasks while she breathed her last. For days I tortured myself, determined to make myself pay but aware that there was no payment sufficient to cancel my debt.
Understanding that I was in no state to take care of formalities, the family sent Uncle Damon to attend to the necessary and he was expertly efficient, as though he had been doing this kind of thing all his life. He was sympathetic enough with me but, when my silence proved impenetrable, he gave up and allowed me the space I needed.
Through the funeral I held myself rigid, unsmiling but not betraying the despair that devoured me. They were kind and polite but had no words to reach me and, in the fullness of time, they left me alone with my guilt and the empty house. It was as the last car raised the dust as it disappeared down the drive that I came to know what I had to do.
The gun was my father’s old service revolver, kept in a locked drawer in my desk. I had no love of guns but honoured his memory by cleaning and oiling it regularly. There was no reason why it should not be in perfect working order. I retrieved it and sat on the porch, watching the lake as I loaded it. Six bullets in all, although it was unlikely that I’d need five of them. Out here in the fresh air, there would be very little mess for poor Uncle Damon to clear up. And his recent experience would enable him to be doubly efficient in wrapping up my affairs. It all seemed to fit so neatly together.
I raised the gun, settled the muzzle hard against my temple, and pulled the trigger.
And now I drift through the house, much as I did when alive, and have found no peace, no eternal darkness or whatever else is promised. You’re a ghost, you say, and you must be right but it feels no different from my remembered awareness continuing through its usual days as though nothing had happened.
I knew when they came to take my body that I had failed in my intent, of course. One does not stand idly by, as I did, while they zip one’s corpse into a body bag. Life would have impelled me to object and advise that I was still alive but I felt no compulsion to interfere. I knew already that I was condemned forever to be a wraith that inhabited this once happy dwelling.
Wry as it was, that was my last ever smile, the thought that my house was now haunted seeming so incongruous. Since then I have done nothing but mope about the place, suffering under my self accusations of guilt.
So it has been something of a change today. Uncle Damon has been here for the first time in weeks. He brought a lad with him and they have been tidying the house and grounds. I overheard Damon telling the lad he had a prospective buyer coming to look at the place this afternoon.
That is something I had not thought about, the fact that, sooner or later, the house will be sold and there’ll be new people moving in. What do I do then, try to scare them away with a few silly pranks? I think there are some chains in the garage that I could take and rattle at night. Except, of course, that I can’t. I’ve tried several times and I can’t even lift one of Emily’s notebooks - my fingers just pass straight through it.
I will probably have to put up with it and hope the new owner doesn’t get in my way too much. Who would have thought that a buyer would be found so soon after the tragedies that happened here? No doubt Damon didn’t mention it but word does get around. In fact, that might cause any sale to fall through. Who wants to live in a place with a history of two deaths so close together, after all? I just have to hope for the best.
But here they come - I hear the sound of their vehicles. Yes, Uncle Damon and a young lady approach the house. I should tuck myself into a corner somewhere, although they would not notice me if I danced around in front of them. But that would make me more uncomfortable than they are.
I hear them moving around the house, their footsteps growing ever nearer. And now the door to my room swings open and…
She is unutterably beautiful. Her dark hair cut short in a severe, Cleopatra-like style and her complexion pale with little make up, her eyes dark and fathomless, she wears a plain blouse and jeans, with calfskin boots. What an unusual combination she is, both formal and relaxed, exuding confidence as Damon talks to her, his arms waving as he points out aspects to be noticed.
This is unexpected. Surely ghosts must be detached from this sort of thing, that death must bring a separation that creates a formidable divide. Yet there is feeling in my depths, my heart seems to swell and my attention is transfixed by this woman.
Now she looks straight at me. As though she knows I am here. She cannot, I have tried in the hall mirror and it takes great effort to produce a reflection. Usually the mirror sees nothing. But her gaze does not waver and I am drowning in those eyes, being drawn in and submerging in the response she draws from me.
Now she turns and follows Damon as he leads the way to the next room. I cannot help myself; I follow, inexorably attracted by the power of the woman. She asks a question and I am beguiled by her voice, so full and warm, so unconscious of its effect on me. I hear the words but they mean nothing to me, a magic spell that binds me ever closer into her presence. This is madness, I tell myself, but I follow them around the house, unable to tear myself away.
Already my yearning for this woman is so strong that all my thoughts on love at first sight are gone as if they never existed. If I had known this in life, things would have been so different. Even Emily…
I had forgotten Emily. How could I have been so thoughtless, to betray her memory so instantly? Here, in the very heart of the shrine to her that our house had become, to even look at another woman seems sacrilege. Self loathing leaps at me and guilt wraps me once more in its cloak.
Yet I continue to follow the woman. I am powerless to leave her now that her being has enslaved me so readily. Her perfume adds to the bonds that capture me.
Now they are going outside and I cannot follow. I must stand at the door and hope they will return before she leaves. They walk down to the lake, Damon waving his hands in extensive gestures as he describes the boundaries of the land.
I wonder if I should show myself to her. I could do this - the mirror has proved that it’s possible. It would take enormous effort but, in time, I could become used to it, enough to maintain visibility for long periods. I see no other way I could ever have a relationship with the woman.
Her name! I don’t even know her name. It is insane that I feel this way about her and I don’t know her name. There must be some way for me to find out. I turn and look around, hoping that Damon might have put some documents down somewhere. And I spot them immediately. There, on the coffee table, a few deeds and letters sprawling carelessly where he has left them. I step forward and crane to read what I can.
Angela Berlini. One of the letters has the name and address. And I feel foolish that I have to sneak around like this, just to discover something as simple as a name. But her name is Angela. An angel indeed, sent to waken me from my descent into hell. But how am I to speak to her?
I return to the door and see them ambling back to the house, the grounds inspected and, no doubt, found to her liking. A decision must be made. Do I reveal myself or not? They are close now, preparing to re-enter the house. I must make up my mind quickly.
And now, as I step back to allow them to pass through the doorway, I know that I must not show myself. As much as I desire her, she and I can never be. We are ghost and human and are not created to be together. My duty to Emily makes me doubly sure of this. Somehow I must find the strength to turn away from Angela, to forget my impossible dreams of happiness and return to my solitary existence within the house.
As I make my way to the stairs, intending to break the constant attraction that I feel, I hear the two of them discussing the terms of the contract. I find an open closet and shut myself away until they have gone.
Days later, having gone through agonies of breaking a tie that never was and the guilt of having betrayed Emily, I find my way down the stairs and to the front door, there to gaze at the driveway that carried my love away forever. I cannot help myself; I take several steps towards the drive, then realise that I have left the house. Turning in surprise, I feel nothing dragging me back. Somehow Emily has left, all of her, every faint whisper of her life and memory.
It seems I am free. I turn again and start walking away, down the driveway to an unknown future.
Word Count: 1,967
For Paranormal Romance Short Story Contest, July 2020.