The ghosts ate the sky first.
As albino Swallows, they nibbled and swooped, munched and slurped. They spared nothing. Like strands of candy floss pulled from the whole, the ghosts sucked them away. For a time, the sky couldn’t have been clearer.
We watched mouths agape, eyes rubbed raw, minds flittering in disbelief. The cleansed sky grew brighter with each passing, shining in sapphire, glittering in gold. I liked how it sparkled just before they ate the sun. I’d seen rainbows give their all and then disappear, fill the atmosphere with hope and beauty and dreams before shattering them, but I’d never seen it with the sun. No one had.
They took the moon before it breached the mountains, sucking it up like spilt milk. The stars never stood a chance.
We prayed in small, circular groups. The eldest told us to shut our eyes, but I suspected them scared. It was an excuse, a white lie told for their benefit, not ours. So, I set my vision on one of them, less a bird now and more a blanket, and that’s where it remained.
It was odd following the ghost’s haphazard movements. One might have thought it blown, or tugged like a kite, but neither explained its ability to travel wherever it wished. I envied it if truth be told. I wanted to roam the air. And then suddenly, I did not.
They dove as a luminesce squadron. Perhaps it was their insatiable hunger, perhaps not, but the ghosts required new sustenance, and we were it.
They took the men first and the odd large woman. Their mouths yawned wide like aerial whales, and we were their oversized plankton. People fought back, but to no avail. They swiped and bashed and kicked and screamed, but all ended up in the same place: Within.
The children held their parents until the last seconds of their adult lives. Some lost their hands they gripped so tightly. The rest of us ran.
Some ascended, others descended, whilst I hid in plain sight. Actually, that’s not entirely true.
I ran inside, petrified. Up the stairs I hurtled, and through my bedroom door. My mind relaxed for an instant. I stumbled, fell, got entwined in my sheets. There I lay, gasping.
Coincidence ushered them in at that moment, sweeping through the windows, pouring through the doors. I quaked. My teeth chattered. The ghosts saw and heard nothing.
They left when they realised the house empty, and I breathed again.
It took several hours to muster the courage to step outside, and even then, only long after the screaming stopped. I wished I’d stayed inside.
There was nothing: no mountains, woods, or cities; no rocks, trees, or grass. The lake was as empty as my stomach, and the distant ocean roared no more. I was alone. Well, almost alone.
They hovered and stood and lounged and lay, everywhere and nowhere, up, down and all around. Their job was done. But what was mine?
In a moment of divine inspiration, I approached them.
Hello, I said, though not a sound came out.
The ghost nodded, or dipped, or wavered.
If it was its head, the ghost cocked it, or slumped like a half-empty bag of coal.
Why not me? I said. It was the bravest thing I’d said since, Stop!
A void opened where a mouth ought to have been. The ghost attempted to form words. It failed.
And I thought I might never know why I alone survived humanity’s cleansing.
I slipped out of the sheet and cast it aside. Not one ghost gave me a second look.
Kill me. I don’t want to be the last.
My desperate eyes slipped to the ground like April rain, and there written in the dust were the words:You’re already dead.
I knew they were right, had for a long time. But when you play and sleep and act human, as I did the night he hit her and I stepped in-between, then you almost convince yourself you are. Almost.
It was then that she came for me. I’d have known her anywhere.
It was all for me, but was it in my head, delusions of a spectral brain? Who knew? Who cared! She was there and that’s all that mattered.
I realised the ghosts had never taken us within, but me that had stepped outside.
Thank you for reading
Richard M. Ankers
Author of the brand new steampunk extravaganza Britannia Unleashed.