“I dreamt I died. Now dead, I dream.”
The Ghost Writer
“I dreamt I died. Now dead, I dream.”
The Ghost Writer
Over shade and shade we ploughed our lonely furrows. We travelled at night when the dark ones were least prevalent, when the universe swallowed them and hid them away. They couldn’t touch us then though I often heard their skittering, ebony talons tickling the ruined forest floor. We prayed for the moon to stay hidden behind the storm clouds, the intermittent lightning making us cringe in its stead. This was how we moved. This was how I made my way home to you.
The grasslands were a welcome break from the giant, decrepit trees. The shadows were there, of course they were, but governed by the trails they cast, their willowy fingers in direct mimicry of the fronds that fluttered around us, they were too weak to harm. They tried though. Oh, how they tried!
The mountains appeared along the horizon like the razor-toothed saw I’d left behind with half-eaten sandwich; we only carried the bare minimum speed being essential. Soon the massif threatened, then loomed, then engulfed. And even though I knew you and the other women just a slab of granite away, I like the others, trembled. We forgot the mountains cast the broadest shadow of all, a world of obliterated light.
The others pretended it would be like the night, that the shadows couldn’t touch us if swallowed by the greater whole. I argued them wrong, but they shouted me down. Exhausted, they waited, whereas I would not. I pressed on into the sliding shade, the sun slipping ever lower against the highest peaks. I ran.
I ran and clambered, struggled and ran again. Over gaping crevasses like ogres’ maws, climbing sheer cliffs slick like a mermaid’s slimy skin, I moved like a man possessed; I was a man possessed.
As the world around me grew darker, I smiled. I’d made it, the mountaintops in sight. I burst onto the plateau like a cheetah ready to bite its prey. That’s when I realised my mistake. Right there and then, as our house was almost close enough to pluck from the horizon, the sun sinking behind the distant ocean and casting the longest shadows of all, they took me. One, a gnarled oak limb, strangled. Another, a pile of rocks, lumpy and squat, pinned me to the ground. The others, the shadows of eagles, shades of hidden pinnacles and ever more took their revenge upon another man. That’s all I was to them just another.
They tore me to pieces as we’d torn their world, nature and all, into a billion shreds of what it should’ve been. I knew the world’s hurt then, and though it pained me to admit, I wished they’d tortured me more. I’d have deserved it. We all would.
Her feet were tiny. Actually, that’s an overstatement, they were minuscule. She reminded me of a swallow on the wing, its little legs tucked up into its feathers, its claws going unnoticed. Where you and I might meander, she tottered. Where you and I might run, she staggered. To even balance in her children’s shoes was an achievement. In truth, I marvelled at her.
Her appearance was construed as comical by the populace at large. Women would point at her then talk behind their palms. Men would frown and then turn to other more complete figures. I imagined it might have broken some people, destroyed them, even. Not her. Not by a long shot.
No sooner had a man taken in her long, flowing hair, her exquisite torso, her curvaceous thighs, then followed it down to her stilted ankles, then he would mutter and move to the next prize on the boulevard. I didn’t though. I followed her down the avenue where the silver birches glinted in the midsummer sun and the shop windows reflected a world neither of us was meant for. Around several corners, she paced like a flamingo, before turning into a side street and the single unadorned door in a wall. She entered; it locked with a click.
With no other option, I retraced my steps onto the high street. No one paid me any attention, for I was singularly unremarkable myself. Looking around like a lost child, I eventually spied the entranceway I searched for. Hanging above a double door adorned in faux leather were the words Le Théâtre du Cygne. I hadn’t a clue what it meant, but forced the doors and crept inside.
She pirouetted across the stage in circle after circle of exquisite dance. She moved like a blizzard on a mountain, a white force of nature. Her feathers swished like cracked whips, their elegance breathtaking. She bore a mask of porcelain and ebony inlay, a swan to top all swans. Only if she slowed did one notice her toothpick legs and tiny, pointed feet. But who’d look other than someone who loved her for her, every bit, every inch?
I left the theatre but returned each night for a year. She never changed her dance; she was always a swan. And although she went unnoticed in the street, or at a bare minimum, disregarded, in that theatre she was a queen amongst birds. One day, she’d be my queen. That, however, is a story for another place and time.
Author’s Note: I recently shared this story on the wonderful Nicola Auckland‘s blog and have also just published it on Medium. I wouldn’t want anyone having to read it who already has. However, I wanted to showcase this on my own site because I don’t often publish stories that I would say are very me; this is. As a shy Gemini (not a good combination where split personalities are concerned) who has lots of dark thoughts, work like this flows easily. When my mind is that way out and I just allow the words to flow, I often venture into darker realms than normal. You can read into that whatever you like, but nonetheless, it is me.
I hope you enjoy
Ghostlike the city’s inhabitants roam the streets. The metropolis has sucked them dry. A procession of timorous deer frightened and waiting to bolt, they make their way to wherever it is one goes during the day in a wide-eyed trance. I watch them with sadness, and I hope compassion. I hate to think someone would not extend me the same small civility.
The cityscape rises skyward in undulating waves of concrete and steel; the ghosts don’t see it. What they do see is questionable? Glass eyes, unblinking, roam everywhere but where they wish. The city’s full sidewalks suffer them to present a weak delusion of sanity. That’s all it is. The city is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet.
Old school, my mother would say, and I suppose I am. When a pretty girl slides by, her feet unseen in the city’s oppressive smog, I raise my hat and smile politely. Sometimes, they even respond. Most times, they don’t. On the rare occasion when one looks my way starry-eyed and shell-shocked, a rabbit in the headlights, it makes my heart beat. I like to feel my heart beat as it reassures me I am not like they. I am alive. Yes, I am alive. I must be, mustn’t I?
My perambulations conform to the city’s expectations: I stick to the main streets, ignore the side streets, and never ever enter the backstreets. There are weird creatures in those inhospitable dark spots, strange and un-wonderful beings. I fear them as they fear life.
The waterfront offers the greatest relief from my waking nightmare. Looking out upon a sea comprising trillions of raindrops, the very same that’ve run down my face and tickled my nose and will one day become an ocean of even greater values, makes me dream. Imagining the recycling atoms, what they must have seen on their journeys through every stage of the earth’s awakening and impending departure, gets the old grey matter churning. I hope that’s the case, anyway, as I’d hate to think it’s old memories relived. I’ve already forgotten too much to bear, having lost even more.
Vitreous, I think to myself, as the harbour stands like a millpond, not a ripple, not a blemish in sight, glasslike. It is almost the exact same consistency as the skins of the urbanites who roam the disconsolate streets. And I wonder, has fate dipped them in the ocean and sent them on their way? Should I? Will it help to blend in with the other poor, unfortunate souls?
I must stop thinking such rubbish if I am to remain apart. Uniqueness is a gift one should embrace and take pride in, not disparage. Some call it mutation, but not I, for is it not uniqueness that has transformed us from one thing to another, bettered ourselves, not abnormality. But it takes two unique individuals to proliferate the theory and I am only one. Still, one of the blank faces may one day smile back and I’ll know a fellow human exists, not a translucent fake as is the case.
Sometimes on clear nights when the moon is full and the city sleeps, I sit out on my balcony and take in the vista. I enjoy it. The sheen of celestial splendour enlivens the soul if you have one. There is a certain freedom in gazing out upon a world that no other appreciates. I’ll wink to the moon and he’ll wink back, our secret safe in the midnight, our pact still operating. Like a spectral spotlight picking out the ghosts of suburbia, I’ll watch the moon highlight passers by and shake my head: no, not that one, she’s lost; no, not that one, she’s smiling too much, etcetera, etcetera. One day, I’ll see a smooth-skinned beauty with tears in her eyes and I’ll know she too cries for the world, as do I. One day. Yes, one day.
For now, I’ll keep walking, collecting the welfare checks when I can, and perusing the city’s glassless shop window. She’ll come. I’m sure of it. She’ll come as a pellucid ghost made real, and we’ll live out a happy ever after like in a fairytale. Or we won’t, who can say?
Richard M. Ankers
Author of The Eternals Series
Author’s Note: This is a story I wrote some time ago. It was written for a specific theme that I don’t suppose will ever return, so I thought I’d post it for you. I hope you enjoy it as it was one I was always proud of writing. Yet another I’d rather post than leave to fester in a file on my laptop.
She bathed in the waters of the midnight sea unlit by the vibrant moon. Mysterious in her dark allure, she radiated a misting shade far beyond that of the night. An ebony presence outlined by rivulets of flowing stars, her slender figure slipped through the surf in silence. Even the sea gods shied from touching so divine a darkness. Her purity demanded it.
Almost spectral in those quiet hours, I observed her from behind the sand dunes. She gave no acknowledgement of my presence, or any other, so there I remained unable to tear my eyes from such exquisite a form. She made slow passage through the shallows taking her time as though savoring every delicious moment. I prayed she did it to tease me; a wishful fantasy. Unhurried, she passed my hiding place in slow, undulating strokes, fearless of those creatures that lurked near the ocean boundaries. Then again, why need she, the night was she and she the night.
And so it was I lingered on her horizon as I did each night since first spying her. Drawn to her elemental majesty, I watched from so near, yet so far. However long I dallied it seemed never enough and always over too soon. Time can play tricks on a person in such situations. How I yearned above all else to hold, kiss, love her; tell her I watched over her. But I could not. The coward in me prevented it and the coward within that proved too scared to speak up.
And so it was I made my peace in being content to look but not touch, listen but not speak. Still, what I wouldn’t have given to see her eyes just once. It would have been worth the risk to know the color of perfection, would it not? The same question every night. I must have asked it myriad times from dusk to dawn and back again. There was never an answer to quench my thirst for her.
Time moved slower than usual, or so I imagined. The October moon hovered in an obsidian sky, a diamond set upon a ring of night, and never once looked like descending. The silver orb cast its light upon the ocean, but could not touch she. That saddened me. Such beauty deserved so divine a spotlight more than any soul I had known. And so in a moment I would eternally regret, I revealed myself. Shattered, our tryst lay in tatters.
No sooner did I rise from my eastern berth like a dawning sun, at first slow just peeking above the dunes, then faster ever rising, did she depart. In a haze of smudged charcoals where the pair of us collided as sea mist, then fog, she vanished. My heart felt ripped from its all too mortal cage.
Cursed to never know the one soul I wished, I paced the dawn beach ashamed of my timidity. By the time the tide had swallowed her damp footprints, I had forgotten her. Or so I told myself. By night those thoughts would change.
Once again my midnight would consume me, and the heartache would begin anew. For I, a lowly fisherman did not deserve a goddess for a bride, though I hoped. If I could have talked to her, held her in a tender embrace, then perhaps she would’ve known and wanted me. Perhaps? Sometimes, I thought she already did. Sometimes, but not often.
I had this story published on a writing site called Quaterreads. As seen as they are now defunct, I thought I’d share it here. I have far too many short stories go to waste and hoped you might like to read it so that another didn’t.
In the Arms of A Dream
“He’s gone doctor.”
“When did it happen?”
“Did he wake?”
“That’s a shame, she waited so long.”
“Yes. Was she terribly distraught?”
“To be honest, no. For the first time in weeks, ever since he arrived here in a coma, she seemed at peace with herself.”
“Have you asked her if she needs anything?”
“Yes, doctor, she says not.”
“Anything from her at all?”
“That it was his time.”
I loved her. That’s why I had to kill her.
Isabella’s pros outweighed her many, many cons. After all, one may only sing the praises of one’s maid to so many people before they wish to meet her. I had extolled Isabella’s virtues from the moment she opened her big, blue eyes and smiled at me. I melted that day and have many days since.
Isabella busied herself about my mansion with the verve of a bee overloaded with nectar. She buzzed from here to there with her feather duster in one gloved hand and cleaning cloths and bucket in the other. She would start her cleaning before I awoke, tend to my needs when I did, then return to her incessant sanitations. At first, she was a godsend. Later, she was a hazard.
The problem with Isabella was everything. She understood that I required hygienic conditions for my work and took that knowledge to quite dizzying heights. One day, I walked in to find she had scrubbed so hard that the raised patterns of my carefully chosen wallpapers had been extinguished, buffed away, gone.
My decorating conundrum paled into insignificance once she started on my guests: faces, buffed; nails, trimmed; clothing, stripped and washed. The latter proved the final straw for one elderly dowager who walked out of one particular party with more than just an agog visage. Orders were given. Isabella was to be expunged.
I apologised to my guests, some senior clergy and parliamentarians amongst them, promised to do the deed that evening and made my excuses to bring the shindig to an early conclusion so as to facilitate said task. If only it had been that easy?
As I looked into Isabella’s beautiful glass eyes, those that had once been my beloved wife’s, I crumbled. I wept like a fool as Isabella tried her best to comfort me, her metal arms almost wringing my neck in her supposed embrace. She meant well, but as usual was not made for such things.
I reached around her back, slipped my fingers under her blouse and flipped the termination button, then backed away.
Isabella had no understanding of what occurred. As the steam of self-destruction engulfed her, she even fetched her mop and bucket and began to dab at herself. She only saw something that was not right, as did I.
Once Isabella’s violent juddering ceased, her head coming to rest with her eyes open and fixed on my own, I did the one thing I should’ve from the start. I opened up the trapdoor between her steel breasts, extracted that which powered her, my darling wife’s heart, and held it in my hands one last time.
If only those fools had known my wife wasn’t the only one to be resurrected that day, but they did not. With that I reached under my shirt, flipped the auto-destruct and waited for the boom before heaven to engulf me. It didn’t hurt, not this second time around, not too much, anyway.