We, by which I mean me, endeavoured to do right by each other. I spoke kind words, and she shoved them down my throat. I held open the door, and she vacated it. And so on, and so forth. This was our way, use and be used.
Time was not kind to us, by which I mean me. The bruises grew larger, her rages ever greater. I grew timid, as she grew robust. And still, I did my best. Still, I tried.
She, by which I mean they, buried me one cold and windy November afternoon. It rained upturned buckets. Another man already held her umbrella.
Now there was no we, no she, just me. For the first time in forever, I was alone. Nothing lasts.
I returned from the darkness like a roosting bat, flittering around our, by which I mean her apartment, every evening after lights out. She was never alone.
Our paths crossed when she went to the toilet shortly after midnight. I held the door for her, or tried.
“Do I know you?” she sneered. “You remind me of someone I once used.”
The fact I was a ghost seemed inconsequential, her attitude unaltered. I shrugged a delicate breeze, for words were beyond me now.
She rolled her eyes and got down to business.
“Well! Don’t just stand there, pass the toilet roll,” she commanded, upon finishing.
I laughed as I flapped and flailed, unable to acquiesce to her wishes. I tried so hard. Yet, this simplest of tasks was beyond me, and so I left and never returned.
We, by which I mostly mean me, often talk of her, and if she sits there still, stinking and swearing, whilst waiting for another to service her.
For those who fear to tread the streets, it is not the leering faces, the waves of crashing humanity, nor even the lines of cars who patrol as fuming anacondas that scare, it is themselves. I am no less a person. I would not wish it on anyone.
The palpitations begin at the city limits, as the towers rise like reflective mountains into a disrupted sky, my heart quickening. I gasp, seek to steady my breathing to the train’s repetition, a synchronising of man and machine. There is even a moment when I think it works and a sigh escapes my lips. It is short-lived. It is always short-lived, never lasting beyond the next batted lash. How life continues to disappoint.
Swamped by suburbia’s blur, the train gears up for one last dash, and we charge into the station like Usain Bolt for the finishing line: the tape broken, we stop; no one is victorious. One journey over, another begins.
Disembarking like so many ants from an anthill, we follow the chemical signatures laid down by history out into the glare of a city more on the rails than the train. People are everywhere. Like fish on a decaying reef, humanity teems across the porous concrete, searching for a purpose where there is no purpose. Some look to have hope in their eyes, most not. The difference between the believers and the sceptics is stark. Some might term it enlightenment versus resentment. I prefer reality versus dreams.
A stoplight glares in crimson; a double-dare to death. I have forgotten who waits for whom, so go with the flow and strive to remain somewhere in the middle. It’s only when I reach the other side that I realise I don’t want to be the last to go, the final smear on a Japanese car’s bonnet. I make a mental note to not make the same mistake, but an unhappy seagull, lost and far from home, squawks a distraction and the memory is lost.
The coffee district extends forever. Yes, there are intermissions in the chain of cocoa-driven madness, but not many, and nothing meaningful. I choose one that looks emptier than the others and order the same drink I do every single day. One day, I’ll risk a Latte, but I feel an Americano defines me. The smell of the bean soothes my mind. I wish to take the stuff intravenously, feel that brown warmth tickle beneath my skin. It is a dream I have in a world where dreams are scarce.
I linger at the coffee shop for longer than I should, but less than I wish. Before I know what’s happening, my feet are leading me out of the door and down the canopied street to my own private hell; the roof keeps the weather out and us in. My eyes remain on the ground wherever possible, striving not to look up, not to provoke a response. Not even the three false palms set to equidistant perfection fail to disturb my concentration. Like a robot, I approach the working district.
This world is glass. This world is made of a million versions of me. Everywhere I look, I am there. Even when I close my eyes. The last person I wish to see in repetition is myself. Anyone but me! Alas, life deems to torment me in refraction.
I open the doors to our office building; as I enter, another me leaves. A brief paisley respite — if ever paisley wall coverings can be called this — and I take the stairs. I work on the tenth floor but would rather ascend a hundred flights in preference to the glass elevator and be surrounded by those leering, sneering doppelgängers. Each step takes me higher, ever higher. Soon enough I see the world as a pigeon, a rat of the sky. There are more rats all around me. I feel swarmed by them.
I collapse into my office seat and a faux leather embrace. A moment. All I require is a moment. I don’t get one. Curlicues of steam flit like intangible faeries before my eyes. Where am I?
The office do-good has seen, found and presented before I’ve even taken my jacket off. I nod a thank you whilst contemplating stabbing her with my pencil; my pencil is blunt, typical!
My work provides a distraction, nothing more. The turgid rigmarole of everyday mundanity allows my mind the freedom of thinking itself elsewhere, somewhere where walls are rock and skyscrapers consist of trees. I wish myself away to a world without triplicated others and reciprocated frowns, but never for long enough.
A colleague wakes me from my stupor, even though my fingers continue to type in a fallacy of actual life. I smile, but he’s already gone. It is time to leave. The worst time of the day.
Most look forward to their return, the drive home, the commute. I do not. I hurry down the stairs and out of the revolving door. Too late, the sun is setting.
Everywhere I look, everywhere, a million others are doing the same thing. Each is crowned by a halo of liquid gold. The glass makes angels of all. All except one. The original, me. They mock me from their mercury sanctums, point, and laugh. Every face in every window, every man, woman, and worse, observe me. They know. Oh, how they know! I am abhorrent to them. I am abhorrent to me.
The train is stifling, dark and full of eyes. But as the lights click on, catching me off-guard as I gaze out into the nothingness, I realise there is only one certainty in this reflected face: these glass coffins have me captured and everyone’s watching me die.
I once watched an artist paint the sky. His brush caressed the canvas like a lover’s kiss. His every fluent movement was poetry in motion. At least, I thought so. The painter did not.
Whether it was frustration, or a lack of imagination, who knew? But the fellow grew so incensed, he snatched each sheet from his easel and tossed them into the wind. There they drifted like enormous snowflakes off to decorate unfamiliar landscapes.
The trees provided shade and anonymity. These I used for hours. The painter remained unaware of my presence throughout. And although I couldn’t see what he painted, I took a certain satisfaction in knowing I would.
As the sun evaporated into the river in tangerine bursts, things changed. The poor fellow’s inability to capture what he wished gained momentum until, in one shrieking outburst, he threw his palette away. It landed upside down in the water.
I expected to see a brief flash of vermillion, perhaps a touch of violet, cerulean or emerald green; there was only black. The paint bled into the river like a cut vein during an eclipse. Spilled ink might have described it, but ink had a purpose and this did not. What a waste. What a terrible waste.
I clasped a hand to my mouth, but too late. The cough echoed into infinity.
The painter turned. He wept. Tears streamed from his old, rheumy eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I spluttered.
The painter looked right through me, right into my soul. His eyes took in my colours, my personal palette. He refused to stop swamping me in his sorrows. I feared we’d both drown.
When the sun disappeared below the horizon with a pfft of extinguished flame, only then did he look away. To heaven, actually.
“Ah,” he crooned. “Now I remember.”
“Remember what?” The words left my lips without permission.
“Raven. Her hair was raven. If only I’d not tossed my paints away. Ah, well!”
Head drooped and feet shuffling, the painter packed up his belongings and made to leave. He paused as the moon came out in mercury silvers, turned back. “Never forget what she looks like, young man.”
“I won’t,” I promised.
With that, he departed. I never saw him again.
I often looked back and mulled over his words. He’d seemed so genuine. But only as I too regarded her bone white features and robes of liquid obsidian, did I know who he meant. I couldn’t have captured her raven hair either, as her ebony eyes already held my own.
They differ to us substantially. The most apparent of these is their appearance. We stand upon two legs, make our way through a tactile world with two hands and regard our universe through two eyes. In a more direct description, we are paired. This pairing navigates beyond the physical into the realms of belief. We believe we should live our lives in pairs, couples, if you will, so we do. We are a species who thrive in the plural. A species must thrive if it wishes to endure.
They exist in the singular, derived from a singular entity, one that split to spawn many. Wherever possible, they refrain from interaction and keep to themselves. They live alone, talk alone and enjoy doing so. Physically, we are comparable, but they do not see it this way. They look through two eyes, but act as though looking through none. They have two legs, but refuse to use them unless necessary. Their paired arms and hands have become so conjoined with technology, they have become indistinguishable from the greater whole.
Their name? They have many names and many subsets. They dislike being classified as many and prefer singular — as is their way — identification. My colleagues term them vermin, but the correct and almost forgotten genus is human. They are a strange lot, yet as a scientist, I find them intriguing. Though at their present rate, I suspect I shall not for much longer.
I dream of a girl with raven hair and eyes suffused with sorrow. She lies on a bed draped in lace and languor, waiting for something, anything, but not me.
The nights roll past like midnight breakers, the froth of their passing coating my dreams. I watch the moon descend into this nothingness without ever the certainty it’ll rise again. At least, I know it won’t rise for me.
A pinprick sky of dazzling gems flickers. The stars take their last hurrah. An obsidian curtain shall soon drop across them like freshly dug earth upon a grave. I set my spade aside.
There’s a man in a nightmare from which he can’t wake, where a girl in her bed dreams of the ocean, and the stars die every evening. I have the power to help one of them, but which? This uncertainty shall ruin me.
Soulless images swinging from a ledge, we perused the underworld as if a dare. A vast darkness, it swirled and roiled in endless chaos, a temptation to all we undesirables, and we were more undesirable than most.
Time meant little there. Each dusk rivalled the next for length and languor. Each splitting of the sky rendered the place more ruinous. Eternity was less a bonus than the Devil had promised.
We jumped from boredom, not shame. We plunged into His realm, as he had dropped into ours. I only hoped our son watched from heaven. Perhaps it balanced the books.
She sits at the bus stop day after day. I stand at my window, imagining her name. Rain or shine, snow or wind, it makes no difference to the girl in the little lemon dress. She waits there regardless. I watch her the same.
There are buses every fifteen minutes that lead to and from the city, but which city, I no longer recall? I’m as obsessed with her as she is with time. She’s crying today.
I pour out a coffee on this evening to chill souls. Seeing her waiting for a man who’ll never arrive has warped my mind. Today, I shall make a difference. Today, I shall do the right thing.
The door clicks shut in my wake; my eyes are already upon her. She shields her own from the steadily falling snow, invisible against her porcelain features. The coffee steams from the cup.
The distance takes an age to cover, not because of the traffic, as there is none, but from my stuttering footsteps.
“Hello,” I say when almost upon her. “I’ve brought something to warm your soul.”
The cup is offered and dropped, slipping from her fingers like a dream. This saddens me and I leave.
The next day comes, and she is gone. All I can think is, was she ever there? And, was I?
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.
Image Courtesy Trevor McKinnon Unsplash.com
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.
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. Why?
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.