Minute-long ghost stories | 2015 – 2016
Illustrations by Astrid Scott
There was more of her once. In soft, smeared moments, she can still remember the warmth of life. The flesh and blood and spit of it. It was a long time ago. Now all that’s left of her is a small patch of cold.
If food’s left out, she’ll try to taste it. If a book’s left open, she’ll slink onto its pages, leaving them mildewed. During the day she waits by the door, greeting any guests, but never goes outside. This is her home. She remembers that too.
At night she crawls into bed with whichever man’s sleeping in her old bedroom. She inches up his body, onto his chest. Every night she kisses him until he feels her cold in his lungs.
This is the third potential husband he’s introduced to his widow. It’s easy enough to create coincidences once you’re dead: a spilled drink here, a favourite song there. His wife is as beautiful now as ever and it doesn’t take much to nudge a man into approaching her.
That’s three men, now, and nothing. He’s not doing this because he wants her to be happy. Every time he feels himself slipping away, receding peacefully like the tide, he’s snapped back by his widow’s love. Why can’t she just move on?
He’s already looking for potential husband four. Someone handsome, someone charming, who he can gently guide into her orbit. Hoping this will be the man to let her forget, and let him go free.
Clocks stop in his presence. Water hammers in its pipes. Dogs bark incessantly. He doesn’t know why. Sometimes he feels as solid as glass, sometimes barely mist. Sometimes he can fly; other times he can’t leave the boundaries of his grave. It makes no sense!
He always flattered himself that he had a scientific mind, and for the first few years after the accident he tried to understand the rules. He ran experiments: hypotheses, predictions, observations. He remembered every ghost movie he’d seen and tested them all for truth.
While he’s learned little, it keeps him busy. The days when he can’t leave his grave are the worst. No dogs to tease. No mirrors to fog. He’s left to think about everyone he used to love. They only lost him. He lost them all.
He was dead before the fire, but he still felt it burn.
He’d long ago become part of the walls, the furniture, the pictures hanging in their frames. They’d tried an exorcism once. A ceremony they’d found online. As if a little Latin could eject him from his home! You’d have more luck stripping grain from wood.
But he still turned to ash. It didn’t hurt; in fact, as his curtains burnt and his timber blackened, he felt as though he was sloughing off a cocoon. He went up in smoke, and later, came down in rain.
Now he’s spread thin, miles wide. He’s part of plants and animals and even a still, cool lake. He tells himself he doesn’t miss haunting his house at all.
The silverware won’t stay in its drawers. The chairs inch away from the table and the lights burn bright and all the doors open, every morning, no matter if locked the night before. Those who live here joke that their ghost has OCD and laugh.
But it’s not a haunting. It’s an invitation. The living are entertaining enough – loud and clumsy and plump with blood – but she can’t speak to them. She’s tried; she’s screamed. The most she ever caused was goosebumps.
Where are all the others? She doesn’t understand. Has no one else ever died here? Are they snug in some other afterlife? She can’t be the only one. Every night she opens the doors and sets the table and hopes for company.
The trick is to leave before they wake up. She learned this the hard way: otherwise there’s screaming, confusion, sometimes frantic half-remembered prayers. But if she slips in once they’re sleeping and out before they wake? They never know, and she can steal their dreams.
Death is insomnia. She doesn’t even have eyes to close anymore. Once she realised she could possess the living – like slipping into a second-hand dress – she didn’t want food or sex or affection. All she wanted was to feel her heavy limbs again, and taste deep, even breathing…
She feels guilty when she takes a good dream, so she prefers the nightmares. They’re still better than nothing. They wake, dreamless, oblivious, and she’s gone before dawn.