Ghost Stories

The Writer cannot sleep any more when there is a light on in the house. Before bed, he must check every gloomy corner for tea lights and night lights and glow bugs and the LED on the television. The curtains must be thick, dark velvet, and must be closed so tight as to suffocate any worm of moonlight that would chew its way towards his bedroom. Anything that would glimmer must be gently shrouded.
When he is done, he pulls closed the door of his room. He turns out the main light, and wraps the alarm clock with its red blinking letters in a black shirt. Finally he turns to the screen. His day’s words throb on it sullenly. Write more, they implore him. Finish us. We are not done. Make another place, another fiction. Lie to us, lie, lie. The shape of the screen compresses as he approaches, into the low posture of a growling dog. His hand trembles as he clicks closed one story after another. Do you wish to save — yes. Yes. Yes. The screen spasms in protest each time, and it is growing stronger. The Writer can barely bring himself to finally turn the screen off.

When he has done so, he unwinds in unspeakable relief. The day is over. He need write no more, create no more, kill no more. Through the night they will wander through the dark house, slipping in through the chinks in the windows to moan and belabour; why. Why did you create me only to kill me, whispers the Nazi guard from the mountaintop hideout. I did not even have a page. You never even told me if I have a wife, and children. All I am is death. Somehow worse are the plaintive sobs of those two Egyptian children, the ones he invented to guide his protagonist through the labyrinthine temple, and then had to leave behind. But what happened, they ask. There were snakes in the maze! Tell us we avoided the snakes!
They are far from alone. There is the chef from the comedy of manners, last heard screaming from offstage after Lady Elizabeth got cyanide and cumin confused. The chef is more sullen than plaintive. Really? she demands. Was that really all I was good for? A strangled cry before the third course (with the humorous scene with the turkey). There are the horses from the plains people. The goblin battalions from the Cursed City. The mother of the abducted child who fell in love with Inspector Collins before the Writer forgot about her, and gave him a new love interest in Moira Lukodovic. There is Mr Lukodovic. There is Chopper, the faithful hound who saved Little Bobby from the mine. The Writer has done so much killing, and so much forgetting. The dead and the forgotten want to know why.

But they cannot come in if there is no light. He has written this into them retrospectively, a saving conceit. They can yell at the door to his room but not come in, not if everything is perfectly dark. He squeezes his eyes tight shut so that no gleaming teardrop might illuminate their path.

He does not know why people, when he talks to people (and he can bear people little more than fiction, for they too clamour, and demand, and worst of all make suggestions) tell him that it is all in his head. That does not help. He knows that it is all in his head. If it was not, he would be happier. He would buy a shotgun and sit up at night and kill them all (the goblin horde might take a while) and then he would be free. Would that it were not only in his head.

And now it is Hallowe’en, and Hallowe’en is the worst. For he has written so much of Hallowe’en, and he cannot forget it. Sometimes he can forget the Nazi guard for days at a time, but when it is Hallowe’en and there are pumpkins on the lawns and there are witches in all the shops, how can he forget his own pumpkins and witches? And he has committed every cliché. He has his tales of Samhain, with pale druidesses and ritual sacrifice. He has his children’s collection, written in commercial desperation, where comic skeletons get crushed by falling cauldrons, and evil witches get chased off by friendly ghosts, or evil ghosts get banished by friendly witches. Woe, to have written ghosts! The ghosts of ghosts at the bedroom door are among the worst. He should never have mistreated characters who can walk through walls.
And then there is his horror, his shock-and-gore tactics when the kitty ran low. His ancient daemons and malicious faeries. Last Hallowe’en, capitalising on popular trends, his vampyre. His beautiful, pornographically lustrous vampyre, the perfect killer, perfect lover (in one memorable scene, both). His vampyre with needle fangs and the strength of ten, who can transform into a tiny bat with glowing eyes. With the power to rise again from any death. He sold millions. But the Writer dismembered him, with the beautiful girl in her pink prom dress. Stuck a stake through his throat and slashed apart the body.
But on his last page, he could not resist sliding the dismembered arms towards the dismembered torso. The power to rise again, from any death.

And now his cliffhanger is coming back …to haunt him.

They are loud, his forgotten, this Hallowe’en night.

Amidst the clamour, behind the comic complaints of the fat cook, behind the wail of husbands whose wives were killed to add to a psychopath’s character development, behind the miniature whine of Chopper, who will never know if he survived the rockfall, he can hear it, because he knows it is there. The soft laughter of his best-seller.

The clamour falls silent. Or not quite. He can hear fragments of whisper, as he lies in bed with his eyes shut tight. It feels like the silence is rubbing its hands. Hallowe’en brings the Hallowe’en characters strength. But always before, they have faltered at the door. Witches cannot cross running water, and they cannot cross this threshold.

But then, he remembers the failsafe which he did not build in, and his sweating body freezes still with terror. He was so hungry for a success, so desperate to see his own slim, black volume among the slim, black volumes of the “paranormal” section, that he forgot to make himself safe. There is room under his door for a bat to slip through. That would be okay, that would not matter, except…

His vampyre bat, with its glowing red eyes, does not need light to see.

He imagines he can hear the high squeaks of its sonar as it struggles its way into the room. He does not need to imagine the leather rustle as it comes through the door. The Writer lies quite still as the bat circles the room, and waits for little claws to tickle his face, or to hear the sound — however it sounds, he does not remember writing it in — of the vampyre taking human form.

But instead, there is just a quiet click as the bat alights on his writing table, and then silence. Silence. And… no. A small, familiar whirr. No.

The Writer cannot help himself. His eyes spring open. The little red-eyed bat grins back maliciously from his keyboard. There, on the screen, the start-up graphics of the word processor. The program loads. And the screen, finally triumphant, bares its blank white soul to the Writer, broken only by a tiny, flashing cursor.

And the light from the bright, blank screen illuminates a clear path to the door.

4 thoughts on “Ghost Stories

  1. This is the best thing I have read all week (and having read a lot of Browning’s poetry plus several articles by Lapidge, that is quite the compliment). Your imagination is awesome.

  2. Characters minor and major stream to the screen. “As an avid Reader, might I make a suggest….” sidles the bat. The Writer opens his mouth to scream, the bat takes wing unerringly, and cleaves to the jugular from the inside. “On a point of informatoin” whines the mammal “Lady Elizabeth’s female “chef” should be termed a “cook” from the start…”. The Writer vomits blood. “To call an Egyptian temple “labyrinthine” ahistorically collates the Hellenic with the…..”
    The writer starts to mummify from his toes.

    1. The Writer is not, I feel it is clear, an artist of painstaking craft and originality. “Daemon”, “faerie” AND “vampyre”? The Cursed City? This is not a man who has researched his comedy of manners, let alone his adjectives. He probably thinks “Hellenic” means “of or pertaining to the works of Dame Mirren”.

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