Bodies of Ghosts

“Bodies of Ghosts” 

an erotic short by T.C. Mill

 

One of my favorite ghosts is from Aeschylus’s Eumenides: Clytemnestra, slaughtered by her son, haunts the collective dream of the Erinyes—the so-called Kindly Ones—and spurs them to vengeance. The vengeance part is great stuff, but I especially like the idea of a ghost as a collective hallucination.

At first, I wished I had someone to share this haunting with. Even if we were both bloodthirsty monsters. Monsters don’t scare me—in fact, I’ve found more than my share of them attractive.

I wouldn’t call ghosts monsters, though. Monsters are dangerous and they’re ugly, goes conventional wisdom, and I think both those qualities require bodies. Ghosts are only traces. You can’t really fear an echo, no more than you can find one beguiling. You can’t make love to a dream.

Can’t you?

I met the ghost—you could even say I loved the ghost—at a time when I was thinking a lot about traces. I had lost my parents, both, within six months of each other.

The shock passed slowly. I found myself as likely to laugh giddily as to sob. As if to say to the universe, “Come on, now. Really?”

Once reality settled, when I realized it wasn’t going to change, there came a sense of loss so complete it left me hollowed out, so empty I might as well have become a new person. A shell like a mold.

The scariest thing is how one loss brings others in its wake. My sense of self was not the only casualty. Date nights couldn’t survive losing one parent, much less two (as Wilde says, it begins to look like carelessness; in any event, bursting into snotty tears over the nice linen napkins isn’t very appealing). The implied rejection hurt, and sleeping alone made me feel even hollower. Even though none of us grew very close, I mourned the loss of each could-have-been lover. Every moment seemed to ask the question, what more can be taken from me? I spent forty-eight hours on the verge of tears over the death of my neighbor’s cat. I barely kept working, but then, I’d been thinking of going freelance anyway, and at least self-employment makes it hard to be fired. I came close to missing a few of my first deadlines. My best clients understood.

Dying of cancer is expensive. Dying in an emergency room isn’t cheap either. Nor are funerals. He’d kept up on life insurance payments, enough to cover the expenses, and it’s not as if an inheritance would have made it hurt any less. It might have made the hurt less distracted, though.

Long story short, I wound up downsizing. Just for a while, I promised myself. Until I was able to start saving for a better place again.

It wasn’t a bad place. Downstairs rooms in an old row house with a walled-in garden. Not far from the hospital. For all that, it held no memories inside. And I was just a bus route away from other places, shops and museums and a river walk.

Looking around, you could tell it had gone months without a renter. At the time, I was too numb to be curious why. The inside wore dust like a bridal veil, and the garden needed attention. A city backyard, narrow and tiny. Tall grass and taller weeds grew through the bushes, sticking up like strange bouquets. But the small figs on the tree were ripe, purple as bruises, and when I bit into them, they were richly sweet.

I should have talked to the landlord about maintenance, but the wild garden was a refreshing change from the parks I’d been going to. There I walked for hours and none of the joggers or dog walkers I passed ever seemed to notice the tears clinging to my lower eyelids. If anyone had, if anyone asked what was wrong or offered assistance, it would have splintered me. And for some reason, it bothered me that they didn’t.

Close as I came, I never did cry, not after the funerals, not once I was on my own.

In my mind, I constantly threw stones through windows. My daydreams filled with the destructive heft, the resounding crash, the sparkle of dangerous light as shards showered down around me. Sometimes I was in a cathedral, colors dancing like razor confetti. With this imaginary vandalism, I don’t know if I was trying to make my psyche look the way it felt, or if underneath my pain I was just very aggressively angry. Either way there I sat, closed up in broken-glass rooms, waiting. It couldn’t go on like this. Could it?

Inside the new-to-me apartment with skinny, high windows that, thankfully, were not broken, I began to climb out of the pit.

Forget lifting stones; I had boxes to carry. Eight uneven steps led down to the door, and I soon regretted each one of them. But the ache of strained muscles and stubbed toes tugged me back to life.

I felt more physically sensitive in those days, as if to make up for my mental preoccupation and emotional chaos. I could never say what my emotions were doing, but I knew the color of each passerby’s shirt and could taste the air. I found the box holding perfumes by smell. My skin itched all over. I was always aware of where my clothing hugged my body.

Except when I took it off.

Like that morning, when I had the last of the boxes stacked in the low-ceilinged living room and stood in front of the windows looking up on the backyard. I unbuttoned my sweat-stained shirt and let it fall to the floor. Then I kicked off my shoes, unzipped my jeans. I did it by touch; my eyes were aimed outdoors. The height and angle of the basement windows protected my privacy, if that was even a concern. My pulse had started pounding between my legs with an urgency that stopped me from caring about anything but gratification.

I began to hope that I was like the garden. Neglected, but bearing in my secret corners something sweet.

It was the right time in the afternoon for the sun to fall through the windows without blinding me. It warmed the floorboards I lay on. My skin almost melded with the wood—less glossy in some places, in others equally scuffed. The sight was at first jarring, then aesthetically pleasant, and lastly, almost comforting. As if I was part of the house, as if I belonged in it.

When I’d first moved in, I could have lain down and made dust angels. At least it would have been soft. I didn’t have long before my ass went numb from lying on bare boards. Yet I didn’t care. I liked the unyielding solidity against my hips and spine. The smooth polished grain under the soles of my feet. The way my hair, currently cushioning my head, would get tangled. The ache growing in my shoulders and neck.

Pain as much as pleasure would prove I was still here. And that everything still worked. My nerves tingled in the wake of my fingertip as I traced up my chest and began to circle one areola. In a few strokes, my nipple came erect.

The crotch of my panties had a spreading damp spot, but it still took some stroking of my clit, tickling, teasing passes over my entrance, before it became easy. Before my fingers slipped smoothly over my flesh in frictionless pleasure. But not mindless—not only did I need to relearn how I liked to be touched, how far to slide inside me, where to rub, where to squeeze without pinching, but I also had thoughts I just couldn’t turn off.

Well, masturbating on the floor of my new apartment in broad daylight kind of lent itself to self-consciousness.

Yet my arousal didn’t feel perverse or completely unexpected. Grief excuses a lot of things. Probably because it drives a lot of things. It’s love without means of communication, helpless caring without anything to hope or fear for. It’s passion, it’s pain, it’s wanting without a chance of ever being satisfied. Without an outlet.

All my life I’d been restless, always yearning, usually for something I couldn’t have. Here at last, at least, was something to do besides fantasize about breaking windows. Though the imagined sound of smashing glass caused an unexpected rush throughout my body. Maybe destruction turned me on after all.

No doubt bruising my hips, I started to pump them off the floor into my hand. My fingers rubbed through the trimmed hair over my labia, petted my clit. I pushed with the heel of my palm, then reached inside myself again, feeling and hearing my slickness.

Pleasure gathered like an electric charge. I played with it until I no longer seemed in control of my own movements. My head rolled on the floor and curls of hair tickled my nose, got sucked against my lips as I gasped. I could smell the oak and citrus and wax from the clean floor, and the musky salt of my own body, and then something else.

It was a deeper scent, underlying all the others. Evasive as violets, sweet as roses or crushed strawberries. Its ghostlike nature kept the sweetness from being cloying. In fact, I wanted to follow it: in to the depth of each breath and the rhythm of my inhalation, and out to whatever corner of the house it was coming from.

I forced my eyes open and turned my head once more. All the while my hand never stopped working between my thighs. Each pulse drew me closer. And then as my gaze danced over the room, seeking something I couldn’t describe, I came.

At the same time, it seemed, I saw it.

It lay under the chaise, a big piece of furniture left in the house along with several other stringy, scuffed antiques. I hadn’t been able to budge it or clean the depths of the shadow beneath. Among the dust, a pale flash glinted. I investigated it afterward: the chipped rim of a small porcelain cup or bowl, with a strip of almost silver-colored gilt.

Maybe I had imagined the other thing. Only later did I remember it—what had made me turn my head, attracting my attention there of all places.

The sound of a wordless sigh, curious and contented.

* * *

The holidays were a long way off, but already I found myself wondering what they would be like. Mom served turkey, whatever the occasion. She loved white meat, moist and buttery and melting on the tongue. I tried cooking a turkey one night and could smell the disaster even before I opened the oven door. But at least I didn’t burn the house down. In those days, it seemed a very real possibility that I’d fuck up that badly and lose everything once and for all, my life up in smoke.

Holidays have ghosts, too. Dickens wrote about some. Lost past, wasted present, questionable future. My dad got in an argument with me once about whether they were actually angels. I was a precocious nine- or ten-year-old, and I can’t even remember which side of the debate I came down on.

Dickens was always one for orphans. In my late twenties, I seemed too young to be an orphan—or too old. But I thought too young first. We had deserved more years. And I deserved more time to be ready. As if you could be ready.

I felt too young for this kind of life-shattering grief and too old to let my life shatter so helplessly, so immaturely.

And I felt both too young and too old to be haunted.

The haunting was not my parents; I never thought that for an instant. There was nothing maternal or paternal about it. And nothing familiar to me at all.

The haunting was real; I didn’t doubt that for an instant, either. Of course the old house was settling, but I knew those sounds. Houses settled with more creaking and less sighing. The drafts in houses moved with less purpose. They didn’t linger as if summoning the courage for a caress.

Old houses smelled like mold and dust, not perfume.

None of it was alarming, just unusual enough for me to take notice. I didn’t form any theories. I shared my space with a stranger, deceased or otherwise, but in any event decidedly disembodied.

I may have gone unhinged by grief. I didn’t examine my thinking consciously enough to worry. I didn’t suspect grief of making me feel this way. I was haunted by something that had a substance beyond grief.

Two mornings after the turkey disaster, I woke up to feel something brush across my face. Not fingers, but unquestionably a touch. It moved as if to wipe away tears.

And oh, it broke me open.

I had spent so long afraid of breaking down, holding it off, that I wasn’t prepared. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed the sheer physical release of crying. My shoulders heaving in sobs, wrenching and rhythmic, relieved a deeper ache. Not that it didn’t hurt anymore, but it hurt better.

I didn’t cry for any particular reason but for all of them. For all my losses, all the wrongs that couldn’t be righted, all my confusion and pain. Even as my heaviest sobbing eased, wet, salty drops dripped steadily down my cheeks. My face was washed with them. I felt cleaner.

My hands clutched at the sheets, then at each other, at my arms in self-embrace. I got lost in my own fluids and my breathing and the warm, heavy sense of peace that spread through my chest afterward.

Tears rolled from my chin, over my throat and shoulders, leaving tracks that pulled as they dried. They tickled like the trace of a gentle fingernail.

But no touch came to wipe them away. I had to grab a tissue on my own.

Still, I knew what had happened. And I was grateful.

Through all those minutes, messy as I was, sprawled on my bed in abandon, I felt less alone than I had for months. Almost cared for. Cradled in some strange yet comforting presence. It gave me strength to fall back on.

The last box I unpacked held my parents’ things. Mostly papers I hadn’t sorted yet. Tax records contained no surprises; insurance forms made no sense. I moved them into piles mechanically, unbothered by the occasional draft that stirred them around.

Under the papers came things I was more afraid of.

As might be obvious by now, I cope with loss in material terms. I’d wake in the night anxious about the things I hadn’t unpacked yet—photographs, jewelry, old books to and from people I didn’t remember. Haunted things.

Ghosts haunt objects, places. That’s what they have for bodies. A materialist way of viewing things, but I’m a materialist at heart. On one of my more unexpectedly intimate dates, I was asked if I believed in an afterlife. “I believe in organ donation,” I said. Facetious and unfunny.

Religion, ritual, art—the bread and wine, the incense and stained glass, the rosaries I placed in my parents’ hands; his to be buried with hers and hers with his—all the material straining to be spiritual. Or the spiritual straining to take on form. So goes magical thinking. It gets oriented around objects, giving them intelligence, surrounding them with stories. Even without religion, I strained for narrative, giving their clothes and things away to places I thought they’d do some sort of good as if to right a cosmic balance sheet on behalf of people who were free beyond any debt.

I’d become a nonbeliever because of my materialism. Sure, we can have faith, but true belief must come from the body. We must experience something to believe in it. I’d never experienced anything supernatural.

And now it came.

“Could you please stop?” I snapped as I herded more papers together. A breeze seemed to pull my mother’s signature across the room. Then it stopped, suddenly, just within reach of my fingers.

“Thanks,” I said. I tossed the papers on top of the jewelry box in the cardboard bin. “Almost finished here.”

As if in answer, there came a sense of pressure—almost of weight. Floorboards creaked at the center of the room. Something stood there, distinct and real. A familiar, violet-sweet essence teased me.

I swept my arm over the space and felt nothing, no collision and no evasion. Whatever it was remained, though untouched by me. I had a feeling—sensation via faith perhaps—of being watched. As I had been for so long now. It had watched me cry, witnessed me turning into a sobbing, hollow, snotty mess. And it hadn’t turned away. I realized I had expected it to, repulsed like any living person would be. All the same, I’d half courted that kind of attention, with my walks in the park waiting to be noticed. I’d needed someone to witness and share how much I hurt.

I shivered with memory of the ghostlike touch prompting me to cry, and the steady attention on me all through it. It had wanted to keep looking at me. I was wanted. Or maybe it was my body, my physicality that my voyeuristic audience desired, envying me for my heaving muscles, my heavy breath, my stickiness, my exhaustion.

I’m not a voyeur myself, but the thought made all my hairs stand on end. Desire and awareness of desire thickened in the room. The tight chill at the base of my spine and the trembling in my suddenly weak limbs moved inward, grew warmer. My hands followed after, reaching for it, clasping between my thighs. Blood rushed to meet them, and other fluid too. Juices seeped through my panties and met the hand I slipped under my waistband. I worked my slick, sticky fingers deeper, shivering as I brushed my erect clit and swollen folds. My head fell back and another rush of urgent lust suddenly made me too dizzy to stand.

My skin still prickled under the attention of my watcher. I gasped aloud, wanting nothing more than to throw myself onto the nearest surface and work into my hand for release. Was that perverse? Monstrous?

As I said, I have a thing for monsters.

The nearest flat surface was the chaise lounge. Its embroidery prickled as I wrestled off my jeans, my panties, then my top. I pretended the scratch came from nails, from many hands teasing me. I wiggled, rubbing more insistently. Needing to be touched. Frustrated at only being watched.

And the feeling of being watched had become elusive. I froze, trying to sense it. Had I scared my voyeur away by too much exhibition? Was that even possible?

“Hello?” I murmured. Then, trailing my fingers down my slit, I let my voice become an inviting purr. “Hello? Are you still there?”

The sound of my words made me shiver, not exactly unnerved, more charged by my own strangeness. Sitting inside my body was something weirder and wilder. My fingertips skimmed my slick clit, striking me with a jolt like lightning. My gasp seemed to echo in the corners of the room. Except for one space. There it seemed to be swallowed.

“Will you touch me?” I asked.

Nothing, except the deep silence drinking up my words. Perhaps I had to phrase the invitation in a specific way. Perhaps my audience just wouldn’t accept.

If all I had then was an audience, watching, listening, I resolved to make the most of it. I brought my legs up and spread them for more exposure. Parted my folds and slid my fingers through them. Pressed the middle digit inside myself. Making a show of it.

“Yes,” I said, not to anyone in particular, “like this . . .” Adding another finger. My hands felt cold at first, icy against the warm skin inside my thighs, but as I found my G-spot, there came a gush of liquid hot as lava. I folded my free hand over the one inside me and began to pump it.

“Come on.” Moving my legs wider while still trying to thrust my hips was a little awkward; this position felt more extreme than the ones I usually took. “Look your fill.” If what was watching could ever be filled. Something skittered over my rib cage, like a nervous stroke. Maybe it was only a droplet of sweat running down to the couch. I pushed deeper into myself as if trying to reach something, maybe even pull that something out. Arousal slicked over my body. I brought one hand up to taste it. The flavor was hard to describe, stronger yet less definite than I expected. Oddly pleasant. Intense, too, in a way going down on someone else had never been for me; my own was the most living taste to ever enter my mouth, except maybe for the first kiss I’d exchanged in undergrad.

I kept the other hand inside me working, reaching and stroking. Looking around the room, I saw nothing, no proof that anything saw me. But as my head rolled, pushed back by a pulse of pleasure that shot along nerves and rippled in muscles, I spotted that piece of shattered porcelain resting on the side table where I’d been keeping it. I took the cup, put its rim to my lips and thought of how other lips had once rested there. I tasted the sour gilt, felt the porcelain beneath my tongue as smooth as cream. And then the ripples were coming faster, harder; the shard almost slipped from my mouth, and I clamped it in place with my teeth. That hurt. Once my orgasm passed, I licked my mouth and found blood where I’d cut myself on the broken edge.

A blush of embarrassment ran over me as I washed my hands and gingerly sipped cold water in the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror, eyes wide, hair wild. I didn’t look like a monster. I did look sexy—not like a pinup, staged and strategically lit and airbrushed; I looked quite obviously like someone who had just been having very real, very uninhibited sex. Strange, yes, but alive.

* * *

I learned more about ghosts from ancient Greece, in particular from the Odyssey: the shades of the underworld drank blood offerings to take on the strength to speak to their living visitors. They were unable to be embraced, try as Odysseus might with his mother. So envious of those alive that they would rather scratch a living above ground than be lords and heroes dead. Not that they’d have the option to swap out—the road to hell is easy, but the way back . . . and all that.

They had always struck me as the most realistic of ghost stories.

For a week or so, my bedroom door had refused to stay closed. I couldn’t find any draft or flaw with the hinges, no material explanation. But to be honest, I didn’t mind. One could have worse roommates in such a small apartment. My sleeping or reading was never interrupted.

Once in bed, I tucked myself in up to the nose and smelled violets on my blanket. Nothing I owned had that particular ethereal scent.

It comes and goes, the smell of violets. The chemical substance it’s derived from, ionone, binds to scent receptors and can shut them off for a while. I tried to fit this fact into my experience of the perfume pervading my house but couldn’t build anything logical. But I’d heard violets described as a flirty odor, and that had me thinking.

The next morning, I flirted back. Nothing as direct as dirty talk. In fact, I took the opposite tack. I shut my door.

Then I stretched out in bed—smelling nothing but my fabric softener—and stripped off my shirt and shorts. I licked my finger to wet it and started circling my clit.

Playing hard to get isn’t usually my style. I don’t have the patience for it and get lukewarm at the thought of being chased. But when my potential object of pursuit proved so shy, so elusive, I was willing to try anything.

My breathing had become audibly rougher when the door nudged open.

I looked at it, the rhythm of my fingers interrupted. A trickle of wetness made me slipperier, and I started to enter myself briefly with each stroke. My nipples were hard points before my eyes, and past my splayed knees, the door swung wider. Sweat dampened the roots of my hair; the pillow felt clammy behind my neck.

The door was not open because of a draft. But a draft stirred in the room anyway. It came from the corner beside the door, not the door itself, at the wrong angle to move anything. My thighs trembled as it ran over my body.

It wasn’t cold. Instead it felt like sunlit air, although it came from far beyond the reach of the window. It stroked my stomach, more solid than any draft I’d ever known.

I sensed presence, more unambiguous than ever before—I wasn’t being watched, I was being touched. It skimmed between my breasts, up the slope of one to the areola. The touch was gentle but felt too blunt to be from fingers, from a human hand. Incredible tenderness suffused it. No wonder that last time it had prompted me to cry.

A ball of electricity sputtered at the base of my spine, sending shoots of erotic heat and a more eerie chill. Despite everything I thought I knew about my visitor, confirmation was scary. Before this, I’d been sort of playing with myself, a what-if game that could have been my own depraved imagination. But I could not have imagined that touch, warm and fleshlessly solid.

My rough breathing caught in my throat. The cold spread. Terror, not fear. Thrills of terror, my every hair standing on end (even the prickle of it on my pubic mound) and a chill along my back as if at the caress of an ice-gloved hand. But I wasn’t afraid; I felt none of that sick and heavy churning that came with risk or loss. Not because the violet perfume and sun-warm touching felt nice. I wouldn’t swear that the entity covering me was nice. But even if it wasn’t, what was it going to do? What was the worst anything could do? Kill me?

I’d lived with the dead long enough that it hardly registered as a thing to be scared of anymore.

Of course, you feel about five thousand times more vulnerable when you’re naked. Yet I also felt sensually, elementally powerful. Broken out of the gray litany of grief, of emptiness, of anxiety past its expiration date. I glimpsed, like dawn edging over the horizon, a sliver of the possibility of satisfaction.

“Hello.” My voice was a throaty wonder. The touch moved lower, and there seemed to be a wetness to it as it covered my clit. My mouth fell open; my nostrils flared on the scent of violets along with sex and terror—ozone and musk and salt. This was so strange, new, and delicious that it pushed thought out of my brain. All my understanding of the world slipped off-kilter and crumbled. I didn’t know myself anymore, but I thought I’d known what shape reality came in. No longer.

More sounds came out of me, moaning and sighing, but words were lost. I acted out of instinct or habit. My hips pumped against the warmth playing over them.

Then came more; a body slid over mine. Not heavy. I couldn’t tell its shape, whether anything nestled against my own breasts or nudged between my legs. Definitely I was being touched in both places. The exact form of that touch’s source didn’t matter. Maybe ghosts had moved beyond such specifics entirely. I didn’t feel arms, but I was embraced. The best embraces make you want to fly away in them, and this one sent me floating. The body against mine—and it was a body—felt warm and soft-yet-firm in the way human flesh is. Its surface, its skin was smooth but produced a pleasant friction when I rubbed against it.

I hope this is good for you, too, I thought but was beyond saying, except through more moans.

The warmth kept building. I could never have imagined warmth like that, potent, liquid, centering between my legs. It was hot. Sexy, I mean. Then came a sort of suction—gentle tugs that slowly began to unravel me.

And it had been a long time since someone made love to me.

Such intimacy produced another bolt of terror, which made my hips jerk as much as my increasing arousal did. I realized my hands had come up, were trying to touch the presence surrounding me. Attempting to know the unknown in the biblical sense. I really shouldn’t have been thinking of bibles. Scripture did not cover this sort of thing.

Well, one part of it might. That said, Be not afraid.

I shoved that down fast, shoved it with a hand pressing my folds—finding them gently opened again with careful pressure, under something that moved over my fingers like silk. It was too frightening, the thought that I shouldn’t be afraid at all.

It lapped at me again. Rubbed my breasts, nuzzled my neck. Still tender, but undeniably hungry. I let my limbs fall wide, lifted my body in offering, in demand, wanting more of this strange attention, celebrating the fact that I was desired.

The terror remained, too pleasant to give up. All of it was. Warm, liquid skin against my goose-bumped skin. The undeniable presence, the overwhelming thereness of this thing. The knowledge that this time it wasn’t going to leave me. Not yet.

I lifted my face and this time was able to nuzzle it back. I smelled dust, clean and faintly mineral. I opened my mouth, licked, and tasted sweetness like what is left behind in the tracks of dried tears.

Something fluttered against my labia and clit, a more teasing pressure.

“Yes,” I said, finding words now. Still, they sounded a little muffled, as if they were swallowed by some substance before my lips. “Yes!”

I felt full—not penetrated, nothing so simple or solid, but in the sense of no longer being empty. No hollowed-out grief or even the chill internal draft that terror makes, the icy breath against the coils of your guts as awful as panting at the clammy nape of your neck. I felt warm through for the first time in a year. My muscles were even beginning to burn from my thrusts, my twisting, my shivering reactions. The only breath in the room was mine, heaving deep gusts of it.

A tear curled down my cheek. Then another, but this one vanished before falling from the cliff of my chin. Licked away, I knew. I pushed my fingers into me, rolled my palm over my clit. Felt something else entering, caressing beside me.

It was the first time I had made love to another being since my bereavement began. Was it always going to be this way? I found myself wondering. Whoever my partner might be? So frightening and wonderful and strange? Could it be? Please—please—please?

On the verge of climax, I looked down.

There’s no other way to describe it. I was floating upward in a bubbling liquid; I was soaring past clouds. I was above my grief—or hovering just below it; perspective in that internal landscape was hard to pin down. I could spot it, a gray disk like a hurricane, swirling and churning. The same counterclockwise motion as my building orgasm, but slower, thicker. Moving with me but away. Apart from me. A part of me. I had been in there, tossed between the eye and the storm in pulses of agony and numbness. Like a tornado, it had sucked up so much and deposited it who knows where. Who knew if I could ever find all it had taken and put myself back together?

But terror and wonder gave me something else to feel. Pleasure gave me something else to experience.

I screamed as I climaxed, wanting to voice things like thank you, and even I love you, and goodbye.

My shrieks must have echoed in my room. I felt a little deafened, my ears humming rather than ringing. I looked around as I came to, fingers curled and buried inside me, wet with sweat and tears and other fluids—as always, seeing nothing.

* * *

Where does a haunting take place? In a house? Or in a body?

The experience was made from my perceptions—the drafts, the warmth, the liquid, silken touch, the scent of violets, the airless laughter. I’m not sure it was my own ecstatic screaming that deafened me. But I’m the only one who heard as much as an echo of whatever sound had filled my ears—what had echoed, silently perhaps, in those old, dusty rooms.

The metaphysical was made physical in my own body. As if my witness was a sort of sacrament. But what could I make of my participation?

That first time wasn’t the last. But it didn’t last. Not long enough to become routine; not long enough to answer any of my questions. Except that something was there, responding to me, embracing me, watching, perceiving me, too.

When I moved on from that house, I took the broken piece of china with me. But I left the ghost behind. I let it go, just as it let me take its shard—no earthly trace was bound to it, despite my forlorn hopes that this might be part of its body. It wasn’t, but it unquestionably belonged to the ghost. And it became mine, a farewell gift.

We let each other go.

For this, I didn’t grieve.

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