Ghost Story

by J. David Stevens


She buys a Cape Cod about a mile from town—on the small side, but it’s what she can afford.  Her realtor notes the curb appeal, proximity to the train line.  A cleaning crew has left the place smelling like ginger and bleach.

The ghost is angry about unrequited love or premature death; the house has been empty so long that even the ghost is short on details.  The woman lives alone.  The ghost pushes a few things around the kitchen, sticks a knife into an apple, spells “EXEUNT” with the magnetic poetry on the fridge.  Later, it graduates to stacking sofa cushions Ziggurat-style in the living room then lets a feral cat through the screen door.

The possession occurs accidentally.  The woman starts with a wine cooler—bad day at the office—but graduates to appletinis.  Around a corner, she and the ghost collide.  For the woman, it’s like being trapped in an aquarium.  For the ghost, it’s like becoming a plastic bag that must hold a small part of the ocean from all its other parts.

Neither welcomes the arrangement.  A few breakable items get broken.  The ghost, so long without words, cannot express the problem save through increasingly manic gestures.  A UPS driver gets slapped around the face and torso.  A police officer investigates, then disappears, then phones from Atlantic City four days later with no recollection of events.

The ghost draws a bath.  Something, it reasons, must rend the woman’s will from its will—reunite the woman’s body and soul.  Indeed, somewhere in the back of its vapory mind, the ghost wonders if freeing the woman might somehow free it, as well.

But the woman drowns.  The ghost finds itself stuck in the same house, only now with a corpse in the tub.  Weeks pass before the neighbors find the body—the smell, etc.  A distant relative, taking possession of the house without seeing it, contacts the appropriate people via the internet: movers, cleaners, realtors.

House empty, the ghost waits again.  Sometimes in the corner of its invisible eye, it catches a ruffle of air that only ghosts can detect, a shadow’s shadow.  It has seen this shadow before.  But when it calls out in a voice no louder than breath, no reply comes, and when it tries to see more clearly, the only vision it is permitted is a surge of greater emptiness.  Somewhere behind it—not behind it but in another world—a world filled with time—time is filled with the things the ghost wants to know.  But that world seems so far away it could never have been real.  Without that dream world, the ghost decides, this world would be almost bearable.  It lies down to rest, in a heating duct or behind the toilet tank, not wholly saddened when it can feel itself starting to forget.


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