I like ghost stories. Especially simple ones.
That’s the thing about ghosts. They don’t need elaborate backstories or even motives to be both frightening and interesting. Their nature conjures fear and intrigue. Sometimes that’s enough.
This ghost story is straightforward and, for no particular reason, breaks from my usual writing style. Lately, I favor shorter sentences. Stuff with punch. But when I started this little thing, the sentences came in long, flowy strings, more flowery and full of commas and conjunctions.
(See? I’m doing it even now.)
I think it had something to do with the feel of the story. Or maybe Vye’s in a Victorian mood. Who knows?
Either way, I went with it, and I like where it took me.
What about you? Any thoughts on ghost stories? What do you make of the one below? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
I saw it, but it wasn’t what I expected to see.
Not a wisp of shimmering gossamer, translucent in the moonlight. Not a wraith, born of fury or fear. Not a shadow with depth, or a fluid apparition, or hazy proximation of humanity.
There was nothing human about it, and that was my first lesson on ghosts.
It came to me in the night, bumbling in my tiny house, knocking over a portrait in the living room and scattering magazines across the floor where it stumbled into the coffee table. It was moaning, sort of. A desperate, guttural howl that woke me from a dead sleep and made me pull the blankets tighter.
I don’t keep weapons in the house. I had no gun in the nightstand. No bat tucked under one edge of the bed. Not even a sturdy lamp I could wield impromptu. I had only my robe, which I put on, as if the thing fumbling around down the hall might have a sense of propriety.
It saw me before I saw it.
The commotion stopped, all the wailing and the scraping where it clawed along the hardwoods leaving behind fine curls of wood and deep scratches. I crept in, my heart racing, my mind half certain I must be dreaming or, if not fully asleep, at least delirious, caught in some kind of in-between state. My limbs moved slowly and my mind slower, but still I advanced into the darkness, toward this thing crouching motionless on the floor.
I might have thought it a large dog at first glance, had the circumstances not been what they were. It was hunched on all fours, its back arched in a queer sort of way as though its spine were bowed. Even in the dim light, I could see ribs poking through not-quite-skin, vertebrae forming an unsettling mountain range down its naked back, disappearing over a horizon I didn’t care to explore.
Tattered hair hung in long, tangled masses giving it feral look. And its eyes. Oh, those eyes.
They were dead, like a shark’s eyes. Opal spheres without compassion or sensibility. But even without pupils, I knew the focus of its wild gaze. It was watching me, though I could not be certain who was hunter and who was hunted at that moment.
I froze. A natural reaction to the supernatural. Its head cocked to the side, not unlike a beast, and it seemed to be sniffing the air though I doubt very much it was breathing.
At that moment, I remembered the tense conversation I’d had with the home’s previous owners. The nervous way he laughed. Her refusal to make consistent eye contact. I thought I was getting a steal, but perhaps they just wanted out.
The neighborhood kids told stories, too. I was the stranger moving into the haunted house. They said blood sometimes dripped along the walls, or that things moved on their own in the night. Seeing the mass of the ghost, “on their own” hardly seemed an apt description. This thing could likely break down walls.
Its eyes narrowed as I crouched. I didn’t know how fast it was. If I turned and ran, would it give chase, tackling me halfway down the hall? Rather than retreat, I chose conference.
I extended my hand, palm down, as one might toward a dog. It flinched at the gesture, but then leaned in, once more sniffing at the air. There was a mewing sound, some additional scratching, and then it simply took a few steps back, melting into the wall just to the right of my flat screen TV.
That was the first night.
It waited nearly a week to come again, and we replicated our first encounter, save one addition. By that time, I’d already repaired the scratches in the floor only to have my work undone. When I knelt, hand offered, I whispered a request.
“Please don’t scratch the floors,” I said. “You can visit, but please don’t scratch the floors.”
It grunted in response, though I knew not what the sound meant. But I learned.
It comes often now, sometimes waking me but, I suspect, more often quiet enough that I never hear. No pictures get knocked over. No magazines lay scattered on the floor.
And it leaves no scratches in the hardwood. Not one.