#LyricalFictionFriday: On the Other Side

Kyle picks up the board and splits it over his knee, but it won’t erase from their minds the message that was just spelled out.

“Do you hear that?” Lisa asks.

“Shut up!” Kyle snaps. Even he doesn’t recognize the squeal that exits from his mouth.

“There’s no point.” Ryan clears his throat. Given that it might have been his dead brother calling for help from the other side, he seems the calmest of the three of them. “The door’s already been opened.”

“I’m not staying to see what walks through.” Kyle turns to leave but stops in the foyer in front of the closet. It’s cold outside, still winter, there’s wind, freezing rain in the forecast, he would need his coat.

“What is it?” Lisa asks, trepidation in her voice.

Kyle puts his ear to the closet door.

“You hear it too.” Ryan says it more as a statement than a question.

Kyle swallows hard. He won’t confirm or deny the echo of his own breathing on the other side.

—Nortina


I had to take a brief hiatus while I got some things back in order. But I’m back, catching up on some prompts that I missed while away. Here’s my contribution to a previous Lyrical Fiction Friday prompt: I’m trying to erase you from my mind…you’re my religion and my belief…

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#1MinFiction: Poltergeist

“Do you hear that?”

“No,” I lie. Has he been awake as long as I? Up an hour listening to the knocking on the roof, trying to write it off as insomniac squirrels, acorns falling from the oak tree in our backyard.

“Do you see that!”

He doesn’t answer, pretends to be asleep, but I can’t shut my eyes to the mist approaching from the foot of our bed.

—Nortina


Monday’s One-Minute Fiction challenges you to write a story in one minute, no more, no less, based on the prompt provided. October will be full of terrifying Halloween-themed prompts. Today’s prompt is: poltergeist.

#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: Moonlit Madness

It still amazes me that I have 150 poems archived on this blog (give or take 5 poems that might have been revisions). Despite being able to write and post so many, 62% of those poems (don’t ask why I used such a specific number — you get the point) I never want to see again. Especially the ones I shared when I first started this blog. They’re just so bad! They don’t even get views anymore . . . if they ever got views to start with.

Maybe one of these days, I’ll muster up enough courage to share those older poems for a Throwback Thursday post . . . but today is not one of those days, so here’s a poems originally published July 3, 2015 for the Write or Die Wednesday challenge. Please note, in order to get the full eerie effect of this poem, you have to play the music with it! 


Moonlit Madness

It was 1:37 when she heard music.
Awakened in a glowing room,
moonlight seeping through blinds.
Down the hall, ascending,
descending notes echoed off
walls, a hauntingly beautiful
melody— like swimming
in the night; head under
water pouring into ears,
saturating her in silence.
More frightening than a
mysterious pianist in her home—
she owned no piano.

—Nortina

V is for Visitor

I love a good ghost story, but this haunting excerpt doesn’t quite fit in the “Love Poetry” novella. While Jessica will still face something close to a haunting as she tries to come to terms with Whitmore’s suicide, she won’t almost be killed by a vengeful poltergeist. 🙂


They drove in silence. Jessica folded her hands in her lap and glued her eyes to the glove compartment in front of her. Occasionally, at a red light or stop sign, Bruce turned to her, opened his mouth to speak. Jessica’s body immediately tensed upon hearing his intake of breath. She pinched her eyes closed, braced herself for his pathetic apologies and condolences. She wouldn’t accept them. What they had done was unforgivable. A man was dead because of them. A man who loved her. A man who would’ve done anything for her. Either Bruce recognized his culpability, for he didn’t say a word the entire drive back to her apartment, or each time he attempted to speak, his tongue caught at the back of his throat, and he choked on his words.

The flashing cameras, the uniformed men wearing white latex gloves, the caution tape, and the red and blue flashing lights were all gone when they arrived.

“Well, we were at the police station for a while,” Bruce said. His voice was hoarse, as if he’d been screaming.

Jessica nodded.

“I guess they would finish up quickly. There’s not much to investigate when it’s a su—”

Jessica flinched. “Don’t say it.”

“I’m sorry. That was stupid of me.” He reached over to cup her cheek in his palm, but she jerked her head back. “Are you hungry?” he asked, squeezing the steering wheel until his knuckles were white. “We can find a place that’s still open. Get something to eat.”

“I don’t want fast food. I have food inside.”

“Look at me.” He leaned over the dashboard, lifted her chin, forcing her to look at him. “You don’t have to go in right away. You don’t have to go in at all. You can stay at my place tonight.”

“No, I have to do this.”

“Ok, I’ll walk you—”

“No. I’m fine by myself.” Before he could speak, Jessica scurried out of the car, slamming the door behind her. She hiked the stairs two at a time, however, once at the top, she couldn’t move any further.

Her vision blurred, but from eight feet away, she could still see the blood. The authorities hadn’t cleaned it up. They’d left it for her as a haunting punishment. She shuffled her feet forward, but as she slowly approached her apartment, a sudden spell of vertigo swept over her. She was halfway to her door when her view of it began to skew. Her once white door was painted the color of a blood orange. Thick blood pooled from the crack at the bottom. She felt a bar of weights drop onto her shoulders and pin her to the ground. Down on her hands and knees, she coughed and retched at the reeking smell of Whitmore’s decomposing body on the other side.

Jessica crawled to the door and pounded against the wood. “Whitmore!” she screamed. “Whitmore, please! I’m sorry!” She called his name repeatedly. The pool of blood gathered around her legs, and she started to sink. She frantically wiped and scratched at her arms, coated from elbows to finger tips in an even red. Suddenly, she could no longer feel the ground beneath her, and she went under. Her cheeks swelled as blood filled her mouth. Hot iron singed her taste buds.

Something grabbed her hair at the crown of her head and pulled her up just as she was beginning to lose consciousness.

“Help!” she said as blood drained from her mouth. She blinked her eyes open, drops of blood clinging onto the ends of her eyelashes. Through the red curtain, she looked up and saw a cocked smile and thin, uneven eyebrows. “Whit—” she began, but before she could finish, he pressed his palm flat on her head and dunked her under again. She flailed her arms and legs. She tried to scream, but the blood poured into her mouth, filled her lungs. She couldn’t breathe. She coughed and gurgled. All around her, she saw red. A black veil crept down over her eyes and from the sides until all she could see were tiny circles of red as if she were looking through binoculars. Then then those vanished, and her body fell limp.

“Jessica!”

Jessica opened her eyes. She was back on her hands and knees, the dry concrete cold underneath her fists. She tilted her head toward the door of her apartment. Only the single slash from where Whitmore’s head slid down covered the white-painted wood.

“Jessica!”

She turned around. Bruce was running toward her. He fell to his knees beside her and pulled her into a tight hug.

“I heard you screaming. Is everything alright?”

“He tried to kill me! He tried to take me with him!” she cried. Her shoulders trembled from her sobs.

“Come on. You’ll stay with me tonight.” He stood to his feet, picked her up, wrapping her arms around his neck, and carried her down the stairs back to his car.

Jessica buried her face into the crook of Bruce’s neck, afraid that if she looked up, she would still see Whitmore’s murderous ghost standing outside of her apartment, waiting for her to return.

—Nortina

Vessel

This forest in May. It haunts my whole life;
I climb a low-hanging branch, scrap wet moss
across my thigh. Bark peels under my fingernails,
embeds in my skin, and I bite out each splinter,
blood dribbling on my tastebuds, smeared across
my bottom lip, around my mouth; I extend my
tongue to the tip of my nose — war paint for
the angels — climbing higher to the floor of the
clouds. The crows call to black wings that slit
open my shoulder blades, enclose around sun
in solar eclipse, casting shadows on earth below.

—Nortina


frapalymo#frapalymo (the German version of NaPoWriMo) is hosted by FrauPaulchen and translated from German into English by Bee at Just Fooling Around With Bee. Today’s prompt is the first line from Tomas Transtromer’s poem, Alcaic“This forest in May. It haunts my whole life.”

Haunted Harry

I splashed cold water on my face and stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Why was I so jumpy? I had to remember where I was; a nursing home, where most of the elderly residents came to fade away from memory, like ghosts, but that didn’t mean I’d seen a ghost—just a weird old man. This place was full of those, and like Grandma, all they wanted was attention, some needier than others, and I suspected he was one of the needy ones—they were often ignored.

I tore a paper towel from the dispenser, wiped my face, and checked myself in the mirror one last time. I still looked rattled, but most of the fear had gone away. Hopefully Grandma wouldn’t prod me about my sudden departure. She always said I was the emotional one of the family. Easily excitable, her exact words. It must have started with Pawpaw’s practical jokes—well, I guess they were Elliot’s first—I never got used to them. I went over the list of pranks Grandma claimed Elliot had invented: whoopee cushions, fingers, Jack-o-lanterns . . .

So I guess I could thank Elliot for Halloween 1999, when Pawpaw hurled a glowing Jack-o-lantern at my head across the neighbor’s yard on a clothesline. I stood there, frozen in terror, screaming my head off until the thing hit me dead in my face and knocked me out cold. Later, after I had woken up with a throbbing headache and a black eye, Pawpaw confessed that he was only reenacting a scene from a short story by Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow.” Meanwhile behind him, Grandma chided me about how I would be the reason why black people would never get to live past the opening credits of horror movies.

HWhen I finally emerged from the bathroom, Grandma was already on her next husband.

“Meg, sweetie,” she said when she saw me, “I didn’t mean to scare you like that.”

“N–no, I wasn’t . . . It wasn’t . . .” I stuttered. Our circle was back down to five: Grandma, Thomas, Winifred, Tammy, Marcos, and Frank. The nurse must have left when I bolted to the bathroom, but her empty rocking chair still teetered back and forth by itself, and I imagined the ghostly man was now sitting in it—all the energy he’d absorbed to manifest himself depleted, making him invisible once again—still watching me with those scared, worried eyes.

No, no. I shook my head. He was real. He was a patient here. That’s why the nurse was gone. She’d seen him and taken him back to his room. Maybe she would give him medicine that would put him down, keep him from harassing visitors unaccustomed to his haunting nature, at least until dinner.

“Come here, baby.” Grandma stood up to examine me closer. She pinched and stretched my cheeks like she often did when I was little. “Honey, all the melanin has drained right out of your face. You look bout as white as Winifred.”

“Like you seen a ghost,” Thomas jeered. The swooped side smirk on his face told me Grandma had been talking about my history of getting spooked.

“Did you see him? Did you see Gaston?” Grandma asked.

“W–what?” The old man was Gaston? That couldn’t be right. I thought Grandma had said Gaston was younger. Or maybe I’d just assumed that because he drew comics. Comic books were childish to me, but I knew of grown men who collected and also wrote them. Gaston could’ve been as old as Fred, or older, and like comic book writer,  Stan Lee, he could’ve been creating superheroes well into his nineties.

“I only ask because he haunted Harry too.” Grandma reached behind her, grasped the arms of her chair, and eased herself down in her seat. I followed suit. I should’ve known her concern wasn’t sincere. I couldn’t remember a time when she ever showed true concern for the things that frightened me. She was a storyteller first, and she often used me as inspiration for her scarier ones. Like the rest of her husbands, Harry probably wasn’t real at all, but because I was so spooked after she’d finished talking about Gaston, she had all the material she needed to continue on to husband number eight.

“The way Gaston died, I should’ve known he would come back. I didn’t think he would come back so jealous, though. He barely even paid attention to me when he was alive, but as a ghost, he was so loving and attentive. It was like he needed to die to be a good husband.”

“Ha!” Frank flapped his newspaper in front of him. “He gotta be dead to love ya ’cause you’re a piece of work.”

Thomas threw his head back and laughed, his Adams apple jiggling up and down. “That was a good one!”

“I’m serious,” Grandma protested. “He was sweet to me, but he terrorized Harry, like the poltergeists in his comics. I couldn’t leave Harry alone in the house . . . literally. I was just outside in the backyard pulling weeds from my garden when I heard him scream.”

“So you mean to tell me the ghost of your dead husband haunted your existing husband?” I asked.

Grandma nodded slowly. “To death.”

—Nortina


“Haunted Harry” is brought to you by the A to Z Challenge & Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

Phantom of Sixteenth Street Cathedral

The Sixteenth Street cathedral had been under renovation for nearly a year. Mr. Hughes and his team were contracted to May, but frequent mishaps forced them to postpone the deadline indefinitely.

“It’s cursed.” Judi stared up at the four working men on the scaffold. Jake, balancing on two beams, looked woozy from his previous malaria infection. Mr. Hughes and Ryan both wore back braces from the last fall. Burt had a mask over his mouth. Was he still coughing blood?

“But the church is holy ground,” Shirl said.

Holy doesn’t explain away the slave auctions, Judi wanted to tell her, held in the basement below the sanctuary Sunday evenings after service. The evidence was in the library archives. Christian men defended their atrocious acts with the Bible, but still preferred to grope the appendages of human beings in secret.

“The spirits don’t want to be disturbed.”

“You’re freaking me out with that crazy Voodoo stuff!”

“Interesting you’d find that crazy.” Judi counted four men on the scaffold, but spotted a fifth on the roof.

word count: 174

—Nortina


photo-20160222081613639Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a weekly challenge where you write a story in 75-175 using the provided photo prompt as inspiration. Click the froggy icon to read other stories inspired by the photo and add your own.

The 13th Couple

“U.S. Marshalls gunned down the poet turned America’s most wanted in this very bar.” The tour guide knocked on the wood of the pool table. “Some say his ghost still lingers.”

GG squeezed Rick’s hand. He wrapped his arm around her waist, pulled her closer, kissed her right temple. “There’s no such thing as ghosts,” he whispered.

“Why were they chasing him?” one of the tourists asked.

“Kidnapping and rape,” the tour guide answered. “She was only thirteen.”

“I heard he married her.” Rick lifted GG’s chin, winked at her.

“That’s disgusting,” a woman standing behind him spat out.

“Edgar Allen Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin. Was madly in love with her.” Rick bent down, kissed the top of GG’s ear. She purred under his touch, turned her head to the side, extending her neck.

“Poe was a creep too,” the woman muttered.

Rick dug his nails into GG’s hip, leaving pale crescent moons in her skin.

GG squeaked.

“Apologies.” He took her hand, guided her to the back of the bar where they disappeared.

word count: 175

—Nortina


photo-20160111132111179Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a weekly challenge where you write a story in 75-175 using the provided photo prompt as inspiration. Click the froggy icon to read other stories inspired by the photo and add your own.

Christmas Spirit (Part Two)

31 Days of Holiday Hooligans is at its end. I hope you thoroughly enjoyed all the holiday shenanigans. Click here to revisit some of your favorite posts. Day 31 will end with the conclusion to “Christmas Spirit.” If you missed it, read Part One here. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to read the first installment of the equally haunting Buried Series!

Christmas Spirit (conclusion)

I was still in the parking lot of the First Presbyterian Church thirty minutes after the funeral service was set to begin. I twisted the bottom corner of my blazer around my index finger, brushed away lent from my pants, checked my reflection in the rearview mirror, adjusted my lipstick, fluffed my hair. While I had attended funerals before, this was my first one for someone I met after death. How was I supposed to introduce myself? The church was no bigger than a small house in the suburbs, and I only counted eleven cars in the parking lot. Someone was bound to ask me who I was, how I knew the family.

I was cranking the engine when the doors to the church opened and four men in gray suits carrying the casket stepped down the stairs one by one, in sync with one another. Parked at the curb in front of the church was a black hearse. They pushed the casket into the back of the vehicle and returned to the bottom of the steps to assist people down the stairs. The first to exit was the family: the mother, the three sisters, and an older man who might have been the grandfather. They stood in front of the hearse as those headed to their cars stopped to pay their final respects. The mother could barely hold herself together. Every few minutes, she was pulling tissue from her purse to wipe her nose. Her head was red and swollen from all of the crying. After the sixth or seventh person walked up to her to squeeze her hands and reassure her that everything would be ok, she collapsed into her father’s arms in a fit of shudders. I didn’t have to roll my windows down to hear her wailing, “My boy! My Jason!” The girls stood off to the side, hugging themselves.

I turned off the engine and got out of the car. I wasn’t sure what I would say, but watching this woman break down over the death of her son, her only son, hurt my heart. Would she believe me if I told her I had seen Jason’s ghost?

“I just want to say that your son will truly be missed.” I spat out the first generic, unemotional words I could think of. I was so disgusted with myself, I started back to my car before letting her respond.

“How did you know my son?” she called after me in a weak, shaky voice.

I slowly turned around; praying that I could think of an acceptable lie before my mouth opened and regurgitated another classic funeral line I’d learned over the years. “Excuse me?” I asked.

“I don’t think we’ve met. How did you know Jason?” the woman asked again, dabbing her nose.

“I, uh—”

“Are you one of the teachers at his school?”

“No.” A reflex answer, but I wished I had said “yes” to end the interrogation.

“Then how?” she asked. The pallbearers, the grandfather, the lingering friends waiting on the steps for their turned to give their condolences, or by their cars to head to the cemetery for the burial were all staring.

“I don’t remember seeing you in the service,” the grandfather said.

“She was in the car the whole time,” the youngest of the sisters said, pointing behind me to my car, the driver’s side door wide open. Had she been watching me?

“Who are you?” the mother demanded.

“I—I,” I couldn’t think of anything, so I told the truth. “I was there.”

“You were where?” she asked.

“When he died.” I didn’t want to say too much. I knew the circumstances were hard enough for them to bear. They didn’t deserve the reminder of how they had gotten there. However, when the only responses I received were confused faces, I began to wonder if I made the right decision in coming. “When he hung himself?” I added, hopeful.

“What are you talking about? My son was killed by a drunk driver!” the woman screamed. She fell over the side mirror of the hearse, heaved up air and released a series of loud sobs.

“Alright, you need to leave,” the grandfather said in a deep, commanding voice. That was when I noticed the program in his hand. Underneath the words: “In Loving Memory of Jason Wilkins,” was a picture of a teenage boy with olive skin, a full face, and full, pink lips. He had brown freckles only on his nose. His hair was black and cut short, and his eyes were a dark brown. He was not my ghost.

I tried to speak, apologize for the trouble I’d just caused, but the grandfather glared at me and pointed towards the parking lot. “Get,” he said slowly.

I left humiliated, unable to hold back the tears. I drove straight home and stormed through my front door.

“Jason! Or whoever the hell you are because you’re not him!” I said, slamming the door behind me. “You made me look like a fool out there!”

I went to my room, looked behind the door, underneath the bed. “Come out!” I said. I snatched open my closet doors; they rattled against the wall. I pushed aside the clothes on the hangers, pounded on the back wall. I moved down to the floor of the closet, digging through piles of shoes I never wore and wrinkled dresses I never bothered to hang. I tossed everything behind me trying to reach the bottom.

“Where are you, Casper?” I shouted. Then I paused. “Oh, that’s right. You only show when I’m drunk!” I left the mess in my room and headed for the kitchen to get a Heineken from the refrigerator, but when I walked through the living room, I froze. All of my Christmas decorations were out of their boxes and on the coffee table. Not just the ones I’d bought, but also the ones that had been in the attic for over a year collecting dust: the glass ornaments, the candy canes, the red and green ribbons, even the angel.

He stood with his back to me looking at the Christmas tree.

“Hey!” I called.

He turned around. The wide grin on his face took me by surprise so much, I forgot my anger.

“Did you do this?” I asked.

He nodded his head.

“Why?”

He picked up an ornament with dancing elves painted all around it. He put a hook through the loop and hung the ornament on the tree. He looked at me, and with a grin spread from ear to ear, he clapped his hands vigorously without making a sound. He took a second ornament and held it out for me. I stepped toward him, confused. Then I looked down at the coffee table.

“You know,” I said with a wink. “Traditionally, we put the lights on first.” I ripped open one of the boxes and pulled out the string of white lights. I handed him one end, and together we circled the tree, wrapping the lights around each branch. When we finished, I plugged in the lights, and both the tree and the boy lit up. He went for the second box of lights and tossed me one end. Again, we went around the tree, making sure to light every dark space. When we finished, we hung the rest of the ornaments. Although I originally wanted a winter wonderland theme, I let him hang whatever he wanted; candy canes, reindeer, Peanuts characters, basketball ornaments, even a one-legged Santa I thought I threw out years ago. The tree appeared weighed down for all the ornaments, the branches dipping to the floor. He wasn’t bothered, however. His face was void of all hints of sadness. I could barely see the purple bruise around his neck.

Last to go up was the angel.

“I always wondered why we put angels at the top of Christmas trees,” I said. “I mean, Christmas is about Jesus being born. Why don’t we put him on top?”

I picked up the angel and examined it. She held a candle stick in each hand. A string of lights hung around the hem of her robe. I went to the kitchen, took a paper towel sheet from the ring above the sink, balled it up, and stuffed it under the angel’s robe. I returned to the living room, plugged the angel into the lights, and sat it on the top branch of the tree. All of the lights seemed to collect at her womb.

“See, it’s Mary. And that,” I said, pointing to the protruding stomach created by the paper towel, “is baby Jesus.”

He stared up at the angel. His smile was gone but he wasn’t somber. He looked content. The depression and ghostly melancholy that came with his death no longer existed. Watching him, my anger receded. He was just a boy, a lonely boy. I felt a tear glide down my face, but my hand went for his cheek. He clasped my hand in both of his. He was surprisingly warm. He laid his cheek on my hand and closed his eyes. I closed my eyes with him, and when I opened them, he was gone.

—Nortina

Christmas Spirit

For my final two days of 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans, I’m turning left, in a rather bleak direction. The Buried Series, a suspenseful serial short story, is coming in January, and I’d like to prepare you for it with a Nortina original, “Christmas Spirit,” a yuletide ghost story. No, Buried is not a ghost story, but it will definitely haunt you. So sit back, relax, and let the Christmas spirit, guide you into the eerie realm of Buried…

Christmas Spirit (Part One)

I was drunk. The shaggy man with the body order and sweaty armpits had been grinding behind me all night and probably slipped something into my drink. I might have hallucinated the whole thing. But could I have imaged the wailing siren, the flashing red lights from the ambulance? Could I have imaged giving my statement to the police? Could I have imaged those cold, mud-crusted feet looming from above, grazing my face as I stumbled into my neighbor’s yard trying to find my way home?

They zipped the body up in a large black bag and pushed it into the back of a van destined for the morgue. The police could have arrested me, charged me for being heavily intoxicated outside, but the trauma of seeing a young child hang himself saved me. I slurred my address, pointed to the dark house across the street. They carried me home, laid me down on my stomach on the living room couch. There, I awoke the next morning and realized the boy wasn’t dead.

His clouded, gray eyes peered at me through stringy, blonde hair. He wore a wrinkled white t-shirt and basketball shorts. His skin was so pale, it blended with his clothing. What stood out was the purple ring around his neck, created by the shoestring that strangled him underneath the ice covered tree branch. He could barely hold up his head, similar to the struggle of an infant trying to sit. He looked so short and frail, but when I asked him his age, he mouthed, “Sixteen.”

I thought I was dreaming. Maybe that was why I didn’t immediately scream and flee out of the front door. Instead, I rose from the couch and tried to touch him, confirm that he was real, but he drew back, dodged my questioning fingers, and disappeared behind the naked Christmas tree in front of the window facing the scene of his attempted suicide. I tried to follow him, but all of the alcohol from the night before rushed to my head in search of an exit through my ears or eyes. The red and beige zigzags in the carpet twisted my stomach into knots. I toppled over to the burn of the carpet’s fibers against my nose and cheek.

***

The office lights were too bright. The white cells of the spreadsheet absorbed the numbers I’d just entered and glared into my brain. I could taste my breakfast, a hazelnut latte, at the back of my throat. I pulled the trashcan from underneath my desk, laid my head down on the edge, and leaned over the trashcan, prepared to heave up the rest of my stomach.

“So how about that Christmas party, huh?” I heard my co-worker say.

I raised my head to see Charlette standing over me. She was a petite blonde, who was as skinny as my pinky finger. A temp five years out of college, but she had the voice of a three-year-old.

“Hey, Charlette,” I said.

“You look like you’re still hung over!” Her shrill voice vibrated against my skull.

“It’s been a long weekend.” I messaged my eyebrows.

“You were dancing with Danny from finance most of the night.” She nudged my shoulder and winked.

“Not by choice.” I rolled my eyes, searched the office for a way to escape the conversation. The cubicles were quiet. Other than an occasional “Southland Rentals?” in response a ringing phone, I would have believed that Charlette and I were the only ones there. Most were already off for the holiday. The rest of us had to work up to Christmas Eve. Customer service—so sure there would be last minute orders placed.

We weren’t the only souls in the office. Every sudden chill, every attack of goose bumps, every time the hairs on my neck and arms stood on end as a current of static electricity surfed amongst them, I knew he was there with me.

I wasn’t ready to admit that I had a ghost following me. The only spirit I believed in was the Holy One, and I had no confirmation that the boy was even dead. I had woken up early that morning, five o’clock, just to watch the news, hoping the reporters would reveal information about the boy hanging from Mrs. Nash’s tree. I didn’t have the convenience of asking her. She was spending the holidays in Georgia with her daughter. Any other neighbors were busy, working parents who barely had enough time to worry about their own children, more less come to the door to talk about someone else’s dead child. Unfortunately, the news was of no avail either. Maybe that segment came on while I was in the shower, or down on my hands and knees, searching underneath my bed for my other pump.

“Well I saw you two leave together—”

“Did you hear about the kid who killed himself Saturday night?” I interrupted.

“No! That’s horrible! Where did you hear that?”

“I just…I heard,” I said. The evidence, or lack thereof, pointed to my encounters Saturday night and Sunday morning being nothing more than dreams.

***

The bar after work was a mistake, but I needed the whiskey. I needed the burn in my throat to kill the haunting feeling that I was being watched. Unfortunately, I gained another pair of eyes. They were green and belonged to a dark skin man with one dimple that made his smile look like a mischievous smirk. He was disgusting. The way he ran his tongue along his front teeth and bit his bottom lip whenever he made a suggestive comment about what other hard things, besides brown liquor, my throat could take. He put his arm around my chair and breathed words of encouragement into my ear, so confident that his one-liners would hike my skirt. I wanted to retch my response all over his face, show him how lattes and take-out Chinese food tasted after festering at the bottom of the stomach for seven hours.

The whiskey had other plans. It invited him back to my house, challenged him to test the limits of my strong throat. The whiskey took complete possession of my body. I could see myself in the mirror biting on his neck and shoulder as he nearly ripped the zipper off my pencil skirt. He threw me onto the bed and fumbled to unbutton his belt. I looked at his reflection in the mirror, hypnotized by his mahogany skin, and the gyrations of the muscles in his back as he moved. When he bent over to drop his pants, I saw in the mirror, standing directly behind me, another person in the room with us. Immediately, I screamed.

“He’s big isn’t he?” he said, looking down in adoration of himself.

“You …you have to go!” I scooped his pants off the floor and shoved them into his chest.

“Intimidated?” he asked laughing.

“Now!” I threw him out of my house with his pants still in his arms. He wasn’t the least bit embarrassed about being naked from the waist down. He proudly strutted to his car, proclaiming to the world a false victory. I slammed the door behind him and stomped back to my room. The boy was sitting on my bed, his chin in his chest.

“So you only show up when I’m drunk? Is that it?” I asked him. I shifted all of my weight onto my left foot and place my hands on my hips.

He slowly lifted head and stared at me with wide eyes. He looked heartbroken.

“I’m sorry.” I sighed and dropped my arms. “You just…please, you look so sad. Are you depressed? Of course you’re depressed. You killed yourself. I mean—” I was rambling.

He slowly stood to his feet. I rushed to the bed and knelt in front of him, almost touching him.

“Why did you do it?” I asked.

He walked around me.

“Did your parents divorce? Do you blame yourself?” I continued.

He paused at the doorway but didn’t turn around.

“Are you homeless?” I asked.

He started down the hallway towards the living room. I followed behind him on my toes. He was so silent, I felt like I was disturbing him.

“Are you gay? Did kids tease you at school?”

He stopped in front of the Christmas tree, which still had not been decorated. He looked it over from top to bottom and reached up to pinch the top branch.

“It’s not real,” I said. I’d bought the tree at Wal-Mart on Black Friday along with blue and white lights to go around it. The tips of the branches were white to give the allusion of a dusting of snow. I was on my way to the checkout when I’d spotted silver-glittered snowflake and icicle ornaments and bought four boxes each. They were a perfect addition to the winter wonderland theme I had planned for my Christmas decorations. I was going to prove my mother wrong. She often joked that people could tell I was single and without children because my house always stood dark during the Christmas season.

Unfortunately, in the time between exiting the store, and entering my house, I’d lost my motivation. Instead, the decorations adorned the coffee table for four weeks. The only reason I put the Christmas tree up was because I was sick of seeing the bulky box on my couch.

“I know it’s late. It’ll probably be next year before I get it decorated. But what does a Christmas tree mean, anyway? It’s not in the Bible,” I said with a weak laugh.

He looked translucent, his skin the color of glassine paper. I could see my brown curtains through him and feared he was about to fade away before my eyes.

“At least tell me who you are,” I begged. “Who you were?”

Without looking, he pointed to the coffee table where I had tossed the morning’s newspaper on top of the unopened Christmas decorations.

“The obituaries! Of course!” I shouted. I snatched the paper from the plastic bag and flipped to the obituary section, hunting for any name that didn’t sound like it originated in the 1920s. This was my final hope to prove I wasn’t imagining my haunting. I read throw the Beatrices, the Henriettas, the Homers, and the Kermits, until fell upon a Jason. Sixteen, first baseman on his high school varsity team.

I looked up at him. “Jason?” I asked.

He turned around, but the melancholy didn’t leave his face, a sad recognition of the life he once had. I continued reading. He left behind a grieving mother and three younger sisters.

“It doesn’t say that you killed yourself,” I said.

He curled his lips, as if to say, “Why would it?”

“Yea, I guess you’re right. The funeral’s tomorrow. That seems pretty quick,” I said, still reading. I considered going. Maybe that was what he wanted, why he latched onto me. Though our connection bore from a tragic event, maybe all he needed was a stranger to care about him after the world was rid of him.

“I’ll go,” I said to an empty room.

Nortina