By Jef UK
T he first time I tried to contact her, I broke the bedroom mirror we had bought together. She was standing in front of it in profile, up on her tiptoes, making sure she looked okay in some little red dress. She looked gorgeous. And—what can I say?—I panicked. Although it had been over a year since my death, I couldn’t stand the thought of her seeing another man. That she would soon be laughing at his jokes, or blushing as he pulled out her chair, perhaps ordering for her in French, these notions haunted me as fervently as I would come to haunt her. And despite what I would soon put her through—despite what I put us through—you’d be hard pressed to convince me that I didn’t do the right thing. I mean, what if she had ever brought another man home? Led him to our bed? Pardon the play on words, but I just couldn’t live that way. While she was certainly shocked as the mirror’s glass fell shattered against the floor, my little outburst did not stop her from going out. But she didn’t invite her would-be paramour in for a glass of wine, either. Most important was my discovery that in this state between being and nothing, I could impose my will on the world. I could make myself known.
I didn’t appear in our house immediately after my death. At least I don’t think I did. It seems to me that I went somewhere else first. I can’t really remember—it’s just a feeling I sometimes have—an inkling that there are worse places to live out one’s afterlife than as a ghost in your own home. When I concentrate and turn my awareness inwards upon itself (the closest state I know to sleep), I have intimations of mournful fire and misery like teeth. It is a sense of being that tears at my consciousness like fists dragging needles across retinas.
When I came out of my rage, the cat was hissing wildly in the corner. The dining room chairs lay toppled on their sides amongst the smashed remnants of Allison’s hastily left morning dishes. Casting my perception about the house, every door now stood open and every light burned. It was at that moment when I first realized exactly what I had become. Until then, I had still thought of myself as a person. My sense of existence was still as someone who was essentially alive, but afflicted, as though death were merely an illness. But as I contemplated my new abilities, I intuited the reality of my situation. I was now little more than a presence shaped by will, a consciousness empowered by emotion. Without a body, rage was my hand, and despair my voice. As those who were alive would eat, I would feed on my own melancholy. And in this way, through the sheer force of pained desire, I would reveal my presence to dear Allison.
My death had not been pretty. She and I were returning from a movie in the next town over, traveling speedily through wind-soaked rain. On the interstate, boxed in by big rigs, our little car shook unsteadily as the monstrous cabs and trailers redirected the already worsening elements further against us. The truck ahead pulled a trailer stacked with thick aluminum piping, the rattling of its haul drowned out by the storm. The radio hissed with static as Allison grabbed my elbow. It would be the last time we touched in life. I remember Allison being in mid-sentence when the lightening bolt struck the trailer and time lost its fluidity. My memories then are a staccato of sensations: Allison screaming, a feeling of flight; the rain on my face, our car upturned; trucks on their sides, the smell of gasoline on fire, the copper taste of blood; an aluminum pipe piercing my abdomen; body twitching in shock; a gurgle, a gasp, then nothing. I would awake a ghost in my own home.
After a month’s worth of my flinging household objects across the room, slamming doors, fiddling with electronics (in an attempt to leave a message on our computer, I fried the hard-drive), Allison contacted her parents. Her family, who had always had a proclivity for the fantastic, decided that the house was likely haunted. They would bring in an expert, her father consoled, while her mother told Allison of an old aunt who knew a man, assuring her daughter that they would all visit within a week.
“Hang in there, honey,” her mother told her, “it’s probably just Michael trying to get a hold of you from beyond.”
“You really think it’s Michael, mom?”
“Yes, dear, I’m sure he still loves you very much. We’ll be there soon.”
It was working! Soon, Allison and I would be reunited! I became a joyous shade, and I had never loved Allison’s mother so much as then. Like Allison, I counted the days for her family’s arrival, and given my good spirits, so to speak, I laid off the clumsy haunting bit.
Without any instruction to the old woman, the two began removing items from a worn leather satchel, him stating his purpose to prepare the dining room table for communication with the dead. While the medium began burning incense in a small amphora bowl, the old aunt shuffled about the room, ringing a tiny brass bell in every corner. Soon they set out white candles around the perimeter of the table and whispered some sort of incantation as they lit each one. All the while Allison and her family sat still, dumbfounded, their faces morose in the flickering candlelight. Outside, pregnant clouds rolled across the sky as evening became night.
Finishing their rituals, the medium and the old aunt took their places at the table. My wife asked the medium, “Should I get something that was important to my husband? Some object? To help you make contact?” The medium replied haughtily, “I need no such thing. And we have no reason to believe the entity is your husband, dear. It’s probably just some old ghost that came with the house. Now, if you don’t mind.” My wife looked down in her lap sadly, whispering an apology, and I bristled. I would show this silly man exactly who I was. The old aunt closed her eyes while the medium began to shout towards the ceiling. The words were meaningless, a combination of bad Latin and utter nonsense. I could feel my anger swelling, this fraud before me, as thunder struck outside.
Allison and her parents stared frightfully at the space where the medium’s voice was directed. He turned to my wife, placed a pudgy hand on hers, and said, “I feel a presence. Yes, I feel a strong presence. Here it comes” The medium began to spasm violently, fingers spread out taught. His jaw clinched and eyes showed white. A strained, strange voice emitted from his throat: “My name is Ethel Spiller. I was born on this land in 1846 in a house my father built.” Rain fell in sheets against the house as emotions subsumed my being. The need to hold my wife rose in my being. Scorn for the old aunt swelled among my thoughts. A jealousy towards her helpful parents washed over my ego. And finally, with terrible power, a bolt of anger flashed across my thoughts, arching towards that fat, greedy charlatan and his selfish game. A storm of emotions roiled within me, and so I let them loose like a flood.
The medium was already in midair, blood streaming from his nose, when time fractured for me yet again: candles erupting, sputtering in explosions of wax and smoke; the old aunt scrambling for the front door, tiny bell ringing in her skirt pocket to the rhythm of her frantic hobbling; Allison’s father laying on the floor, his chair knocked back, him grasping his chest, mother screaming his name; Allison darting up the stairs afraid for her life, then down our hall to the bedroom; picture frames flung from the wall, shattering against the ground in her wake; Allison wailing in our bed as the bedroom door cracks and splinters apart; the cat caught hissing, frozen grotesque, neck snapped in the corner of the room; a tornado in a cardboard house.
We were standing together before the new floor-length mirror when I came out of it. Allison was hoarse, her eyes puffy and red, her face a mask of sorrow. Exhausted, she looked into the mirror, seemingly right at me, and whispered, “Michael. You have—you have to let me go.” Her feet hovered inches over the carpeting, her body limp in my embrace. She knew who I was. “You have to let me go, Michael. My father—he, oh god, I think he’s having a heart attack! You have to let me go.” It was then I realized that I could see myself in the mirror. I was holding my wife tight. Where it wasn’t worn away entirely, the skin on my face was rubbed black with asphalt, gravel collecting in clumps under festering sores. My arms too were torn, the fingers on my right hand, every one of them, broken backwards. Blood poured dark and unctuous from a wound in my neck; ichor staining my tattered t-shirt, mixing with her sweat. My lip was split, my hair ripped out in clumps, and I’ve never seen a shoulder twisted like that, but my god I loved her. She began whimpering, collapsing in my embrace, calling for her mother and father. “I came back for you,” I whispered toothlessly in her ear. I rested my head on her shoulder, nuzzling her sweetly. We stood there together and I hugged her as tight as I could. She had already stopped breathing by the time her ribs broke. I gingerly carried her lifeless body to our bed.
And now I’m alone in this empty house that waits to be sold, just as I wait for her to return from those dark places I hope to never revisit. But I know I did the right thing. I know we’ll be together soon, and she’ll understand, and we’ll laugh and love again in death as we once did in life. I know she will make it back, just as I have. She has to.