Author’s Note: This is (roughly) the first chapter of an upcoming short story I’ll be working on. It’s by no means a final draft so there will be changes but I wanted to share an excerpt, at least. I won’t give out any more details than what’s been set up here already, but I’m really excited to start working on another ghost story (that may or may not solely focused on ghosts).
If you would like to read my other published ghost story, “Underneath an Oak Tree, a Wooden Owl is Buried” you can find it for free at this link (but support the magazine by also buying a copy of the journal!): https://www.dropbox.com/s/28dox04a084du1j/WaterSoupWinterTwoThousandandFifteenDigital.pdf?dl=0
Thank you for reading, and I hope you like this teaser!
Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and turned to stare at the clock on his bedside table; the display read 3:34AM. The night was more than half over. Might as well give up any hope of sleeping tonight, he thought as shifted to laying on his back. During the day, Tyler realized, the ceiling never had any discernible pattern. Egg shell white, with stalactites of dried paint dripping dust from years of neglect. Tyler’s friend was a carpenter and described the offbeat design as “popcorn ceiling.” Tyler thought this to be a ridiculous observation, but apparently it was the official name. In the dead of night, however, Tyler noticed a transformation. Shadows were free to roam on the jagged surface, dancing and passing themselves along. Tyler stared at them for what he thought was over an hour (only ten minutes had passed). The shadows came into existence and disappeared just as quickly, but their brief existence fascinated Tyler.
He turned his head to check the time again: 3:43AM. Tyler’s eyes grew wide, and he groaned. It was not as though this wasn’t expected. A few days earlier, Tyler’s girlfriend, whom he had been sharing his apartment with for close to a year, had left him.
“I just…,” she began, ready to deliver the first of the final blows to their relationship. “I don’t love you anymore. I mean I love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore. You’ve been trying so hard, and you’re such a good guy, but I don’t want to put you through my moods anymore. I’m not happy anymore. And after living with you with nearly a year, I realize that you, us, was what was holding me down. I’m so sorry.” That was all that Tyler could remember from her speech. The rest of it was drowned out by the ringing in his ears, the pit growing in his stomach, and blurred vision that refused to clear up. Tyler convinced himself it was mutual, that the warning signs for both of them to separate were obvious, but they weren’t. She had been hanging out with another guy in the weeks before their separation, and while he had no basis to believe it was anything more, Tyler’s mind would not let go. So while he was relieved to not have the burden of their relationship weighing him down, he still felt crushed.
A routine had formed in the days after the break up. Tyler would act as if nothing were wrong at work, go home and eat soda crackers and water, take a shower, and finally go to bed early. Tonight was Friday, however, and he had the burden of spending his first weekend night alone.
These nights, when Tyler’s mind was too full and swollen to exhaust itself enough to rest, were common even before his breakup. Often Tyler felt intense sadness and grief about his life for seemingly no reason, but on this particular night, the wave of emotion wasn’t crashing on his shore, but on the coast of the whole world. Tyler studied this mixed emotion and realized that he felt weighed down by the sadness of all those around him, even his ex-girlfriend. I wish I could have made her happy.
Tyler closed his eyes and breathed deeply, visualizing his heart opening to those who felt lost, lonely, melancholy, angry, afraid, and exhausted; I know your pain and I sympathize, he recited. One after another, Tyler imagined shock waves of light resonating from his chest, reaching those who needed it most. Normally he wasn’t one for meditation (his ex and his family were huge on “opening their chakras” and visualization meditation) but tonight Tyler felt compelled.
Maybe I’m at my breaking point, Tyler reasoned. Perhaps he was so numb from all the weight that he had put on himself the past few days that he had, in an effort to lessen his pain, subconsciously projected his emotions outward. It was possible, not unreasonable. But Tyler did want to heal the wounds of the world; deep down he had nothing but compassion for every human being, even those who had wronged him. It was only until Tyler turned 22 that he realized this quality was not just a strength, but a weakness.
Again, he checked the clock: 4:12AM. Sighing, Tyler altered his meditation from sending vibrations of love to something more simple, that of mindfulness. Within a few moments an alarming thought came to him, and he instinctively clenched his fist. I am terrified that one day I will die without having made a significant impact. He asked his subconscious, “How would you define significance?” But no answer floated up from the depths. Tyler rolled onto his side and neglected the clock as he unlatched the bottle of melatonin from inside the table’s drawer and popped a 3mg pill, washing it down with a swig of room temperature water.
Tyler corrected himself, re-positioning himself onto his back, and returned to the quiet place inside him. Suddenly he noticed a weight at the end of his bed. He didn’t have to open his eyes to know that it was one of the ghostly players of reality sitting at the end of the bed. The scent of cigarette smoke filled the tiny bedroom and Tyler allowed his mind to unlock, letting the mysterious player’s words fill his head.
Love is a bitch, ain’t it kid? It was a woman tonight. Tyler studied her in his mind’s eye. Red hair, slender legs, busty chest. A face that would make angels cry. But her wrists were laden with slashes and red lines, beads of dried blood at the ends. I’m not dead yet, but I hope to be soon.
Why? You’re beautiful.
I always love others, but can’t bring myself to love, well, me. Isn’t it obvious? Love is such a drag. No matter what I do, I always manage to dig a deeper hole. These cuts by the way? They’re not on my physical body, just on my projection. You’re a Listener, so you probably know that already.
Tyler agreed. It was common for many of his nightly visitors to have self harm scars, weapons, tattoos, clothing, and sometimes even genders that didn’t connect to or reflect on their physical form. One’s projection, he noted, usually did not match one’s outward appearance.
My life is one big mystery. Who am I??
A beautiful girl who doesn’t understand, nor accepts, her true potential, Tyler countered.
You’re sweet, the woman said, and threw her cigarette out of the bedroom window. It passed through the glass and drifted to the busy city street below. If you were just a bit older, I’d totally ask you out. See ya later.
The weight disappeared from the bed. Tyler watched the shadows again for a few moments before closing his eyes, his lids growing heavy.
Tomorrow he would pack his life into a car and begin the long drive to Long Beach, CA, where his family awaited his arrival. Despite his misery he was excited to see Hay again. It had been close to two years since they had last seen each other. Tyler visited his family about a year prior but Hay was studying abroad at the time. His body suddenly became very light but he ignored the feeling, reserving himself to recall the “greatest hits” of memories he had with his little sister. As he played the memory of Hay catching a fly ball while mid-bite into her ice cream sandwich at a Portland Sea Dogs game, the crisp sound of the ball cracking her mitt, Tyler felt himself being carried off into the void. The memory melted and Hay grasped Tyler’s hand, running deeper into non-awareness and dragging him along, the tufts of her blonde hair dancing on her shoulders like the shadows on his ceiling.