Visited By My Old Ghosts

By Sash Steele

I’ve become so used to their arrival that I barely notice when they stop knocking.

One minute I’m watching movies, a horror marathon in light of the season. The next they’re there again, announcing themselves with quiet whisperings over the sofa. I try not to look, but it’s impossible. The gaping, ghoulish mouths and rustling white drapes, like bedsheets that I might expect to pull back and find a giggling child underneath. Instead, all that lies there when I look more closely are things painfully and uncomfortably familiar, like seeing your own facial features in a family member you hate.

Some of the ghosts look like arguments I’ve had with friends, lovers, people who aren’t in my life any more. Some look like my fear of failure; one looks like the time I started cutting. I turn upside-down on the sofa so I can stare at the ceiling and try to keep their mumbling out of my head, thinking about how they remind me of black and white static, the kind you don’t get on televisions any more.

I’m not scared these days, just tired. They’ve been haunting me since June in broad daylight — long before that if I’m really being honest with myself. I watch them pick at my popcorn, feel the icy drift as one sits next to me. The low sweep of its robe passes through my cup of tea. When I pick it up, the contents are stone cold.

It tries to get my attention. It looks like my final year of University, the years-ago me with pale face and hollow eyes and shoulders pulled tense and tight. My girlfriend last Hallowe’en and how we both drank too much. Acknowledge us, it breathes. Dwell on us. Give us life.

It would be easy, I think. Sit here in the dark with the movies playing and the curtains drawn and let them occupy my thoughts for a while. Let their ethereal forms press up against my body and smother me until my head is cotton and my mouth is dust. Ignore the days-old food and empty plates around my sofa. Go to sleep and hope they’re gone by tomorrow.

But it’s twilight outside. Light pushes in through gaps in the curtains and when I listen closely I can hear the sound of laughter. I remember that the youngest trick or treaters will be around soon and I’m proud of myself for remembering to stock up on sweet things.

I feel a rush of fondness, thinking of my neighbour’s kid and her friends in their cheap costumes. The ghosts surrounding me shudder and shrink back, just slightly.

I sense them protest, I hear their mumbling static, their stubborn sea-deep darkness begging to let them drag me into its depths. I’m breathing harder, I’m- I’m fighting, I’m remembering that they don’t belong here and this is my house and I can fill it with all of the flowers and books and hope I want.

Abruptly, I stand up. Reach for the main light switch and flick it on. The action sets wheels spinning; on impulse I pick up some dirty plates and a vase of flowers that could use more water in it. These are things that I can do.

‘Not tonight,’ I say out loud to the room. Then again, louder. ‘Not tonight.’

Leaves rustle outside. The crunchy autumn kind in amber-brass-gold that I love so much. I’m waiting for the doorbell to ring. Any moment now.

It chimes cheerfully into an empty room. There’s just me, and my own quiet breath.