Of Ghosts and Memories – short story

OGAM CoverApologies for not updating in a while, things have been hectic. Since I haven’t had any luck submitting this short story anywhere I thought I would stick it up here and see what people think whilst I work on other things.

Note that this is a personal story with horror elements to it and it does deal with topics of abuse so please be warned before reading.

 

 

Of Ghosts and Memories

by Mairi White

It’s hard not to freak out as I round the corner and realise that nothing around me looks the way it should. For as long as I can remember I have always been able to find my way back to somewhere I have been before effortlessly. But where the library should be, instead of the old concrete building with the brick front and the stairs next to it leading up to the shortcut through the car park, there is a new modern building, all big mirrored windows and beige coloured stone, too new to have been tainted yet by pollution.

I stop, staring at it for a long moment, feeling utterly lost and suddenly on the edge of tears. Being lost always unsettles me and this is not the time to deal with that.

A gnawing sensation starts in my gut as my body reacts to the sudden stress. My legs suddenly go weak and I lean a hand against the wall for support.  As if the weather can sense my distress, the sky clouds over and the warmth of the autumn sun suddenly vanishes, leaving me with an icy sensation in the pit of my stomach and shivering slightly.

For a long moment I stand there, drawing deep breaths into my lungs as I try and calm my heart before it beats its way out of my chest. I cannot fall apart right now, I have too much to worry about already.

It’s been over a decade since I walked this way, it was bound to have changed. My phone is in my coat pocket so I fish it out carefully, trying not to pull anything else out as I do so and open up the map, it doesn’t take long to get it to give me a route and I resume walking, fear of being lost starts to subside and is instead replaced by older fears the nearer I get to my destination.

The rest of the journey goes by in a flash, I reach the right street in less than ten minutes and stop at the top, looking down the hill at the row of terraced houses, their stone, grey facades stretch in a uniform line all the way down. There aren’t many people about and no one seems to be paying me any attention, which is actually a relief because I am not sure how well I can stop my my feelings from showing on my face and I don’t really want to deal with the concern of strangers right now.

The house is only a few doors down from the top of the street, so I soon find myself standing outside of somewhere I swore I never wanted to see again. It looks incredibly normal, the same two-storey terrace house with a small garden out the front as the others in the street. There is a For Sale sign stuck in the garden, near the wall at the front, but nothing else out of place about it. It used to belong to my best friend, back when I lived a few miles from here and something within has haunted me now for years.

My heart rate spikes again and my hands get clammy, I jam my nails hard into the palms of my hand, the pain grounding me as I try to get a grip on myself. Now that I am here a part of me is not sure I can go through with this; not sure I can face what awaits me within this place. I steel myself and fish out the key I have been lent to show myself around, the advantage of knowing the estate agent means I have been trusted to do this without an audience. My hands are shaking as I go to put the key in the lock and it takes me another couple of minutes to get the door open.

I feel like I should be looking at somewhere far more unsettling, but the hallway before me is irritatingly normal, just dark. I enter the house carefully and reluctantly close the door behind me.

The click as the door latches makes me jump and there is a sudden feeling of pressure in my chest, as though the atmosphere inside is suddenly closing in around me. It takes all my willpower to start to walk forwards, the downstairs bathroom is on my right, but something stops me from opening that door just yet, so I head on, past the bottom of the stairs and into the living room on the left.

There never used to be a door to this room when I visited, it was always open to the rest of the house. In the years since I was last here someone has installed one, so I push it open and step into a bare room, the windows overseeing the currently neat front garden.

Back when I used to stay over, I often used to sleep in this room, curling up on the coach under a pile of blankets. Staring at it now, I remember waking one night, frozen in fear by something and looking over to see a light at the top of the stairs. I first thought that it was just the light from the upstairs bathroom, but no, this light was moving downwards and that terrified me. I pulled the covers over my head, screwed my eyes tightly closed and prayed for it to go away, too afraid to go and see what it was.

The memory prompts me to walk over and stand where the sofa once was, and I turn to look through the doorway at the stairs beyond. Nothing seems to happen though, no sign of whatever light I seem to remember, so I lie down on the floor, looking towards the corner of the room by the window where the TV once stood. I close my eyes for a moment and it feels like I have been transported back in time. I can hear the sound of the TV, feel the blankets over me and… something else. It’s as if I can feel eyes on me and I go cold, my blood roaring so loudly in my ears it sounds like someone screaming.

Am I screaming?

Suddenly I can’t move my body, I feel trapped and powerless. The voice in my mind is shouting at my body to move but it won’t obey me at all. In utter desperation I finally manage to force my eyes open to see the reality of the empty room.

I almost cry with relief at the normality of the room around me though it still takes me a while before I get control enough of my body to move, gently persuading myself to relax so I can get back up. My legs are still shaking as I lean myself against the wall opposite the door. I am not sure what that was, a new memory perhaps? I do vaguely recall nightmares about staying down here, but the details always slipped away from me when I woke.

Rattled, I head out of the living room and turn left into the kitchen. A door to the back garden stands roughly opposite the door I entered in. I lean against the doorframe for a moment and then head inside. I can almost smell the home cooking that my friend Laura’s mum used to do here whilst we all sat around the table. This is a place that was filled with laughter and good food and I relax for a moment, feeling a little of the tension leave me.

I walk further into the room, moving to where the table used to stand. One moment I am lost in the happy memories this place holds and then I stop where the kitchen table was and the temperature seems to plummet again. I try to move back from it but another memory grips me and the paralysis descends again.

This time I am sitting in the kitchen then, where I am standing now, my best friend Laura and her sister Sam are across from me. Suddenly I can feel ghostly hands roaming up my body and over my chest. I am frozen to the spot, but I look across and they are laughing and smiling as normal even as I am unable to move anything more than my eyes. Do they not see him? How can they not see him?

Just as quickly as it comes the memory releases me and I stagger back against the wall, wincing as I hit it harder than I expected. It will likely leave a bruise. I take a moment to catch my breath.

Did that really happen? Am I recalling actual events or something else?

A deep fear washes over me, and I am afraid of what else I might uncover here. My therapist was so sure that I need to come back to find out what really happened to me, but I suddenly know without a doubt that I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t have come. I push myself back upright and head out of the room, deciding to leave now before it’s too late.

On my way towards the door I pass the downstairs toilet and I stop dead in my tracks. There is something about that room which tugs insistently at my memory and before I really know what I am doing my hand turns the handle and pulls the door open. In front of me is a perfectly ordinary room: one toilet, one sink and a mirror above it. The moment I catch my face in it another memory overwhelms me.

The water in the sink is running and I look up to the mirror and there is a dark figure directly behind my right shoulder watching me, one hand snaked around my waist. Strangely this memory holds less fear, it’s like even in my memory I am watching this happen to someone else, like a film playing in my head. My mind is numb, and my body just acts on autopilot without needing my permission.

I turn the tap on, echoing the start of the memory and splash my face with cold water. This seems to help draw me back to myself and I stare at my face for a long while, I look even paler than normal, my hair falling over my face as I hunch slightly. As the numbness fades I feel start to shake again, I can see the fear in my eyes and that makes it churn in my stomach.

My hand stretches out and turns the tap off and I look back up to see the figure there again, this time not in my memory but now.

I stumble backwards, still sure that I can see the shadow of the man, now it’s between me and the front door so I flee towards the back one, back into the kitchen, desperate now to get myself out of this house.

But now the figure is now in front of me, standing behind where I used to sit at that kitchen table. I cannot see eyes but somehow, I know that he is watching me, and I stumble backwards, tripping over my own feet and landing heavily at the foot of the stairs.

Before I can stop myself, I am pushing myself to my feet and half running, half falling up the stairs. My heart is pounding so hard it’s trying to climb out of my throat. I run passed the bathroom on the right, and head straight into the first bedroom, the room that used to belong to my friend and her sister, slamming the door after me.

I slide down onto the floor, sobbing heavily in terror, my legs too weak to keep me upright. My back rests against the wood, hoping that maybe I can hold the door closed with my body weight. Terrified, I fumble for the phone in my pocket and manage to pull it out, but my hands are still wet, and I drop it and it bounces away across the carpet towards the far wall.

My breath is catching in my throat and I crawl forwards on the floor, not entirely caring anymore if the shadow follows me or not now, desperate to get to my phone so I can get someone to come and help me. My fingers close on my phone and I pull it to me, shaking too badly to do much yet other than hold it.

As I lay on the floor, struggling to get my body back under my control so I can use my phone, I hear the door open behind me, footsteps thudding dully into the carpet as the figure walks towards me. I freeze, lying perfectly still and squeezing my eyes shut, unwilling to see whatever is following.

The figure bends down and I feel a pressure against my back, as something presses against me. It takes all my willpower not to scream or whimper. Hot breath catches the back of my neck and a voice whispers in my ear, “Turn over, please turn over.”

Suddenly I am slammed back into the past. This isn’t reality, it’s another memory. I was fourteen and I did lie here whilst that exact thing happened to me. It’s like a door bursts open in my head and it all comes flooding back.

My eyes snap open, the room is as empty as it was before. I slowly get to my feet, tucking my phone back into my pocket, my heart still pounding in my chest. I remember that day now, I remember lying there terrified of what he would do, just pretending to be asleep and hoping that he would go away.

Trembling, I walk to the door and open it, heading slowly back down the stairs. As I stare into the living room I remember being on that couch with him, he would stay up after everyone else had gone to bed and I was alone. I remember his hands; the feel of his fingers inside me and I almost throw up.

I stagger towards the back door, looking into the kitchen out of a morbid sense of curiosity. The hands aren’t ghostly now, they are his, touching me secretly even whilst his family are in the room.

This can’t be real, musn’t be real, but I know it is. I collapse again to the floor, sobbing but this time in relief. The door is open now, I can’t shut it again, even if I want to.

I let it all out, I cry and scream and cry some more. Years of pain, shame, guilt and sorry flood uncontrollably out of me until there is no more to come. I am physically and mentally exhausted now.

Slowly I get back up, tidying myself up as much as I can before heading out of the front door. As the cold air hits my face I breathe it all in and step out into the street as the door closes behind me.

Brief Writing Update

Hi guys!

Brief update on the writing front. I can’t remember if I posted that I had submitted a short story to the Pseudopod horror podcat, but I did. Sadly I got a rejection back last night but it was because they didn’t think the story was horror enough to fit the podcast, which I myself wasn’t sure of so it was a fair point.

Otherwise they said that they really liked it and thought it was an intense exploration of PTSD, which given that it was dealing with my own trauma is pretty accurate.

So I am still feeling very positive, got some other short story projects I am working on and I hope that I may have better luck in the future. In the meantime I know a rejection is not world-ending and I can deal with it and that helps a great deal in regards to overcoming my anxieties about pursuing my dream of being published.

If any of you reading this are writers wanting to be published but battling that fear, I know how you feel but trust me, being rejected isn’t as bad as you fear and you can learn and grow from there so don’t give up!

I will update when I have something else ready to go, or if I have any better luck submitting the story elsewhere. I have stuck it in for the Mind Membership competition about mental health journeys so I shall see how it goes!

Writing Update 1

On Tuesday I attended my third Super Relaxed Fantasy Club meeting. This is a group in London where every month 2-3 authors come do readings from their work and answer questions. There is also socialising. It is attended by quite a few published authors, plenty of writer, agents, editors as well as people who just love to read.

I am very much enjoying it, it gives me a chance to socialise with people who are doing what I want to do, perhaps get assistance with my goals and also get introduced to new and interesting sounding Fantasy and Science-Fiction books.

This month was readings by R J Barker, Anna Spark Smith and Jane O’Reilly. I had met Anna briefly before at SFX Con earlier this year and we got to have a slightly longer chat this time, most about neurodiversity and such, and I got my copy of The Court of Broken Knives signed (I am reading it at the moment).

R J Barker was hilarious, the reading was really engaging and it was lovely to meet him. We were talking about Leeds as that is where some of my family is from and where he lives, including how weird looking Armley Prison is. I bought the first book of his trilogy, Age of Assassins, got it personalised (he had signed them already) and have added it to my ever growing unread book pile.

The last author writes space operas and her work did sound interesting and I may look into it in future, but I decided to be good and not add it to the pile for the moment.

Yesterday I turned up to my first meeting of a writing group based in a bookshop in Wood Green. I heard about it from the book shop owner at Nine Worlds and decided to go along. I was a bit nervous, but there are other Sci-Fi/Fantasy writers there and people were plenty friendly. I didn’t do any readings this time, but I shall next time as the feedback seemed really good and I think it could be very useful to me to see what non Sci-Fi/Fantasy people think of my stuff.

I also think I have gotten around a 1000 words written this week and I am hoping to get more done over the weekend if I can manage it. So some progress there. I have also set myself up a Facebook group for the people who volunteered to do Beta reading for me and have even given them a short story I wrote a while back to look at.

Things are happening then and I am feeling pretty positive at the moment, let’s hope I can keep it up!

In future I am going to do some reviews of things I have been reading too, probably not intense critiques, but more what I liked and didn’t, with a likely feminist eye cast over them as well so look out for those in future.