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Haunted

I walked slowly through the ancient, abandoned insane asylum, thoroughly unnerved, skin crawling with chills that had nothing to do with the weather. Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.

Birds were singing. They hopped in patches of afternoon sunlight filtering in through the broken windows, pecking here and there at blades of grass growing out of cracks in the floor. Lizards darted along the crumbling walls, and butterflies (for heaven’s sake, freaking butterflies) fluttered among flowering vines that crept in from outdoors. The place was vibrant with life reclaiming the ruins.

That’s what was wrong. This place was haunted. At least, it was supposed to be. It belonged to the centuries-old dead,  those who’d been locked away here due to plots and conspiracies by their enemies. The truly insane who died had passed on. The unjustly imprisoned remained, their cold anger banishing all warmth from the moldering halls, their dark memories shrouding the windows from persistent sunlight. I didn’t know why they tolerated me coming here so often; I only knew why I came. This was the only place I could go where the outside world matched how I felt inside since Jonathan and our baby died.

Now the bright cheerfulness pervading the decrepit old building felt alien, glaring, even obscene. A bee buzzed by my cheek and I shrieked and jumped a foot, considerably more startled than when I first felt ghostly fingers touching my hair. I leaned against the wall, calming my furiously pounding heart, but the sun-warmed stone touching my skin freaked me out more than clammy, dripping walls ever did. What was going on here? What the hell was going on?

“Are you alright?”

I whirled towards the sound, fright mingling with relief that there was someone here, someone who might have answers.

“I heard you scream, so I came to see if you were alright.” The voice belonged to a man standing at the end of the hallway. Leather boots, torn jeans, dirty white shirt unbuttoned to partially reveal a solid chest. His eyes were ageless, and extraordinarily beautiful.

“Where are the ghosts?” I asked him, ignoring his concern.

“They left,” he replied. If he was surprised by my question, I couldn’t hear it in his tone.

“They left? Why?”

“I guess I scared them,” he answered, with an almost imperceptible lift at the corner of his mouth. Almost, but not quite.

“You scared them,” I deadpanned, despite the fact that my heartbeat was still in overdrive. “What could scare a ghost?”

“A wizard who could grant them another life.”

In my surprise, only the first part of his reply registered. I looked at him standing ten feet away, completely ordinary except for those remarkable eyes. “A  wizard. Right.” My disbelief couldn’t be more obvious.

At this, he chuckled and shook his head slightly, then started to amble towards me. “So let me get this straight. You believe in ghosts, but not in wizards?”

“I’ve seen ghosts,” I shot back.

He stopped about four feet away, holding out his arms at his sides. “Well, now you’re seeing a wizard, Melissa.”

The strangeness of the day, the drastic changes in my hideout, and the fact that this stranger knew my name choked any reply that I might have made to that.  Fear lodged in my throat so securely that I couldn’t make a sound.

“It just comes with the territory,” he offered gently, never moving from his spot, his watchful eyes marking my shock. “I mean you no harm.”

“Say you really are a wizard,” I said, struggling to swallow my fright just to get answers. “Why would you harm the spirits who were trapped here? And why is everything suddenly so different?”

He looked around at the sun-dappled, vine-tangled hallway. “It’s different because once their influence dissipated, nature started making up for lost time. But I didn’t harm your ghosts, Melissa, nor did I want to. I came here two nights ago because I was injured from a fight with two rivals who ambushed me nearby,” he explained, gesturing to the brown stains on his shirt, which I now realized were dried blood. “I defeated them, and I was able to close my wounds, but I needed a place to regain my strength. So I came here.”

“That doesn’t explain anything,” I interjected, my bravado rising again. “Even if any of it were true in the first place.”

“It’s all true,” he assured me, but instead of offense, I saw a hint of admiration at my determined recovery. “I’m powerful enough to grant a spirit in limbo a second chance at life. I’ve done it before, twice, for very good reasons. No one else can do that, and I guess it made me quite notorious in the supernatural world, so when I came here, the ghosts fled.”

“But why would they do that?” I cried, my heart starting to swell with unbearable desire, with anguished need. “Why would anyone miss a second chance at life?” If it were true, if he could do it, if it were in any way possible…my child, my beautiful child, and Jonathan, just to hold him close once again—

“Melissa,” he interrupted my frantic, half-formed thoughts. His voice was gentle, yet inexorable as rain as he doused my faint, flickering hope, “I can’t bring your family back. They’re no longer in limbo. They’ve moved on.”

Did I say my hope was faint? Yet when it was finally snuffed, there was a resounding crash, like a burned out house collapsing to the ground, burying me in ashes and burning, excruciating sorrow. It finally caught up with me here in my last escape, and I buckled under its weight, deaf to all else but the keening, animal sound of grief echoing against the walls. Dimly, I realized that it was my own throat making that horrible wailing, that I was finally weeping for what I had lost, releasing the flood of tears and racking sobs that I had kept firmly dammed for so long. I love them, I love them so much. I needed them, but I would never get them back. I would never get my family back, and I just wanted the agony to kill me.

But I didn’t die. After a long while, the tears were drained, and so was the last of my strength. I found myself lying on  the floor, curled up tightly with my back to the wall and my arms wound around my knees. The wizard—I realized that I didn’t know what else to call him—was sitting beside me, leaning against the wall and silently watching twilight fall through the window. That was all I registered before I gave in to the bone-deep exhaustion and fell asleep.

When I woke up, it was night time. There was no disorientation, just a returning awareness of grief and tiredness that not even the deepest sleep could ease. I gingerly sat up and took stock of my surroundings. The moon was out and there were some fireflies, but most of the light in the hospital hallway came from the little yellow fireball that my companion was tossing from hand to hand, much like my cousin Ted does with his favorite baseball. He looked at me and smiled, then casually waved a tall glass of water and a neatly wrapped sandwich into existence on the floor beside me. Still too tired to comment on this proof that he really was a wizard, I gratefully reached for the food and ate quietly.

When I was done, I leaned back against the wall beside him and stretched out my legs. “So you really are a wizard,” I remarked, just to break the silence. I winced at the hoarseness of my voice.

“Yep,” was all that he said.

“I still don’t understand why the ghosts ran away from you. I mean, they’re in limbo, so you could have helped them.”

“Can’t you really think of a reason?” he prodded, turning to me with an inscrutable look on his face.

“No,” I replied, genuinely puzzled but also glad for this tiny, momentary distraction from the barbed ache wrapped around my heart, piercing my lungs with every breath.

“Most ghosts don’t really want to live,” he explained. “They’ve gotten used to where they are. They haven’t accepted their deaths enough to move on, even after centuries. But life, with all its uncertainties, also terrifies them. Even being confronted with the choice to live again, the responsibility of having to say yes or no to that option, upsets them. So when they saw me coming, they fled.”

I was beginning to understand. I’d been a bit of a ghost myself, haunting this hospital, escaping the world. Only it wasn’t my own death that I was rebelling against. “Are they gone forever?”

“No,” he responded, shaking his head. “They’ll come back when I leave. Then all of this,” he gestured to the fireflies flickering among the vines on the opposite wall, “will go back to how it was.”

“Oh,” was all I could think of to say. The fireflies were really pretty, and I realized that I didn’t want them gone.

He smiled at my tone, a quiet smile, full of compassion. “You won’t be able to come back here, Melissa.”

“Why not?” I asked, but somehow I already sensed the answer.

“You’re no longer like them, not since you started facing your loss today. You’re now entering reality once again, rejoining the land of the living. They won’t let you back in. But you no longer need this place, anyway.”

“Living hurts,” I whispered, my voice cracking and tears, never too far away now, rushing back into my eyes. “It hurts so damned much.”

“I know,” he murmured. Then he released his fireball to float in front of us and slowly, gently reached out to draw me closer. With utmost care he rested my head on his shoulder and put his arm around me, then added, “but not always. It won’t always hurt.”

With that promise, he pressed a kiss on my temple, a simple kindness, a blessing to go with the uncomplicated comfort of his warmth. We sat there inside the ruined old building, the fireball, the moon and the fireflies blurring through my tears, dancing points of light in the darkness of my first night back in the land of the living. This time, I didn’t close my eyes.

*****

This was written for Inspiration Monday, in response to the prompt “now entering reality”. However, it started as a dream that pretty much was like the beginning of this post, where she walks around to find all the ghosts gone, and I woke up wondering, what could frighten the dead? This was a way to answer that question. Sorry it got so long, and thanks for reading!

Goodbye Girl

“Why are you giving me a feather?” she asked.

“Not just any feather, that’s a phoenix feather.” When she laughed, he hastened to explain. “It’s disguised like it’s from a boring old chicken, but that’s a phoenix feather, trust me.”

“Okay,” she agreed easily. Her imagination was capable. Besides, it was the first conversation they’d had in weeks, and she wanted to keep talking. She missed him. The razor-sharp loss of their easy friendship pierced her chest, but she ignored it. “Why are you giving me a phoenix feather?”

“Because I’m letting you walk away from me.”

Just like that, the tears in her throat rushed into her eyes. She knew it, had known that it would come to this, but had childishly kept wishing they could go back to the way they’d been for four years: high school friends, misfits fitting in perfectly together. Then he admitted his love, asking her to stay in the town she’d wanted to escape all her life.

His apology was in the hand brushing her tears away. The first touch between them in three weeks, five days, and 18 hours. Since when had she started counting the times he touched her?

“You know I’m in love with you,” he said gently. “But I’m no longer asking you to stay, or holding you back. I’m letting you go. We’ll let each other go.  Completely.”

“But…but,” she was really crying now,  sobbing like a child, knowing she was being hideously unfair, but too stricken to stop. “I don’t want to lose you. I don’t, Jay, I can’t. Please….”

He gripped her hand, crushing the feather, betraying how she was tearing him apart. But dammit, she loved him, too. She loved him, enough to hurt them both, but not enough to stay. The selfishness of it silenced her, while a dim, pathetic part of her mind registered his hands touching hers. That’s twice today.

“That’s where this phoenix feather comes in,” he soothed, smoothing it out on her palm. “You’ll return someday, or maybe I’ll find you. When the things we want no longer stand between us, we’ll start again.”

“A new beginning from the ashes?” It should’ve been corny, but she couldn’t laugh.

“Yes. Someday.”

“Don’t hate me.” Her greatest fear slipped out, and the look on his face told her he heard.

Oh, baby. Never,” he cried, pulling her close. “We have someday,” he promised, but the only important thing was that he was finally holding her, and his arms were tight, so tight that it was suddenly alright, it was perfect, but just for a moment, just enough to remember until someday. So she held on, carefully holding the feather, and believed him.

I wrote this in response to the “phoenixRed Writing Hood prompt from Write on Edge. It’s my first time to join this challenge, and the prompt was just too perfect to resist. This is a fictionalized account following the 450-word limit, but there really was a boy, a promise, and a feather that even now is tucked inside my wallet. It’s been almost ten years, and the promise has been kept, perhaps not in the manner of a Hollywood happy ending, but it’s our story, and we like our ever after the way it turned out. 🙂

Succinctly Yours – All things change

No one else believed Atlantis would rise.

The transition found him waiting, vindicated but alone, even at the end.

Would that change, now?

How low can you go? I’m at 136 characters, 4 fewer than the maximum 140 (you can also go for 140 words instead). It’s microfiction fun, where you write the short-but-sweet stories based on an image  prompt. There’s also a word prompt (this week, it’s transition), if you want more challenge. I used to do this at Stony River, but the  site’s down. Happily, I discovered a nice community of microfictioneers hosted at Grandma’s Goulash. Join the fun!

Love on a street corner

Boarded up shops and busted streetlights. Graffiti, broken glass, and overflowing garbage bins. A sudden burst of unruly laughter from the teenagers huddled together down the rain-slick sidewalk.

The man stood still, heart pounding, out of place. Did he get the address wrong? No, the voice mail told him to wait on this corner tonight. So he waited, desperately praying for 16, 842 hours of torment to end.

Suddenly, there she was — pierced, tattooed, trembling. Wild and strange, yet achingly familiar. Uncertain. His heart broke for her. How could she be uncertain?

“Daddy,” she whispered. “Can I come home?”

(This is a response to the 100 words challenge in Velvet Verbosity. The word for the week was “wild”.)

The day after the first “I love you”

Vanessa. Vanessa. Her name was pure pleasure on his tongue, impossible to say without an exultant smile. Smooth as the silk of her skin, sweet as the scent of jasmine in her hair, soft as the sensuous touch of her hand. His every prayer answered. Nessa.

He worried that he’d suddenly wake up and find that it wasn’t real. That she didn’t really smile at him with his kiss lingering on her lips, that the tenderness in her eyes was merely a trick of the light. His Vanessa. How was it even possible that those words together can be true?

(This is another response to the 100 words challenge in Velvet Verbosity. The word for the week was “pleasure”.)

 

 

Rescuer becomes rescued

The tears were dry. The violent, heartrending sobbing that had shaken her until it felt like she would shatter had stopped. Everything had stopped, except pain.

Night had slowly darkened the room, but she barely noticed. She lay on the bed, an exhausted ball of numbness and blank grief. She hadn’t moved for hours. She might never move again, she thought.

Suddenly, she felt a small nose touching her cheek. It was the stray kitten she found yesterday, snuggling close and purring in pleasure. Slowly, she lifted her hand to draw it closer, seeking its warmth.

She was still needed.

(This is a response to the 100 words challenge in Velvet Verbosity. The word for the week was “pleasure”.)

 

Through the forest

These are three 140-character stories for Microfiction Monday, hosted on Stony River. The challenge is to write a tweet-length (or shorter) tale based on the photograph or illustration provided every week. Week 56’s picture inspired three stories, and somehow, they all ended up involving fairy tales, perhaps because the image of a lone traveler and a path in the woods is such a familiar element in fantasy and myth that my mind recognized it immediately and refused to let go of the idea. It would be interesting to know what the photo will evoke in other microfiction writers. Anyway, here goes:

They warned the prince against wolves, but nobody cautioned him against the faerie-child’s spell.

The princess kept waiting; he never came.

*****

For stealing Cinderella’s slippers, Lea was doomed to wander for eternity, growing old and returning to youth, over and over and over again.

*****

Daddy read her stories of ladies trapped by witches in the forest. Maybe that’s where Mommy went. She might need help.

Lucy started walking.

*****

That’s it! Your turn. 🙂