D-E-D

Flash FictionTomorrow is Halloween, and that calls for a ghost story.

I’ve slaved over this story, spending much longer than I usually spend on a first draft, and I’m afraid it may not show. The time, that is. It should be obvious this is a first draft. It’s not as well polished as I’d like, but I don’t really mind. Tomorrow is my favorite day of the year, no lie, and I can’t be bothered to fret over every single piece of fiction I write. Some of it will be middle of the road, and some of it will (hopefully) be great.

That said, I do think this story has a certain rough-around-the-edges charm. Also, I’m pretty fond of the closing line. Don’t skip ahead to it, though. You’d only be cheating yourself.

Whatever you have planned for All Hallow’s Eve, enjoy yourself and be safe. 

D-E-D

Here’s the problem with ghosts. They don’t give a fuck about what’s important to you.

Primarily, that’s because they have no frame of reference. I mean, they’re dead–D-E-D, dead–but most of them don’t know it. Oh, they know something’s off, but it feels like a weird-ass dream feels to you or me. You know those dreams? The ones where everything’s the same and different at the same time. It’s like that. They know they’re home, even if home doesn’t look like it should. They try to move, even though every step they take feels like trying to run in a river of molasses. They try to talk even though the words barely come out.

Talk about a living hell. Well, not living, but you get the idea. It makes my job both easier and harder. See, I’m the guy who wakes ’em up.

There’s nothing special about me. Anyone can see ghosts if they really want to. Anyone can talk to ’em. Believe me, they’re hungry for conversation, though some of ’em can be a bit hostile. What do you expect? They’re stuck in a fucking nightmare. I’d be in a bad mood, too.

The thing is, most people don’t want to see ’em.

All those ghost hunter shows make me laugh. Those morons wouldn’t know sincerity if it fell outta the sky, landed on their faces, and started to wiggle. And it’s not just because they’re money-hungry shysters. It’s because they don’t believe.

A word of warning, though. Belief is a bitch. Lemme tell you a story.

I had an apprentice once. Sort of. He was a friend of mine. I’d known him a few years, and he was always curious about this ghost stuff. He kept saying he wanted to see a real one, but people say that shit all the time. It ain’t what it’s cracked up to be, seeing ghosts, but he was always talking about it. He did a lot of stupid stuff, too. He made the rounds, visiting every so-called haunting in Dallas. He had some stupid-ass, night-vision app on his phone, and he took all these pictures. The camera would pick up flares of light, and he’d show ’em to me, pointing out faces and figures. None of it was real. His imagination was just grasping at straws. I mean, that fucking app–it was just a blur filter combined with an adjustment to the hue, for crying out loud.

But I let him think he was a real bad ass.

Finally, one night we’re sharing a beer and he’s showing me all these pictures on his phone, and he keeps expecting me to react, you know? He doesn’t understand why I’m not flipping out. He thinks he has hardcore evidence. Then finally something clicks in his brain, and he looks at me and goes, “Oh, I get it. Finding proof isn’t your thing.”

He was right. Partly, anyway. All these ghost hunters are obsessed with proof, which is pretty fucking ironic because people who know how to open their eyes don’t need it. I mean, when was the last time you talked to someone on a mission to prove the sky is blue? You want proof? Look up.

So I said, “That’s part of it.”

He puts his phone away and orders another beer. When the waitress brings it, he leans in close over the table and says, “What’s the rest?”

I’d been close to telling him at least a dozen times before, so I figured what the hell? I wasn’t mean about it, but I explained in no uncertain terms that he didn’t have a single picture of an actual ghost. I told him the shit he thought he was ‘documenting’ didn’t look anything like that. Ghosts are rarely blurs and shadows that move. Most of ’em look more like people than wisps of light.

I didn’t tell him the rest, though. Maybe I should have.

He gets all animated, then. He’s got four or five beers in him and he wants me to show him what they really look like. I try to tell him it’s not that simple. That he has to learn how to look for ’em. He’s all, “Teach me!”

When I was a kid, my dad taught me a few things. He was a real bastard, my dad. A cruel man who got off on being a bully, even to his own children. He acted like he was imparting wisdom, but really he was just picking on me. Know how he taught me not to touch a hot stove? He told me to touch it, and then laughed when I burned my hand.

Teaching someone to see ghosts is like that. It’s why I don’t do it.

But he insisted, and I made a bad call. He seemed sincere enough, but this business isn’t just about the want-to. Your mind has to be ready to bend and twist like a fucking pretzel.

We went back to my place and I walked him through it. I know a bit of magic, so I used some low-level hoodoo to get him loosened up. Then I told him what I live with–the ghost of my dad. Turns out daddy-dearest was just as capable of being cruel to himself as he was to anyone else. Not quite 20 years ago, he got drunk, which led to a severe state of depression, which led to a double-barrel shotgun in his mouth.

We were in my living room. He was sitting on the stained edge of my couch with his eyes, just like I told him. He didn’t know it yet, but my dad was already sitting right next to him. Dad watched the whole process with moderate interest. I’m not sure if he knew what was going on. Maybe he was just bored. There’s not a whole helluva lot for ghosts to do aside from bug the living.

Learning to see ’em is kind of like tuning in a radio, except once you find the station you can’t forget it. I warned my friend about that, but he said he didn’t care. I used some spells, a little light hypnotism, and some good, old-fashioned pep-talking. When my friend opened his eyes and looked to his right, he saw dear old dad.

Dad’s ghost is no nicer than the man was. He peeled the ectoplasmic skin off his face and gave my friend a toothy skeletal smile. My friend just about shit himself. I laughed. I’ve seen far worse.

But true to my warning, that was just the beginning. He left, still unnerved, and drove home as a thunderstorm rolled in. I know it sounds like I’m making this part up, but I swear it’s the truth. It started raining and the thunder boomed loud enough to rattle windows. Lighting lit up the night sky like a nuclear blast. An hour hadn’t passed before he called in a panic, freaked the fuck out because there were people all over his house. Well, not people. Ghosts. He had no idea how crowded that place was.

Most of them kept to themselves. They were used to being ignored and didn’t expect much from him. But a few of them made a game of his new-found sight. They weren’t particularly creative about it, using the kind of stunts you’d expect in a cheap horror flick. They floated through doors and whispered psychotic shit in his ears. They made it look like the walls were bleeding. One of them even came on to him, offering to sex him up before she decayed in front of his eyes. None of it sounds all that bad when you talk about it, but it’s another thing to live through it.

He made it three days. During that time, he called me at at least 50 times, begging me to make it stop. I reminded him I couldn’t do that, but he was insistent. I tried to help him cope. I’ve been seeing ’em my whole life and it hasn’t driven me crazy, but he couldn’t take it. On the evening of the third day, I stepped onto my back porch for a smoke and found him hanging from the oak in the center of the yard. I lit one up and pulled out my phone to call the police. While I was reporting the suicide, his eyes opened.

I finished my call and walked over to the body.

“Get me down,” he said.

He looked like a double-exposed photo. I could see his eyes open and closed at the same time. When he talked, his ghost mouth moved but his physical mouth stayed stuck in its death-twitch frown. I sighed. I didn’t see this coming, but I should have. Then again, this is what I do. I’m the grim reaper’s one-man welcome wagon.

“I don’t have to,” I said. “You can get down on your own. Just let go.”

He huffed, sneering at me. “I’m not holding myself up! I’m hanging! Cut me the fuck down! I can barely breathe!”

About that time, my dad comes marching across the yard. He was grinning, which is never a good sign. He didn’t have any kind of tool, ghostly or real, but he didn’t need one. He levitated off the ground and used his hand like a sword, slicing through the ectoplasm that held my friend in place. He fell, slipping out the bottom of his own feet. His ass hit the ground first.

“Damn it!” he yelled.

“I’d be careful about saying that if I were you.”

“Sometimes you’re a real asshole,” he said. “Got any beer?”

“Yeah, there’s a few cold ones in the fridge.”

“Good. I’m thirsty.”

He took off for the back door, fading into mist before he made it to the porch. I don’t know where he went. Where he goes, I guess. What I do know is that I find him hanging from the tree again every few days. It’s like a recurring dream–some morbid Groundhog’s Day loop he’s stuck in and completely oblivious to. He yells at me to cut him down, and one way or another I do. Or dad does. Then he tells me what a pile of shit I am and states his intent to drink my beer. He never makes it into the house.

I’m not sure how to open his eyes this time. I’ve told him he’s dead. He thinks I’m fucking with him. I can’t seem to break through. But, some ghosts are that way. Determined to ignore the truth that’s right in front of them. In some ways, they’re no different from people. Except for the whole being dead part.

I’ll keep trying, though. If I can wake him, maybe he’ll move on, to the other side or somewhere else here on earth. In the meantime, he’s a vivid reminder of something I’ve known my whole life. I may be okay seeing the dead, but most people can’t handle it.

After all, I doubt you’d sleep well tonight if you knew how many pairs of eyes were peering over your shoulder right now.

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About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

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