The hoary grandfather clock in the living room doles out the time: quarter to three. The rest of the two-story house continues to sleep. The three children in the upstairs bedroom don’t stir as I creep up to their cracked door. They sleep silently, not even a breath can be heard. I kiss each of their small blonde heads, perfectly brushed and in place, then quickly scurry down the staircase. I should be in my own bed at this hour, but excitement keeps me from tiredness. The dead and dried skin of my bare feet clings to the craggy fibers of the off-white runner leading to the front door. I’ve already donned a simple black dress from my closet. The same black dress I cover my body in every night. It hangs in unflattering dimensions meant for someone much heavier; the feel of the coarse fabric sticks to my skin as I step into mid-August humidity.
The yard is easy enough to navigate with the rocky spotlight in the sky illuminating the dips and bends in the grass. The house is situated in a secluded part of Georgia. So far from any major city that the flush of stars above has no intrusive lights to compete with. They shine down from the cosmos in child-like play to alight against the eroded stone steps of my plain plantation home. The white paint on the siding that hasn’t been replaced since my parents lived here, grows out from the old wooden planks like ragweed. The craggy fingers of curling paint, only one inch long, touch the tips of the pine and hickory trees that come up to the house from the forest. The branches sway silently in the summer breeze, backlit by the moon, so I just see their silhouettes.
I remember growing up in this home: my sisters standing on this very lawn to take their senior prom photos, their dates wrapped tightly around their arms. I watched them from my bedroom window above the porch, believing that if I acted aloof enough, those dates would look up and see how mysterious and attractive I was. I told mom and dad that I wasn’t going to prom that year because I didn’t want to be attached to someone all night as my sisters would be. Lotti, the older of the twins, was Houston High’s track star for the third year in a row, and while Nora wasn’t the prettiest girl in school – her nose was too narrow, too long if you looked at her profile – she was a close second to prom queen that year. I don’t remember who they took to prom. But, that night, as my parents were driving everyone to the school, I interacted with my first spirit.
The house may have been my family’s, but this land is old. The blood that soaked this soil more than a few times has fostered rumors of horrors in the forests of Warner Robins, Georgia. Whispers of violent spirits haunting this forest don’t really bother me. However, I won’t deny the energy one feels when entering the woods though. You feel electrified – like you’re walking on livewires with bare feet.
The first thing I did when I knew everyone had gone, was to slide my window open. I popped the spring out and crawled through to the porch roof. It was my favorite spot. I would lay on the cooling tiles after sunset for hours in the summer and connect the stars. Until Lotti walked into my room last summer and saw me. She ran straight to mom, blabbered some nonsense about me leaning over the edge and holding on by my toes. Mom screamed for me to get back inside in her usual reactionary way. Yet, she wasn’t there that night. No one was.
Well, no one I could see anyway.
I’d glance at my bedside alarm clock to make sure I wasn’t still out when they got back. At five minutes to when they should be rounding into the driveway, I reluctantly turned to my window to go inside. With just one hand on the sill, I suddenly felt my body lock up. A shroud of cold air fell upon my shoulders and stayed. I couldn’t blame it on the wind. The breeze that night was hot and fluid. This was a stiff, dry arrested breath from a grave.
The shadows from my bedroom amalgamated into one perverse humanoid shape. It grew from the north-western corner of my room, as if a man were standing up from a low chair. Then with inhuman speed, this cluster of darkness darted to the window, slammed it down, and dissipated, all in the same collapse of cognitive thought on my end. The first knot of bone on my three middle fingers crumbled under the force of the solid oak frame. The pane of glass shattered above them. I ripped my hand from the window, and with it, the top layer of skin. However, the chill hadn’t gone away yet. It seeped into my bones and stung my eyes. Supple, glacial hands pushed against my shoulder blades so abruptly I had no time to try to grab whoever launched me over the edge. I fell headfirst onto the stone steps, right in front of my mom who’d been walking up to the house; whose screaming I could hear, until I suddenly couldn’t hear anything.
If I look hard enough at those steps now, I can still see the tiny print of blood stained on them. That is the stain that marks my very first encounter with a ghost. The first of many with this particular man. I always knew it was him whenever my muscles congealed and the liquid of my eyes felt frozen. He would leave his mark all over my body: a scar from a knife that propelled itself into the side of my left arm as I was washing dishes; the dent in my forehead from a shelf falling on me, and of course the stitches from my fall that night all those years ago. Then there was the heart attack he gave Lotti as she came home from high school graduation; the blood clot he sent to Nora’s brain while she was sleeping on the couch that same year; his whispered coercion to poison mom and dad’s coffee three years ago this October. He is a possessive man. One who likes others to know he’s there. I call myself a widow, but I never married him when he was alive. Now with everyone gone, I’ve found a lover in him. Someone who can never leave because the Grim Reaper forgot to take him to Hell.
My bare toes dig into the loose dirt of the road as I turn to enter the forest. There is no defined entrance, so I have to walk through the brambles that covers the land to the line of towering pines. Spanish moss lingers on the wings of the hardwood. They trickle down to grope at my sunken cheeks. In homage to Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, the laid cloth of lichen lounges in melted relation. Ringlets of old man’s beard strain from their places to play with my hair, fold back my eyelashes, and pluck at the peach fuzz on my face. The pines creak under the pull of the moss to reach me. One such tendril of stems recedes for a heartbeat then returns with a meaty rondure. The waxy rind of a pomegranate falls weightily into my offered hands. With an incision from my two thumbs, a fine mist of juice breaks free and splays across my face. In animalistic fervor, I cleave the thick, red hull of the fruit to bite into the pockets of watery cells. I raise my arms in response to the tugging at my clothes. Snakes of moss lift my dress from me, unveiling my naked body. Then a renewed sense of awareness hits me. The air solidifies and heat withdraws from my lungs.
His sweat smells of garlic and the cheap vodkas. The ragged leather of his skin pinches tight over his uneven collar bones. Hands of lean ligaments that feel like they are made of rope and bleached paper-pulp reach out to me in a crooked “come-hither”.
My eye falls to the moist ground out of reflex. I’m only able to only listen as his bare feet scuff the fallen blue Spanish moss, which now lay unmoving once more. Both of our chests are bare, allowing the light filtering through the foliage to bounce off my equally anemic skin. Pomegranate juice gushes from my hands, the syrup dripping from my mouth, which hangs loosely in my dreamy facade. The stark red color, like lashes from a whip, form beads that race each other through the puckered pink scar tissue down the front of my body. Rivulets of the juice run down my neck; down my chest to sit comfortably in the hollow divots of my ribcage.
One such rill forgoes the path of its kin and jumps from my bottom lip toward the ground. My man’s oblique hand reaches for me and ends up catching it in the cleft between his first and second metacarpal. The globule sits contently in the steady train car of his hand until he rivets the tip of my chin with his pointer and middle finger. I let him coerce my head upward, keeping my shoulders lowered. His nebulous eyes stare down at me. Flecks of black burn through that sheet of fog bore into my own set of glassy, green stones.
My lack of struggle allows him to seize at one of the milky globes of my cheeks. I turn my attention to the wrinkles of his droughty lips. The paper-whiteness of them makes me think that if I ran the rough of my tongue at their seams, I’d get cut. The nearness of him leaves my heart electrified, pumping gushes of red water through my gaunt body, burning brightly through the thin skin of my lips.
He’s built like two eroded cinder blocks, stacked to stand lenghtwise on each other, and form a hollow for the family of mice that nest in the square holes in the center. I know that I am nothing like him. I am made of paper mache and barely held up with rope and twine, frayed at their knots.
He bends his head down to meet my fervent lips. I crank my head all the way back, so his mouth misses mine. He continues moving down to lay waste to the crook of my neck. Lengthy teeth from receded gums press against the protruding scaffolding of my collarbone.
The odd sensation of his tongue slides up the ghastly buttress of my neck to the framework of my jaw. The craggy, flat plain of it pulls at my skin in some pathetic attempt to cling to any kind of moisture. The juice from my pomegranate stains his mouth a cold, ruby color.
“Hello, my love,” the hollow greeting passes my gritted teeth as I let him push me against one of the many oaks in the grove, “the children are well.” I can imagine their flawless porcelain faces tucked against their pillow and quilt despite the heat of summer. How I wish I was there – asleep in the house with them. Not being touched. My three daughters, forever toddlers in their fabric and china bodies. I imagine they hate their father as I do, who pushes and positions my body like I am a doll as well.
The moon passes sets eventually. I watch, laying on my back, as the sun rises and suddenly, I am alone once more. The energy of the heavenly lunar body gives my pallid lover his physical body; however, the sun always burns him away. He is still here with me, his hunger for the living never quite satisfied, but his immaterial hands are unable to touch me anymore.
Until the next night, that is.