by Raiff Taranday
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Mr. and Mrs. Gisei,
I am writing to urge you both to maintain composure during this confusing time. My words must seem ridiculous to you. Under these circumstances, I would imagine that even performing a task as mundane as reading a letter—no matter how polite and gently worded it may be—must appear nothing short of an impossible feat. I am only an old man with a pen. Nonetheless, I implore you both to remain calm and continue reading. Mr. Gisei, please maintain a steady hold on yourself for the sake of your wife. You must be her strength. At a moment like this one, she has no one to look to, save you. Mrs. Gisei, you are a woman and, though time has rendered your womb as barren as Carthaginian earth, you are still your husband’s bride. You have a responsibility not to cause him further concern.
Even now, you must both bear in mind that death is inseparable from life, solace can exist even in the absence of hope, and the only granted certainty is that you will both die today. Within this very hour. I will tell you why, but first there must be rules. This is a rule: forget about the gun currently trained on your heads. The gun will still be there, regardless of whether or not you think about it, and thinking about it will only distract you from what is truly important and that is the words in front of you. I can certainly imagine how surprised you must have been when a uniformed courier appeared at your door so late at night. How absurd he must have looked in that bellhop’s outfit and that ridiculous little hat, like an organ grinder’s monkey. So absurd that you didn’t notice the strange black object in his hand? You must have been startled by the speed and precision with which he subdued your struggles, bound your limbs, and affixed a ball-gag in your mouth. Do not let the outfit fool you. He is a professional. If you have to think of him as something, think of him as Mr. Hitori. This is also a rule: if either of you attempt to escape or communicate with one another, if you should do anything besides continue to read, Mr. Hitori has instructions to shoot Mrs. Gisei in both of her knees. This will be quite painful and, of course, it will ruin those lovely silk pajama bottoms she wore to bed.
As a point of clarification, I want you to know that Mr. Hitori is not me. He cannot even read this letter because he is an American-born Korean who does not speak more than a few words of Japanese. There are other differences between us, but our chief distinction is that—while he will be the one that will fire a bullet into each of your brains—I am your actual murderer and he is not. Do not blame Mr. Hitori. Many men would strangle their mothers for half the amount that I am paying him. His primary task is to ensure that you both read this letter. I apologize for any measures he has taken under his own recognizance to compel you in this regard. If he is doing his job correctly, he will have already told you to grunt each time you are both ready for him to turn the page. His secondary task is to end both of your lives at an appointed time. Know that, when the time comes, there will be a hollow pop and then nothing.
It will seem strange to you, but earlier today photojournalists from a host of international news organizations took my picture as I stood in the company of a dozen rescued Sudanese orphans. I held them close to me while the cameras flashed and all I could think about was bone fragments and pulped brain matter. Yours, specifically. But I digress. Mr. and Mrs. Gisei, know that, while I have provided you with enough time to read my entire letter, there is not enough of it to waste in useless struggle or speculation. I will not tell you how many or how few minutes you have left, save that it is a matter of minutes. Their expiration is fixed and immutable. I have measured the threads of your lives and soon I will close the shears. But if you read steadily, if you do not over-hurry, perhaps you will understand. What follows is not an excuse. What I am doing to you is inexcusable. While the lives you have led were not perfect, they were—in my opinion—honest. Mr. Gisei, your career at the Shinjuku pharmaceutical firm was well regarded by your superiors; I have personally read several of their consistently positive evaluations of your yearly performance. You retired last year with the genuine respect of your peers. In 2003, you successfully overcame your addiction to Xanax with the assistance of your friends and family. It is admirable to struggle, fall, and rise again. You have financially supported your older brother, Hideki, since he lost everything in a failed real estate venture. It is admirable to take care of your family, even when they let you down.
Mrs. Gisei, you broke off your engagement with your college sweetheart in order to honor the wishes of your family and marry Mr. Gisei. You bore and raised his two sons, both of whom are experiencing modest but genuine success in their respective fields. When your mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s you brought her into your own home and personally tended to her for the five years it took her to die. Though you have occasionally contacted your ex-fiancé, neither of you were ever unfaithful to your spouses. It is admirable to stay true to your commitments. In 1979, you were pregnant with Mr. Gisei’s third child. You arranged an abortion the day after you found out. It is admirable to take control of your own life. After the procedure, you went to the Purple Cloud Temple and spent three days asking for forgiveness from the life that had been growing inside you. Though I cannot be certain, I would imagine that you cried. It is admirable to take responsibility for your decisions.
I am telling you these things it in order to demonstrate that there is a purpose; that the wheels which turn behind the visible world are occasionally set in motion by the hands of man or, in my case, a malformed thing that wears the suit of a man. Mr. and Mrs. Gisei, understand that I chose you to die but I did so neither for punishment nor revenge. I find those notions absurd—sliding retributions back and forth like abacus beads as if there was such a thing as balance. Your murders are not something that should happen; they are something that must happen. I studied your lives before I sent Mr. Hitori to you with an envelope in one immaculately gloved hand and a silenced pistol in the other. There is something about me that no living person knows and I will share it with you. Although the world at large believes that I am Japanese, although all of my friends, business partners, and even my three children unquestioningly consider me to be Japanese, I am not Japanese. I was born in 1932, in China, five weeks after the puppet-state of Manchukuo was officially declared to exist in accordance with the machinations of the Japanese imperial government. I am Chinese. While I am no nationalist, these things matter. We should all be permitted the dignity of knowing how our death originated, what organ the cancer began in, what factory floor the bullet shells were pressed on. I offer you that dignity now. My father was a minister of the Manchukuo government, a position which conferred no real political power. It was his vice-minister, Mr. Takahashi, who would make the actual administrative decisions. My older sister, Zhu, and I were oblivious to the larger events around us. We had no idea that, outside the confines of our mansion, thousands of people were being enslaved, exploited, and murdered. My memories of that time are of beauty. Bejeweled statues and scrolls of intricate calligraphy and all the finest art produced by centuries of Chinese history. My father told us that he was protecting it, protecting what was left of China from the imperial government and its greedy bureaucrats. He told Zhu and I that we had to keep it a secret or it would all go away. He let me hold a jade crane that was over a thousand years old. I did not know the kind of danger he was putting us in. I did not know that he had spent years secretly gathering every piece of ancient art he could find, all while hiding his activities from his Japanese masters. There was a time when I was convinced his only motives were practical, that he must have known the art would be one of the few things that would retain its value no matter who controlled our country. However, I am writing this letter using an artifact from his collection; a fountain pen that was once held by an Emperor. Embossed on its surface is an elaborate silver filigree depicting a five-toed dragon. I look at it and wonder if my father may truly have been moved by the illusions of beauty and nation.
No matter. I passed my oblivious days beneath the care of my tutors. My sister and I would sit before our mother while she read us Buddhist sutras. The moment she was finished with her sermonizing, Zhu and I would steal away to our own adventures. There was a system of caves that ran beneath our estate, tunnels my father had secretly excavated for his own purposes, and it was in those stone hollows where my sister and I would play. We would pretend that the caves were Naraka, a place our mother had warned us about in her endless lectures—a realm deep beneath the earth where people with bad karma are reborn into lives of agony and punishment. She said there was a special place down there for children who misbehaved, but we were not afraid. My father had laughingly told us that children never need fear torment. So we would go into those caves and play that we were devils and chase one another through the darkness. Naraka was just a game to us. We were only children and we did not know that hell could be real and encompassed entirely within the hearts of men. My father, I have come to realize, was a shrewd but not particularly cunning man. It was only a matter of time before the Japanese began to suspect him. Mr. and Mrs. Gisei, I am sure that you are beginning to appreciate how sudden and random it seems when uncontrollable forces, like men with guns, come to blow your life apart. Imagine how it felt when my mother shook me awake and told me we had to leave everything behind. My father used dynamite charges to destroy the house I had lived in all ten years of my life. I remember hearing the explosion as we ran through the darkness. Of course, no Chinese home would grant refuge to a collaborator and his family. My father bribed criminals to hide us and, once they had his money they immediately went to the Japanese to collect even more. My father must have sensed them coming because, not long before they arrived, he went into the toilet and opened his throat with a straight-razor. Men came for us, smashing their way through the rotten wood door. My mother was seated like a desolate empress, one hand holding my wrist and the other holding Zhu’s. One of the men told her to stand up. She said no, that she obeyed no man but her husband and at the moment he was occupied in the washroom. Even when the man drew his knife and waved it in her face, she would not stand. He stabbed her through the heart and she made a tiny sigh, as if most of her spirit had already left her body and the tiny fraction that still remained was relieved to follow in its wake.
Mrs. Gisei, you know what it is like to watch your mother die. Granted, after years of changing her diapers, perhaps you even entertained fantasies of stabbing her through the heart yourself. Regardless, it is a singularly educational experience. I do not remember what I thought or felt. The thing that I am now does not have the same heart as the child I was then. Even as I write these words, I feel nothing but a sense of practiced repetition, the distinct feeling that I have had to teach myself that these things happened to me. Perhaps they never did, though I do not seek to philosophize about subjective reality or add layers of metatextual ambiguity to your reading experience. So much is obscured by doubt, filtered through fragments of traumatized recollection and my own obvious madness. Please keep in mind that the only immutable reality is that you will both die at the conclusion of this letter.
Zhu and I were separated. They put me on a crowded bus full of prisoners dressed in stained rags. They brought us to a huge, concrete building. The Japanese had told the local authorities that it was a lumber mill, and so the soldiers stationed there called us logs. I did not know what was going to happen to me and that was a blessing. I had been remanded to the custody of Division 2 of the Army Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory, otherwise known as Unit 731. I remember my cell. It was a small cold dim place. Sometimes big men would come and take me out of it. They would escort me through clean, electrically-lit halls, to the room where the procedures were performed, and sometimes we would pass other prisoners. I once saw a white man in the hallways. He had an enormous, brambly beard and bulging eyes. His arms had been amputated and reattached to the opposite sides of his body. They hung inanimate and already rotting, held in place by perversely neat sutures. I would hear screaming all the time. It was so constant that eventually I barely noticed it at all. The only sounds that would surprise me were the occasional explosions. It turned out the scientists were testing grenades on living targets—an experiment that seems to me like a foregone conclusion, but I am no scientist. I did not give much thought to the other logs. There was too much pain. It was another small, electrically lit room where the doctors did their work on me. In my recollections of these men in white coats, for some reason they all have my father’s face… except for the one with the clipboard. He was old and bald. He was in charge of the others. The guards would undress me, strap me to a cold metal table, and hold me down while the doctors did their work. I do not know how many times it happened. Broad swaths of my skin became translucent. I remember seeing the thin veins pulsing beneath it and wondering why I couldn’t will them to stop, why I couldn’t still their idiotic, repetitive motion. When I went to touch them, I found that my skin stuck to my fingers and came away in thin, painful strands. There were injections. Thick plastic gloves. Petri dishes. Swabs. Sometimes there were knives and the guard had to strain to hold me down. The procedures, in accordance with unit policy, were performed without anesthesia to avoid tainting their data.
I spoke some Japanese. My father had insisted I learn it. I tried to put it to use now. I cried out to them in their own language to stop, to please stop. Help me. Stop. Help me. Please. These were the words I would repeat to myself constantly, ritualistically, in the months that followed, laying on the floor of my cell while huge scabs formed all across my body like a caterpillar’s cocoon. Help me. Stop. Help me. Please. I forgot the rest of language, forgot that my mouth could be made to produce any other sound. I never hated the guards who held me down or even the doctors who would bandage me with the same professional care they had taken in mutilating me. All of my hatred was for the old, bald doctor. He would not touch me. He would watch me writhe and scream and then scribble little notes on his clipboard. Even now, though I have been transmuted into something entirely other from that suffering boy, I remember that hatred. Why don’t you see me? That’s what I wanted to ask him. How can you look at me and not see me? Perhaps this is why I take the time and care to know my own victims so well. I hope you feel seen, Mr. Gisei. I hope you feel known, Mrs. Gisei. I might be a devil straight from the twisted, recursive hells of Naraka, but at least I make no pretensions of clinical detachment. I would lay shivering and immobile in my cell, sometimes afraid that I would die and sometimes afraid that I would go on living. My entire body would itch intensely and I would feebly tear at my scabs. They fed me a thin, tasteless broth. Sometimes there were pills half-heartedly mashed into it and I would drink it anyway. Mr. and Mrs. Gisei, in this regard human beings are no different than dogs or rats. Whatever the state of the mind or soul, no body wants to give up the life inside it.
Once in a while, a medic would come to my cell, to re-apply my bandages or take samples of my scabs. I would say those words. Stop. Help me. He would ignore them. Gradually, the scabs fell away, revealing what was left of my skin—gray and scarred unrecognizable. I would burn. I would freeze. It seemed endless. Until the day the guard opened my cell and brought me to the room where the doctors were waiting. That was the day they gave me the injection that killed me. I was strapped to the table. I was held down. This time, the note-taker lay down his clip-board and administered the procedure himself. The other doctors watched. He held a massive hypodermic needle that he fastidiously sterilized. Then he shuffled to the edge of the table and looked down at me as if to say “This might pinch.” Then he rammed the needle through my sternum. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t scream. I remembered my mother, the soldier who killed her, the knife. Help me. My father and the jade crane. Please. My mother, my skin, the knife. Please stop. My mind flew out of that room, across Manchukuo, to the ruins of my father’s house. Help me. Down into the caves. Help me. Naraka. Deeper, deeper than ever before. Help me. Naraka. Please. It’s waiting for me there. Help me please. It’s always been waiting. Naraka. I went down into that cave and I never came back again. And what was my last thought as a human being? Mr. and Mrs. Gisei, I will tell you now that I wondered why he had bothered to clean the needle. But it is no ghost that pens this letter or guides Mr. Hitori’s able hand.
Yes, for a time I lay insensate in a realm beneath the living world, but only a part of me stayed there. Something found me in that place. It saw that I had been hollowed out and it crawled inside. I felt it in the desperate gasp that filled my lungs as I returned to my body, when my eyes flickered open upon a new world. The sky was above me and twisted all about me were pale human limbs. Frozen hands, frozen faces. They were piled high; naked, bald, twisted in rigor mortis. This was the altar of my rebirth. I felt nothing as I descended it. I began to walk. Each step carried me through the mists of a gray fugue. Everything was vague and nameless save the few objects that made themselves real to me. There was the blackened stump of a lightning-split tree. There was an enormous, iron wheel sunk halfway into the earth. They appeared only for a moment in deference to me, revealing the symbols of a secret alphabet that I now had the right to know. I was no longer human. I had become something else: darkness made manifest in the shambling ruins of a human child. I wandered through that still twilight without memory or purpose. I was not alarmed when I saw the shapes of men in the distance, many men moving towards me. Even when I saw their uniforms and rifles, I did not think to fear. If I had known then that they were a platoon of Japanese soldiers on patrol, it would have made no difference. They saw me and that was enough to stop them in their tracks. Mr. and Mrs. Gisei, please reflect on the strange wonder that, even in the midst of war, some horrors are still magnificent enough to give men pause. But then, neither of you knew anything of true horror until very recently. Like you, those soldiers learned a lesson that day. They were around me, whispering and arguing. Eventually, one was pushed forward. His eyes were wet and shook in their sockets. He raised the butt of his rifle, making ready to bring its mercy down on my skull. But then my mouth began to make those uncontrollable sounds again. They were the words I had repeated so often in my cell and on the operating table. Japanese words. Stop. Please. Help me. They all began to shout at one another. My mutilated skin meant I could have been anything, could have been anyone’s son passed through a fire and left to die. Anyone might be a casualty by now. Listen to it speak. Listen to what it’s saying. Then the soldier who had been chosen to bash my brains out, he set his rifle down. He reached into his pack and from it he pulled a thick wool blanket. He bundled it around me, covering my nudity and my scars. Then he effortlessly lifted me into his arms; I must have weighed next to nothing. He whispered something to me that I am sure was intended as a kindness. He was a person like the two of you, Mr. and Mrs. Gisei. A person who gets to keep the trappings of human decency, a person who gets to stay a person. I would have bitten his throat out, if I had possessed the strength. But my body was diminished past endurance and, as I lay swaddled and pressed against that soldier’s chest, sleep flowed over me.
I do not know what infernal miracle preserved my wretched life. I only know enough to guess. I have read the Japanese government’s classified files concerning Manchukuo, files that only I and a handful of others know to exist. Those meticulous records taught me much about the details of my own life. In their pages, I saw the official notes on the investigation of my father, along with the order for his execution. I learned how that my beautiful Zhu, the constant companion of my childhood, was left to rot in a comfort women camp, where she eventually died of infection. Can you guess what I felt when I read this information, Mr. Gisei? If your first thought was “nothing” then congratulations on paying attention. I even know the names and fates of the doctors who experimented on me. The worst ones were secretly given amnesty by the United States government in exchange for their research data. I take a certain joy from that, Mrs. Gisei, in part because it means the other logs and I made a meaningful contribution to the advancement of medical science and mostly because it confirms the, shall we say, pessimistic worldview that metastasized in me during my time as a guest of Unit 731. The files showed me all of that, but I was never able to find a record documenting the procedures that were performed on me. The old man scribbled all those notes, it seems, for nothing. Is it not a shame? We have lost the data which proved that a human soul can be extracted and murdered. My file must have been lost in the panic that heralded the Soviet invasion in the months prior to Operation August Storm. The staff of Unit 731 did not have the time to dig graves deep enough to hide even a fraction of their crimes. They simply drove the bodies into unpopulated areas and dumped en masse. There must have been too much confusion to tell the difference between the dead and the nearly dead. A bit of chaos and they lost all sense of scientific procedure. I am sure both of you are now wishing that they had done a better job of maintaining their professionalism. But remember, Mr. and Mrs. Gisei, history took only one shape—this one—and it increasingly resembles a corkscrew burrowing its way through a human skull.
I left China, my mind floating in a soot haze at the edges of consciousness and sense. I have dim memories of a cramped refugee ship and the ocean’s low rumble. I was brought to a large port-city in Kyushu where the soldier handed me off to some female relation of his. She was a thin woman with cool hands and she force-fed me until I was strong enough to walk again. I still had no memory, but I learned rudimentary Japanese quickly and it was not long before I slipped away from my would-be caretaker before I did anything too terrible to her. My disfigured flesh often proved to be a surprising advantage for my life in Japan. People saw my skin and assumed I’d been caught in an Allied fire-bombing. As a result, many of them extended hospitality to me no matter how bad off they themselves were. I wandered throughout southern Kyushu, surviving on that generosity, searching for something I could not name but knew I needed to find. I had such a longing in me; it was as if my fingers were meant to be an inch longer and I could feel always the phantasm of that absence.
Mr. and Mrs. Gisei, it occurs to me now that I should assure you both that I derive no sexual pleasure from either your current suffering or impending death. By way of addressing that concern, I freely admit that my time with Unit 731 rendered me physically incapable of experiencing sexual pleasure. My children are adopted. I required them for the sake of appearance. They were raised by hired caretakers. I never married. I tell you this because, while you will never be able to understand exactly what my motives are (that’s not what this letter is for, not really), I am confident it is possible for you to understand what they are not. Shall I describe my rise to material power & wealth? It’s a fairly predictable and prosaic affair. There was the horde of Chinese art hidden in the caves beneath our former estate and I alone knew of its existence. There was my fortuitous partnership with an American, an officer with the occupational force. He was an obtuse but useful man who listened to Wagner incessantly. The great tragedy of his life, I once heard him opine, was that he had been stationed in Japan instead of proud Germany. It was his insatiable need for high quality opera LPs that first brought him into contact with the post-War black market and into the circle of my acquaintance. In the decade following Hiro Hito’s surrender, we undertook the covert acquisition of my father’s collection and we sold it, piece by piece. We made a fortune and I became acquainted with the wider world. Our clientele was made up of European aristocrats, gauche Imams, nouveau riche Americans, and dozens of very respectable museums. By the time I was twenty-four, the collection was exhausted. My partner relocated to South America to live like a king with opera blaring in every room of his palace.
For my part, I stayed in Japan and invested wisely. I established construction companies to rebuild the cities, channeled funds into reestablishing the infrastructure. I was a driving force behind the so-called economic miracle that restored the nation which, while not my actual native land, had gone to such extraordinary lengths to make me what I am. Nearly a quarter of all the buildings in Tokyo still contain materials provided by my companies. My wealth grew exponentially as Japan rose from the ashes of the war and into unheard of prosperity. I, in a strange way, became an icon of the new Japan; the war-scarred patriot who defied adversity and, like the very country that he had so valiantly championed, transformed defeat into opportunity. I have funded most of Japan’s major political figures. The LDP asks for my approval before it appoints a Prime Minister. I have shaken hands with three different American Presidents—although, to be fair, one of them was Nixon. Dozens of heads of state and internationally syndicated publications have hailed me as one of the generation’s greatest philanthropists. I have contributed billions to fight world hunger, fund waste-management in the third world, and combat incurable diseases. I have even been described as a living saint. Mr. Gisei, even in your desperate extremity, I hope you can find it somewhere in yourself to think this is as funny as I do.
Doubtless, suspicions have begun to creep into one or both of your minds. Has this letter been an elaborate fiction? Perhaps I am actually Mr. Hitori and the true scope of your present situation is nothing more significant than three people in a small room, one of whom happens to be a dangerous lunatic. Rationally speaking, why would I restore and exalt a country and people I have every reason to despise with all my being? Yes, you have good cause to doubt the content of this letter and regard all that you have been forced to read until this point far as a cruel farce. Mr. and Mrs. Gisei, in complete and perfect candor, I am not writing this extremely long letter for your benefit. Nor are these words meant to sooth my conscience over having ended your small, honest lives. I am not seeking to absolve my guilt by making you two understand how painful and unusual my life has been. I do not feel guilt, not over you or anything I have ever done. We are nothing more than circumstance, bound by the causal chains that drag us along our inviolable march to the abyss. This letter is not for either of you. This letter is for me. You are only the ones reading it at gun-point. Thank you in advance for your understanding.
An hour ago, I concluded my daily longevity treatments. I dismissed my personal physician—a Swede whose skill is equaled only by his discretion. I feel no fear when he and his machines touch me. My body would have succumbed to its own frailty long ago if not for him and I have never forgotten that practiced art of passing into an impenetrable nullity where pain and thought cannot enter. Yes, even now, I do not want to die. I once saw a prophecy writ in a mushroom cloud and I must live to witness its fulfillment. My skin was still moist from the treatments and, to prepare myself for writing this letter, I stood naked in front of a full length mirror. The deeper scars on my chest look like toothless, salivating mouths. This is the only mirror I own. Under any other circumstance, I vigilantly avoid my own image. I do this for the same reason I have used my resources to suppress all records of Unit 731 and their activities, assuring that the Japanese government will continue to vigilantly deny any acknowledgment of culpability for the crimes against the human spirit that took place in Manchukuo, and to actively work towards a time when these matters will never again be discussed or even vaguely recollected. But sometimes I have no choice but to unhouse my mirror and regard myself as I truly am, and it is then I have no choice but to write a letter like this to people like you.
At this point, it should come as no surprise that this is the fourth time I have written an account of my life to a captive audience. The recipients are always a married couple—I do not know exactly why, perhaps it has to do with my irrevocable virginity, although I suspect that the truth is it’s just easier this way. Mr. Gisei, if it were only your own life on the line, would you have indulged me to this degree? But the thought of your poor bride’s knees being shot out in front of you, ruining those indulgent pajama pants? Yes, it is certainly easier this way. My writing process, such as it is, always begins when I, by whatever chance, happen to see them, this married couple—in this case, you two—with my own eyes and recognize in both of them the mixture of simplicity, conventionality, and sincerity that some might call decency or even goodness. Whatever one might label that quality, it shines out to me like a beacon when it is truly present in people. Once my instincts have been confirmed by an exhaustive background check, I grant myself permission to set events in motion. The first time it was a German couple, Mr. and Mrs. Opfer, in Frankfurt and that was twenty years ago. The original Mr. Hitori (there is a new one each time, all of them wear the same uniform) had such trouble compelling them to stop struggling and read the damn letter that he did actually shoot Mrs. Opfer in the kneecap. Since then, I have been sure to stipulate the existence of that consequence as near to the beginning of the letter as the formalities of composition will allow. The letter they read was significantly shorter than this one and far more of an incoherent ramble—I was obsessed with recapturing the minute details of my childhood and torture. I had not yet learned the importance of thoughtful editing. Still, there was something tremendously satisfying and irreproducible about those first clumsy strokes. The second couple was Parisian, Mr. and Mrs. Agneau, twelve years ago. Upon comparing the reports of each Mr. Hitori, it seems they read the most attentively. Though it is possible you two will out-do them. That letter was a mire of abstractions and pontifications. In it I continually hinted at the false possibility that a correct interpretation of the text might reveal a hidden word or phrase that would cancel Mr. Hitori’s orders. I no longer feel the need to indulge in that particular form of cruel pretense. The third couple was American, from New York, Mr. and Mrs. Tribute. I had business at the UN and I glimpsed the two of them from the window of my limousine, working together to repair their son’s bicycle. Mrs. Tribute actually attempted to throw her own head in front of the bullet intended for her husband. She missed, although that Mr. Hitori swore it was only by an instant, and in any case she did not have much time in which to regret it. That was two years ago and the letter was very similar, although I wasted too much of it attempting to articulate the historical and cultural intricacies of my dual identities.
You may have noticed both that you two are my only Japanese couple to-date and also that there obviously was a time when I found this impulse easier to control. I first marked you two for death in Kyoto. I apologize for the bluntness of that phrase, “marked for death”, but any euphemism I might use in its place would only be more horrific. You were in the audience at a Noh production of Dojoji. Normally, I find Noh Theater unbearably tedious, but my oldest son (a professional scholar of Japanese history) had insisted that I accompany him to this production. Watching it from the vantage of my private box, I found that it excited something in me. Do you remember the legend of Dojoji Temple, Mr. and Mrs. Gisei? You saw it yourself but I suspect that, given your present circumstance, you might have some difficulty recollecting the specifics.
A handsome and virtuous monk is caught in a sudden rain and forced to seek shelter. Unfortunately, the only nearby enclosure is already occupied by a beautiful older woman whom the monk wisely recognizes as a sure source of temptation. But the lady is very kind in her attempts to coax him out of the storm and the monk eventually agrees to share the close quarters with her. What happens between them that night is their business alone, varying from telling to telling depending on the perversity of the teller’s imagination. The point is that, with the dawning of the next day, the monk is overcome with shame, either for the desires he acted upon or for the desires he resisted. He knows that the lady has fallen in love with him and perhaps he loves her as well, so he preserves himself by fleeing while she sleeps. When she finally wakes and finds herself quite abandoned, the lady is seized by a torrent of rage and sorrow so intense that she transforms into a monstrous serpent. She relentlessly pursues the monk across oceans and mountains, finally catching up with him as he hides in the bell of Dojoji Temple. Reunited, the serpent and the monk die together, consumed by the flames of her passion.
As I watched this old legend played out once more on stage, I could not help but think—and with an unusual amount of intensity—how profoundly stupid it is. My heart actually began to beat noticeably faster, something that had not happened outside of my physical therapy sessions for decades. What deep and abiding idiocy, to think that intensity of feeling is what transforms a person into a monster. As if to feel beyond reason is not exactly the quality that defines what it is to be human. Take the two of you, for example. How much and how hard have you felt since Mr. Hitori began his work? The sheer terror, obviously, but the anger as well. And perhaps even love had its own place in this nightmare. Feeling is not what turns humans into serpents. That is what I came to as I watched those masked actors caper to ridiculous music and felt the throbbing in my chest. It is the absence of feeling that allows a man to become a monster. And, at the very moment in which that thought entered my mind, I glanced down into the audience and I saw you two, Mr. and Mrs. Gisei. I saw Mr. Gisei place his hand over yours, Mrs. Gisei, and you looked at him and, with your face in profile, I saw a smile that told me everything I needed to know. I decided that instant that both of you would die together, bound on the floor of the home you shared. Then I felt my heart slow and it was very reassuring.
Please understand, I cannot let myself be seen by living eyes. I will not allow that to happen yet. I acquired a vast fortune and took on the trappings of a saint, all to prevent people from seeing me until the time was right to be seen. But eventually I found that it was not enough. I needed to open the throat of a lamb. I needed the blood to spill down into Naraka. So, as long as I write a letter and send a Mr. Hitori whenever I feel that I might be near to giving myself away, I can appease the thing that mewls and writhes inside me. Mr. and Mrs. Gisei, can you even begin to comprehend why you died? And you are dead already, aren’t you? I always lie about having provided enough time to read the entire letter. As I said, it is not for you. I wonder how far you managed to get, Mrs. Gisei, before you heard the hollow pop, saw your husband, and knew that I lied. Pardon my presumptuousness, but I can practically imagine the look on your face. Mr. and Mrs. Agneau managed to get just past my description of my American business partner, and they were the best readers of the three. Perhaps you two managed to get farther?
I sincerely hope that you are the last couple I write to. Not to spare future innocents, mind you, but because I believe that the world is, at last, turning into a place where I will no longer have to conceal what I really am. The mushroom cloud prophecy that emerged from this little island nation suggests to me a future where monsters like myself can shamble into plain view and do whatever we want, whenever we want to do it. The time of the Bodhisattvas has passed into so much dust. There will be no more hiding, no more need for masks. Our urge to annihilate ourselves and one another is our only destiny. Mr. and Mrs. Gisei, you are so lucky to be dead. Soon, I will place the call to summon Mr. Hitori in his ridiculous outfit. For now I can lay down my father’s pen and live as if I were still a man. I will continue on until I see the world become Naraka. I am eclipsed, untouched, in the dark. I am safe. No one can find me here. Mr. Hitori will destroy these pages utterly and their words shall be commended to the eyes of the dead alone, to your eyes.
No one at all
“Raiff Taranday is an emerging author and veteran elementary school teacher from Boston, MA. You can check out more of his work on ‘The Rumen’ and ‘A Thin Slice of Anxiety’ literary blogs. His stories will also appear in upcoming editions of ‘Penumbric’ and ‘Savage Planet’ magazines.”
The Blue Ghost
by Taija Morgan
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai podcast.
Marjorie Liddell had never seen a ghost, but she wanted to more than anything in the world. She hoped the lady sitting across from her could help. She tried to sit patiently, but her heart thrummed beneath the starchy white fabric of her dress.
A stout lady with flowing grey locks placed three tarot cards on the table in front of her.
Marjorie wiped her clammy palms on her skirt beneath the tablecloth. The warm, sugary scents of popcorn and candyfloss from the bustling fair beyond the tent flaps permeated every surface. Her gaze lifted to the woman’s light-grey eyes, so like Marjorie’s father’s, and that had to mean something, didn’t it? Surely, it was a sign.
“This is your first time,” Madame Josephine stated. Not a question, but a comment. Already, this fortune teller could read her. The woman’s spindly fingers touched an amulet that adorned her collarbone, a golden pendant shaped like an eye. Her red lips pursed. “And your last.”
Marjorie leaned forward. “My last?”
The woman waved a bejewelled hand. “We start with the cards.”
“But I only—”
“The cards,” the woman said. “Your future. Every young lady wants to know her future.”
Marjorie looked away. Her short nails dug crescent moons into her palms as she clutched her hands in her lap. This wasn’t what she came here for. She could think of nothing more irrelevant than the future.
“Go ahead, dearie. Flip the cards.”
Marjorie’s long fingers brushed across the tabletop, then stilled. “Myself?”
The woman nodded. Charlatan, Marjorie’s father would have called her. He’d be so ashamed to see his only daughter huddled here in this dark tent, surrounded by guttering candles and shiny occult statues. His staunch Catholic upbringing would never have allowed it. But what choice did she have?
Marjorie reached for the first card and flipped it over. It was upside down. XVIIII inscribed the top, while the bottom said Le Soleil. Two figures stood beneath a blazing sun.
She remembered her own surprise upon seeing the open casket, the slack face within usually so expressive. How dark he’d gotten, she’d thought at the time. She’d expected him to be pale in death, the way she’d seen others. But his skin had held the red-brown tinge of sunburn, and she’d imagined the sun beating down upon his back, his uniform soaked through with sweat as he crawled through the dirt. The artillery fire would have been deafening. And how had his face been burned so? Maybe only after hours of lying on his back in the field, bleeding out into the parched earth in his final moments, skin sizzling under the open sky. Marjorie shivered, chilled.
“The Sun card, reversed.” Madame Josephine sighed. “Much sadness has enveloped you in your young life. So true of many during the war.” She reached out and patted the back of Marjorie’s hand. “Your future shows darkness.”
Marjorie pulled back, her azure eyes wide. “Darkness?”
Madame Josephine didn’t elaborate. “Next.”
Taking a breath, Marjorie flipped the second thick, worn card. Its surface was grimy at the edges from a thousand other fingers touching their futures. This, too, she viewed upside down. XXI, Le Monde. A small figure stood in an oval. An angel, an eagle, a bull, and a lion filled the four corners.
“The World. Also in reverse,” Madame Josephine said.
Yes, Marjorie thought, the world. A hungry place with sharp teeth. Cold and insatiable. It was the world that took her father from her. It took, and took, and always demanded more. For God, for country. For the mercurial will of those who controlled it. But she would forgive it all for just one more moment with him, to know that this world wasn’t all there was.
Marjorie glanced up, meeting the woman’s cloudy grey eyes. She wondered for a moment if she were blind—if she couldn’t see the cards at all, but rather could see them. And if so, what else could the woman see?
Madame Josephine frowned, the action pulling her sagging jowls. “In reverse, it speaks of incompletion. Unfinished business. A lack of closure.”
Marjorie gasped. “Yes. Yes, that’s exactly it. No closure. That’s why I—”
“This reading pertains to your future, dearie. It is what you can expect, not what you are already familiar with.”
Sitting back in the uncomfortable wooden chair, Marjorie twisted a long curl of black hair between her fingers. Her mouth was dry, an earthy flavour lingering at the back of her throat. “Are you saying I’ll never have closure?”
“The next card, dearie. The last card.”
With a huff, Marjorie flipped it over. Like the other two, it faced away from her. X, La Roue De Fortune. A wheel surrounded by winged creatures.
Madame Josephine sucked air between her teeth. “The Wheel of Fortune in reverse. Bad luck, dearie.” She pulled the cards back, shuffling them into her deck.
Bad luck? What did that even mean? It didn’t seem fair. Three bad draws after she’d paid good money for this vague and disheartening insight. “I didn’t come to see my future.”
“No. You came to see your past. But there is no going back. The past is gone.”
Marjorie blinked back tears. “That’s not true. He can’t be gone. My father—”
“He died in the war.”
“Yes!” Marjorie straightened, looking around the dim tent. The shadows seemed to writhe with the possibility of life—life after death. Was he here with them now? Could he see her? Was he trying to speak?
“Everyone has lost family in the war. Every young lady who comes in here. Fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, beaus. They’re gone. There’s no justice or solace to it, they’re simply gone.”
She choked, her throat tightening. “But you see them, don’t you? You can still see them, so they’re not gone, they’re—”
“The only ghosts I see are the people sitting at my table.”
Marjorie’s vision blurred. She swiped at her cheeks and bit down on her trembling lower lip. “But I paid you…”
“I’m sorry to say not every customer leaves satisfied. I wish I could give you peace, but your cards are clear.”
She sniffled, cheeks heating. She should never have come here. Crying in front of some stranger, like a child. Foolish girl. “That’s it?”
The woman stared at her for a long moment. “My dear child, I’m afraid some very bad omens surround you. Your aura is the most peculiar shade of blue. Bright. Unstable. Normally this would suggest creativity, self-expression. But yours…” Madame Josephine shook her head. “The only comfort I can offer is that the end is near for you, and fate will guide your path to the other side of your woes.”
Sputtering, Marjorie rose from her chair. Her fists clenched at her sides. Her tongue wanted to unleash something sharp and cutting, but her throat was too tight for words to pass.
Madame Josephine slid Marjorie’s coins across the table. “Take them. And good luck.”
Had she just been rejected by a fortune teller? Marjorie’s mind spun as she slid her money into her pocketbook and stormed out of the dark tent.
The bright sun blinded her. People shoved past. Children laughed. Music played from the centre square.
A warm hand landed on her shoulder. Marjorie blinked until her vision cleared.
“There you are. I was looking everywhere.” Her friend, Angela, stood beside her in a pink dress, the matching ribbon holding her blonde hair back in a short ponytail. Angela frowned. “Are you all right?”
Rubbing at her wet cheeks, Marjorie muttered, “I’m fine. Forget it.”
Tilting her head to one side, Angela looped her arm through Marjorie’s and pulled her along. “I was thinking we could go to the dancehall tonight.”
“I don’t feel like it.”
Angela pouted. “You heard the rumours, didn’t you?”
Marjorie stopped. “Rumours?”
“About the dancehall. Supposedly, it’s haunted,” Angela said, whispering the word haunted as if it were a dirty secret, though her eyes were bright. “Come on, Marj, it’ll be a gas.”
Haunted. The fist around Marjorie’s heart loosened its hold. “All right. Let’s go dancing.”
The dancehall vibrated with activity.
Upon the stage, a local band played Sinatra’s latest hit Five Minutes More. Behind them, an old mural was painted with wall—dancers, hand-in-hand as they wheeled around a blue-and-green earth.
Couples twirled across the dancefloor. The ladies wore beautiful hats and large bows pinned in their hair. The simple utility dresses Marjorie had grown so used to were still common among the crowd—padded shoulders, nipped-in waistlines, and hems falling just below the knee in a range of colours and patterns—but they were beginning to give way to a new wave of fashion as the world tried to forget all it had lost.
Most of the men wore boxy suits in tweed, but some retained their uniforms even though the war had ended. The many empty, pinned sleeves and crutches attested that the war would never truly be over. Some chose to stay on with the military, either through dedication or because they no longer had anywhere else to call home.
Marjorie’s own utility dress was a light blue, simple but clean. Her long black hair hung in curls. If she were honest, she didn’t want to be here. There were too many happy people laughing and chatting and pretending everything would be better now. But there was a possibility, however slim, that she might see something tonight. Something to confirm, once and for all, that life continued beyond the veil of death.
“Our cousin Virginia swears she saw it in the ladies’ room only last week, and she’s been sick ever since.” Angela slid a new glass of punch in front of Marjorie as she dropped into a chair. The small, round table was cluttered with empty glasses. “A bright-blue figure. They call it The Blue Ghost.”
“A blue ghost?” Angela’s older brother, Leo, laughed at Marjorie’s side. “That doesn’t sound very scary.”
“It is!” Angela argued. “They say it’s a bad omen if you see it.”
“Who says?” Leo asked over the loud saxophones and trumpets.
Angela shrugged. “Everybody.”
Leo slid his gaze over to Marjorie and rolled his eyes conspiratorially. From the dancefloor, two figures emerged and headed toward their table. Marjorie recognised one as Leo’s friend from the war, Ferdinand. The other was an American boy still in uniform. An eagle crest marked him as a volunteer with the Eagle Squadron of the Royal Air Force, someone who would have joined the fight even before his own country committed to the war efforts.
The American smiled at her with bright eyes as he and Ferdinand took their seats. “Arnold,” he introduced himself, reaching out to shake her hand. “Pleasure to meet you, miss.”
It was at times like these she felt as if she could see the future herself. A warm hand in hers on the dancefloor, those icy-blue eyes staring into her own with a whole life laid out before them. But something always pulled her back into herself, and the illusion would fade. The fortune teller had been a disappointment today, but she’d seen Marjorie for what she truly was—a ghost sitting at her table. Ghosts had no future.
Marjorie shook the boy’s hand without making eye contact.
“Apparently, a girl died here, back in the twenties,” Angela said, continuing their conversation without missing a beat. “And now she haunts the place, still wearing a flapper dress with pearls. If you see her, something bad is about to happen.”
Leo scowled. “Don’t say things like that, Angie. It’s not true. Virginia just caught a bug.”
“It is true!”
“I believe it,” Ferdinand said, earning a grin from Angela. “I met a psychic once. She knew I was a Taurus even before I said anything. She said I’d survive the war.” He spread his hands wide. “And here I am. The wheel of fortune is always spinning through our lives.”
A hushed murmur rolled over the table.
“Marj saw a fortune teller at the fair today,” Angela declared. “Didn’t you?”
All eyes turned to Marjorie. She felt her face heat. “Ang,” she scolded.
“Tell us!” Angela said, rocking forward in her chair.
Arnold raised an eyebrow. “What did the fortune teller say?”
Images of tarot cards flashed through her mind—worn, the colours faded, foxing around the edges. The Sun, The World, The Wheel of Fortune, a bright future flipped upside down into darkness, incompletion, and bad luck. Her stomach sank.
Marjorie slid her chair back and stood. “Excuse me.”
Angela grabbed her arm. “Marj, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up. You aren’t using the lav, are you?” Her eyes were wide. Angela would usually accompany her everywhere, but she looked genuinely afraid to do so now and she certainly didn’t offer.
Marjorie shook her friend off and chuckled. “I’ll only be a minute.”
She could sense Angela’s frown on her back as she exited the dancefloor, leaving her friends behind. She followed the signs that led her down a narrow hallway. The din of the music halved as the doors closed, leaving only the tinny echo of voices and instruments.
The fortune teller may not have seen her father, but Marjorie wasn’t willing to give up that easily. She had to know. If the lingering spirit of a woman who died more than twenty years ago could still be in this dancehall, then why couldn’t Marjorie’s father still be around? If strangers could see a dead woman, why couldn’t she see her own father?
The hallway was dimly lit. Her low black heels clicked on the off-white tiles. A few women tucked by her on their way back to the dancefloor, giggling, whispering.
As Marjorie stepped in front of the door to the ladies’ room, the power flickered out. The dim hallway fell into complete darkness. Something banged on the other side of the door.
Her breath caught in her chest. The music silenced, but she could still hear a muted chatter of surprised voices.
Marjorie shivered, regretting leaving her sweater behind. Her first instinct, in the dark, was to duck and cover, listening for the whine of bombs rocketing through the sky like falling stars.
She tucked into the wide doorway, pressing her back to the thick, lacquered wood. Her heart harboured a hair-trigger as she prepared for the ear-splitting wail of an air raid siren.
Moments passed, but it didn’t come.
The war was over. There was nothing to be afraid of anymore. It was just a blackout. Marjorie took a deep breath and stood.
Beneath the muffled voices coming from the dancefloor, she heard something else. She cocked her head, listening in the darkness, listening to the darkness. Water. It was the sound of rushing water.
She pressed her palm against the door and eased it open. The sound was louder now and as she took a step forward into the space, her shoes splashed at the edge of a puddle.
A leak, or a broken pipe. Moonlight streamed in through a small window in the far corner. Just enough for her to see that she was ruining her good shoes.
Stomach fluttering, she eyed the stalls. Shadows squirmed in every corner. The stakes seemed higher with the lights out; her craving to see a ghost suddenly more foolish. Just as she was about to turn back, a spark in the mirror caught her eye—bright and blue.
Marjorie gasped. She was here—The Blue Ghost.
Shivering, Marjorie stepped forward.
The lights flickered back on and Marjorie’s vision filled with a bright flash. Her muscles snapped tight and rigid. The air froze in her chest. She fell to the floor.
Marjorie’s eyes blinked open. She pulled herself up, smoothing down her dress. Her mind stumbled in fits and starts as she glanced around the room.
The power had gone out. It had come back on. She was in the ladies’ room at the dancehall. Maybe she slipped in the water.
Marjorie glanced down at the floor. There was no longer a pool of water there. The black tiles beneath her were clean and dry. She could have sworn they’d been white moments ago. Had she hit her head?
Her fingers explored her hairline. No blood. Nothing hurt. How long had she been on the floor? It couldn’t have been terribly long—the night was still dark beyond the small window. She stood over the sink, taking in her pale complexion in the mirror.
Marjorie’s head snapped toward the door as the phantom sensation of a cold blade slid between her ribs. Her chest drew tight. She was alone. But that voice, she’d know it anywhere.
Her eyes welled. “Dad?”
He’d sounded far away. She rushed to the door and slipped out into the hall. Empty.
Swallowing, she called out for him as she walked down the hallway. The walls looked different than they had before, as if they’d gained a fresh coat of paint. Knowing her friends would be worried about her after the blackout, she headed toward the dancefloor, still listening for her father’s voice.
Bodies pressed through the doors to the dancefloor before Marjorie could open them, men and women tumbling out in a mess of bright, colourful outfits. The men wore beards, their hair shaggy and long. The women’s skirts were indecently short, hair long and wild. They walked by her through the hall. A costume party? Her mind spun.
“Angie?” she called, stepping into the dancehall.
The music had returned. A new, fast beat. It was a song she wasn’t familiar with—a man on stage announced it as My Generation. The crowd clapped and hooted uproariously.
This was the wrong room, she realised distantly. Except her table was where she’d left it, the long bar still stretching across one side of the space, the mural of the wheeling dancers and the earth were still on the wall, the windows and exits were all in the right places. But the colours were all wrong, the floor was shinier. Even the air itself was thick with an odd scent.
Her friends were gone. In their place sat a group of young people in the same strange costumes.
Marjorie walked up to them. “Have you seen my friends? They were sitting here before—”
Speaking amongst themselves, ignoring her, one of the women said, “It’s true, Greg. Some girl died here in the forties. Electrocuted in the toilets. They say she still haunts the place.”
Marjorie stepped back from the table, her heart hammering.
A man walked through her to reach his seat. Marjorie felt her whole body shift, slide, and snap back into place. She gasped.
The man shivered, turning up his collar. “Chilly in here.”
Marjorie ran out of the dancehall.
Her hands trembled, fingers tingling. Tears blurred her vision as she dashed through the front door of the building toward the cool night air—only to find herself standing once more in the ladies’ room.
Shaking her head, she tried again to leave, only to find herself back where she started.
Trembling, Marjorie gazed down at herself. She looked the same, felt the same. But something was wrong. This place was so different. And something was preventing her from leaving. Was this some horrible nightmare?
A girl came in wearing a short, shapeless leopard-print dress and heavy eye makeup. She walked past Marjorie and powdered her face in the mirror.
Marjorie reached out, touching the girl’s arm. “Please, you have to help me, I don’t understand what’s—”
The girl shivered violently. Her pink powder case clattered into the sink. Marjorie’s hand fell away as the girl grabbed her stomach and leaned over.
The door swung as another woman entered in similar attire. “Hey, groovy chick—whoa, Cassidy, are you okay?” She patted the girl’s back.
Cassidy shook her head, still hunched. “I don’t feel so well. I think I…I think I saw something in the mirror.”
Neither of the women paid Marjorie any attention.
“These mirrors?” Cassidy’s friend said. Her rose-painted lips drooped in a frown. “You know this place is haunted, right? Maybe you saw a ghost. It’s bad luck to see a ghost here.”
Cassidy grabbed onto her friend. “Don’t freak me out. Let’s just cut out early.”
The two turned to leave.
The doors swung softly closed behind them, leaving Marjorie alone, breathing hard.
She sank to the floor, leaning against the wall. They couldn’t see her. Something happened when she touched the girl. She’d hurt her. How was that even possible?
Marjorie knew the answer, but she didn’t want to admit it. If she was the ghost haunting this place, she’d have to be dead. And if she were dead, then where was her father?
She’d heard the soft cadence of his voice when she awoke, she knew it, but where was he? If this was death, they’d be together.
She wrapped her arms around her knees, rocking.
And The Blue Ghost…for a moment before the flash, Marjorie could have sworn she caught a glimpse of it in here. Her eyes welled. But if this were the afterlife, where had The Blue Ghost gone? Unless…she had taken its place.
Days and years seemed to pass, but the darkness beyond the window never changed. The sun never rose.
After her latest failed attempt to leave, Marjorie paced around the cursed room. This wasn’t fair. Her fists clenched at her sides. To be trapped here, to be alone. It wasn’t fair.
She huffed out a puff of air, but her lungs burned and she could hardly breathe through her tight throat. She dug her short nails into her palms.
If this is death, where is he?
Marjorie sobbed. She didn’t deserve this fate. Trapped in a darkened ladies’ room in an endless night. An unresolved past behind her and no future before her. She leaned over, clutching her aching chest.
A metallic whining echoed through the wall behind her, followed by a bang. A spray of water pooled on the floor beneath her feet. Marjorie stared as the pool expanded, the burst pipe clanking. She wiped at her damp cheeks.
This wasn’t the evidence of an afterlife she’d longed for. She wondered if death was the same for everyone—a cage. If her father was still on a battlefield somewhere, wandering.
There had to be a way out. She couldn’t stand it anymore. The four walls of her prison seemed to constrict, pressing in on her, crushing her.
The lights flickered, then extinguished, leaving the room in shadows.
“Margie?” a voice whispered.
Marjorie’s head whipped side to side, seeking out her father’s voice. Nothing stirred in the darkened corners. “Dad? Where are you?” She choked on a sob.
“How?” she shouted, voice echoing off the tiles.
The door swung open and Marjorie saw a bright light. For a moment, she thought it was the bright light, the one she should be going toward but could never find. Then she realised it wasn’t a light at all. It was a girl.
The girl shuffled in with her hands out in the darkness. She stepped in the puddle, glanced down, and mumbled, “Oh man. I just got these shoes.” Her fingers sought out the cool porcelain sink. She turned it on and washed her hands, sighing.
Marjorie stepped closer. A strange, soft blue glow seemed to emanate from the girl. An aura, Marjorie realised. Just as the fortune teller had described her own aura so long ago.
Electricity vibrated in the air between them. An invisible pull drew Marjorie closer still.
The girl blindly turned off the tap. A set of dog tags hung around her neck, dipping into the V of her blue dress. A small silver bracelet decorated with winged cherubs dangled from her wrist.
She didn’t seem to see Marjorie. But Marjorie saw her more clearly than she’d seen anyone before.
The girl dried her hands, her shoes still touching the edge of the growing puddle.
It was clear to Marjorie now. There would always be a blue ghost in this dancehall. But it didn’t have to be the same one.
The role of The Blue Ghost must always be filled. Marjorie had been some other girl’s replacement after more than twenty years of wandering. And this girl…she would be Marjorie’s.
This was her way out.
Marjorie reached out to touch her. Her eyes fell again to the dog tags around her neck. She hesitated.
What had this girl lost already? Marjorie’s chest tightened. She knew that pain, that loss, the unending agony of claws tearing and shredding her ribcage from the inside. Was it her fate to be condemned here like Marjorie was?
“Margie,” her father’s voice whispered from far away.
The girl tossed her dark hair back and moved toward the door. Maybe it was fate, after all. Marjorie had been here so long…and the wheel of fortune always turns eventually.
Marjorie’s hand landed on the girl’s shoulder. She twisted around with a gasp just as the lights flickered on and a blue jolt swept up her body.
The girl crumpled to the floor in a heap.
Marjorie closed her eyes.
When she opened them, she was in a field. The sun had risen and it fell warm against her skin, blanketing Marjorie’s previously cold world in life. Her heart swelled as a man in uniform walked toward her.
“Margie. I’ve waited so long to see you again.”
Taija Morgan is a horror, thriller, and suspense author with short stories and non-fiction articles published in various anthologies and magazines, including the Prairie Gothic anthology (2020) and Prairie Witch anthology (2022) from Prairie Soul Press, Tales to Terrify’s horror podcast (2022), Penitent’s Gold (The Seventh Terrace, 2022), and many others. She has degrees in psychology and sociology that contribute realism and insight to her dark, twisted fiction. Taija was the editor of Crime Writers of Canada’s 40th Anniversary anthology Cold Canadian Crime (2022). She is represented by Oli Munson with A.M. Heath. Find her at www.TaijaMorgan.com or www.linktr.ee/TaijaMorgan.
by Whitney R. Holp
"Faerie Dust" first appeared in "Underside Stories" on June 23, 2022.
Chuck Snow woke, writhing, on the floor of his one-bedroom apartment. His skin was crawling, his head blistered in the sunlight that stabbed him with its vicious rays, rays that poured through a crack in the curtains. He crawled to the coffee table and reached for the ceramic box wherein he kept his stash. He withdrew the little baggie and poured out what precious little there was onto the small round mirror, then carved it into two tiny rippers. They were dreadfully small, but he’d made sure to leave at least this much, and he railed them both in quick succession.
Then, there was the cold, pulsing bloom in his chest; he could feel the blood coursing through his veins. His hands trembled as he turned the baggie inside out so that he could lick clean the powder’s residue from the plastic. He lay back on the floor, enjoying the wonderful feeling suffusing him.
He’d been getting quite a habit of late. After all the years of suffering minimum wage jobs, he finally landed a gig that paid him nearly double minimum wage. That's when he could afford extra. That's when his life got better.
He knew his buzz would fade and that he’d soon be aching for more. So he got up, dressed and went out looking to score.
Chuck lived in an old brick apartment building near downtown, just a couple blocks from Vic Park, which was the hub of the city’s drug trade. An entire city block. Officials had named it Victoria Park, in honor of the late queen; but in some quarters it was known as Victim Park, for here was where drug-dealers and their clients often came to meet. The Park was close to the bus station, so the homeless and transients were known to shelter within its confines. Buskers performed there, and it was rife with prostitutes looking to earn a few dollars.
Chuck wasn’t one of those known as “the park kids,” a group of homeless drug addicts who lived in the park; he existed on their periphery, just close enough to their outer circle that he was able to buy drugs from them. (“White Faerie” was their euphemism taken from a 1980s pop song later covered by Rammstein.)
At first, he didn’t see anyone he knew in the park, just the usual scattering of skaters, sunbathers and stoners. There were a couple park kids sitting in the shade by the bandstand, but no dealers among them, nor anywhere else in sight. Then he spotted the tall gaunt frame of Don Morton sitting on a bench by the playground. Don was a familiar figure to those who frequented the Park, not only because he always dressed in black, had a Mephistopholean goatee, and was cruel, but also because it was universally agreed that he had the best drugs in the city. Chuck was just about to head over to him when he realized someone was calling him.
It was his old buddy, Skip Schnee, from high-school. Many of Chuck's earliest adventures with drugs had happened with Skip, progressing through adventures with nicotine, alcohol, weed, mushrooms, acid, cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, and onward. Skip was actually the person who’d got him onto Faerie Dust and even introduced him to his source.
Chuck had heard rumors that Skip was so hooked, he owed several grand to the man in black. This was highly unfortunate, as Don was known to sodomize or mutilate debtors as a means of collecting what couldn’t be paid. But once the hooks of addiction set in, one does anything to maintain an adequate level of intake, heedless of the consequences. And Chuck could tell just by looking at his friend that he was in a rank state of withdrawal. Desperate, wide eyes pleading, Skip asked if Chuck wanted to pitch for an 8-ball.
It was destiny – the reuniting of two lost souls with a common goal. Chuck handed Skip his share of the money and watched him trot over to take a seat beside the skeletal drug dealer. He overheard much of their exchange:
“You have my money?” said Don.
“I have this much,” said Skip. He handed Don the handful of bills Chuck gave him. Don counted it and put them in his pocket.
“This isn’t even close to what you owe me,” he said.
“Come on, man, you know I’m broke. I’m trying, man, I’m trying really hard. Come on, just give me something, just a little something to keep me going. I’ll bring more money soon, I promise.”
“Listen buddy, you’re not getting so much as a single grain of dust until I see some real cash.”
“But nothing. We’ll talk more when I’ve been paid back. Until then, fuck off.”
Skip looked like he would just collapse and let the shakes come down and carry him away; at this point it was hopeless to do anything but sit and quiver. Withdrawal made his mind like the keys of a typewriter, jamming all his thoughts; Chuck knew the feeling.
“Tell you what,” Don said with a tone of sinister tenderness. “I’ll give you a couple G’s right now, if you think you can have my money by midnight.” He caught Skip’s eye and continued: “But if you don’t have it by then, I’m gonna to cut off your middle finger and take that instead.”
Skip paused and considered this. It was an impossible bargain; he could only lose. Don’s temper was legendary among the park kids, some of whom said that when roused his anger was of such fury it would defy even death itself.
Nonetheless, Skip shook hands with the man. The little baggie passed from Don’s to his; the deal was done. Skip ran over to get Chuck and they hurried back to his place.
Within the safety and confines of Chuck's apartment, the ritual began. First the mirror was brought out, then the powder was poured onto it. Skip provided a razorblade, with which it was chopped up even more finely, then cut into a dozen quarter gram lines. It was ready. They both trembled in anticipation; this was what they lived for.
“Let’s dance,” he said.
They took turns insufflating the dust. Soon, the white faerie was upon them, her whispers tickling up and down their spines – an ecstasy of blood in the veins and waves of euphoria washing over them like fireworks going off in the brain.
But time passed, as it will, and soon the sun had set. A couple hours later the witching hour struck. Not long after that, there was a knock at the door.
Cold dread ripped down Chuck’s spine. He was terrified. He had forgotten all about Skip’s deal over the course of their indulgences, and now the man was here to collect his due. He could see the other’s mind race, trying to think of an excuse, a way out. There had to be. But panic had the effect of salt on his brain, killing all rational thought, much as the need for a rail had earlier. Chuck watched Skip answer the door: it was Don, of course, as it could only be. His face was like a mask, expressionless. He waited foolishly to be invited in. The door closed behind him and Chuck retreated from the room, wanting no part in what was about to take place; he went to the bathroom for a cigarette.
Through the door he heard Don say, “Do you have my money?”
Skip tried being coy. “I have it, I have it, it’s just not, uh, here…”
“Bull-shit,” said Don. “You remember our agreement. Give me what’s mine.”
Chuck peeked through the door in time to see Don pull out a huge butcher knife and charge at Skip. Skip tensed, eying the weapon – its blade glittered wicked sharp – then he grabbed Don’s arm and threw him against the wall, wresting the knife from his hand, and stabbing him with it – again and again. The blade did its work, piercing through fabric and flesh alike. Don’s eyes widened, his pupils shrank to pinpricks; he opened his mouth, a final curse upon his lips, and it was blood, not words, that spilled out. He fell back and slid to the floor, smearing the wall crimson.
Skip stepped back breathing heavily. He watched the body warily, knife at the ready, waiting to see if it would stir; it didn’t. After a moment’s consideration he knelt beside the so recently deceased and went through his pockets. From his jeans Skip extracted a fat wallet, some keys and candies; but the inner pocket of his coat was the jackpot: a three-finger bag of dust.
“Fuck yeah,” he said. Then he turned to Chuck, who stood watching in the doorway. “Help me with this, would you?” he said and gestured to the body.
“Okay,” said Chuck uneasily, watching the blood pool across the linoleum.
“But we’ll need some energy first.”
They reconvened at the coffee-table, where Skip cut over a dozen rippers, which were then railed in alternating succession. Thus energized, they set about getting rid of the evidence. They compressed the body into a fetal shape and stuffed it into a giant garbage bag, then wrapped the bag with a heavy blanket before storing it in the hallway closet. They scrubbed the blood off the wall and mopped the floor with bleach; the stained rags, they threw into the trash.
Tomorrow they would contend with the body’s disposal; tonight they celebrated. And so, with Marilyn Manson playing on the stereo, lines were cut – many more. Always in random configurations: lightning bolts to start with, then swastikas, constellations, etc. The mirror saw more dust in that one sitting than it had in a month. They danced well into the watches of the night and through the next day; it wasn’t until the following dawn’s first rays appeared that the faerie’s whispers ceased to entice as they once did. By the time Skip retired to the bedroom, Chuck’s heart was pounding like a trip-hammer and his brain was fried. He laid on the couch and tried to rest. He knew Skip was quite pleased with himself – there was enough dust here to last a few more days, and enough money to buy more when they ran out. “It turned out to be a good night after all,” he said.
Some time later Chuck was awakened by the sound of a door being opened and closed. He opened his eyes and saw someone standing outside the closet, a tall black shape. He couldn’t be certain because of the early morning gloom, but it could only be Skip checking on the body. Chuck had done enough blow to know a thing or two about the addict’s paranoid flights of fancy, for he had tasted of them himself. But there was nothing to worry about here: Don was dead. And the dead don’t get up and walk around.
The shape was motionless for a while. It might have been watching Chuck as he lay there on the couch, it might not have been. He began to worry – was he next? Kill the witness?
Then the black shape turned and shambled through the bedroom doorway and was gone. Chuck closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep. Moments later he heard a horrified scream in the next room. Then furniture shifting violently. Another scream, this one anguished, heavy boot steps under, followed by shattered glass and the jangling of metallic blinds.
Chuck was up instantly. He and Skip were in possession of a murdered drug dealer and a substantial amount of cocaine – if the neighbors called the cops they were screwed. He found the room in disarray. He raced to the bedroom. The dresser was overturned, various objects were strewn about. The vertical slats covering the window were crumpled from being shoved aside and rippled noisily in the breeze. Whoever had been in the room had to have escaped through that window… and it was an eight-floor drop to the sidewalk.
Skip was huddled in the corner, knees drawn up, shuddering convulsively. His hand was wrapped in a bed sheet that was rapidly turning scarlet. The police arrived within minutes, having been summoned by the neighbors, as Chuck feared they would. They seized everything and took the two young friends to the station for questioning. Oddly, the cops never found Don’s body during their search; it seemed to have mysteriously vanished, and neither Chuck nor Skip said anything about it. Both boys appeared vaguely traumatized somehow, or at the very least, terribly spooked. The police interrogations revealed nothing and in the end all they were charged with was possession of narcotics.
For reasons that are perhaps best unknown, that was the last time Chuck Snow ever danced with the white faerie. Other details about what happened the night of Don Morton’s disappearance are scarce. The park kids are a secretive bunch and don’t talk readily to outsiders. Skip showed up a few weeks later, his hand wrapped in a bandage; he lost most of his hair due to a recently developed nervous condition, and generally spoke little. Don is thought by some to have skipped town and gone out west, but no one can prove whether that’s true or not. Chuck Snow never stopped thinking about what the park kids said about Don, about his deathless fury. All he knew was that when the last fold of fabric fell away from Skip’s hand that night, he saw that the middle finger had been torn right from the socket.
Whitney R. Holp is a student of surrealism. He seeks gnosis through dreams, intoxication, and objective chance. This story is from his unpublished book, Audra's Pennies.
by Linda Sparks
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai Podcast.
The moon was rising in slithering silver streams of light, casting deep shadows upon cold stone that had waited patiently for a glimmer of illumination. A cold wind tossed leaves into dervishes, spinning wildly, and then allowing them to flutter to earth to be absorbed or to be kicked by errant paws or feet that wandered off the path.
Silence shrouded the small group as they moved through the darkness with only a promise of moonlight. It mattered little, as they knew the path well and the places of those who resided here. Some had long ago melted their ooze into crisp, cold bones and the ultimate final reckoning of decay. Had they ever imagined that they would sleep the long slumber, weighted by stone and monument? The living often regarded such a finality as a remote future, ostensibly many years into that timeline that stretched before them.
With Samhain looming and the possibility of winter sacrifices being whispered about, October was the chosen month for these forays into the Cities of the Dead. The scent of pumpkins ripening in the farmer’s field and squash awaiting their plunder flourished in the night air, and nocturnal creatures scurried to taste them before the man came with his gun and his anger.
They moved swiftly, despite the fickle moonlight that flirted behind clouds. The wrought-iron gate they entered through shrieked in protest, perhaps not wishing to be disturbed by these night visitors, these invaders. The group always whispered words of welcome to those who awaited them and asked for permission to pass into their domain. It would be utterly foolhardy to assume their presence would not aggravate some of those who wished to sleep undeterred.
Ghost Girl whispered softly, “I feel them. Their vibrations move through the iron gate like electrical current. They are warning us to stay away.”
She was not afraid. None of the Cemetery Squad felt any trepidation or doubt about their purpose this night. Even if the hounds of hell rose from the fiery pits to dissuade them, they would continue with their mission.
They forged ahead with Ghost Girl leading the way, following the scent of the spirits as only she understood how to do. She had never thought of this ability as a curse, but it often depleted her energy because of the incessant needs of those spirits who wished to leave a message, who wanted someone to hear them or to see them. They did not like the idea that they were dead and some did not even realize that they had died. Those were the troublesome ones and they were often angry and vengeful. They wanted to do harm.
The Squad moved forward, deliberately stepping, cautiously weaving through the stones as though they followed a GPS, but it was their navigator's special connection with the dead that actually guided them.
They had visited this cemetery many times during the hours of sunlight and often spoke to those who lay beneath their stones, wishing them a peaceful rest, recognizing them in a way that others had long forgotten how to do.
The leaves rustled ominously, as though something Other passed this night within the gates and watched them and tracked their progress. This darkness could not be brightened by the shards of moonlight that swept through the stones. Though, it was not in a physical form, its malignant presence was undeniable.
An owl’s cry pierced the night but they did not pause, fully aware that predators came in many forms and such was the cycle of life and all things, that some must die so that others might live.
This night, the veil between worlds was gossamer thin, as beautiful as a spider’s web that might ensnare unwary prey into the strength of its trap. The coolness of the night spoke of cold, dead things and bodies that no longer warmed with the heat of blood. One of the Squad shivered slightly and then breathed deeply, once again girded by the strength of their purpose. They had to do this. There was no alternative.
For many weeks now, Ghost Girl had suffered from the violence of her visions and the interminable cry of the lost one who tried to reach her, persuade her, beg for release that only Ghost Girl could provide to a spirit who had not yet given up on the world of the living.
The sounds of their footsteps hitting the cold earth seemed to echo an alarm. Would their presence wake the dead? Who walked this place after the hours of sun, when the unimaginable often reigned? Yet, they persisted, moving in a formation, alert for any attack which might come from the fringes of darkness.
The mournful howl of a red wolf curled into their ears. Such creatures were rare in the wild. How had it come to join this night game that was afoot? What did this wolf at the brink of extinction wish to tell them, or was it enough that he voiced his plaintive song, reminding them that he was not yet gone and still fought for survival.
Was his night call an ominous warning? A challenge for those who walked this night uninvited and even now trespassed upon the peace of the nocturnal creatures and those souls who lay buried beneath the ground? Was there no Night Watchman to call out, “Who goes there?”
If they heard those words, would they dare to reply? For it was well known that to give one’s name was to invite danger and power that might be used against that person who was not cautious enough to guard their name.
The Cemetery Squad was accustomed to such diversions and they refused to allow any interference. Ghost Girl was progressively growing weaker as she struggled against this persistent spirit who begged her to help her. How could she deny the needs of one who could not free herself?
They reached their destination and scanned the surrounding area, checking their perimeter for anything unusual, although it was debatable as to what might be considered unusual in a graveyard after midnight, closing in on the witching hour and All Hallows Eve. Did the ancient ones walk the earth this night looking for solace? Lusting for the blood of sacrifice?
The clink of their shovel struck against one of the weighted stones. It sounded like a gunshot. The group looked around. Did those listening scurry to their hidey-holes or did they move in closer in curiosity or in hunger?
The Squad members took a moment to breathe deeply and assess their surroundings once again and they looked to Ghost Girl expectantly.
“I feel her heat,” she said. “She knows we are here. Yet, she is still angry. She will not be an easy one to lay to rest.”
They were all well-acquainted with the dead, with trying to understand them, and they had often discussed this exact situation. The postmortal sentience was stronger than that of most of their previous encounters. They shivered in unison at the thought of a person or spirit being trapped in a grave and being totally aware. The flames of that reputed hellfire could not possibly compare to such horrendous torture.
The three other members moved in closer to the grave, the shovel poised for use if need be, as though to fortify themselves against any attack, even though Ghost Girl had indicated the danger was from the one deep in the ground, fulminating with rage and the need to be free.
They marked the position of the moon and knew they must make haste as they did not wish to be found in the cemetery at dawn by either mortal or monster.
The shovel was not essential to their usual excursions into the graveyards but, in this case, Ghost Girl said it was necessary.
“Plus it'll be quite useful if we needed to bash the brains of a zombie,” one of the Squad said, and they all laughed as they were each rather fond of zombie movies. They loved the growing nature of zombies from the slow- moving thuggish ones to the more recent ones that were fast, agile and quite clever. Perhaps their diet of brains had improved their undead mentation capabilities.
There was a rush of movement in the woods. They turned, one holding the shovel high in a defensive stance, but they could not identify the cause of the sound and there was no time for speculation. The moon was moving across the sky, undoubtedly watching them with curiosity, and eager to share her observations when she met the sun before he began his duties.
When they struck the first blow against the shroud of earth, an icy wind hungrily curled around their feet like a cat entwining. They stood fast and moved in closer to form a ring around the grave and offer some measure of protection against forces which did not wish for them to succeed this night.
Ghost Girl was holding her chest. She took the shovel and she began to dig fervently as though trying to hold back the deluge of the Great Flood. They each took their turn, moving in rhythm, methodically and purposefully. It had been decided that they would bring only one shovel to mitigate curiosity if they were discovered. What fool would be prowling a cemetery on All Hallows Eve when there were costume parties to attend and drunken brawls to incite?
Ghost Girl had made it clear that she felt there was a total lack of respect for this ancient Sabbath as it had become a game to some who did not believe any harm could come to them, who felt secure in their belief that they would awaken in the morning with a hangover and no memory of the night.
It was a sacrilege. No wonder this generation was reeking with trouble and confusion. They did not honor the dead and that increased the danger of becoming dead.
Ghost Girl remembered cemetery picnics from her childhood and drinking wine and chanting words of comfort to those who listened from their enforced seclusion in caskets. It was a golden childhood and had given her a vast understanding of those who had passed and also how to deal with the spirits who cried out for her attention. She could not always help them and the weight of their burdens rested heavily upon her.
Her heart was pounding as she had just taken her stint at the shovel but it was more than mere exertion. The force of the one in the casket was powerful. Still, as they dug their way down to where this one should be sleeping, she felt a rising nausea and quickly tried to suppress it. Some spirits were far more powerful than others and did not care if they harmed the one who was trying to help them.
Being an empath and a Ghost Girl was not an easy task and she had never asked for it but she was fortunate that her Squad believed in her and that she had a family who understood her burden and tried to help her. She felt regret when her husband also began to see spirits and he was not at all prepared for it, despite knowing her experiences. He wanted to run from it. She reminded him that spirits have no boundaries and, once they had found a listener, they would not go away. And now she was dealing with this very aggressive spirit who had convinced her to ask her Squad to rumble through a cemetery on All Hallows Eve and invite wandering souls and ghostly specters to the party.
A twig snapped. Something or someone watched them. There was no stopping now. They had nearly reached the casket. Ghost Girl had never actually opened a casket before, so she hoped they would be able to manage it. She regretted not bringing other tools but then considered that the shovel might be used in that manner, once it had delivered the layers of earth from the grave.
Clunk! The metal of the shovel hit against the hard surface of the casket lid.
Ghost Girl’s nausea was rising again and dizziness overwhelmed her.
“Hurry. We have to help her,” she said, tears streaming.
After several attempts, they were able to use the shovel to release the latches on the exterior of the coffin. As each one opened, there was momentary hesitation. It was not too late to retreat.
“This is madness,” one of the Squad muttered.
Then, she saw Ghost Girl sweating profusely. Retreating was never really an option for Ghost Girl, and therefore, for the Squad. She fell silent and worked in tandem with the others to raise the crown of the coffin.
What do I expect to find? Ghost Girl wondered. How long has she been buried? Will she be bones and a Sugar Skull with empty eye sockets?
Ghost Girl felt the fear ripple through her body in a wave. She was not afraid for herself but for the others. What might this angry dead spirit do to them? Its power radiated in rings, encompassing them like a massive spider’s web.
Sound surrounded them. It came from a gaping mouth, like the last breath being expelled, and it was filled with putrid air that reeked of rot. Ghost Girl wanted to back away and pull them out of the hole and cover it and bury this thing even deeper than the deepest sink hole in Florida.
But she refused to run. The breath of life still moved in her and she would not allow a soul-sucking spirit to steal it from her.
“What do you want?” She demanded. “What is your secret? You told me we would find it in your grave and that discovery would set you free.”
They were all breathing harshly. A chill crept into their bones, insidiously and relentlessly. The scent of wolf and unnamed things mixed with the rotten smell, permeated the air.
Then she saw it.
There were scratches on the interior of the coffin’s crown and the woman’s clothing was shredded, her hair wild and bloodied, her eyes wild with that ultimate madness.
No! She shook her head in disbelief. There are laws. There are guidelines governing the treatment of the deceased. They have to be certain.
They drain the blood when they embalm them. It is done for a reason.
“I see it, too,” one of the Squad said, her voice trembling.
“Oh my God.” Someone had to answer for this.
A heaviness brooded in the night air. The watchers had moved in more closely to observe and, perhaps to test or to touch. Or to taste. Ghost Girl ignored it.
“We will find out who did this to you,” she promised.
A brutally cold wind whipped at her hair, even in the relative leeward shelter of the grave. The corpse became silent, no longer forcing her thoughts like knives into Ghost Girl's brain. A small comfort, yet she could not dispel the feeling that something lay in wait.
Ghost Girl tilted her head and listened, never disconnecting her gaze from that of the woman’s bulging eyes. The gaping mouth was the signature of those screams that had gone unheard. How long had she fought against madness and death as she was imprisoned in the grave?
Ghost Girl gently took her hand and closed the eyelids, allowing the woman to sleep at last, to go on that final journey into the abyss or meet whatever fate awaited her beyond the veil.
“Okay, Let’s close her up before the sun rises. We’ll get a court order for exhumation. We will find out who did this and why,” Ghost Girl announced.
They all agreed and quickly began shoveling the dirt back onto the coffin. It went much quicker than digging her out of the grave.
Ghost Girl breathed more easily. She knew exactly what steps she must take. This was not just incompetence. It had been deliberate. Straight out of one of Poe’s tales.
As the sun began to rise, the Squad had completed their task. The grave would appear to be disturbed but there was nothing to be done about that. By the time they were able to convince the court of a need for exhumation, the grass might well return and it could appear as if it were any other grave in this cemetery.
As they moved out of the gate, it screamed in protest. Did it want to keep them? Forever? Or was it yet another warning not to return?
There was a raw pit of discomfort curled within Ghost Girl. Something cold spread within her, altered her. Had she taken something malignant-- possibly fatal?--with her?
She shivered again and tried ignoring the thing that gnawed at her mind. She shook her head to clear it of shadows. She could no longer hear the cries of the dead woman but...the corpse had felt impossibly warm. And, just as they closed the crown of the coffin, she thought the corpse had moved. She thought she saw the corpse opened her eyes.
Linda Sparks is a poet and writer who has been published in various anthologies as well as online publications and podcasts. She has 21 published books. She also served as Editor for Valkyrie Magazine. She prefers writing horror including what she terms as horror poetry which is included in a few of her books. She also writes science fiction, dark fantasy and paranormal mystery. She enjoys her group, "Cemetery Squad" and they explore cemeteries and graveyards everywhere. Her children have told her one of the highlights of their childhood was having cemetery picnics. She grew up in Southern California and now lives with her family in Florida and uses the hurricanes as writing material.
Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.