“Ghost” – Short Story

In evenfall there was a ghost, one who took kindly to others, but found all his company alone. Children share their tales, as children do, about when they met the ghost and what they’d done together. About what they might do, should they ever again meet this apparition. But while their stories were only by the fond side of the heart and meant no ill, they were also the sorts of false expression expected of children. Unlike their tales, the ghost never housed a guest, as guests never made it so far into the woods without turning back. More than that, it had been a long age since the ghost last knew anything of friendship. But should any wandering souls find themselves lost in that wood, and if perchance they stumbled upon the ghost’s home, they would find something lovely. Lovely, maybe, but terribly austere and lonesome in all the gentlest ways.

The ghost made its days cultivating a modest cabbage patch, with rough carrots intermixed. This gave credence to the white-washed stone gardening walls, put up only a few years earlier. It was all that could be done to keep out intruding hare and all manner of invasive critter. A rickety sign clicked overtop the doorframe of a home that the innocent and friendly might envy. Scrawled in black ran across its face a single word: ‘Ghost’. This was its home, the only place it knew. Perhaps a mystery to the ghost, but this was also a prison. Thoughts and memories of its life were all trapped here, and for that reason, it could never leave. And because it would never leave, it would never find something new.

Still it stayed, and it was happy. Lonely on bad days, but it was a cheerful ghost with the knowledge that bad days couldn’t last. So it remained inside when the rains came and made its home well, so that when somebody might finally brave the wood and find the gentle cottage beyond, it would be ready for them. There would be festivities of the sort only a ghost could satisfy. It would be a celebration with warm, butter-baked bread and the ghost’s favorite kind of chocolate. Pumpkins might be carved with the ghost’s perfectly polished tools and marshmallows would be roasted in a quiet fire. There would be music, because of course the stranger would have a spirit for song and dance. Maybe ghosts struggle to dance, but this ghost would try. It practiced often, when nobody was looking.

But this was all just a dream, one of the happy dreams meant for a good day. Today was a laundry day, which meant it was neither good, nor bad. The ghost was thankful that it was cloudless outside. It preferred its labors at night, and night was awfully solemn without any stars. You’d think a ghost would have no need for laundry, but you would be wrong. This ghost loved each of its four sheets more than anything else in the home. They were simple, often just as dirty as they were now.

Everlasting fingers of mud had saturated deep into their white. A light tattering could be felt in the surface of each and along their edges. These made them imperfect. But imperfect was most usually the best way to have something. The ghost knew this and liked them all the same.

Sometime long ago the ghost cut little circles in the sheets. The circles were cut in pairs and, because ghosts aren’t very coordinated, they were laughably asymmetrical. Some were too high, others too low. Nearly all of them too close or too far. But the sheets were already imperfect, and so surely they understood how difficult it was for a ghost to cut proper eye holes. This only made the ghost love and nurture them that much more. So as it was, the ghost would wash them, grinning as it churned through popping bubbles and suds. The companionship of the moon made these evenings warm and before long the ghost would finish bathing its sheets.

A slash of string was spread across the yard, suspended between two rods of timber. Since the sheets would need a chance to dry, the ghost used this line to hang them and let the night air have its way. During this period it sank into a deep patience. Sometimes the ghost would sit in silence and wait, other times it might hum the progression to a sweet autumn song. You know, something red and yellow, but mostly orange. A song that smells of nutmeg and cinnamon. One of these days somebody would be sitting nearby and humming along. You don’t have to be a ghost to appreciate the small things like a humming comrade.

When finally the sheets were cured of their wetness, the ghost would pull them off the line and smile. It would smile a tender, forgiving smile. Something it learned from children’s books. Armed with that smile, it would carry the sheets over and drape them on four posts, standing no more than three heads from the ground. If assorted properly, the eye-pockets would look straight back at him. Or as straight as possible, with the ghost’s handiwork. In that moment, the ghost would fondly share its musings and happenings with the sheets. They were usually a kind audience, with a generous ear. On bad days, they never said anything. But that was alright, because usually it was a good day, and on good days the laundry would talk back. None of them bore scars of rudeness or malign gestures. Instead they were friendly, and often times their stories were better than any the ghost could tell. Together they would reminisce of young life games, younger sweetheart loves, and the adventures known to dwell in far lands and amidst the sea. Naturally there was laughter, and even though there may not have been music, they always sang.

In time a wind would come and snatch the sheets up as a futile attempt to steal them away. But the ghost had a big yard, and though the sheets might tumble and mar with dirt, it would always catch them. There would be a pang of sadness in its heart as the conversation drew to a sudden close. For a moment the ghost believed the sheet might not ever talk again. If anybody has ever lost a friend, or said goodbye for what they knew could be the final time, then they understand much of how the ghost felt during these moments. But it was a hopeful ghost, with a big heart and keen understanding. The sheets could get dirty over and over, and the ghost would always be ready to clean them anew. So it would, so it would.

Because today might be a good day. Maybe. This ghost was an ambitious ghost and not taken to long-suffering or hardship. Strangers never came to visit, so it had time to do the laundry. And once it had begun, it could sit alone and wait according to its custom. Though strangers never said hello and children never ventured near its home, if the ghost waited long enough it would always have someone that might listen. Some sheets with little holes for eyes. Some sheets that fluttered upon a post. Friends with which it could sing and not be disheartened. Because at evenfall there was a ghost with homemade friends, and nobody knew their stories but him.

“Disposable” – Short Story

Our team was three parts unpredictable, one part psychotic. Most of the latter belonged to me. Elinwall was stuck with an obsessive playing card fetish which would make The Joker proud. Jewel could only dance from one place to the next and only while wearing one boot. God forbid a man try to be kind and buy her some sneakers. Leveller had his eyelids burned off in a chemical blast and, since he would lose the eyes anyways, decided to toss those, too. Now the globule implants in his head, which he believed must be fascinating, were actually two of the sickest, most horrifying pink gumballs I’d ever seen. This made it easy to antagonize him, something that during the workday had become my most indulgent pastime. As for me, I’m my own brand of crazy. I actually liked all of these people.

Regarding our run-of-the-mill day, we’ve found a world-record-breaking odd-job. We eat stuff. Better yet, we eat everything that nobody else wants to eat. Or what they physically cannot.

Elinwall clapped with ugly, broken applause, a Seven of Hearts between his teeth. “Ho, lucky day. Lucky day.” Before him laid a menagerie of bodies flopped remorselessly into a pit twelve heads deep, presumably after they’d already died but with no way to be sure. They weren’t all men. Women, children, and even some animals helped fill the dark hollow. Their flesh was rotting on various stages, suggesting the pit wasn’t filled all at once. Some poor brute probably pulled the short stick and had to chuck any new dead into the hellhole. Hard to imagine people flocking on that opportunity.

“Woah,” Leveller waved a hand in front of his face, “That is quite a bitter stink, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, they seemed to have a lot of fun over here,” I answered. The surrounding urban drudgery was torn and tattered by the wars of men, punctuated by a poisoned grey and yellow sky. I could taste the hanging lead and blood, and it made my stomach grumble with curious hunger. “Jewel, I know you don’t care much for the unripe dead. Our contract has it so that we need to eat any leftover weaponry as well, if you wanted to start there. A quality carbon diet.”

Jewel licked her lips and tented her fingers, “You know the fast track to a girl’s heart, Jo-Jo,” she smiled, “I might just gobble you up, someday.”

Leveller bent over the pit and cupped a hand to an ear, “Don’t bother, hon. Have you smelled the man? His odor is worse than death,” the stock-and-muscle giant dropped his hand and took a generous sniff of the air, “Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.” Leveller reached into the cesspool of rot and snatched one body by the arm. He began to yank it free, feeling its shoulder slowly tear and give way to pestilence. Luckily it held and he managed to pull the body to solid land. It was male, young and at one time, strong. Probably a soldier. Opening his great, deep gullet, Leveller began to eat. The corpse broke apart in chunks, sucked down his throat like pebbles to a vacuum. Much cleaner and faster than the common man’s chop-and-swallow method. In a minute, everything of the boy was gone, down to the toenail. Leveller’s face twisted the way one might after catching whiff of curdled milk. “The first one is always murder.”

I moved to join him, dodging past Jewel as she did some old, South-American dance that worked the hips in thoroughly satisfying ways. I took a gander over my choice pick of dead and decided to break in the taste buds with the worst of it. I went straight for the old man, the one who some might say was already falling apart before Death’s bitter lady granted her ultimate kiss. It was one of the most unsatisfying appetizers I’d ever worked through.

Elinwall was always late to decide on his first bite. Leaning over, he scratched at a healing wound on his leg, just above the sock-line with an Ace of Spades tucked nicely within. “None of them look any good today.”

“Do they ever really look good? Just pick one and get it over with.” I was hoping that once the threshold had been reached, Elinwall would just turn into a machine and inhale most of the load himself. For being the thinnest among us, he always seemed to have the biggest appetite once it got rolling.

There was a holler from somewhere to my right. Jewel must have found something interesting. I sucked down another one of the dead. It was a shorter issue than the last, as it had lost a leg and I couldn’t find the blasted thing. Our girl gave another call, one more intentionally trying to grab my attention. I finished up the meat meal and strode to her side. My teeth flared with her discovery.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said.

Neither glad, but not altogether unhappy, Jewel shook her head. “She’s young, probably five or six. I’ve tried talking to her, but the poor beast won’t so much as babble.”

Sometimes we would find live children during our dirty work. The ones left behind. That was something wars were really good at making, and sometimes I wish they didn’t. Because then it becomes our responsibility to put them out.

Because the truly monstrous thing to do would leave them as they were. Or worse, bring them home. With the world as it had become, that was its own sort of hell, and one which would never welcome a child. Killing them was a gentle evil in comparison.

“I – I mean I’ve never –”

“I know, Jo-Jo. Neither have I.”

The problem was that in our crew, killing the residue was Kingpin’s job, and Kingpin was very notably absent for a myriad of domestic reasons not worth discussing. Nobody else had ever been able to muster enough gut to end the lives of the victims, myself included. I cherished that one untainted part of my character. But I could hardly shove the task onto Jewel or one of the others. We were looking at a sticky situation in the rear-view mirror. This was bad stuff.

Especially because the girl looked so painfully adorable and worthy of pity that it would be easier stabbing scissors into your own chest than doing her any harm. Her lip quivered with an unspoken word, some call for help lost between her parents’ death and her evident struggle to cling to life. She was withered like a weed, nearing the point of true atrophy but still holding enough fat and muscle to drag out the impending starvation at least one more week.

I dropped into a crouch to meet her eyes, syrup brown and very absent. “What’s your name, dear?” You don’t ask about the parents. You never ask about the parents.

Her jaw stumbled around a word, but closed up at the last second. I sighed.

“See what I mean?” Jewel said, “Not a peep.”

The girl was in shock, of course. They usually are. I begin to look her over with more attention, scanning for any malign damage. A waterfall of bruises filled the skin of her legs and her black hair was torn away above one ear, revealing a patch of purple and red and white. Dust stained the old tear-trails under her eyes.

“Holy sh–” Elinwall promptly slapped a hand over his mouth when he found our new friend. “Oh, god. Oh, god no,” he turned away and focused on his breathing. There was a thin splatter of blood on his chin from his last meal. “Please don’t think less of me for this…” In a stroke of defensive cowardice, he touched a thumb to his nose, “I’m not doing it, Ace.”

Bending to the action, Jewel mimicked him, “Sorry, Jo-Jo.”

There was a sideways wind that tore at my ears, filling them with natural sirens. It muffled Leveller’s presence all the way until I felt his fingers plant firmly onto my shoulder.

“I will do it,” he said flatly, “I at least cannot see her. I will have no face to torment my dreams.”

“You don’t have to do that. I am abl–”

His hand waved in a gesture of hard silence and that was the end of it. Leveller reached for the knife at his side. “All I ask is that one of you cover her eyes.”

My heart sank. I looked at the girl, her face like stone, and turned away. “Of course.”

Elinwall stirred as with protest, but put nothing forth. A paper-thin card spun meticulously between nervous fingers. “Then…I suppose me and Jewel will get back to work.”

Fingers running back and forth along her arms, Jewel hurried away without him. I knew the frailty of her heart, and none of us would hold it against her if she couldn’t speak to us for a while. As she hiked away, her back was straight and her head was low. There was a stifled sob caught against the wind.

I turned my attention to the girl and convinced myself that she’d already left the world. God just hadn’t come to pick her up yet. She shuffled her weight, but did not resist when I braced my arm over her eyes. Leveller took ten deep breaths and rested the knife against the soft of her throat. Though he could not see through his gumball eyes, he tipped his head to the poisoned sky. I rolled mine into my shoulder, jaw tight as glass, and waited impatiently for it to be over.