BY MARY CHAPMAN
This story was first posted on Fiction on the Web in May 2017. Copyright is held by the author.
THERE ARE ghosts in my head. There are ghosts in my head.
I wake up and cannot see. My eyes have been ripped out! No, wait . . . I can feel them with my hands; it is just too dark to see anything.
A piercing siren vibrates inside my head, bouncing around and causing my thoughts to scramble. I can’t think with this noise. Woooop-woooop-woooop. The sound is mechanical and sinister in its regularity. I stumble out of the bed and scream. The floor is not there. It’s a mossy bog and I slip through the top until I’m thigh-high in cold, slimy bog water. I can feel the moist green growth even though I see nothing. I pull myself to the edge and feel the cold pane glass that must be my window. I have to escape.
Once I am outside it is no longer blindingly dark. Fog covers the landscape casting cars and houses into shadows. Fog so thick anyone could be hiding in it, ready to pounce. The siren abruptly stops and is instantly replaced by the hiss of flames licking dry timber. I spin around wildly in circles. Once, twice, three spins. Nothing is on fire but the sound follows me every way I turn.
I am in a field, my bare feet cold against the black soil. My thick cotton nightgown so carefully pressed this morning is now disheveled and speckled with mud and moss. I run. My long copper hair flaps behind me in the wind, as wild and reckless as my running. Rows and rows of corn stalks bend towards me. They sneer at me, judging me. They snicker. Their cackle is echoed by the flock of crows that swoop up out of the ground under my feet. I move to cover my eyes with both my hands but my hands are gone. My wrists end in stumps. I stare at the place my hands used to be. Hands I knew so well. Short and thin fingers, knuckles slightly gnarled from constant cracking. Blue prominent veins on the papery white skin, all of it now gone. They did this to me, I think.
Suddenly, I am standing on a giant yin yang. The black sinuous line curving, large as a driveway in front of me. I haltingly take a few steps and then begin to run. Round and round I run inwards, soon I am dizzy and the world starts spinning. It never stops. I fall asleep. There are ghosts in my head. There are ghosts in my head.
Years later, or maybe it’s only a few moments later, I am hiding in a room of floor-length mirrors. They are out there, hidden in the shadows from glass reflections. I can hear them; they make the sound of a hundred children laughing. They scream and taunt me, hungry for revenge. I crawl slowly around the corner of one mirror and stop. My reflection is not in any of the tall frames all around me. I’m not really here, I realize and a cold sweat breaks out over my neck.
There are ghosts in my head, there are ghosts in my head.
I hit my temple with the palm of my hand must get them out, must get them out. Ghosts, ghosts, ghosts. But the Cheshire cat only smiles his wicked smile and remains on the tree branch. I follow the arrows. Signs say This way, That way and I can’t find my way.
Now I am stumbling down a paved road, my toes muddy and frozen. I run and run and run and I go nowhere. I look down and see that my ankles are chained to a sewer drain. The ground starts to bubble and warp under my toes. The movement throws me this way and that, and I just want this to stop. I am so weary. I am tired of being hunted and haunted. But there is never respite before it starts again.
The asphalt turns to tar. It’s burning me alive! I see the red-hot blisters pop up on my feet and feel the fire spread up my legs, now up my back and shoulders and up to my throat. It’s suffocating me and the ghosts are winning. They squeal triumphantly as they fly around me faster and faster, closer and closer. I can’t close my eyes. They are stapled open. I feel the metal prongs that dig into the soft flesh of my eye socket. A crow swoops down and sits on my face. It looks deep into my eyes. Beady black eye staring into slanted grey eye. Slowly he begins to peck at an eye I cannot close. I just want this to end. I just want this to end.
A doctor pulls back her clenched eyelid. Shines a light she can’t see. He clicks off the flashlight and makes an annotation on the chart. “Her pupils are non-responsive . . . but she is breathing on her own, and that’s a good sign. We will have her on an IV to keep her fluids up and will monitor her overnight. We’ve ordered some tests — blood, CAT scan — and we should know more in the morning.”
He turns to the ashen-looking man — the woman’s husband — at the bedside and offers a reassuring smile.
“Trust me, this is not so uncommon with head injuries. It’s amazing she didn’t do more damage. People who fall down that many flights of stairs aren’t often this lucky.”
He pauses briefly to blow on his coffee and takes a sip; it’s gone cold.
“Any idea why she was on the fire escape so late at night?”
The man shakes his head woodenly.
“In any case,” the doctor resumes, “the police will have to file a report and will need your statement.”
“I’ve given my statement,” the man intones gravely.
“Well, then, you might as well get home for a proper night’s sleep. She’s perfectly safe here and will have nurses checking on her around the clock.”
The man flinches at the mention of sleep but doesn’t comment.
The doctor watches him leave and turns back to the hospital bed taking in his patient. She is plain but with full, luxurious, red hair that curls slightly at the ends. Her complexion is dotted with freckles and sunspots yet she is white as a ghost. Her lips are cracked and lined betraying her 40 years of life. “Twenty flights of industrial-strength iron stairs,” he thinks to himself, shaking his head in disbelief “and not a broken bone in her body.” He puts the chart back at the foot of the bed and walks out, whistling as he goes.
Her husband takes the stairs to her bedroom. His slow footsteps heavy on each step. He stands at the open door taking in her room. Grey-blue walls, large white bed atop a green rug. Alice in Wonderland lays on the nightstand, open and facedown, spine cracked. Her yin yang poster takes up one entire wall. It’s slightly off-centre and he adjusts it. He lies down on the shag carpet next to her bed, nose pressed to the ground. He breathes in the smell of talcum powder. He smiles remembering the day he pointed out this rug at the furniture store. She had said it looked like moss on a bog, yet had bought it nonetheless. He never did understand her, not even then. He sighs from deep inside his heart and stands up. He notices erratic fingerprints on all three of the connected mirrors of her vanity table. A chill runs down his back. She is not well; he can deny it no longer. Quirky is one thing, but this is something deeper, darker. He pulls the crow motif drapes down over her balcony door and walks purposely out of the room and closes the door firmly behind him. He doesn’t want the ghosts in the room to follow him downstairs.