Anatomy of a Haunting
The beginning is a New Beginning, a promise that everything will be different this time.
And it is different, but not the way you’d hoped.
You heard stories, mostly when you were younger, but they were never more than fun. Yet somehow the past weeks and months have led you to a terrible suspicion. Alone, secretly, you think about those stories, and break down their outcomes like this:
The ghost is real. The ghost does not exist.
That you’re entertaining this thought at all, even privately, is unfathomable.
Someday you’ll laugh at this. You’ll tell your friends how the Big Life Change made you ready to accept the absurd. They’ll find it terribly charming, terribly funny.
You revise, being more realistic:
The ghost is a hoax, a hallucination, a misunderstanding.
Embarrassing, sure, but not life threatening.
You go about your business, acting like you’re already the person who can make light of the fear that’s rooting itself to your very core.
Levity does not come. Security does not come.
You begin to entertain the possibility of the impossible. You return to the stories. Shuffle them, sort them. You search for patterns:
The ghost is tied to a location.
The ghost is tied to a person.
The ghost is tied to an object.
It’s tethered to the place you’re also tethered. A place that, let’s be honest, would be killing you even if it weren’t haunted.
It is felt before it is seen. A cold breath at the nape of the neck. Pinpricks in the lower back, on the balls of the feet.
It is felt on the surface of the skin, rustling the fine hairs all over your body.
Statistically speaking, you are most likely a woman or a child. If you voice your suspicions, you’ll be reassured that you’re mistaken, because you are the least reliable of witnesses: prone to hysteria, confused about the boundaries of your own imagination.
But each day is more unbearable than the last.
You have to risk it.
You tell someone you love, struggling to bring out the words. You choose someone you trust, or at least rely on, the person tasked with keeping you safe. Even if they don’t. Even if they never have. A man, in all likelihood — a husband or father.
You gather up your tattered courage in your hands and make an offering of it. You can’t help being apologetic and flustered, undercutting the urgency you’re trying to convey.
It sounds crazy, you admit. You can hardly believe it yourself, but here you are.
Your words inevitably rupture old wounds, still raw even after the promise of the New Beginning. Everything you say is filtered through that latent bitterness. You’re dismissed, or mocked.
(Maybe if you’d only been stronger he would have believed you. Maybe if you’d been more confident, more self-assured. Maybe if you hadn’t needed him so much, he would have respected you more.)
It always goes like this.
It always has.
You search for logic in the disturbances. Stories always have a logic.
The ghost is visible.
The ghost appears selectively.
The ghost must be mediated.
The ghost cannot be seen.
If you look hard enough, the answer will become clear.
You make more lists.
The ghost wants
company, empathy, understanding.
Ghosts are pure desire and pure need. Without desire there is no understanding. This cannot be beyond your comprehension.
Its presence becomes worse: more oppressive, more threatening. The danger of bodily harm to you and/or your loved ones. Your pleas go unheeded — you’re accused of attention seeking. Perhaps even putting others in harm’s way. There is talk of counseling. Medication.
Those around you — the reasonable ones — correct your patterns, your hours of research:
The ghost is a metaphor. A symbol. A trace.
A ghost is everything but literal, they assure you.
What your lists fail to capture is the actual, lived experience of being haunted.
The ghost remains trapped in an endless cycle.
The ghost goes where it pleases.
The ghost cannot move.
Losing faith in your own safety from one moment to the next.
remains trapped endless
goes where it pleases.
Shattering the very nature of existence, and your place in it.
You realize you may not survive this. You may be called to sacrifice yourself for the very people who don’t believe you.
Statistically speaking, when the time comes, you’ll do it. The data just doesn’t work in your favor.
If you are a child, your odds of survival are much greater than if you’re a woman.
There’s some comfort to be found in that, probably.
Slowly, or perhaps all at once, you come to a terrible realization:
The ghost has no reason, no interest in your pity or your wrath.
No story has prepared you for this, the worst possible conclusion: that the ghost is beyond human comprehension, that the world must be full of ghosts, none of whom are accountable to you.
The ghost simply is.
Alyssa Claire Greene’s work appears in Passages North, Gone Lawn, MoonPark Review, and The Southeast Review. She is a fiction editor for Quarterly West and an editorial assistant for the Lambda Literary Review. Find her on Twitter at @acgreenest.
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Image (detail) Paul Klee Public Domain