She had been haunted like this in ceaseless cycles.
Her body hadn’t been hers for a while. But the thought of disassembling, fiber and atom ripped to fragments, was unnerving. A threat of decomposition and collapse.
This possession followed the path of the previous rounds; a pursuit of roots in her mind, shooting out greedily. Dirt under her fingernails, picked by teeth until they were too short. Soil crept into the veins, black and scratchy. The ailments were tolerable, easy to cover up. She could pretend to be okay.
That was before. Now, there was only this fresh-familiar awareness that her loneliness had a shape of its own, separate and oppressive.
She glanced down at herself and quaked. Her body was a map of features showing the subtlest of tortures; lines on her thighs like ropes burnt into her flesh, a mole she picked to see the red spurt of blood mixing with the twilight of her skin. She had her routines and they were ordinary, comfortable, though markedly entropic. Once, it made sense to attempt an organizing of her being. But she soon discovered the futility of these efforts on the simultaneously gaping and crimped landscape of her ill mind.
It made her seasick to watch the tumult of feelings and so she shut them out.
This night expelled itself around her in inky swathes, textured, abrasive. She set her pen down, relinquishing the scribbles thick as river stems, an attempt to rebuff the growing tide. A zephyr sneaked through a window, barely ajar, and discovered her in a seated coil. She let the waft overtake the moment, shutting her eyes, the sensation a rare and perilous transgression.
Gale dying on her arms and neck, she opened her lids and breathed out of habit. Loose in the sky sat the moon. Its minimal luminance had no innovative tricks and neither did she. Such a distant orb could do little beyond contorting over and over, growing big and small. The body stretched to give life and death and the cycle churned on itself. But the moon was also leaving the earth, seeking release from gravity. The smear of distant rock was a visible reminder, a process of creeping abandonment.
She yearned for that endless absence of space. No weighted horror was possible in the viscous black. She would be blank, emotionless, stilled as ancient bones embedded in the strata. Suspended in nothing.
No, this wasn’t anything she hadn’t witnessed over the years and days and seconds. Her form mimicked concavity in response, for the ghost seemed extra hungry, mouth agape and shadowed. Lumbering between steps, it sought her in a crowd. Leaping from roof to roof as she tried to outrun it. Stranger still was the un-puzzling of her composure while surrounded by oblivious people living oblivious lives. She couldn’t possibly crouch and crawl to recover the pieces, strewn here and there, without garnering concerned glances.
Of course, she didn’t belong on the ground, sniffling and wild. People were expected to stand upright, to demonstrate their dissimilarities to less refined creatures. Her animalism only tore off the sheet to expose their own innate proclivities. Some probably staunchly believed they were evolved beyond these tendencies. But she showed them the truth.
All it took was a mind that corroded itself, finding the villain within.
She first discovered how grief became physical with the loss of her mother. A person exited her life, swift and wretched, and in that vacancy came the phantom. With tendrils sent deep into her foundation, her melancholy became a wraith and she the host. Choking. Stifled. Constrained.
There was no turning back. Her chemicals were boiled and brewed into an unprecedented concoction. Steeped and assembled and made unnatural. Sorrow-filled and empty.
Stitched into this displaced plane, she removed herself and others accommodated the shift, stepping away, averting their gazes.
The worst was at night. The ghost made the black edges of her room breathe. An undulation of lungs threatened seizure, grasping at her own oxygen, robbing it. This specter was a thief, she gradually understood. Stealing her calcium, making her bones brittle. Removing the intricate plating of her abilities and strength. When she finally died, she imagined her ribcage making a drum for the ghost to celebrate its victory. The prospect conjured a tepid smile.
There was no delineation between her thoughts and the vicious background babble. Its voice was tinged amber and melodious as honey. If she listened, it would pour into the shell of her ear. It wasn’t sticky nor pungent. Nevertheless, she could taste it.
Unlike those that visited in the past, tempting her to oblivion, this current visitor summoned a specific madness of the soul, more insidious. Barren as an old structure long surrendered for vines, Spanish moss layered upon paint-chipped walls, and shuddering every time the wind deployed, it eased into her. An exoskeleton revealing an elapsed existence, where reality was forced to crack at the pressure. She harbored these truths in her palms.
Uncountable days passed, unblinking, and she eroded. People noticed, knowing her past and the frequent spells that cast her in bruised-hues. But none chose to reach her.
In isolation, anguish set its harmony, struck resonant, making her hum.
Soon, the water called and she answered. Under the moon–crouched and expectant–she left her home, veering toward the sea. She tracked the sinuous coastline in silence.
Her boat rowed out on its own accord, the water’s fingertips striking the boards and sending her onto the horizon. A lateral string tugged her closer, hypnotizing and erasing in equal measure. The approach exceeded time or the confines of it, and she clawed at the boat rails, marring the surface to identify and measure.
At last, she would meet her tormentor.
On the brim of the world, close to eclipse and discontinuity, she bobbed. The subtle corruption embraced her, a final relenting she had sworn never to plummet inside. A nuisance of simplicity and inevitability too grotesque to have looked at directly. The battle of the mind against itself.
Hanging at the precipice, she spread her arms and howled her farewell.
Accepting the sounds with whispery wet replies, the waves amassed a strange, countering consensus.
She heard the murmur of the deep and inhaled sharply. Her private ghost had swayed at the periphery in shades of grey and black for many years. But by her invitation, it uncloaked and shone a green hue above her, shedding a glow both viscous and gilt. Dappled on the waves, she watched the fern-soft undulation and grasped at it. Her tongue was thick, sweat cloying relentlessly. Yet, a burgeoning desperation outweighed her resignation.
She wanted to live.
Her arms bent like jagged branches and grasped the oars, slicing into the cold whitecaps, which echoed her howl. Rowing to the shore, her boat a conveyance, a return, she scrambled onto the sand. The grim presence distantly observed her sputtering.
I want to live, she told her ghost. You may never leave. You may persist. But so will I.
She stood and tilted a chin to the clouds. The corporeal revenant startled, diminished in size. And as she stepped into the world afresh, her haunting followed behind. A perpetual voyeur, but one whose power had been rescinded.
Briane Willis (she/her) writes fiction and poetry. Her work can be seen in Solarpunk Magazine, Lover’s Eye Press, and Carmina Magazine, among others. She has an M.S. in environmental education and over a decade of informal education experience. She lives in the Texas Hill Country with her partner and young child, as well as two dogs, three cats, and a bushel of chickens. You can find her at www.brianewillis.com.