Okay, it’s Flash Fiction Challenge Thursday, and thanks to tonight’s literal “must win” playoff game for my beloved LA Kings (we were down 0-3 games — and we did win), it’s late and I must write like the wind. It’s the usual 1,000 words, any genre, picking our opening line from one entered into last week’s Flash Fiction Challenge.
I’ve been trying to write all night while watching the game, so this may either be the finest my muse and my distracted subconscious can give (“Don’t think – it just hurts the team!”) or absolutely putrid bile from the nether regions of existence. But with fifty-five minutes left before midnight, I just figured out how it ends. (And with two minutes left, I’ve run out of time to edit. Time to post!)
As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated.
He’d haunted her for three years, and she still hadn’t noticed. He wasn’t worried about it, assuming he had eternity to practice and perfect his craft, but it did have him bemused in an ethereal sort of way.
For the first few months he had thought he must be doing something wrong, that somehow his paranormal exertions had no actual effect on the world in which she lived. His memories of being alive were vague at best (he was only sort of sure he actually had been alive at some point) but he might have been some sort of a klutz then also.
Whatever his state of existence was, there weren’t many guidelines. He was tied to her wherever she might go, that was clear. Each time one of his random flashes of consciousness started, like waking from a deep, dreamless sleep, she was there, shining like the sun, drawing him up to the surface of reality from the black depths of oblivion.
Their locations were varied every time he awoke, but he slowly started to recognize recurring settings. Her home, her office, the park where she walked her dog, her church. He was distantly curious about God’s opinion of his apparition in one of His houses, but the cosmos remained silent on the matter.
Everywhere they went, he kept an eye open for any others of his kind. Whatever he was looking for, it never was noticeable. The world was a pale, pastel, slightly out of focus realm all around him, while she was a quilt of sharply focused bright colors. No matter where he looked, no other shades, ghosts, or ghouls were visible.
Lacking any instructions, he started to try to get her attention. Could he touch her? Feel her? Talk to her? If so, exactly how was it done?
The days and months passed as he explored his universe and looked for a clue to his nature. Were there magic words or spells that he needed? In order to manifest, did he have to concentrate, furrowing his brow and crossing his eyes, or should he simply relax and let it happen?
Was a certain emotional state needed? Did he need to nurture a burning hatred? Would only the howling of his tortured and vanquished soul be able to make it through to the other side? It seemed like so much effort for so little return.
Perhaps he had been unlucky enough to be stuck haunting someone unhauntable. That might be a just punishment for being dull and boring when alive, to be literally ineffectual and invisible in the afterlife. It was something to ponder.
The first time he noticed any effect on the world came on a night where he coalesced in her bedroom, finding her with her new boyfriend, Ken. Ken was a complete jerk, so self-involved and shallow, interested only in getting into her pants so he could brag to his frat brothers about his latest trophy.
It looked like the time was near, even though it wasn’t clear she was enjoying the experience. She wasn’t actually saying “no,” but neither was she very enthusiastic. She was confused and scared, feeling pressured, feeling anything but passion.
He stood close to the two of them as they groped on the couch. The more he watched, the clearer it became to him that she did not want to proceed further, but Ken hadn’t cared about her desires to begin with and he cared even less now.
He started for the first time to get angry at his inability to intervene or help. She deserved so much better than Ken. Lashing out, knowing that it would do nothing, he brought both hands down in a blow to Ken’s back, his hands passing through the couple like smoke.
Immediately, Ken sat up and clutched at his chest and throat. His eyes were wide open, his mouth agape. The breath seemed to have been knocked out of him suddenly. He started to turn blue before finally shuddering and gasping as he sucked in another breath.
She had backed away from him on the couch, terrified, clueless as to what had happened or what was going on with Ken. She started to lean forward to hold his shoulder, to steady him, to check and see if he was okay. Ken slapped her hands away.
He had stepped away from her and Ken, taken totally by surprise by Ken’s reaction to his blow. Had he actually done something?
Ken looked at her in horror. “What did you do to me?” he shouted.
“What? I don’t know what you mean,” she said. “Are you okay? What happened?”
“You didn’t feel that?” Ken asked. “You didn’t feel something ice cold pass through here, like a frozen sledgehammer? You didn’t feel like someone just threw ice cold water over us?”
“No, Ken, I didn’t feel a thing. Should we call someone to get some help? You don’t look too good.”
“You didn’t feel anything? Did you do something to me, like a taser or something?”
Ken was scared and losing control quickly. His arm cocked as he lashed out at her face.
He stepped forward again and tried to grab ahold of Ken’s head. His arms were like mist and passed right through Ken’s skull from both sides, as if he were clapping his non-existent hands onto Ken’s ears and squeezing.
Ken howled in terror and fell to his knees. He hugged his chest while he held his head. Ken moaned before starting to push himself back away from her and the couch. He stumbled to his feet and fled out into the hall.
She was shocked, but also relieved. She closed the door and stood briefly, leaning against it, trying to compose herself.
She moved back to the couch as he followed, afraid to touch her. He didn’t know what he had done to Ken, but he didn’t want to do it to her.
She picked up her phone and headphones from the table. She sat on the couch, snuggled into the cushions, and pulled a comforter up over her.
He stood behind her, listening to the faint, tinny music escaping from the earbuds she was wearing. He recognized the song and unbidden began to sing along.
She raised her head to look around, looking for something or someone. He continued to sing, pouring his soul into the song.
She settled back to listen, closed her eyes, and softly began to cry, carried away from her fears and loneliness by the haunting voice from nowhere she could suddenly hear.