It felt wrong to be anything but a ghost, in this house. Felt wrong to liken yourself to anything but a drifting specter, white dress or cape billowing after you like a train of unfinished thoughts. She was alone. It felt wrong to be anything but alone, in this house. The curtains were made to be rustled by some invisible hand; frosted windows crafted specially to frame the longing face of a life-long captive. The house was drafty, inconsistent in its moods; she liked to think that she was too.
There was a trunk in the attic. An old, wooden thing. It was rusted at its hinges but could still be opened if one tried hard enough. Not that she needed to try. She would go to that trunk on bad-weather days; days when she lacked occupation; days when the sky cried fat tears of joy for having been absolved of its humanity. Like the ghosts. Like her. The hinges would creak when she opened it, straining against her arm, flaking chips of rust and disease when they finally relented. There were jewels in the trunk. Rubies, emeralds, pearls. They glinted in the light of the single attic window, begging to be cherished after so many years of gathering dust, their reflections dizzying as they jumped and rolled off the shadowed oak walls with a vibrancy almost aquatic in nature.
She remembered those jewels.
Remembered the faces of the wearers when they were complemented on the pricelessness at their necks. The way they waltzed and basked in the glittering mirrors hung in their dressing rooms, believing their own beauty set aflame by the riches they boasted. Danced, ignorant to the fact that it was not they who glistened with the reflections of appreciative onlookers, but rather the rarities fitted so lovingly against sun-patterned collar bones and aged flesh.
Decay, the inevitable slavery of the mortal.
She would reach inside the trunk, then, gathering a handful of golden pastimes to sling around her pale neck. The shadows hissed as she stood and twirled amongst them for a time, gathering dust, floating with that airlessness one can only achieve as a ghost. The window called to her, and she went to it, transfixed with the then-risen moon in the night sky; the little light cast from the chilled glass lending an almost otherworldly air to the scene, her body becoming a vacuous void- penumbra balanced against her backdrop like the harmonious blending of a Yin-Yang.
Oh, to live on the moon, she would think.
Sometimes, she would hear sounds at the door. Knocking. Neighbor children daring each other to rap tiny knuckles against vintage wood. She supposed she should be annoyed by their persistence, but she wasn’t. It wasn’t something she particularly enjoyed, say, so much as depended on. She looked forward to their visits, in a way. It provided some consistency, some reminder that there was life outside the walls of the house. That memories of her existence hadn’t perished with her. That dust may have settled but it still choked new lungs.
There weren’t many other houses around. She lived in the country. Her neighbors were wide men in red-and-black checked button-downs who cut down trees for a living. Children who wanted to be like their fathers.
She was the resident ghost of the town. If it could be called a town. Said to wander her noiseless halls, sobbing all the while, lamenting what she could not have. What this was, she did not know. There wasn’t much she didn’t have. She had not been wealthy, but she had inherited a great deal from the previous owner of the house.
Rich, chartreuse velvet settees lounged like words unsaid in her drawing room.
Portraits portraying great aunts and uncles that weren’t hers settled their icy glowers on her every movement. She had everything. She had the jewels, the trunk, and the attic. She had the hallways she supposedly sobbed in.
On good days, when the sky was clear, she would descend the attic stairs in her vast array of rubies, emeralds, diamonds; slide a softly slippered foot to the stairwell and spend an hour or two rummaging about the old memories in the back of the dining room. As it happened, here was a small door cut carefully into the powdered florals of the wallpaper. Many years of occupying the house had taught her that, should one encounter such a door as this, one must always be wary of what might be behind it. It was not locked. It was in a condition much like the trunk, closed by hinges long rusted by years of humid summers and unuse. She had discovered a cache of dust ridden boxes there. An old photo album and a cigar box full of post cards, calling cards, handwritten notes. The writing was immaculate. Old cursive lettering curled up and around the corners of the yellowed paper, ouroboros, serpents devouring their own coils. The letters spoke of lamplight and candle stubs, steepled fingers and bank notes, ways to cut butter into flour. She was always enthralled, fingertips brushing reverently over the fragile corners, legs folded under her on the cold alter of the concrete floor. She would always emerge with the largest cobwebs trailing after her like a troop of loyal soldiers.
There was no electricity in the house. She didn’t need any. Ghosts are devoid of the basic human needs, after all. When she wanted light to read by, she would produce a candle or take herself over to one of the windows, peeking cautiously through the curtain. She tended to feel like someone’s pet cat when she did this, however, so she refrained from doing it often. As a result of this, the neighbor children had taken up peering through her windows; pressing their little red noses to the glass. She didn’t know what they expected to see through such a small hole. If you’re going to spy, she wanted to say to them, do it the right way. They never did. It was always some younger boy that got shoved to the front of the bunch, made to stand as close to the window or door as physically possible. They were all afraid of her, it seemed. She was not above yanking a curtain-cord or two to add to their suspense.
Suspense was better than decay.
One such instance brought her particular amusement. A small boy, aged nine or ten perhaps, was poked mercilessly until he agreed to stand with his foot nudged up against the wall of the house, just under the window.
“look inside,” the other, older boys called from their safe distance. “We’ll make sure you do if you don’t.”
Naturally, she thought this a dreadful scene. She was watching it all through a different window. As of yet, neither older nor younger boys had bothered to notice her. She laughed inwardly at that. The very thing they sought excitedly, fearfully, was watching unconcealed as they taunted each other closer to her frost-bitten windows.
The younger boy began to glance everywhere but the window before him. “What’re you waiting for, Frankie? Just look through the window and get it over with.” Her head snapped to the boy that had spoken. He appeared older than the others. She hoped this would mean he proved more prone to altruism.
“Do it, Frankie. If you don’t I’ll throw a brick at it and say it was you.” Never mind.
Frankie’s shoulders shook, and he produced a pitiful sounding wail. “I- I can’t.”
“Yes you can, Frankie, what’s she gonna do? Reach an arm through and shoot you? Nothing’s gonna happen, just look inside. It’ll take three seconds, then you’re done.”
She did not like where this was going. The younger boy was going to cry. She tapped her finger softly against the window, trying her best to catch Frankie’s attention before the other boys caught on. It took a moment, but his eyes finally narrowed and he swiveled his head, attempting desperately to locate the source of the faint noise. She waved at him when he finally spotted her, his eyes widening, spine stiffening in utter shock.
“Did you see something? Frankie! What did you see?”
She chuckled, putting a finger to her lips. Quiet, she signaled.
“I didn’t see anything. Thought I did, but I didn’t.” Frankie, who was obviously still recovering from his brief encounter with the supernatural, did his best to feign nonchalance. “Nothing’s there.”
The older boys seemed to accept this, continuing with their threats as she drifted to the door. Let them make sense of this, she thought. Her hand hovered over the emerald tiara she had chosen that day, closing her eyes to mouth a silent goodbye. She hated throwing away the gems. They were among her most precious possessions. So long, she breathed as she took hold of the doorknob, twisting steadily. The door cracked, just wide enough for the crown, and her lips curved up and over her teeth at the five tiny gasps that sounded on the other side. She drew her arm back.
She threw the tiara as hard as she could, closing the door sharply as soon as she heard the keening shriek of its voyage through the air. That, and those of the tormentors as they cried themselves away from the house, stories of emerald crowns and pale pitching arms flying from their open mouths like the howls of a wolf at the moon.