The Living Never Listen

Submitted into Contest #119 in response to: Set your story in a silent house by the sea.... view prompt

8 comments

Fiction Horror

The sun was presently setting, a silent ember burning brightly against the edge of the horizon. Great waves of gray crashed against the rocks down by the shore. William stood in the kitchen, staring out through the broken window at the endless sea. The scent of salt was fresh on the cool autumn air, and blended pleasantly with the smoke that pillowed up from the wood burning in the fireplace.

“You know they won’t listen,” Hannah said, sitting in the shadow-covered corner, knitting a scarf that nobody would ever wear. She was old as the wind, her voice like floorboards creaking during a wicked winter storm. “It’ll end as it always ends, and all you’ll feel is sorrow. Better to leave them to their fate.”

William shook his head and gazed through the doorway at the couple as they huddled around the fireplace for warmth, their shadows long and foreboding behind them. “I came so close last time. Perhaps this time will be different.”

“Ha!” Hannah cackled and fell into a wheezing cough that never seemed to end. “What makes you think this time will be any different? They can’t hear you. And even if they could, they still wouldn’t listen. All you can do is warn them. That’s all you’ll ever be able to do.” She paused and looked up at William through her thick glasses, scratched and cracked with age. Her pale blue eyes, stricken with milk-white cataracts, shimmered brilliantly in the last light of the sun. She spoke firmly, stabbing at him through the air with one of her long, gnarled fingers, “Just go up in the attic and watch the waves roll in. Or read one of those books you’ve read a thousand times before. It’s not worth it in the end. You’ll never save them.”

William turned back to the vast expanse of ocean, his mood somber, his countenance crestfallen and gray.

Hannah was not wrong. There was no valid reason for why this time would be any different. He had tried to save countless others and had never once broken through to them. He was attracted to the warm flesh of the living like moths to a flame, with a desperate urge to save them burning fiercely within his soul — because if he saved them, he would also save himself.

William had been haunting this particular house for nearly seventeen years. He had chosen to apprentice with Hannah Pennyworth, the Keeper of Godric’s Island, and upon his completion of twenty years, he would receive his own house to haunt, just as Hannah had before him, and many ghosts had before her. But, as per the contract, if he could succeed in saving a single soul from the horror that awaited them in this godless place, he would earn back his mortal life and be freed from the shackles of death. 

It had seemed like such a simple task, and the deal had been so tempting. There was still so much for him to do, so much to see, so much to accomplish. But as he neared the end of his apprenticeship, nearly twenty years on a cold and desolate windswept rock, he realized the folly of his choice, and believed more and more with each passing day that he should have taken the other offer.

“They could always leave of their own volition,” he muttered miserably. 

“Sure they can,” Hannah said. “But they never do. And whenever Godric’s monster shows up, it’s quite obvious from the look in their eyes that they made a poor decision by coming here in the first place.” She sighed, giving William that same pitiful look she always did when they had this conversation. “I felt the same way when I apprenticed at the Astor Hill Hotel; and I’ve been telling you for years: Accept that you’re a ghost. Nothing good ever comes of hopes and dreams. It’s all ash in the end. There’s a reason nobody has ever returned from the dead — not the proper way, anyhow.”

The house on Godric’s Island was built in the late nineteenth century by a man named Godric Abbot, who had once been a doctor of great renown across New England, and he might have gone on to do great things. But Godric lost his medical license for attempting to bring the dead back to life, which was absolutely and strictly forbidden according to the particular brand of Protestantism that he followed, and while his peers made several attempts to reason with him, urging him to be rational and let go of his ghastly work, Godric stoically refused, for he was determined in his ambition to resurrect the dead. And as a result, he was driven from his home in the city of Providence, stripped of all the titles he held, and disowned by his wife and family and friends (who were as god-fearing a folk as one was like to come across in those days).

Why had he chosen to pursue such heresy when it cost him everything in his life? 

He was consumed by madness. 

Or, rather, madness had consumed him.

Godric was forced into an exile that only strengthened his conviction to reach his abominable goal. He built a house on an island off the coast that could only be reached by boat, and conducted his monstrous experiments in isolation, far from the judging eyes of humanity.

And eventually, he succeeded. 

But as anyone who has made such attempts would know (and with great regret) the results were not at all what he had imagined. He was utterly horrified. The creature that had arisen should have remained a lifeless corpse, and he understood this with crystal clarity the moment its crusty, bloodshot eyes opened and glared at him with a visceral, murderous anger.

The dead should never be pried from their place beyond the living.

Immediately, he had attempted to kill the foul beast, but Godric was vastly overpowered by its unnatural strength and died at the hands of the nightmare he had brought into the world. 

And it was on that night that the haunting of Godric’s Island had begun. 

As the years went by, it became a place for madmen and thrill-seekers alike, where people would go to prove their courage and bravery, or perhaps their own desperation. They all flocked to that silent house by the sea, despite the pleas from loved ones and strangers and the solid reasoning that nobody had ever lasted a night on Godric’s Island. For the legend went that if they could survive until dawn, the immortality which had been forced upon the monster would be transferred onto them. 

And who wouldn’t want to live forever?

William paced in the attic as dusk became night, pondering how he might convince this couple to run. The moon ascended into the sky and an army of clouds rolled in, covering the world in darkness. William’s heart would have been beating fast if blood had still pumped through his veins. Instead, he stood stiff and cold, clenching his jaw and pulling on his pointed beard, which had not grown an inch since he had died.

He wished with a silent fury that this time might be different, that this time they might listen. However, he had conducted his fair share of terror in this wretched place by the sea, and he was not the least bit surprised when this couple marched naively to their fate.

He had given them their warnings: When the howling wind crashed through the windows, and all the cabinets in the kitchen swung open at once; or when Maggie Deardrake made her grisly appearance, her bludgeoned skull sharp with bone fragments and gooey with brain matter and blood, the hammer still lodged thickly within it; or even when a dozen clocks chimed at midnight, despite there being not a single clock in the house.

In the end, it made no difference what he did. They stayed, and they died, as so many others had before them, and William chewed on his fingernails as another opportunity to earn back his life slipped through his hands like sand. 

Soon thereafter, as the sun began to rise, he walked down from the house and sat by himself on the quiet shores, already thinking about how the next time might be different, how the next time might be the last. 

But the living never listen to their own, why should he ever expect them to listen to the warnings of the dead?


November 10, 2021 13:38

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8 comments

Tricia Shulist
17:36 Nov 13, 2021

That was eerie. I liked that William wanted to save the living, both because he wanted rebirth, but also because he didn’t want to see them die. Thanks for this.

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Branden Sherman
13:20 Nov 15, 2021

Glad you enjoyed it!

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09:47 Dec 21, 2021

Creativity at its best! I loved the story, as especially the description of the old lady who sat and knitted. The theme evokes a raw yearning for adventure into the past.

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Branden Sherman
22:24 Dec 21, 2021

Thanks, much appreciated!

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Zea Mind Werl
20:12 Nov 18, 2021

I love how this is written, it just pulls you along and is very easy to read.

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Branden Sherman
02:45 Nov 20, 2021

Thanks for feedback, much appreciated!

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Rachel Morris
20:14 Nov 13, 2021

Clever, haunting in both senses of the word. Talk about purgatory!

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Branden Sherman
13:20 Nov 15, 2021

He should have taken the other offer!

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