I sometimes feel that I knew you once, that the memory of your voice has haunted me for what feels like centuries, ringing in harmony with the silence of death. Yes, I think that I did know you, that this house was ours, but I cannot recall what our names were or even the shape of your face. Everything fades in death; even the sharpest memory becomes muddled and thin, mist on the moorland. Dying is being wrapped in an unending blanket of fog, watching the shape of the world as it happens without you but not seeing anything clearly.
I wish I could see you clearly, but I am already forgetting that I knew you once.
The house was cold and sat surrounded by the fiery leaves of autumn trees. It was large but not grand, two stories of brick and tall, graceful windows. The house stood proudly as it had for more than eighty years, some distance from the road and set quite apart from the other homes on Linden Drive. Inside, it echoed with emptiness, bare of furniture or art or any evidence of life. But the house itself was not empty, not entirely.
When the Byers moved into the house at the end of Linden Drive, they were enthralled by its charm and its emptiness. Will and Amelia were looking for an escape from the city, for a place to make their own. They wanted a clean canvas. Bare bones.
The first thing the Byers noticed about their new house was the way it breathed. Not literally, of course, but that was the only word they had for it. In the daylight, the house felt wide and warm, like an inhale. But at night, the house seemed to exhale and constrict around them. The air became tighter and the house took on a certain breathless tension, as if it were caught in a precarious balance between two things. Neither Will nor Amelia ever spoke of this aloud, of course, because it was irrational to think that a house could breathe, and the Byers were not irrational people.
At first it was little things. A bowl on the counter, not the table where Amelia remembered placing it. A door creaking open on its own as Will painted the walls in the second upstairs bedroom. Windows fogging up with puffs of breath, but no one there breathing. Little things, easily explained away and best forgotten. Will and Amelia were preoccupied, stressed from the move, seeing things. That was all.
I cannot remember what it feels like to breathe. There is only fading, in and out, like a weakening tide in a near-empty lake. I think that I am dissipating, evaporating; parts of me are becoming vapor and being pulled away to somewhere else. There are people in the house and moments later the house is empty. I do not know what is real and what is a dream.
Sometimes I walk without realizing that I am going somewhere. It’s like sleepwalking, I suppose, except that I am always tucked in that in-between place on the edge of sleep. I exist, if you can call it that, in a place that holds the past and the present and the future all in one, dim like a memory but not as familiar, all of time compressed into this single, blurry trance.
The dead do not sleep—we float. We float between time, and sometimes we forget who we are, that we are.
It does not feel like existing, death. I suppose it’s not meant to.
It was not long before the day came when Byers could no longer ignore the fact that their house was not truly empty. The day started plainly. They dressed in their painting clothes and went downstairs. Will made coffee like always and Amelia cooked breakfast, grateful for a leisurely Saturday morning. As they ate at the bare wooden table, seated in mismatched chairs, Will told Amelia about his idea to turn the spare room into a music room. She could finally buy the piano she’d always wanted.
They cleared their plates and washed them. Neither of them mentioned that they remembered seeing the dish towel by the sink but found it hanging from the handle of the cabinet by the stove. They went upstairs, hauling extra paint buckets and fresh brushes, excited to finally tackle painting the master bedroom. The autumn air was clean and comfortable, and the Byers decided to open the windows while they painted. Amelia brought the radio upstairs and they sang along to every song.
They painted, took a break for lunch, and painted some more until the sun began to sink behind the trees and the autumn forest looked like it was alight with flame. They ate leftovers for dinner and watched a movie, ignoring the strange chill that hung in the air as night fell.
I have been dead a day, a year, a century. Or maybe I am not dead at all. My mind is fading, and I wander the house without purpose, without seeing. I do not remember anymore how I died, but I think I was alone. I think I have been alone for a day, a year, a century.
There are people in the house and there is a strange smell in the air. I have wits enough about me tonight to know that much and to know it is not good. They are not people that I know. They are strangers. They cannot stay here, but part of me is happy that the lights are on and the house is warm and not quite so empty anymore. I wish it could stay this way, that I did not have to be alone.
I have not been this present for a very long time. The mist that hangs around me is thin tonight and I can almost make out their faces. A young woman with dark hair and a laugh loud enough to break through the fog. A man, about her age, who walks with a limp and talks with his hands. They are in the room that used to be our room, talking. I cannot understand the words, but they sound like love and remind me of you. I realize that I miss you, more than breathing.
They cannot see me or hear me, but I need them to. The need is strong, it gives me shape and strength which I doubt I will ever have again. The mist is very thin now. I step forward, and I am free of it.
Will and Amelia did not know what to do when she appeared. But there was no denying that she was there, pale and thin with stringy hair and eyes like frozen-over ponds. The house seemed to exhale everything left within it, forcing out the last of its oxygen and leaving an ice-cold vacuum in its wake. The Byers were trapped in terror, unable to breathe, waiting for something to happen.
The woman’s mouth moved with great difficulty, as if she were trying to remember how to speak.
“Leave.” Her voice faded fast, a sound faint as the rattle of dead leaves rustling in the wind. She pointed to the door, her gesture weighted as if she were underwater. Then, she was gone.
The Byers did not wait. Amelia packed a bag with their toothbrushes and two sets of fresh clothes and Will scrambled to find the car keys. They were not superstitious people, but neither were they willing to spend another night in the house.
They rushed out into the night, wearing coats over their nightclothes, and sped away. Amelia did not stop shivering for hours, not after they settled into a hotel room, not after a warm cup of tea. Only when Will held her and told her that they didn’t have to go back did the chill begin to fade.
The next morning, the Byers turned on the news and could do nothing but sit in shock, listening to words that did not sound real. Gas leak. Explosion.
There was nothing left of the house at the end of Linden Drive.