Contest #64 shortlist ⭐️

38 comments

Fiction Suspense

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.

October 20, 2020 13:38

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38 comments

Lina Ozz
13:37 Oct 30, 2020

Woohoo!! Congrats on the shortlist, Claire!! Not surprised at all :)

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Claire Lewis
14:43 Oct 30, 2020

Thank you so much! It’s my first shortlist so I’m a *little* excited about it lol!!

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Lina Ozz
14:54 Oct 30, 2020

I’m *a lot* excited for you!! :D

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Leilani Lane
13:36 Oct 30, 2020

YOU GOT SHORTLISTED CLAIRE!!!! I'm so happy, this is so well deserved!!!

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Claire Lewis
14:45 Oct 30, 2020

Thank you Leilani, that means a lot coming from you!! I’m doing a little happy dance over my first shortlist 😂

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Leilani Lane
14:50 Oct 30, 2020

Go celebrate!! I need to catch up on your new stories!!! Can't wait! :)

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22:53 Dec 04, 2020

Congrats! Coolest ghost story I've read today! (I read a lot of ghost stories by the way) It reminds me of the middle school haunted-house series Books of Elsewhere. Creepy, how the ghost talks.

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Claire Lewis
17:52 Dec 05, 2020

Hi Emmie, thanks for the kind comment! I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed this story so much!

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18:04 Dec 05, 2020

You're welcome!

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Rayhan Hidayat
03:54 Oct 23, 2020

Hey Claire, this was an awesome read! Here’s the things that I liked: >The skillful navigation between the couple’s and the ghost’s POV; I especially love how it feels like the ghost is writing in a logbook or something, making them strangely relatable >The execution of the prompt; the story is both eerie yet touching >The almost circular nature of the story with the Byers claiming not to be superstitious at the beginning and end Here’s the things that in my humble opinion could be improved: >This sentence: “Dying is like being ...

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Claire Lewis
18:20 Oct 23, 2020

Hi Rayhan, thank you so much for the read and your kind comments! Your suggestion was super helpful, I’ll make that edit now!

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Rayhan Hidayat
14:42 Oct 30, 2020

Congrats!! 🥳

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Claire Lewis
14:46 Oct 30, 2020

Thank you!! And thanks so much for your help with the edits!

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Rayhan Hidayat
14:55 Oct 30, 2020

Don’t mention it 😉

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A.G. Scott
16:37 Oct 20, 2020

Great execution of a really smart concept. Especially enjoyed the ghost's perspective.

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Grace Estano
03:11 Nov 01, 2020

Congratulatios.

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Claire Lewis
04:34 Nov 01, 2020

Thank you Grace!

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Daniel Roueche
20:53 Oct 31, 2020

This is a wonderful story! Your descriptions really put me in the house. I also loved the switches between the living and the ghost. Brilliant. Oh, and that ending gave me chills! Perfect finish. Congrats on the shortlist! Also, I love your nod to Stranger Things :)

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Claire Lewis
21:40 Oct 31, 2020

Hi Daniel, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Will Byers is just such a good name--I couldn't resist lol!

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Daniel Roueche
22:35 Oct 31, 2020

Hahaha I agree! Great touch 🙃

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15:45 Oct 30, 2020

Wonderful job, Claire!! You deserve that shortlist!!!!!!!

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Claire Lewis
15:51 Oct 30, 2020

Thank you so much Felicity!!

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16:15 Oct 30, 2020

No problem! I'm so happy for you!!

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17:17 Oct 22, 2020

"Yes, I think that I did know you, that this house was ours, but I cannot recall what our names were or even shape of your face." Stick a "the" in front of "shape". ;) "They sat comfortably in their paint-stained clothes at the bare wooden table with its mismatched chairs and ate unhurriedly." This sentence is a bit run-on--here's how you can rearrange it :) "They sat in their paint-stained clothes at the bare wooden table. Comfortable in the mismatched chairs, they ate unhurriedly." "Amelia brought the radio upstairs and they sang alo...

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Claire Lewis
18:45 Oct 22, 2020

Hi Leo, thanks so much for those edits and for the careful read!

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17:52 Apr 26, 2021

chilly, suspenseful, and the italicized paragraphs were magnificent. intricately plotted and well-executed; a story like this could've easily gone awry in the making, but yours stayed pitch-perfect. honestly, this deserved a win.

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Thom Brodkin
18:49 Mar 17, 2021

Are you a ghost? You must be a ghost because only a ghost could write a ghost so well. Is that what they mean by a ghost writer? 😊 Seriously though, how do you do it? How do you write so many stories about so many different topics and write them so flawlessly? You know I count you a poet. Your writing always has that melodic quality to it. You write with such wonderful detail and yet I'm never bogged down in trying to see your vision. That's professional grade. I hope you never stop writing. I hope you send me a signed copy of your...

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Claire Lewis
21:17 Mar 17, 2021

Ha, no ghost here! I just happened to watch a lot of horror movies before I wrote this one. I’m not sure if I’ve read that one either haha... heading over now.

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Jason Parker
13:35 Jan 10, 2021

Wow. Your turn of phrase is nothing short of wonderful, Claire. Lines like: "ringing in harmony with the silence of death" are just perfect. This story is a slice of genius. It will haunt me for some time to come. : )

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Claire Lewis
17:45 Jan 10, 2021

Thank you, Jason! You made my day :)

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B. W.
03:49 Oct 24, 2020

i'll go and give this story a 10/10 :)

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Claire Lewis
05:05 Oct 24, 2020

Thank you!! I appreciate the read 😊

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B. W.
05:06 Oct 24, 2020

No prob, ya deserve it ^^ if it's alright, could ya check out some of my stories and leave some feedback?

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Claire Lewis
05:14 Oct 24, 2020

Sure, I can take a look tomorrow!

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B. W.
05:14 Oct 24, 2020

Thanks ^^

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Janey Finch
21:20 Mar 05, 2021

Ok wow! Just when I thought it couldn't get better, it did!! The ending was so great and wow, the whole thing was written really beautifully. There was great rhythm and romance. And this specific line, I don't know what it is about it but it's just very professional sounding, "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." Great great great job! (p.s. I know I'm really late to this but I finally came back on Reedsy after a ...

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Claire Lewis
01:53 Mar 06, 2021

Thanks Janey, so glad you enjoyed it! I'm excited to read yours and I just posted a new story if you get a chance to check it out :)

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Janey Finch
02:30 Mar 06, 2021

Oh, it was sooo well done Claire! And ooh awesome, I'm looking forward to the feedback and I just checked it out! It was amazing btw! :)

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