That’s the thing about this city…some believe it’s haunted.
There are the urban legends that every tough street-smart teen hears, about petrifying phantoms that only weave spells of darkness and enchantment in the inky blackness of night-glimpsed from top-floor casement windows.
Here are students who blanch, with faces like undercooked pudding, whenever ghosts are even mentioned, coupled with the name of this mysterious city- Everfall. Some can sense the suspenseful chill in the air and the sense of a supernatural stalker, watching, waiting, aloft in the shadows. Most dismiss the myths that aghast tourists relay to them as they hurriedly leave, as pure rubbish. And there are conspiracy theorists who will be on the Internet since the end of known time, bleating out wild speculations about reincarnation and life after death. Only I know what the unearthly species and creatures that revealed themselves only on the most spine tingling nights are, though. And to this day, I still protect my knowledge like molten gold.
Do I believe in ghosts? was the nagging question to myself, as I raced down the disquiet and unnerving road, with unkempt brown hair that puffed all around my shoulders. But it was only a favour, I told myself...a charity clean-up on the infamous Brenton Road, site of some too many reported ghost sightings, many of which were told with wavering voices, on the verge of hacking sobs. The so-called victims-afflicted, intimidated, wary-were now on the barren outskirts of society. They were shunned, gaslit, belittled. Eventually they faded back into obscurity, as the skeptics ruled the roost in popular culture.
But how many of them could be sure?
Shaking myself like a dog drying off from the pool, I sternly repeated in my mind that I just couldn’t believe the unruly and disorganised rumours. They were flying around like poisonous bits of gossip: they were about a spate of recent ‘attacks’ on disbelieving civilians. But how many gossip magazines had ever been correct in the past? Everything would be fine.
No-one was there when I arrived, now shaking like a lightning-strike victim. Everything in the street was in faded sparse colours of sallow grey, brown and black; an occasional piece of revolting garbage, like a weatherbeaten banana peel or dirtied soda can, tumbled along in the darkened alleys. A few precisely positioned cars stood near driveways, but their great hulking shapes looked ominous in the cloudy evening. Apartments rose to the sky, their spires piercing the roiling clouds, but not one scuffle or scurry inside any building. It made me feel suddenly at risk. Like a monster of the darkness was just awaiting a single step, to make me vanish forever.
I attempted to move one disobeying foot forward-scrape, scrape, scrape against the rutted pavement. No fluid movement of arm or leg, or momentum, carried me forwards back through the hidden bee nests of alleys-paralysed like a gormless stature, almost like I was being put on display.
And I was…slowly, spectres began to form, all genders, ethnicities and appearances, all see-through with their grotesque organs, there for all the world to see. They gaped and tried to stumble towards me, halting and uneven steps, but steps nevertheless. However, with their withered faces, it looked like it took exhausting years of patience and practice to even move a limb.
There is some sort of paralysing force, hidden all over the city-ghosts, I instantly thought. And there was- a neon navy current streaked through the air, crackling with electricity. But I stared at my outstretched hand. Here I was, with my deformed body streaming all over with the same unbodied power, glowing ever more royal blue-and my fingers bare and lifeless, as transparent as the other ghosts’ fingers as they reached out ponderously for mine.
They made strange gargling and grimacing noises and movements, startling when they briefly touched a strolling woman in an accident-they were truly ghosts, those who were all over the newspaper articles in immense headlines. Soon, a new ghoul joined us in this featureless museum, the woman, whose mere tiny step on the pavement had resulted in her reaching the bolt of blue. I had no hunger pains as the ceaseless hours ticked on, meaningless as the insignificant humans us ghosts now watched silently, succumbing accidentally to the navy flame-paralysis-then another new figure. Soon I realised the breadth of the invisible army, more and more standing over the streets of Everfall, the ancient secret. We stood and we gazed, as, through our disfigured clear-glass arms, more victims tripped, ever more as more and more ghosts haunted the town. All stumbling mindlessly towards each other in a vain hope for community, and spooking others by accident. My existence, now. Along these faceless ranks as the city transformed into a ghost town.
Some of my most evocative memories of that fraught time were of glimpsing my best friends, Joanna Zhu, and Ivy Zhang, frozen, posed like a taxidermist’s animals, when they too were trapped by a charitable clean-up at Brenton Street, and zapped by some extreme ray into my world. I soon adjusted to their normally cheerful, effervescent faces being entombed by otherworldliness. They, too, struggled to move in their muscle trance at first-but now they are almost able to move their mouth in something reminiscent of talking. I still can’t hear their hollering words-sound is dense here as if through thick bog water-but it is comforting to know that, through years of calculated practice-enough to befit a skilled ninja-I can now, almost, speak to them as well. Still, the impenetrable white wall holding us in from the human world cannot ever be crossed back. The point of no return. I can still recall their jobs-Joanna’s as a talented and skilful doctor with a successful practice, and Ivy’s-I dimly remember something that required friendliness, patience, and pronounced skill with little children, but not much. Memory is a barrier that will take as much time to penetrate as the chambers of distant gloominess that hold us in.
My translucent pen is becoming heavy, like a drop of mercury, fading into nothingness like a wilting flower. This story gives no answers, but it may serve as a record…an account. Now I will wait, and wait, and wait, in frigid purgatory, like in the deep freeze mode of a freezer. And I will only emotionlessly watch, as the once germinating Everfall becomes an alien phantom landscape.