I suppose you can say this whole thing began and ended with ghosts. Not all my life, of course, but only all that ever really mattered. Everything before meeting Angie happened simply to get me prepared for our life together. No real living had occurred until that moment. After Angie died, I was left only with ghosts. Now tonight I lie beside another woman who is not my wife, and who I have yet to touch. I marvel at her even, peaceful breathing as I stare at the awful ghost that sits calmly, but menacingly, near the foot of the bed.
Aunt Flora is dead and has been for several months. There’s really no reason on God’s green earth why she should be here, in my home, a place she’d never visited in life, but here she sits just the same, and I’m sure I know why. Perhaps it has everything to do with her not having a home of her own any longer, or because she’s lost her husband once again. She seems to grin at me as if she can read my thoughts.
Now she nods dramatically to say that she can, indeed.
“What do you want, Flora?” I finally ask, whispering. I try to be as quiet as possible. It seems like a useless proposition. Peace is an illusion to me at this point; like something so far out of my grasp as to be laughable.
“You know what I want, Paul.” Her voice is low and calm, but seems to reverberate against the walls. “You know very well what I want,” she says as the all-too-familiar lightning flashes outside probe into the bedroom and illuminate her. A gust of wind rattles the window briefly. It must’ve been the reason I awoke in the first place. I’m pretty sure it was just wind, but who could know at this point? In any event, there’d be no more sleeping.
I see Flora’s terrible features—that aged and deep-wrinkled skin pulled over high cheekbones; and that profound smile that brings no pleasure, but only sets me on edge. Thunder roars in the distance as if on queue. I am intimately familiar with this particular storm. Both it and Flora seem to have followed me.
“I can’t help you with that, Flora,” I say.
“Yes, I know. All you can do is bring everything to ruin.”
I stare at the ghost and say nothing further, taking in the sight of her with her long-sleeved white blouse, dark slacks and black shoes. It’s incredible to me that I’m having another conversation with my aunt. It’s clear she holds me to blame for what’s happened. If I wasn’t afraid before, there’s no denying it now.
Flora reclines against the winged-back chair that was Angie’s favorite and smiles. Her arms remain atop the arm rests, the perfect picture of quiet. Another bolt lights up the sky and my eyes immediately find her claw-like fingers as they seem to be digging into the upholstery. Now I know better and I shiver at this apparently perfect culmination of events.
“It’s not over, Paul,” Flora says. Her tone is firm and reminds me of a wild animal’s growl. “You know damn well what I want! It is all that I have ever wanted. But you have taken that from me. You have taken far too much. Now I shall do the taking. Do you hear me, Paul? Do you understand what I am telling you?”
Now I’m the one who leans back. I sit up first, positioning myself against the tall headboard. Here is a trend I can’t shake free of—me being awake as the night wanes. Another burst of lightning flashes across the Central California sky and then disappears, casting the room back into shadow. Thunder sounds. The storm is fast approaching. I say nothing more as I recline and simply stare at my dead aunt who sits and stares back, composed for the moment. It would seem I’ve become quite comfortable with ghosts, doesn’t it?