Phantom (a short story)

When I was sitting with my legs under me in the grass, covered in a shiver with the wind at my neck, I was at first confused. How did it find me? And how could it have overcome me so quickly, and quietly? I put the heel of my palm to my head and rubbed it furiously. There was a voiceless, unbelieving sob (my own) as I asked—

How?

And then as it all gathered, I began to remember. He had been planning this for days. He had been there. I remember. I should have known.

Perhaps I did.

I remember the green glow at the edge of the window, and as I lay in the dark I felt lulled by it. It was like a lighthouse, fading, and I was meant to close my eyes before it had a chance to swing back again. I was meant to. I would have outsmarted it. I would have evaded it.

And then in the evening, when I was with the others, I tore and aligned twigs in straight rows as they spoke of their nights, nights they kept in lockets at their breasts. I pulled up my collar. I could not speak.

In the morning when I woke and went to fetch the water, I found myself led far from the path of the house. I was down a divergence on ground that has since been grown with green, and the blades of grass gave shocked, silent gasps as I broke their spines. The sky was gray like ash and I could see its glow from behind a tree. It throbbed, and I placed the water down and walked towards it—all on my own, too. It took me by the waist.

It was not pleasant and yet not unpleasant. I did not push it off, and when it lined my jaw with its green fingers I let it. It did not last, but it happened more than once so it must have taken a while. 

And then it lifted off of me, swirled high into the tree and watched me lying on the floor, with my arm over my eyes and my heels in the dirt and a scream in my throat. I took the water pail and lunged it at the tree, but it splattered back and made mud at my feet and on my hem.

I breathed heavy and hot. The sky rumbled. There would be rain.

I walked away, determined and pulling my hair back and up and tying it with a steadfast flick of my ribbon. I made my way back down the path, walking around the grasses and trying to ignore the corpses of the blades I had crushed. The clouds rolled. I went home and, in my fever of determination, fell fast asleep with my hand against my cheek.

I woke normally at first, stirring in the dark of the clouds. Still no rain. But I could smell it. I meant to sit up — really I did. I meant to sit up and retie my hair and go fetch fresh water for my face, but there was a whispering at my back, and from the corner of my eye I could see the glow behind me. It was pulling at my ribbon, my hair was falling out. I turned to face it.

Its glow was frightening and endlessly moving, like sick steam. It wrapped around my waist and I breathed it in, until it reached the end of my lungs. It was still swirling when I turned around again and bit the edge of my pillow. My chest was burning.

“Be gone, be gone—”

But it would not go unless I made it. So I swung myself out of bed and faced it.

“Come with me.”

It listened. It always listens when you want something from it. It will give you anything you want. I led it through the house, and had to keep down my cries as it moved around the furniture and shadowed the flower vase by the window. When we reached the front door, I turned to it.

“I’ve had enough.”

It was sometimes soft, and it placed a hand on my cheek. I held my breath and turned away from it. Then I waited until full darkness had returned to the house and I could hear only the pounding of my heart.

Soft twinkles started on the window pane. The flowers shivered.

I closed my eyes, slowly, and waited for the thunder. When it came the twinkling became excited, and my chest softened. I walked towards the window and pulled it open. Chilled wind and water came in. I slipped my body out, just until the waist, and lay with my face upwards. It was uncomfortable, but the water ran down my cheeks and broke on my lashes and slipped down my hair and chest. It tickled on its way down my collar and onto my stomach. I let it wash me.

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