Content Warning: Disordered eating, Allusion to sleeping pills and issues with self, and slight gore/unsettling imagery
I was on the floor when I finally met my ghost. My back against the front door and water puddling on the scuffed hardwood. I had never seen it, but it had been haunting me for months. I had felt it watching me when I tried to force myself to stomach food, when I downed sleeping pills like candy, when I shamefully cried in the shower. It was always there, unseen, waiting. I knew exactly who it was.
It had watched me fumble with the lock, shame and hurt scraping my innards raw as I stood shivering in the rain. It had seen me stumble through the doorway, slumping against it with shaky breaths before gracelessly sliding down towards the floor. There was a hulking mass of something gnawing at my chest, cracking my ribs wide open, and sounding a lot like please come back and it hurts, oh god it aches. It watched as I curled inwards, fingernails digging into the flesh of my shins.
With my legs drawn up against my chest, I pressed my face into my knees, pretending the water dripping onto them was from stray raindrops in my hair. Goosebumps prickled against my skin, my gasping breaths hitting my damp flesh and leaving a chill so rattling that it left my bones flaking. I could feel the ghost’s eyes on me, watching me tremble and heave and fall apart, its gaze burning blisters into my nerve ends. I had no doubt that it could hear my heart attempting to crawl out of my throat, my mouth burning with the taste of acid and an erratic pulse.
Through wet, matted hair, I could see it sitting cross-legged a little distance from me, its hazel eyes focused on my twitching form, hands in its lap.
‘Just, go away,’ I said, the lump in my throat collecting bile, ‘Why are you even here?’
It wouldn’t answer, it never did when I called for it. It would just watch, silent as it made me the fool.
A shuddering breath, ‘Are you- Is this just fun for you?’
The only response was the sound of my heartbeat trying to crack through my ribs. The rapid thump-thump-thump reverberating off the walls, sinking somewhere into the foundation, ready for the next owners to hear late at night when they’re trying to sleep. Maybe, long after my body fills with maggots and rot, I’ll find peace while phantoms of me crawl through these walls and floors, and drive lonely people to madness. They’ll pretend not to be scared; I know it. But, late at night, when they are all alone and so goddamn cold, they’ll pray to their god in desperation as they down little, yellow sleeping pills. Perhaps, I am to be the next ghost to haunt these halls.
‘What do you want from me?’ my voice pitches halfway through, words cracking.
The silence slashes me open, the shame cauterising the wound.
Hours later, after I drag my bruised, wet body to the bathroom, it reappears once more. Our eyes meet in the mirror, the ghost’s hazel boring into my salt-stung own. Its arms come up to wrap around my waist, its face hooking over my shoulder, and my eyes flutter shut with a sigh. Something sharp rests against my abdomen, cool and frigid against my skin—an agonising balm to the decaying sludge flowing through my dry, burning veins.
‘Did-‘ I open my eyes and catch its gaze, ‘did you ever really care for me all that much?’
There is no response, save for the loud swallow that comes from my own raw throat.
I almost want to sag in its hold, to feel it hold my weight up and remind me that I exist, that I am more than just a lonely, fragile sack of decaying tissue.
‘Tell me you did, please.’
It makes no noise as it finally splits me open, my weeping and withered contents spilling all across the floor. My grip on the sink loosens, and I find myself on the bloodied tile floor, bruised and aching.
‘Please,’ my voice breaks on the word, like a fool.
Without a word, it pours salt into the wound, watching as I writhe.
Author: Alex Boughen is a non-binary creative writing student that has a passion for exploring mental health, the human experience, and queer identities through poetry and short fiction. Combining their love of the mundane with ambiguity and open endings, Alex writes with the hope of creating works that will resonate and encourage reflection.
Artist: Sarah McLachlan is a third year Bachelor of Creative Writing student who likes to draw in her spare time. She wishes to combine both her art and writing skills to create a webcomic of her own one day, but she’s also open to illustrating for books and book covers. Sarah is also a major The Legend of Zelda fan and can be found drawing a lot of elves. You can find her at @hideriame02 on Instagram.
Editors: Jasmine Tait and Eliana Fritz