Phantoms

The dust covered floor and the hard carpet were hardly a selling point of the house. No one had bothered to clean it over the years. The wallpaper was peeling, tufts of green moss beginning to appear in places.

My footsteps echoed through the empty halls, my feet raising clouds of dust in my wake, as I made my way towards the first floor landing.
The stairs creaked under my feet, and in the silence, it sounded like the house was moaning in pain. I tried not the flinch.

***

There’s a lot they tell you about houses. The walls are strong enough to hold against storms and quakes, the floor smooth and carpet friendly…the door facing the right way, so there was a lot of light always…Things like that. But there’s so much more they don’t tell you.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying the house had a spirit. No. Despite everything, it was, still, inanimate. Un-alive.

But it is filled with life, isn’t it? The wind that’s been touching it’s every part for years, the moss that’s been living underneath all that paper, waiting to sprout through. The earth underneath the framework and within its gaps, holding it together.

And when something is alive, it feels, even if it can’t think. And emotions… well, they leave memories.

***

The Gardener house wasn’t my first choice. But it came cheap. And it wasn’t lived in in years. That’s what they told me, anyway.

My gift, though more often than not, it felt like a curse, wouldn’t trouble me there. Or so I’d thought.

I always forget how powerful love can be.

***

I was following the wind chimes.

I was wary.

Because there was neither a wind here, nor had there been a wind chime when the realtor had first shown me the house.

I had the worst luck when it came to things like this.

***

There was nothing wrong with the apartment I was staying in, per se. It was modern and compact, came well in my budget and was close to work, and the city. 

However, it was hard to sleep when there was always a phantom, with wrists cut and bleeding, staring at you, blank eyed, from the corner of your bedroom. 

***

I was in the master bedroom, staring out the window. The sun was halfway down already.

And the chime was loud and clear here. If I closed my eyes, I could picture it, right there hanging by the window, little metal cylinders dashing together, a small disc, maybe spinning, the strings getting all tangled….

It was a pretty sight. I smiled to myself.

Whatever might be the case, atleast it wasn’t a big tragedy.

That was the comforting thing.

If it were, I’d have known by now.

Maybe this time it would just be some really emotional family drama.

Maybe.

***

‘It’s beautiful!’ came a gasp from next door.

I sighed. So much for wanting a worn out house.

***

The memories leave echoes behind. Sometimes they are fresh and strong, sometimes old and feeble. Sometimes they are things that your eyes can just pass over – like the soft flapping of clothes on the line outside, or the low murmurs running through the house mixing with the noise of everyday life. But, every once in a while, some memories stand out, too loud and sharp to be ignored.

These echoes leave behind ghosts of people…. phantoms. And more often than not, they are the remnants of death, of sorrow, of grief…of emotions so strong and powerful, they threaten to rip you open

***

I stepped into the room the gasp had come from and froze.

Sitting against the far wall was a beautiful bassinet, covered in mouldy white sheets. It must’ve been a peach coloured crib once, but now it was almost yellow, the paint peeling in places like it had been scratched out. Cobwebs spring in between the rails and all around the crib, replacing the curtains that it would’ve held.

I turned to my right and found a half-painted wall, streaks of blue, half-finished, dulled by age, running down the middle of the wall.

The window here was open, but the air in the room seemed stale. Dusty with age and heavy with the weight of broken dreams and lost futures.

With a sigh, I stepped back.

***

Everyone noticed these echoes. Shadows of lives left behind. That ‘feeling’ that you get when you step into a place….it never is just a feeling.

People’s minds…regular people’s minds, can just simply gloss over these voices and sights…but not me. Gift or a curse, I don’t know..but I bear it.

And more often than not, it makes life a living hell

***

I wasn’t surprised when the first note echoed through the house.

I had seen an age old piano lying downstairs in the hall, the only piece of furniture they had bothered to cover.

The slow melody began, a couple of notes following the first, like little gusts of wind blowing in before the storm.

And against my will, I found myself following the music…..the story.

***

I stood in front of the piano now, seeing a translucent woman run her fingers on the ivory keys.

They danced, floating on the small rectangles and music filled the house, a tune so beautiful, it made my heart clench.

I didn’t understand the complexity of that composition…I never could with music, but I could almost hear the story she was trying to tell.

I could almost see it, the happiness that seemed so sure and the world that was starting to bloom, as the notes entangled and flowed and rose to a crescendo..

And then the hopeless despair as the world came undone, the broken shards of their shattered hearts tearing at their souls….

And then came the final melody, a farewell, a lullaby, to a soul that was never given a chance.

Just as I could feel the end come close, the music stopped abruptly.

I blinked the tears blurring my vision, (when had I started crying?) and focused on the shape ahead.

The woman’s shoulders were slumped now, her dark hair floating behind her like she was underwater, her dress fluffing up at her feet. A small shudder that passed through her told me that there were tears hidden behind the curtain of hair.

I wanted to step forward, put a hand on her shoulder, tell her it would be fine, but I knew better.

How many nights had I spent, yelling reassurances at the top of my unheard-voice, trying to comfort with my unfelt touch? They were echoes. Phantoms. Lost memories stuck in a place that once held their lives. They would soon fade. But it was never easy.

I watched as she held her palms out in front of her, at her belly, stroking the ghost of a bump.

She looked up, and her beautiful tear stricken face seemed to be staring right at me, but she wasn’t. She couldn’t have been.

I almost thought she would collapse, right here and that I would have to go through the agony of watching someone lose their life and reason to live in one moment. I balled my fists in my pockets and clenched my jaw.

Please,’ I begged to whatever force was listening, ‘Please.’

She simply squared her shoulders and turned away, gliding to the back door.

***

I’d never seen something like that before.

It was like when you pop a new air tight bottle.

And suddenly, it all rushed out of the house…all that pain, and death, and sadness, and loneliness….the dark and thick blanket covering the house lifted. It seemed to be filled with air so light, I felt like I could float.

She’d left the house, that ghost of a woman, and taken her sorrow with her, somehow.

And here I was, standing, for the first time in what felt like aeons, in an empty house.

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