The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Naching T. Kassa
She’s been haunting me for 21 years and no one can see her but me.
It sounds like a title for one of the stories on Reddit, doesn’t it? Those stories where the writers pretend something supernatural and horrific happened to them? They meet a strange man dancing man in the street. Or they’re pursued by a Wendigo or a Skinwalker. But this is nothing like that. This really happened to me.
The last time I saw my fiancée alive was September 11, 2001, at 9:20 AM in the South Tower. Jane had turned her ankle on the staircase, and I left her behind. I ran away while she screamed my name.
I made it out of the South Tower, and away, sure that one of the firefighters I’d passed on the staircase would do what I could not. But at 9:59 AM the whole thing came crashing down, burying her and 800 others beneath tons of steel and concrete.
I don’t remember much of what happened in the next few months. It’s all kind of a blur. I know I didn’t go anywhere, that I went to my apartment, and I didn’t come out. No one called me, except the funeral home. They left me messages about a funeral, but I was too numb to listen to them. All of my friends had been people I met at work, and they had died when the towers fell too. (More funerals I didn’t attend.) My mother and I had grown estranged after my father’s death some six years before, so she didn’t call. I had no one, that is, until Jane appeared.
I had never believed in ghosts or an afterlife, and I don’t know how she got into the kitchen we once shared, but one day she was just there. She wasn’t messed up either. In the movies, they look like they just died, and I imagine being crushed would look pretty bad. But Jane wasn’t hurt at all. She looked just as beautiful as she had when I last saw her.
I have to tell you; it was quite a shock the first time I saw her. The way she stared at me, blamed me. I had caused her death and she would never forgive me.
I had enough sense not to tell anyone about what I saw. No one would believe me anyway. But I couldn’t get away from her. No matter where I went, where I hid, she was always there. Day or night. And night was the worst. She cried at night, and wherever I was, I could hear her sobbing.
I tried everything to get rid of her. I yelled at her, apologized, begged. She never said a word. Just kept staring straight ahead, that same accusatory expression on her face.
Then, I started having blackouts. Large measures of time would pass, and I would just wake up in the apartment, or on a subway train, or in an office building. I knew I should see a doctor, but then I’d have to tell him about Jane, and I didn’t want to wind up in the Manhattan Psychiatric Center.
One morning I woke to the scent of sage in the apartment. Something I didn’t even know I was cooking. Another time, I found spilled salt around the windows and the door. I never remember these things, nor why they were there. My memory was getting worse. I wondered if it was some sort of side-effect from all the dust I’d breathed when the towers fell.
Ten years had passed, and Jane still cried at night. I had tried everything to stop it. Screaming and begging didn’t work. Nothing did. And then, it came to me. The next time I heard her crying, I crawled into bed with her and held her. For the first time, she stopped. She never cried again.
Time passed after that. Lots of time. One morning, I woke up on a park bench in Central Park, beneath a shower of golden leaves. They tumbled around Jane and me, sailing through the chilly air like small, yellow boats. One landed on Jane’s head, touched her silver hair, and then floated away again.
It was then I noticed her wrinkled skin. How had she aged? Ghosts didn’t age.
She took a deep and shuddering breath, then closed her eyes.
“I’m so sorry, Henry,” she said. “It’s all my fault.”
I didn’t answer. It was the first time she’d spoken to me in over twenty years, and I found myself at a loss for words.
“I know you hate me, Henry. I’m the reason you’re dead. If you hadn’t gone upstairs to get the paramedics, you’d still be alive.”
I remember it all then. All the memories I’d lost. Jane screaming my name not because I’d run away, but because the steel girder above me fell. I see every lonely year Jane has spent without me. Every moment she has blamed herself for my death. She had seen my ghost, had tried to rid herself of me with sage and salt, but I had remained, haunted by my own guilt. Finally, there is the night I held her and stopped her tears. The night I realized that something deeper than guilt had chained me to her.
Her breath comes slowly. She could be sleeping but she’s not.
I will be here when she fails to wake. And I will never leave her again.
Fiction © Copyright Naching T. Kassa
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Naching T. Kassa:
Crystal Lake Publishing proudly presents Arterial Bloom, an artful juxtaposition of the magnificence and macabre that exist within mankind. Each tale in this collection is resplendent with beauty, teeth, and heart.
Edited by the Bram Stoker Award-winning writer Mercedes M. Yardley, Arterial Bloom is a literary experience featuring sixteen stories from some of the most compelling dark authors writing today.
With a foreword by HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Linda D. Addison, you are invited to step inside and let the grim flowers wind themselves comfortably around your bones.
Love this – so chilling and yet that twist at the end is so redemptive – I was gripped throughout – such well crafted prose.
Oh, Tosh! Excellent and moving without being banal or saccharine!