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WALK ON BY
a ghost story
3rd place in Writing Magazine's Grand Prize 2021
I was your blind spot when you pulled out in front of that car. The crunch of metal, the squeal of rubber, car spinning, screams, a mother and child diving out the way, before we went through the wall, bricks flying in all directions.
I thought you’d seen me in the glint of shattered glass, in the rainbow slick of oil that kissed your cheek as you lay shaking on the cold tarmac. Could you hear me whisper in the hiss of the oxygen the paramedic gave you?
‘I did this,’ I said. ‘Come join me.’
I often think back to when we met. You walked past me slumped in a doorway, sleeping bag pulled to my chest, a pale face beneath a damp, pink, woolly hat. Chapped lips, long hair – once glossy, smooth, and fine – matted and stuck to hollow cheeks. The cold was heavy in my skin, muscles, organs, bones. I asked for spare change in a weak whisper, eyes directed to a coffee cup in front of me, a few coins in the bottom. In your wide-eyed look you saw a venomous creature, tentacles tensed, teeth bared like a famished wolf, before clutching your handbag tight, and marching away on clacking heels. My heart juddered and stopped, and I was surrounded by an icy blackness. A moment later, there I was, looking down upon myself, closed purple eyelids, surrounded by a bed of cardboard. A figure I barely recognised. When did I start looking so old? And there you were, halfway down the street, and a strange, tingling energy pulled my transparent body towards you. Mist surrounded everything. I’m a ghost, I realised. The thought made me laugh. I was in hysterics as I followed you home.
Your house was beautiful, full of light, sleek furniture, and pictures. I stared at the paintings and photographs, absorbed each colour, felt each brushstroke, marvelled at the light and shade. I wondered, am I light or am I shade?
I followed you everywhere. Saw what you saw, heard what you heard. I was bound to you. You’d sing along to bland, whiney pop music with your tone-deaf squeals. We watched awful soaps and celebrity panel shows on television. You’d sit around, drinking cheap, pink wine with dull friends, chatting about hating work and needing holidays. But I liked the sex. I’d hover over your pulsating bodies. You have a good taste in men.
But I grew bored.
And, one day, I thought, I’m a ghost, right? I’m supposed to haunt you.
I became the static in your radio so you had to keep readjusting the dial.
I was the cold breeze you searched for in all the window and door frames when you couldn’t get warm.
I was the flickering lightbulb in the bedside lamp as you read your gossip magazine.
There was a month when you couldn’t sleep. Something kept waking you. You never heard it, saw nothing. You were exhausted – grey skin and red eyes. You went to the doctor for pills. They didn’t work. But I got bored of waking you. I need my sleep too.
I enjoyed discovering the small things I could do to annoy you, testing my abilities.
Then one day, you walked past a homeless man, hat laid on the pavement for coins. I knew him, remembered how he’d shared his food as I cried and shivered beneath a railway arch.
He smiled, revealing chipped, yellow teeth. A nice man, fallen on hard times. He’d withered.
‘Help him,’ I cried. ‘You have money in your purse.’
But you kept going, with that same look of terror on your face when you’d seen me. I would have slapped, and kicked, and scratched, and punched you. If I could’ve held a knife, I’d have slit your throat. If I could’ve strangled you, I’d have done it slowly as you stared through bulging eyes at your reflection in a shop window. I imagined your horror as you’d float beyond your own body like I did.
‘Hello,’ I’d say. ‘Remember me?’
You wouldn’t remember.
That evening, I was in the soapy foam at your feet as you slipped in the shower, hitting your forehead on the wall, slumping down into the bathtub, curled like a foetus, and passing out. You woke with the shower’s icy water raising goose bumps on your skin. You shivered all night.
At breakfast, I was the scolding heat of the porridge that bubbled over the side of the bowl and stuck like lava to your thumb as you lifted it from the microwave. You dropped the bowl, smashing it on the floor, porridge splattering across cupboards, and ran your hand beneath the cold tap. Did you see me laughing in the spray?
And then, the accident where I made you pull out in front of the car…
That day, a gale blew. You wrapped up in scarf and hat, and as we walked to the car you fought against the wind. Leaves, ripped from trees, whipped against the car windows as we drove to the supermarket. You didn’t see the car coming, shiny, fast, and red. The crash was an explosion. It threw us through the windscreen.
The paramedics worked your chest, breathed deep into your lungs.
‘Stay with us,’ they said.
I felt light. There was less energy, less pull between us.
‘You deserved this,’ I said.
A gust of wind, and I was blown, tumbling free, and rising. I watched you below, limp on the ground, as I drifted skywards.
The paramedics began to pack their bags and you slipped out of your broken body to float above them.
I laughed and waved goodbye as I mingled with the clouds.
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