Loss

The Attic Ghosts (Ballad)

Long after even those they haunted were forgotten, the attic ghosts continued to howl. Alas, they frightened no one but themselves. The house, their prison, sunk into disuse, creeping with cobwebs and memory, abandoned even by rats. Nature reclaimed the grounds inch by inch as the decades passed. Lichen creeped up crumbling walls. They lingered in a manse too old, too irrelevant, to condemn.

They spent eternity, when not beguiling themselves with the mournful music of the haunt, remembering the good old days. When other spirits and when the living frequented their halls. When they existed in static symbiosis: The spirits never left; man was never scared away. They dreamt, during the aimless days and sleepless nights that soon those times would return. That someone would rediscover the house on the hill and beat away the passage of time, and bear them back to the past when they were feared, remembered and revered.

They clung to each other in the dark, voicelessly declaring to the universe: "We are here! We still have a place!" Whether this was to convince themselves or the all encroaching silence, they no longer remembered. They circled each other, creatures of light and of shadow. Creatures who existed between life and death, never quite belonging to either. Creatures who were shunned by both.

Time continued to pass, warping the world around them. The attic collapsed. The roof caved. And even the foundation melted to rubble. Still they hoped that one day life would return, life would remember them and would once again be frightened by their feet upon the stair, by their pattering on a ceiling in a house that would one day rise again.

And one day, far in the future, when nothing remains of what man built there but a quarry in the midst of a forest on a hill, a light calls to them. Come home. It caresses.

We are home.

There is nothing for you here, not living nor dead. Come home. Come join us.

And they resist, and deny the truth that has stared them in the face for centuries. Man will never return. But eventually they relent, and fade away into the afterlife, still embracing, and become part of a new world. One that is wholly their own.

And anyone who hikes through that mountain thereafter will hear a soft whisper on the wind. An echo of the time the attic ghosts spent there, the cohabitation of death with life. It will sing to them:

Once here were attic ghosts, haunting the top of an ancient manse, thumping and moaning in the dust. They howled; they danced, and men were afraid, reminded by their fear that this world housed forces they would never understand.

And in their own way… they were happy.

 

The Attic Ghosts (Dirge)

Once there were attic ghosts, haunting the top of an ancient manse, thumping and moaning in the dust. The ceiling above their humans' heads creaked with ethereal weight, terrifying and delighting the fleshed in equal measure. There is comfort in fear. In the reminder that this world is populated by forces the living will never understand. There is a purpose in frightening, in knowing that even after death, our souls, our echoes, still have a will to work in this world

And in their way, both the living and the dead were happy.

Once there was a community of the dead, composed of both housed and listless spirits. A community of those dead who haunt and possess a single place, and those who wander the Earth, drifting from home to home to see who resides inside, to see who died there and remains there still. The attic ghosts received these creatures of living light and decaying shadow with grace, grateful for their company. Glad to know they were not alone in the universe of the just beyond.

Once there were many incorporeal souls, but one day they began to fade, called onward by a breathing light to some unknown afterlife. Freed from the liminal space of half-being. But the attic ghosts remained. Once they entertained the prodigal departed, but no longer. All spirits passed beyond even the realm beyond, into the bliss of oblivion, leaving the attic ghosts on Earth, their souls standing apart and alone.

But still they had the living, and still they haunted their manse. Still they whispered that some dead were still here; that their souls remained. "We still have a place in the universe!" Was their voiceless cry.

And as long as the living remained below their feet to frighten, and abode to be reminded of the unknown, they were happy.

But then a final change came. The last of the men willing to live below the strange passed away. Their children moved into more modern homes, with more modern sensibilities. None with room for ghosts. Now, in the old house, the windows are boarded, the rooms are empty but for louses and dust. The ghosts are left alone with none but themselves for company.

Long after even those they haunted have been forgotten, the attic ghosts continue to howl and dance. The floorboards creak beneath transparent feet.

Now, alas, they frighten no one but themselves.

 

Frame Story

The story begins like this. An old man sits alone in a hookah bar. Heavy smoke curls around his head, casting faint shadows in the light. This is his tale. One of a distant past.

No one approaches him, though they all wonder why he returns each night to sit at the same table, facing the same wall, smoking the same flavor of damp tobacco. They ask themselves what he sees, staring at that wall, whether there's a particular face that haunts him, or if a long litany of sins weighs on his soul. They whisper among themselves the stuff of legends, speculating about what sort of life led him here. Was it one of grand adventures, of conquest and loss?

One day a brash soul, or an ignorant one, sits where he sits. The bar holds its breath, waiting for him to arrive, to see what happens next.

The old man appears, walks up to the table with a slight limp, spies the young buck straddling his stool, smoking his favorite flavor of leaf. His face remains impassive, his expression inscrutable in the gloom.

"Yer gonna get up."

"Oh yeah?" The young man smirks, "And why is that?"

The old man sits across from him. "Yer gonna get up."

"Make me."

The old man sighs, and with a deep breath begins his tale. The bar sits in silence, and listens. It is even more poignant than they dreamed, one of romance and death. Each word weaves them deeper into a world of his memory and imagination. For an hour and a half or two, the bar sits, listening to a tale so evocative they can picture every twist and turn like they too lived it.

At its end, back in the story outside the story, the young man wept. He stands and allows the old man his seat.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know."

The old man watches him through watery eyes, grabs the hookah, inhaling deeply, scouring his soul of its telling. The smoke billows from his nostrils, and for a moment in the lowlight, takes on the shape of a certain face. One that no one else has seen, but they all know her name, her story and her fate. They know what these two were to each other, what they suffered through and what it all came to at the end. In a moment it is gone. The smoke fades in the dusk.

"Like I said, ya got up."

On the Beach

The ocean rumbles. Of course. Sitting before it, waves undulating towards me. The soft whispers of a receding tide. blue ripples out to the horizon and one hears little else.

I hear it, not the present vastness but an echo. Like the ocean contained within a seashell. I know I am not truly here. On the shore. With these strangers. I am still with him.

In my mind, I see us. At this beach alone, ignoring the cool water lapping our bodies, the damp sand. All we see, and feel, is what burgeons between us.

We lie there hand in hand, baking beneath the sun. Him tanning, then burning, me settling into the shiny brown of burnished wood. Paradise...

I see him, wading, looking at me with a smile, wet to his waist. On his lips an unspoken invitation. Why didn't I run to him, one last time?

I see myself reading, then furrowing my brow as I glance up and see: An ocean, happy families, some... thing? Someone? Bobbing in the distance.

Before the whistle, before the lifeguard's cries, I am already up, running past the surf and past smiling toddlers, ignoring the bite of rocks in the sand. Ignoring the beguiling call of the sea. I run to you, but you are already gone.

Funny how the world keeps spinning, even as ours burns. They tell me it was an aneurysm, you felt no pain. That I was left to feel for two.

And so here I sit. At the beach alone. Everything seems so distant, even you, even as I imagine you beckoning silently from the dark.

Reaching toward you, the ocean roars in my ears like a tempest. I taste metal in my mouth, hear faint screams. I squeeze tight, and...

...suddenly, I hear nothing, see nothing, not waves, not passersby, not their horror.

All I see is us.

All I see is your smile, waves lapping at our bodies intertwined, as we ignore them and the sand. As we lie-here together-on the beach.