I thought it would hurt more. I barely had time to even see the knife before he cut me. The worst thing is, nothing was different. There were no portents, or signs of my impending doom. I had taken the train home, ignored being stepped on and squished into a corner as best I could, and ran the last few metres from the station to my house through the torrential rain. I was soaked to the skin, mad as hell and all I wanted to do was drink coffee and sit down, not necessarily in that order.
I should have noticed.
I always double-lock the door, never leave it on the catch. I’d just stormed in, not questioned why the door was unlocked, not until it was too late. A solid mass of worry formed in my gut when I realised the implications. I saw him in the shadows, a vague outline lit by dim electric light from outside. In that fractional delay when your eyes can’t quite make head nor tail of the gloom in front of you, my mind raced through all the possibilities. Adrenaline made my heart hammer in my ribcage, and my legs felt fused to the floor. It took seconds. I saw his face, a white oval against a dark background, sitting on top of a heavy-set torso. I saw a glimpse of a black shirt, black jeans and a glint of metal in one hand. He closed the distance fast with heavy footsteps, and I barely had time to even open my mouth. The first sweep caught me off guard. I must have raised my hands in defence, because my fingertips suddenly felt wet. A deep chill spread across my chest, followed by hot agony. I was bleeding. It didn’t stop with one. I could barely see by that point, just glimpses of red. The pain subsided to a dreamy haze, and I hit the floor. It all felt so stupid, so pointless. Then, just black. I welcomed it by that point.
I wasn’t alone in the dark. There were others, millions of them, all pressing together. For a ridiculous moment, I was reminded of being on the morning commute, and I couldn’t help but force out a laugh. No noise came. I had no substance, no mass, and whatever illusion my mind was holding onto collapsed in on itself. My home came rushing towards me, a kaleidoscope of colour and sound bursting back into existence. I found myself face to face with my corpse. I tried to scream, thrash, move away, anything, but I was bound. Whatever I was, I was silent and formless. But I could feel. I could see, think and remember. Was this how death worked? Was I a ghost? I never believed in anything beyond, no higher power, but I couldn’t accept that this was all that happened afterwards. I regarded my body with sorrow. I’d fallen straight onto the kitchen floor, hair matted together with blood. My mouth was hanging slackly open, blue eyes staring off at a distant point. I deliberately avoided looking at a ragged gashes across my torso and neck. God, I looked horrific. I tried to turn away, but I was stuck fast. Every movement felt like pressing against clay. I could see the rest of the room in my peripheral vision, an inexplicable misty haze mixing into the shadows. I concentrated on the doorway that led into the bedroom, desperate to get away from the abattoir my home had become. With a stuttering jump, I flitted to my destination. I yelped silently, unable to comprehend what just happened. I could see the scene properly now. He was standing over my bloodied corpse, apparently motionless. He had been standing there the whole time, rapidly breathing in and out. The knife was still gripped in his hand, knuckles white, blood dropping from its vicious point. I raged, cried, and screamed, like a ridiculous mime. It felt like being in a fish tank, yelling obscenities through the impenetrable glass. Whoever my murderer was, he didn’t know I was there.
Bastard! I sobbed.
The thing that hurt the most, if that was the right way to phrase it, was that no-one would find me. I lived alone, I didn’t even know my neighbours names, and there was no work until after the weekend. He’d have plenty of time to hide any evidence. Without being able to feel nauseous, my perception became clouded. I flitted again, without really aiming, and found myself alongside my killer. He was a brute, with heavy-set features, a poorly trimmed beard, and a jawline that looked like it had been fashioned from stone. His eyes were staring straight ahead, unblinking. I flailed at him with all of my strength, reaching as far as I could. I was desperate to cause him some pain, but I passed through him like a fine mist. I tried not to think about what exactly my arms looked like now. I saw a faint neon skeletal structure, like a poorly made Halloween decoration, but they defied further analysis. If I couldn’t do him any harm, couldn’t stop him, maybe I could warn someone else? People were always seeing ghosts, at least on tv, and I couldn’t be the only one. I hurled myself towards the front door, and made it little more than centimetres beyond the wood before I was pulled back inside. Screeching in frustration, I tried again and again, before trying every window and even through the wall itself. The same thing each time. I was bound here. To my body, to him, to my death, I had no idea. Without meaning to, I flitted back into the kitchen again. He’d moved. Panic overtook me. He’d pulled a large bag out of the darkness, and it wasn’t mine. Something heavy clanked inside, and it made an ominous noise as he dragged it across the floor. He leant over my corpse, and rooted through my discarded work bag. Fear had frozen me in place.
Get away from me! I shouted.
He’d found my phone. The light from the screen was alarmingly bright in the gloom, and in my altered state a strange phosphorescence spilt out of the device. After a few moments of stabbing at the screen with thick fingers, he discarded it onto the floor. He pulled out my purse, and started looking through the contents. I was frantically racking my panic-addled mind for something I could do. I was a ghost, a spirit, whatever the term was, and I couldn’t accept that this was all I had left. I couldn’t just float here and watch this psychopath dissemble my life and dump my body somewhere. I felt drawn to the phone. It lay invitingly on the floor, and if I concentrated, I could see a crackling aura around it. I reached out and touched the screen. There was a slight pressure, and with a silent gasp I realised it was responding to me. Did that make me a poltergeist? I had no idea. With frustratingly slow precision, I slowly started dialling 999, before realising there was no point. I couldn’t speak. I threw a tantrum, and swept my arm in front of me. The phone moved. Not much, but a centimetre or so.
He noticed. He was holding my driving licence, and I saw his head jerk up in response. With steady, methodical footsteps, he approached, and picked up the phone, eyeing the room suspiciously.
“Claire Templeton,” he said in a cigarette-addled voice.
I froze, my ethereal form as still as I could make it. It took me a moment to realise he was reading from the ID. He stood astride my body, and turned my face upwards.
“Don’t you recognise me? You’ve seen me every day.”
I really didn’t. I shifted closer, studying his features. I still felt as though I was going to be caught, discovered somehow, and exposed to even more pain and brutality.
“Can’t look away now, can you,” he rasped, and smirked.
He pulled a thick tarpaulin out of his bag, and started dragging my corpse onto it. I looked around the room desperately, moving my spectral body through anything and everything. I had to stop this.
I felt the live wiring before I saw it. I could touch it, grip it even. Without even thinking, I pulled. The lights flickered on briefly. My killer looked up in alarm, and checked the doorways. He grunted with irritation, suspicious but not dissuaded. From the folds of his outfit, he produced a generic smartphone. It looked cheap and disposable, and I had no doubts he intended to destroy it after today. He pulled my head up from the floor, drying blood making a hideous sucking noise, and took a picture of my face. I moved towards the phone, and caught a glimpse of something truly horrific. The photograph was added to a gallery of more. I counted at least ten, faces I’d never seen before, but all as bloody and vacant as my own. This man was monstrous.
“That’s a good one,” he murmured, admiring his photographic skills. Almost reverently, he placed the device in the bag, like it was some sort of sick offering. I moved backwards, positioning myself inside the kitchen counter, feeling for the electrical cabling running through it. Could I overload something? The microwave sprang into life. He jumped, before spinning around and pulling the machine onto the floor. I wouldn’t be deterred. I rampaged through the entire house, grabbing anything I could, sending every appliance into a meltdown. It might not have been that productive, but it felt good. If I couldn’t do anything other than express my anger, at least I’d hopefully scare the shit out my attacker. Triumphantly, I returned to the kitchen, hoping to see some humility in that cruel face.
He was on his knees, and laughing.
The unusual reaction made me falter for a second. I’d hoped for blind panic, or the very least an injury resulting from my mad dash.
“Are you still here Claire?” he asked the room. As his gaze swept around, and I felt a dull chill spread through me.
“Come stop me, if you can,” he added, almost nonchalantly. He’d figured it out. I couldn’t do a damn thing, not really. I flailed at him, again and again, hoping for something to stick.
“That’s what I thought,” he grunted dismissively. To encounter evidence of the paranormal would send most people running from the room, screaming as they did so. His acceptance, and his outright dismissal, was almost more disturbing than my current state. Without so much as a pause, he reached behind him into the bag, pulled out a hatchet, and swung it down towards my body. I screamed with impotent fury, blocking out what was happening as best I could. As I scrabbled mindlessly at him, my despair almost overtaking me, my hand caught on something solid. It was my phone, recovered from the floor, and placed haphazardly in his pocket. Pushing inside the machine with as much strength as I could muster, I wrapped my fingers around the battery, and squeezed. There was a flurry of light as my internal rage shorted it out. My murderer let out a satisfying yell of surprise, just as his clothing burst into flame. I felt oddly vindicated, and although part of me wanted to turn away, float into a corner and hide from what was about to happen, a much larger part wanted to watch this bastard suffer. He was trying to remove the phone from his pocket, but was far too slow. With a resounding boom, the battery exploded, hot shards of plastic and metal streaking across the kitchen.
Got you, I said to myself.
My killer was staggering for the door, a nasty-looking wound on his side seeping blood onto the floor. It looked like a butchers shop in here now. I flitted over to the counter, put my hands inside the toaster and pushed with as much force as I could muster. It span through the air and caught him behind the ear, knocking him to the ground. Triumphant, I hovered over his prone form. The victory felt good, but it was short-lived. I’d not killed him, and what would happen if he woke up? He could still escape, and after a quick test, I was still not free to leave this house. My hesitancy to approach this man was almost gone, replaced with a cold anger. I carefully pushed my way over to him, looking for some way to press home my temporary superiority. I was more confident in my abilities in this form, although it did leave me at a massive disadvantage. Everything I had touched had a hefty electrical charge, plugged into the mains, or with a near full battery. I looked at the phone he had discarded, but it was locked up tight. A patient screen waited for me to enter a number, but I had no idea where to start. Unless I exploded this one too, it was little more than a fancy paperweight. I had to get myself under control. I was agitated, panicking, and if I was still alive, I had no doubt I’d be hyperventilating. I focused on a single items, away from the horror show that my home had become, and tried to get some normality. Nothing that would remind me of what I’d lost, I needed mundanity, and I needed something boring.
There were reminders of my life everywhere. Cheap instant coffee, packet noodles, bills that would never get paid. All things that no longer concerned me, yet all of which weirdly helped me calm down. My vision crystallised, and became much sharper. I found I could see the faint electrical signals coursing through items I’d not even considered before, even the tacky wall clock. I looked back at my attacker. A pale glowing web crackled through him, and I had an utterly repellent thought about possession. Ghosts could do that, right? Worst of all, my horribly mangled body still had a faint glimmer about it. I pointedly did not even think about that option. My murderer was still breathing, but it was ragged and noisy. I hesitantly put my hand through him. There was some resistance, but my short-lived idea of throwing him out the window evaporated instantly. There was something else. A small glint of light radiating from his pocket. I’d missed it the first time; whatever it was had to be small. I reached for it carefully, nudging it out. For a moment, the banality of the object confused me, and then I realised it was a pass for the barriers at the train station. The tiny little chip inside was generating just enough power for me to interact with.
With a cold, hard blast of realisation, I knew who this man was.
I had seen him at the train station. He’d been there earlier in the week, just another bored train guard, with a dull look on his face. I’d barely paid him more than an idle glance. What sort of complex had he built around me? Were all his victims just passengers, complete strangers that had never even spoken to him? As I pulled the pass further out, I realised it was his employee card. Hope surged inside me. This bastard was arrogant enough to carry around his own ID, assuming he’d never get caught. An altogether different feeling started to brew inside me; a desire for revenge. I pulled together every ounce of strength I had and tugged on the pass. With a motion than almost made me launch myself backwards, he suddenly groaned, and pushed his body upwards.
I did not have long.
He hadn’t noticed I had the pass yet. I dragged it softly across the floor as fast as I could. It was like trying to cup sand, and my progress was painfully slow.
He hadn’t turned around yet, and was still nursing his head wound.
I pulled the pass through the rapidly congealing puddle of blood. I wanted whoever found this to know he was here. Even with my evidence, I still didn’t know his name.
He was upright, and fuming. I saw him kick the cupboards repeatedly until they splintered, all of his careful organisation gone.
The sound of running liquid made me pause for a second. I risked a look behind, and saw him jetting a clear fluid out of a cheap plastic bottle. As whatever it was cascaded onto my body, it glared back at me with vacant eyes, and I knew I had to carry on. I couldn’t smell in my current state, but I had a nasty suspicion this was flammable. This must have been a last ditch measure, just in case his grisly plan went wrong. I spotted a gap under the fridge. That thing was older than time itself, and weighed a metric tonne; I couldn’t see heat causing it much damage. The pass skittered along, just a few centimetres each time. My frustration was mixing with panic, but I had to control it, had to repress it. I was about to lose my home, but I’d take this son of a bitch down first.
“Goodbye Claire,” he rasped out loud. His voice sounded as though he had liquid in his mouth. There was the snap-hiss of a match igniting. I used every ounce of strength I had, and pushed the pass under the fridge. The match was falling from his hand towards the ground, and I saw the expression on his face. It was almost comical horror, and I realised that he’d seen what I’d done. For a moment, it looked as though he was staring me straight in the eye.
“Gotcha,” I said out loud. He visibly flinched, just as the flames rocketed upwards. He’d heard me. I had no idea if he had left the house in time, or been consumed.
I was left to my pyrrhic victory.
The fire raged for what seemed like forever. I avoided looking as the flames flashed through me, around me, and pumped out night-black smoke. Eventually, weak moonlight fought its way through the dark. I could see outside of my house, the cars on the road, and the pulsing lights of the emergency services. The building had not fared well, with only smouldering stumps remaining. What was left of my body was mercifully covered with a sheet, placed by people picking through the remains. They’d find the evidence, surely? Was I not done? I moved towards the charred wall, but something still prevented me leaving. I screamed and pounded my fists on the barrier, but to no avail. Something made me pause my rant. I could see a crowd hanging a short distance away, presumably here to gawk at the disaster. But as I concentrated, I realised that they swayed and shifted in the air. They were like me. All dead. I couldn’t make out faces, but I had a feeling they’d match those grisly photographs I saw before. They jittered back and forth, clearly agitated. They were pointing at something, skeletal limbs aiming straight ahead. I followed their gazes, and saw the fridge, blackened, but still intact. We still weren’t free, not yet. I drifted over to it, petrified that my ridiculous idea hadn’t worked. I reached forwards, and felt the slight tug of resistance as my ghostly hand closed around the pass. I felt myself smile. With a push, the pass slid across the soot-covered floor and bounced gently into view. A police officer caught sight of it, and beckoned over a CSI. They’d found it.
Like my ears popping, I felt the barrier evaporate. A weight lifted, and I felt unbound. There was no guarantee that my…our…killer would be found, but this was a start. The others had joined me, floating in silent solidarity. We could leave now, if we chose to. I looked at my desecrated body one more time, and then slowly turned my back. I didn’t want to see the fallout of this.
Reality faded out.
It was dark, but I was no longer scared. I realised we were waiting for something more, and I felt the others form around me protectively. I’d given them hope, it seemed. Whatever we were waiting for, it looked like it would take a long time to come to pass. At least I wouldn’t be on my own.