The Ghost In The Hallway
The ghost is sitting in the hallway, right where I expect him to be. I’m sitting at the top of the stairs, cleaning my teeth, watching him watching me. His head is bowed, a bowler hat - of all things - pulled tight over his head. I can see something white gleam in the moonlight streaming through the window. He is grinning at me.
Slowly I put the toothbrush down and glance towards the doors on the landing. Jack’s is slightly ajar so we can hear his breathing, ours is shut. Amy will be fast asleep by now, front loading her sleep for when Jack inevitably wakes.
When I return to the top of the stairs, the ghost is still regarding me. He hasn’t moved. My breath frosts the air and I shiver. This is a new house; what the hell is a ghost doing here? I walk downstairs, stepping over the third one to avoid the creak, and stop at the bottom.
The ghost is five feet away from me. He still hasn’t moved.
“What do you want?” It comes out as a whisper. I clear my throat and try again, louder this time.
The ghost raises his head, slowly, like time has become treacle. The shadow recedes from his face. The white that I had seen earlier was not teeth; my ghost does not have skin on his face. No muscle or sinew either. A low noise is emanating from him and it takes me a second to recognise the sound as a laugh.
“What do you want?” I am ashamed at the hysteria in my voice. He gestures with his hand, pointing at the closed door that leads to the living room. The door that is never shut. My shaking hand reaches for the handle. It is sticky. I recoil, pulling my hand back. The low noise comes from the ghost again.
Gritting my teeth, I yank the door open. Our living room is empty. The TV stands as a blank monument to our comfortable lives, dwarfing the rest of the room. The sofa, new two years ago, is already threadbare. Too much sitting around and that was even before Jack was born. It used to drive me mad, sitting there watching bloody soaps and long, drawn out American series. Now, I would give everything to have those evenings back. Escape the endless wailing of the baby, the constant moaning from Amy.
Yet, in the dark, with a ghost breathing down my neck, I crave the embrace of my wife or a cuddle from my boy.
Instead, I get this empty, cold room. On unsteady legs, I enter. The ghost fills the doorway watching me from beneath the rim of the hat. I do not want to see his eyes. I want to wake up now - I’ve had enough. In front of the television, there is a dark stain. I know what it is before I touch it. After all, it is covering the door handle.
Another door from our living room opens into the kitchen. There I can see her. She is looking at me but something is wrong. It is several minutes before I realise she is not blinking.
I run to the kitchen and fall to the floor beside her. Blood covers the lino, looking like the world’s worst Rorschach inkblot. The surface of the table has a small amount of blood and hair on it and I can see what has happened.
I hug her tightly, moaning her name over and over.
Then I remember how quiet and still the house feels. There have been no sounds, apart from my shouts and the ghost’s guttural laughs.
“No, no, no!” I scream and bolt for the stairs. All the while the ghost is chuckling, the deep noise reverberating around the house. I sprint up the stairs and burst into Jack’s room.
He is lying in his cot, so peaceful. His head is turned to the side with his eyes closed. He has a large welt across his forehead. I sink to the floor, a wretched sob escaping my mouth. I reach for the bin, usually overflowing with nappies, and throw up into it.
The ghost is in the doorway, not speaking, not moving. I had not heard him.
“What do you want?” I scream.
I can’t. I stare at him: my own personal tormentor. As I stare, something shifts in my memory and I realise that I can remember, but I don’t want to. I go back to Jack, and rest my hand lightly on his head. Far more lightly than I had earlier. Images flash in my head, none of them welcome, all of them painful.
She really should have stopped complaining and whining so much. The thought brings bile to my throat and I heave again.
The ghost is shaking with laughter now, but the noise hasn’t changed; still a deep rumble. My throat and mouth are full of the taste of vomit and I push past him, staggering into the bathroom. I reach for my toothbrush and start cleaning. I stare at myself in the mirror for a second, confused.
Toothbrush in mouth, I go back to the top of the stairs and sit down. The ghost is sitting in the hallway, right where I expect him to be.