2nd Place Campfire Tales Ghost Story Contest: Hesitation by Joseph J. Patchen

Irony should be Wallace’s new name. As he wakes up this morning, his back snugly nestled against the carpet, staring up at the living room ceiling of his cookie cutter Cape Cod, he realizes it was not a dream. His wife did leave him for someone he doesn’t know, and that seems to be the point.

She left the house empty and full of debt. She took every possession: every picture off of the walls, hooks and all; every stick of furniture; every book and CD; and every stitch of clothing, except for the heaping pile she left stuffed in an overflowing second floor toilet.

She did leave a note. It was written on a torn piece of scrap paper impaled with a carving knife on the apex of the now water logged pile. The note is constructed as she is built – short, sweet and cutting. Three words describing a sex act and his parentage, scrawled in crayon, amounted to her only communication.

He drank dry every bottle in the house while filling her phone and the phones of her friends and relatives with slobbering and panic laden messages. He drank, puking in the spots where their  wedding photo once hung, where their marital bed once laid, and where they had shared their last discussion less breakfast, just yesterday morning.

There would be no work today, no time sucking career to go to this morning. After all, she always said he spent more time there than at home.

All that remains to numb the pain are medications, most of them hers, for ailments she claimed to have suffered from or could afford to be afflicted with. Initially it puzzles him why she left all the liquor and prescriptions. Perhaps she felt healed. But no matter, he is working his way through a variety of cough syrups and brightly colored pills, hoping to drift until he can get a grip.

A few minutes past three a.m., he wakes again, this time to the tap, tap, tap of a liquid plopping onto his face, falling from the ceiling above. Wallace feels he may have slept an hour, but this round he has been passed out for four.  Of course, he thinks it’s the pipes—‘what else can go wrong.’ Groggy, he gets to his feet, but before he can steady himself, the tapping accelerates to a rapid pattering, puddling on the carpet.

With the lights switched on, he can now see a deepening red spot spreading across the ceiling. It is blood, pooling and splattering where he had been lying. His tongue is thick and tastes acrid.  Wallace wipes the back of his hand across his lips and teeth.  It is smeared with blood.

Adrenalin propels him up the staircase to the room that was, until a few hours ago, his daughter’s bedroom. There, lying in the middle of the floor, in a widening pool of blood, is a naked and faceless man. His throat has been slit, a carving knife by his right hand.

Wallace recoils into the hallway, slamming backwards into a wall, struggling to hold onto whatever stomach contents he may have left. But to no avail, he wretches anyway. Lifting his head and wiping his mouth, his right eye catches a glimpse of his reflection in the bathroom mirror just across the hall. Wallace is covered in blood and there are small cuts and gashes on his neck.

Mouth wide open and devoid of thought, he rocks himself back and forth in place. He is sweating and beginning to bleed, feeling the burning stings from those cuts.

The doorbell rings.

As he turns in the direction of the stairs, the dead man rises to his feet, holding his arms out to Wallace, who, upon seeing this, vaults himself down the stairs, two at a time. By the time he reaches the first floor, the corpse and all traces of his blood have faded away as if they had never existed.

Wallace bangs his knee trying to get the front door open. But no one is there. The yard and street appear peaceful and uninhabited. His neighbors’ lights are all off for the night and Wallace’s goose bumps begin to chill. Reason tells him to leave the house, but between all he has ingested and all he has seen tonight, Wallace is frozen in place.

The doorbell rings again but he finds no one there.

 Slamming the door and running back upstairs, he bolts into the bathroom and locks the door behind him. Straddling his belongings, he turns the cold water on full blast and plunges his face into the sink. As he shocks his system into some measure of sobriety, the shower curtain next to him, covering the bathtub, rustles. Shaking the water from his face, Wallace becomes aware that he is not the only one in the room.

It is the faceless man. Faceless, but somewhat transparent.  Transparent, but opaque enough for Wallace to see that the man’s wrists are slashed and mutilated, bleeding profusely, filling the tub as fast as the faucet was filling the sink. This time the faceless man lets out a wail, a cry so piercing that Wallace covers his ears. But even blocking his ears, he can still hear the doorbell ringing.

Stumbling sideways, almost tumbling head first down the stairs, Wallace flees out the door, sliding across the lawn. As he wipes the mud and dewy grass from his eyes, Wallace, sprawled stomach down, can see that no one is at the bell. Wallace shouts and pounds the ground with his fists and feet, crying out, “Why is this happening? Why is this happening? Why?”

 His neighbors don’t hear him.

By the front door a grey mist begins to form.  It appears, not out of the ground or the house, to be gathering itself from a concentration of the air surrounding it. Like smoke, it swirls upwards and floats, yet does not dissipate. Instead it condenses into a shape, taking on the form of a tall and slender, well-dressed and distinguished looking man in his fifties.

Before he can fully materialize, the man locks his gaze upon Wallace, who can’t resist being drawn to the man’s deep blue eyes. While the man solidifies, Wallace stands hypnotized. Nothing is said to him, but somehow Wallace knows and slowly walks towards him. It is only when the two are face to face that the man formally and verbally addresses Wallace.

“Congratulations. You are finally successful. Please take a look. Go in and take a look.”

Wallace steps back into his house and there, in the very spot where he slept, lies a body –  a definitely dead body, dressed as he is, clothes disheveled with limbs bent and contorted, a plastic bag over its head is held in place by an elastic around the neck. And there, on the neck, are irregular wounds, cuts from a knife, some still bleeding and some congealed, cuts mirroring the cuts on the wrists.

Wallace looks over the body, long and hard.

The man, now behind him, addresses Wallace again, “It’s okay. If it puts your mind at ease, by all means take a look.” 

Wallace bends down and begins to unwrap the elastic from the neck in order to remove the bag from the head. There, under all the blood and puke, Wallace sees his own misshapen face. 

By Joseph J. Patchen

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