So this is the edit of the story I posted the other day. This is very similar to draft one but there are some things added, some changes of ‘her’ to ‘you’ as the story teller is speaking to his wife. I tried to spook it up a bit more, and overall creep it up. I like this story a lot and like this version even more. This is, for all intents and purposes, the final edit. So here you go.
I am surrounded by your dust. The air, my clothes, the things both mine and yours are coated with the ashes of my memory for you and the whispers of your thoughts. I awake every morning to find your dust in the corners of my eyes, on the tip of my tongue, and on the palms of my hands and I roll over in bed and find your shape there, an outlined death shroud where your body should still be. I rise, wiping your remains from me yet again, brushing you away even though I know you’ll return while I sleep. Knowing that even when I nap you are here, walking through what had once been our dream home, your tears falling as dust that covers even the floor. Waking to breathe you in, to catch your faint scent in the air, as if you have just left the room, and sometimes even catching your shadow as it recedes into darkness once more.
I am trapped in the mausoleum of my memory of you.
And how do I live? How do I go on when the person I love is gone but not completely? When I hear their footsteps as I sleep, and can feel their breath on me as I wake? How do I move on when I hear their voice calling to me in my dreams? How do I move on when I am covered in their dust?
I fought you at first. I fought you and your memory with everything I had. I tried to bury myself in alcohol, in pills, in dreams, in mindlessness, in other people, or in anything I could but in the end you were there, always there, always waiting for me in the darkness. Waiting for me to fulfill my promise of forever. I fought you as I dusted every day, sweeping you up and away and removing every trace of you. I threw out your makeup. I burned your clothes. I donated everything you had ever had and loved. Piece by piece I pulled you from my life and I removed every piece of you. I destroyed everything save one thing, your wedding dress, which I could never bring myself to destroy, the scent of you on it still strong, and the memory of that day too clear. I find every moment is spent thinking of you, your shadow long on me, as the cold of your death runs deep through me, as if it has replaced my blood. I remember waking within your shadow and seeing you, and how much you hated me, hated that I lived, that I hadn’t joined you, and when I finally broke free of the dream I remember how I vomited until there was nothing but dust left in me.
And I fought you until there was nothing left to fight but doubt. And I needed to know. Needed to know if I was as crazy as everyone told me I was or if you were still here, with me, waiting for me to finally give in to you, to the dust, and to just go to sleep forever. Friends. Family. Work. Nothing mattered but you. Nothing mattered but the proof of you.
I needed to know so I bought three cameras, one for the bedroom, one for the living room, and one for the kitchen – the three places you loved most in the house. You never much cared for the attic, saying it was creepy, and always told me that the basement was ‘boys only’. I had never found your dust there, or any sign of you down there so I focused on the places I knew you had been. Knew you’d be. I borrowed a tripod for the camera in the bedroom and the other two I just made sure to place on shelves or tables where there was a good view. After the cameras were set up I locked all the doors and windows, took the phone off the hook and turned my cell phone off to make sure there was no sound to wake me. I finished by taking three sleeping pills and then set the cameras before turning in. I wanted to capture you. To catch you. To find the source of the dust that has been coating me with your memory. If it was you, if it was you then, Christ I dunno what. I dunno what I would do. But if it was not you, if it was something else imitating you to fool me then god help them. God help them and God help me.
And I slept.
And I dreamt.
And when I dreamt your hand was in my own and there was warmth and light and eternity. And we were free.
I awoke to your dust, and to the darkness, and to a heartache that doubled me over with grief. It took me an hour to unfold myself and find the bedside lamp, hoping in vain you might return to take me with you, knowing that that moment, that time I would go with you to wherever you took me. Heaven or Hell, it mattered little as long as I was with you. But with the cold light of reality on, there was only me in the bed, naked and alone and covered in sweat, tears, and dust. I rose slowly, reluctantly to check the proof.
I found my ghost, I found it and knew it for what it was – a ghost. Only, it wasn’t you I found at all, in fact, this ghost was me. I must have awaked in the middle of the night, slowly rising and moving through the house from room to room, looking for what I cannot imagine. Wandering back and forth and back and forth, pacing, look up at the ceiling from time to time and once stopping as if listening to something that came from up there. Always dazed. I finally wandered away from the camera’s eye and returning a few minutes later with bloody hands and with your wedding dress on, it hanging awkwardly, almost grotesquely from my frame. I had kept the dress in the attic but I went towards the basement, so I don’t know how I got it, but it scared me. I was a skeleton in your gown, and I was a horror. I stalked from room to room, looking for something, searching, my head cocked to one side as the blood on my hands darkened from red to brown to black. At one point I stopped in the bedroom and turned to the camera and bent towards it and smiled into it for five minutes, mouthing to it, though I couldn’t make out what I said, before standing up again and wandering out into the living room and then disappearing down the hall. I must have gone into the attic but I cannot be sure. I know I was gone for a while and that while I was gone there was a faint scream, like a woman. When I returned it was fifteen minutes before I had awakened and the blood was gone from me, as was the dress, but the distant look was still there, the haunted look, and I moved to the bedroom and stood there in the doorway for a few minutes before moving back to my bed. I was talking to myself but I couldn’t figure out what I was saying so I played and replayed that part. Over and over and over and over until finally, at the loudest volume I caught what I was saying.
I wish I hadn’t.
And the voice that came was not my own but someone else’s, pleading with me. It was you, it had to be you. And just as I moved into the bed I caught a shadow moving against the darkness, near the doorway, a shadow that was barely visible in the night vision but which was there and then gone. And then I awoke. It took me a while to recover from the shock of what the tapes showed, to really let it sink into me and even then I wasn’t sure what it was I had seen or heard. I wandered naked through the house looking for clues as to what I had been doing and found nothing on the first floor so I moved down into the basement. In the basement there was only one drop of blood in the far corner where the light barely reaches, one drop and no more so I moved to the attic. Even approaching the attic I felt dread filling me. I looked up at the string that pulled the steps down and saw your dust all over the panel that hid the stairs and attic and my heart began racing. I pulled the rope and the groan from the stairs startled a scream from me. The stairs hung half way down and the cold air of the attic slipped down and embraced me as I stood there frozen in place.
What would I find up there?
What was waiting in that darkness?
What lived in me that was holding you here, trapped in the shadow and dust of my own memory. Oh you were here, that much was clear, here, trapped in me, trapped in the cage of my obsession. And how many nights had I done as I did last night – haunting myself as you, as if I was your ghost? I looked down at myself again and again saw no blood. No blood. So where had it come from? And where had it gone? You had drowned in the pool at the gym. A freak accident when you dove in and hit your head. No one noticed you until it was too late and you were brain dead. What blood there had been was little. So whose blood had been on me? And where did it go?
And then I got my answer as the dread filled me, perhaps remembering somehow what I had done the night before.
I heard something move upstairs and looked up in time to see a shadow hovering near the edge of the entrance before it moved back into the darkness. Then came a voice, small and distant, calling me up the stairs but I stood my ground. What was in that darkness, and what did it want? I let the string slip from my hand and it raised back an inch, then another, then another and on until the string was hanging free again and the panel was flush with the ceiling and the panel slammed shut loudly. Above me I heard something moving hurriedly, as if on all fours, its nails dragging across the floor up there and around the entrance before receding towards the back of the house. It was talking, louder now, whispering quickly, and I could only make out some of the words but I won’t repeat them, but will say only that thwy were words of the grave and of darkness and little else. Something fell with a crash above me and there was a low moan. I was shaking and backed away from the attic and as I looked up, watching the attic’s panel, waiting for it to open to reveal whatever lay in wait upstairs I realized that the dust, the dust I had been seeing all this time was no dust at all but blood. Blood dried to brown and dried so thick it came off I as powder. Release me. And was it your voice, really, or was that another trick being played? Another lie.
What if it was me, begging to be released?
Jesus, was it me?
And the cold gripped me then, and I looked around this house that was no home. I looked at this place where we had been so happy, this place I had made a tomb, where the mail and newspaper were stacked in piles around the front door, where clothes and trash were piled on the floor, and where I had walled myself in with misery as I prayed to my dead wife. I stumbled into the living room and saw your picture, a picture of you before you had met me, of you as a single woman alone in the world and happy with your place in it. Alive and happy. And beside it stood our wedding photo and there we were, both smiling into each other’s mouths as we kissed. You were just as happy, and, maybe, maybe happier, and you were with me. I looked into the mirror and what I saw was a ghost – I had lost weight, my eyes were surrounded by black circles, and I looked as if I hadn’t washed in days. I grabbed up a pair of pants and shirt and put them on absently. I was dead, I was dead and I had died the day you had. I was dead and had brought something home from your funeral and it wasn’t you. It was something old, and rotten, and hateful that lived on people like me and that was sucking the life from me moment by moment as it hid behind the memories of my wife. Was it my blood that it was draining? My life? Or was it my very soul? I grabbed my car keys and wallet, slid my tennis shoes on and turned to look at the house one last time. Everywhere I looked there was dust, my dust, covering everything. My blood, dried to brown, now painting this place in shades of death. Above me something was stalking back and forth, waiting to see what I would do and I knew that if I waited, if I waited much longer that the attic would open, the stairs would fall, and I would find out just what had returned from the cemetery with me. I would fall asleep again and this time might never wake up.
I turned and opened the front door of the house, the place you and I had made love so many times, had laughed so often, and had woven our dreams together, this place that was now my own grave, and I left, vowing never to return. And slowly, very slowly, I shook the dust of your death from my life, and remembered how to live.