A Gothic Tale of Discovery
Slowly, with resolute care, the young girl walked up the daunting steps and lifted up that knocker of brass. Bang, bang, bang. The knocker thudded heavily, resounding against the wooden door and the sound reverberated through the house. Heavy footsteps could be heard. She waited, nervous. A loud screech stretched out in the silence at the opening of the massive door, stopping halfway to reveal a man already old yet still curiously young. His hair was the white of the thistle downed swan and his gaunt, cadaverous face was aged but unlined, as if all wrinkles have been permanently pressed out. Startling dark and set deep within the hollows of the sockets, the eyes were frighteningly knowing, filled with the cold memories of experiences and thought best left unprobed. Staring down with a matchless coldness, an utter lack of emotion, the man examined the shabbily dressed creature before him. Brown. That one word encapsulated the nondescript mouse before him, from the tip of her worn shoes: brown, crusted with mud; to the hem of her skirt: a dark shade of mahogany brown; to the threadbare shawl clutched so desperately between mere bones to her shoulders: more brown; to the limp, lifeless hair: still more brown, with no delicate shimmer of gold shining from it, just a dull, dead brown.
"Miss Wimble. We have been expecting you. Please, come in." The door creaked wider. She stepped in, a whispered "Thank you" with a nod, and looked around. It was dark, and grim, dusty too with the old stale smell of coffins and cobwebs. She was given to an austere woman in an austere black and led upstairs. The starkly attired vulture showed her to her room, a small cell stripped and bared except for the necessities. The woman stared at her with beady black eyes and pointedly said,"We donít appreciate disturbances here. You will see to yourself, wonít you?" It was a threat. She replied "of course," and firmly closed the door. From the other side came the low muttering "I am tired sick of all those impoverished wretches. If any more comes ... "
Days passed, a week, a month. Years sped by. There was nothing here, absolutely nothing, only complete, utter boredom. She felt stifled, desperate for excitement, any excitement. She was afraid that it will be like this forever: just her, imprisoned in this ghost house, buried alive. But no, everything changes, time passed, things started to happen. Little things, small things, meaningless events, to be seen outside the window, her only escape, only glimpse into the outside. There were rules here, unspoken rules but rules nevertheless. This was a house of gloom and there was no merriment, no laughter, only deadened silence. It was a house of spirits, of strangers, where the inmates knew little of one another and cared even less. They spoke little. There was little to talk about. The tyrants were strict and forbidding, absent of life. It was stifled and uncomfortable and she yearned for the outside world but there were rules. Little rules, big rules, of cleanliness, of orderliness, of strictness, of silence. But most of all, no one has been allowed outside. But neither did she truly wish to go out. It was too wide, too foreign, too strange, too different, too unforgiving. No, she was content here, where she was safe from the incomprehensible. Yet still, she longed for exhilarating excitement, adventure, romance, and they can only be found out there, that mysterious unknown. Thus she was imprisoned, by the unspoken rules and the fears within herself. And so she remains closeted within, with the window being her only link to the outside world, a magical portal into a world of enchantment.
The window overlooked that same desolate street, day after day, bare and deserted. But sometimes...sometimes fortune changes and so does the street, sometimes strangers have come wondering by, bewildered and uneasy. Most, seeing the cold emptiness, feeling the eerie whistle of the night wind, hurriedly scurried off. Some lingered longer, curious and unafraid, to look around, but to only sense nothing of any interest and steadily walked on. Others, giggling nervous, here to show off their daring, stayed longer before stealing off furtively. They all came here for something but there was nothing, and none chose to return once they have gone. From this window, she saw the outside world pass her by, her hopes fade as one after another went on without noticing, ignorant and uncaring of her need, of her desperate yearnings, and the long, endless, empty future stretching ahead. The interminable loneliness persisted, day after day, until he came and there was once more a glimmer of morning brightness on the horizon. He had come with a group of his friends. They were drunk. But he, he stood out from them like a pillar of rigid granite amid the shifting, grasping sands. And when she saw him, oh, how her heart fluttered and soared, high into the heavens. The birds sang and the flowers blossomed and the sun was bright, white bright! There was an effort to catch her breath, to push under that unfettered, ferocious demand for freedom and romance and excitement and to confine that unfulfillable hope that it was here, just beyond the window pane. But it was forbidden and frightening. Yet she wanted it, needed it, badly, so very badly. Helpless, she reached out, pushing open the window sill, reaching out, calling out. He looked up, startled, stunned, turned to stone, gazing about the emptiness before resting his angelic gaze upon her, her!
That was how it began, the piercing joy, the furtive stolen moments, precious sweet at the window. Whispering, falling, dreaming, with a furtive meeting of the hands, of the lips, pure honey, a lightening stroke of pleasure pain. Meeting within, secretly, lingeringly, more and more, daring stretching with the passage of safe times. It was wondrous, heady, slow sweet, gold bliss, roses in rain, amber ambrosia, the touch of the eyes, wild desire simmering, a catch of the breath, a quickening of the heart, wondrously alive, falling in love, a glimpse of freedom, of heaven awaiting, divinely forbidden. But with the leaping joy of being in love, of standing on the edge of the world, there was fear, such fear and such uncertainty. She couldnít leave this house, she just couldnít. Could she? Fear and dread and panic. She hedged, she procrastinated, she found small reasons not to go, she caviled about trivialities, this and that, always this and then that, hesitating and pondering, pushing the inevitable further and pushing time beyond its limit and allowing danger to seep in. As time drifted by, things happen and everything mutates, the beautiful into the hideous, the pure into the infect, the innocent into the corrupt, the wise into the insane, the sacred into the profane, the reverent into the absurd, the immortal young into the brittle old, blessed love into obscene hatred, precious life into dry death. They all mutate - but they were perhaps already that long ago.
There came the inevitable day. He came that day, they talked. He cajoled, she demurred, he protested, she confessed her fear, he soothed, she listened but would not relent. In that moment of silence her future, that which had once stretched out in smooth, monotonous waves, now lay cracked before her. A smoothed curving piece reflected her life as now, empty and dull but safe,, while the others glittered and shone with the dazzling promises of excitement and adventure, of exhilarating experiences and wondrous love. But these were dark and murky, having edges sharp and hazardous, with crooked curves and treacherous edges, hinting of danger and ever ready to slash out at anyone who dares to travel that path. A choice, a decision made and freedom shall be hers. But she could not make that decision, caught between her fears and her longings. She hesitated, again and again, until that choice was no longer hers.
Suddenly, the door had been thrust open, her privacy invaded. Voices
ceased in their struggle, silence reigned in its place, stunned, horrific
silence. They had been discovered. Time has stopped. That moment was crystallized
into a solid, globular mass as the liquid time of the outside continued
to rush onward. Then the surface was pierced and the crystal moment shattered,
angry voices came flooding through as she was drowned with startled panic
and desperate guilt. "Such as he are not to be permitted, not to be condoned
or even tolerated." The deep sound boomed. There was no time to act. They
set upon him in a fury, he turned, attempting escape. But it was too late
as with ferocious anger they attacked him, shoving him, pushing him, toward
the yawning window, until suddenly he was there no more. Her hands came
up to cover her tear flooded face. "You killed him! You killed him!" She
shrieked, sobbing, shuddering with emotion. She could hear the glass cracking
into a thousand, see him falling, eagle-spread, arms flailing, helpless
amid the slivers of glass surrounding him, slicing into him. She could
hear his body thumping against the ground, bouncing slightly before coming
to rest gently in an unnatural position upon the cold, empty street. She
could envision the blood trickling slowly out of his mouth and the redness
seep through his clothes as a myriad of little knifes cut into his flesh.
Everything was once more the same, deadened, empty, silent, monotonous. She could no longer bear to look outside the window. The image of him lying there, with the redness blossoming outwards, was too vivid. She closeted herself more and more from the others. Until one day, she just couldn't stand it anymore. The endless, meaningless stretch of empty time was too much. She had to scream out, for freedom, for meaning. So when she met Anne, another tenant, lonely and despairing, they slowly became friends. No, they were not that. They were only two lonely souls, together for the moment, clinging to each other only because the loneliness was just too much. In each, their private hearts viewed the other with distrust, almost venomous distrust. But a barrier of indifference and uncaring coated with the polite, gentile facade of the society in which they were both raised precluded any confrontation of their true feelings. Thus, they pretended to be friends. There was no one else, all the others were too old, too different, too settled into their own circumstances. Only to them were everything of the same shade, new and foreign, incomprehensible.
When Anne first suggested the idea of breaking free, of going out, she had naturally been horrified. In the end, she of course agreed. How could she not? They whispered and plotted, conspired like spies readying for some momentous day. They dreamt and fantasized. This was to be their glory. This would show them. Show them what? They didn't know. All they knew was that this will spite them, show that they are not meek little lambs. This was their act of defiance, to fate, to boredom, to all their petty weaknesses.
Surprisingly their plan went through without a hitch. Passing through the side door was surprisingly easy, at least when the rest of the house was busied with the arrival of yet another tenant. So they went, out unto the street. Wondering about, not sure were to go. There across the street, around the corner, what was out there? She hadn't known. If she had, she would never have walked with Anne. But she did walk with her. It was a market place, baskets of dried flowers. Dead flowers. People milled around. She felt faint. The crowd was smothering. Anne was looking at a bright needle. She didn't understand why did they have to linger so close to the house. Why can't they just run, until they were far, far away. The crowd shifted, pushing her back. She lost sight of Anne. She was pushed into a field. Strange, so strange. As she looked around, she realized why. It was a battle. She didn't understand why. But she could see the death in the air.
Yet despite the death all around her, she remained safe in the midst of gunfire and canons. Strange and appalling to be touching corpses and hiding under its protective covering. Blood sticky and not yet cold flows and smells sickeningly sweet and metallic fills the air, mixing with the smoke and the warmth of the sun. Though the disc of gold valiantly shines and the earth is warm to the touch, within her there was nothing but coldness. Coldness deep and unrelenting, constricting and numbing, consuming her with shivering. The roars of guns and canons and men dying surround her yet attention was not given to these heavy sounds but to the high wailings of the dead. She could hear it around her, within her, deafening her senses as the vibrations poured through her. No! She must not listen to it! These pale apparitions are invisible and such shriekings soundless, yet she can feel every passing of the shimmering spirits through her, see their ghostly facades, and hear their uncomprehending cries. So much sorrow, such sadness is pouring throughout her, filling her with dread, leaving her whimpering with the pain. There must be escape from this place of death and suffering, this world of gray dust and heavy air. She ran through the fields in the brightness of the sun, through the ongoing battle, through the rain of bullets and hellfire, all bypassing her with fearsome ease.
She ran back to the house. She didn't know where else to go. It was
all too much. But Anne never came back. Later she heard that the market
burnt down. Blue fire. People attacked the marketplace, believing that
it was a place where spirits gathered.
In the end, she became convinced that there were spirits in the air. They were all about her, in the very air that she breathed, in the water, in the sunlight. They were everywhere. There were millions surrounding her. Then she realized that he must be among them, he must be one of them. So she started to prepare. Fervently, she believed that he would come for her. Fly in and sweep her away. Away from this dreadful place, those dreaded beings. The old excitement returned, stronger than before, heightened by the very mystic of the unknown. Her lover was a ghost. He was stronger than all of them. He would come and rescue her, like a princess from a tower.
Everyday, she went about her daily routines. Pretending that nothing had changed, that everything was the same. Inside, she trembled with anticipation, drooled over her secret. I'll show them, I'm going to leave this place. They can't cage me in here. She was triumphant, gloating, waiting. Finally he came. She had almost started to doubt. But he came and she was vindicated. However, he did not make a glamorous entrance. It was almost inept actually. He actually climbed in through the window, almost falling. But that doesn't matter. What mattered was that he was here and she was ready. Take me away, she wanted to cry out. But she didn't. She was in awe of him. Strange that his movements were not as graceful and fluid as she imagined, but almost awkward. It didn't matter, they were leaving.
Of course, the keepers had to come before they could do so. A minor inconvenience. There was nothing that the could do. she thought smugly. He had come for her. He could just sweep her up in his arms and fly away. Escape. She wondered why didn't he do that already. At least it gives her the satisfaction of seeing their faces, laughing at their ignorance, flouting her ghost, her power.
"WHAT do you think you are doing?" came the demand shrill from the vulture.
"I'm leaving!" She was proudly defiant.
They laughed at her.
"For me, he as returned from the dead. He is greater than all of you. No longer will any of you have any power over me.".
They all stared at her, including him. Then the keepers started to laugh.
"He's a powerful spirit! He can do anything!" She was now urgent. "Show them. Fly. Take me away from here."
They laughed harder. He stared. Snickering, they said: "HE? He is nothing!"
"Don't be stupid. Look." She reached out for him. Her hand passing though. There, that'll show them! "What else could he be?" She was smug. He recoiled. They laughed all the harder.
"You truly didn't KNOW?" They gasped.
Then the realization struck her. NO, NO, NO! Her mind screamed.
She stood stunned with only panic running through her. It was an impossible situation and utterly unbearable. It could not be true! But her fingers could not seem to grasp onto him, only passing through. But it was not he who was unreal but herself, herself and all the others in this decaying house. They who laughed so cruelly and heartlessly and tearfully at her and her foolish dreams and at themselves and their pitiful states of being, nothing. They laughed while she stood stunned and he of all things, cowered ashamed. She too wanted to laugh but somehow she could not. Nothing could be forced past her throat no matter how she longed to release the pain inside her through laughter. It would be so easy if she could just laugh. But she could not and she remained there, frozen, staring like all the others at the lone human creature in this house of spirits, at he who looked so bewildered and ashamed, he who could not be what she had wanted. Never could she now leave this place and escape for there was no longer anywhere she could escape to. Outside was the world of man, the world of the living where even now the rain poured silently but steadily down, striking the window panes. Outside, the streets gleamed black and the creaking of a carriage and the accompanying taps of hoof beats can be heard, echoing upon the smooth, newly paved street. It was an anachronism in that modern world, just as out of place as this lonely house in the world of man and just as comfortable in its role in the lives of she and such as she, the spirits enclosed within this coffin.
A Day Remembered
The Meeting of the
A Ghost Outside