Jonny Glines

Beach Ghost

 

A ghost stood in her living room wearing a yellow bikini and holding a piece of coal. She pressed the coal to the wallpaper and painfully marked another tally. From floor to ceiling the walls were covered with tally lines. She sighed. Each line meant another day without speaking to someone.

The ghost opened her closet, which was full of swimsuits and dresses. Her clothes were like her skin, translucent and glowing. She decided tomorrow she would try the red swimsuit. She would wear it to the beach in hopes of talking to a boy—just as she had done every day for the past one hundred years.

***

On the beach, the ghost sat alone on her pink towel. She could make herself visible or invisible to whomever she pleased. After so many years, the residents of the beach town had become accustomed to seeing the ghost. They would stare. She would smile. They would pass her by. She preferred being invisible to being ignored. So she made herself invisible to everyone. Everyone except the boys.

She watched a couple kiss in the ocean. She dug her skinny legs into the sand. Her skin glowed a little brighter. She wished she could make the happy couple invisible to her, but that’s not how ghosts work. That was the hardest part of being a lonely ghost girl. She had to watch everyone. And always.

She lay back on her towel. Suddenly, a large, loud family approached.

“There! Someone left their towel! Hurry, and get the spot!” shouted the stepfather. The kids rushed over and threw their beach toys on the ghost to save the spot.

The ghost sprang to her feet. In her panic, she made herself visible to everyone.

“God dammit, it’s a ghost,” complained the stepfather. “Hey, if we can’t see you, YOU can’t claim the spot!”

Everyone stared. The bottom of her eyelids filled with ghost tears, which were dark like tar. She quickly went invisible again.

She returned to her house near the pier. Her house was full of wooden furniture and bookshelves that reached the ceiling. She picked up the piece of coal. She walked over to the wallpaper. Then she scribbled across all the walls, scrawling over every tally mark.

She sat on her bed and read her books until morning.

***

The next day marked the first time the ghost didn’t go to the beach. She sat, invisible, in a coffee shop wearing a summer dress and reading the book Black Beauty. This place was a local hangout for established artists who had bought homes in the beach town. It was a welcomed change from the couples at the beach.

At the counter was a stylish man with slicked hair and a chiseled face. He appeared young, which was odd for this place. She made herself visible to him and went back to reading her book. A moment later, he was standing in front of her.

“I didn’t see you sitting there,” he smiled.

The ghost froze with fear. She looked to see if perhaps he was speaking to a real person, but there was no one. In fact, there rest of the room gawked. It looked as if the man was speaking to an empty chair.

She hadn’t spoken in decades. Her lips fought to form words correctly. Her first few words were just verbal mush. Then finally, “…ghost.”

“I can see that,” he said. “Is another ghost sitting in this seat? Or may I join you?”

He spoke overly gleeful, in a way that adults try to humor children.

She tried to match his tone. “Why yes! Yes, you may!” she replied, but her version of gleeful sounded sarcastic.

His name was Glen Miller. Without much prompting, he began to talk, and when he talked, he talked a lot.

He was from New York, and he told her stories about the city.

He was a painter, and he told her stories about his art.

His grandparents were French, and he told her stories about Paris.

He was single and in his late forties, but he didn’t talk much about that.

“Okay, I can’t not ask you this,” he said. “…are you stuck? Like between heaven and hell? Wait, no first…how did you die? How long ago was it?”

The ghost had never talked about herself before. Her stomach sank realizing she didn’t know any of the answers to his questions.

“I don’t know,” she responded. “I don’t remember not being a ghost.”

“….do you go to heaven after this?”

“…I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” he paused. “Wow! I mean, I guess my only frame of reference is from movies. I figured there would be more structure.”

She squirmed in her chair.

“I don’t know where I was before I was a ghost or what happens after. I’m just here.”

He sipped his coffee and smiled.

“We actually have a lot in common.”

***

Glen and the ghost walked to his “artist loft.” He described it as a place where he could work without the distractions of his home.

Glen’s loft was decorated in the way most might expect an artist’s loft to look. It was minimal, modern, and the walls were full of paintings. He poured himself a drink and offered one to her as a joke. She didn’t understand the humor, but she pretended to laugh hysterically to seize the opportunity to share a moment of laughter with someone.

They sat on his leather sofa. Glen asked the ghost about her love life.

“Boys don’t really want a girl they can’t touch,” she said.

“Well, when you’re younger, you place too much importance on the physical aspects of relationships. But those couples are doomed in the long run,” said Glen.

“Is that why you are waiting to get married?” asked the ghost.

Glen inched closer.

“Let’s try this,” he said.

He held out his hand, his palm facing her. She did the same. Glen tried to touch his palm against hers, but it passed straight through her hand like it was water. He tried to hug her, but his arms passed through her torso.

“Hmm,” he paused. “How do you sit on the couch without falling through?”

“I just don’t think about it,” she said. “If I don’t think about it, it works itself out.”

Next they lay on the couch together side by side. After a few moments, Glen began to tell another story. This one was about the time he was married. The ghost’s eyes lit up, and her skin glowed a little brighter.

Glen explained that he and his wife were married for five years. Later she became very ill and passed away. The ghost, unfazed by stories of death, asked question after question.

“And there was kissing?”

“Yes.”

“And there were birthdays?”

“Yes.”

“Also breakfasts?”

“Yes.”

“And picnics?

“Yes.”

“Plus vacations?”

“Yes.”

“And there were children?”

“No.”

Lost in Glen’s marriage stories, the ghost realized her head was rested on his chest.

“Look,” Glen said. They were embracing.

“I guess we figured it out.”

***

The ghost visited Glen four to five times a week. They always went to his artist loft during his work hours. They got better and better with cuddling, which was the ghost’s favorite part.

Glen told stories about his youth, his family, his struggle as an artist. And since the ghost couldn’t remember her life, she mostly asked Glen questions.

“And in the morning you shave?”

“Yes.”

“And you eat food with your friends?”

“Yes.”

“And you have handyman tools?”

“Yes.”

“And I am your girlfriend?”

First nothing. Then…

“Sure.”

One afternoon Glen told stories about camping in Yosemite. In the middle of their conversation, a woman entered his artist loft carrying grocery bags.

“I finished early today and wanted to see if you had lunch already,” the woman said.

Glen sprung up. He tried to push the ghost away, but his arms just flailed through her body.

“Go! You have to go!” Glen whispered in a panic.

The ghost was confused. She quickly made herself invisible as the woman walked over to Glen.

“Who were you talking to?” she asked.

“Just thinking out loud,” Glen fake yawned.

Then Glen kissed his wife. Right in front of the ghost, just a few feet away. From that day on, the ghost stayed invisible.

***

Glen visited her house, but the ghost refused to show herself. He left an apology letter. He told her that they had a great connection, but they could no longer see each other. The first person to recognize her presence, now pretended she didn’t exist.

She stopped visiting the beach. She stopped going to the coffee shop. She stayed invisible always. Years passed like this. She felt like the ghost of a ghost.

One day she went to the bookstore to steal books. One book in particular caught her eye.

My Husband Cheated With a Ghost, by Amy Miller.

In the back of the book there was a picture of the author. It was her, Glen’s wife. The ghost recognized her instantly. She rushed home with the book and read intensely.

In the first few chapters, Amy described her loveless marriage with her “artist crush.” They married at a young age. Glen married Amy for her looks. Amy married Glen for his artist appeal.

The book went on to tell that after five years, Amy and Glen grew apart. Amy described her existence as “terribly lonely.” Glen spent most days in his artist loft. She spent most days alone in her house, reading books to pass the time. In chapter four, Amy said she began to suspect that Glen was cheating. She planned to surprise Glen with lunch at his loft, expecting to catch him in the act. That was when Amy saw her husband with a younger woman, and that young woman, was a ghost.

The ghost’s skin glowed a little brighter. She was enthralled with the book. She felt an odd connection with Amy, the author. She wanted to apologize and thank her for the courage to tell her story. For telling their story.

No one in the beach town had ever acknowledged the ghost’s existence. Now she was in a book. Now she had a story. As she kept reading, the ghost began to cry. But not dark tears like tar, these tears were bright and sparkled down her face.

Then the book took a sudden turn, beginning with this passage:

I was certain of what I saw. I saw my husband with a ghost. Glen of course told me I was crazy. I thought to myself, maybe I was. But we realized that the ghost I saw wasn’t the image of a young girl. It was the image of our failed relationship. We realized that our marriage was dead and we needed to bring it back to life.

In the next several chapters, I am going to show how you, too, can fix your marriage, no matter how dead you think it may be. It worked for Glen and me. It can work for you too.

The ghost frantically flipped through the pages. She raced to the chapters ahead. The book was a self-help book on how to “bring life back into marriages.” Not a tell-all memoir of the relationship between the ghost and Glen. According to the book, their relationship wasn’t even real. The love wasn’t real. Once again, she wasn’t real. She screamed as she ripped the pages.

She looked at the author’s fan mail address on the book’s inside cover. Her eyes turned black. Her skin turned grey. Her jaw dropped to her chest with sharp teeth like the mouth of a shark. She burst through the ceiling.

The ghost flew through the air. She shrieked an awful scream that sounded like rubber tires screeching on pavement. Trees collapsed. The waves crashed. Finally the citizens of the beach town took notice of the ghost. And for the first time ever, they were frightened.

She burst through Glen and Amy’s kitchen wall. Pictures and papers circled in a cyclone around the ghost. Only Amy was home. She fell to her knees on the kitchen floor.

The ghost’s shrieks became louder and louder. A lightning and thunder storm formed in the kitchen. The house began to shake from its foundation. The ghost was ready to crush the house and anyone inside.

The ghost peered at Amy. She was clasping her heart as tears poured down her face. She was trying to tell the ghost something, but the thunder was too loud to hear.

The ghost slowly lowered herself to the floor. She noticed Amy was crying and smiling at once. She had never seen this. It was very confusing.

The ghost looked closer. Amy’s tears were neither tar, nor sparkled. But she could tell by the light in Amy’s eyes that these tears were like her sparkly ones. The storm behind the ghost calmed.

“I knew I saw you! I knew you were real! I knew I saw you!” Amy cried.

The ghost kneeled next to Amy. She was older and very pretty. Both their summer dresses draped across the kitchen tile.

The ghost watched Amy’s eyes marvel and gush at her. Amy touched her hand. She brushed her hair. She cupped her face. Amy touched the ghost over and over without any of the normal ghost touching problems.

“Every night, before I sleep, I see a quick flash of your image from that day” Amy cried. She wrapped her arms around the ghost and pulled in her tightly. “I am so glad to finally see you.”

Sparkly tears rolled off the ghost’s face. Her skin began to glow. Then it glowed even more. Then it glowed more than it had ever glowed before. The ghost burst into light. And then she was gone.

 

——

Jonny Glines writes surrealist stories in Los Angeles. He is a creative director at an ad/tech company in Venice Beach. He is currently working on a collection of short stories. 

——

Advertisements

Thomas C. Dunn

When Symphonies Empty

it's father's rocks at the hornet nest again
and a piñata of furies spilling
into an increasingly absent air
the way they hurl themselves at the wooden roof
and hold their sting like medicine,
the drone building to a coda
that exhausts rather than ends
it's all such a flurry of rage consuming nothing
and a death away from understanding
that we can stare through the rain streaks
of the dirty dormer windows
and still be close enough to feel
that nothing breaks without a wake of victims

in a few days, father will hose out the core
and leave the shell dripping sweet
like a candy skull suspended from a vendor's cart
the day after el Dia de los Muertos
then dry, a child's papier-mâché creation,
symbol of a loss not yet experienced but already named
workers swell with wood and plant fiber, the queen guides the fat
and the nest reforms deep and high in a maple tree,
nature always absorbing man's leaks
it's the action of living, a blaze wilting the marigolds
and through it we forget, forget to scratch at the grave mound,
free the passage of new air to the past and dead
and allow for the skeletal teachings that burst mute from our future


——

Thomas C. Dunn is a Los Angeles based writer. His screenwriting work has received worldwide film distribution and festival inclusion (Sitges, Austin, Cairo, Brussels, etc.) As a playwright, he is the winner of Samuel French’s prestigious Short Play Festival, and his work has been published in Samuel French’s OOB Festival Plays, Exceptional Monologues 2, and Collective: 10 Play Anthologyamong others. His plays have been presented in over thirty theaters nationally and internationally and have been featured in numerous festivals.

——

Rajandeep Garg

Night is more than it seems

I drive on a country road.
When the voluptuous moon lights
the reposed fields of wheat - faint and blue.
Its pinnacle grace incenses the ethereal clouds
and the soft rings around ignite the dark sky.
A gentle wind swaying the umbel stalks,
strolls the clouds whose shadows
make a penumbra over the moon.
And the mustard inflorescence
that lauds the sun upon the glazing sky,
are the teeming stars on the dark satin
with their blossomed petals of silver flairs.
And I know that shooting stars are windflowers
then I distinguish a pathway on Moon,
discretely contoured highway
akin the one I am on
wondering moon is my stop tonight.

——

Rajandeep Garg is an emerging poet at 25, from India. He is a graduate civil engineer and writes poems of all styles. He believes construction gives concrete value to his poetry and his poems help heal the world around.

——

Amanda McTigue

Big Fast

 

It’s lightning.

It’s lightning, only I can’t tell if the lightning is in front of my eyes or behind. Nighttime and the only way I can know from my bed is the skylight, but the flash comes and goes as fast as my eyes blink, so I can’t tell.

I stare at the skylight and try to keep my eyes open.

Nothing.

When I finally blink, bang, there it is.

Which it can’t be, because there’s no lightning here at this time of year or any time of year. No storms blow through. It’s dry here always.

Until this year. This night.

And I’m thinking, It’s more than weather. I’m spooked.

I go to the window, open the slats to peek. There’s nothing in the street, not even a cat and then, there it is. Heat lightning we called it as children back where I grew up in another wetter part of the world. Smeared sky-wide.

This is in front of my eyes, I think. This is real.

I slip on my rubber boots, put a coat over my nightgown and walk out on the front steps. Things are moving fast near my feet. Crickets. Like a world of them has congregated at my door and waited for me to open it.

Now they scatter. They make no sound. Even the bullfrog is quiet.

I walk out into the driveway. A streetlight—the ugly one that kid rammed drunk with his car, sheering off the boot, leaving the pole bare, the lamp askew—it’s black against the bright sky, then gone altogether.

Because it’s off.

All of the streetlights are off.

Should I knock? After all this time, I don’t know a single person living around me. Maybe I could knock and ask, Is everything all right?

But I don’t. When you skip the neighbor thing in the daylight, you don’t get to knock on doors at night.

I start up the street.

No dogs. Where’s the barking?

I have a shadow, not much of one, but it’s darker in my shape on the pavement in front of me, so I step into myself. I hear my mother chiding me: Make a racket as you go. Tell them you’re here.

So I’m scraping my rubber soles across the rough pavement with each step when there’s a crack and I turn around—I’m at the intersection of the subdivision looking back—and I see the eucalyptus going before the lightning hits it even though that can’t be true. It all looks like it’s running backwards, the tree rising from the roof into the sky, its roots sinking, re-attaching.

People here hate eucalyptus. The trees grow shallow. But I love them. I love their shedding. I love that they grow big fast. The one behind my house has been its best friend. The only thing house-big nearby. One house, one tree, neither one belonging, both stuck in a field that’s wild. Grass comes up and dies. Deer visit but never graze.

I can tell from here it went down through the skylight.

Hunh.

There goes the bed.

For days now, I haven’t been able to sleep. I thought it was because I couldn’t. Turns out, it wasn’t. Turns out, it was a message with no message coming through, just the absence of sleep which got me out of bed and far enough away to see the tree fall into the imprint of me still warm in my pillow.

I’m in the field now. The tree lies canted. I skirt the root ball.

Then sound falling from the sky, rain, so I lie down. The brown grass smells awful. The field rises away from me and I think, Maybe I’ll be all right.

A wave of grasshoppers lift toward the sky bleached in the flash. Moths follow, shooting upward from the peeling trunk. I see them circle, then dive toward the horizon like birds, like bats, like a school of fish on the run.

They’re flying away, I realize. They’re doing something they’ve been programmed to do: get out.

The water from the sky smells as bad as the grass. It cuts in sheets as if strewn from a bucket.

I want my mother. I want her to tell me what to do.

If it’s the world ending, I think, I should pray.

I never saw my mother pray. I never saw her cry. I saw her hesitate. The snake in the front hall—I saw her hesitate before going to where the hoe was to bring it back in, to swing it down just behind that snake’s head before it could snake itself into a wall or a stair or the basement and trouble us for eternity. She took a moment for the hoe. For prayer, not so much.

That means when she died, she probably went nowhere. No heaven. No nothing. Actual death after death. Her punishment for not believing.

Well, I don’t believe either, but I’m praying now, because there is nobody but me here with the sky splitting apart in a part of the world where that doesn’t happen.

I can’t see for the downpour. I shield my eyes. No one’s lights are on.

Because they’re dead already, I think. Or dying.

And then I’m up, sopped, spitting. The rain tastes like bug spray, the way it tastes when you smell it.

Five deer jump out of the grass ahead of me. They’re running in the same direction I am. That’s a good sign. But then a doe, the biggest of them, goes for the fence and doesn’t clear it. I’ve never seen this before. Maybe the lighting coming-going confused her. She hooks her two front legs on the chicken wire and goes down. I’m thinking her legs might be broken, but I don’t stop. The other deer either. They shy sharp left and keep going.

We’re doing the circumference.

I know the fence breaks on the far side at Justis Lane, but I can’t see the gap. The barn at the top of the lane that always burns a work light over the hayloft, it’s dark.

The deer are long gone when I find the opening, sense it, staggering now in deepening mud, righting myself, looking up as I reach for the fence post.

And there before me is a devil.

Two legs. Rack like a buck or some such, like black lightning coming out where its head should be. Two legs and then things going into the sky, a whole lot taller than I am even on the lower ground. Nothing but a dark shape against a dark sky, but I can tell this thing is looking at me.

Goddamn you, where is the Winchester?

I can hear my mother howling from whatever locked-up solitary of death they’ve stuck her in, but she’s howling at me, Where’s the rifle?

She’s right. She’s always right.

Raw wood, the fence post, skins my right palm. If only I could pull it out, swing it at those legs, the hooves, but I can’t. It’s set fast.

I feel something in my other hand coming up from the ground now. What is it? A stick? It doesn’t matter.

Man, do I let it fly.

Lightning.

The thing doesn’t move. Whatever I threw is gone.

And I’m back on my ass now and then flipped and crawl-running up toward the crown of the field thinking, If you’re going to take me, let it be straight into death, into my mother’s arms.

“Mother!” I’m calling as she catches me on the crest, rising as I do, appearing head to waist until she’s there, part pouring rain, part woman. I run into her, wet and slipping, and she’s yelling, I’ve got you.

She’s got me.

And—she’s got the rifle.

 

——

Listen to the audio version of this story at Amanda McTigue’s website: http://amandamctigue.com/big-fast/

——

Amanda McTigue’s debut novel, Going to Solace, was named a Best Read of 2012 by public radio KRCB’s literary program, Word by Word. Her debut short story, “I Won’t Tell,” was picked up and anthologized by The Writing DisorderShe’s an alum of both the Squaw Valley and Napa Valley Writers Conferences. These days, she’s happily toiling over her next works of fiction: This is Not Water, a collection of climate-collapse-shadowed short stories, and Monkey Bottom, her second novel..

——