Pale Blue Eyes.
The first time she saw a ghost, it was nothing like she’d expected it to be. The gothic horror novels she’d read, the stylishly chilling Japanese films she’d watched didn’t even vaguely prepare her for it. Sitting at her parent’s dining table, a magazine open on the burnished pine tabletop, she was drinking a cup of tea, relaxing. Her mother and father were on holiday, in Sicily, for a fortnight. She’d taken a couple of weeks off work, a little break of her own with the house to herself. The house was old, 500 years or so, with a thatched roof, timber framing and rough white wattle and plaster walls. Charming as it was, she had never warmed to the place. It was cold throughout the year, draughty and gave the kinds of creaks and groans you’d expect to find on an abandoned sailing ship, on the Mary Celeste. Add to that the occasional infestation by rats, bats or mice and the house became less a country idyll, more a constant source of mild anxiety. To her at least – her parents loved the place, shrugged off its drawbacks, lavished time and money on restoration work, on claiming back the wild-run garden from years of neglect. They’d bought the place to retire in – their ‘project’, they called it, hours of odd jobs to keep them from boredom when they’d left their careers behind. It was a career, or the lack of one, that had led her here, back to her parents. Two years out of university and the best she could find was an office job in town, a short drive away, that didn’t pay enough to get her a place of her own. Her Mum and Dad had offered her her old room back and here she was, back where she’d started, going, seemingly, nowhere.
She sat, slowly drinking her tea, killing time as the afternoon drifted on. She wondered about what to do; should she go for a walk, have some friends over, should she just follow her instincts and, go sunbathe in the garden? The pages of her magazine ruffled, a few flicked over, losing her place, caught in one of the house’s regular, sourceless draughts. The milky brown surface of her tea rippled slightly. Sighing, flicking back through the magazine, she felt low, sad, listless. Caught up in empty time, on her own, with plenty of options but no impetus to choose between them, let alone act. She cast her eye around the room, over the heavy pine chairs, the battered dresser, its worn shelves supporting chipped blue and white plates, tea cups hanging from pegs on the top shelf. Turning her head to the kitchen door, she felt her emotions, the vague sadness she had felt a moment ago, rise, well up, inside her. Her heartbeat slowed. Slowly, unknowingly, she drew her arms around her, her body tensed, her head tipped down to her chest. Hunched, alone in the dining room, the silence of the empty house was oppressive, almost a presence in itself. In it, in the quiet, she felt a shifting, a change, not so much physical as a tiny, almost imperceptible shift in the atmosphere, in the mood surrounding her, as if the still dusty air in the room had somehow absorbed her sadness and augmented it with feeling that came not from her, but from something, someone, else.
There was a boy in the corner.
She gasped, a dry scream rattling to a halt in her throat. Her left arm was flung out; her right hand was on her thigh, her body frozen as she had started to lift herself from her chair. It wasn’t the boy’s presence, or the feeling of intrusion, that kept her there, taut and still, so much as his eyes. Blue, deep blue to the point of blackness, they lit up from behind his brown curls with a terrible, desolate intensity. She was caught by his gaze, hypnotised. She pictured a rabbit she had once knocked down, in the car, the way it had stared at her, calm, stock still, until the inevitable crash came. She felt that same deadly quality in her stillness. Still the boy stood, his eyes burning, hands by his side, motionless.
There was something indistinct, gauze-like, about him. His clothes, his limbs, had a slight opacity: she could, through him, see the white wallpaper behind, his body slightly obscuring the gold floral pattern, like a faded negative held over it. She found this vagueness comforting somehow. Her initial terror had been instinctive, her fight or flight instinct set firmly to flight, but something inside her, a vagueness in her own character, was drawn to him. The weathered edges of her fragile self kept her still, staring at the boy, this ghost. She had a strong sense that she was meant to see him, that he somehow wanted her attention. As she thought this, she felt a lifting, a rolling back, of the tension, the sadness in the room. Absurd as it seemed to her, she relaxed in the ghostly child’s presence, her initial fear making the short step into curiosity.
The boy’s bearing, his intense stare, seemed to relax too. The unbearable coldness in his eyes dimmed to a faint blue glow. Reassured, the girl studied him more closely. He looked about ten years old and was dressed in a rough white round collared shirt, the worn material frayed slightly at the sleeves. This was tucked into short brown trousers, with cream coloured stockings running from his knees into heavy brown brass buckled shoes. Looking back to his face, she caught him studying her, her short blonde hair, her thin white dress, her slight frame. His frozen gaze altered to a look of uncertainty. “It’s alright” she found herself saying to him, oddly embarrassed by trying to comfort a ghost. Strange as it was, the sound of her voice seemed to provoke a decision in the boy, his brow furrowing in concentration, his lips moving slightly, mouthing something to himself. She noticed, in the corner of his left eye, a tear forming. It welled, then dropped down his pale round cheek. Deftly, the boy caught the tear in the palm of his left hand. Its spherical shape remained intact. The boy looked at the tear, then, with a tiny backwards flick of his head, beckoned her over. The girl crossed the dining room floor, standing a foot or so away from him. The air around him was cold and stale, like the inside of a stone church. Their eyes met. She was tempted to touch him, to see if her hand would pass through his opaque body as she thought it would. But there was a fear in his eyes, slight, but noticeable up close, that stopped her.
The sense of desolation clung to him, but it felt to her like more of an accumulation, a product of time, a sorrow built up over untold years. Somehow, his fear seemed the more immediate emotion. The boy was wary of her. “Don’t be scared, it’s ok” she said, the act of communication feeling more natural this time. The boy nodded, shaking his curls. This movement caught the girl off guard and she stepped back slightly. He looked at her imploringly, as if worried that he’d alarmed her. There was an innocence to his expression that made her smile, a smile that he returned, ever so faintly, his thin lips lifting at the corners. He lifted his left hand, his shirt sleeve falling back down his arm as he offered the tear to her. She held out her right hand in return and the boy flicked his wrist, dropping the tear into her palm. It burst on her skin with a dizzying lysergic flash, like a prism fracturing light into infinite colour. Momentarily blinded, she dropped to her knees, a heavy rushing sound in her ears. She felt herself slipping out of consciousness, falling, the rushing sound gradually overtaken by the muffled sound of voices, in turn replaced by silence as blackness enveloped her.
The first thing she was aware of was a dampness in her feet. Looking down, she saw the same battered brown shoes the boy had worn. She was standing on short grass, wet with dew, the wetness gradually soaking into her shoes. Except they weren’t her shoes. They couldn’t be. Unnerved, she ran her eyes up her body – the stockings, the trousers, the shirt she wore – all were the same as the clothes of the child she had seen in the dining room. A pressure on her right hand drew her gaze to her side. She saw a woman, older than her, about thirty, holding her hand with a soft grip. The woman looked down. There was a warmth in her soft brown eyes, a sparkle of recognition, of love. It slowly dawned on the girl that this was the ghostly boy’s mother; by some strange transference of self, of time, of perspective, she was seeing her through his eyes. This realisation alarmed the girl. She willed herself away from the boy, from this unnatural inhabitation of his body, of his point of view. In her mind she shook herself loose of him, the same way a hare shakes itself loose from a fox’s mouth’s half- formed grip. But the boy was as much there as she was. She felt him pleading, wordlessly, desperately imploring her to stay, to witness. A strong sense of security filled her, coming partly from the feeling she now shared with the child and in part from the perfumed aura of affection that his mother exuded. There was a force, a great tidal swell of love between her and her son, that gave the girl the will to stay in the experience, to witness whatever it was that the boy wanted to show her.
Through him, she watched his mother lead the boy across an open field, flanked by woodland, onto a rough dirt track. She felt the stones on the track push into the thin soles of the boy’s shoes, watched the watery sun break through the hedgerows on either side, smelt the crisp, clean smell of day breaking. All the time, a feeling of security and contentment emanated from the boy, a sense that this was all he wanted, to walk hand in hand with his mother. She felt him look up, smiling, trying to catch his mother’s eye. But her gaze was elsewhere. She stared ahead, fixedly, slowing her pace until the boy came to a stop with her. The track had narrowed, until the branches from the hedgerows brushed their sides. The girl felt the point of a thorn in the boy’s arm, felt the tug of the creeper it was attached to. He stared at the bramble caught in his sleeve, shook his arm free and looked up. The girl didn’t see what happened next clearly, but what she felt was shatteringly real. A cold, sickening feeling of terror overtook her, an animalistic wave of mortal, crushing fear. A few feet ahead of the boy and his mother, a man stood. His head was bowed. As he raised his eyes to meet the boy’s, the girl’s vision began to break down, the man’s figure breaking in and out of focus, slipping from colour to monochrome, like celluloid film stretching, melting, under heat. The last thing she saw before she lost the boy’s sight completely was the man’s face, pressed close, coal black-eyes burning in his sockets as his mouth broke into a tortured, leering grin. She felt hot, fetid breath on her cheek, a feeling of absolute revulsion overtook her, then…
…then nothing. The girl came to her senses, opening her eyes to break the blackness. With a sense of overwhelming relief she took in the dining room dresser, the pine table, her half drunk cup of tea. She had always felt that she would end up back in the same room, despite how surreal what she had just experienced was, but it was still infinitely comforting to be dumped straight back into reality. She got up from her curled position on the floor and went around the room, running her fingers over the wall paper, tapping the teacups on the dresser so they rang, shutting her magazine forcefully, producing a loud bang. It felt beautiful to be back home, the feeling of losing something vital, only to find it safe and untouched, in exactly the place you thought that you’d left it.
c> Andrew Day, September 2009