Fiction: Come In

By Sarah Clayville

Knock on wood twice to keep out the ghost.
He’s busy anyway, mornings occupied haunting those who have wronged him. He tosses pebbles in their way, hoping they slip and shatter a bone the way his heart shattered when she left him, when he was fired, when a song ended on the wrong note. In death he feels a tickle in his chest but understands it’s a mirage. An echo of what is gone.
He frequents coffee shops because ghosts are creatures of habit. He’s there to watch the living sip their drinks, chew each bite. From time to time he’ll adjust his drooping jaw bone in a window’s reflection or straighten the sandy hair that falls out in loose handfuls. He hasn’t given up the idea that he could still be handsome. It will be years before he stops looking in mirrors.
He spends afternoons by the river, trotting next to joggers mesmerized by the heavy pace of their own steps along the gravel. He stands in their way, screaming a dead tornado only to be ignored. The birds acknowledge him, sidestepping out of the way with gracious nods. He nods back, hungry for affirmation that he is still there. Animals have always been kinder than people.
He watches the choppy cuts of the water race along the path, desperately hoping someone falls in. Swallow the river until the sky goes dark and the earth turns light. He’s a monster if you look at it that way. Or you could understand that he’s alone and wants a friend to wander with. Ghosts are social creatures until they let go.
He lurks the streets downtown at night, gripping the noisy chaos to remember. Ghosts lose their memories wisp by wisp. When he touches the living, they feel a chill but he feels warmth. The heat of their struggle draws him to life. He only borrows their heartbeat for a moment. He is a polite ghost, after all.
He pretends to sleep on a park bench overgrown with moss. Really, he’s drawn to the light coming from the apartment building windows across the way. Most have shades drawn, lamps extinguished. But a few can’t sleep. He can’t sleep either because ghosts never turn off. They are perpetual motion machines. A sliver of hope burrows into his decaying brain. Ghosts tell fairytales just like the living. His favorite is the one about the creature pulled back into the world by invitation.
You sit in your bed, covers drawn around your neck, wondering about the things beyond your window in the dark. Never thinking they wonder about you. He is out there, seething with jealousy because his existence has become gruesomely easy. He has lessons to teach, if only you’ll listen and invite the monster in. Knocking on wood is such a silly tradition. Who needs luck if you have flesh and blood on your side.
Knock on wood twice to keep out the ghost, but why would you want to when he can remind you how to live?

Sarah Clayville writes and reads from the wilds of central Pennsylvania. She is a high school teacher, freelance editor, and her work has appeared in over thirty journals. Her debut novel was published in June, and she continues to write about the slightly supernatural.