Every story is about God. This is a story about something else. Something different. This is a story about Ghosts. Ghosts that are powdery, like moths or fatigue.
These ghosts don't live anywhere. They don't close doors, or understand window panes, or words, or stories, or unfinished business. The only thing they understand is loss. Empty space. All stories are about something, and stories that pretend to be about nothing are about the absence of something. I don't want to write about the absence of something. I want to write about the presence of Nothing and the presence of Ghosts.
Maybe then they'll go away.
There are ghosts living behind my eyes, in that space between the bony part of my nose and my brain, ghosts that will not go away. Ghosts that I <em>know</em> are real, because they leave dust everywhere. I know what you're thinking. It's an old house. Of course there's dust. I bet you've never seen transparent dust, though. Thought not. It's the kind of dust that you don't even really register until your kitchen countertop is a centimetre deep in it and suddenly you don't want to eat anymore and you turn to leave the kitchen but your path is blocked by an invisible snowbank of dust and you turn to go the other way but there's a bench there, of course there's always been a bench there, why did you think you could go that way? and the sink is now full of the dust and it's rising up your ankles and where is it coming from why can't it just go away and it gets in your eyes and your mouth and scratches up your nose and your face is dripping clear mucus and the dust is gone. The countertops are clean. You leave and you think about never coming back.
I bought an industrial vacuum cleaner yesterday but it broke within a day. Sometimes older things are better. I'll keep using the tiny antique vacuum my grandmother gave me.
They're not the kind of ghosts you can see, exactly. I know what they look like though. Like when you stare at a light but you don't even realise you're looking at it, not really, and then you look away and there's a dark patch on your eyes, so you look back where you were staring before, to figure out where the light is (that you were looking at) but then you realise, you're just looking at the light again, and the dark patch is getting worse. My ghosts are impossible to see and I know exactly what they look like.
"My" ghosts. It's an interesting word. The same word for my pencil, my room, my house, my flaws, my strengths, my city, my country, my God. My ghosts. I know I said this wasn't going to be a story about God, but I think I lied a little bit. Sorry. All stories are about God. You should've known that. I told you that, right at the start. I guess you just weren't listening.
At least the ghosts don't hurt. Mostly. Sometimes. Actually that was a lie too.
Once upon a time my eyes were not haunted. My room held only me—well, and scars. Scar tissue is not like the surrounding tissue—it builds up and up and up until it feels like there's nothing underneath. It's tough, to stop you from opening up older wounds, places where you're still fragile. I'm covered in tough scar tissue. Head to toe. Every time I speak I have to push my words past a thick barrier designed to protect me from old wounds.
I wonder if there is anyone else living like this. Logically I know there are a lot of people in the world. We can barely conceptualise a thousand, though—forget eight billion. In eight billion experiences, I know that <em>someone</em> must feel like this. And yet I know they don't. Nobody else sees ghosts scarred into their eyes (I know this in the same way I know how they look). It is just me (all alone) and that is the terror of it (the terror of being the only one. how am I the only one.)
I used to watch old movies on the TV in the living room. The resolution blown up to that scale was terrible—grainy, distorted pixels, with faces that sometimes barely looked like faces—but I still watched them. They were free, anyway. Public domain is a beautiful thing. I would watch these old movies and think old thoughts and ignore the terrible hyperreality that faced me out of doors, a terrible reality perpetuated by Growth, by Improvement and Progress and Change. I hate growth and improvement and progress and change. I think everything should just stay where it is. I vacuum the ghost dust with my tiny, antique vacuum that has to be emptied every fifteen minutes and I think about old horror movies. I think about how horror tells us about the things we're scared of and about how I don't need to watch horror movies anymore, because I know what I'm scared of. I know because the ghosts tell me.
I didn't say, earlier, that the ghosts tell me things. Maybe that's because I forgot or maybe I just didn't want to tell you yet. I didn't know you very well, then, but I think we know each other better now. I can deal with the dust and the scars and the ghosts living in my skull and all the rest of it, the loneliness too, and the scars, did I mention the scars?, but it's the sound that's the worst. Because sound is inescapable, it's living in my head and it's getting harder and harder and harder to separate from “me” and from “my” thoughts.
I haven't dreamed in a long time. Too busy lying awake (in my empty aching bed) and waiting. Sometimes I think I've been waiting forever, and sometimes I think I've only just started, and sometimes I think it's both. I will be lying (in my broken, scratchy bed) when the world ends, probably. I don't know if I'll even notice. I'll be lying in my bed and staring at the ceiling and three hours, days, years? later I’ll notice a tiny crack, and I’ll think maybe that's always been there, and maybe it hasn't, and I'll think that I guess I should probably check, just to make sure, just to keep up the appearance of participating in the world, even though I'm not in the world, not really. So I get up, and I walk through my bedroom door, through my front door, and I'm outside, and my roof will have caved in from the dust and my house will be nothing but rubble, nothing but a ruined head of drywall and asbestos, so I walk back inside and lie in my bed and continue staring at the ceiling and the crack is gone again.
When did the ghosts first come? I can't remember. There was never a time without them. They've always been here. They've only just arrived. I've been haunted since before birth and I've never seen a ghost before. I only exist within the constraints of words, the constraints of language, and so everything I tell you must be true, because it and I exist within the constraints of language. If I tell you that you are haunted too, then it must be so. I won't do that though. I won't do that to you. Not yet, at least. Never say never.
There are ghosts living in my brain and I'm not even sure I can call it "my" brain anymore.
Now I am walking under a sky choked with them. All shapes colours styles genres of ghosts. They would block out the sun—if it was there. They would block out the moon, too, and the stars—if they existed anymore. There’s no sky. No up, no down. It’s all ghosts. It’s all me. I should’ve known, that my ghosts wouldn’t stay inside forever. That the dust was only the start. I should’ve known. I didn’t know. How could I have known? Nobody else has had ghosts like mine. They told me so. They told me that I am the first.
But I will not be the last. Or if indeed I am the last, it will be because I have outlived every miserable haunted and haunting wretch in this place. I am the first; I will be the last; I refuse to be the only.
I keep walking. What else is there to do? Scream, perhaps—but I am already screaming. As the dust climbs past my knees, I wait, and I think about metaphors. Think with me.
The dust sweeps high, past my chest, and I reach for my vacuum before I remember that I broke it two months ago.