Content Warnings: depression, suicidal ideation, smoking, alcohol use
"Two Yearnings" by Raymond Miranda | Short Fiction; 2,000 words
Content Warnings: depression, suicidal ideation, smoking, alcohol use
I see its silhouette when I blow smoke towards the laundry room. The figure hunched down between my dryer and the wall, its head to its knees, sobbing without a single sound. Sometimes when I check, it’ is lying on the dryer, its head and limbs uncomfortably hanging from the sides. Sometimes it’s crawling, like it’s considering whether to get out of the laundry room. Sometimes it’s standing up, balancing itself on the washer for the offering of bread and fruits I’ve left on there.
Where it had come from and who my roommate was, what it did, whether it was a he or she or they before it died, I have lost interest. I was curious when I first saw it. But the initial fear and curiosity has slowly been replaced by acceptance. Research on the apartment’s history cooled and halted as I realized that I didn’t care anymore. It was a friend with secrets, and good friends don’t pry.
At 7PM, the alarm on my phone rang out. I groaned and got up, putting out my cigarette on the overfilled ashtray on my coffee table. Walking to the kitchenette, I kicked away the empty boxes and sprawled clothing on the floor, things I kept saying I’ll clean in the weekend but still end up being there Monday morning. On a filthy, spotted stove, I fried some broccoli and potatoes and called it dinner. A portion for me and a small plate set aside on the washer.
A few months ago, I took a girl home with me. Back then my apartment was never this messy. I warned her that that the room smelled like cigarettes. She laughed and said it was okay since her room smelled the same way. While I was grabbing drinks from the fridge, she looked at the laundry room and screamed.
I asked her what’s wrong, and she said there’s something in the laundry room. “It’s a hungry ghost. It’s dangerous.”
I told her that I knew there was something there. I see it all the time when I smoke. “Is it that dangerous? It hasn’t done anything but be creepy.”
“It’s not hungry yet,” she said. “But one day it will be. You have to move.”
I thought about it and I said I can’t, muttering about money and leasing contracts.
“Then get rid of it,” she said. “I’ll give you a number for someone who can help.” She texted me contact information for her friend.
But for now, she said to just feed it. She cooked some rice and chicken on my stove and set aside a portion on the washer. She said I could eat the rest, but she was going home. “I do not want to be around that thing,” she said. “I hope you get rid of it soon.”
“It’s not hungry yet since it’s left you alone, and even if it does, it won’t eat you if you feed it. But one day you’ll forget. One day you’ll come home late. And it’ll eat the closest thing around.”
“Please call that number,” she said before leaving.
We never spoke to each other again. The phone number left uncalled. Yet as the months went by and the piles of dirty dishes on the sink was left longer and longer, I still cooked and made food for the hungry ghost.
“You’re not very good at this are you?”
“Eh?” I stopped my typing as I quickly turned to see my supervisor’s face. He looked at me, at the spreadsheet, and at the small pile of papers in the “finished” stack. He shook his head.
“You’re very slow.”
I stammered. “I, uh.”
“Listen,” he said. “I just want you to do a bit better, all right? You can do it.”
“Right,” I said as he left. I kept working but also kept remembering his face. Stern and disappointed. Not even angry. Not even surprised at the incompetence.
The conversation plagued my mind throughout work.
That evening the rest of the group said they wanted to go for drinks. They invited me and said I should join, but I said no. Sorry. I’m busy. I need to go home tonight, like I did every night. I smiled and waved them off to go ride the bus home.
I collapsed on the couch, no energy to do anything but smoke. The thing was still there, staring at the food I left last night like flies did around the dirty dishes in my sink. It was interesting to note that the flies have never approached the food set aside for the ghost. It was 6:45 PM. I spent fifteen minutes smoking and staring at the ceiling, the ghost, and the army of flies until the alarm went off. I cooked. I put away the old offering and put another one. The offering looked untouched, but you can tell by its smell and weight that it was “eaten”. It smelled weak and was considerably lighter. You can tell that the ghost has been eating, and it’s been eating more and more each day. One day, maybe what I cook won’t even be enough.
I thought about the number the girl gave me. I thought about calling it, but it was late. It was night, and I didn’t want to be a bother. This can wait for a little bit more.
One day while I was putting on new food I felt a sharp pain on my elbow. I gave it a bigger portion that night.
“Why don’t you come home?”
I didn’t say anything but sighed audibly through the phone.
“I’m serious,” my mom said. “You didn’t move to the city just to be a data entry drone.”
A flurry of reasons rushed to my head. I need the privacy. I had to get away. You and dad will never allow me to be what I want to be. They never reached my mouth. I just said that I still want to be here.
“Do you have a boyfriend there?”
“Then why are you there?”
I stammered, didn’t know how to answer. Before I could think of something to say, the 7PM alarm rang. I dismissed it quickly.
“Mom, sorry, I have to go do something. I’ll talk to you later.”
She was quiet on the other end. “All right sweetie, you take care.”
I lit up the cigarette left on the ashtray. I swear the thing was getting taller, but also thinner. Gaunter. Bonier. Yet at the same time its stomach grew more distended and gruesome. I got up and started cooking. I gave it a large portion again that night.
What a mess, I thought, lying on my bed, looking at the strewn piles of clothes and books on the unvacuumed carpet. I felt the short-lived burst of motivation to clean and I decided to ride it as best I can.
I put my books away, I put my clothes in the hamper, I vacuumed the floor. I rode that high to the end. Then I dragged my dirty clothing to the laundry room.
“Excuse me,” I said, as I put the food aside to use the washer. I felt a scratch on my leg as I did. I swear that I also heard a hiss; a small inhuman sound from the corner of the room. I didn’t give it any mind and pushed my clothes in the washer. When it’s done washing, I’ll put the food back on it. But for now, it’ll have to make do.
I went back to my living room and smoked. Whenever I used my washer I could see its face. That’s because when I moved the food, it’d go to the door and look at me. It would stand up, it would grimace, bear its thin sharp teeth my way, and stare at me with its large, hollow eyes.
Each time I did I felt like I was getting more daring. “Come on,” I whispered. “Come out and eat me.”
Yet eventually it would sulk back and return to its corner. It would scratch me again as I dried and picked up the clothes. Sometimes those scratches bled. It was not a big deal anymore. I had a big pack of band-aids set aside for hungry ghost incidents, and I considered it as just another piece of rent for living under this roof.
I thought about the girl again when my apartment asked me to renew my lease. She told me to move. The ghost was getting bigger, and from what I could tell, hungrier. One day I’d forget to feed it. One day it’ll have enough. One day it will probably eat me.
But I looked at my apartment. Stains on the carpet. The heavy smell of smoke that seeped into the walls. Cans of beer strewn here and there and in hidden cracks between the furniture. I thought about the work of cleaning this shit and looking for a new place to live. I do not want to deal with that in any way.
I will not blame the ghost for this place. I know I’m useless. I know I’m scum. I don’t need the ghost to make this place the shithole it is. I can be a disappointment all by my own power, thank you very much.
That night I still fed it. I gave it something a bit special. A steak dinner for two. I don’t know if it even knew what it was eating or even if it cared. It will probably eat just about anything I put on the plate. I doubt it knew what things tasted like or appreciate any effort I made into cooking, yet I did so anyway.
In a way, the hungry ghost was a special friend that I do not want to let go.
I don’t know why I wrote this, but I guess to whoever finds it, consider it a suicide note. I know myself too well. I’ll forget or have no energy left to make any food. One day work will get too hard, or my feelings will be rejected, or I will have a spat with my friends, and then I’ll march into the laundry room, toss the food aside, and go to sleep right then and there.
Maybe it won’t need to go that far. It’s been getting bigger and angrier. Its belly has gotten larger and more gruesome, but it’s getting thinner and bonier. I think it has been to my bedroom while I was asleep. I dream of it these days. I think I hear it. I wake up and the books in my room have moved around. Yet when I checked, it was still slumped in the laundry room, eating its food.
It’s a selfish thought, but I’d like to die by this ghost. I feel that it’s the only thing I’ve ever been responsible for. I’ve arranged my time and schedule and energy just on this thing alone and I would like for it to be what ends me. I know that this comes as a shock if you’re reading this now, but that’s how I want this to end. I’m sorry.
But that doesn’t mean I’m selfish enough to let this thing free. If you find me dead here, please contact the number below. It’s the one the girl gave me when she saw the thing in the laundry room. I still haven’t contacted them. I still don’t have the courage. But I don’t want the people living here next to find this thing. And I’m sorry to burden you with this shithole I left behind.
I’m useless trash. I know that all too well. But what I can do is feed this ghost.
Tell my family that I love them, despite what I said in this letter. Tell my coworkers that they’re great. Tell my boss to stick a broom up his ass. This is honestly the only place where I have any balls to do that. Please use those exact words.
And thank you, whoever you are.
And I’m sorry.
Raymond Miranda (They/them) is a Muslim communist from Indonesia and a biology teacher and tutor living in Houston. Their writing is focused on fantasy and horror with a healthy dose of inspiration from Karl Marx. You can find them posting on Twitter at @imbrogliostew talking about nonsense.