Content Warnings: use of deadname/birthname
"She Don't Fade" by Die Booth
700 words, Short fiction
CW: use of birth name
There’s a ghost in my house. I hear her singing.
A little girl. Why is it always a little girl?
The light through the window is barely enough to see by, but the sky outside is very pale. Clouds slide by, fast and smooth as water down a drain. She’s there, sitting on the edge of my bed, reading a book. She looks so real that somehow I can’t be scared. She looks so peaceful that I can’t bring myself to disturb her. To speak up and ask her what she wants. I watch her, quietly, from the landing, until my eyes water. Eventually, I can’t focus anymore and I have to blink and in that instant, she and her book are gone, the bedcovers undisturbed as if she was never there.
Sometimes I feel like I’m going out of my mind. When I’m alone, watching TV at night in the lightbulb bubble of the front room, and I hear the patter of running footsteps overhead; then a shiver trickles down between my shoulder-blades and I can almost muster being spooked. But mostly, she’s in daylight. A flick of long brown hair at the edge of my vision, that familiar little figure disappearing through a doorway into thin spring sunlight. Like she’s gone, but she never fully left.
I don’t tell anyone. What could I say? How can I explain this, everything, when the only people who’d even halfway understand are the ones who’ve survived it too?
People visit, but, like a cat, she stays away when it’s not just me in the house. Maybe I should feel flattered. Maybe I should conclude that she’s all in my imagination. My friend Luke comes over most often. I’ve known him a long time. Not from childhood, not from before, but still—for over a decade. He’s around every couple of weeks or so, sitting on the couch while we marathon sci-fi B-movies, or eat Friday night take-out, or drink a few beers before we go to the pub. One day, I catch him staring and I wonder if that’s how my face looked when I saw her for the first time too. “Johnny…”
“What’s up?” I still don’t want to say anything. To ask him anything leading. I follow his line of vision out into the hall, to where she’s standing by the stairs, clear as a newspaper headline.
“Who’s that?” He sounds freaked out. Perhaps he's unnerved because there’s suddenly a strange kid there in the house of someone he knows doesn’t have any kids. But I know that’s not it. I can feel the undercurrent of fright prickling off him like static electricity. He feels it too.
“You see her?” I keep my eyes on her, afraid to blink in case she disappears. I want this proof, but more than that, I don’t want her to disappear.
“Yeah,” says Luke softly. “I see her.” The room is so quiet that I can hear the tiny wet click of his throat as he swallows. “How long has she…been here, with you?”
“Always, I think.” I know as I say it that it’s true. The girl trails one small hand up and down the stair banister. She looks about to turn and leave. I say, “Emma?” It feels weird saying that name out loud. Luke doesn’t know my birth-name. The girl looks up sharply, like she’s surprised I still know it.
I feel like I should be frightened, or hate her. Like I should want to call in a priest to exorcise the house, to say prayers over me and douse me in Holy Water like a possessed man in a film, so she’s gone forever, no part of her remaining. No ghost in me. What I feel instead is that I want to protect her.
“Who is she?” Luke’s voice wavers.
“Who was she, you mean?”
“Right.” He swallows once more. “She’s dead.”
“She’s not dead,” I say. She looks up then. It’s the first time she’s ever looked directly at me. Her eyes are brown, and so like mine are still that it’s impossible not to recognise myself in them. She smiles, and she flutters me a little wave, and I realise that I love her. I love her so much. “She’s just…moved on.”
Die Booth lives in Chester, UK and enjoys painting pictures and exploring dark places. Die’s prize-winning work has featured in publications including The Fiction Desk, Firewords and The Cheshire Prize for Literature anthologies, and his latest single-author collection of short stories My Glass is Runn, is out now. 365 Lies a collection of one flash fiction for every day of the year, with all proceeds going to the MNDA, and Die’s debut novel Spirit Houses are also available online. He is currently working on a collection of own-voices short stories featuring transgender protagonists. http://diebooth.wordpress.com/ @diebooth