The Wounds in the Walls, available now
There is still a contest running for this one through my newsletter. So far I have one entry! If you want in, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pete Eason’s been hit by the downturn in the economy just like everyone else, so when he gets the word that some guy named Mike Clarke needs a day laborer to clear our a rural Missouri house, he doesn’t ask too many questions before he takes the job. But Pete quickly learns that there’s something funny going on at this site. For one, Pete’s the only laborer Mike hired, and from what Pete can see, this place needs a bulldozer, not a Dumpster. Mike doesn’t so much as hand Pete a shovel, either—he seems to be hinting that the place is haunted. Pete doesn’t feel any goose bumps, and he sure as hell doesn’t see any ghosts. He’s dying, though, to know what all the gashes in the walls are about.
Mike can’t see the gashes, and he’s frustrated that Pete can’t see the ghost standing right beside him, because the whole point of bringing Pete here was to release the trapped spirit in this place, a spirit that by rights Pete should be able to see better than anyone. Maybe, Mike thinks, he’s made a mistake. But before he can nudge Pete a little harder, the front door disappears, the walls begin to heave, and the ghost which has always been nothing more than a shade is suddenly aggressive flesh and blood—and Mike doesn’t think he’s made a mistake anymore. He knows he has.
There was a ghost standing beside Pete.
He tried to tell himself he was just seeing things, but after what had happened first in the dining room and now to the front door, hallucinations were a hard sell. Either these things were actually happening, or hallucinations had taken over to the point they might as well be.
The ghost’s hand was cold on Pete’s arm, but it was definitely there. It squeezed gently in reassurance. “Can you carry him? Because we need to get out of here, and we’re going to need him.”
Pete nodded and hefted Clarke up. He was a big guy, but Pete was no slouch, and it was only a little strain to heft the man over his shoulder. Clarke groaned, but other than that he stayed quiet. Feeling only marginally bad for knocking him out, Pete turned back to the ghost, waiting for further instructions.
It was looking at Pete, impressed. “You’re stronger than I thought you’d be.”
“You said you knew a way out?” Pete prompted.
“Of the house? No. That’s not going to happen now. But I can get us somewhere safe. Can you get him upstairs?”
Pete looked in apprehension at the dilapidated stairway.
“They’re in better shape than they look to you, I promise,” the ghost said. “Can you?”
It wasn’t just the construction that was upsetting Pete. There was… something. Something waiting. He felt silly, even with all that had happened, and he couldn’t look at the ghost while he said the words. “There’s something bad up there.”
The ghost didn’t seem to find him silly at all. “Yes. There’s something very bad up there. But I promise I won’t let you go to those places.” He held out his hand. “Will you trust me?”
Pete did, almost completely, and that unsettled him. “Why couldn’t I see you before?”
“Because I was hiding.” He looked sad but also curious as he tipped his head to the side. “You can really see the wounds?”
Wounds? “You mean the gashes in the walls?” The ghost nodded, and Pete looked around him. The walls were heaving, moving in and out like lungs. And yes, the gashes were here too, though they weren’t as deep and not half as upsetting as the ones in the dining room. They were random like the ones in the parlor, and they barely cut through the paper. “I see them. How’d they get there?” Why do you call them wounds?
The growling started up again, and the ghost reached out and took Pete’s hand. “Come on. We can’t stay here. It’s mostly bluster, but it can do damage enough.”
Pete wondered what “it” was, but as soon as the ghost led him forward, the feeling of foreboding increased. He stiffened, and the ghost glanced over his shoulder to give him a gentle smile.
“Just up the stairs and down the hall.” He tugged and ran a cold thumb across the back of Pete’s hand. “Come along, Peter.”
“Pete,” Pete whispered, but he came along, cold sweat breaking across his brow.
The stairs did hold them just fine, but Pete did notice that the ghost didn’t touch the railing or the walls. In fact, he kept very firmly to the middle. Pete decided it would be best to follow his lead.
“Do you have a name?” Pete asked.
“Everybody has a name,” the ghost said. But it was five more steps before he said, “Call me Ara.”
The careful phrasing caught Pete’s attention. “Is that your name?”
“You have some pointed thinking for someone who wants everyone to think he’s just a clumsy laborer.” The ghost paused on the stair and gave Pete a rather focused look over his shoulder. His thumb moved absently over Pete’s hand, and he smiled a slow, knowing sort of smile that did funny things to Pete’s insides.
“How come I can feel you, if you’re a ghost?”
“Because you’re special,” the ghost replied, “and after Michael’s stunt downstairs, I suppose I am too.” He squeezed Pete’s hand. “Come. We’ll speak more when we get to safety.” He turned and started back up the stairs. “No, Ara isn’t my name. But I like it, and it will do well enough.”
“But why can’t I call you by your own name?” Pete dogged.
“Because we can’t both be called Peter,” Ara replied.