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The Haunting Within

Short story By: Keith Katsikas

This is the most recent short tale I've written, less than six months old, and just recently rewritten. It is a very sad, haunting tale that leaves me in near tears every time I read it over. But that's just me. What do you think?

Submitted:Mar 4, 2008    Reads: 1,000    Comments: 11    Likes: 9   

Is that you?

Rachel focused intensely on the pale hand as it slipped through the flowing white veil.

There was silence. Her ears grew numb.

She felt light, as if floating in space, but her feet were planted firmly on the ground.

"Is that you?" she said again, this time feeling the words vibrate her tongue.

The pale hand quickly snatched hers.

Her eyes shot wide open with terror.

She was alone in a vast king-size bed. Her breathing labored. Her chin quivered. Her thin lace gown clung to her clammy goose-pimpled flesh.

The room was dark. Soft moonlight glinted through a small window somewhere behind her, its soft glow caressing the lonely objects within the calm chilly space.

It's been nearly five years since the accident, she thought. Five years since her husband and her only daughter Sarah had left her.

She could still see the reflection of her own face in her daughter's soft olive-green eyes. She had never before, or since, bonded with another human like she had with Sarah. And with only a mere eleven years together she couldn't help but think about how things ought to have been; how things would have been had she only remained in control.

Sixteen, she thought. She'd be sixteen today. Sweet sixteen. Flowing frills on her billowing pink dress. Soft white flower-peddles drifting about the landscape as strings play a lovely swaying rhythm of joy as the two of them dance. She could see herself. Dancing with her daughter. Their bodies close. Touching. The flowery fragrance of Sarah's perfume filling up her every breath, warming the core of her motherhood.

There was a flash. Immense light washed out the entirety of her vision. A deafening squeal of tires. Crushing metal. Broken glass. The room was again thrust into darkness.

Her heart raced like the Indianapolis 500. Oh, how Raymond loved that thrill. He followed those cars like she followed her soaps. Senseless crap, she'd tell herself. She would never tell him though, she wouldn't dare. She knew there wasn't much happiness left in him. Besides her, Sarah, and possibly his calling at their church, those silly cars were all he had.

He didn't work, he couldn't; not since he lost the use of his legs in the military back in the summer of his 26th year. Those damn Indy cars, racing around and around and around and around--seemingly on an infinite course to nowhere--gave him some sort of cheap thrill. A thrill she couldn't bring herself to take away.

They took away his disability. His pain. His struggles. So long as those cars raced that endless circling loop, he was unaware of any of it. But she knew he was unaware of them as well, most times. But he was happy, she could see that, and that was all that mattered. Right?

If only she had not tried to stop him.

The stench of her own sweat curled her nose into a wrinkled ball. She wiped her puffy eyes with the heals of her tiny hands and propped herself up on the edge of the oversized bed.

The frigidness of the cold, lifeless room sent an electrifying chill down her washboard spine.

She grabbed her white pillow, planted her face down in its soft base of feathers, pulling it close. Squeezing. She cried.

Tears pooled in the curvaceous crater her head made, soaking her cheeks and warming her face.

"Why did you leave?" Her voice was faint, muffled by the over-stuffed pillow. "Why did you take her away from me?"

Rachel. The voice was deep, God-like, it seemed to encapsulate the entire room. But she knew it couldn't be God.

She gazed up from her sodden pillow. Her eyes filled with sudden apprehension. She smiled. Sarah's smile gazed back at her. But as quickly as it flooded in, her happiness evaporated. She rose from the bed and grabbed the picture from the dresser.

She was so beautiful.

"Why?" she hollered. Her voice was sore from shouting and from swallowing tears. "Why? You son-of-a-bitch!"

The room remained silent. Dark. Lifeless. Gray.

She placed the framed picture back on the dresser--

Rachel. The voice pierced through her from everywhere.

--The picture slipped from her trembling fingers, and shattered on the cold floor, inches from her soft bare feet.

A light enveloped her; so pure was this light that it filled her soul as much as it filled the room around her. It didn't hurt to look at. She didn't even blink, nor squint. It was wonderful. Yet oddly frightening.

Is that you?

Her eyes focused intensely on the pale hand, as it slipped through the flowing white veil.

There was silence. Her ears grew numb.

She felt light, as if floating in space, but her feet were planted on the floor, which no longer felt cold.

"Is that you?" she said again, this time feeling the words vibrate her tongue.

The pale hand took a solid grip of hers.

She felt a sudden gasp leave her trembling lips as a shiver shook her spine. Her eyes sprung open. Her daughter's gazing smile caressed her soul.

Returning the picture to the dresser a frightening thought ransacked her timid mind. Oh God. I'm being haunted.

She knew, the voice speaking her name wasn't God, it was her husband. It was Raymond.

The cold, she thought. It's so cold.

"Why are you doing this?" Her throat was even more sore now; she could feel it going horse. "Leave me be, you bastard!"

The room was silent.

A sudden solemnness swept her face. "I know you had a rough life, Raymond." She grabbed a robe from the chair next to the bed and threw it over her shoulders. "You weren't alone."

She reached for the lamp on the night-stand and turned the switch. The room remained dark. "Shit." She glanced at the clock, just now realizing that it's digital face was as dark as the room. She gazed about, suddenly feeling claustrophobic. "Did you kill the goddamn power, too?"

She grabbed the comforter that she had kicked off the bed and wrapped it around her. It didn't help. The cold was deep. Her shivering became uncontrollable. The room suddenly took on an aura of being frost covered. Her breathing was fast and shallow. Pain nipped at her lungs as she fought for breath.

A suffocating weight wrapped itself around her chest. "What the hell are you doing to me?" she cried. In a fearful flight, she sprinted across the room towards the door, but as she reached for the knob, it was no longer there.

The sun was blinding. Hot. The air muggy. Just enough cloud cover hovered about above her head to provide a break here and there from the scorching rays. Sarah was dressed in the one piece pink and white denim short-suit Raymond had bought her on her fifth birthday. She ran to and fro along the glimmering sand of the vast, seemingly endless beech. Her arms stretched high over her head. A large parachute style kite soared above.

"Rachel?" His voice was bold, yet warm.

She glanced over her shoulder. Raymond laid comfortably on a beech chair, his legs propped up just slightly so the blood didn't clot in his paralyzed legs. The sound of the waves as they beat against the shoreline brought on a nauseating sensation of d�j� vu, as did the reek of sea water and banana boat sunscreen.

Something was wrong, but she felt compelled to smile anyways, and did. "Aren't you--" She was afraid to complete the thought. Afraid of sounding stupid, "--Hot?" she finally finished. There was no way she was going to ask if he was dead. She suddenly felt like she was going crazy. Was she?

"Please, pass the sunscreen?"

"Oh... Of course." What is this place? Her mind drifted.

"Dear?" He was rubbing his legs, pain glared in his face. She grabbed the sunscreen from a mound of sand and mindlessly passed it to him.

"Thank you," he said.

But she didn't hear. Her eyes focused on Sarah, who looked much older now, she looked as she did the day she... What's going on? she thought. She was drifting down the long beech; that over-sized kite shrinking into the sun-washed horizon.

She jolted to her feet. The book she had been reading fell to the sand. "Sarah!" she hollered. But Sarah didn't respond; she just kept drifting off into the setting sun. She gazed down at Raymond who was smiling at Sarah, waving. With eyes that screamed what the hell's wrong with you, she said, "Aren't you going to do something!"

He didn't laugh, but she could feel it dying to lash out at her at any moment; it was the one thing that always set her off. "She's just playing," he said. "Besides, what do you expect me to do... fly?"

Her eyes shot back toward the setting sun, back toward her daughter, nearly too difficult to see through the intense yellow glow. "We have to stop her." A tear rolled down her cheek. "We can't just..." Her gaze was suddenly pulled toward the book lying in the sand next to her feet. Here eyes grew wide; her heart stopped; her stomach wrenched. Her tears struck the cover and rolled off into the sand. Her face reeled in a painful sob that seemed to heave its way straight from her soul.

There was a child, playing, walking into the water. It was an ocean. The image faded off into nothingness--a pale rusty tonality that reminded her of blood. Something stood, raised up from the water just feet ahead from where the child playfully walked, kicking her feet, walking toward the thing that peered out from the nothingness beyond.

It looked like ancient ruins, row upon row of towering Roman columns, extending off as far as the scene allowed eyes to follow. It looked menacing, dangerous. Why is that child alone, she thought. Why isn't anyone trying to stop her. The child in the image was little more than a dark silhouette, but to her, it was Sarah. "Sarah," she spoke softly.

AFTER THE DEATH OF A CHILD, was the title. The cover was wrinkled from tears as they joined the ripples and waves of an ocean, held captive in a still frame of one's haunted memory.

She gazed back toward the sun. Sarah was gone. She returned her teary gaze toward Raymond. He was gazing into a map. Suddenly, it was dark. A small reading lamp lit the road atlas in her husband's hands.

"Mom!" The small voice fired from behind.

She quickly turned her head toward the road. A bright light attacked her eyes. She spun the wheel. The tires squealed. The smell of burning rubber filled the car. Sobs ramped up from behind; a sudden cry of terror and sadness. The Mustang she was driving with the top down swerved out of control. She saw a guardrail. There was nothing on the other side. A cliff. A mountain. A tree. A cliff. A mountain. A tree. In a sudden streak, the blinding headlamps rushed by. The Mustang skidded to a halt on the opposite side of the road. Dust and smoke filled the air, then quickly became sucked away in the strong mountainous breeze.

There was silence.

She gaped out at the guardrail just feet in front of her. Beyond it, nothing, for as far as she could see. Her fingers hurt. She plucked them from the wheel as if they had been glued. Her knuckles popped as they came loose. Looking oddly at her crooked fingers, she realized the car was all to quiet. She caught her breath and looked to her side. Raymond was gone. She looked behind her. Sarah too.

She was alone. She placed her head in her hands and cried.

"Go mom." The voice was Sarah's, though there was something strange about it. It seemed older, more mature. "Don't keep doing this to yourself. Go... Go now!"

Rachel lifted her head to see her daughter and in a flash found herself back in her bedroom.

It was dark. Cold. Her body felt numb. Trapped. She was laying at he center of her bed facing a small group of people. Strangers. Six of them, all women, holding hands. One stood, while the others knelt. This one seemed to stare directly at her, then she spoke. "Go... leave this place." It was that voice again. Sarah's, only older. "Mother. The time has come for you to move on. I can feel your spirit weakening. I can feel you. You can hear me, I know it. Leave here. Go on. Father and I forgave you a long time ago. We know you didn't mean to hurt us. We loved you then and we love you now. That's why I have gathered the six of us to release your hold on this place.

"Mother. Dad's waiting. He's waited fifteen years for this, the day he could pass through the veil and see you. But until you go, he'll be waiting there, alone. Abandoned. Don't break his heart a second time. This is your chance to redeem yourself. I know God will forgive you. You were not well. You would have never killed yourself if you were."


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