She smelled of cinnamon and fetid meat, a mélange of rot. Pinhead black spiders stole pieces of her sight as they skittered from the hollows of her eyes. “Being dead isn’t so bad,” she said. The ghost picked holes in the fabric of life wound around her shoulders, this season’s fashionable shroud. She’d worn her heart on her sleeve for so long she no longer noticed the bloodstains on the cuff. “You get used to it after a while.”

There are memories and then there are memories. “I don’t need this right now.” The setting sun left a smear of red along the far wall. I opened another bottle of Ragnaud-Sabourin in defiance of her, of x-rays, of the inevitability of night. “I have a deadline.”

“I do miss flowers, though. Lilies would have been nice if you’d bothered, or carnations, pink ones. I think I remember what pink looks like.”

“Good for you.” The first swallow of cognac was fire, the second dark caramel and mother’s milk. “You’re wasting my time. I’m not dead yet.”

The ghost smiled, pallid lips drawn back to reveal two rows of even, white teeth. “Such an unassuming little word, hmmm? Three innocuous letters that say what you mean when you don’t mean what you say.”

I looked beyond the ghost to the Paris skyline, points of light kept at a distance. “I don’t understand.”

“Don’t you?” She dissolved then, twisted strands of light and dark unraveling like memories of better days until all that remained were the spiders. And her voice: “You never learned how to live.”

“Screw you, babe,” I said to the dark, to myself.  “It takes time to make a living.”

Echoes and memories refused to take the bait.

I hoisted myself out of the chair and presented myself to the pane and the city and the night. I had always been my own man. Resolute. Self-made. Accountable to no one but myself.

I felt the first spider press through the tear duct of my right eye. It tickled my cheek much like her breath in languid afterglow, like a black spot on the film. A sliver of skyline went missing.

Night was coming. I poured two fingers as the city went black. Ghosts cut into my bottom line.

Sandra M. Odell is a happily married, 43-year-old mother of two teenage boys, an avid reader, compulsive writer, and rabid chocoholic. Her writing credits include publication in Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE, Ideomancer, Horror Bound Magazine Publications’ trade paperback anthology Fear of the Dark, and audio production on Pseudopod. She is a Clarion West 2010 graduate, and associate member of the SFWA.

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Every Day Fiction

  • vondrakker

    Only 4 stars…Sandra
    I was confused as to the gender of the dead person.
    Silly me…thought it was 2 females
    Till I was jerked up short…by ..
    I was always my own man.
    All around good hooks and story.
    IMO more gender clarity woulda bin nice !!

  • Too wordy and a bit too far out there for me.

  • ajcap

    I really liked this. Wonderful imagry. Good characterization using few words.

    Confused with the POV at first but not enough to take me out of the story.
    “She’d worn her heart on her sleeve for so long…” which made me think it was the ghostly image’s POV, but then suddenly there was a narrator.

    Worthy of at least four stars, just for painting such a vivid picture.

  • Fantastic! I felt and tasted and experienced this every word of the way.

  • I’m with Paul (#2) on this. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to get it, but I tried (read it twice before looking at the comments for some help). I can’t rate this one, sorry.

  • Some beautiful writing and great imagery here, but I’m also afraid that after a couple of reads I can’t figure out what is going on. Perhaps a few more lines could be added for clarity.

  • VMcKay

    I could be way off, but I’m guessing the words “x-rays” and “yet” are clues. 4 stars, even though I had to read that second paragraph twice to figure out we weren’t in the ghost’s POV.

  • JenM

    Ooh creepy! Remind me to start lving, so that I don’t get eaten alive by spiders.

  • The story is ambiguous and probably meant to be so, but I’ll take a stab at it, letting the emotions it engenders in myself lead the way of speculation. Remember – I realize this is only speculation and may be dangerously off the mark. –I am guessing –The ghost was a memory of someone with an ingenuous character who is still alive but whom the protaganist wishes were dead. He wouldn’t even send flowers. His thoughts something like “Only screw you, Babe. Don’t try to make me accountable to what you think should be my conscience.” He’s beginning to suffer from writer’s block and blames what he takes to be false conscience.

  • I read it as a guy who was terminally ill entertaining the ghost of someone he once knew. I think it was well-written, but there were some almost self-consciously clever lines in there that made me squirm a bit, such as “she’d worn her heart on her sleeve so long she no longer noticed the blood on her cuff” and “letters that say what you mean when you don’t mean what you say.”
    I enjoyed the story though, and thought it very atmospheric and broodingly gruesome.. Thanks for the read.

  • Simone

    I, too, didn’t “get it.” However some of the language was superb, such as: She smelled of cinnamon and fetid meat, a mélange of rot; The ghost picked holes in the fabric of life wound around her shoulders…; She’d worn her heart on her sleeve for so long she no longer noticed the bloodstains on the cuff; Three innocuous letters that say what you mean when you don’t mean what you say; and, “It takes time to make a living.”

    I may not have understood who was who and what their relationship was, but this earned 5 stars from me for the beautiful writing. I only wish the story made more sense.

  • ajcap

    My take on it:
    -Ghost is ghost of relationship past, over probably due to his working extreme hours making as much money as he could. He didn’t even send flowers when the love died. Or, maybe she committed suicide and he didn’t send flowers to her funeral. Bottom line, he’s a money-grubber (it’s all about the bottom line) with little conscience and what goes around, comes around.
    -now the x-rays are telling him he’s dying and he feels haunted by her.

    Like the story even more now that it’s all analyzed.

  • Steve Ramey

    Definitely evocative. I wanted just a hint more context about the narrator’s life work, but the ghost worked very well for me, as did the spider-x-ray metaphor. I believe we are witnessing his death at the end, and his obstinate refusal to regret.

  • Carla

    Ok I agree with everyone else that it’s not clear what’s going on but I kind of like that in a short story… it’s like a song, everyone gets their own interpretation. I interpreted it as a guy who’s sick (hence the x-rays) being haunted by an old love (or at least someone who loved him) and at the end he is dead/dying, hence the “sliver of skyline went missing” after a spider came out of his own eyesocket. Like the language of the story.

  • Tim

    I agree with what others have said. Really interesting imagery and beautiful writing, but not enough clarity to make it an actual “story.”

    Sometimes that’s a nice thing to read, though, and I did enjoy it.

  • Thank you all for reading and sharing your impressions.

  • I found this diffcult to understand. I had problems working out who was speaking at the beginning, to whom, and what for. There must be some assumptions by horror story readers that I don’t get. Sorry.
    Is this an instance where the MC is changing into a ghost?

    thank you.

  • I will admit, I found this story hard to follow. I think the problem stemmed from being unable to build any sense of setting and perspective from the outset. But that said, I fell in love with the voice, the mood, the imagery. Despite its something-of-an-esoteric nature, even while grasping to understand exactly what is occurring, I found myself unable to to stop reading. I think this one deserves another read or two.

    All in all, a three-plus (rounded up to four for making me come back for more).