Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Free. Please enjoy. Also, if you haven’t already checked out my FAQ on my upcoming book, Magic Once Removed, please check that out as well. Thanks again!
His long flowing locks danced in the ocean breeze. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and faced the sun. The man looked over the edge of the cliff, eyes transfixed on the raging waters below.
Jagged rocks the size of boulders looked like pebbles. Small bits of earth fell from underneath his feet as he walked along the edge. Plunging from this height would give him plenty of time to think and plenty of time to regret, assuming a man like him was capable of such a thing.
“Doesn’t the water look inviting?” a voice asked. The man turned and faced the ghost who served as his tormentor.
“It was a mistake,” he pleaded.
“Do you speak the truth?” Her face contorted into what one might call a knowing smirk if she still had lips.
This was the spot where they had spent many a romantic and intimate, to put it mildly, evening in the back of his red corvette gifted to him by his father on his birthday. That is why she felt this was the perfect spot to deliver the news.
“I wasn’t ready to be a father.”
“You weren’t ready to be a man.”
He was the chief suspect when her bloated corpse was found several days later floating amongst some trash that was tossed aside by uncaring sailors. At one point he was incarcerated for the alleged crime but a lack of evidence and a technicality allowed him to elude justice. His father’s affluence and connections certainly were a factor. Knowing the right wheels to grease often helps the corrupt.
Yet money can only go so far. It cannot help one become free.
Indeed, his initial jubilance was replaced with existential fear.
She was every nightmare. She was every unpleasant memory. She was the thing that kept him awake at night. She was the terrible secret that he carried with him everywhere, that dogged him through college and the early days of his professional career. She was the reason he moved to a new town, took up a new identity, and for all intents and purposes except for the most important aspects of himself became a different man.
The change of scenery granted him a temporary reprieve. He found IT work in a small town and though the job was not nearly as lucrative as it was in the big city it represented a clean slate. Not only that, as his earnest effort led him to earn the respect of his coworkers and bosses alike with his adroit mind and expertise. His efforts led to promotions and raises, along with a gigantic boost in self-esteem.
A new sense of pride led to him becoming a more active member of the community. He joined local gyms and clubs and participated in community events. He eventually became a pillar of the community even taking part in the local government. This led to new friends as he was free from his previous life’s judgment and scorn or at least perceived judgment and scorn. One of these friends introduced him to a beautiful young woman. Eventually, the two were married.
The specter of his past vanished shortly after. She was already fading by this point and the wedding led to her complete disappearance. It seemed that what happened had been swept away like dust. He believed he was finally free.
He was wrong.
On the man’s twenty-seventh birthday, approximately a decade after his act of extreme cruelty, his new wife announced she was pregnant with their first child. Unlike before, he was overwhelmed with joy and filled with an excitement unlike any he had experienced in his life.
It was but a fleeting emotion. It was replaced by a comfortable feeling of terror.
The spirit returned.
She floated over her wife’s shoulders. Her disheveled finger pointed at the man as her mangled lips made a facsimile of an accusing smile.
“I thought you were gone,” he whispered.
“I’ll never leave you.” Her voice reverberated against his skull.
“What are you doing here?”
“To congratulate you! You’re going to be a father!” She placed a disjointed hand against her chin and looked upward. “I wonder what this reminds me of.”
“Get out!” he screamed. These words barely escaped his lips when he realized what he had done.
Tears welled in the eyes of his chagrinned and bewildered wife. “I’m sorry. I did not mean…” He did his best to stammer out an explanation.
“I thought you’d be excited,” she sobbed. “I guess I was wrong.” She stormed out of the room despite the man’s attempts to console and his assurances that he wanted their child. The ghost’s shrill laugh echoed in his brain. He yelled, screamed, and cried anguished commands for her to leave and never return. She continued to laugh.
She could not be exorcised. Her aura grew with every passing day as did to her grotesque and mangled image became more pronounced.
Her warbling voice anguished him. “Remember what you’ve done.” She’d repeat the phrase with the conviction and devotion of a holy man’s mantra. She would not allow a moment of reprieve.
When he went to work, she was there. When he went to bed, she was there. When he wanted to attempt to repair his relationship with his spouse, she was there. He was the only one who could see her which made the whole ordeal a deeply personal affair.
The man’s irrational behavior compelled his wife to find the arms of a comforting friend. A male friend.
At first, she assured her husband that the trips were platonic and initially that was the truth. Soon, though, the stays grew longer and more extended. The amicable yet innocent visits changed to ones that were much more amorous. He more than suspected his wife of infidelity but there was little he could do about it especially in his condition and mental state. Isolation had taken its toll for not only had his wife abandoned him, so too did his friends and coworkers.
His screams toward what appeared to be empty air caused consternation. Though there was often talk that he needed to get help, none had the fortitude to make the suggestion. They kept their distance, remained polite and cordial but always more than an arm’s length away, both literally and metaphorically. He was soon taken off projects and his career prospects were diminished.
His standing in the community fared no better. The local government removed him from planning committees and events, saying it would be best if he would not get involved anymore at least in the short-term. They would let him know when they’d need his services once again. No explanations were ever provided but his seemingly irrational behavior certainly played a role.
With his life crumbling around him, the man begged the spirit, beseeched her, and implored with all his might to tell him what he must do to rid himself of her presence, to finally be free.
She said nothing.
Instead, she pointed at the door and floated out. He went outside to join her. She bade him to follow. He agreed.
What happened next is a mystery. He seemed to have fallen asleep. There were feint phantasmagorias of him being in a car as well as images of him pausing to eat, drink, and taking care of other biological needs. The man held vague recollections of paying for a hotel or at times sleeping in a car but there was nothing definitive, nothing tangible. None of this really seemed to happen. It was as if it were a dream.
When he awoke, the two of them were at the top of a cliff A familiar cliff. One that had significance to him when he was a carefree teenager and dated the most beautiful cheerleader in all of Ridgeway High. He froze upon its sight.
“Isn’t this…” His voice trailed yet the apparition knew what he was about to ask and nodded.
“My death killed them,” she said.
“My parents. I was all they had. Without me, they allowed themselves to wither and die.”
She hovered over the edge of the cliff and beckoned him over. Every fiber of his being wanted to flee but his legs moved him toward her against his will as if someone else had taken control. His feet dangled over the edge. He tried to protest and made an impotent attempt to plead his case and once more declared his innocence. It fell on deaf ears. Lies always did with her.
Tears welled in his eyes. His derisive shouts gradually faded to a raspy whisper and a stutter. He realized arguing was futile. There was nothing he could do but reluctantly accept his fate.
“Will it hurt?” he asked.
This question pierced her in a way that should have been impossible to a specter. It triggered memories that had been dormant. The freezing water crashing against her skin. The nauseating pain as her body collided with the stone. The sickening sound as her skull and bones shattered. The water as it filled her lungs.
With every gasp she and with every desperate attempt to breathe, she prayed somehow she’d survive, somehow she’d manage to get through the experience okay, somehow she’d find her way to shore and that someone would find her and get her to the hospital in time to receive proper medical treatment.
She hoped beyond hope that it was a dream, a nightmare that she’d wake from and laugh over the idea that her subconscious even considered such an act from her beloved possible. Perhaps it was nothing more than sleep’s cruel delusion. All of this happened in an instant but the pain she experienced, both physically and emotionally, was enough for several lifetimes. Words cannot truly encompass what she felt. It defies human language.
“No,” she said. “You will feel nothing.”
He nodded. A kind of peace washed over him as he walked to the edge of the cliff. The man spread his arms wide with his palms out. It was as if he wished to embrace the sun. His head looked once more to the sky.
“I’m sorry, my love. You’ll be raising our son on your own, it seems. This is the only way.”
With one last breath, he let himself go. He was finally free.
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