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. It took several seconds for them to meet their final destination. 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 did not hurt as well. 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 and relief 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 the small town and though the pay was much less, with a clean slate he managed 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. Though a stranger at first, he shortly became a pillar of the community even taking part in the local government.
This led to him making new friends. Free of his past, he could communicate with others without judgment and scorn or at least perceived judgment and scorn. After all, they had no idea who he really was or what he was accused of in the past.
One of these friends introduced him to a beautiful young woman. He fell for her and she shared his feelings. Eventually, the two were married.
The specter of his past love vanished shortly after. With each success, she faded and the wedding led to her complete disappearance. It seemed that what happened was now a distant memory swept away like dust.
It seemed that 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 that she was pregnant with their first child. Unlike the previous time such an announcement was made, he was overwhelmed with great joy. It was excitement unlike any he had experienced in his life.
Only he was unable to express these emotions.
A look of terror washed across his face.
The spirit had 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,” she said. Her voice reverberated in 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 suddenly 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…” The man 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 in spite of the man’s attempts to console and assured her that he wanted the child.
The ghost’s shrill laugh nearly drove him mad. He yelled, screamed, and cried anguished commands for her to leave and never return. She did not listen and continued to laugh.
No matter what he did, she could not be exorcised. Her aura grew with every passing day and as it did, her true form emerged and her grotesque and mangled image became more pronounced.
Her warbling voice anguished him. “Remember what you’ve done.”
These words echoed in his head ceaselessly. She’d repeat these words tenaciously with the conviction and devotion of a holy man’s mantra not allowing 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 the damage done to his relationship with his spouse after his outburst with the intention of also spending time with their blossoming child, she was there.
He was the only one who could see her. It was a deeply personal affair.
Her perpetual berating wore down his soul. He began to lash out at the people he supposedly cared for and loved the most.
For example, a friend once made a comment about the perceived epidemic of fathers who leave the mothers because they are too cowardly to accept such responsibility. He then praised the man for being “one of the good ones”.
A voice whispered in his ear. “How ironic. He called you one of the ‘good ones’.”
“There’s nothing ironic about it! I am one of the good ones!”
Needless to say, the man apologized to his very confused companion and tried in vain to explain his odd response.
Another time his wife, who had somewhat forgiven him for his earlier indiscretion, though it still lingered in the back of her mind, perhaps doing it for the sake of love or appearances or the child, told him a sad tale she read online. A teenage boy stabbed his girlfriend when she told him she was pregnant.
A voice again whispered in his ear. “Doesn’t that story remind you of something?”
“It was not my fault!” he screamed. His wife stuttered out a response that told him that no one was accusing him of the crime, though to say that the comment unnerved her would be quite the understatement.
The man approached his wife. He met her eyes with his and gave her a cold stare. A shiver went up the woman’s spine and a cold sweat formed on her back. Her brain raced with whatever lessons she could recall from a self-defense course she had taken several years ago and had not regretted, until that very moment, never taking any follow-up lessons.
He spoke slowly and deliberately. Each syllable was emphasized. “Don’t ever tell me those kinds of stories ever again.”
It was the first command he ever made in their marriage and the only one he’d ever make.
His wife agreed though she didn’t quite know the reason for that ultimatum. Though several thoughts bounced in her head, she dismissed them all but did not do so with true conviction. Rather, she feared the truth.
The couple grew more distant. His violent temper and thinly veiled threats, not to mention the increasingly frequent and seemingly random shouts terrified her. She feared for not only herself but for the unborn child.
The woman eventually found 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.
Instead, they kept their distance, remaining polite and cordial but always at more than an arm’s length away, both literally and metaphorically.
He was soon taken off projects at work and given far less responsibility. His career prospects also diminished.
His standing in the community fared no better. The local government removed him from planning committees and events, eventually 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 it was clear that the man’s erratic behavior decreased his occupational role in the town as well as his civic one.
Frustrated and alone, the man begged the spirit, beseeched her, and implored with all his might, literally and figuratively, to tell him what he must do to rid himself of her presence, to finally be free, as he believed he was before.
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 to take 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.
He tried to protest and made an impotent attempt to plead his case and once more declared his innocence. His feet dangled over the edge.
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 cold 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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