Dead Ringer v. 3

ghost girl
I. The Waiting Room

They come to the forgetting place when they are too shaken and too damaged to remember. They come when they can’t accept or move on, when they can’t let go.

The living aren’t the only ones who cling to tragedy, grieving for things they can’t change. The dead can be just as mired in the past.

II. Max

He is standing against the wall. At least, he thinks he is standing—the sheer uncertainty of being dead makes it hard to know for sure, and sometimes he suspects that he is only acting out the illusion of a body, not wearing the actual thing.

He’s watching four grizzled men play poker with the stone-faced seriousness of bankers. They don’t speak as the deal passes from one to the next, and it seems to him that they have never not been sitting exactly like this, one on each side of the card table.

The game is silent and grim. It leaves no room for anyone else. Not that he has any inclination to join in.

His name was Max, and he still goes by it. At least, he is Max to anyone who cares to call him anything. Most of them are politely indifferent to him, sunk deep in their own misery.

Like the four men at the card table, they are all living out their own tragedies again and again, wandering the forgetting place until it coaxes them into remembering and they can finally move on.

III. Emily

She is pale and beautiful, almost unbearably so. Her beauty is fierce, an integral part of her, while her paleness may only be an interesting side effect of being dead.

She is the weeping ghost, and he loves her in the thin, desperate way that only shades can love—transparent and uncomplicated. Pure as glass.

He doesn’t remember meeting her, only that it was after he came here. He thinks that she has always been beside him, tears streaming down her cheeks. She has never once looked at anyone else.

The way he feels about her is the only thing about the place that doesn’t make him feel trapped. His love is, against all reason, growing stronger. This, this steady deepening is the only indication that time is actually passing.

When she turns her eyes up to meet his, he feels as though his heart, which does not exists, may start to beat again. Her gaze is steady, excruciating, and he thinks that if he keeps looking, he will get lost there. His love for her is enormous and acute, and sometimes, it seems to have the power to transform him.

Everything else just stays the same.

IV. How He Died

With a flash of light and a burst of noise. With a bullet in his brain and his eyes turned blankly toward the ceiling. He died with a gun to his head, but it might as well have been a knife in his back.

When he thinks about that night, he still remembers everything. Coming home to his young bride, a woman with a hard, unreadable gaze, a smile like a sphinx. How he trusted her and she lied. The memory is simple. He can’t think why he should still be trapped here in the forgetting place, but he is grateful anyway.

Without his quick, brutal death, he would not have Emily, and because he remembers that death with the jumbled clarity of nightmare, he is troubled by the nagging fear that at any moment, he will be plucked from the forgetting place and spirited away, thrust into an endless afterlife without her.

After all, he knows the truth—has known it from the second the gun went off.

He died from giving his trust to a dangerous woman. From loving too much.

V. What It Meant

Sometimes, she asks about his life before here. If he has ever loved anyone in the same pure, uncluttered way that he claims to love her.

“Never,” he tells her as she drifts there beside him, eyes red-rimmed like always. “I loved someone once, but she betrayed me—turned on me before I even knew what was happening.”

Emily smiles and he thinks that he has never seen anything more beautiful. It is the crumpled smile of tragedy, and tragedy is all that keeps them here. Her smile is his whole world.

“I killed my husband,” she says. “He was an informant, passing secrets to men who would destroy my family, and my father found out. I was so devoted, so in love, but I was loyal to my father.”

He thinks suddenly that this is too familiar. That they have had this conversation so many times. It almost means something.

He has a fleeting sense that he understands everything, but then the moment is gone and instead of trying to recapture it, he smiles and takes Emily around the waist. He kisses her lightly and thinks that he can almost smell the salt of her tears. He can almost smell blood and the hot, scorched-metal smell of the gun.

Then it’s gone and there is no flat, white explosion, no past. There is nothing, because something would mean staring straight down into the dank, murky well of the truth and if he remembers, they will be lost to each other.

The forgetting place is his whole world now, past, present, and future.

It is all he needs to know.

Photo by davidMonroy

27 thoughts on “Dead Ringer v. 3

  1. I think this may be my favorite story of yours so far. It’s so beautifully sad, and just plain beautiful at parts. (Embarrassingly, I teared up a little while reading.) There are so many lines I want to quote, they were that amazing. And the end…oh, such a great way to tie this up! *goes to reread story*

  2. What a great ending–a sad happy ending, if ever there were one.

    This is very reminiscent of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”.


  3. Oh man. I loved this so, so much!

    Have you read A Certain Slant of Light? by any chance? One of my favorite ghost stories! <3!

  4. Oh, I love that story! It does have that same kind of mutually self-sacrificing love—dysfunctional and yet so romantic at the same time!

  5. I haven’t! It’s been on my long (long, long) to-read list, but now I feel like I need to just go ahead and move it up to the front—I love ghost stories.

  6. Well, I do love making people cry ;D I’m glad you liked it—it’s one of those ones that didn’t turn out exactly the way I’d been envisioning it, so I just had to sit back and let it be this other story.

  7. Thanks for reading! (I’m also a complete sucker for ghostly love stories. Which I probably didn’t need to say, because I suspect it already shows.)

  8. Thanks! Forgetting is one of those things that I just find really interesting, but it scares me, too. And willful forgetting is completely its own frightening thing!

  9. Stories hardly ever become what we first envision them being. (That’s how it is for me, anyway. Heh.) At least this one turned out great despite that!

  10. I totally loved it. It was all in the ending, the rest is like slowly building the story to get to the end.

    Beautiful. No matter how our loved ones betray us, nothing changes–at least not the love we have for them.

    Just a bitter little thing ends up with us so we may never forget.

  11. umm, stupid comment, i know. but i couldn’t think of anything else. i really loved reading this one.

  12. Ooh, yes, move it up! I LOVE ghost stories, too. Your short story Neighbors is one of my faves of all your short stories. <3!

  13. No comment is a stupid comment! Wait . . . I think that’s questions 😉 I’m glad you liked it

  14. Yes? I think this is a tricky one, because *I* certainly think she’s his wife, but he doesn’t, so it’s almost like she’s taken on a completely different identity.

  15. No matter how our loved ones betray us, nothing changes–at least not the love we have for them.

    Beautifully said! I think this right here was basically my entire theme put into words.

  16. Beautifully done Brenna! I loved the dream like quality of it all. In a dream you can’t quite get a good look or make it make sense but it’s right in front of you. Kinda downhill slippery and you really like where you’re at.
    I’m still in awe of how you create worlds that are dark and creepy but beautiful and tender at the same time. It’s truly your voice and it’s one of my very favorites!

      • Yes. Yes now that I read it again, (still beautiful, still powerful) I can see that that is true, she did kill someone. At first I was all like, Of COURSE she killed him, that’s why they’re both there, in the waiting room, but now I see that that is not necessarily it.

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