Image, a short horror story

‘So,’ Ella said as she slowly licked the last foam of her cappuccino from the spoon. ‘You can’t come tonight to the party because once again you are going to your dad in his tomb.’

Outside everything is bathed in dark gray, but she glows golden in the lights of the coffee place. It made me pale as a ghost.

‘I have to,’ I said.

Ella raised one eyebrow and then sought eye contact with our waiter. She flipped her hands through her hair. He rushed over. Eager to serve her.

‘The check, please,’ she said. Her voice was a pitch higher.

He almost stumbled walking back to the counter.

‘God,’ I mumble.

‘Don’t be harsh,’ she said with a slightly mean sparkle in her eye. ‘It’s nature. He can’t help it.’

We both turned our head toward him. He stood there looking at her with a loyal, goofy smile.

‘When a man looks at a woman, she becomes the mirror of all the qualities he desires and fears,’ Ella said.

‘Desire and fear, huh.’

Ella laughed in clear tones.

‘You shouldn’t go there so often though,’ she said. ‘It’s not your cross to bear.’

‘I haven’t been in two weeks.’

‘It’s not healthy, Justine,’ she says.


Every time after I crossed the rivers driving south a different land surrounded me. The street lights stopped there, and the road turned quiet. The rivers were a hidden boundary, after it, the earth pulled me closer as if it recognized me as one that belonged there. Homeland.

After another hour, thick trees loomed in the darkness. By then the road is small, there were only a few houses, spread out, and guarded by forest on both sides. To the right, hardly noticeable, a driveway to our house. It used to be my safe haven, but that time is severed, cut loose. The air was heavy, it carried the weight of loss. And he would be sitting in the living room. He sat in the living room the entire evening, with only the lights of the TV flickering in the room.

As I pulled up to the house the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The lights were on in mom’s music room. They haven’t been on since she died. A shadow moved inside. It looked like mom.

What was he doing there? I turned the engine off. My hands trembled. My heart drummed hard in my throat. Don’t make yourself crazy. The lights were on. He probably had to find something there. As mom used to say, you are only so scared because of your own imagination.

‘Good evening,’ I said.
He was in his seat.
‘Good evening,’ he said. His voice sounded weak.
‘What were you doing in the music room?’ I said.
‘The music room?’ he said.
‘The lights are on.’
‘Oh,’ he said.
I joined him in looking at the commercials on TV.
‘You look ashen,’ he said.
After a period that seems social enough, I said goodnight.
‘You always drive so late,’ he said.

I opened the door to the music room with a loud push. That was my childhood way to scare off ghosts. The lights were off. Was he here and didn’t he want to let me know?

Upstairs my room was cold. I lay awake until I heard him come upstairs and close his door.

In the morning he was already up. These days he slept till midday. He talked to himself. As I walk into the kitchen he held his arm in thin air, like he hugged someone. He beamed happily at me. Eager.
‘Your mother,’ he said. ‘She is back.’
He smiled like a teen in love. I had never seen him like this.

A film of images played before my eyes and I never saw him look like this. He used to grumble. He used to want other things in life. He used to blame her for the way things turned out.

‘That’s impossible,’ I said, my voice shook.
He started to boil eggs, with a drunk smile on his face.

How thin he was. You could tear him up like paper.

‘Dad,’ I said too soft for him to hear.


In the evening I saw her too. It. An outline. A female shape, but where a face would be there was moving darkness. Air with the texture of water. Darker than anything else.

‘She says you can see her now,’ he said.

‘That’s not my mother,’ I said.

‘She knew you would have a hard time accepting,’ he said, holding a transparent black hand.

An icy breeze brushed up against my legs. Against my neck.

‘But she returned,’ he said.

The face with the pool of darkness started to morph. A mouth showed. A distorted, crooked open mouth.

‘Go,’ something hissed inside my ear.

He walked towards me.

‘Dad!’ I scream. ‘Don’t come closer.

He stumbled, grabbed onto a chair. That smile was still on his face. Goofy. Loyal.

‘We will be together again, soon,’ he said.

‘Go,’ another hiss, something slimy touched my ear.

I rubbed it away, but there was nothing.

‘Dad,’ I whisper. Something pushed against my chest, making it hard for me to breathe.

‘We are happy now,’ he said.

‘Go!’ The sharpness of the sound hurt, it made me collapse.

‘Your mother thinks you should focus on your own life, sweetheart,’ he said, the drunk fool.

A snake with hard scales wrapped itself around my neck. I grabbed it and scratched at my throat to get air.

I ran. I ran straight outside. To the car.

I saw him wave at me in the doorway.

With that smile.

Eager to serve.

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