By Attila Zønn
At four in the morning, Stirling awoke to music — faint, muffled, indiscernible notes — and rose to see what was going on. The music came from the foyer and as he approached he realized the sound emanated from outside. When a burst of rumbling exhaust rattled his windows, he realized it was some inconsiderate tiny dick moron blaring his bad taste and throttling his cylinders. He opened the door anyway and uttered, “Idiot,” as the rumbling sped by. When he passed the living room archway on his way back to bed, he glanced in and with the streetlight glow through the window, he saw someone sitting on the couch. A jolt of adrenaline seized him. He quickly flicked on the light, but there was no one there.
He went back to bed uneasy. Uneasy was a condition Stirling wrestled with during the pandemic whenever he needed to venture out into the contaminated world, but now uneasy was present in his home, his sanctuary. Goddamn uneasy.
He lay in bed and thought of Dasha and how she had been convinced the house was haunted. Stirling thought it was funny that noises of the house settling, or the furnace coming on, or the neighbour rolling his garbage bins to the curb or—he laughed hard at this one—the refrigerator making ice, were spirits residing in his humble home.
“Do you know if anyone ever died in this house?” she asked him once.
Stirling didn’t know if anyone had ever died in his house. It was a simple bungalow on a quiet street, built in the seventies. That’s all that mattered.
“You should check the house’s history,” she said. “What if it was built on an old Indian burial ground?”
Dasha watched too many horror movies.
He had outgrown them, but she delved into the supernatural, fascinated and terrified of ghost hunters in haunted houses, put ill at ease by every night vision scene or startled by every jump shot. Shows about Sasquatches, skin-walkers, and aliens. But they all came to the same conclusion — no conclusion.
“What was that?” he’d sometimes say during the episodes, sitting up in bed, turning his head in a feign to listen. She slapped his arm when he did that and sometimes they had a good laugh, but it freaked her out nonetheless. They’d stopped going camping when she discovered the rake and fleshgaits on YouTube and the mysterious phenomena of people going missing in the woods without a trace as if plucked into oblivion from where they stood.
But now he had to wonder.
Not that he believed in ghosts, but what of this strange occurrence on his recorder? Was it him playing in the night? Was he a somnambulist piano player? There was a history of sleepwalking in the family. His mother would fall asleep in her bed and then wake up in the backyard or in the car. Once, she propped a ladder against the house and climbed onto the roof. Stirling, around eleven at the time, had been awoken and came out to see. The moon was terribly full and ghostly white. She stood on the ridge of their shallow roof in her white nightgown beckoning with her arms as if summoning someone down from the starry sky. His father stood at the base of the ladder saying, “Come down Hon, come down.”
“Just a little longer,” his mother said. “They’ll be here soon.”
From that night on he viewed his father as a rock and his mother as flimsy, and he was afraid to be alone with her. Not that he feared her harming him, but if she ever got these episodes and his father wasn’t there, Stirling wouldn’t know what to do.
When Stirling needs to think things through he picks up his harmonica, and the reedy vibrations, the blowing in and sucking out, the tongue work, the folksy tones, release in him great inspirations and resolutions, much the same as sitting in a hot tub, immersed under bubbles, can deliver the great answer to a question on his mind.
Sitting by his front window, blowing into the instrument, he wondered: did he really need to know what was going on in his house when he was asleep? The commotion obviously didn’t wake him. So what if there was a ghost playing the piano or rummaging through the closet? So what? As long as it didn’t show itself. Maybe everyone in the world had a ghost that frolicked in the night but were unaware because it happened when they were asleep.
Supernatural. More than natural. Beyond natural. If ghosts existed, they would not be supernatural. They would be natural and part of the physical world, but in a vaporous state or whatever their image was made of. And if they existed, he reasoned, everyone would see them, not just a few people here and there.
As for the disposition of a ghost, his beloved Uncle Ronnie told him once, discussing spirits, that there was no such thing as a good ghost. “Ghosts,” Uncle Ronnie said,” by their inter-dimensional state, are malicious. They’re stuck and when you’re stuck you get pissed off. Ghosts are pissed-off spirits who want to be alive again but are stuck, so they lash out at the living. That’s a ghost.”
Stirling stopped blowing into the harmonica, surveyed the room, then focused on the piano keys. “Alright,” he said. “If you’re here, show yourself.” Silence followed. “I’m waiting,” he said. “Play me a song.” Silence followed.
“Jesus Christ,” he said turning to the front window. “I’m losing it.” He was about to blow into the harmonica but saw Raquel from across the street, come out her front door. He didn’t know all his neighbours by name but he knew her. He found her one morning looking under his mulberry bush. She appeared distraught.
He came out his front door. “What’s up?”
“My cat,” she said. “I opened the door to get the mail and he slipped out.”
So he helped her look for the cat. “What’s his name?”
“Casper,” she said.
“Well, he’s pure white. I didn’t know what else to name him.”
Stirling liked Raquel.
He loved her smell.
He couldn’t pinpoint her ethnicity. Filipino? But not fully. She had a hint of it but there was a visible Caucasian influence. She was lithe, perhaps delicate in appearance but resplendent with energy. Her husband appeared much older. Stirling didn’t know his name. He was a regular white guy, but slow to move. Stirling saw him mowing the lawn one afternoon, taking very slow passes, when Raquel burst out of the house, shoved her husband aside and took over the mowing with incredible gusto. He liked that in a woman; a take-charge lady. Her husband shrugged, then slowly walked to a lawn chair by the front door and sat watching. An unexpected thing happened. Watching Raquel’s speedy determination and energy behind the mower, her breasts bouncing, her buttocks flexing, Stirling got an erection . . .
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2022