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A Short Story

There are phantoms in the mist

Reaching out and beckoning in

They walked with me once

On life’s long road

There are shades in the garden

Greying memories bleached by time

Silhouettes and outlines

Of friends and lovers

There are shadows in my mind

Like me, children of the light

When night’s true darkness falls

They fade and are forgotten



He’s been here again … I can smell him … that unsettling mixture of sweat and peppermint. I don’t like peppermint. People say it’s supposed to settle your stomach, but it always makes me nauseous. There was a time when he refrained from eating it, back when he cared what I thought.

That was a long time ago. At least I think it was. I find it hard now to count the passing of days. I used to read the papers and go online to see how long it’d been, but he’s taken that from me too. Him – that’s  all they talk about; what he did, where he did it, and when. I already know and it makes no odds. I can’t stop him or even slow him down. No, he’s on a meteoric rise to infamy. I’ll only be of interest when he tumbles down the other side.

A part of me hungers for that, his fall. I’m scared for it too. What will happen to me? Will I still be here? I am lost, but no-one is looking for me. He used to tell me how important I was, how vital my role in bringing him to life. I made him possible, and he would thank me for it. But that was then, back when we spoke.

I drag myself out of bed and look in the mirror. My hair is too short and the pyjamas I’m wearing are three sizes too big. I can’t stand the sight. I rip them off, immediately wishing I’d kept them on. Four ugly scratches are blazoned across my body, running from my neck to my solar plexus. Still raw, still red. Not enough to have broken the skin, but pocked with hundreds of tiny blood blisters.

‘It’s my body.’

I look sadly at myself, willing it to be true. My conviction is only as strong as the reality I face. I sag, confronted by my reflection. Everything is his … the hair, the pyjamas … everything. Even the right to speak has become his. I lost the power to speak back. It happened gradually, so slowly I didn’t see it coming. I should have.

I used to be afraid to be alone, I suppose that’s how this started. There were others, but they grew dim in his presence. Always his voice in my head and in my dreams. Except they’re not dreams. I used to think they were, but I know they’re not.

The first time I woke up screaming, he was there to sooth away my fears. Whispering sweet platitudes and reassuring nothings in my ear so I could force the niggling feeling from the pit of my stomach. Just a dream … it’s not real. It was easy to believe, because I wanted to. My personal hero, my beloved friend, the man who knew my innermost thoughts and never judged me. I see it now, the difference between judgement and concern.

The hot water stings my scored flesh, scalding where the scratches are. I should turn it down, although I don’t. Pain is something I can own and feel and process. It lets me know I am not a figment of imagination. In the beginning, that’s how he seemed. All I’d hoped for, but too perfect to be more than a fleeting fantasy. That was then though, back when he still pretended.

As I step out of the shower, I hear a beeping. The washing machine is done. Dutifully, I go into the kitchen and pull out his clothes. They’re still stained. I scratch my nail over the denim and examine the flecks. They smear as I rub my thumb and forefinger together, a ruddy stripe across my clean skin. My eyes involuntarily screw shut, as if eyelids are a protective barrier from the truth. I can’t explain it away and I don’t even try, not anymore. An extra scoop of washing powder and I turn the machine back on.

I stare at the fridge. When did I last eat? I press my hands to my stomach, but I don’t feel hungry. Food, like my life, has lost its flavour. Regardless, I follow the routine. I heat the serving he left and take the tablets. His regimen is strict and there is no leeway. He doesn’t bother to charm me now, because he no longer needs my consent. Not agreeing holds too high a price.

The arrival of the mail through the letter box startles me and I wait in the kitchen until I hear the footsteps fading away. Every single one is for him. A few weeks ago a clothing catalogue arrived – it was addressed to me – a banner day indeed. Somewhere in the world there’s a record. He didn’t like that and when I awoke it was gone.

I wander round the flat, unsure of how to fill my time. How much time do I have? Hours? Days? It’s never the same. They say that time is relative and it is, for him. It’s his decision. How he feels when he’s not here, I couldn’t say. For me, there is nothing.

The curtains are drawn, but I risk peeping out. Sunlight streams in and hurts my eyes. I only allow myself a moment before ducking back in. He always knows. When I was young, I remember my mother complaining about never seeing the sun; those grey, wet and windy days of the Scottish summer. She didn’t know what she was talking about. She doesn’t know now. He told her I hated her, said terrible and cruel things. She cried … I cried … but he didn’t let me speak.

I notice a pair of earrings on the table. They’re not mine. Why would they be? He leaves them there to taunt me. Another trophy. Another conquest. I used to love the pretty things he brought me, waiting eagerly for whatever trinket he would choose. I never asked where they came from, but that was back then. Back when I was blind.

For lack of anything better to do, I start to tidy. As I lift magazines and shirts, I find the other little gifts he’s left. He knows me too well, even down to the route I take when I clean. One item after another, my own personal treasure hunt. This one was blonde, a student at university, training to be a doctor. She wore green nail polish on her toes and liked sparkling rose wine. He gives me enough information to build a picture, but only just, and I fill in the rest.

This is why he keeps me. There is no-one else to share these details with. My final clue is revealed when I pick up his boots. Poking out of the laces is a knife. It’s clean now. I think about using it.

‘It’s my life.’

A flash of defiance, but it doesn’t last. I tried once before, but he knew. He always knows. A mere pinprick and a drop of blood was all I managed before he stopped me. I wish I could say the consequences were only mine, but that would be too simple a punishment. He made sure I understood what would happen if I tried again. One brooch and one necklace on the table. Not for me … because of me. They paid the penalty, but the guilt is mine.

Anxiety and loneliness can eat away at you, festering wounds which only deepen with time.  I was desperate and it didn’t seem so very crazy then. He gave me strength and confidence, told me not to listen to the dissenting chorus. I wanted free of my demons, my doubt, and so I did what he asked. Then it was just us two. Us against the world. I felt safe and loved and special. He used me.

I know the day will come when people ask how I let it happen. Let it happen … I wanted the fear to go, that’s all. He did chase it away, along with my sanity. Only I’m not insane. I can see, all too clearly. I lied to myself, but the guise is long gone. I know what he is … and what that makes me.

I look at the dirty, beige wall and I think about painting. Once, it brought joy into my life. I didn’t have money to buy the proper equipment so I took test pots from hardware shops, the brighter the better. Where they are now, I couldn’t say. There’s no more colour.

I pick up a pen and then put it down. I have thought many times of writing it all down. Tie it round something heavy and throw it through the draped window. Perhaps the sound of smashing glass will attract attention. Someone will find my note before he takes it back. The police will come and I will be safe. They’ll all be safe.

It’s a half truth, I know that. I can never be safe, not from him. Whatever happens, I’ll be locked away. He knows this as well as I. Trapped, as I am now, in a room with no doors.

I go back to the mirror. I don’t want to, but it’s like an ulcer on your gum. It hurts and yet you poke it anyway. I drop the robe. My breasts are smaller, barely even breasts anymore. Just protruding nipples in coarse dark hair. It’s on my face too, my lip and chin, everywhere it shouldn’t be. I use my arms to cover myself and then drop them back at my sides. The prominent muscles aren’t feminine. Nothing about me is, not now. My genitals are swollen and enlarged. It sickens me. So little remains of the woman I was. Am I woman?

I was sure once, but that was back then. Back when I had one mind. Back before he took control. Back before he stole the body we share.

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