No Whimsy, Sugar (taste_is_sweet) wrote,
No Whimsy, Sugar

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"The Old Man at the Window" (Round Four Entry for the brigits_flame" Contest

Since the prompt for this one was, 'It's quiet now', I wasn't thinking about music particularly, until out of the blue I remembered Song for a Winter's Night by Gordon Lightfoot. You can download it if you like, and I hope you will, because it's beautiful and heartbreaking and can still make me cry sometimes, even after nearly thirty years.

Anyway, here's something short and Hallowe'eny. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy it.

That night he saw the ghost.

Charles had woken in his bed, so hot he could feel the sweat running on his chest and back, soaking into his shirt and jeans. Gloria was curled up next to him, making those almost-cute whiffling noises she insisted she didn't. It was like lying next to molten lava.

Charles had carefully slithered out of the bed, incrementally so he wouldn't wake her. The apartment wasn't cold, but the change in temperature made him shiver. He'd crept into the living room and gone back to sleep on the couch.

He didn't know what had woken him now, since the apartment was dark and quiet, except that the television was flickering silently into the room. Charles didn't remember turning it on, but maybe it was the light that woke him.

It made sense, until Charles realized he was smelling smoke, so strongly that for a second he thought the building was on fire. The building was old enough that it was possible the alarm didn't go off, and Charles was suddenly wide awake and upright, thinking he might be solely responsible for getting everyone else out of the building before they all burned to death. And then it hit him that it was most likely just Gloria. Maybe she woke up like he did, decided to have a cigarette.

"Fuck," Charles muttered, pissed off. He was going to have to remind Gloria--again--that this was a smoke-free building, and how much trouble he'd be in if any of the neighbors complained.

He was about to stand, preparing himself to go back into his bedroom and probably have a fight, when he saw the ghost in the corner of the room.

The old man was in front of the single window, facing it so that all Charles could see was his profile. The man had thick, wavy black hair that looked like he'd slicked it down. He was wearing thick glasses with large, tortoise-shell frames, and a mustard-yellow button-down shirt.

The smoke smell was coming from the ghost, but the ghost wasn't smoking. He was staring out the window. Both of his gnarled, meaty hands were on the windowsill, holding on. His attention completely focused on the street below, as if he was waiting for someone.

He looked really sad.

The lower half of the man's body was right where the television was on its rickety metal stand, like they were overlapping each other. Charles could see the television through the man's pants.

Charles froze, feet planted on the cold, worn wooden floor. He could feel his mouth falling open like a slow hinge, though any words were stuck somewhere deep in his chest, cowering. He could instantly taste cigarette smoke, like oil on his tongue.

"Uh," he said. Then, because he was suddenly thinking of the old lady, "Gerry?"

The ghost turned to look at him, like he was unsurprised to find someone else in the room using his name. The lenses of the man's glasses shone faintly in the light from the television. It was impossible not to see the small, black hole in the man's neck.

"Jesus Christ!" Charles yelled. He yanked his feet onto the sofa, pulling his knees up to his chin as if the floor had suddenly become contaminated. He couldn't move his eyes away from the black cavern in the ghost's throat--it was so instantly, overwhelmingly disgusting that he had to clamp his teeth together, swallow back the bile.

The hole was a perfect size to stick a cigarette into. Charles was sure of it. He was sure Gerry did that all the time.

"Chuck?" Gloria hollered from his bedroom, sounding tired and irritated and worried. "What the fuck is it? What the hell are you yelling for?"

The ghost faded slowly, still looking at him. One of his weathered, translucent hands came up to cover the hole in his throat, as if out of shame.

Tags: brigits_flame, here have a story, pape and danforth
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