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Faded gold writing peeked above the cubby the holy book was stuffed into, letters I ignored while pretending to be too sore to take part in the old church tour my wife dragged me to. Sitting with an extra groan, rubbing my knees, and stretching my back more than necessary, I gave up the theatrics when they disappeared down a hallway into a basement.
I groaned for real. I could be fishing. “Happy wife, happy life.” My voice was swallowed up by the cathedral ceilings, just me and the birds in the high wooden rafters.
Movement caught my eye near the pulpit. A man with short dark hair in black clerics knelt before the large white cross, the show of devotion discomforting. I shifted and the bench beneath me creaked. The man’s head whipped around, his dark eyes connecting with mine before I could look away, wide and then narrowed, so I nodded and looked down at my hands, hoping Margaret would get back so we could leave.
I was dumb enough to look up again and saw him coming my way. “Damn it,” I muttered and said, “You can go back to…whatever you were doing. I’m just waiting for my…”
“You see me?” he questioned and stood too close.
“Damn it,” I muttered again and rubbed my palms on my jeans. “Yeah.”
He wasn’t my first ghost sighting. I looked to verify those on the tour were still in the basement at some old burial site, and then I understood.
“Guess it’s you buried in the basement, huh?”
The man’s mouth dropped open. He looked towards the door that led to hallway.
“Look pal, I can’t help you. You want some honey on TV with a set as perky as her smile. I’m not out to…”
The man surged towards me. The feeling of being thrown into an ice water bath shocked me dumb and then I couldn’t feel my body and the man was gone. I stood without telling myself to, looking down at my arms, my hands, and then I was walking. No, he was walking, having taken me over. He took slow steps until the strides were confident, touching the old wood of the pew before moving on.
Of all the stories I’ve heard of it happening, how could I have become a passenger? Grandma Myrtle said it could happen, said I was lazy with my gifts, blasphemous for ignoring them. Now the old coot was right.
How the fuck do I get my body back?
“You don’t,” I heard my voice say. My voice, but not my words.
You piece of shit!
A slew of curses that would make Grandma Myrtle twist my ear did nothing to make the man acknowledge me. Instead his thoughts overpowered mine, thinking hard enough for me to hear. Not with my ears, but all around me, his true inner voice cold.
Free from heritage. Free from scripture. Free from Judgement. Free from body…
On and on was an endless list of freedoms I didn’t understand. His cold recitation continued as he headed down the short hallway to the stairs and down to the basement. I couldn’t feel my legs move, but the smell of the dank basement hit me all the same. I fought to wiggle my fingers, my nose, anything, but he kept moving, and I was stuck with that smell.
Voices of the tour grew as we descended stone steps, the walls part wood and stone covered in a layer of green moss. The man kept his sights forwards as I looked through the small range of windows he left me. He focused on the tour group standing around an aboveground stone grave, Margaret among them clutching her purse strap, listening to the guide. My body stopped. I thought I had done it, but I hadn’t. The ghost was listening.
“Some say he was possessed by the devil,” the guide said, “some say he was mentally deranged. We don’t know why he killed so many, but they’re hoping having opened the grave after all this time will lead to tests and answers.”
“Why keep his body down here?” Another woman asked.
“As a reminder of the evil in the pits of Hell and how even the most divine fall prey to the darkest of influences.”
They kept asking questions but my eyes looked away to an oil lantern on the wall before the ghost smashed it on the floor in front of the only exit. People gasped. He turned and smashed another lantern before continuing back up the stairs and smashing every lantern as we went.
Margaret called my name but I couldn’t respond. I heard what the ghost was thinking, what he planned to do, and panicked screams grew with the flames once the tour goers realized they were trapped. I screamed and screamed, ignored while the ghost recited his freedoms again, now free from his body burning in the basement with my wife.
This was my fault. I never listened to Grandma Myrtle and now Margaret…I couldn’t get away from the thought of my wife burning alive fast enough, instead turning it on the ghost again, looking for answers.
“Sinners,” he said out loud. “All sinners.”
Margaret was innocent, I argued, but he stopped addressing me, instead walking towards the exit of the church as the acrid smell of burning scorched my sinuses from somewhere beyond the window of my world.
Outside the door were half a dozen others standing, staring, a tense moment hanging in the air.
Any spark of hope I had was snuffed out as one stranger asked, “Are you free?”
No. They were like the ghost who took me over. I was staring at other ghosts, other possessions. And I would be stuck this way until this old body gave out for good.
I sobbed without tears as the ghost who took me over answered, “Free from heritage. Free from scripture. Free from Judgement. Free from body.”
S.J. Cairns is a Southern Canadian, born and raised in St. Catharines Ontario, where she lives with her bug-killing, video game playing husband of near 15 years, her spunky mother-in-law, and their three snorting Pugs.
During days off from true chaos working as a Women’s Advocate at a busy downtown Women’s Shelter, you can find S.J. in her writerly lair dipped in all things creepy, plotting against her lifetime nemesis, those deadly evil-doers; balloons, and giving some perspective on The Fictionistas YouTube Channel each Monday.
S.J. will add her own works of fiction to her overly crammed shelves this year as she focuses on a 6 novel Urban Fantasy series called “Evolution of a Soul Seer”.
Visit S.J. at https://sjcairns.wordpress.com.