A ghost story about an obsession twisted by the merciless passage of time.
Warnings: implied death
This is an M/M (gay) ghost story.
© Sam Clover 2020-2021
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced or modified in any form without the sole, explicit permission of the author, and credit properly given. This story was originally published in 2020 on the free fiction archive ‘Archive of our Own’ under Sam Clover’s pseudonym ‘PlagueClover’.
This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Echoes in the Ash
I remember how it ended. In flames and twisted faces. There was no stake to bind me to, just a room in fiery ruins and a door without a key.
I remember how it felt. The smoke choked at my lungs. The roof collapsed upon my broken husk. I remember the burn of the flames spreading up my side, and the smell of my flesh cooking.
The rage born of my demise consumed what wisps of my memory clung to that place. I hungered for their torment. I craved the song of their screams. The ones who locked me in that room and set me ablaze, they would suffer. They would burn surely as I had. Though I hadn’t the means to make it so, I wished it with every fibre of my soul.
Instead, their lives unraveled in a slow, unsatisfying vengeance delivered by the hands of time. Paranoia and guilt ripped their families apart. Others died by their hands, later proved innocent and bred the diseased seed of doubt across my sleepy little American Colony.
But that was many years ago. As vividly as it haunts me, there is only so much anger ash upon the breeze can carry.
Even now as I drift through the dusk-cloaked city, the sweet taste of horrors I once dreamed upon them faintly flavours my forgotten tongue. The people around me are ever changing. Ever adapting. Ever creating. I’ve watched carriages become cars. Theatre branch out to moving pictures and beyond. I’ve watched death become modernized and regulated, but as much as these fleeting lives try to control their base instincts — their hatred, their fear — some things never change.
I am still here, and I am not the only speck of dust staining these streets. But you already knew that.
You see us, don’t you?
It is clear in the way your slender form pauses upon my unmarked grave. It is but a cracked stretch of asphalt now where children play.
I remember the first time you tread upon me. One night, when the city was still, and a thick mist rolled in off the lake. I thought I was alone as I had been every other night, as I roamed the filthy back streets and the halls of the surrounding tenements
But then you appeared through the fog as if you were a ghost yourself. Your wool collar stiff and high around your ears and your coppery curls cascading down about your narrow shoulders. Your patent leather boots clipped against the asphalt and echoed off the particles of us, and I know I’m not the only fading phantom to feel it.
Then you stopped. Just as you stopped every night since. Just as you are stopping again tonight.
The toe of your boot hovers over a deep crack. Your pale eyes fall to it and your brows knit in delicate thought. As I surround you in this mist, I wonder if you can feel it — my gaze upon the glimpse of a pale collarbone nestled in the darkness of your coat. If I had fingers, I would surely test it.
A smile graces your lips. Your eyes drift around you, as if you see us through the veil. You look right at me, wherever it is I am, and for a moment, I feel as if our eyes lock.
Other nights, that is when you would move on. You’d stroll through the streets of my haunted city, to ultimately disappear through the door of a quiet restaurant. Other nights, I have followed. I have waited outside that door in the cold. In the dark. And I’ve followed you home. I have watched your sweet face twitch in the throes of angry dreams. I’ve seen in your lonely nights the fires that lick at your own memories.
But tonight, you don’t move. You stand upon my restless place and you breathe in, filling your lungs with the crisp, cold air.
“What’s your name?” you ask.
A chill ripples through me at the soft timbre of your satin voice.
A name? What use have I for a name in a world that’s reduced me to an angry smudge in a city of stains? I have no answer. I can’t recall beyond the flames and the locked door. Even if I could, what voice have I with which to answer?
Your head tilts. The curls tumble from your shoulder and draw my gaze. I wish again for fingers.
“Okay,” you softly say, as if in acceptance of my silence.
An acceptance I could not share, for I wished to feel my voice bleed into yours. I wished for my shouts to dominate your senses. I wished for you to know me. To feel me.
I push closer. My energy, my anger, I coil it around you tighter and I beg that you feel it.
“We’ll try again tomorrow.” You take a step.
I do not want you to go! I want to breathe in the scent of you. I want to suck you into the shadows of me. I want to feel the heat inside you and for you to feel the chill inside me.
But you don’t stop. You break free from my useless grasp. You leave the park, and as I drift helplessly along at your heels, you disappear through the door of that cursed restaurant.
I sag there. The fog feels heavier. My heart, what memory remains of it, feels shriveled and dejected for I know tomorrow I will still be dead.
Your voice echoes through me. I would repeat it on my tongue if I had one. I sink to the filth on the sidewalk as your echoes stain my hopeless soul. Tomorrow, you will be back. Tomorrow, we will lock eyes. Tomorrow you will speak and tomorrow I will still be but a voiceless imprint.
I will try.
Morning light comes in ribbons through the broken glass. I drift in through the cracks in the walls, to an old, condemned hospital. Much of it has been reclaimed by mother nature: tree roots push up the tiles, and soft mosaics of moss and water stains decorate the walls. In the corner, upon a pile of dirt, a dandelion has bloomed and died.
I wonder, as I roam these forgotten rooms, if you would like this place as I do. If you would see the history painted on these ruined walls and hear the same ambient whispers of the dead.
I am deep within when I come upon a form. A body slumped in the corner. In the cold. Memories of shivers still shake through the air around him. His heart still clings to the vestiges of a living warmth.
He is young. Shy of thirty, yet as forgotten as I, long before he drew his last breath. His spirit has already drifted off on the chilly drafts.
I float in around him. I feel the glow of his dying warmth. I feel the memory of his last moments and the wretched last days staining the floor around him. I think of you as I fill him: your curls, your collarbone. Images of your fleeting smile bring a flutter to his chest.
I stare at it through eyes that are now mine. My appropriated fingers curl into a slow fist, and my face convulses into a wretched, twisted grimace as tears sting at the corners of my eyes.
And for the first time in centuries, I raise a hand.
Darkness dominates in the place I lie restless. Dusk comes and goes. Fluorescent light burns in the distance, too far to touch the cracked asphalt of this tarnished tomb. I sit upon a bench, breathing the chilly autumn air and listening to the steady, uncertain thumping of this stranger’s awoken heart.
You haven’t forgotten me, have you? It was you who said ‘tomorrow’. It was you who breathed hope into the dust of my remains.
Perhaps I will come to you. Tread up those flimsy steps to your quiet trailer, as I have seen you tread a hundred times.
The clip of a boot against asphalt stops me and a chill ripples across my arms.
Every step echoes around me in the darkness. It changes the tune in my heart, makes it flutter. Makes it thump faster and faster. A heat blooms in my empty belly as the faint silhouette of your slender form comes around the corner.
A soft light beams from your phone to illuminate your path. You cross the threshold of the wrought iron gate, into the park. The toe of your boot slides across the crack in the pavement on the spot where I died, and you pause as you have every night.
You peer into the shadows ahead of you. Your pale gaze pierces the void, but it doesn’t lock on me. It sweeps around the park, searching as I stand before the bench in wait.
“You,” my voice comes out a deep, lifeless rasp.
You snap rigid. The chilly air around you bristles and your muscles coil with alarm.
A chuckle rolls from my throat. “You are looking for me in the wrong place, my love.”
Your breath hitches. You search the darkness for me, but my voice bounces off the ash of a thousand forgotten phantoms and my steps are silent. Your delicious fear swells your aura. It tastes sweet in the air, and I suck the scent into my lungs with an insatiable hunger as I close in.
“Who are you?”
Why does your voice tremble for me, my love? I don’t wish for you to be afraid, but it plucks at parts of me I’m happy to rediscover.
You turn. Your light sweeps away from me, still searching, and I swoop in. My fingers brush your collarbone. You gasp and recoil, but I catch your throat in my fist. I press in against your back and your heat burns across my pounding chest.
Your phone clatters to the asphalt, dousing the light. Your pale fingers curl around my wrist, but you don’t fight. I inhale your scent. I weave my fingers into your silky, copper hair. My lips brush over the soft, supple flesh of your jaw, and my teeth follow. I taste the salt of the city and your fear-sweetened sweat on the tip of my tongue.
“You know who I am,” I hiss in your ear as I suck it into my mouth. “I am the one that peers back from the abyss.” My fingers tighten around your throat. Your breath strains so sweetly. The delicate veins in your earlobe pulse warm against my tongue and a shiver rides your breath.
Your Adam’s apple bobs tensely against my palm. Your eyes roll back to the darkness over your shoulder where I loom and your satin voice murmurs, “You came back… From the fucking dead.”
“For you,” I purr.
You let out a breath that tastes like a frightened laugh. Your fingers slide down my arm and away completely. And slowly, I feel your muscles relax. Succumb. “Great,” you huff. “It’s gonna be a lot harder to ignore you watching me sleep.”
I chuckle. “Yes.” And you, my love, shiver at the sound.
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Sam Clover is an author of M/M dark romance. She swears like a sailor, gobbles up horror movies and m/m books like they’re going out of style, and runs an erotica discord server.
She’s Canadian, pansexual, demi-sexual, atheist, humanist, and loves all things sea-related. Especially pirates… And sea creatures. And Storms, waves, water, seaside villages, weathered wood, sea glass, delicious seaweed, and everything else that ever existed in the ocean at any time.