Source: Shutterstock by Paul Schlemmer
by Meg Pelliccio
Like a perched bird, he clawed his twisted fingers into the brittle bark and waited. His flesh twitched with anticipation whereas the more phantom of his being was under a constant threat of dissipating. He was no longer living, just as he was not dead. More years than he cared to count had passed since his mortal body had finally broken from the toll of life. With a grim determination his blackened soul had clung on to the living world. He had not passed into the afterlife, nor did he remain as a wandering spirit. The apparition he had become no longer had any claim to his body and in the time he had spent trying to reattach his soul to his corpse, he had become a mess of greying fleshy parts with limbs held in place by his spectral figment; he had become a ghoul.
He needed something of the physical world to tie his revenant being to in order to be part of the corporeal mortal realm. Over the years he had found himself forced to crawl into fresh graves to replace the more rotten pieces of his original remains. What started off as a necessity became an obsession to pass the years. He chose each new body part with discretion; each new limb was a jewel to him, a new addition to his collection of ornaments that adorned him. The foul creature was especially pleased with the large, already yellowing eye with an emerald green iris he currently valued as his most prized possession; it had belonged to a beautiful young woman cut down in her own home by an intruder. It sat in his one good socket like a trophy. It took unearthly effort to manipulate his selected cadaver pieces into motion, forming his perverse mimic of an entity.
He ran his few shrivelled fingers through the remnants of his hair, passing through the softness into the sponginess of his brain in an attempt to provoke some useful thoughts. He had lost fragments of his memory as parts of his brain had decomposed and crumbled away. He could no longer remember the name of his mother, or how tall he had been when he was truly alive, however, he always clung onto the most prized of his memories, the memory that had kept him in some resemblance of life, the memory of her.
Just the thought of her sent bursts of lively electric tingles through his numbed flesh; he could remember every detail of exactly how she had looked all those years ago, as clearly as he could see her now through the large window just across the street from the tree that sheltered him. He had retained his dark vigil over the mortal world, time slipping away from him much like the shedding of his skin as he had sought her out. Finally, he had found her. She was older now, older than his usual type had been back in his prime, but this had become personal. She was unfinished business.
After enduring the long wait, he could hardly believe that all of his dark desires were about to unfold. He even took the time to pinch himself to ensure he was not in some delusion of a dream, but found that his skin came away between his fingers. As he dragged himself across the lawn, leaving behind the odd particle of flesh as he did so, the only taint in his otherwise perfect evening was the frustrating thought of her not recognising him. He had lived off his imaginings of this very night, of him striding in to see the look of realisation on her face of what was about to happen. He hobbled up the steps and began to clamber awkwardly up the drain pipe.
Regrettably, he would not be able to stride in as he had dreamed, and she most certainly would not recognise him in his current pitiful state. An undignified leap from the pipe to the balcony jogged his soggy brain, causing it to galvanise a new thought; although he had long since looked at his reflection, he was sure just the sight of him would horrify her. An almost toothless, warped grin spread across his features at the very idea of her frozen in place by terror. His purple tongue flicked out and licked the messy hole that formed his mouth in anticipation.
As he stood barely hidden, just steps away from her, he was sure that if his heart still beat, the excitement he was feeling would set it into such a pounding rhythm that it would have given him away. On further consideration, he wondered what had happened to his heart. He last recalled it had rotted away from whatever had held it in place in his chest and that it had fallen somewhere near his festering stomach. Perhaps he had digested it by mistake. He didn’t mourn his loss; once he had fulfilled his purpose he would have no need of any physical substance.
She unknowingly walked towards him as she crossed her room; he couldn’t contain himself, and before she could even stop to wonder where the sudden foul stench had come from, he had sprung upon her. He stretched himself out unnaturally, tearing flesh in the process and straining his very tendons beyond their normal limits to encompass her body, smothering her mouth and nose with his perished hand whilst constricting her with the rest of his withered, fetid body like a boa-constrictor. There was no need for such lengths, one side long glance at the gaunt face leering next to her own with its twisted, scattered features immobilised her completely, and bodies entwined, creature and girl fell to the floor.
He could feel her desperation and it fuelled his motives, the sucking, gasping movements she made as he suffocated her sent stimulated shivers through his body. He could feel his saliva dribbling from his torn mouth like a hungry mongrel.
“Did you miss me?” he sneered as he stared into the depths of her eyes, as if trying to see her soul in torment somewhere inside her. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for you.”
He gently brushed stray hairs away from her face like a tender lover, “And you’re still so beautiful.” He crooned, “You know, I still remember when we first met; I knew right then I had to have you. I knew I had to have you in a way no other man could ever have you.”
Her eyes had begun to roll in their sockets uncontrollably as her body shuddered.
“But you, you just had to spoil everything,” he snarled, the anger flooding his veins as he gripped her tighter.
He recalled the night he had finally managed to outsmart her idiot of a boyfriend; killing him was nothing like killing the others. It had been necessary to kill him to fulfil his true goal, the girl. He had waited until the young lovers had left for the evening and then stalked them to the local woods, a quiet, secluded place for couples wanting their privacy. When the boyfriend had received the call of nature and left for some bushes, he had also decided to call upon him, stifling the boy’s cries as he repeatedly stabbed him, savouring each moment until the final slicing of the throat with his hunter’s knife. He remembered how the blood had fallen on the foliage; painting it a sickly black in the evening dark that glowed with the taint of red where the moonlight hit it. As he had held the blade aloft to watch the blood running down the blade, it had dripped onto his hand and he could feel the warmth of that precious life fluid.
Passionate lust had filled him, sending his senses soaring. The hot blood as it cooled on his skin, the soft dripping sound as the leaves shed their grisly water to the forest floor, the soft breeze lifting hair from his face; everything was intensified. His face had flushed as his adrenaline had burned through his body. A questioning call from her to the boyfriend had grounded him back in the moment, and with a monstrous expression of enjoyment plastered to his face he had left the hidden depths of the woods to meet her. Her expression had turned from wary concern to unsettled fear as she took in his appearance, the twisted smile on his face, his blood-stained clothes, and finally her eyes had dropped to the bloody knife in his hands. He recalled that they had widened by what seemed an impossible amount, and then like a rabbit bolting from the wolf, she ran.
Blood, desire and thirst pumped through him as he chased her; he could easily run her down and drag her to the muddy floor, but he had wanted to prolong the chase and savour every second of it, every moment of her delicious fear. Every glimpse of her running between the trees sent his mind reeling; the dark overgrown woodland in stark contrast to her scantily-clad body. A hidden root sent him crashing into the leaf-laden floor, as if the trees themselves seemed determined to hold him back and hamper his progress. Upon righting himself he realised she was no longer within his sight. Frantically, his eyes searched for her in the gloom.
He trudged onwards, picking up speed, then like a beacon, the moonlight hit her porcelain skin, illuminating her in a clearing that marked the edge of the wood. Seeing she had her back turned towards him, he crept quietly through the undergrowth, but a cracking twig beneath his foot signalled his arrival. He could see her body jump at the sound, but unexpectedly she did not look his way. Perhaps the fear was too much for her. With a swaggering gait, he prowled towards her, but as he was within reach, she turned to meet his steely gaze. The horror he expected on her face had turned into defiance as she glared him down. Before his confusion had even reached his face in the form of a frown, she had made her move. Sucker punching him with everything she had and sending him sprawling unceremoniously down the steep embankment. Unknown to him as he thudded and bounced down the muddied slope, his prey had taken off again to find her freedom without a second glance his way. He tried to reach his arms out to try and halt his rolling descent, without much luck. With the loud crack of his head against a protruding rock, his mortal life had ended.
Either the girl had never gone to the police, or they had never found his body. By the time he had gathered his sense of self enough to reclaim his body as a spirit; it had made its way into the sludge troth at the very bottom of the embankment. The rains had caused the water to fill and his bloated cadaver was floating amongst the scum and rot. It had taken some time to figure out the ways in which he could control his old limbs enough to crawl his way out of the stagnant water. With a stiffened lurch, he had made his way out of the darkness, cold and wet, as if he were being reborn all over again.
As his thoughts returned to the present, he was aware that the body he encompassed had long since stopped moving. No more would he be haunted by the one that got away, or feel the poisoning lack of fulfilment that had eaten away inside of him for years. The empty ache of hunger he had felt for so long was finally satiated. He could feel the pleasurable grin spreading across his face, so much so he felt it tear more at the edges. He slid back down the drain pipe and tumbled onto the lawn; it had begun to rain. His whole reason for hanging onto the mortal coil had finally been accomplished; his soul was at last ready to pass on. He wondered how long it would take for that familiar dragging pull to take hold of him – the call of the afterlife. Ducking into some nearby hedges for cover from the rain he lay in wait for the end of his life as a ghoul. He passed the time by reliving the evening over and over in his mind; he could feel his brain rotating like a carousel.
By the time he had snapped out of his lurid daydream, he had unknowingly lost a few days. The damp had seeped through to his skin from the foliage beneath him, and then in the heat from the following days he had dried out like a prune. His body felt like leathery paper; he was almost afraid to move should it rip in the process. From the lack of police tape around the house, he knew that the body had not yet been discovered; he considered going back inside to find some replacement parts, but decided against it. He decided that it was likely he had to prompt his departure from the living world in some way, thinking that perhaps his soul was still too attached to his physical embodiment, despite it being deteriorated.
He continued to wait for his demise, he neglected his incomprehensible ability to manoeuvre his body and did not attempt to reconstruct himself as his assimilated cadaver fell apart; he felt it would be an act of freeing his soul. His dehydrated skin started to wither to the point of fraying; his remaining limbs fell away from his body where they proceeded to begin rotting. His jaw, which had been set into a grim expression from perseverance, had dropped away and lay on the ground before him in a mock look of cartoon-like shock, while his almost thread-bare head had lost its surviving hair along with his scalp when it had slid off onto his back. The eye he had been so proud of had a new owner; a bold maggot had decided to encroach upon his last days of existence. Surprisingly he found comfort in the company. What remained of him was a motionless gargoyle. He had lost all control of his leftovers, and with his tongue left barely hanging by some gummy threads, he could no longer speak. His assorted limbs having not been in a healthy state to begin with were quick to finish decaying and it didn’t take many days for the rest of him to collapse in on itself; he became a pile of flesh which mixed with the fallen leaves to produce what would probably become fine compost.
Eventually, to his horror, it dawned on him that with the relinquishing of his tangible presence there was no escape, no freedom, and no journey forward. He was just a lost consciousness, incapable of movement or of rebuilding himself. He was stuck in this world, no longer enough of a substance to blemish it, but not vague enough to clear the mortal earth and venture into the cosmos.