ALONE & AFRAID

by

Steve Johnson

 

I awoke one day and everybody had gone. My whole family: wife, kids, even the dog had vanished without a trace. I found myself lying on the cold, hard floorboards of our bedroom, fully clothed, yet freezing. The house was empty. No furniture, carpets or any of the other items we had collected over the years, those small trinkets and possessions that had meant so much to our lives. Yes, even the television had gone.

            The curtains remained. Somehow old and dusty, yet they were almost brand new.

            Had I slept through some catastrophe, some disaster that left only me and the curtains as survivors? A voice in my head told me that they would return. I need only wait and my family would be back.

            But how long should I wait? A day? A week? I couldn’t phone the police, as the phone had gone too. I should not leave the house, that much was certain.

            The electricity was still on and a couple of rooms still had light bulbs dangling from dusty wires. I tended to remain in those rooms at night. An empty house, especially one as old and as isolated as this, was scary at night. Noises frightened me in the wee, small hours. Creaking floorboards. Footsteps on the stairs. Momentary laughter that faded before I could gauge its presence.

            I built a fire in the living room hearth, but its warming embers could not chase away the chill in my bones. I had found an old overcoat of mine in the back of the bedroom closet and sat before the fire, huddled in my own seclusion. How could I be so cold?

            I need only wait. They’d be back. Surely, they’d be back.

            Then, after the first week had crawled by, I saw it. I rubbed my eyes, but it was still there. Standing in the centre of the living room, a hazy, grey figure, unmoving, yet animated, a shifting ethereal pattern of light that played upon my retinas, teasing them to focus, yet knowing that they could not. I was frozen with fear. I was staring at a ghost!

            And it was staring at me, I felt.

            Then it turned and drifted out of the room, faint, almost imperceptible footsteps accompanying its motion.

            The kids wouldn’t believe me when I told them about this!

            I spent the next two weeks moving from room to room, trying desperately to relieve the boredom that threatened to drive me insane. I even ventured out into the garden a couple of times, finding it overgrown and untidy. It was there that I saw the ghost again. Or rather, I saw a pair of them. I was standing beneath the apple tree that marked the bottom of our garden, looking back up at the house and wondering how the bathroom window had become smashed, when a pair of shadows moved across the large bay windows of the master bedroom. I was certain that this was no reflection from passing clouds, so I dashed back inside and raced up the stairs, my footfalls sounding loud and thunderous on the bare steps.

            Nobody. The house was empty, of course.

            I began to get used to my spectral visitors over the next few weeks. I had no choice, because they became ever-present. Every time I entered a room, I saw them, sometimes three or four of them at a time. They seemed oblivious to me most of the time, but occasionally, I would get the feeling that they saw me. Then they would drift away, often through closed doors and occasionally through a wall that I had once decided to knock through in order to make the dining room and living room a single space, but had decided against.

            Then the really weird stuff began to happen. I would walk across an empty room and feel my legs bump into something, as though I had walked into a chair or table. I would even feel the invisible object move. This happened with increasing frequency until I grew accustomed to these unseen pieces of furniture. I couldn’t explain it, but I grew accustomed to it.

            The lights began to switch themselves on and off too. I would turn on the living room light, its stark beams illuminating the peeling wallpaper, only to find it switched off when I wasn’t looking.

            It took time, but I got used to my ghosts.

            Now I just had to wait for the return of my family. So I waited.

 

Steve Johnson - 2005

Updated 11th March 2012