With Christmas drawing near, I thought today—the thirteenth—might be a good day for settling down in front of the fire with a festive drink and something spooky. And so, with this in mind, I thought I’d share with you a snippet from my latest novel, The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts. This is Sonny Moore’s first encounter with the “ghost” at the centre of the novel. Enjoy! [WARNING: contains sexual references that some might find offensive.]
The night was surprisingly refreshing – the chill air immediately bringing me out in a rash of goose-pimples. I stepped out purposefully onto the patio, the paving cool and rough against my bare feet, and closed the door behind me – not wanting to make even the most obscure of invitations. It occurred to me briefly that I should have brought something with which to defend myself, but it was too late now and, if I’m truthful, I no longer thought that this was a threatening situation. There was a stranger (I assumed) prowling around in my garden, I was unarmed and very nearly naked, and, yet it didn’t seem to me that I was in any kind of danger. In retrospect, I was naïve at best, bordering most assuredly on the foolhardy – but hindsight can only measure and quantify so much, and at the time there were influences of which I was only dimly aware at work.
Surprisingly, the security lights still hadn’t come on. I stood stock still for a moment, listening intently and letting my eyes adjust, knowing that the woman I had seen from my study window was watching me, just waiting for me to make my move, I was sure. I stared in the general direction of where my hole had been – but the night still held tight to its secret, and no amount of squinting and straining could alter that. For a moment, I was aware of just how vulnerable I really was, taking an involuntary step back before my sense of security flooded back with a vengeance. I was not in danger. My world was as it had always been; safe, predictable – far removed from the trials and threats so common to others. I saw no reason why any of that should change – or, if it were to change, I saw no reason why now should be the time.
She was beautiful. That was what struck me first. Flesh the colour of concentrated moonlight, she stood silently before me – her hands hanging limply at her sides, naked and more vulnerable than I could ever be. Young – possibly in her mid-twenties – she nevertheless carried her large breasts lower than I would have expected, and her body showed scars and infirmities I would not have expected to see in a woman her age. Her ankles seemed puffy and swollen, and, among the too numerous healed non-medical scars, a partially healed laceration ran from the top of her right thigh to her knee. Eyes hooded, unkempt hair falling about her face, she seemed to look through me rather than at me – and, yet, I was quite certain that she was aware of me. She made no sign that this was the case (to begin with, at least), but I knew, just as I had known that I was in no real, immediate danger from this “stranger”.
“Are you all right,” I said quietly – not wanting to alarm her. She was standing where my hole had been, a few feet away from me, and now she looked up and, for the first time, met my gaze. Her eyes were quite unremarkable, but the look… that look was something else entirely. Hearts don’t break. Souls don’t crack open and seep spirit into the night. Time doesn’t stand still – and the minds of strangers rarely connect in any meaningful way. And, yet, that was what seemed to happen to me that night. The woman stared into my eyes and reached out to me over a distance that was more than just the space between us. Her mouth opened and I thought for a moment that she was actually going to answer my question – but instead she merely smiled, the fingers of her right hand moving to the coppery, dense hairs at her vulva. I thought of Mrs. Sutherland – that fictional Maggie, Richard’s walking, talking wet dream – and very briefly entertained the notion that I might have invented this encounter. A sleepless night of memories and dreams, sleepwalking, hypnagogic hallucinations, the spillage and seepage of fiction and mysterious memoir.
Her fingers slipped inside herself and she shuddered, still smiling that smile, her eyes still locked on to mine. She tilted her head back, tossing her unruly hair and staring down her nose at me. A wet little hiccup of a sigh escaped her and, still playing with herself, she started to walk towards me.
I didn’t want to turn and run. I didn’t want to avoid any part of this strange encounter. Whilst I wasn’t actually aroused by this clearly damaged woman, I was attracted to her – attracted to the questions she represented, to the reason behind this shameless display. I wanted to understand her, help her even, and perhaps more pointedly, I wanted her to thank me.
She approached and I prepared myself for whatever was about to happen. This wasn’t a sexual encounter, I kept telling myself. If Ashley were to witness this, she would understand immediately that the woman was clearly ill – disturbed and delusional. There would be no accusations, no teary threats and tantrums – and, yet, I hoped against hope that Ashley would remain in bed. I didn’t want her or anyone else seeing this. Not because I was in anyway embarrassed by the encounter but, rather, because she was mine, nobody else’s. Whatever life had subjected her to so that she should arrive here at this time of the morning, I was suddenly completely convinced that it was no one’s concern but the woman’s and my own. She had come here to see me, to ask my help – and as ridiculous a thought as it might have been, I acknowledged it as a kind of truth.
“It’s okay,” I said as she approached. “Everything’s going to be all right.” As far as reassurances go, it was admittedly pretty lame, but very briefly it seemed to reach her. She faltered and stopped, her eyes clearing as she took in my features. She pulled her hand away from her sex as if it had bitten her and gasped, truly registering my presence for the first time. She started to say something, and then shook her head – the befuddled thought quickly lost. And then the veil once more descended. Her expression fell away like a dying moth and she started walking towards me again, drawing her feet level with each other before taking another step, like a bride walking down the aisle.
Three steps apart, then two – and, finally, the woman was only a single step away from me. I expected her to stop there, but she didn’t. She continued until our skin touched, until she moved into me and through me. I felt nothing – no shock or sense of dislocation, no fear or euphoria. The cooling night air raised a fresh rash of goose pimples, but that was it. The woman entered me, and left. She took nothing, but neither did she give anything.
I turned and watched her walk away, and then sat down on the lawn.
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