Once there was a young woman who woke up in darkness. She rubbed her eyes, felt around, and her fingertips found softness, like that of a stuff animal clung tight in the night. The air was dark, warm, but a chill spread across her skin, and her nightgown was damp with sweat.
Her nights consisted of whispers to the ghosts and the dead and the near dead. The young woman was none of these things, yet she, in her youth and innocence, the same way that new skin bounces back fast, allowed her–no, cursed her–to see and hear these things. Her walls were void of pictures or drawings. She worried that if the ghosts, the dead, and the near dead found them, they could claim her items as their own, and the girl didn’t have much. Just her mind, her memories, and fond wishes of a different life. Just a sliver of hope, of life, of a different door chosen.
She rarely let these things get to her, but tonight, a different kind of whisper gently spoke in her ear.
It offered her kindness. Release. And the young woman was tempted, but she knew otherwise for other whispers had come to her in the night–always the night–with their cherished words. Words that drowned her fears, echoed her dreams, and reverberated her wants and desires. On this night, she clutched her familiar teddy bear, begging it for strength and assistance, and though none never came, she still felt better. “Demand of yourself, not of others,” her grandmother used to tell her, and in this warm, dark windless night she remembered those words. Then she added a few words of her own, “Guard your soul, girl, and better yet, guard your heart” because the ghosts, the dead, and the near dead could be seductive, and this voice–this whisper in particular–was extremely seductive.
The whisper was a caress, a soft embrace, that made her body glow. It made her want things she shouldn’t want. She was tired of her bland–and blank–room, of her life, and, at times, fancied herself in love with a young man, seen from a far, the grounds keeper. Love that faded, it was never real, and it was swept away from her by the ghosts. The ghosts loved the memories of those faded lovers. The blue eyes, the brown ones, the ones with flecks of gold and green, like leaves turning in autumn. It feasted and feasted, never satisfied, so when the new whisper granted a reprieve, the young woman jumped from her bed, her feet hitting cold stone, demanding, “Who are you? What do you want?”
“I am lost,” the whisper whispered to her, it’s tone low, earthy, and filled with water-like vibrato, as if an entire carnival lived inside its voice. The young woman wanted to live in that voice. Whole. Committed. Deep and long, and forever.
This voice enchanted her, though on her guard, she swayed ever-so-slightly into it, but, also close by, a near dead voice, which lingered near her bed, warned her: “Don’t be fooled by the glitter. I, once, was fooled, and look at me.” The near dead voice was that of a man, old, but he had a voice held together with knowledge, spirit, and grit. His tone was louder since he wasn’t exactly dead, but not quite of the living, so the near dead’s voice was thick, but gurgling, as if drowning.
“Don’t speak of me of glitter,” the young woman chastised. “Why should I listen to you, a near dead?”
“Because I am still part mortal, and I know what the sins of the flesh can do to the mind of a young woman on the verge of a bad decision.”
The caressing whisper that caused her glow chuckled, low, and deep in her chest. It glided its fingertips over her beating heart, strong and healthy, and it demanded payment–a purchase–and suddenly the young woman was scared when it said, “I am more than glitter. I am older than gold. I am stronger than the wind. I know your dreams because I am the one who created them.” Then, turning to the near dead whisper, it said, “Cease, you fool.”
And the near dead whisper vanished into the ether.
“Who are you? What do you want?” she asked the caressing voice when they were alone. She figured it was a strong being. “Why are you lost?”
Shadows played across her bedroom, the moon moving as slow as a snail across the ebony blackboard that showed through her small porthole. It reminded her of her youth, when her grandmother was alive, and she would talk about the origins of the stars and the creator of the ebony painted sky.
“I am your hurt,” the gentle whisper said in return. “Your door was open, so I have come to live in your heart, and heal you.”
“Nonsense,” she replied, but she looked to her left, and indeed: the door was open. “I live in this room of my own free will, just as my grandmother did, guarding the moors and the spirits who inhabit it. I am lonely, but not hurt.”
Near the window a growling voice interrupted. “Don’t listen to the trickster, girl, he will eat your soul, and feast upon your dreams. Then, he will consume the ghosts, the dead, and the near dead. I’ve seen it happen.”
“Oh, poo,” she told the voice of the dead, now more comfortable with the caressing whisper hugging her heart. “You are cold, and dead, what do you know of souls and feasting?”
The dead voice echoed around her, and around the caressing whisper, which shuddered against her heart, “Your heart and soul are not so innocent, little one,” the growling voice answered in an unaffected way. “Even now he consumes you; he gnaws on the edges of reason, of sanity, like the tiny tears trickling down your cheeks.”
The young woman pressed a fingertip to her face, and felt the small trail of wetness. Why was she crying? Granted, the near dead whisper, and the dead whisper confronted her, but that was normal. She knew their voices as much as she knew her own. How had she forgotten so soon? How is it that when the caressing whisper came into her life, she no longer recalled her grandmother’s warnings.
Warnings of coldness, of wanting more than she deserved. Of falling in love. Yet, here was the caressing voice, well, caressing her.
“Are you consuming me?” she asked the gentle voice that filled her. It was in her and around her.
“Yes,” the voice said. “But only because you asked me to.”
“See! I told you so,” the dead voice chirped annoyingly. It had moved back to the window, and was nothing more than the thin fabric of a shadow against the pane. The dead whispers were darker than the near dead, and not as transparent as the ghost whispers.
“When did I ask you to?” she demanded.
“Be gone, you hyena,” the caressing voice yelled to the dead whisper, and it fled through a tiny pin hole in the glass. To the young woman, he said, “It was never said, or asked, in words. It was in your eyes, and the way you smiled at me everyday, and how, when you hummed, it always sounded like you were whispering my name.”
It was then that she realized the gentle caressing whisper wasn’t a ghost, not a dead, nor a near dead being. He was real, and in her room, right beside her, his hand on her heart; and her heart beat hard against her chest, burning a hole in her thoughts and feelings, and the warmth spread all the way through her.
His hand touched her, clasped it, and they embraced. Her lips touched his. Warm Soft. But, most of all, real. He was real, and once he moved into the light, she saw him for who he was, the grounds keeper.
In the darkness she saw her surroundings afresh, and found him. Her heart beat strong, and alive, and her fingertips found flesh and blood, and she clung to him tight in the night. The air was warm, dark, and a sheen of sweat covered her body. But she was no longer chilled. He kept her warm, and the ghosts, the dead, and the near dead never returned.