No Ghosts This Year #5

A knock on the door. The door began to open. He hurriedly poked his head out from under the covers. It was Sarah.

“What are you doing?” she asked, looking a little oddly at him.

“Nothing,” he mumbled. “Just reading.”

“Under the covers?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“No reason.”

A pause. He slipped the book under his pillow, hoping Sarah didn’t see the action, then slid the covers off and stood up, with a face that said, Nothing to see here.

“Do you want me to pick you up from school tomorrow?”

“Sure,” he said. It felt strangely grown-up having your sister pick you up from school. He wondered if Mark’s sister could drive. He didn’t know if Mark had a sister.

“Okay,” said Sarah. She stood in the doorway for a moment. “Are you alright?”

And, though he felt quite sure that he was, for some reason his voice squeaked a little when he said, “Yeah.” Was his voice breaking? He was a bit young for that, wasn’t he?

“You sure?” Sarah insisted.

“Yes, I am sure,” he said, thinking that a more formal reply might be more convincing. And Sarah, recognising at least that no other answer would be forthcoming, gave him a peck on the cheek and went out, closing the door behind her.

He paused before picking up the book again, but soon he was so immersed in that strange, staccato world that he forgot the conversation. So immersed in the odd and frantic world of the character’s brain – a brain that feared an eye, and the pounding of a dead man’s heart. Immersed, he must admit, in a mind that had resorted to murder. Nothing else could enter his brain until he reached the final words – Tear up the planks! here, here! – It is the beating of his hideous heart! – and had found in that phrase something that grabbed him and clung to him like an oddly caustic limpet.

He had carried it with him, wordlessly, as he said good night to his family, turned off the light for the night and crawled under the sheets, with Edgar Allan Poe still at his head, beneath the pillow. And as he lay there he found the limpet still present, though it seemed to be becoming larger, stronger, almost in the atmosphere around him. And he found that all conversations and all things that he had read, seen and known that day were replaced with the face of the man in the street – why was he there? – somehow changed, turned not so much sinister as knowing, and replaced too by the pounding thought, prompted by nothing but his own pulsating mind, that he, Philip Savage, was the real danger, and that a pounding, murderous heart, uninvited yet thoroughly expected, was beating all about him. Quick, the air seemed to say, listen to his hideous heart! And sleep, he knew, was unlikely to come that night.

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