“This Time, Surely” Dark Short Story by Neolatry

"This Time, Surely" Dark Fiction by Neolatry

He’s outside my window again. I had thought that if I ignored him, then surely, he would move on to ruin someone else’s night instead. Yet every day I’ve heard crying, right outside my bedroom. It hurts. The constant noise hurts my ears, and the sounds of a child in pain hurts my heart. I know he’s not really human, he’s only what’s left of one; the real boy lost to time and the dangers of youth. Still, he comes to my window and wails, and I cannot tune him out. 

A week of restless sleep leads me to ask my mother for advice. She suggests I talk to him. Surely, the boy will leave if I ask him to, if I explain the trouble he’s causing. So when he next comes to my window I call out to him. I ask him to spend his nights somewhere else because he’s keeping me awake. He cries. He does not leave, and I go to bed defeated. I dream of dead children. The next night I ask him again to find somewhere else to go. I tell him that he’s hurting me, but the next night he is crying at my window like I never said a word.

After that, I ask my friends for advice. He just won’t leave. He won’t stay away and I can’t hear myself think anymore. My friends suggest he might be hungry. They say I should lead him away with a trail of snacks, and surely he’ll be out of my hair in no time. So, I gather the scraps of my courage, and I open my windows as I cook dinner to entice him. Even monsters must have preferences. I will find his. Every night, a different dish, each a myriad of flavors, and I carefully keep track of which he seems to take notice of and which he leaves be. I don’t sleep a wink for days, stuck watching, and all the while listening to the endless echoes.

Eventually, I feel confident in my knowledge of him. Weaving a trail of offerings along the house feels like hope. Into the backyard, down to the creek, through the trees that shelter the neighborhood to the other side of the wood. Safely out of earshot. By the time I make it back home, it’s nearly night already… yet I hear nothing but birdsong. Maybe tonight, I’ll finally be able to get some real sleep. I hold my breath as I take off my shoes, but the only cries belong to a wren. I check every window before putting my tea kettle on the stove, and all I see are trees. The sky darkens further. I tell myself the only sound I’m listening for is a whistle from the kitchen. 

Not even a moment later, no further away than before, anguished sounds fill the room. My heart sinks into my stomach. He’s still at my window, and tonight I’m crying too.

Another week goes by, and I’ve started hearing him during the day. He’s not really there. Most of the time I remember that, but the cries that come from my own mind startle me either way. My mother is worried about me; I’m not sure how to reassure her when I know she’s right to be. She calls my grandparents as I nap on her couch. My grandfather suggests I pray for the ghost, as The Lord will surely help a lost soul. So, I pray to the god they believe in. I pray to some other ones too. I pray to death itself. Night after night, I pray for his peace, I pray that his spirit moves on, I pray that he finds something to comfort him. God does not end his suffering. Death does not answer me. Back to my window he returns.

I ask my neighbors what I should do. I’ve clearly caught them off guard, I’ve never asked for their opinion on anything before. Hopefully, after he leaves my window, I’ll never have to ask again. My neighbors smirk a bit at me, clearly disbelieving the notion of ghosts entirely. They live across the road, their driveway too long and winding to hear him at night. Lucky bastards. I turn to leave, but as I walk back down their driveway, one says to try burning him up. I blink at them, but the other only shrugs, and tells me to call them when I’m sane enough to have lunch together. 

Burn him up. I consider it, even though I don’t want to hurt him; it can’t be his fault he’s dead… but I consider the other words. Am I still sane? I hear crying that isn’t there, I can’t sleep without horrible nightmares, and I spend all my time thinking about him. Regardless, I still believe this is a solvable problem. Surely, there has to be some answer I’m missing.

Maybe burning is that answer. I think about fire all day. Then, the sun sets, and he’s outside my window, crying. Always, always, always, always crying and I don’t have anything to ward ghosts away- I don’t have any incense to burn, no candles to light. I open the kitchen cabinet and pull out my camping lighter anyway. He’s still out there, still crying, yet for the first time since his arrival, I go outside while he’s here.

He doesn’t seem phased at all. The crying never stops, not even when I spark the lighter. He does look at me, though. I don’t think I’ve ever seen his eyes before. Little lights of his own, inside a dark, hollow shell. I thrust the flame forward; he stares but doesn’t move, only watches. I can’t quite reach him; I have to jump and the flame gutters- he doesn’t move. I’m so close, I can’t give up here, I cup the hot light in my palm against the wind and try again. The flame brushes against him. The crying crescendos, so piercing my lungs rattle and my ears ring. I catch my breath just in time to watch as he flies away, fleeing. He brushes against the whole house as he darts, sparks falling from the air around him.

All at once, stillness sweeps over me, my ears ringing now at the absence of sound. There’s no crying. It’s finally quiet because no one is crying. With nothing left of his presence to chase away, I go back inside. There are flames growing, crackling as they climb the walls and caress the floors, but I cannot hear them over the sweet silence. There is smoke outside my window, inside of it too, but all I see is his absence. He’s not at my window, and I’m so enamored by the sight that nothing else could possibly catch my attention. I slip into my bed, hopeful that I will not dream tonight. I feel nothing past the overwhelming relief which blankets me in breathless victory, not even the fire that licks up my sheets and spreads to my clothes. 

He’s gone. Surely, I’ll never see him again.

Neolatry is an emerging poet and writer from the Cincinnati area. Find her in the city seeking inspiration for her genre fiction, penning poems in a park, or admiring her pet snake Mika. Contact information can be found at neolatry.carrd.co

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