Daren didn’t rise at 3 AM this time when the thumping above his head woke him from a sound sleep. The attic creeped him out enough in the daylight – and no wonder, now that he knew the noises weren’t floorboards settling or tree branches bumping against the glass– so he had no desire to spend any more time in that dusty space in the dark. Instead he waited until the afternoon sun shone through the single high window before ascending the slick wooden stairs, a flashlight stuck into his belt in case a stray cloud plunged the attic into darkness. He wondered briefly why none of the past residents had bothered to install a light up here, but then snorted at his own folly as he remembered the attic’s resident seemed rather protective of the space.
“Tanim?” Old boxes and sheet-draped furniture muffled Daren’s hesitant call. There was always the chance the specter wouldn’t show. Part of Daren still hoped he’d just gone off the deep end, that the conversation he’d held with a ghost while last standing up here had been either an extremely vivid dream or the beginnings of schizophrenia. Either seemed preferable to the truth, and while standing in the dim space he tried not to think of the brief glimpses he’d caught at the corners of his eyes since, or the constant sensation of being watched.
“I thought you were ignoring me,”
Even knowing Tanim could sneak up on him, Daren still twitched at the sudden voice from behind and turned with a nervous swallow. Dust motes sparkled in the sunlight, disappearing as they passed through Tanim’s opaque yet insubstantial form. If Daren’s mind had conjured the young man standing before him the delusion was certainly convincing, right down to the unsettling weight of Tanim’s gaze. Daren almost said I was ignoring you, or trying to at least. You’re a fucking ghost. You shouldn’t even be possible, but instead he countered with the first question that came to mind.
“Why did you do it?”
Tanim tilted his head back, providing Daren a perfect view of the bruise hugging his pale throat, and stared up into the rafters as if searching for the rope long molded away. “I was afraid,” he replied, dropping his gaze back down. “And ashamed. It was the only way out. I was supposed to be free.” There was no trace of fear or shame in Tanim’s voice now despite his heartbreaking words. Daren wondered if the specter even felt those emotions anymore or if he simply remembered the words for a sensation long forgotten. Maybe words and places were all you had left to cling to when you were dead and trapped in this earthly purgatory. He hoped he never found out for himself.
“What were you ashamed of?” Daren tried to focus on Tanim’s eerie eyes but his own kept wandering to the bruise. As if sensing Daren’s discomfort, though surely he was unable to read such subtle human cues now, Tanim averted his gaze enough to hide the mark of his mistake. “I wanted something I should not want.”
The ghost didn’t need to elaborate. Although Tanim’s eyes held no light and his voice no emotion, enough of a last vestige of humanity lingered for Daren to interpret the expression on his face. He’d seen it on his own enough times in the past, after all, especially in the beginning. He thought about saying things were better for their kind now, but what good would that do Tanim? He couldn’t even leave the house, let alone settle down in a committed relationship. If Tanim did fall in love it would have to be with someone inside these walls, and right now the only person who qualified was— oh no. Daren refused to go there. “So you…” He gestured around the dim attic, failing to summon the right words, “…did this. And you’ve been here ever since.”
“Mother wouldn’t stop sobbing,” The corners of Tanim’s mouth twitched but never pulled into the grimace Daren suspected he meant to display. “Father had to have the doctor come every morning for three days to dose her. They took my sisters and left our home after that, but I don’t know where they went. They never came back.”
With the loss of his own parents still so raw, so painful, Daren couldn’t ignore the comment. Phantom or no, Tanim didn’t deserve the years of isolation spent in this empty house while the people and world he loved passed away. Daren closed the few feet between them and reached out to touch Tanim’s hand in hopes the contact might provide some comfort. Unlike the dust motes, his fingers didn’t pass through; the skin they touched was as real as his own, albeit cooler, and beneath that skin solid bones shifted as Tanim turned his hand over. “Are you alone like me, Daren?” the specter asked softly. Before Daren could draw back, Tanim wrapped his hand around the living man’s wrist in a grip firm yet not entirely unpleasant. This time a small smile did draw up his lips as he brushed his thumb over Daren’s palm and murmured in wonder, “You’re so warm. I had forgotten what it felt like.”
“Oh, fuck,” Daren yanked his hand away with a strangled curse. Maybe Tanim didn’t have a heartbeat anymore but his raced at the touch, blood surging at the sound of his own name spoken in that low silky voice, and for all the wrong reasons. He’s a ghost. He’s a ghost, he’s a ghost, he’s a ghost. He’s a goddamn ghost. This is insane. He backed up blindly, throat too choked to even mutter an excuse or farewell, and turned when his heel slid over the lip of the first stair. He nearly slipped as he stumbled weak-legged down the attic steps but Daren’s mind wasn’t on physical safety, just on getting away from those staring eyes. Tanim could seek him out anywhere in the house, of course, but there was something so disorienting about the attic that Daren knew he wouldn’t go back up there willingly. He’d stay downstairs and pretend the 3 AM sounds were nothing more than a creaky old house.
A creaky old house haunted by a painfully attractive ghost.
[ This story is a continuation/fragment of a story originally written by my friend Stacy. The original one-shot is soooooo good you should definitely check it out – at least, if you want to see how this turns out. I included links to the companion pieces as well. ]
If Daren concentrated, he could just make out a faint smudge under Tanim’s chin, a line that disappeared into his hair… (The original one-shot by Stacy)
Tanim waited. He was good at waiting. He’d been waiting a long time, after all… (An added “ending”, also written by Stacy)
Daren’s heart lurched in a thud eerily reminiscent of the mysterious thunk from the attic – or, he realized with a sudden sick understanding, like the sound of a chair being kicked over… (A piece written by me that takes place earlier than any of the other stories)
“You left,” It was almost an accusation, nearly a plea, but as usual the words fell dull from Tanim’s lips. (Daren finally makes his decision, for better or worse)