Routine Ghosts


ghost cerealMy house is haunted; my life is haunted. I meet the same ghosts every day. I can’t avoid them, and I can’t exorcise them. They are stubborn and reliable creatures of habit, always performing exactly the same tasks at exactly the same times, following some fixed schedule that must have been meaningful when they were alive but is now just a rote, mechanical process, a parody of a human life.

Since I cannot get rid of them (and the parish priest no longer returns my calls), I have grudgingly integrated them into my daily routine.

Here are a few of my most consistent spectral pests:

7:30 AM: the poltergeist who completes my morning routine. I might consider this ghost a blessing, were my experiences with it not so unnerving. There have been days when I have woken up, already fully showered and dressed, at my desk at work, miles from my home, with no memory of anything besides going to sleep the night before. On other, less disorienting, days I have watched this being, who never speaks and has no visible form (physical or otherwise), make my breakfast while I sat, completely paralyzed, at the kitchen table. It always serves me cereal:  the same brand (Life, ironically) in the same bowl, the same 2% milk. It never asks me if I would like to try something new. Orange juice is never on the menu.

I have looked blankly and motionlessly into my bathroom mirror, fogged with post-shower condensation, while my electric razor and comb levitate about my face, serving their purposes unbidden, accepting no input from me, always with disappointing results. Sometimes it will even button my shirt, but it inevitably misses at least one buttonhole along the way.

I do not think its intent is benevolent. Perhaps it was a single mother once, or a stay-at-home dad, and maybe one morning, after a sleepless night,  it filled the bathtub and held a toddler’s face underwater until the bubbles stopped rising to the surface and then, filled with relief and despair, emptied the contents of its veins into the sink where the stubble from my face is falling now. I just wish it wouldn’t always miss a spot on my chin, just above my jugular.

Noon: the wraith who cannot let go of his troubled adolescence. He comes to me at lunchtime, just after the microwave beeps, while I’m removing my reheated leftovers from the night before. He wears a black trenchcoat, a Korn t-shirt, camo pants, fingerless gloves, the works. I usually try to eat alone, but I would not mind his company if he was a better conversationalist. He only wants to talk about his teen angst.

He has a voluminous mental storehouse filled with high school anecdotes, some awkward, some mortifying, some simply sad. He has much to say about belligerent bullies and dances he opted not to attend. Most of his stories are deeply trivial—while they themselves are supernatural, all ghosts are obsessed with the mundane—and revolve around small embarrassments and social slights. Over and over again, he tells me the tale of a failed civics assignment. The teacher, apparently, was an absolute cocksucker.

He never speaks of dates or relationships. He repeats himself constantly, revisiting the same agonizing moments over and over again. He rarely lets me speak, and never acknowledges my attempts to give him perspective or to change the subject. When lunch is over he turns away and leaves. He never says goodbye, but a loose flap of skin and skull, red at its margins, waves to me from the back of his head as he walks through the wall.

4:45 PM: the sphere of brilliant white light that I cannot quite see. This haunting occurs when I get home from work each day, usually as I am removing my shoes. A subtle glow begins to radiate from a point just beyond the range of my peripheral vision. It is soft at first but grows exponentially more intense with each passing moment. I feel a vague, intangible sense of euphoria, usually tinged with nostalgia. I remember a feeling (never a concrete event) from my childhood. I feel as if I’m being drawn backwards through time, being given an opportunity to reclaim some lost piece of myself, perhaps my soul.

I cannot look into the light because I know it will disappear, like those cemetery orbs that are only visible on overexposed film. However, failing to look does not make the light (or the feeling) stay; it vanishes.  The experience is very short, always less than a minute, often less than ten seconds. I know nothing more about this spirit. The more desperately I try to grasp it, the more rapidly it disintegrates. Maybe it is a dead ancestor (a kindly great-great-great-grandmother, dead of extreme old age, but unwilling to depart completely) or maybe it is a phantom sadist who has discovered that there is no torture as vicious as hope.

11:15 PM: the shade that joylessly masturbates in my living room. I often catch him seated in front of my computer as I prepare for bed, his blank stare fixed on my monitor and his hand in his ethereal pants. He never looks at me, and does not seem to care if I watch him, nor does he seem to get anything out of being watched. In fact, he does not seem to derive any pleasure from the act at all. Even though he is a ghost, I never hear him moan.

He is a pale shadow, with no distinct features. His face is smudged, like a smear of paint left behind as an artist accidentally effaces his own portrait with his thumb. I do not know how he lived or when he died, but he always seems to be looking at images of actresses from the mid-90s, so maybe that’s a clue? Could he have been going through puberty then? Did his life end before his youth? I have no idea. He doesn’t speak. I tried to talk to him once, and he just minimized his browser window and vanished. I suppose it’s none of my business.

Midnight to Dawn: the faceless black spectre who materializes at the side of my bed and reminds me of all the ways that I might die. I hate this fucker.

Happy Halloween!

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