The Ghost

Len swallowed his pill, washing it down with a mouthful of flat soda. He finished buttoning his shirt. Not quite able to face himself in the mirror, he turned to the door.

Some evenings it was difficult to face the outside world. His therapist said those were the days when it was most important to go out if he could. To see the world beyond his doorstep. To be in a space where there was something other than the TV and the flashbacks. To ground himself in reality.

He took a deep breath, opened the door, and stepped outside. The evening air was cool. That made it easier. Not like the heat and brightness of serving in the desert.

He locked the door behind him and headed down the street.

His heart raced as cars passed by. He had to keep telling himself that this was home, not Afghanistan, that nobody was going to ambush him.

Across the street, a face in the crowd caught his eye. He froze. It was Risso’s face. Except that Risso was dead. Len knew because he’d killed him. Because Risso’s was the face he saw most often in his nightmares – that moment when the body dropped out of the shadows and he realised that he’d hit the wrong man. No investigation could clear him of that sense of guilt.

He squeezed his eyes tight shut and forced back an angry sob. He was meant to be getting better, not worse. That was what the shrink said. So why was he hallucinating?

When he opened his eyes, the face was gone.

Len took a deep breath in for a count of four, let it out for six. In for four, out for six. In for four, out for six.

Maybe he’d just gotten confused. It would be OK.

He carried on down the street, toward the evening service at the Methodist chapel. But as he looked to his left he saw Risso again. Risso stared at him for a moment, then disappeared down a narrow side street.

He was imagining it. He had to be. But there was only one way to prove it.

Fists clenched tight, Len approached the side street. A familiar silhouette was disappearing around the corner at the far end. Len hurried after, around the corner and into a narrow alley. Pale white light shone from a single window three floors up, turning doorways into black slabs of shadow. There was no one to be seen.

“Risso?” Len asked, walking down the alley. “Risso, is that you?”

As he neared the dead end, he heard a click behind him.

Len turned.

A ghostly pale figure in a long black coat stepped out of a shadowed doorway. The hard edge of a revolver barrel caught the light.

“Risso?” Len whispered.

He sank to his knees, staring in dread. This was it. Not just some flashback memory. Not a nightmare as he lay amid sweat-soaked sheets. Reality collapsing under the weight of guilt. He had finally lost his mind.

“I’m Risso,” the ghost replied, pressing the cold end of the gun against Len’s forehead. “Gabriel Risso, Eduardo’s brother.”

“Brother?” Len whispered.

“Twins,” Gabriel replied.

“I’m not imagining you?”

“No.”

“You’re not a ghost?”

“No. But you will be soon. They never punished you for Eduardo. I’m going to.”

Len shook, tears of relief streaming down his face, hysterical laughter making his chest heave.

“Thank God,” he said. “I thought I was going mad.”

 

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