Journal 5, p 111. April 2014. Palmer Alaska.
There stands, as in many homes, a shower with a cloth shower curtain. In this particular home the curtain is a murky off-white, distastefully accenting the yellowing walls. The overall effect is one of carelessness, or of being so overwhelmed that the simple becomes impossible.
“Do you ever worry about ghosts?” Asks the boy’s father sincerely. The kid is just over two feet tall, and still not 100% checked out on showering alone. This is one of those little moments he would never have remembered, until his dad started asking him strange questions. “Not especially?” He replies. The boys father nods acceptingly, “I never used to worry about them either,” He confesses, “until this one time when I was in college and I tried to take a shower, it was one like this with the curtain, and I got in without checking the tub first and there was a semi-transparent specter hanging there, thirsting for my blood.”
The boy does not believe his father, he is still young but his father has proven untrustworthy, prone to cruel jokes at the expense of his son’s innocence. But the face his father made as he remembered the encounter wasn’t one of a joke, but of a man experiencing a flashback, the father’s eyes had unfocused, back 30 years and away a thousand miles. “Anyway good luck showering on your own I think you’re pretty checked out on it, don’t get soap in your eyes and always check the tub.” And then he left.
Although he wagered his father had been lying, the closed shower curtain seemed to contain ominous shapes, dark and mysterious, twisting and swirling in the murky luminance of the light fixture bought before the boy had been born and placed there “temporarily” and “until we find something better”. It still had the protective plastic on the silver metal, noncommittally picked at but never completely removed “Just in case we want to return it”. This light fixture will still be there twenty years later when the boy returns triumphantly home from college, and the boy will be the one who removes the film, the day before the house is sold for demolition.
A breeze from under the door moved the curtain slightly, giving it a breath of life that it really shouldn’t have, like a great off-white creature breathing in its sleep. The room had no windows, leaving only the yellow light coming from the underpowered light fixture on one wall. Time slowed, the clock hadn’t made noise in a year and without the sun or outside context the boy stood there and stared at that one spot in the cloth, which moved slightly in and out, for many months. His bare feet grew roots in the earth and his head, free of time, floated above and out through the ceiling as it rots away from his slim form. He sees the neighborhood, trees that are slowly giving way to new houses, bulldozed earth, the one neighbor whose yard is slowly filling with rotten cars. As his head floats away he can still see his body, back in the ruins of his old house, he can see his old skin shining silver far below, rooted firmly as the house crumbles into mud and his body grows to meet his head and the roots take over the earth and the branches again connect and his soap-bubble skull pops and
The clock ticks again, and time slips back into focus. It was just a bit of cloth, there’s nothing here, what could it hide? He shook himself. C’mon man be normal. He gripped one side of the curtain with his tiny child hand, pulled, and the plastic rings slid cheaply along the metal track, the curtain moved with some effort and revealed an empty tub. The boy could breathe again. He had not noticed he was holding his breath until he let it out, and moist air rushed into his lungs. The next project was to navigate the lip of the tub, just slightly too tall for him to easily step over.
Something is wrong. The change was subtle, but it was much warmer in there than it was before. The boy could hear something new, the labored breathing of a creature, just behind him. He spun around, pitiful fists raised (like that would do anything) to find – nothing.
“Hi.” Said the Ghost. It was standing in the shower. Well, hovering. It was a gruesome thing, blood dripping from its protruding fangs “I’m the Ghost.” It said, and turned on the water. The sound of the water, now running and too cold masked the scream the boy let out at the sight of the thing. “Don’t scream.” It said ”I’ve followed your father for over thirty years. I live off his life force, he keeps me alive, and if I ever died he would too, so it’s in his best interest to keep me fed. I want nothing from you today, boy. But one day he will die and I will call on you again.” The boy could feel something new in his stomach, a bad sort of weight. The Ghost evaporated in the steam and the boy was left alone, to navigate the new terror of washing his long hair without getting soap in his eyes.
As the boy grew he made friends, lost friends and fought. He never again felt completely at ease, and tried to call his father often once they didn’t see each other every day. His father was not one of the rare ones that could hold a conservation, and they grew apart, as can happen. Eventually they never speak at all. In college the boy gets a call, his father has died. He is devastated, and has much to prepare. Several days pass and the boy loses track of time again. Under duress, he goes to take a shower, and the Ghost is there.
“Hi.” Says the Ghost, just as gruesome as before. Blood dripping off its fangs and swirling with the water in the tub of the boy’s shitty dorm. “Hi.” Says the boy. “You’re here to start, huh?” He is not afraid. The ghost howls in laughter, like the scream of an oak that has lived for thousand years finally traveling, only to discover that it will only ever travel to its death. “I’ve always been here, boy. I was here when you were born, when you almost kissed that girl but thought better of it, I was there when your grandparents died, when your dog died, when your cat died when you got in a fight with your mom when you crashed your bike and got that scar that will be with you until you die. I AM. I always HAVE BEEN. As soon as you could think I was waiting for you to notice that no one liked you. As soon as you could move I was waiting. There was never another option, you just notice me now because your dad died and your friends are asking if you’re okay, if they can DO anything. They’re asking you NOW and so you’re checking, and here I am. I am your new best friend, boy. And I will kill you.” And with that, the ghost opened its gigantic mouth and chewed the boy up with his enormous teeth. The boy’s head was pierced by the ghosts fangs, one enormous tooth going in one ear and out the other and his ribcage crumbling to dust under the pressure, the pressure that swallowed the entire sun into a black hole. The earth quaked and the stars went out. The boy died.
The Boy gets married. The boy has a boy of his own.
One day the Boy’s Boy has to take a shower alone. The Second Boy is about two feet tall, and has goofy curly hair, far too long for his frame but he is afraid to cut it, he is afraid if he cuts it he will become just like everyone else and lose his magical powers. He is right. He is a performer. A Star. “Alright.” Says the father. “Do you ever worry about ghosts?” The Second Boy considers this honestly, and replies: “No.” “Good,” the father says quickly. The son seems stronger than he had been at this age, the father hopes. Maybe one day this will end. “Alright. Son, I have faith in you. You can do this. Don’t get soap in your eyes and always check the tub. Good luck.”