Are You Haunted: part one
O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind Saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
The walls that remained almost sheltered like a roof, when the wind pitched up and drove the rain. They were edged in dust; dust sifted with charred splinters and shards of glass. It was dry on this lee side. The rest was mud. Powell’s shoes were caked with the worst mired there, clotted pebbles throwing him off-balance. He remembered this, how it felt. Only then he’d had army boots to snug round his ankles. Wet socks were misery.
He would roll tight against the farthest corner. He would pull his jacket over his ears, and sleep. The immigrant Rohdl spoke, from the other side of the wall. “What have I done? If I have done anything, then goddamn. Prove it. Or why should I go?”
Rohdl was welcome to all the territory in this burned out ruin he chose to claim. He called to Powell, “There. You heard that.” Rohdl was a short man. Powell, wanting only to lie down, came to the wall and looked over it, into his eyes. “No. Sorry, I didn’t.”
But the voice was constant, Rohdl said. He heard it, telling him, “Go. Get out of here.”
He could carry on, fighting his ghosts, and it would make no difference to Powell. Powell had grown used, once, to sleeping through thunderous racket. Rohdl might dream aloud, ramble in his delusions. Probably these states, dreaming and waking, shaded into one another, as Rohdl’s English shaded into German. After nightfall, Powell could only listen. Lightning flashed, but his chamber walls were shown, by the daylight intensity of its illumination, to be bare. Nothing scrappable would have passed the shortages of wartime. Tomorrow he might find a sturdy piece of wood and root around in the mud. Without too much effort, he could fill a bucket with washers, bolts, screws, surviving bits of metal trodden deep…if Mr. Guy would lend him a bucket.
He heard crickets, and the repeated call of a whippoorwill. And they would not have started up—he knew this much of nature—unless the storm were retreating. He heard Rohdl.
“You know nothing about me. For a very long time, I will stay.”
Are You Haunted
(2016, Stephanie Foster)