Are You Haunted: part one (novella)
Are You Haunted
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.”
He smelled Lloyd Guy’s cigarette. The Big Chief was probably sitting in his Ford, pulled up just inside the gate. When he opened his door, and hurled the butt over the wall―where it might land on Rohdl, Powell thought―Guy would sound the horn. Powell was awake already, hungrier than he let himself think about most days. Guy had bought him a sandwich yesterday, that was the trouble. But he might again today.
He’d slept in shirtsleeves, the night air had been so hot. He’d bundled his suit jacket and used it for a pillow, half-wrapped it over his head, to shut out the morning light.
“Don’t bring your friends out here,” Guy said. Powell sat up, and already Guy was standing there.
“I don’t have friends.”
“I said to her, I’m not gon’ have a woman out here alone. Plain crazy.” Guy took off his straw fedora, and waved it under his chin. “Then, your lady friend told me her husband had gone away, to get water for the radiator. I told her, I seen your old man, but I never seen any car.”
Powell pushed himself to his feet. He wasn’t getting the Big Chief’s point of view. “Why wouldn’t you believe her? You drove me out here yourself. You know I didn’t have anyone with me.”
“I know when people turn up don’t belong here. I got two of ’em right now. And you told me, Mr. Kenzie, you wouldn’t do a job for me. You must not be hurtin’ for money. No, sir, I don’t think she’s married to you, and I don’t think you got a vehicle hid somewheres. But I’ll tell you what I do think. When I haul her up here, and show her to you, I’m gon’ be watchin’ your face close, Mr. Kenzie.”
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)