Another Painted Bauble Falling from a Dead Tree
By: Craig Saunders
No matter how many coats you wear, the ice gets inside, beneath, and you freeze and thaw so, over time, anything, young to old, cracks.
I remember you when this house was new and you rode on a trailer - maybe an old farm trailer that once carried bales of hay. Perhaps it still does its job, out in some autumn field. You're
winter, though. Cold, uncaring; hateful, even. You were old. You waved to the neighbourhood on that trailer decked out like a cheap sleigh. Fat, forced joviality stuffed in a make-pretend Santa suit. You looked down on me, like a tree might a simple bauble made of cheap glass. But baubles and trees all die. You thought you were long wood in long seasons, but you're sagging now, weaker. I watch while your life sheds your barbed needles on a threadbare carpet. Nothing lasts forever.
Bright lights hang in a window. You cough and hold a handkerchief to your mouth, then wipe away the inside parts of you and look to see what it is you're made of. Blood on the cotton, all bright red and festive. In Christmas lights - like white flakes of snow hanging on a green wire - the red's a stark, bold script on a white cotton page. A Christmas card from Death himself.
I wonder, watching you work at building houses that can't last; where will I go?
I'm cold, too, and have been since you killed me with indifference. Just a wane thing waiting for my time to fade away. The plasterboard crumbles in this cheap house you and yours built for me and mine. Rot has set in, and all is covered in damp, from floorboard and up into the eaves. The fibres in the mouldering carpets breed short-lived things: Fleas, and spores, and germs. Little girls cough, and they wheeze, and their breath gets short. Men like you move right along, onto the next, and the next. Is your own house sturdy, made of money like it must be? I always thought the real Santa's house would be made of candy canes and love, but really, other people are just thin and fragile baubles a moneyed tree, and Santa lords above us all.
You have a smaller stomach now, and that heavy beard you wore from a joke shop is gone. Thick stubble covers your sallow cheeks. Your ears grow white hair thicker than that on your head.
All that money you saved while you built these places from cheap poisons might well carpet your own home. Maybe your own house is made from flint, or stone, or good brick. I don't know. My death and my ghost are tied to this place where I coughed out my last, watched over by my father. His face was hidden in his hands. I remember he didn't meet my eyes when I slipped away because he was crying. It was Christmas day. You might have been laughing with your own children. You might have eaten a large turkey or a goose cooked since early morning in an expensive oven. Who knows how the rich spend Christmas while the poor die surrounded by the ghosts of Christmases past, and full of Christmas from Lidls, or Co-op, with labels on the vodka and the whiskey you wouldn't even deign to read.
I coughed like you cough now. I coughed blood. But I was just a young girl. Young girls have less to cough away. You're old. We're just thin glass. We break easy. But we all die.
As I breathe, as I sigh, I know you hear the whisper of my breath blowing through the wisps of hair in your ears. Wind slicing through just one more slumlord's estate, one more construction baron's crumbling tenement, through smashed windows and abandoned, swaying walkways, dead streets covered in rotten leaves and winos discarded no-name drinks. Echoing stairwells and shivering weeds pushing through cracked and warped tar macadam or asphalt. My breath changes nothing. Nothing lasts. Breathe, wind, it blows and things come back. Men like you. You're sweating and your lungs burn, don't they? You'll blow away.
Nothing lasts and nothing changes, not even the seasons.
Why did you come here? Did you come here to die? Do you remember how a young girl died in this death-house you built with so many corners cut the winter could move in and out as it pleased?
Once, you had a pencil behind your ear. I remember. Now, your ears are too large to hold onto one, and your thick fingers ache just as badly as your lungs, don't they?
Nothing lasts, and men like you come again.
Do we ghosts feel like nothing more than dust motes in evening sunshine on our senses? Black spores, near invisible, drifting in the air of the sad houses? Those small places where each footfall is an echo of people who are all simply trying to live.
I remember the shouts from houses down, and across, our mean street. People crying in anger, when really they were only sad.
When I died, full of spores and poison and all emptied out of the good things, my lips looked like yours; pale and flecked with blood. My father cleaned the blood from my dead mouth with the tears from his face.
No one cries for you.
You cough, and your hands are on your knees, then you keel sidelong to the bare boards. They hurt you, because you're thin, maybe, but you've still got weight. I'm dust. It doesn't hurt me. Nothing does.
You gasp, and your face is red, then purple. Christmas pudding and Christmas plum. Your eyes are wide.
Do you see me?
When I died, I did not see myself, or my life, but beyond. For those dull souls such as yours it will only be a mirror, and you will only see yourself, because that was your life. That was all there ever was for you.
What does sorry matter now? Your money is a cute smile or an apology, but only when a parent, or the law, or God himself catches you. Remorse? Regrets?
I put my face over yours now you're on the boards, eyes staring at the artificial lights hanging from the wiring in the naked ceiling. You stare right through me. But that's fine. I stare right through you, too. A bauble, paint all gone, you're just glass like me.
About the author:
Craig Saunders is the author or over thirty novels and novellas, including Masters of Blood and Bone, The Estate and Deadlift. He writes across many genres, but horror, humour (the Spiggot series), and fantasy (the Rythe tales) are his favourites.
Craig lives in Norfolk, England, with his wife and children, likes nice people and good coffee.