This Place is Already Haunted

Every day, a dull white wonder devoid of clear thought, dissolves into the next, and for ten days now I have not left this cheap hotel room. Not for anything.

Tell me, where am I going to go?

My skin is flaking again; people do not want to see people like me walking the streets.

So, a masquerader in civilian clothes, I’ve been living on Ramen noodles and expired milk that pours into my plastic cup with sluggish viscosity. I was trained to survive on much worse.

I also brought with me two cases of Seagram’s 7—each containing six 750ml bottles. This morning I opened the tenth. The buttery apricot flavor in every caustic swill keeps me going.

Earlier, I woke to someone pounding on a door down the hall, the rumble of distant bombing, and suddenly everything smelled like baked dirt, catching me off guard so that for the longest time I lay thinking I was back on the wrong side of the world, fear of all the nightmarish possibilities settling in my groin with a dull ache that left me crying.

 

# # #

 

Simply put? Killing someone changes you. From that moment on, the conscience feels like a prisoner enduring endless interrogation.

Was he a soldier? Yes.

How do you know? His attire.

How old was he? I don’t know. Fifteen, sixteen.

Did you have to kill him? Yes.

Why? Self-defense.

Why was it self-defense? He aimed an AK-47 at me.

Did you enjoy killing him? No.

Why are you lying?

 

# # #

 

I should throw out this cell phone. In the last two hours I’ve received four voice mails—one from my sister, two from my father and one from my ex-wife, June. Each message contained questions concerning my whereabouts and frantic pleas for me to come home. “You’re worrying us all sick,” my sister said, crying a little. “We love you, Bain. Everyone knows you went through hell over there and the judge will take that into consideration. So, please, don’t give up.”

Now I’m worried they will try tracking me using GPS.

 

# # #

 

Someone has been leaving bizarre notes under my door. I suspect the maid, who is also the proprietor’s wife. A Middle Eastern family runs this hotel. I’ve seen the kids playing out by the garden in their turbans and veils and heard them frolicking in the hall.

The first note, hand-printed in red ink on blue Sky Hotel stationary and accompanied by a mint wrapped in green foil, simply stated: “Hope you are enjoying your stay.”

The next day a similarly penned note, reeking of some exotic jasmine-scented perfume, read, “I see you request Do Not Disturb. But I yearn to come in.”

Immediately upon reading it, I flung open the door but found no one in the hall.

 

# # #

 

June said she couldn’t take being around me anymore. “You brood too much,” she said.

“No one talks like that,” I replied. “What’s really going on?”

She slapped my face and started crying. I fired a bottle of Coors at the TV.

I had hoped for an explosion but instead the plasma cracked, sending colorful liquid snakes branching out in every direction, like a fast-forward underground video of a plant taking root.

 

# # #

 

Do you still think about that boy soldier? I can’t forget his face.

What’s memorable about it? He sort of grinned when the bullets hit him, as if he’d won.

Do you think he won? He’s dead. I’m alive.

So who really won?

 

# # #

 

Ten days of TV and booze and my own warped thoughts. At times I want to tear out my teeth and ping them one by one into the aluminum garbage can across the room, then smile a bloody toothless smile into the mirror before I punch it and let those silver slivers of glass drive up through my knuckles and sever the arteries in my wrists.

 

# # #

 

The note yesterday (no mint this time) asked, “Do you plan to reside here permanently?”

I took my Beretta M9 out of the nightstand and aimed it at the door.

One thing I won’t tolerate at this point is a smart aleck dot head.

No, sir.

 

# # #

 

In last night’s tedium I watched a sci-fi movie and when I saw a view of the earth from space it looked like the Cyclops-eye of the grim reaper finally coming for me in his nebulous black cloak.

 

# # #

 

In the end, I left June the house. Turned out she’d already made plans to divorce me while I was overseas. She just needed me to physically sign the papers. Makes me wonder if the whole time I was gone she was hoping I’d get killed over there so she could collect the life insurance.

 

# # #

 

Did you get a medal for killing him? Yes.

Are you proud of it? No.

Why are you lying again?

 

# # #

 

Outside, it’s raining. It’s been raining for so goddamn long I don’t remember when it began. Wide brown streams flow down the gutters of the sloped street, carrying miniature debris on an unknown course as though coyly pointing out another dismal metaphor for life.

 

# # #

 

Today’s note reads: “This place is already haunted. Go home.”

Later, after I blare Anasheeds loud enough to shake this building’s foundation, I’ll toss it in the trash with my teeth. Then maybe I’ll embark on my own private jihad, killing every hajji I see.

 

# # #

 

I’m standing at the window contemplating the better days they promised at the VA when my cell begins ringing again. Seconds later, the room phone starts dinging too, a deafening alarm-like shrill that echoes off the walls. I realize I will soon be forced into action. My guns already loaded, I continue staring down at the wet garden and the rain falling in its fountain—large, heavy drops that penetrate the rusty water like bullets.

Front page image by Rob Sinclair.

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Greg Girvan

About the Author

Greg Girvan grew up in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Slippery Rock University. His writing has appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Wisconsin Review, TPQ Online, Sleet Magazine, Our Stories, and a number of other periodicals. He currently works as a freelance writer and editor in Pittsburgh.
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