Some places are all history.
I grew up in what some would call a dying town. I don’t think that was an especially apt descriptor – “dying” implies an end is near. My town wasn’t approaching any inevitable end-point – it was just stuck in time. A place with a deep past, but no future.
My grandmother’s house was haunted by an old woman who had lived and died there one hundred years previous. Growing up, I would occasionally catch glimpses of her going about her business in the spirit version of our house, as unconcerned by our presence as we were by hers. She always wore finery, I recall – every time I saw her, she was wearing an evening gown. Never the same one twice.
As soon as I was old enough, I moved away and sought a place with no ghosts. That was harder than you’d think.
I moved every six months or so, from apartments to student ghetto bungalows to rooming houses to basement rentals. But no matter where I lived, I’d still see spectres out of the corner of my eye – anomalies that would appear very vividly for a fraction of a second, before they disappeared so completely it was as if they’d never been there at all. Moving shadows in empty rooms. Solitary figures sitting cross-legged on my bed. Reflections in mirrors that were not my own.
Not everyone sees ghosts. You have to be, dare I say, supernaturally observant. But when you start to notice them, you see them wherever they lurk. It’s an ability I’ve been afflicted with from an early age.
When I moved here last year, I thought that would change.
This city is all future. They don’t let anything grow old here; any building standing for more than twenty years is knocked down and rebuilt.
It’s a thrilling place at first, all oil money, gleaming glass structures plunging into big empty skies and high-speed trains hurtling across urban plains. But after a while, it starts to feel claustrophobic in its rootlessness, like being marooned in outer space. The city has no history; there’s nothing to grab onto.
Walking these streets leaves me with a feeling of unease I can’t quite place.
Dead centre downtown there is a massive skyscraper made of curved blue glass and white girders. It’s a beautiful, crystalline building, and I often find myself transfixed by its wondrous symmetries.
One evening, I walked over to the tower with my camera. I took several photos from afar, trying to convey the sheer height of the structure, before realizing I’d need to be closer. As I was kneeling at the base of the building, a man tapped me on the shoulder. He was old, wild-eyed, wearing his Sunday best but seemingly covered in a thin film of dust.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded. I started to stammer that I was taking a photo, but he cut me off. “This is my property!”
I looked around and back up at the skyscraper, the tallest building in the city. This property was certainly owned by some corporate entity, not this strange old man.
“My land!” he cried, increasingly hysterical.
I stood up; my camera, secured by a strap around my neck, thumped against my chest. I raised my hands in a gesture of harmlessness. “Okay, sir. I’m leaving.” The man lunged at me.
I saw the muscles in his legs tense up before he propelled himself towards me, giving me the barest of head starts. I sprinted in the opposite direction as fast as I could. Vaguely, I registered passersby turning to look at me and wondered why none of them were intervening. As I hit the sidewalk, I stumbled.
There was a vague sensation of being airborne before I found myself skidding across the pavement, my elbow taking the brunt of the fall. I didn’t feel the initial impact; it was several seconds before the pain in my scraped arm and twisted ankle started to register.
When I looked up from my injuries, I saw the man standing at the edge of the property, watching me. An instant later, he was gone. Vanished, as they say, into thin air.
From that day on, I started paying attention again.
There are ghosts here, too, I’ve learned – they’re just not as rooted. If you cast your eyes to the side while walking in a crowd, you’ll notice people dressed in rags. If you look at them closely enough, you’ll note that the clothes they wear, though threadbare, are old-fashioned and even elegant in appearance. Sometimes, if you watch them for long enough, they’ll disappear before your eyes.
The ghosts here are vagrants, aimlessly wandering streets they no longer recognize, the houses they once haunted long since demolished.
Madison McSweeney is a writer and poet from Ottawa, Canada. She has published horror and fantasy stories in Deadman’s Tome, Unnerving Magazine, Women in Horror Annual Vol. 2, and Dark Horizons: An Anthology of Dark Science Fiction, as well as Zombie Punks F*** Off (due for release later this year) and the summer issue of Polar Borealis. Her poetry has appeared in The Fulcrum and in the forthcoming Cockroach Conservatory, Vol. 1. She blogs at madisonmcsweeney.com, mainly about genre fiction and the Canadian music scene.