A book cover, showing a man wearing a hoodie. The title is
Ashtar Deza
by Ashtar Deza
5 min read

Categories

  • Fiction

Tags

  • Ghost story
  • Horror
Content warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence, Self-harm, Death, Rape, Suicide Attempts, Alcohol Abuse/Alcoholism, Trauma

This is a ghost story. This means it’s a story about bitterness, regret and loss. A story about how sometimes our mistakes come back to haunt us.

This is chapter 1 out of 21. - I post a chapter per week.

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1

John almost succeeded today. I came to just in time, feeling the rough abrasive texture of the rope around my neck, my feet on the edge of the foot stool. For one heart-stopping moment, I thought I’d lose my balance, but I managed to regain it.

Very gently, I loosened the noose and stepped off the stool. I collapsed on the ground, breathing hard. He had never come this close before. With shaking hands, I pulled the flask out of my pocket and took a swig. The liquor burned, going down my throat. It was cheap shit, but that was all I could afford these days.

Ah, who am I kidding… It had been a while since I could afford anything decent. I hadn’t been able to hold on to a job ever since… well… since. As the work available to me became shittier, so did the booze that I could afford to numb the pain.

Drinking was always a crap shoot. Generally, I stopped seeing John after the second drink or so, and I’d have some semblance of peace for a while. But once I fell asleep… that’s when he’d come back. I’d wake up, and he would be there. Some days, he would just be staring at me from the foot of my bed. Those were the days I could deal with. But other days… on other days, I’d find myself in situations like this. Balancing on the edge of my own demise.

So far, I’d always been able to pull back just in time, but the escapes were getting narrower.


John and I grew up together. He was always the handsome one, the successful one. I tagged along, hoping some of his shine would rub off on me. I was never quite sure if he really liked me, pitied me, or was simply using me to make himself look better. Honestly, I didn’t really want to know.

We grew up in Shithole. Obviously, that’s not what the signs at the town limits said, but it is what they should have read. It was the kind of place that city folks used to scare their kids. Back in the 50s, it had been a proud hub of industry, but all those jobs had long since disappeared overseas. Everybody that could get out had long since done so.

The people who got left behind were all just scraping to get by. My old man used to work a factory job until he got laid off. Now, he mostly sat around watching TV, drinking cheap beer, and shouting at the world in general. To keep his benefits, he had to write a bunch of application letters each week. Putting as much profanity as humanly possible in those were one of the few joys he had left.

There wasn’t much of a nightlife, but we made the best of it. There was the seedy bar that the old guys would drink at and the grungy little discotheque. We’d buy cheap supermarket beers to get us started, then go to that little discotheque and hit on all the cute girls.

Oh, the girls, they flocked to him. None of them would ever give me a second glance while he was around. But, he never once ditched me. If some girl tried to get him to come home with her, he’d always just ask for her number instead. Only on the rare occasion that we’d both been able to meet someone interesting would he take them up on the offer. I always wondered if I’d be as chivalrous if the situation were reversed, but of course, I never got to test that theory.

We both graduated when we were 17, and I knew John would be leaving for college in September. During the summer, he got a job doing data entry work at the office where his dad worked. From what he told me, he had about 2 hours of actual work per day, so he spent most of the time reading comics. They had decent coffee and air-conditioning. With a big grin, he told me that he thought the receptionist liked him. He was thinking that maybe he should try asking her out.

When I went looking for a job, I was less lucky. With no college prospects to speak of, I figured I would pretty much need to pick between flipping burgers and cleaning toilets. That summer, one of the big online retailers opened up a warehouse nearby. When I got the opportunity to work there, I jumped at it. It was shitty pay, and my feet killed me at the end of a shift, but at least it didn’t involve hot grease or actual shit. The work was hard but not relentless. It certainly beat the alternatives.

That summer was exceptionally hot, and the heat of the days tended to linger long into the night. It made spending time indoors unpleasant, to say the least, so we stayed out until late most evenings.

Our favourite hang-out spot was the local lake. Shithole was far from the ocean, and there were no natural bodies of water in the area. So, in the heyday of the town, an artificial lake had been created. Basically, it was just a big pit dug into the ground. Trees had been planted around it to add some greenery. There was even something resembling a beach, where they’d trucked in sand to make the lakeside more appealing. It wasn’t great, but it was something.

After we’d get off work, John and I would buy some beers and just hang out on that beach. We’d watch the sun sink, talk about girls and our favourite TV shows, and tell bad jokes.

On the few nights that it did rain, we took shelter in the pavilion. The name made it sound way more fancy than it was. It was more of a wooden shack with an open front, near the edge of the lake. It had originally been meant as a meeting spot during the colder months of the year.

Some optimistic city planner had probably envisioned senior citizens sitting there, watching the sun go down and sharing stories of the glory days. In reality, it was mostly used by teenagers who needed a place to smoke and drink beer away from the gaze of their parents.

It was old and rickety, but it had a roof and a little bench. We’d sit on the bench and listen to the patter of the rain on the roof while getting ever more drunk. Those were good days. I’d forget about all the other shit for a while. I tried not to think past that summer. Who knew what would happen.

That was when I met Suzie.


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