A book cover, showing a man wearing a hoodie. The title is
Ashtar Deza
by Ashtar Deza
8 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 12 out of 21. - I post a chapter per week.

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Previous Chapter


12

I had never realised how much my drinking at night had affected my days. For the first few days of going cold turkey, I was sick as a dog. My hands shook, I was bathed in sweat, and my dreams were filled with monsters. But… as horrible as they were, John was mercifully absent.

I got lucky with my hand. It hurt like hell for a while, it burned and throbbed, but it never got too badly infected. I might have been feverish for a few days, but in the midst of withdrawal, it was hard to tell. I guess my makeshift efforts at disinfection by boiling the shears and blades had worked. It would have been the fucking height of irony if I had survived all John’s attempts to kill me, only to be done in by sepsis.

After a week or so, my head started to clear. I noticed how much better I felt when waking up in the morning. No more headaches, no more brain fog. The world looked like a different place. Colours were more vibrant, and everything just seemed brighter.

The ordeal I’d been through had left some deep marks. I could generally keep the rune carved into my chest hidden well enough. The leather pouch around my neck drew some looks, but nobody commented on it. What people did notice was the missing part of my finger, and I got some questions about what happened.

I made up some story about how I’d tried to fix the hinges on a door and someone had swung it open, trapping my finger between the door and the jamb. It made people wince, but they seemed to buy it.

I found a new job, driving a tow truck for a different garage. Nobody was letting me fix cars again after the incident with the brakes, but I guess they figured I couldn’t do too much damage bringing in stranded motorists.

I never took off the pouch, not even in the shower. The leather soon took on a deep shiny patina, but the amulet held. After a while, the contents of the pouch started to stink, so then there was the gruesome business of taking out the finger to boil it and strip off the flesh. I must have drunk a full pot of coffee before I had the courage to take it out of the pouch. I wanted to be absolutely, positively certain that I was as awake and clear-headed as I could possibly be. I did not want to give John even the slightest opportunity to get his hooks into me again. Luckily, nothing happened besides getting the jitters and spending a long time in the bathroom.

As soon as it was properly cleaned off, I replaced it and didn’t take it out again. I won’t say I always slept well, but I always woke up in my own bed. The nightmare was finally over. Life hadn’t gotten back to how it used to be, but this was a new normal that I could get used to.


Things had gone well for about a year, when I got the call.

My shift was almost over, and I was already looking forward to zoning out in front of the TV. Then, the phone rang. It was a woman on the other end. She sounded tired, but with an edge of panic in her voice, saying she’d gotten a flat tire. She was now stranded on the side of the road and didn’t know what to do. I could tell by her voice that she was trying to keep it together, but she was clearly nearing the end of her rope. I decided my shows could wait a little while longer, so I got in my truck and drove out to her.

I found her next to her car, wringing her hands and frantically typing on her phone. She was probably in her late 20s or early 30s, but worry was already starting to etch its lines into her face. Her eyes had the tired look of someone who can’t remember their last good night’s sleep. I’d recognise that look anywhere.

The whole story came spilling out of her. How she was supposed to be home looking after her daughter, but her boss had forced her to work overtime. Her mum had been with the kid but needed to leave, or she’d be late for her own shift. The kid was home alone now, getting more scared and upset by the minute.

I looked at her car, her clothes. The car was ancient, it was a miracle it was still on the road at all. Her clothes also looked like they’d been laundered too many times and were decidedly thread-bare in places. My job was to tow her to the garage, where they could change the tire for her and charge her a premium for a new one. I took another look, and my heart went out to her. Then I had an idea. A car this old, it probably still had a real spare in the trunk.

I asked her if I could look in her trunk, and there it was. It wouldn’t be a permanent replacement, but at least it would get her back on the road. It would allow her to take the car somewhere cheap and maybe find a used tire that would fit.

I gave her a smile.

“You know what? How about I just put this on for you, and I tell the guys at the shop that there was nothing wrong with your car?”

“You would do that?”

“Yeah, no sweat. Times are tough, and I’ve been there. We should help each other out, right?”

I grabbed the big cross-shaped lug wrench from my truck. Judging by the look of the car, I didn’t expect the lugs to come undone easily. I’d need all the leverage I could get.

My truck didn’t carry a jack, so I had to make do with the flimsy one that came with the car. It wasn’t great, but it didn’t need to do much. Just lift the car far enough off the ground to change the wheel. Simple enough.

I started by loosening the lug nuts while the wheel was still on the ground. As I’d already expected, they were pretty rusted and put up a lot of resistance. One of them was stuck badly enough that I needed to stand on the wrench to get it to budge, using all of my body weight.

Finally, it moved, and I jacked the car up higher, so the wheel was off the ground. I should be able to undo the lugs by hand now. Three of them came off easily, but the one that had been stuck refused to come undone completely. I tried with all my strength, but my fingers slipped, and a sharp edge tore a gash in my thumb. I let out a growl of rage.

“Are you OK? If it’s too much trouble, I can just take the bus home.”

She had walked up to me to see how I was doing, but I could tell that my outburst of anger had scared her. It showed in her body language, the way she looked at me more guardedly now. For a moment it was like I was experiencing double vision. The look that Suzie had given me right before I grabbed her, overlaid with the look that this woman was giving me now. I shook my head to get rid of the image.

“Yeah, I’m alright. It’s just rusted. I thought I’d gotten it loose enough, but I’ll need to use the wrench again. Don’t worry, I’ll have you on your way again in no time.”

I grabbed the wrench to loosen that one stubborn nut. I really should put the car back on the ground for this, but I didn’t want to take even longer. I put the wrench on the lug, leaned into it, and pushed down with all my might. It suddenly gave way, and I nearly lost my balance. The back of the wrench painfully whacked me in the jaw.

I tried to stop myself from crying out from the pain, not wanting to scare her further, but I could see her backing further away from me. Goddammit, why the hell couldn’t I do this right? A simple fucking wheel replacement, and I was making a mess of it. She might have given me her number, but that chance was out the window now.

I grabbed the wheel and pulled it off the car, but as I moved to put it down, I saw a sight that made my blood run cold. Right there, on the ground. The pouch, with its string snapped in two. The realisation hit me: when the wrench struck me in the face, it must have also snagged the string and broken it. Before I had time to fully process that realisation, several things happened all at once.

I became aware of a creaking sound, and I barely had time to wonder if I had remembered to engage the e-brake, when the car came crashing down. I tried to jump backwards, but I tripped on the wrench and landed on my ass while still holding the wheel. My feet were stretched out before me, and the hub came down straight onto my foot. The edge bit down deep, snapping bones like dry twigs.

I was vaguely aware of the woman screaming, and I remember thinking this should hurt more. The fact that I didn’t feel more pain probably meant something really bad for my nerves. Then I wasn’t thinking at all anymore.

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