A book cover, showing a man wearing a hoodie. The title is
Ashtar Deza
by Ashtar Deza
10 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 19 out of 21. - I post a chapter per week.

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19

My feet kept slipping in the mud, and several times, I nearly lost my footing. On one occasion, I went down hard on one knee, painfully banging it on a rock. Every step hurt. My foot was on fire, and my legs and knee were aching. My back was protesting more and more with every step I took.

Finally, I made it to the lakeside. It looked much the same as I remembered it. The wooden pavilion had acquired some new graffiti, and the paint was more peeled and weathered than I remembered it. Apart from that, nothing had really changed. For a moment, a deep sense of sadness and loss came over me. We’d been so happy here back then, Suzie, John and me. Our little triad now turned into a horrific parody of itself.

Everything had gotten fucked up. I had fucked it all up.

I sighed. This wasn’t getting me anywhere. I’d finally made it to the pavilion, and I gently lowered Suzie down on the bench. I should have brought the blanket from the car to cover her. At least she was out of the rain. I allowed myself to relish the short reprieve for a minute, stretching the aching muscles in my back. I couldn’t stay here long. Now that I’d stopped moving, the chill started to settle into my bones. I needed to get on my way quickly, or I’d be overcome by hypothermia.

Shithole wasn’t huge, but the Hole was on the other side of town. In a straight line, it would take me about 30 minutes to get there, but I wanted to avoid people as much as I could. That meant taking the long way round. The rain let up a little bit and settled into a steady drizzle. It was getting late in the day, and the sky took on the darker colours of night.

I kept my head down and slogged on, the weight of the backpack making my shoulders ache. The rope ladder was heavier than it looked, and the aluminium rungs kept poking my back. I tried to resettle it into a more comfortable position, but all that accomplished was that I was now poked in a different spot by a different strut. I resolved to just ditch the ladder once I’d gotten the bones. It would make the trip back much easier.

I became aware of a second set of footsteps right next to me. I looked up to see John walking alongside me. His hands were in his pockets, his back slightly bent. The rain wasn’t visibly affecting him, but he seemed burdened by a weight nonetheless. I looked over at him but just kept walking. Either he killed me, or I got rid of him. Either way, this was ended tonight.

I was too cold, too exhausted, too damn sick of all this shit to muster any more reaction than that. I remembered blindly running away, overcome by terror, back when I first heard him in those fields. The thought brought a cynical smile to my face. Look at me now.

He kept pace with me, walking in silence. I gave him an annoyed look.

“What the fuck are you looking at? If you’re going to do something, just fucking do it. Else, leave me the fuck alone.”

He didn’t respond. I hadn’t really expected him to, anyway. We kept walking in silence for a while, the only sound was that of the wind in the trees. I wasn’t completely sure when he disappeared. One moment, he’d still been there, quietly slogging along, and then he was gone again.

For a moment, I realised it felt… lonely. John had been the one constant in my life for all these years. First as my friend, and now as… whatever the hell he was. Then, a branch rubbed past the partially healed brand on my shoulder making me wince. I absent-mindedly rubbed the skin on my other arm where John had scalded me. It still itched like all hell on certain days. I looked down at my missing pinky and my mangled foot. Plenty of reminders of why I needed to get rid of John… tonight.

I was drenched, miserable, and exhausted by the time I finally made it to the Hole. By now, I felt like there wasn’t a single muscle in my body that didn’t hurt. I was definitely going to pay for this in the coming days, but right now I needed to push through. I scouted around for a good spot to attach the ladder, and I settled on a sturdy looking tree. I took extra care tying solid knots and making sure they were tight. My life would quite literally depend on them. I found myself going back to check again, looking around, double-checking my backpack… I realised I was procrastinating, putting off the moment when I actually had to start descending the ladder.

I was dreading going down there. Knowing what I’d find. Being confronted with the physical evidence of what I’d done. I shook my head. I was a fucking Wolf, RuneMaster had told me so himself. Some old bones shouldn’t scare me. Before my courage could leave me again, I grabbed the ladder and carefully started the climb down.

The walls of the Hole glistened with moisture from the rain, and it smelled damp and musty. The top part was still rough concrete, but soon, the inside walls were just old brick covered in moss. The musty smell mixed with the scent of decay. Old mould and garbage. John most likely wasn’t the only dead thing down here.

After what felt like an eternity, I finally made it to the bottom. My feet partially sunk into the wet sand, squelching at every step. It was pitch black. The moon was still mostly hidden behind heavy clouds, and what little light it did cast mostly didn’t make it all the way down here.

I rummaged around in my backpack and grabbed a flashlight. As was to be expected, the bottom of the Hole looked like a garbage dump. Random crap was strewn everywhere. People had been dumping shit down the Hole for ages. I found myself thinking that finding John’s bones might not be as simple as I’d hoped.

I soon found out that I was very, very wrong about that. John’s bones could not have been easier to find if there had been a neon sign pointing to them.

I started walking along the walls, thinking I’d systematically search the refuse littering the floor. Soon, I came to a little area that seemed cleared out. Up against the wall, in the middle of that area, was a pile made of some wooden crates and bricks. An old bicycle frame was propped up against it, tied down with the bike’s inner tubes.

John’s body was sitting against the wall, next to the pile. One of his feet was pointing in an unnatural direction.

The truth hit me like a freight train. John hadn’t been dead.

I thought I’d murdered him, but I hadn’t. At least not at the moment I thought I had. Instead, I had done something way, way worse. I had condemned him to starve to death at the bottom of this well.

Looking closer, the corpse told a terrible story. On the floor, next to his hand, was a rusty old switch-blade. The front of his shirt had been drenched in blood. It was now a dull, rusty colour, but there hadn’t been that much blood when I dumped him here.

He… he had cut his own throat.

I reeled at the enormity of what I had done. The world spun around me for a moment, and I needed to steady myself against a wall. I dropped to my haunches, letting the dizziness pass. Finally, I managed to steady myself. Yes, it was horrific, but it wouldn’t help me to dwell on it. John was dead, and no amount of my feeling bad would bring him back.

Ultimately, the exact way he died didn’t make a difference. The fact of the matter was that he was dead and haunting me. After all that had happened, I seriously doubted that me saying: “Oh, oops. I didn’t realise you died in such a shitty manner, I’m sorry” would make a lot of difference.

I could feel bad later. Right now, I didn’t have time for this. John could show up at any time, and something told me he wouldn’t be so passive as he had been on the walk over here.

I needed one of his bones.

I had expected him to be a skeleton, and I had been mostly right. His hair was still there, and in some places, little patches of skin still clung to him. He was still wearing his clothes, but they were heavily stained with blood and mud.

I hadn’t really given much thought to which bone I’d get. I’d pictured myself just kind of walking over to a pile of bones and picking one out. That wasn’t going to work. His tendons were not completely gone, and mostly still held him together. Most of him was covered by his clothes, and undressing him somehow felt… wrong. Even after everything I had done to him and everything he had done to me, undressing his corpse to take a bone still felt a step too far. Like I’d be humiliating him. Like it would be an affront.

My gaze fell on his hand. Yes, that would work. His pinky. There was a kind of poetic justice to that. I’d lost my pinky trying to get rid of him, and now he’d lose his to finally seal the deal.

I took the shears from my backpack and grabbed his hand. The back of my neck prickled, like I was being watched. I scanned my surroundings, expecting to see John. Ghost John, not Corpse John. Fuck, this was confusing! There was nothing. He was nowhere to be seen.

I shrugged and got to work. The shears easily snipped through his finger, giving me three finger bones to work with. That should be plenty. Then, I reconsidered and snipped off his other pinky as well. Couldn’t hurt to have a spare.

I put both fingers into a ziplock bag and stuffed everything into my backpack. Again, that feeling. Eyes on me. I looked around, shining my flashlight into every little corner, but I didn’t see anything. The garbage lying around cast eerie shadows, but nothing moved.

I shrugged, put the flashlight away, and started climbing the rope ladder. I gave it a few good tugs to make sure it was still securely attached, and once I was satisfied, I started the slow climb up.

My foot hurt more with every rung I climbed. The concentrated force of my weight pressing down on the rungs put strain on the spot where it had been broken. I gritted my teeth and kept climbing.

I was about halfway up when the sensation came again. I was positive that I was being watched. I looked around, and this time, I also looked up. Far above me was the bright circle of sky, formed by the entrance to the hole. And there, eclipsed in the light, was a face. A grim face, covered in angry red burn marks, his beard singed away in places. Sarge.

I locked eyes with him, and he gave me an angry look that slowly turned into a feral grin. With slow movements, he first flipped me off and then pulled out his big knife.

As he started sawing at the ropes, I had a split second to decide. Should I try to move up or down? Down could spare me a fall, but I’d be stuck at the bottom of the hole with John. Up was my only real option, but the chances of me making it were tiny. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t really a choice at all. Up. I climbed with everything I had, ignoring the pain in my foot, the burning of the muscles in my back, the screaming of my lower arms and hands.

I put on every burst of speed I could. It was no use. With a loud twang, one of the ropes snapped. I swung to the side like a pendulum, holding on to the strut in my hand for dear life.

Sarge’s face appeared again.

“This is how we treat renegades. You’re not even worthy to string up for Wodan. May the ravens feed on your corpse instead.”

After one more stroke of the knife, the second rope snapped as well, and I plummeted towards the bottom of the Hole.

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