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


  • Fiction


  • 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 5 out of 21. - I post a chapter per week.

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Previous Chapter


The first few days, I kept expecting the cops to show up and question me, but nothing happened. Finally, I reached out to an old mutual acquaintance, casually mentioning that John wasn’t responding to his texts. It was a risk, but I needed to know. He told me that Suzie was in a coma, and John was missing. The police were on the lookout for John. Their current theory was that he’d been having an affair, and when Suzie found out, he’d beaten her unconscious, taken the car, and fled.

The town that they’d moved to never had much of a police force, and budget cuts meant that a few smalltown cops needed to cover a large area. It made sense that they went for the classic “the husband did it” angle. It meant that it was off their plate, at least until he popped up somewhere.

After that, I tried my best to forget that any of this had ever happened. At night in bed, I stared at the ceiling, wishing for sleep to come, but my mind kept replaying that moment. My bloody fist hitting John. The look on his face. The image of Suzie lying there. The sound of those final gasps.

Usually, I’d fall into a fitful sleep somewhere between 3 and 4 in the morning, and I’d toss and turn until the alarm would wake me. I would proceed to drag my zombified ass out of bed, pour about a gallon of hot coffee down my throat, and get to work.

It worked for a while, but I started making mistakes. Co-workers were taking notice. At one point, my boss called me into his office to ask if I was OK. I just stared at him, seeing the kind eyes and the scruffy salt and pepper beard, imagining how he’d react if I told him the truth.

I pictured me telling him that I was just peachy, considering I had murdered my best friend after attempting to rape his wife, who also happened to be my ex. Yeah, that would go just great. I made a non-committal grunting sound and mumbled something about sleeping badly. He sent me home, telling me to rest for a few days. Catch up on sleep.

That night, I downed half a bottle of whiskey before bed, determined to finally get a full night of sleep. It did a decent job of quieting my racing thoughts, and I drifted off.

I woke up, shivering. I tried opening my eyes, but they were heavy. My head felt near splitting. The room was dark, with a little light coming through the curtains from the street light outside. I reached for the blankets, but I couldn’t find them. What the hell? I felt around next to the bed, and I found the covers piled up in a bunch on the floor.

I must have been very restless in my sleep, to have kicked them off the bed altogether. I pulled them back over me and started to turn around to go back to sleep. At that moment, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I froze mid-motion. What the hell? I sat up and scanned the room.

Night stand, lamp, the old chair in the corner, where I’d tossed the clothes I’d been wearing that day. Except… that didn’t look like a pile of clothes. My heart skipped a beat, and my chest tightened as my eyes tried to focus. The blurry shape slowly resolved into a human form, sitting in that chair. And then it moved. It moved. He leaned forward enough for the little light coming from outside to illuminate a hauntingly familiar face. John.

He just sat there, with an unreadable look on his face. I couldn’t tell if it was anger, sadness, or something else altogether. I blindly groped for the light switch, but in my panic, my fingers couldn’t find it. I turned my head to locate it, and finally, my fingers found the rocker. Frantically, I clicked the light on and looked at the chair to find only rumpled jeans and an old band shirt. Just my clothes.

I didn’t sleep at all the rest of that night or the next few nights, for that matter. Finally, exhaustion won out, and I got some sleep. John didn’t show again. I told myself it had been a dream, the combination of sleep deprivation and the whiskey making me see things. John was dead. It had been a dream. Just a stupid fucking dream. Probably my conscience, trying to tell me something. It should learn to shut the fuck up.

I got into the habit of having a couple of shots before bed, and I started sleeping more again. I went back to work, and though I wasn’t doing great, I managed to not fuck up too much. I felt my boss’s eyes on me, concerned but also cautious.

Nothing happened for a few weeks. I was still freaked out by the dream I’d had of John staring at me, but he’d been mercifully absent from my dreams since.

It was a grey day, and I’d gotten home late from work, only to find my fridge empty. Some old Chinese food that smelled nowhere near safe to eat, a bottle of ketchup and a few cans of beer: that was the sorry contents of my refrigerator. I sighed, grabbed my coat, and went out, figuring I’d get myself a kebab. It had started to rain, so I turned my collar up. The rain quickly soaked my hair and plastered it to my skull. I cursed as a cold stream of water ran down my neck.

I got to the crosswalk and pressed the button. My mind wandered as I listened to the clicking of the light. Slow, rhythmic clicks, indicating a red light. Click… click… The clicks turned to a rapid rattle, indicating green, so I stepped forward. I was shocked out of my reverie by a blaring car horn and screeching tires. I made eye contact with the driver. He was in his 50s with a shiny bald head and a face that was currently a bright, crimson red. He was screaming something I couldn’t make out, the adrenaline from the scare turning into fuel for his rage. I flipped him a middle finger and pointed at the green light.

Except it wasn’t green.

The light was still red, and as my gaze followed my own pointing finger, I caught a glimpse of a familiar face. John. Again. We locked eyes for a brief moment, but then the car horn blared angrily again.

I realised I was still in the middle of the road and quickly stepped back. When I looked up again, John was gone, as if he’d never been there in the first place.

I ended up eating maybe three bites of the kebab before throwing the rest out. My stomach was tied in knots and not much capable of tolerating food. I had the beers for dinner instead. Liquid dinner. It’s what astronauts did, right?

A few weeks later, Joey celebrated his birthday. He was this kid that had only recently started working at the garage. He invited all of us out for beers, to celebrate his 20th birthday.

Some of the other guys sometimes went for drinks after work, but nobody liked me enough to have ever asked me along. I was fine with that, I preferred to drink alone anyway. Joey must not have picked up on any of that, and I couldn’t bring myself to turn him down when he asked. So, I joined in.

After a few beers, I found myself actually having fun. These guys were not my friends, but they were decent people. I told some tall tales, cracked a few jokes. The laughter was genuine, and for the first time since that night at the house, I felt like myself. The weight I carried wasn’t gone, but I’d managed to put it down for a little while.

When Joey started ordering shots, I debated for a second, and then thought “Fuck it”. I hardly remembered what it felt like not to feel shitty. I had earned this. I downed the shot, and then another, and another. By the time we all went home, I was far beyond just a good buzz. I walked out to my car, but when my first attempt to unlock the door ended up scratching the paint instead, I thought better of it. I would just walk home. The fresh air would do me good.

It was a solid hour’s walk home, and the shortest way was through the fields. There weren’t any street lights, which meant that it was pretty much pitch black except for moonlight. It was cloudy enough to make even that intermittent at best. The night was quiet. No real sounds of cars, just the wind in the grass, and the occasional sounds of small creatures scurrying about their business.

My feet made soft sounds on the road. The open fields were intersected with canals for drainage. Many of them were dry, but some were filled with mud and dirty water. It had rained recently, and the breeze carried an earthy scent, mixed with the smell of rotting vegetation. Sometimes, when the wind blew the clouds away from the moon, I’d see a glint of moonlight reflecting on water. I found myself thinking this landscape did strange things to sounds. One moment my footsteps would sound completely dampened, the next they’d echo loudly.

I suppressed a shiver. The cold was clearing some of the alcohol out of my system, and I was starting to regret my decision to walk home. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but it meant I’d be doing this same trek in the opposite direction tomorrow while sporting a hangover, or paying for a taxi. Neither sounded very appealing.

A quick movement caught my eye, and I stopped. I caught sight of a fluffy tail disappearing into the bushes. Probably a fox or a marten that was spooked by the sound of me approaching. I started walking again, but something nagged at the back of my mind. The echoes of my footsteps. They sounded… off.

I stopped again and listened. The sound of my steps, fading away… except the rhythm didn’t quite seem to match. I took four slow and deliberate steps, then counted. One… two… three… four… five. Five echoes. Two more steps… one… two… three echoes.

A cold sweat was forming on my back, and my heart started to pound in my chest. My throat suddenly felt as dry as sandpaper. I turned around and tried to scan the darkness, but I couldn’t make anything out. I tried to call out, but the sound that came out was more of a croak than anything else.

“Hello? Who’s there?”

The night was dead silent. Nothing moved. I was about to tell myself it was all in my head when I heard it. Right next to my ear. A whisper. Soft. Intimate.

“You know who.”

I fucking ran. I ran with everything I had. Lungs burning, legs pumping. Trying not to puke. I was no athlete, but sheer terror drove me forward. I was running blindly, and when my foot hit a pothole, I went down hard. I managed to break my fall somewhat with my hands, but I badly scraped my palms open. They were bleeding, and little bits of gravel had lodged themselves underneath my skin.

Breathing hard, I scrambled to my knees and listened. There it was. Slow deliberate steps, coming my way. Now that I heard them clearly, I wondered how I could have ever mistaken them for echoes.

I needed to get away, get back to where there were street lights. Maybe flag down a car… something. Despite the pain in my chest, the burning in my lungs, the stitch in my side, I ran. My body protested against the abuse, but I ran with everything I had. I willed myself not to look back, afraid of what I knew I’d see.

I must have tripped or missed a turn in the dark, I don’t know. The next thing I remembered was an ER doctor shining a bright light into my eyes. A passing car had found me. I had been lying unconscious in one of the canals. There hadn’t been enough water in there to drown in, but I had severe hypothermia. The doctors told me I had gotten lucky, another hour, and I’d have been dead.

As I lay in that hospital bed, I went over the past few weeks in my head. Everything that had happened. Waking up shivering with John staring at me. Nearly getting hit by that car. And now… now this. What the hell was happening to me? I’d been pretty drunk, but I could handle my alcohol usually. I sure as hell had never seen things like this before, but then again, I had never killed anybody before either.

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