CHAPTER FOUR – GHOST
Tristan wiped the tears away as he raced home on his motorcycle. His vision blurred as the bike hovered half a foot off the ground. He could have set it to autopilot and have the bike take him home itself, but he needed to have some control. If he made a mistake, the autopilot should kick in and correct it before he crashed. He hoped it would anyway.
How could I have been so stupid? Tristan slammed his right palm against the handlebars of his bike. That’s why he’s been so distant for weeks. That’s why he wouldn’t fucking kiss me tonight! He’d fuck me but not kiss me! He was with Christian. He wants to be with Christian.
Tristan had never felt dirty after sex. He’d always been free with his body, enjoying his own sensuality. But now he just wanted to take a shower, wash Jace off his body and try to forget this night. I should have stayed home. I should have been there for Caleb’s birthday dinner.
He felt sick with himself about that. He’d chosen Jace over his family. Jace who was fucking someone else while Tristan agonized over everything about their relationship, wanting Jace to feel secure in his affection even though they were going to be separated by thousands of miles in a few months. I was pledging my loyalty to him and he was – was cheating on me.
Tristan turned onto his street. He noticed that the streetlight outside of his house was out. He frowned slightly. Had the lamp burnt out? He didn’t think that was possible. Maybe something was wrong with the mechanism. He pulled into his driveway. Uncle Richard’s car wasn’t there yet. He was probably still out schmoozing his way to the top again. The motorbike settled down onto the ground as he shut the engine off. He swung his leg off of it and walked heavily to the front door.
The security system recognized him and the front door automatically opened. All the lights in his house were out. Only moonlight flowed through the windows. His frown returned. The system should have turned on the foyer light for him, but it remained stubbornly off. He opened his mouth to query the system when he heard a sound from upstairs.
“Mom? Dad? Caleb?” he called. But there was no response.
Tristan crossed from the foyer to the bottom of the stairs. He tried the lights physically by flicking the switch up and down, but the lights remained off. A trill of unease ran through him. If the power was out, the emergency orange lighting should have been on. The system should have been indicating a problem, but it showed green across the board of the control panel by the front door.
Just no lights. What the hell is going on here?
Tristan started up the stairs. His boots echoed and the wooden steps creaked beneath him with every move he made. There was a rustling at the top on the landing. He squinted and thought he saw something glowing white up there.
“Hello? Who’s there?” Tristan called.
The whiteness moved towards the top step and something looked down at him. Tristan froze. It was person. But something was terribly wrong with them. Their clothes looked to be a simple white wrap, which extended from their neck to their ankles and down to their wrists. Except he couldn’t see their head. There was just blackness there. And at the end of the sleeves of their flowing white garment, where hands should have been, there was blackness there, too.
The hair on the back of Tristan’s neck stood up on end. His breathing sped up and frosted the air in front of him. He jerked back when he saw that. The air outside was over seventy degrees Fahrenheit and it was warmer than that in here, but his breath was literally frosting as if it were below freezing.
“Who – who are you?” Tristan got out through chattering teeth.
The figure advanced towards him. One step. Then another. Until only three steps separated them. A crawling sense of horror beat through Tristan’s body as he realized that the person did have a head. Of course they have a head! How could they be moving without a head? But long black hair flowed over their bone white face. He could just see the reflection of moonlight in a flickering black eye between the heavy strands. It was staring at him. Unblinking.
“What the hell are you doing in my house?” Tristan asked. “If –if you don’t get out of here – I’m going to call the cops!”
He stepped towards the figure, letting anger chase away his fear. The figure drew away from him. Step for step. Retreating as he advanced.
“You need to get the hell out of my house!” he yelled.
That was when he realized as his own booted feet thumped against the floorboards that the figure’s did not. It made no sound. He looked down. No feet. It had no feet. And no hands. No feet and no hands.
What the hell is going on here?
Panic flooded his chest. His heart hammered and his breathing changed to staccato gasps. The figure was now on the landing. Floating on the landing. That awful black eye was staring at him, unwinking, through the mass of black hair.
“Who are you? WHO ARE YOU?” Tristan yelled at it.
The figure slipped away down the hall. Gliding in its terrible way towards his parents’ bedroom. Fear laid its icy hand on his heart then and he paused. He would hate himself for that momentary hesitation later. He would wonder if he hadn’t gone after it immediately, if he hadn’t stopped for that half a moment, if things would have turned out differently. But he had stopped. He had felt the sickness of terror go through him. But then he heard a gasping breath from his parents’ bedroom and he took off down the hall.
“MOM! DAD!” Tristan cried.
He burst through the doorway. Moonlight streamed in through the windows on either side of his parent’s large bed. His mother always slept on the right side and his father on the left. In all the years he could remember, they always slept a foot apart.
Your father is so warm! I’d melt away if we cuddled for long, Georgia had always said.
And that’s what he saw at first. Two bodies lying peacefully on their backs. Still in slumber. So still that not even their chests were rising as they breathed. They weren’t breathing. Tristan then saw the figure hovering over his mother’s face. Its long hair was pulled back and a gaping mouth, a raw black wound, was an inch over his mother’s parted lips and something was passing from his mother to the figure. He saw her skin whiten, her mouth blacken and horrible jagged lines stream from her lips up into her cheeks.
“NO!” Tristan screamed.
He rushed the figure. Made to tackle it. His arms were spread wide. He lunged and swept his arms together, intending to grab the figure around the waist and take it down. But his hands passed through its insubstantial body. He remembered feeling only a leaden cold and tasting seawater on his tongue as he fell through the figure and landed face first on the ground. He lay there, stunned. His lower lip had bust open and he felt hot blood stream down his chin. His body ached from landing on the hard floor. He shook his head. Where was the figure?
But then he felt icy fingers against the back of his neck. Still hazy, he jerked and turned over. The figure was above him. He tried to rise, but a leaden coldness held him down. Black hair hung down around his head, obscuring his vision of anything else but the bone-white face above him. The figure's mouth was a black streaked hole. No teeth, tongue or gums. Just blackness that wanted to suck him inside. And the eyes, too, were black as pitch and reflected his terrified face back to him.
He tried to move his arms to shove the figure off of him, but his body wouldn't do as he wanted. He lay there limp and useless. He opened his mouth to shout no, but only a croak came out of him. And his open mouth seemed to draw the figure down. His eyes widened in horror as it opened its black maw above his. He remembered seeing how something had passed from his mother to the figure, how her mouth had blackened and her skin had whitened.
No! It won't do that to me! NO!
The figure inhaled. Tristan felt like all the air was being drawn out of his lungs. But the sucking sensation continued until every ounce of air was gone from his body. Black spots appeared before his eyes. Unconsciousness hovered like a black bird at the edge of his vision. He tried to shut his mouth. But the figure leaned closer and in a parody of a kiss pressed its black mouth to his and inhaled again. The only scream he was able to get out was in his mind. He couldn't breathe. His vision narrowed until it was but a pinpoint of light. His thoughts at that moment though went from himself to that of Caleb, asleep and innocent down the hall. He was dying. He knew that. And this same fate awaited his brother if he did.
Caleb will die like this. Screaming internally. Mouth black. Eyes empty. Body still. No, no, I can't bear this!
And then Tristan could move. Strength flooded his limbs. His hands rose up from the ground and he shoved the figure off of him. He half expected his hands to slide right through the figure like they had when he'd rushed it. But the figure felt solid to him this time, but cold. It was like dousing his hands into icy sea water. His grasped the figure's shoulders and pushed them off of him. The figure tumbled, making no sound as it sank through the floorboards and out of sight. The terrible cold left with it.
He struggled to sit up and inhaled as deep as he could. His lungs felt as if they wouldn't inflate at first. But with each deep breath, the tight sensation eased. He thumped his chest, hoping that his lungs would work better. Finally, his breathing was not hoarse or labored. That was when his hands then went up to his lips. Relief swooped through him as he felt no ridges just smooth flesh. He grabbed the side of the bed and lifted himself up.
“Mom? Dad? Are you okay?” He turned towards the bed to face his parents. Some part of him already knew what he was going to see. They hadn't moved when he'd screamed for them or when the ghost -- for that was what he knew it to be -- had attacked him. But to see it and to know that they were dead. Really and truly gone from him was like a knife to his stomach.
Both his parents stared up at the ceiling, unseeing. Their mouths were like puckered, black wounds. Their eyes were already glazed over in death. Their skin reminded him of bone. He touched his mother’s bare forearm. It was icy. He jerked his hand away.
"Mom? Dad? Oh, no ... no ... NO!" he cried. Grief gripped him and he was crying silently. Hoarse, wracking sobs followed. "You can't be dead! No! You can't!"
But then there was a sound. At first, he thought it was a gasping breath of one of his parents, but then he realized it was coming from the doorway. He spun around. His vision went in and out. His eyes felt so strange. His vision was blurry, but he saw enough.
The ghost was floating there in the doorway. Smiling at him with its black, hole of a mouth. Then it began to glide away towards his brother’s room. Tristan was on his feet before he realized it and dashed after the ghost. The ghost moved fast, but he moved just as quickly. His hands swiped along its shroud. The material parted and he saw something dark beneath. He ripped the shroud again and more of the material shredded. The ghost let out a scream, only it sounded like it was coming from far away, out of a deep dark well. He grasped the edges of the shroud and wrenched them apart. His fingers ran over the interior of the ghost. It was cold and wet and his fingers went numb, but he kept ripping at it even as the cold crawled up his forearms and into his shoulders. But just as the figure was about to cross the threshold into his brother’s bedroom, the ghost literally shredded in front of him with one final rip of his fingers through its back. It disappeared like smoke blown in the wind.
Tristan staggered to a halt, staring at the fading white ash that swirled around him. His legs felt like they would fall out from under him. He sagged against the wall. He shook.
Caleb suddenly appeared in the doorway. He was rubbing his eyes and looking at Tristan with confusion. “Tris, what’s happening? Why are you yelling?”
Tristan let out a sob and threw his arms around his little brother. “You’re alive. Oh, thank god, you’re alive!”
“Alive?” Caleb repeated, shocked. “Why would you think I wasn’t?”
“Mom and Dad … Mom and Dad,” Tristan managed to get out and then he was crying against his brother’s slender shoulder and holding him so tight that Caleb could hardly breathe.
“What’s wrong with Mom and Dad, Tris?” Caleb asked, his small voice going high.
“They’re – oh, god, they’re … they’re,” Tristan said, unable to finish the sentence.
It was then that they saw the wash of headlights across the front of the house. Uncle Richard was home. Tristan scooped up Caleb and dashed down the stairs. He was yanking the front door open while their uncle was just staggering up the walk. His tie was pulled away from his neck and his face looked haggard. He blinked at his two nephews.
“Tristan, Caleb, what’s going on? Did – did someone call about me?” he asked, his eyes suddenly changing from tired to alert and fearful.
“What? No, no … oh, God, Uncle Richard, something’s happened to Mom and Dad?” Tristan cried.
“Your mother and father … wait …” Uncle Richard stared at Tristan long and hard. He suddenly grabbed the boy’s chin and forced him to look at him straight on. “What’s happened to your eyes, Tristan?”
“My eyes?” Tristan asked stupidly. His eyes stung and were watering. Even though it was full on dark out, he was surprised at how well he could see the play of emotions over his uncle’s face.
Uncle Richard staggered one step back. His mouth opened in an ‘o’ of shock. “It can’t be. I thought it was only a stupid urban legend. But it’s true. It’s …”
He pushed past Caleb and Tristan and went into the house. Tristan could hear him pounding up the stairs. Even though he knew he should go up there with him, to at least warn him about the ghost, he couldn’t. He held on tightly to his brother and hoped against hope that his uncle would find his parents merely asleep, that he had been wrong in what he saw.
Caleb pulled away from his chest and studied Tristan’s face. “Tris, your eyes … they’re …”
“What’s wrong with them?” Tristan asked.
“They … they glow. They glow blue,” Caleb breathed.
Tristan felt something cold move through him. He had heard the legends, too. Ghosts. Blue eyes. Disease. He was a survivor. No, no, he couldn’t be. That happened to other people. People far away. Not here. Not his family. Not him. He was just about to lean down and look at his face in the side mirror of Richard’s car when his uncle ran down the stairs and out of the house. He began to pace in front of them, pulling at his short ginger hair, talking to himself.
“There’s got to be a way. There’s got to be. There’s always a way out, Richard. Think, man, think!” he whispered to himself.
“Uncle Richard, what’s wrong with Mom and Dad?” Caleb asked.
Richard froze in mid stride and turned towards the boys. His face was white and strained. His gaze when up to Tristan’s face from Caleb’s. He looked transfixed for a moment by Tristan’s eyes.
“Yes, that’s it. That’s it!” he said loudly. He grabbed Tristan by one shoulder and Caleb by the other. “We have to go. We have to leave.”
“What? Go where? Go why?” Tristan asked. “We – we have to call the police! Mom and Dad are – are – we have to get the authorities here!”
Richard was shaking his head rapidly. “No, that is the absolutely the last thing we can do, Tristan. If they were to see you …”
“See me? So what if they see me?” Tristan’s voice rose.
“Mom and Dad are dead, aren’t they?” Caleb’s voice cut through the rising hysteria that threatened to choke Tristan.
Tears welled up in Tristan’s eyes. He nodded. His throat felt tight and hot.
“They are, Cal,” Richard said. “The ghosts got them.”
“It was a ghost,” Tristan got out. “I – I saw it. I touched it. And it – it killed them.”
Richard nodded. “I know. I believe you. I can – can see the proof with my own eyes.”
“I’m – I’m a survivor, aren’t I?” Tristan asked. He caught sight of his glowing blue eyes in the side mirror for one moment. He quickly looked away.
Richard nodded. “Yes, and that’s why we can’t call the authorities, Tris. The moment they see you, they’ll take you away. Lock you up in a facility. Experiment on you. You’ll never be free again.”
Caleb threw his arms around Tristan’s neck. “NO! They can’t take Tris away! They can’t! He’s all I have!”
Caleb then dissolved into hiccupping tears that soaked Tristan’s shirt. But he didn’t care. He held onto his little brother’s warm body. It was the only anchor he had.
“So what do we do, Uncle Richard?” Tristan asked.
Richard ran a hand through his hair. It stuck up wildly. “We have to leave here. Tonight. Without anyone knowing. Before your parents’ bodies are found.”
“And go where?” Tristan asked.
Richard smiled though there was no mirth in his expression, only a cold determination. “Neo-Tokyo.”