As I left Mallory’s Pub, I got the sense that someone was following me. I even saw a tall shadow right behind mine against the wall; but when I turned around, there was no one.
The presence stayed with me as I stepped outside. It didn’t seem threatening or malicious, unlike the burn-victim spirits I’d seen before (at least I assumed they’d been badly burned, by the looks of them). Instead, this one felt protective somehow; it put the shifting chaos in my darkened left eye at ease, for now.
My mom’s car still waited, parked by the curb. I got in. I hadn’t kept track of how long I was gone, but she didn’t mention the time. We just drove home.
“I hope you found what you were looking for,” she said.
“Oh, I did,” I lied. In reality, I wasn’t even close.
I Googled “Mallory Brothers” on my phone. It took me to the local Historic Society page, which featured a brief description of some of the old buildings in town. I saw a faded-looking photograph of the factory taken in the 1860s; obviously, a long time before part of it had been converted into a pub. The building looked a lot larger then, probably because part of it hadn’t burned down yet. Below it, the caption read:
Mallory Brothers & Co., Inc., established 1859. Manufacturers of shell casings, bayonets, surgical equipment, prosthetic limbs …
(All profitable Civil War era endeavors, I thought.)
… and novelty gaming products such as billiards and darts. Originally co-owned by two brothers, Gilford Mallory died fighting in the Civil War, leaving the business to his younger brother, Roger.
I scrolled down to find another photograph, a portrait of two men in dark Union soldier attire, hats at their sides. One had lighter hair combed back. The other had wavy dark hair that would’ve made Jane Austen faint.
Roger Mallory (right) was engaged to East Coast socialite Eudora Hayes, before her tragic death in 1871. Over half the factory burned down shortly after.
The article ended there. It didn’t include a picture of Eudora Hayes. Somehow, I didn’t think it included the full story either. Maybe someone on the Historical Society staff was too lazy or incompetent to thoroughly research the subject; or maybe, the details were too morbid to include on a page that third graders probably used for their local history projects. Either way, I had to know how this Eudora Hayes had died, and whether it had anything to do with the factory burning down.
It was a long shot, but maybe that would tell me why I was being hounded by these ghastly apparitions. Otherwise, the only logical conclusion would be that I was going bat-shit crazy.
The next morning, I had my mom drive me to the library. They had a local history section that probably had more detailed information. Since the other night, the visions hadn’t been too unnerving. Mostly, it was blurred shadows reaching in from my blind spot almost like hands. Occasionally, they had faces that resembled grossly-disfigured postmortem photographs. I was used to it by now. At least they didn’t try to tear at my stitched eyelid again. Something must have been holding them off; whatever it was, I appreciated it.
“Just text me when you’re ready to be picked up,” my mom said as we pulled up to the library. I felt 14-years-old all over again.
“Sure, Mom.” I adjusted my eye-patch in the mirror and stepped out, shutting the door behind me.
The library had only been built about 15 years ago. It effected the look of an historical building, but everything about it was contemporary. A few of those things lingered in the corner of my eye at the parking lot, but they didn’t follow me through the automatic doors.
I found the Local History room on the other side of the building. It had a large antique mirror and a display case full of nineteenth-century curiosities. If I was going to find anything, I’d find it in that room. A filing cabinet along the wall contained newspapers on microfilm, going all the way back to the 1830’s when the town was founded. I only needed the one from 1871.
A nice librarian showed me how to use the microfilm enlarger. I could tell she resisted the urge to ask what happened to my eye.
“You can magnify the screen like this,” she said, quickly demonstrating, “and you use these buttons to scroll up and down.”
I thanked her and she left me to my own devices.
My eye didn’t give me too much trouble as I magnified the antique typeface on the screen. I didn’t know the exact date I was looking for, so I started at the beginning.
Nineteenth-century newspapers used way more flowery, ornate prose than the papers do today. Maybe they hadn’t established all the standards of objective journalism yet. One report read, The eloquent President Grant … Another author in the next column said, The belligerent Mr. Grant addressed an equally quarrelsome Congress on the issue of a bill which sat stagnating in the House … Needless to say, it was a lot of tedious small print to muddle through. Unlike the articles, though, the headings were more straightforward: Politics. Business. Married. Died. It didn’t take me long to find an Engaged heading with Roger Mallory to Eudora Hayes directly beneath it. The entry (which we’d probably call a “blurb” nowadays) read:
Eminent local businessman Roger Mallory and New England heiress Eudora Hayes are set to wed in the summer of next year. The two became acquainted whilst the Mallory family were on holiday in Martha’s Vineyard, shortly after Roger returned from an education abroad at Cambridge University, England.
That would explain his trace of an accent. I kept scrolling down, scanning for anything relevant. Further down, Eudora’s name came up again, under the Society column:
Miss Eudora Hayes graciously hosted the unveiling of her portrait at the Mallory residence this afternoon. Guests were astounded by the accuracy of the likeness, though some contended that Miss Hayes herself possesses such a rare beauty which cannot be duplicated on any canvas. Miss Constance Ilford, a close friend of Miss Hayes who attended the event, insisted: “ No other woman’s eyes are as marvelous as Eudora’s. Why, their sapphire-blue absolutely rivals the Moon in radiance. ”
Any more of this over-hyped wording would make me gag, I thought, so I skimmed through the rest as quickly as I could. Then, a few pages down, I found exactly what I was looking for.
April 19th, 1871, front page. One word was stamped across the top in large bold-face print: TRAGEDY!
I practically jumped into the article:
It is with deep regret that I inform you, dear readers, that Miss Eudora Hayes suffered a grievous injury this morning at her fiancé Mr. Roger Mallory’s factory. Whilst on a tour of the production floor – as we all know, Miss Hayes is a young lady with a clever and inquisitive mind, prone to curiosity; and Mr. Mallory is more than happy to indulge her wish to oversee factory business – a terrible explosion of unknown origin occurred. The blast sent projectile machine parts flying in every direction, one of which struck Miss Hayes in her eye. She was transported promptly to the nearest doctor, but to no avail. She succumbed to infection and tragically perished from our midst this afternoon.
I had to re-read the passage several times, just to make sure my eye wasn’t making this up. Sure enough, this was all real. I’d been injured exactly the way Eudora was, in the exact same building. Had this set something into motion – something that couldn’t be turned back?
There was only one way to find out. I had to know what led to half the factory burning down. Page after page, I kept scanning until the veins in my eye stung. I thought I was going to pass out from mental exhaustion, until I finally found one last mention of Roger Mallory.
August 16th, 1871 – this time, the heading said Crimes.
In a dreadful turn of events, local businessman Mr. Roger Mallory set fire to his own factory just before noon today. None of the workers escaped the conflagration, as Mr. Mallory had locked every door from the outside prior to leaving. There were no survivors. Many of the victims were so badly roasted that they could only be identified by their shoes.
Yes, the journalist used the term “roasted,” with no details spared, apparently. At least I couldn’t accuse them of being over-sensitive.
Mr. Mallory, who’d taken to drink and debauchery since the unfortunate death of his fiancée earlier this year, blamed his employees for her accidental death; police believe this to be his motive for committing such an atrocity. Mr. Mallory took his own life by gunshot to the head before he could be apprehended by police.
Something lurched in my stomach after learning how he died. I’d lost friends and relatives before, but the grief never registered internally, no matter how much I tried to convince myself I missed them. So then, why was I in agony over someone who’d died almost 150 years ago? A tear of sorts rolled down from my left eye-socket, staining the tabletop red.
Shit! I figured I should put the microfilm back, before I damaged an historic artifact with my uncontrollable bleeding. Carefully, I removed the microfilm from the enlarger, rolled it up and placed it back in the box marked 1871. I’d hand it to the librarian on the way out, as she had the key to the filing cabinets.
Before I left, I grabbed a tissue and went to the large mirror to dab the blood off my cheek. Then something caught my eye that I hadn’t seen before. A portrait hung directly over the display case, a portrait of a strikingly beautiful young woman. She had large blue-moon eyes, the same color as mine. Even more strangely, our high cheekbones and narrow jawline were almost identical.
That had to be Eudora.
I stepped closer to the painting, and sure enough, an engraved plaque beneath it read: Eudora Hayes, 1848 – 1871.
She was just 23 years old; my age.
Then a shadow stepped into the mirror, just on the fringe of my darkened left side. I froze, turning my head just enough to see it completely. A tall figure in dark clothes stood behind me. I’d seen it before.
The rich black hair, the face from the photograph, the knowing half-smile on those thin lips – it was the same man from the bar. Except, I’d only seen one side of his face that night. That’s because he had a gaping gunshot wound where his right temple should have been. It was Roger – but his hair wasn’t perfect anymore. The right side was damp and matted with blood, dusted with skull fragments. His once flawless face looked like it had a bite taken out of it; his right cheekbone, right eye, and part of his forehead were missing. He only had a defiant lower jaw left – that and a bittersweet half-smile on his undamaged thin lips. Then he was gone. I hadn’t even blinked.
Of course, when I turned around, there was no one standing behind me.
I placed the box containing the microfilm on the librarian’s desk, and texted my mom as I headed straight for the exit. Thankfully, she was only a few minutes away. I stood in the lobby and watched for her through the wall-length windows.
If he was ashamed of the scars, I wished I could tell him they didn’t bother me. He didn’t need to hide his imperfections; I’d even take off the patch if it would make him feel better.
Wait, what was I thinking?! The guy’s dead! So why was I treating this like an awkward first date? To say something was wrong with me would be an understatement.
Just then my mom rolled up. Relieved, I passed through the automatic doors and walked out.
At least now, I knew the name of the presence at my shoulder. I thought of a man carrying an umbrella for a woman in the rain, protecting her. The other figures lingered on the edges like bad video tracking. Sometimes a twisted limb or a mutilated almost-face strayed into view like a black bubbles on a film projector, but they didn’t come near enough to touch me. It seemed like he could repel them, at least while he was here.
Disfigured or not, I hoped he’d never leave my side.
I told my mom I felt better now, that she could drop me off at home and take the night off. She seemed worried at first, but I convinced her I was fine.
“All right, if you say so.” She tried not to show how much she really did need the break.
“Thank you,” I said. “I was going to take a shower, anyway. For that, I’d really like to be alone.”
She drove up to my front steps and I hugged her goodbye.
“Call me if you need anything,” she said.
“Sure.” I knew I wouldn’t.
I got into my apartment, washed up, tried to eat something. At least I managed some cereal, yogurt, enough almond milk mixed with protein powder to choke down my bitter prescription painkillers. I didn’t have much of an appetite lately.
When I was done, I turned on the TV and flopped down on the couch. Even though I couldn’t see him, I sensed he was nearby. For the first time since my surgery, I’d gone over an hour without seeing one of those things. I fell asleep, feeling safe – something that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
By the time I woke up, it was dark already. I sat up and checked my phone – 8:48PM. I’d slept almost seven hours.
As I stood up, the darkness to my left crackled and fizzed over into the right. Other than that, I had no visual disturbances whatsoever. I almost found this more disconcerting; if those things were still around, I’d rather they be where I can see them.
Either way, though, I still needed to take that shower.
The bathroom door closed itself shut as I walked in. Sometimes it did this because of the way the air circulated in my apartment; at least, that’s what I’d always assumed. I took care of what I needed to take care of in the bathroom and then turned the shower on.
Warm vapors started to fill the bathroom, which would be good for my eye wound. I slowly peeled off the bandage and dabbed the incision with alcohol. The wound was still a crooked red line, a pained grimace. Blood formed tiny, dark dew drops on the edge of the sutures. I placed a temporary adhesive patch over them to keep the water out.
Then I locked the bathroom door. I’m not sure why I assumed a locked door would keep those things out. It just seemed like a good precaution.
I carefully took off all my clothes and dropped them in the hamper, then pulled back the shower curtain and stepped into the sauna-like warmth. First I washed my hair, then slathered on the conditioner. Then I did the usual shower routine.
The mark on my thigh had grown darker, more bruise-like, but I still felt no pain from it. Instead, I wondered how nice it would’ve been if his fingers had crawled up all the way. The thought sent a feeling like sparkling champagne through my bloodstream. An electric pulse traveled from my heart to nearly every nerve between my thighs, raw and throbbing. For a moment I thought about how nice it would feel to be wet with something other than blood.
No, don’t be an idiot, I told myself. You won’t be doing THAT again anytime soon, not with your face all fucked up like this. I rinsed the conditioner out of my hair, letting the warm water flow all the way down my back. It calmed my nerves, set loose some of the tension I’d been holding onto. I finished washing myself down, almost sickened by how good my own hands felt.
I’d never been into touching myself. It just seemed like too much effort; if I wanted to be fucked that badly, I’d get a guy to do it and let him do the work. Of course, I rarely ever wanted to be fucked at all, so it was scarcely an issue. I might have, out of boredom, read some article on the female g-spot or some such nonsense and then tried to find it. Even then, I still had no idea where that thing was, if one existed for me at all.
Except this time, I really was craving the touch of another, as much as I hated to admit it. The problem was, I only wanted it from one person, and that person was dead – about as dead as a person can possibly be.
I noticed blood was dripping on the shower floor, although it quickly washed away. Not again, I thought, feeling my face beneath the eye-patch. My fingertips came back red. Even though my right eye hadn’t cried in a long time, it seemed the wound on the left had its own version of tears. That stupid fucking eye. I wished the whole thing would just bleed out, just so I wouldn’t have to deal with this fucked-up reality anymore. The more I thought about it, death was starting to look really nice right about now.
Then a dark shape eclipsed the vanity lights. For a second I thought it was one of those things, and my heart lurched. No, something else was on the other side of that shower curtain – or rather, someone. I saw his silhouette against the curtain; I knew those strong shoulders, that straight neck. His back was turned to me, as if he was waiting for me to finish changing behind a silk screen.
Was that what he planned to do on their wedding night? Turn around while she changed into a chemise behind a folding screen, dim the oil lamps, carry her to bed – and for that first night, see only what the moonlight through the open window chose to show him? So proper, so respectful – this man deserved to be fucked if anyone ever did.
“You can come in if you want,” I said. My voice merged into the shower stream, barely audible; but he heard me.
The lights went out. That should have scared me, but it didn’t. He pulled back the shower curtain, stepped inside. I’d heard the temperature was supposed to drop in the presence of a ghost; but he must have had control over that, because his hands were warm when he touched me. The water stopped at his shoulder; it didn’t go through him. His presence was practically real. Of course it would be; he’d had plenty of time to get good at being a ghost.
He slowly caressed my arms, almost as if he was afraid he’d break them.
“It’s okay,” I said.
Carefully, he moved his hands down my ribs, traced the undersides of my breasts. He paused to make sure that didn’t upset me. It definitely didn’t.
“Go ahead,” I said. “You can touch them.”
May. It should be may. Goddammit.
I don’t think he cared, though. He held my 32Cs in his hands, running his thumbs where my nipples turned pink. Usually insensitive, they perked up when he touched them.
I put my mouth up to his ear and whispered,“You can touch me anywhere you want.”
Can. May. Who gives a fuck.
All he needed was my permission. He ran his hands all up and down my sides, like I was made of polished silver. One hand grabbed my butt and the other found the inside of my thigh, where he’d touched me last time. He picked up right where he left off, where my skin got pink and soft. Luckily for him, I’d just run the razor there a minute ago.
I lifted my leg, wrapped it around him. His fingers parted open my naughty bits and touched what had never really been touched before.
Oh shit, I thought, he actually found it.
“Are you sure you want me to do this?” he asked. His first real words to me; although it seemed more like I was hearing his thoughts.
“More than anything.”
He reached two fingers deep inside me. I was sopping wet, and it wasn’t from the shower.
I grabbed the swelling muscles in his arms and kissed him, sucking his tongue when he opened his mouth. Even in the darkness I could see his even blacker hair, hanging around my face in dripping wet tendrils. He grabbed my hips and pulled me up onto him and then –
I’m not sure exactly how it happened. English is my subject, not physics. All I know is he held me up and I clasped both legs around him. He slid into me like a shell into a casing, like we were made for the sole purpose of fitting together – and igniting at the pull of a trigger. Then he pressed my back against the shower wall and fucked me like a man who’d waited nearly 150 years to fuck me.
As he went in deeper I buried my face between his neck and his shoulder, mouth against his collarbone. He smelled like mahogany and leather, cognac and real tobacco – and of course, gunpowder. I sucked on the throbbing artery in his neck – the way a vampire would, before pop culture ruined the entire sub-genre.
I could tell he liked this. He plunged harder and further into me, and I couldn’t help but think of all the Confederate flesh his bayonet must have pierced those many years ago. None of those kills would’ve given him an adrenaline rush like this. I sighed as a new state of bliss took over me.
“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” I asked him, feeling so sexy it was almost evil.
“Only with whores,” he said, “but you’re no whore.”
“No. But I can fuck like one.”
I reached my hand between his solid legs, fingers riding up the tendon in his thigh. His balls were sweating in a good way, thick and leathery-smooth. They filled my entire hand. I felt them up all the way back to the hypersensitive skin underneath. In my experience, this has always been the Achilles’ heel of the male anatomy. He breathed hard, and kissed me like he never wanted to stop.
“They didn’t do this in the 1870s, did they?” I asked. My teeth felt like fangs when I smiled.
“No, ma’am, that they did not.”
Within seconds he came inside me, and the chemical rush was intoxicating. My spread legs were throbbing from the inside out, the same as my heartbeat. Just then I realized, I’d never had an orgasm before.
If this was necrophilia, I didn’t care. I’d never fuck a living man again.
I clung to his shoulder blades, trembling, heart racing. Sensing that I’d need a break, he slipped out of me and held me in his arms as I caught my breath. His skin chilled down a few degrees so I wouldn’t overheat. I touched the side of his face, cold as iron.
It felt so good against my sweat-drenched hands. Then my fingers found the cavity in his face. I withdrew my hand immediately.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
“It’s fine. I don’t mind.”
I touched the bullet-shredded skin and muscle; it felt like raw meat. His splintered cheekbone fragments nearly cut my fingers. I felt through his glossy black hair to the bloody depression in his skull, the dry layer of bone, the soft brain tissue underneath.
“Did it hurt?” I asked, suddenly feeling stupid.
“No,” he said. “the real agony was having to live without you.”
Like even more of an idiot, I said, “Wait – I’m not Eudora.”
He laughed softly. “Sadie. Eudora. It doesn’t matter what they call you. I know who you are.”
Still curled up in his arms, I kissed him again. I felt that if he put me down, I’d melt.
Then suddenly there was a knock on the door – a hollow, reverberating knock that no living person could make on a bathroom door. My arms squeezed around him. He held onto me even tighter.
“Shit, it’s those fucking things,” I said. “Isn’t it?”
The shower was still running; I hoped whatever was on the other side of that door couldn’t hear us.
“It is,” he said, “but I won’t let them hurt you. Ever again.”
The knocking persisted. It sounded like more than one pair of fists this time. A chill prickled all over my skin, while my forehead began to sweat. I swept my hair back from my face and it stained my hand red – my eye was bleeding again.
“They’ll never go away, will they?”
“I’ll never let them touch you.” He licked the blood off my face. If I hadn’t been in mortal panic, that would’ve made me jump right back on for round two. Unfortunately, I was in mortal panic.
“That’s not what I asked,” I said.
He breathed a rueful sigh; an unnecessary human habit for a ghost, but he had it nonetheless. “They will follow you to your grave,” he said, “but rest assured, I will never let them touch you.”
I shook my head, too tired to express frustration. “Who are they? Are they the factory workers?”
“Possibly,” he answered. “My guess is…it’s everyone I’ve ever killed.”
The knocks grew stronger, splintering the door. A bolt broke loose. Angry, distorted voices murmured and hissed from the other side. They spoke a language of their own, one of crackling flames and cut throats. I’d never heard anything scarier in my life.
“Roger, they’re going to get in,” I gasped. “What should we do?”
He paused, and even in the dark I could tell he was thinking. Maybe he didn’t have it all figured out; maybe he hadn’t planned ahead this far. He was a man, after all.
“Well, there is – ” he said, then stopped.
Reluctantly, he said, “There is one way I could get you out of here. But I have no intention of doing that.”
I knew what he was hinting at, but didn’t want to say. Then I heard the smoke detector go off in the hallway.
“Shit, they’re burning down the place! We don’t have much time!”
“I won’t do it,” he said. “I promised no harm would come to you.”
“You know I’m just going to die anyway,” I argued. “Now or later – would it really matter?”
His soul was old enough to know that it probably didn’t. He sighed, still not entirely convinced.
“If you leave with me, you can never come back. Do you realize that?”
“Yes, I know,” I said, “and I don’t care.”
Then I heard a loud, metal-rending crash. The door was nearly loose. Hellish fire glowed magma-red on the other side. Ash and splinters fell from the ceiling. Smoke thickened in the air around us, even with the shower running. In a few moments, I’d probably die of asphyxia.
“Goddamn it,” he shouted, pounding his free hand against the shower wall. Several tiles broke off.
I coughed, already choking on the toxic air. “I can’t breathe.”
“Are you sure this is what you want?” he asked again.
I managed to scrape out one more word, barely a whisper. “Yes.”
The door broke out of its frame and smashed into the mirror. With a vertigo-inducing snap, he yanked me away from my body, away from the room. I saw my old body fall, wearing nothing but water and shadows, smashing into the shower floor. Blood formed a thick pool that would wash down the drain. The twisted ex-human shapes descended on me, all of them burning. They and the fire were one and the same. I assumed that once they destroyed my body and purged their revenge, they’d burn themselves out.
My left vision came back; I could see everything. The old reality retracted in the distance. I had one last, painful thought – my mom getting the news in the middle of the night. Then everything was gone.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked me.
Then we fell into a darkness more beautiful than any light.
From there, he took me Somewhere Else.