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The Broken Promise

Part One

All I know is that I died sometime before midnight, the intrusion of the clock tower’s bell waking me from deep slumber. The body sprawled next to me looked ice cold. I assumed it was mine, my memory so blank that I didn’t know my own face. There were no other ghosts nearby - I assumed the dead could see each other. So I took myself to be a slight, auburn-haired woman with glassy green eyes. With no idea of who I was and how I ended up dead, I walked, directionless, with hope I would find answers along the way.

       It was a few days before something caught my attention. A coffee shop. It was small, unremarkable - one of many I passed on my wanderings around the city. Yet I felt myself drawn into it, an invisible tug, pulling harder when I attempted to walk on. I expected to be looking for a person. Isn’t that what being a ghost is all about? Unfinished business with a friend, an enemy, a lover? Perhaps all three in more dramatic cases. I didn’t feel like a dramatic person. Maybe the only thing keeping me here was nothing more than an unpaid bill.

       After trying and failing to open the door, I drifted inside. As I moved through the glass door, I winced at the sensation I expected to feel and found myself disappointed. I had found no benefits to being incorporeal other than the ease of eavesdropping. Even then, I found other people’s secrets to be mundane. One man confided to his friend that he had stolen from his workplace. I expected murder at least, how racked with guilt he was. So, the first time I moved through a solid object, I yearned to feel something and despaired at my continued emptiness.

       At first, the cafe looked empty. The lights occasionally flickered on, casting a dim brightness before descending back into shadow. On the third brief illumination, I saw him. An older man, much older than the body I assumed was once mine, hunched in the corner. He was curled over a notebook, pencil in hand, scribbling furiously. I approached, as soft as a whisper, to find a hand-drawn portrait of a woman, now defaced with his angry scribbling. Long, wavy hair framed a face that was now covered in deep, dark grey lines. Even without seeing the features clearly, I knew it was a portrait of me.

       Perhaps I lived a dramatic life after all. I tore my eyes away from the drawing and studied the man’s face. On closer inspection, he wasn’t as old as I first assumed. I could see youth behind the frown lines, dry skin and dark circles that hung heavy under his eyes. Life had aged him beyond his years but he was still handsome. I reached my arm out and placed it gently on his shoulder, willing my hand to rest on and not swipe straight through. As expected, he didn’t react. Unexpectedly, I did, as a surge of energy ran through my arm and into my chest.

Voting options:

What should the ghost do?

1. Try to communicate with the stranger (winning option)

2. Try and take the sketchbook

3. Try and find out more about the stranger

Part Two

The feeling was unpleasant. How I’d imagine a large electric shock would feel like. I appeared to be connected to this stranger, that much was clear. But who was he? Was the one keeping me here in my incorporeal form? Or was I latching onto him for a reason unbeknown to me? Whoever was holding on to whom, the dull ache that remained in my right arm throbbed with caution. The sensation would have once been enough for me to run - I know a bad omen when I felt one. But I had to know why I was drawn here. Drawn to him. 

       I briefly considered leaving altogether and trying to learn more through research. But I wouldn’t know where to start and, until now, nothing I touched provoked any sort of reaction from me or the object. I could spend years searching for a link to him, to come across someone who happened to know him. Given that I didn’t know his name, this would be impossible. I could try to take his sketchbook, but how much would that tell me about him? Probably nothing. No, I had to stay. I had to try and talk to him.

       My attempts to communicate with him failed miserably. I tried whispering in his ear, shouting at the top of my lungs, and, in a moment of pure desperation, tap dancing on the table right in front of him. He didn’t look up once. Although, during my humiliating tabletop jig, I saw him smirk. This hint of the smile had my heart in my throat. But then nothing happened. No acknowledgement of my presence at all. The twitch of his mouth was not for me. I sat, cross-legged on the table, crumpled over in defeat. It was only when the lights flickered again that sparked an idea that might actually work.

       I squinted at the lights, willing them to flicker for me. They, of course, did not. The cafe continued to illuminate and fall into darkness in a random pattern. I hadn’t touched or felt anything since I awoke next to my body - why did I think I could influence electricity now? I wondered why he’d sit here in a place like this, how he could work on his sketches in such poor lighting conditions. The place must be important. I looked back at him, watching shadows play across his face as he continued to scribble. My arm throbbed. It was him. He was the key.

       I lightly touched his shoulder again and winced at the shock that pulsated through me once more. I let my hand linger, let the energy swell inside me until I thrummed with power. I squinted at the lights again and they turned off at my command. With a blink, the lights burst with a brightness akin to the sun.

       Finally, I had control over something. If only I knew some sort of code in which to say something of meaning. Before I could think of a system to ask him anything, the man spoke. 

       “Hi again, Lily. I wondered when you’d show up.”

Voting options:

Who is the man?

1. Her husband

2. Her killer (winning option)

3. Both

Part Three

I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was. I felt something for the first time. I could control electricity just by touching him. So why wouldn’t he know who I am? Sense my presence? And yet, when he spoke, said a name I did not recognise but assumed was mine, I jumped back. The lights in the cafe faded until darkness surrounded us, his silhouette visible only thanks to a weak glow from the streetlamp outside. 

       “No memory again, Lil? Here, take my hand.”

       His shadow reached across the table. No memory. It wasn’t until then that I wondered - maybe I didn’t remember for a reason.

       I shook off the rising panic starting in my stomach. If I could have slapped myself, I would have. I would have done anything to jolt myself out of my sudden inertia. This was what I was looking for. Answers. An explanation of who I was, why I was still here in this highly inconvenient, ghostly form, and what happened to me. This man was the first to notice my presence. Whether that was a good thing or not was of little consequence. So, with a deep breath, I hovered my hand over his. Seconds later, I wished for the gift of amnesia once again.

       The body I woke up next to was not mine. It wasn’t the first. Memories flooded in backwards from the pretty auburn-haired girl I remembered to so many others I didn’t. I saw their lives through his eyes, their deaths by his hand, until the memories ended at his first victim: me. When I saw that face, I knew. The little birthmark on the left side of my neck, the faded scar above my right eyebrow, my striking grey eyes, and the same red-brown hair as the others. But, unlike the others, there were no memories of before. I knew about them, but where was my life before my death?

       When I was confident I could glean no more information, I tore my hand away from him in disgust. I was stuck here because of this monster. Why? Why me? What about his other victims? 

      The cretin interrupted my thoughts. “Before you try to ask, I don’t know why you are here, why you don’t know who you were, and how to get you to move on.” 

       Unsurprisingly, I did not take the murderer at his word. He had to know something. Otherwise, why was I drawn to him? I swung at his face. My hand swept through his cheek, and the surge of energy hit me again. The power. That’s what I needed.

       I focused my entire being on him, focused all the hate, disgust, misery and heartache I witnessed in those visions he gave me, and grabbed his shoulders. This time, they fully connected. He screamed in pain as I pulled at his memories and tore at his soul. I was determined to destroy him, hoping it would also destroy me and finally bring some peace. As the surge of energy between us crescendoed, darkness descended - the same deep dark I felt upon my death. When I woke up this time, I remembered everything.

Voting options:

Who is Lily really?

1. The original killer

2. The man's first victim

3. A detective - winning option

Part Four

How did you do that?

       He’d disappeared, but I could still hear his voice. It felt like he spoke directly into my ear, but he was no longer in the cafe. I moved to leave. I had to find him again. I had to stop him. As I walked, I found myself much heavier. I felt awkward. Bulky.

       Where are you taking me?

       His voice again. Where was it coming from?

       As I approached the cafe door, I saw him. He stood in front of me; his face contorted in confusion. As I reached out to grab him again, his hand did the same. I recoiled. So did he. 

       You don’t know what you’ve done, do you?

       “I know exactly what I’ve done,” I reply out loud. 

       I was sure he could hear me inside his head, but it felt good to speak, even if the voice was not mine. 

       “And I know what I need to do now.”

       I reached for the door handle and sighed at the contact. It might not have been my hand opening the door, but the feeling of being solid and interacting with the world again was exquisite. I moved out of the cafe. I knew exactly where to end this - At the first and last place I met the monster I was now inhabiting. 

       His voice increased with desperation as we drew closer to the bridge.

       You can’t do this. 

       “I can,” I reply. A woman passing me in the street eyed me, him, with suspicion. I smiled at her and she picked up her pace. Good. She was his type.

       You’ll fail. Just like all the other times.

       “I won’t. I have a promise to keep.”

       The one you swore to my wife’s family? 

       I stilled inside his mind.

       Yes, I know about that. Well, you found her killer. Half a promise kept is better than nothing. Just walk into the light or whatever and leave me be.

       “No. I won’t rest until I stop you.”

       We reached the river quicker than I expected. It looked rough. Perfect.

       Don’t. I’ll stop. I promise I’ll stop.

       I scoffed. “You can’t stop. You’ve made that very apparent. It was my job to stop you. Better late than never.”

       I heaved us over the railing and stood above the rapids below.

       “It was terrifying, you know. When you pushed me over this bridge…” 

       I could feel his terror, but no thought was directed at me.

       “I don’t know how long ago it was. You look a lot older than when we first met. No. This doesn’t scare me. This feels like justice. Finally.”

       I tried to release his hands from the railing, but they were glued in place. He was starting to fight back.

       This makes you no better than me. Taking my life doesn’t balance the scales.

       I fight his resistance, willing each finger to uncurl from the railing one at a time.

       “You’re right. It doesn’t balance the scales. You would have to die dozens of times to balance that scale. It’s time this ends.”

       What about your oath as an officer of the law?

       “I don’t think it counts when you’re dead.”

       We were held to the bridge by his little finger. One final mental push, and he’d be gone. And, finally, so would I.

       “No last words?”

       This isn’t over.

       “Yes. It is.”

       I forced his last finger from the bridge. We hit the water quickly. I ignored his panic and settled into a long awaited peace. I was finally free of him. I had finally kept my promise.

*

The sun was rising when I awoke. It was strange. I expected bird calls to welcome the dawn. Perhaps their silence was a mark of respect. The body next to me was cold. With no memory, I assumed it was mine. 

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