Authors: Andra Brynn
Where I End and You Begin
To Ed, who died in the war.
o. This is a ghost story.
his room is haunted, you know,” someone says.
My attention is caught immediately, snagged by the word
I look up from the game of quarters happening in a small circle near the window.
The guy who said the room is haunted isn’t talking to me. He’s talking to the drunk girl next to him, the one I’ve been vaguely worried about all night because she keeps downing shots of rum and this guy’s been hanging on her since midnight. I’m drunk too, but less drunk than she is. Her legs are drawn up, her arms propped on her knees, her head pillowed on her forearms. She looks like she’s about to pass out any second.
I scoot closer to them and say, “This room is haunted? Really?”
It’s dark in here and the candles scattered around—all contraband in the dorms, of course—cut the bare, dull room into slices of gold and shadow. The guy turns toward me and I realize with a jolt that I recognize him, even though he didn’t start out in the study group that somehow devolved into a weeknight drinkfest. His eyes meet mine and I stare at him head-on. For a moment I think he’s going to tell me to fuck off so he can get back to his dubious seduction, but when two more people turn from the quarters game in curiosity, he just nods and takes a swig from the bottle of vodka in his hand.
“It is,” he says. “Want to hear the story?”
It’s three AM on a Tuesday morning, and my can of Coke cut with coconut rum is warm in my hand. I should be at home, snuggled in bed. I have classes in eight hours. I should say no, and go back to my dorm.
Instead I take a long pull from my Coke can before I say, “I love ghost stories. Tell us.” I put the Coke on the desk next to me, trying to slow down.
He raises a brow. “It’s scary,” he says.
“I want to hear,” someone else says, and then the game is dissolving and the room is reconfiguring around ghost-story guy, who slips his arm from around the drunk girl next to him and puts his hand in his lap. I remember his name now, I think—it’s Tristan. We have a class together later today. This must be his room, if he knows a ghost story about it. I’m not quite sure how we migrated from the room we started in to this one. Too much rum and Coke.
“So this ghost story?” I prompt him.
“How scary is it?” another girl asks him. “Is it, like, won’t-sleep scary?”
Tristan shrugs “It’s a true story and it happened here. That’s what’s scary about it.”
“No blood on the walls? None of that
don’t turn on the light
Tristan smiles, indulgent, condescending. “None of that, I promise.” He turns back to me. “Still want to hear it?”
I glance at the girl next to him and see that she’s fallen asleep, so I nod. Of course I want to hear it, and judging from the gaggle of drunks leaning in, the flickering flames dancing in their dark eyes—hard and shiny, like the eyes of birds—everyone else would like to hear it too.
Tristan takes another pull of his vodka, leans back against his bed, and waits for us to be utterly still. When we finally settle, the rising wind of a newly born October night rushes by and rattles the window.
One of the girls squeaks, but all I can think of is the strange little thrill this gives me. I’ll take this story and put it in my collection. A good story, a true story...or at least one that could be true. And it happened,
in this very room...
I like the old clichés. I hope Tristan won’t disappoint.
He grins at us and cracks his knuckles. “So,” he says, “back in the eighties there was this guy named Chuck Harlan who went to school here. Lived in this room. Played football and partied. Joined a fraternity and fucked a lot of girls. You know, totally expected.”
“He was really fucking good at football. Like go pro good. He was pretty normal...but one of the girls he fucked wasn’t.”
Captain of the cheerleading team,
I think. A lovely slice of Americana. The Kraft dinner of ghost stories, a comfort food. The only surprise would be why the victim ended up as a ghost. Would it be unfinished business, or violent death? Both, perhaps?
But Tristan surprises me. “She was a studious chick. A nerd. Studying physics and maybe she was pretty, but I bet she gave amazing head.”
The guys in the room nod sagely. It’s always the weird ones, the damaged ones who were willing to do anything to feel loved. My stomach lurches a little and I turn back to Tristan, trying to concentrate on the story.
Almost as one the room leans in, eager to hear the sordid details, imagining the way it happened, right here. Does something of it still linger in the walls? Does something of it still hang in the air?
“So Chuck was this typical guy, and this girl, she lets him do anything to her. Then he moves on and of course she doesn’t.” He takes another swig of vodka, and he is staring at me. Have we talked about ghost stories before? Or am I now his target?
Better me than the girl asleep next to him. He’s not devastating, but he’s cute. My drink is in my hand again somehow, and I chug the last of it.
“So Chuck’s out dating other girls, and this girl, she fucking hates him. She wants him back, but she wants to punish him, and when he won’t take her crazy ass back she starts to plot her revenge. She’s not dumb, she knows there are drugs that can screw someone up really bad and she knows she can fuck him up good, maybe get him to embarrass himself in front of everyone. Shit his pants, throw up everywhere, something like that. So she gets something, sells it to him, and says it’s LSD. I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was acid, maybe it wasn’t, but he takes it while he’s out drinking at a party and it fucked him up real bad. His friends didn’t want to call for an ambulance, so they take him back to the dorm. This dorm. They ask him if he’s cool to get in, and he says he is. One of his friends stayed with him, and that’s the only reason we know what happened next.”
At the base of my spine something uncurls, reaching out to wrap around my stomach. It’s almost sexual, but somehow better.
“Chuck is so fucked up, he can’t remember how to use his key, or how to use a door. His friend tries to help him but Chuck freaks out. He punches his friend and runs off, and his friend is too drunk to realize what is happening. He stumbles off after him, and when he finds Chuck, well, Chuck is three floors up. He climbed up that three and was trying to get into the room from the outside window.
As one, all the heads in the room turn to the window.
Illuminated by the streetlights, an enormous oak tree sways in the wind. We hear it creaking and moaning like a sinking ship. The winter is stealing through the fall, and the cold is creeping in.
Tristan’s voice cut through the silence. “So Chuck, because he couldn’t remember how to open the door, was trying to get in through the window. He was clinging to the side of the building and tapping on the glass, calling to his roommate. Tap, tap, tap.
Let me in. Let me in.”
That sweet, quasi-sexual shiver swoops up through me, rising like smoke through my ribcage, into my throat.
“Back down on the ground, his friend is freaking out and calls his name. And Chuck turns. He forgets he’s on the side of building and he turns. Loses his grip, somehow flips over, and falls straight down head first.” Tristan grins, and his teeth gleam eerily in the candlelight. “Splat,” he says.
The room is dead quiet, and I think:
Any second now.
But the silence draws out and finally I can’t take it any more.
“So how does he haunt this room?” I ask.
Tristan’s eyes glitter at me. “How else?” he asks. “He taps on the window.”
Outside, the old oak tree groans.
We all hold our breath until at last one of the other girls lets it all out in a whoosh. “I thought you were gonna have someone climb up and tap on the window,” she complains. “I was getting ready to be really scared!”
Tristan shrugs. Why would I do that?” he asks. “It’s true and it happens. I wouldn’t ask someone to climb up just for a joke. I don’t want
ghosts knocking on the window.”
The room laughs, but it’s weird and stilted, and then someone suggests watching some late-night TV and doing a drinking game because now no one wants to go home in the dark. The girl is still passed out next to Tristan, and I cross the floor, hoping to draw his attention to me. You never know when a guy decides he wants to get laid so bad he’ll take it from a half-dead girl.
go home. I have to sleep. I have classes tomorrow. I have classes for the rest of the
It’s only just October and I can’t miss any more classes or my letter grades will start to drop. I’m an accident waiting to happen.
But that is all in the future. I go to sit by Tristan anyway, plopping down next to him and leaning against his bed. The room sloshes around me. I’ve had more to drink than I thought.
“Do you ever hear the tapping?” I ask him under the drunken arguing about which infomercial to watch.
“Sometimes,” he tells me, and his bottle of vodka is in my hand. I drink from it, long and hard, and the next thing I know we’re in his bed, scratchy sheets and unwashed comforter as he presses me down into the mattress. His lips are on mine, his tongue in my mouth while everyone else shouts and hollers at the TV.
Alcohol sloshes in my stomach, oozing through my veins. I’m warm. Hot. Burning. The space on Tristan’s bed is crowded, and even when I pull away and try to pay attention to the television and cheer and jeer with the rest of them, his hot breath is in my ear, his hands on my hips, his lips massaging my skin. One by one and two by two, people leave, until we are alone. Even the girl who passed out. I hope she is doing okay. I don’t know where Tristan’s roommate is—I’m not sure I’ve ever met him—but it doesn’t matter.
It’s four in the morning, or later. I’m so drunk. The world is tilting, lazy, and the lines are blurring.
I think, or perhaps I dream the thought.
, they call it. Learned that in my first Anthro class.
Borders. Thresholds. Doorways. Windows. Neither inside nor out. Not one thing any longer, but not yet another. The in between.
Order fails, and ghosts come in.
Now there are hands on my body, the sheets tangling like a snare around us. He stinks of cigarettes and booze, and I am floating, falling, somewhere, between here and there, and I think:
And I think:
And I think:
Stay with me.
But no one ever does.
know all about ghosts, you see.
When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by them. I would read every book about ghosts I could get my hands on. I devoured them by the truck load, until I’d read every ‘nonfiction’ book in the juvenile section of the library about ghosts. I bought ghost books with my allowance money. I ate them up like they were candy, then wrote my own ghost stories. I’d write about ghosts whenever I had a writing assignment in grade school. I can only imagine what my teachers must have thought.
So I know that ghost stories generally come in two flavors: violent death, and unfinished business.
Violent death ghosts are upsetting. You die horribly, your guts spilled out on the pavement, your brains on the wall, your blood painting the room...you come back. You retrace your final moments. Then you die again, brains and guts and blood and all the soft inner meats of fragile bodies. And then you go back and you do it again. And again. And again.
Those are the ghosts of regret. Regret ties you to the world, making you relive that moment over and over and over again, trapped inside it, unable to break free of the cycle, struggling against a karmic certainty that cannot be escaped.
Where is the way out? How can fate be altered? If I did this, if I didn’t do that, maybe, just maybe it would have gone differently...
But it never does. All that happens,
And you can’t change that, even if you’re still alive.