An abstract red line drawing of two figures. The first figure is crouching, reaching its arms out in front. The second figure is in the same pose, facing the opposite direction, and is partially overlapping the first figure, on the same level.

Illustrations by Emilie Kneifel

The ghostwriter

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She opened her eyes. A spider was above her on the ceiling. She watched it and it watched her. She remembered that someone told her humans eat an average of 14 spiders in their sleep in their lifetime. Her gut ached. Her head pounded. She got up and her apartment felt strange. She looked around and everything felt significant. Her heart thudded. In the kitchen, all the cupboards were open. Her head spun. She didn’t remember opening all the cupboards – but maybe she did? A fork from last night’s dinner still rested on the counter.

She got in the shower and let the hot water ease her pounding heart. The water felt good, but she felt haunted. Suddenly, she grabbed her chest. It felt like someone had squeezed her heart from the inside four times. She felt like someone was behind the shower curtain. She spun and opened the curtain. She screamed but no sound came out. It was just her reflection steaming in the mirror.

She sat at her computer and took a deep breath. It’s nothing, it’s just me, she told herself. She saw her head reflected in the computer screen. Focus, she said to herself. She opened a new document.

How to Communicate with The Self

Something fell in the kitchen. She spun on her chair. Something behind her smashed to the ground. She spun again. Her water glass was in pieces beside her desk. The water leaked between tiny shards of glass. She watched the flood, her heart beating in her temples. She didn’t want to go to the kitchen, but the water was spreading. She crept toward the kitchen, aware of every step. She scanned the kitchen for any changes. Nothing was out of place. She grabbed a cloth and threw it on the water approaching her rug. Did she just spook herself?

She returned the cloth to the kitchen when she saw it: the fork was stabbed into the linoleum floor, its prongs pointed into the cross where the squares meet. Above the fork there was a chip in the drawer. It was as if the fork had been thrown toward the cupboard. 

She pulled the fork from the linoleum and placed it in the drawer. She stood and looked around. She told herself the fork had slipped off the counter. It’s nothing, she told herself in silence. 

An abstract red line drawing of a figure with a head, two arms, and a leg. The figure is crouching, reaching its arms out in front, and is surrounded by wavy lines.

She went back to the computer. Her head felt bigger. She was suddenly aware of her blood pulsing between her skin and her skull. Her temples felt tense. A pressure was rising in her head and her shoulders. She told herself it was just because she kept getting spooked. She took a few breaths. She told herself there are no ghosts. There are only ghosts of ghosts. She sat down at the computer. 

Communicating with The Self is a vast and wonderful journey. The language of The Self is an ever-expanding horizon. Becoming acquainted with The Self, one becomes acquainted with The Whole.

Her eyes began to blur and ache. She sat up and stretched her arms. They were stiff. Her head was still pulsing, and her sinuses were tender. She drank two glasses of water in a row. She took Advil and made a cup of tea. 

She lay on the couch and it hit hard, whatever she was fighting. Her body ached and she curled up in a blanket. She covered her eyes with a corner of the blanket and fell into a heavy deep sleep.

The Self is an endless illusion. There is no Self without the Other. The deeper you go, the more infinite it gets.

She woke to the sound of an ambulance outside her apartment. It was dark, but otherwise quiet. Her head was pounding. She felt like she had been hit by a bus. Her body was heavy, as if she weighed a thousand pounds. The clock on the stove wasn’t on. She walked to the window and saw the stars. Her nose was swelling and her throat was itchy. She went to her bed and slept like the dead until the afternoon.

Communication is an art. Finding a way to communicate with The Self is the highest art form. Everybody has a unique way of communicating, including with themselves.

She woke gasping for air. She didn’t know what time it was, but she knew she was behind on work. She dashed to the bathroom and washed her face. Her head was throbbing. When she looked in the mirror, she sensed something was off. She turned around. A white figure lay in the bath. She gasped and gripped the sink. She realized it was just the shower curtain. It had fallen into the bath.

An abstract red line drawing of two figures. The first figure is crouching, reaching its arms out in front. The second figure is in the same pose, facing the opposite direction, and is hovering on top of the first figure, overlapping slightly.

She laid in bed watching the ceiling. The spider wasn’t there. What was she so afraid of? She wasn’t haunted, she told herself. She was On Edge. She was Over Worked. She decided to take a couple days off. She was, after all, fighting something. 

Communicating with The Self can be a challenge. We have trouble communicating with others when we have trouble communicating with The Self. We fight ourselves, which causes us to become accustomed to a state of fighting.

She ordered takeout and groceries. She filled up on over-the-counter cold medications and canned soup. She made hot ginger tea and got in the bath. She relaxed for the first time in what felt like a century. 

The symptoms moved around her body. Some days she felt better, and other days she was a wreck. She was on fire. She lost her sense of time. She couldn’t get back to work. She slept and ate and fought. Her whole self was in the battle, every aching cell. Her entire body pulsed in a sickening, embodied melody. Her gut ached at the first light of dawn, over and over. 

Over time, she wilted like a long exhale. Her limbs drooped off the edge of the couch, trailing onto the floor. Time had become expansive. She saw the time of the universe spread outward into nothing. She felt the speed of diurnal spins, cycles upon cycles. She watched the clock become abstract. Afternoons turned into nights that turned into mornings. Time became a series of breaths. She didn’t know how many.

She woke in the night. She was terrified, paralyzed by fear. Her breath was tight. She could not move. She had no power. She could not make a sound. Her vision blurred. She began to sweat. She felt a presence above her, looking into her. She felt weighed down by an invisible force. It pushed into her, crushing her chest. She struggled to breathe. 

She saw the spider on the ceiling above her. She watched it and it watched her. She held her breath and pushed back at the invisible force. She pushed back like a magnet. A mass of negative and positive ions, powered by breath and blood. She imagined herself spinning at the centre of the Earth, pushing an incredible force outward. Her breath swelled and her vision sparkled. She saw movement and colours. She saw particles that looked like waves and waves that looked like particles. She breathed as deep as she could and felt the force of her magnetism. Her vision cleared.

An abstract red line drawing of two figures. The first figure is crouching, reaching its arms out in front. The second figure is in the same pose, facing the opposite direction, and is partially overlapping the first figure, on the same level.

She sat up and looked around. She could breathe. The pressure in her head had eased. She looked at her apartment with new eyes. Hello? She said to her apartment. There was no reply. She observed herself through time moving around her apartment. She saw the ghost of herself cooking, cleaning, working. She saw the ghost of herself in silence, writing words that weren’t her own. It was as if she had no voice. She wasn’t just ghostwriting, she was ghostliving. 

Communicating with your true Self is how you discover your true voice. The voice is an expression of your deepest Self. By communicating with others with your true voice, you are communicating with The Self. 

She wrapped herself in her warmest jacket and scarf and headed out the door. She inhaled fresh air as if for the first time. She felt dizzy with exhaustion, but she floated down the street delirious with gratitude. She watched wisps of clouds in the sky. She was fascinated by soft leaves emerging from dense wood. She smelled the perfume of soil and fir trees. She walked through the world as if walking on the planet for the first time.

She picked up snacks at the market. She felt something behind her. She turned around and saw an aloe vera plant reach toward her. She told herself she didn’t need it, but she couldn’t turn away. The plant drew her closer and closer until it was in her hands. She carried it in her arms all the way back to her apartment.

She sat down and looked at her new plant. It made her realize how alone she had been all this time. Her body ached. Her heart ached. She murmured to the plant to make themself at home. This is where you live, she whispered.

An abstract red line drawing of two figures. The first figure is crouching, reaching its arms out in front. The second figure is in the same pose, facing the opposite direction. The two figures are holding hands, with the second figure disappearing out of the frame.

She let the plant know that she was listening. She massaged the aloe leaves and felt the plant’s presence, reaching to her, drawing her in. She breathed with the plant and the plant breathed with her. The plant released smells and frequencies. They eased her. She began humming with the plant, humming what the plant was humming, humming louder and louder. Her body began to hum, every cell seemed to sing. She thought she must sound strange to the neighbours, but she couldn’t stop. The plant held her, vibrating through her. The hum pushed and pulsed through her blood like a molecular symphony. The symphony grew and grew until it was so loud it was like being held hostage. She tried to scream but no sound came out. 

Suddenly, the humming stopped. It was as if she was being let go. She gasped. The plant was still there, but the vibrational pull was not. She returned to her body, tingling from stimulation. She looked deep into the plant and took a few breaths, as if asking, who are you? Her body itched and ached all over but somehow felt completely new. Her energy was returning like a slow wave. She scanned her body. She was no longer losing the fight. She scanned her apartment. The spider was gone. Everything was at peace, at least for now. 

Her hands were on her chest. She looked around her apartment and caught her reflection in the window. She saw her eyes with new eyes. She said to herself with her true voice: This is where you live.

 

Plain language summary (What is this?)

  • A woman wakes up in her apartment feeling sick. She notices strange things in her apartment and gets spooked. She isn’t sure if she is being haunted or if it is just her imagination. 
  • She is a ghostwriter and begins working on a piece called “How to Communicate with The Self” when she hears a sound in the kitchen. There is a fork stabbed into the floor.
  • As she works on her article, her symptoms worsen. She gets spooked by her shower curtain and decides to take some time off work to recover. 
  • She begins to battle the sickness and it exhausts her, until she loses track of time. 
  • She wakes up in the night and feels as if an invisible force is pushing down on her. She uses her breath to push back.
  • She has an epiphany that she is like a ghost in her own home. 
  • She decides to go get snacks and brings home an aloe vera plant. 
  • As she introduces the plant to her home, she starts to hum with the frequency of the plant. 
  • The humming stops and she feels relief. She sees herself in the window and speaks to herself with her true voice. 

Bára Hladík is a Czech-Canadian writer, editor and artist. Her work can be found in EVENT Magazine, This Magazine, Hamilton Arts & Letters, and elsewhere. Her first book New Infinity was published by Metatron Press (2022). Photo by Colene AuCoin.

Tags:   covid-19 disability fiction