My girlfriend died in the summer, on the 21st of August. It was one of the hottest summers on record. During the day the sun blazed furiously and the lack of clouds left very few places where you could escape the relentless heat but at night you could see thousands of tiny diamonds sparkling in the inky blackness of the sky whilst relishing the treasured breeze that only the darkness would allow. Annie and I used to sit outside on the roof of the car during those long nights. She would point out constellations and planets and I would make up new ones because I didn't know any. I started coming up with stupid names just to make her laugh.
I met Annie at the birthday party of a friend. It was a surprise party and I had been asked to play a song that had some special meaning to the host. Once the initial shock was over and everybody had recovered from the inital excitement of yelling "Suprise!" and the look of shock and no small amount of terror on the face of the birthday-victim, the loud music, dancing and alcohol made an appearance. I wasn’t really a person who typically attended parties so I was just standing awkwardly in the corner, cradling my guitar to protect it from eighty, ever so slightly drunk people when a young woman with wild, light brown curls and sparkling blue eyes twirled over and told me that I looked too glum for such a talented person and that I had to dance with her.
And that is how I met Annie.
Crazy, wonderful Annie.
She died in her sleep. The doctors said that she hadn’t felt pain but they had no idea why she died. She just “slipped away”.
And left me behind.
Annie’s death hit me very hard. We had moved in together barely two months earlier although we had been dating for several years. I came home from the funeral in such a state that I didn’t realise that Annie’s paints, pots, easel and many of her canvases were lying smashed up on the floor of her studio until three days later.
It took three years of grieving and lying in a state that was well beyond depressed, for the hard work of my friends and many failed attempts at getting me out of my perpetually dark home to pay off. Initially I hated them for it. How dare they interrupt my grief?! But later I realised how desperately I had needed that support, how I never would have got out of that pit of despair without them, what could have happened to me if they had done nothing. I have them to thank for Rachel. I would never have met her without them.
She was about as different to Annie as you could possibly get. Her brown eyes were as dark as Annie's had been light and her hair was as fiery red as her temper. She could get mad so easily that it was actually quite endearing to witness the rage that could erupt from her tiny figure at the slightest little thing… Annie never got mad at anyone or anything other than herself. Her sleep cycle had been completely disrupted which was one of those little quirks that I used to adore about her. I would regularly go to sleep listening to her singing quietly while she painted in the next room only to be woken up and hour or so later to the sound of her cursing and paint pot crashing to the floor or against the wall because she couldn’t make the image from her mind come out onto the canvas the way she wanted it to.
I was happy with Rachel and although I never forgot Annie, the pain of her death slowly started to fade.
But as soon as Rachel moved in with me I started to have nightmares that were so vivid, common sense was the only thing that stopped me from thinking they were real. I would see Annie around the flat, sometimes curled up in the corner crying or screaming, covered in cuts and bruises that would open and close all over her body, coming from no visible source. Other times I would see her painting twisted and cruel images, usually of herself, completely different to the bright, cheerful paintings she had created while she was alive.
But there was one painting that scared me more than any other. It depicted Annie, curled up in a dark room, screaming, which wasn't unusual by this point. Except this Annie had fiery red hair and brown eyes set alight with terror and pain.
A month or so after the red-haired Annie painting, she began to follow me into the waking world. I would see her at work, in the park, while we were out shopping, in the car, in the street, at various houses of friends, at my parent's house, even when I went abroad to France for a couple of days on a work related trip. All the time she stared at me with unblinking, almost accusing blue eyes.
I didn’t tell Rachel.
I didn’t tell anyone.
How can you tell people that you think your dead girlfriend is haunting you?
I don’t know how long I had been seeing Annie, it could have been weeks, months, for all I know it could even just have been a matter of days, before she disappeared. Just like that. One day she was there, sitting on the empty desk that was opposite mine, cuts and bruises blossoming over her bare arms and legs, her blue eyes staring straight into my grey ones and making focusing on my work pretty much impossible, and the next day she was gone.
She didn’t reappear. Instead she was replaced with something…else. I would feel it's presence around me, lurking in the corners of my vision but whenever I turned to look for it, there was nothing there. I ignored it, too stubborn to admit that it was freaking me out. It wasn't harming me and I was scared that if I worried about it too much my mental health would begin to suffer and I couldn’t do that to Rachel. So I just ignored it and my life seemed to go back to normal for which I was extremely grateful.
But a couple of weeks ago I finally saw it for the first time. I was lying in bed, with a fast asleep Rachel curled up in my arms and it was nearly midnight. There was no moon that night, just inky black clouds, no trace of light to be seen. It took me quite some time to figure out why I had woken up. It was there, standing in the doorway, just a human silhouette with no distinct features…except for the blue eyes. It didn’t exactly scare me although it was pretty damn unsettling considering that it was in my home. But, for some reason, it reminded me of Annie and I knew that Annie would never hurt me.
Rachel stirred in my arms and grumbled at me to go back to sleep, pulling me back to reality and making me realise just how exhausted I was. I grinned and kissed her tousled red hair and after glancing at the figure once more I fell back to sleep.
The figure has been in my room every night for the past four weeks. It gets a little bit closer every night, but it always felt more watchful than threatening, as though it was protecting us while we slept. Annie would never hurt me, so this thing wouldn't hurt me.
But last night it was closer than ever. Standing at the end of the bed, staring at us. And for the first time… I felt scared. Because those blue eyes contained nothing but fury. Absolute, raging, violent fury.
But Annie would never, ever hurt me. I know this! There is no chance in hell this thing will harm me in any way if it’s linked to her.
I woke up this morning well before dawn, I could see the moon and a couple of stars glinting in the darkness. Rachel was still asleep next to me and the bed was extremely comfy so I couldn’t bring myself to move and eventually dozed off again. I woke up what must have been several hours later as I could see the Sun rising through the bedroom window. Rachel was also awake, her lips were moving although I couldn’t hear what she was saying. She was sat up and staring at me, one hand on my arm and the other pressed against my neck... and she looked scared, genuinely scared. This wasn’t right. Nothing scares Rachel. This combined with the fact that I couldn’t move or even ask what was wrong made me figure that this was just another horrible dream as I had been having nightmares for the past week, so I let myself fall back to sleep, dimly registering that Dream Rachel had run out of the room.
When I woke up again there were lots of people in our bedroom. I was confused, why were there people in my bedroom while I wasn’t dressed or showered or anything?
There were flashing lights outside and I could just about hear the sound of sirens, but they were muffled like someone had stuffed cotton wool into my ears or my head was underwater. I saw Rachel standing in the doorway, crying. I wanted to call out to her, ask what was wrong. But I couldn’t. Now I felt scared, I couldn't. This…this wasn’t a dream. I was struggling to keep myself awake but after a minute or so I gave up trying, I didn’t want to watch Rachel cry anymore. It just made everything even worse.
As I drifted back to the comforting darkness of sleep, I saw a dark figure that no one else seemed to notice. It was standing just behind Rachel, looking over her shoulder at me, blue eyes sparkling with something that looked like triumph. But these eyes were a dark, dark blue… these were not Annie’s eyes.
I woke up in a strange room I had never seen before. Despite the fact that there was no light source to be seen so the room was shrouded in shadows, I could see perfectly fine. There was a door to my left. It looked like the door to Annie’s old studio so I walked through it and found myself standing my hallway. The world looked odd, everything was a bit hazy and fuzzy around the edges and everything was tinted grey, like someone had put a filter over my vision.
My guitar was propped on the wall by the door but it wasn’t the guitar Rachel had given me for our first anniversary, the only guitar I played nowadays.
This was the guitar that had been in storage since the 21st of August. Since that burning, raging summer three years ago. This was the guitar I played for Annie.
I couldn’t bear to look at it because every time I did I saw Annie’s eyes. The way they sparkled whenever I played for her. The way her lips would twist into a grin and the way her fingers would tap out a beat and the way her warm, soft voice would occasionally bless me by joining in, making up lyrics that always seemed to fit.
So I smashed it.
I smashed it into a million tiny pieces.
I stepped over the remnants of the guitar and walked down the hall, past the masses of cards that were propped on the shelves and table.
I'm sorry for your loss.
I cracked open the door to the bedroom. Rachel was fast asleep. I could see where the tears had dried on her face. I quietly walked to the edge of the bed, trying not to wake her. Even in her sleep tears found ways to creep down her cheeks and she was hugging my pillow tightly.
She was completely unaware of the dark shadow watching her from the end of the bed.
She was completely unaware of me.