by ELIZABETH BROWN
osiah heaved his duffle bag, felt a sudden queasiness, a rush of adrenaline, a lingering displacement; a middle-aged man stood behind him, unshaven, disheveled; his eyes glowed--a blue, searing stare like a displaced Saint. What do you want? Josiah wanted to ask. The words stuck in his throat. In front of him, two students he recognized from campus, one blonde and one brunet, glanced at him suspiciously; they spoke furtively, flipped their hair—fruity scents wafted—the blonde one talked about the plane being haunted.
"I'm not kidding...lights flickering, engines catching fire, weird shit."
“That’s bizarre, Krista.”
“They use parts from crashed planes to build new ones.”
“You are such an ass, Krista!”
Josiah felt his heart quicken, recalled the conversation yesterday with Dr. Franco in the college infirmary. “I see her,” he had said. Dr. Franco was paternal, reassuring—yet, his tone was grave.
“You’re hallucinating, Josiah—it’s sleep deprivation,” he explained. “Lena has been dead for many years now...many years. Do you understand, Josiah? It’s important that you understand and accept it.” Dr. Franco touched his hand, rubbed it, paused there. Josiah felt an odd stirring.
“Yes, I’ll try.” Josiah waited for movement, some affirmation that he was visible, that it wasn’t a dream.
Dr. Franco sighed, swiveled; the chair creaked. "I'm going to give you a medication that I think will help,” he had said. “You may have fleeting moments of disassociation, headaches, nausea, but that you’ll even out eventually, Josiah.”
Josiah walked back to his dorm, imagining what he'd say to his parents. The students huddled, gaped at him, knowingly.
"Get home," his mother had said. "We'll help you." She sounded strangely detached, and Josiah wondered if it was indeed his mother.
“Mom?” he asked.
“Josiah, get home.”
Josiah explained his sleepless nights, and what Dr. Franco referred to as hallucinations. He assured his mother he'd be home. But there was Lena's voice, he didn't divulge, and how it was becoming distinct from his own inner monologue, as if his mind were splitting.
Josiah searched for the unkempt man. He decided he might need him at some point. "Where's that man?" he asked, no one in particular. The two students, seated now, scowled at him and rolled their eyes. He found his seat next to an elderly woman: diminutive, white hair mussed in particular areas, plastered to her head like a wig. He smelled her sickly sweetness, the rotting inside out. He watched her hands dig into a bag, the veins blue, bulging.
“We are rotting,” Lena told him, after she drowned, the first time he heard her. It had sounded like rowing instead of rotting. He knew it was her. She sat on the edge of his bed. Her hair looked damp, hung long, shaggily. He saw her pointed chin, the freckle on the side of her cheek.
“You still look the same,” he had said, attempting to normalize it.
“Did you hear me?”
“Yes, Lena, but where are we rowing?” When she didn’t answer, he decided she was referring to the boat, when the engine failed, how she rowed back to the dock just before she slipped. He had watched her struggle in the green lake, gasping, her eyes wide, maniacal. He couldn't move or speak. He had the sense that she was supposed to go under, that she was malevolent. Before she slipped off the dock, Lena had touched him, showed him how to kiss.
“It’s really okay. I'm already dead Josiah,” she had said. He laughed, initially. But each time she returned, and touched him, he felt an electrifying intensity that paralyzed him, and he became sober, breathless.
"I lost my older sister, Lena,” he said now.
The old woman sitting next to him said, "Pardon?" And eyed him, strangely.
“Dr. Franco, my psychiatrist, he told me she died when I was three or four years-old. He’s wrong. I know when my sister died. I was definitely older."
The students seated two rows up turned and scowled at him.
“I know Lena is dead. I know that.”
"Oh, I'm sure you do, hon."
"She used to tell me she was dead."
The blonde student stood up and glared at him: “Are you crazy?”
Her hair swayed like golden rod as she turned back around. He imagined it wet, dripping. The way it might splay out in the water.
"It's okay dear," the woman reassured. She touched his hand and he cringed with disgust.
"Rotting, that's what she said...not rowing."
"Pardon?" The woman pulled her hand away, warily. And he realized he had said it aloud.
The blonde student turned, slightly, and Josiah noticed the freckle on her check. She put a hand to her mouth, slumped down. The two friends stifled a laugh. It didn't matter. He wasn’t crazy. Lena was a hallucination brought on by the stress of exams and sleep deprivation. That's what Dr. Franco told him.
“How did it happen, dear? It helps if you talk about it."
The plane jolted. The lights flickered.
"Oh my." The lady clutched the sides of her seat. He envisioned it—the way her shrunken head might look thrown forward, unnaturally, the easy snapping of her thin neck, the macabre scene.
The lights flickered again. One of the students screeched. A younger child yelled, "Mommy, I'm scared." He tried to see w here the voice was coming from. It reminded him of Lena, when she was young, how she jumped into his bed at night.
“Josiah, I’m scared. I don’t want to die. The angel said I have to go soon.”
Soft hushes and movement emerged and stuck like barnacles on a rock seconds before the first wave breaks at high tide. The lights returned. The pilot’s voice announced a possible storm, apologized for any inconvenience or discomfort.
"She drowned in Lake Taneycomo. It was a vacation. We caught two trout. She slipped getting out of the boat."
"Oh, dear, that is tragic."
"I couldn't get to her in time.”
"It must have been horrible.”
"I saw when they pulled her out of the water. First time I saw a dead person. Did you ever see a dead person?”
"No, dear, no, I haven’t.”
“I almost drowned trying to save her."
"You are a real hero. Do you know that?"
You never tried. I was already dead.
"Are you okay son? You look a bit pale.”
Don't lie. You will go to hell, Josiah.
Dammit, she’s in my head! He wanted to scream.
"I'll leave you alone. But if you need me, don't be shy. I’m Marion. You just give me a nudge and we can talk.”
Marion is almost dead--She’s almost with me. Soon you will be dead, too. Everyone is rotting, Josiah.
“Thank you, Marion, I will."
After she closed her eyes, he studied Marion, noted the withered skin, gaunt cheeks, and imagined her supine, in a coffin. Everyone died, eventually. He knew that. She was shutting down. But he was fixated on it, the notion of death, His eyes felt heavy, sore. But sleep was blackness—Lena—he'd wake each time gasping for air. She was trying to get him, pull him into her realm. He felt her tugging, swarming his thoughts. No one understood. Not even Dr. Franco.
The engine hummed, fake air circulated like a white fugue. He envisioned her, the last time he was with her. She looked solemn, scared. Her green eyes glowed. He had the letter in hand, his acceptance to Boston College.
"I don't want you to move away, Josiah,” she sobbed.
"I need to go,” he said.
"Lena…no, it was not her, not Lena...it was Tory Bloom... first kiss, a ride on his bike, down a gravel path in the woods…to the pond, cicadas, the shrill…Tory’s bare leg rubbing, ripe berries, pine and wet moss…he couldn't resist…mouth, tongue, cherry lip gloss; they embraced like in the movies, fell backwards. Leaves and twigs cracked beneath. She moaned. He did too. At one point he opened his eyes, saw Lena standing on the edge of the pond, naked, dipping her foot in and out, the water undulating; he had forgotten that.
"Are you okay?"
"What!?” he cried out. Marion was staring at him, bewildered.
"Are we there?"
"No, dear, not yet, but you were making noises.”
"Oh, I'm so sorry.”
"Don't you worry,” she said.
"How long was I out?"
"No more than an hour, dear.”
Josiah panicked. It seemed just a few minutes since his eyes closed. “Are you sure he asked?" But his words were obscured by the pilot announcing severe storms, turbulence, advising passengers to buckle up and remain in their seats. His voice was serene, ominous like Dr. Franco's. Josiah caught a glimpse of him when he entered the plane, envisioned him now in the cockpit raking his hand through his thick hair, his austere expression, strands slipping in front, signifying an inner tension, touching the tops of his cheek bones, strategically, like props.
The plane jolted. The sky turned purple. Heads bobbed like buoys in a storm.
We are rotting, Josiah.
“I have one son. He's a lovely man. Married to a nice girl named Liza,” Marion began talking. “I think he was mad at me for so many years. I left his father, you know. I fell in love with another man. He never forgave me for it.”
Josiah heard a scream. The two students were crying, clutching each other. "I don't want to die!” the brunette shouted.
Marion pulled out rosary beads; he saw her pale, cracked lips move, heard her pray: “Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum…”
The plane was descending too fast.
It's cursed, Lena told him. He knew it now. She was right.
Is this it? Josiah felt the air shift.
"In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen,” Marion crossed herself.
“Oh, my God!” The blonde one yelled.
Josiah tried to imagine dying. The finality of it. He waited for Lena but his head was silent. What if Lena did die when he was small, and it was the trauma, the skewed memory of her that haunted him? What if Dr. Franco was right and ghosts didn't exist? Then it was this moment, just the aluminum, encapsulating, the whirring noise, the throttle of the engine, the high pitched whistling, the passengers like vessels moored, gripping their bodies one last time, coiled balls of flesh—poised like the stillness of a spider just before it’s crushed.
Elizabeth Brown is a native of Connecticut. She has short fiction published in Bartleby Snopes, Literary Orphans, Pithead Chapel, The Milo Review, Sleet and elsewhere. She is currently at work on a psychological/existential thriller.
The authors published at HelloHorror retain all rights to their work. For permission to quote from a particular piece, or to reprint, contact the editors who will forward the request. All content on the web site is protected under copyright law.