FRITH III

Ironically, I have a talent for gardening.


Every morning when I leave for work at the nursery, Castile begs me not to go. He thinks anything that grows is evil, and he can’t seem to wrap his head around the fact that sometimes a plant is just a plant.


I’ve offered to bring him with me, so he can see there isn’t anything to worry about. There are no white trees or blights or moldering ruins. The orchids in the greenhouse are not reporting to the enemy. It’s hard to be afraid in a place that has stacks of tires painted like Minions, even if you do have plant-related trauma. But Castile won’t leave the apartment.


I just don’t know what to do about him. With everyone else, it’s easy—I block numbers, I delete social media, I stop replying to messages. I told my dad that I’m talking to mom and my mom that I’m talking to dad. Quinn thinks I’ve abandoned her, but there isn’t a lot I can do about that.


Castile is different for a lot of reasons. For one thing, we live (for lack of a better word) together. For another, he’s the only one who knows what I’ve been through. I know as well as he does that therapy and yoga won’t do anything about the kind of shit we’re dealing with. And it’s partly for that reason that I’m incapable of convincing him we aren’t still in danger.


Last night, he told me he’s taking up journaling. I asked him how the hell he’s doing that, he doesn’t have arms or legs. It’s got to be hard to keep up a writing habit if you don’t have a corporeal form, but he just said he was managing somehow. I’ve learned to trust him when he says things like that, and he hasn't proven me wrong: words just appear on pages around him.


I’ve learned to trust him in general.


I didn’t think I’d ever get to that point, but that’s what happens when someone saves your life. Back in the house, when he told me those stories about bringing people back from the dead, I didn’t really believe him. I know how silly that sounds—it isn’t like I had any trouble believing in ghosts at that point—but resurrection is a different animal. To be honest, I still don’t really believe it. I think everybody has an appointed time to die, and maybe Castile’s talent only lies in kicking it a little ways down the road.


That’s how it was with me at least.


Aspects. Feelers. That’s what Castile called the doppelgangers. Even now, in this little apartment far away from the woods, with the sunlight filling the room and Castile on the sofa—it still feels like I’m inviting something back into my life, just by writing about them.


Certain words feel forbidden now, in ways they didn’t before. Words like doppelganger, scrimshaw, germination. I hope it’s only because I’m traumatized, but my gut tells me it’s more than that. There’s something of sympathetic magic in the associations we have with words. I’m afraid to say them or even write them down because it brings the memories a little closer, and no matter what I tell Castile there’s a part of me afraid they’re hunting us.


But on the other hand, if I ignore them, if I don’t write about them, they start scratching. I learned that the hard way. The week after I got the apartment, before Castile turned up again, I decided I was going to put everything behind me and never speak or write or even think of it again. That was my approach to the crawlspace incident, all those years ago.


The day I moved in, nothing unusual happened. I went on ignoring the pit in my stomach.


A week later, I woke up in the dead of the morning—digital clock said 3:43, I remember—and started gasping, just because I was choking on the silence. I went to turn on the light, but something made me stop, and instead I just lay there, waiting for a half-forgotten nightmare to finish draining away. I can’t explain the terror in me, but it was like being in the crawlspace again, like I was ten years old in the dark.


As I lay there, half-awake and half-asleep, I thought I heard something. It was either footsteps on the old floorboards in the hallway or the distant crackling of a fire. Gradually I fell asleep again.


The next night it happened again, only this time I woke up at 4:34 and what I heard was not creaking floorboards or crackling flames but a slow, long shuffle. Something wandered up and down the hallway, touching all the doors but not opening them. I didn’t move or even breathe because I was scared of making any noise that would reveal me as alive. My door bumped back and forth, and then the shuffling went away.


The next day Castile found me. Divorced from the Madigan estate, he is something between a shadow and a ghost. I don’t think folklore has a word for what he is, because I don’t think anything like him has ever been around before. He can take a substantial shape if he tries but for the most part he exists on the walls and floor like a trick of light. He can speak, but only through the written word.


I asked him what he thought he was, and he grinned—it was strange, seeing his face after so long, if this is his face—and said he called himself a stain. 


Yes. Something the world can’t wash off.


Cas I told you to stay off my journal.


I'm going I'm going


When he manifests, he is tall (taller than me), white (WHITE white, about as pale as snow), and slim as a toothpick. His hair is jet black, tar black.  At first he was dressed in rich boy duds from the 1910s, like a respectable ghost, but these days he has adopted the image of torn jeans and an old Steelers hoodie he found in my laundry basket.


Of course the FIRST thing I asked him was how he’d found me. His answer chilled my blood. “I heard you calling last night,” he said. “I had been searching for you, but it wasn’t until lately I started hearing you call.”


“I didn’t call you,” I told him.


“Some part of you did,” he replied. “I heard it.”


That was how I realized I couldn’t ignore what went on at the Madigan estate. I could shove it down but I couldn’t make it go away, and with no outlet, something deep inside me caves under the pressure and starts crying out. In my deepest sleep I made a noise, or something akin to a noise, and it called out to the things I escaped and they answered.


I’m in a new sort of world now, in this new chance at life Castile has given me, and it has rules I have yet to learn. There’s no book for it. I can’t trundle off to my local library and read about ghosts or ghouls or vampires. This is something that exists independent of our attempts to understand it, and I stumbled into its lair one time and now I will forever have its attention.


So this thing I’m doing now, where I write about it and then lock up what I’ve written, is more like duct-taping a door back on its hinges than it is an actual long-term solution. It probably won’t work forever, but it’s what I was able to come up with. This way, the part of me that cries out at night has an outlet during the day, but as no one has to read these words I don’t have to be worried about spreading them around.


That was the other thing Castile mentioned. He has a hard time, I think, articulating the particulars of things—it is difficult for him to judge what is and isn’t important for me to know—but on one point he was very firm. No one can ever know about the estate, the trees, the Madigan family, and above all, no one can know about Castile’s grandfather. The knowledge, he says, is virulent.


Hence the safe, the old laptop, the USB, and the padlock.


It’s also why I’ve cut contact with my family, at least for now. There’s a part of me that feels a strange compulsion when I speak to them, a need to tell them everything, to spill it all out, and I can’t risk giving in to it. Whatever the part of me is that cries out to the estate, it cries out louder when I’m around someone who doesn’t know the truth.


For now, I rest and I garden and I write.


Eventually I will have to get around to writing about that last night, when Castile and I became friends and he changed and I escaped.


The night I died.