Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
I never used to frequent bars, at least not as much as I do now. With no job, no family, no nothing to return to, save for a bottle and an ashtray, I couldn’t find anywhere else to waste time.
I don’t do much else besides mold myself around a barstool while squeezing a glass of something that burns less coming up than it did going down. There isn’t much left for me to do.
Thursday night two months ago, I sat on the second stool on the right end of the counter, watching little brown bubbles pop in the centre of my drink. Somewhere to my left, the air conditioner reminded everyone in the room that it needed to be repaired while a stout fan pushed hot air up and under my shirt. The bartender dragged his soot stained dish cloth across the counter, smearing cigarette ash again the wood. There were about fifteen people in the bar that night. Not enough people to cause trouble, but just enough to keep the quiet buried beneath the floor tiles.
The liquid in my glass vibrated as the door behind me opened. A bell chimed, and I heard the patter of old boots on older tile as someone new came in.
I didn’t recognize him. He took up the stool beside mine, on my left, but I didn’t feel him. The spot felt just as empty as it did before he came in. Hunched over the countertop like a wet sheet of paper, the man didn’t so much as blink at anybody besides the bartender.
He had scruff on his jaw, no shine in his eye, and his hair looked like the wool on a dead lamb. He didn’t look like he wanted company, so I knocked back the rest of my drink and asked for another, ignoring him altogether.
I didn’t have any intention of talking to that guy, but apparently he wanted to talk to me. I might’ve thought he just wanted to mull over his own issues by himself, but he made it clear that he had baggage he wanted off his chest by just looking over at me.
“You live here long?” His voice was even like pavement.
A dry thud as he put his empty glass down on the counter.
I didn’t answer until the bartender refilled both of our drinks. “A couple years. You?”
Someone was smoking a cig somewhere in the room. The smoke made lights look runny.
He shook his head, downing half his drink before speaking. “You ever see anything so jack-shit fucked up that you just got no choice but to go along with it?”
I heard a laugh and a cough pass between my teeth. I nodded, taking the rim of my glass to my lips.
“How did you handle it?” He asked. His leather jacket was glowing orange in the light.
I dipped my head down a bit, taking a swig out of my glass. “Not very well. Couldn’t work, couldn’t eat, forgot about sleep. Some shit just makes the world stop turning.” My voice faded as I thought back a couple years.
He was staring straight into the counter at this point. His glass was just a glass, his eyes weak and unable to refocus. I slowly drained my own glass, waiting for him to say something.
“Mind if I tell you a bit of what happened?” He glanced at me, a look so brief I might’ve imagined it.
“Shoot.” I ran the tip of my thumb over the lip of the glass, wondering if I was sober enough to listen.
He let out a deep breath, resting his weight against his forearms on the counter. His breath made the smoky air swirl around our faces. The air conditioner clunked like a passing train while he composed himself.
“I’m pretty new here. I haven’t been in town for more than about six months. I was out of a job where I was last, so I decided to relocate after finding a listing over here.
“I moved into this small bungalow down by the university. It was in a good area with good people who mowed their lawns and didn’t leave beer bottles on my driveway, so I took the place and settled in.
“The bungalow in was pretty simple. It had one level, one bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen and all that. There were a lot of windows by the back in the kitchen, and there was this really big, nice picture window in the living room at the front that showed a bit of the lawn and the whole side walk down the street.”
I saw him pause to toss back the rest of his drink. He resumed his speech while the bartender came over a poured him another.
“Things were great during the first few weeks. The job was steady, no issues with the electricity or water…” He stopped again, and when I looked over at him, his hands were clenched tight around the glass like it was the only thing reminding him where he was.
“Fast forward a few weeks and I started to notice one of my… neighbors. From the moment I first saw him, I probably should’ve considered moving out, but I didn’t have enough money on me to get another place so soon after getting the one I had.
“This guy was average looking, wearing jeans and a plain shirt, standing on the sidewalk down from my house. I saw him through that big window by the front of my house, wondering why in God’s name I could see through him.”
I coughed as a dribbled of my drink slid down the wrong pipe. “You what?”
“The guy was half-transparent or some shit, and I don’t know why the hell that didn’t freak me out enough to leave.” He bent his head over his now empty glass as the bartended came around to refill it.
By this point, I noticed that a fair number of people had gathered around us. Their eyes were watery with interest, but none of them spoke up to urge the man beside me to continue speaking.
“So after I saw that guy for the first time, I remember staring at him for a bit, thinking that, okay, maybe he’s just curious. Maybe he was shy. Maybe he was actually a concerned neighbor, and so I went outside to see him.
“Imagine my surprise when I get outside and find the sidewalk empty. There were leaves and grass clippings, but no guy.
“I thought I was crazy. I thought I was seeing things, so I went back inside and got dressed for work. I thought if I just went on like it didn’t happen, it wouldn’t happen again.”
His glass was empty again.
“But it did happen again. It happened every day that week, and the next week, and the week after that. I went outside to find him for the first week and a bit, but after that, I realized that I wouldn’t ever find him out there. It didn’t make sense, so I just went to work… But it got real bad real quick after the first few days.”
He stopped talking just to look me in the eye, completely ignoring the small circle of people that had formed around us.
“Every day that fucker got closer and closer to the window. At first he stayed on the side walk, but then he moved onto my lawn, coming just a little bit closer every day. His clothes never changed, and that was why I was certain that he wasn’t real. There was no way he could be real.
“I had blinds installed, but I couldn’t close them because I had to know how much time I had before he made it to the window. I thought if he got to the window and I didn’t see it… I don’t know what I thought. I just needed to know where he was at all times.
“By then I convinced myself that I was crazy, that I had somehow bought the only haunted house in the whole area, ghost and all. I don’t know. I knew I’d made a mistake, but I had absolutely nowhere to go, and I still hadn’t saved up enough to rent out an apartment I’d found just ten minutes away from my workplace.”
He stopped to swirl his drink around his glass, his eyebrows raising as he took in the growing crowd of drunks. People were murmuring to each other, but he looked like he didn’t hear it. He probably did, but I felt like he needed to pretend he was just talking to me.
“When he was just about six feel from that window, I started smelling his really nasty, rotten smell, like someone left out spoiled meat and eggs.” His voice had gotten softer. “The next day, he was five feet away, and I couldn’t see his feet or much of his calves anymore. The smell was worse, and even my coworkers were starting to notice it when I got to work.”
His eyes were staring straight ahead at the racks of beer and scotch along the wall opposite of where we sat. When he spoke again, his voice was so quiet that I had to hold my breath to hear him.
“Then he was four feet away, and I couldn’t see his legs at all. I remember sweating because I just didn’t get it, and I brought my hand to my forehead to wipe away the sweat. I leaned back when I did because I was shifting my weight onto my other foot, and as I did, my reflection appeared in the glass of the window.
“And then it all made sense.”
He didn’t need to continue. I don’t think anyone would have made him if he didn’t want to, but he needed to say it. I could see it in his deflated cheeks that he needed to say it.
“That entire time, I hadn’t been seeing a ghost coming closer to my house. I’d been seeing the reflection of a man coming closer to me inside of my own goddamn home.
“When I realized what was actually going on, I turned around as quickly as I could and I jumped that fucker. I knocked him to the floor and beat him down until I was sure he’d stay still long enough for me to call the cops.”
Everyone in the bar was sitting close enough to hear. Nobody blinked, nobody moved so much as to cause even the thought of a noise.
He finished off the last of his drink, and shooed away the bartender who tried to fill it once again.
“The cops cuffed him and took him away, and I never saw him again. No one knew who he was. The cops said he was homeless and had been rooming in one of my closets or some shit. I guess it doesn’t matter too much.”
He spun around in his stool to face his audience, all the while making sure to look over at me every now and again. “It’s been about a month since I moved out of that place and into that other apartment I was talking about. It’s nicer there, fewer windows, no homeless creeps. I probably should’ve done a better job of scoping the bungalow out initially, or just gotten the hell out of there the day I noticed that guy…” He paused to make eye contact with every single person in attendance. “I’m not really sure there’s anything more I need to say other than to do yourself a favour and make sure you don’t fuck up as bad as I did.”
He turned to look at me. “The end.”
Applause followed his words, chasing them into my memory so I’d never forget his words.
It’s been two months since that night, and I decided to take my new car out for a drive. My new job paid for it, and my new girlfriend made sure that I treated it as well as I treated her.
Before I knew where I was headed, I ended up by the university, cruising through the family-friendly streets lined with sprinklers and flowerbeds.
On my right was a line of homes, bungalows, most of them occupied, except for a few. As I drove past them, I noticed this one particular home with a great picture window right at the front of the house. Sunlight created a streak of brightness against the glass, but even through the glare I could make out the shape of a man’s head, shoulders, and chest, and a pair of hands pressed to the window.
I blinked and the image disappeared.
I left the neighborhood and drove straight home, calling my girlfriend on the way to let her know that I was going to need a drink when I got home.
Like I told that man months ago, some shit just makes the world stop turning.
Credit To – Sabrina S.