by Angie Cosey
It was a dark and stormy night. The rain slashed down, gathering in slick pools of muck under my feet and obscuring my vision as I hacked desperately at the vines in front of me. I glanced nervously over my shoulder as a flash of lightning briefly illuminated the gloom. I saw nothing in the mist behind me but the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as the temperature dropped. They were getting closer.
It’s hard to remember my life before. I am pretty sure I was a maintenance technician for an HVAC company. Just an ordinary man. I didn’t even own a machete in those days. Funny to think about that now. Sometimes I try to recall my life before the plagues came, but mostly it’s a hazy blur.
In the final days of the sixth plague, the really weird stuff started to happen. People died, but they didn’t stay dead. They weren’t zombies, exactly— their flesh didn’t rot and they didn’t eat brains. But they were reanimated, in a way, and they came for the living. They were recruiting to their spectral ranks.
They were ghosts.
I ran from them, and hid when I could. But eventually, sooner or later, the ghosts would always find me. And so I would run again, always moving. I’ve been running for so long now. I know they are chasing me, even when I can’t see them. When they get too close, it’s like walking into a deep freezer, like diving into a lake in January. It gets so cold, even my bones hurt.
It’s been months, and as far as I can tell, I’m in Central America now. There is jungle all around me. I have this machete, and it eats through the vines as I try to stay ahead of the pack of ghosts that tail me. A wall of trees rises up on either side of my path and it seems I can only go forward or backward, as though trapped in a labyrinth. Some kind of maze, and I never know if there is a ghost around the next bend.
The same four wraiths have trailed me here. Their wide and staring eyes bulge out of their faces. They are translucent, but I can still see enough of them to tell them apart; they are so familiar now, after chasing me for so long, that I’ve given them names. Blinky is the redhead whose eyelids flutter open and shut like a nervous tic carried over from life. He follows relentlessly behind me, never wavering. Pinky must have loved the color in life because her shade is dressed head to toe in it. Inky, the shadowy one with the blue hat, follows Pinky around, and they disappear from time to time only to reappear ahead of me, waiting in ambush.
And then there’s Clyde. I once knew a dog named Clyde who got rabies and spent his last hours stumbling around in confusion. The ghost dressed in what must have once been a bright orange tracksuit reminds me of that dog. He bobs around randomly. At times he’ll become brave and give chase; other times when I turn upon him with my chewing machete he flees as though in terror.
I can feel the goosebumps rising along my spine as the ghosts get closer. It’s dark and raining, and the jungle seems impenetrable. The dense foliage before me yields to the desperate hacks of my machete, but my arm is growing tired. I can’t keep this up much longer.
Just through the leaves ahead, I see a flash of something. Another ghost? No— it can’t be. It isn’t moving, it isn’t flickering transparently. It’s gleaming, just beyond the tangle of vines and moss. It seems far away, but it shines so brightly. Seeing something, anything, besides the dark vegetation of the leafy labyrinth I’ve been trapped in fills me with hope. Maybe it’s a way out!
I furiously cut and chop and tear at the forest, determined to reach my glimmering goal. As I get closer, the source of light becomes clearer: it’s an orb, glowing from some internal energy source, lighting up the gloom around me like a beacon. A little bigger than my fist, it’s so bright that it’s almost hard to look at directly. Whatever it is, surely it’s the key to my salvation!
Just as I am nearing the incandescent ball, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. The temperature plunges. Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement and the wraithlike form of Blinky floats into view. He reaches for me, but I dodge his grasp. I’m so close now. Just a few more steps…
…and then Inky and Pinky materialize to my left, and beyond them I see Clyde bobbing towards me. The phantoms are closing in, my lungs have constricted in the icy air, I can feel their spectral hands clawing for me. I am surrounded by these murderous revenants and I feel hope dissolving. Desperately, with my last gasp of strength, I throw myself at the orb—
I could have died that night, and very nearly did. But something else happened entirely. I discovered the power pellets that give me the strength to fight the ghosts. As soon as I’ve got one, I become invincible. The ghosts flee from me, and when I catch them, they dissolve into nothing. The power doesn’t last long, though, and it seems that the longer I travel, the power pellets become fewer and farther apart. But I have a chance now— a weapon against the ghosts. I just have to keep moving, to find the next orb, to stay alive long enough to put all the phantoms to rest…