This was written for a short story collection called “A Haunting of Words”:
The Haunted Story, by Antony M. Copeland
To whomever finds this letter,
I’d like to say I’m sorry that you found me this way, but honestly I’m not. In fact, if you happen to be a friend or family member, someone who knew me personally, all the better.
You might be tempted to interpret what you’ve seen today as a simple suicide. It isn’t. I’m not suicidal. Quite the opposite, I mean to be around forever.
You probably feel I owe you an explanation for all of this. A justification for the horror you’ve just witnessed. That’s fair enough. You’re probably too traumatized right now to put the pieces together yourself.
If you’d been able to look around, to look away, you’d see the notebooks stacked on my desk. They may be a bit bloodstained. I’ve tried to avoid hitting anything arterial. As dramatic as it would be to spray the walls with blood, it would be too quick. Over too soon.
Still, my calculations could be off. My machine may have cut too deeply, and caused a little bit of squirting. That’s why I took care to tape this letter to the top of the frame, where none of my blood should be able to reach it. Right where you would see it if you looked at my face.
What does my face look like by the way? Is it frozen in twisted agony like I imagine it does? Or is it just slack and wide-eyed, the flesh beginning to part from bone from gravity and entropy?
Maybe I already know the answer. Maybe this worked and I can see for myself. It should. I’ve put enough research into this. An excessive amount really. I had to be absolutely certain you see? I had to be sure this would work before I ever attempted it. Testing it on others, even animals, would ruin everything. It had to be a leap of faith.
I’ve been obsessed with ghosts since I was a child. How could I not be? The house I grew up in was haunted. Our parents tried to hide it from us, but I know it. We both did, though I never heard my sister admit it. She’s certainly never said she wants to be a ghost, but then again I’ve never told anyone what I was planning to do here either.
Things would happen in that house. Strange noises, shadows that moved and smiled, cold drafts in windowless rooms, and the feeling that someone was always there, watching over me. When I was very little I used to think it was god. It would sometimes tell me things that only I could hear. Things that made me doubt that god really existed.
It wasn’t such a big loss. I never much liked the idea of heaven anyway. Being surrounded by the kind of people you meet at church forever and always didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. It sounded like all the interesting people went to hell, but if the bit about eternal torture was true, then I didn’t much fancy that either.
It seems unlikely since our souls have no flesh to burn, no skin to flay, no fingernails to tear off or eyeballs to burst. Why risk it though? Why even play this game in which some almighty being has you imprisoned and tormented for eternity just because you don’t do as he says? It sounds like fascism, and it’s no wonder we accept evil men as leaders so easily.
It occurred to me, several years before my teens, that ghosts avoid both heaven and hell. They remain here on earth among the living, forever, and I knew that’s what I wanted to be. I knew even then, based only on children’s books and campfire stories, that I would have to avoid doing anything good enough to be rewarded with heaven, or bad enough to be punished with hell.
It wasn’t too much of a stretch. I was already mostly ignored at school and never really did anything notable. I went to church, but didn’t do anything charitable or kind, nor was I particularly cruel. I soon stopped going to church and resolved to continue being boring and forgettable. I would do nothing that would benefit or harm my fellow man.
I’m so dull I’m surprised I have any friends at all. I’m fairly certain that most of them are only friends with me out of pity or cruelty. That includes my girlfriend. The rest are barely friends at all, just people I know. Having me around no doubt makes them feel accomplished, smart and interesting by comparison. Some of them may even mourn my loss. They needn’t bother. I’ll still be around.
I also knew I could never fulfill my potential. Almost everyone knows that ghosts have ‘unfinished business’. I’d never be a ghost if all my issues were resolved and I was content with my life. I might have been a great writer, a musician, or an artist, perhaps even an inventor, but I’ll never find out. I can’t, or all this preparation is wasted.
I’ve studied the subject extensively since I made my decision and there are other things that ghost stories have in common. The death is tragic, and often traumatic in the extreme. You can see for yourself in the notebook marked “Ghost Stories”. I’ve compiled tales of ghosts from folklore, first-hand accounts, fiction and even blatant falsehoods from all over the world and history.
Sometimes, even the ones that seem to be ridiculous fakes can feel ‘right’. I’ve left out the stories that don’t ring true, and written all the best stories down. I’ve no doubt that after you’ve read them you’ll come to the same conclusions I have. That it’s not only possible to become a Ghost, but that being a ghost is a far more attractive prospect than an eternity in heaven or hell.
As I have been studying Ghosts, I also found myself learning more about alternative religions and their gods, goddesses, and magic. Ancient myths and modern belief systems often feature Ghosts, and also witches and magic. Each culture has it’s own traditions regarding death and the afterlife, and a different set of gods and goddesses to supplicate to ensure your life and afterlife is pleasant.
The Greek legends have a particularly fascinating take on death. All souls go to Hades’ underworld. Only a rare few heroic individuals have avoided those overcrowded and miserable conditions to walk among the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus. In some cases, the heroes were half god to begin with, but the stories still feature witches and magic almost every time.
This ability that witches have to see and steer a hero’s destiny towards or away from the attentions of the gods appears in the legends and myths of several belief systems and cultures. It’s also very interesting to me, so learning all I could about witchcraft and magic became important. This proved difficult since much has been done over the centuries to discredit and oppress the practice of witchcraft.
I’ve learned all I could about ancient practices and learned that most of it was destroyed or never written down. What does exist is cryptic and confusing, and largely made up. The magical systems of the ancient Egyptian, Incan, Babylonian, and other similar cultures are fine examples of this. Modern wicca seems to have very little in common with the ancient celtic, norse and gothic traditions that it’s believed to be derived from. All of it seems designed to be ridiculous.
Despite this I think I have gleaned some deeper truth from the fragments and propaganda. It had worried me a little going into this that exploring witchcraft would be considered evil and condemn my soul to hell, but I also grew more certain that concepts such as heaven and hell, gods and devils, were all just attempts to understand something beyond our understanding, and that I wanted none of it.
Through meditation and ritual, I compiled several spells that would serve my purposes. Among them are spells designed to keep me off the radar of all the gods and goddesses, old and new. There’s a spell to keep my soul intact as it leaves my body and prevent it simply dissipating into the ether, formless and mindless. All of them work together to make certain that I will retain my mind and personality as a ghost.
The trickiest spell to compose was perhaps the one that works in tandem with the last one I mentioned. Ghosts are often thought to be haunting a particular object, or place, or even their own bones like an egyptian pharaoh or a christian saint. I can’t be limited to a thing like that. Ideally, I’d like to be completely free to go wherever I please, but it seems that being bound to something is somewhat of a necessity.
Feel free to look through the books labeled “Spells” to see how I overcame this, along with the other spells, rituals, and incantations I used. All of which have been thoroughly researched and carefully composed.
I had considered calling it a “book of shadows” as the wiccans do, but I’m not a wiccan. I’m a student of death and immortality, destined to remain long after wicca is dead, and those that practice it have turned to dust.
There’s also a notebook containing my analysis and critique of the myths and legends that feature ghosts and death magic. I should have simply called it “myths”, but instead I went for the rather dramatic “The Book of Death”. Clearly, I was inspired by the legendary egyptian “Book of The Dead”.
When you read it you’ll see that there’s another useful lesson the gods have taught us. Having a story that captures people’s imagination turns a mundane person into a legend and a legend into a god. Unlike those legends based on unreliable memory, I will be there to make sure my story is told faithfully.
None of this will be of any use to me unless I actually die, which I clearly succeeded at. As I explained earlier, and in more depth “Ghost Stories”, it’s not enough to simply kill myself. My death must be traumatic, and nearly as horrific to discover as it was to experience.
That’s where my final notebook comes in, entitled “The Machine”. In it, you will find details of the medical and mechanical research I conducted, and the design schematics for the contraption that you have found my remains strapped into.
The machine is etched all over the framework with runes, glyphs, and sigils. They will focus and direct the magic I’ve summoned. I’ll be reading the spells aloud before I climb in. Similar markings have been engraved into the restraints, sawblades, drill bits and knives of the Machine.
You’ll also see that the Machine is designed to be inescapable once I’ve turned it on. Not only can I not turn it off, but the restraints will hold me fast no matter how much I will struggle. I can’t even pass out since there are intravenous needles going into my neck delivering drugs to keep me awake and alive and to replace the inevitable lost fluids.
Can you tell that I struggled? That I screamed in pain? Did I try to tear out the wiring and make it stop? I planned for all of it. The button under my fingers turns the Machine on, but not off. It won’t turn off until the sequence is completed. The wiring is hidden inside the steel framework.
Just to make sure, the Machine will begin by mutilating my hands and feet. It will cauterize as it goes to prevent me from bleeding out. It will then begin flaying and flensing the arms and legs next, slowly and painfully.
No doubt I’ll be screaming by this point, so I’ve installed acoustic foam soundproofing on the walls. No-one will hear me and come to my rescue. Only when the skin and muscle have been peeled away from my ribcage, my sternum cracked and pulled open, exposing my heart and lungs, will my Machine stop.
You will have no doubt noticed that I left my head untouched. This was not only so that I could be easily identified, but also so that I could see everything that was happening via the mirror facing the Machine, smell the blood and burning flesh, hear myself screaming over the whine of the sawing and drilling, and experience the full horror of my grisly death.
That is how you found me, my skin and flesh peeled back, my heart exposed to the air, and it doesn’t matter if you believe in Ghosts and curses or not. Seeing me like this, and knowing why I did it will haunt you and torment you for the rest of your life.
The only thing that will help you sleep better, that will make the nightmares stop, is telling others. Each time you tell the story my legend will spread and I will become stronger. You’ll have to tell someone, at the very least you’ll need to tell the police. If you are the police, you’ll have to report this to your superior. It still won’t be enough.
You’ll have to tell your partner, your mother, your therapist, and anyone willing to listen to you as you try to drink me away. I will haunt you. You’ll hear me whispering into your mind just as the Ghost I grew up with did.
I will be immortal, and unstoppable. I’ll grow more powerful as my story spreads. You can join me if you like. It’s all in those notebooks, you have everything you need. Can you feel me watching?
Mark J. Anderson