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Marwah Shebl

The Haunting Things I Think About

We sat together on the creaking stairway leading to the two-bedroom apartment we shared. A bag of salt sat by the front door next to the bookshelf that housed all of our poured and collected knowledge. The air was cold and wet from the misty fog, and we had given up on trying to find the answer as to how to get rid of the mysterious mold stains growing on our bedroom windowsill. Grimoires and EMF readers couldn’t help us solve the issues we had in that apartment, and no amount of research could give us the answers to the questions we wanted.

We avoided talking to your mother. Well, I at least pretended to sink into the grim pathways of my college research long enough for her to lose interest in talking to me anymore. Hauntings and ghosts, the paranormal, and the supernatural were always more pleasant to deal with than the soul-draining monster in law. Thanksgiving is certainly a time to behold in our little family. We like to pretend in normalcy, playing catch with a red ball from the balcony used to be a pleasant daydream to have between the two of us.

I stay up at night sometimes wondering if maybe I made the wrong choice of getting married. Hear the sounds of our shared breathing. Sometimes I wake up, and forget for a moment you’re lying next to me I’ll think. What is this cold thing, this body lying beside me, a ghoul perhaps or a zombie? Maybe something less corporeal like a phantom?

Then I’ll hear the clock ticking and snap out of it, realizing I’m all alone in my bedroom. There’s no one in this house but me. The soundlessness echoes, a strange emptiness that comes with single occupancy. I’ve never been married before, chronically single perhaps is the best word to describe it. Then I’d imagine I’m married. We’re eating spaghetti by candlelight, not because it's romantic, or we’re having a date night but because the power went out just as I started serving dinner. We’re eating and chatting, and I get into talking your ear of about the difference between a Wendigo and a Skinwalker which leads to conversing over notorious vengeful spirits and the occult. I’m happy we’re both enjoying ourselves and these conversations don’t seem to bore you half as much as I expect them to.

Before I know it the red sauce I made from a mix of odds and ends from our fridge begins to taste coppery in a way that makes me question if I put in too much salt or pepper. I can feel my stomach clench as I examine the red-coated bits of meat dripping from my fork. The wind howls outside as the rain pours harder and we decide to call it a night. I put the leftovers away while you handle the dishes. I’ll stay up late thinking of all the mysteries of the universe and you’ll sleep soundly thinking of the things you’ll accomplish in the morning.

The next morning I’ll sit in my comfortable blue chair in the living room. Perhaps I’m reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelly or Dracula by Bram Stoker, or crocheting you yet another winter scarf. There’s clutter all over, unsolved books, half-finished art projects, and research notes halfheartedly coaxed into a pile but still taking up 85 percent of the coffee table beside me.

“My mother called this morning, she’s sorry she missed you again.”
“That’s fine I guess I’ll call her while you’re at work Habibi.”
“She’s wondering when she can start looking for little shoes again.”
“. . ."

“Little shoes,” that’s our shorthand now. I don’t want to continue the conversation, so I allude to our past agreements:

No little shoes.
No in-law interference.
A marriage of convincing.
A convenient arrangement.
Contractual obligation.
The platonic arrangement which we’ve contractually signed together.
The triumphantly found loophole.

I sigh and state that my father is coming over in a few days to stay with us for a week or two. We know we have to put on the usual show of bells and whistles:

Clean the house.
Discuss work.
Imply that we’re regularly intimate.
Make out.
Sit closer to each other than we normally would.

Go through the motions as it were, and pretend that we understand the living as well as we understand the abnormal, the fictitious, the damned, and the undead. Pretend the celestial, the human, heavenly and pious are what we know best.

I’ll tell you about the dream I had the other night, you asked me to tell you in the shortest way possible, I tend to ramble on and on and you didn’t have the time today, so I simply turned to you and stated:

“I unintentionally, unknowingly become a serial killer.”

I know how to sight haunting, tell a shapeshifter from a changeling, and spot the differences between a mermaid and a siren, but what good does that do when you don’t know if you’ll end up alone? I think of how disappointment, anxiety, and depression run through my body and set into my bones. Think of all the times I’ve lost faith. The clutter in the living room seems like a stone entry into my psyche at times. The fears of the living and the dead seem to intermingle in my mind at times. At the same time, I don’t think reapers care much for the ways of the living or the dead; they are as indifferent to angels and demons as rain is to a building.

I think I’ll put salt at the doorways and windows and recite a few prayers before bed tonight. Just to make sure nothing evil comes in. Or leaves.

Marwah M. Shebl is a rising artist and writer. She is fascinated with the strange and abnormal. Both her art and writing often interact with fantastical elements of fantasy, folklore, and the imagination of science fiction, or academic prose.

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