Written for Story Slam: October 2017: Theme: Spirit

Alone on the street, I slip into observer mode. It’s like slipping into the mud on the flats at low tide; I squelch down into it easily, then get stuck in its dark, cloying thickness. I can’t move. The lights in the bar across the street, the noise spilling onto the sidewalk, the shrouded darkness of the garage next door—they conspire to set the dogs of panic loose in my stomach.

I try breathing.

In. Out.

I lose control of the rhythm and fall quickly into hyperventilating, doubled over awkwardly, huffing into my hands to keep from passing out.

I had not figured on this moment being the one that paralyzes me.

After a minute, things slow down. I stop berating myself for being weak and rest my forehead on the giant tree to borrow its strength, the rough texture of bark bringing me back outside myself. I am rooted, like the tree, to this spot. The longer I look at the bar on the other side, and the harder I try to muster my courage to go there, the further it pulls away from me.

I let the tears of stress and panic drop off my face into the dirt, rein in my breathing, and wait for my mind to regroup.

A cool wisp of movement – just a slight breath of air – shifts up and around my feet and legs, too light to stir the leaves, but strong enough to tickle my ankles and skim the hair to attention all over my body.

Naomi’s voice crawls in and around my ear. What are you afraid of?

Is she kidding right now? What am I afraid of? In the past week I’ve been accused of the brutal, cold-blooded killing of my ex-husband and targeted for blame, intimidation, and violence. I’ve been threatened and attacked on social media and in real life, and I’ve been treated like a pariah by people who don’t know me—as well as by those who should know me better.

God only knows how many of David’s friends are in that bar right now, drinking themselves into a sentimental fervor of loss and condolence, rewriting history and elevating the dead man from Douchebag to Saint. And taking me from Harmless Girl Next Door to Murdering Bitch From Hell.

I am determined to crash David’s memorial. Here. Now. To show myself and my fear to a dozen dozen of these people at the same time, to beg them for mercy. What could possibly go wrong?

The voice of my dead therapist whispers across the cuts and bruises on my cheeks, landing butterfly kisses on my swollen left eye. You have the truth written all over your face, Naomi says.

I know. In Technicolor. I roll my eyes. It hurts. But I’m glad for the damage and the tender agony. It’s the only thing I’ve got going for me, and it’s got to be enough. I need the men and women in that bar to Look. At. Me. To read the signs of my broken body and remember why I’m a killer. My body is my redemption.

So. What am I afraid of?

A plastic bucket skids violently across the mouth of the alley behind me, gaining momentum and slamming to a stop against a brick wall. David is here.

I brace for psychic impact. He has been quietly dead for several days, and I have been waiting for his first power move.

As if on cue, he treats me to the sound of the tire iron striking the cement when it missed me. The sound it made when it hit me. The claustrophobic open space under that car on the rack, and finally, the sound of the machine slamming into gear, ready to drop the BMW slowly and heavily onto my body.

David’s anger burns along the trails and threads of my nervous system, an exquisite joy radiating from his effort, his pleasure still wrapped up in the pain he twists into my very being. He failed to kill me that night, and now he thinks he can push fresh trauma on me from the grave?

But he never knew about Naomi. I’ve had a year to get used to the ways and means of the dead, and I’ve always been smarter than he gave me credit for.

In a delicious twist of fate, David’s cruelty had been his fatal flaw. He had wanted me awake and broken as the car came down to crush me, helpless and vulnerable—as if being his wife hadn’t taught me better. When I dropped to the floor, finally, convincingly, he dropped his guard. And his weapon.

And then.

And then he turned his back on me.

David’s ghost can move a plastic bucket, but Naomi can move steel. Right into my hand. One hard slam of that tire iron into the back of his head and I was hooked. Another. Another.

I don’t remember how many it took to stop.

“And I don’t care.” I say this out loud, with a smile. “Hear that, David? I don’t fucking care. I’m a killer now, and I’m okay with it.”

A cool tinkle of my own laughter swings around my limbs, dousing his angry fire with a happy dance of triumph. He is gone. I am now the proof of Naomi’s greatest lesson: To vanquish fear is to vanquish every ghost that feeds on it.

I blink at the bar, squatting there, so near and yet so far, full of the living and the permanence of the pain they cause. I’m no longer afraid, but I have to be careful. Spirits are easy. People, less so.

Naomi tickles the hair on my arm and wraps her voice around my thoughts. You are stronger than you know, and you can handle this.

I nod. I’ve been faking sanity for a solid year, pretending not to turn to a dead woman for advice and training. I’ve been a rainbow of blood, bruises, and splintered bones before, pretending to be broken.

Surely, I can fake a little fear and contrition now.

Surely, I can pretend Naomi and I would never have planned this all along.