I‘d been so aroused by the idea of him for so long, actually seeing him was like a first kiss. The Young Man of the Sea. He’d haunted the shore for a century. Thinking of him had become a full-time job.
Our family’s summer cottage sat squat on the Connecticut coast, on a rough piece of land no one else had ever felt the need to build on. My Uncle Frank, though, thought it was worth a try. Even after rebuilding it three times after various storms, he still deemed it the best spot of land in New England. Uncle Frank hated anything west of New England, where no one knew the meaning of fresh seafood. Uncle Frank was Mom’s brother and accompanied us on all vacations whether we liked it or not; a sour, stubborn tour guide.
Something heavy hung in the air the summer the ghost and I finally met. Lovecraft was right: New England is inherently odd. But, in the end, that’s a good thing.
I agreed to spend my twentieth birthday at the cottage, in hopes he’d pay me a birthday visit.
The only thing I didn’t like about the cottage was the water. I don’t know how many times I said no to boat rides. Uncle Frank said I was un-American for not going near the water. His spite had nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with his seafaring blood. If I’d gone vegan and refused to eat lobster he would have exiled me.
Our cottage had an attic, and I claimed the long, shadowy space for my own. A few small windows faced the ocean. I’d stand watch to see if a ship might crash. I didn’t mind looking at the water, when it was far away.
An out-of-tune piano loved only by me sat against the far wall of my dim gray haven. I’d play études in a minor key and stop to listen when the wind began to howl and whistle through the rafters like a wheezing bellows. I watched horror movies on an old TV and wished I lived in them.
Whenever the family was able to coax me from my attic perch at dinnertime they tried to connect, to find out what I was interested in. They asked what I wanted to do for a living, and I could only shrug. I didn’t think I was good at anything.
Mom asked me why my friends from school hadn’t called. I opened my mouth to explain that my friends had decided I was too weird and didn’t talk to me anymore but my tongue wouldn’t work.
The only thing that had really kept my attention was him. The story, as passed along by sailors and homebodies alike, was that during the nineteenth century, a painter lived nearby, a handsome young aristocrat. One night a spiteful rival broke into his studio and struck a match.
The studio went up in flames as a full moon illuminated the scene. Hundreds of original canvasses were reduced to ash. His life’s work, his companions, perished in an inferno of paint and turpentine. The following evening, maddened, the aristocrat crept into the culprit’s bedroom and, with a hand-saw, severed each offending hand. He skewered the palms on the rival’s own front gate.
Maddened by his own actions, the aristocrat ran to the cliffs and threw himself on the sharp rocks below. His body was taken by the water and never divulged.
By the next full moon, a gaunt form in bedraggled, bloody clothes was seen in vaporous grayscale haunting spots of foggy coastline. Maybe he was looking for his paintings. Maybe something else. It was said he could only be seen when the moon was very bright and the fog set the rocks glowing.
Supposedly, he’d stare into children’s nursery windows. I kept hawk-like watch, but he never came to mine. It was said he caused shipwrecks by tampering with the lighthouse. Unfortunately, no ships ran aground that summer.
Once, at dinner, I finally tried to ask Uncle Frank about him. He scoffed. Ghosts didn’t exist. Uncle Frank hated anything supernatural almost as much as he hated anything west of New England. I tried to protest, but he told me to shut up and eat my lobster.
I took up painting. I dreamed of ghosts and history and became unsettled by simple things. Once I saw a car and got confused. I put batteries in the wrong way. I was baffled by the device that played my favorite slasher flicks. The nineteenth century crept over me like a brain fever.
I imagined him haunting me. Just me. Mine. My friend, my very own personal specter, bound to me in an otherworldly pact. He wouldn’t think I was weird; he’d understand and keep me company. But every time I gazed out the window, he escaped my grasp.
To lure him in, I tried many tricks, everything but going near the water. I read about candle magic and spell casting. I drew symbols and charms with chalk in wide circles on the floorboards. I lay awake, attempting lucid dreaming.
Finally an idea struck me as I watched dust dance in the moonbeams piercing my filmy curtains. I jumped to my feet and began painting in his homage.
Hastily, messily, I painted my mind’s idea of him; dripping perspiration onto porous watercolor paper. I ran to tack my amateur masterpieces on the walls while brooding Tchaikovsky poured from my stereo.
The lamps at both ends of my room flickered. A cold wind blew out my candles. The temperature in the room dropped drastic degrees. I slowly turned to the landing of my attic stairs.
He was floating on my threshold. My heart leaped.
“I’ve waited for you my whole life,” I blurted. “Please stay.”
His specter form was shaded in black, white, and every gray between. Dressed in a frock coat with frayed embroidery, his ruffled, open shirt was torn over his breast like Byron. His features were smooth and angelically sharp; his brow noble and youthful, his lips thin and deliciously curved. His hair floated as if under water. I’d imagined angels. But he was so much more. I fell to my knees. He stared at me.
“I’m Christine,” I choked. The spirit blinked semi-transparent eyes. “What’s your name?”
He smirked, condescending.
“Oh, I guess you can’t tell me, can you?” I loosed a nervous laugh.
He shook his head. Floating about my room, he admired my paintings with a wide smile that created hazy dimples. I blushed. “They’re for you…”
Drifting to my bookshelf, he paused and bobbed anxiously in the air. He pointed to my Complete Works of Poe. A floating finger fixed on one word.
“Edgar,” I murmured, turning to him with a thrill.
Edgar nodded, pleased.
The waves crashed against the shore in a thundering clap that jarred the water from its sensual rhythm. Suddenly, Edgar glided toward the threshold as if summoned.
“Edgar, wait,” I gasped. He turned again. “Will you come back?”
Edgar stared mournfully at my hands for a long moment before nodding. Then he turned and dissipated down my stairs.
I collapsed on my bed and stared at the rafters, alternately giggling and sniffling.
Finally, as weeks passed, I felt whole. Purposeful. At home. Befriended. My family turned a blind eye to my increasingly withdrawn life. My birthday passed without much note. I think Mom baked a dilapidated cake and cooked some sort of crustacean for supper. They gave up trying to get me to go for a boat ride. Uncle Frank thought maybe I should move, somewhere west of New England.
I lived for a bright moon. It didn’t even have to be full for him to come. I was special.
Edgar watched me paint. He would point to areas that needed improvement. Amused, he would watch me tinker on the out-of-tune piano. He was fascinated by my hands. I asked if he missed greasy paint on his fingertips, the slow drag of a brush across a canvass. He nodded and stared at me like he was starving. I didn’t mind what parts of me his eyes drank up. I wanted to share everything with my new best friend; the man I loved.
He listened as I awkwardly confessed dark secrets. I declared my hatred for the people and things of the twenty-first century. I dressed for him in the fashion of his day; something I rented from a dusty place in town. When he saw me in that moth-eaten dress, his transparent eyes glistened with tears that couldn’t manifest into water.
We waltzed to Strauss. His arm chilled my side as we twirled about the room. Head to toe, I shivered with delight. I wrote him sonnets about vengeance, hands, and the moon. That hypnotizing, luminous sphere was our lone, silent chaperone.
One night, I couldn’t hold back. I told him I loved him. His dark eyes burned with a particular light I’d never seen.
Edgar focused on the white chalk I’d used to make symbols on my floor. He’d tried to use his incorporeal energy to shift objects before; to varying degrees of success. On this night he managed to muster enough force to lift the chalk and draw a shaking line that curved into a heart. He looked at the heart, then at me.
I wept openly, bemoaning the deliciously doomed love affair of the living and dead. Edgar, floating over me, shook his head and smiled. For a long time we stood listening to the crash of water on rocks.
His eyes looked me up and down, speaking wordless desire. His ghostly finger traced my outline from yards away. The moon pierced my room in bright silver shafts like searchlights. He pointed his finger down my body and this time I understood. My breath was ragged. My blood raged, pounding in tandem with the ocean.
Trembling, I undressed before him, letting my simple white sundress fall from my body. I let his eyes trespass me, wishing to be ravished for the first time by an essence.
In a moment that lasted for eternity, his semi-transparent body drew closer. My skin, already covered in goose-bumps, chilled further. Moisture frosted. He was inches from me. He bent his head and reached out a hand.
Icy air seized my neck. Icy air kissed me. I gasped and ice danced around my tongue. Cold tendrils caressed every curve of my body. I moaned and my breath came out in clouds.
The chill withdrew suddenly. Without hesitation I stumbled forward, craving ice to dive deeper. My mind swam. I had to be enveloped again. I had to have his pulsing cold. I needed him. Without him, I was a friendless misfit. He stared with severity at the moon and floated out the front door. Naked, shivering, unheeding, I followed. I had nothing; no place to belong if I didn’t have him.
I didn’t want to hear the waves grow louder. I hated water.
A spectral hand reached for me, desperate. I stumbled on the gravel of our front path, trying to keep pace with the form that began to blend with the thick fog all around me. The vapors kissed my flesh.
Edgar’s blue-black eyes shone through the fog; a lighthouse in reverse. He flung his arms wide, yearning to fall into me.
As the waves roared, the shadow of his head turned to stare longingly at the moon and disappeared from view.
“Edgar, wait!” I stumbled forward.
The rocks below me were very sharp. But it was only a brief transition from searing pain into numb vapor.
Now I don’t mind the water.
Now I look in your houses.
Now I scare your children.
Now I float the coastline, drawing ships on the rocks. I’m the lighthouse that sometimes goes dark.
Edgar’s gone. Maybe he paints with blood in hell, staring at his own hands, curious. Maybe he waltzes with other naked girls in their attics. Or maybe he floats between heaven and earth writing sonnets with quills plucked from plummeting angels.
At first, I couldn’t understand his betrayal. But once I began my own haunts, it didn’t matter anymore.
I, bloody seraph in shades of gray, vaporous and seeking the seduction of your senses, have taken his place. Finally, I belong, here on my coastline. I’ve become more than those movies I wanted to live. I float in infamy, not imagination. I used to be useless. Once wayward, now found, I have my place.
But I’m not giving it up. No one will take over. The shoreline’s mine.
Come gaze at the water, my young man. Come dream, come play. The crash of the sea is our waltz, never mind it’s out of tune.
I know you need a friend. I know you’re awkward, backward; desperate for companionship. I was like you. But look at me now; your angel and paramour. I’m all you need. I know you’ll follow me. They always do.
© 2015 by L R Hieber
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