Atherton: She Told Me To

We are all haunted by something.

I don’t mean spirits specifically—though I would be lying to say this isn’t often the case. I would know. Most of us are unaware; we spend our entire lives haunted. Not chasing happiness but running from it—the hands of phantoms always clutching from behind. 

My mother told me our family had something strange in our blood. Even with the world roaring forward, smoke stacks multiplying and industry choking the skies, our history feels more real than ever.

Our family shares lineage with Bridget Bishop, a woman hanged on the accusation of witchcraft. It took a whole century before the stigma left our family name, and another one before the tale became forgotten at dinners and bedtime stories to scare the little ones.

Even so, somehow through all that, most of us held it as a badge of pride in one way or another. We had a passionate streak in us. Vengeance, maybe. A hatred for ignorance. Something that made us different, at least. When you’re poor and it seems the rest of the world is rich, sometimes that’s all you need to feel special.

But my mother didn’t always see the good in it. 

“It’s not witchcraft or evil in our blood, Ather. Just bad luck.”

“Would you still say that if Bridget was a real witch?” I asked. 

“She was a real witch. She turned men mad with evil. That’s all magic is: manipulated hearts.”

I never believed what she said about bad luck. Even then as a child pretending to enjoy oatmeal without honey.

And even now with my hands tied up in silks a dozen yards above the ground, my legs unwrapped and hanging listless. Even now, as I watched thousands of people gasp at the scarlet running from my opened throat.

The spotlights had made it easy to see it was no magic trick. Not a macabre enactment at the end of my routine. A rushed closing of the curtains and dimming of lights made this a certainty to the audience. Next was the delayed stymieing of the orchestra below, whose cellist was about to feel a strange, warm dripping on his forehead.

No ringmaster came out to address the crowd. He was holding back his sick and looking just as surprised as everyone else.

The other performers, nearly all the faces I ever cared about, crowded around me. Their expressions contained a horror they should have held for me long ago. I wished they wouldn’t grieve for me.

I wanted to slip free of the knots I’d tied around my wrists and hug each of them, tell them I was alright. That it was all for this sake of this place, anyways. They would understand soon enough. Instead I was just hanging there, useless. Draining.

But I was miles away by the time their hands reached my body.

It’s not bad luck in my blood.

Just ghosts.