A flute whistled in the dead of night.
Catherine jolted up from her bed and panted. Only the glowing blue digits on her clock, which read 11:22 pm, broke up the bedroom’s blackness. It was still enough light to show the contours of the plastic dolls and stuffed animals she’d kept from childhood on her shelves, and shine off the posters of pop stars off her wall. Not one of the shadows cast faint against the pink walls moved.
It must have been some kind of bird. With a relieved sigh, Catherine sank back into bed.
The flute whistled again.
It had a shrill and hoarse voice, almost like those tribal flutes they played for jungle movies. It sounded at the same time a reddish light flashed from her phone’s screen. Bolting to the desk where she kept it charged, Catherine unplugged it with one yank and hammered away its password. A text message appeared in blood-red letters with a scratchy font like scars:
TELL HIM THE TRUTH.
A deep thumping started after Catherine read it aloud. It must have been her own heart, even if its rhythm recalled the pounding of tribal drums more than a pulse.
Catherine clicked the home button on her phone, but it did not dismiss the strange message. Neither did swiping across the screen with her thumb. She pressed and held on the sleep button so she could power it off. Still no effect. Whomever had sent her this text, somehow they had attached some kind of virus which had her phone frozen. Maybe the Internet, with all its infinite wisdom, could explain the problem.
She switched her computer on.
What followed was not the on/off button’s click, but that damn flute. On the computer screen against a pitch-black background read the same message in the same scratchy red letters:
TELL HIM THE TRUTH.
Whom did they mean by “him”? And what was the truth they wanted? Who were they, anyway?
YOU KNOW WHO I AM. YOU KNOW WHOM I MEAN.
Metal clanked and wood banged against wood. One of the shelves on Catherine’s cabinet was rattling as if being shaken by an invisible hand. She hurried and opened it to reveal her pocketknife bouncing inside. One of the larger blades flipped out by itself and glistened with wet red liquid.
This couldn’t be. The last time Catherine had ever used the thing was over a month ago, and she must have cleaned the blade shortly afterward. No one else she knew would have need for it, if they even knew where she kept it. So how did this wet red stuff get on there?
Catherine tapped the liquid, noting its familiar thickness and metallic scent. After her next blink it vanished from the blade without a trace.
The thumping had escalated to banging drumbeats.
YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID TO ME. TELL HIM THE TRUTH.
These letters on the computer screen were flashing fiery light behind them.
“Tell me who you are first!” Catherine reached one hand back for her pocketknife, but the cabinet door had closed. Pulling on the knob did not budge it by the slightest, even though there was no lock on it. With face paler than the moon, Catherine was shivering.
YOU KNOW WHO I AM. HE LOVED ME BEFORE YOU. AND I LOVED HIM TOO.
No, it couldn’t be her. Catherine had taken care of her a month ago. But nothing else could explain all the riddles, including the pocketknife.
“You’re gone for good, okay? You rotted away weeks ago. Now get over it and stop haunting me!”
The red text on both computer and phone disappeared, restoring the room’s darkness, and the drumming music silenced. Catherine panted while leaning against the cabinet, supported by quaking arms.
A minute passed, and flames exploded in mid-air over the bed. The drums were banging with more savage fury than before, joined with voices chanting in some heathen language. The floating fire surrounded a face of pitch blackness which glared at her with beady yellow eyes. From its mouth of thick red lips sprouted giant fangs and tusks.
“I will haunt you so long as you hide the truth from him,” the monstrous black apparition growled. Something about its echoing voice sounded curiously familiar, though Catherine didn’t know exactly what. “Tell the truth or else!”
Catherine screamed. She bolted out of her bedroom and sprinted out of her house into the autumn night’s chill, having slammed every door she passed through. She panted out puffs of steam and glanced up and down the street before her. Only the whistling of wind and the rustling of skeletal tree branches interrupted the lifeless silence, and not one of the neighboring houses shone light through their windows.
Only her own bedroom window it. It flashed flaming red. “You cannot run or hide from me, Catherine…” the black apparition’s voice snarled from within.
Yes, she could. There was one other soul in her neighborhood who could protect her from that reborn demon. It was him.
After Catherine hammered on his front door, Josh opened it. Even with half-shut eyes and messy blond hair, he could never lose his dreamy handsomeness.
“Cathy, babe, what’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
Catherine gave him a wild-eyed stare. “Literally! Let me in and I’ll explain.”
He shut the door behind Catherine. Its peephole blinked the same red glow she had seen earlier, but Josh didn’t flinch as if he had noticed it too. She followed him to his living room where he switched on the light and pounced onto his sofa before the TV.
“What do you mean, literally?” Josh ran his fingers over Catherine’s forehead. “Are you all right?”
“Please believe me, Josh. She came to my place less than an hour ago. She took over my computer and—”
On Josh’s wall was a framed photo of him smiling and cuddling alongside…her. Catherine pointed to her.
“Get real, Cathy. Ghost or not, Lakisha would never do such a thing to anyone. I knew her too well.”
“Even after she got herself killed in that knife fight? You never knew her like I did, Josh.”
Josh shook his head. “Never believed that. You must have heard some stupid-ass rumor. And why would her, ah, ‘ghost’ go after you for it?”
Catherine’s throat knotted up. “She’s jealous that I took her place. She has to be!”
The living room light switched off. The flute had returned with yet another whistle.
Josh, like Catherine, froze where he sat. “Was that your ghost?”
Catherine nodded while hugging a sofa pillow close to her. “She must have gotten in.”
The photo on the wall swayed side to side, each swing more extreme than the last, until it was spinning.
“It’s her, it’s got be her!” Catherine grabbed the remote control and brandished it like a club. Josh had armed himself with a baseball bat. He swung it at the spinning picture, but it splintered in mid-arc before hitting anything.
With a crack of the drums, the TV switched on with the red text blazing onscreen.
TELL HIM THE TRUTH! TELL HIM THE TRUTH!
And voices were chanting these words aloud like lyrics in some savage tribal ritual.
“What truth are they talking about?” Josh gripped both of Catherine’s shoulders firmly while looking into her eyes. “You were hiding something from me, weren’t you?”
Tears of terror were gushing down Catherine’s cheeks. “She’s lying! I tell you, my love, she has always lied!”
In front of the TV blossomed the flames and the black-faced ghost they carried. The being had sprouted spindly arms and legs from its sides, making it look like some cartoon savage with a giant grotesque mask.
“You think I lie?” the ghost roared. “You would not even have him without lies! It was through lies that you tore me away from him, and it was through lies that you claimed him as your own. What a fool I was, Catherine Gable, to trust you to speak anything but lies! Must I tell him the truth myself?”
Catherine pointed her remote and rattled it like a sword at the spirit.
“And what will that accomplish, you ratchet whore? You’re dead, just as you should be. You can spook me as much as you want, but you’ll never have him back. Never again will a filthy she-ape like you lay her sooty hands on my man! So go away!”
She chucked the remote at the ghost only for it to bounce off and crash back into her skull. From the point of impact ran branching cracks that hissed out green gas with a rancid stink, going down to the tips of all her extremities. Catherine screamed with hateful shrillness as her body burst open in a swelling green cloud. With a fading hiss the stinking gas dissipated into oblivion.
Except for the shuddering of his limbs, Josh could not move.
The ghost touched the sides of its face with its arms and pulled it off like it was removing a mask. Once the face came off, it too vaporized, and nothing monstrous about the being remained before Josh.
In its place sat Lakisha, exactly as she had looked before a month ago. Her whole, svelte figure gave off a bright white halo that contrasted with her dark brown skin and cast twinkling light on her eyes and full lips.
The tears were streaming down Josh’s face as he ran to pull her onto her feet. “You’ve come back! But why?”
“To tell you what Catherine wouldn’t. It was her that knifed me to death, for it was her that wanted to take your place. She believed she deserved you more than I did, and her last words have told you why. I could not let her lies live past the next moon.”
Josh embraced her with all his strength. “I knew it couldn’t have been your fault. So now that justice has been done, will you leave me again?”
Lakisha planted one intense moist kiss on his cheek. “My spirit must go like my body before it, but my memory shall be eternal. As shall my watch over you.”
Only Josh remained, surrounded by midnight darkness. His bat lay on the floor, somehow in one piece again, and the photo on the wall showed no sign of damage or disorientation. The only difference was that Lakisha was winking within it.