“Come on,” Camila pleaded as she pulled at my arm with all her might. She was less than half my size, and her attempts to stand me up bore no fruit. Eventually, she backed away. “At least learn the words,” she negotiated.
Camila was dressed half for adventure and half for bed. She wore a nightgown that hung loosely above her knees and had a camo jacket, from my time as a marine, draped over her shoulders. If I’m being honest, it was her jacket now. A messy bun rested on the top of her head, and loose strands of hair covered her bright brown eyes. She laughed freely and moved like she was the only one in the room. I watched her while simultaneously suppressing a grin; she couldn’t know that I wanted to stand up and twirl her around the room in my arms. I wasn’t going to let her win our little game. Besides, just looking at her brought me more joy than I deserved.
Just one pull of the trigger, and it would all be over. I could end years of pain and loneliness with less than five pounds of pressure to the gun in my hand. The gun that rested on my chin. There was a chance for me to change everything; it was as if I was going back in time to right a wrong by ending the story here and now.
“You know I can’t dance,” I said stubbornly.
She chose to ignore me for a moment and continued to prance around the room, flailing her arms to the festive rhythm. Her body moved, seemingly, without cadence, but her singing of the lyrics and obedience to the will of the rhythm brought a kind of order to her show. Her voice reverberating off the walls, she sang loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear.
“Your parents are from the islands, Nesta.” Camila said, her lovely accent seemed to silence everything around her; the entire word listened to the flow of her voice. She moved toward me and paused her dancing; then she leaned in close, intending to draw me to her whispering warm words. “You are meant to have some sort of rhythm, my love.”
I was alone; there was no one left to love me. She was the only thing that mattered. Camila gave me purpose, and to be without her was to be without a reason to live. My entire body tightened as I braced myself and pushed the gun closer to my chin. Cool beads of sweat dripped from my chin, strolled down the metal barrel, and then soaked the dirt beneath my feet.
I was snapped out of my momentary funk by headlights flashing in the distance. It was him; he was really back in Havilah after all these years. I wanted to use the gun, at first to kill him, but siting in the dark waiting here made me think about turning the gun onto myself. But now, Arthur Yankee, the reason for my pain and cause of my grief, reminded me that I didn’t have to use the gun on myself, when my sorrow could be satisfied through using it on him. Then after a moment of contemplation, I looked down at my gun and tossed it aside. That was too easy; Yankee didn’t deserve to go to the Father that quickly. Before he went to the wrath of God, I want him to feel mine.
I willingly fell for Camila’s trap and leaned forward. Since my weight was away from the bed, this time she managed to force me to my feet. She began to sing in Spanish, which I didn’t understand even after ten years of marriage. I watched her as she backed away and twirled across our small room. She expertly moved without bumping into the clutter. As she danced, she didn’t take her eyes off me. Strangely, her act of love made me feel small. Here I was, unable to understand the song or dance freely. All I could do was stare at her as she joyfully and skillfully moved across the room. Camila made her way back to me; her bun was coming undone and the beads of sweat that dripped from her forehead stuck the hair to her face. A reddish glow was beaming underneath her caramel skin, pulsating with each heavy breath. She stood on her toes and got as close as she could to my face. She clasped my hands, and the song began to slow down like an anxious heart becoming calm. We stood there for a little while, just in each other's arms. A good thirty seconds passed before I realized she was waiting for me to lead. I took my steps carefully, giving myself plenty of time to think about my next move. A single step to the right and another to the left followed the smooth rhythm. I never could've dreamed of this moment in my youth. As a young man, I didn’t care for love. I’d wanted adventure and joined the marines in a feeble attempt to find it. Who would’ve guessed that years later I would resent that adventure and try to get as far away from it as possible? I’ve grown.
Now, here I was, dancing to music I couldn’t understand, with a woman I didn’t deserve.
Yankee’s car came screeching to a halt, and I sank deeper into the bushes as he tried to get it moving again. I was so close to vengeance, so close to making the bastard repay his debt to me; this man owed me a life, and I was going to make him pay with his own . He just needed to step out of the car, and I could finish it. I sat there waiting for him to open the door for what felt like an eternity. Then, just when I was on the brink of my shortened patience, his door clicked and creaked. Yankee stepped out of the car and turned toward me. Seeing his face, he didn’t seem human to me. I felt no sorrow for the pain I was about to cause him. My mind was made up, my desire to kill was engraved into my heart, and now I just had to step forward and satisfy it.
Camila knew she was a better dancer than me and she should’ve been the one leading. Yet she followed my simple steps: a half step to the right and another to the left. Through this submission, she expressed an undying love. As we danced, I stared deep into her eyes; in her soul, I saw everything I wanted to be. I saw my love reflected in her pupils, but somehow it seemed unattainable now; it had fallen into the place her spirit resides. My love was far beyond my reach. My heart, my soul, and my identity belonged to her, and she wore them like a diamond around her neck. My love and her submission—they were intertwined like us in this dance. She gave up her reasoning and gave me her trust. I sacrificed my soul and she held on to it because she could carry it better than I. It was in this way we danced, and in this way we loved.
As the song came to an end, I stopped our dance, and Camila did not let go of my hand until I slowly loosened my grip. She could do anything she wanted to me. She could hurt me, spit on me, and bury me alive; I wouldn’t do anything about it. It’s what made her trust in me so odd. I was putty in her hands, and she, instead, chose to follow me. I wish I could see what went through her mind as we danced. Not in an attempt to find proof of love; I just wanted to know her more than I already did.
“That was five years ago,” I muttered as I stared down at the dead body that lay across the mud of the river shore. “A few weeks before you killed her now that I think about it. It has to be one of the best memories I have with my wife. We were together, and we danced without a care, without fear of being apart from the other.” Yankee gave a good fight, but I had a relentless spirit. There was no way I could lose, especially once I got a hold of the knife. His body was riddled with stab wounds. Six in total. I counted as I did it and felt no regret. The only reason I stopped is because I could feel my mind slipping further than it already had, and I didn’t want to lose myself even more.
“Yankee, you took that from me, and I don’t think you could ever understand why I did this, or how I feel,” I growled. “All the memories I could’ve collected and the moments I will never have. You deserved to suffer more. But that’s not what she would’ve wanted.”
“Of course, she wouldn’t want me here in the first place.” I sighed and then nearly chuckled as I stared down at the red-slicked knife in my hands, hands that were covered in his blood. I closed my eyes and cringed as a memory of holding Camila’s body flashed into my mind. Then my eyes closed even tighter as I recalled trying to stop blood from pouring out of her body. I could still feel my failure; it was as if the velvet liquid passed through my fingers even now. It would seem that killing Yankee wouldn’t stop the painful memory from resurfacing, but God did it feel good.
“She wouldn’t have wanted me to take revenge.” I slowly opened my eyes and looked down at Arthur Yankee. “But you have to understand that I needed to do this. I compromised and decided that I would make it quick. You should be thankful that I did that much contemplating because you deserve worse.”
To my knowledge Arthur Yankee had no family, and nearly nothing of significance to his name. No one would be looking for him, except for the landlord when rent was due. Once he got out of prison two months ago, I did my best not to search for him. I knew my life would flip upside down if I went after him. Yet he had the audacity to walk back into town. I didn’t know why he came back to Havilah, but truth be told I didn’t care to learn. Impatience and recklessness were my worst enemies, so I bided my time. I waited until he left for the airport to ditch town permanently. Now, people wouldn’t look for him. Not here, anyway. Getting rid of his truck was the easy part; a mechanic would be here to pick it up for parts, no questions asked.
“This won’t heal you,” a whisper soared through the dark. I spun around to look for the source of the voice and found nothing. That voice . . . it came from all around me, and it sounded like . . . no it wasn’t. It couldn’t have been.
“Let’s finish this,” I grumbled as I picked up Arthur Yankee’s body and walked into the river. I shuffled through the water until it was just above my waist. There was a moment where I cradled Arthur’s body in my arms and felt no sympathy as I looked down at him. Strangely, I thought of this as a reverse baptism; God would dump people in the water to give new life, and I am dumping the body to end it. I let go of him. Finally, after all these years, I could let go. The lifeless killer floated away from me, but began to sink after a few yards. One of his lungs must’ve been punctured. Good. Now he won’t float. His body would be found eventually, but not before I was far away from Havilah.
A long time ago I learned that simple plans fall apart in the simplest ways, but as I stood in the river and let Yankee’s blood wash away with the flow, I realized that I didn’t care if this came tumbling down on me. He was dead, and that was my goal. It was all I wanted, and, if I got thrown into jail for life, I would survive and be satisfied with my action. That happened if the plan failed, but if it worked, I would be out of the country. The man who recruited me out of high school had been trying to get me to rejoin the army, and I felt like it was time to go back. I specifically requested to be shipped off as soon as possible, and he was happy to oblige. He told me where to find a good recruitment center so I could join back up and be out of the country within the next two weeks. He didn’t ask why. Must’ve learned from experience that you don’t ask a soldier why he needs to leave as soon as possible. The army is filled with people who just need to get away.
I began to wade out of the water and made it back to the shore. A few days ago, I’d put a pair of clean clothes behind a dumpster close to the river. I changed and threw my bag of bloody clothes into the dumpster. The garbage truck would be coming around first thing tomorrow morning. It’s almost comical that things line up perfectly when you plan to do wrong, but whenever you want to do a little good everything seems to fall apart.
It was nearly midnight, which meant I had to be at work in five hours.
I can still remember my granddad surprising me in our little apartment when I was a child. My family left Jamaica and settled down in New York to be close to him. He loved that we were near but hated that my father refused to move in with him or accept any help. My father was stubborn; this is a trait I would mimic as a young man. Still, my granddad found ways to slip in and help, even if it was an act as small as making me smile. He would always come over with his record player when he knew I was home alone. We would sit and listen to some of his old records for hours, just talking about life. I would always swear that I was going to be somebody one day, and he would just give me a hearty chuckle and a pat on the back for reassurance. He is the reason I listen to records today, and why I start every day with a little music. I believe that I can grab a hold of those good times if I listen to my music the same way he did.
I got to my feet, my bones groaning like an old ship as I rose from my bed. Then I turned and stared at the empty side of the bed; this brought doubt in to my mind. Arthur Yankee was dead, but it hadn’t brought my wife back. I was still devastated and wanted to burst into tears every time I thought of her. Before killing Yankee, I would numb my pain by dreaming of revenge. I would think about what I would say to him before pulling the trigger, striking him with the finishing blow, or choking him with my hands. Yet, when I had actually killed him, I had been silent as he watched me plunge the knife into his stomach. The act had felt empty and useless. I did not benefit from it the way I thought I would.
“It’s a little late to be doubting yourself,” I scolded.
It’s funny when you look at it from the outside; I used to sleep facing the window. Now that she is not here, I am restless unless I face her side of the bed and hold on to her pillow. I could still smell her shampoo in the blanket and feel her warmth on the sheets. The one thing that my mind could not recreate was her gentle snoring. It had kept me up some nights, and I used to hate that I lost sleep. I suggested constantly that she sleep on her back or get some sort of device to silence her snoring. Now I stayed up for a different reason. I listened closely to the void and tried to hear her breathing, but there was not a single breath to fill the silent dark. It was a cruel reminder that I was alone, and I would never hear her steady exhales again. They were like a song or a melody you loved, but there name was one you couldn’t remember. I wanted to hear that song one more time. I wanted to wake up in the middle of the night and tell her to turn over. I wanted to be forced to lose hours of sleep because I couldn’t block it out. I wanted to have her leg cross over mine and have the initial kick jolt me awake in the middle of the night. I wanted her to pull the covers away from me and leave me cold. To feel her hair stretch across my face, causing me to sneeze and itch . . . I wanted her to shoot up in the middle of the night because she was terrified of a nightmare. To be shaken awake and asked to wrap my arms around her until she fell asleep. She had relied on me to keep her safe, and I had failed her. I had failed just once, and now she was in a place beyond me, where I couldn’t protect her. I had slept alone last night, and every night for the past five years. Killing that bastard changed none of that.
“One step at a time, Nesta,” that voice whispered again.
I spun on my heels to look around the room. I grabbed the nearest blunt object, an unopened can of soda, and crept toward the closet, ready to throttle whoever was in there. I swung open the door. Empty. That voice . . . it was haunting me. Perhaps it was too early in the morning, and I hadn’t slept enough last night. All I needed was a shower and a little caffeine in me.
It was five o’clock in the morning, and I began my routine. I walked over to the corner of our… my bedroom and selected a record to play as I got ready. I chose the one record Camila bought for my small collection. She wasn’t obsessed with vinyl as I was, but she knew I cared about it so she wanted to be apart of my love for music. Even though it was my favorite one, I listened to this record sparingly, I didn’t want it to become obsolete in my mind. Before putting the needle down, I hesitated because I felt as though this was an act of betrayal, listening to her record after murdering Yankee. I ignored the initial feeling of guilt and dropped the needle on the vinyl, allowing the music to slowly churn forward. I made my way to the kitchen and turned on my coffee pot. As the machine made my drink, I closed my eyes and tried to meditate for a moment. Of course, it was impossible to completely clear my head, but the attempt allowed me to breath easier and that was more than I deserved. Then, the machine beeped at me, and I awoke from my trance to pour myself some coffee. Even from the kitchen, I could still hear the record player. The singer was a woman who serenaded an unseen lover in Spanish. At least that’s what I was able to pick up from my limited understanding of the language. Camila had never taken the time to appreciate the finer sound of vinyl, and I had never taken the time to learn Spanish—not that she had really ever bugged me about that the way I lectured her every day about the importance of vinyl. I can still remember her talking to some of our loyal Spanish-speaking customers—not that I could pick out any of the words, no matter how hard I tried.
“You’re scared?” the voice asked.
The weird thing was, this time my initial reaction wasn’t to look for the speaker, but to acknowledge the fact that I indeed was scared. Then, the sudden realization of me living alone surfaced, and I knew that no one else was in the house with me. At least, no one was supposed to be. I didn’t turn around, even though the voice seemed like it was coming from behind me. Instead, I looked up and . . . my God. How did I not notice that?
Floating above me was the most terrifying being I had ever seen. I was taught to fight in the face of fear, but this . . . I couldn’t fight this. The power that this thing radiated was terrifying. I wanted to drop to my knees, but my entire body was locked in place. There was nothing I could do to defend myself. The being floated there, a white light radiating from behind it, in a dress that shone like the sun and shimmered in and out of existence. My fear began to subside once I noticed that it was a wedding dress, decorated lavishly with scenes of . . . me. I could see myself growing up and old. The fabric was almost life like, shifting like the reel of an old movie and showing these images to me. Yet, unlike an old movie, the transition of the images flowed perfectly. It was as if I was looking into some sort of mirror that reflected my life.
I turned my attention away from the dress and looked up toward the being’s face. Tongues of fire were lighting up and flashing out of nowhere all around its features. As far as I could tell, from behind it’s veil, the beings features were human, but a . I don’t know if that made it more or less terrifying. The being lifted a hand, which was covered by a long white sleeve and stretched it toward me. The being flipped its hand so that its palm was facing up. At this moment I did my best to run, but my legs wouldn’t listen. I tried to command my fists to ball up and prepare to fight to the death, but they wouldn’t obey. I then told myself to reach for the being’s outstretched hand and my body slowly decided to submit to my will. Just when my hand got close to the thing’s palm, it grabbed me and lifted me into the air. I let out and ungodly scream that would have made a banshee cover its ears; this caused the thing to laugh in a childish way that vibrated my skull with its strange power.
“What are you?!” I said, finally able to form words, and the being dropped me. I landed on my back and groaned as the creature floated above me. I shut my eyes and looked away, fearing that this was it, that I was going to be killed by some sort of ghost. But then nothing happened. I slowly opened up my eyes and stared at the dark room above me. It, whatever it was, was gone. I took a deep breath and looked around. I thought everything around me would be in disarray from the terrifying scene that had just taken place, but everything was still in place.
“Jesus Christ,” I mumbled as I rubbed my eyes and struggled to my feet. “What. The. Hell. That couldn’t have just happened . . . But it felt so real. . .”
“It was.” The being was directly to my right, and I leapt away from it and slammed my head against the wall. I began to stumble, but the being caught me and helped me stabilize myself. I tried to push the specter, but my hands passed through its body. Once again I lost my balance and fell to the floor.
“Why is it that it is still so hard for me to convince you to dance?” The being chuckled, and chills surged down my spine. I knew that voice, and I realized why she looked so familiar.
“Camila?” I gulped, looking up at her from the ground; the being nodded excitedly, her fingers danced underneath her sleeves as her hands rose to her face. She took off her veil and as she did the small tongues of fire that danced around her face exploded into miniature suns causing a burning sensation to cover my whole body. A blinding light filled the room, forcing me to look away. Then light then faded as she quickly pulled her veil back on. I stood to my feet and pressed my back against the wall.
“My apologies,” Camila said, “I forget sometimes.”
“You forget that you’re dead?” I questioned. “Wait, no, you aren’t real. My God. I’m going crazy . . . What have I done? I’m sorry, I know you didn’t want me to kill him . . . Wait, Wait. I don’t need to apologize to you because you aren’t real. Get out of my house… or my head… or wherever you are just get out!”
“Nesta, Nesta,” Camila said, and I was immediately at peace. She floated toward me and rested her freezing hands on my cheeks. “I mean that I forget that you are not ready to see the light. I’m not here to condemn you but to bring you back. You’re terrified of nothing.”
“No, you’re dead,” I said, denouncing her with a quivering voice. I moved away from the ghost. Then, as quickly as I could blink, it disappeared once more. I spun in circles looking for her, and there was a hint of sadness in my heart over the fact she was gone once again.
“Fear is a strange emotion,” Camila observed from somewhere I couldn’t see. Her voice seemed to come from all around me once again. As she spoke, I dropped to my knees and covered my ears, trying to block her out. Yet, the voice had so much power, and it weighed down my shoulders. “We sit there and wait for the unknown to come toward us. Run toward the unknown, Nesta; be the man I know you are.”
Once the voice had ceased, I found myself staring at nothing and snapped three times by my ear to get back into my rhythm. I sat there for about ten minutes and then slowly got up and shuffled toward the bathroom to take a shower. What else was I supposed to do except move on and try not to think about it. Once I was done, I got dressed and grabbed my coat as I headed out the door, practically running. A gust of wind slapped me across my face as I stepped outside, reminding me that it was the new year. The chill in my bones was numbed from my shivering fear. I looked up and saw my neighbor, who was almost a decade older than me, out jogging. He had just begun his run and, as tradition called, was about to cross paths with me.
“Morning, Nesta.” Lewis Conwell greeted me as a formality, but then he slowed for a second. “Hey, you okay, boss man? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” That’s when I knew I must look terrible. Lewis Conwell didn’t care for people too much.
“I’m fine. How’s it going, Lewis?” I spoke way too fast for a convincing façade of being anywhere near “fine.” Lewis didn’t answer and instead kept jogging. There goes my reputation of being a normal person, and eventually I will be found out as a murderer, too. I looked at my watch and noticed I was running late, later than I thought. If there was one person in this town that could take my mind off potential murder convictions and ghosts, it was Dr. Hendricks.