The Phantom Pains of Duane Jenkins

Short story based on this photo. (Source unknown)

Short story for the Pictonaut challenge of October 2014.

“You’re a ghost, Duane.”

And then she said it again, for the seventh time.

“You’re a ghost, Duane.”

The masque dipped a little and shook. The movements of the floating white sheet seemed to express disbelief and denial. Then the hollow little voice pricked up and punctured the silence.

“Why you sayin’ this? Why you sayin’ this, Shauna? ”

She was saying this because it was true. “I’m saying it ’cause it’s true, Duane.” she stated, bluntly, for about the third time today.

Shauna had got used to the idea that her casual boyfriend was now an invisible phantom caught in the liminal space between her own empirical reality and the afterlife, whatever that was. She was having more difficulty working out what their relationship status was now. She was glad that she’d never gone as far as declaring anything ‘official’ on Facebook.

The sheet was twitching, apparently upset.

“I can’t be a ghost though, Shaw! I mean, psssh! Ghosts jus’ ain’t real!”

Shauna cocked her head and eyed the levitating white masque with fascinated interest. “Yeah, indeed. I used to think so, but now you’re here like this and I think…”

“Why’m a wearing a dress!” the reedy non-voice moaned, interrupting. “Wha’s ‘dis about, Shauna! Shauna! Wha?!”

“I put a sheet on you so I could see you,” she replied calmly. “And the masque’s so I can imagine your face. I wanna speak to a face, y’know? And it looks classy. You may be dead, but least you gots some style, son…”

Hanging whiteness convulsed. To Shauna’s mind it looked like the non-figure was shaking absent fists and frothing in impotent rage.

The curses were muffled and barely discernible. Eventually she caught another quiet rustle of “Wha’s happened to me?! Wha’s happened to me?!”

“You’re a ghost, Duane.” she repeated for the eighth time. After ten days of this she was pretty sure that Duane was a ghost. She’d told him so over and over and over, and he’d denied her testimony over and over and over.

“I don’t believe you!” came a feeble cry from somewhere that seemed too distant to be right here. The aetheric wails ululated on and on and on and Shauna just stood in the road and waited for a break.

She was gradually realising that it was hopeless. She’d hoped that she’d be able to help the poor guy out – provide some company and comfort in this strange limbo position between fatal pizza oven accident and perpetual rest in peace.

Instead, she’d found Duane to be a frustratingly forgetful and dense phantom, unwilling to listen and apparently incapable of adjusting to or even accepting his own death and supernatural state. The irony of the sceptical ghost was not lost on Shauna.

Feeling a shiver, she shuffled out of rumination and regarded the tormented white shape looming before her in the autumn air.

“C’mon, Duane. It’s cold. I gotta get inside…”

“I don’t feel cold! I don’t feel anything!” a hysterical whisper protested in response.

“That’s because you’re a ghost, Duane,” Shauna fired back. “I don’t think that ghosts can feel anything.”

The masque quivered, the white sheets writhed and the sub-screams shrieked on with occasional inarticulate bursts of hapless rage and confusion.

Shauna facepalmed, sighed and turned around to walk the other way. She’d more than had enough of her boyfriend – if he even still counted as a boyfriend. Duane Jenkins, she realised, was a dead loss.

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  1. Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: The Phantom Pains of Duane Jenkins… | ENTER... JAMES CLAYTON

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