GHOST STORIES FOR THE DEAD

By Thomas Ligotti

Copyright © 1998 by Thomas Ligotti

Originally appeared in Grimoire, 1982

 

 

That faint light in each of us which dates back to before our birth, to before all births, is what must be protected if we want to rejoin that remote glory from which we shall never know why we were separated    --E M. Cioran

 

 

The New Blackness

 

    It isn't like that of an incessant night, the kind poked into only now and then by a few abandoned lights on a lonely street; nor is it like that of the drab trousers and matching jacket filled out by a stranger met on such a night.  It isn't even what remains after a tricky wind snuffs the tiny hysteria of a match-flame which, on request, is offered by this stranger.   Not like the shadows creased into the stranger's face grinning in the flamelight; not like the sudden emptiness his weapon-weighted hand inflicts.   The double negative night-within-night of the stranger's car trunk is not remotely like it.

    It is absolutely, when all is considered, not anything like the dimness of the basement where the stranger detains his first victim, nor like the blindness with which he slowly and with regrettable invention afflicts this victim.  Not like it too is the gloom of an attic where a second victim, starving for days, feasts upon decomposing birds, which the stranger stealthily traps and laboriously defeathers before the eyes of his famished victim.  Bound to a chair within the shuttered shed behind ruined apartments, a third victim ultimately discovers that twelve dense nights of radical, though very amateur, surgery does not even come close to it.  And other victims, far too numerous to mention, experience various shades and types of lightlessness that are equally unlike the new blackness of their future.

    For the new blackness keeps no secrets, and the new blackness touches without pain.  In it there is nothing to know or remember about who you once might have been.  Which of the stranger's victims were you?  Fortunately such troubling issues cannot raise themselves when there is no one left to care one way or another.  Perhaps you were even that shabby madman himself, who saved his worst and most reliable torments to propel his own life into the mercies of the new blackness.

    Is he there with you?  You with him?

    I am glad I cannot see your faces.

 

The New Silence

 

    There is no preparation for it.  Even in the absence of the expected, a painfully desired, sound is an absence of infinitely grosser dimensions.  The telephone-keeping stern vows, its coiled throat in knots-this supremely indifferent device and the sound it doesnít make can merely hint at that higher absence.  Of course such hints are restricted to certain peak phases of desolation suffered by certain imaginations, ones without prayer of defense.  Remember those rooms so stale, so dim that the dust seems to glitter with a final cracking luminescence precedent to ultimate gloom.  Why doesnít that filthy thing ring!  What lunatics people sometimes choose for their first serious fall into human affection.  Ring, you infernal machine, unspeaking heart of hell!


    Then it does.  Remember its message: tonight in the park, by the far wall (the one with the stone heads on it that look like dragons), and make it late.  So the tones of the tormentor finally get through, with only minor interference from a temperamental receiver.  But tonight no spooks within the wires would interfere with their messages.  However, the meeting begins strangely.  Having apparently arrived first, he huddles in the ample shadows of the wall with the heads of stone. Only his voice seems to have kept the appointment, saying: closer, come closer.  He will not comply with even the politest request to move out into the moonlight, no matter how much someone needs to be reassured that itís really him crouching there. For by now anyone could tell that the voice is a fantastic imitation, and when the imposter does finally shake off the shadows and steps forth, someone is sorry for ever wanting her poorest wish granted.  And now every sound seems the maddening drip of oceans of evil, blasphemy cooed near the ear of a blood sacrifice, a roaring sweat that ultimately evaporates into the sweet nothing of the new silence.


    For in the new silence no voice deceives you, and in the new silence you cannot hear yourself weep.  All voices are one in the new silence.  You must know now what it was he did to you and later to himself.  You must now speak to each other in the language of the new silence.


    So who was he?  And who now are you?


    I am glad I cannot hear you answer.

 

The Old Nonsense and the New

 

    How serious was the old nonsense?  How terrible was it?  How sad?  These seem ridiculous questions now, but at the time never are.  For at just the right moment they can seize the brain and squeeze it like something gone soft in the sun.  And even when the sun is at its height, night may fall; even when golden light leans over a nice clean city.  Indeed, from the lofty vantage of a forty-third floor everything looks especially polished-sterling streets, dazzling semiprecious sidewalks, windows locked diamond-wise into the other big buildings spreading out there for miles.  What a promising place this is!  Here everything is possible and nothing otherwise.  No likelihood not leading to success, no unlikelihood linked to catastrophe, even for the newest comer loitering two score and three stories above Terra Incognitaville.


    And though this hallway is long and quiet and empty, there is still no loneliness. There, look behind, a door is opening, the one leading to that supply room.  Turn around, the man sneaking out of that room doesnít appear as if he has any business being up here.  Then again, maybe he too is simply intent on staring out the window and dreaming about the future.  But he walks right past the window and, in passing, sends someone crashing through it with just one good shove of the shoulder. Forty-three floors is a long way to fall.  And in those last screaming moments someone wonders how anyone could be duped by all this ludicrous glitter, how anyone could bear confronting the face of a world that writhes in darkness without for a moment relaxing its blinding and inexcusable smile.  How easily the old nonsense leads us on and, with neither warnings nor answers, delivers us into a nonsense that seems so different, so new.


    For the new nonsense promises no punchlines or apologies, and the new nonsense peals itself back to reveal nothing within.  No one is even left to know that nothing is there.  How did you manage to take leave of that twinkling city without going anyplace?  After you finished falling, where did you land?


    Where are you now?  Where did you go?


    I am glad your responses do not make sense in those dreams I have of you.

 

 

Tales of the New Dream

 

    In the new dream the dead may not rest very long. Sometimes their rightful blackness is revoked, deserved silence foreclosed, their blissful sense of nothing cut off at closing time.  And now these faithful patrons of annihilation, loyal customers of the abyss, these quiet tenants of paradise are thrown out on their ear like lowlife riffraff booted from a respectable establishment.  Back down to earth, you wretches! Having no place else to spend eternity, they try to make the best, in other words the worst of it.


    Even now Mr. Benedict Griggs, founding member of the Congenial Gents, holds the attention of his fellow clubmen, including the Reverend Penny, with a hair-raising anecdote from his visit to America: how he wandered, quite without intention, into that slatternly district of a large New England city where the notorious "sad scientist" murders had occurred; and how this drunkard, a somewhat lengthy knife in hand, weaved up to him to ask assistance and a few helpful directions home.  Home, home.  Help me home! was all the wobbling souse said. And upon noticing that this weaver and wobbler had, in fact, no eyes in his head, Mr. Griggs credited the spectre with thereupon vanishing before his own.  The entire episode merely "put quite a scare" into the rather fortunate Griggs.  For others, depend on it, will have much more put into them.


    Others may not be able to tell their friends, as just have Jamie Lempkovitch and his girl Lisa Ann Neff, that they were only grabbed by a pair of foul maniacs, one male and one female, who emerged from the sod in New Burnstow Park as if from the gentle surface of a pond.  Others may have to leave behind more than their shoes and an old blanket when they make a getaway from those ravenous revenants, assuming anyone at all gets away next time the hideous couple appear.  Others may not be as lucky!


    And parallel to the small-town fame of the New Burnstow Park haunting are those metropolitan legends currently circulating about an urban apparition that "flies into the victimís face," though only on the darkest downtown nights.  And if this sky-diving shade finds a face it likes, in other words hates, it just may decide NOT TO FLY OUT AGAIN.


    For in the new dream beings-wrenched from eternity and returned to the earth-are capable of anything from indiscretion to atrocity.  Those who have suffered most know how to inflict it best-itís a law of the universe.  The suicides, the murdered . . . the unfulfilled, the broken-hearted: veterans of the extraordinary suffering and mercenaries of its perpetuation.


    These are my mindís eyes, I who have no eyes.  These are my mindís mind, I who am not mind.  I am bereft of traits, bankrupt of qualities.  The riches of the dead are extravagant next to my destitute estate.  I have nothing but my immortality; and now, desiring or not, they will have it too.


    And I am glad I cannot know them.


    But I am even gladder they cannot know me.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 1998 by Thomas Ligotti

Originally appeared in Grimoire, 1982

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