FICTION: The Haunting of Randall Colburn

In the dank and dingy attic of an old house in the middle of a forest in the middle of Michigan in the middle of the night, Randall Colburn stood staring out the window.   The only light inside came from a slow-crackling fire in the fireplace.  The walls were darkened by some sort of patterned wallpaper, as ancient as the forest outside, and if it weren’t for the shadows around the corners, you’d never know there were any walls at all.

Outside were some stars and the leafy, droopy silhouettes of the trees.  In between them and Randall was a single pane of century-old glass, weakly reflecting Randall’s leafy, droopy face and the desk behind him with a pen and several pads of yellow sticky notes.

It was midnight.  No.  It was two in the morning.  It was midnight a moment ago.  Didn’t matter.

Outside, beyond the trees, were stars and satellites traveling over the sky, like the eyes of the weary writers of the world.  Randall stood still.  He watched it all slide past.

At last, he took one good breath, and turned around to go back to work at the desk, back to writing the story of how he came to be in this attic.

But the desk wasn’t there.  It was there at midnight, and that was only a moment ago.  The clock on the wall hadn’t moved; it was still two in the morning.

Randall hadn’t written anything for a while.  He’d been standing, looking out the window, with his back to his desk and his pen and his sticky notes.  He was a midnight writer with a problem.  Two problems, actually.  The first was a shredded case of writer’s block tearing down his will to live.  The second was that he couldn’t remember a damn thing.  His mind was wrong.

But there was a desk there a moment ago.

He looked left, and all he saw was the dark wall with the shadow in the corner.

He looked right and saw even less than that.

Opposite him was the fireplace, illuminating jack shit, and the desk that used to be there was just gone.  Just gone.

He didn’t even know how it could have left, because as he looked harder at each of the walls, he realized this attic didn’t have any doors.  Not a single door.  How did they get the desk in here in the first place?

He also didn’t know how he himself got in there.  He didn’t know where he was.  He knew it was Michigan – it looked like Michigan, a dying forest in the sad light of the half moon – and he knew he’d been there before, but that was about it.  Nothing else.  No memories of this attic, this house, this forest, that starry sky – any detail he sought dangled in front of him for a split second and then disappeared.  It was as though the energy it took to try and remember was exactly what made him forget.

And where was the desk?  It was there a moment ago.  It was there at midnight.

Randall creaked across the floor, back to the window, to look in the reflection again.  The desk was there in the window, but not with him there in the attic.

Randall blinked, and the clock read 2:45.

Randall rubbed his eyes, and suddenly he heard a voice.

“Forget the desk, Randall.”

He spun around to see a curly blonde ghost floating dimly where the desk once was.  Her figure was transparent, but he could see everything about her.  Everything.

The specter wore a corset, and all the other lovely things they wore about a hundred and thirty years ago.  She wore long, monochromatic gloves that reached up past her elbows, slightly frayed at the ends.  She had glass bunny slippers on her dangling feet.

“Do you know who I am, Randall?” she asked.

“No,” he muttered hoarsely.

She floated gently toward him.  The floor creaked, although she never touched it.

“Let me help you remember,” she whispered.

She reached up with her ghostly blue hands and caressed his chin.  It was like wind through his beard, but somehow motionless.

The ghost leaned forward and kissed his lips.  He closed his eyes and knew she was there, but he heard nothing and felt nothing.  She was a blanket of pure energy.  He experienced something he had never thought possible – he felt her presence.

There was a blissful feeling of absolute freedom.   There was suddenly nothing keeping him anywhere, as though the very atoms holding his terrestrial body together had lost interest in the continuation of Randall Colburn.

He held onto the nothingness at his lips and slowly opened his eyes.

My God, he thought, I’m being kissed by a fucking ghost…Rad.

The pale blue blonde released the kiss first, and asked again, “Do you know who I am?”

Randall shook his head.  He glanced around at the walls.  They were gone.  No.  They were just – invisible?  No.  Something was wrong.

“Are we outside?” he asked.

“Outside is now inside,” she answered.

That was it.  The tiny, shiny stars, the lame half-moon, the wispy black sky, the silhouette forest, they were all inside the attic, close enough to reach out and touch.

It occurred to him that his hands were around her back.  There was nothing there to touch, but that was the only place for them to be.  It was perfect.

Randall studied her face; somewhat plain chin, average nose, normal green eyes, but her blonde hair was like pure golden wool.  It curled gently around her features, and the halo of ghostly blue hung just outside a halo of bright yellow surrounding her whole head.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

She smiled and looked down.  “Do you want something to drink?”

Randall blinked.   The time was still 2:45.

The ghost reached a thin arm out to a constellation in the stars and retrieved a tea pot.  She plucked a cup and saucer from another part of the sky.

And there it was, a cup of tea for Randall.

“Here you are,” she offered.

“No, thanks,” he said.  “Who are you?”

“I’m sure you remember.”

“I don’t remember anything.”

She frowned at him.  “Drink this.  I’ll explain.”

Randall took the teacup made of stars.  It was weightless, and yet Randall could sense the tea inside.

“I’m really more of a coffee guy.”

“Think back to junior high, Randall.”

“I don’t remember junior high.”

“Junior high and early high school, Randall.”

“I don’t remember anything.”

“Drink up.”

“It’s not personal, I just don’t remember anything or anyone.  I don’t even know how I got here.”

“Drink your tea.”

“What is this tea?” Randall demanded.  “What’s so special about it?”

“I want you to drink it.”

“Tell me why.”

She looked into his eyes, and he looked into hers.  They were stars.  She placed her ghostly hands around the teacup in his hands.

“I want you to want tea,” she said.  Her hands gently guided his hands up to his mouth, teacup in them, and Randall’s resistance dropped away.  He drank the tea in the cup from the constellation.

It was Earl Grey.

“I don’t get it,” he said.

“Look around you, Randall.”

He did, and what he saw confused him even further.  The whole outside world that was now inside the attic of the house in Michigan started to fade.  The stars dimmed, the half moon fell under some small eclipse, the trees blended together into a cardboard existence.  The nothing behind it all came forward, an endless stretch of the purest gray Randall had ever seen.

The floor beneath his feet disappeared, but he didn’t fall.  Falling wouldn’t have done anything.  Didn’t matter.

“Now look behind you,” said the ghost.

Randall turned, and there, suspended among the gray expanse, was his grandmother’s antique desk.

“What’s that doing here?” he demanded.

“Go to it,” said the phantom.

Randall didn’t move.

“Go,” she whispered again.

Randall stayed put.  “There’s the desk,” he said, “but where’s the attic?”

“Jesus Blueberry Christ, Randall, just go to the desk.  It’s there.  This is what you wanted.  This is what’s missing.”

Randall breathed in and acquiesced.  He moved toward the desk.  Rather, the desk moved toward him.  Technically.  Didn’t matter.

He saw the sticky notes on the desk.  The pad was nearly diminished, and several notes were stuck to the desk, each one below the last one, snaked all across the broad surface.  There was a pen, too.  And a cup and saucer.

Randall sat down at the desk and began to reread the old scribblings.

It’s not like she didn’t see it…

Randall knew what this was.  This was from long ago.  It was his writing, the very first monologue he’d ever written on sticky notes.  The first of many.  He’d sort of made a name for himself among the playwriting community with quirks like writing monologues on sticky notes.  It all started here.

This was a monologue straight from his young life.  It was about a girl that had kissed him at the eighth grade dance.  It was the end of the school year, the last summer before high school.

When Randall and his friends commenced from junior high school, it was like they all joined different branches of the military and split ways.  But up till that point, they were tight, they were a pack.  And at the eighth grade dance, three of the four of them got their first kiss.

For confused and horny teenage boys, the first kiss essentially locked in the first girlfriend.  Three boys were now three men.  Men with girlfriends.

Only, Randall didn’t like his girlfriend.  Or at least, he thought he didn’t.  She wasn’t interested in bikes or making movies, so she and Randall didn’t hang out much with the others that summer.  The people they saw the most together were their respective families.  This was horrible, because her name was Sandra.

Randy and Sandy.

It was embarrassing, to hear their families talk about about them and how they’d get married and have a child named Andy.  So in the last week of July, Randall broke up with her.

She was devastated.  It wasn’t a mutual breakup.  She demanded an explanation, and nothing he had prepared satisfied her.  She didn’t care that they were going to separate high schools in the fall.  She didn’t care that he wanted time alone to ride his bike.  She knew there was some truth he was holding back, and she needed to know.

So he told her.  He couldn’t stand the fact that their names rhyme.

As he blurted this out, he expected denial.  He expected her to insist that they only rhyme when you say them as the childish nicknames.  He expected her to stand up and berate him for being so childish himself.  He expected to be yelled at for destroying their relationship over such a stupid thing as that.

She did none of these things.  She just sat there, stunned and silent.  Tears fell from her eyes, but she didn’t sob.

Moments went by where neither of them said anything.  The whole time, Randall sat there hoping she’d get angry.  He hoped she’d march out on him with righteous indignation.  He hoped she’d be able to write him off as an asshole and get on with her life.

She didn’t.

She just sat there, crying in silence, looking down into her lap.  Randall was the one who stood up and walked away.

And this ate him up inside for weeks.  He had done the worst thing he could have done.  He’d planned to do it, he knew the details of how he would do it, and then he did it.  It took several minutes, and he had every opportunity to change his decision, but he didn’t.  Because their names rhymed.

Randall never forgave himself for that.  He never told the other guys why they broke up, but that was fine, because the only guy from his gang he ever spoke to after junior high was the one guy who never got his kiss, and that guy didn’t care why they broke up.

And so, with summer gone, and all the Michigan leaves turning all the many colors that they turn each autumn, Randall and his buddy started high school.  They had different classes, made different friends, and generally grew apart.  He never stopped thinking about Sandra – specifically, the first kiss at the eighth grade dance, and later her utter destruction at his pointless words.  He forgot about the middle of their relationship; he just remembered the bookends.

At the end of his sophomore year he wrote this monologue at his grandmother’s house, in her attic, at this desk, with this pen and this pad of sticky notes.  Granny brought him a cup of Earl Grey, and as he drank it, the monologue poured out of him.

The monologue was spoken by a teenage protagonist, directed towards the supporting friend character, the friend who’d stayed with him through thick and thin.

It’s not like she didn’t see it.  Stan, Leann.  Stan, Leann.  I mean, how could she not?

Randall remembered writing this.  He also remembered that despite its length and the multitude of sticky notes he used, it was incomplete.  Something had stopped him.

Randall reread the old monologue and reached for the teacup.

It was empty.

That was why he stopped the first time – he had run out of tea.

Fine.  Whatever.  It was a childish monologue written to try and justify his foolish teenage assholishness.  The protagonist droned on about the girl’s silence, wishing she’d have said something, but instead, got nothing.  Nothing at all.

Randall turned around.

The ghost of Sandra was still there, her curly blonde hair the same as it was that summer after eighth grade.  The rest of her as old as he was.  She was prettier than he remembered her.

“I–uh­–“ stammered Randall, “I stopped writing this monologue because I ran out of tea.”

Sandra smiled.

“I think you stopped writing it,” she said, “because you ran out of lies to tell yourself.”

Randall nodded.  He looked up at her.  She wasn’t angry.

“I’m sorry,” he shrugged, “I really am.”

“I know,” she said.  “I know.  We were kids.  You didn’t know any better.”

Randall glanced back at the last sticky note.

come to an end, and we both knew it.  If anything, she’s holding on to a dream and she’s holding onto me.  We don’t even go to the same school.  We don’t

He looked back at her.

“I know how to finish the monologue,” he said.

Sandra nodded.  “Please,” she said.

Randall put down the empty teacup, stood up, and floated across the gray nothingness to the ghost of Sandra.

“It ends like this,” he said.  “The protagonist tells the supportive friend that he’s sorry for what he did, because he knows he was wrong.  When he says it out loud, it sinks in.  And at the end of the play, he makes it right somehow, but for now he’s got a long road before him.”

Sandra smiled.  “Go write it,” she said.

“I’d rather not,” he said, “I’d rather talk with you and hear about how your life turned out.  See if we can start over.”

Sandra shook her head.

“I forgive you,” she said, and started to disappear.  And as she faded away into the bleak absence, she whispered, “You look good with a beard, you know.”

Randall started to cry.

 

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