Chapter 8

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Jangmi had unleashed my little friends: all the ones I’d fed during my short career as a junior lab technician, all the ones dead in the name of science. In some other place of thoughtlessness, probably a closet at the lab, they’d decided to cling to this world. When Jangmi had informed them of my situation, they’d come to help—to attack.

Brown, white, black, and gray furry balls, they flooded out of Jangmi’s new closet and filled the hospital room reeking of her rotten flesh and my blood. Their busy squeaks created an immensely disturbing dissonance. Their little long tails got soaked. Droplets of blood were spattered in every which way, and instead of landing back on the floor and joining the sea of blood, they landed on other mice. There was no room for any blood in the air to land anywhere else. The mice filled every inch of the surface.

Murray shrieked. He hopped back and forth. It looked like he was trampling on the mice.

“No…” I whimpered, thinking, I really should stop talking. Every time I do, more blood leaves my body.

I hadn’t needed to worry about the mice anyway. These mice were ghosts. Whenever the vibrating closet’s waves hit them, they dispersed. At first, I thought I’d imagined this. But no. These mice functioned like fogs when they wanted to. Murray couldn’t harm them. The mice couldn’t care less about pain in this world. They’d died once and would never die again. Therefore they were fearless. The furry balls climbed up Murray’s pants. Some got inside the pants. He screamed. It seemed that the mice’s ghostliness didn’t alleviate his pain and horror. Soon, I noticed the blood oozing out of his clothes. Then, finally, the lead mouse reached his neck. With its two large front teeth, it bit him right at the same place he’d slit my throat.

Murray collapsed. That was when the mice really occupied him, their enemy territory. This was the full power of their haunting. And now, I could see that Jangmi was leaning out of the closet. Her long, uncombed hair whirled upward like a column of air that’d swept up a whole lot of fierce ocean water.

“You knew she’d kill me and you let me walk into the house?!”

So she hadn’t known. Or hadn’t wanted to accept the obvious at the conscious level.

“You knew she’d kill me and you let her be in our house?!”

If Murray had a response to that, we couldn’t hear him. The shaking kept multiplying. I could tell that Jangmi really wanted to enter this realm. But alas, she mattered too much. We all knew her name; she’d had rights in this human world. A very different situation from that of the mice, the forever-forgotten.

“Darla…” I said.

Darla whipped her head toward me.

“Go…”

She completely ignored that and crawled toward me. The little mice moved around her, more as a courtesy than for any practical reason.

“I knew nothing!” Murray suddenly said.

Very much unlike my good lawyer whose headshake was severely effective because of his head’s absolute independence from his neck and body, I had to turn my whole torso around to face Murray.

And by then, Murray was already near me—

Aiming for Darla—

She made herself small, covering her head, which was a good thing, well done, very well done—

I tackled Murray.

Wrenched the dagger from his hand.

Stabbed him in the neck.

And he froze. Like a real statue, he stopped mid-motion.

Turns out, you don’t need a medical degree to kill someone with a dagger.

Murray collapsed sideways on the ground. The ghost mice swarmed around him and on top of him. They bit him wherever there was flesh. Only very briefly and reluctantly, they took a break to squeak and squeal.

“Elmer!” Jangmi said from the closet.

I still couldn’t turn my head effectively. She saw it and didn’t wait to continue talking.

“You have to get into the closet. It’s better if no one finds your body. And besides, your blood. It knows. You… I…”

Darla cried. Jangmi had just implied what Darla feared most.

I was going to die. The closet could sense my impending ghostification.

“And his body too,” Jangmi said. “If they see his body, they’ll think you did it.”

I had done it: the killing of Philip Murray.

“You did do it, but you won’t get to tell them how it happened and why. You’ll be miserable forever.”

If I chose to become a ghost in a closet.

But who was I kidding? There was no other option. I couldn’t leave Darla alone in this world. And how many people got to be a ghost anyway? Only someone who happens to rightfully own a place, Jangmi had said. Only someone with a very justifiable reason.

“You have to decide, now!”

Darla’s crying ceased. She looked at Jangmi, then at me.

Then, without another word, my baby sister jumped up. She marched across the room to the mound of mice on the idiot husband. The mice magically made their way so she trampled on none of them.

And when she reached into the mound, the mice scurried off. She grabbed Murray by his doctor’s down.

Then she yanked. Dragged. Hauled. The mice helped her.

“Elmer?” Jangmi said.

I managed to get on my elbows. One little bit at a time, I crawled toward the closet. And miraculously, I could feel my blood reaching for the closet. Quite literally. It was a feeling, not a sight, sound, or anything bodily like that. My whole being was yearning for the closet.

“That’s right,” Jangmi said occasionally. “You’re doing great.”

Soon, I noticed that the reason I could see nothing wasn’t because of the dark or the vibrating air or the distracting noises from the mice. I was going out like some helpless candlelight.

But at least I arrived by the closet before Darla. And once Jangmi could get hold of me, she pulled me in.

Soon thereafter, Darla and the mice brought the idiot husband. He was making gurgling noises. We ignored him. They carried him into the closet.

Everyone except the idiot husband gazed out of the closet one last time. It was great that the lightning didn’t strike again. We could only make out the general bloody wetness and disarray. The dark mercifully blanketed everything else.

Darla had begun sobbing again, now that she thought she’d done everything she could.

I lifted my hand so I could wipe the strands of short hair from her teary cheeks. She held my hand.

“You don’t have to do this for me,” she said. “I can’t ask you to live as a ghost.”

Did I tell you my baby sister was very mature?

Then Darla told Jangmi, “No offense.”

“None taken at all,” Jangmi said solemnly.

Encouraged by this, Darla said, “All the times I won’t be in the closet with you, you’ll be alone. That’s not good. Not good at all. That’ll suck.”

The little mice lowered their heads and curled up their tails around their bodies. None of them made a noise.

“No, Darla…” I said. “I won’t be alone.” As best as I could, I rolled my eyeballs to indicate the mice and Jangmi. “None of us will be alone.”

Darla gazed up at Jangmi. Jangmi nodded.

From nearby, we heard Murray draw his last breath. Now, he sure as hell wasn’t going to attach himself anywhere else. His chance had passed. We’d made sure this was the end for him. This was our territory.

And the blood from my neck was drenching Jangmi’s already-red, magnificent concert dress. She placed her rotten but incredibly soft hand on the gash. I was ready.

© 2022 Ithaka O.

All rights reserved.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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