2023 Short Story Competition

Already Dead

Trigger warnings: supernatural, ominous, murder.

I enter, breathing dust, footsteps like malicious whispers. The tall, thin door frame suits me, just
as every door frame suits me; my form adjusts itself to fit into the unobstructed space. I cast my
gaze around the room. Candles seem to hide in its corners as items flicker in and out of
existence, impermanent. My mouth is full of rust—no, iron, yes— as I consider the caution tape
stretching across the scene. I move through it, and the once taunt tape, when pressed against my
icy skin, melts away and settles to the floor, drawn by gravity. Ahead of me, a wooden staircase
leads to a shadowy upstairs area. I recognize it and feel its familiarity thrum in the center of my
brain. I go to it. My movements are silent on the beer-stained carpet; my breath is silent in my
lungs. The dust lingers. When I was last here, I witnessed many people come together, vibrating
in place alongside music that was nothing more than white noise. I was nothing more than white
noise, moving between them, jumping from ear to ear.
At the top of the stairs is more yellow tape, falling in piles and failing to restrict the area.
I notice how the bookshelves at the end of the hallway are in the same place they were that night.
Though, now, they are devoid of books and seem eager to collect the dust I breathe in. I
remember how meticulously each book was placed: the most academic ones at the top and the
magazines in careful sections at the bottom, spines facing away from the beholder. I remember
how, when I picked one up midjump from an earlobe to the next, its pages felt perfect,
The wallpaper in this hallway is ripping at its seams. It is floral wallpaper, the kind found
in retirement homes. Taking its thin edge between my forefinger and thumb, I tear it a little
more. I like seeing the wooden walls beneath it: the house’s bones exposed. They are just barely
sturdier than your own. To my right is an open space: a living room stripped down. All that
remains is a pink velvet chair with a dubious brown spot and a few more bookshelves on the
northern wall. I float towards these bookshelves and check the top right corner of the one closest
to the window. A piece of red flannel is still hooked where I left it last. I pick it off and crush it
in my fist, feeling its scratchy material against my palm, before releasing it out the open window
to float away in the autumn wind. I turn and see another doorway to a small section of the roof.
This platform was where partygoers stood with their half-empty beer bottles, pretending they
ruled the neighbourhood. I start towards it, led by the light shining through the crack between the
door and its frame.
Outside are mountains in three directions, acting like a cage that confines you in the
dreary valley. Other houses litter the surrounding suburb, but they are all smaller than this one,
and none have an opening to their forbidden roofs. I once felt a calling, a pull from within my
chest. I once knew my purpose here as I know it now. The wind cries much like it did the night
when the moon seemed higher than it had ever been, brighter too. It illuminated the scene: a
white cast that made everyone appear pale and sickly like they were already dead. The music
was less audible out here, almost nonexistent. All you could hear were the malicious whispers of
your classmates—of my footsteps. I moved through the crowd with intention. No one noticed
me. Maybe they felt my icy skin melting theirs; dead skin cells settled to the floor, drawn by
gravity. Maybe they breathed the same dust I do: these lost pieces of their peers. I glance over
the edge of the roof, toes curling and holding me in place, body at a forty-five-degree angle. You
look up at me. Your neck is broken and bent severely to the left as it was when I saw you last.
Though now, you seem less opaque, less permanent. I propel myself forwards and fly, drawn by
gravity towards you. You are ready to come with me—to merge us both into one—done holding
onto the hope that you might survive as the blood pours from your body. We depart together,
becoming dust.

You used to feel small when you walked through the door of your house like a mouse finding its
way into the lion’s den. You would try to touch the top of the frame, standing on your tip-toes.
Your roommates would laugh and roll their eyes; they did this often. You would remain silent
and make your way upstairs to the bookshelf and your pink chair, the one your grandma handed
down to you. Your roommate spilled their coffee on it once. They did not apologize. You would
run your fingers over the fabric and try remembering the texture of your grandma’s favourite
sweater. Was it the same as this? You could never quite recall. It seemed off. The windows
would be open again, probably so your roommates could smoke pot without angering the
landlord. You would wrap your favourite red flannel tighter around your body. Sometimes you
would miss your grandma. You would miss her all the time actually. You missed sitting with her
and reading her old sewing magazines, flipping the pages delicately so you would not crease the
spine. You would wish you could hold her in your arms one more time, touch her face, breathe
her dust. You wanted to be with her. We had these quiet, one-sided conversations for months,
though I am not certain you knew it was a conversation. You thought no one heard you, but I did.
I am grateful you volunteered your life. I am grateful even if you did not realize that you did.

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