The Haunted Overlook (c) 2018 by Mike Lucas. All rights reserved. Posted here for feedback only.
The Haunted Overlook
Along the top of the seawall where I run my daily run lies the overlook, jutting proudly into the ocean like the bulwark of an old crusader castle. Folk say it's been haunted for decades. Some venerable ghost collects scraps of newspapers in the corners of the granite railing and wails mournfully into the small hours of the night.
Me, I never put stock in any of that. The wind is the more likely culprit. Yet the overlook haunts me regardless.
It is where my beautiful wife Rachael fell to her death—while I watched, horror-struck, from less than a hundred yard away.
I am not supposed to be there that morning. Just two miles into my Sunday long run, marathon training, my ankle tightens up. Sheer pain makes running impossible. So I hobble back along the sandy lower trail, the one at the base of the seawall that ends just before the overlook, where steep, terraced steps take you up to the esplanade.
Approaching those steps I happen to look up and spot Rachael. She stands near the edge of the overlook, but faces inland, dark hair twisting in the wind. I recognize her bright cobalt jacket before I see that her posture is all wrong, that she's backing away. Struggling against someone else I can't see.
Then without transition her slender body is over the guardrail, and she plummets forty feet to where sharp rocks at the base of the overlook break her and give her up to the cold, thrashing sea.
After that, I remember little. I know I run, sore ankle be damned, taking the steps two at a time. My screams for help echo off the lonely stone, mournful in my ears. Maybe I should have thrown myself into the ocean after her—nothing could have saved her but it might have cast me in a better light, I suppose.
Why is Rachael even there? She should have been at home, in bed, or sipping her morning coffee on the back deck.
And who in God's name could have thrown her—my sweet, lovely wife—over that guardrail? Who would have the strength, and why would they want to?
* * *
In the quiet of the night, under a waxing three-quarters moon, the ghost becomes aware of itself. It stands—if it can be said to stand—upon a stone abutment that reaches out into the sea.
Who am I? Why am I here? It does not like this place so it flits away, toward the little shops across the street with their quaint awnings and broad windows. But as soon as it leaves the overlook everything becomes blurry and indistinct.
Afraid, it returns to the overlook, where its memories begin to clarify. Something terrible has happened, it thinks. I have been trapped here since then. How much time has passed? It spies a shred of newspaper down the street, and sets upon it, trying to bring it out of the haze enough to read. The date. I must know the date, it thinks, not understanding its own urgency. But the ghost can only muster the faintest of breaths, barely enough to flutter the curled corners of newsprint whose words it cannot read.
* * *
"They're going to try you for first degree murder," says Greta, my laywer. We're seated in her firm's conference room, at one end of a long, cherry oak table. "That's how sure they are you did it."
My chest sinks into my stomach. "I don't understand. Aren't they looking into other suspects?"
She shakes her head. "They've seen this before. The unhappy marriage, the wife who dies under mysterious circumstances..."
"But I would never hurt—" My voice is raw. An image of Rachael's face appears, all big brown eyes and freckles. I blink back tears. "Sure, we were going through a rough patch, but that's no reason to kill her."
"Do you remember a bystander? A man in a grey coat?"
"Yes." I'll never forget the look of horror on the man's face. "He was across the street when I reached the top of the steps. I shouted at him to call nine-one-one, but he just froze."
"His name is Chris Haddison. He's going to testify against you." The lines of Greta's face turn grim. "He says he saw you push Rachael over."
"What? But I wasn't even ... I was at the bottom!" Greta flinches at my shout, and an awful thought occurs to me. "You believe me, don't you?"
She shrugs carefully. "Your trial will determine your innocence. I'll do my best to get you acquitted, but—"
"Damn it! Rachael's killer is out there and no one knows who he is or why he did it. She was thrown over that guardrail, Greta. Do you know the kind of strength, the murderous intent that would take?" I clench my teeth. "We have to find who did it."
Greta swallows, and I realize I'm going to have to tone it down to keep her on my side. I sit back in my chair, and she relaxes a little.
"I know this is a difficult time, Mr Prentice," she says shortly. "Let's just do our best to get through the next month, okay?"
* * *
The ghost understands now. The world beyond the overlook, indistinct as it was, confused it for a long time—especially the cars. But it has found a way, in the quietest part of the night, to coalesce itself and draw loose items into the overlook where it can see them. Receipts, newspapers, even a whole Time magazine once.
Though the ghost incorporates only a few times a month, the years pass slowly. It must wait patiently, because the terrible thing, it knows, will happen again. It must be there to witness—and perhaps, if it can gain the strength to move more than just papers, to affect the outcome.
* * *
We lose the trial. Chris Haddison's testimony convicts me. Greta tries to poke holes in his story, but I think part of her believes his account more than mine. As a last ditch effort she tries to get me to say Rachael committed suicide, but I refuse. I'm not going to let an awful lie tarnish my memories of her, regardless of how it might help.
I get second-degree murder, ten years minimum before I can get parole. All through my prison sentence I cling to two things: my innocence, and my burning need to uncover what happened to Rachael. Who killed her, and why?
In my darkest moments I fear my mind is playing tricks on me, that my image of Rachael being thrown off is false. Could the eerie, almost impossible way she fell be nothing but my own mind hiding her suicide from me?
Even worse are the nightmares where I'm at the top of the overlook, and just like Haddison tells it, I hurl Rachael over the railing myself. Her hair flies up, reaching for me as she tumbles through nothingness, and I wake in a cold sweat with the satin texture of her jacket still on my fingers—the jacket that my hands had clutched tight before they heaved it away with terrifying strength. In the darkness of my cell I murmur to myself that this is only imagined. A bad dream, not a memory. But I don't know if I can trust my own words.
* * *
I keep my head down, the model prisoner, and after ten years I get parole. I get a crappy job and an even crappier flat, and for a time I try not to think about Rachael.
Maybe I can just let it all go.
But I start jogging again, and one day I let my route take me past the overlook. Someone has left flowers by the guardrail, at the exact place where Rachael fell. Gerber daisies—Rachael's favourite. Curious, I make sure to run by several times a week.
Rachael died on a Sunday. Three Sundays mornings in a row I find colourful new daisies lying against the dreary stone.
Who would leave flowers once a week after ten years? A friend? Rachael's family are all in Ontario, a thousand kilometres to the west. The next Saturday I shrug into two old sweaters before donning my coat, hoping it's enough to keep me warm through the night.
Maybe the ghost is real and the flowers are bait for its trap. But so what? I might as well try. Even if the ghost strikes me dead, or tosses me out to sea like Rachael, at least I'll finally know.
I'm half asleep on one of the overlook's benches when the noise of a small engine rises above the constant murmur of the waves and brings me to my senses. I sit up, blinking. Chris Haddison gets out of a compact car, yellow daisies in hand.
He sees me and stops short. "Oh... It's you."
"What are you doing here?" My voice is gravelly and more menacing than I intend.
He hesitates, glances back at his car, and for a moment I think he's going to run. But then his shoulders sag and he approaches, surprising me by sitting down next to me. "I have trouble sleeping, after what I saw," Haddison says. He holds up the daisies. "Sometimes this helps."
"What did you see?" I ask in a low voice. "Who killed my wife?"
He looks out at the sea and says nothing.
"You know it wasn't me." It's not a question. "Why did you lie?"
He shuts his eyes. When he opens them they're filled with remorse. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lied ... but no one would've believed me. They would've assumed I killed her." He shakes his head. "I didn't think one lie would be enough to convict you."
"Then what happened?" I hear the desperation in my voice, and don't care. "Who killed her?"
"The ghost," he says, and swallows hard. "It was almost invisible, but there was something ... It grabbed your wife, flipped her over the edge like a sack of potatoes."
I want to protest, but I remember the horror on his face that morning. He has the same look now. Presently he stands, places the flowers carefully by the spot where Rachael fell, then waits a moment, looking out to sea as though daring the ghost to take him, too.
Then he returns to his car without looking at me.
Maybe I should stop him, force him to tell the police, but why does it matter now? I pace over to the flowers, look down into the darkness where I can just make out the sharp rocks that claimed Rachael's life.
The next thing I know I'm climbing onto the wide stone ledge of the guardrail, then standing to face the sea. I know I'm only toying with the idea; I won't go through with it. But up here in the breeze with the salt air in my nose and the waves crashing below, I feel closer to Rachael than I have since she died.
"I didn't mean to," whispers a voice, startling me. "I shouldn't have done it."
I turn my head. No one is there. But then, in the dim light of the street lamps on the esplanade, I begin to see ... something. My legs grow weak as I realize that while the something is blurry and incorporeal, a ghost, somehow it looks exactly like—
I lose my footing on the ledge, and fall.
* * *
The ghost has waited a lifetime for this morning. Two lifetimes, really, repeating all the years of its original life. Normally the dawn banishes it, but today it focuses its determination and remains, stretched out in the dark places between the stones.
At last it will know the truth.
She arrives, her dark hair tangling itself in the wind. Light from the overcast sky draws out the freckles from her pale skin. Rachael.
For the ghost, it's been almost forty years. It is so lost in Rachael that it almost doesn't notice the man next to her—the man whose hand touches hers intimately.
"We should go inside," says Rachael. "We're usually so careful. What if someone sees us?"
"It's early," says Haddison. "There's no one around."
"Didn't you say he's on his long run? He'd be ten miles away by now." Haddison smiles. "It doesn't matter anyway. I want you to leave him."
"Chris, I..." She hesitates.
But the ghost can see how her face has lit up.
"I love you, Rachael," says Haddison. "Say yes."
"Okay. Yes," she says, and stretches up to kiss him.
With an anguished snarl the ghost materializes, powerful with wrath. Its vision blurs, but it attacks anyway.
Haddison! He destroyed me. I will kill him.
But in the haze of the ghost's rage it sees that the shape before it is cobalt blue. Did it seize Rachael by mistake? It can barely see...
Or maybe it wasn't a mistake.
With all the bitter fury of my broken life, I hoist Rachael up over the guardrail, and give her to the rocks and the crashing sea.