Outside, the wind was rattling the patio furniture and making the window panes creak in their casings. The tree in next door’s garden swayed like a drunkard, as if threatening to topple at any minute.
Jackson stared out through the French doors, the weather distracting him from the computer screen. He didn’t like working from home; he preferred to be in the office, surrounded by people he didn’t really like but whose presence provided some kind of familiarity.
Rain began to fall in grey diagonals across the window glass.
“Great,” he said, softly. “Another day of British summertime.”
The song playing on the radio was familiar but he couldn’t quite place the title of the track or the band who’d performed it. Something from the mid-90s, when he’d been in his heyday. He missed those years of freedom. At the time they’d seemed like the promise of something even better – a precursor of yet more adventures to come – but now they were nothing but faded memories left on a shelf to gather dust and wither away. Sometimes he liked to imagine the ghost of his past self, stuck in time around 1996, drifting through the life he might have had.
Something passed by the small window to his right. A flitting shadow, as if someone had strolled along the narrow pathway at the side of his house.
Smiling, he thought: and there he is, right on cue. The pale ghost of me.
He stood and approached the window, peering outside. There was nobody there. Even when he moved to the French doors, he could see that the garden was empty.
“I’m losing my mind,” he said to the room. The isolation was causing him to see things.
Group gatherings were still banned by law, so he couldn’t invite anyone round for company. Not that there was anyone to invite since he and Hannah had split up. Their friends, it turned out, had only ever been her friends all along. She’d even taken the cat when she’d moved out, just before the national lockdown kicked in and nobody could move anywhere.
Nothing stayed the same. Everything was temporary. Even when you thought your life had settled into a rut, the wheels were always capable of coming off to send you careening along another channel.
When he turned back to the dining table, where his desktop computer and two monitors were set up, there was someone sitting in his chair. At first glance, it was little more solid than a shadow, but as he watched it grew in definition, taking on substance, becoming a person.
The ghost of me, he thought again.
“I’m lonely,” said a small, dull voice. “I desire company.”
Jackson sat down on the other side of the table, facing the figure. Its face was vague, barely a smudge, but he could see that it was looking directly at him. He’d been wrong about the identity of the interloper. It wasn’t him, it was someone else. Someone he didn’t recognise.
“I’ll do what I can,” he said, not knowing entirely what he meant by the statement. It felt as if he was saying something bigger and more encompassing than the current situation allowed for.
“That’s all I ever ask of anyone,” said the odd muted voice. “To try your best...”
The figure reached out across the table and lay a hand on top of his outstretched fingers. It felt like mist; it was cold and moist and unsettling, yet nestling beneath all that there was a strange sense of comfort.
Time slowed; the wind dropped; the rain continued to fall, but in silence.
Jackson felt weightless.
The figure said nothing else. It just sat there and waited for Jackson to begin. His thoughts were muddled, but he knew that, given enough time, he would work out exactly what the visitor wanted from him.
Then perhaps everything might make sense.
© Gary McMahon 2020