On the night that Jim died, three diseases raced to be the one to finish him. The disease in his neck was headed for his brain, while the diseases in his stomach and left elbow were both surging for his heart. All three diseases were extremely painful and Jim was in constant agony in his dark bedroom, groaning and writhing on his bed beneath a heavy pile of blankets.
At 1:30 in the morning, a ghost, eight feet tall and wearing the tattered remnants of a cheap, old-fashioned suit, came into Jim’s room and stood at the foot of his bed, glowing faintly.
“Jim, Jim,” said the ghost, fingering his jacket. “You’re nearly dead. Aren’t you?”
Jim ground his teeth. The disease in his neck made an excruciating leap toward his brainstem. The other two diseases struggled to keep pace.
The ghost waited to give Jim a chance to respond, and when he didn’t, the ghost said, “Of course you’re nearly dead. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be revealing myself to you after all these years.”
Jim took a long, shuddering breath and said, “After all what years?”
The ghost smiled politely. “The years that you’ve been living in this house. The years that I’ve been haunting you. All this time it was me. I’m responsible. Now you know.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Jim, and he rolled onto his side and clenched his eyes shut, wadding his sheets into his weak fists.
The ghost chuckled. “Listen to me. You’re not listening. It’s understandable. You’re dying. All those unexplained happenings in this house, those frightening mysteries. Those were my doing.”
Jim thrashed for a few seconds as the disease crawling up his arm from his elbow sent feelers up into his shoulder. Then he said, “Maybe you have the wrong house.”
“No, Jim!” said the Ghost. “I don’t have the wrong house! I’ve lived here for years! For over a century! Ever since that fateful night when my wife’s lover, his heart filled with black malice, crept up behind me, trembling, an evil knife in his – ”
The ghost was interrupted by Jim’s sudden coughing fit. “Please leave me alone,” said Jim.
The ghost put his hands on his hips, narrowing his unblinking eyes. “Jim. Focus, please. It was I making those eerie sounds you heard at night while you were lying in bed, heart racing, the moans and wails coming down the hallway from the study, the very study where I was cruelly– ”
“I thought that was the furnace,” said Jim.
“In the summer?”
“Or the house settling.” Jim gasped as the disease in his stomach rallied and charged upward, rattling under his ribs.
The ghost began to pace back and forth, emanating a slight chill that Jim was only dimly aware of through all the pain. “What about all the objects I stole and left for you to find in places where it would have been impossible for them to be? What about the knick-knacks I moved around the living room, the pictures I knocked off the walls, the cupboard doors I left open?”
“I don’t know,” said Jim. “I suppose I just thought I was absent-minded.” Jim began to slip into unconsciousness.
“Jim,” said the ghost. “Jim! Stay awake, Jim!”
Jim’s eyelids fluttered. “Just let me fall asleep.”
“Jim, three years ago I left you a message written in what appeared to be blood on the welcome mat on your front step. It was ominous. Remember? Do you remember it?”
Jim spat what appeared to be blood onto the floor. “Oh yeah,” he said. “Vaguely. But I had gotten a nice promotion that morning so the message didn’t really bother me. What did it say? Something about, um – ?”
“Didn’t bother you!” shouted the ghost.
“Shh,” said Jim. “Please be quiet.”
“Being a specter,” said the ghost. “Being an apparition. To haunt, to fill a place with unease, to build that unease into terror. When a person dies by violence or great tragedy, that person leaves a presence behind, a sort of – ”
“I don’t really care how it works,” said Jim. “I don’t know why this conversation is so important to you. I’m sorry you’ve wasted so much time on me, but to be honest, I’m not convinced that even now you’re not just a hallucination brought on by one of my diseases.”
The ghost scowled. “Jim, come on. I’m real. I’ve been real this whole time. Why are you clinging to your denial?”
The disease that had started in Jim’s left elbow months before finally reached his heart, touched it, and stilled it forever. Jim’s last exhalation sighed out of him through his parted lips and his bowels released in his bed.
The ghost, feeling hopelessly morose, went and stood in Jim’s bedroom window. He looked down and saw a teenage couple out for a romantic walk, probably without their parents’ permission.
The teenagers looked up, saw the ghost, and assumed he was a big cardboard cutout of a character from a cancelled SyFy Channel original series, maybe.
“Still,” said the teenage girl. “It’s sort of creepy.”
“Not really,” said the teenage boy.