So, without further ado, I present to you Syndrome. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it!
Stephen King wrote:"Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win."
"Do you believe in ghosts?"
Coming from a little girl, the inquiry was ominously deadpan, though he supposed it was innocent enough. After all, they were standing on a literal burial ground. Living in such a sinister atmosphere must have messed with the child's head.
'Creepy, scary, spooky'--that's the only adjectives anyone ever used to describe this damn town. And he knew if he were still a boy, he'd mimic her actions exactly, preying on the average passerby in hopes they were superstitious enough to fear him.
Yet, there seemed like there was a hushed symbolism to the query that was far deeper than he could reach. The question was an iceberg, looming small and faultless above the water, but beneath it, stretched to a colossal size. The human eye could not see its depth until they, too, were sinking.
(Do you believe in ghosts?)
No, he had to rationalize. The girl was not omniscient. She was just a curious, bratty whelp seeking fun by utilizing the towns history to her advantage. (But history isn't a plaything.)
"Hasn't anyone told you not to talk to strangers?" he replied in a deliberately chiseled tone, and was met with grim satisfaction as the girl recoiled slightly with wide eyes. "There are worse things to fear than ghosts, y-"
"Aren't you talking to a stranger yourself?" the girl cheekily interrupted, tilting her head with a wry grin and chinked eyes. She was dangerously pompous for such a young child. He gritted his teeth in frustration as she flashed a toothy, vexing grin. "You don't scare me, mister." The man narrowed his eyes in indignation as he tugged on his sleeve with a piqued flair. Before he could move his tongue from where it had buried itself in his cheek, she was blathering again. "Just answer the question!" she giggled cheerily, bouncing in place as her pink pigtails bobbed like buoys.
"What would you do if I told you 'no'?" He wrung his calloused hands. She slowed. He coughed. She stopped bouncing.
"I'd say 'Oh, that white hand on your shoulder, I must be imagining it.'" She paused for what he assumed was an eerie effect, but he was unmoved.
"That's not a very go-"
"And then I'd tell you to tell me the truth," she glared at him, her bottom lip pouted slightly, pronouncing her rosy cheeks. Her tiny arms were crossed and she tapped her foot impatiently. (Must be emulating her mother.)
"Alright, alright. Yes. I believe in ghosts," he responded, gazing skyward at the Radio Tower. Seeing the modern architecture instead of the decrepit, looming cemetery caused his heart to churn in his chest. Disgusted bile threatened to rise from his stomach. He forced it down with a loud gulp.
There was something in there, still.
The pair stood in silence for a long moment, until she broke it. Her voice lacked the teasing cadence she had possessed before. "They're angry, you know."
"I know," he exhaled windily. His face was blank as he immersed himself in a pool of thought. He remained submerged beneath it, then an idea came to him like a life preserver. The man gripped it tightly, pulling himself up and away from the prodigious iceberg that threatened him. Yes, all his problems could be solved.
He chuckled darkly, turning to the little girl who was now staring hazily up at him. Her eyes were now glassy with unshed tears, as if her little heart were broken by this ordeal. It probably was. If she were truly interested in spirits, if they were truly tangible to her like they were to him, then she could also hear the unceasing screams of the agonized dead.
"I know how to calm them down."
"How?" He ignored her irritating knack for asking questions.
"Give them what they want, of course."
For once since their meeting, they beamed at each other with a peculiar sense of knowing.
(Little do they know, freedom comes with a heavy price.)