INTO BONES LIKE OIL by Kaaron Warren Dark Fantady - Paranormal - Spotlight - New Release - Excerpt - Giveaway***
INTO BONES LIKE OIL
by Kaaron Warren
In this gothic-styled ghost story that simmers with strange, Warren shows once again her flair for exploring the mundane—themes of love, loss, grief, and guilt manifest in a way that is both hauntingly familiar and eerily askew.
People come to The Angelsea, a rooming house near the beach, for many reasons. Some come to get some sleep, because here, you sleep like the dead. Dora arrives seeking solitude and escape from reality. Instead, she finds a place haunted by the drowned and desperate, who speak through the sleeping inhabitants. She fears sleep herself, terrified that the ghosts of her daughters will tell her “it’s all your fault we’re dead.” At the same time, she’d give anything to hear them one more time.
EXCERPTThere was no sign of Roy as she approached The Angelsea on her return. It was a hard walk up the hill and she had to pause a few times. But she liked the feel of her muscles, liked the sense of actually working at something, if only for a little while. She hadn’t been able to see the building well the night before, but now she saw it was four storeys tall, made of dark red brick, marked with decades of pollution. There were many small windows. The walls were covered with ivy and there was moss in the mortar. A veranda graced the front, the floorboards damaged by the sun, almost burned in places. The railings were recently replaced; someone wanting to keep it safe, so that no one could fall or tip over the edge.
The front door was quite small. It used to be the servants’ entrance, decades ago. But so many rooms had been added and other houses built around The Angelsea, the original front door and foyer—Dora’s room—were blocked off. Rickety stairs clung to the side of the house, in dark shadows.
Taller buildings surrounded the house now, blocking most of the light.
The sun was beautifully warm and she sat on the front step, closing her eyes and letting it wash over her.
Luke appeared behind her, like a ghost.
He said, “Bloody lovely isn’t it? That sun. Makes you forget for a minute, doesn’t it?”
She didn’t ask him forget what? He really was almost handsome.
But his eyes were ringed with shadow and his face gaunt. Those eyes were green, and his hairline was good. He was tidy and clean, with a neatly-ironed, well-fitted shirt. His haircut was military. She could see his scalp. He wore tight black jeans.
“Home from work already?”
“Yeah, I’m on a disability so I work short days. Blinding headaches. Nothing like coming home to The Angelsea to make a headache disappear.” He winked at her; she’d have to get used to that.
“Shouldn’t it be ‘Anglesea’? I’ve been wondering about that.”
“Yeah, poor bastard can’t spell. Apparently there was a famous shipwreck at Anglesea so he named the place after that.” Dora noticed the name was painted on a piece of driftwood she imagined must have come from the wreck. “Got it wrong. He shoulda just named it after our own shipwreck. Most of the town call it Shipwreck House, anyway.”
They both turned to look down the hill. Dora could see some piles of metal on the rocks and on the sand down there. The beach was almost inaccessible, even by water.
The Barlington had struck ground there, all lives lost. At the time there were no communities in the area, so the shipwreck went unnoticed for weeks. Some may have survived the accident but couldn’t find a way off the beach. It was the smell, they said, that led to the eventual discovery. Plus the clothing rolling into the beaches along the coast.
“Half the house is decorated with stuff he’s pinched from down there. Pays the local kids to risk their lives getting it. Like those.” He pointed at four large broken lights, anchored to the wall near the door.
Dora realized she needed to respond to him, so said, “Are these old ship danger lights or something?” She hated herself for the “or something.” Her therapist had told her she needed to regain herself by standing by her own statements, but she couldn’t help it.
“Yes! Fat lot of good they did. He pinched them from the crash site. He calls it beachcombing. Other people might call it looting. He used to have them set up to flash until one poor bloke killed himself over them.”
“Like a fit or something?”
“Nah, he was a train driver, caused an accident, killed a heap of passengers. Apparently he reckoned the lights flashed wrong, but no one believed him. Gets the sack, wife leaves him, he comes to live here. Takes a room on the fourth floor, with a window looking down onto the water. It’s my room, now. Of course Roy has to set those ship lights going so that every night the poor bastard up there watched them flashing on and off, on and off like train lights. Hung hisself. Up in my room. I dunno if you believe in ghosts or not, but sometimes I reckon he’s there. Only he knows if it really was his fault. Who knows. Maybe it was deliberate. Maybe he just wanted to see what would happen. We’re all a bit that way, aren’t we? We’re all so bored we’ll try anything.”
“Speak for yourself!” she said.
“You can come have a look if you want.” He looked at her expectantly.
“I guess I could take a look,” she said. She shuddered. The air was growing colder. She stood up and they went inside. The ticking of the clock seemed louder.
“Maybe someone’s having an afternoon nap,” Luke said, and she wished she was confident enough to ask him what he meant by that. A nap sounded good, though. Sometimes a nap worked.
Four flights of stairs to his room. The stairwell was dark and smelly, as if someone had used the ground floor for a toilet and the smell rose all the way up. The lino was old and slippery, so she clung on the handrail, when it was there. She grabbed Luke’s shirt, and he took her hand. His was warm and dry.
“This is me,” he said, pushing the stairwell door open. The sign said fort floor. “Nice and quiet up here. Just the woman next door.”
She didn’t know who he was talking about but had no more questions.
His door was solid, old, scratched with names and dates. He pushed it open.
Inside it was bright. He had a lot of windows, none of them with coverings. “Nice during the day, a pain at night,” he said. “And you can’t open any of the windows. Roy thinks it’ll stop suicides, but it doesn’t.”
She could see now, as the sun fell, that artificial light poured in, even though they were four storeys up. Strong street lights and the security lights of the garment factory two doors down.
“Wow,” she said. The room was obsessively neat, with all the books color-coded, glasses lined up on a small table, nothing left on the floor that shouldn’t be there. It was four times the size of her room, but still small. No bathroom, no kitchen. Navy memorabilia filled the walls and made up most of the furniture; trunks, khaki rugs, anchors, plaques, knives, and what looked with a tiny replica landmine.
“If the ghost isn’t here, he might be marching up and down the coast hill. You can see the track they’ve worn. See?”
Looking down, there was a path in the long grass.
“Roy. And tourists sometimes.” She could see other debris too: wood, metal, piles of each. He stood closer to her. “Near midnight, other times too, you can see ghosts walking up from the wreck. Over and over, trekking up and down. Roy reckons they need to speak their last words, but no one can hear them. I think they’re just . . . lost.” He was very close to her now. She stepped away to really look at him. His knuckles were unmarked, no scars, which was a good sign.
“Can you see them?”
“Not down there. But they come visit, up here at the house. Roy’s pinched so much of their stuff they think this is where they belong.”
His room smelled of Febreze. It was chemical, fake, but a nice change from mold, smoke, frying onions, sewage.
“It’s moments like these I don’t hate Shitwreck House,” he said. She laughed.
“Would you like a drink?” he said. He lifted two nice glasses from a tiny covered table. Each had an anchor etched in gold. “I’ve got some vodka left over from something. Pinched it from my parents. They’re pissheads who always forget what they’ve got.”
“I’d love to meet them,” she said. “You can tell them I’m your fiancée, and they’ll pull out the champagne.” Being with him, with anyone, was almost painful. But there were moments of pleasure in company. When the other person momentarily made her forget. So she smiled and put on the face that said, “I am an ordinary person capable of talking to you.”
“We don’t even know if we like each other yet,” he said, handing her a glass full of vodka, no mixer. The glass had the word Oceania etched above the anchor. “Roy collected them,” he said. “He reckons from the wreck, but I reckon from the op shop.”
“What’s a man like you doing in a place like this?” she said, instantly regretting it. No past, no future, just the present. In her real self, her real life, she wouldn’t even contemplate sleeping with him. But here, time was contracted. Relationships would form and fall apart quickly.
Here, she was who he thought she was. Not who she really was.
And she knew she’d sleep with one of them. A couple of them, probably. Sex gave her a momentary feeling of being appreciated. Regardless of what happened before and after, you were loved in that moment. Even by someone who despised you.
She drank that glass and another, and then felt so good she stepped up to him and kissed him gently on the lips. He put his hands on her shoulder.
“Are you sure? I always like them to be sure.” It wasn’t until later she wondered who “they” were and how many there had been.
She nodded. He kissed her, holding her enclosed in his arms, then his hands moved down and cupped her arse. He had big hands. They felt so different from her ex-husband’s. He had small hands, long fingers, he didn’t have a gentle touch.
This man had a gentle touch.
From below, someone thumped. She could hear a muffled “shut the fuck up” and she blushed at the idea whoever it was could hear what they were doing.
“Don’t mind her. Fucking lunatic. Fucking monster. If she’s gonna whine, I reckon I’ll wear my army boots. In fact, I might as well wear them.”
He pulled a pair of boots on and stood, naked, before her.
Dora laughed till she wept as he danced for her.
Then they made love again.
He fell asleep straight after. She watched him, almost angry with envy at his peaceful face. She wondered what it would be like to sleep like that. She didn’t want to mistrust a man again so soon.
She pulled her clothes on and went to the toilet. It was nicer than the one on her floor. Smaller, but then there were only three rooms to service. It felt warmer, too, maybe because the heat rose through the house. There was spare toilet paper on a stick by the bath.
His door had snicked shut. She knocked quietly but didn’t want to waken him, so headed downstairs. Once near her bedroom she realized there was no way she’d sleep. She felt wired, wide awake, excited. She went down to look at the site of the wreck, following the path worn by looters, tourists, and, according to Luke, ghosts. The streetlights provided more than enough illumination for her to find her way.
It took longer than she thought and once she reached the edge of the cliff, she lost the energy to walk all the way down. She could see that the metal was very rusty, the wood mossy and cracked. Dora wondered that what was left of the vessel was still there. It was pulled up high on the beach where the tide couldn’t reach it. Perhaps this—along with the containers, jars, and remnants of many other things she could see—was the real rubbish, all the good stuff long since taken.
She heard someone coming and hid behind one of the large bushes that lined the path. She didn’t want to talk to anyone. She felt dirty and tired and not up to speech.
It was Roy. He held a large hook and seemed to be dragging something, but she couldn’t see what. Behind him she thought she saw a line of bedraggled people. As they passed her she felt overwhelming sadness. Helplessness. Once they were gone she headed back to the rooming house, but the smell of fried food drew her to an all-night taxi drivers café, thankfully almost empty. She bought herself half-a-dozen dim sims to take back to her room.
Once there, she heard the clock ticking loudly and found herself chewing in time.
She checked her phone, but no one had called. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but the upstairs neighbor sounded like he was dancing in army boots.
The thought of it made her smile.