Traces

Ghost Stories

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #132. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

———

Personal marks scattered through time.

———

I have been thinking what I wanted to write in October for a couple weeks now. Truth is, I had planned the first two pieces of Traces a long while ago, and now I’m free to pick up any of the ones on my (ever growing) list. By now you should know about my early steps in freelance journalism and my awful work habits, so I wanted to try something different.

October marks the terrifying Halloween season, so I thought this one would be appropriate. You will read a lot about myself yet again, but this story is different. In fact, you could consider it an anthology of sorts – one on my relationship with horror games, and on ghost stories. I’ll let you decide if they’re fictional or not.

Happy Halloween.

I

My parents got divorced when I was 12. It took a couple more years for my father to finally have his own place, first staying at a friend’s house and then settling down with his new partner. Once that happened, my routine involved weekly visits where my brother and I would spend the weekend with them. The apartment wasn’t that big, but during those two days a week, I had a room of my own – packed with a modest TV, my PS2 and a 2-lite slider window.

It was rather simple all around. We would hang out for lunch on Saturday, chill during the afternoon watching whatever was on TV, prepare dinner and head to bed. My brother was young at the time, so he slept in their bedroom. This meant free reign to play Guitar Hero, watch a movie or, eventually, sext with my ex. It was yet another regular night when I saw them for the first time.

I remember being in bed with my phone. Summer was just around the corner, so I was there half naked with the windows open, my screen being the only source of light within the calm room. But I started feeling cold all of the sudden. It was a rarity, sure, but it tends to get chilly during the night in spring, so I didn’t pay too much attention. Until it started getting under my skin, feeling as if I had a fever all of the sudden.

All it took was for me to look away from my phone to see the figure of a woman pass by at inhuman speed. I couldn’t distinguish much. In my memory, she always had black hair and white clothes, but the image wasn’t clear. The cold had overcome my entire body, and I quickly turned to my right, facing the wall.

I grabbed my phone again and called my ex. She laughed when I told her I had just seen a ghost for the first time, reassuring me that it wasn’t going to do anything to me. It did not calm me, and it took me a while to fall asleep that night. Covered from heads to toe with a blanket, sweating as if I had a fever. The room returned to its regular temperature afterwards.

II

Outlast was one of the first horror games I ever finished on my own. My father and I used to spend entire evenings trying to understand Silent Hill’s puzzles when I was young, and we always held fond memories of Resident Evil Survivor. The genre always intrigued me, but I get scared easily. Seeing the end credits took me several months, as my sessions didn’t last longer than 20 to 60 minutes at a time.

There was also the fact that I always searched for the perfect ambience. Over time, I got used to booting the game up only during rainy nights.

III

My mother has always been more sympathetic with the supernatural. I really don’t know why, nor did I ever asked. I explained the situation and, perhaps it was my pale face as I described the night, but she was convinced. As usual, she told my father about it without me knowing. During the following weekend, he said that it was probably all in my head. I let it rest and, for a while, I was able to sleep calmly. Even if I never felt comfortable in that room again.

Summer finally arrived. Again, half naked, windows opened, chatting with my ex. I start feeling cold, and with that I begin to worry. A few minutes pass by as I try not to think about it too much, but I’m interrupted by the oppressive embrace of the room as the windows get slammed and I hear a barefoot sprint right beside me, running towards the door. My breathing grew heavy, my heart was about to burst out of my chest. I turn to my right and cover myself with a blanket, facing the wall again. I grab my phone and call my ex, barely being able to hold the device steady. I remind her that it’s a 2-lite slider window.

She sounded more worried that time around.

IV

I was excited to finally dive into Resident Evil 7. It had been a while since the last time the series dived into horror. Everything seemed quite different compared to Resident Evil Survivor, despite the fact that they’re the only ones who share a first person perspective. I wasn’t in a decaying city, but rather a lush and lonely forest, searching for a house. My father wasn’t playing alongside me, either.

Something made me go for a full stop when I opened the first door, the insides of the room greeting me with nothing but darkness.

I paused the game and messaged a friend on Steam.

“Hey, I know this might sound random but I’m playing Resident Evil 7 and I’m… terrified. If you’re free, do you mind if I stream it to you?”

V

I’m watching a TV show. My ex’s friends are in a mall, but I only see snippets interrupted by camera cuts. There’s music, but I don’t quite recognize it. The three of them smile at me at times. I see them running and jumping around. They wear colorful wigs and joke around. I have no recollection of this. I don’t remember seeing them this happier before.

I wake up in my bed. A pale face is looking at me when I open my eyes, smiling ear to ear.

VI

The first day of the event was exhausting. We weren’t just there as press – they had given us our own booth (rather, an improvised table near the food trucks) so we spent the whole day with the sun in our faces. I return home later in the night and immediately jump into the bed. I just wanted to rest for a while.

I’m facing the opposite side of the living room, as I try to zone out from the noises of my family, occasionally going to the kitchen or laughing from the bedroom while watching TV. Naps are almost non-existent unless I wear my headphones, but I try my best.

As I’m resting my eyes, a finger goes down the back of my head, scratching me. I turned around annoyed, ready to yell at my younger brother to let me rest for a little longer.

Nobody was there.

VII

I have been in the same position for over half an hour. The metal plates where my hands and feet are resting aren’t cold anymore, and I can barely sense their pulsing movement now. I hear a profuse breathing as the woman in the room walks around me in circles. At times talking. At times completely silent. I can’t see anything either way. She asked me to keep my eyes closed until she said otherwise.

My chest had been feeling thinner for a while now, barely letting me breathe anymore. I couldn’t sleep much at night, terrified of the things that could manifest in my dreams. Or worse, outside of them. My mom knew someone who could help. She told me what reiki was on our way to her place. I didn’t pay much attention. I barely paid attention to anything by then, except for my shortness of breath.

“What you had is called triangulation. It’s a very serious job that requires three people. Whoever did this to you… did not like you at all. At one point I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it on my own.”

We got lunch afterwards. My chest felt lighter. My mom looked at me surprised. “Your face has color again.”

VIII

Being on my own at my current place is a rarity. Ever since my father moved and I stopped visiting him, I no longer have the luxury of a room all for myself. But I get by, despite always being surrounded by family.

During a Saturday afternoon, just before jumping into the shower to get ready for the evening, I decide to take off my headphones and play music using the speakers instead. But I’m suddenly interrupted by a noise coming from the room. It sounds like bare feet moving.

I sense them getting closer, exiting the room and turning around the corner. Everything goes quiet. I slowly look to my left. A dark figure leans.

Cold, shivers, the sudden oppressiveness. I close my eyes and tell myself that this isn’t real. I repeat it for what it feels like an eternity.

IX

I started playing Song of Horror mainly because I want a recent example to add to my column, and it has been sitting on my backlog for months now. The main character is sent to a house to look for someone, but he ends up trapped inside a basement. You then pick up from a roster of people — his ex wife, his boss and two workers of the house to investigate the scene and find more about his whereabouts. The game has an AI-based enemy called The Presence, which reacts differently depending on your actions.

As I begin looking for items to complete puzzles in a very old school fashion, I begin to see it in action. Lights flicker, someone knocks on the door, the figure of a kid runs past a corridor.

The next thing I see is my character escaping from danger, this time tangible. At first this is done with a quick time event holding a door. Then, I had to hide her inside a wardrobe. But the enemy was inside as well, manifesting itself as a dozen hands and faces. I am told to manage my character’s breath in between heartbeats. After a few seconds, the darkness is gone.

I don’t feel like streaming it to a friend this time around.

X

I’m sitting in bed trying to finish writing yet another preview. It is my last night in this hotel, even though E3 still has two more days of show ahead. My mouth is dry – I ran out of water hours ago and it’s impossible to get more at 4 am. I decide to get some sleep so I can get up as early as possible, pack my things and head to my last few appointments before picking my suitcase and rushing to the airport. I’m eager to return home, thousands of miles away. Work is all I could think of during the past few days.

I hear noises in the room. Footsteps again, barefoot. I didn’t think they could follow me all the way here.

This time I didn’t want to look. I was too busy to do so either way.

XI

An hour or so after telling my editor the draft for my column was going to be a bit late, I sat on my desk and started writing. It is almost midnight, so my family is getting ready to sleep. Time passes, and I begin sensing the darkness of the living room. I get shivers recalling my stories, some of which I had tried hard to forget. My youngest brother shows up all of the sudden to say goodnight, and I literally gasp when his face emerges right beside me. He laughs and mocks me. “What did you think I was, a ghost?”

A half an hour or so later, I use my phone as a lantern to go to the bathroom. I decide to check Instagram to distract myself, but this person used a filter that made her eyes huge and distorted on one of her stories. A chill runs down my spine. I close the tab and return to the PC.

I’m halfway there, but I’m starting to feel uneasy, so I relocate to my bed to finish the draft on my phone. I hear my uncle leaving his headphones on the table before heading to the bathroom. The same noise repeats itself seconds after.

The wind outside throws the clothes rack in the balcony against the floor, which makes me jump for a brief second. I see my mom coming from the bedroom to pick it back up. I take this as a chance to breathe. It is easier to stay away from them when I’m not the only one around.

It’s almost 2 am and it’s getting rather cold, despite the fact that we’re not even half into Spring. But I’m used to nights like these. All I have to do is turn around facing the wall, and tell myself this isn’t real.

XII

“Diego, I asked my mom about the other night.”

“Huh?”

“Remember when you told me a couple weeks ago that you saw my mom bringing clean clothes to my room while we were sleeping?”

“Yeah. She looked kinda sad.”

“It wasn’t her.”

———

Diego Nicolás Argüello is a writer from Argentina who has learned English thanks to videogames. He also runs Into The Spine and is objectively bad at taking breaks. You can catch him procrastinating on Twitter @diegoarguello66.

subscribe
Categories
Ad Free, Games, Horror, Life, Traces, Unwinnable Monthly
Social