By ‘Emily Livingstone’
I walk away from my cousin’s apartment bearing my bag of leftovers, I’m
thinking about the drive home. It’s getting dark, and the snow has started. I’ll
need to be careful. When I get home, I’ll be tired from the strain of driving
an hour-and-a-half in the dark on slick roads, avoiding drivers who aren’t
avoiding me. I’m readying myself as I walk through the narrow corridors with
high ceilings and large ductwork. This is an old mill, one of those textile
mills they’ve converted into luxury condos. It’s stone and has a large clock
tower set up, for some reason, with this spotlight that shines upward into the
dark like the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. It seems ostentatious for a place
where, doubtless, women died. They died in all the mills, didn’t they? Some of
the machines are still here, interrupting the stark hallways as décor. I shiver
as I pass a giant cylinder of dark metal.
elevator is loud, which always makes me nervous, always makes me feel
like it will break. When the doors open, I step out, releasing my breath. It is
cold on this floor, very cold. Maybe a
draft from the entrance. I’m about to leave, when I hear a voice behind me.
not safe,” says a young woman’s voice.
back of my neck is prickling, and I turn. There she is. Her dark hair
is pulled back. Her gray dress, cinched at the waist, looks like a uniform. She
stands there as though she has every right to. She’s not even see-through.
not safe,” she says again. Her face is earnest, the voice almost
turn away from her and half-stumble, half-run to the door. I barely
remember to watch for traffic as I cross the street to my car. I start it up
and my heart is beating fast. I half expect her to appear again in the snow, or
in the seat beside me. Too many horror
I begin the drive, I find I am trembling and am tempted to pull over
onto the shoulder of the highway and let more confident drivers race past me. But
no, what good would it be to pull over, to let more snow adhere to the road, to
grow more tired?
often felt unsafe. I walk quickly on the street at night, feigning a
casual indifference that I long to feel. I hear phantom creakings at night in
my apartment, and wonder if they are an intruder. I have a metal baseball bat
behind my headboard, but probably lack the courage to use it.
skin prickles. The ghost. I
flick my eyes up the rearview mirror, but don’t see her. She is not in her
corporeal form. She is only a presence, unseen eyes on me.
do you want?” I say. My throat is tight and the words sound raw,
red, and tender. “What’s not safe?”
horn blares as a dark car swerves around mine, passing me neatly. I have
slowed down to fifty. I accelerate.
Does she mean Jerry? Jerry comes over to my
apartment after work, dressed in a suit that he slowly dismantles over the
course of the evening. He has strong arms and a deep voice, and, when he holds
me close, I almost believe I am safe. Waking up in the morning, after the first
time with Jerry, the giddy realization hit me: I had released my vigilance. I
had been, almost, a normal woman.
move into the passing lane to go around a slower driver. In seven exits,
I can leave the highway and its continual edge of mayhem for the quiet,
nocturnal side streets. Maybe Jerry will
want to come over and erase this night, and laugh at my fears so that I’m
embarrassed and relieved.
But perhaps I’ve been wrong. Those
strong arms could as easily crush as encase. It is safer alone. It is a type of
weakness to rely on others. It is exposing a vulnerable spot to the enemy: the
one place where an arrow can pierce the scales.
snow is coming down hard and I increase the speed of the wipers. The
red car in front of me suddenly slows, looming too large in the windshield. I
brake, and feel the car skid. Oh God.
I hit the guard rail, and the red car is gone. I’m thrown forward and my
seatbelt bites into my chest. The air bag punches into me and blots out the
road. I hear horns and screeching everywhere, like banshees in the dark. The
snow is hurtling toward me from every direction.
hear more screeching and the horn is louder and louder, and then, a crash.
My car is moving and I am being crushed. The air bag, the guard rail, the sides
of the car, and the back of the car all crowd me. My head is warm and cold at
once. I taste blood and feel wind clawing at my skin through holes pierced in
the car, in me. My vision blurs.
not safe,” I hear next to my ear. I turn my head and there is pain,
but it isn’t frightening. It’s just there.
woman is kneeling on the passenger seat, her pleading face shining
through the broken windshield. She has rosy cheeks and her hair is coming loose
from her bun. She should be careful. I’ve
read about those looms. Stray hair
could be deadly. The women had to be vigilant. They couldn’t get caught in the
machines. If they did, the noise of the looms blocked out the screams.
face looks mournful as she reaches toward me and her cool fingers
stroke my cheek.
I know, I want to tell her. Nothing
is safe. It never was.
Emily Livingstone, email@example.com wrote BP #70’s “Not
Safe.” In this story a woman encounters a ghost in a converted textile mill.
The terror inspired by the ghost’s warning makes for a deadly ride home. The
author is an English teacher in Massachusetts, also writing at emilylivingstone.wordpress.com.