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  • Willow Reid

God’s Cruelty - Extract from ‘Portrait of a Ghost’

‘Portrait of a Ghost’ is a short story about the effects of undiagnosed mental illness, inspired by gothic literature - specifically the text ‘No Longer Human’.

I decided on being the most chaotic, bright and outrageous character I could come up

with - of course, I’d still be quiet in class, I’d be just the same as I used to be, I’d learn

from my mistakes and keep up the act at home. If they made me change schools because I asked what suicide was then I could only imagine what would l happen if they really knew me. I’d probably wind up dead in a ditch somewhere. I’d be an unsolved murder - a was, rather than an is. People would say the name “Rhiannon Day” and instantly think of a formless body slumped in a ditch, its ribs slowly being reclaimed by the earth, moss growing between bones, a cluster of red stars growing where it’s heart should’ve been. I entertained the thought of being overtaken by flowers and beauty, hoping that would hide the gaping nothingness that I had hidden in life and threatened to be exposed to in death. Whatever I lacked within would be compensated for, and to me that was beautiful.

I could never understand what I liked to do. It wasn’t like I was bored: it was more like something that I never really knew about me. I was a stranger to myself and I could never tell if this meant I was dangerous, like the man who drove a white van down my road then disappeared as though he was never there. I never thought much of it, until one day I saw it and refused to leave the house alone. Since then, I decided that strangers were dangerous - and, seeing as I was a stranger, I would definitely be dangerous. From that moment, I decided it was safer if I simply wasn’t. Maybe then I’d gain what I lacked, I’d finally be able to become whatever people wanted - I’d become something.

That’s all I wanted to be - something, anything. I didn’t care what I became no matter how painful it would be. I knew only one thing about me: whatever I was, it certainly wasn’t human. Not entirely, anyway. I looked the part, and I’d like to think I was good at playing it. But I certainly wasn’t. I was missing something that other people had: whatever made people tick was something I didn’t and would never have. Looking back, I’m not sure that, even if I had had a chance, I would understand why they acted like that.

Eventually, the new character settled and I learned to get by with these new people. I

thought I’d gotten myself down to a fine art. I knew what to say and do like clockwork. For a while I thought I was okay, that the missing piece had been filled in, that whatever had corrupted me had lost its power, that the strangling vines wrapped around me had suddenly died. For a little while I thought I’d gained some humanity, even if I didn’t fully understand things. I could pretend now, and I was convincing. I was sure I’d get something to help me soon; an instruction manual for how to be human.

I thought I was safe, I thought I was happy. I’d gotten what I’d longed for. What I didn’t realise was that I was so convincing that I’d fooled myself, and that there were no instruction manuals for being a person - none that I could get anyway. The best I could do was to keep doing whatever it took, just to get by, and maybe this ‘Rhiannon’ that I created would take over me. I knew I was lazy for thinking this, but I was so damn tired and the idea of someone else taking over my job sounded like heaven to me. No it was better than heaven.

She took over for a while and I just watched from inside of my head. I was the cleaner, and it was my duty to sweep away the bad parts of me while other people were around. I was always rushing to hide something, and deep down a part of me knew that eventually someone would find me out. As long as I’d been doing this, I knew that this act was as brittle as glass: polished, beautiful and seemingly solid. That was until it smashed everywhere, shards catching the sun as they flew everywhere, ripping everything, and slashing, cutting everyone who dared to get close to me. The role was just as fragile, and probably as see-through glass. If anyone knew, it would be dangerous.

If they felt my chest, they’d look for a heartbeat, find nothing, then cut me open - expecting to find a beating heart, or some semblance of life. They wouldn’t find any of that inside me; they’d dig and dig as their hands grew stained with the dirt. Bloody from all of the scraps of metal and glass, still they would bleed, and I would grow more and more corrupt from their digging inside me until my blood became poison. I wasn’t meant to be here: I was born as a rotting corpse. I was never alive; merely an empty shell moving through this life with no escape that wouldn’t disqualify me any further.

I realised all of that pretty quickly. What I didn’t realise was how hard it was to be

known. Groups of friends who came and went; nobody seemed to stay for long. Maybe this was a stopping-off point and we were all just being passed around. The first person I could remember was Bethany-May. I guess we were friends because we were both new and not much else. In an odd way, I was slightly jealous of her. She told us about heaven and hell, and how we were supposed to act a certain way to get to heaven - or we’d be tortured for eternity; which sounded sort of like an instruction manual for being human.

I didn’t think there was a god at all, and if there was some sort of higher being they

weren’t kind. To the god I imagined, we were merely pawns in their own sick and sadistic game. Some days I wonder what the objective is; like how you win and other days who couldn’t play - and how did someone end up disqualified? More specifically, are some people disqualified from birth?

A writer I like once said “I find it hard to believe in God’s love but I can believe in his cruelty”, and I think that sounds about right. But the emptiness wasn’t due to an absence of God, or because of any other sort of religious leanings. If I tried praying I wasn’t met with an all-knowing voice. I was met with nothing. Nothing but a dark bottomless pit that seemed to swallow me whole, like a river of despair that was deeper than the pits of hell. I’d sooner burn than drown.

There was one person who stayed from the start: his name was Elliot and I don’t think he knew that this school was a stopping-off point for most people. Sometimes I wish he knew, so he could be safe from what happened next - but an inkling of selfishness is glad he stayed. On my first day there he helped me find the coat pegs and we liked the same books. Looking back, I’m sure I spent more time with him than I did Bethany-May - my so-called ‘best friend’. I remember, one day, Bethany-May had refused to speak to me for the week because I refused to admit whether I liked some boy or other. She was convinced that I had fallen head over heels for him because I said he looked a bit like Ryan Ross from Panic! At The Disco. She was also convinced that we were distantly related because we both had dark hair and greyish blue eyes. She was wrong about a lot of things. So, for that week Elliot was basically my only friend: we sat in the back of class together, drawing cartoons and laughing too hard to finish explaining them to each other.

I’ve always loved the term ‘to fall for someone’, even though some people think it’s stupid or immature. To me, it means that you would do anything for that one person because you love them so much. I suppose I like it because the thought of being love feels like falling to me: the sharp leap in your stomach before going down, down, down. For a while I didn’t think this would be something that I would ever understand, let alone experience.

“What uneasiness lies in being loved”

I suppose a lot of uneasiness lies in being loved though, doesn’t it? If you make one mistake it’s easy for the one that you love to just stop. You don’t even have to do anything wrong: they could easily get bored and you’d never know why they stopped. Being fallen for is lovely: it’s a meadow of flowers on a spring day, it’s birdsong and a waterfall, surrounded by vivid emerald leaves that shine like stained glass in sunlight. Unfortunately I’m the sort of girl who people fall with, not for. To make matters worse, I didn’t find this out until it was far too late.



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