Monday, November 29, 2010

What doesn't kill you.

"WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU" - Anthony Cowin

The child was at the foot of his bed again. Every night since Sadie finally left him she appeared. The first couple of nights he hid under the duvet and waited for the sun to bleach out the vision. By the fourth day he was sent home from work for sleeping at his desk. His life was crumbling around him and the last thing he needed was this kid, this thing coming to haunt him each night.

He finally plucked up the courage to speak to it. But when he opened his mouth the thing disappeared. Outside all the streetlights blew and every car alarm screeched into action. He ran to the bathroom and threw up. He had to sort this out.

He stepped into the church like a naughty child that had been caught stealing, or more accurately bullying. The priest was no use. Told him he should consider getting help to stay sober.
‘This ghost you see is only in your head.’ The priest told him.

‘What about the Holy bloody Spirit?’ He shouted back. ‘Is he in your head?’

Father Roland grabbed him by his dirty shirt collar and pulled him hard against his chest. ‘Look man whatever you are seeing is a result of that stink on your breath and something you’re keeping inside. The only ghosts in this world are the ones we create.’

‘But she’s real, as real as you are right now.’ He began sobbing. Father Roland had to stop him from crumbling to the floor.

‘You have a cancer eating you up. Once you deal with that you deal with this spirit. Understand?’

He loosened his grip and let him fall onto the pews. When he looked up she was there. The little girl, six years old, dressed all in black with tight pigtails and a blank expression on her white face. His screams went unheard. The priest had done an Elvis and left the building.

The girl smiled at him and held out her hand. Against all his natural instincts he took it. The sun burnt through the stained glass windows saturating the church with vivid colours. He saw who she was for the first time; he recognised the eyes. A church is as good a place as any to die, he thought. When he woke up he was in Heaven.

Only it wasn’t Heaven. He’d mistaken the crisp white rooms and glowing neon lights of the hospital for God’s pad in the sky. She was there at the end of the bed. There was no escaping her, he realised that now.

‘I don’t understand what you want from me. Why can’t you leave me alone?’

The girl smiled and looked at the door. It swung open. It was Sadie, come with flowers and grapes like cliché. He was so relieved to see her beautiful face again.

‘They rang me at work. Oh Steven what has happened to you?’ She couldn’t believe the difference in him after only one week. He looked ten years older, his hair was greying and his eyes seemed hollow. She'd wanted him to hurt when she left but not like this.

‘Sadie I saw. I mean there’s this girl…’

‘I knew it. You can’t help yourself can you? You’ll never change.’ She stood to leave but he grabbed her wrist.

‘No, a kid. A little girl.’ He tried to sit up but found he couldn’t move. He saw the drip at the side of the bed. Maybe it would have been better if they had left him to die.

Sadie sat down and took his hand from her wrist. She held it and he felt real for the first time in a long time. He explained what had been happening and what the priest had told him about ghosts being a cancer, like guilt. When he finished he looked up and told her who the girl was.

‘Oh Steve no, that’s impossible. Please don’t say that.’

‘Is it true Sadie, please tell me? If you do I promise I’ll leave you alone forever, you’ll never have to see my face again or worry about what I may do to hurt you.’

She began crying. She’d waited to let the tears out for a long time but was too afraid she may never stop once she did. ‘Last month, in this very hospital. Steve I’m so sorry but I knew I couldn’t stay with you. The baby would have given you an excuse to harass me for the rest of my life. I wanted you gone, gone for good and I didn’t want to put a child in that danger.’

The girl was sitting on the chair by the window, the evening light highlighting her features. She looked so much like Sadie, so beautiful and innocent. But it was her eyes that scared him. She had her daddy’s eyes. He wasn’t a murderer but he felt like one at that point. He was so horrible and so violent that a woman he loved and who had once loved him back decided to have an abortion rather than bring his child into this world.

He let go of Sadie’s hand and smiled at the girl. The ghost was a cancer alright and he decided he needed the cure. He’d never hold his daughter now. It was too late for that. It was too late to win Sadie back too but he thought she’d be better off without him anyway. He just hoped he had time enough for himself.

Every now and then he falls behind a little, falls off the wagon, too. But he sees her there. Not the same girl but her eyes looking at him through other children. And when he wanders the streets he notices how many children have those eyes.

He sees what others can’t. He sees all the lost children walking amongst us who also have their daddies’ eyes. There’s no cure for that cancer.

BIO: Anthony Cowin writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry. His work has been published in print anthologies as well as on-line. He is currently working on his debut novel. 


  1. Chilling and disturbing Anthony. The little girl as a conscious and communicating manifestation of his alcoholic sub-conscious or even as a ghost-child who has been with him throughout his life - both are evocative and resonating concepts.

    Desperate, and so very-nearly tragic.

  2. Thanks for the comments Lily. Yeah I wanted to write something about the concept of bringing our inner ghosts to life in a palpable and visual manifestation.

    It did have a gruesome and very tragic ending but I changed it in the edit. I thought it was better to think about these ghosts as something that is always inside us and around us, rather than a ghoul who would kill for revenge.

  3. I had a feeling it was going to be malevolent, too, but the way you finished it was thought provoking and insightful. Very cleverly handled, Anthony.

  4. wonderful story, with a sad twist, really good read,

  5. Thanks for the kind words Anna and Antonia. I'm glad you both enjoyed the story.

  6. I really enjoyed reading this. I’ll echo the what everyone else has said, I love the ending.

  7. darkly lovely, from Ceka

  8. That's the only way to get a comment in, sometimes! And the 'letters' I had to copy to get it in were almost the arabic for 'Go Away' which I thought darkly appropriate! (Ceka again)

  9. StForce I appreciate the comments and thanks for the feedback.

    Ceka Arabic for 'Go Away' does seem oddly apt for this story. Maybe those lovely dark forces are swirling around this tale.

  10. That was a cracking tale and a half mate.

  11. Thanks Lee. That comment means a lot to me and I'm so glad you enjoyed the story.

  12. Chilling, Anthony, really chilling. Well done.
    - Ben Hubble

  13. Brilliant and poignant - left a lump in my throat.

  14. I read your piece

    They are Terrific! Thumbs Up and Very well done

  15. Apologies, Anthony.

    Pieces is what I meant