Hell is other people…  An atheist ghost story (I did call it an ‘existential ghost story’ in its afterword, but I was pussying out: this is what I meant):

‘[…] It’s okay, he said to the boy as he came into the room. I’m going to help you. He searched for a light switch but couldn’t find one, instead having to edge into the gloom. Banged his leg into a coffee table a few steps in. The boy shuddered at the collision and tried to burrow even deeper into the corner, crying out horribly as the bones of his shattered legs grated together.

Don’t move, he warned the boy desperately. I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to make sure you’re okay. Look, I’ll stay where I am. He stopped in the middle of the room and put his hands up to reassure the child but the kid wouldn’t look at him, kept trying to edge away despite the grinding pain.

He hesitated, unsure whether to continue into the room or backtrack for help. Looked to the doorway as if that would answer.

He was turning back to the boy when he sensed something behind, a shadow running at him from the hall, and he turned already raising his hands in protested innocence expecting one of the child’s parents. I didn’t– he started to say and then the figure filled his vision and his tongue jammed to the roof of his mouth at the impossible shock, the recognition, and then a whoosh of air sliced towards him, a sudden wallop impacting his temple and sending him sprawling back towards the window, throbbing disembodied pain seeping through him as if vicarious, delayed, and as he stumbled against the window-ledge trying to yell: Wait! he clumsily pushed with his free hand, palm butting a chest. But it only allowed the other to find him again in the near-dark and the next punch slammed into his nose and snapped his head back against the curtain-muffled window, sparkling his vision and sinking cold up past his eyes. He fell then, toppling to the side with one flailing arm, sight gone, and he somehow grabbed hold of the curtain on the way down and it held for a moment then noisily ripped and came down on top of him. He swatted at the sudden caul, terrified, waiting for the blows to rain down, kicking out like a child; feeling a thump as he connected with something that nearly twisted his ankle, but it felt good, substantial, and he kicked again, sensing his foot crunch something this time: a leg, giving him time to struggle out from the curtain and see the room in sudden relief with the last of the outside light coming through the naked window.

To see his attacker — his brother Stephen — hunched before him, cradling his smashed knee and glaring, face twisted.

St-Stephen? He managed but his brother just stared at him. Stephen? What are you–

And then his brother snarled and came again and all he could do was scrabble backwards, feet skittering on the floor, arm still tucked uselessly into his shirt, and then his brother collapsed as his leg gave out but kept coming at him on his stomach now like the boy.

He backed across the floor, knowing that this was impossible, that it couldn’t be his brother attacking him, that he must be delusional, still in the crashed car perhaps, dreaming deliriously because of his injuries or something. And then his brother reared up with one arm and brought it down on his shin, piledriving the shear of bone with a crack, and he screamed at the explosive reality of the pain and kicked out instinctively with his other leg, catching Stephen beneath the eye and whipping his head. His brother just grinned, teeth white in the near-dark, a faint rip opening across his cheekbone. Blood welled like tears.

He banged up against something cold and harsh, his hand scraping fireplace-stone, and as he frantically searched for something, anything, to defend himself, he tried to yell: Stop! What are you doing? his voice raspy with fear, but it only seemed to spur his brother on, unstoppable now, coming at him across the floor in a nightmare whirl of limbs.

His hand finally closed around something heavy and metallic and he swung it in a wild arc that ended with jarring impact.

His brother abruptly stopped, expression frozen, crazed eyes unfocusing and glazing over.

He let go of the black length of fire-poker. It remained suspended from Stephen’s head, its thorn dug deep into the side of the skull as the familiar blue eyes rolled up and blood ran in a thin line down and around his neck. Then Stephen keeled over and the poker clattered to the floor.

He stared down at the crumpled body of his younger brother, shaking, face crawling with horror. No, no, no… he kept saying. But Stephen didn’t move. He had killed someone now. His own brother. He’d killed his own brother. He slumped backwards. Kept mumbling to himself: No, no… spacing out, eyes blurring and filling with tears. It was too much to take. What was his brother doing here?

And then he remembered the boy. Tore his eyes away from his brother’s body and in a daze looked back into the corner.

The child was gone.

He looked to the open doorway, distantly wondering if the child ran out while they were fighting, but his mind no longer worked. Couldn’t answer the questions. He got to his feet, gasping at the pain in his tortured leg, and edged around Stephen’s body to the corridor.

The lights he had turned on were now off. He stared down the length of darkness to the still-open front door at the end.

A shadow crossed the doorway.

Then: footsteps, crunching gravel, more shadows arcing down the hallway. He stood awestruck staring at the gap of light as the sounds increased like hailstones, a steady rain of impacts.

And then the first figure appeared.’

© Aaron Sterns 2008, Do not reproduce without permission



“This frightening story stays with you long after reading it. It’s about a man who finds himself in a strange sort of hell where he must fight to the death everyone he knew in life. The man is a surprisingly realistic character, developed well in a very short story.”
-Review by Tristesse Lee, Book and Movie Impressions… For Now

“A ghost story […] with a lot more substance! […] I am a huge horror fan and this story had it all! If I had three thumbs I give this story just that!”
-Reader review, HarperCollins Eos books blog

“‘The Rest is Silence’ by Aaron Sterns is about a man facing his past and his past facing him. […] The story really did have a horror feel to it, with the bloodshed and ghosts of the past reappearing. Some parts were down right disturbing (in a good way) and they worked perfectly. […] I really didn’t expect the story to take a turn like it did and I was glad it did. Overall: 4/5 This was just a great, bloody horror story.”
-Reader review, Amazon.com

“Aaron Sterns’ ghost story ‘The Rest is Silence’, really made me look at the items of ordinary life in new ways.”
-Reader review, Amazon.com


The Aus cover

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