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Famous Modern Ghost Stories (Various authors) online
The Shell of Sense
The door was ajar. He knocked softly at it "Are you there, Theresa?" he called. He expected to find her, then, there in my room? I shrank back, fearing, almost, to stay.
"I shall have finished in a moment," Theresa told him, and he sat down to wait for her.
No spirit still unreleased can understand the pang that I felt with Allan sitting almost within my touch. Almost irresistibly the wish beset me to let him for an instant feel my nearness. Then I checked myself, remembering--oh, absurd, piteous human fears!--that my too unguarded closeness might alarm him. It was not so remote a time that I myself had known them, those blind, uncouth timidities. I came, therefore, somewhat nearer--but I did not touch him. I merely leaned toward him and with incredible softness whispered his name. That much I could not have forborne; the spell of life was still too strong in me.
But it gave him no comfort, no delight. "Theresa!" he called, in a voice dreadful with alarm--and in that instant the last veil fell, and desperately, scarce believingly, I beheld how it stood between them, those two.
She turned to him that gentle look of hers.
"Forgive me," came from him hoarsely. "But I had suddenly the most--unaccountable sensation. Can there be too many windows open? There is such a--chill--about."
"There are no windows open," Theresa assured him. "I took care to shut out the chill. You are not well, Allan!"
"Perhaps not." He embraced the suggestion. "And yet I feel no illness apart from this abominable sensation that persists--persists.... Theresa, you must tell me: do I fancy it, or do you, too, feel--something--strange here?"
"Oh, there is something very strange here," she half sobbed. "There always will be."
"Good heavens, child, I didn't mean that!" He rose and stood looking about him. "I know, of course, that you have your beliefs, and I respect them, but you know equally well that I have nothing of the sort! So--don't let us conjure up anything inexplicable."
I stayed impalpably, imponderably near him. Wretched and bereft though I was, I could not have left him while he stood denying me.
"What I mean," he went on, in his low, distinct voice, "is a special, an almost ominous sense of cold. Upon my soul, Theresa,"--he paused--"if I _were_ superstitious, if I _were_ a woman, I should probably imagine it to seem--a presence!"
He spoke the last word very faintly, but Theresa shrank from it nevertheless.
"_Don't_ say that, Allan!" she cried out. "Don't think it, I beg of you! I've tried so hard myself not to think it--and you must help me. You know it is only perturbed, uneasy spirits that wander. With her it is quite different. She has always been so happy--she must still be."
I listened, stunned, to Theresa's sweet dogmatism. From what blind distances came her confident misapprehensions, how dense, both for her and for Allan, was the separating vapor!
Allan frowned. "Don't take me literally, Theresa," he explained; and I, who a moment before had almost touched him, now held myself aloof and heard him with a strange untried pity, new born in me. "I'm not speaking of what you call--spirits. It's something much more terrible." He allowed his head to sink heavily on his chest. "If I did not positively know that I had never done her any harm, I should suppose myself to be suffering from guilt, from remorse.... Theresa, you know better than I, perhaps. Was she content, always? Did she believe in me?"
"Believe in you?--when she knew you to be so good!--when you adored her!"
"She thought that? She said it? Then what in Heaven's name ails me?--unless it is all as you believe, Theresa, and she knows now what she didn't know then, poor dear, and minds----"