D. S. Levy
Rose gets a nosebleed.
As we all know, nosebleeds can be symptomatic of many things, but in Rose’s case it can mean only one thing: she’s alone, in a haunted mansion.
You’ve seen this movie, and yes, the only thing you remember is the slow red drip from the beautiful girl’s perfect nostril. And though you remember that every time she gets a nosebleed it means a ghost is lurking nearby, you forget.
Which means you’re worrying about Rose from a parallel (i.e., wrong) universe …
Did someone punch Rose in the nose?
Did she trip and fall?
Have a deviated septum?
Done a line of coke?
What, what, what???!!!
Maybe you’re not all that concerned about dear little Rosie right now. Maybe you’ve got problems of your own—paying the mortgage on time, getting the baby to stop crying, taking the dog out to pee. Besides, you used to get nosebleeds all the time. NO BIG DEAL.
But your nosebleeds weren’t because you were in a haunted mansion. Yours had nothing to do with ghosts. Yours were due to a dry house.
Now, poor little Rosie is cold. This empty, falling-down mansion is drafty and damp. A good breeding ground for black rot. But humidity doesn’t matter. Nor do bats in the belfry, of which there are none.
What matters are ghosts.
“Where are you? Who are you?” Rose whispers in the dark, her breath crystallizing into empty word bubbles, a bread trail that hangs in the air. But she won’t get back home until a) she realizes she’s already created her escape, and b) she’s learned something along the way.
“Where’s a tissue? I need a tissue.”
She finds a whole box of tissues on a dresser.
There’s a mirror; it needs a good resilvering. She leans in, looks, but there’s no reflection. She’s glad. She hates her looks, always has, especially her nose. It’s too big, too wide.
A cold fog creeps in behind her, an ethereal, morphing blob. Its long fingers tap-tap-tap her on the shoulder.
Slowly, she turns around, murmurs, “What do you want?”
In a story, a character must want something; there must be a dilemma or problem to be solved. In this case, we know two things: 1) Rose wants to get the hell out of this haunted mansion, and 2) the ghost wants something of her.
The things you want.
Facts. Details. Background. Before, after.
She walked to the mansion by way of the park.
She walked through the lane with the red and white chestnut trees.
She walked past the pond with the koi fish.
She walked as fast as she could.
The old man with a skin disease was asleep on the bench under the old maple tree where she always found him.
And yes, red roses are scattered throughout the rooms of this mansion—here a rose, there a rose, everywhere a red rose—but don’t think they mean anything. The proprietor simply likes roses. Yes, it’s strange that a girl named Rose should find roses scattered throughout, also strange those flowers happen to be as red as her blood. But to read anything into these synchronisms is to read into them.
Anyway, Rose’s nose is still dripping. Actually, it’s gushing. Big red drops stain the marble floor, stain her hands which swipe at her nostrils trying to make it stop, stain her new crisp cotton poplin Misha Nonoo Husband Shirt ($185, made on demand, as worn by Meghan Markle and Misha Nonoo). I mean, that fucking white shirt has blood all over it, looks like Rose butchered a hog, hauled it from one room to the next, and then took a bath in the poor animal’s blood.
The ghost standing beside Rose is trying to help her. It knocks the tissue box on the floor—“hey, how about these,” it’s trying to tell her. It even shoves a medical book off one of the old dusty shelves, a book that happens to fall open to a page about nosebleeds and how to stop them. Pinch the nose at the bridge, put pressure on the valley beneath the nostrils called the philtrum, etc.
But does Rose realize what’s going on here? Does she get it that a ghost is standing right beside her, trying to be as helpful as an invisible presence can be?
She doesn’t get it.
She’s too worried about her damn nose. She can’t see beyond the end of it. Which is sad, because as ghosts go this one is really quite striking. As we might expect, Rose has not only forgotten her trail of empty word bubbles but has learned absolutely nothing about herself since stumbling into this haunted mansion.
As her mother always said, “Rose, you’d cut off your nose to spite your face.” She has indeed. Even her own dead mother can’t help her now.
D. S. Levy’s work has been published in Little Fiction, MoonPark Review, Parhelion Literary Magazine, Cotton Xenomorph, the Alaska Quarterly Review, Columbia, South Dakota Review, Brevity, The Pinch, and others. Her collection of flash fiction, A Binary Heart, was published in 2017 by Finishing Line Press.