I didn't want the house to be sold at all.

The periods in between owners are always the best times, for me; best of all, as the place cycles through owners and buyers become warier and warier, those golden ages of emptiness become longer and longer.

It's not that I dislike the idea of owners, in theory. I don't like being lonely. Being a lonely person means sometimes you hear whispers, or maybe the whispers are just in other peoples' eyes: they must like being lonely. Leave them alone, it's better for everyone that way.

But although I don't like being lonely, it's better than the alternative. The alternative is: light and laughter in the house, the smell of food cooking. Hanging around the edges, being able to see everything. An eavesdropper. When I was alive, I always thought that would be fun: to be able to see how people act when they think nobody is watching. I always figured I must be doing it wrong, just fundamentally not behaving right and maybe if I could just watch someone, watch them eat dinner with their family or walk up the stairs in the dark or pull down their pants to go to the toilet or sit down at their computer to check their emails, maybe I would get it. Ah, I would say, that is how it was done, all along. And then I could go back to my own life and do it properly, know that I was fully human and contributing to the close-weaved mesh of other humans around me, a part of something. Giving back.

But nobody has ever shown me how the business of being human is done, and now even if they did, it's now too late for me to take advantage of the knowledge. Anyway, I did my best. I tried to contribute, despite not knowing how. Nobody will ever know what I did to thank me— not even C, I think, though she has come the closest— but I think they would be grateful if they did somehow find out.

I didn't have any particular feelings about her, when she first came to the house. Yes, usually families buy the place; it's a big old farmhouse with lots of land surrounding it, and most have delusions of spending all their time gardening or building a woodworking shop or whatever. Nobody ever does; they just sit inside in front of the computer all day. Not that I'm criticizing; it's not like I ever started a garden worth writing home about. Maybe if I'd had enough time, I could have experimented with using my leftover materials as fertilizer. Still, I'd mostly stopped paying attention to the visits that people made with the realtor. They never bought the place, these days; something about it just repelled them.

While alive, I would probably have guessed that they aren't buying because the place feels haunted. Now that I'm dead, I'm not so sure. It seems awfully self-important to delude myself into thinking they're not buying the house because of me, when most days I barely even exist. Not like I once did, when I was able to both act, and act upon.

This one bought the house, though. I might not have noticed, if anyone else had bought it; if some nice family had moved in, I might have just stayed in my attic and only noticed that anyone had moved in at all when they started poking around up there.

But this one, I noticed. I noticed because one day the door opened and footsteps stomped into the house and she screamed.

It was a good scream. Loud. Full-throated is the word that comes to mind, as if you could scream with half your throat. Not shrill— more of a yell pushed to the absolute breaking point, if I wanted to be exact. I have had a lot of time to be exact about these sorts of things, and I was well on my way to being a connoisseur of screams even before my time as a true body was cut short.

So, that was surprising. It's not that screams disturb me. Usually they're quite nice. The echo of the other body's dying scream still sounds in my ears, more like the burble of a peaceful brook than anything else. One last scream for the road. I didn't scream as I died.

But I went down the stairs to see what was happening anyway. I don't need to use the stairs, technically; I can be anywhere I like within this house. I'm not bounded by hallways and rooms and staircases, except for the house itself. But old habits die hard; harder than people, who die really rather easily. So I took the stairs.

The new owner was standing just inside the front door; it was late fall at the time, the trees in the forest out back starting to weep and die, so the open door was sweeping in a few stray leaves. She didn't move to close it, and she didn't seem to be hurt or even particularly upset. Actually, she looked kinda pleased.

She opened her mouth and screamed again. She threw back her head as she did it, baring her throat to me— well, to the empty house. She made the loudest sound she could until her lungs ran out of air and then let off, panting slightly. She looked around the empty hallway, opening into the empty living room, the empty kitchen down the hall. All hardwood and echoes. "Fuck yes," she said, like an addendum to the scream.

I get it. I'm a lonely ghost, but I was human once. I was a human who, if they had throught to do it, probably would have happily done the same: screamed just for the pleasure of it, a test of the glorous fact that out here, finally, I was alone.

I felt a bit bad for her. Out of all the possible houses she could have bought in the middle of fuck-all nowhere, she had chosen the one where she would never be truly alone.

She did a lot of work on the house, before even starting to move in. I watched her do it, and tried to feel angry or jealous. A proper ghost, maybe, would care if someone changed the things in their house around. But the work itself I didn't mind. She installed new cabinets in the kitchen, repainted the bedrooms, installed plush carpeting in the living room. After she was done with the carpet, she lay down on the floor and rubbed her cheek against it, then shoved a hand down her tattered work jeans and rubbed one out right there on the floor. I watched from the other side of the room. I would never have thought to masturbate in the living room. I don't know why, it just never occurred to me. At that point, I became pretty sure that even if watching living humans could theoretically teach me how to act, this specific human was probably not the one to learn from.

She moved in slowly, over the course of weeks. Carload by carload, setting things up as soon as she brought them in the house, then going back to wherever she had been before. She set up the living room first, and that night, I stood in the doorway, wondering if I was allowed to go in.

I am allowed to do anything I want, or rather, anything that I can. It's one of the advantages of being dead. But this felt more intimate than watching her get herself off on the floor; this was a lamp with a faded shade and a rocking chair covered in pillows and a blanket thrown over, set up in front of the window, where she could sit in the chair and watch the sun shining or the leaves falling or the snow drifting or whatever goes on out there all the many seasons until she, too, dies.

It's a strange habit that I used to understand, but it fell through my fingers like water when I became something else. Why do the living construct entire spaces inside just for looking at the outside? Perhaps because the outside is too hot, or too cold, or too buggy-- but surely you could stand it, just for a little while, if you really wanted to see what was out there.

(I'm biased, I know that. I can't leave the house. I've tried. It makes me feel a little less guilty about watching anyone who enters it go about their business when the mood strikes me; I have literally no other option. Guilt doesn't come naturally to me; I have tried to practice it, use it as a gauge. Perhaps some would think that I got it wrong, in life, but something tells me that this new owner wouldn't be one of them.)

So I went into the living room, and sat down in her chair, for some value of "sat." It was old. Granny furniture. The kind of furniture that nobody else was ever supposed to see; you don't move out into the woods if you're planning on convincing anyone to come out and visit you. The kind of furniture you might get old in, until maybe one day you're rocking away sipping your tea and watching the world go by and you just die, just like that, you're done.

Sounds nice.

It will take a while, though, for her to die like that. She's not old. Not a kid, but not old. Maybe a little younger than me, when I died, and I haven't been counting since then.

Time moves differently now. I sat in the chair for an amount of time that was probably long, because she came back while I was still sitting in it. When she opened the door, though, it turned out I was wrong about never inviting anyone over: there was someone with her, a man with short curly hair and strong arms and— ah— a large van parked outside. They carried in a couple loads of furniture together, from the van that must belong to the man into the living room.

"Need help getting any of this up the stairs?" the man asked.

"Ugh," said the woman. "No, I haven't decided where anything's going yet. Thanks so much for your help, though."

"No problem," he said. "Good for that great honkin' thing to be useful every once in a while." He gestured at his vehicle and laughs. He wanted to be invited in. She could have invited him in; there were more chairs. I knew there was beer in the fridge, because she sometimes drank it while she did work on the house, which seems like a dumb idea if you ask me.

"Right." Her smile reached her eyes, but it was a deliberate reach, as if she was thinking <i>pull the corners of your mouth up-- now crinkle your eyes-- yes, like that</i> as she did it.

She did know where everything's going. She'd made entire floor plans, measured the spaces in between walls, muttered to herself. She just wanted him to leave.

"I'll see you on Monday then," she said.

He was clearly irritated. She didn’t care; the reward of being alone was greater than the threatened possibility of pissing off a coworker. "Bye, C," he muttered, and goes off to his van. Or maybe it was "Cee," or "Sea," or "See." I've never seen a document with her name on it, though you'd think that she'd leave one lying around eventually. Anyway, I don’t care that much. C is a good enough name for me.

C watched her coworker's big white murder van— probably only a metaphorical murder van, and I'm quite good at distinguishing these things— trundle down the long gravel driveway. Then she flopped down into her rocking chair, exhausted.

I wasn't prepared for it. I've never tried touching anyone, before. Like so many things, it had simply never occurred to me. Maybe the first thing any normal person would have done upon realizing they were a ghost was try out what happens when you touch a human, but I didn't like touching humans while I was alive unless it was for very specific purposes, so I never thought about it when I died.

It wasn't much. Nothing at all, really, and maybe C reached for the blanket and wrapped it tightly around her just because the house was drafty. But I thought I felt something. A brush. A warmth. It terrified me.

I have been the most terrifying thing in the room all my life, even if usually unrecognized. I am not used to being terrified, and I don't like it.

I stayed in the attic for a good long time, after that. Cowardly, but there is no point to being otherwise any more. It took me a long time to work up to picking up the knife, that first time. Being dead is not pleasant, but that part of it was almost a relief; I can't pick up anything. I can't do anything. No obligations. No restless need to make up for my inability to figure out how to fit into a society by finding myself a useful place on its edges. No grainy feeling of skin parting under the blade.

When I finally left the attic, it was some time later. Weeks, or months, or years. The furniture had been moved into its final location; she had managed, somehow, to get a desk up the stairs by herself, and I ran my fingers unfeelingly over the wall of the staircase as I descended it, newly pockmarked with tiny holes where she had dinged the edges of it against the paint. No matter, perhaps, to her; there was supposed to be nobody else here to hear her screams or view her chipped paint. Perhaps ruining the wall had given her the same kind of giddy self-contained pleasure as screaming. Perhaps she will fix the walls eventually, and that will be just as much pleasure as ruining them.

I could have tried fixing things, if I had lived long enough; or rather, that is what I was trying to do. The line between destruction and repair is so thin. Destroy one thing and you fix another. The old flooring, that I had lived with my entire time here, now lies out in a pile in the backyard, replaced by new boards that aren't water-damaged or splintered.

Or at least, they aren't damaged or splintered <i>yet</i>; but when I finally descended from the attic, there was a threat to their integrity that hadn't been there before.

"Daniel," C was saying, and I went into the kitchen, where the shiny new floorboards reside, to see who she was talking to. "The door. The door is right there! Three more seconds, buddy, and you would have made it! You utter fucking asshole."

There was a large brown dog hanging its head by the door, looking very chastised indeed. Daniel is an odd name for a dog, but there wasn't anyone else in the house for the name to apply to, and the dog was clearly the one on the receiving end of the berating, because there was a large puddle of yellow-tinged liquid spreading on the floor.

C was walking around it nervously, like she was trying to figure out how to tackle the problem. She reached on top of the refrigerator for a handful of paper towels and threw them down, but they soaked through immediately and she winced as she realizes that she was going to be left with an enormous handful of soggy foul paper towels. She got a plastic bag and a rubber glove from under the sink, and I averted my eyes from her muttering to look at the dog.

The dog was looking at me.

Daniel was clearly getting on in years. His fur was patchy and discoloured in spots, and the skin hung loosely around his mouth. Still, he had a certain hard, vicious look about him; the kind of dog you would want with you if you lived in the woods all alone. Just in case.

He growled. He growled at me, and I knew that it was at me with that same sudden shock of realness that I had felt when C and I were suddenly sitting in the same chair, coming close to inhabiting the same skin. "Oh, stop it," C groused, throwing him a look.

Daniel did stop it. I wondered whether it was because she told him to, and he understands what she says, or if he would have lost interest anyway. He turned away and started ignoring me, even when I got right in front of him and waved a hand in his face.

I had no idea whether I was relieved or disappointed. It feels good to have another living being recognize your presence, and yet I'd spent most of my life avoiding the feeling. One isn't supposed to try new things in death, I was almost certain. One was just supposed to exist, halfway, forever.

C and Daniel settled into a routine, and I hung around the main part of the house enough to see it. Every morning, she let him outside and threw sticks in the yard. Never having owned a dog before, I would have assumed that the abiltiy and inclination to fetch sticks would be something inborn, that all dogs knew how to do; but Daniel seemed confused by it, at the beginning. He would fetch it slowly and carry it back, then leave it with her as if to say "now that I'm gotten it for you, make sure you don't lose it again." He appeared somewhat betrayed by the fact that she just kept throwing it, and he had to get it again, and again, and again.

C would go to work two or three days a week; on the days that she didn't go, she stayed in the room she'd clearly designated as a home office and tapped away on a laptop. It only occurred to me after several weeks that I could, if I chose, be curious about what she was doing, and look at the laptop screen to find out. Once it had occurred to me, though, affecting curiosity in that way felt fake. Like I was trying to pretend to be human, and that was doomed to fail.

On Sundays, she put Daniel in a crate and cleaned things, starting with herself. C had short hair that she kept short with buzzing clippers, leaving flecks of blonde hair all over the bathroom like snow. Then she would shower, cut her nails and pluck her eyebrows, clean the bathroom, vacuum the house, and work in the yard, raking leaves and putting them in big brown bags. Something about the ritual seemed odd to me. Perhaps the impersonality of it, the way it implied that her body was a part of the house that had to be cleaned and maintained just like any other part of the house. Or perhaps the opposite: not that the body was part of the house, but that the house was part of the body. Every floorboard a phalange, every wall a limb, every window a great unblinking eye. I was a part of the house, too. Did that make me a part of her?

If it did, then perhaps her finding me was inevitable. My workshop was hidden, but only in the way that something you wouldn't want dinner party guests stumbling over was hidden. (I had never had a dinner party, so this wasn't a realistic concern, but the idea had weighed on me all the same.) Eventually, of course, C was going to notice that the dimensions of the basement didn't match those of the main floor of the house, and carefully remove the false wall at the west end of the basement. it was just plywood, slotted into a groove in the ceiling and the floor; once inside, I would slot it back into the floor and pull up on a little handle attached to the top edge to close it back up. I always closed it back up while working, just like I'd always closed the door to the bedroom while masturbating. Some things were better done in privacy, even if the only thing to wrest privacy from was the open air of your own space. C is different, though. She inhabits this house so fully already that everything in it is private to her.

It must have smelled really bad. I could tell that it did, because of the face she made and the way she immediately stepped back and nearly tripped over the false wall lying on the ground. I was impressed that the wall was so effective at keeping the smell inside, actually, but it was cold in the basement, so perhaps that had dulled the scent of decay and let it settle.

C didn't scream. She held her shirt over he mouth and nose and looked: looked at my shrivelling body, tangled up with his.

I looked with her, because I hadn't really seen it before. I hadn't come back to this room, once I'd realized that my body was bound to the house. Something kept me away. Perhaps that's my one vestige of humanity, was that I didn't want to see my own rotting corpse laid out in front of me. And yet looking now, beside C, her breathing loud and laboured through the fabric of her shirt, wasn't so bad.

He'd been the thrity-eighth. I remembered that, because I kept track of them meticulously; if this was a job, or maybe more like a volunteer gig, my offering to the good of humanity, then I ought to keep straight just what I was doing. If I made it to the pearly gates, and was asked to give an accounting of myself, I ought to be able to say how many I'd done away with. Thirty-eight. Thirty-eight men that the world was better off without, and I was the one who'd removed them.

C crept closer, as if we might somehow come to life and attack her. I was lying on the floor, the bruises on my neck a strange mottled grey against the lighter grey of my long-dead skin. He was collapsed on top of me. There was a wide trail of sticky blood leading from the metal chair in the centre of the room to where we lay in the corner.

I hadn't tied him well enough, that was all. Thirty-eight victims in, and it was something that simple that got me. Silly, maybe. Ignominious. I could have done so much more— but maybe this was enough. I hoped so, until I realized that my day of final judgement was never going to come. I was just stuck here. Maybe that was the judgement, in itself.

I remember that when his hands closed around my neck, I wasn't afraid, or sad. I knew I was going to die, and it was just an inevitable fact. I think I'd known, from the very beginning, that one of them would kill me eventually. Men are stronger than women, on average, after all. On an individual level that doesn't matter much; a woman can kill a man once, twice, maybe three times. But the law of large numbers says that the more times one performs an experiment, the closer the average of the results is to the expected value. Two people in a basement: one man, one woman. The expected value is that the woman ends up dead. The fact that I managed to take him with me, stick him deep enough that he'd died of his injuries right along with me, was a victory. So too were the thirty-seven before him, which a naive misunderstanding of probability would say should never have happened.

When I was a kid— when I was human, when I was soft and delicate and needed to be protected— I had a babysitter, and my babysitter had back pain. Sonya was old and reed-thin and had a thick accent that I only much later learned was Serbo-Croatian, and she would sit down heavily and grimace sometimes and when I asked her what was wrong she would say "oh, just the usual."

Just the usual. I asked her once if her back ever didn't hurt, and she said yes, sometimes. That sometimes she would get a few minutes, or even a few hours, of unexpected reprieve, and walk around wondering what the world would be like if she felt like this all the time. Inevitably, however, the pain always returned. I asked her if she was angry when it came back, when she had had a taste of it being gone. And she said that no, no, she wasn't angry, she was just grateful for the time without pain, handed down from the sky with no rhyme or reason. She didn't feel entitled to it.

That was how I felt when the man's hands, slippery with blood, cut off my air and the blood to my brain. The unexpected reprieve, the time in which no man had killed me, was coming to an end. It was inevitable that the time where I was allowed to do the only work I could be good at must end. Probability would carry on without me trying to flout it. The house always wins in the end.

C didn't call the cops. I watched her consider it. She had a landline, which I found odd, but perhaps she was worried about being able to phone people if the power went out. Smart. She stood beside it for a long time, one finger resting on the receiver. Perhaps she was contemplating calling someone other than the cops, I don't know. But in the end, she just went and dug two holes in the backyard.

The holes were deep, but not wide, and I startled with recognition. I had read once on the internet, when planning my life's work, that aerial searches look for patches of disturbed ground about six feet wide, assuming that dead bodies will be buried lying down. If you bury one standing up instead, it's not as recognizeable. How did C know that? Perhaps she thought of it all by herself, like everything about this place belongs to her. Perhaps each one of her ideas was truly original. How I would have liked to be just like her.

She wore gloves and a face mask to put us both into seperate garbage bags, and tipped the garbage bags into the holes.

I watched from an upstairs window as she buried us. The man, she put in head-first. I thought that was funny, him standing on his head for eternity. The bones of the neck are delicate in life, and must be even more so in death; perhaps they would collapse first, and he would end up bent out of shape down there.

Me, she put in foot-first. Standing up. I was facing away from the house, towards the woods where my own narrow, deep holes dotted the underbrush.

I could never have been like C, in life. And yet here we were, in our old haunted house, burying our dead bodies. I had done that to her. Made her more like me.

I had never left the house before while dead, and yet C was outside, so perhaps I could be too. Carefully, I floated through the wall and outwards, along the line of sight traced by my own dead unseeing eyes. Wandering, as if my work could ever be finished if I were only given enough time.