Scratch, Rub, Mary

I can feel the ground against the left side of my body.

A nostalgic smell.

L——

 

L?

I’ve smelt this before somewhere—a faint but pungent smell—but I can’t recall what it is.

Li-? Le-?

I open my eyes—the ground, the sky, everything’s white.

I struggle to push myself up; my fingers feel tingly and broken up, and everything’s swaying back and forth. I feel a little dizzy, and sick.

I clutch my face, my fingers clamping down onto my temples, and try to shake the feeling off.

This is the worst…

I look down at both of my hands.

I think they’re okay.

A breath in—

 

—and out. In—

 

—and out.

I’m still a bit dizzy, but manage to get up on my feet and have another look at my surroundings.

No matter which direction I turn to, it’s all the same: a pure white landscape, stretching on and on without end.

 

Where am I?

 

It’s a little scary, but I take a step forward.

A scratch—

I stop, cover my neck, look around.

What was that just now?

A chill sweeps over me. My breaths are short, quick, my heart is racing.

I don’t think I’m hurt, as for the culprit—there’s no sign of anyone else.

I run my hand over the side of my neck, and have a look at my fingers—There’s no blood, but they’re stained with something dark grey. I rub whatever it is between my fingers, and it spreads a little. In the light, it looks almost like silver.

“Oil…?”

But it isn’t wet.

Keeping my fingers away, I press my palm against my neck and check again.

Nothing.

I bring my hand down to my skirt, but stop there.

I probably shouldn’t wipe it on—

Looking down, my clothes are a mess.

What…?

There are large grey patches all over them, threads are sticking out everywhere, it’s torn in a few places—

When did—now isn’t the time!

I rub the oil off onto my skirt, and go back to searching for whatever scratched me.

 

Another scratch—

I jump, brush the back of my right arm, have a quick glance—

It’s fine—!

My eyes are back up, but nothing’s there. My heart’s racing, I keep alert—

 

—then turn my attention back to my arm. Eyeing it, I search for anything strange; cuts, marks, the weird oil from earlier, but nothing’s wrong.

My sleeve?

I move my arm around while adjusting my blouse and cardigan.

It might have been. Probably.

The feeling that something is there keeps its hold on me.

 

Scratch—

I pull my left arm away, twist my entire body—

What keeps—!?

I look left, right—nothing.

There’s definitely something there!

I’m panting, still wary of my surroundings while a flurry of thoughts race through my head.

 

Call out.

 

I hesitate, but I want to know who, or what, was scratching me.

My curiosity wins. I take a deep breath, and—

 

—my voice hits my throat.

What if it was trying to hurt me? It might kill me. The oil from earlier might have been—

Blood.

I immediately check my neck again, but there’s nothing on it. I let out a sigh of relief, but stay on my toes.

 

Again—

I flinch, turn right, step back, grabbing my shoulder, frantically search—nothing.

Again—

I almost scream but hold my breath, cover my chest.

 

I take a step back, turn, and run.

There’s nowhere to run or hide, but I continue to run anyway.

I can’t think properly: my head’s jumping between whatever it is, running away, wondering if I’m injured or not—I feel like I’m about to cry.

 

The scratching doesn’t stop, no matter how far I run.

I scream—squeal, trip, and fall, tired and out of breath, while holding back my coughs and sobs.

My throat feels tight; the only sound I can make is a silent wheeze.

Another scratch—

“(I don’t…!)”

I’ve lost most of my voice, I don’t know what’s happening, I don’t know what to do.

I bend forward, curling up while trembling, and crying.

Please, stop…!

 

A breath in, and out.

I’m not sure how long I’ve been lying on the ground. It feels like it’s been over an hour, maybe two. It might have even been longer.

I peek down at my legs, close enough to my face that I can feel the heat coming from them. It’s scratching my knees, but there’s nothing there.

It’s invisible.

I almost forget to breathe while I watch my legs, trying to look for signs, shadows, anything that would help me identify it.

 

A ghost…?

It’s invisible, but I don’t think it can speak.

The scratching continues downwards, over my thighs, my knees, my calves and shins, and my feet. My entire body tenses up, my nails dig into my palms, I clench my teeth—it isn’t pleasant, but all I can do is wait.

 

I don’t feel it much now. I think it’s scratching my clothes. My blouse, my woollen cardigan, and my skirt push up against my skin every once in a while. The sound of it running over wool and cloth comes and goes.

It starts focusing on my skirt, and I take the chance to reach under my blouse. I run my hand over my stomach, and then my sides, checking for any injuries. There aren’t any marks, or cuts.

It doesn’t hurt. I think I’m okay…

I look at my left hand: Oil—

My heart jumps.

I sit up, shuffle back, trying to kick it away, lift my blouse—

Light-grey streaks smear my stomach. I run my fingers over them—no injuries.

I’m not…

I look at my hand again. Oil dyes the tips of my fingers, the underside of my nails, and my palm.

I can feel my heart pounding. The streaks are probably from my fingers. I check my right hand: it’s the same.

I take in a deep breath, and let out a long and shaky sigh.

 

Using the inside of my blouse, I wipe my stomach, and clean my hands as well.

Where did it come from…?

The oil on my palms was probably from my fingers, but why was there oil on them? Was it from when I touched my neck again? But I only used my right hand that time.

I can’t come up with an answer, but I’m not hurt, that’s all that matters right now.

I’m probably, fine.

 

I’m still sitting up, still shaking a bit, but a little relieved.

The scratching doesn’t really hurt, it doesn’t hurt at all, and I don’t think it’s trying to hurt me or anything.

I hold my legs to my chest. I’ve gotten a little used to the scratching now, and it isn’t as frequent as before. It goes over one part of my body quickly two or three times, and then moves on to the next.

I follow the spots it scratches. The loose threads, the holes, they begin to disappear one after the other as it goes along.

Why are—how…?

I don’t know how it’s doing it, and decide not to think too hard about it. I just watch as it goes over my clothes.

 

My clothes are still dirty, but they look newer, a lot better than before.

The sound of something scraping against wood—

I feel vibrations near my feet, stretch my legs out, and eye my sandals.

What’s it doing now?

I keep my eyes on it. My sandals are beginning to look smoother, and they feel a little better, more comfortable.

I try waving my hands over my sandals, but it doesn’t stop. Then I try flicking my left foot and knocking my sandal against ground, but it continues to scratch them.

No matter what I do, it’s probably going to continue doing whatever it’s doing.

 

The scratching stops.

My sandals look better than before.

Something rubs against my left shoulder—

I glance over.

What…?

It continues down my sleeves, and then goes for my sides.

“Wait!”

My throat hurts a little, but I manage to let out my voice. I’m giggling, trembling as I try to hold it in. I cover my sides, but it doesn’t help.

“S-Stop it!”

I try to get up, but fall back down almost immediately. I’m on the ground, laughing, while trying to cover myself and turn away as it moves onto my stomach, back, legs—

I cough a little—it’s a little dusty.

“Wait!”

It stops, almost as if it can hear me. Coughing, I push myself upright, my sleeve over the bottom half of my face as I wave my left hand around in front of me.

Where did all this dust even come from?

Suddenly, a light breeze blows over me, and the dust disappears with it.

 

Something catches my eye. I look down at my sleeve.
It’s clean!?

I look down at the rest of my clothes—the stains on my cardigan and the marks on my blouse are mostly gone, but there are still a few marks on the sides of my skirt from earlier.

It probably cleaned it for me. I’ll just rub this off…ah.

I end up making it worse, and stop.

There’s some oil on my hand again. I bring it up to my nose and sniff it; a faint nostalgic smell, the same one as before.

L——

L-, Li, Le, Leather? No, not leather. What is this…?

It’s in the back of my head, but I can’t pin it down.

 

Another rub on my shoulder, and I help out—I don’t want it tickling me again.

Still sitting down, I stretch my clothes out whenever I feel it rub me, and watch as the remaining loose threads and stains disappear. There’s an occasional scratch, but I ignore it.

The smell from before…it’s on the tip of my tongue but—it starts with ‘L’. Leaves?

 

I cough: it’s gotten dusty again, dustier than before. I cover my face while pulling on my cardigan.

Again?

Another breeze comes, and the dust disappears.

 

It’s only windy when there’s dust?

 

The rubbing stops, and it starts scratching me again. I decide to turn my head away whenever it scratches me, and when it’s done with one part, I’ll have a look.

 

Every time I turn back, my clothes look more and more detailed. A range of floral patterns and crossing lines decorate my skirt, the buttons on my blouse and cardigan have been sewn back on properly, and the stitching on my cardigan is a lot neater now too.

It looks really nice.

I can’t help but smile.

 

It’s really quiet.

Is it finished?

 

It might be able to hear me.

“Hello?”

I look around, and then turn my attention to my skirt. I trace over the patterns along its hem.

How does it do all of this?

I bring the edge of my skirt closer to have a better look—

A scratch—

I jump.

 

Did it scratch me just now?

I can hear it, but I can’t feel it—it’s coming from somewhere behind me.

I turn, and carved into the ground are the letters ‘M’ and ‘A’.

Ma?

The sound continues, and an ‘I’—a ‘R’ appears.

Mar?

And then a ‘Y’.

Mary. It knows my name?

I reach out and run my right hand over the letters. There aren’t any grooves—they weren’t carved into the ground.

Is this…writing?

 

Stains…?

Starting from the ‘M’, light grey marks run right, over the other letters.

This…

 

I turn my hand over—

It’s all over my palm and fingers. It’s a lighter colour, but definitely the same oil as before.

Lead.

 

Lead pencils. The smell was–This isn’t oil—lead—graphite, it smelt like pencils.

 

Something comes over me. On my knees, my left hand runs down the sleeve of my cardigan.

No stains, or streaks. My hand turns over: nothing.

My hand runs down my sleeve again, pushing down harder onto the wool.

This time, dark grey streaks run downwards, and the oil—graphite, stains my fingers.

 

I feel a growing anxiety in my chest.

I know what might happen, it will probably happen, but I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think. I don’t want it in my head.

With my mind half blank, I grab on the sides of my skirt, squeezing its fabric in my hands, and stay kneeling.

 

If…if the same thing happens to me, then…

 

I raise my hand up. It’s clean, but it’s shaking, my entire body is. I can feel my heart beating inside my chest, and the sound of it fills my head.

 

My mind goes numb.

My arms push up my sleeves, my lungs freeze, and my thumb pushes down onto my forearm, but doesn’t move.

 

It pushes down and away as hard as it can.

After a bit, I stop. A grey trail runs halfway down my forearm.

 

I’m—

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