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Haunted Penthouse

There are ghosts who haunt and ghosts who kill.

Fiction | Fiction, Flash Fiction, Remains, ghosts
December 21, 2022

I didn’t mean to kill Cindy and Pete. Honestly, I just wanted to be the kind of ghost who howled at night and toppled vases. Minor frights. But then this aggressively sprightly couple moved into the Tribeca penthouse I haunt. He worked in finance. She was an art dealer. They furnished their home with tasteful mid-century fittings and soulless paintings. The blinds on their floor-to-ceiling windows were kept drawn open, so anyone crossing Beach and Hudson could ogle at their perfect life. 

They were the first people I ever haunted. I had only died the week before. Drowned in my illegal basement apartment in Queens and woke up in Manhattan luxury. Tribeca was a huge improvement from my previous living situation. In many ways, my death was inevitable. Whether it was poisoning from the black mold, hypothermia from the faulty heater, or a brick peeling off the wall to flatten my skull—I lived in a place where people expired. But in the end, a broken sump pump killed me. The landlord said he’d fix it and never did, so when a hurricane flooded my home, the water engulfed me and the sump pump let it. 

But unlike Cindy and Pete, I didn’t complain. In the underworld, Pete won’t shut up about his impalement, and Cindy, having jumped after her husband, is embarrassed her final minutes followed the trope of the hysterical woman. Personally, I thought Cindy had never been more sympathetic. Finally, she believed in something. Even if it was the love of a man.

I’m not embarrassed about my death. Apparently, the walls caved in and scuba divers had to retrieve my body. My landlord was renting illegally, they say. There should have been another window or door—a way to escape my basement apartment, but I don’t blame my landlord. He lived upstairs with his wife and children. I knew he was only renting to me because he knew my aunty back in the home country. And with rent at $400 a month, I can’t begrudge him for manslaughter. 

Plus, the afterlife is underrated. If I had known the sacred law of New York earlier, I would never have been scared of death. After an especially unforgivable tenement fire in 1845, it was established that if you die from a housing injustice, you get to haunt one of the many vacant luxury condos in Manhattan in your afterlife. 

As the recipient of this repayment, I resided alone for about five days, and then my vacant condo sold to Cindy and Pete. Their white wealthy marital bliss boiled my blood. The way they chewed their steak and slurped their wine, rubbing their corporeal ecstasy in my face. Their loud, vigorous sex, all moaning and panting and filled with carnal desires. I couldn’t stand it. 

So yeah, I pushed Pete off the balcony. He was loosely cradling his red wine as he leaned off the railing, like some kind of cool guy. Not to brag, but it looked pretty accidental. One shove and it was “man overboard.” He landed on the street sign: Beach Street in one direction, Hudson Street in the other, and Pete’s body on the z-axis, sliding down the bloodied pole and scaring pedestrians. Cindy jumped of her own volition a few seconds later. I don’t pretend to understand white women, so I can’t speak to that. My guess is that the sex must have been really good. 

It’s been an introspective week since they died. My ghost neighbors (previously unhoused, died due to sunstroke) look at me differently. There are ghosts who haunt and ghosts who kill. I never thought I’d be the latter. I hear the jangling of a key. Someone is opening the front door. Maybe I will be better this time. Maybe that was a one-off. New yuppies enter tentatively—a family with a waddling toddler. I wish they could see me. I’m grinning from ear to ear. This is my chance. I can be a good ghost.

This story is part of the Remains notebook, which features art by Chitra Ganesh.