She’d tried everything. First it was just Ouija boards, dumb rituals, things copied from movies. Stuff she knew wouldn’t work, but was easy. Then came the harder stuff. Blood magic. Things that required sacrifice. Her confidence in arcana was shaky, but the sheer effort required to cast such “spells” gave her the hope to continue. It didn’t work, of course. Still, she continued, doing deeper and more “credible” research, prying into every corner of the digital and physical archives at her disposal. She needed to do this. There was no other choice.

Four months later, she was out of options. Except one, that was. Rumour had it that, just across town, there was an old house that had been there longer than anyone could remember. She used to walk by it on the way to school, when she lived in her mom’s house. Derelict, decaying, wood darkened by dust and mold, it seemed almost otherworldly; it was clear to everyone that it didn’t belong, but the means of removing it weren’t within anyone’s grasp. So there it stood. There was, of course, a reason why it was her last resort. Everyone knew that those who entered the house never came back. The reasoning attributed to said phenomenon varied, but the prevailing theory was that a false sense of joy was given, before a ghoul or some other apparition took the soul and life from those who entered. But alone, did she really have a soul?

She didn’t bother to lock the apartment as she left. No pets, no roommates; just an empty room that wouldn’t be lived in again, not by her. She called a cab off of one of those Uber knock-offs. Benefits of living in a big city. As she and the driver passed wordlessly through the business district, the lights seemed to enter her eyes, dark voids in which no light has escaped in quite some time.

The driver protested meekly, of course. Vaguely misogynist and racist implications about “this part of town.” They both knew what he actually meant. The house. Standing before it all these years later, she felt as though she was eight years old again, jogging past the decrepit porch as not to be caught by the “basement goblins.” Suddenly, such a fate didn’t seem so terrifying. First one step, then another. The stairs held up well given their presumed age, bending only slightly under the first weight they had felt in years. Her hand rested upon the doorknob. It seemed impossibly cold, yet it almost felt warm, like a lover’s embrace. It only beckoned her further. She pulled open the door.

Black. Impenetrable darkness, surrounding her on all sides. Darkness so incomprehensible it was almost impossible to notice; it was as though blindness had surrounded her, and yet she saw so clearly. Seconds or eons passed, and then in front of her she saw.

Her. Not her, but the one she had come for. More beautiful than she had been in the casket. More stunning than she had been the first day they met. More caring, more deeply, powerfully empathetic, more…

“You came back for me.”

She couldn’t get out the words.

“It’s too late, you know that?”

Her throat was burning, a wildfire in her esophagus.

“I’m gone. I left you.”

Silent tears ran down her cheeks. Her breathing stopped.

“We’re over. We can’t fix this. Nothing can fix this.”

Her mind raced with pleas, agreements, arguments, rebuttals. Nothing left her lips.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I just can’t do this anymore.”

The one thing she couldn’t take back.

“You’re always going to be you. And I’m me. You know those two things don’t work together.”

The thing that made her happy.

“Before, when neither of us knew, it was okay. But you can’t hide that. I understand.”

The thing that made her *her*.

“But you’re a her, and so am I. That doesn’t work for me.”

They spoke at the same time.

“I’m sorry.”

She awoke with a start on the hard concrete.

The house was gone.

The love of her life was gone.

Or, perhaps, it had never really been real in the first place.

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