“Some Breakable Things” by Cassandra Khaw

Cassandra Khaw’s “Some Breakable Things” appeared in the September 2016 issue of The Dark. You can read it here.

WHAT SCARED ME: It’s hard to say what’s more horrifying in this story—the beautifully visceral, almost audibly squelching descriptions of the narrator’s father’s ghost, or the awful emotional manipulation perpetrated by both the living and the dead.

The plot is simple but devastating: after his death, the narrator’s father haunts them, first following them and then screaming at them. The ghost starts with a blur in place of facial features and gradually becomes a shambling, gory mess of innards. Requests for help from friends and family are met with dismissive diagnoses or upsettingly casual (even smug) reactions. Breathless snippets of backstory tell of emotional and physical abuse from a deeply disturbed man.

I cannot get over how Khaw renders this haunting. I mean:

Intestine drool from the base of his breastbone, a spiral of nesting pinks.

I am incredibly here for this kind of gut stuff. The ghost in this story is a dripping mess, depicted with prose that makes his ribs jut right out of the text.

But just as frightening as the dead father is the narrator’s isolation. They can’t find understanding anywhere, and their family—including the ghost—expects them to shoulder the spectral burden, or at least to admit that it’s the natural way of things. Many ghost stories center on the haunted party’s guilt, justifying the trauma of being tailed by a vengeful spirit. But this is no Telltale Heart; this is gaslighting by ghost, a much more abhorrent prospect.

There’s no relief in this piece, no escape from an awful network of cruelty and blame. Help seems unreachable and, tragically, by the end, undeserved. The sheer bleakness of this ghost story makes it a heartbreaking, terrifying read—one that you should definitely attempt.

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