A Haunting | Marguerite Alley


We are roommates, sitting down to a crockpot meal, and at our window hovers a gallery of ghosts. They watch us eat.

“The idea that consumption was at some point private is pretty ahistorical,” says our smartest or perhaps loudest roommate. “No one ever used to eat alone. Generations lived together, ate together.”

It is unclear whether the ghosts are really watching us, since they are creatures without eyes, without shape. If we had to pick a color that represented their approximate aura it might be blue. Occasionally we hear the pop of their mouths opening. They’re hungry, as they always are. We make up a plate for them and I deliver it to the front stoop, where perhaps different ghosts are waiting. We don’t find them to be distinguishable from each other.

“It’s beef and broccoli,” I tell them, as a bluish mouth opens and vacuums out the contents of the bowl.

“They’re still there,” says a roommate, once I’m back inside. We eat and the sun dips lower, darkening the room except for the phosphorescence of the ghosts at the window. The light is aquarium-like.


Since the arrival of the ghosts, we have been instructed to shelter in place and feed whatever ghosts arrive on our doorstep. For our roommates who are essential workers, this means little. They wade through the unavoidable mass of ghosts on sidewalks, in doorways, around bus stops, and return home draped in what looks like wet cobwebs, silvery ribbons hanging from hand and hair. It clogs drains.

For those of us at home, our days are filled with cooking. I explore other crockpot recipes. I learn to use a bain-marie. I soak bok choy in our stained kitchen sink. These are not useful endeavors: the ghosts’ food preferences are esoteric, unaligned with any special effort on the part of the living. Wholesome and home-cooked gains no traction against the allure of Cheetos. A mouth opens, food enters: consumption in its simplest form. The ghosts do not speak, to complain or to express gratitude. Their bodies are not bodies at all, and thus to us it seems as though they eat without consequence. If we leave our grocery delivery on the stoop too long, it vanishes, bags and all.


Which is not to say the ghosts are not well-mannered. They don’t barge into our homes, they don’t tear our offerings from our hands. One registers an air of patience in their midst. They gather around restaurants, follow delivery people on their rounds. With a resignation that borders on tenderness, we surrender what we can. We sense a need for caretaking, the way one feels an impulse to feed stray animals and small children.

“Do they seem hungrier than usual?” ask the roommates. At the window, the ghosts shimmer and jostle, fixated on our lunch.

“We’re out of bowls,” I say. “I’ll fill some mugs.”

This time, the roommates stand with me in the doorway while I pass out the food. We watch as soup evaporates into their mouths, as slices of bread disappear in one bite. Slipping from one world to the next. For the first time, peering through the milky opacity at a weak sun, I register some sense of ambiguity at whose world is intruding upon whose. The ghosts finish eating, but don’t disperse. Neither do the roommates and I. We stand on the stoop, two delegations convening in silence. We watch and are perhaps watched in return. Nothing goes unobserved these days.



The ghost problem has not been solved, but due to a rent hike we find that those of us who have been sheltering in place must return to work if we wish to continue living in our house. My previous position having been eliminated, I return to my old haunts: the strip malls and the storefronts beneath condos that are the natural habitat of the customer service representative. Ghosts crowd doorways and parking lots. I move through them as I would through water, each step a labor. The air thick with their gray-blue essence, shading the sun. Our new normal is a perpetual blue hour.

Ghosts move in behind me as I pass through the sliding doors. I feel them watching my hands—as though I might produce a sandwich at any moment, pull it from some undiscovered pocket. They don’t have eyes, and yet we don’t question their ability to watch. Much of what we understand about them is in the realm of the intuitive. We know them to be hungry, though they do not speak their desires. We understand them to be people, though their bodies are obscure, amorphous, near-liquid. We know that we do not know them: they are not our dead loved ones, returning for vengeance or closure. Where we expect specific recognition, beyond a common humanity, we have been denied.

The manager with whom I have an interview leads me back to the break room. Ghosts follow, though he makes an effort to keep them on the other side of the door. Still, one has slipped in and stands expectantly next to the communal refrigerator. The manager says, “If you get hired we’re gonna ask you to sign a pledge to not feed them. We’re trying to discourage them from coming here. Customers complain when they’re in the aisles.”

After I’m hired, I stand in the parking lot for a while, searching my bag for mints to hand out to the ghosts loitering around my car. I find a half-melted tootsie roll and offer it up. A mouth opens, black and bottomless, and swallows the candy down, wrapper included.


Customers are short with me when they must speak to me through the blue miasma of accumulated ghost. Being in the presence of such conspicuous need is trying for all of us. I apologize on the ghosts’ behalf. Please step this way, I say. What you’re looking for is in aisle seven.

Trailing behind me, a rosary of ghosts.

At the end of my long days, I return home to find the roommates distributing quesadillas on the back patio. “We’re out of hot sauce,” they tell me. “The ghosts like it.”

“You can’t know that,” I say, but we do know, somehow. We are reacting to something on a level deeper than conventional perception. Something in the bones, in the sinews. Hunger recognizes hunger; the ability to taste feels inalienable.

On social media, we scroll through news articles that attempt to explain the internal mechanisms of our new world. Much time is spent predicting the departure of the ghosts—soon, no doubt, but more importantly, inevitable. Surely this is not a natural state, but a brief mistake, an interlude. When time and space are righted, we will have to remember our old habits, the rhythms of our previous routines. This is the real hurtle: our future return to normalcy. When this is all over, it will be important to be unchanged.



Several visits from the property manager later, we find that the termite situation is worse than we thought. We will have to leave; there will be fumigation. Our food will be double-bagged in plastic while we’re gone. The ghosts will have to go elsewhere for their meals. We try to explain this to them at lunch, as we feed them cold cuts and cheese and crackers from a platter. They do not understand, or they choose not to, and as such even when the plate is empty and the door is closed and the roommates have begun to pack, the ghosts wait on the stoop, expectant as ever.

“They want dessert,” says a roommate.

“You guys are insatiable today,” I tell the ghosts. I have paused my packing to make some instant pudding and pour it into ramekins for them. Disembodied mouths neither slurp nor chew; they consume without the need for the indignities of mastication. Afterwards, the bowls are returned to me, passed through the viscous air on unseen currents. Without bodies, the ways the ghosts maneuver physical objects remain inscrutable to us. Their inchoate forms are a refraction of light, a bend in the air. There, not there.


A friend of a roommate has a yard large enough for a four-person tent. He will allow us to come inside the house to shower and shit, but since he lives with his parents, we are warned these privileges are conditional. I schedule double shifts at work for the next few days and spend my time directing customers to the sale section while bypassing clusters of loitering ghosts. I miss the days when I puttered around the kitchen, waiting to feed any wandering specter my latest culinary creation. Now, I find ghosts hovering at my elbow, awaiting a meal I cannot provide. “I have to keep stocking the seasonals,” I tell them. “Sorry.”

They wait, patient and persistent. Their mouths open and close, revealing impenetrable darkness. A collection of them follow me home to the tent where some of the roommates are still awake and eating lukewarm cup ramen. One of them offers a ghost a single noodle, presenting it with great solemnity. “I offer what I can in these unprecedented times,” says the roommate, smile thin and ironic.

The night is dark and groaning with crickets. Our lantern dies, but the ghosts give off a gentle light that helps some of us roll joints, others brush teeth. There is a hole in the tent floor we have patched with newspapers. I wiggle my sleeping bag away from it and watch the dance of light and shadow on the nylon as the ghosts mill around outside.


I wonder what will happen to us. I wonder if perhaps the fumigation is a misdirection, bailing water from a sinking boat, and our home has actually become unlivable. They’ll peel back the paneling and find the walls themselves already gone, replaced by wriggling bugs. All this time it’s been the termites doing the work of the house, acting as its basic structural unit. In gratitude we will surrender it to them: our rooms and clothes and food. Our groceries will mold and calcify and decay, merging organic and inorganic. A banana will become one with the countertop. A squeeze bottle of mustard will melt into the refrigerator door. The bread I store in the crockpot at night to keep the cat out of it—where is that cat now? Who’s keeping track of all this? Did we really ever think we could keep something else alive. Did we really.


We get the call that the fumigation is over on a Thursday evening, shortly after I return from work. The grayish sun has slipped down to hover on the horizon by the time we get our things together and trot home. I think of what we will have for dinner, once ensconced again in our kitchen among our array of scuffed crockery. One of the roommates has a pickup truck and we pile ourselves and our bags into the back of it, sitting silently in the dusty bed and watching as we pass the ghosts circulating through the neighborhood for dinner. We drive slowly, dodging the ghosts that congest the road. They reach their mouths toward us as we pass until we pull ourselves inward, away from the sides of the truck, into the safety of each other, our distinct human warmth. The last of the sun sinks away and is gone.

We are expecting to find ourselves greeted by a dark house, black behind the window screens, but from a block away we realize this is not the case. The house glows from within—that familiar bluish glow, the kind of phosphorescence reminiscent of deep sea creatures. We wonder whether we have left a lamp on, or whether the fumigators have. We wonder whether this is simply what fumigation leaves behind: an eternal chemical radiance. One that will bathe us through the night, keep us awake, until we stop noticing it. Until we glow ourselves.

Of course, we know better: the ghosts are inside. The ghosts are eating.

In the front yard, we drop our things at our feet. The door stands open, but we register no urge to enter. We watch the movement inside, feel our own hunger awakening. The ghosts are thorough in their total consumption. They don’t bother to remove the plastic bags. Pasta still in the box disappears down their throats, unencumbered. They have moved from cabinet to cabinet, cleaned out the fridge, liberated the pantry of every can and bottle. The height of their mouths suggest that they are sitting, gathered around our dining table, working through the pile of perishables at its center. We move to the dining room window to watch them. When they finish, finally, they seem to turn to us. We have nothing for you, they seem to be saying. We’re sorry, but there’s nothing left, and no time.

Marguerite Alley (she/they) is a writer and translator from Durham, North Carolina whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Carve, The Normal School, Ninth Letter, Pithead Chapel, Nimrod, New Ohio Review, The Louisville Review, Chautauqua, and elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2023 Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and has been awarded scholarships from the New York State Summer Writers Institute and the Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference. They received a BA in Spanish and Portuguese from NYU in 2022 and they’re now at work on a novel.

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