Vertigo ★★★★★

Chasing a ghost

The woman I love is haunted. Possessed. Maybe mentally ill. Sometimes, when we talk, her eyes glaze over and she disappears into an ancient world. She's right beside me, yet I'm alone.

A voice inside her head - feminine, sorrowful - tells her she must die. Waves crash as she kisses me. For the first time in my life, I know love and all its horrors. I need to save her, but don't know how.

She's always running toward disaster, slipping just beyond my reach. And I follow, forever chasing after her, pulling her back from the brink of self-harm. She leads me down alleyways, around the looming trunks of a forest, off a concrete platform into icy water. Losing sight of her, even for a second, could mean losing everything. And if she should begin to ascend - if she should ever wander up too high - I can't follow her. I just can't.

She is gone. In an instant. Helplessly, I watch her die. I can't breathe. I can't speak. I don't want to be. Weeks turn into months. I see her around every corner, moving toward me, an apparition in a grey suit, returned from the dead.

There's a shop-girl who bears a striking resemblance. She isn't the woman I loved - not by a long shot - but with a few minor adjustments she could be. If her hair were a little lighter, her clothes a little more tailored, her manner of speaking a little less common. I follow her home and strike up a conversation. She senses my misery, my longing, and is moved. She is moved. Slowly, begrudgingly, she lets me modify her, piece by piece. She wants me to love her as she is but I can only love her as she was. Is she the woman I loved, or am I losing my mind?

The transformation is complete. She is the woman I loved. She moves toward me, out of the mist and into the light. The old stirrings return. I'm alive again. We kiss, and it is as it was before. A second chance. Nothing - not even death - can conquer us.

But with happiness comes comfort and with comfort, carelessness. A piece of jewelry looped around her neck completes the puzzle. Carlotta's necklace. The ingenious cruelty of it overwhelms me. The woman I loved never existed. She was a performance. A scoundrel's clever invention to evade justice. I'm an unwitting accomplice to murder. I was foolish to love her, foolish to believe she loved me.

We drive to the bell tower. I force her up the stairs, bruising her shoulders. Rage overwhelms fear as we ascend, one step at a time. I want to kill her. I want to kiss her. We make it to the top. She tells me there was real feeling underneath the lies. She insists she loved me all along and loves me still. I want to believe her. I hate her. I love her.

A shadow appears. A dark apparition. A ghost. The woman I love stumbles back. She descends. Again. The bells toll behind me as I stand alone at the precipice.

I no longer fear heights. I no longer fear death. I am dead already.

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