All the world rumbles past at speed, but I live at different pace. While you rush up and down flicking through your phone whenever you have a moment’s pause, I see the slow world, always shuffling beneath your perception. Because I’m slow, because sickness has dragged me to a slug’s pace as the world speeds around me, I miss a lot: I don’t get how the latest crazes work and it’s years since I chatted celebrity gossip with a stranger at the bus stop, but I see the seasons. Not as you do, not the sudden blazing heat or the rain. I see the first bud break and the very last gasp of summer. I don’t see you when you’re running for the bus, that’s too fast, but when you’re waiting at the bus stop, I hear the gentle click of your brain as boredom sets in.
And most of all, I see the ghouls. I see them oozing through the streets looking for lunch, dripping in slow motion from the lamppost. I see them sliding their liquid fingers around the shoulders of that boy who has paused at the side of the road, waiting for the cars to pass, clamping their mouths around his neck while they masticate with painful slowness on his will. Sucking on his marrow at such a speed it will take decades before his bones are sucked dry.
Horror films always show monsters as fast-moving things, but ghouls aren’t like that, their disguise is their interminability. They surround you, but they move so slowly you can’t perceive them.
It wasn’t until I got sick that I saw them. When you’re ill you slow down. I don’t mean flu ill, a few weeks won’t teach you anything. I mean when the months stretch into years, when your voice fades and you adapt to the fact that moving your limbs is like wading through syrup. When my thoughts finally emptied out and there was space in my head, that is when I saw them. And I realised the ghouls were everywhere.
Some people carry more than others. The man with the frizzy beard who smells of pee, the ghouls crowd and shuffle at his shoulders, they like him because he can glimpse them sometimes. They whisper to him, they suckle and chew on his ears. That young girl with the face too tired for a child, they cling to her, weighing her down as she staggers along. I watch them out of my window, a street filled with slow-moving ghoul parasites, feasting on their hosts with the same messy abandon that children have when eating crisps at a party.
We all have them, you have them. Once I slowed enough to see, I could feel their greedy, destructive chomping as they guzzled on a vein, or scooped out my innards with a stick. I wondered how I could stay alive with so much damage, how any of us could.
I tried batting them away, but their liquid bodies just slid around the attack. I tried burning them with a lighter, but the flame fizzled and went out. I saw the doctor, and he listened patiently, then wrote me a prescription for anti-psychotics, but all the while a ghoul had its finger sunk into his eye socket and it looked at me and winked.
As I trudged my slow way home, the ghouls chewed on my hair and giggled, they knew I had no way to stop them, I couldn’t make them leave. Opening the door to my flat, I made my slow way to the fridge and cut off a hunk of cheese, too tired to make a sandwich. I sat on the sofa while a ghoul gnawed at my knee. Without really thinking I reached out and patted him on the head and he looked up, surprised.
“We get lonely sometimes,” I said, “us slow ones.” Another ghoul that was sitting on my shoulder also stopped, so I reached up and stroked his back, tickled him behind the ear. I don’t think anyone had ever been nice to them before.
That was three weeks ago, and everything and nothing has changed. I’m still ill, still slow, still carry ghouls, but they’ve stopped their gnawing and destruction, instead thy keep me warm. When I’m alone, which is mostly, I chat to them,
“You’re beautiful,” I say and scratch one on his nose. “Aren’t you a silly little pookums,” I say, as one nuzzles at my neck and purrs. We all carry ghouls.