Ghouls are an interesting entity. They are neither ghost, zombies, vampire, nor spirits, but seem to fall into a category all their own. The earliest folklore concerning ghouls can be found in the annals of One Thousand and One Nights, and is indeed how they came to be introduced to western culture. The stories in which they feature describe them as creatures who feed on the bodies of the dead, as well as children. Strange mix of preferred diet to my mind, rather like paring fresh spring greens with stinky tofu, but; to each, their own, I suppose.
No one knows for sure what a Ghoul looks like, as they enjoy the ability to take on the form of whoever they last ate. Illustrations of Ghouls depict them as roughly human in shape, with bald heads, and mottled grayish skin. A standing crouch seems to be their default posture and there is something putty like and malleable about their musculature.
As a child, I was certain this was the creature living under my bed; nested under there, cleverly camouflaging as one of my stuffed animals, or perhaps even a shadow taking up the farthest corner. I’d wake in the middle of the night, certain I could hear him gnawing on partially decomposed bits of people. I imagined him listening intently to my restless attempts to ignore my full bladder, yearning for the moment he could wrap his fingers around my tender young ankle. The worst part, to me anyway, was that this thing, I believed, followed me everywhere. He was at my house, my grandparents house across town, and even at my Dad’s in an entirely different state.
He even tagged along to my first apartment. It was there that I decided, since he followed me everywhere, and had not eaten me yet; he must be some sort of guardian, or preternatural companion, relegated to the world of shadows, only able to interact with me in a peripheral way.
The poem that follows is dedicated to not only my ghoul’s selfless and unrecognized life of service, but to all the companion ghouls out there, benevolent, malevolent, or benign. Thank you for everything; my under the bed paladin.
A Ghoul’s Life
Some Ghouls live at odds with the humans they’ve been assigned,
Not with mine.
Some Ghouls cultivate a relationship of tension and dis-ease with those in their charge,
Preferring daily little victories; over a healthy partnership, by and large.
Not with mine
I never scratched on her window, or moaned from under her bed,
Never made the shower curtain billow, or brushed a cold hand across the back of her head.
From the first time I pushed her favorite Teddy through the bars of her cot,
To the last time I helped her find the hair tie that she’d dropped
I was a part of her life,
And she was all of mine
Her slippers were always lined up straight; I never let her wake up late
Her keys were always on the hook, and into her purse, I’d slip her favorite book.
My only reward, her composure; with your person there must be no face to face exposure.
In the shadows we must stay, twilight, noon, night and day
That is the law, that is the rule; for each and every single Ghoul,
Not just for me,
Not just with mine.
From behind the drapes, before nine, I would watch her catch the bus just in time.
Each morning just the same, till the day, into our lives you came.
Jumping the curb; then speeding away. On the pavement her body lay,
No witness but me; saw you flee. Punishment you thought you’d kept at bay.
Three nights it took, to find your home, and though my presence will remain unknown;
From the moment that you wake, till your life I decide to take.
You are with me,