Another of my older stories.
Things like this should be savoured.
Time moves ever so quickly for me and I cannot stay in one place for long. Thus I try to savour where I have found myself in presently. I must have been here a million times, perhaps significantly more, yet the sight of this forest bathed in the serene darkness brought on by the night never bores me. The trees that occupy these woods may be bare, but somehow, they still seem to stand tall and mighty among the kingdom of dirt and crumpled leaves. What’s more, with it being winter, they have been given a gleaming white coat, that makes them seem…well…more inviting than usual. Then there’s the howling winds of the season that drift through the air, which to me sounds like a soft lullaby of sorts, even if I can no longer sleep, and are one of the few things I can actually feel. As they howl and rush through the night, they pass through me, reminding me of the freedom my form has received and which I try to embrace.
However, despite the initial calm I feel from this scene, one look at the sky seems to change the atmosphere entirely. The lack of stars, the palette of dark purple and grey, and of course, the full moon, complete with its skull face leering at me. It makes this whole scene feel…spooky. Not in the sense that these woods are foreboding and sinister, no, I like to think that I’m not scared of anything after what I’ve been through. No, now everything’s become spooky in a way that’s fun. It reminds me of when I was a little girl playing pretend. Yes, in fact I think I’ll pretend right now.
I’ll pretend to be a ghost.
A certain type of ghost to be exact. The scary, spooky ghost that everybody’s afraid of. The one that lurks in the derelict house down the streets or the deep dark woods, who moans and groans and rattles their chains. The one who features as the villain in all those creepy stories people like to tell each other for scares. I am that ghost, that grisly ghoul, ready to haunt and terrorise any unfortunate mortals that dare cross my path. Wailing and moaning, I search for any available prey. What fun it’ll be to see a weakling flee quickly in terror! Right there on a path, I see a mortal man, going for a nightly walk, hands in coat pockets, blissfully unaware of the horror he is about to face. Ceasing my wailing for a few minutes, I creep behind the shrivelled bushes, waiting for the right moment to strike. Just as the poor man briefly stands still, for a cigarette of all things, I grin at this opportunity and pounce right in front of him, revealing my hideous visage.
He smokes and walks on.
He didn’t see me, but I should have expected that. That’s one of the problems of my kind: humans, most of them at least, can’t see or hear us. Apparently their minds have some mechanism that subconsciously won’t let anything spectral be registered, or something along those lines.
Nonetheless, despite that man not running off screaming into the night, I still enjoyed that little game tremendously. Many of my kind say it’s nothing but a childish stereotype, and I guess I did for a while, but now it just seems merely an excuse for some good spooky fun. I don’t really like to think of myself as a ghost anyway. As much as I enjoy pretending to be a scary spirit, genuinely applying the term “ghost” to myself now makes me feel a little uncomfortable. No, I’m still a human, just…a different kind. A free kind.
Yes, this form has granted me freedom. The typical human needs food, drink and rest, constantly getting hungry and tired, the hopeless wastes of flesh. On the other hand, I have been liberated from those handicaps. So what if I no longer have legs? So what if I don’t have my beautiful, flowing hair, my soft skin or anything else anymore? I have been cast free from my weak, feeble body, and now I am no longer pushed down by things like “weariness”, “breathing” or “hunger”.
Actually, I do have a hunger of sorts. My eyes, which I actually took with me after taking this form, have a tendency to get really hungry, and they keep demanding I feed them, with sights, places and beauty. Over the many decades in this form, I have fed these eyes and I have fed them well. Utilising my unlimited energy to its fullest, I’ve travelled the entire world, just for new sights to see. I mean, I can’t really interact with anything I find, but sights are all my eyes want, and I’ve supplied. How much time I must have spent in that jungle, seeking out any and all exotic plants and wildlife. And those big cats! They sensed me and chased me, but they couldn’t catch me! Then there was that time I spent under the sea; I felt I could watch those fish for days, and I think I actually did. However, like those fish, I need to keep on moving, and once again, these eyes of mine are demanding to be fed, so I decide to take advantage of it.
In mere milliseconds, I shoot above the trees and above the clouds, raising up my arms triumphantly in celebration. Once again, I pretend: I’ve reached this magical kingdom in the clouds only I know about, where friendly dragons and dashing heroes await for my arrival. When I appear, they cheer for me and celebrate my return. As I listen to those imaginary cheers, I peer over the clouds and at the town. The town I grew up in that has enjoyed many renovations and improvements over time, now become a group of yellow dots on a purple and black blanket. Longing to get a closer look, even if I now know it like the back of my hand, I zoom towards it. In no time at all, I reach my destination, the middle of a street, framed by various shops, all of them closed. Some may find a scene like this moody or dull, but I can find a sliver of a positive feeling, perhaps because of the Christmas decorations. A darkened shop always looks a tiny bit cheerful with a tiny Father Christmas in the window. To tell the truth, I prefer the empty streets at night, it makes me feel like I’ve discovered some strange and magical kingdom.
Not to say I don’t enjoy visiting this place in the day. The hustle and bustle of humans is somewhat exhilarating, and were it not for the observation of their behaviour, I wouldn’t learn from them and would feel less at home here than I am now. Over my years in this condition, I’ve seen many a strange and wonderful invention being introduced, bringing about so much curiosity I forget my state just to ask “What does this do?” I slowly find out though, and now I know what several machines do, even if most of them are useless to me. My favourite device is the “television”; it may be hard to watch when you have to constantly move, but there’s something so hypnotic about the whole thing.
This street is such a contrast to how things were when I was alive…I used to hate going out with mother shopping, the streets were so dirty and depressing. I remember every now and then passing a homeless family…I pitied them and wanted to help, but mother always told me just to ignore them. I suppose she thought doing so would make them disappear. Through all my drifting about, I still see those homeless people and feel an odd temptation to float over there and comfort them. Some of them could sense me, I could feel it, but taking that into account filled me with trepidation and sent me flying elsewhere.
Immediately, all memories of the past are forced out of my brain, granting me a moment of satisfaction, and with only minimal waiting, the sun rises and the curse of emptiness is lifted from the town. I’ve found myself trying to explain why things move so fast in this new form, why decades seem like months. One theory of mine was that now that I’m dead, there’s nothing really worth waiting for, and I know how time moves so slowly when you’re looking forward to something. Time moved slowly in December, as my anticipation grew due to the cries of the turkey vendors and the carollers. It’s December right now, and the decorations and carols do give me a tingle of festive cheer, but I’m not getting any presents, nor will I get to eat Christmas dinner. Also, I like to think of myself as one of those who try and keep the spirit of Christmas alive every day. So I put on the festive grin that has helped me through these many decades, and observe the crowd, occasionally floating back to the television store to catch a glimpse of what those little boxes had to offer. A “cartoon”, a “news show” and something else I couldn’t identify.
After attempting to make sense of today’s television, I floated away from the window, amid the slowly growing crowds. As I passed a shop, my eyes caught a rare sight – another ghost. It’s always surprised me that despite how far I’ve travelled and how long I’ve been travelling far, that I rarely ever talk or meet any of my kind. Certainly I do catch some now and again; they’re not hard to recognise, because something can’t be difficult to spot when it looks exactly like you. Of course, I have talked to one or two of them, the most recent being one that happened to be around my age. He said he died of food poisoning, and boy, was he miserable.
‘Well…’ I remember him saying, ‘Just…now that I’m dead, I realise how much I’ve…wasted my life, you know? There’s so much I’ve wanted to do and now I’ll never get to do it…’ and after that, he left. I didn’t follow him, as I didn’t think he’d want me to, but I did think it was quite a shame that he wanted to run off without a full conversation. Times I’ve wanted someone to talk to, someone I could relate to (I’m sure there were things I wanted to do before I died that I never got to do, but I can’t really remember them). I’d certainly like to speak to a human, but such a thing would be difficult. Séances are all a sham, and I long for a genuine method of communication.
So that’s why I followed after that ghost, hoping he would be a bit more cheerful and talkative than that boy, and thanks to the unlimited supply of energy built into me, I manage to catch up with him. The moment I float towards him, I feel a lump in my throat – or a facsimile of it – but I quickly get rid of it as I say a single word:
Upon hearing me, he floats right up to my face. It’s hard to tell a ghost’s age – we don’t have wrinkles – but my first thought upon looking at his face was that this person must have been quite old when he died. My suspicions are confirmed when I hear the growl in his voice. ‘Who are you?’
‘My name’s Charlotte,’ I reply with a smile that I hoped would brighten his spirits.
‘What are you smiling about?’
‘Well, why shouldn’t I smile?’
‘You’re not supposed to enjoy this, you know.’ I don’t reply. ‘Look at those people,’ he says, gesturing towards the small crowds, ‘they have everything we don’t. After this, they’ll go home to their families, eat their dinner and sleep in their warm, comfy bed. They won’t think about us, or their inevitable fate. A luxury we can’t afford.’
‘Well,’ I try to think of something comforting off the top of my head as I float next to him, ‘at least we’re not in…’
‘This is Hell!’ His eyes blaze. He describes everything he did in life, which made me want to float away as fast as I could. Despite what he confesses, I still stay close, I still follow.
‘Only now do I realise the error of my ways, and now it’s too late. I could have made amends for all the people I wronged, but now I have to be reminded of the fact that I didn’t, until the end of fricking time! Ha!’
‘I saw you flinch! I guess you’re not so happy after all! Well, if you weren’t tortured, you wouldn’t be a ghost, would you?’
Why was I a ghost? A question I’ve asked myself time and time again. I’ve come up with answers, but I know they can’t be the right answers.
‘What were you like in life?’
A flurry of memories comes to me. Memories of living human Charlotte, brushing her long blonde hair, sitting by the river in her best blue dress, doing nothing really significant before turning into a floating white blob. ‘I guess I just lived a normal life.’
‘Yeah, that’s what they all say. How did you die?’
How did I die? Oh yes. Yes.
Running down the streets, my blue dress stained by the murky puddles. ‘Mother? Where are you?’ The date I can’t remember. How I got separated from my mother, and on a night like that, I can’t remember. The first thing that comes to mind is me searching the streets, alone except for the coach that slowly trundles by. Even though I felt my heart pound against my chest and shivers through my body, I persevered, certain that in no time at all I’d find myself back in my mother’s waiting arms, and listen to her voice again. We’d sit by the fire for a few minutes before we’d go off to bed and await another day. I knew the way home, so I tried to follow it.
Then I ran into him.
‘Well, well, well…’ His glare has haunted me for ages. Looking back, I should have run and run hard, but I found myself unable to move, allowing him to pull out the gleaming knife. It happened in an instant. The first thing I saw upon gaining this form was my own corpse, lying face first in a gutter, gone from me forever. I still had my eyes, my mouth, my hands…those hands which I looked at weren’t mine: just some fat white sausages that I could move about. I damned that killer to Hell as he ran off, and in response to all this commotion, I just cried. I cried and cried and cried. I don’t know how long I cried, I just did.
It was upon this reminiscence that I had a thought. The man who killed me, who was never caught and who I never saw again, could it be this ghost speaking to me? If so, perhaps this memory shouldn’t trouble me as much as it should. The man got his just rewards, and now he regrets what he did! If it’s not the murderer I’m talking to, then he’s probably enduring some horrible torture right about now. That memory shouldn’t bother me, so perhaps I should leave this plane and move onto the next life. Yet somehow I can’t.
Only now I just realise I never answered his question. So he gives me another.
‘How old are you?’
I instantly reply, ‘Sixteen.’ He laughs.
‘Heh. And I thought I had it bad.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘I’ve always thought of children as the most despicable lifeforms on this earth. So if my torture is endlessly excruciating, imagine what yours must be like!’
‘Stop it! I thought you regretted…’
‘Yeah, but come to think of it, it doesn’t really matter now that I’m dead!’ Without so much as a goodbye, he floated off, leaving me to contemplate what he said and the thoughts he brought up. Of course I’m not going to let that whiney old windbag affect me; I’m better than that. No, no, I’m not. Because I’m a ghost.
What about the family I hoped to be re-united with on that fateful day? Are they ghosts like me, or did they pass on to another plane? If they did pass on, why haven’t I joined them? Why haven’t they said anything or come for me? My mother should have come for me decades ago, dressed in a gleaming white dress, gesturing for me to follow her into the light. I should have touched her slender hand, regaining my lost beauty. I should have ascended with her, into happily ever after. That never happened, and what’s more, I seldom missed her. What would she think if she knew that? She’d refuse to take me with her and leave me on Earth forever. I deserve it, she’d say.
So perhaps this really is Hell like the man said…but I haven’t done anything wrong. Anything really wrong. I’ll admit, I’ve done some bad things, I’ve broken toys, I’ve drifted off in class, but that can’t be enough to condemn me to an eternity of torment. Or did I commit a sin without knowing? I’ve sinned, and I’ve been punished for it by being turned into a talking bed sheet no one can even see. That beautiful Charlotte is now just a rotting corpse in the earth. Hell.
This isn’t Hell, it isn’t. I cannot in my right mind call the place where I spent my life and what followed it anything even resembling Hell, even with all the pain and misery found here. This is my home, where I’ve grown up. It holds many wonders, some I’m sure I haven’t seen yet. Perhaps my spirit is still here on this earth because I’m so attached to it and won’t let it go. I was bound to be separated from my mother sooner or later due to the world of work I was sure to be entering, but I could never leave this world which I owe so much to.
I try to keep this philosophy in mind and forget that ghost’s attempt at bringing me down, and I turn towards the shoppers again. My eye catches a group of teenage girls, all laughing at some joke or another, and I wish I could be among them. For what good is this new world if I can’t directly interact with it? Floating up to these girls, I think what it would be like to be among them, alive. I’d stride proudly and happily – I’ve forgotten what it’s like to walk – wearing those jeans and that shirt. So maybe this is Hell, if I’m constantly going to be shown what I can’t have. No, it can’t be Hell if…
Clearly being here is just making these thoughts bubbling in my head all the worse, so I dart away to a change of scenery: one of my old haunts, the canal. A calm river, leisurely accentuating the beautiful shrubbery and trees surrounding it. Despite the fact they still demand to be fed, I closed my eyes, and just listened to the gushing of the stream.
A sudden thought enters my mind. Why time seems to pass so quickly. What if there’s something coming? My time on this earth, even as a ghost surely cannot last, so will I be forced into the next plane, or will I just fade away? Time passes by so quickly when you dread something.
No, I can’t keep thinking like this. It’s just how he wants me to think, like he was some demon sent to torture me. He probably was the guy who killed me after all.
This depressing train of thought is cut off by a familiar yowl, and I see a stray cat saunter along the path near the canal. I think I had a cat once. His name was Charles and he died of illness. I don’t think he’s a ghost. This cat, however, can seemingly sense me as it sniffs at the direction where I’m floating. Seeing the tabby stand firm, I drift over to it and it still stands. Although I can’t touch it, I try to pet it in my own way, slowly moving my hand through it. It purrs.
After it enjoys its petting, it darts off in the other direction, and I just have to chase it. Once again, I’m the grisly ghoul from the darkest neck of the woods hunting my prey, and it may just survive.
Fortunately for the poor little cat, it escapes, because I feel myself becoming distracted, by a woman on a bench. Beautiful just like I was, and weeping just like I was when I first entered this form. Strangely, it’s this moment that briefly makes me forget I’m dead.
‘What’s the matter?’
Her head emerges from the tangled jungle of red locks, and she replies, ‘I’m not sure I want to talk about it.’
She sensed me. She actually replied to me, and I don’t know how. All I can do is speak some more. ‘Come on, tell me.’
It’s strange. For some reason, she doesn’t seem to see me as a ghost, and to comply with that, I forget that I’m a ghost as I talk with her. Her boyfriend shunned her for another women apparently, and just yesterday, she screamed her head off at him. Came to this canal to calm her down.
I tell her not to worry. I tell her that she could be worse off. I tell her…well, things she wants to hear. I see her smile. She says ‘Thank you.’
Perhaps she could see me because she wanted to. She wanted me. She wanted to see me, not even caring that I’m dead.
And suddenly I feel a need to stay here on Earth.
Time passes quickly, and night falls, bringing with it a mist to hang over the canal: the perfect hiding place. Once again, I become the frightening spectre of the night, embracing my condition.
So I’m still staying here on this earth; I have too much of an emotional attachment to it to leave it completely, and perhaps there’s a chance I can be needed. Moving onto another plane just wouldn’t feel right after all the time I’ve spent here and I’m certain whatever reason mother has for not coming is a good one. We all have our place, and this seems to be the place where I belong. I’m lingering on Earth because I want to linger. It doesn’t even matter that I’m not alive; perhaps were I not murdered I would have to face great heartbreak like that poor woman did, and of course, I’d be hampered down by weariness, illness or hunger. I’d never lose anyone to death. Even if there was something bad in the horizon for me like I feared, well, all the more reason to make the best of the time I have.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m the restless spirit of a young girl who never truly got to grow up, who has been rendered from a beautiful young mistress to a bedsheet with eyes, doomed to wander this earth forever, along with a vast number of tortured spirits, never to truly comprehend her new existence.
I still smile.