The trouble is, no one really understands what it means to be a ghost. Firstly, some people are stuck under the false presumption that we are here of our own accord, like out of all the opportunities Eternity has to offer we’d choose to stay on this same, miserly planet. It’s not that we’re trapped here by a curse, or that we stay behind just to haunt some poor souls with our suddenly bottomless store of free time. I’ll tell you one thing, this certainly isn’t leisure, if that’s what people think.
When they ask you to choose your place of residence for the first leg of the afterlife, they advertise the great old Earth as a place to “continue service to humanity.” It’s not for my own benefit that I go, gliding over these same old continents, sleeping between floorboards too similar to coffins to make a spirit feel at ease. It’s never the “dark spirits” that end up here either, because the mean souls are just as selfish in the afterlife as they were in flesh — no way they’d end up here, serving humanity.
It gets tiresome this job of mine, necessary though it is. I am here to remind people of their mortality. Think of me as something useful as an alarm clock, only instead of announcing the coming day I announce people’s coming fate, through whispers in the walls or laughter carried in the wind. There’s nothing like death to keep people living — really, truly living, in the meaningful sort of way, not the merely existing sort of way. Talk about oxymoron. I don’t reckon anyone would find it in them to live, if it weren’t for death. That’s the sort of thing you start to reckon as you pass time in Eternity.
I stretch up with a groan, that rattles the entire house. We souls keep on growing, not at all like those bodies of flesh and blood we used to inhabit. I can’t even imagine slipping into an outfit like that anymore. I’m still young enough to slip through the walls, or under the roofs of these mortal houses, if I duck my head. That’s why they always recruit us right after death. We souls are still small enough to inhabit the planet without too much congestion, and still too human to really want to embrace the unknowns of the afterlife. After a good century, Earth has lost most of it’s appeal to me.
I blow softly into the chimney of a house as I pass by, as if it were a straw, sending the cold draught of mortality into someone’s home. It’s not random — never random. This one’s been wasting his life away. In that big old suit of skin, there’s a soul, barely larger than a loaf of bread, so he’s like one of those little babies standing in his father’s shoes. There’s nothing sadder than a soul that’s been outgrown by its body.
I peek in at him from the window. He sits in front of the TV set, alone (and content to be so), the mind switched off as easily as a lightbulb. Why, he’s not even alive enough to consider suicide. I rap on the glass, give a ghoulish moan, but am — quite rudely, but unsurprisingly — ignored.
At the end of the street, it’s Halloween, and actually appears to be so. There is one girl, about five or six who, against my code of haunting, has become quite a favorite of mine. Every once in a while, you find a child who is so very full of life, she can discern your shapes and corners in the air. They don’t know enough to fear spirits yet. I sneak outside her window and give a little howl.
She opens the window, welcomes the cold wind in, with only the briefest of shivers, marvels at the papers that float through the air, carried by my gentle breath. She meets the winds grotesque laughter with a joyful laugh of her own, and twirls in her youthfulness, cheeks red with the blood we once called life.
She has dressed herself, in that endearing way children often do, as a ghost. A white sheet thrown over her shoulders, white raiment of innocence. She looks out the window, shouts “Boo!” at me, reaches a small ghosty arm out the window to caress my airy face. Oh, the human touch fills me with the sweetness so long kept from me. She is too young to understand death, young enough to reach out and greet it like a friend. Such kindness is a rarity. Such kindness —
“Zoe, get back from there! It’s not safe to lean out the window like that!” The woman runs into the room in a huff, grabs the child from me and sets her on the bed with a stern look. “It’s freezing in here. Do you have any idea how cold it is outside?” She begins picking up the papers scattered over the floor, little crayon drawings here and there, some of them of me. The woman glances out at me, like it is an after thought, sighs, and slides the window back into place. I hear the click of the latch, and the muffled sound of the woman’s voice inside.
I keep my nose pressed up to the glass, listening to her voice, waiting for the girl to come back. Her touch has reduced me to a child again. In the afterlife, it is always against one’s better judgment, waiting. But I do it anyway.
I hear the woman’s voice again, nearing the window. The latch clicks, slides open. A strange new face peers out at me, cheeks pale, eyes analytical and cynical, peering straight through me and seeing nothing.
There is another voice now, coming from further inside — a young man’s voice. “Zoe!” it hollers. The girl shivers and turns from the window.
“Coming!” she hollers back. “Boy it’s cold in here,” she says, and bends to pick up the papers that stagger weakly along the bedroom floor. She stacks them in a neat pile, puts them back on the desk and looks at me briefly before closing the window, turning the latch.
It gets tiresome, this job of mine.
Happy Halloween! – E