[personal profile] skysailor
             “Why are you here? How did you die?” This one’s cute, all rough-shaven, with dark hair sticking out everywhere, making him look startled. Maybe he is startled. Sometimes the psychics confide in me, tell me they never see real ghosts. Not really real.

            I stop pretending in gravity and loop-de-loop, pondering. What story to tell this one? I settle for “serious.”

            I end the loop and sink down near the ground, leaning my mouth-image against his ear, even though everything I say will go straight to his brain. It’s more dramatic that way.

            “Long ago…” I hiss, letting the words echo and tickle his amygdala, “There was a plague here. A deadly plague, that made you bleed… bleed… and never stop…” I shift form, ethereal drops of blood coursing down my white shift.

            “That’s terrible. I’ve never heard about a plague here before. Are you here so people don’t forget?”

            “I am here to give… a warning…” I let the “blood” cut through my image, starting to tear it apart at every rivulet. He looks freaked, which means I’m doing it right. “Do not dig… the plague runs still within the corpses… beware… beware…”

            I disappear in a curtain of blood.

            He stares for near forever at the last place he saw me.

 

            “Why are you here? How did you die?” She has a grace that belies her young face. She doesn’t flinch at seeing me.

            “Have you seen a ghost before?” The thought goosebumps through me. If I ever meet someone who has seen other ghosts, someone I can believe has seen them, I’ve got so many questions—

            “No.” Still calm, still poised. “But you look about as I expected. Are you trying to look as I expect?”

            “N—y—yeah.”

            “How would you look otherwise?”

            “I… I don’t know.” No one asks. I don’t want to think about it, either. “Do you want to hear how I died, or what?” I have a story I’ve been saving up for a while. Pretty good for cracking that poise, too.

            “That’s sad. Yes, I would like to hear how you died.”

            I sit down, letting my form grow smaller, letting my voice go quieter. “Long ago, as the icecaps were melting…”

            She doesn’t lean in to “listen”, or pretend she’s using her ears for this. Tch.

            I clear the throat I don’t have to clear. “As the icecaps were melting, a surge of walruses came to these shores.”

            “That wasn’t here.”

            “Well, fine, not these shores, but the shores where I died. I was buried here later.”

            “I see. Please, continue.”

            “Anyway, walruses came. This huge crowd, far as the eye could see. Now, I took a bet that I could get the tusk off the biggest walrus…”

            “And then the walrus killed you?”

            “Eventually. You’re cutting the story short.”

            “I apologize. Did you really try to fight the walrus in that shift?”

            “This? No. This is my burial shift. I was wearing… you know, cold clothes. Jacket and stuff.”

            “I see.”

            I take in a visible “breath” to continue, but she interrupts again.

            “So why are you haunting this park? Is it because you never got the tusk?”

            “No, I…” She’s ruining the story. And what a story. The walrus is supposed to talk, and then he and I would agree to a game, and then I’d win by cheating, and then the other walruses would realize and there’d be a dramatic impalement by tusk - I have illusory blood spatters prepared for that one – and then the tusk is supposed to break off in my body and be buried with me still, but nooooo.

            “So you got the tusk? Is it buried with you?”
            “It… yeah, but…”

            “Where are your remains? Perhaps we can consecrate them so you can rest in peace. Unless you think it’s the soul of the walrus that keeps you from moving on?”

            “No, no, no. You can’t just dig up someone’s remains—”

            “Do you want to move on?”

            “I don’t even know what that means.”

            “But you’re a ghost. Shouldn’t you know?”

            “No. It’s not like there’s a guidebook. How do I know there’s anywhere to move on to? I don’t want someone to just shove me on to somewhere I don’t know and don’t want to go.”

            “Is that why you haven’t moved on?”

            “Probably. I don’t know. What the hell is your problem?”

            “I’m trying to help you.”

            “Well, why don’t you help me after you’ve talked to enough dead people to figure out what helping me would do?”

            She takes that in.

            Then she nods, stands, and leaves.

 

“Why are you here? How did you die?” This one’s an elderly gentleman, with a bowler and a suit and a carved wooden cane, so out of date I wonder if he isn’t a ghost, too. But he seems more solid than I know how to seem. He uses the cane to ease himself to the park bench, and I follow politely.

“Time travel accident,” I tell him. “It’s why you don’t see ghosts around here, because it’s not until the future that people make ghosts.”

“Oh,” he smiles. “Well, the ghosts I’ve seen haven’t been like you, so I’ll take your word for it.”

I halt so hard I go invisible. “You’ve seen other ghosts?”

“Well, not like you. You can’t see ‘em. You just hear ‘em. Footsteps on the empty floor above you, bells in the graveyard, laughter on old bridges.”

I let myself go visible again, trying not to sag from disappointment. “Ah.” I cross my arms. “Well, that’s because they’re not from the future.”

“I see. What makes ghosts from the future so different?”

“Surveillance. The government wanted to watch us even after we died, so they put chips on our souls. That’s why I went back in time. It’s deadly for sure, because of the time radiation, but I didn’t want to work in the ghost mines.”

“Ghost mines? What do they make you do there?”

“Dig for antimatter. Matter can’t touch it, but ghosts aren’t matter and they aren’t antimatter, so they can dig it up all they like. It’s what powers all the future guns and future cities.”

“Well, then. That’s just like what I’ve always said. You let them damn fools up there get enough power and it’ll all go to their heads. If I can get your soul chip, can you move on?”

“Oh, no. Only ghosts like me can touch it. The scientist who invented it was already dead, you see. But let me know if you see any other ghosts like me.”

“Well, damn. I’ll keep an eye out.” The old man hesitates, hand trembling just the slightest on his cane. “You know, the reason I wanted to talk to you… I guess things are different in the future, but do you know what happened in the past? In the now, when people die?”

Now it’s me who hesitates.

The moment draws out.

Finally, I say, “It depends.” I don’t know what it depends on, but there has to be some reason the world isn’t overrun with ghosts like me. Some reason there’s weird noises, and lights, and the other things the psychics tell me about. Some reason for the dead silence in my little park. “Everyone back here died in different ways, I think. Some turned into noises and some turned into scientists and some went somewhere else.” Maybe. I don’t actually know. Truth is, I don’t even know if I’m a dead person. I have memories, but… not what I looked like. Not how I died. Not much at all. It’s like trying to make out details on a distant wisp of a cloud. And it feels just as cold and translucent as that.

The old man leaves with a slower gait than when he came. And I think to myself that I could have given him a better lie.

 

            “Why are you here? How did you die?”

            I weave a tale about a pig, some beer, and a fist-fight with a cow. It’s not my best, but it makes the harried, raven-haired woman laugh.

 

            “Why are you here? How did you die?”

            I explain that I’m not dead. I’m just from another universe, and I couldn’t cross all the way over to here, so now I’m stuck in this park and transparent, to boot. The little boy spends a second in sadness before he starts peppering me with questions about the universe I’m from. I fill it with colored riding bubbles and monsters made of clouds.

 

            “Why are you here? How did you die?”

            Grimly, I spin a tale of a serial killer cop, protected by corruption, lost in the cracks of a bad filing system, finally brought to an end by a ghostly-vengeance-powered icicle. All the other ghosts had left, but I remained to tell the tale and warn the people.

 

            “Why are you here? How did you die?”

            I take my time describing every last flake of ash from the volcanic eruption. This one doesn’t believe me.

 

            “Why are you here? How did you die?”

            In an echoing many-voice, with sides of gibbering unwords, I warn of the sleeping, unholy creature beneath the sea.

 

            “I know why you’re here, and how you died.”

            It’s that woman from a while back, the one who cut off my story about the walrus.

            “What do you mean?”

            She whispers it, so only I can hear. And, near-invisible from trepidation, I follow her to the tree at the center of the park, and let her dig up my remains.

            A book.

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