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I wake up staring at the wall that I have woken up to every morning for years. Despair fills me. It’s a Monday. I clamber out of bed and sleepily change into my uniform; I’m a maid for the king. In our world there is only one land with only one king, he has a whole group of people who help him make decisions but they know he won’t listen to half of them. Really I love my job but somewhere inside me I feel like something is missing; the gap is so prominent that every second of every day I feel like crying. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, life carries on and I just have to deal with it.
Once I’m dressed I wearily pour myself some breakfast before making myself look presentable and driving to work. I meander through the staff door and am greeted with “You’re late!” as usual I ignore this comment and move on. I hang my bag up on my peg and collect my cleaning stuff. I always start with the downstairs floor and work my way up, but today I have a strange feeling telling me to start at the top and work my way down. I take the lift to the top and start by hoovering. The top floor is where the king lives and I make sure I am quiet as I go past his door to the next floor down. Suddenly Jimmy, the head of housekeeping, is running towards me waving his arms.
“Lizzy, Lizzy” he shouts, “Meg’s sick” he took some deep breaths before carrying on “could you do her shift for me?” Meg usually cleans the king’s chambers and is the most trusted maid in the palace and now I have to do her duty? If the king knew I would be given the death penalty.
“Don’t worry the king knows” Jimmy mentions, guessing my facial expressions.
“OK…” I stammer “I’ll do it.” Jimmy thanks me greatly and runs off to annoy someone else. I climb back up the stairs and creep to the king’s room. I knock gently and crack open the door. Inside there is a double bed, who’s sheets are in a tangle from the night. Silvery swirls border the walls and a lofty chest of drawers is in the corner. A door to his dressing room is to the right and a big bay window looks out onto the street on the left. No one is there so I start by dusting.
A little while later I realise that I should probably make his bed. I gingerly put down everything that I’m holding and creep over to it. I pull back the sheets and place the pillows on the floor before tucking in the bottom layer and laying the rest neatly on top. I pull back the top sheet and place the pillows in an orderly fashion. As I flip the top layer back on I see something whiz through the air, hit the wall and then drop down the back of the bed. Oops. Now I really am going to get the death penalty; for stealing! I drop to my hands and knees and crawl under the bed. I see it tucked in the corner, trying to stay away from me. I slide under the bed and pick up the glinting object, which I recognise to be the king’s favourite watch. As I scoot back out my elbow grazes something jagged and sharp. Instinctively I pull it towards me and scuttle out of the bed faster. Once I am out I place the watch back on the four poster and try and find what grazed me.
Leaning, I look down the side of the bed and see something else glistening; again I go under to retrieve the shimmering object. When I touch it, it’s cold and as I go to take it, it doesn’t budge. I come out and ponder this for a second; should I try and yank it out of the wall, or is it some sort of ornament? Was I meant to see it or is it one of the king’s private stashes?
My curiosity takes over and I crawl under the bed. I push and pull the golden square, stuck in the wall about a foot from the floor, trying in any way to move it from its resting place. Then I do it. I push it upwards and the whole wall starts to move. I scramble out from under the bed to gape at the opening that is appearing in front of my eyes.
A doorway. A golden door; coming from a wall. I step backwards in shock, amazed and scared at what I have just revealed. I creep up to the protruding object, frightened at what I might find. Next to the door I notice a little button. An arrow pointing down; the kind you usually get next to a lift but usually there are two. The door is covered in beautiful patterns and delicate engravings that make the door look attractive. As I get closer I notice that it seems to be entirely made of gold. Not the paint type but pure solid gold. I only have one gold thing and it’s a thin, wispy chain with a bird on it, nothing like this. I gently touch the swirls and a tingle shoots up my arm. Quickly I remove my hand; scared someone will come in and see me. As I look closer I am amazed at the detail. All over it are angels with tiny trumpets flying and swooping, I only pull my eyes away when I hear the door rattle. It opens and slams shut. I feel like a rabbit caught in the headlights not knowing where to go. There is only one place I can hide.
Without thinking I jab my finger on the button and the doors instantly slide open. I jump inside and press the only other button there is. I hear the grating of the walls slide back in place and feel a jolt as the lift travels down. I lean against the back wall my heart racing. It takes me some time to recover before I fully appreciate the amazing artwork. The back wall is one giant mirror bordered with golden swirls; it has a handle going across it, supposedly for safety. The right hand wall is a plain gold with the same tiny angels etched into it as the door. The left hand wall is pure gold with a button the size of the top of your thumb on it. It has a tiny sphere with squiggles all over the surface. I study it a while before I realise I have no idea where I am going. I panic. I have no food or clothes and I don’t know how long I am going to be inside this contraption. Claustrophobia takes over and I huddle in a ball in the corner, scared of what would come, kicking myself at being so stupid and not just hiding under the bed like any normal person would do.
Suddenly the lift jolts again and the doors slide open revealing a dark tunnel. I crawl forward weighing my options. Do I stay in the lift and see if it will take me back up? But then how will I open the wall again? Or do I go out into this dark pit and see where it leads me? The doors threatened to close again and I know I need to make my decision, to stay or to go.
My curiosity takes over once more and I crawl out, I hate my nosiness sometimes. As I do this I realise that the ceiling above me was only a meter tall, and that I would have to crawl the distance of this tunnel. BANG! I whip around trying to find where the noise had come from. Then I see the glint of gold as the lift whooshes back up the shoot it had come down. Now I am alone. There is only one way to go; forward. I start crawling and quickly find myself looking at the back of a concrete slab. Now I really am stuck. I should have just stayed on the lift and risked my chances. I feel around the back of the slab trying to find a loose section. And then I see it. From one of the cracks around the edge light is coming in, and I see a familiar glinting. I reach over to touch it and as expected there is a tiny gold rectangle jutting out from the wall. I know what to do this time and I carefully push the golden rectangle up. As I thought the slab in front of me started sinking into the ground and light came pouring in.
It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust before I realise that I am crawling out onto dewy grass. I stand up and take in my surroundings. I am sitting on lush green blades. Around me are thousands of slabs just like the one that had just sunk into the ground and in front of me is a towering church with an amazing spire on top. The sky is a bright blue and only a few white wispy clouds are floating around. There is a man standing looking at one of the slabs, the rest of the street is deserted.
I stand up and try to clean off my brown knees and palms while I look behind me to see the slab of concrete rising again. On it is:
In Memory of
Mr H. Evans
Loving father to all
May you rest in peace
Now I understand. I am in a graveyard and have just come out through a headstone. That means I just crawled through a grave…ewww! I decide to go and ask the man where I am. I gingerly walk over to him to see he is crying. I feel bad about disturbing him but I need to know where I am so I could get home. I quietly cough; the sort you do when you’re trying to get someone’s attention. He ignores me, so I do it again but louder. Again he doesn’t listen. That’s it, I know he’s upset but it is just plain rude to ignore someone who is blatantly trying to get your attention.
“Excuse me sir, so sorry to disturb you, but do you know where abouts we are?” I say, with a hint of frustration in my voice. Still he keeps his head down. I was just about to start up again this time with more anger in my voice but he took a long breath looked up right at me and walked off. It was if he couldn’t see me. I followed him, irritated at his ignorance, ready to give him a piece of my mind. I tapped him on the shoulder and he whipped around surprised. He then shivered and walked on. Unbelievable how can people do this. I then see a lady strolling along so run to ask her,
“Excuse me but please can you tell me where I am” I ask politely, but she too ignores me. People here are so rude.
Then I see a newspaper in the bin, so decide to give up on people and look up where I am. I reach the bin in a matter of seconds. I’m much lighter after that lift ride, perhaps it was longer than I thought and I’ve lost a bit of weight, I needed to do that anyway. I pick up the newspaper and look for the front page. It’s missing. All that is here is the obituary. I sigh and put it back in the bin, but something catches my eye before I do. I look again and stumble backwards. It can’t be true it just can’t. I can’t take my eyes off that one name. It’s like it’s piercing me from all edges.
‘Mrs Elizabeth Grant’.
I drop the paper and run. I don’t know or care where, I just run. The same thought swirling round my mind; I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead. But it’s impossible, here I am now running, so how can I be dead? Then it hits me full in the face. I stop as if I’m about to run into a wall. If that newspaper is true and I am dead then I must be a ghost. Dead, but in another world. I start adding things up: Our one land with one king, a king that no one sees, the lift ride, the passage through the grave and then people ignoring me. They weren’t ignoring me; they just couldn’t see or hear me. I wander back to the bin to find the newspaper page to get a better look. I pick it up and find my name:
Mrs Elizabeth Grant,
Died on the 25th April, 2011 in Sturminster Newton, Dorset aged 21.
Daughter to Mr and Mrs Roberts; loving wife to Mr William Grant.
I look further down the list and see Jimmy’s and Meg’s name. We’re all dead; all of my friends and co-workers, dead. The 25th April, that was only two days ago. Panic and confusion shoots through me. I ignore this just for a moment to remember that I have a family. I have a husband. Then something strange happens. That big, sucking hole inside me becomes suddenly less prominent and I realise what I have to do. Forgetting everything else I charge down the road not knowing where I was going, blinded by the thought of not having that pain inside me. After about an hour of this I see a road sign. Relief fills me; Sturminster Newton is only two miles away so I carry on, refuelled with the hope of finding my husband. I travel along the grassy hard shoulder and after another half an hour I see the words:
Please drive carefully’
I stop. I’m here now but what should I do. I can’t just go knocking on lots of people’s houses asking if I’m their wife; besides they wouldn’t hear me. I decide to go and see if my grave is at this church, maybe it will give me a clue of some sort. I hurry down the road scouring the rooftops for a spire. I see it poking out behind some houses and make my way towards it. When I reach the fence I open the gate and start pacing around the headstones searching for my name. It’s a weird sensation looking for your own grave. Only one other man was there with me, solemnly looking at a grave, close to tears. I knew he couldn’t see me but instinctively I gave him a reassuring smile before moving on.
After I’ve scoured all the headstones, with no luck, I feel defeated. I think about starting again when the crying man I saw earlier, collapses in a heap. I think he’s fainted and I rush over to him not sure what I’ll be able to do. Before I get there, he picks himself up and sits, staring at the headstone. Now I am closer I can see his features a bit better. He has dark wavy hair, not long but long enough. His eyes are a bright green but today they seem solemn and depressed. Big bags are under his eyes and his faced is streaked with glistening lines. For some reason he’s familiar. I walk behind him, wondering who he’s mourning. My heart stops, not for the first time today. On the gravestone is my name.
I want to shout at him, tell him I am here, but no matter how loud I shout, William doesn’t register a thing. Then I have an idea. I pick up a stick from the edge of the cemetery and hurry back over to my gravestone. William is still their sobbing quietly. Carefully and steadily I place the stick in the mud and carefully etch the words:
‘I am here’
The effect is instant. William jumps off the ground looking around, before running the length of the cemetery and then stopping. He obviously realised what I just wrote. He slowly comes back to the inscription with a stick of his own and carves in the mud one simple word:
How? I don’t know. One day I was working the next I am I another world, dead. I tell him this and also that I can hear him. So he starts to speak. His beautiful voice fills up the gaping hole inside me and I feel at home.
“Where are you?” he asks after slumping down on my headstone. I move so that I am sitting facing him, our toes touch and he shivers slightly.
‘In front of you’ I sketch in the mud. A smile crosses his lips and spreads throughout his whole face. That’s when I remember why I love him so much. Then his face falls and I realise he’s remembering the day I died. I want to comfort him, to hug him, but I know it would be useless. All he would feel is a tingling sensation, just like the man did when I tapped him on the shoulder, and just like he did, when I brushed his toes. I will never be able to touch anyone in this world, ever. We talk for a while, him with his sing song voice and me writing in the mud, until it starts to get dark. I follow him home and instantly recognise the red front door with its brass door knob. It’s an exact replica of the one from my world, even the flowers in the front garden are the same.
He settles himself down on the sofa and I go and pick a piece of paper and pen from off of his desk before settling myself down beside him. I brush his leg so he knows I am there and place the paper down on the coffee table before we carry on the conversation.
While we talk I realise that everything I hold must turn invisible otherwise William would have noticed a stick flying through the air, or a pen and piece of paper hovering towards him. It’s strange what I can do in this world that I couldn’t do in mine. We talk until our clock strikes twelve and outside is pitch black. I wonder if I will ever have to go back, or if I could stay here, a ghost but with the one thing that makes my life worth ‘living’.
I can tell William is tired and I tell him to go to bed. For some reason I don’t feel tired. Perhaps it’s like jet lag or perhaps it’s the adrenaline from today, but I just cannot rest. I look around bits of paper are everywhere and a couple of pens are around too. I tidy them into a pile and for the first time notice the state of our house. The small side table next to the sofa is overflowing with cups and the bin is full with take away boxes. I tidy this, trying to be quiet so as not to wake him, and then move onto our kitchen, which is worse than our living room: The sink clogged with dirty dishes, a pile of unwashed laundry covers his washing machine, rotting food is left out on the side and my shoes are sticking to the floor. I move through the house, cleaning our rooms. Once I’ve finished I make my way upstairs. Half way up I realise there is no need for me to be quiet, this ghost thing is going to be difficult for me to get used to. I walk through the open door to our bedroom and sit on a chair in the corner. He is already asleep and I watch him, day dreaming.
Suddenly I feel a tingle in my toes. It climbs up my body before I am tingling all over. I realise what’s happening in a second. I quickly grab a piece of paper a scribble some words onto it before dropping it on William’s bed. I manage one more glance at him sleeping so peacefully before I blackout.
I wake up in my room. In my world. It is how I left it before I went to work the day I found the lift. The lift that gave me hope that I could stay with my love forever. The lift that has just taken him away again. The lift that has now caused more pain than happiness. I look at my clock, it’s seven thirty. I rise and act as if it were all a dream, but I know it’s not. I look over at my bed and see the pen I wrote the last note to William with. Abandoning my breakfast, I pick it up and hold it. The only thing I have to remember him by. I put it away in my drawer and drive to work.
When I come home I can feel that deep hole opening up inside me again and I slump on the sofa. It is a grey day outside. The trees are stripped of their leaves and the sky is overcast. There is no sun and no hope left inside of me. I eat a slice of bread before changing and snuggling back inside my bed. Maybe sleep will help the despair, which caresses my every organ, disappear.
I wake up. It is grey outside again but today I can see a ray of sun. Perhaps today will be a better day. The gap inside me is still prominent and painful. I feel someone’s breath on the back of my neck. I panic and slowly turn over; my hand in a fist ready to knock out whoever’s behind me. Just as I am about to bring my hand down I see his face, and delight encases my every cells. The hole that was opening is sealed shut at the sight of him. There is a tiny mark on his temple, a bit like a birthmark, which has never been there before, but I know it is him. My William.