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The "Ghosts and Ghoulies".
Some people don’t believe in ghosts.
Some people don’t see them the way I do- they don’t have to live surrounded by oppressive visions, some easy on the eye but others gruesome figures of your worst nightmares. They don’t have to work out whose voices are real and whose are simply words from The Otherside, all speaking at once, all constricting your thoughts.
And they don’t have to pretend they can’t see or hear them so they don’t seem crazy.
I’ve grown up with it though, ever since I was a little child and I was locked in my quarantined, white-walled room, alone. I was terminally ill, in fact, I’m sure at one point my heart stopped beating... There was no bright, comforting tunnel of light. No. There was just darkness and eyes, so many eyes. Then faces appeared, towering above me. But it wasn’t just the doctors I could see as they tried to get my heart beating again; it was myself, lying there in the bed, pale and fragile with flowing auburn hair and long eyelashes lying delicately against my cheeks. And it was the billions of other people who had never made it back to their bodies in time. Trapped forever here, watching their loved ones suffer.
However, here I am, still alive and breathing. It’s because of that short moment where my heart stopped that I can see the spirits now, that I can reach out in my front of me like I did as a kid with trembling hands and know I’m sticking my hand through someone’s chest, through their heart but no one else can see me do it... No one, I’m all alone.
I was what, seven? I thought I’d gone insane. Up until that point, I’d led a life of innocence, of ignorance. And well, ignorance may as well have been my best friend because I tell you, that unawareness of the reality around you is bliss. I was seven years of age, (not even a teen!), and I genuinely believed I was crazy, that I deserved to be locked away from everyone I loved and caged in by imposing walls that watched me with blank faces, judging me.
When they finally released me from hospital telling me I was stable again, I didn’t believe them. I tried to tell them about what I saw but they said that I’d been away from children my age for so long that I’d created imaginary friends. They didn’t believe me when I told them about the man who’d been murdered years ago, a bloody and awful sin. I researched him later; everything he said to me was true... Nor did they believe me about the little girl who, like me, had been incredibly ill but hadn’t been so “lucky”.
Eventually, I stopped telling them about the stories the spirits both whispered and screamed to me each day, they didn’t want to hear. My parents didn’t want to know their child was insane... I didn’t want to admit I was insane.
I remember this one day; I was sat alone at lunch time on an old, wooden bench, the ever secluded child in secondary school...
‘Hey Isa. You can see them right?’ The voice surprised me and I jolted out of my day dream. They were the only escape I had from the voices, from them. It was a boy, he was about fifteen (same as me), incredibly cute and apparently kind. His hair was brown and swooped tidily across his forehead with deep brown eyes peeking out from under it; his eyebrows attractively chunky were raised as he grinned at me. My heart leapt into my throat, no one spoke to me, especially not boys.
‘See who?’ I asked, playing oblivious. I knew not to talk to anyone about this kind of thing anymore, they wouldn’t take me seriously. And well, I kind of wanted to be normal and for him to like me...
He sat down beside me and whispered while making teasing, mystical hand gestures, ‘the ghosts and ghoulies.’
I narrowed my eyes at the playground below my feet. He was just like everyone else, I thought bitterly, he’s making light of this. ‘No. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘I have advanced heart disease.’ He said suddenly, blurting it out. ‘Sorry,’ he added, looking pained as if realising what he’d just told me. My face contorted in horror as I stared at him, mortified. This gorgeous guy had a fatal heart problem? What was God playing at? ‘Look, I’m sorry,’ he stood up, ‘I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s just I heard you died and un-died, I wanted comfort and now, well, see here. I sound so insensitive. I’ll just leave.’ He turned to go.
Admiring his bravery as he stood strong, I caught his wrist without thinking. ‘No. I’m sorry.’ I murmured as he turned back to face me, his brown eyes shimmering with what I hoped weren’t tears. ‘Please sit back down... I can see them. It’s weird, sometimes it’s unpleasant, sometimes soothing when I’m alone. They’re all around us now.’ I cast a look around us, taking in the mournful faces only I could see. I turned back to him, expecting him to be running away screaming about me being a loony person. Instead he was gazing around wonderingly. ‘There’s a beautiful girl here all dressed in vintage Victorian clothes, a long flowing skirt and a laced corset. She’s telling me to say, “hi” and that” you’re cute and brave”. I think you have an admirer. ’ He laughed and my heart was filled with the sound of it, beating faster and faster. I wondered for a brief moment if he knew I was talking about me as his admirer...
A little smile danced on his face, ‘...I wish I could see them.’
‘No. You really don’t.’ My voice broke on the words. How could anyone want this? ‘At first I was worried; I thought the illness had taken on a new characteristic: insanity. Then eventually I learned about mediums and psychics, I began to think that maybe it wasn’t quite so crazy, that maybe I really could see ghosts. That I could help people come to terms with their lost ones... if only people would accept me.’
‘I accept you, Isabelle.’
That was almost a year ago now. Since then I’d discovered his name, Erik, and we’d become closer and closer friends. He didn’t care that he was hanging out with a “freak”, a reject that could see The Otherside. He wasn’t that kind of guy, no. Erik was sweet, handsome and perfect in a way I wished I could be. Being with him made it that little bit easier to ignore the overwhelming spirits...
One day, I walked to his house, disregarding the pouring rain that washed away the spirits around me. Not even ghosts liked being out in the rain. The thought amused me and I considered not knocking on his imposing wooden door. Instead I began to dance, free of spirits, free of everything people feared me for. This was what it was like to be normal. Kind of.
I heard the door to his house open but I didn’t stop until his mother’s voice cut through my peace. ‘What’re you doing, Isabelle? You’ll catch a cold, dear.’ The tone was friendly but sad and tear-filled. I looked at her, pushing my soppy fringe out of my face so I could really see her. She was a lovely woman, in fact, his whole family had been lovely, accepting and welcoming me as their son’s best friend.
‘Oh... I was, um, coming to see Erik. Is he about?’ I said, walking closer. She began to shake her head and I’m pretty sure there were tears rolling down her cheeks, mingling with the raindrops.
‘No, honey. He’s gone into hospital. He was rushed there this morning; I’m off to visit him now. Would you like to join me? I’m sure he’d love to see you.’ I nodded, unable to speak as my stomach churned in fear. What was happening? Why was he in hospital?!
The drive there was quiet, mournful. The only sound was the humourless hum of the radio as it churned out meaningless pop songs Erik and I had often made fun of. A tear escaped down my cheek as I watched the rain snaking down the windows, I’d grown up fearing the worst because at least that way you could be happily surprised if things were better and your hope wouldn’t be crushed when it was worse.
I was surprised that the moment I’d stepped into the car, out of the rain, that I hadn’t been bombarded with spirits. Instead, there was eerie gloom about not seeing them. I kind of wished they’d been there, if only to comfort me with kind words.
The smell of sterilised equipment, medicine and death reached me as we entered the hospital; I noticed then that the ghosts were swimming around me again, tons and tons. There were more than usual, probably because it was hospital and I wondered vaguely what it would be like in graveyard... A chill washed over me and I shivered, hoping I wouldn’t have to find out any time soon.
We were directed to his room and his mother left me as she hurried into the toilets to some get much-needed tissues. I carried on alone, like I always had done from an early age until I reached his room. I peered through the glass window, white wall upon white wall stared back at me. I opened the door as I spotted the pale body lying in the hospital bed. ‘Erik...?’ I whispered, my voice was choked with tears. He didn’t look healthy... At all.
‘I-Isabelle?’ He asked, ‘is that you? Oh, Isabelle!’
‘Shh,’ I soothed him as I moved swiftly to his side. I wrapped my fingers through his freezing, slender ones. The coldness froze my heart. ‘You’re so cold.’ I murmured like a little girl, the fear over taking the courage easily.
‘I’m dying.’ He muttered mournfully. ‘I only wish I had more time with y-...’
Shaking my head back and forth as hard I could, I hoped that might make what he just said untrue as I interrupted him, ‘NO! You’re not dying, you can’t! Erik, I need you! You make me happy; you accepted me and you make it easier to ignore them. The only escapes I had were day dreams, rain and... and you!’ I practically screamed in pain. ‘I don’t know what I’d do without you. I... I think I love you.’ I forced the words out, the words I’d wished to tell him for a long, long time. Now though, they tasted weak as if they were too late.
He laughed, ‘you think? I know I love you. I always have from the moment you pulled me back down that day a year ago and told me about the Victorian girl.’ He smiled up at me; his eyes were sad and sparkled with tears as he held them back like the brave guy he was. I didn’t bother holding back, allowing the tears to flood down my cheeks. They, along with the steady beep of the heart machine, were a comfort.
‘I know I love you too...’ I whispered.
‘Good.’ He pulled me closer and I leant over him, gently bringing my lips to his. Sweet and soft, just like I’d always day-dreamed about. And then I saw it happen as I pulled back and he closed his eyes, still smiling serenely. I saw the moment his spirit spilled out of him, beautiful and angelic. He looked down on his own body, his expression one of intrigue. The look he’d always worn when we talked about the ghosts. He looked around and so did I, momentarily too overcome by shock to speak. One of my hands was still twined with his physical one and I tightened my grip meanwhile my other hand reached out to him, the spirit him. It passed straight through.
I couldn’t touch him, I couldn’t reach him. Erik was gone from my reach.
Suddenly, I screamed as reality hit me, ‘HELP ME! HELP! DOCTORS, PLEASE!’
It was like someone hit the button on a remote that slowed everything down. The doctors came rushing in all too slowly like bees floating around a pretty flower. A dying flower. The nurses ushered me out of the room as I sobbed. Erik’s mother finally joined me, looking panicky and defeated. I returned to being mute, unable to speak as we hugged each other. The only thing that was still moving at the true speed was the tears flowing down both his mother’s and my face. I could feel her tears soaking my shirt and knew mine were doing the same to hers but neither of us cared. Why would we?
Over her shoulder I saw his spirit, wearing that sad look that told me he’d lost the battle. I knew before the doctors came out of the room that they had failed, that Erik hadn’t made it back to his body the way I had. I didn’t even hear the condoling words that escaped their mouths as his mother pulled away- she’d still had hope until they said their apologies. The dire expectation drained out of her and she sunk to the ground weakly.
‘Isa.’ His melodic voice stood out among the throng of ghost-chattering. Erik moved towards me, ‘why do we survive as ghosts?’
‘B-because you have unfinished business...?’ I choked, ignoring the confused look I earned from everyone around me. They couldn’t see him, they didn’t understand.
‘Well, the only thing I didn’t finish was my life with you.’ His words could have been comforting if I waited to realise how much that meant he had loved me. Instead, it caused me to sink to the ground with his mum, crying even harder (if that was possible). For a brief moment, I became thankful that I could see the “ghosts and ghoulies”, realising that no matter what, love survived everything. ‘But Isa?’ He spoke again, causing me to look up at his glowing face as he smiled radiantly, ‘I can see them now.’