My response to the prompt ‘sidewalk‘.
How did Zoey feel about her ability to see the dead?
On good days, it was the lens that let her see into a whole new world.
On bad days, it was the giant spoon that scooped her out of her life into a bowl filled with other people’s issues.
Today was somewhere in the middle. Read the rest of this entry
~A Dangerous Temper Tantrum~
Zoey thought almost dying would be a life changing event. (Which it was. Being able to see dead people was a hard change to miss.) But for a life changing event, it didn’t have much of a presence. This, however, was shooting up the ranks of ‘memorable moments’ like students gushing out of class at the final school bell.
Earlier that day, a dead waiter ambushed her on her way home. The last time they met, the ex-waiter wanted her help with some unfinished business. She planned to help him over the weekend when Silas came over, but it seemed that the ghost never learnt the value of patience, and she was now paying the price.
The ex-waiter couldn’t interact physically with the world, but he was extraordinarily talented at leaching out all the heat around him, especially body heat. So his version of a temper tantrum was to leach out all the heat from her, resulting in a very cold Zoey, frozen stiff on the ground despite the sunny weather.
How would freezing her help him? She couldn’t ask. Her teeth chattered too much for speech. Even later, when the chatter died down, she didn’t ask. Or maybe she did. Things got a bit confusing towards the end. She couldn’t remember much between freezing on the ground and waking up back home.
“Do you want a nickname? At the rate you’re going, we can call you ‘the girl who keeps dying but doesn’t stay dead’,” Silas’ voice greeted her return to consciousness.
Zoey frowned. “Aren’t nicknames supposed to be shorter?”
“Aren’t you supposed to stay alive?”
“I didn’t die… did I?” Zoey reached out and pinched Silas’ arm. His skin reddened obediently under her fingers. “Yeah. Still alive.”
Silas pulled his abused skin free. “Because of me. You’re welcome.”
“I called him with your phone!” Evan popped his head in through the wall.
Wait. Evan? Didn’t they already send him off to the afterlife last week?
“Thanks.” Better check to see if her phone was still usable after this.
She endured Silas’ lecture on being careful and just because they could see dead people didn’t mean they should join them, etc.. Well, not everyone could have a dead sister watching out for him and a family who could hear dead people. Her closest help was Silas, and they didn’t live in the same area. Anyway, he was the one who pushed her into this. She was perfectly fine pretending she couldn’t see anything unusual.
Finally, Silas ran out of things to repeat, and she was free to leave her bed and walk out like a non-invalid. A few steps towards the door brought her into the path of a block of light from the open window. Usually, she shied away from sunlight, but her body still remembered the chill it felt just a few hours earlier, and the warmth on her skin stopped her feet.
Until Silas made a joke about her trying to be a sun-dried tomato.
She left the block of warmth and whacked his face with a cushion.
For someone who had basically slept the past three weeks away, she still felt ridiculously tired. She couldn’t even stand without losing her breath. A sad contrast to not long ago, when she could float effortlessly to any place she wished. She missed that freedom, but being alive was definitely better.
Silas, when he visited, assured her that feeling weak was normal, and that there was nothing to fear. He was comatose for a year, and he turned out fine. Next to him, his dead sister nodded enthusiastically.
That was another change to get used to. The third time she woke up, she stayed awake long enough to notice the spirit in the corner, that she could still see, even though she was alive now. She casually looked away, as if she hadn’t seen anything but an empty corner. The spirit didn’t respond, so she was safe for now, but it also made her really want to get out of the room. Getting out of the hospital in general would be awesome too.
“Any tips on how I should deal with my… ‘new friends’?” Zoey asked.
“Decide if you want to ignore everyone or help everyone. And I mean everyone. People gossip. Help a few and everyone would know,” Silas said.
“Tried that. Didn’t work very well for me.”
“Maybe it’s because you have… her.” Zoey flicked her gaze to Silas’ dead sister.
“That too. But don’t think that people get dumb just because they… you know. Some of them can tell no matter how much you try to hide.”
“So what? You’re saying I should just give in and join you?”
His lips curled in a smile. “Pretty much.”
Her lips twisted.
“Think about it,” Silas added, “I’ve gone through this before. I can help you. You’d be a fool if you let this chance go.”
She narrowed her eyes. “What’s the catch?”
“See? You’re smart. So you know what a good deal you’re getting. All you need to do in exchange for my help is to play paintball with me. Actually playing is a lot different from watching. You’ll love it.”
Voluntarily let herself get hit with paint. Painful paint, by the looks of some of the bruises Silas developed after the game.
“I can watch you play instead,” she bargained.
“Your mum already approved. She thinks it’ll be good for you.”
“You talked to my mum?”
“I needed to explain why I was hanging outside your room like a stalker.”
“So basically, I don’t actually have a choice.”
She folded her arms. “I don’t know how I should feel about this.”
“First tip: Just go with the flow. You’ll be surprised how much faster things get done that way. That said, want to give that lady in the corner a hand?”
“Let me guess. My options are ‘yes’ or ‘yes’.”
“Very good. You catch on fast. Now, give me your best winning smile.”
Zoey bared her teeth.
Silas turned to face the spirit in the corner.
“Hi there. How can I help you?”
The rest of the week passed, then another, and they still had no leads on what was keeping her around the living. In contrast, Silas had already sent dozens of spirits on to their final resting place. She checked herself. Her body still felt pretty solid to her. Looks like she wasn’t going anywhere today either.
On the other side of the room, Silas pulled a large, rectangular bag out of his wardrobe. He set it flat on the ground and unzipped it to reveal…
She pressed herself against the window, but ended up half outside the building. “Is that a gun? Why do you have a gun?”
“Calm down. It’s for paintball.” He reached inside the bag for a gun magazine and angled it so that she could see the neon orange balls inside. “See? Can’t kill anyone with these. Except that guy… but let’s not talk about that.”
That last part wasn’t very convincing, but she did float back into the room. “Why do you have a gun in your room?”
“I play paintball once a fortnight,” Silas said as he checked his equipment. “It helps distract me from other people’s baggage. Dealing with dead people gets depressing after awhile.”
“So you’re saying I’m depressing?”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions.” Apparently finding no issue with the gun, he packed it back into the bag with all his other accessories and pulled the zip. He rose to his feet and hefted the bag onto one shoulder. “Coming?”
“Sure. Why not.”
They drove for an hour to Silas’ paintball club, then waited another half an hour for the latecomers to turn up. She had no problems with the delay. Invisible to everyone else, she explored the two paintball fields. She’d never seen so much junk in the same place before. When she pointed that out to Silas, his brow ceased in a frown.
“Have you played paintball before?” he asked, careful to keep his voice down so no one else heard him talking to himself.
“You should tr… watch. Yeah. Watch the game. You can even pretend you’re playing. Just don’t block my view. I don’t want to walk straight into an ambush. That has actually happened before.”
“Ok.” She would do her best to float in the most inconvenient place for him as possible.
Once the game actually started, she forgot about everything else. All her attention went to finding front row seats to exciting skirmishes and sneaky ambushes throughout the game. And if she did end up unintentionally leading Silas into his death three times in a row… Paintball death wasn’t permanent. He’d be back.
“Feel anything? More alive? Less alive?” Silas asked on the drive back.
“I don’t feel any different, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Later, after Silas came down from the adrenaline high he usually got after an intense game of paintball, he would apologise, but that was only after they reached his house. In between, she was forced to listen to Silas’ gush about how amazing paintball was and how could anyone not feel anything and what was wrong with her paintball was life.
He paused at that point to apologize for the comment because that was insensitive, then continued to list all the ways paintball saved the world.
She bit her hand to stop herself from laughing in his face. Goodbye cool problem solver, hello hardcore paintball number one fanboy.
Well, at least he had something he was passionate about. She had nothing. No goals, no dreams, nothing she would dedicate her life to. She’d breezed through life without becoming attached to anything, and at this rate, she could end up floating around as a spirit just because. At least she had company.
A few days later, they had an unusually slow afternoon free of any supernatural visits or pressing deadlines. She took over Silas’ laptop to watch a movie while Silas surfed the net on his desktop. A very relaxing day.
Until Silas jumped to his feet and sent his chair crashing to the ground.
“You.” Silas pointed at her. “Come here. That’s you, right?”
She floated over to find her face on his screen. Beside the picture was her brother’s post, asking for prayers as his sister continued into her third week of coma after drowning in the lake during their recent family trip.
“Ah? That’s it? You’re alive.”
She nodded. “That’s great.”
Silas narrowed his eyes at her.
“I’ve met dead people with more energy than you.” He grabbed his car keys. “Come on. It’s time to create a miracle.”
In the hospital, Zoey followed quietly as Silas pretended he couldn’t see her and every other spirit that haunted the corridors. A necessary move, because otherwise he’d not only get bogged down by spirits asking for help but get sent to the mental health wing if people caught him talking to the air. She also pretended she couldn’t see the other spirits, just in case… something Silas wasn’t very clear about when he talked about it in the car.
Playing the part of a well-wisher who was hopelessly lost, Silas found his way to Zoey’s room. There, they hit their first obstacle.
Sitting in a chair beside Zoey’s comatose body was her mum, who was reading a book while she rubbed circles with her thumb on Zoey’s arm. As touching as it was to know that her family hadn’t left her alone even after three weeks of non-response, it would be a lot easier if the room was empty as they tried to figure out how to return Zoey’s spirit to her body.
What would Silas do? She couldn’t really ask him, because there was a really disturbing-looking spirit at the corner of the room and she really didn’t want to draw the spirit’s attention to any of them.
Wait… She didn’t need him for this. Silas had already brought her this far, the rest of her recovery was up to her.
She phased through the window and made a beeline for her body. Her palm pressed against her bare forearm.
Well, that was disappointing. Maybe she was supposed to lie down in her body? Align her spiritual half with her physical half and all that. Weird, but worth a try.
She twisted in the air and sunk into her body. This time, she felt something, like she was caught in a loose web of cotton strands. Her mum’s thumb felt like a faint whisper against her skin. If she concentrated, she could feel more pressure and warmth, but she couldn’t hold on to the sensation for long before it slipped away.
This wasn’t working. Maybe… maybe she was supposed to be dead. Her body just hadn’t realised it yet.
She fell through the bed. When she tried to slip back into her body again, she phased right through, like walking through a hologram.
Not good. At this rate, she’d really become a wandering spirit. Time to backtrack. She wasn’t doing amazing earlier, but at least she could somewhat interact with her body. Things got worse after she… thought she was supposed to be dead. By that logic, if she thought she was supposed to be alive, would her body accept her spirit?
Was it really that easy?
She tried falling back into her body again. This time, she didn’t end up on the floor. Seriously? This was working? She thought about her family, about how everyone else would be sad if she died. Now she could feel her mum’s touch, and her own weight. After weeks of floating around as a weightless spirit, her body felt heavy. No. She had to get used to physical boundaries again. It was time to wake up.
She shifted, and her body shifted along with her. Next, darkness took over her vision as her vision synched with her closed physical eyes, followed almost immediately with red, the colour of light streaming through her closed eyelids. As the rest of her melted into place, she focused on her eyes. If she could open her eyes, that meant she actually made it back.
Her eyes were a lot stiffer than she remembered, but with effort and determination, she forced them open and was rewarded with the sight of the ceiling fading into view.
Then fatigue slammed into her, and her eyes closed as she slept for the first time in a long time.
This is the second chapter of a multichapter story. To read the first chapter, go here.
The next day, a translucent man with blue hair with a hole in his neck appeared outside Silas’ window. While she silently freaked out in one corner, Silas didn’t bat an eye at his visitor.
“Hi there. How can I help you?” Silas said.
And so, another day as the local ghost whisperer began.
With amazing patience, Silas listened as the man spilled his life story and gushed about the love of his life, which only made him feel even worse that he’d died and left his love alone. Zoey watched the spirit from her corner of the ceiling. As annoying as he was being, was that the kind of reaction she should have to dying?
Her mind helpfully reminded her of Silas’sister, who had, by the looks of it, been dead for around a decade but had no problems hanging around to be her brother’s new eyes.
Huh. Maybe she was haunting the wrong family.
Unlike her, Silas was a pro, so despite the fact that the blue-haired spirit was terrible at providing information, Silas eventually cobble together enough pieces to figure out that he lived twenty minutes away, and the reason he couldn’t move on had something to do with the love of his life. That wasn’t the whole story, but it was good enough. They hopped into Silas’ car and drove over to the house the spirit’s love stayed in.
Only to find out the love was completely one-sided.
And that was the story of how Silas the ghost whisperer became Silas the ghost counsellor… for the next two hours. Even if Silas were to lose his ability to talk with the dead, he had a very bright future in community care. She would recommend him to her friends, if she was still alive. Better stop that thought there before things got depressing.
After more talking and more prodding, they found a better candidate for the reason the spirit couldn’t move on – his sister. Not sure exactly how, since the spirit wasn’t very coherent, but digging up the full story could take another day. Silas was patient, but not that patient. Anyway, the other spirits had noticed Silas, and they had already started a line to wait for their turn.
Following the spirit’s instructions, they dug out a box from the corner of someone’s house. Fortunately, one of the spirits lining up had a message she wanted to deliver to the occupant, so they helped her with her unfinished business and got permission at the same time. Now armed with the battered box, they headed for the sister’s house.
Unlike her scatterbrained brother, the sister was more down to earth and cautious. She didn’t just accept the box without question. Instead, she grilled Silas with all kinds of questions aimed to figure out if Silas was trying to scam her. So the siblings weren’t that different after all, they just took up people’s time in different ways. Finally, the sister accepted the box, and the blue-haired spirit sighed his thanks as he faded into the afterlife.
But they weren’t done yet.
Silas presented the sister with his card, containing his contact details and a list of jobs he could do for her. He wouldn’t charge her on behalf of her dead brother, who had approached him for help, but he would appreciate it if she remembered him if she needed any odd jobs done.
The sister’s eyes narrowed, but she accepted the card without asking another twenty questions. Which was good, because once they left the compound, Silas had another dozen or so ‘jobs’ to deal with. Silas did what he could, but he drew the line at staying overnight to help people with their unfinished business. For these unfortunate spirits, he would return next time.
“How long have you been doing this?” Zoey asked as Silas drove back home.
“‘This’ as in talking to spirits or helping them move on?”
Silas tapped his fingers against the steering wheel. “I started seeing them around the time I started secondary school, but I only really started helping them in uni.”
“Because of the ‘accident’?”
Silas sent a side glance at her. “Curiosity killed the cat.”
“I’m already dead.”
“I can guess why.”
“You’re not going to distract me so easily.”
“Do you think you got killed by the mafia because you got nosy?”
“Don’t be silly. They don’t exist.”
Silas choked back a sound.
“Just kidding,” Zoey said, “Now, back to the accident.”
“Well, it’s not much of a secret. From what I heard, pretty much half the country knew about it when it happened. My family was on the way to Genting, and you know how you need to drive up these really long, windy roads to go up to the top where the amusement park is?”
“We were on the way up when a speeding driver lost control and crashed into our car and knocked it off the road. Going clockwise from how we were sitting that day, my mum in the front seat got a pretty bad concussion and a fractured arm. My dad fractured his left leg and almost broke his neck. My sister did break her neck and died. My brother went blind. And I was in a coma for a year. Even now, I can’t move my left hand very well, and I can’t move my little finger at all.” Silas lifted his left hand and wiggled his fingers.
“Yeah. We all started seeing spirits after that. Except my parents. They can only hear spirits. Which is fair. They weren’t as badly injured as us.”
“What happened to the other driver?”
“He survived the crash, but he died around the time I started uni because he smashed his car into the road divider.”
“Oh. I might have heard about that one. Jonah?”
“Johan. Close enough. So, that’s my story. What’s yours?”
“I can’t remember how I died.”
“That’s fine. You can talk about when you were alive.”
“There’s nothing much to talk about.” She folded her arms and tried not to phase through the car seat as she leaned back. “My life’s pretty normal. In fact, dying is probably the most unusual thing that’s happened to me since forever.”
“Sure you can’t remember your ‘unexpected death’?”
“What about your unfinished business? Anything you want to give to someone? Maybe you borrowed something and you didn’t get to return it?”
If Silas was disappointed, his face didn’t show it.
“Just keep trying. We’ll figure it out eventually.”
Last week, she drowned.
She spent the first few days of her afterlife cycling through the whole spectrum of negative emotions. Shock, grief, despair, fear, the works. But that was old news. Now, she’d settled into the one emotion she hadn’t expected to feel after death.
She could go anywhere, watch anyone, but couldn’t actually do a single thing. Her hands phased through everything, her voice reached no ears. She could talk to the flowerpot or the old man’s hat and no one would… That guy just looked at her.
The moment their gaze met, he casually looked away, but she knew better. Someone could actually see her.
Time to be a stalker.
She followed him into a small café nearby. He whispered something to the cashier, then walked through the ‘staff only’ door into a small room. She slipped in as he closed the door. Only then did he address her.
“Hi there. How can I help you?” he asked.
“I… don’t need help? I’m just bored.” She looked down at her feet. Definitely not touching the ground. “You’re not freaking out?”
A wry smile curled his lips. “You must be new. In that case, let’s start over. Hi, I’m Silas. You are?”
“Hello, Zoey. Do you know what happened to you?”
“You mean, how I died?”
Silas nodded. “My condolences. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Bring me back to life?”
“I can talk to the dead, not create miracles.”
She shrugged. “Ah well. I tried.”
Despite Silas’ best efforts, she really couldn’t think of anything keeping her tied to the world. She had no unfinished business, no obsessions, no unobtainable love… Her life was pretty uneventful. Not that different from her current situation.
“Sounds like you’re one of those ‘dead before they died’ types. Been awhile since the last one,” Silas said.
There were more people like her? “What happened to the ‘last one’?”
“He just faded away one day. Maybe that will happen to you, maybe it won’t, either way, we’ll just do what we can and hope for the best. If you think of anything, let me know,” Silas said and left the room.
Haunting a person was a lot more interesting than haunting a lake, so she followed him home. Silas didn’t seem to care that she’d decided to stick to him, but before he stepped into his house, he laid down some ground rules.
“I live with my family. My parents can hear but not see spirits, my brother is blind, and my sister is dead. If you are in the same room with anyone else, tell them you’re there. If you can’t do that, you can’t come in.”
After throwing that info bomb, Silas folded his arms and waited.
“Your family sounds interesting,” she couldn’t resist the comment.
“We had an accident. So? Yes? No? Don’t think that I can’t lock you out because you’re dead.”
She shrugged. “I don’t mind.”
“Well then.” Silas opened the door and walked in. “I’m home.”
After taking off his shoes, Silas headed for the combined living/dining area, where his mother was reading a book at the table.
“Hi mum. I have a guest.”
Silas’ mother looked up from her book.
“This is Zoey.” Silas gestured towards her.
“Hello, Zoey,” his mother said as she looked in Zoey’s general direction.
“Hello, Zoey!” a new voice greeted and someone tackled her from behind. Caught off guard, Zoey and whoever it was behind her tumbled through the sofa and crash landed halfway through the TV cabinet.
This must be the dead sister.
“Hello,” a third voice greeted as Silas’ sister helped Zoey to her feet. A fourth hello followed soon after from Silas’ father.
And now, there was an even split of people who could see her and people who couldn’t. The parents, following their kids’ gaze had their gaze on the TV, while the sons met her gaze dead on, even Silas’ supposedly blind brother.
“Hello,” Zoey finally gave her belated greeting.
At the sound of her voice, the parents shifted to almost meet her gaze. The usual pleasantries continued, as if she was just another guest instead of a dead spirit hanging around their son.
And that was how she met Silas’ family.
If Silas thought introducing her to the family would somehow help her move on, it had horribly backfired, because now she was super curious. That was some kind of ‘accident’ to make the whole family consider a visit from beyond the grave just another normal day.