“We’re all of us haunted and haunting.”
~ Chuck Palahniuk
When a normal person says that they believe in ghosts, people think they’re crazy. Anyone who believes in something that you can’t physically see has to be crazy, right?
Some people can’t see the color red, does that mean it doesn’t exist?
Most people can’t see ghosts, but does that mean they don’t exist?
You see, I have no choice but to believe in ghosts. I see them every day.
My name is Raven Zheng, and I can see and talk to the dead.
Now, don’t go all defensive on me. I’m not some lunatic who will claim to talk to your dead aunt for money. What I am is real, and I’m not going to pawn you for your savings.
I first discovered this strange ability when I was little. Everyone’s imaginary friends were disappearing, except for mine.
My parents thought I was crazy when I was a kid because of this, or at least they thought I had some sort of disorder (they couldn’t use the word crazy in front of me because it sounded too harsh). They eventually took me to a psychologist, but I learned early on what to say to seem sane. To seem like everyone else. I learned how to keep my mouth shut about the strange things I was able to see. I learned that I wasn’t normal.
The only one who ever believed me was my insane Grandma Pearl, which didn’t help my cause very much. She could see the spirits too, which might have been why everyone thought she was insane. But Grandma Pearl didn’t care about what others thought of her, well, at least until the day she died.
When I tried to tell my mom that my grandmother wasn’t really dead, just standing to the right of her coffin, it was the last time I tried to say the truth.
But my grandma did help me figure out how to control what I saw. She taught me how to tell the difference between the dead and the living, and how to help them move on. The ghosts were only stuck here because they had unfinished business to attend to, which we could help them with.
Sometimes someone had a few unfinished words they never got to say to someone they loved before the inevitable, and I was there to pass them on.
I tried to help out these lost spirits in the shadows. I didn’t need word getting around about what I could do. In most places I’ve lived, I was a loner. The ability to see ghosts would just make me seem even lower on that social scale. I’d be right down there with the kids who believed in fairies and dragons. Because of this, I developed a special rule, no talking to spirits during school.
Of course, I couldn’t abide by my rules all of the time. I would occasionally have to sneak into a closet or go outside and pretend I was on the phone. It still didn’t stop the rumors though.
It was why I liked the summer the best. I didn’t have to talk to people unless it was necessary and I could hide in my room all day and talk it through with ghosts on my own time. My dad wasn’t around too often, so I never had to worry about him. I doubt he would notice his daughter talking to herself even if he did walk in on me talking to a spirit. He was always on his phone, or in a conference call. His consulting firm job made him too busy to give his daughter the time of day.
My mom disappeared when I was ten, so my dad was all I had left. Her case was still open because it wasn’t believed that she ran out on us or anything, though she was presumed dead. Trust me, I’ve tried to communicate with her too many times to see if it was the truth. I still held out hope that she was alive because I’d never seen her ghost. But, as I have to tell myself so many times, she could’ve just gone through the light without being held back. Without regrets.
You see, most ghosts aren’t stuck between this world and the next. They die and go straight through the light to whatever lies next. They don’t have any huge regrets or grievances and can move on. I don’t exactly know what they do after passing through the light. I can’t see it, and there’s not really any way for me to know without dying myself. From what I’ve heard right before they go in, they’re greeted by loved ones.
I don’t exactly know if I believed in a heaven or hell, but I did know that there was somewhere that they went after this.
But, because of my mom’s apparent death, my dad worked himself into a frenzy. He was already a hard worker, but this was the push he needed to go overboard into the black hole. We moved every half year or so, every time he got a promotion. We always got a big house, bigger than we needed, and always in too nice of a neighborhood. I think he thought he was making it up to me somehow for not being here all the time. Like maybe a big house could fill the empty void in my heart where my father should be.
But, it was still all okay. I mean – I had no reason to complain. I had a father still, a luxury some kids didn’t have. I had a comfortable life, no need to worry about food or money. I had a good education despite the moves, my grades were always in the upper nineties as well. (I guess the stereotype about kids raised with strict Asian parents were true after all.)
I had too much, but also too little. I had a father, but because of his hard work to make sure I never needed anything, he couldn’t provide me the one thing I needed the most, him. I had a comfortable life, but no real friends or relatives left to call my own because of how recluse I was forced to become. I had a good education, but no real life experience that I could take from it.
I couldn’t complain about my lifestyle, but sometimes I wish I could.
I jumped, despite years of this type of greeting. Usually I was prepared for things like this, but my mind was wandering and I was caught off guard. It was too late, though, they knew.
“You can see me?”
I sighed and put on a smile to face the ghost in my room. “Yeah.”
They were young, in clothes a little outdated for the times. If I had to guess, I’d say that they were from the 80s or 90s. I let out a breath in relief, I wouldn’t be talking to parents if the kid was dead that long ago. Especially since he didn’t seem to have died of a violent nature.
He grinned and ran at me for a hug, but before I could stop him, he ran right through me.
You know that ice cold shiver you get up your spine occasionally? The one with no explanation that shakes your whole body? Yeah, ghosts can do that to you. Whenever they tried to touch your skin, they passed right through you and you felt their presence for a while. I once tried to ask a ghost if it was cold where they were, but they said that they felt nothing. Of course with no body they couldn’t feel anything. You had to have a body with senses to feel temperature.
His smile fell and he looked up at me. “Why does that keep happening? No one will talk to me and they act like they can’t see me.”
It always broke my heart to see the ones who’ve been alone for a long time with no way to know that they’re dead. The young ones usually can’t comprehend it, and the older ones try and bargain with me once they know I can see them. Apparently they think since I can see them that I can change their fates somehow.
I leaned down so that I was eyelevel with the boy. “Well, it’s because they can’t see or hear you. Luckily, I can.”
His smile came back at that. “Does that mean you know how to get me home to Mommy?”
I hesitated. A runaway who got lost from home.
“After the car stopped in the snow, she wouldn’t wake up. People came and I got scared and ran away, but I got lost. Mommy’s probably really mad at me by now. She always told me not to stray too far from home.”
I let out another breath. Okay, so he wasn’t a runaway. And he probably had someone waiting on the other side for him.
“Is there a light anywhere near you? Something bright and shiny?”
He looked around and then his smile brightened. “Yeah! It’s been following me around for a while now. It’s so bright that I can barely look into it.”
I grinned. The poor kid was afraid of the light.
There was a knock on my open door suddenly. Grace, my nanny, was there. “Oh, honey, you’re in the middle of talking to one of them, aren’t you?”
The boy looked up at her. “Who is she?”
“My friend.” I gave her a look and turned back to the boy. “We both think you should go in to that light. Your mommy and many others are waiting on the other side.”
He tilted his head and then looked intently in the direction of what I assumed was the light. “Oh! There she is!”
I nodded. “It’s okay to go in there now. You’ll see.”
He jumped, excited, and then ran towards the light. He disappeared without a second glance. I hoped he made it to his mom.
“The light is a nice place, honey.” Grace assured, looking at the wall.
I laughed lightly. “Grace, you’re about two feet too far to the right, plus, the boy is gone.”
She sighed. “Well, I tried, didn’t I?”
Grace was the only person who knew about my secret. Dad hired her to take care of me when he was gone. She was like my second mother. I knew that I could trust her with my secret. The hyperactive blonde was the closest thing to a sister I’d ever had.
“Yes, you tried very hard. I’m sure that if he was still here, your words would’ve inspired him to move on.” I replied.
She huffed. “Now, Raven, don’t go kidding me. I’m trying, but I’m no you. I don’t know how you go on doing it, talking to all those dead people all day. I can barely go one dealing with regular old people.”
I offered up a grin. “Yeah, but I’m used to it by now.”
I couldn’t remember a day where I haven’t seen some ghost or spirit waltzing around. Even during long car rides you could glimpse one waiting by the side of the road or wandering aimlessly through the street. Sometimes the ones who’ve been here for a long time lose hope and stop trying to get peoples’ attention. Most have never met someone like me who can actually see and hear them.
Ghosts usually appear to me in the condition they were in when they died. If anything happened to their body afterwards, like cremation or whatnot, it didn’t affect how they appeared to me. But, that was still a particularly gruesome thing when I met people who died horrible deaths, like victims of really bad car crashes, or people who had died in a fire. Usually when they were about to go into the light, or when they finally saw the light, they would turn into a more peaceful version of themselves. How they looked before death.
When I was little, seeing victims of horrible things was not the best psychologically. When your daughter sees demons that no one else can see, it’s time to call in the therapist.
“Used to it or not, you’re still doing a very good job.” Grace commented. “But, even hard workers like you need your energy. I’m cooking some fried chicken tonight, do you want to help?”
I smiled. Grace believed in the philosophy that if you could cook it yourself, you might as well do it instead of going out to some fast food restaurant. Plus, her food was to die for. She said it had something to do with growing up in a house of ever hungry boys.
“Do I ever?” I paused, “But first I have to finish unpacking. I can’t go to sleep without everything in its place.”
Grace smiled softly and nodded. “I’ll be downstairs when you’re ready. I’ll get it started for you.”
When she left, I stared at the boxes I had been giving the death glare before the ghost boy popped up. I only had one box left, I had finished the others hours ago, but I was reluctant to unpack this one.
You see, at every house we moved to it was like this. I never wanted to unpack the last box, because I knew it was never permanent. Usually unpacking every box made your stay permanent, but I knew better. We’d be gone in a little under a year. Of course, dad had promised we wouldn’t move again until I finished senior year in this town, but with him you could never be certain. If he got another promotion, there was no way he’d refuse.
I sighed and got up from my bed. I might as well do the inevitable.
The box was full of my winter clothes, things I wouldn’t need in the summer. I looked from it to my closet. Was there really a point in hanging these clothes up if I wasn’t going to wear them for months? They would only take up space.
I bit my lip and made a quick decision. I slid the box in to the closet, stuck in the corner. That way you could technically claim I put everything where it needed to go.
I stood up and looked out the window at the sunny sky. Maybe, for once, this town would be different. Maybe I could have a summer to live for without any huge ghostly incidents.