Haela poured in silky brown coffee into a blue mug, the thin liquid swishing around in the cup.
I watched as she set the coffee maker down, picked up the mug and walked toward the front door. She tilted the cup against her lips while looking around her house for her belongings.
Haela placed the mug on a coffee table and walked towards the coat hooks. She picked a pale yellow one, like the feathers of a baby chick, and slipped it on along with her purse. She picked up her mug again and slid her slim feet into little shiny black flats that reminded me of my cat, Jungle.
She opened the door and shut it with a thump, but I just slipped right through.
How?, you might ask?
I was a ghost, and not just a normal one at that. I was the person who got hit by the car 5 years ago, the one whose face was on all the holograms and news channels. Some say they saw my limp body on the top of one of the many flying cars near downtown, saying that they were the ones who had reported it, but I knew that they weren’t there.
The only person that had been there was Haela, and by the time she had glimpsed me before the crash, she already knew what was going to happen.
I was walking through downtown, just like any other person would do. The sky was a deep purple with little orange clouds floating through it with the moon and sun both in the sky, creating a moment of tranquillity. Cars flew around, creating a little hum through the air, signalling the business of the city. I waited for the crosswalk to turn a neon green so I wouldn’t be crushed by a car. I rushed across and once I got to the other side, I checked my smartwatch.
Already? I decided that flying would be a better option, because it was way too late, as my mother said for University I was supposed to go to sleep at 8 pm, but I usually just read until 9 or 10.
We didn’t have wings, as humans didn’t have, but we had a little “jetpack” that we could control and take us anywhere with. I pulled it out of my backpack, the unusually light contraption staring back at me with its countless numbers of buttons. I strapped it on my back, backed up and pressed the little green button on the side, and took off.
I soared through the violet sky, along with other people and cars, the shiny metal sidewalks twisting and turning in intricate patterns. I breathed in some fresh air and smelled some lemongrass, the scent that the city used to clean everything because it had calming and health benefits.
It sure did calm me, a bit too much if I do say so myself.
A pink car slammed into me, the wheels rimmed with neon orange. The front hood slammed into my ribs hard, and I lifted up my head to see who the driver was.
A girl with light brown hair and hazel eyes stared back at me, her soft face curving into worry as she realized who she had crashed into. I heard a faraway voice call “No! Alec stay! NO!”
All went black.
I flowed through the door and followed Haela into the same pink car that had cut my life short. She put her hands on the wheel and I felt her breathing quicken and I followed her gaze to a photo near the steering wheel.
A photo 5 years ago, placed on my birthday in the middle of June, us squirting water from water guns at each other and our smiles and happiness frozen into the picture.
Haela looked at it for a while, her gaze never swaying from my bright eyes that rarely appeared, only in times when I really felt happy.
She took a deep breath and pressed on the gas pedal, making me lurch forward and almost vomit up the things I had seen at the garbage disposal.
Once we had arrived at the big glass building that was Haela’s workplace, she got out of the car and started vacuuming.
Inside the car.
She got one of those handheld vacuums and just zoomed away, sucking any dirt or dust that wasn’t supposed to be there.
Which included me.
The air sucked me in rapidly, the little nozzle looking a little too much like a hungry Mata-mata turtle, the lips closing around me and trapping me inside with the dirt and grime.
Haela shook the vacuum, along with me and the dust inside of it. I ricocheted against the tiny walls, inhaling unhealthy particles into my nose.
She brushed it off, locked the car and took the vacuum with her inside the building.
I couldn’t describe anything very well because my vision was tinted grey, thanks to Haela’s mini vacuum who was holding me hostage at the moment. It was pretty boring: cubicles, people bent over unnaturally in their chairs, and bright lights blaring back at them from computers. Haela’s fingers covered my vision a bit too, but I could see her walking into a special room with about 5 computers, each full of code.
Haela opened the nozzle of the vacuum and dumped its contents, which included me, into a nearby trash bin.
“I never knew why you do that. What’s wrong with a little dust here and there?”
I tumbled into the bin, mixing with things like banana skins and foul yogurt.
“A clean car is essential, you could get sick!” Haela responded to her maybe-boss.
“You say that for everything,” responded her boss. “So, how are you doing with the game?”
“Well, I’m almost done.”
“What is it about?”
“I was thinking about Alec’s crash, so I made something about that.”
Her boss’s face darkened, but then he asked, “So how do you play it?”
“At the start, it shows an animation of a car crash, and then you’re a ghost and you have to pass all 10 levels of the Underworld to get to the boss battle.”
Her boss nodded with his eyebrows raised. “A unique idea! The market will love it! Great job, try and finish it as soon as possible, it sounds great!”
Haela beamed and her boss strutted out of the room with some newfound confidence.
Once he had left, she sat down in front of the computer with little graphics and at the top it read ‘ʀᴀᴄᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇ ᴜɴᴅᴇʀᴡᴏʀʟᴅ’
She rolled the start of the game, the pixels so small there were as traceable as dust mites.
It was the car crash, but animated, the colours and shading close to perfect, so much that it could be Virtual Reality.
At the scene where I slumped over the pink car, Haela buried her face in her hands.
“Why did I do that? Alec . . . why?”
I whispered, “It wasn’t your fault.”
She jumped up in her chair and swivelled around in all directions, her eyes opened wide.
“Alec, are you here?”
“Yep, I am sure am.”
Haela looked around again in fear.
“Are you here to get revenge on me?”
“Why would I do that?”
Haela tried to shrug casually but failed. “I thought you would hate me from the crash. . .”
“Nope. I’ve been following you ever since, by the way.”
“What? Wait, have you seen me in the shower?!”
I laughed. “Nope. I’m not THAT cruel.”
Haela giggled a little, but her nervousness peeked through. “So um, why are you here?”
“Well, I don’t know. I have nothing to do so I just follow you.”
“Okay, I guess. Did you see the scene at the start of the game or were you somewhere else?”
“I saw. Can I tell you something?”
“You trapped me in your little vacuum. It’s not that pleasant to be trapped in a little machine that has millions of dust particles inside of it.”
“Oopsies, sorry ‘bout that.”
We sat in silence while Heala fiddled with her fingers and I glanced back at the computer.
“So, what is the game for?”
“I’ve not been doing well at work, I almost got laid off last week. My boss said I had to make the best game ever or else I would be let go.”
Haela sat down in front of the computer and pulled up the code behind the game. It went forever and ever, and it was very complicated. I could say that because I used to be that one person that programmed the cars to not ram into each other, the one person who would always get chocolate at the announcement of the new cars.
Chocolate . . .
I strayed off-topic, sorry.
I examined the nape of Haela’s neck and noticed something out of the usual.
A little screw poked out from beneath her shoulder-length hair, the metal shining in the bright artificial lights.
“Haela, what is that thing under your hair?”
Haela just brushed her hair with her fingers as casually as she could to hide the screw, and said, “What? What thing?”
I pointed towards the screw’s location, even if she couldn’t see me and said, “You don’t know that it’s there? It looks like a screw. Wouldn’t it hurt?”
“A screw? Why there be a screw in my neck?” Haela asked and laughed nervously, clearly aware of the screw in her neck.
“Haela. Answer the question.”
Once I said that, Haela crumpled onto the floor and started crying, little rivers of salty water running down her pale face.
She was sobbing, her mascara running down her face too, and then she whispered, “I’m not human. Alec, I’m not human.”
“What do you mean? You might be a little different but-”
“No, Alec, I’m not human. I’ll show you. Then you can’t argue.”
Haela stood up shakily and somehow looked me straight in the eye and started ripping her skin.
Her fingers crawled underneath her skin and peeled it off like a banana sticker. It made a hissing sound and exposed metal, bolts and screws underneath. She ripped it all off and piled her skin in a bundle next to her chair and looked at me.
“See Alec? I’m not human. They said I was as cruel as them, but I’ll never be.”
Haela, the now-robot crossed her legs on the ground and resumed crying, but quieter this time.
“Were you a robot all along or-”
“Let me explain,” said Haela, getting up and sitting on her chair.
“So. My planet’s name is Xotl23, and I was so happy. I had friends and parents and sisters and brothers, everything was the best. But then-” She broke into sobs.
Haela swallowed and said, “The-the humans. The came to my planet and- and-”
“They killed my father.”
“. . .”
“The Council blamed ME for his death and they banished me. Guess where they banished me, Alec, GUESS WHERE THEY BANISHED ME.”
“Let me guess . . . Earth.”
“Yes. They had to send me to the planet whose inhabitants killed my father.”
I looked down at my non-existent feet.
“Why? WHY? I tried to fit in but it was so hard, trying to fit in with- them. When I crashed into you, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I filed a complaint. To throw me out into space. I just can’t TAKE it here any longer.”
“Alec, there are no buts. I’m leaving today. I finished the game. All my jobs here are done.”
“Can I come with you?”
“Can I come with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“To . . . Xotl23.”
“But you can’t! You’re a human, they’ll recognize-”
“I’m a ghost.”
“Fine. There won’t be space for you because-”
“I’m a ghost, Haela.”
She smiled and I did too.
Haela sighed and said, “Fine. You’re coming with me.”
I silently pumped my fist while Haela put on her human skin again.
“What does it look like?”
“You’ll see it when we get there.”
“Why is it called ‘Xotl23’?”
“I don’t know but I learned it in school somewhere.”
“All your questions will be answered when we get there, okay?” said Haela as we walked up to the spaceship.
The spaceship was magnificent, to say the least.
It looked like a bus, like the ones in London with the two decks and the bright red walls. Instead of red, it was painted a dark blue with little specks of gold here and there, enough to blend in with the galaxy but unique enough so that they could find it again. Wings unfolded from the sides, like an airplane’s, except they were much more elegant and swift, like the wings of an eagle. There were normally many people swarming each bus to visit their relatives on different planets, but today it was just Haela and I.
I followed Haela up to the stairs where a ticket man was waiting.
“Hello. Are you by yourself today?” he asked.
“Uh,” said Haela. “We’re the only ones here so . . . yeah.”
“Um, I meant me. Not we. Me.”
The ticket man just shrugged and Haela handed him her ticket.
“Have a great flight!”
Haela nodded to him and led me inside the bus.
It looked like a space limousine.
Long couches were cushioned with black leather and trimmed with gold. There was a kitchen made of marble, bean bag chairs everywhere, and one other room that, from what I could see, had a flat-screen TV inside.
“O-m-g,” said Haela, dumping her stuff on the ground and running into the pile of beanbag chairs in front of the kitchen. “This is the best.”
I ran straight to the kitchen. “I know, right?”
“Wanna watch a movie?” Haela asked.
“Yes! Which one?” I asked while trying to get out popcorn kernels.
“What about It Chapter 2?”
“I’ve already watched that.”
“Oh right, me too. What about . . . ‘The Conjuring’?”
I nodded vigorously.
“Um, Alec, I can’t see you.”
“Right. I wanna watch that!”
Haela grinned and started pressing buttons on the remote control as I tried to yank the bag of popcorn out of the cupboard.
“Um, Haela, I can’t get the popcorn.”
She got up quickly and ran over to me, saying, “Of course you can’t! You’re a ghost.”
She pulled it out easily and poured it into a bowl, the plopping sound filling the room. Then she clipped the top with a paperclip, placed the bowl in the microwave, pressed a few buttons and started it up.
“So . . . what’s it like being a ghost?”
“Well, I can’t make popcorn by myself so that’s fun.”
Haela laughed along with me until the beep of the microwave interrupted us.
She opened the door and took the brown paper bag out of the bowl, the newly popped popcorn steaming in her face.
I stared at her, my friend who was actually a robot, being friends with me, a person who she accidentally killed 5 years ago.
Life is interesting. Or death, technically, if you think about it.
“Are you gonna come?” Haela called from the movie room.
I ran, or rather glided, next to her and sat down while she figured out where on HBO Max was the movie we were looking for.
She found the right one and we got comfy, organizing the placement of the popcorn bucket while the start credits were rolling.
“Do you like horror movies, Alec?” Haela asked me.
“I like them too.”
I smiled and I opened my mouth to say something, but then the movie began