The rain splattered against the dryness of the gravestones, filling its pores up with water.
I floated across the graveyard, searching for a specific someone, and a shriek burst through the mist. It was another one of the newbies; they were just getting admitted in. I looked down at my translucent wrist where a mostly silver outline of a skull gleamed back: the Mark. You got branded with it the moment you entered the Land of the Ghosts, to make sure you stayed within the boundaries. There was a magical fence around the Land; whoever was branded couldn’t go outside of them, because it electrocuted you, as well as a ghost could be electrocuted and alerted the Head.
Nothing ever gets past the Head.
After there’s no more space for you in the Land of the Ghosts, your Mark will turn slowly gold, letting you know you’ll be departing soon. Everyone eventually goes to the Land of Nothing, but no one has ever come back from it.
My Mark was turning gold.
You weren’t ever supposed to tell someone that you were leaving because it would “mess up the cycle”, as the Head said, but I didn’t have any other choice, I just couldn’t handle it. Ghosts were meant to be forgotten, but I wanted someone to remember me, even if it’s just a tiny little bit, I didn’t want to be fully forgotten.
Going against lots of rules there, but rules were made for breaking anyway.
I floated across the graveyard to a whomping willow, one that I and my friends used to call Willa, back when my wrist still hurt from my branding. We used to play with its branches, fly up to the top and see the view, observing the new ghosts that screamed each day as they came in. I used to have such fun with them, before they left to the Land of Nothing, before they were taken away from me.
I missed Aspen the most, the way her eyes would sparkle like gooey honey and melt all over whoever she looked at. Her long dark hair would feel like light silk, draping over her shoulders. Her pet bunny, Eve, would follow her everywhere and Aspen didn’t mind at all. I still did miss my other friends, Brooks and Niven, but something about Aspen made me miss her even more.
I laughed lightly, remembering our last conversation together.
“Wynter! Come over here, I need to ask you something.”
I had gone over to her sitting place at the bottom of Willa, where not too far away Brooks and Niven were arguing about something or other. “What’s the question?”
She looked at me with her honey eyes and said, “They’re arguing about who’s better at climbing trees.”
“We’re ghosts, we can’t climb trees!”
“Exactly, but that aside, when I’m gone, please take care of them for me, will you? They’re not much different than my cousin’s toddler, he’s such a nuisance,” she said with a grin.
“Okay, but what do you mean, ‘when you’re gone’?”
Aspen lifted up her wrist to show me her bright gold branding, and then we shared a sober look.
“Promise me, Wynter.”
I nodded slowly and said, “I promise.”
I didn’t get to keep my promise, because Aspen, Brooks and Niven were all gone the next day, taken to the Land of Nothing. I shouldn’t have felt guilty, because there was no one to take care of, but I still did.
I floated over to the other side of the graveyard, near my brother’s grave, where he was talking with his friends.
Blocking out what they were saying, I tapped him on the shoulder and he looked down at me with concern.
“What do you need?” he asked.
“Come over here, I need to tell you something,” I said, gesturing away from his friends. He put a finger up, signalling for them to pause, then followed me and asked me again, “What’s wrong?”
“I...branding...colour...let me just show you.”
I raised my wrist up to show the half gold branding on my wrist, but then an announcement shouted,” Jasper Nokal, come to the Head immediately!”
“Sorry bro, gotta go! Hey, that rhymed!” Jasper yelled as he floated quickly towards the Entrance.
I sighed and watched him float into the distance, turning into a tiny little dot on the horizon. Walking away from his friends, I walked over to the part of the fence that was nearby and gazed through the barbed wire. It was dark, darker than the graveyard, and the mist was full there and the trees of shapes were very faint, like when you woke up from bed and forgot your dream. The rain pattered loudly on top of the leaves and maybe, just a hint, I could’ve seen something resembling a tower, one with yellow rectangles on it. Or maybe it was just my imagination.
I jumped back, startled, but realized it was just a whisper note. You could leave
them around the graveyard and record a message to someone, and when that person hovered over the spot where you left it, they would hear it. They lasted forever; even if you were taken to the Land of Nothing, they stayed there.
“I hope you’re doing okay, but I need to tell you something. Again.”
It was Aspen.
“I’m a bit scared. To leave. I know we’re not supposed to tell someone that we’re going but I already have and- you’ve probably already forgotten me.”
I heard a quiet sniffle in the background.
“Nevermind. Go to the garden; there’s another one there.”
The recording stopped, and the whisper note faded away into the mist.
I floated off to the garden on the west side of the graveyard, Aspen’s favourite place to go when she wasn’t dealing with Brooks and Niven. So many flowers were there: gardenias, pansies, lilies, begonias, forget-me-nots...they were all there, and even if they were wilted and getting soaked in the rain, they still brought hope.
I thought back to Aspen’s note and realized that I hadn’t forgotten her. Or Brooks. Or Niven.
Something must be wrong if I’m remembering people that have already left.
Hovering over the wilted and depressed-looking garden, I wondered where the next note could be. Aspen’s favourite colour was orange, and the begonias were a bright tangerine, just like her mood. I started heading towards them went I went through someone.
“Oh hello Wynter! How are you?”
It was my aunt. Great.
“I’m doing good.” About to be taken to the Land of Nothing, is searching for notes from my taken friend...that’s good.
“That’s wonderful! Isn’t the rain today terrific?”
“The begonias were starting to die, but this rain will save them, if a streak of luck comes by.”
I better tell her, because one is better than none.
“Um, there’s something I want to tell you,” I said hesitantly.
“And what is that?”
“My branding’s a bit…”
“Sore? Itchy? Red?”
“So then get on with it! The salves won’t make themselves.”
“Uh…” I just started to raise my wrist up to show her when my uncle (great timing) for her to come inside and help with finding Ginger, their cat.
“Oh sorry, I have to go help your uncle, but be sure to let me know if your branding is feeling a bit off!” she said and floated inside, leaving me in the rain-soaked garden.
I sighed again, exasperated, and went to the begonias. They were almost dead, mostly grey and black, but you could the rain starting to bring out some of the orange pigment back.
I just nodded.
“So...you got my first note, and you somehow knew I liked the begonias. Did you remember my favourite colour? If you did…”
There was a short pause, silence, but the good kind, as if she was taking time to smile.
“Anyway, thank you for remembering. I was going to say that I think the Land of Nothing will be horrific, opposite of what everyone says, I know, but I’m scared. Very scared. And- I’ll leave this for last, go to Willa for the last one.”
Her voice caught on the name ‘Willa’, but then the note ended and I went to find the last one.
The rain was hard now, and loud, slapping hard on Willa’s branches and leaves. It echoed into the graveyard, so even the people at the Entrance could probably hear. Willa was right beside our graves; we used to live right next to each other, four gravestones in a row. Me, Aspen, Brooks, Niven. It was like that always, before they were gone.
I just sat down at Willa’s base, where our last conversation had taken place.
“Hi. Again. I’ll just get on with it now; could you, um, come with us? I don’t know how you would, but you’re smart so you can figure it out. Please? I’m super scared, so are Brooks and Niven. We miss you. Do you miss us too? This sounds super weird, but we’ll see you, hopefully, when you come. Arrivederci!”
I just stared at Willa’s roots, thinking. She thought I would’ve found these notes earlier; just after they’d left. But I didn’t. It’s been so long since I’ve talked with them, laughed with them, played with them...she’d said ‘see you soon’ in Italian at the end.
She had believed I would’ve found them sooner.
That was the promise. The one I didn’t keep.
Tears and rain mixed together and splattered onto the ground with solemnity.
Standing up, I decided that I was to do one more thing before I left. To carry on what Aspen started.
I drifted back to my brother’s grave and dropped a whisper note saying, “Hi Jasper...it’s Wynter. You’ll find this after I’m gone, but even so, please remember me. You probably forgot, but if you did, thank you, and when you leave, do the same. Carry it on.”
The next day, I appeared in a white space. I couldn’t describe anything to you because it was blindingly white and shiny and reflective. I could describe one thing though: I saw 3 bodies walking through the whiteness, one female one and two male ones. One of them looked at me and I ran to them immediately, recognizing who it was.
“Wynter? Is that you?”
We hugged each other, and I hugged Brooks and Niven too, and they tried to explain.
“Why is it all white?” I asked.
“It’s not,” Aspen said,” It looks like that when you come, but it really is paradise.”
“Yes, lots of PB&J sandwiches,” said Brooks.
“And jam,” said Niven.
“Jam is inside PB&J,” said Brooks.
“No, it’s not.”
“Yes, it is.”
Turning away from the newly sprouted argument, Aspen said to me, "I need to tell you something.”
“You’ve said that so many times that I’m tired, just say it!”
Then she kissed me, and at that moment, I thought I remembered someone back where I had come from, someone important, but perhaps it was just a lost memory.