Friends

Submitted into Contest #221 in response to: Write a story from a ghost’s point of view.... view prompt

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Fiction Friendship Kids

Although it may seem evident, I feel I must inform you, my reader, that my death was a particularly vexing time of my short life. I had always been a poorly child so it surprised none of my family or acquaintances that I should go to an early grave. It was an additional source of consternation to myself that my transition to the afterlife was not satisfactorily completed to my expectations.

I was in life, despite the difficulties of my health, a successful woman. I feel pride in this and believe I may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us. It was then, a cruel inconvenience that I should be taken so early from this world

I never married. Men had little interest in me. My sister was undoubtedly the more attractive, there can be no two opinions on that. She was a fine woman, in good health and with an air of decided fashion. I hold no regrets concerning my status. I have always held that happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. On the contrary, my studies were my constant and kind companion and provided much happiness. I am a Herpetologist. I believe myself to hold a good standing within my profession.

I was set on the early steps of my career by the kindness of Dr Boulenger of the British Museum and quickly rose to the position of curator of reptiles and fish. Sadly, the gentlemen of the museum held little store by the capabilities of a young woman wanting in a university education, so I was given great satisfaction to be offered a post here at London Zoo. I spent many happy years here as curator of reptiles.

I don’t offer any explanation as to why our lord has not taken me into the halls of heaven, or indeed cast me down to hell. I am, still, hopeful, that I am deserving of a place with the lord. For the current hour, however, here I rest, in the visage of my fifteen year old self, within the Reptile house amongst my kind and constant friends, the amphibia and reptiles of the zoo. I am no longer of the corporal world. I know not why I tally here. It is not an unpleasant situation, but it has been what seems a long vacation. I confess, having been long out of company, I sometimes entertain conversations with myself and of course with my favourites. I am pleased my friends seem comfortable and well cared for in this house, A house which I actively aided in the design. Artistic skill and creativity of design being among my accomplishments.

My attention of late has been closely drawn to two young girls, who seem to hold a fascination for my reptile house; Hope and Elaine, who Hope often calls Flame on account of her fine red hair.. Between them there seems a very steady friendship, in spite of a great opposition of character. I am endeared to Hope by the easiness, openness and ductility of her temper. Her adventurous taste in fashion, of bright colours more suited to a country fair than a young lady, is disconcerting, but I admit displays a happiness of character which I admire greatly. No disposition could offer a greater contrast to Elaine. In understanding, Elaine is I believe the superior, she is clever. Hope places the firmest reliance on Elaine and holds her judgment in the highest opinion. Elaine is, though, haughty and reserved, and her manner is not inviting. Elaine seems continually to give offence to all but Hope.


“Flame, I’m sure he likes you, everyone does.”

“I doubt it, no one likes me, I don’t have your blonde hair and pretty face an I’m not skinny.”

“You’ve got amazing eyes and you’re super sexy, curvy. And your hair, I love your hair.”

“I’m a ginger, only you love my hair, ‘an you love everything, even bloody turtles.”

“Well I’m sure he likes you, ‘an he should, you’re gorgeous.”

“Sometimes I wonder if you fancy me, you know that?”

Elaine’s mother is employed at the zoo in some capacity, I am unsure of its exact nature. I am constrained by the reptile house. If I wander abroad, I fade, it is as if I fall into a sleep and I awake always at the entrance. I am obliged then to rest here close to or within its structure.

Hope has on occasions spent a Saturday or Sunday morning here alone and I have, unsuccessfully, endeavoured to reach her. To open a conversation across the barriers my situation has placed around me.

Of late I have suspected Elaine has some sense of my existence and I have resolved to attempt to open a dialogue with her if my situation permits. My friends in the reptile house are slowly being taken away and I am much concerned to understand their fate. I greatly fear I will soon be deprived of the companionship of one of my favourites, a fine Mindanao Water monitor. How bleak a home will my beloved house become if all my friends leave me.

---------------o--------------

“What do you want, weirdo?”

“My dear Miss Elaine, you can perceive me?”

“Flame, who you talking to?”

“This wierdo” said Elaine pointing towards myself.

“I don’t see no one,” Hope informed her. If she could have heard me I would have been tempted to instruct her in the proper use of English.

“You really don’t see anyone?”

“No, who can you see?”.

“Girl, our age, long white dress, black stockings and ugly court shoes, gawky, skinnier than you. Peaky face.”

“Miss Elaine, although your description was not inaccurate, I feel it lacked kindness.” I privately added, “Keep your breath to cool your porridge.”


“Yea, tough, why can’t Hope see you?”

“I suppose, although it is vexing to state it, it is because I am a ghost.”

“A dorky ghost, I suppose that’s sort of cool.”

“You seem, unperturbed.”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“What’s she saying, did you say ghost?”

“Yea, Says she’s a ghost”

“That’s brilliant! Wish I could see her. Is she going to haunt you? Ask her what her name is and when she died and how we can help her.”

“Dearest Hope, she has, without exception, the sweetest temper I ever met with. Miss Elaine, please tell her my name is Joan Proctor and I died in nineteen thirty one. I am not immediately in need of any assistance. I do have to admit that although I struggle to support my spirits, there are periods of dejection. Of late, I have become concerned by the fate of my friends within the reptile house. The staff here, as able as they seem have lately been removing my friends. More and more have been moved away. It would give me great piece of mind to better understand why this is happening. Where they go, if they are well cared for.”

“She wants to know where the lizards are going.”

“That’s easy, they’re building a new place in Barclay Court, gonna be called The Secret Life of Reptiles and Amphibians, sounds really cool.”

“Barclay Court?”

“Centre of the zoo.”

“Flame’s mum says it’s gonna be state of the art.”

“That does sound excellent, I only wish I could see it, to be sure my friends will be comfortable. It is sometimes vexing and inconvenient being a ghost.”

---------------o--------------

The following week, I think it was the following week, it is sometimes difficult for me to gauge the passing of time with acuity, Elaine did not visit. Hope sought shelter from a fine rain and sat on the floor within the house. Standards of decorum have shifted across the years; I do not think her comportment should be judged by the standards of my time.

I was taken aback when she chose to deliver a monologue for my attention, for I know she doesn’t perceive me and I am unable to respond civilly. “Joan. You have to cut Elaine a bit of slack, I know she’s tetchy, but she’s had a pretty shitty time. Her dad died a few months back, Huntington’s disease. Pretty horrible way to go. Her mum had to give up work, they ran out of money, didn’t get enough benefits to live on, so they got in debt. Now their landlord’s trying to get ‘em out and there’s not much they can do. So, she’s scared of where they’ll end up, probably in some hostel or something.

“An on top of that she doesn’t know if she’ll get the disease too, its hereditary, so she could go the way her dad did. An she said it was pretty awful at the end. She had to do a lot of the caring, was tough from what I saw. She’s kind of stopped trying, at school and stuff, cos she says what’s the point if she’s gonna die anyway. Die like that. So she’s snappy and tetchy cos she’s scared and frightened, but she’s a good friend. We've been together for a long time and I know she wouldn’t ever let me go. If she could help it. And I love her, like really love her.”

Hope’s deep affection for Elaine was touching and she was evidently troubled. She got up and employed herself with watching an Annam Leaf turtle. It was not in her nature, to increase her vexations, by dwelling on them.

---------------o--------------

“Heh, Ghosty, come and sit here.” Elaine beckoned me to sit next to her on the bench by the entrance and I complied.

“Hope said I should take photos of the new reptile house to show you. Its not open, but I took some of the outside. Can you see?”

“I can and I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness. though I am not sanguine in my expectations I am exceedingly pleased with this proposal.”

“She says good idea, she’s chuffed.”

Hope smiled radiantly and soon I joined in her happiness. The photographs, which were small but of an excellent quality, showed a fine new reptile house which seemed well positioned, looked of ample size, a solid construction and artistically arranged. A large model of a Wall lizard, Podarcis muralis, decorated the entrance.

“And the inside? What of its interior?”

“We can’t go in yet, not open to the public, but we’ll get you photos when its open.”

I expressed my fervent appreciation of their efforts. Hope suggested the new house should bear my name, not the name of the donor who had supported its construction.

“Well my father was a stockbroker so I understand well the importance money is given and funding for the Gardens has always been important, benefactors most welcome. Most important is that my friends are well cared for. I shall not repine their leaving if I am assured of their health and comfort”

I possessed little which I could offer in gratitude for their kindness. I chose to extend a little encouragement.

“My dear Miss Elaine. I know you are troubled, with good reason. I can only humbly offer this advice. I suffered most severely, all my life, until my early demise, from a malady of the stomach. I died young, but I lived a good life, I urge you to concentrate on living, wildly and happily if your life is to be short. The less years you are to enjoy, the more you should strive to fill each with purpose and joy.”

Elaine had no time to respond before her mother joined us. She was dressed in similar fashion to Elaine, black clothes, work boots, but with a brighter disposition. She smiled kindly.

“Hello lovey, Bought your lunch. Why were you taking photos in Berkley court?”

“Met the ghost of Joan Proctor, she wanted to see where her reptiles were going.”

Her Mother looked gravely concerned. “Elaine lovey, an imaginary friend is fine, we have never questioned Hope, we’ve let you enjoy the idea of her, its ok for children to imagine friends, lots do. We were happy to set a place for her, an extra plate, leave a chair empty. Your Dad and I always thought you’d grow out of it in your own time. Although you’re getting a little old to still be clinging to her I’m not going to give you a hard time about it. But be that as it may, I am not indulging you in the idea of ghosts. We are Christians, the dead don’t come back and wonder around. You can drop that psychic mumbo jumbo straight away, you hear.”

Elaine was unusually respectful, wise enough to hold her opinion to herself, until Hope said “I thought there was a community of saints. Christians talk to them. ‘Dear Saint Joseph don’t let me new Volvo get scratched’. If you think about it, Christians are about the only ones with a theory of ghosts. Who was that girl at Lourdes if she wasn’t a ghost?”

“Absolutely. Amen,” said Miss Elaine, looking directly to her mother.

How Miss Hope, Miss Elaine and I laughed together with earnest gaiety. 

October 26, 2023 10:29

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4 comments

Nina H
21:36 Oct 30, 2023

Love the Poe-esque quality of writing, that then shifts with Flame and Hope. You easily sway back and forth, smoothly gliding the story along. I really liked all of the characters, and so well-developed for a short space!

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Vid Weeks
14:15 Oct 31, 2023

Thanks so much Nina

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Tom Skye
13:07 Oct 27, 2023

This was very engrossing. Beautifully written and engrossing. It was dosed with a lot of sadness between the two MC (Elaine and Joan) but still offered a positive take on life and what we are dealt with. The character name of Hope was fitting and hammered the twist home well. I also enjoyed that the backdrop of the lead story concept was a reptile house. It gave it an extra dimension which added more flavour. You could easily have set this in a simple house or office and it would have still had the impact, but the reptile house somehow ca...

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Vid Weeks
23:46 Oct 28, 2023

Thanks so much Tom, I cant claim too much for the setting. Joan Proctor was actually a curator of reptiles at London zoo - a fascinating person and an inspiration for the story. They are about to close her 'house' and I thought it was sad. I'm happy you liked Hope.

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