If I were to put it simply, I’d have said that one normal summer day, I slipped away into the darkness, soundly, in my unconscious state. My soul floated away from my body, and I was delegated an afterlife of haunting a fairly good, but lost person of my choice.
I would have said all that if I were to put it simply, but what actually happened, by no means, is simple, and thus I will regale you with the version packed with delightful intricacies.
It was indeed a summer day, but the robins were chirping some sort of rehearsed song, setting the scene for a melancholy girl clad in full black and sour grenadine syrup. The black was an unwise choice actually, something I was aware of but wore for the sake of angsty teen fashion, and to spite the sun. Nothing could have worsened my mood, for the robins’ tweets were in full swing now, and the ever-blazing sun had somehow ushered the big american families into the park. Well actually, I may have lied. Nothing could have worsened my mood, save for the rogue car that crushed me before I could curse Aaron for unflatteringly showing me up.
Technically, I didn’t actually expect to get killed that day, and definitely not by a swerving car.
The SoulRigamarole, despite its funky exterior cradled by neon fairy lights and the ironically too full of life ghosts, had strict rules that resulted in death if disregarded. Actual death.
“How many warnings do you get before...getting offed?” I paused, wanting to add the word privileged before hesitation, and perhaps doing away with the being killed dysphemism. Baron’s steely exterior, however, hinted that maybe questioning less for the first few days would be preferred.
“Well, that depends on the tier of severity. Something small such as playing pranks on your human may just get you a warning yes...but something else like haunting the wrong....ah yes, look at the chart for yourself.” He pointed to a pyramid floating, like us, in mid air, separated by columns of colour as bright as the aforementioned neon lights. The font got bigger up the chart, making it impossible for my eyes to notice anything else first but the topmost rule.
“Only haunt the human assigned for or chosen by you. Breach of this results in immediate death. No trial.”
An involuntary shudder ran through me as I forced my eyes to read some of the smaller sized rules.
“We are ghosts, not poltergeists. We highly advise you to refrain from acting as such. Breach of this results in a warning. Three warnings result in death with trial.”
And though I didn’t know exactly what that first rule meant yet, something told me it was important. The most important aspect of my afterlife.
“So I can pick any of these people?” I asked incredulously, scrolling past the thousands of names on the Ipad. Apparently, ghosts used technology too.
“Yes, everyone who’s a fairly decent person is here. You can look through the subsections if you’d like, you know, whittle down the options maybe?” The librarian ghost lady peered at me sympathetically over her cat eye glasses, painted claws tapping the screen tentatively. It was as if she was a realtor, trying to close in a deal, except I wasn’t choosing houses. I was choosing who to haunt for the rest of my ghost life.
“No, we don’t call it haunting here. God, how I hate that western term. Over here, we call it soul shadowing.”
(I had fairly quickly come to notice that TheSoulRigmarole put a lot of emphasis on souls)
“Even the bad ghosts don’t haunt their humans. If anything, their humans haunt them.”
Baron had a matter-of-fact way of talking that made you think you must be some sort of fool for not understanding.
My mind wanders back to the present as the librarians tapping becomes more incessant. I glance at the flashing subsections on the screen; Fairly decent people you personally knew, Fairly decent people you’ve come across at least once, Fairly decent people who love cats… and it went on for another thirty scrolls.
“You’re telling me I wasn’t a bad human?” I ask for what must surely be the tenth time. It is, I think, because she says that maybe it’s better if I look through on my own. Maybe she had finally sensed the prick of disappointment in my voice. After all, I really thought I had embraced the rebel teen aura.
I realise I’m telling this story in parts, mainly because I remember it chaotically. Chaotically, but I remember every detail that led up to it.
“So tell me again how this whole haunting-I mean, soul shadowing thing works.” Getting used to the fact that I was a ghost (and a tangible one at that, not the transparent shit they show you in movies) was already a work in progress. Soul shadowing was on a whole other level.
“Okay, listen to me, carefully this time,” Baron shot me a raised eyebrows look, which I probably deserved. I nod my head impatiently in agreement.
“So, once you arrive at the afterlife, and get over the initial shock of being a ghost, you have a week in which you must make your choice of which human to shadow.”
“Go on,” I prompt, with him so far.
“Right, so shadowing is basically where ghosts are matched up with humans of the same moral level as them. You, for example, according to our SoulControl system, and the help of your ghost, were deemed a fairly decent human, and therefore get the choice of choosing another fairly decent human to soul shadow for the rest of your ghost life.”
“Wait...wait, did you just say ‘with the help of your ghost?’ I had a ghost?” this always seemed to be the point I fell out of the loop.
“Yes...almost every living person has their own ghost at any given time.” Barons reply, cool as always.
“Well, where is he now?”
“She is dead. When a ghost’s human dies, so does the ghost. It just wouldn’t be practical having millions of ghosts floating around the Afterrealm world. Especially with the amount of rogue ghosts we get these days…” he trailed off as something he had mentioned wafted in my mind. I had asked him what happened to the ghosts that were bad in their human life, and he’d turned paler, floated in a shaky manner.
“Well, those ghosts don’t get the option of choosing their humans. Instead, bad humans are assigned to them, so that the ghosts are subjected to going through their turmoil every second.”
I had wondered how much of a punishment that really was. Weren’t bad people the ones who usually ended up killing themselves sooner?
“Yes. And then their ghosts die with them. It’s a well deserved, karmic short ghost life. They give us hell though, those ghosts. They break the rules on a daily basis, just because they know they’ll die soon anyway. They have to break the worst rule at that too…”
I remembered the first rule, but I asked him about it anyway.
“There’s this aspect to being a ghost called Meddling. It’s basically where you float through your human in order to interact with their soul and give them a moment of objective clarity. This is, naturally, only available to good ghosts who only want what’s best for their human, and is only available once per day.”
And I asked him how it felt, and he said “for the human, or for the ghost?” and I’d said both because I wanted nothing more than to feel alive again, and he’d said it felt nothing like they show in those horrible western movies, and I’d asked him again, and he’d said it just felt like a great surge of clarity, and that that was the best way he could put it.
And I figured, somehow, in this twisted turn of events since being crushed by that car, I was one of the lucky ones.
I had less than two hours to pick my human. No matter how many times I scrolled through the list, and the subsections, and the subsections of the subsections, soul shadowing bigoted extended family members and popular high school friends just didn’t sound that appealing.
For a while, I thought maybe I really wanted to soul shadow, but actually haunt Aaron. After all, he was kind of the reason I was in the park that day in the first place. He had pulled me aside in Biology the week before, and asked me if I wanted to hang out the coming weekend. He said he liked my enigmatic vibe, and though I wanted to punch him in his goddamn beautiful throat for ever thinking I’d say yes to the school jock, I didn’t. Instead, I said yes like the weak girl I was, and then I had died.
Whatever, it’s not as if I was planning to stay in this ghost realm for the rest of my dead life. If getting back at Aaron meant actually dying, then so be it, right?
“You have less than an hour to choose, my dear,” the librarian drawled, her claws painted a neon green today.
“Yes, I know, I’m trying,” I snapped, even though my mind was pretty much set on Aaron.
That was, until I saw his name.
Fairly decent humans you didn’t personally know but came across intimately
I knew the name instantly. In the moments before I had slipped away for eternity, the moments where paramedics and my family and the big happy american families were gathering round me, I caught sight of a large face right up against mine, crying, sobbing, apologising profusely for what he had done. The police had arrived, and they were heaving him up by his arms, asking him to tell them everything. And they asked him and asked him and asked him, and maybe they asked him his name first, or last, or even during the middle, but I caught it somewhere between taking my last breath and blinking for the last time.
“My...my name is Derek Peel...and I swear to god, I hit her with my car by mistake.”
“Him. I want to haunt him.” I point at his name, thrice, making sure there was no room for mistake. The librarian had a look of suspicion on her face, and I realised what I must have said.
“Sorry, soul shadowing. Still getting used to the terms here…”
And she assigned me Derek Peel, even though I had the feeling that she knew I meant what I said first.
I want to say haunting Derek Peel was the best revenge of my life. I want to say that I meddled in his affairs cautiously, not enough to arouse suspicions among the Ghost Board, but enough to fuck up his future. I want to say that I made his life hell, and that he deserved to be treated so.
I so badly want to say all this, but if I did, I’d be lying.
In reality, soul shadowing my killer showed me parts of him that went deeper than I could have ever imagined. He showed me that he too, was alone and miserable and trying to fight his way through a world that seems to constantly be fighting back.
If I were to put it simply, I’d have said that one normal summer day, I started to soul shadow Derek Peel, soundly, biding my time to unleash my wrath. My soul floated through his body, but with pure intentions, always.
I would have said all that if I were to put it simply, but what actually happened, by no means, is simple, and thus I will regale you with the version packed with delightful intricacies. I will show you how Derek Peel taught me how to live, even more so than when I was alive. I will show you how Derek Peel taught me what it meant to be better than a fairly decent human.
But that’s a ghost story for another time.