The Living and the Dead

Submitted into Contest #244 in response to: Begin or end your story with a character taking a selfie.... view prompt



   "That's what I love about you!" he said, watching her. His grinned. He stood next to her, at the stern of the ship, watching the seagulls dance in the wake as they left port. Soon, they would be out too far for the gulls to fly. The smell of land would dissipate, and there would be nothing left but endless ocean all around them.

     "You were right," she answered. "This is bracing! Flying is not the same. Even though this trip cost so very, very much, it is absolutely worth it!"

     "Stop with the costs," he chided. "We have more than enough money to cover this." He touched her cheek, flushed red from the sting of the spray in the chill wind. The day was not the best for sailing, with wind that tossed the mist into stinging barbs.

     But, I am so alive right now! she thought to herself. She said, "I want to take a picture of this moment."

     "What? Now?"

     "With the gulls dancing about. They'll head back to shore pretty soon."

     "Okay," he said, and he stood at the railing and waited patiently for her to snap her picture. "Better hurry up, I don't think the gulls will wait for you," he teased. She snapped the picture on her new digital camera, careful to set the timer on the tripod. The camera cost a pretty penny, but she hoped to blog about this trip--one day. And the built-in telephoto lens would make some fine photographs to sell in her shop, once she got that up and running. But, for now, she was where she most wanted to be, standing next to the man she loved more than anyone else. He had said he had been looking for her, all of her life. He charmed her, and cared so deeply for her. She felt she had known him all of her life. How lucky she was! To voyage on a trip of a lifetime, with the man she deeply loved.

     As she stood next to him, watching the gulls peel away and head back towards land, he put her arm around her shoulder. She was shivering, and he enveloped her in his arms. She forgot the rest of her world, and basked in his love. So much love! So much more than she could imagine.

     They headed back into their cabin to wait for dinner. She was feeling tired, although he seemed to have found more energy with this trip. There had been so many preparations, so much juggling and so many extra jobs to pay for it. A full month, touring all of Europe on a train pass--what a dream come true! All the overtime, all the extra shifts--it had all been worth it. But, her body ached, and she was chilled through. "Take a nap," he suggested.

     "Will you join me?" she asked.

     "I'm not tired," he said. "But, I tell you what. I'll read about our trip while you sleep. Then we'll make some plans on what I discover. What do you say?"

     She nodded. Yes, she was in need of a nap. And now that they left port, the subtle rocking of the ship lulled her. She yawned, and he tucked her in. He sat and watched her eyes grow heavy, until she slept.

     He wasn't tired at all. In fact, the adventure had stimulated him. He strolled the deck of the ship. Since the air was chilly, he was alone. Sometimes, he slipped into rooms to observe people working, in the kitchens, in the wardrooms, even on the bridge. The QE II was an enormous ship, beautifully proportioned. It cut smoothly through the gray swells beneath her prow. But there were patches of blue sky overhead. Tomorrow would be a fine day. Perhaps they would find a secret place, together, and bask in the sunshine.

     The trip was perfect. Certainly, he had tried to nudge her to make the commitment. She was always so frugal, always putting off the pleasures of a lifetime. It was gratifying to know that she had accepted his proposal, to sail to Europe in a trip of a lifetime, in comfort. Flying was problematic, for him, at least. He had managed to talk her out of it, noting that she was nervous, and wary of other passengers who might misbehave. Or worse. She had seen too many news reports, he decided. The ship-board journey was a delight to her, but it did mean that she would have to work towards the passage. He had taken care of the details, in his own way, although they had had to get a cabin on the inside aisle. Not to worry--they would have more time and money to get through more European countries. Perhaps they could rent a car?

     Perhaps not. He wasn't sure she would agree to it. Still, so far, the trip had gone flawlessly. She had left it all to him, and he had responded, in her name. Of course, it took some considerable effort on his part, to persuade her, or, should he say, manipulate her? He didn't much like the sound of that, but she wasn't ready--was she? To understand, who he was, who they were? Together?

     When he made it back to the cabin, he sensed that she was beginning to awaken. It was time. He wasn't sure how to do this, but he would see what came about. He could try to nudge her again. It worked before.

     He called out her name, and she opened the door for him. "Look at this," she said to him. Her face was lined with trouble. Her camera was open, the screen of her digital shots lit. "Every one of these selfies--I don't understand."

     What?" he asked, anticipating her answer.

     "You're not in any of them. Even from today, at the stern of the ship, you aren't there. Yet you stood right next to me. I don't understand."

     "Don't you?" he asked. "Didn't your mother ever speak to you about this?"

     She narrowed her eyes. "About what?"

     "Your gift," he said.

     "What gift? Mom never gave me a gift."

     "No, not her, but you have carried it for--well, forever."

     "I don't understand."

     "Tell me, do you remember a movie, oh, a few years back," he asked. "It was called The Sixth Sense."

     "I never saw it," she replied, puzzled. "Why?"

     "The plot came out."

     "Yeah. That's why I never saw it."

     "What was the plot that came out?" he asked.

     "The boy, telling the Bruce Willis character that he saw dead people. It ruined it for me."

     "I fear it ruined it for many people. Still, it is a good film. I believe the library has a copy of the DVD. We could borrow it one day."

     "Okay," she agreed. "But why? What's that got to do with my camera?"

     He smiled. "My dear," he said, stroking her cheek. She cupped her face in his hand, and he held her affectionately. "You have a gift," he said. "You have the ability to see--well, dead people."


     "Both of us have this gift. It is how we have kept in touch, in all of our lives. All," he said again, carefully, "Of our lives." He explained gently, "We have always found each other, whether we were alive at the same time, or not. In fact, in my last lifetime, I was pressed to death for being a witch, because I could talk to you, could feel you, even though you were not alive at the same time. You warned me I would be accused." He smiled, wryly. "My mistake. I chose not to believe you. I was very foolish

     "But, our trip," she wondered aloud.

     "I'm sorry. I had to make you take a ship. I have sailed, several times in various lifetimes, but I have never flown in an aeroplane. For some reason, I do not have the ability to fly. I even tried to, in anticipation of this trip. I got on a commercial plane, but, quite frankly, I was left on the runway." He shrugged. "I guess there are rules, although I'm not sure what they are. However, I have sailed on ships before. In fact, you and I, once, were quite the swashbucklers. We were alive, and together, at the time. What an amazing life that was!"

     "But, now, you're...."

     "Dead." He smiled, gently. "I am a ghost." He touched her camera. "That is why I do not show up on your pictures. There is nothing there to photograph, yet you can see me, feel me, touch me."

     "I can hold you," she said.

     "Yes. And that is why we can take this trip together, even though, to outsiders, you are travelling by yourself. We can do this," he said, trying to encourage her. "The rest of the world be damned. This is still a trip of a lifetime. Where we are going, you have lived within before. You have explored these places before, with me. This trip is a connection to all we are, all we have been. Do you understand?"

     "Let me get this straight. We've always known each other, we will always know each other, and you are a ghost."

     "Yes. Currently, I am not alive during your actual lifetime. But, we will meet again. And, we will find each other in our next lifetimes, and in our next, on and beyond."

     "Wow. So, a selfie on this trip will always be without you. Because, you see, I don't have to do the selfie part. I always thought they were kind of weird."

     He grinned. "They are. Why not just take pictures of where we go? That way, you can open up that blog you've always wanted to create, and talk about what we see and do."


     He nodded. "We. No selfies for me. However," he held her shoulder, "We have a lot of places to visit, a lot of places to go to." He kissed her on her forehead. "That way, you can get on with the travelogue, and not make it like every other vacation shot."

     "Of me, waving, in front of something," she said, warming up to him.


April 05, 2024 17:02

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Susan Lamphier
12:56 Apr 17, 2024

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it. It was a hoot to write!


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Paul Simpkin
07:56 Apr 11, 2024

Good story. A very original approach to this prompt. Perhaps the title gives away too much? You keep back the main resolution but have let the reader know in the title.


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