When I was a prince, I had everything in life. I had over fifteen horses to myself, all different colors from all parts of the world. I had Chinese horses, New Zealandian horses, Nigerian horses, Russian horses… you name it, I had it.
I also had six hundred acres of my own land, and I could do anything I wanted with it. I built a palace, of course. But the land wasn’t enough, so I had to buy another three hundred acres. The palace was a lovely one. The building itself was huge, standing at a glorious height of sixty feet, and sprawled over five hundred acres of land. It had four stone turrets at each corner, mimicking the medieval era castles.
I had a hundred acres of pure, lush green lawns to ride my horses all day. I had an artificial stream flowing through the place, with the quintessential stone bridge over it, where I would one day fall in love.
Of course, I also had fountains and pools on each of the twelve floors of the castle. I had eighteen security personnel guarding me at all times, and that’s just inside the palace. I had every luxury I could think of.
But, as any prince, I also had an inhuman amount of responsibilities. I had fencing lessons every Monday and Thursday morning. I mean, like, come on! Fencing? The only place where I have ever seen someone fencing is the Olympics, and I ain’t getting any of those ideas soon.
I had horse riding lessons every weekend. I already knew how to ride horses, but my parents insisted. They got a special trainer from Mexico, who was supposed to be the greatest horse-rider ever. Frankly, I didn’t get what was so special about him.
I also had ethics every Wednesday afternoon, from two to four. I learned how to pick up tea leaves through a method suitable only for royals. Then I learnt how to strain them. Then I learnt how to pour the tea from the vessel into the teapot, and from there to the teacup. Finally, I learned how to sip my tea while constantly smiling and nodding.
I also learned what was taboo in polite conversation and what was not. Apparently, you shouldn’t start with, ‘Have you heard about the serial killings downtown?’ or ‘Does your cat have a condition or is it just fat?’
I’m not proud to say that I also attended algebra and trigonometry classes separately, and also learnt Latin. Honestly speaking, my entire schooling gave off a very ‘Dead Poets Society’–esque vibe. It’s a pity I didn’t have Robin Williams teaching me.
The worst, of course, as any prince or princess will tell you, are the parties. Every Saturday night, my parents would drag me to these ‘gentlemanly’ or ‘ladylike’ parties. They would force me to sit around while they chatted with ministers and mayors and the whole lot about stocks or Australian beaches or how pretty my mother’s necklace looked.
“Oh, and how is the dear boy today?” they would invariably ask, looking at me. “My, my. How time flies! The last time I saw you, you were barely half my height. Now look at you, all grown-up!”
The first time I heard this was from the Defence Minister, and I told him, “I saw you last week.”
I got a sound scolding that day, and learned to keep my mouth wisely shut and grin the next time someone said that.
My only solace from this quotidian and onerous routine (ha, look at me, talking like a regular Shakespeare) was, surprisingly, comic books. The first time I picked up a comic book, I found it boring. I preferred actual text books. But after a while, I began reading more and more comic books, till I finally cracked. I bought out a small comic bookstore near my castle without my parents’ knowledge and devoured every single book there. Many were the nights when I would sit up till two or three in the morning flipping furiously through the pages of ‘The Superheroes of Wonderville’ or ‘Dr. William Carbuncle.’
The best for me, however, was ‘Voltage.’ It followed a superhero with electric powers as she tries to uncover her dark past. Cliché, yeah, I know, but the writing and the drawings are amazing.
To sum up all things, good and bad, my time as a royal was actually not bad. I had everything I wanted, after all. Unfortunately for me, I also had everything someone else wanted. I was murdered at the tender age of sixteen by my envious (and regrettably devious) cousin brother.
But don’t worry, I got my revenge on him. I appeared to him late one afternoon with a deranged smile on my ghostly face. The poor fellow threw himself of the highest turret of the castle not long after. I had a good laugh at that.
The world of the dead is quite like the world of the living. Except for the fact that whatever your life was, it doesn’t matter. I had to take up a job as a gardener for five houses to sustain myself. I got a roommate and we’re now sharing a small flat.
But my biggest problem with the world of the dead is not that I have to work to make a living. It’s that I can’t buy so many comic books anymore! The only one I can buy is ‘Stranger Nights’ and that’s only because the author is dead too.
That was a bummer.
Until I realized that the dead have one day, just one day a year, to go back to the world of the living to fulfill whatever wishes they had. The catch is that you should do it as quietly as possible. Unless you want to end up like Bloody Mary.
I have now resorted to stealing the latest volumes of ‘Voltage’ from unsuspecting kids and unsuspecting comic book stores. Yes, I’m a thief, but only for comic books. Also, I pass on the comic books to my friend, the aforementioned roommate, so I’m not the only one to blame.
The second problem, for me at least, is I could afford to sneak in just a single comic book every year. The security is tight, and we’re normally not allowed to bring in anything from the mortal world.
One comic book a year is not much, if you think of it. It’s definitely not enough to satisfy my eternal, insatiable desire for ‘Voltage,’ and that’s not even counting the other comics I read. The only thought I can console myself with is ‘There’s another year coming.’ Yep, it’s my motto, and I continuously repeat to myself whenever I feel like throwing a tantrum after reading the same comic for the eighth time. It happens pretty often, because, I reiterate, I get barely a comic a year.
It was that certain day (or night? Time sort of melts in the spirit world.) last year, when we could visit the mortal world, that the incident I’m about to narrate just now took place.
I had finished robbing the second last volume of ‘Voltage’ and had read it twenty times. It had ended on an amazing cliff-hanger and I couldn’t wait to read the finale. My whole body was tingling with the potential sensation of holding that thin paperback in my ethereal hands.
The finale of ‘Voltage’ was finally going to release, but the timing was terrible. It was releasing just a day after we were allowed to visit the mortal world.
“Terrible timing!” I complained to my roommate, for the umpteenth time.
“Yes, I know.” she said patiently. Even though she was a comic book lover, she could control her urges much better than I could. I can’t take all the blame though; I was raised being given whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.
“The only window I have is that little kid!”
There was a boy, who had somehow procured a copy before the release and was jealously guarding it against greedy robbers like myself. This I knew from a security guard who kept tabs on the mortal world, whom I’d bribed with some candy bars. He had a sweet tooth, so to speak, and the two candy bars which I’d given to him was enough to get him all dizzy and loose-tongued. Talk about a sugar rush.
“Well, you gotta get it from him.” my friend said.
“And I’m going to do just that.”
I flew down to the city where he lived, scanning the streets for when he came outside. It took quite a while, and I was forced to keep my eyes peeled in case he suddenly arrived, but finally the boy appeared around lunchtime to visit a restaurant with his mother. He didn’t have the comic book with him, which I had expected, but now I could find out where he lived.
I hid outside the restaurant, waiting for them to come out. An hour went by, then two, then three! But still no sign of them. Dismayed, I straightened, scaring a couple with my translucency. I floated to a deserted alley close by and stretched my non-existent bones. I was so used to getting cramps that I’d completely forgotten I didn’t have to bother about them anymore.
I spotted a comic book store across the street and grinned to myself. If not ‘Voltage,’ I could at least amuse myself with a couple of volumes of ‘When the Wolves Hunt.’ I quickly floated over, nearly getting hit by a speeding truck, even though that wasn’t really a bother; I couldn’t possibly die again, though I could get injured, and my ectoplasmic identity would be found out.
The good part about crossing roads is that people won’t give two looks at you, so they don’t realize that you’re translucent and your feet are four inches further from the ground than they’re supposed to be. They could be higher, much higher, but excuse me if I wanted to feel a little like 007. In other words, blend in.
I also took care to move about a lot, very quickly. That means people can’t look at you to closely and notice you’re shimmering, but not from enlightenment.
I snuck behind the comic store and looked through the open window. There was a set of ‘When the Wolves Hunt’ on the shelf in the corner. Fortunately for me, it was the corner closest to me; I could just reach over and grab them.
I leaned over, and slowly pulled the stack over to me. I glanced around to make sure no one was looking, and that’s when I saw him. The kid with the ‘Voltage’ finale and pre-finale sticking out of his backpack, which somehow I didn't see before.
Personally, I was surprised that no one behind him had already taken it and run. I mean, come on! It was right there!
I quietly pushed back the stack of ‘When the Wolves Hunt’ and closed my eyes, wondering how I’d get the book from him. I had five, maybe six hours to go before I was automatically transported back to the world of the dead, which I figured would be enough.
The kid grabbed a few comics of the shelf and put them in the backpack. He tugged at his mother’s sleeve and they paid and left.
I floated behind them when they exited, always keeping my distance, but always keeping them in sight. There was a brief moment when I thought I’d lost them, and I panicked, pushing my way through the crowd to where I saw them last, but the kid had just dropped his bag, and they were kneeling to pick up the books.
They kept walking for almost ten minutes. Then they got into a car and drove off. I cursed. It would be a bit difficult to keep up with a motor vehicle, but I could just float high enough to keep them in sight, if not follow it. They drove continuously for almost two hours; the boy lived at the very edge of town. It took me an additional hour to reach there, and by the time I did, I was out of breath.
The house was small, but pretty. It had a silver gate and painted fence around the perimeter. There was a green strip surrounding the house that expanded to a garden right behind. The house itself had a bunch of vines and fronds hanging from the roof, giving off a sweet, slightly overpowering smell, just like honey does.
I peeked into a room near the back, but that turned out to be the kitchen. I had to get away quickly to avoid being seen. I floated just above the house, surveying all the different windows, till I spotted one in the shape of the ‘Voltage’ symbol.
“Well, I’ll be damned if that isn’t the kid’s.” I muttered to myself.
I hovered just next to it and peeped. The kid was there. He wasn’t looking outside the window, so I thought it would be safe to stare.
The kid was sitting on the bed, his head bent, chin on his chest. Great sobs wracked his body. He was holding the last two volumes of ‘Voltage’ in his hands.
“Brother,” he said. At first, I thought he was talking to me, referring to the comic brotherhood. Then I saw a large photograph of him and another taller boy, laughing, on the wall. The taller boy had messy hair, and was wearing a t-shirt that read ‘My Bro…’ and another word not generally used in polite company. It was probably him the kid was talking about.
“The finale of ‘Voltage’ releases tomorrow,” the boy continued, “and I thought you should have a preview of it before anyone else.”
His brother wasn’t visible and he was crying, so I assumed the brother was dead. That meant he was probably on his way over. That was bad news. I should have researched this kid more before coming over.
“I know how much you loved comic books, especially ‘Voltage.’ I want to read this together, just like we used to before. I want you to snatch the book and run away, trying to read alone. I want to chase you, telling you that you’re cheating. I want to constantly remind you of our sacred pact of reading comics together. I want to get up in the middle of the night after having a nightmare and sit up on your bed, while you soothe me by reading an issue of ‘Stranger Nights.’”
I frowned. ‘Stranger Nights’ is not a comic I’d like to read in the dead of the night. The illustrations are pretty scary.
“I want you to help me write my own comics, and help me get the characters’ faces correct. You know I’m terrible at drawing faces. I want you to come back. I want you to come back! I WANT YOU TO COME BACK! YOU CAN’T STAY DEAD! IT’S NOT FAIR! I CAN’T READ THE COMIC BOOKS ALONE! IT’S NOT FAIR, IT’S NOT FAIR, IT’S NOT FAIR!” The boy repeated those lines in a shrill, screechy voice till his mother burst into the room.
“It’s all right! JJ, it’s all right!” She knelt down by his bed and embraced him fiercely. The boy was still mumbling something, but very weakly.
“It’s all right, JJ. Your brother will always read your comics with you. He lives in our hearts now. Don’t you forget that. He lives in our hearts.” The mother patted him on his head. “Now, come on. Dry up those tears. I’ve made your favorite sponge cake.”
Slowly, the boy left the books on the bed and followed his mother outside the room, sniffling.
After such a performance, any normal person would be wondering, ‘How can one possibly steal from a boy like that?’ And I did too, for a few moments; I’m not too heartless. But I looked up at the sun, and realized I had just a few minutes before I was forcibly snapped back to the spirit world. I hardened my heart to do what I had to; there was no turning back now.
I floated back a little and hurled myself at the window, for however translucent we might look, and whatever movies and books might say, ghosts don’t have the power to float through solid objects.
The window gave way with a loud crash. My whole body was burning and tingling with the closest feeling to pain an undead can experience.
I looked at the door quickly and spotted a shadow moving quickly along the wall. I grabbed the ‘Voltage’ comic off the bed and bolted. Once a safe distance away, I let out a sigh of relief. I looked at the sun, and realized I was just in time. I looked at the ‘Voltage’ volume cover and let out a cry of surprise and shock.
I turned back towards the house and had just enough time to give it an angry look before I was snapped back to the world of the dead.
I reached my apartment after undergoing the regular security checks. My friend was expectantly waiting at the door.
“Show me.” she said, as I entered. I tossed her the book.
She grabbed it and her smile faded. “You idiot!” she yelled. “This is the pre-finale!”
“You think I don’t know that?!” I flopped dejectedly on the sofa, sighing.
For a moment, my friend didn’t say anything. She probably wanted to ask what happened, but realized it wasn’t a very good time. Then she came and sat beside me, still not saying anything.
“I’m sorry.” I said.
She said, “It’s fine. We can still read ‘Stranger Nights.’”
I merely sulked in response.
“Hey, don’t worry. Cheer up,” she said, putting an arm around me. “After all,” here she smiled mischievously, “There’s another year coming.”