Not That Kind of Ghost

Submitted into Contest #65 in response to: Write about someone’s first Halloween as a ghost.... view prompt


Holiday Urban Fantasy Fiction

What I really wanted to do was to tell my mother that she’d been wrong about me. I was early for my own funeral. I spent the night before in the crematorium, trying and failing to knock the silk flowers out of their pots, and I was waiting beside the priest the next day to greet the congregation as they arrived. To each one he said; ‘Thank you for coming. Family in the front two pews, please.’ I said things like; ‘Pretend to cry, you old fraud – I know you’re only here for the food’ and ‘Black makes you look old, you know that?’ The last person in before they shut the doors was a dark haired young girl who wore a red and yellow flamenco dress and had feathers in her hair. I didn’t recognise her.

‘People crash funerals these days?’ I said to her as she walked in. ‘That’s low.’

‘Six feet under, you can’t get much lower than that,’ she agreed cheerfully. ‘Let’s sit at the front. If you’re not family, no-one is.’

It was the first time since my death that someone had replied to me. I was shocked enough to let her take my hand and tow me to the front. She hitched her bum up onto the table, leaned back against my coffin and put her boots up onto the lectern. Right under the priest’s nose. He was either a brilliant actor or he couldn’t see her.

‘I’m Rosita,’ she said to me. ‘Your grandma asked me to drop in and help you out. Thought you might like to talk to someone closer your own age, you know?’

‘Sssshhh!’ I whispered.

In reply, Rosita waved to the congregation and yelled ‘Yoo-hoo!’

No reaction.

‘See?’ she said. ‘They can’t see us and they can’t hear us. Ah, let’s go. You’ll hate the music they chose, and they’ve left the important bits of your life out of the eulogy.’

‘How do you know?’ I asked.

‘I been going to funerals since before you were born,’ she said. ‘They’re all the same. C’mon.’

We were outside in the weak October sunshine, without having walked back up the aisle of the crematorium.

‘You can go anywhere you want by thinking,’ Rosita said. ‘So, where to first?’

‘To kill the driver who ran me over,’ I said.

Rosita shook her head.

‘You need a couple of centuries practice before you can do that,’ she said. ‘Better to wait for him to die and give his ghost abuse. But that might take decades, so don’t hold your breath.’ She yelped with laughter. ‘Hold your breath!’ she repeated.

‘Then I want to scream in his ear in the middle of the night,’ I said. ‘Every night.’

Rosita sighed. ‘You want to be that kind of ghost?’

‘I am that kind of ghost,’ I said.

‘You’re so not,’ she said. ‘You’re the kind of ghost that whispers in the ear, unheard by all except cats.’

‘And what kind of ghost are you?’ I sneered.

‘I’m a party kind of ghost,’ she replied. Her flamenco dress exploded into a flock of brightly coloured birds that flew away, leaving her dressed in jeans and a blouse. ‘Let’s get you ready for Hallowe’en!’

‘Oh great.’ I hate Hallowe’en. Kids threatening to egg your front door unless you pay their bribe and adults with wonky plastic Dracula teeth snogging your neck while they pretend to suck your blood.

Rosita jumped up and down, puffs of light sparking from her feet. ‘You don’t understand,’ she said. ‘You wait. It’s fun!’

‘I don’t want fun,’ I shouted at her. ‘I want to get that prat who ran me over.’

Rosita looked down at my fists. Light glowed around my fingers.

‘You see that light?’ she said. ‘That’s good. You’ve learnt how to throw energy. Very important skill.’

‘I want to throw something at that bloody driver,’ I said. ‘He killed me. I want to yell at him every night that I hate him.’

‘For that, you need to be able to talk to the living,’ Rosita said. ‘You need to put some force behind it. It’s got to be like it’s the last thing you ever get to say to anybody. And if you only get the chance to say one thing, one thing ever again…’

‘I get to tell that scumbag that I hate him,’ I said. ‘I get to say that I will haunt him, and I will tear his brains out through his ears if I can.’

‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Or maybe you get to tell your mother that you’re happy now and free of pain. Or you can tell your nephew -’

I interrupted her. ‘Everything I really need to say is aimed at that fucking driver,’ I said. ‘I want him to hear me, even if he doesn’t want to.’

My body glowed with light as harsh as an industrial strip-light.

‘You’re really throwing energy now,’ Rosita said. ‘You got to love this! It is great, right? All the things you can do?’

‘And all the things I can’t do,’ I countered. ‘I spent my whole life from the age of five working. I studied for years, got a good degree in finance, passed all those accountancy exams, worked late for utter twats of managers and just as I was going to be made junior partner in the firm – killed on the road. If I’d known, I would have got drunk every night, skipped lectures and gone to more parties.’

‘PARTIES!’ Rosita roared, and there was no more sense to be had from her.

There were days when Rosita took a break from training me in ghostly skills, and I went exploring. I rode the world like a breeze. Dropping in on my parents, dressed in their normal clothes and getting on with their lives. Sitting with my sister and her husband while they argued. And one day, each household had the local newspaper open at page eight.

 “Claythorpe man convicted of dangerous driving” was the headline on the item at the bottom of the page. My name as victim. His name. His sentence; banned from driving for six months, driver education course and a $250 fine.

Everybody has a price. A hard-working, intelligent, professional woman like me is priced up at $250. What a bargain.

I gathered my strength, as Rosita had taught me. I concentrated on the driver, the face I’d seen scowling at his phone as he drove his car straight at me on the day I died, his name, his village… and I was there. Sitting in the passenger seat right beside him as he parked the car on his drive and got out. I yelled at him as loud as I could, threw punches, slapped him. Nothing registered. He picked his nose as he opened his front door, unaware of my presence. As the door slammed behind him, I found myself back on the street where I’d died, feeling so tired I could hardly stand up.

Rosita was waiting there for me.

‘Wasting your time, chasing him now,’ she sang. ‘Gotta wait till Hallowe’en!’

‘Screw Hallowe’en!’ I said. ‘What’s so special about it? It’s a festival for kids. And for adults who never grew up.’

Rosita took my hands in a grip that looked gentle until I tried to wrench my hands away. It was a grip like handcuffs.

‘Hallowe’en is our time,’ Rosita said softly. ‘Maybe your family did Trick or Treat, or apple bobbing or cosy shit like that. It’s not cosy. It’s the oldest of all the festivals. It’s the Day of the Dead, all across cultures, all across the world. You know why? Right back to ancient times, people wanted to contact their dead. They miss them.’

‘No-one in my family misses me,’ I said. My voice cracked. ‘I’ve watched them. They never mention me.’

‘They miss you.’ Rosita said. Her hands grew gentle around my wrists; no easier to break out of, but more like a strong caress than a restraint. ‘They don’t know what to say about you, or to you. You want to say something to someone who suddenly isn’t there… and then you feel stupid, so you say nothing. That right? When your grandma died, that’s what happened to you, right?’

‘Maybe,’ I said.

‘For sure,’ Rosita said. ‘I was there. She was in bits over you. She loved you, you know.’

‘I broke her photo of Grandpa,’ I said, and then I’m crying, willing Grandma to forgive me, thirty years too late.

‘You were five years old,’ Rosita said. ‘You wanted to see his picture, but you were too short to get his photo down from that shelf without dropping it. She knew that. She cried because she was alive and he was dead and out of her reach. That photo was all she had of him right then. She watched over you, after she died. Worried about you. She tried to talk to you all the time.’

‘I heard her,’ I said. ‘Once. I think.’

‘You did,’ Rosita confirmed. ‘She got through, and she was so happy.’

‘At Hallowe’en,’ I said. ‘My friend said you could hear the dead if you lit a candle on Hallowe’en night – Sounded stupid, but I tried it, and I heard her.’

‘Hallowe’en is when the barriers between living and dead melt away,’ Rosita said. ‘If you want to tell the living something important, that’s when it’s easiest for you to get through, even if that living person is sceptical, even if you’re a new ghost with no skills.’

‘So that’s when I can talk to that driver who killed me,’ I said.

Rosita let my wrists go. ‘Sure,’ she said. ‘If that’s what you want.’

‘That’s what I want,’ I said. ‘Even if it’s the last thing I’m ever allowed to say.’

When Hallowe’en morning rolled around, I went to my murderer’s house. I wasn’t strong enough to strike him, but I could remind him of what he’d done. And I would.

I waited there till almost six in the evening, and he didn’t show up. I searched his house and found two elderly people watching TV in a daze. And Rosita, stuck to the back of his bedroom door like a ghoulish decoration and giggling at me.

‘Clear off!’ I told her. ‘This is my haunting. Find your own.’

‘He’s not here, honey,’ she said, grinning as she jumped down. ‘He’s watching his son Trick or Treat in the streets around his old home, hiding from his ex-wife.’

‘Like I care,’ I said.

‘And do you care that the text he was reading when he hit you was from his ex, saying that he couldn’t see his son that weekend?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘Don’t care. He’s seeing the kid today – I don’t get the chance of having a son to take trick or treating. Does he care about that?’

‘He does,’ Rosita said, her expression sad. ‘It wakes him up in the early hours.’

‘I am going to teach him what it is to be woken in the early hours,’ I replied.

‘And then he’ll scream, and wake his parents,’ Rosita said. ‘They never did you any harm. They grieve for you. They light candles in their church for your soul. Would you disturb them?’

I wouldn’t, and Rosita knew that. ‘What should I do?’ I asked her.

‘Something useful,’ Rosita said. ‘Lemme take you there.’

She took my hands, and waited until I nodded. Immediately, we were in a darkened room I recognised - my nephew Harry’s bedroom. In the room below, I heard a TV on too loud and voices raised in argument. The bed was empty. Harry was curled up in a chair, cuddling a huge teddy bear and muttering. I knelt close to him and listened hard.

‘And then…’ Harry whispered, ‘Auntie Anna took me to the seaside and we went to the fair. She threw balls at the coconuts and knocked them all down, bam, bam, bam! And she won you off the stall, and gave you to me, and she told me to take care of you. So now I am taking care of you, so I got to tell you to be careful when you cross the road, because a car will knock you down dead, bam! That’s what happened to Auntie Anna.’

The kid was five years old. He should have been asleep, but he was hugging that bear hard enough to cut him in two and it was obvious he was too tense to sleep. The dark rings under his eyes told me he spent a lot of his nights sitting up talking to his toys.

‘Oh, Harry,’ I sighed.

His eyes opened wide and he looked straight at me. Stone cold dead as I am, the hairs still went up on my arms and neck.

‘Hey, Harry,’ I said, as gently as I could. ‘What are you doing out of bed at this time of night?’

Harry clutched his bear and stared at me.

‘You’re dead,’ he whispered.

‘Yes, I am,’ I said, forcing a smile. ‘But this is Hallowe’en, and… there’s a special magic that lets me come and say hello, just this one night of the year. Have you been taking care of Bear?’

Harry nodded vigorously. ‘I promised I would,’ he said, and then he frowned. ‘Is that really you, Auntie Anna?’

‘It’s really me,’ I said. ‘Remember I took you to that café at the beach, and you said Mummy didn’t let you have ice cream because it was bad for your teeth?’

Harry nodded. He began to grin.

‘So I bought us a bowl of ice cream each,’ I reminded him. ‘And you had strawberry, because you like strawberry better than anything, and I had…’

‘Raspberry!’ Harry shouted, giggling. I held a finger to my lips and smiled at him. In the room below, the TV and the arguments went on. What was my sister doing, while her son sat in the dark and grieved for his aunt? Why wasn’t she up here?

‘Yeah, raspberry,’ I said. ‘And I asked you to help me finish it. So you had TWO bowls of ice cream.’

‘And I didn’t tell Mummy,’ Harry said, chuckling.

‘Nor did I,’ I said. ‘We got away with it, didn’t we? Go on, buster, hop into bed and take Bear with you. You need to sleep, because it’s November tomorrow. I bet you’ve got a fireworks display to go to if you’re good. Am I right?’

Harry nodded like his head was only half attached to his neck. He hopped down out of the chair, dragging Bear after him, and scrambled up into bed.

‘I miss you, Auntie Anna,’ he said.

Kids break my heart. They come straight out with things that adults are too restrained to say.

‘I miss you too,’ I said. ‘But I’m watching over you now. I’ll drop by every so often, and you can always talk to me. Even if you don’t see me. Okay?’

‘Okay,’ he said. He snuggled under the blankets and cuddled Bear. ‘Can I talk to you if Mummy and Daddy do a divorce?’

There was a crash downstairs, and the yelling became louder than the TV.

‘I’m sure they won’t,’ I said.

‘I want them to,’ Harry said. ‘They don’t like each other, and I don’t like them. I like you. I wish you were still here. I’d ask if I could live with you.’

I longed to hug him, but I was afraid I’d be cold to the touch and scare him.

‘I’m still here, even when you can’t see me,’ I said. ‘If I can help you somehow, I will. Wherever you live. Don’t forget that. I love you lots, for ever and ever. Now go to sleep.’

Harry’s head lolled on the pillow and his breathing relaxed within minutes into a spaced-out snuffle. I stuffed my hands over my mouth in case I started to cry and wake him. I sat by his bed, unwilling to leave him alone, and I cursed my bloody sister.

‘He’ll sleep better now, and you can talk to him again next Hallowe’en,’ Rosita said. ‘Let’s go.’

‘I want a word with my sister first,’ I said. I was trembling, with rage and exhaustion.

‘You won’t change her mind,’ Rosita said. ‘She’s got her own course to steer. Let her live her life as she needs to. Besides, you look too tired to say boo right now. The Hallowe’en party’s nearly over - you can relax there for an hour or two.’

She put a hand on my shoulder, the world tilted and we were in a massive hall, lit by glitter and fireworks. The hall was full of people talking, singing, dancing. Laughing.

‘All ghosts,’ Rosita said. ‘Your grandma’s probably around here somewhere.’

‘You said you knew my grandmother when I was little,’ I said, suddenly realising. ‘She died in 1993. How old are you?’

‘Fifteen!’ Rosita yelled. She spun in a tight circle with her arms flung out, and I could see how young she was, in her actions as well as her looks. ‘Fifteen forever! Let’s dance!’

She swung me around in a wild freestyle waltz, and it was glorious. It was like Christmas, it was like New Year, it was like all the parties I’d missed by studying or working late or just being in the office so the partners would notice me.

‘You gonna haunt that driver next year?’ Rosita shouted over the music.

I shook my head. ‘I’m not that kind of ghost any more,’ I shouted back.

October 28, 2020 10:52

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AJ Hensley
17:04 Oct 28, 2020

Julie this was such a moving piece. Rosita actually had me laughing out loud with some of her commentary! I loved your pacing and the style with which you wrote - all of it was lovely! And at the end, when she visited Harry, I actually cried. Tears and everything. That poor little boy just missed his Aunt. Ugh right in the feelings. THANK YOU for writing this piece! I only found one (maybe two) little typos: Her flamenco dress exploded into a flock of brightly coloured birds that flew away, leaving her dressed in jeans and blouse. -- ...


Julie Bissell
19:24 Oct 28, 2020

Hello AJ - thank you for taking the time to comment, and especially, thank you for picking out the parts that aren't right (I have to improve, and I can only do that with fresh eyes spotting the bits I've got wrong). I felt sorry for Harry, as well. You can't stop parents divorcing - the alternative could be worse - but kids like Harry sometimes get hurt. Having his aunt Anna there would have softened the hurt (she would have taken him out for a forbidden meal and said 'Don't let's tell your Mum'). Poor Anna, too, who has to wait a year befo...


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Salom :)
04:03 Nov 15, 2020

This is an amazing story! I really feel for the Harry, and I think it's really sweet that she ended up choosing to talk to him instead of yelling at the taxi driver. Good job on this story!


Julie Bissell
18:51 Nov 15, 2020

Hi Salom Thank you for this! I always try to be tough on my characters and end up being too nice to them. I worried about Harry, too. He won't be five forever, and even an annual visit from Anna won't help him enough. Hope you're enjoying your writing? Julie


Salom :)
03:49 Nov 16, 2020

Julie, Do you think you'll do a sequel to this? Or maybe something with Harry all grown up? It would be very interesting to see how his halloween visits with Anna change him. And, yes, I'm really enjoying what I'm writing right now, thanks! I'm using the sunset/moon prompt for this next contest; are you entering anything?


Julie Bissell
22:00 Nov 16, 2020

That's an idea, Harry years later - I think by twelve, he'd be inclined not to believe that Anna's really talking to him, and that could be interesting from both sides. Might be next year's Nano project (or a future Reedsy prompt). Reedsy's really got me into the habit of writing again, love it. I was thinking of the 'Happiest day of their lives... too late' prompt. Could be a funny one, or fairly sinister. I'll look out for yours. Cheers Julie


Salom :)
05:08 Nov 17, 2020

Hm, I definitely think that will be really cool if/when you do that. I'm a bit new so, what's the Nano project thing? Hm, that sounds pretty interesting! I'll look out for your story on next week's prompts And thanks so much for the follow! ~Sal


Julie Bissell
20:30 Nov 17, 2020

Type Nanowrimo into your search engine (don't know whether I can put links here... ). It's a challenge to write 50,000 words in November, and it goes on every year. Just write, leave the editing till later. No judgements to it, so you can change projects or include your Reedsy stories with it, but it pushes you to write. So my next year's project - Anna the ghost and Harry the nephew?


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