Lost at the Start

 

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Dedication

For All the Ones of us out there that have those days when we want to give up, yet something keeps us here, fighting day after day. Your feelings are valid, no matter what they say. I know it’s hard, but keep going. The bad things can’t last forever.

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1.

Why am I still here?

I woke up, like I’d been in a deep, dreamless sleep for too long, and suddenly so much information flooded my mind.

Taking in my surroundings, all I could think was, N-no…This can’t be…This isn’t right. I-I’m not supposed to be here…H-how…W-why…?

I was in my room. But I was supposed to be dead.

That’s what I remembered. I died, I was sure of it. I didn’t remember when, or where, or how, but I knew I was. I’d felt myself slip away in those last few seconds…

So why I am still here? And in my room, of all places?

Everything was the same. Nothing touched or moved. The door was shut, but that wasn’t unusual. I usually kept it closed anyway, except for when mom would come knock and always forget to close the darn thing.

For some reason, I couldn’t remember…What happened.

I remembered my last moments, that I was supposed to be dead…But anything of that last day…was gone, as if it’d been wiped from my memory. Poof! Like a magician’s trick.

The more I tried to remember, the more I seemed to know about now, rather than that last day, without anyone telling me.

Namely that I was a ghost. Or, at least, the closest thing possible.

I can’t explain how I knew, I just did. It was more of a definite feeling than anything else, and since I was alone with no one to tell me anything, that’s all I had to go off of.

But the longer I thought, the more frustrated I became.

I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed be dead. Gone. DONE.

And yet here I was.

Scrubbing my hands over my face, I headed for the door. If I kept thinking about this, I was going to lose what little sanity I had left. Then I’d be crazy and dead. Which I briefly wondered was how malevolent spirits were born; They’re just “mad” as in crazy and they’re the kind of crazy that, in life, would result in them disappearing from the public eye.

I stopped a little short though. If I really was a ghost, did that mean I could walk through walls? Was there a chance I could just will myself where I wanted to go? If I wanted to, could I still affect the physical world?

Thinking about it, I’d read so many conflicting possibilities for the existence of…Well, I guess being undead is a better catch-all term than ghost, really…And I thought back to all those episodes of Haunted and some of the other ghostly-encounter type stuff I’d seen before. I hadn’t made a freakish habit of it, but really just enough to become well versed(ish) in some of the different “palettes” for what it’s like being dead. Sort of, anyway.

I wondered if what I could do as a ghost depended on how long I’d been dead? Like a weird seniority-thing.

In the back of my mind was consistently one layout of an undead person’s life that I couldn’t shake—Selective Incorporeality. Essentially; You’re only as “there” as you want to be. The instance I was thinking of including two sticking points: You are, in fact, still dead, even if you decide to be “fully” there as you were in life, and you don’t age. (Despite being capable of healing and other normal functions of the living, for most part.)

With that in mind, I flashed to the plot of the book I couldn’t quite quote before I died. The main character met a girl who didn’t age. She’d been around for a long time, she was worn out, and she was ready, after three hundreds years of life, to die.

Would that happen to me if I stayed in this ghost state? Was I stuck like this? Forever? Doomed to walk the Earth until time itself ceased?

That’s…

N-no, i-it can’t be.

Can it?

My hand now hovering over the door knob, I shook my head. TV shows involving ghosts, or focusing on mediums, usually portrayed something about moving on. And even in fiction that was true a lot of the time. Particularly, usually, I thought—The spirit needs closure. There’s something they have to do before they can finally rest.

Under the circumstances I was right, and that was why I was still here even though I was not longer alive, what could that even be? What could I possibly need to do before I could be done with the human realm for good?

A couple of things came to mind—Namely that I’d always weirdly wondered how some of the people I knew would react to my death, especially under…specific…scenarios—But that didn’t seem like a good candidate for “unfinished business.” If it was, I’d bet 95% of all persons would become ghosts. Whether they realized it or not, I had a feeling most people actually wanted to know how the world felt about losing them, be it good, bad, or exactly what they expected.

The other option…

Would confusion over how I felt about someone count? Needing to clear it up, or something? Or…Confusion wasn’t really the right word. Maybe…I need to confess how I felt to a person? Out loud? When I’d been afraid to before?

Somehow, that didn’t seem very likely either. Not for me. Maybe part of it, I guess. Closer, but…Still no.

But I couldn’t think of anything else. I didn’t have any dark secrets I wanted the world to know now that I was dead; and what they thought wouldn’t matter even if I did. As far as I knew, there wasn’t anything I wanted to do for the family I left behind, or my friends, because—even though I couldn’t remember exactly—I felt like I’d already taken care of that.

I checked the time on my watch—8:26. And it was light outside my room’s window.

Hmm…

Before I could decide on which of my two guesses as to why I was still around I’d try and pursue, I needed to know what day it was. So, hoping I’d get lucky on being able to affect the physical world, I turned and headed for my laptop.

It couldn’t’ve been that long since I died—If everything was still in place in my room, and all. Chances were it was just easier to shut the door and let the room be shunned than to try and go through all the junk in it. But once it was decided the pain of packing it all away could be bared, I thought I read somewhere about grief making stuff get packed up in a hurry because it’s too painful to look at. Even so, I couldn’t remember the date or day of the week when… “I was last here,” or whatever.

I could feel the cool material of my laptop under my hand, and I couldn’t seem to push through it, so I mentally crossed my fingers and hoped that meant I could lift the screen up and use it.

Thankfully, it seemed I could.

And, as usual, I’d left it on and open to the last thing I was looking at.

…Which was no help in figuring out what happened. Just the usual Maverick Creations home page I usually ended up on and left up when I’d looked around all my usual online haunts and found nothing better to do or to keep my interest.

The top right corner of the screen did tell me it was a Tuesday, though. Late September.

That meant…

Mr. Monty’s class…

Of all places to check on how people were reacting to what happened to me, that was the one place I wanted to see the most. Mr. Monty himself, in particular.

But how was I supposed to get there in time? Or at all, for that matter?

I decided now was a good a time as any to try “willing” myself somewhere. Worst thing that could happen was I’d waste my time and not go anywhere. Or, at least, I was assuming that was the worst. I hoped that was the worst.

So, not really knowing how that would work, I closed my eyes and tried just concentrating on Mr. Monty’s classroom, what it looked like. Where it was, all the stuff in it. I thought about being there; All the time I’d spent in that room…

I opened my eyes and I was still in my room.

Okay, maybe that wasn’t enough. I’ll give it one more try…

My eyes shut again and I thought the same. The classroom, everything in it, it’s location…This time I thought about the people, too. Mr. Monty himself, of course, my friend Laura, who I actually met there, and…Jackson.

 

Suddenly the air around me was freezing and the light behind my closed eyes changed. The floor under my sock-footed feet bled a stiff chill through the fabric. The lingering smell of my favorite perfume, save for what was stuck in my hair, was gone; replaced by the unmistakable smell of institutionalized linoleum and old concrete.

That time it worked. I didn’t even have to look to know, but I did anyway.

I was standing in the open space at the front of the room, but the three kids I recognized from my class either couldn’t see me or just hadn’t noticed me. Mr. Monty wasn’t in the room, but an open Diet Pepsi on his desk told me he was at school, at least.

Before I could do anything else, though, my ears caught on a bit of the girls’ conversation.

“...I still can’t believe it.”

“I know, I mean, she seemed fine in class. Quiet, but…”

“She was always kind of quiet, though.”

Addison and Dahlia were the ones talking. Ronnie, always the big guy full of laughs, had apparently just sat down. “Hey, what’re you guys talking about?”

A grim look crossed Addy’s face. “You didn’t hear about Luna?”

Me. They’re talking about me.

“No, what? What happened? I know she was out yesterday, but…” He shrugged.

After looking over Addy and Dahlia’s faces, Ronnie looked the most serious I’d ever seen him. Which, normally, wouldn’t be saying much, but it carried a lot more weight since I had a feeling he had a right to be scared of Addy’s answer.

“She died,” Addy spat in a shocked whisper.

Ronnie looked horrified, which was such an odd thing to see on his face. “What? What? When? How?”

Addy shook her head almost microscopically, her brown eyes wide open. “I don’t know. I just know that I saw on the news that they found her at home. She wasn’t visibly harmed so they think that she…” Addy trailed off, moving her eyes around between Dahlia and Ronnie.

“She what?”

Thankfully for me, Ronnie didn’t get it.

“They think that she killed herself,” Dahlia sighed somberly as she sat down.

That gave me the confirmation I was looking for, so I walked back towards the front and tuned out of what they were saying. Except I didn’t know how any officials would draw a suicide conclusion from an unharmed body (which I was guessing from my current state of existence; I thought ghosts would usually carry visual changes caused by death) without an autopsy, but still. If that information was correct, I suddenly had a pretty good idea about what happened.

Sleeping pills, probably. Any other kind—or any other method—would’ve been too much of a risk. Or too painful.

But the question was, how did I get them? We didn’t keep sleeping pills in the house; The closest thing would’ve been maybe melatonin tablets, and that, even with a high dosage, doesn’t strike me as a killer. Like all things, it probably could be, but it would probably take more than would be in the house at one time.

And I couldn’t go anywhere on my own since we didn’t live near enough to walk anywhere, I wouldn’t have the energy or patience for a bike, and I lacked both a car and a driver’s license or even a permit. And even if I had those things, if I had a plan, I wouldn’t’ve been stupid enough to go into a store with cameras, at the very least, and I would’ve tossed the receipt.

Sick as it is, I wanted the specifics of what happened to me, if it came down to me being my own murderer, to remain a mystery. The story behind what lead me to that, on the other hand…

Before I could go any further with my self-investigation, Mei walked in.

She looked pale and sick. Normally, she’d be bubbling with excitement for Mr. Monty’s class.

She knew.

Heck, she was probably one of the first people outside of my family to find out. Er…

Wait a minute…

Had Addy said something about a news report?

And…Why wasn’t Alistair with her?

Now, of all times, regardless of what anyone else thought, should be the one time he was there for Mei to hug and lean all over. She needed him, now more than ever.

Other people were milling in, an eerie silence over the room. Only a few snippets of conversation passed between a couple of friends, nothing more.

From what I could tell, only Addy, Dahlia, Mei, Ronnie by virtue of Addy and Dahlia, and…possibly Tod, but I didn’t know him well enough to read him, knew about me.

I knew it was selfish of me to do so, but I honestly hoped that would change as people that did know—because really, there had to be a good portion of people that knew me but weren’t my friends that saw the alleged news report, right?—spread the word around.

…Oh, who was I kidding? I wasn’t that kind of person. No one would care if they didn’t know me. I was the kind of person you saw and thought nothing of. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t bullied or anything.

Only a few people had ever seen me as anything more than just another student in a mass of peers at school, and, unfortunately, too many more than I cared to count had changed to things of the past well before my demise.

Finally, about two seconds before the late bell rang, Alistair walked in carrying his stuff, huffing just enough to imply he’d had to run to make it in time.

Mei said nothing as A.Y. trotted in behind him and conversation started to pick up as a result, but only slightly, and she went over to lean on Alistair, sniffling into his shoulder.

Much to my curiosity, Alistair looked like he knew exactly why she was upset, in addition to the normal acceptance of her just needing to borrow him for support. And, dare I say, there was an undertone of an unspoken sadness in his own expression.

Even though everyone else went virtually silent, Mei and Alistair didn’t so much as budge when Mr. Monty walked in.

I’d seen Mr. Monty upset before, but never quite like this.

He looked and acted more somber and sullen than the first day back at school when he’d explained how his summer sucked because he’d had family members in and out of the hospital and his aunt died. More shaken than every time he talked about 9/11, which he’d come awfully close to being a part of and lost countless friends to.

Don’t ask me why, but for whatever reason, I’d always had a strange desire to know what Mr. Monty would think, how he would react, if I died while still in his class.

Now, I had something of an answer.

“Mei dear, how’re you doing this morning?” He asked as he sat down at his desk and started shuffling papers.

If I hadn’t already been sure he knew, that would’ve been a guarantee, especially with the tone he’d used. Mr. Monty only called people out specifically when he was joking and having a little fun with us, or when he was genuinely concerned.

And he knew Mei and I were best friends. How could he not? We were always pairing off together; it wasn’t like we tried to hide it.

Alistair pulled back just enough to encourage Mei to do the same, and she did, barely. Her face was pinker now, the whites of her eyes turning red and wet spots staining her cheeks. Visibly, she choked back a sob.

Mr. Monty didn’t even look up, but the rustling of papers did stop for a minute. “It’s so sad what happened to her,” He mumbled, just loud enough for the quiet room to hear. “Mei, Alistair.” He looked up at them with vacant eyes. “Go into the auditorium, take all the time you need.”

I’d only ever heard Mr. Monty say that one other time. Mei was trying not cry because she was having issues with her cousin, Amber, and he’d seen me trying to comfort her and sent us to the auditorium then.

Before that day, I hadn’t been aware Mr. Monty would do something like that; something so nice, even by “nice teacher” standards. For whatever reason, I’d been under the impression he wouldn’t tolerate stuff like that, and it felt both really weird and really good to be wrong about it.

A thought occurred to me then; Maybe that’s why and when I started wanting to know how he’d react to my death…

It made about as much sense as any other reason I could come up with.

Sniffling to the point I wished I had a tissue to give her, Mei nodded distantly and tucked her head back into Alistair before the two of them walked to the door that led to the auditorium’s backstage area.

Once they’d gone, a couple of the others wanted to know what exactly Mr. Monty’d meant when he said, “It’s so sad what happened to her.” Apparently, they hadn’t seen the news report Addy mentioned or heard from anyone else.

Not that I’d expected them to. None of them really knew me, anyway. (And I doubted any of them watched the news.)

Mr. Monty gave a flustered sigh and rolled his chair up to the cluster of desks like he would when he just wanted to talk to us about whatever. “I shouldn’t be telling you all this because it’s not really the kind of thing teachers are supposed to talk about, but I don’t want all of you to just find out from a news story and that’s that.” He fidgeted and moved his hands around a lot, like nothing was wrong, like this was just another classroom discussion on any other day.

His normalcy was more eerie than reassuring. It was odd how externally calm he was, all things considered. But then, what did I expect? He was still a teacher. Breaking down wasn’t an option. And besides, aside from a general sadness I was gone, I highly doubted he’d grieve my passing like my family and friends would.

Yet I hoped to be proved wrong about that.

“As some of you may or may not know, Luna is no longer with us anymore.”

That got everyone’s attention and installed a tiny murmur in the small class, save for Addy, Dahlia, and Ronnie.

“Like, she moved away, or…?” One of them, Brittney, who I never could decide if I liked or not, asked with a casual wondering in her perpetually accusatory tone.

Mr. Monty had started shaking his head before she could even get two words out. “No.” He went quiet for a minute, probably trying to figure out how to say it. It wasn’t exactly an everyday situation, nor was this the kind of thing they could train you to handle in the teaching profession. Or, at least, that’s what I assumed.

Before he could explain though, I decided I didn’t want to hear the way he said it. I didn’t want to see these virtual strangers’ reactions, either, so I turned and practically ran after Mei and Alistair, unintentionally testing my ability to pass through walls and finding out—Hey! I can!

All that mattered was seeing the reactions of the people I actually cared about. Most of them, anyway.

I didn’t want to see my family’s reactions. I didn’t know why, but I knew I couldn’t. I’d remember them as they were, and trust in their ability to live without me. Mom, dad, and my older sister had done just fine without me for five years before I was born. Surely they could handle it now.

Yes, my logic there was a little mean-spirited, but I also just didn’t want to see them because I was admittedly afraid of their reactions, what they’d say about it.

How badly our family might’ve been falling apart already because of me.

Honestly, I wasn’t concerned about my sister. She’d just be really sad, the normal grief type situation. It was my mother and father’s reactions I didn’t even want to think about.

Part of me was scared my own mother would condemn me for what I’d done.

I couldn’t even begin to guess how my dad would act. That was who he was; Always a Wild Card.

As for my extended family, I didn’t really know of them well enough to really care how they reacted. Which, I know, sounds horrible, but we just weren’t a close-knit family. Family Reunions were always torture because there was no one my age and I spent the entire time only talking to the people I lived in the same house with. My grandparents on both sides were dead, and I just never really got to know any of the other relatives very well. Everything was always awkward and uncomfortable, at least on my end.

Mei and Alistair were in the back of the auditorium’s house seats, where I expected them to be. That’s where Mei and I had gone on auto-pilot that day. Mei was haphazardly strewn over Alistair’s shoulder. And I couldn’t hold back an, “Awww,” as I approached.

I knew they were upset, but it was still so cute to see them together.

Actually, that was one of the reasons why I hadn’t been worried about Mei and how this would affect her. She had Alistair. And more importantly, Mei was, both physically and emotionally, stronger than me.

It would take time, of course, but she’d heal. She’d be able to move on and go about her life again. Things wouldn’t be the same, but she’d be okay in the end.

If our positions in this mess were switched, I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I’d probably have a mental break down the minute I heard the news. I’d never be able to move on. I’d never trust anyone ever again—I’d already had a hard enough time trusting people. Granted, I don’t think I’d go all Romeo and Juliet and join her, but…

Wait a second. Romeo and Juliet…

Oh Dear God.

My eyes widened at the thought.

Jackson…

He had a bad habit of getting carried away in a hurry…Romeo and JulietN-no, he wouldn’t…

W-would he?

Suddenly, I was both dying (no pun intended) and terrified to find out.

If he…

I swallowed hard. It was a good thing I was already dead, because I couldn’t live with myself if he did something so insane, just because of me. I…I’d never trust myself in a relationship again. (If I was alive, and such, I mean.)

That…That was a kind of guilt I wasn’t sure I could bare. To know I was the reason someone else died, the reason someone else killed himself…

Oh, who was I kidding?

He was probably fine. My life wasn’t romantic enough for all that drama. Or dramatic enough for something that romance…? Whatever. The point was, I felt a little more confident Jackson was alive. Alive and well was questionable—because really, who would truly be well if their girlfriend killed herself less than forty-eight hours prior (as far as I knew)—but I’d take alive and grieving over…not alive.

And…Truthfully, there was still the tiniest chance that my feelings for him, the ones I could never make up my mind about; whether I liked him romantically or not (or how much), the admission I’d be a little scared to make that consisted of four little letters, could be the reason why I was…Like this. This ghost, or whatever.

I had no idea where he was, but I had to know. I had to find him…somehow.

Maybe I could will myself to him like I did the school? But, then, I’d never been to his house or any of his classes before. (I mean, I’d had some of the same teachers, but I’d never been to one their classes with him in it or anything.)

Wait. (Jeez, that word was coming up a lot.)

Still, before, I hadn’t gone anywhere until I’d thought about the people where I wanted to go…It was a longshot, but maybe I could will myself to him just by thinking about him. The feelings that went with that…

Okay. I’ll try. It’s not a great plan, but it’s something. And besides, I was dead. What more did I have to lose by trying?

So, just like before, I closed my eyes and thought about Jackson, which wasn’t hard, considering the mental aerobics I’d just put myself through. His hooded eyes, slight hook nose, that cheeky smile he gave when he was trying to be funny…How slowly but surely, I’d become comfortable with the moments of silence in our video chats. The way he was so sweet to his cats, Cinnamon and Onyx, even calling them his cat brother and sister…

How my pulse always started doing backflips right before I saw him, and it was hard to ever feel truly upset when I was talking to him…

Just like before, I knew this whole “willing” thing worked when I felt the air change around me and the light changed behind my closed eyes.

 
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2.

When I opened my eyes, the blue walls I’d only ever seen on a screen were a much brighter shade than I remembered, and even without the overhead light on, the entire room just had a completely different air to it.

Before, it had seemed kind of boring and unassuming, dare I say marginally uninviting. Of course, it wasn’t my room and I was always more focused on and therefore more interested in Jackson than the room, but still.

It was messy, but mostly just because there were various piles of clothes scattered everywhere. But it still wasn’t anywhere near as bad as my disaster area of a bedroom.

At first glance, I thought I’d done something wrong; I’d managed to will myself to his room—his house, no less—but without him there.

Then Cinnamon the cat walked in the door and jumped up on the bed in front of me. And so help me, I swear that cat could see me. For a minute, all he did was watch me. I blinked slowly in a show of friendliness—unable to remember where I’d picked up that information—and Cinnamon simply gave a loud, unspectacular meow.

“Cinnamon, get back here!”

I knew that voice anywhere.

A second later, the door swung all the way open to reveal Jackson, red-faced with what I could only assume were residential tear tracks.

Just like Mei, he looked sick and about like a strong gust of wind could take what little sanity he was holding on to in light of my new, grim, permanent absence.

“Cinnamon…” He gave a frustrated sigh at the cat, running an olivine hand through his short brown hair.

The cat kept its eyes on me and I fought the urge to reach out and pet him.

Clearly, Jackson couldn’t see me.

Admittedly, I was marginally disappointed. But really—what had I expected? No one at school had been able to see me. I was a ghost of sorts, after all. It wasn’t like they should’ve been able to see me.

And yet, somewhere deep down, for whatever reason, I’d been hoping Jackson, of all people, would be the one able to see me. Or sense my presence, or something.

Logically speaking—though why I was still bothering with logic anymore was admittedly questionable—I knew him magically being able to see me wouldn’t be good for either of us for so many reasons, but a part of me had hoped for it anyway.

I just…I wanted to tell him I didn’t leave because of him. My decision had been mounting for a long time coming. It wasn’t his fault; He’d just gotten involved with the wrong girl at the wrong time.

A selfish, selfish girl that still couldn’t manage to regret dying at her own hands.

Just as I was about to really get into my private pity party, Jackson went rigid and jumped back a couple of steps, blinking feverishly.

For one shining, glorious moment, I thought I’d willed myself into being seen, but I wilted internally when I noticed his eyes still hadn’t managed to focus on me. Rather, his decadent gaze searched the room for something I couldn’t guess.

No, of course not. That would be too much to ask for, wouldn’t it?

I let out my own exasperated sigh and, without thinking, said, “I’m so sorry it had to be this way…” while choking back tears in a hushed whisper.

“W-what the…?” Jackson’s eyes darted around only to land on Cinnamon, the only option he knew was a candidate for making noise.

Cinnamon meowed again and jumped off the bed to rub against my legs, carefully stepping over my feet each time he circled around.

Jackson unironically looked like he’d seen a ghost, which I was starting to believe—hope, at least—was more and more possible by the minute. If only I could figure out how to make it work… Especially if the cat could touch and see me. And even so, Jack had at least heard me, even if he couldn’t’ve made out what I said.  And at the moment, I had no way of knowing if he could tell what I said or not.

“Jack…” I tried desperately. “I’m here…It’s me, Luna. Really…” I blinked at him, trying to will my form into his sight; the same physical plane he was in, if my assumptions about how this ghost thing worked were correct.

“That’s not…But she’s…”

I couldn’t fight them back any longer. The first tears fell from my eyes. “It’s me Jack—Really! I promise! I’m here. I’m really here. Cinnamon knows! Please…” I took a shaky step towards him, a hand half-heartedly outstretched, the cat close on my heels and purring loudly.

Apparently my desperation outshined all else working against me, because at long last, his chocolate colored irises locked on me. Despite my tears, I couldn’t’ve been happier.

If he’d been freaked out before, he was surely about to lose his mind now. A hand flew to his open mouth and his eyes nearly popped out of his skull. “Luna…”

Somehow we fell into the longest, tightest hug I could ever remember being a part of.

For a minute, I forgot I was supposed to be dead; That this was all wrong. I forgot about the cat and school and figuring out why I was still here. All that mattered was the Jackson was alive and here and we were together. The world could burn, all I needed was this moment here and now.

Then Cinnamon meowed and reality came back into roaring, painfully sharp focus.

I jerked away, mentally scolding myself for such a display. I wasn’t helping either of us, especially Jack. If anything, I’d just made everything worse.

Both of us needed to prepare to move on from my death. Me so I could Rest In Peace—or whatever I was going to end up doing—and him so he could live his life.

“Luna…I—I can’t believe…” He shook his head. “You’re here! The news…A-and the report—It’s wrong! They’re all wrong! You’re alive!”

Yep. Not even dead twenty-four hours, (or so I assumed; if nothing else, I hadn’t been a ghost anywhere close to twenty-four hours yet), and already I’d majorly screwed up.

Trying to figure out what exactly to say, I sat on the edge of the bed. Cinnamon hopped up next to me, rubbing his face against my forearm.

“Jackson, it isn’t like that,” I said softly, briefly wondering why the cat was being so friendly when he’d never actually met me. In person, anyway. “I shouldn’t’ve come here…”

That, apparently, was the exact moment my appearance’s strangeness hit him. “How did you…?”

I shook my head. “That’s what I mean. You misunderstand…” I struggled to find the words, but knew I had to say something. “I’m not really here—I mean—” I realized I’d put my foot in my mouth. “I’m here—I’m real but…I…I’m not alive.” And the finality of that was just occurring to me. “I’m like a ghost, or something.”

“But…” I felt his eyes on me. Logic said this was impossible. As usual, logic wasn’t on my side. “I don’t understand…”

Finally, I made myself look at him. With any luck, I wouldn’t be like this forever. I needed to make my time count, if that’s how it worked out. “I don’t understand it myself, Jack. All I know is that I sort of…‘woke up’…But I know I’m dead. I remember dying some time before I woke up. That’s all I know.”

Jackson said nothing, but his eyes never left me. A look I couldn’t quite read crossed his face.

Cinnamon meowed and batted a clawless paw at my hand.

“They…” Jack swallowed hard. “They said you…That…what happened…The note…”

My ears perked up. “Note? What note?” If I couldn’t remember what happened on the day I died, the least I could do was figure out what happened from what everyone else knew.

“The note when they…They found you, and it was there…” His eyes started to water and reddened and I felt like a jerk for asking. But this was all I had right now. I needed to know everything he knew.

I was about to feel like the biggest jerk ever.

“Jack,” I said softly as I stood up. I walked over and took one of his hands in both of mine, a bold move I never would’ve been brave enough to dare in life. “I don’t remember anything from my last day alive. Nothing. I need you to tell me everything you know about that day; about what happened.” I paused to find Cinnamon rubbing against my leg again, the locked my eyes on Jack’s. “Please?”

But just like that, his hand fell—quite literally—right through mine and his eyes eyes lost me. His gaze searched to room frantically, but to no avail.

For some reason, to him, I’d just disappeared into thin air, right before his eyes. (Again, I was assuming, but you know, it was a pretty solid guess.)

I fell to my knees, exhaustion creeping over me. I wanted to scream. I wanted to sleep

And yet Cinnamon still had no problem finding or touching me. In fact, it was like nothing had happened, as far as he was concerned.

Strange…

I stood up slowly, feeling groggy, like I’d just woken up from a too-long nap.

Behind Jack, who was still swiveling around and trying to figure out if he’d imagined me or not, another meow sounded and a black cat sporting a white patch on her chest—Onyx—trotted in.

Three guesses where she went. (To me.)

Onyx, of all things, stood up on her hind legs and propped her front paws on my calf.

I can only imagine how odd the whole thing looked to Jackson. How odd this whole day must’ve been, even.

The girl you love is reported dead, leaving you miserable and grieving, then magically appears in your bedroom, seemingly vanishes, and makes it look like the cats are defying physics.

You know, all things considered, I’d say he was actually holding up pretty well.

Expecting failure, I decided I had nothing to lose. “I’m still here, Jack! Really! I don’t know how this ghost thing works. I’m sorry.” I tried to reach out and touch him, but my had phased through him like…like…I don’t know, like he was a hologram (or I was) or something. Point is: I felt nothing.

Though for a split second I thought I saw a bit of a shiver course through him at my attempt at touch. But the evidence was so slight, it was hard to tell for sure.

However, it was obvious he’d heard me, just like when I first appeared.

“Luna?”

He sounded the most terrified I’d ever heard him. Of course, I’d be freaked out too, after all this.

What scared me was that I wasn’t sure if he was scared of me, or just afraid he was losing his mind.

“I’m here Jack,” I cried, choking back another spell of tears. “I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m sorry. But I need your help.” Or, at least, I thought I did, and that was the thing to say to get his attention—I hoped. Truthfully, I probably could’ve found the information of my death with a quick Google search at my own house, but I…

Okay. Admittedly, I was gunning to know how Jackson personally reacted to everything; if he’d noticed anything off about me the day of or in the days leading up to it all.

Part of me needed to know.

Therefore, I needed him.

“L-Luna…I-if that’s you, I can’t tell what you’re saying. Not exactly…You’re here, aren’t you?” He looked around again, an I could tell his faith in his sanity was dropping like a rock.

What on Earth was I going to do?

Both cats meowed up at me.

Well, there was an idea to prove my existence and hopefully convince Jackson he wasn’t losing it.

Since she seemed the most eager, I picked up Onyx and cuddled her a bit, gently setting her front paws on my shoulder and holding her up with one hand while stroking her with the other.

To my surprise and joy, she started purring and pawing the air like a kitten would their mother’s belly. She didn’t resist or fidget like most cats her size would in such a position.

“This is me Jack, I’m here.” I said quietly, hoping the message would reach him, even if the actual words didn’t.

Jackson visibly let go of a little of the tension he’d been holding on to. “Luna.”

I almost smiled. Progress.

Before I could figure out my next step, Jackson looked around again and ran a hand through his hair. “Stay right there. I’ll be right back.” He motioned me to stay before backing up a few steps and walking out into the hallway.

While I was beyond tempted to follow him, I was increasingly weary and Onyx was getting heavy, so I opted to just sit on the bed and play with her and Cinnamon until Jackson returned.

 

***

 

About five minutes and some loud rummaging noises later, Jack stepped back in the room and close the door behind him, wielding a mostly brown…game box?

Two things: 1. This was the not the time for board games, and 2. Suddenly, I was acutely aware of every fiber of my being and the fact that we were alone, save for the pair of cats all over me. But I was more concerned about my growing suspicion of that box.

“This should help,” Jack mumbled as he took the top off and started setting up on the floor.

If I hadn’t already been dead, I would’ve been when I looked at the box lid.

In big, faux-old looking print, the lid had, “OUIJA” printed in all capital letters.

No.

Nononononononononononono, NO.

That, I would not stand for.

Those things were NOT games; They WERE trouble. Danger packaged and sold to the public in a cardboard box. How lovely.

I’d seen more than enough TV shows where people recounted interactions with malevolent spirits to know that those “games” only ever led to trouble. Scary, hard-to-get-rid of, dangerous trouble.

Trying not to trip over the cats slinking around my feet, I walked over and snatched the board up. I felt nauseous just being in the same room as it; Holding it was even worse.

Hoping the board itself—nothing set up or activated or whatever—wasn’t an object of potential threat, I hurled it as hard as I could against the wall to emphasis how much I was not going to tolerate it. Which is to say, it made a satisfying noise and made the cats jump a little, but didn’t do much of anything else. What can I say? There’s a reason I never played sports when I was alive. Then I crossed myself; An action I’d only seen a few times, but decided it was a good idea to imitate when an actual cross wasn’t available.

Or at least if one was here, I had no clue where it was. (Not my house, after all.)

Jackson blinked at the board where it’d fallen on the floor. “O-kay. Nevermind.”

Good. If I’d had a match, I would’ve walked it outside and burned it.

Though, I guess I couldn’t blame him for trying to figure out how to communicate since he couldn’t talk to me directly…

Communicate…Directly…Hmm…

I looked around and spotted an unspectacular wood desk pushed up against a wall buried under papers and a mostly empty pen cup.

That’d work.

I walked over, plucked a pen I hopped would work from the cup, and found a clean sheet of paper hiding under a videogame walkthrough book. I scribbled, the pen didn’t work, so I went for the wooden pencil instead.

The lead was broken. Great.

I grabbed the one other pen in the cup and prayed for luck.

It was a gel pen, so I had to write a little slower than I wanted to to keep the ink from skipping, but at least it worked.

Those boards are nothing but trouble. —Luna

Moving back towards him, both cats still eagerly on my heels, I held the paper up so he could see what I’d written.

Gently, he took the paper from me and the corners of his mouth twitched in an almost-smile. The paper was proof; He wasn’t losing his mind. I really was here.

But that also meant I really was dead.

Or, from his perspective, I guess also it could have meant that I had crazy powers I never told him about, but let’s get real here. He’d heard a report I was dead, I’d tried my level-best to explain I was dead…He’d have to be thicker than whale blubber to not come to that conclusion.

I could hear my mother saying he probably was in my head, and my heart sank just a little.

Just another reason why I didn’t want to see her reaction to my death.

“I was just trying to talk to you,” He said slowly. “But this’ll work.” He held the paper out, slightly hesitant, as if for me to take it.

As I carefully took it back, I realized he hadn’t been sure where I was or even if I could/would take it. I mean, even I wasn’t entirely sure what the rules and limitations of this new…existence…were. How was he supposed to know?

I sighed. Even so, I still had to make it clear that I was, in fact, dead. No, he wasn’t crazy, but I wasn’t “back,” or miraculously alive, either.

I’m sorry about all this, really. But…but I had to see you, okay? I’m not back, but it appears I will be here a while longer. And I—frankly—don’t know how this works either. —Luna

I probably didn’t have to keep signing my name, but I wanted to as a precaution. Just in case I wasn’t the only thing haunting him. Especially after that board fiasco. It just felt safer to provide proof it was me. And who knows? It might’ve made him feel better, too.

For the second time, I held the paper up to him. This time, he didn’t take it. But he did read it. The disheartened and vaguely fearful look on his face gave him away. “But…How?”

Forgetting he couldn’t see me, I shook my head. Then I remembered my inconvenient state and scribbled on the paper again. I don’t know. —Luna.

Jackson just stared at me, now basically reading over my shoulder. “I…I’m so sorry, Luna…” He reached for me, but obviously couldn’t find me. Still, I shifted so my shoulder would’ve touched his hand anyway.

Don’t be sorry. This isn’t you or anyone else’s fault. I made a choice. A choice, I should mention, I do not regret. —Luna.

“But…but there had to be a reason you made that choice, wasn’t there?” And part of him was still worried he was mixed up in that reason, despite my comment.

Yes, I allowed. But it was not you. I cannot emphasize that enough. —Luna. And it was true. It was the rest of the world and my own head that was the problem, not him.

I watched him carefully, pretty sure he was illy not going to give up believing he was somehow responsible for my death up that easily. I wanted to be wrong, but life, (and now apparently death) I’d learned, was a trifle not that simple.

Hoping for luck, I opened my mouth to speak. “Jack?”

He jerked his head up and managed to pinpoint my location, though his eyes still couldn’t find me. “I promise it wasn’t you, okay?” I said, much louder than necessary. Earlier, it seemed like maybe he could hear a vague whisper. Maybe talking louder would help, if that was the case. What did I have to lose by trying?

“Okay.” He nodded a little. “Okay, I believe you. I heard you.”

Gently so I wouldn’t take a nosedive into the floor, I circled my arms around him. This time, I could feel him, but it was obvious he couldn’t feel me.

Well this is just getting weirder. How the crap do these physics work? I’d have to ponder that later. For now, I’d take what I got.

“So you can hear me now?” I shouted.

Jack nodded, visibly giving up on trying to spot me. “Yes. You’re kind of quiet, but I can hear you.”

That was better than nothing.

“This is the best I can do. Again, I’m still figuring out how exactly this works.” He nodded like he understood. “How…” I hesitated, not sure what exactly to say next. “How are you coping?” It wasn’t brilliant, but it was something.

Jackson eased himself onto the edge of the bed. Since I no longer needed the paper, I joined him. Cinnamon curled up between us, leaning mostly on my thigh, and Onyx jumped into my lap, kneading her front paws on the same leg. “I…Well…I miss you.”

That much I’d figured out, thanks. I mentally kicked myself for my sarcasm. Now was not the time for my usual satire.

“It’s…I…When I saw the news…I—I mean, you…Why would you do this? I…I knew you said…But I…I never thought you…” He couldn’t seem to get the words out. I knew what he meant anyway.

Though albeit in a relatively light way, I had explained to him at least once, if not a few other times, that sometimes I had thoughts about how I ended up. How, more than once, I’d had dark moments that I knew normal people don’t have.

But something he didn’t know, and even as a ghost I had no intention of telling him, was that I never felt sad enough around him to get into the full extent of just how bad I got sometimes. And I’d actually tried before. I couldn’t make myself sad enough.

Perhaps that says something about him making me happy, perhaps it says something about my willingness to be upset in front of other people. I don’t know.

So yes, I’d mentioned it too him, but I could never really get into the full extent with him. Or anyone, for that matter.

When I got like that, I usually had at least one thought to reach out and talk to someone, but ultimately decided—after a particularly bad ending to a messy relationship I do not want to get into right now—that I didn’t want to be a burden, a bother, or seem like I was just vying for attention. I didn’t want to sound like a broken record or a baby that couldn’t handle how sucky life is sometimes.

I didn’t want to give them a reason to walk away from me like so many others had in the past.

Stupid of me, I know, but I didn’t know what else to think. I’d been on the opposite side of that coin, and I hated it. In no way did I want to do that to someone else.

“I…” It was a lot harder to think about phrasing when you had to shout to be heard. “I didn’t think I would either! But there’s only so much one person can take before it becomes too much–Until it feels like there’s no other way out.” Even if it wasn’t true. Sometimes it just feels like there’s only one choice. A terrifying, selfish, monstrous choice that, in the moment, feels like a relieving back-up plan to the suffering of Being Alive.

Hey, I said I didn’t regret my choice. I never said I encouraged others to make the same one. (Really, what kind of person would I be if I did that?)

“You really felt that way? I thought…I mean, your life seemed pretty good to me. Sometimes I wished I had it. It was perfect.”

And then something snapped.

In me.

 
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