Chapter 1 - Epilogue
It took Christine a good thirty seconds to realise she had died. In her defence everything had moved so fast, one second she was walking while on her phone, barely hearing the nearby screeching sound. Moments later she was in the same position, mobile missing and feeling a dull pain coursing through her. The second in between was such a blur that her mind had edited it out at first.
Christine took a look around. On her left a bus had come to a stop, with a large crowd starting to surround the front. Somehow drawn to it she started towards it, briefly putting a hand on a nearby car, which also had a couple of people running towards the front doors of it. Staggering up to the bus, Christine could hear faint screams from someone, though her hearing was a bit muffled at this point.
She looked into the bus, seeing some people getting up and helping fellow passengers to their feet, while others still moved to the front to join the crowd. Someone called for an ambulance. Someone had been hit. Christine would probably have called 999 herself had her phone not disappeared from her hand.
At the front of the crowd at last, she finally saw what had happened, though even then she didn’t fully realise what had happened at first. Lying on the ground in front of the bus was a young woman. A man knelt over her pumping her chest, while a second helper held his hands around the woman’s stomach, blood seeping through his fingers despite the effort. On the front of the bus a noticeable dent could be seen where it must have hit the poor girl.
It wasn’t until she heard the terrified voice for a third time that she finally recognised it. She turned to see her friend, Kim, watching what was happening, crying as she did, “Oh god, Chris, please don’t!” Only then did Christine recognise the blonde woman lying with blood slowly stain her blouse and eyes gazing vacantly up. Only then did Christine realise she was watching herself die.
Of course, in days like these, that conclusion wasn’t strictly true. The strangers that had come to her aid had been able to use CPR and the little knowledge they had gained from a dull first aid course their jobs had sent them on years ago to be able to keep her body alive long enough for the paramedics. They stabilised her enough so that she could be taken on the ambulance, and brought to the nearest hospital, St. Jude’s. Kim was allowed to come along, and the whole journey she held Christine’s body’s hand as they travelled. “It’s going to be okay Chris,” Kim muttered, still crying, “Just hang in there.”
Christine tried to touch Kim’s shoulder though, to reassure her, to let her know she wasn’t alone and things were fine, but her hand went straight through, hitting the seat behind instead. She jolted back in surprise. In hindsight Christine realised that must have been why she had moved through the crowd so easily.
“I’m sorry to ask,” the paramedic asked Kim, “but what happened?” Christine listened for her response as well, it was all still a blur for her.
It was a few moments before Kim finally spoke, “Chris and I were out shopping, we’d just finished our final exams and wanted to go out to celebrate.” Christine had been pretty much certain she had failed, but everything else had gone really well so she’d assumed that she would at least scrape through. Thinking about it, that probably didn’t matter now.
“Then she got a phone call from someone, I didn’t hear who.”
It was her dad. Oh god, she’d been talking to him when she got hit, he must be worried sick with no idea what was going on.
“Then some idiot in a Porsche came out of nowhere, the bus couldn’t stop. I was able to get out of the way just in time but I for- I forgot to-” Kim couldn’t finish the sentence and burst into tears.
The paramedic put a hand on her shoulder, which bit Christine. She could not do that anymore. “It’s alright; it’s not your fault. We’re going to do everything we can for Chris, okay?” Was it going to be enough though? Christine thought.
The ambulance came to a stop and the stretcher was pulled out by and taken towards the A&E department they’d been taken to. A host of medical personnel came rushing forward as soon as they passed through the doors. “What happened?”
“Traffic accident,” the paramedic called out, “Car speeding sent a bus off course crashing into pavement. One pedestrian and the passengers of the car are in critical conditions.” They then all started saying a lot of medical stuff which made no sense to Christine, but did not sound good.
One of the nurses grabbed Christine’s friend; “Are you family?” she was asked as her body was being taken away. Christine stopped, unsure which way to. As the nurse made Kim stay behind, apparently she was to have an immediate operation for something, she watched her own unconscious body get taken away.
Something tugged at her, she needed to follow the stretcher. Christine started to run after it, at first she was dodging to avoid the people in the corridor. But after brushing through a nurse she quickly realised she couldn’t touch anyone, so she aimed straight for her stretcher and glided through the crowd.
Her body was pushed through a set of doors which quickly shut behind them. Not knowing if it would work, she put her hand on the door and started to push. No movement. She tried harder, but no matter how hard she pushed it would not budge. Giving up, she lent on the door, not even knowing whether she actually wanted to get through to the other side to see her own surgery, possibly her own demise.
The door suddenly opened. Shocked, she fell back to the ground. It turned out that a doctor had opened it from the other side and now walked straight through her prone body. Christine stood up just as the doors closed shut again. She sighed and turned round and walked back to where her friend was. She’d wait with Kim to find out the truth.
They waited in the visitor’s lounge, nervously sat on the edge of stained hospital chairs. It wasn’t long before Nathan, Kim’s boyfriend, came to give her moral support, though none could really be given to Christine. She just sat there and watched the world.
There was a call to clear the corridor and another stretcher came into view. This one was had a man on it, and a young, slightly bloodstained girl running along with medical professionals. Christine would never have taken much notice of her, if she hadn’t seen the girl’s arm pass straight through one of the doctors.
Christine started straight at the girl as they got nearer, her thoughts racing. Then the girl noticed her stare and stopped. There was a few seconds of wordless understanding between the two of them, before the girl finally spoke.
“You can see me?”
Christine nodded, “Y-yeah,” It felt inadequate, but had no idea what more to say.
“Do you know where they took me? They took me away before they got George out.” Christine shook her head; she assumed George was the man that the girl had been following.
She looked off in the direction the stretcher had gone and realised they’d disappeared. “No,” the girl called out as she started to move again, but Christine grabbed her arm and pulled her back. To the shock of both of them it worked.
“You don’t want to watch them do whatever they’re going to do to him.” Christine exclaimed as the girl struggled. She finally gave up and lowered her head. “What’s your name?”
“Frankie,” the girl sniffed, she’d started crying.
“What happened to you Frankie? What do you remember?” Christine asked. She did want to help this girl, but she didn’t know enough to be able to.
“I…I don’t know,” Frankie replied, still with her back to woman holding her wrist, “George had only just gained his licence. We were going to the cinema to see a comic book movie we’d be waiting ages for. Last thing I remember was us turning a bend and then the next thing I know I’m standing outside his car as a rescue team was ripping it open like a tin can to get us out.”
She felt Christine’s hand slid off her arm, causing her to turn round.
The words that the paramedic had said echoed in Christine’s head, ‘One pedestrian and the passenger of the car are in critical conditions.’
“Was there a crashed bus nearby?” she asked.
The girl thought for a moment, “Yeah, how did you know?”
“Because…” Christine didn’t know whether she could say it or not, she was starting to well up now, “because that bus hit me.” Frankie took a few steps back, looking at her in what looked like terror, before turning and running down the route that George had gone down.
Christine didn’t try and stop her this time, she doubted that the girl would want to be controlled by someone her boyfriend probably killed. She knew she wouldn’t.
“Miss Walker?” a doctor called out, Kim and her boyfriend jumped up at the mention of her name, hope and fears in their eyes.
“What is it?” Kim asked, “Is she alright? Are we able to see her?”
“She’s stable for now, but she appears to have gone into a coma.” So, alive but stuck unconscious as a ghost, Christine thought. Her doctor started again, “I’m sorry but it is still family only right now, she’s still in intensive care. Have you been able to contact any of her family?”
The two looked at each other for a moment, “I was able to get a hold of Chris’s dad, but her family live a couple hundred miles away.”
“I see,” the doctor said, but Christine had left them by this point to find her body. It wasn’t that hard a search to find her ward, signs everywhere pointed towards intensive care.
Her ward had four beds; and right by the window lay Christine. Someone had changed her into a hospital gown, looking at her it was hard to tell she was alive, if only just. Around her she could hear doctors and nurses working with other patients but the ethereal Christine was transfixed by the physical one.
It is not very often that people are actually able to see how others can see them. Reflections, photos, they’re never quite the same. And looking at herself was jarring. Then again, most people never got the chance to see her looking like she had recently been hit by a bus.
Christine put her hand out to touch the body, wondering if she could touch herself. It could not have been long since the accident but it felt like an age since she had felt the touch of life. Did her body count as alive? She watched as the ends of her fingers went through herself and slowly removed them. Her body counted.
Her hand moved to the blanket covering her body. What was in reality a very thin sheet that should be easy to move was rock solid for Christine. Can’t touch the living, can’t move the lifeless.
Something in that thought really hurt, a feeling of loneliness. She looked at herself once more before turning and walking away.
There was an empty bench which she sat down on and, quickly losing all composure, she broke down. The bench creaked as someone sat down next to her. The advantage of being unseen was that she could feel no shame in crying loudly, so she ignored the newcomer as he took out a phone and soon she heard beeping that indicated he was typing.
At first she tried to ignore it and keep her thoughts going, but quickly it got harder to think. “Could you please stop with the bloody bleeping,” the irritated girl called out. The sound stopped. “Thank you.” She said sarcastically.
“You’re welcome,” a curt voice replied.
She pulled her head away from her hands and looked at the man sitting next to here, phone still in hand. His clothes were shabby, battered jeans and an unbuttoned brown and beige chequered shirt sitting over a white t-shirt. He smiled at her gave an awkward wave with the hand that was still holding the phone.
“Hi,” He said.
“Are you…” she started but couldn’t quite get the right words.
He looked at her expectantly, “Yes?”
“Are you dead too?” His smile grew, and the man looked back down at this phone and started typing. She realised he was probably texting someone. But how could he if he was dead? How, and more importantly why would someone supposedly deceased have a phone?
“Yes,” he finally replied, pressing with the kind of extravagance that told Christine that he had finished his task. “Sorry about that, I’d been half way through a message when I saw you. My name’s Alex. You?”
“Chr-Christine,” she responded, “how do you have a mobile if you’re dead? Who are you texting?”
“Over a hundred and fifty thousand people die every day. Some of them are a lot more technologically minded than you or I,” he said in a matter of fact tone, “I don’t know how they made these things in work for us, I’m just glad that they did. You’re one of the people that were in that accident in town earlier today; aren’t you?”
She nodded. “I’m sorry you had to end up here, especially since your body’s not dead yet.”
Christine locked in on that line, “Not dead yet...Does that mean I might wake up?” Might wake up, for the first time Christine considered the possibility that this was all a dream. But she’d never felt this conscious in a dream.
“As far as your body is concerned, I’m not sure,” Alex said. “Modern science has pretty much destroyed the old concept of death. What matters is that you’re here. And I’m sorry, but no matter what happens with your body, you’re not returning to it.” She looked at him confused. What did that even mean? “Sorry, this topic is always painful, both in life and after it.”
“Why are you talking to me?” Christine asked.
Alex’s smile became more comforting, “I try to talk to all of the...new arrivals. I know this is all a bit much to take in at once and I just wanted you to know you’re not the only one here.”
“Thanks I guess,” she muttered, “I had already seen another ghost,” the word stabbed her as she said it.
“One of the other victims?” Christine nodded, Alex pondered for a moment, “I need to find them, I was unsure if there was anyone else.” He looked back at her, “I can tell you’re not ready for me to explain everything yet, about living in this limbo. You still need some time to come to terms. Just thought you should know I exist for when you want to talk. I don’t want you to think that...”
There was silence, “Think that what?” Christine asked. Nothing. She looked up at him, but he didn’t seem to be paying attention to her anymore, instead looking behind her with a sober look. Christine turned to see what he was looking at.
The corridor was relatively busy with all sorts of people coming to and from making it quite hard to spot. Then she saw the man that was looking at them. Tall, with bright auburn hair and wearing a white coat that showed he was one of the doctors of the hospital.
The new man was looking at the two of them, particularly Alex, with a grin on his face. As he walked towards them Alex leaned over and her pushed her legs back, which were currently sticking out uncaringly into the corridor. The sensation startled Christine, as it was the first time since she’d died someone had touched her. The man passed them and looked straight ahead again as if nothing had happened, walking over where Christine’s feet had been.
“You need to leave this place and be somewhere safe before it gets dark,” he muttered, starting to get up.
“What? Why? Who was that?”
“It’s not safe outside after dark for ghosts, I’d ask you to come with me but…” Alex paused, “I’m assuming you’d prefer to stay at your old place for the time being and not follow a complete stranger who you’ve only just met and who’s been acting slightly odd?”
At least he recognised it. She nodded.
He pulled out his phone and opened the back of it up. He pulled out the battery and SIM card before slipping a new one into it. Finally he replaced the battery and lid and then handed Christine the phone. “When you want to talk, or need someone to talk to someone who’ll respond, call me. It’s obvious which contact is mine.” He then turned away and walked off, “Get out of here as soon as you can, you’ll find windows more useful than doors.”
Christine looked down at the phone he’d pushed into his hand. “Oh, and the code is your birthday.” Alex called back to her just before he turned a corner. Pressing the on button, a screen lock came up, requiring a four digit code. She typed in 2109, and instantly the phone unlocked. She swore to herself, how did he know?
Christine had no desire to leave immediately; being given orders tends to have that effect. But she did not want to stay either. Kim was probably still being emotional in the waiting room, and Christine knew that was little composure she had gained would be lost if she went back to her body. Eventually her family would show up here too.
Christine started walking down the corridors. As she did, the anonymity of being a ghost kicked in again, just crowds of people not even noticing your existence enough to walk round you. She could see the world of life, but was disconnected from it and none of that life could see her.
Or at least, most of the time no one could see her. Occasionally Christine thought she caught a glimpse of people, real people who were interacting with the others, looking at her. The first few times she knew she had imagined it, as once she noticed they seemed to stop looking. But then there was one that didn’t turn away immediately. He was looking directly at her, smiling as he did. Suddenly that anonymity was gone and Christine instinctively felt nervous.
“Excuse me?” she started, but as soon as she spoke he seemed to snap out of it and turned to walk away.
“Hey, wait.” She followed him, catching up as the man got to a door and grabbed his wrist. She succeeded, but like when she’d tried to open the door, she could not exert any force on him, and he almost pulled her along. She heard a chuckle as he walked through the door. She could not say why, but she knew that she needed to leave then and there. It wasn’t safe.
It was easy leaving the hospital; doors were being opened constantly. A part of Christine thought she should try to find Frankie and talk her into leaving with her, but she didn’t know where the girl was and had no clue what to say. ‘Hi, I want you to leave your boyfriend’s bedside and come with a complete stranger to her flat’ would sound insane. That was a point; she wondered how she would get into her flat.
When she finally got outside she was something she hadn’t noticed when she’d first arrived at the hospital. Covering the front entrance of the building and a lot of the ground around it was what looked like spray paint. Across the glass front doors there was a large red X, and beside them on the walls and floor there were a number of weird symbols, also red.
Christine had passed there many times while she was alive and knew what it should look like, so this new graffiti confused her. For a little while she tried to work out what they were. The most striking things were five symbols that went around the X, particularly the top one which seemed to be a stylised bird wearing a crown. Eventually she snapped her from her trance of curiosity and started walking, noticing all of the arrows on the floor as she did. They were all in different colours but all pointed away from the hospital. Someone did not like the hospital.
As she walked down the street Christine saw more spray paint covering the pavement and buildings. It was mostly on doors, as each door had a green X on it, with many then having a red one overlapping it. If there was a red X, there would then be at least one of the strange symbols on the door. The floor continued to have arrows in varying colours point along the roads, occasionally then turning towards buildings where there might be a box of that arrows colour sprayed on a wall.
All of this must mean something, but she was too drained to work it out today. After nearly an hour walking she finally reached her house, and was relieved to see it only had green markings on it. Unable to open the gate she jumped over the fence and walked towards the door before remembering she couldn’t open it.
Christine remembered what Alex had said. ‘You’ll find windows more useful than doors.’
She went to the nearest window and tried to put her hand on it. Her arm went straight through into the room behind. Smiling, Christine climbed in. She was glad that they had forgotten to fully close the curtains to this window as something told her that would have made life difficult.
She looked around the dark, unlit living room; it was still in the same state as she had left it not that many hours ago. They had been in a hurry to leave so their breakfast ware was still sitting by the kitchen sink and all of their revision notes were covering the tables and floors. Man they had been worried about that exam. And now it didn’t matter. Christine looked out of the window, the sun was just setting. She wondered what she should do.
Frankie was still by George’s bedside. She had not been as lucky as him or Christine, as her body had died at the scene of the crash. While George had been badly injured, he had regained consciousness for a bit and was likely to recover from his injuries, so Frankie didn’t even have the benefit of George being with her in spirit.
It had not been long before George’s father arrived. She still wasn’t sure what to feel, everything just seemed to bubble up at once, should she hate him? Feel worried for him? Sorry for herself? The only moments when things seemed to calm a little emotionally for her was when the doctor and nurses came in to check up on him.
His father left just as the sun was just about to set, so she and George were alone now. She would occasionally voice a question to him just so the silence would stop occasionally, but he showed no sign of hearing. Why couldn’t he have looked where he was going? He knew how risky he was being. It was not until the sun was completely gone and the outside was dark that Dr Brady came in again, with a policeman in tow.
“Good evening, Mr Weston, how are you feeling?” the doctor asked. George gave an awkward and non committal response.
For some reason, Frankie felt uncomfortable with these two new presences in the room, something about them felt off somehow. Dr Brady walked slowly towards Frankie as he talked with George, though not seeming to notice her existence. “This is Constable Chapman, he wants to ask you a couple of questions.”
Frankie knew she didn’t want to be around for that. The police officer would be asking her boyfriend questions she knew she didn’t want to hear, and he was probably going to get into a lot of trouble with the law. She got up and started walking towards the entrance to the ward, looking for distractions.
As Frankie walked past Dr Brady, his hand suddenly snapped into movement and grabbed her arm in a tight grip. She tried to pull herself out of it but to no avail. “I’ll leave you two to it.” He muttered, walking out and dragging the captured girl along with her.
“Alright,” Constable Chapman responded, walking to Frankie’s seat and pulled it to George’s bedside, “So Mr Weston, I just want to hear what happened from your point of view.”
The doctor and Frankie were out of the ward and he continued to drag her off towards some room. She started trying to hit him but every blow felt like hitting a brick wall. Eventually they were in a room and the doctor flung his arm forward sending her flying in, landing on the floor. “My apologies for the harshness,” the strange man muttered as he turned to close the door, “I just think it’s best if we keep this somewhere that can’t draw attention.”
Frankie pushed herself up onto her knees and turned back to him, “I thought no one could see me…or touch me.”
He seemed briefly confused by what she was saying then apparently came to a realisation, “I…have a gift that means I can sense you, but right now I can’t see or hear you clearly so, give me a moment.” He closed his eyes and seemed to be taking some deep breaths.
Frankie tried to make a break for it, springing to her feet and running for the door. Dr Brady opened his eyes and lunged himself, grabbing her by her throat. “I said,” he said forcefully, pushing her against the wall with her unable to move him at all, “give me a moment. I can barely see the room let alone you.” He closed his eyes again as she started to cry for help, despite the fact she knew no one could hear.
As she did, she saw him start to change. It was hard to describe, his colour contrast increased, skin turning from normal pinkish colour to pale white, hair going bright orange and, when he finally opened his eyes again; she could see they were bright blue. Frankie couldn’t help but scream, the change gave him a powerful and intimidating presence.
As she did he raised his free hand and started shushing her in a sort of comforting manner. “It’s okay, it’s okay, I don’t mean you any harm.” He said, while his appearance was scary to her, his voice was anything but, calm and consoling, “I’m here to help.”
“Wha-what do you mean, let go of me!” Frankie continued to try to struggle, but it was no good.
He took another look at the ghost, “you’re Frankie Simpson, right?” She nodded, “My condolences, I’m sorry there was nothing that I or any of my doctors could have done to save you, truly.” This comment cut into Frankie, a reminder that she was indeed dead. “I know this may be too little too late. But I’m here to do what I can to help you.”
She had finally stopped struggling and was just starring at the supernatural man, “How can you help me? I’m dead.”
“I know, but…you’re still here,” he said, obviously not quite knowing the right way of putting it, “You’re a spirit earthbound, you’re trapped here with no natural way to get out. It’s going to turn into a living hell for you. In certain ways, I have a feeling it already is.” The girl said nothing, but couldn’t help but think of the time she’d watched George and her father talk. Living hell probably was a good description.
“I’m so sorry, but it’s not going to get any better. In fact it will likely get worse….Let me help you end it before it hurts you too bad. I can make relatively painless for you and then you’ll be free of all this.” He had loosened his grip now, but he had positioned himself in a way that meant she could not escape easily, though with the door closed she couldn’t get out anyway.
She tried to think of something to say, “There has to be something else,” was the best she could think, “another way to get round this.” She had realised that what Dr Brady was describing was ending her properly. No heaven or hell, just the end. Probably.
“I wish there was, I don’t want to do this,” he said this with an earnestness that Frankie couldn’t help but believe. “But there isn’t. I’m sorry. Close your eyes and think of...something happy in your life, think of the life you want to be in right now, try to make it real in your mind.”
Instinctively Frankie knew she must say no. But in a way, he made sense, she believed what Dr Brady was saying, being a ghost was going to become hell. After some time of indecision, she eventually closed her eyes tight and tried to think of George. Despite everything, she still wanted to be with him, to find a way to forgive him. She dreamed of him and the life they had been aiming to have.
And as she dreamed, the doctor went to work.