It was finally summer, but I still felt cold.
After everything that had happened with Corrine, Aaron, and the entity, it left me with this cold feeling that I couldn’t shake and Corrine’s prediction that this was only the start made me feel worse. After that, something in me knew that I would never go back to how things were. I could never sleep peacefully anymore. I wouldn’t be able to brush things off anymore and say that it was “the wind” anymore or “just my imagination”. I’d learned for a certainty that there are such things as spirits living in this world alongside those who are truly alive. How could that not be scary? Who could just accept that and think nothing of it.
There were only a couple of days of school left. They were just a handful of useless days where the kids have nothing on their mind but sit around anxiously and wait for the final bell to ring and announce three months of freedom. Those people had it easy. They let all they learned just float out of their mind now that finals were over. But my mind was still buzzing. I was still distracted. Still looking for the ghosts that I knew would be coming to find me as Corrine had said. Ghosts are drawn to me because I can see them, that’s what Aaron had told me. As long as I could see them, they’d always show up.
Ria offered to drive me home after school on the third-to-last day of school, but I said I was in a walking mood. I felt bad about not telling her about everything that happened. I mean, she was my best friend, but there’s just no way I could tell her. Ria was lucky that she didn’t have to be troubled with this. Besides, I didn’t want her to accompany me on the detour I planned to take.
Halfway home, I took a different and much longer route through Nightingale Cemetery. I don’t really know what I had planned to find there, maybe hordes of ghosts just wondering around and doing their thing, like in that ride at Disneyland. I just felt like I should check it out. I had a whole new understanding of the dead now and I guess I just wanted to see how much I learned.
But when I reached the immense stretch of land littered with tombstones, I saw nothing. No ghosts, lifelike or misty, were visible. I went in regardless. Maybe I should have known better. Nightingale was a historic cemetery. Nobody had been buried there for many years. These people probably have all moved on by now.
I strolled around silently, examining the chipped and sometimes completely broken headstones. I couldn’t make out many of the names because they’d faded away. Despite not seeing anything on first arrival, I felt the now very familiar chill creep down my back and a voice in my ear.
“Just what were you planning on finding here?” Aaron asked, materializing out of thin air as if he’d been with me this whole time.
“I don’t know,” I sighed in response. “Maybe I just thought I’d feel something.”
“I told you that people move on most of the time,” Aaron said. He looked like most of his energy was returning. He was almost solid-looking except that I could still see through him a little and, though he had legs, he had no feet.
“But why did you stick around?” I asked.
Aaron shrugged. “I guess I just . . . didn’t like how my life ended. I wanted to see if I could do better as a ghost. I think it was an okay decision.”
“Of course it was!” I cried. “You saved me back there! Corrine too! That thing might have gotten both of us if you didn’t show up when you did.”
“Thanks,” said Aaron. “That’s good to hear.”
I frowned at him. “You don’t sound like a guy who just saved two people from an Inhuman Entity.”
“What do guys like that sound like?” Aaron asked, looking at me questioningly.
“Well . . . I don’t know. Happy?”
Aaron sighed and he seemed to fade a little bit. “Gina, I told you. I don’t . . . feel happiness like other people do. That’s what makes it okay for me to exist like this.”
I blinked. What a weird thing to say. “What do you mean it makes it “okay” for you to exist?”
“You remember the Entity,” said Aaron. “All they are is extreme emotion. Most often that emotion is a bad one.”
“Like what?” I said, wanting to understand.
“Y’know,” said Aaron, lightly. “Anger, fear, aggression . . . Dark Side of the Force kind of stuff.”
I ignored the Star Wars reference. “They can’t feel anything good?”
“No,” Aaron replied. “Because they were never alive. They don’t know good feelings because they’ve never experienced them. They look at the living and they just get irritated with them really easily. You have what they never can have. They’re jealous.”
“Sometimes living isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” I said, thinking about Corrine.
Aaron didn’t reply for awhile and we just kept walking in silence. When he spoke again, his voice sounded even more distant than ever before.
“Gina, take a look around. What do you see?”
I stopped, surprised by his question. I glanced around the cemetery, expecting another ghost to pop up, but nothing happened. “Um, just tombstones. Why?”
“Yeah, they’re tombstones, but what do they represent?”
“The . . . people who died here.”
“Right. Now count them.”
I started to count but there were way too many. I lost count somewhere around fifty-six then said, “There’s a lot.”
“That’s a lot of dead people, ain’t it?” Aaron said. “That’s a lot of people who have lived for various amounts of time, in different kinds of times, surrounded by different kinds of people. Right now there’s, what, seven billion living people in the world? They all live their lives every single day. They have chances that the dead don’t have anymore, or that the Entities will never, ever have.
“They can do things to help others. They can become great. They can do magnificent things while they still can. But, often, they don’t. They live their lives and live for the moment. They don’t realize that the moment can end. I didn’t. I was twelve. I was supposed to have another eighty years on me, but I didn’t.”
Aaron stared out at the headstones with a reminiscent look on his face. He didn’t look sad, but there was a definite downward curve to his lips. I, on the other hand, was close to tears. The ghost’s words had made me dwell on life and I don’t like doing that. It makes me sad and scared. There might be a girl just like me buried here somewhere and I’d had the audacity to disregard her as a broken old headstone.
“To see the living waste what they’re given . . . it ticks the Entities off,” Aaron said. “Who wouldn’t it tick off?”
“I’m sorry,” I said, rubbing at my eyes. “Does it make you angry? Seeing people like that?”
“Nah,” he said. “I don’t really feel anger anymore. Things are different on this side of life. I remember when I died and my parents came in and cried over my body, I didn’t feel so bad. I didn’t yell and scream and demand to be back with them. There was this kinda “oh well” feeling. I still loved my folks but what more could I do? I was already dead.”
“If it doesn’t matter then why did you stay behind?” I asked, wanting only to understand.
Aaron took a moment to answer. “I think it was because I didn’t like my ending.”
“Yeah. I always believed, dead or alive, that life was like a story. Everyone’s is different. It starts when you’re born and ends when you die. Each and every person who lives and dies is a story. Each one is different and none are the same. Some stories have more to say than others, but absolutely nobody’s story is boring. My story was just getting started and . . . I didn’t like the ending. A punk kid who gets into fights and stands up for the little guy gets killed by pneumonia at twelve: the end. I always wanted my story to be one of the really good ones. I wanted . . . I wanted someone to hear my story and think “Wow that sounds like the kinda guy I wanna be”. For it to be cut so short like that . . . it kinda hurt. Maybe that was just plain selfish of me but, hey, I’m twelve. I can still get away with being selfish.”
Now I was definitely crying. “I’m sorry, Aaron,” I mumbled. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t . . . I . . . there’s a lot about life and death . . . that I don’t understand and . . . I’m . . . I’m sorry.”
“Hey, forget it,” said Aaron, with a little shrug. “I told you that it doesn’t bother me. I’m cool with being dead. It’s not as tragic as the living seem to think it is. All I have to do now is make sure that my borrowed time here is put to good use. That way, when I pass on, I won’t have anything to worry about. But that day isn’t today, so I won’t worry about it. You shouldn’t either.”
Aaron gave me a comforting little smile. I hiccupped and tried to return it. “Y’know? You don’t talk much like a twelve year old,” I commented.
“It comes with sticking around for twenty years after you die,” Aaron said with a wink. Then he disappeared, leaving me alone with the resting dead.
I stared up at the sky. Something had clicked inside me. Things that had been confusing and scary before weren’t bothering me anymore. For whatever reason, I had the power to communicate with the dead. As such, I had a responsibility to use it properly. Up until now, I’d been scared. Well, there was no time for that.
I decided that I was going to help Aaron and any other ghosts that crossed my path. I was going to make sure that what happened to Corrine never happened to anybody else. It was something I had to do because I was somebody that could do it. My life was a story, as Aaron had said, and now I wanted to be able to choose what kind of story it was going to be.I wasn’t stupid. I knew that this was a dark and scary road and that I’d be risking a lot. I was putting myself in harms way, not to mention Mom and John and Maggie and even Ria. But they were going to be in danger no matter what I chose. So I’m going to choose the path that let’s me know how to keep myself and my loved one’s safe. That’s what kind of story I want my life to be like. The story of someone who chose to fight, rather than the story of someone who lived in fear.