He felt down about himself as he made his way to Andrew’s hill. It had always been Greg’s favorite place to go, even when he was alive, a place where he could sit and think for hours a time. Alison knew he loved the place. It was the first place she went to when she needed to find him for something.
It was also where they had met.
Had it really been four years already? Four years since his death? How did time manage to pass so fast? Four years already, and yet he wasn’t even the slightest bit closer to solving his mysteries. Four years already and it felt like he hadn’t accomplished a single thing yet.
Then why did he even bother? For what purpose did he manage to stay trapped in this place? Why did he stay? What reason did he have to roam the land of the living if not to find the answers he was looking for? Why not cross over? Why not rest, and find some semblance of peace to ease his tortured mind? Why was he still here? When he knew it was too late to save them?
He floated to the willow tree, wishing he could lean against it. He could feel that it was there, and knew it was there, but he would never know the feel of its bark against his skin again. Even when his body longed to rest and press against something, he couldn’t find anything that could do that for him. This world wasn’t for him. He wasn’t meant to stay there in a place full of hard, solid, heavy things that he could neither grasp nor lift in his hand. This place was for the living. He had no right to be there any longer.
In the shade of the willow, his mind began to drift back to two years earlier, when he had first met Alison. He had been standing in the exact same spot, around the same time of night, and thinking the exact same thing then too.
Four years already, he remembered thinking, four years and not a step closer to finding the truth. Four years already, and not the least bit closer to saving them.
“Hi.” The sound had wafted toward him, a low female’s voice.
Greg had turned in surprise. It caught him off guard at the time, realizing it had been directed toward him. His eyes then fell on a beautiful woman with dark hair and mysterious blue eyes. It was the first time he had seen Alison. Her complexion was a golden beige. He would’ve mistaken her for a foreigner if it weren’t for her perfect American accent. She was tall too. He remembered noting how tall she was, thinking that if he stood straight, he’d be taller by only a few inches. “Hi,” he replied, not quite certain whether or not his response would be heard.
She had smiled at him, reaching into her purse and grasping a pack of cigarettes. She tugged at one, pulling it from the case. “Can you believe it,” she said, placing it to her lips. ”I quit smoking a year ago. But look at me.” She then held a flame from a plastic lighter to the end, inhaling deeply as it lit. “Nice night, huh,” she said.
Greg nodded. It had been the strangest thing he had ever experienced before. There was no doubt about it. She heard him. He remembered thinking how amazed he was that a woman was really talking to him. Someone actually knew he was there.
Glancing out at the city below them, he had acknowledged that she was right. It was a nice night. A clear sky hung above them, dotted with glowing stars. The weather was warm with a comfortable breeze. “My name’s Greg Jones,” he had said, feeling the need to introduce himself. “What’s your name?” Even then, with that brief encounter, he had felt that he liked her, that he wanted to get to know her as much as possible.
“Alison,” he repeated. What a pretty name for a pretty girl. And she was talking to him. She was real and she was really talking to him. He felt like… like he had come back to life for a night. As if he had been reborn again. “You can see me, can’t you?”
“Yeah, I can see you just fine.”
“I didn’t know people like you really existed.”
“I don’t know,” he had said. “I just… didn’t know it was possible.” He had never met a medium before. When he was alive, he had assumed the whole lot of them were scamming frauds.
Her eyes had moved to look at him as she plucked the smoking cigarette from her mouth. She let out a breath of air. “You don’t sound very confused,” she commented.
“You know it, don’t you? That you’re dead.”
The comment had made him laugh out loud. Man, did he ever know. “I’ve known that for awhile already, Missy Alison.”
“Then what are you still doing here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why haven’t you gone to the other side?”
“Oh that,” he said. He shrugged. “That, huh. I can’t do that. I’ve got something to do here still yet.”
“Really?” she asked, her brow cocking upward in a curious fashion. She almost looked as if she didn’t believe what he was saying to her.
“Now, that’s funny to me,” she said. “I didn’t know spirits like you really existed outside of the movies. With ‘unfinished business’?”
“You could call it that.”
“I run a paranormal agency,” she said. “So I deal with a lot of lost spirits. Normally, in the cases I come across, the spirits depart the second they realize they’re dead.”
“A paranormal agency?”
“Yeah, a little business of mine. You could say I’m an exorcist.”
“Hate to burst your bubble,” he said. “But that rule didn’t apply in my situation.”
“You must be one of kind.”
He had grinned, enjoying their conversation. “Sounds like me, all right.”
She lifted a hand. “Anyway, it was nice meeting you.”
Greg stared at her, watching her hand as it came closer to him. She meant to shake his hand? He had been utterly perplexed at the time. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to touch her and figured that if she was as experienced as she said she was, she would know that too. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, he reached for her hand and tried anyway. As he thought, his hand through hers completely, falling forward and grasping air.
“Sorry,” he said, not at all surprised.
Alison on the other hand looked oddly concerned by the event. “I can’t get a grip on you,” she mumbled, sounding confused. “That’s weird. You’re really weird, you know that? I never met a spirit I couldn’t touch before.”
“Is that right?” Greg asked. “Well, I never met a person that could touch a spirit before so I guess that makes us about even.”
“No, you’re just weird,” she said pointedly. “What a weirdo.” She leaned her back against the tree trunk, smoking her cigarette thoughtfully. “That’s okay. Shows what I know, right? I feel like I learn something new every day.”
Anyway, that had all been two years ago.
It was the only memory he really enjoyed anymore, his memory of meeting her. Since he had died, it had seemed that nothing but bad memories plagued him daily, reminding him always of what he had to do. In a way, her friendship had saved him.
A bright light flashed above him.
Greg looked up, acknowledging a glowing circle above him, not connected to anything specifically. It was just there. There. Floating in the dark branches of the willow tree. The door. It was the door to the other side. It wasn’t the first time he had seen it in his four years of restless wandering. The circumference started small, no larger than an apple hanging in midair, but it was growing. It wanted him to take it. To take the bait. To enter the other side permanently. If he left this world, there was no going back. He’d never be able to finish what he had to do. He knew that and yet, he was tempted.
The thought of leaving everything behind tempted him relentlessly. The light promised him peace and serenity. It promised him a place where he could finally rest. Where he could sleep in soft beds and touch and feel and bring warm covers over him. A place where things would be real again. A place with trees that he could rest against and run his fingers over the bark and feel happy for it. A world for him. Not like this world for the living. Where everything rejected his hands. But a place just for him and others like him. A place for the dead. It invited him over. It asked him to stay and drink sweet wines and be with long lost family members and friends.
He gazed up at it, hypnotized by the friendly growing light. There were things keeping him here on this plane. Things he still had to do. Could he really just forget that? Forget his responsibilities. His duties. Was this God’s way of telling him it was all right to leave? That he didn’t have to stay here and be alone and suffer any longer? Was this God’s way of telling him things would be okay on their own?
Let things be. Let the past stay the past. If Alison could move on from her past, could he move on from his?
Once he left, he’d never be able to see her again. He could never talk to her again or see her face. He looked away from the light, his eyes falling to the ground. Let the past stay the past. If things were simpler, he would’ve loved to live by such a rule. But things weren’t that simple. He couldn’t possibly forsake his family like that.