Alison felt out of place when she arrived at the funeral. Even though she had known Emily, she was one of the few present that wasn’t family. It was a fact that made her feel uncomfortable when surrounded by Emily’s sobbing loved ones.
A man greeted her when she got there. He had a nice face, a long nose, and chestnut hair and dark eyes. His skin was deeply tanned. He shook her hand. “Thank you for coming,” he said. He must’ve noticed the blank look on her face because he added, “My name’s Ron. I was her husband.”
“Her husband?” Alison asked. Then he was the one. The one that had left Emily after the miscarriage and tried to compensate by sending her money every month. “She told me about you.”
“Oh.” He looked away, letting out a sigh. “She did? Were you friends?”
“Then… I’m sure you know about me.”
“I know you left her.”
“I didn’t leave her,” he snapped. He stopped, letting out another breath. “I’m sorry. That didn’t come out right.”
“Try and understand. I… just needed some time away. That was all it was. It was never going to be forever. I wrote her every week. She… She should’ve known I was coming back.”
“Did she ever say anything about wanting to kill herself?” Alison asked.
“Never. If she had, I swear, I would’ve come straight home… If I would’ve known this was going to happen, I never would’ve gone away.”
“She never said anything to me either.”
“Did she say anything else about me?”
“I don’t remember.” She turned away. “Nice meeting you.” The conversation was halted abruptly from there. She didn’t know him nearly well enough to hear excuses about why he had left his wife. Likewise, it wasn’t her place to judge him from them either.
The weather was good. Which was the only good thing about the day since the funeral was being held outdoors. The sky was clear with no signs of rain. The grass felt dry beneath her black pumps. There were about fifty or so people in attendance who gathered around the preacher and the casket. Josh had told her ahead of time that it would be a closed-casket funeral. He had stated it made him feel self-conscious letting everyone stare at her dead corpse.
Most of the people there wore traditional black. A good many had also come in khakis and jeans. Alison herself was wearing the only dress she owned, which happened to be black. She had bought it for a formal dinner party back in the day when she had once had friends to go to dinner with. God, that must’ve been almost five years ago already. It was cut simply, with a square neck, thin straps, and cut off straight across above her knees.
The fact that Emily was gone sunk in as she made her way to where everyone else was already standing. Her heart ached from it. Already, she missed the girl more than she had ever thought possible. Her thoughts drifted from Emily to her dead sister Linda. The whole thing was like déjà vu. The loss. The funeral. It felt like she was losing her little sister all over again.
“Alison. You made it.”
Looking up, Alison caught sight of Josh rushing toward her. He wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug, embarrassing her with the physical gesture. She hadn’t expected him to act so familiar with her. “How are you feeling?” Alison asked, trying to hide how shy she felt at that moment.
“It’s been really hard on us,” he said. He pulled away, and Alison could see that his eyes were brimmed with red. She felt awful for him.
“I met her husband a minute ago,” she commented. She cleared her throat. It was the only thing she could think to say. Even after everything that had happened, Josh made her nervous just by standing next to her.
“That jerk,” Greg grumbled. He raised his voice. “I don’t know why that jackass bothered to show up. I wanted to punch him in the face when I saw him.”
“I don’t blame you.”
“The nerve of him! Showing up to Emily’s funeral. He’s the reason she killed herself to begin with!” He stopped himself, as if trying to regain control of his emotions. “The service is starting in a few minutes. Why don’t you come over and stand by me and Elizabeth. We’re in the front.”
Goody. That would make everything all better, right? “Sure,” she agreed, though she wished she could beg him to let her stay by herself in the back. The last thing she needed was another awkward moment with the happy couple. Despite her silent objection to the idea, she followed him through the crowd to where Elizabeth was. A tissue was pressed to the tiny woman’s pink nose. A navy blue sleeveless dress fell down to her ankles and her hair was pulled up into a loose bun.
“Alison,” she said, smiling up at her. “I’m glad you came.”
“Hi, Elizabeth,” Alison said, giving a small wave.
The woman reached forward for a hug and Alison politely hugged her back. “Were you able to get here okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, it wasn’t too bad,” Alison agreed. “It looks like a lot of people came.”
Elizabeth nodded. “We were so happy. When she started… you know… acting funny, we were worried the family had completely disowned her. But everyone really came through for her.”
“That’s great,” Alison said enthusiastically.
Talking about family and coming through for one another made Alison feel even more isolated than before. When it came down to it, Alison had only known Emily for less than two weeks. Everyone else was related by blood. She shook the thought from her head. This wasn’t the time for petty insecurities. Her low self-esteem was getting the best of her. Shaking the thoughts from her head, she turned her attention to the preacher who had begun speaking in front of them.
As surprising as it may sound, the graveyard was no place to make friends, not even for a dead guy like Greg. One would think that’d be the first place he’d go to meet people. One would also assume that sometime, somewhere, Greg would’ve found someone he could really talk to on a regular basis. He had. Her name was Alison. But unlike himself, she was very much alive.
Other than Alison, his options were slim. It seemed that his choices were limited to either her or an eternity of solitude. He simply couldn’t relate to the other spirits that wandered the Earth as part of their afterlife. They were mindless zombies. They drifted and passed through, a jumble of mixed emotions all balled together into one, and hardly anything more than that.
They were anger personified. They were sadness personified. They were fear personified. They were always furious about one thing or another. Alison had said it before, they didn’t know they were dead. To be dead and not know they were dead was like being alive and not knowing you were alive. It made existence pointless. To wander forever in ignorant bliss. How tragic.
But there was hope. They could still accept themselves for what they were. At any time, they could realize the truth. The second they did, they left. Willingly, they left this plane and crossed over to the next.
Very few stayed behind voluntarily.
Greg was one of those few. He knew he was dead. He knew who he was and how he had died and what he was still doing there. He was invited over and over to join the others in a peaceful afterlife, and over and over he rejected that offer. Even Alison had admitted that he was the first she had ever met that had stayed behind on purpose. It wasn’t common practice and for good reason.
In the distance, Alison stood beside Josh, the bumbling fool, their heads low as the preacher spoke quietly before them. Elizabeth, peculiarly enough, stood on the other side of Alison instead of beside Josh. It was almost painfully symbolic seeing them like that. A couple with Alison literally standing in-between them.
Greg thought, that Alison’s dress was entirely too short to be used to attend a funeral. Her legs were too long and too sexy to ever be exposed casually for any reason at all. But he figured he had to give a break with that one. The girl was tall, and something that would normally fall past a woman’s calves came an inch above Alison’s knees.
He moved away from the crowd. Alison didn’t know he was there. He felt bad for always popping in uninvited and following her around so much. Unfortunately though, she was his only source of company, and likewise, his only source of entertainment. If it weren’t for her, he would’ve spent the last four years talking to himself.
The graveyard was dotted with spirits. Some hovered over their own graves while others wandered around aimlessly. None of the others acknowledged him as he passed. Their minds were too clouded and confused to notice him. It was like they became invisible to one another.
Greg looked up. His eyes fell on a middle-aged dead woman, her hands reaching out in front of her.
“Arthur,” she said.
“Do you need help finding someone?” Greg asked out loud. He didn’t know why he bothered. It wasn’t like she was listening. She only saw what she wanted to. It was the only way this world made any sense to them. It was how they coped. By lying to themselves.
She turned her head in the other direction. “Arthur. Arthur?”
“Did you hear me?” Greg called.
The woman kept walking. Eventually, she faded away.
The dead souls that inhabited the land of the living were, like everything else, made up of energy. That energy only went so far, whether wasted on actions or thoughts or solidifying themselves into visible beings. When that energy was used up, the spirit temporarily went into a sort of resting stage. The energy would rest and regenerate until it was strong enough to manifest itself again.
Greg suspected that this was the reason why Alison couldn’t touch him. Because he constantly used energy to stay alert and aware, less of it could be used to manifest himself into the physical world, making him that much less of a solid object that could be seen, touched or held.
Other spirits used their energy in the complete opposite way. They let it out in bursts of explosive power. They became so solid and real that even humans that weren’t the least bit psychic could see them or catch them in a photograph. They could even throw or move objects if they tried hard enough. What they were doing was wasting too much of it at one time. Once they had exhausted it all, they ‘disappeared’ from sight.
Greg couldn’t do that. He used his energy sparingly, remaining a weak, transparent apparition that could remain conscious of himself for hours a day.
Like the others, he went through resting periods as well in order to stay visible and communicate with Alison. He normally did so while she slept, falling into his own version of dreaming sleep. It was a deep sleep he fell into, full of strange images and sounds. Sometimes, it felt as though he ceased to exist all together. When he awoke, his soul was refreshed and he was strong enough to stay visible to Alison.
That was the reason she couldn’t make contact with him. She wasn’t a strong enough psychic. Seeing him and touching him were two different things. As a solid, physical being, Greg was just barely there, barely existing, but capable of barely existing for long periods of time.
Emily, on the other hand, could touch him. It was something that had perplexed him since it happened. Why could she touch him if Alison couldn’t? The explanation had been surprisingly obvious. Emily had been a stronger psychic than Alison was. It also explained why Emily hadn’t been able to tell the difference between Greg and a normal living person. Not only could Emily see him, but she saw him with such ease that he appeared as a perfectly normal, solid person in her eyes.
The way Alison described it, she saw Greg in varying degrees of transparency. Sometimes, she saw him so well that she could see her own reflection in his eyes, while other times, he was so see-through that she could watch the television screen through his chest.
He noticed a little dead girl standing by several gravestones. The girl stood on her tiptoes, long, light brown hair falling down her back, watching anxiously in front of her. Greg followed her gaze. Surprisingly enough, it appeared the girl was watching Emily’s funeral taking place in the distance. He turned to look back at the girl but found that she was no longer there. The child had disappeared. Why had she been watching them, he wondered.
The funeral ended and Greg watched as Alison spoke with Josh. Jealousy nagged at him and deciding it was inappropriate, he brushed the feeling aside. After all, Alison was a beautiful, healthy woman and she was alive. Josh was alive. The only one that wasn’t alive was Greg.
It was wrong of him to feel that way. Greg did. He felt something for Alison and that was wrong. Loving her the way he did was wrong for so many reasons. He felt like such a low-life.
The conversation between Josh and Alison ended, much to Greg’s relief. A woman had joined their group, a slender female in her twenties with short, glossy black hair that looked dyed.
Alison still hadn’t noticed him. It made him feel bad. Was this spying? He hadn’t meant it to be. Deciding to give her some privacy, he turned in the opposite direction. He felt about ready to leave the graveyard anyway.