Alice had known Sierra van Dalen for nearly four years, though Sierra still had the power to make the girl uncomfortable. Nearly four years after her incident, and Alice still wasn’t used to constantly seeing - and communicating with - ghosts. Most of the unsettled spirits she met were almost always victims of the same things - murders and suicides. Sierra was no exception.
“Tell me the story again,” Alice said, a chilly breeze causing the clouds to hide the October sun, as she sat down beneath the familiar tree. An Ohio Buckeye, she was told when the ancient house had become her home. That had also occurred nearly four years ago.
Sierra sat down on the browning grass across from her, shimmering as was usual. “It was a warm July night. I was out on the town. My boyfriend decided to play a game with me. It ended with him murdering me. The end.” Sierra told the ever so familiar story in her usual blunt and humourous tone. Everything about her had become familiar to Alice; the way she talked, the way she moved so gracefully, the way that her translucent skin caused everything on the other side of her to become a distorted version of reality. Though the way she randomly materialized behind Alice at times still startled her.
Once Alice had attempted to photograph a ghost, but was disappointed when they didn’t even show up on film. After that, she resorted to drawing ghosts, though she only ever had the chance to draw Sierra; most other ghosts she had met were rather bitter and impatient.
Drawing Sierra was almost like drawing another human being, which Alice had plenty of experience with. Save for the silent footfalls and movements, the transparency, and the capabilities of materializing and walking through walls and such, - and, of course, there was the obvious fact that she was dead - Sierra seemed as human as Alice was. It helped that Sierra, as well as all other ghosts, didn’t appear in an eerie black and white as pop culture naturally seemed to assume.
The only trouble that she ran into while sketching the ghost was the transparency factor. It was simple enough to draw out Sierra’s tangled blond locks and her torn and uncomfortably short black dress - what an outfit to die in! - but the fact that both of the above were partially see through, exposing the grass and trees and whatever else may lie on the other side, was extremely difficult to transfer onto paper. Alice longed to be able to transfer the eeriness and ghostliness of Sierra into her sketchbook, but it proved to be an impossible task, so she decided to take a break.
She hadn’t touched her sketchbook for a year. The only thing that caused her to pick it up again was because Alice needed something to distract herself with. And so, not only did she begin drawing once again, but she made the decision to also take up painting.
“So,” Sierra said suddenly, dragging Alice from the depths of her mind, “I’ve been hearing some rumours.”
“Oh, do tell!” Alice exclaimed. Ghost gossip was always more fascinating than human gossip.
“Well, according to Jack, there have been some sightings of a new ghost in town.” Alice wasn’t too shocked to hear that; Carson Creek may have a small human population that decreased faster than it increased, whereas the ghost population seemed to grow constantly. Alice figured it was due to the fact that Carson Creek was a quiet town, filled with a never-ending abundance of hiding spots, as well as roughly six thousand people to haunt. According to Sierra, ghosts didn’t enjoy big cities, what with all the noise and pollution and business.
“What kind of ghost?” Alice asked.
“Male, early twenties, looks pretty roughed up. Jack thinks he’s an S. Probably won’t be too friendly. I’m guessing he’s hiding a lot of secrets.” Alice gulped. She met far more M-ghosts than she did S-ghosts, and she didn’t particularly enjoy the ones who’re victims of suicide. It reminded her far too much of her own bitter past.
About a year after meeting Sierra, Alice had told her about her incident. About how she had been feeling at the time. About how, if it weren’t for her younger sisters, she surely would have been dead.
The day after Alice’s second incident, Sierra was the first person she went to. Unluckily, as hard as she tried, Alice couldn’t keep the second incident a secret. Her Aunt June and Uncle Rob knew what had happened. They didn’t know how. At least, they didn’t until Alice broke. Yet they still kept her in their custody rather than tossing her into the nearest asylum. The three of them had created a cover story. June and Rob hadn’t even told their own children the truth, which Alice was grateful for. She felt even better once Veronica left for college. Elisabeth, she could put up with, but Veronica was an entirely different story. Surely her judgements would have grown to severe hate had she ever found out. Even though they knew about the monster she became once every year, they still didn’t know about the ghosts.
“You’re thinking about it, aren’t you.”
“What?” Alice snapped up her head, and became suddenly aware to the fact that tears were streaming down her face.
“I’ve been talking and talking but you haven’t been paying attention, and then I noticed you were crying. Alice, you have to learn to accept it and move on. I know it’s been hard for you, but it’s been almost four years since it happened. You have to remember that it’s not your fault.”
“But I did it!” Alice was full on bawling. “The blood was on my hands!”
“It may have been your body, but it wasn’t you! It was them, and you and I both know it, though we may not know exactly why . . .”
Alice shook her head, as if the simple movement would be enough to stop the tears from flowing. “It just doesn’t make sense, how some of your kind can be like that. You’re either really nice or really mean. Still, it doesn’t make sense how the dead are still capable of killing!”
“You need to keep your voice down!” Sierra said sternly in no more than a whisper.
“I don’t care,” Alice choked out. “I don’t care if they find out about you.” She was being selfish, though only a small fraction of her was consciously aware of that. Despite Rob and June already knowing of her murderous secret, they didn’t exactly know about the ghosts.
After another moment filled with broken sobs passed, Alice spoke again. “I wish I just would’ve died.”
“Don’t you dare talk like that.” Sierra didn’t leave any of the harsh edge out of her words. “You’re alive for a reason, just as I’m dead and cursed for a reason. Everything that happens in life, no matter how big or small, has a purpose, even if you don’t know what that purpose is quite yet. And I can only hope that you’ll discover your purpose as soon as possible if it will mean you promising to continue holding on. I want to do everything that I can to make sure that you don’t end up like us.”
Alice sighed. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to go about finding that purpose, though.”
“Go on an adventure.”
Alice looked up, meeting Sierra’s colourless eyes. “An adventure?”
“Yes. Just like in books and films. Become the main character of your own story and venture out into the world, in search of a reason why. You’re bound to come across it eventually.”
“But I can’t just venture out into the world like that! Aunt June and Uncle Rob would worry themselves to their deaths if I randomly went to Australia or somewhere without even bothering to tell them. Besides, it’s not easy to get onto a plane, especially when I’ve never even flown in one before and have no idea what the process is like . . .”
Sierra shook her head, her sun-like hair whipping from side to side. “I don’t mean to literally travel the world. You can stay in Carson Creek and still have an adventure. Just explore forests and ponds you’ve never been to before, read all the forgotten books on your shelf, and meet knew people.”
“But surely it’s not as easy as you’re making it sound.”
“No. Walking straight into unknown territory is never easy. Going on adventure takes courage. Lots and lots of it. And I believe that you have it in you.”
“You think so?”
“Oh, I know so.”
“We’ve already registered you for public school.”
Alice’s beating heart sunk lower and lower in her chest with each word spoken. No, she couldn’t go to public school. Her current routine was set in stone, as it had been for the previous three and a half years, and going to an actual school meant a drastic change in that routine. Especially after the isolation she forced herself into after her incident; she hardly even remembered how to make friends. Alice may have been popular back in elementary school, as well as the beginning of junior high, but that was back when she actually valued taking the time to get to know people. Now she wanted to lock herself in her room and never come out.
“We think that it’d be healthy for you to get to know some new people, as well as actually having motivation to get dressed for the day ahead. And we both know that if a change doesn’t occur, your marks will continue to drop.”
“But . . .” Alice didn’t know exactly how to verbalize her emotional reaction. And she knew that, even if her excuses were pure gold, that there was no way out of it. She was already registered. Still, she tried. “But I’ll be starting late.” It was already October, and surely the students at this public school would be far ahead of her (for, as June had indirectly stated, she was behind on her work).
“Your teachers will be sure to catch you up,” Rob stated bluntly.
“When do I start?”
“Monday.” Monday?! Alice felt anxiety bubbling up inside of her. She only had the weekend to prepare! And if school really was the hell that the books she read described it to be, then she was doomed for sure. She didn’t even know how to prepare, even though it had only been a bit more than three years since she last entered an educational building.
“We already picked up majority of the supplies that you’ll need,” June said reassuringly, as if she thought that aspect was what Alice was panicking over.
“I . . . I think I need some air . . .”
“Alice, we know that this is lot’s for you to take it, and that it’ll take some time to settle back into the school routine, but we’re here for you, okay?” June forced Alice to meet her eyes, though Alice always felt that her aunt’s thick glasses blocked the emotional connection that two family members would normally have when meeting eyes. “And the high school is just down the road from the elementary school, so you’ll be close to Elisabeth.” Alice simply nodded in response, hardly even taking in the last sentence. She scrambled out the back door as quickly as she could and into the wide field that she called her backyard.
And Alice walked.
She walked and walked and walked, her worn out Converse trampling the already dying ground, taking deep and rapid breaths every few milliseconds. Alice passed the familiar tree where she had sat under earlier that day, having yet another conversation with her closest friend that ended in tears. Those conversations didn’t happen as often anymore - Alice used to find herself bawling out of both sorrow and guilt and anger every day - but they still occurred every now and then.
Alice walked until the field led into the forest, and even then she didn’t stop walking, taking short strides across the path she had paved herself, littered with an assortment of leaves and pine needles. Alice continued on with her familiar journey until she found herself staring into the waters of one of the many creeks that Carson Creek was supposedly famous for. She stared down at her bittersweet reflection, wondering - not for the first time - what it would feel like to spontaneously dive in, to let the murky water fill her lungs and engulf her body in an icy embraced. Alice wondered if it would make her shiver, if goosebumps would rise all across her skin on impact.
She wished that she was brave enough to dive in, to find an adventure below the surface. But, as Sierra had said, it took courage to go on an adventure, and Alice was severely lacking in that. She didn’t have the courage to drown, just as she didn’t have the courage to accept the fact that she would have to attend an actual school. Just as she didn’t have the courage to accept what she had done in the past.
But she did have the courage to look into the eyes of the ghost who appeared beside her. Alice took him all in before even daring to blink. Male. Most likely early twenties. Dirty blonde hair. Cold, colourless eyes. Freakishly tall. Tattered hoodie and ripped jeans. Overall, gruff and roughed up.
This was the S-ghost.
“Who are you?” Alice asked somewhat coolly, edge and curiosity dripping from her voice. She wasn’t at all scared; the only true fear she ever felt was during the Christmas holidays, when she could feel the powerful and unsettling of the monstrous ghosts. But this one didn’t give her that feeling, which meant whatever he did wouldn’t be able to hurt her much more than the pain she had felt in the past. Whatever sharp words he may say to her, she wouldn’t care.
But he didn’t reply. Rather, he tilted his head away from her, seemingly searching for something on the opposite side of the creek. Alice glanced to where he was staring, almost longingly, but saw nothing save for an abundance of gold and red trees.
But then Alice saw it. The bird. A magpie, to be exact. Glancing back to the mysterious ghost, she saw that he was still gazing solemnly at the feathered creature. She questioned the bird’s significance to him, wondering if he would even bother with a response if she asked him. He hadn’t even replied to her first question, so Alice highly doubted it.
She wondered what his story was. What - if he truly was an S - led him to his downfall? Did he have a family? Were they still alive? What caused him to look so exhausted? Did he even like talking to people, or did he prefer isolation as Alice did? Whatever the case, Alice kept her mouth firmly shut. If he wanted to talk, then he would. If he didn’t want to, Alice respected that.
Then another thought popped into Alice’s head.
What if he was dangerous? What if he was like the ones who always found her on Christmas Eve?
No. He couldn’t be. Especially if he was a new ghost. No matter what rumours may surface and make their way around, Alice refused to judge him so soon, especially when she didn’t know a single thing about him. Besides, he still wasn’t giving her the far too familiar feeling.
She continued to stare at the magpie with him. All was silent except for the rushing water, and the occasional breeze that rustled the leaves.
“They’re the colour of those old black and white movies.” Alice nearly jumped out of her skin when he finally spoke. She hadn’t expected his voice to be so deep, nor had she expected it to sound so soft. There she was again, judging him from his appearance.
“Pardon?” she asked, hoping that he would clarify what he meant, or even just share his name with her, though it would be nice to know what that statement was all about. Was it a simple observation, or were black and white films or magpies significant to his past?
The ghost stared at Alice - really stared at her, taking in her every detail. Normally, Alice would have found the action rather creepy, and would have felt uncomfortable under the gaze, but things were no longer normal. Alice stood still and tall, shoulders squared, an attempt to be fearless, courageous even. She felt a sense of pride for pushing all of her fears and worries away, shoving them into the dusty crevices of her mind. She felt powerful. She felt confident. She felt like Sierra would be proud of her.
Maybe it wasn’t so hard to be courageous. Maybe it was as simple as fooling yourself into believing you are displaying courage that you actually do begin to show it. Or maybe it was simply the fact that she was more comfortable with ghosts than she was with other human beings.
“What’s your name?” the ghost asked.
“I asked you first.”
“Actually, you asked me who I am, which is an entirely different question.”
“Fine. Then what’s your name?”
“You tell me yours first.”
Alice rolled her eyes. It wasn’t the first she argued with a ghost, nor was it the first time she lost an argument. “I’m Alice,” she grumbled. “Now what’s yours?”
He was staring at the magpie again. “I’m . . . lost.”
Alice wrinkled her brow in confusion. “Your name is Lost?”
“No. It’s not.” A second later, Alice found herself staring at the empty space where, just a moment before, the confusing ghost had been standing.
She wondered what it felt like to be able to vanish into thin air.
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