Hi there. I’m a ghost. I think my name is/was Phil, but my memories are pierced with more holes than a slice of swiss cheese, so I can’t be sure. Isn’t that depressing? If it played on your heartstrings, there’s a GoFundMe page for research on preserving memories past death.
I don’t particularly enjoy being a ghost. The afterlife isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The emphasis belongs to the “after” component; it’s what happens post-life but isn’t much of a life in itself. All our mortal speculations really missed the mark. It’s not the immediate fulfillment of all the delicate dreams and desires we cradled and tended to while human. Nor is it being bathed in a comforting warmth and amber light that soothes all our mortal wounds. It’s nothing like that whatsoever. This may surprise you, but being dead isn’t too different from being alive (in the sense that you’re trapped pretty powerless in a world with outdated, ineffective rules), which makes me wonder why the powers that be bothered separating them in the first place. Two opposite sides of the same coin may be different in name and appearance, but they still make up the same whole, right?
In all sincerity, I wish I could convey the manner of my death to you, but I can’t. If I try to remember, it’s like seeking entry into a locked room that’s been sealed and wallpapered over. I can’t even find the door. I’d love to know how I died (and how I lived), but it’s all a blank slate. I lived my whole life to see how I’d die, and it’s still a mystery. All memories of my past life have disappeared without a trace (boring, I know, trust me, I wish I knew). When I arrived to the afterlife, admin handed me an assignment of a random home to haunt, in the same way newborn infants are placed arbitrarily all over the globe. I only know my name’s Phil because whenever the landlord pops in to collect rent, that’s how he refers to me. Maybe it came with my posting, maybe he calls everyone by that name. Who can say?
Anyways, once a month, he appears without warning in the long-forgotten, dust-ridden attic I now call home. He approaches, holding his hand out, “Hey, Phil. Rent’s due, pal. Pay up.”
For months now, I’ve been on the verge of eviction. If I don’t get all my ducks in a row soon, I’ll be amnesiac and homeless. In the afterlife, rent is met by haunting your home, which if we’re being honest, I have zero interest in doing. It’s an otherworldly custom – paying our way through death by terrorizing the living. I can’t believe I’m still forced to deal with this bureaucratic bullshit. Don’t ask me how our tiresome scream-seeking activities generate income. I haven’t the slightest clue. I do know though that haunting here is big business, our largest industry, the foundation for the immortal economy.
As I’ve said, I’m not even remotely interested in doing the work. The sole reason I’m resigned to care in the slightest is if I’m evicted from my current posting, I’ll be homeless, which has gruesome consequences. Once evicted, I’ll be literally without a home, not tethered to any physical spot, making me susceptible to disappearing, fading away into nonexistence. I’ll admit, I’m somewhat curious what that’d be like, but I doubt it’s an improvement over this maddening monotony. Why take my chances?
So shit, I guess I don’t have much of a choice here. My hands are tied. I’ve had it with the living. I don’t want to associate myself with them anymore (been there, done that). All I want is a peaceful, solitary existence, but that’s quite the lofty, unrealistic goal. I long for freedom – the freedom to roam this terrain without fear of existential repercussion. All this red tape is tangling up my already limited possibilities. If we separate ourselves from the living, we cease to exist. Permanently. The dead and the living are two inseparable sides of the same damn coin. We spend our days cementing the ethereal connection by routine paranormal activity.
Before you try and throw in your two cents, don’t blame me for not trying to frighten my residential roommates. I have. I’ve put my best foot forward, but I’m exhausted. Do you have any idea how much energy it takes to interact with the physical world when you yourself are no longer an official part of it? How strenuous it is to convince somebody (especially the skeptics, the reluctant nonbelievers) that they’ve seen something supernatural?
There’s a little girl who lives here. I’ve visited her when she’s standing in her crib, but she simply smiles. She reaches for my floating form, begging to be picked up, and erupts with a stream of giddy giggles. If the sight of me doesn’t alarm her, what else can I do? She thinks I’m a toy, or at the very least, a nonthreatening face. The family also has a basset hound, who never fails to notice me drifting through a room, but doesn’t do anything other than stare at me with his drippy, droopy eyes. Some serious consideration should be given towards firing him as the family guard dog. Strange sounds from another room don’t disturb his slumber. On the off chance I do manage to capture his attention for a moment, his investment in the situation is limited to the slightest ripple of movement through his satin ears. I suppose I shouldn’t expect much from an animal that resembles a puddle of melting wax.
I’m at such a loss here. I’ve tried slamming cabinets in the middle of the night, but these people are sound sleepers. I’ve lingered at bedsides, watching the occupants’ every exhalation, awaiting their undivided attention. I’ve pulled up the covers and tickled their calloused toes. I’ve turned on the bedroom television and left it blaring on a channel broadcasting nothing but static. Despite everything I’ve tried, I haven’t managed to provoke any sort of response. I feel invisible. Doomed. There’s no A for effort, no A for trying. Giving it your best go won’t pay the rent if the family isn’t spooked silly.
If I can’t scare them by the end of the week, I’m out, destined to discover the hideous fate of becoming nothingness. Watch me descend into vagrancy. The delicate departure of the already departed. I bet nothing’s a lie though. If you fail in the afterlife, perhaps they just reboot your hard drive, landing you with another unwanted assignment back among the living. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on; existence is one big hamster wheel, its repetition entirely too tedious.
So today, listen. Pay close attention.
I’m to blame for every single creak in the walls and floorboards, every inexplicable inclination that leads you to look over your shoulder, to doubt your sanity, to curse being alone. I’m the slight knocking on the bedroom door, the shadows on the moonlit wall, the drapes fluttering in the nonexistent breeze.
And remember, we’re everywhere. The dead always linger. And we’ll never not be watching you.
I’m sorry if that scares you. Truly, I am, but it’s the only way for me to pay my dues, for me to stay here in this questionable, precarious existence.
Should I see you sleeping soundly, I might snip off a lock of your hair, leaving it on the bathroom counter for you to find tomorrow morning. It’s me writing the sinister, threatening messages on your dusty furniture. Locking your bathroom door won’t prevent me from pulling back the shower curtain and sneaking a peek when you’re most vulnerable.
I mean you no harm, but there’s no way for you to know that. Nor is there an effective way for me to communicate my intentions. Forgive me for these transgressions, I have no alternatives. I’m imprisoned here, passing time with paranormal pranks I’d rather not pursue.
I discovered your coffee can of pennies on the kitchen countertop. I’m shaking it with manic vigor and precision like a percussionist’s painstaking performance. The copper coins keep clattering, rattling in that little can until the lid pops off. Whoops. I watch them waterfall down onto the ceramic tile below. It’s too bad I can’t throw these at my landlord and tell him to beat it already, but I get it. We’re all pointless, replaceable cogs in this dumb-as-lard, antiquated machine; there’s hardly any point in me resenting him for doing his job. I just wish I could manage to do mine.
Hell, maybe I’ll run for office and see what I can do to improve the state of things. Councildeadperson Phil has a nice ring to it. I know I’m not the sole struggler. We’ve already lived our lives. Why are we still toiling away for housing? Where are our basic rights? Do I have your vote?
How about now? Did I scare you?
Abbie Doll is a current student in Lindenwood University’s MFA in Writing program and has served as an Editorial Assistant for The Lindenwood Review. She lives with her husband and two canine companions in Columbus, OH. Her favorite activities include curling up in her hammock with a good read, taking the pups for neighborhood strolls, and experimenting in the kitchen. Traveling the globe and exploring the beautiful intricacies of language are her greatest joys in life.