A chill wind passed through the trees on Highland University’s campus, showering gold and burgundy leaves down onto the cobbled walkways. The warm red buildings that normally looked so alive and inviting were cold and foreboding in the autumn light. Students hurried along the paths, shoulders hunched, shrouded in blacks and grays, some pale and drawn, others red-eyed and sniffling. A funeral had taken place that morning. A funeral for a young man of 21, taken from life too early.
That man was me.
Or should I say is me? The body of me at least. I was hit by a drunk driver walking back from work one night. I remember seeing the lights, hearing the screeching tires, and then there was pain. Shouting broke through my foggy mind. “Need an IV….broken….name, Alec Hart….not gonna make it….” Then blackness took me. I didn’t relive my life in some dreamy procession of scenes; there was no warm light or tunnel, just darkness, darkness and silence, all around, consuming me. And then the clarity came, clarity like I’d never known before. I was dead. I was really and truly dead, and though it was odd to think of, I wasn’t sad or scared, it felt right, like I knew it was my time. The next thing that came was a sudden weight and I felt like I was dragged down and down, through endless time and space until I found myself at my own funeral, watching it not from the air, but from the empty space beside the preacher.
I have to admit, I was touched by the number of people that came, many of whom I hadn’t realized felt a connection to me in any way. Right in front of the crowd was my family, all silent and crying, holding onto each other like they’d blow into dust with the next breeze. My heart ached for them, but I was distracted by an obvious absence. My best friend since first grade and current, or maybe former now, roommate at the university, Louis Ross, wasn’t anywhere in the crowd or the cemetery. He was supposed to be there, we’d known each other too long and been too good of friends for him to not be.
As soon as the service was over, I left to find the man I’d thought my friend. Every one of his hang outs were dead ends though, the pizza parlor that we worked at was closed today, the college commons was almost empty, he wasn’t under his favorite shade tree, not that the bare branches offered much shade now, the library and dorm lobby were also almost empty. I finally went to check the dorms. I found our room, 318, much the same way it was before my death. My half of the room was littered with band posters and instruments, a stack of blank music sheets still on my desk, Louis’ side held an odd collection of book and movie paraphernalia, though it was much more organized than my side ever was. Curled up on the narrow bed was Louis, his lanky form twisted under the covers, face pale and sunken under his auburn hair. To my shock a needle sat on the night stand and as I looked, I saw tell-tale bruises on his arm.
Stepping back as the realization settled over me, I looked him over sadly. My closest friend, the wonderful kind man I’d known so long, was doing this to himself? I’d thought he’d be smarter than this. Approaching carefully, I tried to touch his hand only to see my fingers pass right through. This did elicited a reaction however, Louis shivered and cracked open a vacant grey eyes to scan the room, he paused to look at my bed a moment before rolling away and putting his back to it and stilling once more.
I could only watch him sadly and watch I did. Over the next few weeks I witnessed my belongings being removed from the dorm, I saw my other friends coming to terms with my death, even my family beginning to smile and laugh again after days of mourning, but Louis only got worse. With each day that passed, he sank further and further into his depression and into drugs. He was soon skipping classes, he stopped going out with friends, it became rare for him to even leave the lonely room 318 in fact.
On one of his rare outings to do the laundry, I followed him as always, keeping a worried and stressed eye on him, but I noticed a heat on my back. At first I thought it was someone gawking at Louis yet again, but when I stopped, the heat stayed on me, not on Louis. Turning fully, I saw a girl sitting across the lobby watching me intently. It was Marie Jenkins, a self-proclaimed freak and eternal pessimist. I’d never talked to her much before, but I’d heard she did séances and other weird and creepy things. Figuring that it couldn’t hurt to try, I walked toward her, amazed when her eyes followed my every step.
When I was standing right in front of her, I couldn’t help but tilt my head curiously. “So the rumors were true, you can see me….well, ghosts at least, not just me.” I said slowly, half expecting my voice to crack from days of silence, but that didn’t seem to matter anymore, having no physical voice box to worry about.
Marie tilted her head as well, but nodded slightly. Standing smoothly, she motioned for me to follow as she headed outside. I didn’t pause more than a second before walking along behind her. I was dead already so there was little more that could be done to me. Not to mention the fact that Marie could be my only shot at fixing things.
Once outside and walking along a nearly empty path, Marie began to talk, eyes glued to the bricked walkway before her. “You’ve been here almost a month now, what’s making you stay here Alec? You can’t possibly want to stay her for all eternity can you?”
A small bubble of rage rose in my stomach at her words. Had she really known I’d been here for a month, and only now that I approached her was she even acknowledging me? Swallowing down my anger, I slowly shook my head. “I have to set things right with Louis before I move on. You know him, my roommate, Louis Ross.”
Marie was silent a moment. “You’re worried about his addiction aren’t you?” she asked softly, when she received no reply, she could only sigh. “I’m not sure that there is much that can be done for him.”
“Of course there is something that can be done for him!” I shouted. “He knows what he is doing is wrong, I can see it in his eyes every day, he’s just stuck. He needs someone to help him.” I knew Louis could beat this, I knew he could pull himself out of this rut he’d gotten himself into, but he couldn’t do it on his own. “You have to help.”
“I don’t have to do anything Alec, and don’t you dare assume otherwise.” She snapped, turning toward me with a glare. “You never did anything for me in your life and I have no connections with Louis.”
“Exactly, I didn’t do anything to you! I left you to your own, I was never cruel or cold to you and I know for a fact Louis has tried to befriend you before, yet you were the one to push him away.” I shot back coldly, effectively shutting her up for a short time.
Pausing, she fidgeted with the sleeves of her jacket, seeming to try and ficure out exactly what to say. After a long silence, she looked up at me, nodding slightly. “Fine. I’ll try to help, but if it doesn’t work, I’m going to stop and you will leave me alone, no matter if you can move on or not.” She whispered.
It took all my strength not to show my relief as I nodded my agreement. Leading her back to the dorm and the laundry room that Louis was using, I had to keep stopping to wait for her, having grown so used to walking right through people that I got several yards ahead without any effort. “You should invite him to a movie this weekend. Maybe the Friday the Thirteenth marathon at the old town theatre, he’d have trouble turning that down.” I said slowly, looking back at her expectantly until she nodded her assent.
When we got to the laundry room, I quickly came to Louis’ side, looking him over quickly to see if he’d done anything he shouldn’t in the short time I’d been gone. He sat in a chair by the window, staring out the window absently, seeming almost zombie-like. Looking between him and Marie, I frown. “Well? Go ahead.” I say quickly.
Glaring at me a moment, Marie slowly stepped forward. “Hey Louis…” she said lightly, sitting on the edge of the table in the center of the room. “I heard that you like movies and I won two tickets to that marathon in town this weekend….Maybe you could come with me?” she said smoothly, seeming completely innocent in her words and actions.
Louis only turned his grey eyes onto her, expression not changing for a long time, though a spark of recognition lit in his eyes at the mention of the marathon. I had planned on taking him as a surprise before my death, so I knew he’d love it. Finally a small hint of a smile pulled at his lips. “That….that would be nice…” he whispered. This alone floored me. He actually gave her a real reaction.
Marie nodded and told him where and when to meet her before turning on her heel and leaving without a word. I wanted to follow and thank her, but I doubted that she’d appreciate that much, so I stayed by Louis. I stayed by him the next two days and was losing hope that he’d pull himself together for the ‘date’, but early on Saturday, he woke up and got ready to go to the movie marathon. If that wasn’t miracle enough, the fact that Marie was actually waiting there with two tickets almost made me feel like I was dying a second time.
Louis was completely unresponsive to her at first, but as they walked to the theatre, he began to give her short responses and even make an effort to ask questions every now and then. Marie was clearly unhappy with the whole situation initially, frowning at him and rolling her eyes when he wasn’t looking, but after a few responses from Louis, she seemed to relax. By the time they made it to the theatre, Marie seemed completely at ease and Louis was showing more life in him than he had in a long time.
This left me almost feeling like a third wheel. I had already fallen far behind them as they walked and when they sat in the theatre, I decided to sit in the projector room instead. Watching them from the little window, I was honestly surprised by how well it seemed to be going. Louis even managed a chuckle or two at Marie’s jokes! Who knew that she could be so good for him?
The rest of the day flew by as I watched Louis continue to interact with Marie and by the time we got back to campus, they’d already decided to meet again for the sci-fi marathon next weekend. And so the next two months flew by, Every weekend Louis and Marie would meet up to go to the theatre, even going out to lunch with each other every now and then, every weekend I’d watch from a distance as Louis smiled and laughed. Through the week he seemed to be a little more active, going out of the dorm more, attending classes again, hanging out on the lawns with friends.
By the time winter set in fully, Marie came to seek me out and pulled me aside to a private study room. “How is he doing?” she asked slowly, something more clearly on her mind.
“He’s doing better. He’s not shooting up as much and he’s awake a lot more than he used to be.” I answered, almost sounding like a proud mom or something. I knew he could do it and she hadn’t believed me. I almost wanted to say ‘I told you so’.
“Good, good.” She mumbled distractedly. Finally looking to me, she frowned. “He’ll continue to do better from now on Alec….so I think it’s about time you consider moving on, going where you belong.” She said quietly, eyes not leaving mine. “You know you don’t belong here.” She added.
Pausing in shock, my mouth fell open before I looked down at my hands. I knew I didn’t belong, I could feel it, but I didn’t want to leave either. I’d grown accustomed to my life as a ghost, as the ghost of room 318, as the phantom of Highland University. It felt like giving up on life almost, even if I was already dead. “I’m not sure I know how any more.” I admitted.
“Talk to Louis….say your last goodbyes to your family, the rest will take care of itself.” She said, seeming to want to touch me, but knowing she couldn’t. And I had to admit that I felt like I need a hand to hold at the moment.
Not saying anything to her, I turned and left the study room, passing right through the wall to think on my own. I had to seriously consider if I was ready for this, if I was strong enough to let myself move on. I had no idea what was beyond this, no idea where or if I’d even be going. What if I just faded from existence all together? Would it hurt? Would I even know what was happening?
Despite that, I knew I had little choice. I’d have to move on. I’d have to go on or watch everyone I knew slowly fade away and be left almost completely alone, no one even knowing I existed any more. So with a heavy heart, I went to my home, watched my family and came to terms with leaving them. I knew that no matter what had happened, I loved them and they loved me, so I had no reason to regret leaving them behind. There was nothing to be fixed that wasn’t already understood.
That evening I went back to room 318 and to Louis. Sitting on the desk, I watched him for a long time before letting out a slow breath. “Well, who would’ve thought that it would come to this Louis? Me, trying to say goodbye, and you, unable to hear me.” I chuckled, looking to my hands. The sound of Louis scribbling away on his homework claimed the following silence and then I smiled. “You’re doing good Louis. You’re doing real good. You’ll overcome these drugs soon and you’ll move on and I’ll watch from wherever I end up. You’ll have kids and a life and when we finally meet again when your time comes, I’ll let you hear it for putting me through this man. You’ll be just fine from now on, I know it.” I nodded, slowly standing. Stepping forward, I reached out, figuring I could stop my hand before it went through his shoulder and fool myself into believing I had accomplished something, but this time my hand actually hit something solid. It didn’t pass through!
Head snapping up, Louis looked around, having clearly felt the touch. Then his eyes settled on me just as I felt the weight I’d felt when I was being pulled back to earth. “Alec?” he asked softly, eyes huge.
Giving him a small smile, I nodded. Raising my hand in a final goodbye, I chuckled. “Ask Marie about everything. I’ll be seeing you.” I smiled before I was finally released from my holds on this world, fading from his sights.