Figment Daily Themes: Whispers
It’s much like politics, really. First you need to know what they want to hear.
Tell this story
It’s funny really, all my life I was ignored by everyone — but now I’m dead, people listen. I make sure of it.
The first one was easy. Just a kid, really. Toddler? I never really figured that stuff out. Let’s go with that.
Toddler, right there in the sandbox, digging away with a plastic shovel that probably cost less than the box it came in, having a grand old time. Sometimes he was sticking it in his mouth.
I leaned down next to his ear and breathed, ever so quietly, “It’s got poop on it.”
Big round eyes. “Poop?” he squeaks.
“Poop. Cat poop, I’m pretty sure. And Jimmy Rodgers’ poop. It’s leaking out of his diaper.”
His voice got even squeakier with, “Jimmy’s poop?” There was a palpable toddler edge of not-yet-hysteria coming on.
I might’ve nodded at this point, though it wouldn’t have mattered, and leaned in closer to his ear. “Poop,” I said with as much gravitas as I could manage.
The kid squealed, like a siren going off. For me, it was like hearing a low buzz from a bee-hive step up a notch; being dead has a certain set of advantages. For the parents in the park, it was like setting off an atom bomb next to a prairie dog colony, with heads popping up and looking back and forth for dangers. The way the kid ran toward some random, as far as I was concerned, seemed satisfying. I stood up, sort of, and moved off to the side to watch the carnage.
As usual, no one noticed me. Ghost, spirit, revenant, whatever. Dead-dead-deadski. No one can see you unless you practice that sort of kink or they’re inherently weird, no one can touch you (same caveats), but people can definitely hear you if their defenses are down, because reasons.
I didn’t design the afterlife, bub; I just live here.
I left as the comforting and the scowls began. Someone started probing around in the sandbox with a stick. They’d find poop. There’s not a sandbox on Earth that’s not a hotbed of attraction to shit.
I drifted back home, which is what happens when I’m not thinking about being somewhere else very much. It was late afternoon when I fetched up in front of the Mount Sebastian Holy Sanctum for Mausoleums and Graveworks.
Home. Like I said.
Being dead is sort of like being out of a job if you never really slept on a schedule and lived in a dorm. You end up hanging out at home a lot, talking with the other inmates, falling in love, getting in fights, and rubbing your miseries on each other. The guy that maintained the graveyard had a little shed behind the office where he’d night watchman it up and a bunch of us hung out on the other side of his open blinds to watch Dancing With the Stars or some other ridiculous faff most nights. A little muffled, a little dim, but it was better than just going full brain-case and howling at the moon, gibbering in the shadow of your marker, or trying to claw your way back through the earth to your corpse to get back in.
I wandered by my room and stared briefly at the headstone. Plain. Boring, really. Unremarkable name: McFadden, unremarkable date, no decoration, death some five years ago, yadda-yadda. Stuff. Buried by my parents, not even a wife or girlfriend. No pithy tagline or quote. I’d probably go for something cool over something Biblical. Maybe “I’ll be back” or “Now I have a machine-gun, ho ho ho.” Something with import.
“You’ll go blind if you keep doing that.” The voice had come up behind me soundlessly, which sounds way cooler until you realize nobody walks. Arlene, in particular, moves with that slinky ghost-like “on the breeze” thing so well she’s even hard to see, sometimes.
I turned slightly and caught a look at her from the corner of my eye. 5'2", a little thin (but who isn’t with our lifestyles?), a mousy-brown woman gone grey at the edges and with eyes full of howling black void. She was grinning.
“I don’t even go blind when I close my eyes, sweetheart,” I drawled back. “I still might get hair in my palms, though, y’never know. I have high hopes. It’s cold sometimes.”
“Did you manage to give someone a good spook?”
“Well, no. I did tell a kid about the poop in his sandbox. That was pretty traumatic.”
The look in her eyes said unimpressed while the curl of her lip said I’m-about-to-laugh. Mixed signals are a pretty common thing with dead people. “Are you sure you want to haunt people?”
I thought about it before I answered.
“I — do. It’s obviously not hard once you get your mouth set right. I need to work on that whole manifestation thing, of course. Hard to haunt if you can’t be seen.”
She nods and does that weird thing where if you look away for just a moment, she appears in a slightly different place, too close or too far away. It’s just this thing she does. I try not to mention it. This time she’s nearly nose-to-nose with me. “Not really my thing. I’ve been sort of hanging around my ex, keeping an eye on him and the kids. Scared off a prowler the other night! That felt really good.”
“So… Haunting. Just attempted-quiet-haunting.”
“No, no, no! Not haunting at all! Just — watching over them. Watching over them!”
She was getting that frantic doomy-look in her eyes that some dead get, more than the oblivion-light. Like a hunger.
It was time to go.
“It’s getting on toward my time, Arlene. I’ve gotta go.”
She nodded but I could tell her mind was a million miles away.
The dead don’t sleep like living folks or even like animals. We don’t lay down on the ground, curl up, and snore. We go home and then we just sort of fade out a bit for a while. Not ever fully, but you can get pretty tenuous and how long it happens is mostly random for most. Some fall out for a couple of months at a time, then slide back in and are fine for just as long. Some are just like they used to be, getting up at the crack of noon them bumming around until 4 in the morning to settle in. I just get a couple of hours a day, usually around sunrise or sunset, depending. You can choose not to but — that way leads madness, pretty often. Stay awake too long and the oblivion in your eyes gets a little too present, then the shit is on. Dangerous. Crazy shit.
Arlene was starting to look like that, so I shuffled off
Making yourself visible was hard. Stupidly hard. Like straining to crap with the dryest part of your bowel hard, but I needed to get this part right. There’s a certain style to it. You can come out a faceless, shrouded monstrosity from Hell, and some guys went in for that sort of thing. You could turn out like just a cold spot and some shimmering mist, and others went in for that sort of thing preferentially.
I needed something with a little more comedy.
See, I’d been thinking about it, and while I still wanted to haunt, I didn’t want to do it in the classic sense. Anyone can hang around and scare people. I wanted to hang around and tell people stuff they didn’t know. I wanted to blow their minds. Maybe I wanted mine blown as well, truthfully. I wanted to learn some new dirt.
I wanted some new friends as well. The dead are kind of assholes. Most of them really just get off on scaring the living because, hey, what else is there to do? We’re dead, they’re alive, we scare the Hell out of them. Year after year. Sometimes we go all protective, but that really just ends up scaring the Hell out of them eventually because the more you try to hide, the more you stand out. Dead puts a little crazy in your head. It’s not usually good.
So, here I was, trying to put on a happy face for ten-year-old Bonnie over there, asleep in her bed in suburban Los Angeles thirty-feet away.
I know, I know. Put your creepy-pants back on, perv. It’s not like that.
It was top-down: head round and kind of cushiony, check. Face composed and cheerful, check. Arms a bit short and pudgy, check. Legs? Screw it, who needs legs? I’ll go with a kind of sluggy-thing. I’m going to be flying around, so whoop.
This really ought not scare a ten-year-old. I hoped.
“Hey, kid. Bonnie. Bonnie!” I stage-whispered. “Pssht!”
A bedraggled head looked left and right in the room. “Daddy?” That was an uncomfortable sound.
“Nope, just me!” I slid slowly in through the wall by the window as if I’d meant to climb in through it but missed.
Too much. “Aiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeee! Mommy! Mommy! A monster!”
A monster? That was a bit harsh. I’m no great sculptor, but… I’d better slide back out again before the ‘rents finally roll over.
I watched from outside as Mommy fumbled with the lights. Mommy was, as usual, drunk as a skunk and could barely make it into the room to look around in confusion as Bonnie made a passable flying-tackle to the upper thighs. Kid had a future in women’s league football, I figured. Or at least playing for the Falcons.
Mommy wasn’t really having that, though. Not a comforting nurturer. “What the fuck is wrong with you, girl?”
“It was a monster! There, through the wall!”
“Through the wall?” Mommy gave the wall a google-eyed consideration. “There’s no hole in the wall.”
“There was a monster coming through the wall!”
“Just a nightmare, schweety. Just nothin’. Now hush up, mommy has a headache and doesn’t feel good.”
Of course she didn’t feel good. She’d been day-drinking since the afternoon soaps. Nothing says good times like being a drunk. Good parenting, too.
“It was a monster, Mommy! A ghost! It knew my name and everything! Right through the wall!”
Smack! I knew it was coming and I still winced. Drunk Mommy likes to slap.
“There wasn’t no monster in your wall! Now go back to sleep or I’ll send Daddy in to make sure you go to sleep!”
Instant sea-change. “N-no, Mommy. I’ll be good. No monster, just a dream. I’ll be good.”
Mommy staggered to the door frame, leaning on it heavily. “Go to sleep.” She staggered out the door and deeply muffled I could hear “Fred, your daughter saw a monster in her room,” followed by some bumping and another slap.
Bonnie heard it, too, better than I did. She crunched down in her bed, covers up to the crown. She made herself as small as possible, back to the window-wall. She started to whimper, almost crying, then thought better of it.
And then Daddy crashed into her room, drunker than Mommy, and I knew what came next. Didn’t need to be there for that.
“Bonnie? It’s me.”
Tear-ribbed eyes peeked over the covers at my head stuck through the wall by the teddy bear on the other side of the room. “You got me in trouble,” she said, accusingly but low. I could only fly a little lower because she was right.
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. It was going to happen anyway. I can’t stop anyone.” There was such a defeated tone echoing around in there. I knew if I looked directly at her face I might see oblivion bouncing around in her eyes. So I didn’t.
“We can.” I swam the rest of the wall and spun around, pudgy arms spread. “I’m a ghost!”
She responded as fast as a clever ten-year-old-should: “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“Spectre? Haint? Undead? Walker? Poltergeist?”
She grinned at that last. I thought she might. “You’re not in the TV. So I guess you’re a ghost.”
“I guess I am. And your name’s Bonnie. I’ve seen you outside. You seem smart.”
A tiny chest puffed out in unconscious pride. “I’m the smartest girl in my class!”
“What’s your name?”
I’d dreaded this moment. This was make-or-break. I’d picked someone to befriend who I figured would be completely incredible to her parents and teachers, spinning fantasies to get through abuse. Someone smart, who could be my hands in the world, to turn up mysteries and expose the dirt to light. Someone who wouldn’t find it hard to run away for a few days at a time. She might even be good all the way to adulthood if we could get through the roller coaster ride of adolescence I never had.
I stuck out one chubby hand as I drifted toward her. “My name is Casper! Casper the ghost!”
Bonnie stuck out her slim hand in return and it passed through mine. “You’re the friendliest ghost I know!”
It’s funny, really. All my life I was ignored by everyone — but now I’m dead, people listen. I make sure of it.