On the night of Halloween, Emily Garcia was dressed as a flamenco dancer. Her mom’s red dress flowed in ripples when she twirled, curly hair held back in a chignon and a red rose by her ear. She finished off the look with a pair of her sturdiest black heels. Emily wasn’t a dancer, never went to parties, and preferred staying home with a good book, but tonight was an exception.
“Gorgeous, Em,” said Terry. Her mom held up a crop top and matching white skirt. “Though you sure don’t you want to wear something like this to the rave?”
“Mamá, it’s a house party, not a rave. And I can’t believe you wore that nurse outfit last year.” Emily fumbled for her sequined black purse, anything to avoid looking at the skimpy costume.
Terry shrugged and put the outfit, still on its hanger, back in the closet. “You’re going with Olivia, no? What about Brenda and Lina? Are they coming too? Any boys this year?”
“Sí, Mamá, I’ll meet up with Olivia and the girls. There’ll be boys at the party.”
“Why don’t you carpool with Olivia? I thought you don’t like to drive at night.”
Emily wished she hadn’t used that excuse so often in the past. “She’s going to stay there the whole time. I’ll probably get tired before midnight. I don’t want to pull her away.”
“You should stay the whole time too. It’s Friday night, no school tomorrow.”
“It’s okay, I like to wake up early.”
Terry shook her head. “I thought I was raising a teenager, not a grandmother.”
Emily kissed her mom on the cheek. “Love you too, Mom.”
“Have fun, okay? A little alcohol is okay, but not too much so you can drive safe.”
“You know I don’t drink.”
“There’s always a first time.” Terry cheerily closed the front door and waved at Emily through the glass. In the secondhand Ford sedan, Emily texted her best friend.
I told Mom I’m going out with you. Is that cool?
Olivia pinged back right away. Obvi, we tight. But you should come!! What else you doing on Halloween?
I’m going out with my boyfriend.
Your “boyfriend.” Bring him to the party! Then we can meet him. For real.
He’s getting off from his second job. He’ll be too tired and no fun.
Emily carefully reversed out of the driveway and followed the GPS’s instructions. She drove past the endless strip malls and commercial plazas with blaring neon signs. She drove until concrete gave way to a grove of trees that shielded the Grey Oaks Cemetery from the encroaching urban chaos. The silence of the cemetery didn’t spook her but calmed her. Out here she could think and meditate. She didn’t see a single soul until she drove into the heart of the cemetery. A flock of shimmering souls gathered around the church, no doubt the center stage for tonight’s festivities.
At a circular bend, she pulled the car up to the curb. Thankfully hers was the only one because parallel parking turned her into a knot of nerves. In the distance she saw two solid figures ambling across the grounds. Strange anyone would spend a Friday night in the cemetery, but then again, that was exactly what she was doing. With a shrug, she turned off the ignition and reached for her purse in the passenger seat. Suddenly, her hand plunged into a chilly column of air. She shrieked and clutched it over her rapidly beating heart.
In the seat next to her, Thomas grinned a blinding white smile. One elbow in rumpled blazer rested upon the windowsill, hair tousled and head leaning in hand. His collared shirt and vest peeped through the unbuttoned blazer. With ankle on knee, his trousers hung short above the ankles. At least his shoelaces were pertly tied.
Sorry about that.
Emily couldn’t help but smile back. “That is the least contrite sorry I’ve heard from you.”
Thomas wiggled his silvery eyebrows. You’re just so easy to scare. Isn’t it about time you caught on?
“I’m working on it. Can I get my purse now?”
Thomas spread his hands. Go ahead. Be my guest.
“You know I don’t like to put my hand through you.”
Why not? It’s not like I can feel it.
“I know. It’s just—weird.”
Because your purse is next to my arse.
“Thomas!” Emily threw an old receipt at him, which harmlessly swirled to rest on the worn leather seat.
Laughing, he sailed through the windshield and stood perched on the curb. Emily grabbed her purse and huffily went over to the trunk. It took her several tries to pop it open. Curiosity piqued, Thomas peered over her shoulder.
A picnic basket! I haven’t done that in ages.
“Me neither. And the weather is perfect for it.”
Emily heaved the basket out and slowly made her way to the place they first met: by her grandfather’s grave in the shade of an old oak tree with gnarled branches so long that they embraced the earth. The basket blocked her view of the grass, and she tripped a couple of times. Thomas reached for the handle, but his hand swooped right through it.
“I’ve got it. I’m a strong, independent woman.”
I know you are. I just wish— Thomas sighed. I just wish I could do things for you. Even the simplest things. One day, I’m gonna master the solid state. Just you wait.
“You’re a ghost. You’re not supposed to be solid.”
There’re so many skills to learn! The skill of wind, the skill of visibility, the skill of sound… How come I haven’t mastered any of them in the eighty-some years I’ve been stuck in limbo?
“You’ve had a lot on your mind.”
Thomas didn’t say anything.
“It’s okay to talk about it. Claire Smith died in 1994. That’s three years before I was even born.”
Don’t say her name. It’s not fair to you.
Emily plunked the basket onto the grass. “Lots of people have exes. It’s nothing new.”
“Well. I can see you and talk to you while no one else can. Don’t you think I’m the one with problems?”
I don’t get it. I shouldn’t have met you. I should have gone on to the other side. Thomas’s gaze anxiously snapped to hers. I mean, that’s not what I meant. If I weren’t still here, I’d never have gotten to meet you.
Emily smiled. “I know what you mean.”
She stretched the red checkered cloth across the grass and unpacked the basket’s contents: a bottle of ginger ale, tamales, a pint of strawberries, two mismatching candles, and an autumn bouquet.
You brought flowers?
“I thought I’d celebrate Día de los Muertos, or, you know, Day of the Dead while there’s a party tonight.” There beneath the oak tree, she cleared the leaves from her abuelito’s grave, arranged half of the bouquet at the base of the tombstone, and lit one of the two candles. It felt right somehow to let her abuelo share in the Halloween festivities. After all, he was the reason she had met Thomas.
“Your turn,” she said, taking the other half of the bouquet and the second candle.
But I’m not Mexican.
“Everyone remembers the dead in their own way. This is just my way.”
Thomas trailed after her as she walked over to the older part of the cemetery. Many of the headstones, including his, no longer bore names after decades of rain and wind. Emily wandered between the rows looking this way and that before setting sights on a smaller cross.
“Of course I do.”
After arranging the flowers and candle, Emily took a step back.
“What do you think?”
For a minute Thomas didn’t speak.
It’s been a long time since anybody living visited my grave. I’ve got to be the luckiest boy alive. Or dead.
Thomas knelt down and experimentally held his palm over the lit candle. Chilled by his spirit, the flame flickered wildly in an invisible breeze. He chuckled. Then he brushed a hand through the flowers and plucked a sunflower. Between his fingers rose the sunflower’s white doppelganger while its vibrant, yellow twin lightly shivered.
“I always wondered what happened on the other side.”
Don’t worry. We souls appreciate free offerings. Thomas cocked his head at her. Hold still.
I want to try something.
She held perfectly still as he raised the pale sunflower to her hair and tucked it behind her ear. He let go, and for a brief moment, she felt the phantom flower caress her skin before melting into nothing.
Thomas shrugged. That was bound to happen.
Suddenly, he swooped down, grabbed the rest of the bouquet, pearly and translucent, and scattered it all around her. Emily shrieked with laughter, the petals cool kisses on her cheeks and arms. Thomas darted back towards the picnic.
Come on, let’s get you some dinner. Can’t have you fainting during the Danse Macabre, now can we?
Emily picked up her skirts and did her best to keep up.
“Is it—really—that scary of a dance?” she asked between breaths.
Only for scaredy cats.
Thomas nonchalantly folded his legs and waited until she arrived panting at the oak tree.
“I’m—not—a scaredy cat.”
Thomas winked. We’ll see about that.
Emily spread her skirts in a semicircle as she sat down. She poured herself a plastic cup of ginger ale and unwrapped the first tamale. She paused mid-bite when she saw Thomas staring at her.
I’m curious. What does it taste like?
Emily smiled. “Like the best thing you’ve ever eaten. The corn’s been ground up, so it’s soft, but you still get a bit of the texture. My mom and I use yellow corn, so it has a bit of a sweet taste. The filling is beef flavored with red chiles for a little kick.”
Sounds more interesting than anything I’ve ever eaten.
“I wish you could try it.”
It’s good enough for me to imagine it. Thomas sat up straight as though struck by a thought.
“What is it?”
He waved away her concern. Finish eating first. I’ll tell you about it later.
I won’t forget. Thomas grinned, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Emily inwardly sighed—no doubt another one of his experiments. Her gaze fell to her abuelito’s headstone.
“Do you think I’ll get to see my grandpa tonight?”
Thomas didn’t answer right away. I don’t think so.
“Oh. But I thought you said everyone comes out to dance.”
Many of us do, but it’s only those who’re still stuck here. Some might sleep in the ground the other 364 days, but tonight the Priest and the Monk and the Rabbi and all those religious spirits will gather everyone up for this one dance. It’s a reminder that those still living will also pass through. So that we can learn to let go and go on. Thomas pressed his lips into a thin line. Anyway, I’ve never seen your grandfather here, and that’s a good thing. He must have been at peace and ready for the next phase.
As Emily ate, Thomas talked about how some of the ghosts were preparing for the night. Some of them, like him, weren’t skilled enough to contribute to the festivities but a few of the musicians were practicing. Off in the distance, Emily thought she could hear a whisper of violins. Others, said Thomas, could change their appearance and were going all out in the most fantastical gowns of lace, silk, and beads, a sparkling mask and towering hairdo to complete the ensemble. Still others had the ability to create illusions and were hanging strings of delicate globe lights all around the church and through the skeletal tree branches.
“If you could change your appearance, what would you wear to the party?” Emily asked as she moved on to her pint of strawberries.
A neon orange t-shirt and blue jeans.
Emily burst out laughing. “You want to wear what now?”
That’s what kids wear these days, right?
She giggled as she tried to imagine Thomas in his make-believe outfit. “For a casual party. But boys also know how to dress up in a suit for proms and such.”
Thomas held out his arms, his blazer swinging open to reveal his collared shirt, vest, and tie again. I’m done with suits. I never want to see all black or all white or anything black and white ever again. Besides, t-shirts and jeans seem so much more comfortable.
“I suppose that’s fair,” said Emily. She wore a shirt and jeans so often to school that she looked forward to every occasion she could dress up.
Emily saw Thomas anxiously counting her remaining strawberries.
“I’m almost done.”
I don’t want to wait. Besides, I only need one of your hands.
“One of my hands?”
Thomas held out his right hand, palm up. Take my hand. Pretend I’m a real, living and breathing boyfriend.
Emily stared at his pearly palm. “You know it won’t work. We’ve tried this before.”
Magnus the Mountain—you know that big guy who used to be in a traveling circus? He said that the human mind can be a powerful thing. As long as you believe, then it will be true.
“But I know you’re a ghost.”
Try anyway. Try your hardest. Please?
Emily sighed, wiped her right hand clean of strawberry juice, and stared harder at his palm. Slowly she lowered her fingertips—and they went right through.
I wasn’t really expecting that to work anyway. Here, let’s try this. Close your eyes.
Emily scrutinized his expression. “Are you going to prank me again?”
Thomas held his right hand vertical. I’m being absolutely serious. I swear on my grave, and you know my grave is right over there on the other side of the knoll.
“Okay.” Emily closed her eyes.
Thomas cleared his throat. It’s the year 1931. Summertime. It’s sweltering hot but nice in the shade with a breeze. You’re out strolling in the park. You’re wearing a yellow dress, gloves, a stylish hat because if you know how to dress well in 2014, then you would have been the most stylish girl on the block back then.
“Oh Thomas, I’m a grandma by today’s standards.”
Shh. I’m the one doing the describing, and I speak the truth. So, of course, you’re both stylish and popular. All the boys want to ask you out on dates, and you keep them guessing.
“If only that were true.”
It is true. In 1931. Anyway. So you’re out strolling in the park. We’ll make it Central Park in New York City. I always wanted to visit New York City. So as you walk along the shaded pathways, a gust of wind blows your hat away and you run after it. The hat flies right into the chest of a passing young man who’s tall, dark, and handsome.
Emily giggled. “Tall, dark, and handsome? You?”
Yes, me. I’m taller than you, and before I was a ghost, I used to have brown hair, you know. Dark brown hair the color of coffee. And I am the most handsome fellow you’ve ever met in this year or any year.
It’s part of my charm. I’ve got a hat of my own, a blazer, vest, trousers. Everything camel-colored, unfortunately. I didn’t have much money to spend on pinstripes and blues. Your hat blows into me, and I see you running after it, and I hold it out for you and say, excuse me, miss, I believe this is yours.
And you say, why, yes, kind sir. After you take your hat, you ask, and who are you, my good sir?
“Did people really talk like that back then?”
I don’t remember. It’s been decades, and I’ve spent way too much time watching contemporary TV. Anyway. So I say to you, I’m Thomas Fitzwilliam, pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss…?
And you give a graceful bob and say, Miss Emily Garcia.
And I say, wow, Miss Emily Garcia. You are the most radiant woman I’ve ever laid eyes upon.
Emily shook her head. “So superficial, love at first sight.”
Emily, sweetheart, don’t underestimate the power of first impressions. I ask you, may I kiss your hand, and after much hemming and hawing, you proffer one of your gloved hands… Ahem. You proffer one of your gloved hands.
“Oh.” Eyes still closed, Emily held out her right hand. A beat passed. “Thomas?”
Right. So, um, you proffer one of your gloved hands. And I’ll lightly take yours, and you’ll feel the pressure of my hand, and I’ll bring it to my lips, and…
Emily gasped, not from the touch of cold that she expected, but when she felt her hand move, not of its own accord. A soft, chill pressure brushed her knuckles. She opened her eyes to see her hand resting in Thomas’s, just as though Thomas was real and not a ghost at all. She hardly dared to move, much less to breathe, for fear of breaking the spell.
Slowly Thomas reached out with his other hand and gently cupped her face, his face so close to hers that she could gaze into his silver eyes, shimmering with the light of the setting sun, and see an infinite swirling depth of memories, memories both exuberant and miserable, his intense longing for Claire, his devastation when she chose his much richer rival, his unexpected death in an automobile accident, his devotion to following Claire through her life as she raised a family of two children, as she struggled with a crumbling marriage that eventually led to divorce, her final years basking in the happiness of grandchildren, to his lost days of endless wandering without purpose, the multiple attempts he made to end his spirit form, his re-ignited curiosity in a new generation of crunk and funk, his first meeting with a girl mourning the passing of her grandfather. She was a whimsical girl, contemplative, nothing like Claire, and better yet, she wasn’t a ghost, though this later proved problematic. But in the moment, he didn’t care about practicalities. He’d never seen hair so silky or eyes so soft and a personality so demure, even by 1930s standards.
He leaned forward, their lips touching in a chaste kiss. He kissed her again, deeper, with a sense of urgency. Neither knew how long this moment could last. When they pulled away, her lips tingled with the memory of him, just a feeling, nothing more.
Thomas grinned. I’ve waited so long to do that.
“You only waited three months. That’s barely a dent in your hundred years.”
A single day can feel like forever. Come on. Night has fallen.
Thomas lifted her to her feet. Still holding her hand, he guided her down to the church, where souls were gathering for the Dance. Magnus the Mountain hefted a gigantic barbell in greeting. Twin trapeze artists swung through the trees. Three witches gathered around a cauldron lit by a white fire and occasionally gave the bubbling concoction a stir. A salesman, Bible in hand, irritated waking souls by knocking on their tombstones. A teenager flipped a couple of skateboard tricks. Graceful ladies in hoop skirt dresses and sparkling masks drifted towards the orchestra.
Ah, Thomas, there you are! Thought I’d have to drag you from your coffin again. A jolly man in a white cassock strode forward to meet them, arms wide with hospitality. And what a delightful surprise! You, my dear, must be the miraculous Emily. Thomas has spoken very highly of your character and achievements.
Emily glanced at Thomas, whose cheeks turned opaque.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir,” said Emily.
Father, corrected Thomas. He’s the resident priest. He’s been around for so long that he doesn’t remember his own name.
What’s in a name? said the Priest. My mission is to bring all the spirits one step closer to God. You and I are due for a chat, Thomas. I want to know if you’re making any progress.
Yes, Father, said Thomas, though if Emily knew Thomas at all, he’d skip as he’d done so for the three months she’d known him.
“Father, how can you help others if you haven’t gone on yourself?” said Emily.
Ah, the million dollar question! My, my, Thomas, she is both a beauty and a clever one. Now, Emily, I have my own theories about that, but I’ve been speaking with the Monk, and he and I both agree that it’s tied up with our mission. Either we are destined to remain ghosts forever and ever, so long as there are other ghosts to guide and to counsel, or one day we will truly understand the meaning of devotion and sacrifice.
Just then a fiddler leaped onto the biggest pumpkin in the churchyard and struck a chord. Who’s ready for a good time?
Ghosts cheered and hassled the fiddler for a catchy tune.
We haven’t got all night. Let’s get dancing! The fiddler launched into the opening measures of a square dance, and as one, all the ghosts leaped into square formations, every spirit paired with a partner. Emily snuck glances at the other ghosts and tried to keep up with Thomas. Somehow they all seemed to know square dancing, even the teenager with the skateboard.
Relax, said Thomas. Just follow my lead.
“I’m not exactly the most coordinated person. There’s a reason why I prefer reading books.”
Thomas grinned. Don’t tell me you’re not having fun.
“Of course I’m—”
Switch partners! shouted the fiddler.
Emily panicked as Thomas’s fingers slipped through hers. The neighboring ghost caught her hand, a tall, spidery gentleman with long coattails.
Don’t worry, young miss. Your man will be back shortly.
Not long after she switched partners again, this time a plump woman with a headscarf. Tonight’s the cusp between the living and the dead, my dear.
And finally, Emily grasped Thomas’s hand with relief.
You’re still solid.
He smiled at her. I won’t let go of you. Not tonight.
The square dancing turned into the fox trot, then a salsa, a waltz, line dancing, freestyle hip-hop, every style under the moon. Emily smiled so much her cheeks hurt and she forgot to feel self-conscious. She whirled in a blur of red, a red rose among white, the other ghosts clapping or dancing alongside her. Thomas was in the middle of twirling her when, mid-laugh, she heard the distinctly unresonant voices of the living.
“Look what we have here.”
“A little girl dancing all by herself in the moonlight.”
Emily jolted to a stop, one hand in Thomas’s. The orchestra screeched to a dissonant crash, and all of the ghosts froze in place. Two men, one taller than the other, leaned against the stone wall separating the churchyard from the cemetery. They snickered.
“Don’t stop dancing now. The party’s just getting started.”
“Want to dance with us?”
Get out of here, growled Thomas, swinging a fist forward. Emily refused to let go of him.
The two men acted as though they had neither seen nor heard Thomas. Emily had been so caught up in dancing, she’d forgotten that he wasn’t real to most people, or to anyone other than her. With sinking heart, she wildly looked around for anything to use as a weapon.
“Mind, don’t holler. There’s nobody around to hear you.”
“So why don’t you just be a good girl and do what we say.”
They crossed the stone wall. Emily saw a branch just out of arm’s reach. She snatched it up and held it out like a sword.
Stay away from her! Thomas jumped forward into their path, but they casually strolled through him unperturbed. Don’t you dare take another step! I’m gonna—I’m gonna… He helplessly looked at Emily. She straightened her shoulders.
“S—stay away from me,” she stammered. The branch’s tips quivered.
“Maybe she’s a feisty one.”
The other smirked and popped his knuckles. “Not a chance.”
Run, Emily. Get out of here! Thomas hurtled through the air and tried to push her away. She felt him pull at her clothes, but she couldn’t move. She couldn’t leave. This wasn’t how Halloween was supposed to go.
Thomas refused to be useless. He flew towards the orchestra. Start playing the Danse Macabre. Now.
But there’s five minutes to midnight, said the conductor.
NOW! I don’t care what time it is. Cecily and Serena, Thomas said to the twin trapeze artists, run through those trees and make some wind, a tornado if you have to.
The twin sisters leaped into motion. Several other ghosts joined in, dashing through the skeletal silhouettes and rustling the leaves. Emily snapped her head as she followed the sound. She didn’t see how this would be enough to help her.
“What’s the matter, girly?”
“Scared of the dark?”
The wind slowly gathered, twisting her hair and long skirt. The fallen leaves swirled around her ankles. The violins, though they sounded like violins to her, would sound like wolves howling to the two men. More and more ghosts joined, dancing in time.
“No, I’m not scared of the dark,” said Emily, tossing her branch aside. “But you should be.” She hid her shaking hands in the folds of her skirt.
The two men exchanged glances.
Yes! You’re doing great. Keep going, Emily, said Thomas. He scrabbled at the grass and picked up a pebble. The pebble felt cold and hard in his fist. Finally. The solid state. Magnus did the same. So did the teenager with the skateboard, as well as one of the hoop-skirted ladies. More ghosts followed, snatching up pebbles or twigs.
“You know what I was dancing for?” said Emily, her mind spinning. “I dance to call the spirits for All Hallows’ Eve. I’m sure the spirits are none too pleased at this interruption.”
“I dunno about this. She’s kinda kooky.”
“She’s making it up.”
“Ow! What’d you throw a rock at me for?”
“I didn’t throw no rock! Ouch!”
Emily raised her arms and let the wind pull and tease at her hair, her dress. A cloud of leaves enveloped her. The Priest and the Monk danced their way to her, lifted her up from the ground a few inches and let the wind spin them in circles.
Thomas grabbed the branch that Emily threw aside and held it before him like a torch. The music was gaining momentum. He took a step into the two men’s direct line of sight. The men gasped, mouths agape in perfect circles, as they took in the sight of Thomas.
Get—the hell—out of here. Thomas ran forward. A horde of ghosts gleefully followed his lead.
The two men stumbled, then clambered into a flat-out sprint, tripping over each other to avoid the barrage of pebbles and twigs. From her high vantage point, Emily laughed as a cloud of writhing white chased after the two yowling figures. In the distance, she heard a car sputtering away. Slowly the music wound down, the wind lowering her to the ground. Gradually the ghosts regrouped. When Thomas reappeared, the ghosts all cheered and passed his spirit through the crowd like a surfing rock star. Silvery champagne exploded from bottles and rained down like confetti. Finally, Thomas stood before her again, his spirit glowing so bright a halo shined around him. With a graceful bow, he swooped up the fallen rose and tucked it behind her ear. She threw her arms around him in a tight embrace.
“Thank you for saving me. I don’t know how else I would have gotten out of that.”
Thomas clasped his arms tighter around her and rested his head on her silky hair, flowing free in the wind. He thought he could still feel the vibrations of her pounding heart.
I couldn’t have done it without you.
While the orchestra had started back up again, Emily gave a huge yawn. “Sorry. I don’t know why I’m so tired all of a sudden.”
The adrenaline crash, said Thomas, and it’s way past your bedtime, Abuela. Let’s take you home.
Emily warily eyed her dark car. “Will you come with me please?”
Of course. I’ll escort you all the way.
On the drive home, Thomas loosely kept a hand on her skirt. At every red light, she twined her fingers in his, just to make sure he was there, solid though midnight had come and gone.
“Maybe it’s permanent.”
Yes! The skill of the solid state, mastered. See, I told you I’d get it.
Emily smiled. “I never doubted you.”
You doubted only yourself.
With relish, she punched him in the arm, and he yelped in surprise.
“See?” said Emily. “I’ve caught on.”
Thomas grinned. That’s my girl.
When Emily pulled into the driveway, she saw the lights still on in the house. Thomas escorted her to as far as the front door in observation of one of the first rules in their relationship: no ghostly presence in the presence of her friends and family. Everyone already thought she was losing it with an imaginary boyfriend. They didn’t need to see her giggling or smiling at what they saw as empty space.
Well, said Thomas, the Danse Macabre doesn’t usually involve storming after two lecherous drunks, but otherwise, what did you think?
Not as magical as you. You look gorgeous, by the way. Did I forget to tell you?
The wind had tangled her hair into a mess and tears of relief had smudged her makeup. Blushing, Emily looked down at the porch steps through his translucent figure. Thomas gently lifted her chin and kissed her full on the mouth. She kissed him back, a cool tingling on her tongue. All too soon, the moment ended, and he pulled away to let her go inside.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”
Of course. I’ll be waiting.
Emily reluctantly opened the door, which would doubtlessly lead to her mother asking all kinds of embarrassing questions she’d have to think her way around. But for now, she wanted to remember all the good moments from tonight. Her heart warmed at a flash of white zipping away in her peripheral vision.
“Mom, I’m home!”
“Splendid! You stayed out past midnight—Dios mío, Emily! What happened?”
Emily tumbled out of the car and into the November sunshine. She couldn’t wait to hold Thomas’s hand again. Speaking of which, he should have been waiting to surprise her in the passenger seat. Maybe he was speaking to the Priest for once. She dashed to the oak tree, where her forgotten picnic basket lay exactly as she’d left it by her abuelo’s resting place.
She ran up the hill to the old section of the cemetery. The flowers still graced his tombstone.
She didn’t see a single soul. Usually one or two ghosts liked to drift during the day for old times’ sake. She turned around and explored another section.
“Thomas? Where are you? Thomas?”
Again, not a soul in sight. Did spirits have hangovers after Halloween? She ran down to the churchyard, empty except for the pumpkin patch from last night. The branch she’d picked up last night listed to one side.
“Thomas, I know you love pranks. You got me. I can’t find you. Come on out.”
She went all the way around the church and still saw no one.
“Thomas? This isn’t funny anymore. Where are you?”
No one answered. Suddenly, the sunlight seemed weak and uncertain. There was only one more place to check. She peeked into the church and to her relief saw the Priest at the pulpit.
“Father, I’m so glad to see you! Where is everyone?”
The Priest looked around, confused. What do you mean? Everyone’s here.
“Everyone’s…here?” But Emily could see no one but the Priest. “Father, I can see only you.”
The Priest lost his jolly air and waved away, she presumed, the other ghosts standing with him.
“Where’s Thomas? Is he still here? He wouldn’t have left me, would he? Would he? Not without saying good-bye?”
The Priest’s silence confirmed the creeping fear since she’d arrived at the cemetery. Tears welled up in her eyes.
“He’s learned how to move on, hasn’t he?”
The tears spilled down her cheeks. She couldn’t believe it. The moment she thought he loved her, he left her. Wasn’t she as strong a reason as Claire to tie him to this life?
My daughter, said the Priest, you are incredibly unique and gifted and thoughtful. I can only guess that you can still see me because I have a message from Thomas, after which you will probably lose your ability to see any of us. But I want you to know that we are all here, always will be with you. So will Thomas.
“What does it matter? He’s not even here anymore. He doesn’t care about me or he wouldn’t have left!”
Now, you know that is not true. If last night meant anything to him, it showed him and you and all of us the true extent of his love for you. He was willing to move music, wind, earth to protect you. And you, whether you or he wanted it or not, you were the light shining his way to the next phase of the afterlife. You showed him how his life does not revolve around a single person or incident. You showed him how to forget the past and to look to the future. You showed him how to love again.
Emily said nothing, merely wiped her eyes.
Thomas came to me early this morning when he realized that his spirit was fading. He wanted to run to you, but he had no time. It was happening too quickly, in a matter of minutes. He wanted me to tell you this:
‘Thank you for everything. I’m sorry I couldn’t see you one last time. I hope you won’t be angry with me forever. These have been the happiest days of my life. And I hope that you’ll find happiness again, whether alone or with someone deserving of you. Maybe we’ll see each other in the afterlife. I’ll love you, always.’
Emily still said nothing. She held onto the Priest’s words, soaking them in, committing them to memory. She played them in Thomas’s voice, but already, he was fading in her mind. She wished so much to hear those words from his lips, anything to solidify her memory of him.
The Priest palely glistened in the beam of sunlight, though he, too, was starting to fade. He opened his mouth to speak, but she heard only a breath and then found herself gazing at empty space. She waited a moment.
“Thank you, Father,” she said.
Alone, she exited the church and slowly made her way to her abuelo’s grave beneath the oak tree. There on the checkered cloth, she curled on the ground, knees drawn to her chin, and stared at the bouquet, the flowers bobbing in the breeze. She closed her eyes and thought back to that day in summer.
It’d been two months since her abuelo passed away. She missed him terribly. She cried sometimes at night, but visiting his grave every weekend eased the ache a little bit.
“Why did you have to go?”
Why does anybody have to go?
Emily bolted upright. “Who’s there?”
You and only you.
Emily gasped and tumbled backward. A boy in a blazer and trousers sat cross-legged on a tombstone one row over. “You—you’re white.”
Duh, I’m white. Caucasian, if you please.
“No, you’re white as a ghost.”
Because I am a—wait. You can hear me? You can see me? Who are you?
She stared at him, still not quite believing her eyes. “I’m…Emily Garcia. Who are you?”
He swung out his right hand.
This short story came as a surprise. I first thought of the idea of a ghost boyfriend or girlfriend while brainstorming for a comic art studio back in 2013. So much potential, but I did not have the time to develop a story and draw the comic within the deadline. I filed it away as a possible novel idea and later used it as inspiration for an Inktober 2015 drawing.
Every now and then, I’d wander back to the idea. Just imagine. You and your ghost boyfriend go out to dinner. You open the door to the restaurant because he can’t open it for you even if he wanted to. When the hostess asks how many, you say a table for one, even though you are really two. The waiter arrives and introduces himself and plunks down one glass of water. When you look at the menu, you struggle between the pasta and the steak because you can’t get both to share with your boyfriend. The waiter thinks you’re a bit strange for eating alone at a nice restaurant, but you’re kind of cute and the waiter hits on you, in front of your boyfriend, and you stammer your way out while your boyfriend either seethes in jealous resentment or laughs at the absurdity of the situation.
This leads to so many questions. How would this be even possible? Why would a girl be able to see and speak to a ghost? Why is a boy stuck as a ghost? Under what circumstances would they meet? Would the boy by stuffy and old-school or would he have adapted to modern times? How does the girl deal with prying questions from well-meaning friends and family? What if she goes to college? Will this ghost boy leave his cemetery and follow her around campus? How long will this go on?
It seems like there’s plenty of material for a novel, but anything I added to the plot diluted the essence of their relationship. I saw three things clearly in my mind: ghost boyfriend, cemetery, and inevitable separation. So I turned it into a short story in time for Valentine’s Day. In the time that followed, I started doubting this short story. My mind warped the story into something embarrassing and written in a rush. I shared it with a friend, upon his insistence, then put it away for a couple months. I wasn’t sure I would ever bring it back out. That same friend suggested I submit it to a literary competition. While I didn’t expect to win, it brought this short story to my attention again, and I see what motivated me to write this story.
One of my goals is to write about depression. For me, this story focuses on relationships and how it can both help and cause depression. My maternal grandmother’s death affected me more than I realized. Sometimes at night I’ll become overly anxious about my parents passing away or how little time I’m spending with my siblings or friends who I care about. If anyone I know is to die today, is there anything I wish I could have said or that they wish they could have said? I’ve tried to say some things that I’ve been keeping to myself, but sometimes it feels like our words and actions get lost in the current of everyday life.
Hopefully, this short story offers a glimmer of light to anyone going through a tough time and may feel alone.
Fun fact: I took Thomas’s last name from Colonel Fitzwilliam in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Technically, it’s also Darcy’s first name, but Mr. Darcy is so universally known as “Mr. Darcy” that I’ll never think of him as “Fitzwilliam Darcy.”