I wasn’t ever afraid of ghost. I’d never heard sounds in the night, never been afraid to look over my shoulder. There were far more pressing dangers to worry about. Humans wasn’t exactly angels on earth. I was afraid to run into a psychotic murderer; not a spirit.
No, I’d never been afraid of ghosts.
Until I became one myself that was.
Ironic; I know. But it actually made sense if you know just a little bit about the spiritual world. Few ghosts can actually harm people. The few who can actually do damage are extremely stubborn, extremely ambitious and extremely cross. Therefore also extremely rare.
Most couldn’t do much except shaking a few chains and breathing down your neck. Creepy as hell, but hardly deadly. When you’re alive you’re actually quite safe from the spirit world. When you’re dead, however, you’re free game.
Which was the reason I was currently terrified.
My death had been embarrassing to say the least. Who chokes on cheerios anyway? Couldn’t it at least have been an apple; giving it a kind of symbolic meaning? But no, I had choke on a spoonful of cheerios. One minute I was watching my favourite cartoon and the next I’m in the other world. Not the day I had planned.
To make matters worse I immediately got the very first other ghost I met mad at me. It certainly hadn’t been on purpose. All I did was ask him how he died. How was I suppose to know that it apparently was a rude question in the spirit world?
But it was, and evidently the guy’s death had been even more embarrassing than mine as I later found out. Drowning in the toilet. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I was wondering the same thing – how the hell do you drown in a toilet?
But somehow he managed it, and was pissed as hell on… well, pretty much everyone. Though I suppose I would have been pretty cross as well.
Which was why I decided to hide from Tom. Toilet-Tom, he was generally called, but I didn’t think he’d appreciate the name, so I tried not to say it out loud with him around.
My last hiding place was under Mrs. Fergusons kitchen sink, an old lady, who lived two apartments under mine, and who had an odd liking for ladybugs. She’d already called the plumber three times, who’d told her time and time again there was nothing wrong with her sink. And no, he didn’t know why it didn’t work then.
I did feel a bit bad about that.
But what was I going to do? I could hardly go out there and confront Toilet-Tom. When I was alive I stayed out of conflicts and fights, and I really didn’t see why I should change that just because I died.
But sadly enough it turned out you couldn’t spend your afterlife hanging out under a sink. Especially not when the ghost chasing you was called Toilet-Tom for a reason. He knew his way around pipes.
I was sitting quietly, minding my own business, when the doors to the cupboard were opened, and Toilet-Tom was peeping in. Or perhaps glaring was more like it.
“There you are!” He looked furious.
“Eep!” Sticking around was definitely not a good idea, so I proved that I was just as fast dead as I’d been alive and slipped out underneath Toilet-Tom’s legs.
It was like being chased by the school’s bully, if you ignored the fact that we were also jumping through walls and occasionally fading through the floorboards. But Toilet-Tom had been a ghost much longer than I had and knew tricks I had no way of knowing.
A turn to the left, and there he suddenly was, waiting around the corner, even though I could have sworn he’d been right behind me. A slightly sticky hand grabbed my right, transparent arm – ghosts are always slightly sticky – and a sick grin spread on Toilet-Tom’s face.
“Got you now!”
“I said I was sorry!” I wailed. “It wasn’t like there was any way I could have known it was a rude question! I was just asking!”
“Shut up!” Toilet-Tom shouted, shaking me; proving that ghosts could quite easily hurt each other. Dark bruises blossomed on my pale, blue skin. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’ve been calling me! Toilet-Tom! Just like everybody else! Toilet-Tom, Toilet-Tom, Toilet-Tom! I’ve been hearing that cursed names for over two decades now! Just because I had a unfortunate death! But it stops now!”
“Sorry! How does sorry makes up for two decades of torture?! How does sorry change the past?!” He sounded positively deranged.
I blinked as sudden realization hit me. He’d never chased me for asking. He’d chased me for taunting. Like everybody else. “You’re not the bully,” I said slowly. “We are.”
Another shake. Toi… Tom looked as if he was just a few seconds away from foaming at the mouth.
“Always teasing,” he said, a vein pulsing in his forehead. “Always making fun. Let’s see how much you’ll laugh when I’ve taught one of you a lesson!”
“Wait!” I shouted desperately. “Do you really think that’ll help?!”
“Well, it’ll certainly make me feel better,” he said bitterly.
“Haven’t you ever considered… just leaving? To somewhere no one knows how you died. You can just make something up.”
“Don’t you think I’ve tried?” he asked, a desperate tone to his voice. A lone tear slid down his cheek. “But every time I leave this building I’m always yanked back. You can’t leave the place you’ve died. Not permanently.”
I looked at Tom in silence; finally feeling I’d reached some semblance of understanding. Never being able to leave your bullies behind; never being able to start from scratch.
“I’m sorry,” I said slowly, again, as if another apology would make a difference. It wouldn’t though. Not with two decades of mocking to make up for. “I understand why you’d like to hurt me.”
And I did. How could he not lash out after having been mocked over and over and over again? Like a dog, who’d been kicked over and over, until it finally bit.
And in that moment Tom looked like a kicked puppy, desperate for a gentle hand to pet him, a pause from all the beatings.
But instead of giving again as expected, as understood, Tom let go.
“Forget it,” he muttered, as he took a step back. It seemed as if he was falling in on himself, as if was falling apart in front of me. His rage disappeared before my very eyes.
“I’m just tired,” he said, closing his eyes. “So tired.” He leaned back against the wall.
“Tom, are you okay?” He didn’t seem okay. He seemed… fading. Like he was slowly disappearing.
“I’m just tired,” he said again, sounding so. “Tired of the taunting and mocking. Tired of being angry. I’m just tired.” He sat down and rested his head against the wall.
“Tom, I really don’t think you should go to sleep,” I said, getting scared. Was he getting more transparent? “Tom, please wake up.”
“I’m tired of fighting,” he murmured. “Just let me sleep. I just want peace.”
A soft glow surrounded him. A black glow, like shadows lit up from inside.
“Tom, what’s happening?” I was scared. Was he dying? Could you even die twice?
“Just peace,” he muttered, fading into the darkness.
I looked in horror as it swallowed him alive – uh, dead – until I saw the expression on Tom’s face. For the first time he didn’t look angry or bitter or sad. He just looked peaceful.
Could it be… Was he… crossing over? I’d heard about it, of course, even in my short time as a ghost. How some ghosts could cross over to the other side. Not that anyone knew what was on the other side.
But judging on the look on Tom’s face it couldn’t be that awful.
A deep breath. Why did I feel like this was a moment demanding courage?
“Goodbye, Tom,” I said to the first ghost I ever met. “I’m sorry for everything. Have peace.”
Perhaps it was what he needed to hear, for Tom faded away entirely with a tired smile forever resting on his lips.
“Goodbye,” I whispered again, feeling tears dripping down my cheeks.
I thought of Tom and the afterlife he’d had. The taunting he’d endured. That I’d been a part of every time I called him Toilet-Tom. And I decided I would no longer keep out of conflicts.
Every time another ghost was teased for his or hers death, I’d stand beside them, defend their dignity. I wouldn’t let another ghost end up like poor Tom; alone and ridiculed for over two decades.
If there was anything worthy to spend the afterlife on, until I crossed over myself, surely that was it.