by Renee Marie Philomena Therese Kray
The moon shouldn’t be so bright when you’re dead.
I’ve been dead for thirty whole years, much longer than my entire life on earth. Throughout that time, I’ve found that almost nothing bothers me as much as the fact that the closest I can ever get to seeing the sun again is looking at the cold light of its opposite.
Before I died, my name had been Jimmy. It’s a name that many other people shared with me, but it had also been uniquely mine. No other name could have fit me so well; no other name could have described my sandy brown hair, big smile, and love of having fun. My name was me. Now my name is just five letters carved into a cold piece of stone, forgotten and uncared for in a corner of an overgrown garden.
The stone doesn’t even show where I really am, because my parents never found me. That’s ironic, considering how what’s left of my bones is actually buried right near the garden where my gravestone now is. They were put there, in that shallow hole in the forest ground, by the man who stole me from my world. I don’t even know why he did it, he just did. He viciously separated me from my life, attacking me with a huge knife that glinted in the moonlight as he raised it over my body again and again.
It’s still something that I don’t like to remember, even now.
My parents used to own this land, all twenty acres of it, and I lived there happily until that man pushed me away into this cold misty world, where I have been stuck ever since. Here there is no sense of feeling and there is no one to talk to. Everything is hazy, as if I’m stuck in a fog that will never lift. The only thing that can part the fog is the sun, but it is so bright that it blinds me and I have to hide. When the moon rises to once again mock me with its cold glow, the only light I can bear now, I rise with it.
Every night after I’ve emerged, I look for the living people. I can usually see lots of them, but the only problem is, they almost never see me. I shout, I scream, I wave my hands in front of their faces and even float through them. They’ll simply say that they suddenly have the chills and close the window. It’s so disappointing, but I can’t give up, because I can’t stand half-existing like this anymore. It drives me crazy not to be able to talk to people and have them answer back; to be unable to feel or smell or taste anything. I know I’m not supposed to be stuck here, able to see the world of the living but not experience it. What about Heaven? What about all the stories about the angels that I used to hear in church? I want to get there and see those things just as badly as anyone else, but I can’t find the way. Isn’t there someone who can help me?
I’ll do anything I have to in order to get the attention of real living people. One of them has to be able to do something for me. They can all move on with their lives, why can’t I?
Speaking of moving on, my parents sold this property on a particularly dark evening a few years after my death. They went far away, taking everything that they owned and of course my baby sibling, who had just been born a few weeks before I died. Now that they’re gone, people come and rent the house for a night or two before they all leave, too. At first I was happy when I saw that my house had become a little hotel. With so many people coming through there, surely one of them would be able to help me! So I started trying to get their attention. I’ll admit I was a little surprised when people started screaming and leaving in the middle of the night, saying the house was haunted. I’m not an evil ghost, I’m Jimmy! But they didn’t know that and they didn’t bother to find out. They all ran.
Now different people come, people who talk about haunted places all the time. They bring wires and screens and other equipment that I’ve never seen before, and they light candles and try to talk to me. I used to get excited over this, but now I know better. Once I try to talk back to them, they forget about me. They get too excited over the little squiggles on the screens which mean that they’ve somehow picked up my voice, and they don’t actually hear what I’m trying to say. The harder I try, the more they miss me. They are happy when I knock things over or shake the furniture, so they obviously can’t see that I’m doing those things because I’m frustrated. I don’t care how many squiggles my voice makes on their screens; I just want to see my mom again, or the angels she told me about. I want to get out of this darkness.
When tonight’s darkness came it marked thirty years, seven months, and six days since the night of my death. Able to see once more with the sun gone, I stood up from my bones and made my way to the house to try again to find help. I discovered two people standing at the desk, getting their room keys.
They were different from the people with the cameras and the recorders who come every night. These people weren’t eagerly hopping from leg to leg, talking in jittering voices and snapping pictures of everything and anything. These people were quiet and looked calm for the most part, although the man was occasionally elbowing the lady and joking to her that he hoped she wouldn’t be scared. But he was only teasing her. I remember how much I loved to tease my friend Carla when we would play after school. I had forgotten about Carla until I saw these people tonight.
The lady picked up her suitcase from the ground and turned around, and that’s when I really saw her. If I’d still had a body, I would have had to hold on to something to keep myself from falling over in shock. This lady was beautiful. She had bright yellow hair that fell in a wavy curtain from her head, and icy blue eyes that were outlined by dark eyelashes. She was so pretty, and so… familiar. I felt like I knew her somehow.
But no, it couldn’t be. I’d never known any ladies who dressed in tight blue jeans and tank tops. Her face was familiar to me but I couldn’t place it well enough to know her. I felt a sense of disappointment start to take over inside, but I pushed it away and focused on something else: maybe this woman would somehow be able to help me! Hope suddenly flared up through me again.
The man and the lady were now carrying their suitcases up the stairs, where I had played with my toy trains so many times while I’d been alive. I quickly followed them.
The man was talking about how beautiful the property looked through the second story windows, with only the moon outlining the forest against the blackness of the night. The lady nodded but didn’t stop to look. She kept walking towards the room that had been assigned to them. She couldn’t possibly have known, but it was the room that used to be mine. Could that just be coincidence?
She unlocked the door and let herself in while the man ran to catch up to her. Once they were inside, he spoke to her. His voice, like all the living voices I hear from this side, sounded distant and small.
“Kelly!” he said with a smile. “Don’t be so worried. It’s just one night, remember?”
“I know,” she replied. I listened as hard as I could, focusing on the sound of her voice as it bounced up and down through the room like a beautiful chiming bell. “I know it’s something I need to face. I’m just not sure I’m ready.”
“Babe, there’s nothing to worry about,” the man said, suddenly looking serious. He took the woman, whose name seemed to be Kelly, into his arms and kissed her forehead tenderly. “You’ve been living in this shadow your whole life,” he continued quietly, making me hover in close to them to hear what they were saying. “It’s about time you faced it and put it behind you. And remember, I’ll be right here.”
Kelly looked up into his eyes with a big smile on her face.
“Thank you, Alex,” she whispered, and then she snuggled her face against his chest.
I was instantly jealous of Alex. He could hold Kelly tight, feeling the warmth of her body, the softness of her skin, and the beating of her heart all at once. He could experience the feeling of being loved, of being a part of a family. I felt pangs of sorrow stabbing through me, as real as the pain that had pierced my body when I died. I wanted to reach out and hug Kelly so badly, the way I used to reach out and hug my mother. My fingers brushed the side of her face.
“What was that?” Kelly asked as she stepped away from Alex and looked around the room. She had felt my touch, but I had felt nothing in return. It was so unfair! I turned away as she continued to speak, saying, “I thought I felt something. Against my face.”
“Like what?” Alex asked. Kelly looked around the room one last time, and I glanced back over towards her. She was looking directly at me now, her icy blue eyes wide with nervousness. The black pupils of her eyes were dilated to absorb any possible light in the room, but there was none. I stared back at her, hoping that maybe she could see me. Maybe she knew I was there. But she slowly shook her head, and turned her face away from me to look back up at Alex.
“Nothing. I think it was just a breeze,” she said. I choked back my disappointment as best as I could. Kelly was going to be just like the rest; Kelly wasn’t going to be able to help me if she didn’t know I was here.
Kelly and Alex went to sleep, tucked together under the thick quilt that rested on the wide bed. Despite the disappointment I felt, I couldn’t stand to leave the room. I stood by the bedside and looked down at Kelly’s face, so peaceful as she slept. I remembered moments when I had gone to wake up my mother in her room after I’d had a nightmare, and I’d looked down at her sleeping face the same way that I now looked down at Kelly’s. I was suddenly certain that if Kelly couldn’t help me, no one could. I felt determination again. Maybe Kelly just needed stronger proof that I was here.
I leapt to the nearest wall and banged against it, as hard as I could. The room rattled with the force of it and Kelly and Alex instantly woke up, sitting up in bed with identical gasps. Before they could make another move, I hit the wall again, and then once more. They were looking right at me now; I had their attention.
“He’s here,” Kelly whispered. “He’s really here.”
“Yes!” I yelled, but of course they couldn’t hear me with their living ears.
“Kelly, the stories about this place are nonsense,” Alex started to say. “That’s why we came, remember? So that you’d finally have proof that your-”
I didn’t wait for Alex to finish talking. I couldn’t let him convince Kelly that I was just a figment of her imagination. Desperately, I raked my fingers across the dark brown paint of the wall, revealing the white of the plaster underneath. I couldn’t think of anything else to do to communicate with them.
“What’s that sound?” Kelly whispered. I looked back and realized that they couldn’t see the wall in the pitch darkness of the room. I reached for the curtains and pulled at them. Kelly gave a little scream and held Alex tightly, since of course they couldn’t see me and only saw the curtains moving by themselves.
Once the curtains were separated, the light of the moon flooded in through the glittering glass window and illuminated the room. I watched as Kelly slowly raised her wide eyes up to the wall, and saw what I had put there.
“I AM HERE!”
No one moved for a few tense moments. I was starting to doubt that they even believed what they were seeing, so I knew it was time to add something else. I hovered underneath my writing and scratched more words into the wall as they watched with terror written on their faces.
“MY NAME IS JIMMY.”
“Jimmy.” The word was out of Kelly’s mouth in what sounded like half a whisper and half a gasp. The way she said it made me feel that she wasn’t just reading off the wall. She said it like it meant something to her, the way people had said it when I was alive.
I felt sorrow and hope and fear build up in me all at once. Part of me cautioned that I shouldn’t get my hopes up any further, but the rest of me felt as though I was closer than ever to freedom after hearing her say my name. Kelly was getting out of the bed now, and she took a step closer to the wall where I was hovering.
“No!” Alex gasped as he leapt up from the bed. He grabbed Kelly’s arm and tried to pull her back, but she refused. Even though she had seemed like the one who was scared just a few minutes ago, the roles were suddenly switched after she’d seen my name on the wall. She stepped up, closer to where I was waiting, while Alex stumbled back a few feet into a corner of the room.
“Jimmy,” Kelly whispered. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but if you can, I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner. I heard all the stories about you still being here, and I didn’t want to believe them. I wanted to believe that you were at peace.”
She reached out her hand, and I stretched out my own to touch her fingers. I could see her skin rise in goose bumps where I brushed against it. She put her hand down to her side, slowly, and looked back up at the wall where I had written my name.
“Mom misses you,” she said quietly.
For a moment, everything stopped. I was no longer aware of the glow of the moon, the darkness of the night sky, or Alex’s frantic gasping from the back of the room. All I could concentrate on were those three words that Kelly had just said to me. I stared down at her, and suddenly I realized that I really had seen her before. I had looked down on her a long time ago, but back then she had been small and wrinkly and pink, with grayish eyes and not one hair on her head.
Kelly was my baby sister.
My family had not forgotten about me. Kelly had come to see if the rumors were true, and if I was really still here.
“Jimmy,” Kelly said again. I hung eagerly onto each word as it came from her lips. “I don’t know why you’re still here, or if there’s anything I can do to help you. All I know is that you were my big brother once, and I regret every day that I never got to know you. Mom and Dad always say that they hope you know, wherever you are, that they love you. You are always in our thoughts. You might be a ghost to other people, but to us, you’re still Jimmy.”
As soon as she had said those words, the moonlight was suddenly outshone by a gentle red glow, as if someone had lit a fire in the room. Before I could figure out where the new light was coming from, Kelly looked straight at me. Our eyes met and locked on to each other. She wasn’t just looking in my direction, she was looking at me.
That’s when I realized that I was the source of the red glow. I looked down at my hands. They were pulsing with color, as if I had blood in me again. My fingers looked thicker and more real than they ever had since I’d left my body. I looked back at Kelly, and I knew that for the first time in thirty years, someone was seeing me. By bringing the memory of me back to life, she had brought my face back to life, too.
There were tears suddenly running down her cheeks. I’m not sure if they were because she was happy to see me, or a little bit frightened at how I was suddenly visible. Maybe it was some of both. Regardless, Kelly took a deep breath and spoke again.
“Jimmy, you can go. You can go to wherever you’re supposed to be. Don’t worry, you won’t be forgotten or unloved. We’ll always remember you.”
I stared at her in solemn silence. She had just told me that I could go! But how? How could I go to wherever I was supposed to move on to from here? Could I just go, whenever I wanted to?
Suddenly it dawned on me. Maybe I could! Maybe I had always been able to leave, but I just hadn’t known it. I was so concerned with getting people to notice me; maybe I had ignored something that I was supposed to see. If that was the case, there was no more need to ignore it any more after tonight. Kelly had just showed me that I wasn’t forgotten; my name wasn’t just five letters in a cold stone. With my family, I was still alive. The thought of it brought a smile to my face.
The darkness of the night and the coldness of the moon, which were the only things I’d really known for thirty years, suddenly started to fade. First the night turned grey, and then the moon started to fizzle away into little sparks. I looked at Kelly and smiled at her as she slowly faded from my sight. A light appeared behind her, looking like the flicker of flame that I used to see when my dad would click open his cigarette lighter. It grew bigger and bigger, burning away at the grey edges of my misty world like a flaming hoop. When it was twice as tall as me, I took a careful step towards it. This light wasn’t like the daytime sky that blinded me. This light was something I could bear, something that seemed to have been made for me.
I reached the gleaming ring and stopped for a moment, looking up at the light, the first real light that I had seen for thirty years. I put my foot through, and finally crossed all the way over, leaving the darkness of the night behind me.
Finally, I was more than just a ghost in a house or five letters on a headstone.
Finally, I was Jimmy again.
Renee Marie Philomena Therese Kray lives in Michigan in a house at the end of a dead end dirt road with her parents, eight siblings, and one really dumb dog. Having been homeschooled through elementary and high school, she was able to experiment with writing from a young age and quickly fell in love with the art. She’s the author of a short story collection Think Again: A Captivating Compendium.