Ghost Boy

There was one figurine left, sitting in the far corner of my Grandma’s glass cabinet. A porcelain ballerina tying her shoes, looking demure as she crisscrossed the ribbons across her ankle. I had to get on my tiptoes to reach it, and as the shelf dug into my chest all I could smell was dust.

“Um…Liss?” Maggie called. She was standing right above my head – I could hear her small, sensible shoes shuffling around the attic floor. I grabbed the ballerina by her head.

“What!”

Sliding the glass cabinet closed, I caught my muted reflection in the mirror and saw the bags under my eyes before anything else. I pushed my fringe from my forehead.

“What!”

“Can you come up here?” Maggie said.

I took a deep breath and watched my flushed cheeks puff out as I let it go. “Why?”

There were two piles either side of my feet: The NO pile, a tower of figurines up to my knee in height, and the much smaller YES pile, consisting of a few swimming medals from the fifties and a cookbook.

I dropped the porcelain ballerina in the NO pile.

“Just come up!” Maggie yelled.

Out in the hall there was a ladder leading up into the soft light of the attic – Grandma had so many boxes she had to install sunroofs so she could navigate the stacks. As I ascended the ladder and the rungs creaked under my weight, I thanked her.

I paused on one of the steps, poking my head just above the floorboards. Maggie was standing in the centre of the room, her hands clasped in front of her. Her black bob – like mine but much, much neater – drifted in the breeze coming in from the open sunroof.

“What’s up Mags?” I folded my arms on the dusty floorboards, resting my chin on them. One of Maggie’s shoelaces was undone. I looked up at her dark eyes but they weren’t looking at me. “What are you –”

I flinched. My foot slid from the step and I knocked my elbow on the way down, not really falling so much as scrambling down the ladder in a fit of elbows and knees. I didn’t know whether to put my hands or feet out to catch me –

“Argh!” I heard a thump, felt the thump – “Fuck!” – then rolled onto my back, looking up at the hole to the attic. The heels of my hands were burning.

“You alright?” Maggie looked down at me, her black hair falling past her cheeks. Before I had the chance to answer, her eyes flitted upwards and I knew where she was looking, who she was looking at.

I pulled myself onto my feet, clenching my scraped hands into fists and climbing the ladder using knuckles instead of palms. Maggie swooped out of the way.

“You…you shouldn’t swear,” she said.

I pulled myself back into the attic, sitting with my legs dangling through the door.

“Yeah, you shouldn’t swear,” said the boy. He was lounging on a stack of cardboard boxes like it was a throne. There was something indistinct about him – he was black, tall, no older than me. He had curly brown hair and a wide nose, and he was attractive in a way my parents would disapprove of – and I was pretty sure he was see-through.

“Who the fuck are you?”

I could feel my heartbeat in my palms and the adrenaline gripping at my throat. I had to keep shaking my head to clear it.

A pleased smile took over his face as he leaned backwards. When he moved my eyes went all funny – it was like motion blur. He twitched a finger and there it was again, his edges blurred. “She alright?” he said.

I turned to Maggie. She was finally looking at me. “You can see him too?” I nodded and she let her shoulders drop, sighing.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I’m Zach.” He held out a hand, as if I was going to cross the room and shake it – when I eyed it suspiciously he dropped it.

“What are you?” If he sat still long enough he almost looked solid, but then the corner of his lips curled and he shrugged. The movement turned him translucent.

“It’s an easy guess,” he said. “I’m transparent. I’m hiding in your attic.”

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” he replied.

The attic was silent as I tried to make sense of him. He was a ghost, but I didn’t believe in ghosts. I’d made a rule of it: don’t believe in things that don’t exist.

The boy smiled at me, this absurdly wide smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes – he did exist, he was smiling at me. I felt the urge to jump back down to the hallway. I needed carpet to pace on.

Ghosts existed? For how bloody long? I felt like someone should have told me so I could’ve been better prepared. Then I remembered people had told me: paranormal reality TV people had told me. I just thought they were insane.

As I continued to stare the boys smile dropped. He looked between me and Maggie.

“You guys are freaking me out,” he said

I stopped scanning his face. “Freaking – freaking you out?!” He was a stranger! He was transparent! He was looking at me like it was all perfectly normal!

“It’s her!” He pointed to Maggie. “Her eyes are like pits – I’m sorry! They are. They’re spooky.”

Maggie was glaring at him through her lashes. “You’re a ghost,” she said.

No, no, no, no, no.

“Bingo!” He pointed again, blurring as he went. Maggie was trying very hard to not look pleased with herself. “There. She gets it. Now you.”

“What?” I said.

“You’re alive,” he said, pulling his legs onto the box to sit cross legged.

“Well spotted.”

“Thanks.” He looked around the room. “What street are we on?”

I pulled my legs into the attic and stood, ready to herd him out of the house, through the sunroof if I had to. This was why so many white suburban families packed themselves up and went to live in crappy motels. This was why paranormal reality TV people were so tetchy.

But then my curiosity stopped me. “Why?”

He rolled his eyes and the movement made me dizzy. “So all my ghost friends know where to send the fan mail,” he said. “What street are we on?”

What if he decided to stick around? What if he hung outside the shower curtain for a chat, or stowed away in our fridge?

He brought his pointer finger up to his eyes (they crossed slightly) and wiggled it. The top of his finger was missing, right down to the first knuckle. It had disappeared. “I’m not staying.”

But he could come back and haunt us.

“I’m going back –”

“– to Heaven?” Maggie interjected. She was watching him more intently now. I blocked her view for a second, shuffling past to sit on the old piano stool under the sunroof. “What’s it like?” she said.

Maggie had a cross hanging around her neck that I gave her when I grew out of the small chain. I’d promised her I’d buy myself a new one. Where did you even buy crosses?

“Warm,” he said. There was a pause as he shifted on his cardboard throne. “I think. I don’t really know. I got held up at the gates.”

I leaned forward, elbows on knees. “They didn’t let you in?” I sounded more Scandalised Mum than I’d intended. I sat up straight again.

“He’s just throwing a tantrum,” he said, holding up his hand. He was down to two and a half fingers now. “I’ll be back by sundown. He’ll let me in then.” He sounded doubtful.

“Was it St. Peter?” Maggie asked. She was quizzing him.

“It was a small dude in a bathrobe,” he said. “And he looked suspiciously like Wallace Shawn.”

I looked to Maggie for some sort of approval. I quirked my eyebrows (Do you believe this guy?) and she shrugged. She didn’t know yet.

“So you just died?” I asked.

He frowned. “Yes. What street are we on?”

I stopped and thought for a moment, then asked: “How’d you die?”

“Aren’t you gonna buy me a drink first?”

“You’re too young.”

“What street is this?”

“What was your name again?” Maggie said.

“Zach.”

“Did you die this morning?” I asked.

“Maybe a little champagne, get me talking –”

“– So Heaven’s real?” Maggie said.

He groaned and slid soundlessly to the floor, stretching out his long limbs on landing. “What street is this?”

“You’re not very open,” Maggie huffed.

Zach rested his hand over his rhythm-less heart. “I’m dead.”

There was a slice of light coming in through the sunroof. Plumes of dust danced past, close to Zach’s feet. I looked to Maggie again. After surveying Zach for a minute, she nodded.

He was dead. Maybe I should have felt worse about it, but he was sitting right there smirking at me. It made everything a little hard to grasp.

“Blueport Way,” I said.

He threw his hands up in victory, reclining onto the boxes behind him. “Down the street from the old Shop ‘n Save. I hate that place.”

But he didn’t sound like he hated it at all. “You lived here?” I said.

“You’d think…” He paused and looked to Maggie. “If God created the cosmos, you’d think he’d know how to read a street sign. He dumped me a block away from my house.”

“St. Peter?” Maggie said.

“God,” Zach replied. He moved in a blur towards the sunroof. The roof was so low in places he had to duck.

“But it was St. Peter at the gates,” Maggie said.

Zach looked up at the sky. “Same thing really.”

Maggie sat up straighter. “St. Peter was an Apostle, he was chosen by –”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Zach waved her away. “God’s got a bit of a personality disorder.”

“But James, Mathew –”

“Judas? God couldn’t’ve been Judas,” I said.

“Someone had to be.”

Maggie’s posture slumped and she was staring at the floor. Her cross swung from her neck, back and forth. I wanted to reach out and stop it. “How do you know?” she said.

He turned to her and smiled. “I’m inquisitive.”

I glared up at him.

He shrugged. “It just feels like the truth.”

“But you don’t know for sure?” I told him, thinking of Maggie.

“I guess not.”

Maggie started tying up her shoelace. Then she stood, pressed down her skirt, and walked to the attic opening.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

Before answering me, she lowered herself onto the steps of the ladder. “His house.” She started to climb down to the hallway. “Obviously.”

“Maggie we don’t even know him,” I whispered in her direction. “We can’t go traipsing across the neighbourhood with a ghost – I don’t even believe in ghosts!”

She climbed out of view. “It’s where St. Peter wants him to go!”

“Maggie!” I yelled after her.

I turned sheepishly to Zach. He was brushing non-existent dust off his clothes while the real dust meandered past the nearby streak of sunlight, unaware.

“I like her,” he said.

“Couldn’t you find anything else?”

Maggie and Zach stood at the edge of Grandma’s short driveway while I locked the front door, stowing the key under an ugly potted plant.

“It’s obvious,” Maggie said. She was glaring up at him.

Zach, who was transparent and would’ve scared the neighbours, was covered in a sheet. We’d cut him eyeholes so he could see.

“And I can’t believe you have to use doors,” she said.

“I know, right?” Zach mumbled through the sheet.

He looked like an idiot, but at least he looked like a solid person – just a solid person under a bedsheet, which was decidedly better than a see-through person.

“It’s only obvious because you know who’s under there,” I said.

“Boo!” Zach pulled the sheet off his head. Maggie flinched. In the sunlight he looked even more unclear. Also, his left ear was missing. I pulled the sheet back over his head, like a hood. Maggie punched him in the arm.

I looked towards the Shop ‘n Save – the neighbourhoods beacon of ruination. Grandma called it a shop for survivalists and youths. Really, it was just a bit grubby. Half the S on Save was missing. The sun sat right above it, threatening to burn it to the ground. There weren’t any people around, but it was dog walking hour: we had to get moving.

“My hand should go right through you! Are you sure you’re a ghost?”

“Maggie!” I said.

“What?”

“Don’t say it so loud.”

“Yeah, the neighbours’ll hear,” Zach laughed. “Don’t want them knowing you’re friends with a ghost.” He whispered the last word.

“We only just met,” I said.

“I know. We’re really hitting it off,” he said.

Without waiting for a reply Zach headed down the sidewalk, towards the sun, and I fell into step beside him. Maggie wandered behind, looking confused. I felt like Elliott smuggling ET across the neighbourhood. And comparing our situation to ET actually helped – I felt like we had a mission. I could only hear our footsteps – mine, and Maggies following in double-time.

“So…” Maggie pondered behind us. “Why’d you get sent back?”

Zach – the sheet – sighed.

“What?” I laughed. “What the hell did you do?”

“What was his name again, Maggie? St. Something –”

“St. Peter,” she said.

“Or God,” I added.

“Or God,” Zach nodded. “Yeah. I told St. Peter – God – to fuck off.”

I stopped. We were at the end of the street, right across from the Shop ‘n Save. Zach hadn’t noticed and so he kept walking.

“You shouldn’t swear,” said Maggie. She caught up with me and was standing with her little hands balled into fists.

Zach turned around and poked his head out of the blanket. He was half there, half not, but even with an ear missing, and a chunk of his temple gone, he looked surprised. “I’m serio –” Something caught his eye and he ducked under his sheet. There was a lady crossing the street with a dog trotting beside her, coming towards us.

“Hello Mrs Bridges!” called Maggie, polite as ever. I looked over at Zach. He’d realigned his eye holes and was standing very still.

“Melissa.” Mrs Bridges nodded to me. “Maggie.” She nodded to Maggie. “I was so sorry to hear about…” She trailed off. Her greyhound was sniffing at the foot of Zach’s sheet, pulling at its lead. Mrs Bridges’ pointed face skimmed over the sheet with a disapproving look.

“Well…” she started airily.

I wanted to smile, but if I smiled I’d laugh – there was no getting away from it, our situation had crossed the line to absurdity – so I nodded. Mrs Bridges stared at me, expecting some sort of follow up, and when she didn’t get it she yanked her dog away and continued down the path, shaking her head until she was out of sight.

We were silent for a long time watching her thin figure recede, and when it did we stood still on the sidewalk with Maggie still watching the end of the path and picking at her fingernails.

“Hello?” Zach shouted, breaking the silence.

I couldn’t hold it in anymore – I lost it laughing. “Maggie –”

“– You can’t introduce me to your neighbours!”

“They’re not our neighbours,” she said indignantly. “They were Grandmas!”

Zach turned left to continue down the sidewalk, mumbling something about ghosts. I steered Maggie by the shoulders, further away from Mrs Bridges and her sniffer dog. We forged forward, travelling parallel to the early sunset.

“Why is that?” she said.

“Huh?”

“Grandma didn’t come back.”

She had a point. If we were going to see a ghost, it really should have been Grandma. I wasn’t so sure I liked the idea of finding her sitting in the attic, waiting to send us on a cross-suburb mission. But really, of all the ghosts, at all the times in our lives, why the stroppy teenager, now?

“She would’ve wanted to go in – to Heaven,” Zach said.

Maggie looked up at me. “You think she’s really there?”

“Mags, she was a saint. Her only vice is hoarding.”

Was,” Maggie corrected.

We turned a corner, into a street filled with prim little houses with sparse front yards. Zach looked from house to house like a ball boy at a tennis match. I stopped for a second to look at Maggie. Her eyes were like pits.

“If it makes you feel any better,” I said, “he got in.”

“Hey!”

I watched Maggie until, eyes downcast, she nodded. I took her hand and we continued along the street.

Zach was standing at the end of a long walkway leading to the front door of a squat, cottage-like house. He held the sheet from his face, above his head where it fell like a tent and shivered in the wind.

All the windows of the house were clear of curtains, the shrubbery low and neatly clipped. It looked inviting, like the family that lived there kept their doors unlocked when they were home, opened their windows for the sea breeze, talked to their neighbours. There was no car in the drive and the rooms were empty.

The biggest thing on the lot was an old jacaranda tree at the end of its bloom. The purple flowers were starting to look slightly sad for themselves. Half of them drooped from the trees spindling branches, the other half pooled on the floor underneath.

“This is it,” he said. We watched it with him for a while, but neither of us could see what he saw in it. To us it was just a house, but to him…

I turned to Zach. I could see him – he was almost there, even with the drowning sun hitting the side of his face – I could see his expression, wrinkled with apprehension and fear. Maggie squeezed my hand.

“Do you wanna –” I started.

The sheet billowed to the ground as he lurched up the path. As he ran he blurred. I caught glimpses – an arm here, a leg there, but never his face. I followed him to the side of the house with Maggie following behind me, the white sheet bundled in her arms.

We stopped at a side door in the shade of the jacaranda. If I squinted I could see Zach’s hand turning the doorknob – the lilac petals whooshed outwards as he opened the door.

“Are you sure?” Maggie asked Zach. She was shifting uneasily on her feet.

“It is my house,” Zach said. For a second I thought Maggie was going to correct him, but she kept her mouth shut and nodded.

The petals crunched underfoot as we walked towards the open door. “I tell them to lock it all the time, but they trust too much,” he said.

We were in a laundry room lined with a washing machine and a dryer, but there were no clothes in sight. The room was so white and clean, just waiting for mess. Maggie dropped the sheet on the ground. “You can’t trust too much,” she said.

“The burglars of the world’ll be glad to know,” he said.

Zach led us into the hallway. The darkness of the house made him tangible again, if not a little transparent. He was missing an arm and a significant part of his torso.

The hallway was in shadows – ahead I could see a living room bathed in light but we turned away from it, past portraits hung sparingly down the hall.

I looked into the rooms as we went. “It looks like you’ve been ransacked.” In the bathroom were a few neatly folded towels and nothing but a toothbrush on the basin; in a spare bedroom was a bed covered in crisp white sheets with a single pillow at its head.

He gave a one word answer: “Mum.”

Maggie and I stopped in front of one of the family portraits. His mum had a big smile and short, curly hair. The rest of the family sat below her: a bald man in a dark polo, a little boy in a Babygro, and a much younger Zach. His hair stood up like he’d touched an electric fence. It didn’t look like his mum had tried to comb it or cut it.

“She looks nice,” Maggie said. He didn’t answer. Maybe we’d been staring too long. This wasn’t our home, and it didn’t escape my notice that we were breaking and entering with a ghost. That breaking and entering was a felony. That seeing and talking to ghosts was…a medical emergency.

I backed up and bumped into Zach. He’d stopped at the end of the hall and was looking into a room, a bedroom, mercifully swathed in light. He really was solid – he was there. I had to keep reminding myself he was dead. He’d just died. He’d just died. I repeated it to myself like a mantra.

“Ha,” he coughed.

It was his bedroom, equipped with a perfectly unmade bed. There were books everywhere – there was no bookshelf, the room was the bookshelf. The floor was the laundry basket. His desk was, surprisingly, still a desk. It was the only cleared surface in the room.

“What?” Maggie asked.

“I feel like I could just go back to sleep and wake up again.” He moved towards his bed and sat at the edge, on top of a pair of discarded pyjama bottoms.

His bed faced a window. Over the top of his neighbour’s rooves I could see the sunset burning brighter, as if the Shop ‘n Save really had caught fire.

“I’m not his biggest fan,” Zach said, looking out at the sunset.

“Wallace Shawn?”

He laughed at that, but then he seemed to catch himself. Maggie stepped into the room and started perusing through his books.

“St. Peter, God, Wallace Shawn. Whoever.” There was a pause. He smirked. “I don’t actually know what’s gonna happen now.”

“How so?”

“Well,” he started, leaning back on his duvet, “you’re supposed to look at the pearly gates and just…gush. Totally freak out. Go absolutely berserk.”

“You didn’t?” Maggie asked. She was scanning the back of an Isaac Asimov book she’d found on his windowsill.

“No,” he said simply.

I folded my arms and leant on the doorframe. “You gave him cheek.”

Zach turned to me in a blur. Part of his face had disappeared, from the tip of his ear down to his jawline. It was disconcerting – lopsided and dizzying to look at.

“What’s with all the fading?” I asked. “Why don’t you just like – pop back?”

He pushed himself off the bed and towards his closet. “My best guess is…” When he opened his closet a pile of clothes slumped to the floor in an avalanche. He stood in the pile and surveyed himself in the mirror, blinking, noticeably disappearing. “…it’s a sandtimer.”

Maggie turned to watch him, narrowing her eyes and looking him up and down.

Zach caught my confused expression in the mirror. “He’s being dramatic,” he said. “A true thespian. A real pompous jackass.”

Part of his face fell away, just like sand slipping down a slope. “Fucking fantastic.” He blinked his remaining eye. Maggie jumped back.

“Sorry kid. I just…” He brought the rest of his hand up to try to touch his face, and then shook his head.

“He wouldn’t do that if you were nice to him,” she said.

Zach looked like he’d been punched. “Mags…” I started.

“He doesn’t deserve it,” he said. We all stared as the rest of his hand disappeared.

“See!” she yelped, but Zach wasn’t looking at her anymore. He was looking up at the ceiling.

“You don’t like hearing the truth, do you?!” he yelled to the room. A chunk of his other ear disappeared, just like a gust of wind blew it away.

“Maybe you should –”

“– Now you hear me!” He turned to me. “Anything you’d like to say, now he’s paying attention?”

Maggie was still clutching the Isaac Asimov paperback – Pebble in the Sky. Her eyes were wide and glittering, her mouth frowning. Her face was torn. It was like she didn’t know what should scare her most: the disappearing boy or the angry one.

“Go keep watch,” I told her. “Go.”

She didn’t move until she noticed she was still holding the book, and then she dropped it, not giving it or Zach a second look as she stomped out of the room and down the hall.

“What the hell is your problem?” I yelled. The last half of Zach’s face was twisted. His eye was wide open, his jaw locked, but he held his face like it was all still there.

Zach started pacing the length of the room. “Why don’t you care?”

For a moment I thought he was asking me, but before I could answer Zach’s other hand fell away like sand. His mind was falling away with his limbs.

“When there are so many people hurting – how can you do it?”

His arm disappeared up to his elbow.

“Hey!” I yelled. “No. You can’t talk to my sister like that.”

He tore his eyes from the ceiling and gave me a look like I’d interrupted a phone call – which, I think, was exactly what I was doing.

“Just sit there and fucking lord over people –”

He looked back up at the ceiling as nothingness spread over his shoulder.

“Like you have a plan –”

Down past his ribcage.

“And rules. So many fucking rules –”

Wrapping partly around his waist.

“You can’t even save a fucking kid!”

“Zach! Stop!” I yelled.

He paused in front of the window. There was hardly any of him left – his spine, his back, his legs, half his face. He’d tipped the scales. He wasn’t really there anymore.

“Can you feel it?” he asked forcefully.

“What?”

“Him.”

I shook my head.

“No…no. Because he doesn’t really care,” he said calmly. He slumped as his foot trickled away into nothingness. He wasn’t a boy. I was having a hard time believing he was even a ghost anymore. He hardly existed at all. “I don’t want to believe in you anymore,” he told the open window, his voice cracking as he spoke.

He hopped towards the bed and slumped onto it. I looked up at the ceiling. There was a spattering of glow-in-the-dark stars plastered across the white paint. I watched them for a long time. As the room darkened they glowed faintly. I tried to find a pattern or a constellation, but there were none – they were just stars.

“I told him I didn’t want to go inside,” Zach said.

I turned my head back to the room. “What do you want me to say?” I didn’t have a cross to clutch or a prayer book to lean on. I blinked back at him. “You just scared the living daylights out of my sister.”

“I’m sorry. I just…” He trailed off again, letting the silence take the rest of his words. He looked to a portrait on his bedside table. It was of a little boy – the tube curling out of his nose pressed against a rosy cheek, his pink lips were smiling, his brown curls fell over his forehead. There were dates and a name typed underneath.

“He was seven,” he said.

Maggie was eleven, standing outside, probably under the jacaranda tree watching the Shop ‘n Save slowly burn to the ground without having been on fire in the first place.

“When he was born, my parents thought I was old enough to go to his christening. Apparently I spent the whole ceremony playing with trucks in the corner. I’d make these loud crashing noises, spitting all over the place.”

“I still don’t know what you want me to say.”

“When he was older he did the same thing. And he kept going – he did everything I did. He never got old enough to start hating me.”

Zach stared at the carpet. He was telling himself stories, forcing his life to flash before his eyes – I was just there, hearing it by accident.

When Zach was twelve his little brother sat through A Nightmare on Elm Street at Halloween – Zach threw a blanket over his head whenever Freddy Krueger came on screen. When he was fifteen, he said, his then six-year-old brother made him keep a walky-talky under his pillow for six months straight. And when the seven-year-old got sick they played snap in the hospital every weekend.

Zach stopped talking. I waited for him to go on, but the pause meant something bigger. I felt it press down on my chest.

“And you don’t want to see him?” I asked.

He whipped around to face me. “I’m still angry he’s there at all.”

Against my better judgement I thought of Maggie, gone at seven, or nine, or eleven. I thought of what it’d be like meeting the one who took her away.

And I thought of her standing behind the gates, eyes dark and full, waiting. The portrait of Zach’s little brother, he had dark eyes too. There was something about kids eyes that made me feel so guilty, because they were wide all the time, and I knew they didn’t always stay that way.

“I don’t think you have a choice,” I told him. I was glad I couldn’t see his expression, that his voice was a whisper.

“I don’t think I can –”

“Where else then? Purgatory?”

“Yes,” he said.

“This is eternity we’re talking about.”

“I can’t –”

“You can’t leave him alone,” I said.

“He wouldn’t know –”

“Eternity, Zach. He’d find out eventually.”

He turned back to the sunset. It was fading just as fast as he was – there were glimpses of pink, but most of the sky had returned to its deeper blue. I couldn’t see what he saw in it. A part of me agreed with Zach. Anger seared the inside of my throat – it said yes, none of this is okay. None of this is fair.

I could only guess what he saw in the sky, and I guessed it was eternity. And as he sighed I knew that he understood: he couldn’t face that with anger.

“Liss?”

Maggie stood in the doorway. She watched Zach carefully, surveying him to find out how much of him was missing. She was playing with her cross. Zach might have been watching it twirl, but I couldn’t be sure.

“So…” he said to me. “Are you gonna start going to church?”

The same guilty, exhausted, uncontrollable chuckle came from both of us. I dropped my head back on the door frame and Zach fell back onto the bed – it was a laugh, a sigh, and an answer all in one.

A knock at the front door interrupted us and Maggie jumped. She looked to me. “There are people leaving flowers,” she said, “by the door.”

“Oh, right,” Zach said, like he was remembering something. “You should probably go.”

Maggie tugged at my sleeve but I didn’t move. Zach was still lying on his bed, facing the window and the portrait on his desk.

“It’s okay,” he said. “Really.”

“Are you going back?” Maggie asked tentatively.

She was watching him so carefully, waiting for an answer, but there was none. I could imagine flowers piling up on the family’s welcome mat outside. A transparent boy didn’t make sense to me, but flowers against a front door? He was dead, and there wasn’t a lot left.

I wanted to say something to fill the silence. What did people usually say?

“Rest…rest in peace, Zach.”

His laugh in reply was booming and short-lived, but alive – it didn’t make sense how alive it was.

I herded Maggie out of the room while he was still smiling.

“I’ll see you guys later,” he said, and I decided to take his word for it.

The Shop ‘n Save was still standing. The sky was this deep blue colour, soft like velvet with pink clouds still dancing across the horizon. The crickets were out, and as Maggie and I walked along the sidewalk the closest ones stopped chirping to listen to our shoes scuff the pavement, starting up again when we passed. The stuttering sounds followed us down the street.

“Liss?”

“Yeah?”

“What if he’s just turning invisible,” she said.

“Huh…” I thought it over.

“Maybe he’s still here. Maybe he’s joking around.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said.

 

 

 

 

 

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