Crammed in a closet with barely space to breathe, never mind move, I’ve managed to manoeuvre myself into the most uncomfortable of positions. My knees are near enough kissing my chin, and with each passing second, the flimsy shelf I’m leaning on is seemingly another step closer to collapse. Nevertheless, I’m stuck in this shoebox and the only option is to endure. On the other side of the door, Jonah and Emily are intwined within a fit of passionate lust, while Murph watches on from the corner of the bed, mist literary smoking from her nose, mouth and ears.
How did I arrive at this moment, I hear you ask? How did I become trapped in a space the size of a tea bag, listening to the pleasured moans of Emily and Jonah, wishing I was anywhere but here? Well, I was acting on behalf of Murph, but to understand why I followed her lead, I need to start at the beginning.
It all began one night I can’t quite recollect, four years ago now. I’d love to be able to tell you what actually happened, but the truth is, I don’t really remember much of anything past ten pm. I recall leaving Maitland tram stop, the street deserted—which was to be expected on a Sunday evening—and I can vaguely picture myself walking past Woody’s Pizzeria. An image of Simone wiping down the counter sticks in my mind for some reason, although I can’t state this with any degree of confidence, as seconds later my world turned blank.
I woke in a hospital bed, a beeping machine by my bedside and Simone staring down at me from above. I looked up at her wrinkled nose, the creases around eyes, the mole on her cheek, and smiled at the sight of a familiar face. The next day she would tell me how I collapsed; how the whites of my eyes rolled around my sockets, twitching sporadically; how my body spasmed at irregular intervals; how foam spewed from the corners of my mouth; how I was unresponsive in the ambulance. I can’t for the life of me remember a single thing about any of it.
It was during my third night in hospital when the surreal occurred, something which has since changed my life forever. The lights and television abruptly died in my room, bathing me in an inky darkness. After a few seconds the lights returned, alerting me to the fact that I was no longer alone; a figure stood at the foot of my bed, its presence causing me to jerk upright.
Initially, I thought I was dreaming—or hallucinating maybe—so closed my eyes hoping to blink away the image, but no matter how many times I repeated this, the figure remained. It was a man, middle-aged with wispy white hair and a tweed suit, yet he appeared cloud-like, as if swallowed by a thick fog.
“You have it,” he said to me, his voice deep and gruff.
“Have what?” I replied, the wobble in my voice immediately evident.
“The implant, it’s right there.” He tapped the side of his skull with a surprisingly firm fingertip, especially given his apparent misty frame.
I didn’t respond, clenching my eyes shut once more, albeit closing them for prolonged periods this time around. I was sure it had to be the result of whatever medication they had me on; it was the only reasonable explanation. I didn’t have the foggiest—if you can pardon the expression—as to what my hazy friend was alluding to, and was ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine percent certain that he was a figment of my imagination and nothing more. The thing was however, he didn’t leave my mind, and he didn’t leave my room. No, he set up camp and stayed put for the remainder of the evening.
He was happy enough just sitting in silence, he’d even settled into the chair beside me and began watching television—I have no clue how he switched it on, the set simply burst into life. I looked on in shock as he sat, legs stretched, engrossed in a documentary about Sherpa’s leading climbs on Mount Everest. My new friend even chipped in with the occasional comment, voicing his displeasure at the predicament they faced—he considered Everest’s ever-increasing tourist trade troublesome.
You can surely appreciate how unsettling this interaction was; laid in a hospital bed, with no actual memory of blacking out, and faced with a cloudy figure speaking to me about problematic tourism. “Are you real?” I asked rather tentatively, while also feeling myself blush from the stupidity of the question. Of course this guy isn’t real.
Only he replied with, “I’m as real as any dead guy can be,” which sent a helluva lot more than a mere shiver tingling down my spine.
At that moment, I couldn’t shut my eyes even if I wanted to. Instead, they bulged wide from the panic of conversing with a ghost, on top of the very real thought that I was actually losing my mind; it certainly felt that way at the time. “So, what you’re saying is, you’re dead? As in, no longer alive?” I reluctantly followed, the quiver in my throat evermore intense.
“As dead as dead can be,” my new friend chortled, clearly amused by my nervous disposition.
I tried to stay calm and think logically, while simultaneously reminding myself I was in the hospital and not at an underground rave, so fierce and pronounced was the thump in my chest. Believe me when I say it wasn’t an easy sell. If I’d still been hooked up to one of those machines, it would’ve been beeping like R2D2 in overdrive.
“But how can… how can…” I trailed off, unable to find the words that would offer a suitable explanation.
“You have it,” he repeated, again tapping his temple.
“Have what?” I managed to stammer.
Now, here is where you need to take a leap of faith, as I didn’t quite believe it myself at first. My blackout was no accident, nor a coincidence. No, I’d been chosen by the other side to act as a communicator for the dead, and thus, as if by magic, an untraceable chip developed in my brain, enabling me to see and speak with departed spirits. I laughed hysterically after the initial reveal, but sure enough, when I began seeing cloudy figures on every ward and corridor in the hospital, I realised this impossible notion was not so improbable.
As ludicrous as it sounds, I was seeing ghosts. Moreover, they’d come and speak to me, opening up about the prospect of reuniting with their loved ones in the Afterlife. Naturally, I didn’t know where to start, I was out of my depth more so than ever before. Nonetheless, it was through these early interactions that I discovered what happens to us when we die; the spirits were educating me.
We don’t get sent to the other side right away, instead our souls hang around on earth until the Afterlife is ready to receive us. That’s why communicators are required—and essential—to give the recently deceased someone to converse with in the interim. I wasn’t there to provide answers or fix things, I was just there to listen.
As you can well imagine, this was a lot to absorb, harbouring a gift that was essentially a therapy service for the dead. This newfound ability also did an excellent job of painting me with the insanity brush. I mean, think about, how many times have you encountered someone seemingly talking to themselves and thought, they’re crazy. I’m ashamed to say I have, once upon a time. But the next time you’re faced with such a scenario, don’t be so eager in jumping to conclusions; after all, you may need them someday… when you’re dead.
I’m diverting a little off track here, but you catch my drift. The bottom line, I needed to adapt my behaviour to ensure the service I offered was discreet, so not to arouse suspicion from those in white coats. And this is what I did, operating stealthily in the shadows; not one living soul knew about my gift.
I got to know many spirits and developed an understanding of how emotions are expressed in death; if angry they’ll ooze mist from their nose, mouths or ears—sometimes all three at once, depending on their rage—it’s as if they’re transformed into a smoking barbecue grill; if excited, they lose definition and become fuzzy, and I have to say, it’s mesmeric, like a spectrum of beautiful light.
Thinking back to the first time I came across an angry spirit, I panicked, ending up balled on the ground with my head tucked beneath my chest, wailing like a child. You have to understand, I was new to this process, and ghost or not, when you witness a figure smouldering in such a fashion… well, I thought they were about to explode. It was a stark education, yet an endearing one, recognising these ticks and learning how best to respond.
But what does it say in a certain comic book; with great power, comes… I’m not going there, you know the rest, and if not, then that’s why we have online search engines. I will though offer two pieces of advice, a warning if you like, should you ever find yourself a bearer of this gift: One, keep things strictly professional and don’t befriend the spirts, regardless of how well you think you connect with them; And two, don’t take advantage of your situation for personal gain, no matter how good an idea it seems at the time.
This brings me to Murph.
I first met Murph a month ago, noticing her clouded form from across the street as I left the movie theatre. Her hair was a faded auburn, resting on her shoulders, which no doubt would’ve sparkled before she passed. I knew instantly she wanted my attention, and could sense that she was hurting, based upon the spurts of vapour streaming from her nostrils.
Murph died suddenly of a heart attack, just three weeks shy of her thirty-fifth birthday, and it turns out that her boyfriend, Jonah, had been cheating on her with Emily—also a red-head, but in her early twenties—for quite some time. Murph knew things were a little rocky prior to her demise, but she never once suspected he was having an affair. The thing that really galled Murph however, that stuck in her throat like a mouthful of dried oats, was the lack of compassion Jonah expressed toward her death.
Yes, he put up appearances at the funeral—the crocodile tears, the grief-stricken expression, the manner in which he effortless played the room, roaming from guest-to-guest, thanking them for paying their respects to his darling Murph. But it was all lip service, all a masquerade, epitomised later that very evening when he and Emily made love in Murph’s bed. Murph bought the bed outright before meeting Jonah, so by the very definition, it was her bed.
Just hearing his name spoken aloud made Murph exude a foggy rage, smoking from her nose and ears, and I felt a deep sadness toward her grief. She was the one who had died, yet death had not spared her pain, if anything it had perpetuated her trauma.
The pair of us struck up a strong bond, meeting daily, to the point where I rejected the advances of other spirits, allocating all my time and energy to Murph. As someone who lives alone—and has been alone for many years—it felt as if Murph was quite literally my soul mate. What was I saying about getting too close? This was my first fundamental error, which in turn leads to my second piece of advice, and it’s something I’d urge anyone with this gift to adhere to; don’t exploit this ability for personal gain.
You have to recognise, I thought we were friends, me and Murph. I know, I know, how absurd that must sound, befriending a dead spirit who only I can see. But at the time, I held no doubts whatsoever, and enjoyed Murph’s company beyond what words can describe. Indeed, I would cancel plans with living friends, just so we could spend an evening together; the two us, listening to jazz records, while I watched her clouded body distort through sheer joy. To this day, I still vividly recall her radiant beauty when overstimulated; Murph’s soul in the physical form morphing into something spectacular, like her spirit was somehow refracting light.
Just listening now, you must surely see the lasting effect Murph has had on me, and hopefully you’ll therefore understand why I agreed to accompany her to the casino. She wanted to go, expressed how she was pining to live a little now that she was dead—and furthermore, that she’d help me even the odds so to speak at the poker table. I mean, I couldn’t lose, Murph was giving me signals from all angles, gesturing when I should fold and raise. I won’t give you the exact numbers, but my stakes rose significantly throughout the evening, and my bank account was five figures healthier by the following morning.
So, this is where we get to the part about personal gain, and the dangers therein. I woke the next day with Murph hovering above my bed, a haze encasing her in what appeared like a magical glow. “I helped you get you that money, so now it’s time for you to do something for me.” The second those words fell from her smoking lips, I knew this was all going to end badly.
It was a gold keychain that Murph wanted me to steal, one which had once belonged to Jonah’s father. He gave the chain to Jonah shortly before he died, reminding him of their trips to the lake each summer. They would fish until the sun set over the glistening waters, bathing them both in a fiery orange glow. Jonah held that chain dear to his heart, a true symbol of those treasured memories. By all accounts, it featured a miniature fishing boat—and I say by all accounts, because I never actually got the opportunity to see it, never mind steal it.
“Don’t worry, I know exactly where it is,” Murph boasted, no doubt clocking the trepidation etched deep within the lines of my face. “He and Emily have tickets to the theatre Friday night, and they’ve got a table booked afterwards at some fancy restaurant. They won’t be back till late, by which point, we’ll be long gone.”
Upon quizzing how she knew such details, Murph simply reaffirmed how easy it was for spirits to travel distances quickly, something which I discovered first-hand in fairness; souls in general—not just Murph’s—did tend to spring up out of the blue. She’d been keeping tabs on him, monitoring his plans and waiting for the right moment to strike. “Even though you’re the only who sees me, you’re not the only person I’ve been spending my time with,” she smiled, which left me feeling a little used, not to mention upset.
Still, I reluctantly agreed, after all, I felt connected to Murph. And how did she put it; “I’ll be with you the whole time.” True to her word, she was—is—I can see her right this very second, her form radiating smoke like a chimney, as Emily sounds like she’s on the verge of reaching a very high-pitched climax. Jonah too, for that matter, but at the lower end of the harmony scale—he’s grunting more like a hog in distress.
The flaw to Murph’s plan was threefold: Firstly, the chain wasn’t where she thought it was, and in the subsequent few minutes we spent searching the apartment—before Jonah and Emily graced us with their unexpected presence—we couldn’t locate it; Second, the theatre tickets are for tomorrow night—SATURDAY; And finally, although admittedly not part of the original plan, hiding in the bedroom closet was a huge mistake in hindsight—why, oh why, did Murph shepherd me this way?
So that about brings you up to speed.
Right now, I can barely feel anything below my knees, my feet having seemingly turned numb, struck down with a bad bout of pins and needles. The shelf continues to creak at an alarming rate, while Emily’s delighted squeals seem to be reaching a crescendo; and if Murph were alive today, you’d be frantically searching for a fire extinguisher right about now.
And just as Emily reaches Pleasureville—in fact, pretty much in sync with her delightful orgasm—the shelf collapses and I spill through the door, sprawling out into open view. Emily screams, and this scream is distinctively different from those of the past fifteen minutes. I peer across as Murph, who’s gesturing her arms and furrowing her brow—it’s a look that insinuates; what the fuck are you doing?
Glancing back to the bed, I notice Jonah has jumped to his feet and grabbed the bedside lamp. For a second it all feels a bit dreamlike, watching Jonah’s sculpted chest rasp back and forth, yet I’m left with no illusions; I need to get the hell out of here—and fast. I try taking a couple of steps, but I can’t get my numbed legs moving, instead it feels like I’m wearing space boots and trudging through treacle on the moon. “Who the fuck are you? And what the fuck are you doing in my apartment?” he shouts, the veins in his neck strained and pulsing, as the lamp shakes rather menacingly within his grip.
I don’t know what propels me, it must be the adrenaline, but I manage to dart toward the bedroom door. Within touching distance of the handle, I feel a waft of air arrow past my head like a missile. It’s the lamp, which misses me by no more than an inch, striking the wall and shattering. “Get back here you fucking pervert,” I hear Jonah scream from behind, which in fairness, I get. I mean, come on, if roles were reversed, I’d feel exactly the same, right? And something tells me this is not the time to start spouting explanations, and even if it were, what am I going to say; the ghost of your ex-girlfriend put me up to this. Nah, it won’t wash.
I crash through the front door and sprint away down the gravel path. I make out Murph gliding beside me, who has annoyingly kept pace without any effort whatsoever, while my muscles burn deep and my lungs wheeze air; oh, to be dead. Her head keeps spanning back to check on Jonah’s progress, and that’s when she provides a welcome update. “Fran, it’s okay, he’s stopped.” Even with this news, I daren’t slow down, and continue to power from the house as fast as my legs will carry me. Legs don’t fail me now.
I run a further mile until I reach the beach front, and only then do I stop. Out of breath, I double over, my hands slapped against my knees. I feel sick and try to heave, my body retching forward, yet I produce nothing of note, just a few strands of stringy saliva. My heart is pounding and feels raw, like my insides have been hollowed clean with a spoon.
In my ears the thump is inescapable, heightened to the point where I’d be forgiven for thinking a marching band had found its way inside my skull. It’s only the sound of waves that calm me, crashing softly against the shore. They’re gentle and rhythmic, and for a second, I forget what I’ve just done.
But then it hits me, like a pinball erratically smashing around my mind. I clutch my shoulder out of habit, hoping to feel the strap of my bag. Holy shit fuck on a cracker. My driving licence, phone and keys are all in that bag, which is no doubt resting proud somewhere in Jonah’s apartment. A vague, fragmented image suddenly comes flooding back, of me setting it down as we searched for the chain. I’m so fucked, I don’t even want to think about it, yet I can’t ignore the dread that washes through my gut.
Why was I given this gift?
Why did it have to be me?
Why did I befriend Murph and agree to this?
I curse my spooky brain.
Chris Farrington lives in Todmorden, a quaint little town in West Yorkshire, where on any given day you never quite know what will happen. A new writer, Chris takes inspiration from the roaming hills and green surroundings, where he will often spend hours walking with his dog, Mac. Having developed a fascination for character flaws, unusual scenarios and the supernatural, Chris likes to twist and distort his stories, in addition to exploring the moments in life that tip us over the edge.
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