Deals with the Dead


Nora Lafferty '23, Writer

Gwen sees ghosts. They’re nothing special, she would tell any curious minds who questioned her about it. Just people, like you and me. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they watch, and sometimes, they disappear. Gwen always finds that to be the scariest part. They’re never particularly loud, but the emptiness she experiences when they’re gone is unsettling, to say the least. 


She doesn’t remember when she saw her first ghost. She must have been… nine? Ten? Something of the sort- she can’t bring herself to remember, or she doesn’t care to. She’s not sure when time became so irrelevant to her. Probably after she encountered the ghost on sixth street for the first time. She’s pretty sure that messed her up for eternity. 


But time… time doesn’t really feel real to her, not anymore. Some of these spirits have been around for centuries- Gwen can see it in the way they act, the way they dress, the way they talk. It’s sad, kind of, to know they’re still here. It’s even worse when there’s nothing she can do for them. 


It was errands when she was young. Company, most of the time, but occasionally errands. So many of them were just happy to have someone who could see them- someone they could talk to-and Gwen’s more than happy to be that person. Her favorite crowds when she was younger were the older ladies- the ones who would sit outside their children’s house on a nearby bench for days, weeks, years. She realizes now that it was probably weird, a nine-year-old sitting outside and talking to thin air for hours on end, but she couldn’t help herself. She still can’t, in all honesty, even if she’s more aware of her surroundings and what people think of her now.


She remembers seeing some of the ghosts move on from conversation alone- from the rawness of human interaction that they’d lacked for so long. The hollowness it left her with, seeing them just fade into nothingness, was confusing at first. 


She was lucky to have Mrs. Fischer. 


“Ghosts are supposed to move on. It’s natural- we can’t stay in this world.” 


She remembers shivering, tugging her jacket closer to find reprieve in the cool autumn chills. “Why are you still here then? And everyone else?” She’s always felt very small, knowing she is alone in this world. Not a ghost, but lacking the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead. 


“Some of us have things left to do. Unfinished business, if you will- keep your hat on Gwendolyn, you’ll catch a cold.” 


Other ghosts wouldn’t have cared, Gwen knows, but Mrs. Fischer never was like other ghosts. She kept her age after she died, opting to stay in her old human form. Her hair glowed silver and her wrinkles ran deep, but she never looked to be in pain. She was pretty, always with a certain sparkle in her eyes that the other ghosts lacked. Gwen liked to think that if she’d ever gotten the chance to meet her grandmother, she would have been something like this. Grumbling, she shoved the hat back over her head, ignoring the way it made her ears itch. 


“Like what? What do you have to do?”


The old ghost smiled, looking back up at the stairwell to the apartment building they were sitting in front of, just in time to see a young woman stumble out in a rush. 


“I just want to see my daughter happy,” She tells the child by her side. Gwen doesn’t get it, but she will.


Mrs. Fischer passes on a year later- after her daughter gets the big promotion she’d been wishing for. Gwen visits the bench sometimes, with homework or her thoughts, and watches the brick building. It stays the same in the changing of the seasons, but the people do not. Her daughter gets married three years later, and Gwen decides it is time to move on by herself. So she does, but she remembers Mrs. Fischer, and how badly it had hurt when she’d disappeared. That, and the sense of fulfillment it had left her with. 


Most ghosts are not as kind as Mrs. Fischer. They realize she can see them and reach out, hands passing through her body with a frozen sense of purpose. She helps the ones she can- find a missing ring, check in on someone’s cat, weed a garden. They go easy on her when she’s young, but she’s not anymore. 


Seventeen, and she’s beginning to understand what a burden her ability really is. 


“Look, It’s really not that high up. Can you just, I don’t know, scale the building or something? I really want those back.” 


Gwen has no shame when it comes to staring at the ghost, lips curled in disgust.

“Your final wish is a pair of shoes?”


“They’re special to me! My baby brother got them for me,” The young boy before her tries to justify. He looks to be around her age, but that makes her no more inclined to help him with this. She likes helping the ghosts- really, she does, but not if it means becoming one herself.

The shoes are about thirty feet up, laces tied together and tangled to the rung of the fire escape. Which looks… old. Ages old. Gwen’s met ghosts who were probably around when this thing was built, and they weren’t too young themselves. 


“Look, I really want to get them back to him, okay? Like, a final memento. If you’re not gonna help me, I’ll find some other way. I heard the crazy old man in the park talking about possessions the other day. It can’t be that hard, I’ll talk to him.”


“No you won’t,” she snaps, and oh, god, she’s going to have to talk to him about that. It’s fine if he doesn’t want to move on yet- she’s not here to force any of the ghosts into anything- but if he’s putting ideas of possessions into the spirit’s heads… it’s not something she wants to have to deal with; especially not after the last time. 


“I’ll get your stupid shoes,” She says sourly, resolves crumbling.


“Has anyone ever told you how mean you are? Shouldn’t you treat me like a customer or something?”


“I don’t get paid for this,” she points out, shrugging off her backpack. “How did they even get up there?” 


The boy looks to the side, somewhat embarrassed. “I wasn’t exactly in my right mind when I died,” he says bashfully. 


“Right,” she says because she’s encountered enough ghosts to know what that means; She’s also encountered enough to know when not to push it. 


It’s lucky she wore her sneakers today, and not anything with a heel. It’s unlucky she wore her favorite shirt because she’s not sure it will make it out of this alive. 


15 feet up and her theory proves to be right, the fabric of the shirt snagging on the rust of the old metal. It creaks under her, and while she’s not afraid of heights, it’s hard not to be afraid of falling. The boy chatters beside her the whole way, floating up easily, and Gwen swears that if he were tangible she would slap him. Mrs. Fischer explained early on that ghosts couldn’t actually touch anything- she floated effortlessly above the bench, never actually sitting on it. Poltergeists are a different story, but Gwen hasn’t encountered enough of them to know where they got their power from and based on her past experiences, she really doesn’t want to. 


The buildings of the city block her from any harsh winds, but it’s just strong enough to tease her hair and make her sway, so she grits her teeth as she climbs. She’s pretty sure this ghost would laugh at her if she backed down now. She’s not afraid of him being angry- he doesn’t seem the type, but he does seem the type to haunt her for the rest of his dying days. A clingy ghost has never been enjoyable for her. 


She didn’t actually plan for what she would do when she reached the shoes. 


“Why did you tie these so tight?” She scowls, trying her best to get them free while also holding herself tight to the ladder. 


“I don’t remember,” The ghost groans, flitting around anxiously, arms spread wide as if to catch her if she were to fall. Not a whole lot of good that would do, but she appreciates the gesture nonetheless. He couldn’t have been dead for more than a couple of months, because he still seems new to the mechanics of his new form. 


“Wait,” she says, shoving one of the shoes around the rung, tugging hard before they finally come loose. “I’m going to drop them,” she tells him and does so before he has the chance to argue. She hopes they survive the drop because she’s not sure what she would do if this were all for nothing.


Going down is easier than up, and she finds herself moving a little quicker, ignoring the creaking and swaying of the ladder in favor of getting her feet on the solid ground sooner. 


The ghost beats her to it, leaving her side once she’s about ten feet from the ground, deciding there’s no longer a chance of her falling- not that he would have been able to stop it. 


He happily examines the shoes, crouched on the ground. 


Her feet land with a thud, and she makes her way over, picking up the shoes.

“These are them?” she regards him closely. “Why are you still here? Do you want me to drop these off for you?” 


“Drop them off?” The ghost asks, looking surprised.

“Yeah… didn’t you say you wanted to give them to your brother?”

“Oh!” The ghost does a happy little spin in the air, and Gwen can practically feel her stomach drop. “I don’t have a brother! I just wanted the shoes! Though, I didn’t really realize until you were halfway up that I couldn’t wear them… by then you were so close and so determined, and I mean, you didn’t look like you were going to die…” 


Gwen grinds her teeth together, anger and frustration practically radiating off of her. She hopes the ghost can feel that if nothing else. Turning on her heel, she stoops to pick up her bag, before leaving the ally. 


“Hey, wait! At least take the shoes! They’re really nice! And I want to see them around if I’m going to be hanging out with you more. A memento of the beginning of our friendship.”


“We’re not friends,” She hisses, taking out her phone and holding it to her ear, all too aware of the people around them, who the ghost carelessly phases through.


“No, but we will be! I don’t know how to move on yet, and it’s lonely only talking to all these depressed old losers,” he argues.

“You almost got me killed,” she shoots back viciously, ignoring the stares this statement earns her. “In a stupid way too! I’ve done deadly tasks, that one was just foolish.” 


“I wouldn’t have asked you if I didn’t think you could handle it,” he says stubbornly. “I’m not heartless.” 


“I don’t need a friend- especially not a dead one.” Especially not one who could disappear at any given moment, if triggered by the right thing. 


“I won’t be annoying, I promise. I’ll help you, actually. We can like, bust ghosts together. Speaking of which, can we start with park man? He just floats and rants all day… really creepy.”


“I’ve been trying to get him to move on for years, he doesn’t want to. I don’t need help, okay? I have enough on my plate as is without having to babysit a bored ghost.” 


“Listen,” he says desperately, pulling himself in front of her at the last moment. Gwen shivers violently as she walks right through him, too late to stop herself.

“Don’t do that!” 


“No, I really can help. I know of people. Dead ones, sure, but a lot of them! I talk to a lot of them. Um… not all of them like me, but I know them! Where they haunt, what they do, what they need…” he pauses, before amending his statement. “Maybe not the last part. But I do know enough to help!” 


“Has anyone ever told you how insufferable you are?” she asks, separating herself from the crowds on the sidewalk and ducking into another alley to glare at her deceased companion. 


“Sure, plenty. I’m Ray, by the way. Forever eighteen used to play soccer, big fan of the Twilight series,” he rattles off easily, as though prepared for this moment. 




“Sure, who isn’t?” he shrugs. 


“I’ve never seen them. Or read them, for that matter.” 


“Seriously? You’re involved in all this supernatural paranormal stuff… and never seen Twilight?” 


“It loses its appeal after you realize there’s an off chance vampires could be just as real as ghosts.” 


“I find it much more appealing that there could be an Edward Cullen around, actually,” Ray rebukes easily. “What’s your name?” 


“Gwen,” She answers, tugging at the straps of her backpack. 


The lines between the living and the dead are excruciatingly thin for Gwen, but she’s never felt like it was something she couldn’t handle. Not for the first time and certainly not for the last, she wonders if this will bring more trouble than it’s worth. 


It does.