Ghosts

Where do ghosts live?

(Nowhere. Ghosts don’t exist)

If you’ve read enough books or watched the right films, I bet you’re thinking about a dark, Gothic castle,

(Or an old school, or an orphanage long abandoned)

Perhaps. But, probably, a castle. And what will the weather be like?

(A storm, lightning forking over the top of the trees, thunder crashing in the distance)

Night or day?

(Night, of course)

You’ve arrived in the rain. You turned down a dark road in a dark forest and you are lost.

(Frightened)

Terrified. You’re thinking you shouldn’t have come. You should be somewhere warm, somewhere safe,

(Nowhere’s safe)

And you see a light and you feel a tiny spark of hope.

(Fool)

You leave your car, it’s caught in the mud, and you trek up to the front door.

(So it’s not a castle then?)

To the entrance. Door, portcullis, drawbridge, entry vestibule. Whatever.

(The door swings open at your touch)

And it’s all black inside, but it’s not black. Your eyes adjust and you see it’s all shades of grey.

(Don’t go in, don’t go in)

You go in, groping in the darkness. There’s a switch and a light comes on.

(But the light only makes the darkness darker, turns the greys back to black)

You’re trapped now in an island of light, scared of the shadows in a way you weren’t before the light came on.

(The light attracts too many things)

Hello. Is anyone there?

(You sound weak, defenseless, like prey)

No reply.

(Did you want one, really?)

Time to choose. Go on or go back.

(You have to go on, there’s no going back)

Your legs tremble but you managed to make them move. You almost wish they wouldn’t, but they take you deeper into the house,

(The old mental hospital, the mad professor’s house, the cobwebbed hotel)

And you find the stairs and the stairs take you up.

(Up, away from the door)

You find a room and in the room is a bed. A dim bulb and a pool of sickly light. You realise how tired you are,

(You could sleep the sleep of the dead)

And you clamber into the bed,

(In your clothes, in your shoes)

And you close your eyes.

(I wouldn’t do that if I were you)

When you open them again, the light has gone out.

(Is that better or worse?)

It’s different. There’s a sound in the darkness.

(Uh-oh)

Is it coming nearer or getting further away?

(Getting nearer of course)

It’s a sort of shuffling noise,

(Or a clanking, or a shuffling clank)

Coming down the corridor. And you pray.

(To whom?)

To anyone, to everyone.

(I wouldn’t do that, could make things a whole lot worse)

And you pray that it doesn’t stop outside your door.

(Of course it’s going to stop)

Well, you are in a strange bed, in a dark room, in the middle of a forest, in a thunderstorm. It’s going to stop.

(I know)

It stops. And you hold your breath.

(I’d get a few more in while you have the chance if I were you)

The door handle turns.

(How do you know? It’s dark)

You hear the door handle turning. It clicks. The hinges creak as the door slowly opens and,

(And?)

Well that would be telling.

(Isn’t that rather the point of a story?)

But this wasn’t a story, it was a question.

(It was?)

Where do ghosts live?

(We’ve been through this: in a castle in the woods in a storm)

So it is a castle now?

(Whatever)

But that’s not an answer. It’s an example. It’s the only kind of example people are willing to give.

(Why?)

Because it’s silly and fun and, the truth of it is, when it comes down to it, it’s really easy to not find yourself in a castle in a forest in a storm.

(Just don’t go out when it’s raining for a start)

Exactly. But…

(But?)

What if that’s not where ghosts live? What if they live in petrol stations and supermarkets and in your downstairs loo?

(But they don’t)

Don’t they?

(That would be silly, there would be ghosts everywhere)

And what are ghosts?

(Made up, imaginary, not real)

They’re dead people.

(No, dead people are dead people)

Ghosts are what’s left of the dead when their bodies have burnt or rotted away.

(Like gold fillings?)

If you like. They are spirits, memories, echoes of what was once alive. Left behind.

(I liked this better when it was a story)

It was never a story. It was always a question.

(Why do they stay?)

Because they have to. They have to finish something left unfinished.

(Like what?)

Like everything. How many people do you know who finish anything? Wasn’t there something you wished you had said?

(I love you)

Something you wish you could apologise for?

(There isn’t time)

A taste you never tasted? A sound you never heard? A place you never went?

(Too many to mention)

Why would you stay behind?

(To live)

But you’re dead.

(What’s that got to do with it?)

Is it not the reserve of the living?

(Think about it – all the people you never met, the things you never did – you would need a hundred lifetimes to do it all)

A thousand.

(And we only get one)

Just the one.

(So you get greedy and you decide to stick around)

It’s not quite the end of the match, you’re in extra time and, if you’re lucky, you can take it all the way to penalties. You just need to hold on a bit longer.

(That’s where it helps if you’ve got something to hold on to)

A castle? A school? A downstairs loo?

(Perhaps, but if all you’ve got is a small sink, a set of wooden fish nailed to the wall and a loo roll cosy shaped like a sodding lighthouse… well, I think I’d be letting go)

To go where?

(Who knows?)

Maybe ghosts live where they died.

(Do people die in their downstairs loo?)

I expect so. But it would make sense, wouldn’t it?

(See my previous answer about the dubious supposition that ghosts exist)

You seemed quite enthused on the subject a moment ago.

(I get carried away, sometimes I forget myself)

Can you do that? Forget yourself.

(More easily than you would think)

So you die and that’s where you stay.

(For ever?)

For eternity.

(But think about how many people there have ever been. It would get pretty crowded)

Yes it would.

(There would be ghosts everywhere, loitering where they gasped their last gasp)

A multitude. Imagine if you could hear them.

(I’m sorry?)

If you could hear the dead. If every person that had ever lived was chattering away still; their voices bouncing round your head. All except the babies. They just cry and cry and cry.

(They have the most left unfinished)

If everywhere you went you heard dead voices you would soon stop going to the hospitals.

(Good idea, lots of dead people there)

You would avoid busy roads, stay away from the graveyards, battlefields, the cities, the towns, ports, villages, large ships,

(Lots of people die at sea)

Anywhere that people lived.

(Because that’s where they die)

I quite like flying. You don’t get so many dead people on planes.

(The ones with all the dead people tend not to fly so well afterwards)

Exactly.

(So where would you go?)

Somewhere like this. A beach that no one visits on an island that no one remembers. Out here, once the boatman has turned his little boat around and headed back out to sea, I would be alone. Truly alone.

(No people?)

No people. No ghosts. No voices in my head.

(So it’s true, you really do hear them?)

Yes.

(The dead)

The hoard. The hundreds of thousands.

(The unfinished lives, the ones who won’t let go)

All of them.

(Babies and children)

They’re the worst. They don’t understand and they don’t listen.

(Old people)

Disappointed. They had been led to expect more.

(Warriors)

And cowards, it makes no difference.

(Lovers)

A few.

(And losers)

Lots.

(The beautiful?)

It’s only a voice, it makes no difference.

(And you came here to escape them?)

Yes.

(All of them?)

Yes.

(Out here, all alone on this beach?)

All alone.

Just me.