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April L. Smith

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The Others
By April L. Smith
Sunday, August 14, 2005

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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Can you love a ghost?

Kirsten distractedly fingered the starchy stiff corner of the pink fitted sheet on her twin-size bed. She struggled to keep her dark eyes trained on the blankets cocooning her small form in the darkening room. Shadows, slinking like guilty criminals, clamored into murky corners and her breath caught expectantly in her throat as she waited.

He would come. He always did.

Just like every other time, fear choked her with brittle fingers and her breath escaped in ragged, excited bursts. The steady thump-thump of her galloping heart filled her ears and she struggled to hear over it, to pick up any slip of sound. Icicles formed invisibly in the night air and she shivered, huddled deep within the comforting warmth of her bedclothes. A gentle sighing, like autumn leaves dancing along pavement, filled the room.

He was coming.

Inexplicably she was filled with a sense of apprehension, despite the fact that she knew he would not hurt her. Kirsten's brain knew this, even if her body did not. But then another thought startled her.

"Christian?" She whispered hoarsely, eyes straining into the gloom that
surrounded her.

Please be Christian. She thought desperately.

Sometimes it wasn't, though. Sometimes the Others came.

The deafening silence had steadily been replaced by whispers. A thousand voices banding together in some macabre song. Without realizing she'd been holding it, Kirsten released an anxious gasp of air, and pulled the blanket up to her nose. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut but red and golden light danced upon her lids, like showers of sparks on the Fourth of July.

"Kirsten." He whispered softly. His voice was old and cracked, like leather left out in the sun. But it had a strange comfort to it, familiar, like the 15 year old blue baby blanket she'd had since she was an infant. Her mother always used to tell her that when Kirsten was sad or scared, she'd wrap her up tight and safe in that blanket, and all would be right in her little world.

"Do not be scared. It is your friend, Christian."

She hesitantly opened her eyes, afraid it was a trick, that she'd see the
horrible leering countenances of the Others, but instead Christian's youthful yet mild-mannered smile greeted her. Tousled strawberry blond hair framed his pale oval face and his eyes, gray as the skies before a storm, gazed pleasantly down at her. He was dressed, as always, in a long, short sleeved manila colored linen shirt under a close-fitting, long sleeved doublet with a trail of shiny brass buttons down the front. His breeches were a dark pine-needle green over opaque knee-length stockings, and on his feet were low-slung, short heeled brown leather shoes. In his hand, Christian clutched a cobalt blue cloak.

Kirsten had often wondered about his attire. From what era did he come? She had yet found the courage to ask.

"I'm glad it's you." She said shyly, lowering her blankets to waist level. She sat up in bed, shivering despite the heavy flannel pajama top she wore.

"I could not let an evening pass without a visit." Christian replied teasingly and perched on the edge of the twin bed. The weight of his body left no visible imprint on her bedclothes; it was as if a wisp of air had blown across her bed frame. His vestige shimmered like soft starlight before her, and the already muted colors of his skin and hair and clothing lightened. His eyes narrowed forlornly. "However, I do not think it will be for long."

Kirsten nibbled nervously on her bottom lip and cocked her head. Christian appeared solid, if not slightly grayish, to her, yet she knew if she reached out a finger to touch his cheek she'd feel nothing but coldness. Her body longed to touch him, to hug him, to feel his solidarity and warmth. Her mind, on the other hand, knew this was impossible, and it both frustrated and saddened her.

"Why do you come to me?" She asked suddenly. Christian's pale eyes widened in surprise and his mouth opened slightly. Kirsten saw stories untold in those pale gray eyes. Conflicting emotions clouded his gaze and she was worried she'd angered him.

"I like you, Kirsten." He replied simply. "I like seeing you. You make me smile."

"But-why-how do you come to me?" She asked in a rush. "Are you real? Are you something I've made up in my head, because I'm lonely? Why can't I touch you?" She stopped, bit her lip uncertainly before continuing. "Are
you-dead-Christian?" He frowned and squinted thoughtfully at her.

"I am not sure what I am. But I can tell you this-you did not create me. I was real once. Like you." They were so close that his leg almost brushed her own. He reached out with a shaky white hand and laid it atop hers. It was like being touched by a cloud. He stared sadly down at their hands, one warm and pulsing, the other cold and gray, just a memory. He lifted his somber gaze to meet hers and there was something else in their gray depth.

"I can not stay, Kirsten, but I must warn you. The Others are growing stronger. They sense your fear. They feed off of it, like leeches. Something is about to happen. I do not know what. But something bad and I am afraid for you." He implored her with his eyes. "Please do not call to me. They can take advantage of your inquiry and come in my place.”

"What do you mean?" She asked, her body tightening fearfully. She wished she could seek comfort in his arms, wished she could lay her golden blond head upon his shoulder.

“They will use trickery, Kirsten. Be aware. Do not fall victim to their deceit.” Christian’s already pale features lightened, like a wisp of gray cloud across a dark sky.

“You’re leaving already.” Kirsten said flatly. He stared at her with poignant dark eyes.

“I must go. I promise, we will see each other again.” He reached out a vaporous hand and trailed it across her flushed cheek. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, feeling a whisper tickle across her skin. When she opened her eyes, the room was dark, and warm once more, with no trace of Christian.

Kirsten snuggled into the warmth of her blankets and rubbed her face against the scratchy comfort of her baby blanket. She drifted almost immediately into a heavy dreamless slumber.

It was the next night and Kirsten lay anxiously awaiting Christian’s return. Her thoughts had circled about him relentlessly all day, like hungry sharks around a dying seal. She needed to see him, talk to him. Tell him what she’d realized, as it had come to her quickly and sharply, like a pin prick.

She was falling in love with him.

Is that crazy? Can you love someone who is not alive? Solid? She asked herself. And if so, what is the point?

But she already had an answer to that. Kirsten knew what she wanted to do.

What meaning did her life have? What purpose did she serve in such a pitiful, lonely existence? Her dear, sweet mother—the only one who had ever loved Kirsten—was gone. She was trapped in a home devoid of caring, devoid of humanity, surrounded by selfish, hurtful people who only used her for money. Her foster family—

“Ha, family.” She scoffed. “They are no family of mine.” Tears burned behind her eyelids but she struggled against their warmth. She would not cry. She would not admit that they had hurt her. Would not give them that satisfaction. The only sense of family, of belonging, she’d had for a while now had been with Christian. His visits had sustained her, nourished her soul.

Her thoughts were so frantic, tinged with sorrow, that she barely felt the first caress of cold against her bare skin. Goose bumps danced like fleshy ballerinas along the skin of her arms and shoulders and she absently rubbed them away. A soft whirring, the sound of voices, filled her head and then her room, and she suddenly realized it was time.

Christian was coming. Her Christian.

Her hair lifted delicately from her shoulders and tickled her cheeks in an eager breeze that circled around the room, like an animal scenting its prey. The whispers grew stronger, louder, and she gasped as ice filled her veins.

“Christian, I’m here! Come to me!” She begged. She knelt on her bed top, nervously twisting the thin fabric of her baby blanket between tight white fingers.

Please be Christian. Please be Christian.

A sound, loud like a gasp in a silent room, startled her and she fell back against her pillows.

“I am here, my love.” It was Christian’s old, leathery sounding voice.

My love? He’s never called me that before. She thought, muddled.

But his familiar countenance glistened like moonlight on water before her. His eyes, so dark and gray, seemed more alive than she ever recalled. And when he reached out a shimmering hand to lay on hers, she actually felt him, as more than just a wisp of air. He felt solid. Real.

“Oh Christian, it is you!” She gasped, a desperate relief and love flowing overwhelmingly through her veins, like blood. She wrapped her arms around him and although solid, he was still cold to the touch. It was like hugging an icicle.

Kirsten didn’t care. She was just so happy to finally feel him. His lips brushed the top of her head and though light and feathery, they were there. She tingled where his lips had touched and wished they’d move to her own.

“I can feel you. You’re solid.” She breathed in awe. He smiled down at her, tilted her chin up with his hand.

“I know. It will not last long though. It takes all of my strength to do this, Kirsten.” Then he brought his lips down to hers and she tasted him and it was like watermelon sorbet and burning leaves and the soft caress of a feather all wrapped up as one. It was Kirsten’s first kiss and it was more static filled and beautiful than she’d ever imagined. She felt an electric magnetism crackling between them. It was over-powering and it took her breath away. She was the first to pull away.

“Christian, I had no idea it could be like this.” She murmured breathlessly. She looked up into his eyes, dark and gray like thunderclouds. He smirked devilishly down at her and the first fist of worry clenched in her stomach. She pushed it away though, determined not to ruin the moment.

“I have something to tell you.” Kirsten admitted softly, lowering her eye lashes bashfully from his piercing, almost probing, gaze. He slid both hands up and down her arms and his touch left fresh goose bumps in their wake.

It felt strangely as if someone had walked over her grave.

“Tell me, Kirsten.” He demanded, leaning closer till his nose was almost touching hers. She wanted to kiss him again, was mesmerized by the pale berry tint of his lips, but forced herself to speak.

“I realized that I—well, that I love you.” Her heart was thumping madly, like galloping horses, beneath the thin fabric of her cotton nightgown, and she laid a shaky hand over it, as if to contain it. “I want to be with you, Christian.”

The left corner of his mouth lifted in a pleased smile, baring white teeth like fangs.

Fangs? Don’t be silly, they’re just teeth. Kirsten admonished herself with a swift shake of the head. Christian’s fingers were twining in her hair, like snakes, and he pulled her face closer to his. His breath was old and dark, smelling faintly of dirt, like the air released from a tomb. Her own breath quickened. She’d never known he would be so…so forceful. It both frightened and excited her.

“You’re cold.” He said suddenly and pulled his blue cloak from around his own shoulders, and threw it about hers. It enveloped her but the coldness seemed to multiply. A confused sense of foreboding trailed its stiff fingers along her spine and she shivered.

“Did you hear what I said?”

“I did.” He replied. “And I want you too, Kirsten. To be with me forever.”

She sagged with relief against him, laying her head upon his chest, waiting expectantly to hear the pleasant thumping of his heart. Instead a sound, like cruel laughter, filled her ears.

“You know the only way you can be with me, don’t you Kirsten?”

She reached for the razor on her bedside, nodding.

“Can you do it, Kirsten?” His eyes seemed to greedily follow the razor as she brought it slowly to the skin of her inner wrist.

Kirsten hesitated. Thoughts filled her head, memories, feelings, scents. Chocolate ice cream, children’s laughter, the silky softness of a puppy’s fur. The way the morning sunlight lit up her room in a golden glow, welcoming her to a new day. Could she really give all that up?

“I have brought you someone, Kirsten, someone who can help you make the decision. Do not be scared.” She raised her eyes slowly, knowingly, to see the vision of her mother standing by her bedside.

Like Christian she shimmered and pulsated, flickered softly like starlight. Her hair, black as the ebony night, swirled about pale shoulders and her eyes, warm and brown, beckoned mesmerizingly to Kirsten.

“Mama—“ She whispered hoarsely. Tears clouded her vision for the second time that night and she blinked them back, afraid her mother would dissipate like smoke before her.

“Sweetie, we need you with us.” It was her mother’s voice, soft and melodious like the birds that chirped from high in the treetop outside their country home. “I have missed you so much. I have longed for you.”

Kirsten reached out a hand to meet her mother’s but it was not solid like Christian’s.

“Oh Mama,” She sobbed. “I have missed you too! I’m so unhappy without you!”

“Then do it, Kirsten.” Her mother whispered, but strangely her voice sounded more like a hiss, serpent-like. Kirsten rubbed her fist over her eyes, grinding away her tears, her confusion. Her other hand still clutched the razor.

Should I? She wondered dazedly. If I do it, I’ll be with my mother and with Christian. What have I got here? Nothing.

You have life! Something whispered fiercely in her brain. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and shook her head, hoping to shake loose the confused thoughts that rattled like marbles within.

She felt Christian take the razor from her hand.

“I’ll help her.” He said roughly, his voice like sandpaper. She felt his cold, cold hand wrap around hers, felt him position the razor firmly against her wrist.

This was not the voice of her love, her Christian. Not the usual feather-soft touch.

A memory from the previous night came to her then, sudden and intense in it’s clarity, like someone splashing icy cold water over her: "Please do not call to me. They can take advantage of your inquiry and come in my place. They will use trickery, Kirsten. Be aware. Do not fall victim to their deceit.”

She gasped aloud and jerked her hand away from his touch. The sharp blade of the razor nicked against her soft flesh and she cried in surprise, in pain.

“You’re not Christian!” She screamed, shoving forcefully on his chest. “And you’re not my mother!” She turned her frightened eyes on the countenance of her mother’s once beautiful face and watched in horrid fascination as it started to melt, like the wax from a burning candle. Drips and drops slid down the pale milkiness of her skin and puddled around her bare feet and her mother’s eyes, once brown and warm, turned black and icy like death.

“You’re not my mother!” The form shrieked, like a puppet, and raised its hands which had sprouted dagger sharp claws.

Kirsten whimpered against her pillows and turned a frightened eye back to the form beside her. Christian’s gray eyes no longer sparkled at her. Instead the thing’s face had morphed, dissolved, like an icicle’s form melting and then refreezing, reshaping. Its eyes burned red like blood, filled with hate and longing and she shrank away from it. When the cold hand touched her it no longer felt smooth and solid, it sunk deep within her flesh and disappeared, like a horrible memory. Despite the lack of feeling from it, Kirsten pulled her arm up and away, splattering droplets of red from the wound on her writs, all over her favorite baby blue blanket.

“You can’t hurt me!” She cried, realization dawning on her with the force of a sledge hammer. “You can only make me hurt myself!” A roaring filled the room and the two ghosts wailed in anger and frustration, the sound carrying up and around her like the keening howl of a fire truck. But sharper and more crystalline. And earsplitting.

Kirsten covered her ears with both hands, as tears zigged and zagged down her pale cheeks. She squeezed her eyes shut again, afraid to stare at the horrible images before her. A voice in her head, familiar and comforting, sliced through the confusion.

Think of me, Kirsten. Think of me. Do not be afraid. They feed off of your fear. Think of me, think of me, think of…

The noise around her continued but Kirsten forced herself to concentrate on the sound of Christian—the real Christian’s—voice in her head. It embraced her, much like that of her baby blanket, and she wrapped herself tightly and securely within it.

She imagined his pale tousled strawberry blond hair falling boyishly across his forehead. She could almost see his gray tinted eyes taking her in, warming her, despite the cold air of his touch. His voice, old as time, but strong and soothing, talked her into a state of calmness. The noise around her died down, the cold rush of wind began to blow away, the visions evaporated like raindrops on warm asphalt.

It was a long time before Kirsten felt safe enough to open her eyes. Her room lay quiet and unassuming about her, everything as it should be, except for the dark drops of blood that trickled from the small cut on her wrist. She pressed her already bloody blanket against it to staunch the flow. From her open window she glimpsed the knowing twinkle of the stars. The pale glow of the crescent moon reached in a reassuring hand to her.

She reached forward to grab it and instead her hand sliced gently through the wisp of Christian’s hand. His full form materialized before her, his eyes dark with worry. She shrank away fearfully.

“Please do not be afraid, Kirsten. I would never hurt you.”

“But, before, you—“

“The Others came to you then, not me. They are angry souls, Kirsten. They fed off your loneliness, your sorrow. I am just sorry I could not prevent it.”

She nodded in understanding but then a blush slowly crept up her neck and reddened her cheeks.

“Then that kiss—that wasn’t real?”

It was Christian’s turn to blush, although a lighter shade of pink.

“I am afraid not. But the wanting of it, the need for it, was real. They stole that from both of us, Kirsten.” He bit his lip earnestly. “Please do not think poorly of me, now.” She almost laughed in reply.

“I could never think poorly of you. I meant what I said before. I love you, Christian. Whether it’s possible to love a—a ghost, I don’t know. But I feel this for you.” Their fingers twined and despite the fact that one hand was solid and the other merely a whisper of air, it felt heart warming and sure to Kirsten.

“I feel the same for you.” Christian replied softly, lowering his own gaze. “And that is why you must go.”

“What? Go? But—“

“Go, Kirsten. I do not ever want the Others to use our love for each other again. Or the love you have for your mother. I can not promise they would not succeed next time.”

“Well, maybe I want to kill myself! Mabye—I want to die! To be with you and my Mom! Did you ever think of that, huh?” She cried harshly, yanking her hand from his. His eyes widened painfully, but he shook his head slightly.

“Kirsten, you do not want to die. You have too much to live for. You will accomplish so much in your life. I know it.” He hesitated, as if unsure whether to continue. “And your mother knows it.” Kirsten gasped.

“You really have spoken with my mother?” She asked, breath catching tightly in her chest. Christian nodded in response, bit his lip again.

“She loves you, Kirsten, but she does not want you to join us so prematurely. Please, for her, for me, leave this place.” His tortured gray eyes fell on the blade that rested upon her bed top. A drop of blood glistened like quick silver there.

“Okay. I will.” She whispered, her voice catching on the words. “But will I ever see you again?” Her eyes widened hopefully but Christian smiled sadly in return.

“Most likely, Kirsten, it will not be in this lifetime. I will wait for you, though.” He promised. “After all, I waited this long.” He leaned forward and his lips brushed against her cheek. It was not static filled and electricity like earlier with the Others, but it was soft and real and loving.

“Stay with me till I fall asleep.” She begged him, curling up beneath the blankets. He nodded and laid a wisp of hand reassuringly on her blanket-covered leg.

“You will have a good life, Kirsten. I promise you that.” She had already started to drift off into the world of sleep, as his words fell upon her like drops of rain.

“Sweet dreams, my love.”

And what sweet dreams they were….

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Reviewed by Sandy Knauer 8/15/2005
Nice story, April. Great concept.
Reviewed by Felix Perry 8/14/2005
This is stunning that is the only way I can describe it, has the makings of a great book in it I am sure. I almost didn't read because of the length but once I started couldn't let it go. You are definately onto something with this one April.


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