Oh, sure. I know plenty of ghost stories. Scary ones. Sad ones. Ones about families. Ones about the stars. Ones about murder. Ones about love.
Ones about stories.
I don’t like to tell stories so often any more. They lose their thrill after telling them night after night, year after year. Stories age too, just like the storyteller. Stories die. I’ll die too, one day, and be a ghost just like everyone else around here. Nothing left of me but a ghost and a story.
Maybe you heard that one about the girl who killed her sister. Maybe the one about a miserable soldier in a bar. Maybe the one about the broken family and the stolen babe. Maybe you even heard the fable about the woman and her sister in that grand old Persian palace.
Well. Stories are stories, nothing more.
Pour yourself a drink. Maybe it’ll drown out the sounds of the storm. And while you wait for this terrible night to pass, perhaps I’ll tell you a story. After all, we’re all really nothing but stories…
I never told you how Rose Red died. In a lot of ways, she was already dead. She’d broken up her very spirit, her very soul into fractals, splintered her life source and scattered it around the universe. It’s not easy to do. It’s not every day you come across a loathing as strong as Rose Red’s.
But still, she was, physically, alive. Alive enough to push her sister into a river. Alive enough to feel her lips twist into a cruel smile as her sister’s struggling began to subside. Alive enough to remember her sister trying to climb out, and remembering where she’d seen her do it before.
She starved, in the end. Not deliberately, I’m sure, but she starved all the same, her frail body withering away to nothing. She sat by the sea for days on end, rocking ever-so-slightly, her empty, unblinking eyes gazing at the horizon. Eventually, she turned to dust, the sand on the beach. The salt in the ocean. A dead star.
Drink up. Pull the blankets a little tighter. Try to ignore the mournful howling of the wind, the angry pattering of the rain.
The afterlife could be a dreadful place. You encounter everyone, there. Everyone you tried to avoid. Rose Red was no different. Roxie Usher demanded to know where her child was. Pearl White wanted to know what happened to the sister she’d once known, now grown so distant and strange. The soldier just poured herself another drink.
Hm? You’re tired of Rose Red’s story? What, murderers aren’t good enough for you? You’re above a good revenge story?
Well, then, how about a boy out of his mind?
How about a boy so tormented, so neglected, he turned to murder, too?
Storytellers call him the Fool. I believe he was more than that. He was foolish, yes, but no Fool. I think he knew what he wanted far more than anyone else in our tale.
He was locked away, for a time. Haunted by ghosts, they say. His sister, her daughter. Always the idealist, he was. He’d thought the city would save him. Thought he’d find his dreams there. He wasn’t driven out of his mind by the guilt of leaving his family, behind, oh no. It wasn’t the bourbon that got him in the end, either.
It was the disappointment. He’d set his hopes so high, and when he’d finally gotten to where he wanted to be, he realised it wasn’t where he wanted to be at all.
The Fool was a ghost long before he died.
Oh, that? That’s nothing. Just the sound of the wind, it all. The wind and rain can be fierce this time of year.
Everyone died, in the end, and that’s the truth of it. They all withered, some young and some old, some fulfilled, others empty. Four spirits scattered through time, so many lives lived and lost.
Well, except for one. There was a girl.
With a father and a mother she’d never known, the child belonged to no one but the stars. They raised her, nurtured her, comforted her in times of need. And, really, the starchild is the only one of us who got a happy ending.
She found a telescope, in a treehouse somewhere in the woods. Found an old copy of some edition of an astronomy journal. She became a regular editor, a renowned stargazer. Some said she was a genius. Some said it was in her blood.
She died under the stars, peacefully, with nothing left to keep her behind. She was never a ghost.
And then, I suppose, there’s me. I’m all that’s left. My sister’s gone. My husband, half-mad already. My only friend died at his piano, fingers blistered and broken. They say his hands kept playing those keys long after his heart stopped. I hardly remember, myself. I’ve been so many people, even in this one life alone. Dreams blend with reality until even I can’t tell what’s fable and what isn’t.
Really, all I have left are beliefs.
I believe all living things are connected, in a way. I believe every one of us will die and go back to our Oversoul, one great consciousness that we’re all a part of. Or something like that, at least. Maybe not one. Maybe two, three. Four.
Really, we’re all the same. The same as anyone else.
Oh. Oh! You’re nearly asleep, I’m so sorry. I should have stopped talking. Look — even the rain has stopped. All that’s left is the wind. And you’ve finished your drink, too. Well. Lay down, and I’ll tell you a different story.
No, there’s no one coming up the stairs. You must be hearing things again.