by Dash Owens
As Edward, Belinda, and Junie began to give Maeve some answers, she asked even more questions. During one early morning, the ghosts were demonstrating to Maeve how they traveled at different speeds.
“It’s easiest to focus on an object that’s moving first. Imagine you’re right next to it,” Edward directed, pointing to a car at a red light outside the theater.
“It’s like when your mind tells your body to walk, so you walk,” Junie added. “You tell your legs to run, so they run.”
Maeve drifted next to the black Ford Focus, waiting for the light to turn in congested downtown traffic. She had seen the other ghosts disappear and reappear throughout the theater, and she finally asked for a lesson. When the light changed, Maeve focused on the car. At first, she glided alongside it, but she only lasted half a block. She began to think of how improbable the whole endeavor was, which also meant she lost her focus. She turned around to see Edward, Junie, and Belinda suddenly next to her.
“Good start! Again!” exclaimed Edward.
They continued to practice with cars and bikes. Maeve discovered a trick: she imagined herself driving a car or riding a bike like she had when she was alive. She tried to construct a mental model of how it would have felt. And then she did it for a block, then two, then three. Every time she finished, Edward, Junie, and Belinda appeared to offer their congratulations and advice.
“I need to learn that,” Maeve said.
“You will,” Belinda grinned. “Practice makes perfect!”
Maeve looked at her three fellow ghosts, all of whom smiled at her.
“Are you happy?” she asked, though their faces made it seem like they didn’t understand her question at all. “I mean, do you feel happy? You always seem to be laughing, smiling…you seem happy.”
They all exchanged a look.
“Oh dear,” cried Junie, “Forgive us, Maeve. We be-en ghosts for a long time…We don’ always remember what it was like at first.”
Edward added, “Truly, truly apologize. It’s…hard to explain. You’ll see…eventually.”
“See what?” Maeve replied. “I barely can think about something for longer than a few minutes. I forget everything. Sometimes I feel angry…like I think it’s anger. But most of the time…nothing. Like absolutely nothing.”
“It gets better,” Belinda moved closer to Maeve. “You do feel honeybear. We all do.”
“But that’s IMPOSSIBLE!” Maeve, exasperated, yelled. “I don’t have nerve-endings. I stand near disgusting human bodies masturbating and farting all day and I know it’s gross, but I don’t care. I can’t smell, I can’t touch, I can’t taste, I can’t feel!”
“Are you sure you aren’t feeling something right now?” asked Edward.
“Right now I’m mad. I’m really mad. It’s the only thing I ever seem to feel. I feel so so angry and…”
Edward cut in: “How do you know you’re angry?”
“I just am! Listen to my voice, my expression…”
Edward, again: “Sorry, Maeve. Let’s be clear: you do not have a body, but you can speak to us. You can hear our voices. Correct?”
“Your mind feels disorganized, disoriented. You don’t feel the way you felt things when you had a physical body, but you still sense…you sense that you’re angry, that things are not the way you want them to be. You still have preferences and you still have memories. All those things mean something to you. So you do have feelings, Maeve. You are not the same as you were before, but you are still alive. You have transformed.”
“Oh Edward, that’s too philosophical,” Belinda joined in. “We’re butterflies, Maeve. We used to be caterpillars but look at us now…we’re sometheen brand new.”
Junie sighed. “Bellie, that’s no better.”
Maeve looked at the group and tried to decide if their words were comforting or infuriating. Why was she still here? For the first time, Maeve thought it would have been preferable to cease, to not be conscious or cognizant of any existence beyond the one she forfeited in a moment of rash decision making. What was so terrible about her life before? Debt she would never pay off? A frustration with every academic and professional institution she interacted with? A dreary hopelessness obscured only by online shopping and East Village outings? So what! In her rabid search for more grades, more money, more prestige, she only found more disappointment and more debt. She could have walked away from all of it and still felt the light wind as she lay on the grass and rubbed the thin pages of a paperback between her fingers. But Maeve knew her choices were fixed; here she was with no choice besides companionship with a small group of impossibly jolly ghosts.
And that’s when Maeve realized her unfinished business; her desire to end it all without any consideration for the consequences, without any thought for her family or Mary or the profound small experiences that made life a sensuous thrill ride. But she had changed her mind. That tiny thought haunted her. She glanced down at the goopy white blotch permanently on her left breast. She had chosen life, but for all the wrong reasons. The uncertainty she brought into death must have caused her spirit to linger. How do you finish something like that? She had struck an unresolvable chord. She was doomed in this gray boundary between life and death.
“Can we…do something? Go somewhere?” Maeve asked the group, her tone low and defeated.
“Ooo yah,” squealed Belinda, “I heard all the people in the theater talkin ‘bout this “Last Castle” show…”
The Last Castle was set in a pseudo-medieval European fantasy world populated with behemoths, knights, enchantresses, and warring kingdoms. Thousands of years before the events of the series, a group of witches cursed a family of farmers to lose their firstborn to tragic circumstances for eternity. The farmers buried the witches alive under a crop of something called, “Mother’s Milk” — a green, bean-like plant that resiliently grew where no other plants did. It was a staple in the diet of Stulterrans (the people who live on the continent of Stulterra) until a pestilence destroyed the majority of the crop throughout the continent. At the time of the show, the people were suffering from terrible drought and famine. The ancestors of those original farmers, the Agran family, ruled the largest kingdom on Stulterra, and it fell to the eldest child, Decima, to break the ancestral curse and save the kingdom; that is, until she was unceremoniously drowned in the show’s fourth episode.
Antonio’s family did not bother to pay for premium cable, so the ghosts had to bounce around apartments and brownstones to find someone in the midst of a Last Castle binge. Maeve was beginning to move faster, but she still struggled to keep up with the others. Edward, Junie, and Belinda speedily jumped through an entire building in a few minutes. They were kind and tried to include Maeve. They always assigned her a couple floors to practice moving through, but they ended up waiting for her or finishing the last few apartments.
Maeve envied their abilities; their general comfort with their circumstances. They never complained or screamed or expressed a word to indicate they preferred anything different than what they had. But Maeve found it easier to sense negative emotions — anger, jealousy, hopelessness. Edward was right: she did feel, though it was a less tingly sort of feeling. Of course, Maeve had never been a “natural” at anything her entire life. She always had to grimace her way through school and tests and sports. There was something organic about the afterlife following a similar pattern.
The ghosts successfully tracked down the first three seasons of the show. The fourth season was currently airing. When they failed to find a new episode, the others often rewatched past seasons. Maeve used the opportunity to practice. She followed joggers and vehicles on most days, though she sometimes got lucky near the park and found a horse. She found her improving memory helped. She dug for something in her newly accessible mind to approximate the experience she was seeing. It helped that she stopped thinking about why any of it worked.
“It’s old school Bacon empiricism,” Edward remarked one day after he watched her sail easily beside a vespa. “It’s too bad no one knows about the cool experiments we ghost scientists are up to.”
“Have you ever tried to fly?” Maeve’s eyes rested on a sparrow perched mid-branch on one of those skinny trees crammed between sidewalk squares. She looked back at Edward, whose lips slid into a sideways smirk. His bare feet came into full view as he rose at least 3 feet from the ground. Then, with a quick glitch, he was back on the sidewalk in front of her.
“I can’t do it for too long. For some reason I can move horizontally without a problem, but vertical motion presents more of a challenge.”
“I wonder why that is,” Maeve scanned the tops of the buildings around her. “If I have to be dead, I might as well be Wonder Woman.”
Edward let out an extended guffaw.
“Did I just hear Maeve Fee-hil-y say something optimistic?”
Maeve imagined continuing to practice. How long could she go on? Hours? Days? Weeks? She didn’t need to rest. She could truly investigate the extent of her abilities.
A few moments later, Belinda and Junie appeared.
“Come now! We foond someone aboot to watch the new Castle episode!”
Maeve and Edward followed swiftly behind.