Brightness sears my corneas. I stand before a tower, staring at its modern grandeur; all strict straight lines, artful white space, and precisely measured and cut facets that beam light into my eyes. Although the building is tall, my vision is good enough to see all the way to the top, where tiny people sit with their heads in their hands, pace the floor in ceaseless worry, or rush back and forth pushing machinery. I ponder of the things happening inside the great new building. Babies being born, lives being saved.
How ironic is it, that a hospital has been built on the old cemetery?
I blink, suddenly remembering where I’m supposed to be. School starts in fifteen minutes, and now, because of my dawdling at the hospital, I’ll have to sprint to catch my school bus. I smack myself lightly on the head. Stupid.
It’s just that, my mom was buried that cemetery. Gran and I used to come here every few weekends to visit her and, if we could spare the extra money, put flowers on her headstone. They were always roses. I wonder if they dug up my mom’s grave to make room for the basement of the hospital. Do hospitals even have basements? I hope not. Mom might get angry and haunt the hospital patients. She was always angry and grouchy. But I still love her.
Anyways, school. Seventh grade, no less. ‘I was wondering if my mom’s grave got dug up’ is not a good excuse for being late on the first day of junior high, even if it is the truth.
A splash of yellow lurks in my peripheral vision, and I spin away from the hospital. The school bus roars past me, sending a billowing cloud of dust into my face.
“Oh no.” I clench my teeth, hold onto the straps of my worn old backpack, and start running after the vehicle. Mom’s voice echoes in my head- that’s weird, I thought had forgotten what she sounded like- and she scolds me. Silly bird. You’re going to be late, and I’ll have to leave work to drive you to school.
Sorry, Mom, I think as I step onto the road.
That apology is the last cohesive thought I will ever make, because suddenly, the world warps.
There’s an explosion of metal and bone crunching, glass shattering into a cascade of glittering shards. Tires squeal, horns blare, and bodies slam into one another like rag dolls. The sun flashes, too painfully bright.
I close my eyes for a moment, and fall down.
The ground opens its giant gaping maw and swallows me whole, filling my mouth and nose with molten asphalt, then putrid black earth.
Is this what it’s like to be buried alive? I don’t know. All I know is that it’s dark. The type of darkness where you can see colour bloom before your closed eyelids. Like fireworks, my mind marvels. Another part of me shrieks, HOW CAN YOU BE ADMIRING FIREWORKS WHEN THE GROUND LITERALLY JUST ATE YOU??!! I wonder what will happen if I scream.
Though the dirt crushing my bones should muffle all sounds, an eerie noise reaches my ears. A mixture of what must be thousands of voices, keening and mumbling and cursing. They don’t speak in a language that I know, but I understand them all the same. They’re welcoming me.
My eyes fly open, and before me I find a vast, gruesome array of skulls. They are in various states of decay; some are bleached white by the ages and elements, some have stubborn clumps of hair still clinging on, and others are still plastered in the ghoulish flesh of the newly deceased. The latter is the most terrifying sight I have ever seen, for they still look human. It’s not hard to imagine seeing these faces alive, belonging to a person that, perhaps, lives down the street. I start to whimper involuntarily. I could know these people. I could know these corpses. Maybe one of them is Mom.
“Help! Help me!” I scream. Rich, dense clods of earth pass my lips and force their way down my throat, and I choke on soil.
The faces in the ground leer at me, and before my eyes, grow fat, bulbous maggots. The maggots wriggle their way in through orifices, trespassing into every crevice of the skulls and sucking them of flesh. Skin and muscle are devoured at an an impossible speed, until all that remains is bloody bone.
Now I am alone, completely and utterly so, without so much as decomposing body to keep me company. This, none of this, should be possible. It’s insanity. What is happening to me? Am I dreaming? I wish I was. I squeeze my eyes tightly shut once again, my whole body tense with wishing. I wish that I could wake up safe and sound in my bed. I wish that when I open my eyes, Mom will be there to tell me that I’m ok. A manic energy courses through my body, and I buck and writhe despite the weight of the soil. Let me live! Let me free!
In a dizzying haze of blurred, rotting faces and monochrome colours and chaos, I hear a single voice that rings with clarity.
“Is this her?”
Just like that, I’m soaring, escaping the clutching confines of the earth. Dirt trickles out of my clothes as quickly as it had stained them, and I think I can breathe again. Elation inflates my chest. Maybe the wishing worked.
Brightness sears my corneas. I am in front of the hospital, and this time, I enter it. None of the hospital staff question the strange presence of a little girl, and I don’t say anything to anyone. My legs move without my brain giving them direction, and I walk into a hospital room.
“Ma’am?” I recognize that voice; it was the one that I heard amid the cacophony in the ground. It belongs to a young blonde nurse who is holding a clipboard and staring at an elderly woman with sympathetic eyes.
“That’s her,” an elderly woman says. Her hands shake and she grabs the edge of a hospital bed to steady them.
Gran! It’s my grandmother! I come to a stop, throwing my hands out to brace myself as I fall heavily to the floor like a bird with clipped wings. “Gran, what are you doing in the hospital?” I squawk.
Not seeming to have heard me, Gran casts an anxious glance at a beeping screen attached to the hospital bed. A thin green line on the screen marks an irregular, failing heartbeat. Whoever Gran is here for… They’re dying.
“Gran, look at me.” Alarm bubbles over and leaches into my voice.
She still doesn’t see me, just stares, stricken, at the heartbeat monitor.
“We’re losing her,” a doctor says through gritted teeth.
I start to feel strangely light, as if I might start floating up, up, and away. That’s when it all clicks into place. Creeping premonition forces me to look at the person on the hospital bed, and I stare into my own face. It’s me on the hospital bed! It’s me that they’re losing!
I stare, horrified, at myself. Apart from the shards of glass and gravel and blood speckling it, there’s also an emptiness in face. A sense that whoever this body once housed is long gone. That they have become nothing more than a shade, an unanchored soul.
“Gran,” I whisper, “I’m scared.”
Don’t worry, my silly bird. It’s Mom’s voice that replies. You’re ok.
In the background, the heartbeat monitor flatlines.
So, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that maybe my standards for this blog are too high. No, I’m not saying that high standards are a bad thing, but sometimes I don’t post on here because I’m afraid that the content isn’t of good enough quality. Which is to say, I think my standards are too creatively restrictive. I’m so caught up in trying to write perfectly polished posts that I’ve forgotten the biggest reason that I took up blogging: expressing my thoughts freely.
From now on I’m going to try to be a bit gentler on my work. You may or may not see more of it from now on. I read that people enjoy blogs because the blogger’s personality shines through. Readers fall in love with the way writers think, not just the topics that they talk about. So, I’m going to think more. I’m going to make this more fun for myself, and hopefully for you as well, by writing more and filtering less. Authenticity and honesty are important to me. Going out of my comfort is something I should do more. So I’m gonna try. Starting with this prompt (the key word was ghost).
Thank you so much for reading!