Warren sucked in a deep, courage-gathering breath. Enduring this semester’s evening statistics class was bad enough. Walking past forty acres of graveyard on his way home from campus was worse.
Mist swirled over damp grass and gnarled tree roots, between thick tombstones and alongside the cemetery’s cold block of a mausoleum. A heavy chain and padlock held the main gate closed, and iron fence posts pointed toward the sky with sharp, spade-like tips.
If only that were enough to keep the dead inside.
Warren gripped the straps of his backpack and strode forth. Brisk pace, he reminded himself, but don’t run. Running would attract her attention.
Warren groaned. There would be no escaping her now.
On the other side of the fence, just inside the cemetery, Katie sat on the tombstone of one George T. Withers, 1898-1975, beloved husband. Katie swung her phosphorescent legs, and Warren shuddered when he realized he could read the tombstone’s epitaph through them.
“I can’t stay.” Warren shifted his backpack and sighed, wishing he could find a different way home — one that didn’t take him fifteen minutes out of his way. Sheila would be pissed if he was late again. “I have class tomorrow.”
“But I thought you’d want to see me,” Katie said with a pout.
“We broke up, Katie.”
“That was before my little accident.” Katie beamed at him — a look that would have been endearing if Warren hadn’t been able to see the mausoleum through her head. “Now that I’m dead, you’re supposed to realize how much I really meant to you. That’s how true love works.”
“I realized how much you meant to me when you were alive. That’s why I dumped you.”
“But you love me, Warren.” Katie floated through the fence and hovered in front of him. A mildew-like scent emanated from her ghostly form. “I won’t let you leave until you admit that.”
Warren snorted. Katie may have learned how to muster up enough tangibility to sit on tombstones, but he knew she hadn’t figured out how to do anything else yet. He stepped through her and started toward home. “Goodnight, Casper.”
Katie floated after him. “It’s that other girl, isn’t it? Sheila.” The name sounded like nails down a chalkboard when Katie said it. “What does she have that I don’t?”
“A corporeal existence.” Warren swiped at his face and arms; walking through Katie had been like passing through a cobweb.
Katie shrieked and kicked the cemetery fence. Warren expected her foot to pass straight through like it normally did during her fits, but instead it struck with a clang and knocked a fence post free.
Katie floated up to him, seething. “She doesn’t love you, Warren.”
Warren gulped. Pissing off a ghost who had just kicked an iron fence post loose didn’t seem like the best idea, but he wasn’t too keen on encouraging her Fatal-Attraction-like tendencies either. “Of course she loves me.”
“Has she ever said it?”
“Yes.” Warren squirmed under Katie’s scrutinizing, iridescent gaze. “Okay, no, not in so many words. But she will.”
Warren walked on, cringing in anticipation of Katie’s pursuit, but after a few steps, it seemed she had given up on him — for tonight, at least. Warren fought the urge to look over his shoulder. Best to keep walking, he told himself. Brisk pace, eyes straight ahead.
And that was when he heard it. The shriek.
Warren turned back as Katie torpedoed toward him, fence post in her hands, the spade-like tip aimed at his chest.
Two days after his funeral, when Sheila finally came to visit his graveside alone, Warren materialized. And when Sheila stopped screaming, he smiled. “I know it’s a bit of a shock.”
“A shock?” Sheila backed away, face pale, mouth hanging open; she had never looked more beautiful. “You’re a frickin’ ghost, Warren.”
“Weird, isn’t it?” Warren placed a translucent hand against his tombstone. When it didn’t pass through, he laughed and flicked a beetle off the side. To think that it had taken Katie weeks to get a handle on this sort of thing.
“I know I’m dead now and all,” Warren said, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t see each other anymore. I’ve totally got this tangibility thing down. We can do everything we used to, even — ”
Sheila wrinkled her nose. Warren supposed he couldn’t blame her for being reluctant to continue every part of their relationship. He did smell like mildew, after all.
“The night you died, Warren… I was going to tell you something.” Sheila pursed her lips, seeming to consider her next words carefully. “I think we should break up.”
Warren felt as if Katie was ramming the fence post into his heart all over again. “You what?”
Sheila took a deep breath. “I think we should break up,” she said again, this time more firmly.
Warren tried to slump against his tombstone, but he fell through the slab. He passed through freshly packed earth, the lid of his coffin, and straight into his stiff, cold body.
Somewhere in the distance, Katie laughed.
Barbara A. Barnett is a 2007 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, where she learned valuable things about writing and the evil ways of chickens. Her short fiction has appeared in publications such as Flash Fiction Online, Shimmer, Hub and Every Day Fiction. Since earning a dual degree in English and music, she has spent most of her professional life working as a grant writer for various performing arts organizations in Philadelphia. She lives with her husband in southern New Jersey and can be found online at www.babarnett.com.
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Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.