Ben shows up at Haley’s place after dinner one night. He knocks on the door, and she opens it, cautiously, leaving the security chain in place. One of her blue eyes appears in the crack.
“Well…” She nibbles her lip and nods. “Yes. I really didn’t expect — I mean I couldn’t have expected you, right? You’ve been dead for, what, almost a year?”
“A year?” Ben shifts his feet. “Sure… I suppose. I have something to say.”
She stares at him. He looks like Ben, only pale. Grey. Dark patches like bruises circle his eyes. She hopes they’re bruises. What else could make his eyes look so dark? Her hand touches the security chain, but she stops. “Go ahead and say it.”
“You going to let me in?”
“Not yet. Say what you need to and I’ll think it over.”
Ben nods, and shadows shift on her front stoop. His skin looks like it might slough off or peel away like the dry outer skin of an onion. But it isn’t skin, really, because this isn’t his body. His real body is buried in Greenwillow Cemetery. When he speaks, puffs of putrid breath — if you call it breath from a dead boy — waft from his mouth. “I’d like to have a chance to talk with you before this weekend.”
Haley rolls her eyes. A message from beyond the grave. Just what she needs. “Talk?”
“I… I want you to know I love you.”
Haley’s eyes roll again. “Jeez, Ben. Morbid much? You’re dead. I’m not really into, dead. That’s so… so…”
“I just don’t want you to marry him. Peter.”
“Peter? Who the hell is Peter?”
Ben’s grey hand covers his mouth.
“Who’s Peter, Ben?”
The hand lowers, slowly. “The guy you’re marrying. Peter. You know. You’re getting married this weekend, right?”
Haley shakes her head. “I’m seventeen, Ben. What are you talking about?”
“You’re getting married, aren’t you?”
“Eventually. Not now. I mean, there’s college and starting a career.”
“Crap.” Ben turns and sits on the stoop.
Haley shuts the door. There’s a sound of rattling chain, and then she opens the door again. “I’m coming out. You don’t bite… do you?”
“I’m not a vampire.”
“I was thinking about zombies.”
He waves her forward. “You’re safe.”
Haley steps over the threshold and shivers. “Just a sec,” she says and disappears back inside.
“Better?” Ben asks when she returns a moment later with a letter jacket. The ‘S’on the right chest glitters with gold pins.
“Better. It’s colder than I expected out here.”
Ben nodded. “It’s me. I kind of radiate the chills when I’m like this.” His hand gestures the length of his body.
“Right. Okay, so what’s this about Peter?”
“That’s his jacket, isn’t it? I mean, it’s way too big for you and has all those football pins. You don’t play football.”
Haley’s nose wrinkles. “Of course not. It’s Cody Alcorn’s. I said already I don’t know any boys named Peter. And I’m not getting married. I’m seventeen, Ben. Seventeen.”
“Oh. Right. I really screwed up this time.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, when you’re dead, it’s like you can see everything all at once. I was able — ”
“Like in heaven?”
“Sure, whatever.” Ben frowned. “You can see the future, only it’s like now. I saw you getting married, standing there in your wedding dress, so beautiful and happy. Glowing. I wanted to stop you, so I put in a request.”
Haley shakes her head. “Why?”
A shadow kicks at the ground at Ben’s feet. “’cause.”
“Because you want to make my life miserable.”
“No… ’cause I… love you.”
Haley sighs. “Oh. Ben that’s… sweet. But, really — you’re dead.”
“Don’t remind me.”
Neither says anything for a long minute. Ben stares into the sky and breaks the silence. “Did you ever try to find the line where the glow from town stops and the stars start?”
Haley fidgets with her fingers. “So is he cute?”
Ben nods. “He was handsome. Is handsome. Whatever.”
Haley nibbles her lip. “You know your timing really sucks.”
“Tell me about it. I thought you looked a little young for marriage. I’m always messing up.”
“True. There was prom last year, junior prom — you didn’t ask me before Harvey Lebowitz.”
“You could have said no.”
“I didn’t have an excuse to say no.” She frowns. “And then you died.”
“Car accident. It wasn’t exactly my fault.”
“It was horrible, Ben. I cried for a week. Nobody’s supposed to die when he’s sixteen. Nobody.”
“So what now?”
“I go back. My leave was only for a couple hours. I just timed my haunting wrong…”
Haley shudders. “This is a haunting?”
“It’s what they call it.” Ben stands. “That’s why they made me look like this. Kind of ghostly.”
“Will you come back?”
He shrugs and starts to walk away.
“I wouldn’t mind if you did. Just to talk.”
Ben raises one hand to wave and melts into the shadows.
Haley takes a deep breath and looks up at the sky, trying to find the place where the stars disappear and the pale glow from the suburbs begins.
Aaron Polson was born on the Ides of March: a good day for him, unlucky for Julius Caesar. He currently lives and writes in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife, two sons, and a tattooed rabbit. To pay the bills, Aaron attempts to teach high school students the difference between irony and coincidence. His stories have featured magic goldfish, monstrous beetles, and a book of lullabies for baby vampires.
This story is sponsored by
Debi Blood — Prepare to be enchanted by The Glendale Witch.