She couldn't believe it at first. They'd met on one of her holidays, fallen in love, and spent most of a year together. She'd never met anyone like Bill, who seemed so feverishly intent on living each day to the fullest. He'd been an inspiration to her otherwise dull and routine life. And then one day he'd just disappeared, and she'd sunk back into dull and routine, this time charged with an aura of bitterness.
She'd eventually come to realize that he must have known his time was limited--probably some terminal illness--and left before he started to degenerate and die. She could understand, but she couldn't forgive.
And now, ten years later, here he was. If he was still alive, then she couldn't understand either. She ran down the sidewalk, heedless of the people she pushed from her path, intent only on finding Bill and getting an answer from him. She felt like she'd finally awakened from her sleep, and she was mad.
She cornered him outside a cafe, where he was reading a poster for some local band. "Bill!" she shouted. He didn't react for a moment, then turned and looked at her with some startlement, and no visible recognition. This made her even more angry. Try to pretend he didn't know her, would he?
"Look, I'm--" he started.
"I want an answer, Bill. Why did you do it? Why did you leave?" She felt an undercurrent of remembered anguish threatening to wash away her anger's support.
"I'm not Bill," he said.
"Don't try any of those lame excuses with me," she said, anger flaring again. "You don't think I know you?"
"I'm not! Look, you're Samantha, right?"
"Of course I am!"
"I know about you. Bill talked about you a lot. But my name's Eric. I guess you could say that we're twins."
Warily, she said, "Bill always said that all his family was dead."
Eric(?) made a wry face. "Well, that's true too. Look--why don't we go have a coffee and talk. I think you deserve to know the story."
"This better be good."
"Conditions of what?" she asked.
She was surprised by a sudden rush of tears. She'd always suspected, but she realized that a part of her mind had preferred to harbour the alternative suspicion that he was still alive and had just run out on her.
"In fact, he died long before he even met you."
Eric sighed. "We're spirits, Samantha. Him and me too. Here from the 'great beyond'."
"This is ridiculous," she said, but something in his eyes stopped her from just getting up and walking out.
"I guess you could say that there is life after death, of a sort. Not quite like the Judeo-Christian idea of it, but they were closer than the Buddhists...but I digress. Essentially, dead spirits sit around, pondering their lives, communing with other spirits, and watching the living world go by. We're allowed to petition God, or whatever you'd call Him(or Her--it probably doesn't matter)for a few things. One of them is a brief period on Earth. Sometimes He grants it, sometimes He doesn't. I suppose it depends on whether He thinks it would do your soul good, or fit in with whatever His whole plan is--nobody is entirely sure, because He doesn't tell us anything."
He toyed with his coffee cup. "He can be amazingly slow to decide sometimes, for an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent being, which I suppose He isn't, necessarily. But His decisions are always right, that I've seen. Maybe He just delays His announcement of the decision until the proper moment.
"Anyway, a few years ago--ten?--Bill came back to Earth. He died in England in the 1600's sometime, I think, and had been petitioning for a long time. It was finally granted--thankfully, one of our characteristics is a nearly unlimited patience--and he went down for a year, which is the usual period. And met you."
"Let me get this straight," Samantha broke in. "I fell in love with a ghost?"
"Not quite a ghost. We are granted physical bodies--usually different from our originals. We don't usually reuse them, like this, but it's not unknown. Probably something else from The Big Guy's plans. He probably meant for us to run into each other and have this conversation, knowing Him."
She was silent for a long time. "So he had a year on Earth, and then he just disappeared." No wonder life had always seemed so precious to him, if he'd spent five hundred years only being able to watch, and then had only a year to enjoy it again.
"As soon as he came back, he immediately sent in another petition to return, also unusual but not totally unheard of. But he's still waiting, this time with somewhat less patience than usual. He didn't stop 'talking' about you for a long time after he came back, and he spent a lot of time watching you. It's not unknown for The Big Guy to make an exception of some sort in a case like this--or so I've heard."
Samantha felt hope stirring in her. "So--he may be coming back?"
"Possibly. I don't know. As I said, sometimes His decision-making processes run slowly." He checked his watch. "Look--I'm sorry about this, but I've got things to do. I'm only down here for a year myself, and..."
"Umm...sure. No problem."
He stood up and then paused. "You do believe me, don't you?"
"I...don't know. It seems a lot to swallow. But it feels true."
He nodded. "That's all I--or He--could ask, I suppose."
She sat in the cafe for a long time after Eric left, mind whirling. It all seemed so fantastic...but it fit. He'd left, but not because he'd wanted to, and he may be coming back.
When she left, she was so preoccupied that she didn't even hear the squealing of brakes and tires, or feel the impact.
Back to my talk.bizarre page
The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / firstname.lastname@example.org