Instructor: Josh Cracraft
How I Became Roommates with a Ghost
How I Became Roommates with a Ghost
I almost dropped my PB&J three times that morning. The first time was when the coffee machine started spewing hot water in all directions, the second time was when my short-tempered black cat suddenly pounced into the fridge, and the third time was when a semi-translucent head appeared out of thin air two inches from my face, just as I was finally able to have my breakfast.
Tired to my bones, I just stared at the figure with dreary eyes and took a large bite into my sandwich.
The translucent head stared at me back for several awkward seconds, and squirmed under my relentless gaze. A few moments later, when even I was starting to feel the self-consciousness hanging in the air, the head started to move forward (can you call it forward?) and pulled out the rest of their body.
It would've been a great sight to behold if I wasn't so sleepy and crabby, but as the head unveiled their full form, they also unfortunately knocked over the glass on my table. The black cat jumped from where it was sitting under the seat due to the sudden attack of frozen orange juice.
I took another bite of damp bread and flaky peanut butter and watched as the person let out a string of curses.
"Ah… I'm so sorry about that! I rehearsed this moment for a long time so that it wouldn't be so awkward, but apparently I've failed."
I deliberately raised one of my eyebrows. Now that I can fully see, it was definitely a girl in hoodies and sweatpants, her bedhead in disarray. This morning without her was bad enough in itself, and it was objectively worse by now. I sighed. At least she made my unwanted dilemma more entertaining.
After closing my eyes and weighing the pros and cons of asking this transparent girl who intruded my apartment to clean the mess up, I decided that doing it myself was safer.
"Don't worry about that, I'll tidy it up later."
She nodded her head, internal guilt and embarrassment clear on her face. After two more uncomfortable seconds of silence, I decided to take to lead.
"So, are you a ghost or something?"
I would've made that question sound less prodding, but I really didn't have the brain capacity for interpersonal social etiquettes now. Luckily, the girl didn't seem to mind my bluntness and started rambling as if to cover up how her transparent cheeks are stained a slight pink.
"I guess you can say that? I'm not even clear about that myself. Soul-manifest, spirit projection, ghost, whatever religious name you want to call, I'm probably that."
I finished my sandwich and stood up to fetch paper towels. "Well… How did you become a ghost?"
"Oh! I was in a car crash and my body fell into a coma. It's currently in that hospital three blocks over."
My sleep-deprived brain accepted this response. There're definitely weirder things on this planet, plus I couldn't waste my time on unimportant questions. Speaking of questions—
"Don't all ghosts want to scare people or cause trouble? Like in that movie Poltergeist?"
"Can't say I haven't tried that. You ever wonder why this apartment's rent is so low when you looked it up?"
Grabbing a paper towel roll, I paid my respect to the previous tenants who assisted me in my quest of finding a decently-priced place to live in in this city.
"Then why didn't you scare me?"
"The whole 'being a creepy ghost' thing is boring me. After all, there are only a handful of reactions people can make." She looked at me wiping away the juice on the floor.
"That's… reasonable." I threw away the dirty towels. "Well, Ghosty, it's really nice to meet you. But you've actually caused me a bit of trouble this morning and I need to go to work now. Can you help me clean Phanto up when I'm gone?" I pointed at the still pissed black cat growling at my foot.
"Then take care of the apartment, I'm counting on you." I reached for my jacket and made way to the front door.
"What's the matter?"
To my exacerbated tone, she seemed a bit taken aback but eventually grew enough confidence.
"Are you okay with me living here with you?"
I considered for a moment. "Sure, I don't see why not. And it's not like I can make you leave, isn't it?" Before she could say anything else, I slammed close the door behind me.
Comparing to the morning, the rest of the day was uneventful at best. Listening to my boss' usual screaming, I wondered if it's normal to consider his treatment of us interns as common. When I dragged my body back to that run-down apartment, I totally did not have the energy to deal with the sight I beheld.
The living room looked like the remainder of a battle. Phanto was hiding underneath the couch, definitely drenched and looking even angrier than that one time I refused to give her dry fish treats (I never attempted that as a form of punishment again). The furniture was in disarray, and there was a suspicious trail of water originating from the kitchen sink. I heard some noises in the bedroom, and as I opened the door I realized that it was Ghosty going through my underwear drawer and throwing bras everywhere.
I pinched at the top of my nose and sighed. "What happened?"
Ghosty turned around like a deer in headlights. If not so for the undesirable situation, I would find it funny how a ghost was scared out of her wits by a living human, instead of the other way around.
"Um. Well, I tried to coax your cat to come to me for half of the day, but it just won't listen to me! So, I just… picked it up and put it in the sink. Then it jumped out and spilled water everywhere." Ghosty's voice became smaller and smaller as she finished the sentence, looking everywhere but my eyes.
I sighed again. God, this amount of sighing in one day must be bad for my health.
"What are you trying to find here?"
"Oh— I was looking for a towel? To fix the mess in the living room. But I guess there's no need to cover it up anymore now." She coughed out an embarrassing laugh.
I considered my situation. Getting angry at a literal intangible ghost who clearly just wanted to help seemed like an absurd idea, so I just took a deep breath and decided to clean up by myself.
"You know, if you gave her some treats Phanto will warm up to you." I gathered up my underwear in the bedroom and walked over to the closet where I stored all the towels.
Ghosty followed me, phasing through the wall as I crossed the door. "Ah, I've never owned a pet when I had a physical body, so I'm not exactly an expert when it comes to getting on your cat's good sides." She scratched her face and gave a small apologizing smile.
"It's alright. It's just that you two will need some serious bonding if you're staying here. Oh, and help me grab that shampoo over there."
It took some time to gently nudge Phanto from underneath the couch, and even longer to coax her to take another proper bath, but we eventually got it done. As Ghosty carefully held a piece of fish and Phanto nibbled small bites from it, she mumbled an almost indiscernible apology.
"I'm sorry for today."
I raised my head from devouring instant pasta dinner. "Don't worry about it. That's what roommates do, isn't it? Help each other deal with a particularly pettish cat."
As I crackled at my own very bad joke, something sparkled in Ghosty's translucent eyes.
Having a ghost roommate is both interesting and irritating, I've found from experience. Ghosty has proven herself to be of great help when it comes to entertaining Phanto (despite their initial relationship hiccup, they've become even better friends than I). However, although being a ghost for over three years, she still didn't have a grasp on all the ghostly disciplines. Spilled glasses of milk and water was a common, and she had no regard for her outward appearance.
Every time I made a dry remark on that, she would huff as if her pride was attacked and give a long-winded rebuttal, "When I was still really into that 'scary vengeful ghost' thing, I never had to worry about not accidentally knocking things over or if I was wearing dirty sweatpants!"
But honestly, other than the occasional falling items all over the house, having a ghost roommate was pretty fun. Ghosty has warmed up to me significantly after our meeting, and I've found that she had a bright spirit despite her state of existing in a limbo between life and death. Her jokes were cheesy, her morning greetings were annoying but endearing, and the smell of the "special cuisine" that she made one day drove Phanto out of the room for an entire hour but kindled a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart. During the mere months that we'd been roommates, I learned all of her little quirks — she loves ramen and video games, has a special place in her heart for Brokeback Mountain, and hums Would You Be So Kind when she thinks I'm not listening. I would even say that I've found a better connection with her, a ghost, than all the other alive human beings in this concrete jungle.
Her cheery demeanor and over-the-top enthusiastic greetings became part of my life before I even knew it. I guess that was the reason for my surprise when Ghosty didn't immediately jump out and rant about her day when I came home from work one night.
"Ghosty?" I asked the empty space in the living room as I hanged my wet jacket and took off my muddy boots. My boss was unusually picky about the intern's work report quality today, and I inevitably fell victim to his screaming berates. I could really use a phantom hug right now.
"Ghosty, where are you?" I shouted this time, but there's still no response.
As I looked around the apartment, I saw a transparent figure sitting in the balcony as the sky above her wept. Ghosty looked above the horizon of steel buildings and grey sky, and I wonder how she could look so small compared to the world crushing around her. The large raindrops fell through her body, making her look like a washed-out old picture.
I grabbed an umbrella and opened it over our heads as I stepped out. "What's wrong?"
She blinked once, twice, and I didn't know if the watermarks on her face was from the rain. Disregarding the wet puddles beneath me, I sat beside her.
Slowly, very slowly, she opened her mouth and let out a shaky breath. After a moment, she closed them. I patiently waited. The gentle raindrops filled the silence and painted my view with blotches of desaturated blue and grey.
"I just died." Ghosty whispered.
I let the words sink in. Looking over, despite the umbrella shielding us away from the rain, she seemed even paler. Unsure about what to say, I silently moved over and put my hand on hers. I watched how the image our hands overlap, one with fingertips red from the cold weather, one almost indiscernibly white, and I realized profoundly for the first time how the difference of life and death sets us apart.
"I just got the news it this morning. My mom came to visit me, only to see her daughter dead on the hospital bed."
"I'm sorry." She never brought up her mother before, and now her eyes are so frightenedly empty that I thought even without her transparent form, she would be a ghost.
"I used to go over to the hospital all the time when my mom visited. She could never see me, but I always loved listening to the stories that she read to me. Reminds me of when I was still alive and could still hug her with my arms. Now there's no one coming and waiting for me to wake up anymore."
"I'm sure your mother loves you deeply." I managed.
"Yeah, sure, but even the memories of love fades. Do you know that everyone dies twice? The first time when your heart stops beating, and the second time when all the ones who love you forget you."
That strummed something in my heart. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, "Then sometimes I feel like I'm already dead."
Perhaps it's how Ghosty looked at me with surprise flashing in her eyes, perhaps it's how the rain washed away the rest of the world around us, I let everything out. "I'm just so... alone all the time. Despite having so many people passing around me every day, I'm less than a stranger to them. It's ironic, isn't it? In a city with a population over 1 million, I'm almost drowned in loneliness."
At some time during my confession, Phanto waltzed out and curled down between us. The rain fell like silver needles, sizzling on the balcony tiles.
"...Me too." Ghosty said after a long silence. "Even before my accident I've never had much friends, I was always the one that's left out. You can say that loneliness was the shadow that followed me my entire life. And now it took away the person I loved most—" She made a sound as if she was choked.
I looked up to see the city's skyline in the distance. "Have you ever thought of leaving here before?" I wondered aloud.
"I've considered that several times when I first met you and caused you so much trouble," she laughed a little dry snicker to herself, "but somehow I chose to stay."
After a short pause, she added bitterly, "But I think I really have no choice other than being an aimless wandering ghost now."
"No, you don't have to!" I almost shouted. Ghosty turned around, surprised at my small outburst and definite tone. I looked into her eyes and took a deep breath, "I don't think I've ever asked you this before, but what's your name?"
She seemed confused for a second, but answered anyways. "It's Alba."
"Alba? That's a beautiful name." I smiled softly. "And I don't think I've ever said this to you either, but you taught me what it is to not be lonely for the first time. Alba, can I have the pleasure to be your roommate?"
Her eyes suddenly became glassy, and I'm sure it was not because of the wind. She laughed. It's her usual laugh, cheery and bright and it almost spilled joy. "Only if you give this little one all the baths." She pointed to the ball of black fur between us.
"Deal." My eyes, matching hers, also crinkled of merriment.
As we interlocked our fingers to seal the promise, golden light broke through the sky above.