This short story was written for the theme Spooky Season. The prompt says to write about someone’s first Halloween as a ghost.
When you die, you won’t matter to anyone or anything anymore except to the worms that would feast on your flesh until only your bones are left under your grave. Fragments of your flesh will soon be ashes or dust, subject to dissipation, and just another element that can cause a sneeze. Family and friends will keep you in their memories, but their world will continue to move without you. You will just be like another file in their hard drive, kept, to be forgotten. Soon you’ll fade away, and even the closest of person will start forgetting the sound of your laughter, your tiny nuances, and all the lines and details of your face. That is life. And death.
George died while at the prime of his life. At thirty-five, he was a successful pianist, playing for the town’s popular divas with regular weekend gigs and weekday piano tutorials. He was quite a celebrity in the industry but not as popular as the likes of Beethoven who will appear in history books, centuries after his death.
He was happily married with a seven-year-old daughter called Holly who loved to play Barney every Halloween. They tried to buy new costumes for her. Pocahontas. Elsa. Tinkerbell. Name it. She rejected it. George and his wife accepted their defeat, and Barney’s song became Holly’s anthem every year.
Holly liked Halloweens. That’s the only holiday when her dad would be home, for no one holds concerts on the day except grunge and metal bands. He would be away for all special occasions where he was needed in big concert halls, such as Valentine’s, Christmas, and New Year’s. All except Halloween.
That Halloween was the family’s first without George, physically.
George watched Holly and his wife prepare for the holiday. He sat with them as they cut and glued colored papers to form bats and witch hats. He stood beside Holly when she climbed the ladder to hang the cutouts, watching out on her as if she could protect her in case of a fall. He followed them outside as they placed pumpkins of all sizes outside their door. A breath of fresh air, George said as he stepped out of the house even though couldn’t literally breathe anymore.
He recalled that in the previous year, there were more decorations because he was still there to help them. He put up a plastic skeleton on top of the porch roof and a zombie scarecrow near the gate. He hung plastic pumpkin lamps on the tree and lit them up in the evenings. They had a lot of fun back then and took a perfect family picture. Luckily, they did. For it was their last family picture with George.
‘Come on out Holly, it’s almost time for treat or tricking!’ Marie called out. ‘Grannie is here!’
George invisibly stood beside the piano. It was spotless. Not a speck of dust. Marie must be taking really good care of it. He wanted to touch the keys and play one last time but he couldn’t. He physically couldn’t.
He stood there waiting and expecting for Holly to come out of her room bouncing off in her fluffy purple dinosaur costume, face stuck in between the mouth of the grinning Barney, carrying her orange bucket, which she expects to fill with candies and goodies.
Holly walked out in a black tuxedo. Her blonde hair in a bun and she wore toy eyeglasses, square and black-rimmed.
‘Oh, look at our little Holly here looking like a grown-up!’ her grannie said. ‘I’m surprised you aren’t Barney this year.’
George was also surprised and baffled. He tried to recall why did she insist on being Barney all the time and why change now.
‘I am playing daddy today,’ Holly said as she cheerfully pulled a piano on wheels behind her. They made a piano out of boxes, painted it black, and placed it on top of her pink trolley.
She let go of the trolley and sat on the piano bench where her dad used to sit most of the time. George caught her eye on him and for a moment he felt a sudden shock, thinking she must have seen him. But he remembered he was a ghost and no one would be able to see him. Sadness pierced through like a sword on his chest. And the longing to hold her daughter felt like being stabbed over and over again.
Holly played Twinkle Twinkle, the only piece that his non-musical wife knew and the only one she could teach their daughter. Her tiny hands gently pounded the keys one by one as she sang with the melody. His eyes moistened. He knew hundreds of beautiful pieces but wasn’t able to teach Holly even one.
The doorbell buzzed. Holly pulled her trolley and rushed out the door, excited to show her costume to her friends. Marie and grannie followed her and saw about five other little girls, donning cute fairy and witch costumes. Holly sure had a different taste for her age.
The kids left for their trick or treating and the women headed to the dining table for tea.
‘She always wanted to be Barney. I’m happy she grew out of it.’ Grannie started as Marie poured earl grey tea on their gold-rimmed ceramic cups.
‘Holly adored George. She always wore her Barney costume because that’s the only movie that George watched with her. Barney’s song was the only song, he’d sung for her.’ Marie sipped her tea and it was still too hot, it burned her tongue.
That jarred George. He tried to recall the times he spent with Holly. And Marie was right. He couldn’t remember any other movie he’d watched with his daughter except Barney after late breakfasts on Saturday mornings when she didn’t have to go to school and he didn’t have any piano tutorial.
‘Any reason for the change?’ Grannie gently blew the tea, afraid of getting burned.
‘Probably reminds her of her dad. She loved watching him play the piano.’
George remembered all the times Holly tried to sit beside him while he played the piano. He’d ask her to go out and play or he’d ask Marie to fetch her and keep her busy as he couldn’t concentrate with the child beside him. He remembered all the children that came to his house for his piano lessons but he never gave one to Holly. He couldn’t even remember if there was a time that he didn’t tell her off when she pressed the keys. He was so scared she’d break his precious instrument.
He enjoyed the spotlight and the applause of the hundreds of people who watched his performances but he failed to notice and appreciate his biggest fan. And now that he died, those hundreds of people wouldn’t even remember him. But his number one fan was immortalizing him, in any form she could.
‘She always looks at his photo, the one when he played for Celine Dion. He wore a black tux for that performance and his old black-rimmed specs.’ Marie pointed a frame on top of the chest-high glass cupboard, George and Celine Dion on the photo beside a grand piano. ‘Grandest performance of his life.’
‘He lived the life eh?’ Grannie said.
‘No ma, no!’ George uttered even though he knew they wouldn’t hear him. He felt frustrated. ‘If they only knew,’ he muttered.
The women quickly sipped their already-cooling teas and prepared the goodies before the kids could come back. And just as they did, the doorbell buzzed along with the laughter from the kids outside. When Marie opened the door, they screamed, trick or treat! She shoveled candies and chocolates on their bags and buckets. The excitement was all over the air.
Holly then bid the kids goodbye as they happily marched home with bags full of sweets.
‘How were your trick and treatin’ darling?’ Grannie asked Holly as she emptied her bucket into the dining table.
“It was fun Grannie. Mrs. Finch gave me more candies than Gracie but Gracie took candies from my bucket. I told her to give it back but she won’t. Mrs. Finch told us not to fight but I’m, not fighting. I just want my candies back. But, but, Mrs. Finch gave me more because she said, I looked like daddy today so I did not ask Gracie to give back my candies anymore.’ Holly marveled over her jewels that occupied half the table and started counting them.
Mrs. Finch was George’s high school music teacher who saw his talent and devoted her time to developing him. She would send him to all auditions and competitions, local and international. She was there with him on all his victories and losses. She quietly watched him as he progressed in his career. She delighted on his visits and looked forward to it until he just stopped showing up. But she understood. Although he missed him and his warm smile. But he was a busy man. With his career and his family, he would have no time for his old music teacher. She still loved him, nevertheless.
George leaned on the wall beside the door and cried quiet sobs. He suppressed it even though he knew no one would hear him anyway.
When you die, you disappear from the face of the Earth. If you get a chance to roam this world as a ghost, you are considered unlucky. You get to see how the world can move on without you and that you were foolish enough to think it’d stop for you. You get to see all the things that you should have done but didn’t do because you were foolish enough to think that you had all the time in the world. You get to see all the people you missed and wish you haven’t taken them for granted and all you’ll have are regrets. Life gives you second chances but death does not and George realized all these. But then, he was already a little too late.
‘Mommy, could I give daddy some candies? He looked sad.’
Marie and grannie looked at each other and smiled.
‘Such a daddy’s girl,’ grannie said.
‘You can place some candies in front of daddy’s picture. He’ll be happy to see it from heaven.’
‘No, mommy. Not the picture. Daddy is not in heaven. He is here. He is crying.’
Marie’s eyes opened wide and felt a lump on her throat. A chill ran down her spine.
With eyes and face still wet with a river of tears, George stopped sobbing. His deep brown eyes looked at Holly.
‘Holly, where’s daddy?’ Marie asked.
‘There.’ Holly pointed to the wall beside the door.
‘Can I give him candies?’
Featured image by Celina Rohrbach via Unsplash