1 The Church
I remember when this used to be the brightest place in the world.
People used to come by this old church, lots and lots of teenagers that is, and they never stopped once to consider that maybe they shouldn't party every Sunday. There was always ear-blasting music that wasn't anything close to gospel. Bottles sat atop the pews, empty and full, along with dozens of coolers and plastic crates. Scars resembling oil or grape juice spills painted the floor and some parts of the ceiling. The hanging lights managed to illuminate some fresh burn marks on the pulpit some idiot once managed to set on fire. Those lights were heavier than flames and much safer than the now banned candles. They were spirits, guarding our holy party land and watching over the drunk and high.
I remember them being brighter.
These days, the lights are looking faded, and some of them don't turn on. I look at the walls and see little mold villages and cities of rot. Every step I take makes the whole fuckin' floor scream like it's someone being trampled on. The silence doesn't fit this church; it never should. Life took its multiple pairs of feet and booked a trip out from the past and across the ruined carpet. Everyone that used to come here is gone.
Everyone but me.
Gardenia happens to be the land of the dead or dying. It also happens to be the town where this church (and subsequently me) happen to be stranded in. It's not strange to wanna leave and never turn back if you're born here like me. If you aren't a native, then you'll just never wanna see this wasteland. Wherever you go, it's all the same sight, same smell, and same shitty feeling. It used to be that the church was the only place you could get away from all that sameness, but you can tell that's no longer the case. I was able to snag the building with my empty pockets because no one else wanted it. In fact, this place doesn't even show up for sale, and no one's been in charge even before the era of parties. This church used to be old and empty even before civilization in Gardenia discovered it. Nothing has changed since then.
Well... one thing did seem to change.
"Bell!" A girl calls me from the background of my attention.
The old church seems to have gotten haunted while I was gone. Yes, by an actual ghost.
Sitting on a pile of old beer cans and plastic wrap is a girl my age, maybe less. I know for a fact she isn't taller than me, thanks to her still having legs. She's wearing a white dress that looks like it was made from a sheet. Her body glows the same as the lights in a weird ghostly sort of way. The almost transparent white hair on her head is deciding between wanting to exist and not, but for some reason, only the strands closer to the sides of her head take on the properties of glass. Fortunately for her, the rest of her body is the same as anyone else's would be. She'd probably be prettier though if she wasn't dead.
"Stop staring at the lightbulbs and get cleaning already!" Yells this oddly bossy girl. "Hey, you okay?"
"You know I can't clean." she would say while crossing her arms.
She says this, and I can't tell if she's taunting me or feeling bad she can't help. I hear my mouth let out an involuntary sigh as I start shuffling towards the corner.
"Thank you!" says the bum spirit while I'm in the process of picking up the only broom we have.
I reply, "Whatever..."
It's been a while since I've had to talk to someone. I don't even remember how to chat properly. I'd rather just not talk at all if I'm being-
My inner dialogue is continually getting interrupted by yet another demand. I already know what she wants. The dead always want something from me, and most of the time it just turns out to be attention. In fact, the one in front of me reminds me of some lonely dog.
If I think about it that way, maybe I'll actually feel pity for this ghost and care.
"Bell. Say my name."
This dumbass has always been about spouting out just the dumbest things. Ever since I met her, she's always been like this, just saying whatever comes to her mind without thought. Sometimes I wonder whether her brain is the only thing that didn't join the rest of her ghost body.
"This again? Do I have to tell it to you every single day?" I yell.
"Yep. Every day. It's part of our routine. You HAVE to say it." She begs.
"Seriously… This dumb…"
I can feel the blood rising to my cheeks and the heat coming off my forehead. I don't know why I get this embarrassed whenever this stupid ghost teases me like this. Saying a name should be a breeze, right? It's only this hard because I haven't talked to anyone close in a while. It's just-
"Cat." Says my stubborn little self.
I hear her laugh and giggle like some kid who just pulled off a prank. "Say it again!" She says through her stifled chuckles.
I close my eyes and say, "Cat…"
"Can't hear you!"
Then suddenly I feel my fingers grow warm. Something like a blanket covering them… No, this is the unmistakable feeling of flesh, and blood, and something with a soul. I lift my head up, slowly, and before I open my eyes, I know who's holding my hands.
I feel like at that moment a vein or some chain in my head popped. Before anything else, I jerk her hands back towards me and swing her over my shoulder. Her body is lighter than a feather, and it barely weighs anything. Hoping to smash her on the ground hard, I find to my disappointment that she simply faded through the floor and everything else.
"Woah! Bell! I didn't know you were a judo master!"
"Oh, you shut up! Shut up and just do the chores already. If you learned how to grab things, make yourself useful and grab the broom!"
The girl sheepishly backs away a tiny bit but still in reach. "Sorry! I don't know how to grab anything else."
"Wha- What the hell do you mean you don't know how to grab anything else?"
"I've only just learned how to hold onto your hands. Consider me a master at that but an amateur at everything else, and Judo. Say you gotta teach me-"
Once again I try to perform the same maneuver, but the result is still the same. However this time I manage to free myself from Cat's grip. She flies through the Earth and sinks into the ground, only to come back up like some fish breaking water.
"I'll be at the usual place when you're done."
Before I can yell, before I can even open my mouth to shut this brat up, she disappears. I don't even get a chance.
So instead I yell inside the church.
I don't remember when my life took a turn like this.
By all means, I've always wanted to leave it all behind. Gardenia, the church, and everything else I could think about. I kept thinking, and wondering, and waiting until I could grow up and get out of my shell, but now I might die in this town. Gardenia doesn't let anyone leave whenever they would like. It's a myth that everyone who passes through here never comes back out. Travelers, no one has come through town in the years I've been alive. There's no real highway or any sort of easy path of exit. The ocean has never seen any calm waters. I hear stories of people who tried to leave, but no one ever knows what happened to them. Anyone who ever got out of Gardenia never sent mail or called.
I think there was a story of a girl who jumped off the cliff and tried to run away to the sea. It ended how you would think.
"You're quiet all of a sudden."
In the corner of my eye, I see hair turned to gold and colored like wheat. The sound of Cat's voice is enough to demand attention from the waves crashing against the rocks below. I get up from where I was lying down and sit up half-heartedly. Cat gets launched off my stomach as I do so, and her golden hair soon flies off the side of the cliff. Red rays of the sun's light have changed the color of the world to blood. I stretch my legs and hold them just above the sea on the other side of this cliff face. I put my hands together and raise them over and behind my head towards the pink sky.
"I surrender." My voice declares in a monotone fashion.
Cat eyes me from afar as she floats above certain death. If she weren't trying to keep herself visible, I probably would have mistaken her for a distant cloud. Not even I can seem to bear witness to the ghost that haunts the air in front of me. Shimmering, like the waters themselves, the girl stands still and stares.
She turns her gaze away from me and asks "Who might you be waving the white flag for?"
"Dunno. Life I guess."
"Ah. Way ahead of you."
For the next bit, we don't say much. I go back to lying down on the rocks and staring at the sky with my left side to the ocean. Cat decides to follow suit and stare at the pink ceiling with me, but she's showing off by lying down off the cliff.
"So… Why me?" I ask vaguely.
"Probably cuz you're special."
Typical ghosts, never missing a beat. They never explain anything.
"Special how?" I ask next.
"Well. You just are."
I wish that girl had said more. I never get the chance to ask much of anything. But I know I never will manage to get any sort of answer out of this new annoyance in my life. Whatever her problem is, whatever mine is, I'll never know. I turn my attention away from the world and towards the pink sky.
Just like that, we stay staring at nothing, saying nothing, and thinking about nothing but how pink that sky is.