The Ghost cannot remember how he died. There are days when he cannot remember dying at all.
He watches the sunlight bounce and refract among the tiny rain droplets that settle on the rusted, iron bench. Here, in the old university grounds, the trees are stripped bare and the birds have long ago flown from their nests. He sits, watching, by the wet, cobbled paths that frame the ancient architecture, as remembered fragments of young, bright eyed things cascade in and out of view. There is an arm here, a leg there, a jumble of limbs and faces; all memories that blur and intertwine amid the thick, amnesiac fog.
A green haired girl strides past him; the dyed strands of her lightly flowing locks match the fading colour of her tights and she smiles; absorbed in conversation with an older man. Her companion walks purposefully by her side; his great coat swooping, his eyes brimming with wisdom and hot, electric lust.
The man does not see the Ghost and neither does the girl. They pass by quickly and are gone in a moment, leaving a vibrant static of crackling, white noise trailing in their wake.
It is nothing new.
Nobody ever sees the Ghost.
Later, that afternoon, The Ghost wanders through the empty city. Above him, the sky is overcast and murky. Echoes of old voices bounce through the lonely streets and rattle the tarpaulins of its deserted market stalls. These memories; these artefacts of sound, collide and rebound from the high stone walls of buildings; edifices that unfold and expand before him in dreamlike jigsaw puzzles. Loosely connected, their forms shift, patterns blurring as he wanders aimlessly among their hollow alleyways.
The Ghost finds himself staring into the frosted glass of a department store window.
‘Everything must go!’ yells a yellowed sign and, for a fraction of a second, the Ghost sees his own fading reflection, swimming into focus, settling behind the message, as if he bore it on his chest like some apocalyptic sandwich board.
Later, in the subway, he stands on the deserted platform, listening to the darkening echoes of bygone trains; feeling the recollection of vibration and the rush of an invisible wind from the cold, empty void of the tunnel. There are no passengers today. There will be no passengers tomorrow. The station has closed.
The Ghost wanders into a nursery, his ears pricking for the sound of children laughing. The nursery, too, is closed and the lights have been turned out forever. The ghost feels for the memory of a light switch. Closes his eyes and tries to remember.
When the Ghost opens his eyes, he stares out into the cold dusk. Nothing has changed and he knows that he is wasting his time here. There are only shadows and fragments left in the world now.
As evening falls, the Ghost wanders along the riverbank. The water below him is still and tepid and the slowly setting sun paints it in a cloak of faded, burnt umber. A shard of memory helps him recreate the fishermen that he often observed here as a boy. He recalls their lazy, carefree attitude and the occasional, fevered burst of excitement that would grip them when reeling in a catch. He remembers the weekend market that would set up its stalls here and tries to evoke the memory of an oversized, plastic tasting hotdog; warm and comforting in his hand. The hotdog is full of blistering fat and gristle and he recalls its unique texture and the peculiar synthetic smell, akin to burning rubber, that would somehow draw in punters on a cold winter’s morning and liberate them of their small change.
The Ghost stares at the river for a long time as the hotdog dissolves in his memory, fizzling away without providing the much longed for sustenance. By the time he finally heads home for the evening, the sun has almost vanished beneath the broken crown of empty buildings.
At home, the Ghost lies on his back, arms folded across his chest, naked and eyes closed in the empty, dust strewn bathtub. He is trying to remember the sensation of being surrounded by warm, soothing waters; the feeling of floating in candle-lit shadows; of rising from the surface and drying himself with a soft, radiator warmed towel. He longs to recall the sensation of slipping between freshly laundered, cotton sheets and resting his head on a fragrant pillow while a warm body nuzzles close to him and there is nothing left in the world but the sound of two people, quietly breathing.
Later, from his balcony, the Ghost stands looking out over the deserted, moonlit streets. He is concentrating; trying to focus on the past. If he tries hard, if he concentrates fully, he has discovered that he can sometimes bring them back; that he can sometimes bring them all back.
First, the legs might come. Then, perhaps, the arms and then, finally, the faces will arrive, peeling out of the mist. There are so many faces to bring back. Maybe they will have long, green hair like the girl in the university courtyard. Perhaps, their hair will be blonde or brown or dreadlocked or curled in bright orange ringlets. Maybe the people he brings back will be male and maybe they will be female, maybe they will be happy and maybe they will be sad and maybe they will have names like John or Sophie or Erica or Chen or wife or mother or baby son.
From here on his balcony, the Ghost wishes for them all; he wishes for all the people to come back, the ones he loved and the ones he hated and the ones he barely knew and the ones he never met. He wishes that they would come back strong and healthy and not just as memories and not just as dead fragments of what once was the world.
The Ghost tries to imagine this happening, tries to remember exactly how he felt before the world stopped breathing and left him behind and alone.
For a long time after the calamity, the Ghost felt as if it were he himself who had died, but on nights like this, as he stands staring out at the forever empty streets, he has come to realise that this is not the case. On some nights, when he thinks too deeply on the subject, the Ghost begins to wonder if there ever were any other people or whether, in his madness, in his infinite, endless loneliness, he simply made them all up.
He is so lost in this thought that, at first, he doesn’t hear the crackle of white noise from the street below; doesn’t see the soft focus face that swims in and out of reality like the ocean tide, lapping at an invisible shore. He dismisses, as a trick of the moonlight, the cool emerald eyes and the soft lips that part and close in the stillness. Dismisses it right until the moment when the girl finally speaks.
‘Hello,’ she says, her voice as soft as the whisper of leaves, rustling on a derelict autumn road, ‘are you…are you like me?’
From his balcony, the ghost smiles, and later…much later, the stillness of the world is slowly replaced by the sound of two people, quietly breathing.