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She wanted to tell him "I love you."
Problem #1: Ghosts can't speak.
As you're probably supposed to have learned in science class, people's voices are produced by vibration of the vocal cords. Vocal cords are physical things, and ghosts are entirely non-physical things, so this method doesn't work for them.
What ghosts can do - at least, in terms of what's relevant to this particular issue - is vibrate physical objects. So we're getting close, right?
Well, kind of. It's a very different skill for a ghost to vibrate objects to produce a voice compared to a living human speaking. Not like speech is the easiest thing to learn in the first place.
And while a ghost could try working with someone's actual vocal cords, it would be very hard and very likely to bother the owner. So most try to pull it off with household objects, because that's a lot cooler anyhow.
So if you're ever home alone and hear your things shaking, don't worry. They're just trying to talk.
Now this ghost, Sheila, had a very clear goal in her mind at the time of her death.
She had never confessed her love to her longtime crush, and so she wanted to say to him "I love you" from beyond the grave.
Though she could have done this in numerous ways, she was very fixated on using her voice. There were a few reasons she felt any other ways wouldn't work.
First of all, he... didn't know Sheila's name. Were she to write "I LOVE YOU ~ SHEILA" on his bathroom mirror in blood (perhaps in poor taste, but the heart does pump it, so it would be symbolic), he wouldn't know who that was.
Of course, signing as "The Girl Who Sat Two Seats Behind and One Right of You" or "The Girl Who Died the Other Day in a Horrible Train Accident" was out of the question.
But he did know her voice, so that would work, she figured.
Which leads into the second reason: Sheila's voice was no doubt what he would remember best about her.
Sheila always loved to sing. And when her crush started complimenting her on it, that encouraged her to really start taking it seriously.
But above all, Sheila knew this would be the most romantic way. Albeit her crush likely wouldn't realize the full extent of the effort that went into it. But, oh well.
She was determined to do her best.
As uncounted days went by, however, Sheila became a bit less enthused - though she would never admit it.
Believe it or not (Sheila hadn't, at first), making noises as complex as voiced words is very difficult to do "manually," even with all the benefits of being a ghost.
Sheila would go to one house, practice for a while until the residents took notice (one way or another), then leave an apology and move on to the next.
And she felt like she wasn't making any progress at all. She couldn't even imagine the clattering she was making ever sounding like her voice, or any voice.
She wondered what she could possibly do. Was there any living person who could be particularly helpful? Or any ghost? She found that most ghosts simply ignored her, too busy with their own business.
As Sheila started having these thoughts, she also began to feel very alone. She thought that maybe first, she should try to interact with the few friends she had; they were no doubt upset by her loss.
Then again, she wasn't sure how long it had been since she died...
She didn't want to think about it. So she continued to work toward her original goal.
"Aw, that's cute."
Sheila turned around dramatically in surprise, even though no one could see it.
She was just banging on pots and pans in a kitchen as usual when a middle-aged woman walked in - that wasn't anything new - and said "that's cute" - that was.
Sheila froze, and the woman laughed. "Don't tell me I scared you more than you were trying to scare me? Come on, we'll talk." She walked out of the kitchen, gesturing at Sheila to follow. (Or, at where she thought Sheila was.)
Sheila didn't want any misunderstandings. She hurried after the woman to find a notebook laid open on a desk. She picked up the pen and -
Uh. Hold on. Sheila hadn't really tried to hold a pen as a ghost before. She fumbled with it for a while, to the woman's bemusement. Having given up on writing words by the time she had a "grip," she just drew an "X" in the notebook.
The woman wasn't sure how to interpret that. "You... don't want to talk to me? Is that it?"
Sheila paused. Another X.
She sat down at the desk. "Okay, I'm gonna assume that means "no," then. My name's Cheryl. What's yours?"
Sheila groaned. She didn't want to bother writing her name out, especially not if this woman would keep laughing at her.
Why did she even want to know her name? And why should Sheila indulge her instead of just moving to the next house like always?
So, another X.
"Presumably not your name. I'd wait as long as it takes you to write, if that's the problem." Sheila raised a ghostly eyebrow. "But that's alright. I'll keep it to simpler questions. Do you like haunting people?"
Loaded questions? You have got to be kidding me, Sheila thought. X.
"Then why did you do it to me?"
"I wasn't haunting you!", Sheila shouted before realizing. She was pretty sure Cheryl couldn't hear that, as unusually perceptive as she seemed to be. Yet she quickly seemed to figure it out anyway.
And when she did, she tried her best to keep a straight face.
"O-Oh, so... You weren't actually trying to haunt me? You were just... oh, that's too cute!", Cheryl giggled, succumbing to laughter.
Sheila was fed up. She slammed a door shut (more like a light breeze blowing it, really) and was out of there, never to return.
Though that can't be quite true, as Cheryl did find "SHEILA" written in blood on her bathroom mirror later that night.
She continued to have little luck in telling him "I love you."
Problem #2: Did
she love him? And when did or didn't she?
It felt like it had been quite a while, but Sheila tried to recall her life. Particularly, how and why she came to fall for her crush.
Well... She remembered how he was a fan of her singing. That was part of why she was so intent on speaking to him, after all.
And... He was pretty attractive, wasn't he? She couldn't really remember what his "competition" was like, though.
...She was really drawing a blank. But there must have been good reasons, even if she forgot them. He WAS the first thing on her mind after death, after all.
Something she did remember, though, was her mother encouraging her to "find love while she was still young."
And she wondered how much that
mattered now that she was dead.
Still, Sheila tried to recall more, resisting death's apparent efforts to erase him from her mind. To bring back the memories she had made with... with...
She hoped she could fool Cheryl. She hoped.
Sheila moved around Cheryl's house very slowly, just in case she could sense her. She found Cheryl sitting down at a table.
Sheila was able to infer that Cheryl had just had dinner (because it was about past dinnertime and Cheryl looked full) and that she was reading (because she had a book in her hands which she was reading).
Notably, however, Cheryl kept a notebook nearby on the table, which Sheila identified as the one she had written in before.
But it wasn't exactly as it had been. Now the page read:
Sheila really wasn't sure what to make of that.
After a moment to ready herself, Sheila picked up the pen. She had been practicing holding pens even before she considered returning to Cheryl's house, if only to wash away the shame. It startled her, though, to find the pen was considerably lighter than others she had been using.
"Hello," she wrote. Totally unassuming, right?
Cheryl looked to the notebook, then up. "Sheila?"
Sheila hurriedly wrote an X. Then, a moment later, wanted to erase it.
Cheryl smiled. "Okay, Miss X." Hey, how did she know she was a "Miss"? She must have known the truth, Sheila groaned.
"So, what do you want to talk about?"
Sheila had known she would have to answer that question, yet she wasn't really sure how to do it.
Out of all the people she'd visited, Cheryl stood out, certainly. But what exactly she wanted from her... she couldn't yet say.
It would help to get to know Cheryl, she figured, to know what she could do for her.
"Who are you?"
Cheryl took a more relaxed position in her chair. "Well, my name is Cheryl. And I could tell you my life story, but, well, I wouldn't want to make a ghost jealous."
She giggled at her joke, then cleared her throat, no doubt feeling Sheila's harsh gaze. "I'm not convinced anything but my name would matter to you, honestly."
Sheila sighed. There was clearly something... about
her and ghosts. Yet she wasn't even going to mention it? Or was there nothing to say about it worth saying, since she was already in the midst of talking to one?
Fine, then. Out with it, she told herself.
"I want to say som"
"To speak, you mean?", Cheryl interrupted. "I had my suspicions that's what your banging the other day was about, but I couldn't be sure."
Gah! She did know! She knew she knew! Had known she knew. Whatever. She knew.
But if Cheryl had known her identity from the beginning, well... she had yet to laugh at her expense this time. Sheila was glad she put in the pen training, even if that might not have been entirely why.
"I'm aware it's difficult to pull off, even for a professional." Sheila noted how careful Cheryl was to say that, so as not to imply where Sheila stood on that spectrum. Spectralum. "There are other ways to communicate, of course."
Sheila knew that; she was using one of them. But it was too hard to explain to Cheryl why it mattered.
Never mind how hard it was to explain to herself.
"That you use your voice? Hmm." Cheryl thought for a moment. "I don't think there's much I
can do, if that's all you're asking."
That was all Sheila was asking. "Thanks, bye."
Well... okay, the pen hovered in place right at the start of writing the "T."
Cheryl herself claimed to be of no help. That was disappointing.
But then, what would Sheila do now? Continue to fake-haunt people's houses for years and years, her forgotten crush long forgetting her too?
She had come back to Cheryl's house for a reason. That reason, she felt, was not merely to ask for help in a goal that seemed to be continually dwindling in significance.
So she had to find out what the real reason was.
Maybe that in itself was the reason.
If nothing else, Sheila didn't feel alone here.
The pen finally moved.
"Can I stay?"
Cheryl smiled wide.
Uncounted days went by. Because there was much more of interest than counting days.
For a while, Sheila primarily tried to learn more about Cheryl. In some ways, she found Cheryl's words to be true. Her job, for instance, didn't mean much to Sheila beyond what times she'd be away from home.
But Sheila loved to talk to Cheryl. She was just... very kind, and very funny, and maybe a little cute. Some would probably just call her boring, Sheila figured, because, well, she didn't do
a whole lot. But those people certainly hadn't talked with her.
Once Sheila grew accustomed to knowing Cheryl as much as she did, Cheryl started asking the same thing.
Sheila was reluctant to talk about herself at first, thinking about how much she had forgotten from her life. But she found that she remembered quite a bit after all.
Like how she used to sing in the bathroom, because she liked the echo. And how one birthday, she fainted trying to blow out the candles. And how she dreamt of singing on stage. And so on.
Still, she could only remember so much. Surely there was a lot more that had been lost, both important and unimportant.
Cheryl told her not to worry. In her experience, she said, there are always new "importants" to discover when you forget the old.
As for how the average day went, well... Technically, that would begin with Sheila being up all night on Cheryl's computer, what with not needing to sleep.
When Cheryl woke up, Sheila would help her get ready (this... took some practice) and say goodbye as she left for work - typically via the notebook, but sometimes she would get more creative.
Sheila knew better than to distract Cheryl from her work, so she just stayed at home... well, usually. Honestly, she felt it was fine, as Cheryl was the one who consistently brought the notebook to work with her.
And it was hardly her fault if Cheryl forgot she was at work and spoke to Sheila aloud, which always resulted in a few weird looks.
Once back home, Cheryl read most of the time. Sheila tended to read with her, as leaning over her shoulder was, well, not a problem.
And then they would have dinner together. It... was never a particularly traditional dinner, let's say, what with one of the two being unable and unneeding to eat.
It was a strange life. It was a strange afterlife.
"It's your birthday!"
"It's still your birthday!"
When Cheryl woke up that morning, she produced a present from a closet. Sheila knew it had been there, and she knew exactly when Cheryl bought it: the day Cheryl told Sheila not to follow her to the store. Not that she would have done that anyway.
But she hadn't expected a birthday present
. She'd only made the slightest reference to when her birthday was, as far as she could remember. Her "birthday" was, to her, an unimportant thing post-death.
Sheila wasn't complaining, though.
After a struggle to unwrap the present, culminating in Cheryl just doing it herself, Sheila's gift was unveiled: a microphone.
Sheila had a pretty good idea of what Cheryl was going for with this purchase, but she asked anyway.
"So you can sing, of course! Or just talk! I really want to hear it. And, well, I'm not sure how some ghost stuff works, but... you might get to hear yourself the way you used to sound."
Sheila hadn't thought about talking in quite a while. It did seem that talking via a microphone wouldn't be too hard.
Cheryl interrupted her train of thought. "And this isn't as big a thing, but," she said, taking something else from the closet. "I got a new notebook, since the old one was getting pretty full."
Sheila checked the pages. There really weren't many left; she hadn't even been paying attention.
Cheryl opened up the new notebook, putting it beside the old one, and wrote "Happy Birthday, Sheila!" on the first page.
Sheila added: "No one told me I'd keep getting older when I was dead."
"You don't seem any older to me, if that helps," Cheryl laughed.
Cheryl egged Sheila on to try out the microphone more than a couple times throughout the day, even staying up a bit later than usual just in case she changed her mind.
Eventually - and after cleaning up the cake - Cheryl gave up for the day.
Sheila wanted to wait; she needed some time to think, first.
That night, she flipped back through the pages of the old notebook. She was astonished to realize just how many she had written.
It was a strange feeling, too, to look back on the conversations of the past. Because she only saw her side of the conversation in those pages - and yet she could remember the rest with perfect clarity.
She eventually flipped back to, and remembered the events surrounding, this:
She paused. She wrote in another "XO." Another pause.
She kept flipping.
She found writing that was not her own. Much neater, actually. She didn't know these sentences; she never experienced these conversations.
But she could imagine.
From his descriptions of the accident, both poorly written and stained with tears. From pages and pages not unlike the ones Sheila wrote. And from his words at the end about their agreement to move on.
This was why Cheryl had been prepared for her. Why she was so perceptive. And perhaps why she was so ready to accept her.
But also, it told her that Cheryl would be prepared for whatever Sheila planned to do with her afterlife, whether it involved her or not.
Sheila stayed up all night thinking.
As previously established, ghosts don't need to sleep, so this didn't have much inherent significance. But to Sheila, it mattered.
Cheryl was woken by a sound from the kitchen.
As she approached, everything in the kitchen started to tremble. If she didn't know better, she might have thought it was an earthquake.
But no earthquake could reproduce the odd harmonizing of the sounds that soon began.
Then Cheryl heard something she had never, ever heard before,
yet recognized instantly.
She had wanted to tell him "I love you."
Problem #3: She found someone who really deserved it.