The living always visit at first, but it don’t last.
“He’ll remember,” said the lady bucked off a horse. But her husband remarried.
“Ma will always come,” said a boy whose chest was puckered where the bullet hit him. “She’ll come.” But his mother stopped bringing flowers, and the boy vanished soon after.
I don’t know where they go, or how they get there. Don’t even know my own name.
Been here for decades and haven’t gone anywhere else, but it’s alright. I know this patch of graveyard. I like to help the new souls, explain what’s going on. Took it upon myself. Made it my job.
“Dead?” some of them demand, the ones that don’t take it well. “I can’t be. I have so much to do.”
I don’t like those ones, the ones that can’t let go. Sometimes they crawl back inside their grave and try to force themselves back into their bodies but it’s a locked room and their key has been confiscated. Some of them cry for days.
“My children, they’ll be alone,” one woman sobbed.
“Won’t they be alone no matter what someday, anyway?” I asked.
She vanished and didn’t come back. I felt kind of bad about that. I try to be gentler now, even with the annoying ones.
I used to remember being alive but it’s harder now. I catch fragments of it sometimes in the souls of the others. I wish I could remember my name.
Sometimes the souls take weeks to move on and sometimes they take only a day. Once, a little gal popped up from the soil before her body had even gone cold. Her hair was plaited into four funny little braids, sticking out in different directions.
She looked at me, blinking furiously. “Where’s my dog?”
I echoed the word, testing it on my mouth. I remembered acorn brown fur and a wet nose. I remembered loving something more than I ever thought possible.
“Is my dog here?” the little girl demanded.
“No,” I said. “Sorry honey.”
She stuck her lip out, pouting. “Fine.” She crossed her arms over her chest, and vanished. Moved on, just like that. Fastest one I ever saw.
“Dog,” I said out loud, chewing the word. “I had a dog.”
Seems like there’s a puzzle piece, something each soul needs to remember, or know, before they can pass through. I only know about puzzle pieces because of the bookkeeper they buried here. He helped me remember I never real learned to read.
“Maybe in another life I’ll teach you,” the bookkeeper said.
“I’d like that,” I agreed.
That one didn’t so much as vanish as he did fade, less and less of him there, until it was just air.
Today, a soul from six miles over pops up.
“I’m from Charleston,” she blurts.
“That’s in South Carolina,” I say, remembering. The name feels like a mouthful of butter. I want to spit South Carolina into my hands and pull it apart. I want to see if there are answers in the globs.
She stares at me.
“You a farmer?” I ask, noting her worn clothes. They’re spattered with blood and dirt, torn at the hem. Faded to that brown color that’s easy for poor folk to keep nice.
“No,” she said wearily. “Medical help.”
Memory dances around me, but it’s out of reach. “Medical for what?”
“The war,” she says, looking at me like I’m a little stupid.
“The war,” she hisses, her face turning a little pink. “The Great War. The war to end all wars!”
“Oh,” I say, not getting it, but not wanting to upset her. A strange warmth settles in me. “You waiting on anyone?”
“No.” She fiddles with the hem of her dress, her brow furrowed. There’s blood on her hip and I want to ask how she died, but I don’t want to be rude. “I don’t think anyone will be coming.”
“My sister would. But she’s gone now.”
“Oh.” I feel like it’d be rude to point out that I didn’t ask. But I’m glad for the company. Or I would be, except there’s a pressure building in me, climbing up my throat. I feel like sweating.
The woman looks at me funny. “What’s the matter with you?”
“You look ill.”
“I don’t feel great.” I fidget. The pressure is worst now, splintering through me, making me feel heavy. “You said you had a sister?”
“What was her name?” I feel like I’m burning or something.
“Nice name.” I feel dizzy, like I might topple over.
“Yeah. Sweet girl.”
“She did medical, too?” I can’t breathe—wait, why would I need to breathe? I’m dead.
“Nah,” she shrugs. “Stayed home. Her husband’s a soldier.”
The word shatters my inside and races up my spine. I tip backwards off of the headstone, and for the first time in three hundred years, I feel the grass. The air is cold and I can smell the ear, the dead leaves. I start to cry. “I remember.”
She jerks up to stare at me, her mouth falling open. “What?”
“I get to leave,” I gasp. “I get to go.” I remember it all—everything—every moment, every loss, every laugh.
Maybe she’s here to take my place.
“Wait,” the woman says, panicky. “What do I do? For the others?”
“You talk,” I say. I feel so light. The world is swirling and I taste mint. The air smells like the angel oak’s that grew in my mother’s backyard.
“Where are you going?” the new ghost asks, her eyes widening, stretching wider.
“Not sure,” I say, happy about it, and as the world blinks away it comes to me. I remember learning to ride, and then learning how to compress wounds under the smoke of gunfire. I remember holding the hands of men that wouldn’t make it but needed someone to stay with them.
Miles. My name is Miles.
Rebecca Mix is a speculative fiction writer, book lover, and hoarder of houseplants. She lives in Michigan with her boyfriend and two very lovable but slightly demonic cats. Her fiction has appeared in Aphelion, 101words, Story Seed Vault, and is forthcoming in Asymmetry, Alternative Truths 2, and elsewhere. You can visit her at rebeccamix.com, or send her neat puns at @rebeccarmix on twitter.
Image by Dean McCoy