Last spring I was fishing in the cemetery when I was approached by a strange ghost.
“Hey bub,” he whispered, and when I didn’t respond right away, “Hey, mister!” he said, louder.
“Are you talking to me?”
“Who else is dumb enough to come to the cemetery after dark? You got balls, bub.”
“I like it here. It’s good fishing,” I shrugged. “What do you want?”
The ghost was a teen, dressed as some sort of gangster out of the 1930s. He was skinny and his aura was tinged pink telling me that he had died of starvation. I’d learned some things since I started talking to the ghosts instead of trapping them. Their auras, for example, resonated with the colors of their death. That is why William’s was blue. Though he had died of illness, his illness was caused by nearly drowning. Blue meant a water-related death.
“I got information for you,” he said, whispering again. “You bring me some fruit or something and I’ll tell ya.”
“Information about what?”
“Dying. Isn’t that what you want to know about?”
“How would you know that?”
He shrugged. “I gots ways.”
I dug through my bait bag until I found a whole apple. I handed it over to the boy. He sniffed it and then took a bite.
“I didn’t know ghosts could eat,” I said. I’d seen my brother do it, but I always assumed he was different.
Again the boy shrugged. “We can do it if we want it enough. Takes energy to be solid enough to bite and swallow.” The boy continued eating noisily until the apple was completely consumed, core and all.
“Sims! I am so hungry!”
“I can give you more food,” I told him. “But it depends on the information you have for me. I want to know how to bring someone back from the dead.”
“What!?” The boy’s form waivered. “What you wanna do that for?”
“Doesn’t matter. I want to know if it’s possible.”
The boy, he informed me that his name was Vinny Devine, told me he didn’t know if he had the answer for me right then, but that he’d meet me again when he did know. It took him a solid week to reappear.
“I think I got it, bub,” he said, seeing me fishing again.
“You know how to bring the dead back to life?”
“Well, not exactly…” he hedged. “Got another apple?”
I handed him the fruit and he ate it greedily, core and all. “I miss food,” he said, sighing.
“Tell me what ‘exactly’ you know.”
“Well, it has to do with the fish…”
“Yeah. Death Fish. Guess they’re here in this pond over there. Nasty buggers. Only caught with special bait.”
“What kind of bait?”
He proceeded to tell me about how Death Fish prefer live bait, specifically live Angel fish. He also told me that they could only be found in the cemetery pond and would only come out at midnight. They were exceedingly rare, but he heard that if you caught a Death Fish, you could combine it with a certain fruit that would make a food that ghosts could consume.
“And eating this food will ring them back from the dead?” I asked, incredulous.
“Now that, I can’t confirm.”
I asked Vinny every question I could think of about t his special food that could be made with the Death Fish, but he didn’t give me much more information. Regardless, it was more than I ever had to go on before. I figured if I could catch this elusive Death Fish, I could at least confirm that one part of his story. Then at least I could do some research and try to find out more.
Tiffany and I moved back to Twinbrook after we graduated. Her brother, Timothy, came with us. He was going to stay with us until he could establish himself and buy a place of his own.
Tiffany got a job working at the corporate offices of Doo Peas. She was excited about working there. She didn’t seem to mind having to work from the bottom up. “That’s how you get ahead,” she told me.
Timothy got a job teaching art at the local school. He seemed happy about that. I didn’t know he liked kids so much. It was funny thinking of him working with 7-10 year olds and teaching them how to paint and draw.
I started working at the Science Institute. Like I had at school, I was mostly working in a laboratory setting. I was testing the properties of indigenous swamp plants found in Twinbrook.
While I was excited to have a job in a field I loved, I found it odd that I wasn’t doing more than testing plant spores. I had thought the job would be more special. They had said that I was “uniquely qualified”. I had no idea what that meant, but it had to be more than being qualified to run tests that any graduate lab assistant could do.
“I just don’t get it,” I complained to Tiffany. “I was doing the same sort of work at the University. Shouldn’t I be doing something more now?”
“Maybe that’s what made you qualified for the job,” she said. “Perhaps they saw what you were doing at the University and wanted you to continue.”
“I guess, but…”
“It’s boring?” Tiffany smiled at me. “Char, you never let boring stop you at University. If you’re bored, do some experiments on your own. You have the lab here, too. Do your own work here.”
“I guess I could do that…” I hesitated, “but I really did think that I’d be doing more than this!”
“You have to start at the bottom,” Tiffany advised me. “Just like me. Things will work out, you’ll see.”
Of course Tiffany was right. Things did work out. I eventually got a promotion and became more than a glorified lab assistant.
“You should have been there!” I enthused over dinner. Tiffany and Timothy listened to me go on and on about my new work. “We were able to use a generator to bring back a dormant plant cell. It was dead and we shocked it back to life! Now it’s producing even more fruit and, if we determine the fruit is safe, imagine what that will mean for ensuring our nation has stable crops! We could end hunger!”
“That’s pretty amazing,” Timothy smiled.
“It is,” agreed Tiffany, “but if you don’t eat your salad, you’ll never end your hunger!”
“Oh, right,” I said, looking down at my full plate and over to my friends’ plates which were empty or nearly so. “Sorry. I am just so excited!”
I have to admit that I talked about my work a lot. I’m sure Tiffany got bored with me sometimes, though she didn’t seem to. She always asked me questions and seemed like she was interested in what I was doing.
“Our process will be the scientific break-through of the decade,” I told Tiffany. “We tested the plants and those we brought back from death are exactly like the live ones!”
“But is the fruit safe to eat,” she asked. “You said they had to test it to see if you could eat it.”
“We are doing that now. Every test I’ve run shows no difference between this fruit and any other! Can you imagine! And we have been working on accelerating the process of growing these plants. If we can speed that up, we will double the produce output of the entire world! And I’ve been trying to get my bosses to let me do similar tests on animals.”
“Well, if we can bring plants back, maybe we can restore animals. It’d be different, of course, but what if we could actually restore people too?”
“Bring people back from the dead?” Tiffany was shocked. “That’s crazy!”
“Well, yeah,” I hedged, “but just imagine!”
“I’ll let you do that. But I can tell you that I don’t want to be brought back from the dead. You might cause a zombie apocalypse!”
I laughed. “That’s ridiculous. Zombies aren’t real,” I said. “Besides, people are complicated. I’m just speculating. I’m sure we’d never manage to bring people back.”
The thing is, even though I laughed and joked about it, I knew that I was serious about this line of inquiry. I thought of my brother William, and knew that if I could manage to bring a person back from the dead, I’d do it for him.
One again I stared experimenting on my own. I had found an interesting plant called a Death Flower. I don’t believe in superstition and all that nonsense, but I researched the plant and read stories that people believed that this flower could prevent people from dying.
I didn’t know if it was true and had serious doubts, but nevertheless, I ran some tests on the plant. My results were mixed.
But the experiments with the Death Flower weren’t in vain. My research on that plant led me to another. It was called a Life Fruit. This was a rare plant, but people believed that eating of the Life Fruit could prolong your life. Interesting. I searched online trying to find out everything I could about the plant.
“Hmmm,” I said out loud. “It has glowing properties. If it emanates light, it produces more energy than typical plants. Maybe that’s what gives it its unique properties. I have to find this plant!”
After hours of searching, I found that Life Fruit plants grew in solitary stalks in remote locations. They didn’t seem to have a favored climate or soil type, but appeared randomly. They grew slowly and produced few fruit over the course of the plant’s life. Then, when it died, the plant produced one seed to replace itself. I just had to find one of these plants!
William was acting strangely. I wasn’t sure what his problem was. He’d been avoiding me a lot. Since we were the only two in the house aside from the cat, Hattie, his avoidance was noticeable. Our house was a huge one, but I managed to corner William at the top of the stairs.
“Hey Will. Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in awhile.”
“Um,” William hesitated, rubbing his hand through his hair in a gesture similar to the one I did when I was frustrated or nervous.
“I thought I’d go out to the cemetery for some fishing,” I said. “Want to go with me?”
“I can’t,” he said.
“I don’t like fishing there,” he said, which puzzled me since he’d never minded it before.
“We could go somewhere else,” I offered.
“Look William, I know something’s bothering you. What is it?”
William looked at me. “You caught a Death Fish,” he said, finally. “I know what that is.”
“Yeah. I’m not stupid. I have a lot of time on my hands and I pay attention. I know what you think that fish can do.”
I frowned. “If you know what it can do, then you should be excited,” I said. “Don’t you want the chance to live again?”
Again William ran his hand through his ghostly hair. “I don’t really know,” he said, causing me to gasp in shock. I thought for sure he’d want the chance at life. “But, even if I did want to live, you don’t really know if the Death Fish will work! I don’t want to get excited about the possibility of it working and find out that it’s all a big hoax or just a story some idiot made up!”
“What if it’s not?”
“But what if it is! I would rather stay like this than get my hopes up!”
I figured if William was so concerned about knowing if the Death Fish story was real or just a superstition, I could ask only one person.
“Thanks for coming over, Charlotte” I said, putting my hand on her shoulder. “We don’t see each other enough. I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s ok,” she smiled at me. “I’m pretty busy at the Institute and don’t you work nights?”
I raised a shoulder. “That’s not really a good excuse. We work in the same building. We should see each other more. And if we can’t we should get together for dinner or something.”
“That’d be nice. I think Tiffany would love to have you over for dinner.”
As our small talk wound down, I thought about how I was going to ask my sister about Death Fish. Finally I decided to just talk to her about work, both hers and mine.
“Hey, speaking of the Science Institute, you know the company I work for, S.E.E.?” I asked.
“Sure. Supernatural Entity Evaluation or something like that…seems kind of hokey.”
I shrugged. “I suppose. Do you know what we do there? Are you familiar?”
“Well, the gossip is that you are like Ghostbusters. But that’s just ridiculous!”
I blushed and rubbed at the back of my neck. “Ah…actually…”
“You can’t be serious!”
I explained to her that I was. I told her of how I was offered a job by Germane and how I found out about the different sort of ghosts and then I told her of the Vinny and the Death Fish.
“Homer, you know that everything you are telling me about ghosts goes against every single principle of science that I know!”
“But you always said that science is about explaining the unexplainable! Well, I’m telling you there are real ghosts. S.E.E. captures, them studies them, sometimes helps them find their way to the afterlife.”
We both looked at each other and I watched ideas and thoughts pass across Charlotte’s expressive face. I could tell when she made up her mind that I might not be completely insane.
“Ok, let’s say that ghosts are real and there are different types. What does that have to do with Death Fish?”
“Well, that’s a longer story.”
“It involves me,” William materialized behind Homer.
I stared at him in disbelief. “William?”
Homer turned to include William in our conversation. He looked at me, sheepish. “Sorry, Sis. I should have told you that I’ve been able to see William since I was a kid. Ever since he died, really. He’s the real reason they gave me the job at S.E.E. They can see him too, and I guess he’s sort of special in terms of ghosts.”
I continued to stare at William. I frowned. He gave me an apologetic shrug. “Just tell him,” William said.
“Tell me what?” Homer’s turn to look confused.
“I’ve been able to see him, too,” I admitted.
Then I explained everything to Homer. I told how William came to me right after he died. I told him how I’d been doing little tests on William and how I’d been studying death and was still doing so.
Once I finished, Homer said, “I had no idea.” Then we both looked at William. “Why didn’t you say anything?” Homer asked.
I said, “William, this is something you should have told me! I needed all of the data possible to figure this out!”
William backed off. “Whoa! I didn’t do anything wrong and I’m not an experiment!”
“Nothing wrong?!” Homer advanced on William. “You didn’t tell us that we both could see you! How could you keep it a secret? We could have acted more like a family!”
William had the grace to look sheepish. “Sorry.”
After that, we all sat down to talk about what we knew. Homer went into more detail about the Death Fish and the stories he heard about it. I told him about the Life Fruit.
“Maybe that’s the other ingredient!” Homer said, excitedly.
“Could be…” I said thoughtfully, “but I don’t know where to find it.”
“Well, we can start looking,” Homer said. “I have the garden here, too. Once we find it, we can grow it and then you can run tests on it.”
“Well, in the meantime I can test that fish.” Homer gave me a wrapped bundle of fish from his freezer.
“I hope putting it in the freezer wasn’t bad.”
“No. Should be fine. But if you can get another one? Fresh?”
“I can’t believe the two of you think this will actually work,” William said, as I told Homer goodbye.
“It’s possible,” I said. “I won’t know until after we do tests.”
“Great, more tests.”
I patted William on the shoulder. “You’ll be fine. I’m going to be testing the plant and the fish, not you.”
“Just sit back,” I told my brother who was grumbling. “Relax. This isn’t going to hurt at all. I finally rigged this machine to test your energy patterns. I used Homer’s Ghost-o-matic to calibrate it. I think I can now get a good read from you.”
“You promised,” he whined.
“I lied. Get over it.” I couldn’t possibly conduct an experiment of this magnitude without testing everything! William was just being a baby about this. He should have known I’d test him, too.
“Just do it,” he finally said, lying back. “It won’t take long?”
“No. Quit complaining. Just close your eyes. I want to get a static reading. Then I’ll ask you some stimulus response questions.”
After I was done, William and I went out into my living room. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“No,” he said, pouting like he used to when we were little. “When will all this testing be over? When do you think you’ll know if you can really do this? Bring me back and stuff?”
I frowned. “I don’t know, Will. I wish I could be more definitive. But I haven’t found any life fruit. We’ll need that to see if we can combine it with the fish.”
“What did you find out about the fish?”
I suppose William was sorry for asking me that question. I launched into an explanation of the properties I’d discovered when testing the Death Fish. It was similar to the Death Flower, which I found amazing. Even my superiors were interested in the results though they had been annoyed at first that I was conducting my own experiments.
“Stop, stop!” William finally said. “I can’t listen to this anymore. You lost me at electrolytes or something like that.”
“Look, Sis. I’m glad you’re doing this and everything, but don’t let it interfere with your life and everything. Don’t get obsessed.”
“I’m not,” I assured him.
“Well, I’m just saying, if I remain like this forever, at least I’ve lived a little more than I was supposed to, right? I mean, I was supposed to be dead as a child. I may be a ghost, but I am a man.”
“I know,” I said, “But don’t you want to be a living man? Really and truly living? Don’t you want a family and kids, and love and all that?”
William shrugged. “I never thought I’d get those things. But I knew you would. You and Homer both. Just don’t get so focused on all of this that you forget that those are the things you want in life, too.”
“I haven’t forgotten,” I said, seriously. “I have Tiffany. She and I may not have the whole family and kids thing, but we have each other. I love her.”
“I know,” William agreed. “But you haven’t spent a lot of time with her lately.”
I wanted to refute him and tell him that I had too been spending time with Tiffany, but I realized that I hadn’t. I vowed that I would make it up to her.
“Hey, what was that for?” Tiffany asked me when I grabbed her and kissed her hard on the mouth as we were getting ready for bed.
“Just wanted to kiss you,” I said. She smiled.
“I always want to kiss you.” She leaned in and kissed me with more finesse and tenderness than I’d shown her.
“I’m sorry that I haven’t been very present lately,” I said, when she leaned away from me. “I got caught up in my experiments.”
“I know. You do that a lot. I don’t mind.”
I smile sheepishly, “Thanks. I’m still sorry. I was reminded that I shouldn’t get obsessed. My brother said I needed to not lose focus on what’s really important in my life.”
“That was nice of him,” Tiffany said, stroking my cheek. “I didn’t know you and Homer talked about me.”
“Not Homer,” I said. “William.”
I drew Tiffany down to the bed to talk. I had decided to tell her all about William and what I was trying to discover with all of my experiments.
Surprisingly, Tiffany took this news well. At first she just thought I was crazy, but then I explained everything and eventually she believed me.
“So, he’s here right now?” She asked a few days later while we were exercising.
“Yeah,” I huffed, doing my best to do jumping jacks. “William is right there. He likes working out.”
“That’s fascinating,” she said. She looked over to where William was doing side bends. I knew she couldn’t see him when he stuck his tongue out at her and she didn’t react.
“William!” I mouthed. “Behave!” He stuck his tongue out at me, too.