ICU

“Coma is such an ugly word,” said Becca. “I prefer corporeally challenged.”

She tried to curl her hair around her ring finger, but it passed clean through with a liquid little scccchig. Force of habit. Human body gets very accustomed to, you know — physicality. Heft. The human spirit may be divine etcetera etcetera but it has all the physical integrity of cotton candy in a hurricane.

“That was a joke,” she said. “You can laugh now. Annie? You can laugh, okay?”

Annie was crying. Not pretty TV-crying, but a makeup-ruining, throat-stinging burble. She was trying to talk, but the words kept getting stuck behind the tears. She was talking to the body.

Becca’s body, of course, said nothing. She barely even recognised herself – she covered in bruises, with some sorta life-support jammed down her throat; squatting on her face like a clear plastic spider. The whole room was a bustling misery of beeping, and tubes, and antiseptic-reek.

“It’s my f-f-fault,” said Annie. She sat on a chair beside the hospital bed, almost bent double, leaving graceless little mascara smears on the sheets.

Maybe it was her fault if you wanted to get all technical, but accidents are accidents – you might be able to blame a woman for losing control of the steering wheel, but not for a patch of black ice on the road. Ain’t that a shitshow? Mother nature gets a bit too chilly, and all of a sudden you’re upside-down in a barren cornfield. Buh-bye to corporeal existence, hello to food from a tube.

“I wish you could hear me,” said Becca. She wanted to make another joke, but she couldn’t find the words. She wanted to hold her friend’s hand, and tell her it was okay. That wasn’t how it worked – that was against the rules. Once you pierce the veil, you can’t go back. It was something she knew in her soul, in the same way a living breathing human knows where their hands are, or when they’re hungry. She reached out anyway, and lay her hand across Annie’s.

The woman jerked back. Her eyes were wide, and tear-filled. She shivered, and rubbed the back of her hand, then muttered something under her breath.

B-but, there were rules

That –

It-

Fuck.

Becca puffed up her spectral chest. “HEY ANNIE HONEY IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT, YOU’RE GREAT. YOU GOTTA GO AND BE GREAT OUTSIDE THIS ROOM, OKAY? HAVE SEX WITH A CUTE BOY AND MAKE FRIENDS WITH A DOG. I DUNNO, I’M NOT THE BOSS OF YOU JUST GO OUT AND LIVE YOUR LIFE THE SAME AWESOME WAY YOU ALWAYS DID.”

A piece of paper fluttered, and fell to the floor. The lights flickered on and off. Becca’s echo bounced off the walls –the real walls– but the words were lost. Annie was sitting bolt upright now, with her mouth wide open. “Please Becca! I know you’re in here, and you’re mad!” she said, “forgive me!”

“I, uh -” said Becca. Okay so, time for plan B. They’d found her grand-dad’s old morse tapper in the attic when they were kids, and spent afternoons pretending they were heads of state sending Important Telegrams. Becca pulled her arm back, then punched the wall with all her might. It went [size=small]tap[/size]. She hit it three more times, then paused, then twice more. Short short short short, short short. Hi. She rapped out the morse code for chill.

Annie’s chin dipped, and she counted the hits out loud. “Chill,” she said. She bit her lip. “You’re cold honey, I know. So cold. Don’t go into the light.”

God DAMN it.

“You’re taking the whole ghost thing pretty well hon,” said Becca, “but you need to take it a bit less seriously. It’s not like I’m dead or anything.”

She cocked her head. “Give it a few hours.”

The words weren’t received, of course the weren’t. Force of habit. Probably for the best. She grabbed Annie’s hand, and squeezed. Annie didn’t pull back this time. She smiled, just a little, through her tears. Her eyes lit up a little.

“One squeeze yes, two for no,” she said. “Are you angry?”

There we go. Good on ya, Annie! Squeeze squeeze. Annie shivered. A line of goosebumps ran up her arm. A few errant hairs stood up on end.

“Do you blame me?”

There was no squeeze for OF COURSE NOT, so two squeezes had to do; two hard squeezes. Annie’s hair looked like it was trying to make a break for the ceiling. A few strands were going white. Right, foot off the gas; too much ghostiness and her friend would end up looking like Doc Brown.

Not a great summer beach look.

“Are,” said Annie. She stopped, and didn’t quite sob. “Are you coming back?”

Well, shit. The machines beeped their beeps and the tubes pumped their fluid through the grotesque plastic affair on Becca’s face – her body was still alive, but it had gained that waxy corpse-sheen. She knew she wasn’t going back in there, in a way she didn’t have words for. She knew, but telling somebody else would make it real. Somewhere between one soul and another, truth got mediated. Somewhere between one soul and another, ideas stopped being ideas and started pushing against reality. Two squeezes, then gone – bought the T-shirt, rode the roller-coaster, buh-bye Becca.

In all the stories, ghosts held on because they had unfinished business. They had somebody wicked to haunt, or a friend to console. Becca knew one thing, looking at Annie’ tear-streaked face: she’s never forgive herself until Becca was gone; while her presence was in the air, so was guilt, and shame.

“Becca?” said Annie.

One squeeze. Becca took a deep breath. She smiled, Annie’s eyes were wide now.

“I know you can’t hear me,” she said, “but I’ll see ya later, I hope. Be good.”

Two squeezes.

“Goodbye,” said Annie.

There was light –  

perfect and beautiful light.

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