Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, living and working in Athens, Greece. She has published two books. Her work can be found in Ofi press magazine, Infective Ink, the Molotov Cocktail, Foliate Oak, HFC journal, Down in the Dirt magazine, Minus paper journal, Massacre, Pendora magazine, Maudlin House and soon in Menacing Hedge, the Wolfian, and the Fear of Monkeys.
By Mileva Anastasiadou
I once was a ghost, living among other ghosts, on the land of the living. I think I am alive now, a normal person, with goals, ambitions, and all, but I cannot be sure. What truly defines a living person has always been beyond my comprehension. If it was only a body, carrying a beating heart, then I have always been a living person, ever since I have any recollection of myself, I mean. But I suspect it takes more than this.
Now, though, I feel alive for the very first time. Under the full moon, on this beach, with the music as loud as it can get, the rhythm in complete synchronicity with my pounding heart, among people dancing and jumping and laughing, I have finally become alive, or so I think. It all started with a kiss. Or perhaps it was the smile, directed my way, that triggered my transformation into a living creature. There is a slight possibility though, which I have to take into consideration, that it all started even before the smile, when I swallowed the red pill that the beautiful girl inserted in my mouth, with a kiss, breathing life into me. Or even at the moment she noticed me.
I have been living in this house by the beach for my whole non-living life. I was most probably born a ghost. I did not have to die to become one. I was a dutiful son, raised to be a dutiful adult. Every task assigned to me has always been completed on time and in excellency. My parents used to be so proud of me, that they decided they did not want another child after me. Despite my efforts, I did not make it into college though. That was the first time I failed. My parents got disappointed, mostly because they knew I tried my best. I really did my best, not because I wanted to succeed, but only to avoid letting them down. After a while, I managed to find a job, in the cleaning services of the beach, which was way below my potential, but enough to satisfy me; my favourite pass-time as a kid was beachcombing. I have spent endless hours walking by the sea, searching for beautiful seashells. My collection rests hidden in the attic. Only Alex and Jim, my two ghost friends, have seen them.
So, that means that my life as a ghost has not been completely lonely. I surely do not have any living friends, as Ι do not want to exert my deadness on normal people, if you know what I mean, but Alex and Jim have always been there for me. They, too, are invisible, as I am. Nobody can see them, just like nobody can see me.
“Only ghosts are satisfied with this miserable life,” my parents once told me and Alex agreed. Jim has always had a different opinion on the subject.
“Normality is overrated. You decide the meaning that you give to your life,” he insists, every time we talk about it. I am happy collecting little treasures, while cleaning the beach. But this is not enough. I am unambitious, therefore I am. A ghost, not a human being.
Alex was hesitant about the pill. He is always the hesitant one. He asked me about its colour. I think it was red but I cannot be sure. It could be her tongue, that was red, not the pill.
“You must remember,” he insisted. I told him it was red for sure, so he would leave me alone.
“It could be a love potion,” he said, looking troubled. I realized this was not the correct answer. It was too late though.
Jim was a bit more encouraging though.
“So what?” he asked. “It could be worse anyway. It could be one of those pills that make you larger.”
“Or smaller,” I reminded him. For a few moments, we stood still, waiting for the change. We felt relieved when we realized that no change of my size was about to happen.
“It could be.... you know.... a pill that makes you alive,” Alex said trembling. I think he would rather prefer the “love potion” version.
“Let's enjoy it then, for once,” Jim said, jumping around like a little boy with a new toy.
Rarely do I listen to his advice, but the girl on the beach was so beautiful, that I could not resist her invitation to the party. We have been watching those parties, that take place during the summer, every year, from the window of my room. We have never been invited before, but even if we were, we would never dare joining those living creatures, who dance around fires, like animals, producing garbage, that we are supposed to clean the next day.
This time, thanks to the pill, I was more daring. I definitely thought that it was a “courage” potion after all. Just before I headed for the party, I looked at the mirror and my reflection was not there. That made me officially a ghost. In the past I only felt invisible, but it seemed like it did happen for real. I could not be any ghostlier than this. Or perhaps the room could not get any darker.
I keep on looking for her. She could never invite me to a party she would not plan to attend. Alex is telling me we should leave. Jim, on the other hand, insists we stay.
“She must be around here somewhere,” he says, in an excited tone. Alex is yawning.
“The party will be over soon, let's go home.”
“The party is just about to begin,” Jim says dancing to the uplifting rhythm of the music.
I am sick of their fights. I am stepping ahead in silence, leaving them behind. It is pretty crowded here, but I can move around easily, as ghosts normally can. Nobody notices me, as nobody normally notices ghosts.
Finally, our eyes meet. She does not seem to recognize me though.
“I've been looking all over for you,” I tell her when I approach. She does not stop dancing but at least she is looking my way.
“Do I know you?” Rarely does any one remember me. That is what happens with ghosts after all. You may cross paths with a ghost, but on the next minute, you feel as if it all happened in a dream. Ghosts do not have proper faces to be remembered upon. They are shadows.
“We have met, but we haven't been properly introduced,” I tell her as Alex and Jim are approaching me.
“You are scaring her,” says Alex, pulling me back. Jim is pulling Alex back. They are about to fight again.
“I am Anna,” says the girl, interrupting her dance for a quick handshake.
She invites me to dance with her. I feel her breath close to me, getting dizzier and dizzier as we spin around each other.
“Will you kiss me again, Anna?”
“Have I kissed you before?”
“I now recognize you, you are the beachcomber.”
I am about to say that I used to be a ghost before I met her, but Alex advises me not to. Jim agrees with him, which does not happen very often, so I unwillingly follow their advice.
“Won't you introduce me to your friends?”
This has never happened before. It is already improbable for alive humans to notice one ghost, let alone three of them.
“So, you see them?”
“Why wouldn't I?”
“They are supposed to be my imaginary friends.”
“I might be your new imaginary friend then,” says Anna laughing, but I have to take her words seriously. What if Anna too exists only in my imagination? What if she does not belong to the world of the living either? What if she is another ghost, like the three of us?
“Are you considering the possibility?” she asks, laughing even louder.
“She is making a fool of you,” says Alex, grabbing my arm, insisting to go home.
“Or maybe those pills gave me access to you mind.”
“That might seem logical,” whispers Jim. “I have read somewhere, that once you share such powerful pills directly from someone else's mouth, you become one with them.”
Having lived all my life as a ghost, with nobody talking to me, touching me, or knowing my inner thoughts, except for my ghost friends, the idea that somebody crossed the barriers of my mind came as a shock. My body may have been transparent, so that I would go unnoticed most of the time, but my mind has always been an impregnable castle.
So now, I feel more alive than ever. Living people have choices to make, goals to reach, roads to follow, and here, for the first time, I have to make an important decision. Do I give away the keys of my mind or do I demand them back?
Anna is looking at me, not through me, as it usually happens with people. She seems like she is expecting my answer. Instead of offering a direct answer, I take her in my arms and kiss her.
“I have never been kissed by a ghost before,” she says, when she catches back her breath. I stand still, looking into her eyes, already fantasizing about showing her my collection of seashells. She is the only living person on earth, with whom I would share it. She is the only one who would understand how important those seashells are to me. Empty houses, forgotten, maybe even haunted by their long gone inhabitants. Dead inside, yet incredibly beautiful, even when broken and deserted.
“It happened again this afternoon,” Jim says mocking her. Alex stands still, trying to regain composure. Alex never expects much of me. I never expect much of me either, truth be told.
“It doesn't count. I didn't know you were a ghost back then.”
“I didn't know I could be alive either.”
I was more than certain that I would follow her to the end of the world at that moment. All of a sudden, though, her friends came and took her away. I stood and watched her from afar, as she spent the rest of the night dancing.
“Perhaps the pill she took is an amnesia potion of some kind,” said Jim, who spent the rest of the night throwing pebbles in the waters ahead of him.
“There is a medical condition, which does not allow humans to record new memories for a period of time. She will definitely forget you”. Alex lay on the sand, trying hard to stay awake, despite the music that sounded as loud noise in his ears. Finally, he felt asleep.
It does not have to be anything medical. Ghosts can easily be forgotten after all. And it is not that difficult going back to being a ghost. All you have to do is remain silent for a while. They all then forget about you.
The first thing I noticed next morning was that Alex and Jim had vanished. That could be a side effect of the pill. I do miss them, but I try to keep them alive inside my mind. That is where they have always been after all. I still hear their voices from time to time.
“That stupid pill is to blame,” says Alex, the grumpy one.
“He felt love. It was worth it. We can always go and haunt other people,” answers Jim, the optimist one.
Then, I saw a note on the beach.
“I met a ghost yesterday. He must have escaped the haunted house, that lies forgotten on the edge of this beach. I could not resist kissing him. His lips were sweet like strawberry, his eyes kind, his heart loving. His kind is so rare in the realm of the living, that I almost believed they were mythical creatures. Like unicorns or something. Rare entities that make their own dreams and chase after them passionately, only to be considered passive and useless by the rest of us, the lazy thinkers who just conform to the dreams offered to us. One cannot live among ghosts, though. I have a polished life I cannot leave behind right now. One day, I will come back though. I already miss you, ghost.”
The thought of somebody missing me has given me all the joy in the world. The proper self-confidence a ghost should have. My existence has a meaning now. Perhaps not the most proper or acceptable meaning, but at least it makes sense to me, as I wait for her to come back and enjoy my collection of the most beautiful seashells in the world. I am no longer a simple ghost. I am now a shifter, shifting between forms whenever I wish. I can be a ghost, or a living human - at least the conventional form of a living human - but I can also be whatever else I want to, depending on my mood. This sounds like love, and love is supposed to make you powerful and invincible.
Most of the time though, I spend my time beachcombing, as I used to when I was a kid. My collection is getting bigger and bigger. If you have to call me something, I would definitely prefer to be called a beachcomber.