I’m working on a super awesome novel just now so short stories have taken a back seat (although they are always there for me when I want to procrastinate from the writing I’m supposed to be doing). This story, tentatively titled Ghost-Girl, may turn into a novella rather than a ‘short’ story. But I figured it’s been long enough since I shared something creative. This story is all about witches and ghosts, magic, the sea, cats and the struggle to follow an uncertain heart and pave your own path.
Svenna was twelve days dead when she was kissed for the first time. It was also the first time in those twelve days that she was glad to be gone from her body. Later, she would imagine those cold, unkissed lips hidden under the earth – insect-bitten, blood-blackened – and she’d thank the heavens that they were far away. Clouds had floated above the sea in hues of ash and pewter and smoke, white waves shattered on black rocks and a lonely, silver-feathered gull had danced in the sky.
And Alice… she was technicolour.
Svenna realized in that moment that in seventeen years of life and twelve days of death, she had never truly seen colour.
Alice had been fourteen years and ten months old when she was kissed for the first time. She’d felt particularly grown-up wandering the halls of her older brother’s house party in heels she’d practised walking in for days and a stolen lipstick called Wild Rose. She’d blushed vividly every time Finn’s guitar-calloused fingers brushed against her arm. That night she was Cool-Grown-Up-Alice, so when two drunk girls dared her to make a move, she did. Finn had held the back of her head, his fingertips brushing against her skull. Stubble scratched at her skin and cheers erupted around them. When they pulled apart, Finn had a smile that gave her butterflies. There was a smudge of Wild Rose on his bottom lip.
Three years later on a cold, grey shore she kissed Svenna and it felt like the first time ever.
Three days dead
Svenna was dreaming. She was floating on the water as gentle waves rocked her back and forth and licked her limbs. She knew she was dreaming because it wasn’t cold, even though the sun was wintry silver behind the clouds and rain was dissolving into the sea around her. She swam towards the shore. She was dry as she walked onto the sand, but her white-blond hair was damp and laced with seaweed. The skin on her fingertips was soft and crinkled. She tried to make shapes in the sand with her toe but the ground remained unscathed. She made her way to the crooked stone steps leading away from the beach, where a small shrine had appeared. Stuffed toys nestled between pink and white daisies and a framed photograph sat at the centre. She wiped the raindrops across the glass as she looked into eyes that belonged to her. She felt almost sad and almost scared, but it was a dream after all. She touched the plastic nose of a stuffed bear and waited to wake up.
Alice’s elbow was sticking out of a car window and the wind, cold and carrying salt from the sea, was roaring at her. Finn’s EP was playing full blast and rain splattered onto her lap. Cerulean-dyed hair lay plaited over her shoulder, dotted with daisy clips. Her lips were painted Ruby Chaos.
‘It’s freezing, Al, close the window,’ Finn shouted over the wind and music.
He had stuck around since that first clumsy kiss, despite the threat of Alice’s brother’s fist to his face. He had long brown hair that he tied up in a bun and leather cords that snaked around his wrists. He made Alice a crude bracelet out of his old guitar strings and winked at her when he played in pubs. She was lucky, lucky, lucky and she wanted very much to be in love with him.
She twirled her necklace around her fingers as she peered at the rain-heavy clouds.
‘Al, the window!’ Finn pinched her arm and she flicked his in return before winding the window up.
‘How long ‘til we’re there?’ Alice arched her back and stretched her arms as far as she could in the cramped space, ‘I need to move. And breathe.’
‘We’re almost there.’
Every winter Finn’s aunt went south with the birds and left behind two cats and five plants waiting for their arrival.
The house was tucked behind a roughly hewn stone wall that kept the sea at bay. Shells of different shapes and shades were arranged around the walls of the house and a timeworn little anchor served as a door knocker. As soon as they opened the door, a small cat with more fur than body appeared at their feet, twining through their legs and purring. Alice scooped the cat into her arms and scratched her soft ears as she walked in and out of each room, leaving Finn to drag their bags into the bedroom upstairs. She wandered into a cosy living room where she found a white shorthair cat with a patch of black fur across one eye, stretched out across the sofa, his paws resting on an envelope addressing Finn and Alice in large cursive handwriting. There was also a generous handful of ten pound notes stuffed into the envelope. Alice whistled as she counted them out and ran upstairs to show Finn.
‘What’s all this?’ Finn gestured to her open suitcase. University prospectuses had been jammed in on top of her clothes, the pages dog-eared and covered in scribbled post-its.
‘My brother must have packed them before we left,’ Alice picked up the nearest one, flicking through the pages, ‘thanks for going through my stuff like I didn’t ask.’
‘I was looking for my shirt,’ Finn rolled his eyes, ‘I thought we were travelling next year, you didn’t tell him?’
Alice sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed, the springs creaking and groaning as she did. Her plans had involved this little trip to the sea and nothing further. Her future was shrouded in a mist that she just had to walk through one step at a time.
Finn wanted to travel from country to country, busking with his guitar and selling his CDs with her by his side. He insisted that travelling would be good for her, for them; to see the world together.
Her brother, on the other hand, was what everyone called responsible. The responsible thing to do was go to University, like him. His was the voice of reason, as it always had been, and reason had only wanted to talk about what universities she would like and what she should study. The world would still be there in four years.
But it was her father’s hopes for her that felt like weights dropping into her stomach. It was he that she feared disappointing, and expected to the most. She twisted the chain of her necklace around her fingers as she thought about what he wanted.
‘It doesn’t matter where you go, Alice,’ her father had said to her before she’d left, ‘because you have magic, in your blood and in your bones. All that matters is that you learn what that means.’
As a child, she had delighted in this idea, spending hours trying to prove that she had magical powers. It earned her several unpleasant nicknames and few friends. Her father was an anthropologist with a reputation for eccentricity. He studied magic in all its practices; the necromancers, alchemists and the mages. From the Yukaghir of Serbia to the Voodoo Priestesses of Haiti to the Wiccan neighbours that he had tea with every month. He had fallen in love with a witch and he had loved her as he watched her die and Alice had taken her first breath. She had decided that his unwavering conviction about her and her magic was nothing more than a wish, a hope, a dream.
And those were her choices.