2014 NZ Writers' College Short Story Competition Runner Up


'Being a Ghost' - by Abby Jackson

There is a cold wind brushing over me but I cannot feel it; the only way I know it is cold is by the way she wraps her grey cardie tighter to her body and shakes as if feeling a chill.

She is beautiful. Large cupid bow lips and almond-shaped bright blue eyes. But it is not her features that make her beautiful; it is her overwhelming sadness. I can see it coming out of her in waves timed with the beating of her heart.


A rainbow of grief.

She has come to the Ulverston train station three times this week now. Usually around 4pm and for no more than an hour. She stares at the tracks or down the platform, seeming not to notice the people around her or to be waiting for anyone. She is just there, watching. She could be a ghost, if it wasn’t for that heart-thumping cloak of multi-coloured sadness. Ghosts don’t have colour like that.

This time I think she feels me staring at her and I want to look away to be polite and not seem odd but my eyes won’t leave her. She looks in my direction out of the corner of her eye and drops her hands, which were clasped around the top of her cardie, heavy at her sides. A poem I used to love by Lord Byron springs to my mind: ‘ten frozen parsnips, hanging useless in the snow.’

For a moment a bright light catches my attention and I turn towards it, losing myself for a bit. Quickly I whirl back around to her, angry at the distraction. She is gone. The station is back to its normal rush and life, as if somehow she made the time stand still. There is an old man sitting across from me on the opposite platform. He is looking at me so intently that I am uncomfortable and decide to leave but not before I shoot him a dirty look, to make him aware I do not appreciate his scrutiny. He just smiles and tilts his hat at me and continues to stare as I start walking to the exit. Weird old man in his weird old outfit.

I think I will go home and lie close to my wife.

As I reach the station entrance and step out onto the pavement, my foot seems to pause in thin air and I swear for a second I am floating as I look right into her swimming pool eyes.

‘I know you’re watching me’ she whispers. I am so close that her whisper leaks into my ear and spins around in my head like a yell. I can’t say anything, I am frightened of her misery and beauty and anger at me so I just float there in silence until she turns away and stomps down the street towards town… a wave of rainbows beating behind her.

I cannot breathe. I will my lungs to breathe in and out and my heart to pump blood around my veins but they do not listen, yet my feet are working and they start my empty shell of a body on to the 10-minute route through town and home to no. 9 Queen Street.

Walking through the door I notice that my wife must already be home and out in the back garden as the kettle is boiling and the back door stands wide open. I should’ve been a detective.

I don’t want to see her just yet. I’ll use this time instead to sit in my study and process the encounter at the station. The fact that she saw me and spoke to me has made me feel unsettled and extremely happy. Sitting on an old brown leather chair that dominates my small front room study, I look around the room at all my books. I had always wanted a library filled ceiling to floor with poetry and books on philosophy with a solid oak desk and maybe a three-storey view out onto sprawling gardens of a Manor. My career as a journalist had not earned me the pounds needed for a large library or any kind of sprawling anything, so I had instead turned the front room of our two storey townhouse from an IKEA dining room to an IKEA library with an old armchair for added sophistication. But I loved being surrounded by my books and their papery souls. This room brought me peace and great thinking ability.

Why does she make me so foolish? I am what people consider a wise man. I know people consider me as this because they have told me so, on many occasions. I have made it my business to be wise. I spend any free time I have reading and all the other time writing about what I read. I have managed to build a life on this. People come to me for advice. The Mayor asks me my opinions on politics for Christ sakes! I am not a foolish man! But yet I always look for her at the station, I want her to come, so much so that I feel I almost summon her. Her sadness brings me there, it keeps me there and it keeps me in my study on my old leather chair looking at my books and listening for my wife.

I hear her come into the kitchen and start opening cupboards. I know being close to the familiar warmth of her will make me feel better and more like my old self and I start to think of what I will tell her about today. Maybe I won’t tell her anything, maybe it would be better left a secret that I was at the station today. After all, I’m not supposed to go there anymore. Decision made, I get up and head into the kitchen.

People who say that peppermint tea is good for a sore tummy are wrong; I think it makes my stomach worse. I feel like it’s made of prickles. Tipping the cup down the sink with a sigh that reaches all the way to my toes, I grab my long grey cardie and house keys and head outside. I walk briskly to avoid the chill that won’t seem to leave me, no matter how warm the day or how many layers I wear. It’s like my bones are frozen.

I stomp down the street towards Ulverston town centre. I would describe it as stomping as that’s what Leo calls it. He says if I was a cat I would starve to death because the mice would be warned a long time off. I don’t really get the point of this as I’m not a cat so it’s an irrelevant comparison. He finds it funny just the same. Leo….

It takes a rolling suitcase scuffing the back of my ankle, causing me to jump and look around before I realise I’m at the train station again. I’ve done it again! I swore to myself that I would never come to this place, that yesterday was the last time I would ‘wake up’ to find myself on the same platform, staring down the same tracks. I don’t want to be here, I don’t even know why I’m here.

I am so sad. The sadness hurts me: it’s in my blood, it’s in my skin and by god it is in my heart. I cannot smile. I will never smile again. The pain is too great, the emptiness is too strong. The only thing I feel is that damn prickly peppermint tea. I clutch my cardie closer to my body, wishing it was a thick blanket I could wrap over my head and hide in, maybe disappear into it like a magician. Fall down a black hole and never have to feel again.

His eyes are on me. I can feel him but I don’t turn around to look. I don’t really want to see. I want him to stop watching me and the helplessness of it all makes my body feel weak. I need to leave.

I don’t want to go home but I don’t know where else to go. I miss Leo and I’m so angry at this; it needs to stop. I cannot live with sadness and fear; there is not enough room in me for another emotion. I feel him chasing after me and turn angrily around to confront him and let him know that I saw him.

‘I know you’re watching me’.

Reaching the front door of our house, I hesitate going in for a few seconds. I feel a little afraid. Pushing past the uncomfortable feeling I head in, straight to the kitchen to put a peppermint tea bag into my cup and flick on the jug. If I sit in the garden I think I might feel more at peace, warmer maybe. The house gets so cold now, especially in the study. Though I no longer go in there.
A noise in the house sparks my attention away from the grapefruit tree I was staring at for the last couple of minutes. As if the sour fruits would burst open with suggestions on how to cope with imagining over and over again how he could have fallen onto those tracks, how he could not have gotten up to get out of the way, not even for me…. was I not enough strength to help him clear his groggy head and ignore the broken collar bone? Was I not enough to live for?

I know what the noise is. I know who it is. I don’t want to be afraid but I am because I don’t know what to do, who to be – what to think about all of this. I am so lost that I feel like I’m swirling around and around like bathtub water with the plug pulled out.
Walking back (stomping) into the kitchen I pick up the phone and dial the number my friend Gemma gave me after I told her how I could not sleep. After the third ring a woman picks up and answers: “Hello, Janet speaking.”

I swallow to get my dry throat moving. “Hi Janet. I was given your number by my friend. My name is Christina Priel and I am being haunted by my dead husband.”

I jump as a book falls off the shelf in the study.


About the Author

As a kid growing up in the King Country I was always writing. My first love was poetry and I used to write poems all the time growing up, about life on the farm and just weird things kids think about. I didn't really go back to it again until my early 20's when I studied at Wintec in Hamilton to become a Journalist. I only worked for a few months as a journo for the DHB, covering their Meningococcal campaign and then I started working in public relations and never went back. So I guess I've always been a writer but I've never followed up on the big dream to become an Author. Entering this  competition was a step forward into the writing world again and it has given me the confidence to think I might actually still be ok at this...and now I want more!


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