Darkened skies above, and a distant murmur that could be thunder, or the mournful whisper of an army of wraiths. Maybe both. Whatever it was, it looked like rain. The heavens were tinted in that ominous, dark grey shade that usually precedes heavy rain.

 

She sighed, her gaze lingering on the coming night for a moment longer. Then, she closed the curtains and sat down on the bed. As she did, she heard that distant rumbling again, closer this time. The windowpane rattled ever so slightly.

 

She sat at the very edge of the bed, carefully and deliberately avoiding to touch the wedding dress laid out there. She didn’t want to accidentally crease it, of course, not tonight, when there were only hours left to go. But also, the thought of allowing her body to come into contact with it made her feel queasy.

 

She glanced a the wooden clock hanging on her bedroom wall, just above the dresser. As she watched, the short hand ticked on to three minutes to midnight.
The dress.
The goddamn dress. It was a beautifully crafted garment, and very expensive too. The groom’s family had spared no expenses. In fact, they seemed to have money oozing out of every pore. So-called perfect family, and perfect groom. The poster boy for eligible bachelors the world over.

 

Yet, the very thought of wearing that dress weighed heavily on her soul, stifling her, and at times she felt like she couldn’t breathe.

 

It wasn’t the dress itself, of course. Its brocade fabric was light and finely woven. Rather, what the dress represented. The idea that once worn, she would give away her life. Her freedom. The woman’s heart ached at the prospect.

 

Yet, here she was. Holed up in this mansion overlooking the Indian Ocean, hours before it. The big day. The day when she would put on a very expensive dress, walk down the aisle surrounded by more people that she could remember inviting, staring blankly at the floor she walked upon, and sign her life away on a dotted line.

 

That murmur outside again. It was a dark sound, full of odd and wily tones. The noise startled her, and deep in her heart she felt him calling. She heard his voice, but not in her ears. Rather, deep inside, down within a place that exists only in the hearts of those who did find who they were looking for. Those who belong.

 

She closed her eyes, and listened intently to the night outside. Last minute jitters, she told herself. That’s all. That, and the coming storm. Too much electricity in the air.

 

But that’s not really it, is it, one side of her mind said. The part where the truth dwells, the one that neither self-delusion nor material wealth can hope to silence.

 

The young bride to be stood up, feeling uneasy and wrong. Her heart ached with the sting of apprehension and anguish. She walked towards the window again, and brushed the curtain
aside rather brusquely. There wasn’t a night sky yet, not quite. The rolling storm rendered darkness meaningless, cause not even darkness itself could defy the gale’s fury, nor could it drown out her true feelings. Then, there was rain, as the grey clouds heralded. Summer rain, warm and fleeting.

 

A noise inside the room, somewhere near the bed, startled her. She glanced over just in time to see a precariously balanced gift box slip off the bed and fall on the floor below. Her gaze lingered on the row of neatly arranged cards from friends, relatives, and God knew who else, wishing the golden couple a happy life together. A wan smile drew on her lips.

 

Then, she looked back out the window, and now there was a face there, right against the pane, where only darkness belonged.

 

She gasped, jerked back as if pulled by a tight chain, and tripped over herself, landing right on the wedding dress with a shriek. Thunder roared and lighting bathed the visiting visage with white and electric luminosity.

 

For a moment that split into an eternity of terror and confusion, the woman looked at that face, not seeing anything past its unnatural shine. Then, as if stirred by a deep, unseen memory, recognition overwhelmed her. The woman covered her agape mouth, eyes fixed on the apparition. Then, the thing that came out of the storm called her by name, and said: ‘It’s only me.’

 

The words sounded weird and somewhat hollow, as if uttered through a long pipe. But it was his voice. She could never mistake the sound of a voice that had easily seduced her into passion, then soothed her into sleep so many times before. The voice that now spoke from outside the third floor window of her manor was the same that had whispered words of love into her every night for 16 years. That sound was etched into her very soul.
Let me in darling,’ the familiar voice said. There was no haste or pressure there. Only the soulful request of those who truly love. The woman stood up, and it took her considerable effort to do that. Her legs were weak, and felt like an electric current passed through the muscles.
As she undid the window latch, thunder roared out in the night sky. High above in the heavens, the storm picked up intensity and meaning.

 

And so the window opened, and the visitor entered. Tendrils of fog-like haze preceded him. This curious manifestation of an otherworldly nature drifted in from the very bosom of the night, and floated across the bedroom, coiling itself around the wedding dress, the gifts, and many other
objects inside.

 

Yet, she could not take her eyes off him. Because it was him, no doubt about that, or at least an iteration of him. A memory rushed back to her, leaving her perplexed and somewhat amazed at the power of one’s mind. Seven years ago, they were at a hotel in Johannesburg. One of her cousin’s 40th birthday party, if she remembered correctly.
 

They had arrived early, so they spent the afternoon making love in their hotel room, with the curtains open to the ocean, as always. They made love, and chatted and sipped the local wine
during the brief interludes in their lovemaking. That evening, during the party, they met another couple attending the party, friends of her cousin’s whom she had never met before. The female of the couple, a pretty forty-something Lithuanian-born woman by the name of Izabela, claimed to be a palm reader. And so it was that after a couple of bottles of wine had been consumed, the conversation inevitably turned to the topic.

 

She insisted on having her fortune read. He neither opposed nor encouraged the idea. Her mind was sharp enough to make her own decisions, but he felt pretty sure the wine had a lot to do with it. Nevertheless, Izabela agreed, and she led them down to a side room where the sounds of the party where drowned out. Izabela took her hand first, and complimented what beautiful skin she
had as she ran her fingers over the back first, and then turned it over.

 

Well,’ Izabela had said, as she held the woman’s open hand in her own, ‘the Line of Love is pure, and true. It first crosses the Line of Fate, then runs parallel to it. What exists now
is both true, and fate. Destiny did play a part in bringing you both together. You are both very lucky to have found each other.
‘ To this, they had looked at each other and smiled. Her green eyes were pits of beauty.


I see that what is, it’s meant to be. As sunset preludes nightfall, the love that guides you both is bright, and lasting, and it will last well beyond the darkness that will come one day.
Then, Izabela took his hand, turned it over, and looked at his palm. Immediately, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. With her eyes still closed, she gently folded his fingers and let go, leaving him with a puzzled look in his eyes.

 

Sometimes,’ she said, ‘darkness comes calling before it’s due. I’m so sorry.’
Then, she stood up and left, and she was nowhere to be seen for the rest of the evening. They had laughed it off, but the seed of destiny had been planted.

Three years later, he was dead.

 

The memory flashed in the bride’s mind in a split second, like a burning ember out of a silent blackness. She looked at him, and saw the one she truly loved. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘It is too
late to be afraid, and time is all I have. Where I come from, there is nothing but the endless ticking of a clock inside my head. And there is only one memory, that of you and me
.’

 

A rush of thunderclap from the heavens behind him. The curtains began fluttering wildly, almost passing through his body. Those wispy, probing tendrils drifted around still, gently coiling her body like silken messengers.

 

She spoke for the first time then, and her words were shaky and subdued.
How. How is this possible.’
He shrugged. ‘No need for reasons tonight. I’m always watching you, ever since I left, and tonight I felt you needed me. See, what you call ghosts are nothing but the physical manifestations of your own feelings and desires. They exist because you, the living, wish them to.’
‘Sometimes, something exists on this dimension that it’s strong and true enough to transcend the barrier of death. For you see, death is not the end of a true love story. Death is simply the foreword for the next chapter.’
‘Remember what Izabela said that night, that darkness sometimes comes before it’s due. Darkness came calling for me way too early, but that doesn’t mean our love story had to end. I never ceased loving you, and I know you feel the same way
.’

The first tears ran down her face.
Can I touch you?’
He smiled and nodded. She embraced him then, and though it felt a little strange at first, the sensation soon became familiar. The body was not solid, at least not in the sense that a human body is. There was a certain heft to it, but it felt somewhat malleable, as if one was touching putty that had not yet fully dried up.


I’ve missed you so much,’ she said, relishing the touch of her lover.
 

Memories of times past rushed back on to her mind, and a kaleidoscope of emotions overwhelmed her. There was that warm, indescribable feeling of affinity that one feels when touching the loved one; there was sensual awakening, too, as he had been the best lover she had ever had. The sensations he had induced in her had been intense and unique, and had become imprinted on her body and soul forever.

 

But most of all, there was love, and attachment. The sentiment was mutual, and as the two lovers embraced, the hazy tendrils suddenly doubled in length and hovered fast around the room. Outside, the storm raged on unabated. The curtains now fluttered wildly, and a warm wind licked her body.

 

Then, the ghost of love and devotion began undressing her, and she welcomed this, as her body was more than ready to join his. Even in spectral form, he retained his former allure, it seemed. The handsome, well defined lines of his face, had become even more beautiful in the kingdom of existence beyond. There was an undeniably purity to that visage, and his expression was true, and well-meaning. Soon, her body was no longer draped in any garments, and as she lay back on the bed, she willfully kicked the wedding dress and all the gifts down to the floor. The union was smooth, and intense, and indeed her lovemaking experience rose to unseen levels. She was making love with a ghost, after all, and though such concept would become a source of animated internal debate much later on, the sheer sensuality that this being was infusing into her was well worth the entry price.

 

His body shone and shimmered throughout the entire experience, and all around them the energy he had brought with him protected them from harm. When she came, she did it fully and purely. He held her climax with unnatural skill, and the time they spent in sexual communion was almost hallowed in its serene ecstasy. Sleep would come easy tonight, she was sure of it. It always did when she rested in the comforting thrall of his arms. Whenever he breathed, she breathed him in. She took in all that was him, both in life, and beyond.

CODA

The ringtone of her mobile phone woke her. She felt deep disorientation, and for a moment that seemed to last an eternity, she did not know where she was, or why she was there. The phone rang again, and again, then went quiet. Sluggishly, she picked the handset and noticed four missed calls. She put the phone down without further investigation.

 

She lay perfectly still, her naked body glistening beautifully in the morning sun. The storm had given way to a gorgeous summer day. A slight breeze touched her, and she looked over to her right. The window was still open. The morning breeze rustled the curtains, and she could see a few specks of dust hovering across a sun beam. She thought it was long past dawn on her second wedding day.

 

The young bride to be closed her eyes and breathed deeply. She could still feel him inside her, and all around her. His presence, his scent, the touch of her skin on hers. The thoughts aroused her a little. She thought of his words; ‘Ghosts exist because the living wish them to.’ The concept was almost dizzying in its depth and implications.

 

Her phone buzzed again. She ignored it.

 

She got up, and walked towards the window. Her slender shape outlined itself against the morning, and the sight was almost unreal in its sheer grace. She looked towards the ocean opening towards the horizon.

 

Can we love someone beyond the veil of death?, she wondered. ‘Can they love us in return? Can we truly love someone else, knowing that someone, or something, somewhere, still loves us?
The ocean rumbled, but offered no answers.

Ghosts exist because the living wish them to

The phone rang again. She picked it up and flung it out the window. It rang all the way down to the water.
She got dressed in a pair of jeans and a white top that had meant something when love was real. She left the room, without ever looking back at the wedding dress sprawled on the bedroom floor.

Published by Fernando Sanchez