Prologue 11

Aaron scratched his head. What on earth did theories of general relativity have to do with the real world? He had enjoyed Newtonian mechanics at school, what with it's ability to accurately describe motion and such things, but this? It all felt a bit too abstract and irrelevant to the problems of engineering.

He sighed, pushed away his books and sat upright, stretching his arms out. The library was quiet as libraries should be, disturbed only by the whispered exchanges of two dusty spinsters who watched vigilantly over the rows and rows of books, ever wary of any student intrusions. The winter sun glinted through latticed windows, creating a light mosaic on the floor where gatherings of dust wandered aimlessly about.

The main door opened, sending in a chill draft that sent the dust scuttling for safety. Aaron turned to look. A young woman carrying a load of books under her arm walked in and headed towards the desk where one of the librarians looked up expectantly.

Aaron watched as she returned her books, her pale hands tipped with scarlet graceful in every respect. She had short, raven-black hair that curled around her ears in a bob and framed a delicate, white complexion that drew forth in him memories of childhood fairy tales. Aware that he was gawping he forced himself to look away, but not before their eyes had brushed, just for an instant, sending an intense, exhilarating frisson down his spine.

Prologue 10

Aaron was woken by a loud banging on the front door and the blaring of sirens. "Fire! Everybody out!" Soon he and Joe were gathered outside, shivering in the icy wind along with the rest of the building's motley inhabitants. He smiled at the the sight of Joe wrapped in nothing but a blanket, his scrawny bare legs poking out the bottom. Nearby the old man from upstairs stood to attention, fully clothed in formal naval attire. Aaron nudged Joe and nodded in the direction of the old man. "I bet the old nutter started the fire!" Joe chuckled.

Prologue 9

First exam results today. A's all around - the folks will be pleased. Joe however barely scraped a pass. I don't know what's up with him. Seems to have his mind other things lately, but doesn't seem inclined to talk about it.

Got another letter from Mary, the second this week. I really must write, but life seems so very full at the moment.

Prologue 8

Dearest Mother

We have arrived and are now finally settled, full of excitement and anticipation at the adventure that awaits. The apartment is just half a mile away from the university, on a lively road. It is very cheap but needed a desperate clean; Joe and I slaved away for 2 hours before it began to look remotely habitable. How you must be laughing at the thought of Joe and me on our knees like a pair of common scrub women. We then went shopping for some food and had scrambled eggs and baked beans for tea. Unfortunately Joe cannot cook either so we will have to learn quickly. We'll be fine, so don't go fretting now!

It has been a long day so I think I'll retire. Tomorrow we enrol and classes start on Monday.

Give my fondest love to Father, and Mary if you happen to see her - tell her I'll write soon.

Yours, truly.
Aaron

Prologue 7

Aaron looked around the room in disgust. "Is this it, then?"

Joe nodded, his usual confident demeanour dented by the appalling state of the place. The flat, a dingy two room affair with combined lounge kitchenette, had not been cleaned in years apparently, and the dust, like the rank smell, hung heavily, tangibly in the air.

"For God's sake, Joe," said Aaron. "What have you got us into this time?"

Joe smiled sheepishly, then brightened, his undaunted optimism shining through the temporary setback. "We just need to open a few windows and tidy up a bit. It'll be as good as new. You'll see." He headed over to the lounge window, thick with grime, and tried to open it but it would not budge.

Aaron sighed and walked over to his friend. He gave him a gentle slap on the head before joining him in straining against the reluctant window. Eventually it began to move slowly and opened gradually, filling the room with the strong scent of the salty Bristol sea air.

Prologue 6

"You're not seriously going to read the whole way?" Joe asked.

Aaron looked up from his book. "And why not?"

"Because, old man, I am so terribly bored and we need some female company."

"Joe, you go on ahead. I'm not in the mood."

Joe looked at his friend scornfully and said, "You never are, but that's why I'm here." He snatched the book from Aaron's hands and darted out of the compartment.

Aaron leapt up shouting, "Hey!", and ran after his whooping friend.

Prologue 5

I know she wanted me to propose but I couldn't. I'm not ready, at least not for that. I stand at the brink of an ocean of thrilling possibilities, my life ahead of me, and I long to taste and to drink deep, but not whilst fettered to premature promises.

I hope she understands and that she will wait for me. I promised to write, and we will see each other again soon, but I need to do this first. It is right that I follow my dreams, isn't it?

So why do I feel so bad? Her eyes, so big and brown, showed a strange, almost prescient sadness as we parted.

I hope I am doing the right thing.

Prologue 4

Aaron never tired of holding her hand. He still remembered the first time: the tentative reaching out, the awkward intertwining of fingers looking for that perfect match, the sweating of palms that would not be let go.

The breeze played gently with Molly's long auburn hair, causing it to rise and fall like waves of autumn gold. He could just catch her scent, like musky roses, still so wildly exciting.

George bounded towards them happily, almost knocking Mary over in the process.

"Down boy!" shouted Aaron angrily, but Mary just laughed.
"Let him be. I'm alright."

He looked at her sparkling eyes and freckled dimples. How beatiful she was. He leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips. She looked up at him with surprise.
"What was that for?"

"Because you Molly, are beautiful to me," he replied, "and I love you."

Prologue 3

“Here, boy!”

The black Labrador looked at them briefly before returning to the smell that had caught his attention. He wasn't sure yet if it was rabbit or wild fowl but either way this was more interesting than his master.

“George!!”

This time there was a command in the voice of Aaron's father and the dog obeyed, bounding along the path towards his master, pink, wet tongue lolling a great big happy smile.

“Good boy!”

Aaron's father, like his father before him were great believers in affirmation and through it had the devotion of children and pets alike. He was a strong, quiet upright man with a wicked sense of humour which he was glad to see his son had inherited. Aaron ran on ahead with George looking for unsuspecting rabbits. They hardly ever found any and those they did easily escaped from the hapless hunters.

He loved these Sunday morning walks with these two and afterwards the homecoming to his wife's cooking. Family meant the world to him and it saddened him that his work on the boats didn't allow him to be home more. Life however, is never perfect, and perhaps its meant to be that way, he thought, the dark making the light all the more bright.

Soon his son would off to university, then no doubt marrying young Mary and leaving home. It had all passed much too quickly.

Prologue 2

Dear Diary. No that's just silly.

Dear Maxwell. Who's Maxwell? An imaginary friend, of course. But why Maxwell, and why a man and not a woman? Could I be as open with a woman? Even a fictious woman?

I think it is rather typical that I begin something as simple as a diary with more questions than anything else.

Ok, so here goes.

It has been a good day. Last day of school. Forever! Wooohooo! How I began to hate that place, with its dull, grey walls and uninspiring teachers. Still I got a decent education so they couldn't have been that bad, even Mr Fargot with his vile breath and collection of canes.

Now hopefully a nice hot summer to do some sailing, then off to Bristol with Joe. He says he's got somewhere for us to stay, really cheap, which is good, but something tells me it is going to be a real dive. Joe and his dodgy connections.

I think I'll pop over and suprise Mary tomorrow. I know I said I'd see her on Saturday, but tomorrow seems like a much better idea.

I must be coming down with something. Spontaneity, romantic or otherwise is not normal for me.

Well good-night Diary, Maxwell, or Tallulah, or whatever your name is. Tomorrow and the rest of my days await!

Prologue 1

Aaron watched the flames shoot high up into the sky, singeing the trees above.
“I told you we had enough petrol,” he said.
Joe smirked at him. “You are too cautious, my friend. The books need to be sent up to the heavens in glory, ne'er to return.”
Aaron smiled reluctantly. Joe was right. Of the two of them Aaron was the more conservative, but that's what made their friendship so solid – the fact that they were so similar yet so different. Their past together was littered with shared adventures, almost all of which were initiated by Joe, and most of which earned Aaron trouble with his father's belt.

It was the very last day of school ever for the two, and the ceremonial torching of school books was almost a rite of passage for the young people of Stokesby in Norfolk. Next term paths would separate, but the pair were off to Bristol university to study Engineering together.

Aaron stared into the flames. “You going to miss Stokesby, Joe?”
Joe threw another book into the bonfire. “Not really. Not that I'm not grateful for all that the Forrester's have done for me since my parents died, but I felt a bit trapped by them.”
“They meant well,” Aaron replied.
“As I said, I am grateful.” Joe replied in a tone that warned off Aaron from continuing this line of conversation.
“I will miss Mary.” Aaron continued.
Joe laughed. “You lovestruck old dog. There are many more fish in the sea.”
Aaron punched his friend playfully. “Oi, I love that girl!”
Joe feigned injury and raised his hands in mock appeasement. “Of course you do. Sorry!”

John Leibowitz watched the scene from the kitchen window. “They're going to burn down those trees if they're not careful.”
Martha looked up from her sewing. “You have always fretted too much about that boy, John.”
He turned to her. “Have I now? And do you remember the shed?”
She sighed. “That was a long time ago. He's a young man now.”
He returned to the window. “He may well be, but I still worry about him.”
Martha rose, put her sewing on the table and walked over to her husband, putting her arm around him. “He will be just fine.”

Done!?

Well folks, my tale is done. Yes, I know I've said that before. :)

A grand old total of over 35000 words! Would you believe it?

I would like to say a very, very special thanks to you Jinksy and LegalMist who have offered me so much support and encouragement through these Last Days of Aaron.

Last Days is what I would like to call the book which I am going to have a go at getting published.

Leave a comment here if you're interested in updates.

Epilogue 51

I sat on the rocks staring at the waves roll in, crashing forcefully against the jagged shore. I tuned in to hear the roar of the ocean and the fierce howl of the storm. This scene was a far cry from the sun drenched beach of my memories, but it was safe here - I would hurt them no more.

The sun broke suddenly through the heavy skies, sending a bright shaft of light to dance gracefully on the ocean crests. The gap in the clouds gradually broadened and soon I too was bathed in the warm glowing balm of the sun.

I looked up at the sky, closing my eyes against the brightness, and was, for the first time in ages, at peace.

My reverie was interrupted by a gentle touch at my elbow. I opened my eyes to see Elsbeth at my side, smiling.

She took my arm in hers. “It’s time to go home, Aaron.”

I nodded.

Epilogue 50

Anne opened her eyes and looked up at the white, hospital ceiling.

“Mummy?”

Liesel woke from her restless slumber on the chair next to Anne’s bed and leapt up.

“Anne!” she cried, hugging her daughter fiercely, tears flowing from her eyes.

The remained like that for a while, Liesel stroking her daughter’s hair gently.

“I’m so tired, Mummy”

“That’s ok, Sweetie,” Liesel replied, “Mummy is here. You get some rest.”

Anne nestled into her mother’s arms.

“Mummy?”

“What is it, Anne?”

“Grandpa says he loves you very much and told me to say bye-bye for him. He said he’s going on a long holiday.”

Liesel looked at her daughter’s big eyes.

“Tell him, I love him too, ok?”

Anne nodded sleepily and closed her eyes.

Epilogue 49

The darkness clung to us like an icy cloak, dragging us down, but I pressed onward towards the light, holding Anne tightly in my arms. I felt a wave of rage as I resisted the pull, but with all my strength continued forward. Finally, with a horrible scream, we were free of its pull, standing again in the middle of the field of wild flowers.

Anne clutched me, her eyes shut tight.

“It’s over, Anne.”

She opened her eyes and looked up at me. I saw both Liesel and Jojo in those eyes.

“Can we go home?” she asked.

I smiled at her. “We most certainly can.”

She beamed. “I miss Mummy.”

“Me too.”

Epilogue 48

The heart monitor flashed hypnotically, reminding them that their little girl, though comatose, was still alive. Tony held Liesel tightly as she wept. He closed his eyes, grieving quietly.

Outside the hospital room Jojo sat, waiting, thinking about the events of the past few months. Suddenly she got up and left.

After around half an hour she arrived at the cemetery and walked towards Elsbeth’s grave where the flowers she had left a few days before stood wilted in their vase. She stood quietly before the gravestone, waiting.

Then she felt it, a subtle change in the temperature, and the familiar sense she had felt before. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end but she stood firm, emptying her mind as Master Yeoh her Tai Chi teacher had taught her. The air around her grew suddenly quiet, apart from the gentle sigh of the breeze brushing softly against the trees. A dim, hazy shape appeared before her. She recognised the long, shaggy beard immediately, but Liesel was right, there was something else, something dreadful that was not her father.

“Dad?”

Her father shimmered slightly and drew forward, his eyes dark and intense. Liesel shivered as the air suddenly grew icily cold.

“Jojo,” he said, his voice sounding dry and rasping.

She started at the sound of her name, spoken by this strange yet familiar apparition before her.

“Dad, are you doing something to Anne?”

“She is my granddaughter,” he replied. “We belong together.”

“No, Dad. You’re hurting her. She belongs with us.”

A wave of terrible rage wafted over her, threatening to overwhelm her.

“No!” he roared. “She is ours. We will keep her.”

“Dad, please”, she pleaded. “I don’t know who or what is there with you, but this is not you. You are hurting us.”

The anger dissipated and Jojo felt a deep sadness.

“Jojo, I am alone here. I was not a good father to you girls. I need to make things right.”

“Daddy,” Jojo replied, crying, “You were the best you could be, and we love you. Please don’t hurt us anymore. Let go.”

He reached for her and she felt the icy touch of his fingers on her cheek.

“I love you.”

She smiled. “Daddy, I love you too, and miss you terribly.”

Then he was gone and the birds resumed their singing beneath the bright, fragrant sun.

Epilogue 47

Liesel shook her daughter gently, trying to rouse her.

“Wake up, sleepy head - time for school.”

Anne did not stir.

Epilogue 46

I reached the end of the cobbled road, now standing alone before a vast field of wild flowers. The sun shone brilliantly overhead, providing a welcome respite from the gloom. She stood in the field waiting. I waved and headed towards her, reaching out my arms. She smiled radiantly, her little eyes twinkling in the sunlight, and ran towards me laughing. I scooped her up in my arms and swung her around, holding her tightly with indescribable joy.

She shivered slightly as the now very familiar shadow enveloped her too, shrouding us in a dense, chill mist.

Epilogue 45

Jo watched her sister as she played listlessly with her food.

“What’s up, Lies?”

Liesel looked up, her eyes wet with held back tears.

“I’m so worried about Anne, Jojo. She has become so strange.”

“Strange?” replied Jojo. “In what way?”

“She spends so much time on her own, and seems to prefer it that way. It used be impossible to shut her up but now she hardly talks to me anymore. She just talks to her imaginary friend.”

Jojo smiled. “That reminds me of someone.”

Liesel shook her head. “There is something else. Like a presence.”

“A presence?”

“Yes,” Liesel continued. “It feels like someone is there with her.”

Jojo frowned. “I don’t follow.”

Liesel sighed. “I’m sure I’m going crazy, but I think its Dad”

Jojo looked at her seriously. “You know Lies, I didn’t tell you this before, but I get that sense whenever I go to Elsbeth’s grave. Like he’s there watching me. It’s very creepy.”

Liesel stared wide-eyed at her sister. “I thought I saw him the other night in our room. Harry woke me up with an almighty racket, and then I thought I saw him.”

“What did he look like?”

“It looked like him before he died, but I sensed him more than saw him. But there was something else that really frightened me.”

“What?” Jo asked.

“It’s hard to describe, but it felt dark and terrible.”

Epilogue 44

She sat opposite me, talking. I looked at her lips, trying to discern the words, but she spoke too quickly. Desperately I focused my mind with renewed concentration, observing every movement of her mouth, imagining the shapes that the words might take, and tried to imagine moving those shapes to my mind. At first nothing happened, but then gradually a sound became evident, like the rustle of a breeze through a field of reeds. I redoubled my efforts, trying to match the shape of her mouth to what I was hearing, and then suddenly, I could hear! It was not like I remembered sound, just as the world does not look the same visually as when I was alive, but it was recognisable nonetheless and I was thrilled! It was as if a tap had been opened in my mind.

“… we played catch, and I was it. I’m always it. I don’t like being it. Then Miss Jones came and rang the bell to go back to class…”

“Anne.” I framed the word in my mind as a shape and willed it across to her. She stopped midsentence and looked at me quizzically.

“You talk too?”

“Yes … Anne … but … it is hard … for .. me.”

She beamed.

“I can teach you! Mrs Jones is teaching us lots of new words. Wait!”

With that she ran off, returning soon with a batch of flash cards. She held one up.

“Do you know this word?”

I did. “C…at”

She nodded seriously and showed the next card.

“Very good. And this?”

“Mat”

Then she stopped and looked at me.

“What’s your name?”

“Grr…and…pa”

She furrowed her eyebrows. “Grr .. a… ndpa?” Then suddenly, “Grandpa!”

She squealed with delight.

“I'm Anne. Are we best friends?”

I nodded.

“For…ever.”

Epilogue 43

“I’m worried about Anne, Tony.”

“Uhuh,” he replied, not really listening, his attention focused on his newspaper.

“Tony!”

Her voice commanded his immediate attention. He looked up.

“What?”

“I’m worried about Anne. She talks to herself.”

He smiled. “Lots of children do that, Liesel.”

“Yes I know,” she replied, “but there is something about it that bothers me.”

“Like what?”

“I can’t put my finger on it. Something is wrong.”

He reached over and took her hand.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’s just a stage.”

She remained unconvinced but there was no point pursuing this with Tony who like most men had no concept of the irrational, valid or otherwise.

Epilogue 42

I have found a new joy in my regular interactions with Anne, and I exist for nothing else - not that there really is much else. I have become quite adept at moving things around and have even found myself to be stronger than when I was alive. I see her whenever I can, sometimes to the point of excess, I suppose, but where is the harm in that? For some reason Liesel cannot see me like the first time. I don’t understand that. Maybe I don’t want her to? I am jealous of my times with Anne. It is as if I am being given the chance to recapture the time I lost with my children because of my foolish mistakes.

I wonder why it is that I can see and touch, but can’t hear, speak or taste. It seems an odd limitation to place on inter-dimensional interaction. I am determined to speak to my dear Anne.

There is a dark cloud however, a new sensation around me, in me, intangible yet there, lurking with a dark malevolence. I experienced something like it once before at the cemetery. This is not as strong, but it seems to follow me, and grows steadily stronger.

It makes me afraid.

Epilogue 41

Liesel watched through the kitchen window as Anne swung effortlessly from the tree swing. She appeared to be chattering away to someone but the garden was empty. Liesel smiled to herself - she had had an imaginary friend as a child, particularly when there was blame to apportion. She knocked on the window and waved. Anne did not answer, so Liesel went to the back door and called, “Anne, time to come in, love!”

Her daughter still did not answer, continuing to chatter enthusiastically while the swing continued its effortless pendulum motion.

Something about her daughter’s expression troubled her, so Liesel hurried over and caught the swing, bringing it to a gentle stop.

“Anne?”

Anne suddenly stopped talking, waking, as if from a trance, and looked up startled at her mother.

“Who were you talking to, Sweetie?”

Anne looked a little guilty but did not respond.

“Anne,” Liesel’s voice hardened, “tell me who you were talking to.”

Her daughter started to cry.

Epilogue 40

I am dreaming again.

I stand beneath a sullen sky on a broad, cobble-stoned road, amidst a stream of grey souls who press against me, urging me to follow them. I turn my head to see where they are headed – it is a cold, dark tunnel, black as ink, beckoning. “Come,” they whisper. “Come.” But I don’t want to, because it is not my time. Not yet. I turn to face them, bracing myself, and take my first step forward, struggling against the torrent. In the distance the horizon glows with a pale orange radiance.

Epilogue 39

She sat engrossed in a world of tactile colours, interlocking blocks and cuddly toys. I approached cautiously, not wanting a repeat of the other night, but she did not appear to notice me, and was fully absorbed in the construction of a tower. She used her soft, pudgy fingers to place the blocks with careful, deliberate precision, all the while chattering to herself.

I sat down opposite her, watching her play. The wintery sun shone through the window, glinting off her soft, golden locks, forming a perfectly angelic picture, so much like Liesel when she was that age. I longed to pick her up, my beautiful granddaughter.

Then, suddenly, looking directly at me as if I had been there all along playing with her, she held out a block, her bright eyes enquiring and her mouth moving as if to say, “Ta?”

Transfixed I reached out and took the block. It stayed in my hand for a fraction of a second, feeling almost like a wet sponge, before falling to the floor. She leaned forward, picked up the block and gave it to me a second time. Again I took it, this time concentrating like never before, and watched as it hovered shakily, inches above the ground. She seemed to squeal with glee and pointed to the tower. Slowly I willed the little block towards the tower and watched as it settled, almost miraculously in place on top of the other blocks.

She shook her arms with scarcely contained excitement, and picked up another block to give me.

“Ta?”

Epilogue 38

Kyle Standford cowered in the darkness.

There were others, like him, but he feared them, sensing their rage, their universal hatred.

If this was Hell then there were no flames or leering gargoyles, just an infinite, cold, loveless, dark eternity.

In the distance he could make out a solitary candle, its light and warmth tantalisingly close but somehow unattainable. In vain he reached for it, but his self-made darkness clung to him and drew him back where the others waited.

Epilogue 37

It has, rather surprisingly, taken me a long time to recover my composure. I don't know why that is. You would have thought that this breakthrough would be just what I wanted, something to celebrate. However, it caught me by surprise, much like you might feel if you were spotted with your pants down, an intruder, a dark voyeur with no business in the land of the living.

But what else is there to do? Am I to spend my days in sad solitude staring at soundless waves and dreaming of happier times? No, this is my family, and if whatever Fate does not like it, they can darn well move me on to some other place.

I didn't like it however that Liesel screamed. I wonder what I looked like to her, whether something like my old self, or some horrible, decayed ghoul? I also wonder why just at that moment I was visible to them, whether the strong emotional connection enabled that, or whether it was something I could turn on or off at will.

So many questions again, and no Amy to help me lighten up.

Epilogue 36

“I was not dreaming!” she shouted, her irritation at her husband’s insouciance growing.

He looked across the breakfast table at his wife, barely concealing a smile, and replied, “I mean, come on Liesel, your father a ghost?”

“I know what I saw,” she pouted. “Harry woke me up with his racket and then I saw him. I nearly jumped out of my skin.”

He laughed, “You and me both. You screamed like a banshee, so to speak.”

She hit him playfully. “You’ll see, ye of little faith. You still haven't explained the broken vase, smart ass.”

“Some more tea?” he replied, fluttering his eye lashes impishly.

Epilogue 35

Her name I found out was Anne. It was written on the door of her little room amidst a wreath of flowers and teddy bears. She lay sleeping peacefully under soft covers, her thumb buried comfortingly inside her mouth. Above her a mobile dangled sparkly planets and comets, twisting slowly in some invisible draft.

I willed myself through the wall to where Liesel and Tony lay sleeping, entwined in each other’s arms. I had misjudged Tony the Accountant. He was a fine man and husband, and Liesel had clearly found happiness in him.

Then I noticed a small movement at the foot of their bed, a cat, a familiar though different figure, was breathing gently as it lay curled in a ball. Could it really be Harry? I drew closer, noticing the absence of his stomach. Liesel was clearly looking after him properly.

Suddenly his eyes opened he started and jumped up, letting out a low, menacing growl, the hair on hid back bristling. I realised he could sense me!

Liesel stirred and sat up sleepily.

“What is it, Harry?”

Then she stiffened, looked straight at me, and screamed.

I fled from the scene, knocking over a vase, sending it crashing to the floor.

Epilogue 34

I had what seemed like a dream, a vision perhaps, of a time gone by. In it I stood on a beach, the benign, warm sun on my head, watching the sea emit an endless assault of foamy waves against our brave little sand castle. We had laboured all morning with buckets and spades on shell-studded walls, turrets and moats, and now stood waiting for the tide. Nearby, Fiona lay under our beach umbrella reading some irrelevant yet engaging bestseller. She noticed me staring, looked up and waved. I nudged the girls and we all waved back, smiling and whooping gleefully like the little children we were.

I was happy, truly, deeply, blissfully happy, as never before, but the moment did not last, and the waves did come, eventually knocking down our little fortress of contentment. The vision faded but my heart was strangely encouraged.

Epilogue 33

What is this place, this gloomy doom that is my ageless prison? I spend my moments drifting aimlessly from one memory to another, listlessly observing life as it is, as it was. Sometimes I sit by the sea as I used to with Amy before she too disappeared - the endless, noiseless cycle of waves provides a soothing yet insubstantial parallel to my existence here. I sit there oblivious to the passing of the days, and even perhaps the seasons - who can tell? I long to see how my children and now grandchildren are getting on but the pain of seeing them without the possibility of touch is too much to bear, so I don’t.

My grief overwhelms me but I know not where to turn.

Epilogue 32

It did not occur to me for quite some time that perhaps she would not be coming, that after all she had no unfinished business.

I followed the ambulance to the hospital, waited as they placed her in the morgue, waited as Rev Dave was called to identify her, waited as the undertaker washed her frail body with unashamed carelessness, and waited as she was buried by an immense crowd of friends.

I waited, but Elsbeth did not come.

Epilogue 31

I knew it was just a matter of time and waited with a patience I did not know I had. My beloved's body lay bloodied on the side walk, dead. Soon she would arrive, confused, but I would be here to greet her, to embrace her, and all would be well.

I waited with growing anticipation.

Epilogue 30

Kyle Stanford sat behind the wheel of his new car, waiting impatiently for the traffic lights to change. That was the problem with London, too many fucking traffic lights, and too many fucking rules for that matter. His car had been clamped and he'd needed to fork out £50 to release it. The bastards!

He stared with growing frustration at the empty road ahead of him, while he waited at the pointless red lights. In the distance an old woman crossed the road but he did not notice, nor would he have cared particularly.

Suddenly the car leapt forward, roaring, as if the accelerator was flattened by some unseen force. Kyle was thrown back in to his seat. Cursing with alarm he reached forward and grabbed hold of the steering well and slammed on the breaks. The car was filled with plumes of acrid smoke until he could see nothing, but continued to accelerate, pausing only briefly with a loud, soft crunch as it hit the old woman. Kyle screamed and continued to pump the breaks furiously but to no avail. The car hurtled inevitably towards the canal, eventually crashing through the barrier into the murky waters. In vain he struggled to open the doors but they wouldn't budge. The water slowly filled the car causing him to beat against the window in blind panic. Finally the air ran out and leaving him scrabbling desperately at the closed windows, trying to escape.

Outside a pale young white face looked on sadly, then reached forward through the glass to grab hold of him.

He screamed one last time.

Epilogue 29

Elsbeth locked the shop door and pulled down the shutters, sighing again at the foul graffiti spray painted all over it. Why did someone with such talent not do something more useful?

The sun lay low in the Autumn sky, casting a golden glow over the city. She looked up at the pale blue sky littered with straggling grey remnants of the afternoon gloom. There was bound to be a beautiful sunset this evening, she thought, and started a gentle walk towards the pub, humming "My Jesus I love thee" to herself.

Epilogue 28

The cup moved slowly across the table.

"That's it!" Amy shrieked. "You've got it! Feel the cup! Be the cup!"

I was thrilled beyond belief. Perhaps this was the beginning, the first feeble steps of my journey towards being able to interact with the living. Dared I hope for more?

"Do you think we'll ever be able to materialise, like ghosts in horror stories?"

Amy shrugged. "I guess so but I've never been able to."

I gazed at her, deciding then to pursue an avenue of conversation I had been avoiding so far.

"Would you want to?" I asked.

She did not look up but replied, "I don't have anybody."

"Nobody?"

"No.

"Amy," I hesitated, "tell me what happened."

She shook her head. "I told you, I don't know."

I took her hand and spoke to her gently, "Tell me."

She looked up, her eyes filled with tears. "I think he killed me."

"Killed you?" I exclaimed. "Who? Kyle?"

She nodded. "When I was sleeping. I remember waking up and being unable to breathe, and struggling against an immense, smothering pressure over my face."

I felt a rage rise within me. "What a bastard. Where is he now?"

She pointed ... to my block of flats. Understanding suddenly flooded my mind: the noisy couple, the fight, Harry, the silence.

"Do you visit him?" I asked

Amy shook her head. "No, I'm too frightened."

"Frightened?" I replied. "Of what? He can't touch you any more."

"No," she said, "of what I might do to him."

Epilogue 27

She lay the flowers against her father's gravestone. It was one year since he had passed away and Jojo, or Jo as she now liked to be called, stood silently, reflecting, her long hair fluttering gently in the late Autumn breeze.

She missed the old man, his dry, twinkling sense of humour, and the way he crinkled his nose in disgust at humanity. Well, he pretended to, because she knew his deep capacity for love. She brushed a stray tear from her eye and sighed.

From somewhere he watched her sadly, wanting just for a fleeting moment to reach out and touch her, to sense the warmth of her soft skin, the fragrance of her hair, to feel the touch of her embrace.

Life and death had one thing in common it seemed: both were intensely cruel.

Epilogue 26

The front door opened quietly and a man stepped into the room. He paused to listen, watching as she lay sleeping on the bed, exhausted from an evening of sorrow.

He did not feel bad about the arguments. This was life, shitty as hell, and he did not care for the weak. He was strong. He had made some limited success as a pimp and was not going to let some deranged junkie take him down with her.

He did not turn on the light - there was no need - and made his way to the bed where she lay breathing gently. He watched her for another moment, perhaps stirred by some stray tenderness, but then leaned over, reaching for a pillow. She stirred, whimpering softly. He placed the pillow firmly over her face, causing her to struggle violently for air. She was however no match for him and her futile protests gradually faded.

He waited a minute to be sure, then whistled softly to his waiting companion waiting outside the front door.

Had the old man in the flat below been awake he might have heard the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs outside his door, but he was not, dreaming instead of long, windy walks on the Broads with a panting black Labrador by his side.

Epilogue 25

She lay sobbing on the bed, her body heaving. They had argued again. It seemed now all they did was argue.

He was sleeping with Angela and hadn't even the decency to deny it. She knew he was off her, but it was his fault that she'd started on the drugs that now held her captive, it was his fault for sending her out onto the streets where men demanded loathsome things that destroyed her inside, but it was her fault for letting him.

They had screamed at each other until there were no more words and he stormed out of the flat, slamming the door behind him, leaving her to cry alone.

In the flat below an old man stirred in his bed. Perhaps now he'd be able to get some sleep, he thought.

Epilogue 24

He walked into the lounge, struggling under the burden of a large flatpacked item, a cupboard it turned out. Something was definitely up at Liesel's. First the little bump, now the frenetic decorating activity in their spare room. Definitely a baby on the way! I felt an odd mixture of emotions: great excitement and joy at the prospect of my first grand child, yet immense sadness that I would not be there to share in the miracle.

I watched them as they laboured away together, preparing the room for their imminent arrival, joking together and still very obviously in love. It reminded me of so long ago when Liesel was born. Such an exciting time it was, full of joint anticipation and wonder.

I still remember, as if it were yesterday, bringing home the little bundle all wrapped in white from the hospital, placing her carry chair in the middle of the lounge and sitting next to Fiona, together wondering how on earth we were going to care for this little being that had invaded our lives.

I looked at Liesel, now all grown up, resting a little while Tony carried on trying to figure out the obscure flat pack instructions. She was every bit her mother, except perhaps in temperament where she had a bad dose of her old father's sardonic seriousness.

She looked happy and yet my heart felt as if it wanted to break.

Epilogue 23

"What's troubling you, Joe?"

He did not answer but I knew him well enough to wait. Eventually he sighed deeply and raised his eyes slowly to look at me.

"Aaron, my dear old friend, I've done something terrible."

I nodded encouragingly, continuing to wait.

"It's been on my heart for many years, and I've wanted to tell you, but coward that I am, I just couldn't."

I looked at him earnestly. "Go on, tell me. We're dead. What's the worst that can happen?"
He did not smile.

"I slept with Fiona."

I did not reply, stunned by what he had said, a whirl of confusion and emotions flowing over me.

"It was just the once, when you started going off the rails. She'd been crying and phoned me to talk. I came around, and one thing led to another. I am so very sorry."

He broke down, tears flowing from deep sorrow within. I sat, silent for a long time, watching him weep. I should have been angry, but all I felt was pity for my friend who had screwed up and been riddled with guilt for so long. I leaned forward and took his arm.

"Joe, my friend. It was a long time ago."

He looked up, his face streaked with pain, uncomprehending. I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him on the forehead.

"I forgive you, you idiot."

Then, suddenly, just as he had appeared, he disappeared.

Epilogue 22

He looked at her angrily. "What the fuck are those?"

Cowering, she replied, "Just a little something I bought."

"Just a little something I bought," he repeated mockingly. She could see the menace in his eyes. "Where did you get the money?"

"I saved it."

"Saved it?"

"Yes", she replied.

"You been keeping money from me? You earn little enough as it is!"

"No, Kyle. You know I'd never do that.

He grabbed her arm roughly, causing her to whimper. "I hope you you're not fucking with me. You know what I do with people who fuck with me!"

"Kyle, I'm not lying," she pleaded.

"You're pathetic," he spat, throwing her to he ground and storming out of the room. She lay on the floor weeping quietly, clutching the two little pigs to her breast.

Epilogue 21

Elsbeth was glad to be back at work. The charity shop had fallen into disarray in her absence so she busied herself organising the motley collection of unwanted offerings into attractive displays. She had a gift for making the ordinary look exceptional and applied it well. The busyness helped her to forget the dull ache that had been her ever present companion in recent weeks. She enjoyed the interaction with Mabel who managed the till, and even the occasional gruff encounter with Anne-Marie the area manager, who despite her dour fa├žade had shown Elsbeth surprising compassion when she needed it.

The door opened, clinking a little bell to announce the arrival of a potential customer. A slender young woman entered, dressed in an ill fitting plain, floral frock that hung awkwardly on her bony frame. Elsbeth asked if she needed any help, but she declined. After some time she settled on a set of porcelain pigs and brought them to the till for payment.

Elsbeth smiled at her. "Those are lovely."

The girl nodded shyly, looking nervously at the ground while paying, and then hurried out of the shop clutching her purchase.

Mabel turned to Elsbeth. "Troubled little one, that."

Elsbeth nodded.

"Did you see the needle marks?"

Epilogue 20

"You know, Aaron, in some respects I'm not surprised to be here."

"No?"

"No, my faith took quite a beating in the last few years, particularly when I started feeling unwell."

I looked at him, waiting.

"I'd served Him faithfully for so many years, and whilst it wasn't all roses, in general I had a sense that He was on my side. But then it all started going wrong and I began to doubt. Silly, I know."

I shook my head. "Not at all, Joe. It's a very natural feeling."

"Maybe for you," he replied, "but my faith was supposed to be strong, when in reality it was just untested. And I failed miserably."

Epilogue 19

They lived in a little flat. It wasn't much, but it was their home. Fresh flowers stolen from the old biddy across the road adorned the window sill, framed by tired, faded curtains that may well have been woven from forgotten cobwebs.

He lay snoring gently on the sofa bed. It had been a long night: trouble with the police, as well as a belligerent punter who'd had too much to drink and had demanded his money back. Kyle had told him to feck off and write to consumer protection if he liked.

She was so proud that he'd stood up for her, his little Amy.

Epilogue 18

I decided after much thought to mention my little success to Amy. She looked at me, not with surprise, but with bemused disbelief.

"You moved a teaspoon?"

I nodded, foolishly very pleased with myself.

She laughed out loud. "You are such an numpty, you know, Aaron?"

I looked at her, confused. She continued chuckling, then beckoned to me.

"Watch this."

And I watched as she hurled a chair in the room below from one end of the room to the other, causing a sleeping cat to leap 2 feet from the ground in hair-raised panic. She looked at me triumphantly, then softened, touching my arm.

"It'll come. I've been here longer than you, I guess. Just keep on practising."

Then she wandered off giggling and singing to herself, "I'm a little teaspoon, short and stout..."

Epilogue 17

She noticed the care slowing down, just as she had noticed it circling many times, cruising. The car stopped and she watched the window slowly wind down. She tottered over towards it, balanced on perilous heels, and leaned forward, deliberately revealing her deep, inviting cleavage.

"So what'll it be, lover?"

The phrase still felt uncomfortable on her lips, as did the whole experience, but she was learning quickly.

It was either that or starve.

Epilogue 16

"What are you doing here, Joe?"

He looked at me with pain in his eyes.

"I don't know, Aaron. This existence, if you can call it that, doesn't seem to be what was promised.

"Promised?"

"You know, heaven, pearly gates etc."

"Pearly gates??" I replied, incredulous. "You never really believe that crap, surely?"

"Take it easy, my friend. I'm hurting here."

I regretted the outburst, suddenly realising what it must be like for someone like Joe, faithful believer for so long, to end up in this place.

"I'm really sorry," I replied.

He took hold of my arm. "Don't worry about it. It is really good to see you."

Epilogue 15

Amy looked across the table at her boyfriend, tall and rugged, with steely eyes that held her in a gently gaze. She had not done well with men, but he seemed different.

She made up her mind.

Epilogue 14

I don't know why I visited the cemetery. It is a horrible, sad place where despair and regret hang heavily, interspersed here and there with a frightening intensity of hatred and anger. Yet I found myself there, drifting towards a familiar place, where Joe was buried, the words "beloved friend' adorning a humble stone. The plot was overgrown with weeds, angering me that my friend would have such an ignominious end. Dust to dust indeed.

"Hello, Aaron."

I spun around. "Joe!"

He grinned. "Yes, old timer. Long time no see."

I threw my arms around him, crying like a child.