The first thing she remembered was looking up into John’s face.

“Oh, Mary…” he sighed and gently closed her eyes.

The next things she could recall were of watching John; snippets here and there as he went about his life, making breakfast, washing clothes, sometimes he would glance over his shoulder or pause in what he was doing. He would look at her a moment and squint, which deepened his crows feet, before going back to his chores. 

She then became aware of John’s apartment, which he shared with his aged uncle. She had only been in it once or twice with Amy but now it felt safe and familiar, despite its close bachelor state. 

Tucked into the corner of the kitchen, she watched as he made coffee. The morning light from the tiny kitchen window spilled over her and then John was sure. “You are there, Mary. I see you now.” 

Being spoken to was a morning alarm going off to pull her out of a dreamy half life. Her eyes cleared, she stood up straighter like she was more aware of herself and her orientation to the space. She looked at her hands, and again around the kitchen. She took a small step toward him, then another, and began to cry. 

He watched the poor girl, his daughter’s best friend, whom he had seen, not a few times over the years. He held out a comforting hand and she took it. He hoped it would calm her a bit before she realized she couldn’t touch anything else. 

Most people in their community had at least heard whispers that John was a medium, whether they thought much of it or believed. He figured most didn’t until something occurred within their own family. Mary hadn’t had much in the way of family. As a modern girl, he wasn’t sure how much she knew about their culture or history. Maybe she’d heard some of it from Amy. Amy had been taught all of the lore as a girl. 

“What’s going on?” Mary finally asked.

“Your body is gone.” It was the simplest answer. 

After that she seemed to drift back into herself again, and John went on and poured his coffee. Uncle glanced into the kitchen as he passed through to the mudroom, but he didn’t say anything.

The next time Mary manifested he could tell she was here to stay, at least for a while. It was back in the kitchen and the yellowing overhead light glowed through her. He guided her and sort of showed her how to “sit” at the table. Her mind recalled how a body worked, it projected a perfect hologram of how she had been down to the jeans, red top, and jacket- though the season had turned too warm for a jacket like that. It was the last thing she remembered wearing. 

“I’m dead.”


She played with her hands, not sure what to do next. She reached for a salt shaker and watched her fingers not connect. She looked up to him for confirmation and he nodded again. Mary began to sob. It was more than just a girl’s crying, it pulled some thread in his soul; he wondered that every human, every living being in the vicinity couldn’t feel it. He had to get her to stop or he’d be pierced through with an aneurysm. He took her hands in his and hushed her. Feeling the contact settled her some. 

“Look,” he said. John had a trick he could use to distract her. He led Mary to the counter as she sniffed and watched him pick up two stray grains of oatmeal that were sitting next to the container. “Uncle?” 

The older man came and raised a brow but didn’t ask any questions. John continued to hold Mary’s hand then reached out for Mike’s. Uncle Mike put out his palm and John lay down the two oats. 

“Put your hand over his. Now push them off.”

Mike felt the light change of air on his palm. It wasn’t cool or cold, just there, and then the two little flakes fluttered to the floor. He grunted. It had happened pretty quickly. “Done with me?” He asked and shuffled off, leaving his nephew to his true work. 

Mary looked at John hopefully. She had brushed the uncle’s hand and seen the response and it had broken her out of her desperate fearful tears. “You still have some agency,” he said, not sure if she really understood.

“Now what?” The girl asked. Not really a girl, a twenty year old but still a girl to him- his daughter Amy’s age. Now she would be twenty forever and he would only get older.  Maybe she would move on. They usually did, but until then he always felt like they were in his charge. He wouldn’t tell Amy or anyone, unless it was needed. 

“Death is like life, I think. There isn’t really an answer. You have to find your own purpose.”

“I don’t have something I have to do? Something so I can… move on?” Mary asked.

She had seen the same movies as everyone else. Wouldn’t it be great if it were as simple as figuring out what mystery needed to be solved. Sometimes it might be true, especially with a death like Mary’s...

“Do you feel like there’s something you need to do?” John humoured the idea but she shook her head. 


Mary watched Uncle staring out the screen window of the mudroom. He was leaning far over a laundry filled table surrounded by odd tools and storage items. He beckoned to Mary. Could he see her? He waved to her again so she went over to look as he gestured out the window. She could walk right up and stand through the center of the mess strewn table. 

Outside was a view of the next line of wood sided apartments and off to the right at the edge of the scrubby pines, was an old picnic table. There were discarded toys, fallen branches, and a general appearance of disuse. Mary didn’t know what she was supposed to see. Then movement caught her eye. A half eaten sandwich rose from the table and began to disappear; like an invisible man was eating it. The sandwich lowered, lifted, and then was gone. Mary looked at Uncle.

“You saw it too?” He asked.

She thought this was sort of ridiculous. “You can see me?”

“A bit, now. After John did the trick with the oatmeal. That worked because he and I are blood, of course. It’s in our family but no one like John for generations. For me you are a whisper.”

“But what was that? Eating?” Mary suddenly wondered if she would be able to see others like herself.

“No idea! You don’t eat, right?” He asked her. 


Mary hadn’t followed John today. She didn’t leave the apartment much yet, which was fine. Nice to have some alone time especially with what he needed to do. John went down to the hardware store’s basement. All the community meetings were conducted there because it was the community elder’s store. There was the town’s small government and then the community leaders. Some crossed over but today he had definitely been called in on a community matter. 

John was surprised to find Takumi there. Takumi’s group -gang- whatever, ran some kind of trafficking business. The elder probably had some hand in not just the distributing but the laundering of funds but John genuinely didn’t care. It wasn’t humans and that was all John needed to know. He wasn’t the type to challenge his community’s benefactors and he knew from personal experience that most of the community couldn’t get by on their meager earnings.  Uncle was on social security, and John certainly didn’t make ends meet by undertaking alone. Many burials were covered by the community. Takumi had paid for Mary’s.

But shouldn’t he have? By all accounts, Mary had been his girl. 

Someone had tried to rob Takumi’s men and the outcome had not been good. John now understood why he had been called to this meeting.

Tussles meant bodies. It had been years since something like this had happened. Whatever the doings, they generally kept quiet and clean but seven years ago something like this had happened. Takumi hadn’t been in charge then but he knew that John was the one to call. The bodies- three, one local and two strangers- had been stashed in the woods near the scene of the heist gone wrong. Takumi wasn’t stupid. He had learned from his old man that bodies will out and he wanted nothing to come down on the community. 

In the same world weary quiet way he did everything, John told them he would take care of it. One of them would have to lead him out to the spot. He sure didn’t want it to be Takumi. Not if there was a chance Mary might be around.

Most didn’t remember how they died. If it was some malfunction of the science of memory or a gift of psychology, John didn’t know. He hadn’t asked Mary about it and she hadn’t seemed to wonder at it yet. But she would. They usually came to it at some point and he could tell them they had died in a car wreck, of cancer, an accident… But this time John didn’t know. No one had been sure. It wasn’t their way in the community to dig. 

Amy had come to his apartment and cried. She had complained that Takumi must have done something and covered it up. But that was mostly despair and grief talking. John studied Takumi, really for the first time; a stoic man of twentynine. He wasn’t the kind to mess up like that. No talk of tempers or abusive behavior, even to men who worked for him and let him down. Their worst punishment was to be left out in the cold.


Mary was like a child or maybe a cat around his place. She started to follow him on long walks through the woods and rode along with him into town. She rarely spoke which suited John fine. He began to like her company and that’s all she seemed to want- to never be alone. As he sat reading at night or watching the news she was by his side and seemed most comforted by a hand resting on her head. 

“Dad!” Amy barged in through the front door startling him from his doze in the reading chair. “Uncle Mike said you had a “house guest”. 

“Did he really?” John asked, wiping his reading glasses and propping them up on his head. Mary was sitting up startled by the sight of her friend.

“Well, he accidentally, at the bar, he was talking about an invisible sandwich…” Amy petered out realizing how it sounded. John gave her his best ‘And?’ face.

“The last person who died was Mary!” 

“That’s not precisely true,” he muttered. John looked between the two girls, feeling caught.

Amy saw him look at the empty space, “She’s really…? How could you not tell me!”

“You never wanted anything to do with any of this, ever since you were a child.”

“Not when it was some old lady down the street haunting you! But Mary?!” 

“Am I haunting?” Mary worried. 

“No.” John answered. “Amy, the truth is you still needed to go on as though Mary was gone-is gone.”

“But she’s not? And how did she die? Was it Takumi?”

This was exactly what John had wanted to avoid. Mary was now looking anxiously between the two. 

“How did I die?” Mary begged John. 

He put a hand gently over hers. “We’re not exactly sure.”

Amy watched the exchange and it was finally concretely real for her. Mary was really there or her father was insane.  Maybe she could believe that Uncle Mike was but not Dad. Amy slumped into a chair.

Mary was getting worked up. “What about Takumi? What did she mean?” 

John felt the tickle of a headache building from Mary’s distress. “You have to calm down.”

“What did she say?” Amy sat back up.

“She doesn’t remember what happened, Amy. That is not unusual,” he reassured Mary.

“We have to find out then, right? We have to so she can be at peace,” Amy said. John sighed, Stupid movies. 


Amy hadn’t been able to leave things alone.

John looked around at those gathered in the hardware store basement, most of the community’s adult members, all of its elders, and several of its ghosts. John was surprised to see them. A few he had thought moved on, but perhaps just moved on from needing him as their touch stone. 

Amy was charged up. She was filibustering the crowd to much nodding. Questions needed answering, she called. Accounts taken. How much of that did she believe before she had amped herself up? John wondered. He had always been water, but she had her mother’s fire and that was why the women of his life had mostly been forced to leave him alone. 

John felt Mary press closer against him. This little shadow would surely leave them soon as well. Would answers set her free? Would knowing if Takumi was responsible, release her. Seeing the other spectral figures around suddenly made him doubt all of it. The hair on his arms was standing on end. All of the ghosts looked as solid to him as humans. Uncle was looking around in awe.

“Is this how they always look to you?” He asked. Uncle looked at Mary and saw her as clearly as he ever had, yet still transparent and plainly not of the earth. No one else seemed consciously aware of them and yet…

Finally Takumi and his crew arrived; a few men, some barely more than boys but all of them some one’s family. “Alright, I’ve come. Now what is this all about?”

The bluster wilted from Amy in an instant but not the rest of the room. The men stood facing the elders and the community, waiting. John watched only Mary as she struggled through emotions, stretching for memories and meaning. As the inquest floundered, the other undead were getting agitated. Mary seemed to be drawing more power from them, she was almost glowing with it. Now even Amy felt her presence and stared.

“If we are quite done here,” Takumi stood up and pushed away his chair, turning to go. But he felt the spark too. “Mary?”

He faced her, as though he could see a shadow of where she was. Someone gasped. Mary was visible, backed by the others’ energy. Takumi was white, grief melted his expression. He reached out to cradle her face. “Mary…”

“Why did you do it? Why didn’t you just leave if you were so unhappy?” He saw no one else in the room. He spoke only to her with all his heart and John knew there was no subterfuge. Takumi could never have harmed this girl. Mary suddenly understood it too. Takumi fled up the stairs as she stepped back. A fluorescent overheads popped and the crowd's frozen shock broke into amazed chatter. 

John lost sight of Mary in the tumult that followed. Amy rushed over to him. “Dad, I was so wrong, I was, I just didn’t want to believe she did it-” He hugged his daughter and patted her hair. He had had his suspicions. Mary was gone and so too was Uncle. John felt he needed to go after them. 

“Will you be alright?” He asked. Amy nodded. 

“I suppose I need to clean up my mess here,” she said. 

John found them at the edge of the woods back home; the sad translucent girl and the old man sitting on a picnic table. Some mysteries were never solved. Such as why a girl so sad she had wanted to quit living was still here forced to go on, while those who fought desperately to live did not return. 

Mary had been so desperate to be happy, to have a purpose but she couldn’t figure it out for herself. So she had wanted Takumi to fulfill those things for her.  But maybe she had learned from being with John and Uncle that sometimes it was enough to just be. 

Life and un-life in their community would return to its status quo. Mary might stay with them or one day be gone. Nothing had come from questioning Takumi, except a brief flash of humanity many had not suspected to exist. And perhaps after so many had glimpsed a sliver of the truth behind their own heritage’s stories, John might be taken with a little more salt. But he had never needed recognition. He only worried who would be there for him if he had the misfortune to return.