THE FIRST GHOST LAW WAS supposed to get everybody on better terms with their resident ghosts, but whoever wrote that didn’t know my newest roommate, Amber.
Amber is a four-and-a-half foot tall teenage ghost that blew into my apartment two months ago. The whole apocalypse thing was a while back, but everybody knows there are still ghosts wandering around that haven’t settled on more permanent haunts yet. If you want my opinion, I think Amber had been lost this whole time and was too stubborn to get directions to the nearest city.
She wasn’t my first ghost, not by a long shot. There was Matt, a plumber ghost who acted like he was drunk even though he wasn’t. Kiana stayed for a few days, but she wanted a place with a better TV. Couldn’t blame her. I’d only signed the lease to my place a few days before the whole dead-coming-back-as-ghosts thing. Some scientists got on TV and assured us it wasn’t all of the dead, just those who had died in the past six months or so.
Chaos at first. All the survival skills humans had picked up from TV didn’t work against ghosts. Board up your windows? Ghosts go right through them. Board games to keep you company? Ghosts can’t move the pieces, a dimensional problem. But that doesn’t stop them from wanting to play. That’s where the first Ghost Law came in. Not because of board games, more like accessibility rights. Ghosts can’t interact with any physical objects. They’re basically just playing along with the idea of rooms and gravity. They can go wherever they want. Sounds pretty cool until you’ve been roaming the woods by yourself trying to figure out why you’re not dead and a bunch of humans start screaming at you and pointing fire-guns at you. It’s just not very considerate.
So, the remaining lawmakers came together and decided before us humans tore our own cities apart, they’d better start passing some laws to normalize this whole thing. They assured everyone there was no cure, and that this was life now. First law: Humans must accommodate any ghost presence in their living space until their local government has built suitable ghost housing.
Amber wears cheetah print pajama pants and her favorite boy band T-shirt. It’s what she asked to be buried in in her suicide note after Derek left the band. You see, D.R.U.G. is the newest group of men approaching twenty that market themselves to teenage girls. I get it; I was a teen girl once too. But now, I am twenty-two, and all of this stuff bores me more than my job of re-typing government documents. They used to use one application, but someone high up had a cousin who owned a different one, so now. Sorry, I told you it was boring.
Maybe you’re wondering why I know so much about D.R.U.G. That’s because Amber hovers around my apartment all day whining about them. Which one is the hottest, which one would make the best husband, whether Umar really did steal Derek’s girl.
Derek, Ricky, Umar, Gael, girl you know we got it, girl …
Their first big hit crackles through the radio. Amber rushes in, predictably.
“O-M-G turn it up, Mika!”
“It’s Meeka,” I say. I turn the volume knob up a bit.
“No dummy, all the way up.”
Gonna regale you, I’m gonna save you.
“This song doesn’t even make any sense.” I have to turn it up though, we both know it. Those are the rules. Everything within my power to keep her comfortable.
“That doesn’t matter. Wait, this is Derek’s verse.” Amber rolls the bottom of her shirt up and wiggles her body like someone who knows what sexy might be, but hasn’t grown into their body enough to bring it all together. It’s weird thinking that she won’t grow up, really.
“I know, I know. The best verse. After this can we turn it back down though? I want to catch the news in a bit.”
Amber heard me, but she’s in full Derek-worship mode. His voice shifts to a falsetto as he croons about taking someone on a sail around the world. But the girl is his whole world. The metaphor is pretty weak. “Wooooooooooorld!” She does her best to follow Derek’s solo.
Derek, Ricky, Umar, Gael. Our love DRUG, yeah, your love DRUG.
The song ends. Amber tells me I can put on my stupid news or whatever, but she doesn’t leave the room. I heat up some microwave nachos and sit back on my end of the couch. It’s one of the few things she hasn’t claimed from me. The news anchors make pretend small-talk about transparency in the ghost situation. Building new housing is going slow. There are rumors of misconduct of funds.
Amber kicks her foot through the coffee table. “Whatever, I’m going to stay here until they make me an all pink apartment.”
“I thought your favorite color was blue?”
“It’s not anymore, it’s pink.”
“Okay.” We sit, well, I sit and she hovers, staring at the TV I have balanced on a barstool. “You know you can’t stay here forever, right?”
Her breathing is getting shallow. She’s agitated. When she gets like this, I feel trapped because she won’t tell me what’s wrong unless I ask, but she’ll get annoyed that I’m asking her. I take the bait. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s not like I want to stay here, but out there is so ugly and …”
“No, and like, people are rude, putting their hands through me like just because I can’t feel it I don’t care. I don’t want to go home.”
“You don’t have to go home.”
“But this is all temporary and like I don’t even know what’s going to happen to all of us. Why am I here?”
This is the smartest she’s sounded all week.
“Why am I here if D.R.U.G. isn’t together?”
And she’s back.
“I said I didn’t want to live if they weren’t going to be together and put out their new album and I meant it! I really meant it!” She’s crying now. Ghost tears look like dusty condensation. More things I wouldn’t have known a year ago.
The evening news team returns from commercial break. In entertainment news, you may want to sit down for this one, Chase. The male anchor rolls his eyes. Derek, of the famed D.R.U.G. band has broken his silence on his abrupt departure.
I’m too scared to look at Amber, but I shift over on the couch.
That’s right, Sherry, it turns out that when Derek’s high school sweetheart girlfriend informed him she was pregnant, he had a bit of a melt-down. Sources say he packed up his hat collection and went to Montana without talking to anyone. He has since returned to Los Angeles, made up with his girlfriend, and even met his baby daughter!
That’s so sweet, Chase. Well, today, Derek announced he is getting the band back together. They’ll be celebrating with a special two-day tour in Tokyo, Japan, this weekend.
Amber is shaking. Ghost tears roll down her face in a steady stream. The news switches over to a video of a mouse on top of a lizard’s head. The laughter in the video is muffled and cracked.
“Hey, are you okay?” I turn towards her. Someone has to be the adult here.
“Am I okay? Of course I’m not flipping okay, Derek is fine, and they’re going on tour, and I’m dead, I don’t even want to be dead anymore. Maybe I am just a stupid girl. Stupid, stupid, that’s what they’d say, get over it. Like, get over what? The fact that you don’t even understand me. There’s no way I’m going to be allowed to go to this concert in Taiwan or …”
She kept talking for a while. I kept my face turned towards her, nodding, but really I was still listening to the TV. When she finally lost steam, I re-focused.
“It sounds like you’re frustrated with your decision, even though you thought it out quite a bit.” An outright lie, but she seemed to buy it. “So, let’s look on the bright side. You are dead, but you’re a ghost now, right?”
“Right,” she said.
I sensed an opportunity. “I don’t think all the laws are set in stone yet, but as far as I’ve heard, no matter what age you were as a human, as a ghost, well …” I had to find the right words. “You’re basically an adult.”
Amber’s eyes flashed. She buried her face into her T-shirt, then re-emerged. “What does that mean?”
“That means, you don’t have to follow your parents’ rules anymore.”
She nodded. She didn’t get it.
“You can go to this concert, if you wanted to.”
That did it. Amber danced around the room, doing lopsided cartwheels and jumping at the ceiling. She twirled and twirled, singing random lines of D.R.U.G.’s biggest hits.
“Wait,” she said.
“Do you know where Saipan is?”
I swallowed my laughter. “It’s Japan, and yes, I know where it is.”
In what was probably our closest bonding moment, I drew Amber a map from where we were to Japan. Japan looked a bit like a lumpy banana, but I drew the Tokyo Tower on the side so she’d know what to look for. When I finished, Amber floated her arms around me, like she was hugging me.
She pulled back and looked around the room. A grin crept across her face. “Well, see ya!”
I watched her speed through the front window and up into the sky. I stood there for ten minutes before I decided she really was gone.
Silence at last. No more D.R.U.G.
With no hometown to speak of, Jackie Sizemore comes from the Rustbelt, the South, and Tokyo. Her prose was recognized as a Notable Best American Essay in 2018 and has previously appeared in Citron Review, Mojo/Mikrokosmos, Eastern Iowa Review, Paper Darts, Opossum, Ravishly′s Long Reads, and Crab Orchard Review. She is working on a dark, near-future novel.