Ella remembers the touch of the wind.
How stupid, she thinks. It’s insignificant, the wind. Ella’s last sensation was its cold breath, howling in the hollows of her ears.
Of course, that was before.
Ella has felt little since her car nosedived off-road and launched her threw the windscreen; she’s sensed even less since the funeral.
Ella has been dead for over a month (thirty-two days, four hours, and five minutes) and she’s already forgetting what warmth felt like. There were so many distinct experiences to recall: the tenderness of a hug, fingers braiding her hair and other small details that might be a little reminiscent of home.
But no. The wind is all she can feel.
Stupid, she thinks again, because it is. Of all things to sense, it seems especially cruel: the gusts tug at her, insistent, as if to draw her wispy facsimile of a body back into her grave.
Again, the wind. Ella remembers the sharp tang of sweat mingled with a cool breeze, blowing her hair as it whispered across the tennis courts. The tiny charm that dangled from her neck bounced against her skin, ever caught in her flyaways. It was half of a whole, two pieces split between best friends; she’d glance at Alice and see the missing piece.
The memory is something; it’s enough to feel real – and Ella doesn’t experience that quite so often anymore.
Her afterlife is a bitter one.
She’s spent months calling out—she screams, bursting forth with all the energy she can muster. Her form wavers, unchanged. Ella exists in limbo, shifting between realities. She wants to be heard, to be remembered, but her cries are weak – muffled by the wind.
Evelyn, she thought, might be different. There are few people closer than a twin sister, a clone in soul and mind. She’s inextricably entwined with Ella’s psyche, and grief-stricken to boot. It seems obvious to try Evelyn, who knew her better than even Alice.
Hope for recognition had been Ella’s only buoy, but the connection was lost; her twin doesn’t hear her. Evelyn mourns in quiet, turning their photos face down in their once shared bedroom. The loss she feels is palpable, and something Ella knows innately. It’s a wicked thing to dwell on, to hunker deep in her anguish. Perhaps it’s too much to ask for Ella to be remembered.
But, she continues to chase the illusion of life at Evelyn’s back.
Is this what it’s like to live vicariously through another? Having tried it, she knew it wasn’t intended to be taken so literally – Ella thought it brutal. She watches the remnants of her memory disperse as people abandon their sorrow, and she wonders if she was ever a person at all.
Evelyn still weeps. It’s a miserable, hushed affair, always in the depths of night. Ella aches for her. If it brings her twin solace, they can exist like this; in sync as they always were, a unit, as if they’re two parts of a single entity. They were “the twins.” Even with Ella gone, dimmed like a wick drowned by wax, the instinct to refer to Evelyn as a fraction persists. Her twin. Evelyn had always been a fragment to them. Incomplete, somehow, despite having a heart of her own.
Ella never thought of her that way; she never thought of them that way, as less than. It’s terribly simplistic to narrow each of them down to separate pieces of a whole, she thinks; not to mention devoid of sympathy. Evelyn is an individual just as much as Ella is, even if they always moved together.
It’s a bit strange now, to follow Evelyn; Ella had been the leader, before. They carried each other forward, although she was more inclined to stumble through it all, tugging Evelyn’s arm. With their roles irreversibly switched, Ella is now just a sentinel in her periphery.
She doesn’t mind being tugged along—the opposite. It’s nice to see Evelyn grow. Ella hears the quiet shuffle of her sister slipping away, and she follows. Evelyn will remember her because it’s always been the two of them. They’re the twins.
Sometimes Ella goes alone. She doesn’t like to leave Evelyn’s side, but owes her some privacy, at least. Her twin has a life of her own, with friends, love, and college applications. It’s too a painful reminder of what she’s lost.
Ella squeezes her eyes shut. Alice.
Those are unexplored emotions she has yet to parse. Ella’s little more than a remnant; she doesn’t need to be present in every part of Evelyn’s life. She’s capable enough of wandering aimlessly on her own.
Ella slinks down the road unseen. Her wispy feet tap against the ground only in her memory; her imagination substitutes for the absence of noise. This is what it should feel like, right? This is what it should sound like? This is the faux experience of being alive. Ella is a champion bullshitter, and she will delude herself through death.
Her legs carry her forward without an actual destination, her mind set only on finding something.
Evidence of herself, perhaps, existing in a space outside of her carefully preserved bedroom. Ella searches for proof that she lived.
The landscape passes alongside her in a blur. Clouds hang high above the empty streets, the pavement slick from this morning’s storm. It’s early spring—she can’t smell or touch it, but she remembers how it felt. A breeze sings through her, a shiver.
There’s nothing here; nothing that speaks to her memory. Ella calls out, unheard. She walks without finding much of anything. It’s endless, or seems that way. Time doesn’t operate the same as she once thought; it’s nonlinear. Each step takes a moment or a year.
She comes to a halt before a tall chain link fence. The pause is out of pure instinct, although the tips of her toes have already phased through it. Ella touches the wire, and her fingers sink through without feeling. As she steps through it, she imagines the metal to be cold.
She’s come to a place she recognizes—one she couldn’t forget if she tried.
The wedge of space where she stands is verdant and open. Sharp white lines separate the clearance from the court, drawing a distinct rectangle of bright blue in the center. She knows these colors like no other. They’re vibrant even against the dull sky, through streams of water sluicing down the net posts. Months of practice, rain or shine, branded them onto the insides of her lids.
Ella remembers. She closes her eyes and she’s there, serving over the net. The breeze was gentler than the vicious, tugging wind she knows now; it felt cool. Peaceful. Puddles fill shallow dips in the concrete and Ella imagines a splash against her sneakers.
She expects the grounds to be empty on such a dreary day, but that was an oversight. The hollow bounce of a tennis ball echoes across the court, rebounding against the head of a racquet. It flies untouched by an opponent. A slim figure braces their hands against their knees on the opposite side of the net.
Ella inhales, or tries to.
A pang surges where her heart once beat.
Her profile is refined, with long lashes that brush her brow. Dark curly hair coils along her temples. The drizzle leaves tiny droplets in her ringlets, pasting them to her cheekbones. The pleats in her skirt cling together until she slaps at it uncomfortably.
Her best friend—her first love.
The girl Ella never had the courage to hold.
Another lime green ball sits in her free palm. She lifts her arm to toss it, and the racquet descends.
It was silly to think she’d be alone. With a prestigious team, the courts are never quite vacant—Ella used to come here all the time, too. She’d expect nothing less of Alice.
It’s not amusing, not even a little, but Ella thinks it anyway. Funny, isn’t it? How expectation and reality work. Funny. She should’ve known Alice would be here, with some innate sense. She should’ve expected it, as she did when she was alive; Ella would pick up her emotional breadcrumbs, piecing together an easy understanding of Alice’s thoughts.
Once upon a time, she could.
She’s phasing into a shadow of her former self—something less than. The emotions that spike inside of her might have once been anger; frustration, at being taken so early; and sadness for her family—but they’ve lessened now. She feels herself slipping, faced with the probability of her imminent erosion.
Her funeral was weeks ago. Alice had been there, veiled and quiet. Beautiful. She had braced her palm on the lid of her coffin, and Ella wanted to scream.
She remembers the rest in pieces, like shots of a stop motion film. Black clothes were stark against the grey clouds. There was still snow on the ground, then; huge drifts clogged the roads, leaving the procession even more stunted and dismal than it already was.
There are leaves budding on the trees now.
Alice retrieves another ball from the ground, bouncing it nonchalantly. It rebounds and meets her racquet again with a satisfying pop. The ball soars over the net without a partner to meet it. Ella feels her fingers twitch, a reflex to lunge forward. Muscle memory, even in the great beyond.
Alice serves again. And again. She doesn’t cease, launching each with a precision that has always left her opponents floundering. Her movements are smooth, her swings meticulous. She’s the ace for a reason, and Ella’s proud to have once been her partner.
Yet, it feels so long ago.
Ella misses doubles. She misses tennis, and running, and being a goddamn human being. But it’s Alice, she knows, that she misses most of all.
It hurts more than she anticipated to be near her. Ella has grown accustomed to loitering around her sister, but that’s different—with Evelyn, she’s at home. Alice is an outside domain, something other. Ella had considered visiting, or drifting behind her in school, but it seemed wrong. Intrusive. She’s a spectre, haunting all of her loved ones. It’s eerie to even consider.
The inevitability of being unseen is a sensation she can’t quite get used to. She yearns to make herself known, but her body is a wisp of smoke.
Stop bullshitting, she reprimands herself. A solitary truth lies in her core: for all her bravado, Ella’s afraid. Of being unacknowledged or forgotten, or both. She could’ve traipsed over to the school grounds sporting a Ouija board and still wouldn’t have been prepared to see Alice, let alone try to speak. Her feelings have never quite faded, no matter the worlds between them.
She’d never gotten the chance to tell Alice that she loves her.
Say something, Ella thinks. The urge rushes within her, forcing its way up her throat in a tidal wave. Anything.
On the court, Alice slings her racquet over her shoulder. She lifts her other arm in a cursory stretch, long and lithe in the waning light. The clouds have parted, only just, and the drizzle slows.
She’ll be going home soon.
Alice, Ella murmurs, wishing her innermost thoughts were as loud as they feel. They’re stuck at the very tip of her tongue. Hear me. The words beat against her teeth, desperate to be heard but unwilling to fall over the precipice. Listen.
She parts her lips. It spills out like a heavy sigh, wrenched forth by willpower alone.
“Alice,” Ella says, softer than she ever has. It’s a hesitant thing, little more than a whisper on the breeze. “Please.”
She doesn’t expect a response—weeks of hovering behind Evelyn have shown it to be unlikely. The odds of another ghost whisperer? Slim. Alice couldn’t see her at the funeral and she certainly doesn’t now, because there’s nothing for her to witness. Ella’s a fragment of herself, hardly more than a shadow.
Ella knows. She understands, but damn if it doesn’t hurt.
The soles of Alice’s sneakers tap against the slick pavement as she steps backward. Her tote leans against the fence, damp from the rain. A simple keychain dangles from the zipper, glimmering silver. Alice’s eyes linger for a time, tracing its shape—a tiny racquet, emblazoned with an ‘A.’ She tugs it gently as she opens her bag.
The charm is a perfect match to Ella’s. She wore hers on a necklace, eternally tucked against her skin. It’s nestled delicately into her desk drawer now, she thinks, like some sort of ancient artefact; abandoned on the side of their bedroom that even Evelyn leaves untouched.
But the other half—it’s here, flashing between Alice’s fingers. She hasn’t moved or hidden it. It’s there as it always has been, twinkling brightly, a tiny memento. Remembered.
Ella opens her mouth again, knotted by emotion. Trying to speak has never been so goddamn difficult. She forces all her strength into the call, and her flickers with the effort. The ordeal makes her hoarse, as if she’d been screaming.
“I miss you, Alice,” she strains. Her hand extends to close the gap between them. She can see through the faded strangeness of her limbs, leeched of colour. “I—I love you.”
Ella’s voice was lost long ago. She can’t quite speak, not to normal people, but it echoes still. Her cry rings across the court, an eerie sort of sound. At best, it’s a lamentation; at worst, a long, agonized summoning, low in her throat.
She shouldn’t be able to hear it. She shouldn’t, but Alice lifts her chin anyway. The motion is birdlike, darting upward. Her hair quivers, tousled by the mild spring air. She casts a glance over her shoulder, her brows narrowed in confusion.
Ella remains static. Alice can’t see her, of that she’s certain, but it feels like being pierced; sharp brown eyes she knows so well, levelling her even in the afterlife. Alice’s gaze is keen as she glances around, passing over the spot where Ella hovers. She blinks and moves on—but for just half of a second, her attention lingered.
Insignificant, really. Alice shakes her head, returning to herself. She resumes packing her tote, wedging her racquet into the front pocket. She stands, bouncing on her toes to stretch. Her bag slips onto her back as she’s done a thousand times. The charm glimmers from its place on her zipper like a tiny star.
Ella watches her leave.
It meant nothing at all. Not recognition or acknowledgment of any kind, but it felt like something; like love, friendship, and remembrance.
A shard of blue breaks in the cloud cover. The sky dims, the sun barely holding itself above the horizon. It sinks with a speed that only comes from the tail end of winter, grasping at the last remnants of daylight. She should go home, too.
As Ella turns away, she thinks of the wind. It blows between the trees and through her chest. For a moment, it feels like a breath; her first in a long time.
It gusts beyond her, and then it’s gone.
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