october

Aurora Stewart de Peña

I’ll spend more time dead than I will alive. That’s a hard thing for me to be okay with. Being alive is what I know, and I love it. All my feelings, all my friends, getting rained on and going swimming, these won’t be things that are easy to let go of, when the time comes.

Jason Freure asked me to assemble a collection of ghost stories for October’s Town Crier after I wrote this piece for The Puritan. It’s my family’s ghost story, an inexplicable set of experiences that none of us understood, but interpreted as “ghost.” The ghost in question was Sakes. He appeared as a translucent old man with an artificial hand who tried over and over to make a phone call where there wasn’t a phone inside the front door of the house we used to have in Stratford, Ontario. He moved things around, turned on all the faucets, and appeared in our nightmares. My mother thinks Sakes just wanted to be seen.

I understand. It would feel very lonely not to be visible in the way you were used to, even to people you didn’t care about. Some random family who had moved into your house, for instance. I imagine I would be a pretty dedicated ghost, if that’s what it came down to. There’s no one I wouldn’t haunt, no task I wouldn’t repeat into unsettling infinity, if it were a choice between that and nothingness.

I’d be okay with being a bit transparent if it meant that I could still be here.

It’s hard for me to say I believe in ghosts, because people will make fun of me and I hate that. There’s no quicker way for me to make myself look crazy than floating the possibility of ghosts being real at a party. Someone will make a face like a kindergarten teacher and cite Rational Science. I say the thing I always say, which is that science has been wrong. It’s been wrong a thousand times and it will be wrong a thousand times more. We used to think the sun revolved around the earth. We punished people who said otherwise. Like Copernicus. Who was right about the sun. I think it’s okay to have questions, particularly about the things we experience but can’t explain. People usually change the subject after that conversation. I imagine it’s because they want to hang on to some kind of respect for me. I want that, too.

But how can we possibly think, with all the vastness of the universe and all the wide black beyond, that we have the tools to understand it all?

Great ghost stories are arguments with mortality. They don’t accept death as the end of needing people and doing things.

If I’m being very, very practical, I have to admit that it’s a little convenient to chalk those inexplicable experiences up to being proof that my fondest desire, an unstoppable life force and immortal spirit, is real and mine for the having. Those experiences could be anything: weird magnetic fields or tears in the space-time continuum. But my enemy isn’t magnetic fields or space-time continuums; it’s death.

Great ghost stories are arguments with mortality. They don’t accept death as the end of needing people and doing things. They do accept that death is scary, because despite some very good guesses and some emerging clues from science, nobody knows what happens after that last eye closes. This month’s writing explores those arguments, wades in that fear, and accepts not knowing.

Aurora Stewart de Peña writes plays and other things. She’s had her work produced in Brooklyn, Manhattan, New York State, Bath, West Yorkshire and here in Toronto at the SummerWorks, HATCH, Rhubarb, and Fringe festivals as well as independently at Double Double Land, Videofag, and The Theatre Centre. Her short stories have been published in The Puritan, Little Brother, and Petal Journal. She has contributed to Canadian Art Magazine and Definitely Not The Opera. Currently, she’s working on a book about a flood.

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