Kate knew she was crazy. She had been crazy since her first year of high school when the strangers began visiting her and told her what to do. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, she had done well on her medications and currently was functional in her clerical employment. The visitors came less frequently but their disembodied voices still called to her. When she had the right prescription she could defy them and refuse their bidding. There had been no office episodes at work nor any public psychotic breaks, but she well knew of what she was capable. Her pills were so important: take some in the morning, some at night, some on a full stomach, some on an empty stomach; and the regimen worked so much better when she had a good night's sleep.
She lived alone in a one bedroom apartment that sat over an elderly man’s unattached garage. She liked that. She could pace. She could clomp around as much as she needed and there would be no one below to complain. She could play music as loud as she pleased, except that she hated loud music and found it unpleasing. But if she wanted, she could, and that was what mattered. A garage filled with the memorabilia of another person’s life buffered her from the rest of the world. One would have to slog through his entire life’s story to reach her. Hopefully, her visitors would be exhausted by the time they got to her.
What this really meant--what was important to her--was that she could scream and no one would hear it. One might think if a scream were necessary, it would be a bad thing if no one could hear it. In her case, however, it was a good thing because it happened so often. Whenever the screaming increased in frequency, she knew it was time for a change of prescription.
When she saw the ghost she was not troubled. It had been a long time since a stranger had come to visit, so she figured it might just be time for a new medication. She hoped the people who made medicine would keep inventing the new ones as quickly as the old ones stopped working. She ignored her ghost which was particularly gruesome. It appeared gouged about its head and was bloody everywhere. There was drool.
It tried to get her attention. She would turn and it would slip back in front of her. She would turn again and it would repeat the maneuver. She looked into the mirror and it was in the reflection behind her. She had seen all of these tricks before. She continued to ignore it.
She wanted to get ready for bed. She had had a very busy day and was tired. She didn’t appreciate that someone or something was trying to keep her from her night’s sleep, which was so important in balancing her medications. She walked to the window of her bedroom and pulled the curtains back. It suddenly appeared outside her window as if it had climbed a magic ladder. How many times, she wondered, had it spied on her? It was all she could do to stare defiantly right through it. The stars twinkled brightly and clearly in the new Moon dark sky.
“Beautiful night,” she said out loud to no one, rudely ignoring her visitor. “Not a cloud in the sky.” This had broken the seal, for her voices never initiated conversation, only responding with their counter-arguments that urged her on to bad choices.
“You know I'm here, Kate." She tossed the curtains together abruptly. "Did you hear me, Kate?” She turned around sharply and there it stood, again in front of her. “I said that you know I'm here. How rude, Kate. Don't ignore me. That won't work this time." She finally fixed her eyes on it and took in the full impact of its appearance. This one was a very troubling sight, indeed. It appeared pleased to get her attention.
She refused to scream. It still would take way more than this, she vowed, to make her scream. Not even the smell of the rot that accompanied her visitor. Or even the aftersmell of vomited rice. No solitary ghost ever could compete with some of the bizarre things her diseased brain had conjured up for her in the past. Things that fed from the deepest troughs of her mind. Terrible things. Horrifying images and morbid tableaus. Things that brought out her most excellent screams. She had made great strides, however, even to the point where she could not only suppress her screams, but actually argue with her hallucinations.
“I know you’re not real,” she told the ghost finally. It was fuzzy, semi-transparent, and wore a face of mischief through its disfiguring facial gore.
“Just how do you know I’m not real, Kate?” it asked her. Its voice was deep and tremulous. The reverb, she felt, was a bit of a cliché and over the top.
“How do I know? Well, first of all, seeing ghosts is just plain crazy, and crazy is not reality. If ghosts were reality, I'd be carpooling with some every day to work. And there are a lot of crazy people to keep ghosts popping up in what folks hear. Even people not as crazy as me say they see ghosts. There's even a TV show about it."
"Ah," said the ghost, "a reality show. What was that you were saying now?"
"Seeing ghosts is not reality. Shadows, sneaky reflections, sounds from the attic, creepy feelings. I’m not buying it. I’m not falling for it. It’s just the buried crazy part that comes out when someone sees one. And another good reason I know you're not real is because I’m already crazy to start with. Crazier than most people who say they've seen ghosts. My crazy ain't buried so deep you see, so I’m liable to see anything. Don’t feel so special.”
“But you are up to date on your meds, aren’t you? Have you missed a dose, perhaps?”
“No. I’m good at taking my medicine. But then there's you,” Kate said timidly, her voice fading to a frightened whisper.
“If you’ve been taking all your medicine, then you’re well. It’s not because you’re crazy, is it, that I’m here? You’re being treated. I must be the real deal.”
“Seeing ghosts is still crazy, crazy ghost. Even with my meds going good. There ain’t no such things as ghosts, anyway. Haven’t you heard?”
“Oh, I’ve heard. But now I’m not buying it.” The ghost patted itself briskly up and down, tufts of dust and wafts of malodor erupting with each slap. “I’m here. Plain as day. Just like you, Kate. A phantom, a wraith, true, but real as you and troubled by unfinished business.”
“Then you’re dead if you’re a ghost.”
“Well, you said it, not me. What’s your unfinished business, ghost.”
“Tell me, Kate, have you seen the stars tonight?”
“Yes. You know I did. You were right out there in the window when I did.”
“No, Kate, they’re gone.”
“Oh, they’re there,” she insisted.”
“No, Kate, they’re gone. Take another look.” She walked back over the window, and when she parted the curtains again the sky was ink black. Again the ghost appeared outside her window, looking in at her. He raised a mangled hand to point up. She followed his aim to a starless sky.
“It’s overcast,” she said, “and they’re above the clouds.”
“No, Kate. They're not above the clouds. There are no clouds. Not tonight. You said so yourself.” She strained to look, but saw no stars at all. Were they really gone or just part of the hallucination that had ferried her ghost to her?
“No stars is crazy, too,” she said.
“No, Kate, they are no longer shining in the sky for you. But they're around, trust me. They're just hiding.”
“Kate, you know where. They’re in the place no one dares to look.”
“Riddles and games. I don’t know what you’re talking about, ghost.”
“Those deepest places where your deepest thoughts are. Your scary thoughts, Kate. Ugly thoughts. Dangerous thoughts. Things you want to do but know you must not.”
Kate waited. She did not like what the ghost was saying. These things were hurtful things, for she had seen her deepest thoughts. She had heard her deepest voices. Thoughts and voices about scary things, ugly things, and dangerous things. Things she used the rest of her mind to suppress.
“You need to leave, ghost,” she said.
“But if I go, who will remind you of your deepest thoughts? They are you, aren’t they? Don’t you want to be yourself? Most people go through life trying to find themselves, but you live to deny your true self. Don't you need to be you? Self-actualization, Kate. What would Maslow say?”
“I don't know any Maslow, and I don't want to be the real me. No. I want to be someone else.”
“Who, Kate? Who else do you want to be?”
“The person I should have been all along, before my sickness.”
“That’s not you, Kate. You need to be your real person. How dare they tell you not to be you? You can show them, Kate. Show ‘em good.”
“Stop, crazy ghost. Leave me. Go away.”
“Do you want me to go where the stars went? Do you want to go where the stars are?”
The thought of that gave Kate a strange sense of comfort. “Yes,” she muttered to herself, “that would be nice. That would be normal. Like everything used to be.” She was thankful that the stars had always been there for all of us--for her. It didn't matter where they were. They promised the same world the next day, day after day, in a universe that remained constant and familiar. A stable universe. Something she could wake up to each morning. Home. Reality. The ghost spotted the hearth burning warmly in her eyes.
“Ah, then, yes, Kate. Very good. Join me there. You see, the stars are our innermost thoughts. The thoughts that you think it is good to suppress, but it’s not good to do that. They are what are normal, what we all are. And when we bury our real selves that deep, we’re not ourselves anymore. The stars are like the canary in the mine. Do you see, Kate?”
“Yes,” Kate replied. “I do.” She paused. She reflected. A troubled look of conflict passed over her face. This is how they always trick me, she thought.
“Don’t think, Kate. Do. Act on your impulses.”
“No, crazy ghost. I'm better than that.”
“Better than your real self?”
“We were born with Original Sin, ghost. We’re better than that now. Our real selves were the sinners. The original sinners. We can do better. I can do better. I know better.”
“That’s religion talking, Kate. That went away with the stars.”
“Yes, ghost. The canary died. We’ve been warned not to go back to being our real selves. Our deepest selves.”
“Oh, Kate, you’re being foolish. When you deny your real self, you’re denying what God has made you.”
“God? You? Like God has anything to do with you. You bring up God? Now, how dare you?”
“God’s with the stars, Kate. Our deepest ugliest, scariest thoughts created him. Created religion. Santa Claus, magic, and luck. It’s all make-believe.”
“And you, ghost, are you real? Or make-believe?”
The ghost paused now. “That is a trick question, Kate.”
“Is it now? God’s not real but you are? You come from my deepest thoughts and fears, too, ghost. You can’t have it both ways. Now I’m going to tell you this just one more time.”
“Leave. Go back into my deepest thoughts and fears and worries. Stay there. And then I’ll throw away the key.” The ghost pouted.
“Eve was a great woman, Kate. Even she took the apple—why can’t you?”
“Goodbye,” Kate told the ghost.
“I’ll go. But I’ll be back. You’ll see.”
“Perhaps,” Kate replied. “I take every day one day at a time. Just like my medicine.”
“You and your goddamned medicine! Fool! You killed your own canary! You!”
“Goodbye. And really, don’t come back.”
“You wish!” said the fuzzy, transparent shade, becoming more transparent and fuzzier the angrier he became, its mischievous face replaced by one of vindictiveness. “I will come back,” it promised. “You know I will.” It seethed.
“You usually do,” she replied, and then the specter faded away altogether.
Kate turned to draw her bath and looked forward to the renewal the water would bring. After that, she planned to retire for the night. The next morning she would take her daily medicine. She felt good. A day without screaming.
It had been another good day.