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Not Normal by 800 words of heaven
Chapter 1 : {Chapter the First}
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 98


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You know your life ain’t normal when you see dead people.

I know, I know. Dead people, Ellie? Like ghosts? You’re a witch! Of course you can see dead people! It’s part and parcel of the Hogwarts experience!

At this point, I would like to interject and inform you – whoever you are – that I don’t mean those kinds of dead people. Also, I am sure that your anecdote about Nearly Headless Nick, a half-consumed bottle of vodka, and a somewhat inebriated Dennis Creevey is delightful, but please save that one for another time. We are, after all, standing in a cemetery.

(No, it’s not because of that whole dead people thing, but more on that later).

Chris and I stood side by side, looking down at the marker signifying our mother’s final resting place. Adrienne Zhang Anderson had been a daughter to Chinese-French immigrants to the British Isles, a wife to a Muggle man who understood stone tablets more than his smartphone, and a mother to a pair of twins, gifted in magic just like her. She’d also been a Healer at St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, and when one of the most virulent strains of Magical Flu had swept across the country just over seven years ago, Healer Adrienne Anderson was on the front lines, fighting the epidemic. She’d been one of the last people infected, a cure discovered too little, too late to save her.

A breeze blew through the leaves of the elm tree shading her grave, masking my deep sigh. It had been a long time since I’d cried for the loss of my mother, but it still ached. Where there should have been lectures on my lazy habits, and arguments filled with adolescent angst, and laughter and shared eye-rolls over my brother and father, there was this great, gaping… nothing.

“Lovely weather today,” Chris murmured. Chris always talked about the weather when we visited our mother’s grave. It was one of his stranger quirks, but considering the rather unhealthier ways I’d seen people deal with grief over the years, thanks to my “gift”, I let him have it. It was lovely weather after all. The sun was out in full force on this bright August day, the sky was a piercing deep blue, and the breeze carried the subtle scent of roses in full bloom. I reached out my right hand without looking at him, and took his slightly clammy left one in mine. He gave it a small squeeze as we stood there, once again in silence, staring down at the marker.

We’d placed a fresh wreath of white roses on the grave, replacing the bouquet Dad had brought last week. Mum’s death wasn’t taboo in the Anderson household, but Chris and I never visited the cemetery with Dad. He’d never quite recovered from her passing, and I didn’t wish to intrude on his grief whilst he was here. Chris, I think, just didn’t want to see Dad cry again.

Ten seconds more of the silent standing, and I started to get restless. Quite honestly, I never really felt that close to my mother when visiting her grave. She’d been a no-nonsense woman, practical and efficient, and always expecting the best from us, yet full of this warmth that made me believe that she never doubted my ability to not only achieve, but surpass every one of those expectations. This place with obscenely manicured grass, markers in long neat rows, and the weight of loss and grief always pressing down on your skin held nothing of that. Not of her softly accented English, nor the comingling scent of disinfectant and jasmine perfume, nor the taste of her cheese and chive crêpes.

But I knew that Chris needed this. So I came with him whenever he wanted – even if it was our seventeenth birthday, and I’d rather be at home flicking through Mum’s old Muggle paperback romance collection.

“I’m going to go for a walk,” I murmured, not able to stand still any longer.

Chris glanced up at me, his light brown eyes – the exact same colour as mine – shining bright through unshed tears. This was also part of our ritual. I’d wander away for ten minutes, meandering around other graves and clusters of mourners, so that my twin brother could get rid of those tears any way he wanted. Then, we’d meet under the elm tree near the carpark, and we’d head home, and talk about the latest Doctor Who episode.

Chris nodded, and let go of my hand, turning back to look down at Mum’s grave.

I took a step back and headed left down the row, where there were fewer people loitering about. It never ceased to amaze me how many folks visited the cemetery on any given day. Most of them did it for no real reason, just wanting to feel a little closer to their dearly departed. I, on the other hand, was the special occasions type of cemetery visitor. Birthdays, deathdays, and holidays were more my jam.

My wand poked into my lower back with every step I took, but I ignored it, and just soaked in the feeling of the warm sun on my skin, the thick grass a cushion under my sneakers, and the light rose-scented breeze gently ruffling through my hair. I wanted to take full advantage of the rare creature that was the perfect English summer day. Even though September was still quite a warm month – thank you, global warming – Scotland never seemed to get the memo. Probably because the memo had been intercepted by Hogwarts, who enjoyed burning it in the Slytherin Common Room fireplace, going by how draughty the dungeons always were.

I reached one of the main thoroughfares in the graveyard, a larger than normal section of grass, that divided the area into even chunks. Turning right, I headed towards the tree that crowned the little hill that was the centre of the cemetery. From here, you had a pretty lovely view of the grounds. It wasn’t nearly high enough to obscure people into ants or anything, but it was a fair distance from any graves. Plus, it had a bench.

Reaching the well looked-after wooden seat, I slumped down into it, glad that the sun was shining from behind me, since I’d forgotten my sunglasses in the car. And being in a Muggle community, I couldn’t very well transfigure a stick into a parasol without someone noticing.

My gaze wandered aimlessly over the innumerous markers, lingering briefly on the odd mourner. Some were tending to the grave, cleaning them of leaves and old flowers, some were weeping quietly, and some, like Chris, his black hair glinting in the sunlight, were simply standing there. I wondered how many of them were like me, just a touch uncomfortable at being here at all.

You would think that with the whole “I see dead people” thing I’d be pretty comfortable in graveyards, and you’d be right – I was pretty comfortable here. As long as “here” was not where my mother was buried. In a strange quirk of the universe though, I didn’t actually have to spend much time in cemeteries. My particular brand of ghost was different to those you’d find at Hogwarts – those people had chosen to linger on the mortal plane for whatever reason.

My ghosts? They didn’t actually want to be here. Something was keeping them here, whether it was that they didn’t actually realise that they were dead, or that they didn’t want to leave their loved ones just quite yet, or that they had to exact revenge on their killers. As a result, they didn’t hang out in cemeteries all that much.

It could be argued that Hogwarts ghosts and “my” ghosts weren’t all that different – hell, I’d argued that with myself more times than I could count. But the unchangeable fact remained that there were a lot of dead people wandering around in the wide world of the living, and some (living) folks could see more than others. I, being a classic overachiever, could see even more than the usual garden variety of the dead. I don’t know how. I don’t why. But I could.

My eyes snagged on a dude, maybe my age, maybe a little older, not too far from me and my bench. He was dressed similarly to me: jeans, t-shirt, sneakers, and like most people here, was standing in front of a grave, staring down at it. I couldn’t see his expression from here, but considering that there was a dead person standing right beside him, I imagine he wasn’t thinking about rainbows and sunshine.

I sighed. Just my fucking lucky day. You’d think that dead people would give you the day off on your flipping birthday at least – but no, since the tender young age of five, I’d had the dubious honour of guiding these wayward spirits along to the Next Great Adventure. And no, I had no idea what that was. I was a pretty shitty travel agent that way. But since I’d never seen my mother after she’d died, I’d assumed for a long time that things couldn’t be so bad on the other side.

“Fucking stupid dead people,” I muttered. I was, thankfully, quite alone up here on my bench under this conveniently placed tree, so no one could give me weird looks for wishing ill on the dead in a graveyard. Trust me, the irony wasn’t lost on me.

I shuffled to my feet despite my annoyance. I knew I had to go down there and sort this all out. This, you must understand, was not because of any sort of altruism on my part. If I ignored this ghost, and it happened to catch on that I could actually see them – and they always, always caught on that I could see them – I’d never get any peace and quiet. One time, I’d tried ignoring the ghost of an old lady who’d died of old age, but she wouldn’t leave the mortal world – and more importantly, me – until I’d gone and yelled at the kids that lived in the same apartment block as her for breaking her window that one time.

Death clearly didn’t imbue any wisdom and knowledge on people. So really, it was best to tackle this here and now, before I was forced to yell at children again who hadn’t even been born when the “crime” had been committed.

But how to approach this. I couldn’t very well go up to this grieving individual and be like, “Hey! How’s it going? You have a dead person haunting you. Yeah, it sucks, but why do you think that might be?” Tried that once. Didn’t go down all that well.

So I decided for my usual approach – the good old “observe and hope the dead person goes away by themselves” manoeuvre. Albeit, this tactic has only ever worked three times for me, I am always optimistic that this time will be lucky number four.

I stopped in the row behind the grieving boy, three graves to the right of where he was standing, so I had a clear view of both involved parties. I hoped no one decided to visit the person I was using as cover right now, because things could get very awkward, very fast.

That deep, dark hole I feel gaping inside me every time I think about all the time I don’t have with Mum is written clearly across this guy’s face. I was glad that I could only see the side of his face from where I was standing; it hurts just seeing as much as I could.

I took my attention off the living guy, pushing away the discomfort of seeing my own grief so clearly on someone else’s face, and focused on the real problem here: the dead girl. It’s a strange quirk of this particular kind of ghost-hood, but unlike normal ghosts, who look exactly like they did the moment they died, my kind look like the moment they felt most alive. For most people, that is when they died, but it’s too dangerous to assume that the way they look now is the way they looked in the last moment of their life. I’d once met someone who was wearing a wedding dress, and she’d died when she fell off a ladder – in her eighties. And most importantly, not wearing a wedding dress.

The girl – young woman – was maybe a few years older than me, probably university age. She was also dressed in jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers, like the grieving guy and myself. And that’s not all they had in common: their hair was the exact same shade of mousy brown, and their frizz was out of control in the same way, too. Their facial structures were similar – something about the slope of their nose, and the curve of their jaw. Probably siblings, then. Fuck.

I squinted a little to try and get a better look at the gravestone. The second date was from just three months ago. Double fuck.

“I can feel you staring at us, you know,” the woman said. I didn’t jump at the sudden voice, nor did my expression change. Twelve years is a long time to get used to seeing and hearing things you shouldn’t. These stuck-here ghosts look just like the living; there’s no otherworldly glow around them, no pearly, translucent filter. It can get a little disconcerting sometimes just how alive they look. But for the fact that they’re completely intangible like your regular, garden-variety ghosts, I wouldn’t blame you for mistaking them as one of the living if you saw one walking down the street.

(Side note: if you ever do see a dead person walking down the street who looks suspiciously alive, send me an owl, so I can finally meet someone else with this strange gift of shuffling them along to the next plane of existence. I’d love to swap strange encounters of the incorporeal kind over coffee.)

“Are you going to stand there all day like a creepy stalker?” she continued. I still didn’t reply. I couldn’t afford to open my mouth and blow my cover, but if she turned around and looked at me… ah. Now we could talk. Sort of.

I raised my eyebrow at her.

She raised hers back in turn. “What?” she asked, her eyes flat.

I raised my eyebrow a little further, and as subtly as I could, tilted my head towards her (maybe) brother.

“Cat got your tongue?” she sneered.

I pursed my lips and narrowed my eyes. Not seeing anyone close by in my peripheral vision, I lifted my chin, pointing it in her direction, and then jerked my head away, indicating the grass at the end of the row. And then I sauntered away, without looking back at her to see if she’d follow.

I heard a sigh from behind me, but nothing else as I headed towards the area I’d indicated. I looked around, making sure that no one was close enough to notice me having a conversation with myself as the ghost approached me.

She stopped in front of me, and we stood there, facing each other, under the bright August sun. I felt another cool breeze blow faintly across the hairs on my forearms. This wind, however, has nothing to do with earthly air currents, and everything to do with unearthly spectres that shouldn’t be standing in front of me.

Before she could open her mouth and give me more sass, I said, “What are you doing here?”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “That’s incredibly rude,” she replied. “What are you doing here?”

I kept my expression flat and a little bored. “My mother’s dead. I’m visiting her grave.” I jerked my head again, vaguely in the direction of Chris.

“Well, I’m –

Not visiting your dead mother.” I interrupted. Usually I’m not this rude, but I knew that I didn’t have much time until Chris started searching for me. And I can’t afford to have this chick follow me home. Whatever the fuck needs to be done, needs to be done now.

Her mouth snapped shut in surprise, and I took advantage of her silence. “Who is he?” I crossed my arms across my chest and look towards the dude still standing where we left him.

“Why should I tell you?” she asked instead.

I sighed. “Who else do you think can help you? I imagine all your attempts at communication have failed miserably so far, since you’re still here.”

She stared at me for a few seconds, her eyes searching my face. But slowly, her posture relaxed from defensive to a little defeated. “He’s my baby brother,” she said. Ah. So I was right. The “fuck” remains unchanged.

I unfolded my arms and nodded for her to continue.

“I – um… died three months ago,” she started. It was a relief to know that she realised that she was dead. I wouldn’t put it past people to not notice even if their gravestone hit them in the face.

When she didn’t seem that keen to continue, I prompted her. “How did it happen?” I asked softly.

She shoved her hands into the pockets of her hoodie and rocked back on her heels. “Car accident. It was dark and rainy. No one’s fault really, but you know.”

I nodded. “Sucks for everyone involved.”

She gave me a quick, small smile. “Exactly.”

She lapsed into another silence. If I had more time, I’d wait her out, let her tell her story at her own pace, but I didn’t have time. Chris could find me any minute. “And your family? How’d they take it?”

She shrugged. “As well as could be expected, I guess. My folks – well. They’re not okay. But they will be.”

I nodded again, and rocked back on my heels, mirroring her earlier move. “And your brother?”

Her breath hitched and a single tear fell down her cheek. When she spoke, her voice was watery. “He’s… he’s going to be fine, too. I know that. But –”

The tears rolled down her face in earnest now; her shoulders shook and her breath came in large, loud gasps. “But I can’t just leave him! He’s my baby brother! He needs me! You know, he’s graduating high school this year? Wants to be a paramedic. I’m not going to get to see any of that. I’m – I’m –”

“I know,” I murmured.

“How the fuck do you know anything?” she spat at me.

I didn’t rise to the bait, although I really wanted to. But arguing with ghosts about how the living can’t understand the pain of the dead was pointless. “My mum died when I was ten,” I said instead. “There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about her and all the memories that I’ll never have because she’s not here.”

The girl stopped sobbing, and looked at me with wide eyes.

“And it really fucking sucks, too, because I actually could’ve had all of that, even with her dead.”

The girl took a sharp intake of breath.

“But I don’t really want that either,” I said, shaking my head, my lips pulling into a sad smile. “She died, and she moved on. It hurts like a bitch that she did – that she didn’t even drop in to say goodbye, but that’s life, I guess. She’s moved onto greater things. Which is just about the best I could want for her, really.”

The girl stayed quiet for a few moments. “Do you… do you think it… hurts?” she asked softly.

“What? Moving on? Nah,” I said, smiling a happier smile this time. “Countless people have done it before you, and countless people are going to do it after you. No one’s ever come back to complain.”

“Can you – can you come back to complain?”

I scrunched my face in thought. “Honestly? I don’t have a fucking clue. But if you can come back, could you come and tell me? For future reference, of course.”

Her lips, the bottom a little fuller than the top, pulled into a watery smile. “Okay,” she whispered.

I smiled back. “Okay,” I said. I blinked.

And she was gone.

AN: Hello, lovely readers! If this is your first time reading, welcome! If you are a returning reader, also welcome! I am currently in the middle of a MAJOR rewrite of this story – so that’s why things have changed. I hope you enjoy it though. Let me know what you think, by dropping a quick review! Thanks guys, I love all of you who give my work a chance.

Adios, amigos! :D


 


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