ghost stories for october, pt. 2

When he died, he received a list of every person he had ever wronged, and he was left to assume that in order to continue to the afterlife, he would have to visit each of them and atone. The problem was this: he did not know what he had done to most of them. It was just a list of people. Some of them he didn't even know.

He started with the easy ones, the ones he knew. Most of them could not see him, but there was an emotional connection there. They could all sense a presence. Some of them called on paranormal experts to try to communicate, to understand what this spirit--his spirit--was doing here. Some of them seemed to feel comforted by his presence, as if they understood what it represented even if they didn't really know or couldn't articulate it. Others were frightened, moved out, avoided the rooms he liked to haunt. That hurt. Only one could actually see and really interact with him, but that story is personal. He made things right, and for that, he decided, an eternity of haunting this mortal coil was worth it.

From there he moved on to the ones he knew but didn't remember what he had done. Only a rare few even suspected the presence of a ghost, and they were the ones who found that sort of thing exciting. The rest had no idea, so he focused on the ones who cared. He gave them little hints and left them with ghost stories to tell their friends, and he felt like he had accomplished something even if no actual atonement happened.

Then he found himself drawn to the names that he did not recognize. Sometimes when he visited them he would recognize their faces, in a distant sort of way: didn't I once see you at a concert? Weren't you standing and smoking at a bus stop forever ago, looking ? But he knew nothing about them, and none of them seemed to notice his presence at all. He learned about each of them as much as he could. Their hopes and dreams and darkest secrets, all the little things they'd do in the confidence that nobody would notice. He watched each time they accumulated another name they'd have to visit when they died, and smiled to himself (because there was no one he could smile to) as they continued on unaware.

The last name on the list was his own. He was no longer frightened to face himself, for he had learned many stories and many secrets since he had died. He knew the truth behind the stories, the stories we don't tell, which are in some ways the most important stories there are. And at last he knew that he could face himself as judge and not be found wanting.

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