A storm is brewing, she thinks. A squid might have made a home in the sky, careless ink staining the clouds grey. It crackled in displeasure, booming threats and sparks along the belly of it all.
Mary Ann sits gingerly on a too-stiff bed and too-clean sheets. Bleached white and impersonal, each element of the dorm room was just a few feet away from warmth, seemingly tailor-made for discomfort. Even the roof closed in on her, slanting in over her bed. If a tiny disorientating room was the price she had to pay for privacy, so be it. She would take what she had.
The United Kingdom really was as gloomy as it was fabled to be. It felt as if it was always rainy and always dreary. She sneezed once more. A bathroom trip was in order. She stood up and flinched as the sky let out a thunderous clap. Then rain started pouring in all at once. Before she knew it, a sigh escaped her lips. She’d need to find the space heater, whatever that was, and figure out how it worked. Or maybe she’d just pile under blankets. The semester didn’t start for another week, after all, and she was free to do whatever she wanted. She felt a shivering thrill run through her as she opened the bathroom door–all this was hers. No shared bathrooms, no shared bedrooms. Sure, there was a chance that someone would room with her, but for now she’d enjoy the odd sense of freedom that being several hundred thousand kilometres from home brought.
She stepped into the bathroom, door ajar. She’d dug through her luggage for the bare necessities and a sweater, pushing the suitcases of other junk and all her clothes under her bed. They’d do as a means of storage. Her toothbrush gave a spark of colour to the drab bathroom, all grey and white tones of ceramic and painted walls. She compared it to an asylum, almost, before shaking the thought away. It wouldn’t do to put down her lodgings already! It’d barely been a day. Running the faucet, she blew her nose, expelling copious amounts of snot with a loud honk. She dried her hands on her shirt, looking up at the mirror.
Clear as crystal, her attention was drawn to a pale face right above her, the whites of their eyes showing, hands reaching for her. Fear struck her, an ice-cold, heart skipping a beat.
Mary Ann cursed, turning as the figure disappeared out of the corner of her eye. Like a less-than-pleasant mirage, it was gone, and she wondered if the nerves and jetlag had finally caught up to her. Her heartbeat rang loud in her ears, overwhelming the rain, chaotic. She took a deep breath. She was navigating a new environment, completely alone, and her tired mind had gotten far too creative for its own good. Mary Ann loosened her grip on the sink, carefully opening the door. Rationally, that was what had happened. She didn’t dare to look in the mirror, however, afraid of what more she might glimpse. A step out of the bathroom and she was slamming the door shut, jumping into bed, and crawling under the covers.
Safe at last. The bed was firm and solid beneath her, a blanket pulled over her head as a shield. It felt foolish to be hiding under the covers like a child from monsters, but Mary Ann was tired, scared, and possibly-not-alone.
The rain hammered down and she dozed off, real exhaustion overwhelming paranoia.
Mary Ann awoke to a video call from home, bright and early at noon. The memory of the day before was a blur, a fading dream.
“Hi, mom,” She said, angling the camera to the ceiling.
“Hey, honey,” her mother crooned, the camera also angled to the ceiling. “How are you? Can you see me?”
“I’m fine, and, no, I can’t.” Her younger brother’s head slid into view – literally, he moved slowly into it. “Hi, Michael.”
“Bleurgh!” He pulled a face, sticking his tongue out and pulling his eyelids down. Mary Ann laughed, holding her phone up to give him the finger.
“Mary Ann!” Her mother cried, the phone shifting violently to show her family sitting at the dinner table. It was already dark. “That is so rude. Why are you two so rude?”
“Sorry, mama. It was an accident.”
Michael chortled, sitting at the table. Mary Ann felt the first pang of homesickness. Her mother had made dinner, a large ladle sticking out of a ceramic pot of porridge. There were little plates and bowls on the table: she could make out stir-fried kailan, pickled lotus, pickled radish, Chinese pickled olive leaves, pickled bamboo shoots–it was now that she realized that pickles were prevalent in her mother’s cooking, and especially with porridge, and that she would be hard-pressed to find them in the UK.
“Mama opened this for you, but we forgot that you weren’t here,” Her mom said, chopsticks gesturing at an open can of fermented fish and beans.
“Sad,” May Ann replied, voice carefully steady. “You can eat it in memory of me.”
“Mama 吃! Mary Ann 吃!”
The duo dug in, and Mary Ann watched idly, listening to the clink of cutlery and their banter. Michael had school today. Her mother didn’t talk about work. Their fish jumped for food today.
“We miss you,” Her mother said suddenly, voice a little sad. “I don’t,” Michael grinned ugly, mouth full of food, but something told her that he lied. Her mother sighed, picking up a pickle. “Study well, okay?”
“Okay,” Mary Ann replied.
Mary Ann folded the paper bag, feeling very British indeed. She’d considered ordering food, downloaded the app and everything, and balked at the prices. She decided she could live off PB&J sandwiches for a day or so, unwilling to spend her scholarship’s monthly allowance on ridiculously priced delivery food, and made her way down the street to the supermarket for groceries – and back just in time, too, as it began to rain again. She kept the groceries, made herself a sandwich and set it on the table, slumping into a chair. She considered calling her friends, people she made promises to not fall out of touch with. She checked the time conversion: 12 am. Yeah, she could think of a few people who’d be up.
Sandwich in one hand and phone in the other, she made her way to the bedroom. She plugged her laptop in, made herself comfortable, sandwich on the bedside table – this was wonderful, really, and she flipped open her laptop. She performed the arduous process of getting into the WiFi, went through her mail, texted a group chat or so.
PB&J??? I don’t think that’s very healthy, Mary.
shut it, white boy
you are the last person i want to hear that from
I’m interracial!!! @JINNN back me up I’m getting bullied.
Mary Ann grinned as Jin, the simp, immediately started typing.
racism AND homophobia? marianne cancellation arc fr
Mary Ann giggled, reaching for her sandwich.
Then the power went out, Zeus himself roaring with laughter in the aftermath.
Mary Ann sat in the dark, sandwich halfway to her mouth. It grew very, very cold, very, very, suddenly, and she shivered, setting down the sandwich. Her music stopped. Reconnecting, Discord said, the logo spinning and spinning. Mary Ann watched her surroundings, rapt, as the barely there evening light cast shadows across the room.
She stared in horror as a ghostly figure began to take shape, fog seeping and spinning into the form of a young woman. Mary Ann had always believed in ghosts and spirits, but she didn’t expect one to materialize in her room, and certainly not with such dramatic effect. She thought they just, like, appeared. Poof.
Finally, the full form of the girl seemed to solidify, her pale outline solid yet barely opaque. Mary Ann could just about make out the door behind her if she squinted.
Not that she was trying to do that. She cowered behind her laptop, knees drawn to her chest.
“Holy shit, a ghost,” she breathed, moderately terrified.
The ghost seemed to study her–she couldn’t tell. It looked like its eyes were permanently rolled back into its head, which was a little freaky. Mary Ann was never good at eye contact, so maybe this was a good thing. The ghost was blonde, an intricate braid going around her head. Her hair fell down her back, wisps of it simply floating. Ghost gravity. Of course. She wore an old-fashioned shawl around her shoulder, too, and it seemed to have the texture of gauze. The ghost seemed to contemplate something.
“I’m a spirit, actually,” she said, in a posh British accent. Their voice seemed to intrude into her head, like a thought someone else had for her. A British ghost. No way.
The ghost–spirit–said nothing, simply standing there… menacingly. Mary Ann, discreetly, pinched herself. Nothing happened, and Mary Ann began to feel less scared, and more awkward.
“You come here often?” She tried, putting on a winning smile. “Yeah? It’s a nice place? I just moved here.”
The spirit continued to stare.
“Okay. Well, I’m going to…text my friends. Maybe do some chores.” She flipped open her laptop. “You’re welcome to stay – though I guess you might’ve been here first. Sorry.”
Reconnecting, Discord said. Reconnecting. You have no WiFi, fool.
Mary Ann hovered over her keyboard, then went to Minecraft.
She opened a new world, the ghost in the corner of her eye. She was eerily good at standing still, but maybe that was the charm of being undead. She had on a plain dress, the ends of it disappearing into fog, just a little off the ground. There was something beautifully ethereal about her – attractive almost, and Mary Ann decided not to dwell on that thought for too long.
“What’s your name?” She tapped along custom settings – a flower forest biome, floating islands. She had an idea for a build in mind, a garden in the sky. In Minecraft.
Mary Ann suppressed a laugh. Right. “Thank you.”
Angela, the world was named.
“What was that for?”
“My Minecraft world.”
“Your – your what?”
“Minecraft world,” Mary Ann said. “It’s a game I play. You wanna see?”
Angela remained quiet, and Mary Ann shifted to the side of her bed, angling her laptop. “Here. Sit. I can show you.”
Angela didn’t budge, and Mary Ann sighed.
“You come over whenever you like.”
The next time Mary Ann looked up from her computer, Angela was gone, as was the rain. She wondered if she’d imagined it all, then decided her imagination was overactive, but not that active. The power had returned at some point, and the little charging light on her computer came back on.
“Weird,” she said, for the sake of hearing her own voice. “Odd.”
It really was.
Over the next few days, Mary Ann continued life as normally as possible. Angela showed up occasionally silent and always accompanied by the faint smell of a storm. She hovered over her shoulder when she mopped the floor and trailed along her shadow. She sat by the windowsill when Mary Ann was at her table, watching her work through emails, social media, Minecraft. She’d considered telling her friends, then decided it was too much hassle to explain.
“Angela. Why are you here?” (She didn’t know.)
“Angela, can you pass me a pen?” (She could, and Mary Ann could only wonder how.)
“Angela, wanna see this?” (It was a cat video – the language of love. Angela smiled, slight.)
Mary Ann had always been used to having an extra person around, be it her brother, her mother, a friend, or a coworker, but for the first time in her life, she found herself the one talking and talking. This company was–just there. Angela listened and answered, and didn’t ask for much, if at all.
School started, and Mary Ann’s (human) roommate never arrived.
“It’s just us,” she said, inexplicably relieved, reading the email to Angela. The spirit hummed, floating over to squint at the computer.
“Indeed it is.”
And so Mary Ann started her second year of university, hectic. Her grades had to be kept above an 80 percentile, and it kept her home more often than not, with shitty campus internet and all. It rained more than ever these days, monsoon season, a grey country. Once she woke to Angela sitting on her desk, watching her. It was barely drizzling out the window.
“Morning,” she yawned, and she never thought she’d be happy to wake to someone watching her sleep.
“Good morning, dear,” Angela said, voice barely above a whisper. Then the sun broke through the clouds, and she vanished.
When Mary Ann made it to the kitchen, she found a PB&J sandwich on the table, and her heart tumbled into a flip. Thank you, she scribbled onto a note, and stuck it on the fridge. After a moment of consideration, she added a smiley face. It hit her that it was all terribly domestic.
She shrugged it off; everyone leaves notes for their paranormal roommate who visits only in the rain, calls them dear, and makes them breakfast.
Angela was a little more present ever since, and sometimes, even when the rain subsided, she stayed for a minute or so longer. Mary Ann began to look forward to the rain, checking weather forecasts for cloudy skies and umbrellas. The ghost began to ask questions, a ghostly finger pointing at things on her screen, and Mary Ann would explain the best she could. She was always attentive, cocked her head and nodded along, and Mary Ann found herself rambling for hours. Day and night, Mary Ann talked to Angela, her voice the only one ringing in the silence of the apartment.
On weekends, they did chores and Angela helped the best she could, reaching tight corners, making her a snack, dusting the tops of cupboards and high shelves. Mary Ann fancied herself as Cinderella and her animals, magical creatures aiding her in the dull of life. The apartment grew cosy, blank white and cream the perfect canvas for new memories.
Once, Angela chuckled softly at her younger brother’s antics. She’d promised to stay out of sight in video calls, even if they weren’t sure if others could see her. She wasn’t sure if her family had heard it, then, but Mary Ann sure did – it reminded her of a xylophone, melodic and light, a twinkling sound that had her aching for more.
The second time, Angela giggled at something her friends said, sitting on the bedside table. It was a jab at her, actually, so Mary Ann feigned irritation, even as the laugh of something divine rang through her head. It left her a little lightheaded, but she didn’t mind. She studied the way Angela covered her mouth – to no avail, of course – and the way her eyes crinkled, sheepish and entertained.
The third time, Angela laughed at some dumb joke Mary Ann made as she hopped in Minecraft, showing her the world of colour she’d created in her name. She learned, now, that Angela’s laughter sounded like a chorus, a full song, someone running a symphony through the human mouth. It echoed in her head, and Mary Ann felt lighter than air.
The discovery of these feelings hit like a truck, and with it, came many questions. She mulled this over in the lecture theatre. How did this happen? Was this technically necrophilia? Why did she not notice sooner?
Most pressing of all: What would Angela think?
She knew by now that Angela was incredibly intuitive. She was reserved, yes, but she didn’t hesitate to be straightforward with Mary Ann. She wouldn’t know how to judge Angela’s feelings or actions, for the ghost only seemed to appear around her. The thought made her a little smug. She brushed it away.
Ultimately, she concluded that there was only one way to find out.
She took the bus that day, checking her weather app on the way.
70% chance of precipitation, it read.
She exhaled. 100% chance of anticipation.
“Angela,” she said, at home. Sure enough, it rained, pattering against the window, and she cringed to think that this mirrored a certain other couple’s confession.
“Yes, Mary Ann?” Angela looked down from hooking the curtains on.
“I like you,” she said, quiet.
“Yes, dear.” Angela continued to hook on the curtains.
It was silent for a bit.
“Like, I have romantic feelings for you,” Mary Ann tried again, feeling stupid.
Angela floated down, level on the ground. Even so, Mary Ann had to look up at her, and she swallowed.
“And you are telling me because…?”
“I wanted to see how you’d react,” Mary Ann confessed. “Do you mind?”
“I do not.” Angela held out her hands and Mary Ann took them, her touch cold, comforting. “I… like… you too.”
“That’s – that’s great,” she sighed, relief rushing through her.
“Of course it is,” Angela leaned down, pressing a kiss to the crown of her head. Mary Ann felt more than heard her smile, and flushed. She had a partner once, a long time ago; yet romance came familiar, the same dance and pull. She held her hands tighter.
“You know,” Mary Ann laughed, nervous, hoping it came off as coy. “I’ve never kissed a ghost before.”
“Spirit, my dear,” Angela sighed, and then she came close.
My dear, Mary Ann thought, and she shut her eyes. The cold kiss of death was never meant to be so very sweet, and she didn’t doubt they’d bent the laws of reality for a moment – she’d never felt more alive. For a moment, eyes closed, it was warm, and she almost felt the silk of Angela’s shawl, her hands fully tangible, a whiff of long-forgotten perfume. The feeling didn’t completely fade, too, when she opened her eyes, the milky white of Angela’s own comforting and affectionate.
“Now you’ve kissed a spirit,” she said, amused and soft.
“Fantastic. Would do it again.” A pause. “Can we please do that again?”
Angela laughed the same tinkling laugh Mary Ann had first heard many nights ago, and she thought that maybe she could embrace the prospect of sharing her room.
“Of course, my love.”
And for the first time since she arrived, she realised she wasn’t quite so alone after all.