In what can only be optimistically labeled a mistake, Evan’s ashes ended up being scattered in a bucket fountain in Wellington, New Zealand. Though Evan spent the next ten months attempting to discern exactly how such a mistake had been made (his remains should have been shipped back to his native Michigan), there was no avoiding the fact Evan’s spirit was now trapped along a busy road called Cuba Street.
It took him around a month to understand he was dead, and another few months to understand that he was not in heaven; he hadn’t even left Earth yet. He wasn’t in his hometown of Tecumseh, Michigan, however. For whatever reason, his spirit was in a part of New Zealand Evan hadn’t even visited during his backpacking adventures.
The other two spirits wandering the street proved disinterested in his company, nor were they up for answering any questions he had. Their eyes almost seemed glazed over as they dragged their souls up one side of the street and down the other, and he often wondered if the two spirits even heard him.
Any attempt to leave the street was met with a sort of barrier that pushed Evan right back onto the street. His record in the eleven months since his untimely death was two meters, before being shoved back into a record store or into yet another trendy restaurant.
While the two spirits ignored him, Evan took to studying them mostly out of desperation and boredom. Despite being seemingly oblivious to their surroundings, they were clearly searching for something, he thought. Every now and then, maybe once every week, their eyes would suddenly snap to someone living who was walking on the street. It was always for a few seconds, always with a different person. A few seconds and the spirits—maybe one had been a woman, maybe one a little girl—would go back to their aimless wandering. The two spirits reminded Evan of a nursing home he had visited before his great-grandmother had died. He had seen quite a few people in the home with the same apathetic eyes as they had also wandered with abandon.
Was he doomed to be like them? Was this how all spirits became?
Evan was a firm believer in heaven, and it disturbed him that he was stuck. He felt nothing pulling him onward; nothing to suggest anything was amiss in his being on a strange little street in Wellington. Where was the guidance? Who was there to tell him what he was supposed to do? There was no one but the two other spirits.
Mainly to avoid them, Evan began wandering the halls of a lovely hotel called the Q Hotel. He attempted to be polite by staying in unoccupied rooms as he found every so often, he could knock a piece of paper off of a table or run his hands through some wires in the walls and flicker the lights. Most of the time this all occurred on accident, and he didn’t want anyone to see. The Q Hotel was a sanctuary for him away from the terrifying things on the street below; he didn’t want to see it closed because of suspected faulty wiring.
What was his unfinished business? Evan had learned from somewhere that beings like him… ghosts… were left on Earth because they hadn’t completed something. He had suffered a rather humiliating death—getting too drunk in Auckland, diving into frigid waters with his massive backpack strapped to his back, and almost immediately drowning. Was the embarrassment he felt his unfinished business?
He spent months attempting to come to peace with how he had died. He tried to reason away the death with the stupidity only a still-forming brain can act on. There had been alcohol involved as well. Surely, he could blame the alcohol.
Why did he have to be stuck in Wellington? At least if he had become stuck in Tecumseh, he could check in on his mother. If he wasn’t worrying about moving on, he was worrying about his mother. How was she going to live without him? He wished he could somehow float through the air like ghosts supposedly could and just go see her. Evan had no idea how she had taken his death, but he imagined it wasn’t going well. She was already a mess without his death helping her along.
When the hotel rooms all became full, Evan would quietly move through a wall back to Cuba Street. No one walking the streets paid any attention to him whatsoever, and he found himself wandering just like the other two spirits. There was nothing to do but wander, he realized. It felt like maybe he was waiting for something, but he didn’t know what.
At least his ashes had been put into an amusing fountain. It seemed to have been installed for the entertainment of passersby because about once every few minutes, the top bucket would fill with water and pour that water quite sloppily down to a series of buckets attached on a pole beneath. The result was water that splashed all over the place on its way to the basin below. Evan delighted in watching several businesspeople sit on the edge of the basin only to get soaked. He learned many new swear words in foreign languages this way. Sometimes people liked to jump into the waters and swim. Usually, they were drunk and usually it was late at night.
Time dragged despite the small light of amusement the fountain brought him each day. There was no need to sleep, to eat, to do anything in particular. No one was even paying attention to him. It felt crushingly lonely the longer he endured the street. Even watching people as they chose clothing from shops or vintage records from a music store failed to capture his interest any longer.
He noticed the two spirits seemed to avoid the bucket fountain just as they had avoided the Q Hotel, and so Evan often took to standing in the basin, watching the water fill the buckets. If he concentrated, Evan could almost start to tip the buckets forward before they were full, which would catch even the locals off-guard.
On the anniversary of his death, Evan was hard at work trying to figure out how he could reach the top bucket. He reached up yet again to see if somehow he was floating upward when he sensed someone was watching him. He looked down to see the woman and the child standing right in front of the fountain, glaring at him.
It was the first time he had gotten a good look at their faces. He felt a cold dread creep into him as he noted the whitened eyes, the dark hair with missing patches, the sallow cheeks and white lips. The woman reached one hand out to him. Evan leapt back with a cry and landed on the other side of the fountain.
The woman and child walked through the fountain to reach him. The child reached her hand out as well. Evan felt himself backing away from them with his own hands up. He went through the wall of a clothing store and then hit the invisible barrier that trapped them on the street.
He turned around, away from the approaching ghosts, and banged on the invisible wall.
“Please!” he cried to no one. “Please!”
He knew they had touched him when an icy sensation burned through his neck, then his head. His spirit refused his commands as it turned back toward the two ghosts. They had their hands on his head now, his face, his eyes. It felt like they were attempting to bury him beneath the icy waves he had endured in his final seconds of life.
The two spirits snapped their hands away, and a small sensation of warmth returned to Evan. With the startling realization that he had been kneeling, he leapt to his feet and looked to the opened door of the little shop. It was in the middle of the night for the living, yet here stood a still-alive woman. She was panting hard, her hand up and pointing at the two ghosts like she was trying to push back lions. They stared back at her with indifference and waited.
The living woman turned to Evan.
“Get out of here!” she yelled.
Evan wanted to scream that he couldn’t leave the street, which made running pointless, but she was the first being to have spoken to him since his death. He listened.
He waited outside near the bucket fountains again, annoyed now by the playful splashing of water. He was trying to listen inside the clothing store, but all he could hear was the fountain. What was going on? Should he check on her? What could he possibly do, though? What had those ghosts been doing to him?
Two agonizing minutes later, the woman came out of the shop and sat on a bench near the fountain. She was still breathing hard, and she rubbed her forehead like she was nursing a bad headache.
“You’re safe now,” she said after a minute. “I sent them on, so they won’t bother you anymore.”
“Thank you,” Evan could only think to say as he marveled at her.
The woman, who was maybe in her 30s, looked up at him and smiled.
“You’re young, too,” she said. “How long have you been here?”
“Maybe a year?” Evan said with a shrug. “I can’t keep track of time.”
“Of course, of course,” she said. The woman spoke English with an accent Evan couldn’t place. The revelry of speaking to someone had taken him so completely off-guard that he hadn’t even noticed the accent at first.
She stood and watched the fountain for a while.
“Do you want to go onward, too?” she said at last.
“Who are you?” Evan said.
“I guide spirits,” the woman said. “I go where I feel lost souls and help them out. No one else seems to be doing that right now around here.”
“And how do you know the way?” Evan said.
The woman smiled.
“No one’s ever asked me that one before.” She studied his face. “You’re so young. What happened?”
“I was an idiot,” he said with a deep sigh. “Do you think that’s why I can’t move on?”
“No, plenty of idiots move on,” she said. “Actually, I have found being an idiot helps you accept your circumstances and move on by yourself. It’s usually the more intelligent people who trap themselves here.”
“It’s my mom,” Evan said. “I don’t know if she’s ok.”
The woman smiled again.
“I knew you were a good one. I just had a feeling about you. That’s why I saved you.”
Evan watched a few people nervously walk faster on the other side of the street as the woman pulled out her phone. He reached up and managed to tip one of the buckets slightly faster than it normally did, which prompted the three people to break out into runs. The woman laughed.
“What were they doing to me?” he said as he watched the humans run.
“They wanted company being dragged into oblivion,” she said without looking up from her phone. “It happens when spirits aren’t guided in a timely fashion. They start to lose their memories of being human in the first place, and then they get lonely and want other spirits to feel the same. It’s like a virus, really.”
The woman held her glowing phone out to Evan.
“Is that you? You said about a year ago, right?”
Evan peered at the phone’s screen to read out a headline: American drowns in New Zealand in suspected suicide.
There was a photo of him beneath the headline wearing his hiking backpack and beaming.
“Suicide?” Evan said with a shudder. “My mom can’t think that! I didn’t try to kill myself.”
“Do you remember your mom’s phone number?”
The spirit stared at her. Silence fell over the street for so long the woman looked up from her phone.
“I don’t even remember her name,” Evan said. His eyes widened. “Oh my God, I don’t remember my mom’s name.”
“Don’t panic,” the woman said. “It’s ok. I’ll look it up. The article says you’re from Tecumseh, Michigan? Never heard of it.” She flicked her finger across the screen. “Ok, ok, you’re Evan Adsit. Right?”
“Am I?” he said. He felt the same coldness from before, though the ghosts were gone.
“Evan!” the woman snapped. He looked at her as though from the wrong end of a microscope. “Stop it. It’s ok to forget things. It’s my fault I didn’t get here sooner. There are others like me, but we’re stretched thin at the moment. It took me longer than it should have. I’m sorry. But don’t give up.”
The woman held up her phone again.
“Is that her?”
Evan squinted at the photo on the woman’s screen. He saw his mother smiling in a family photo that, with a start, he realized was part of an online obituary the local newspaper had run for him. For a moment, he could almost feel heat return to his frozen limbs as he remembered those light brown eyes gazing with adoration at him every time he came home from anywhere. It didn’t matter if Evan had come back from the gas station, his mother’s eyes would silently greet him like he’d returned from the other side of the world.
“That’s her,” he said. The burning ache he felt to be near her again pulled him out of the cold. His eyes could only see her.
“Her name is Maria Adsit.”
“Yes, that was what it was,” he murmured. His eyes were still transfixed on the photo.
The woman slowly moved the phone away from Evan, and she began furiously typing on the phone. She pushed a button on the phone to put it on speaker.
“Hello?” the woman said into the phone’s receiver. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I have new information on the death of your son I thought you’d want to know.”
There was a pause before his mother’s enraged, almost incoherent voice poured out of the phone’s speaker, momentarily filling the street. Evan felt a thrill of fear as his mind took him back to when he had been a small child who had almost run into a busy street to retrieve his runaway kickboard. His mother had screamed at him the same way she did now.
The woman was calm.
“Yes, I know lots of horrible monsters have tried to take advantage of your loss. I’m so sorry. It’s just that I’m with your son now.”
There was a click as the phone went dead. The woman sighed and dialed it again. There was no answer. She tried again. And again.
On the fifth attempt, Evan’s mother angrily answered the phone again. The woman was met with a string of profanities that vibrated out of the phone before the woman had even put it on speakerphone again.
The woman looked up at Evan as she muffled the receiver with her fingers.
“What do you remember about your mother?”
Into the receiver, the woman said, “Please, I know it’s insane. I’m not asking for you to do anything but listen. I’m not asking for a fee here.”
“She made me take an amulet she’d bought from Japan that’s supposed to ward off evil,” Evan said. “I had to stick it on my backpack.” He laughed. “I mean, I told her I was going to Japan so I could just pick one up myself, but she insisted I use hers. It made me worry she was going to lose whatever protection it gave her.”
The woman relayed the information into the phone, which was enough for Evan’s mother to stop shrieking in rage.
“Ok,” the woman said into the suddenly silent phone. “Maria, are you still there? I just wanted to tell you something, ok? Your son, Evan, didn’t commit suicide. Ok? He said he was being an idiot.”
“I was drunk and thought I could breathe underwater or something stupid like that,” Evan said without a trace of humor.
The buckets relieved themselves into the basin below as Evan moved to sit beside the woman on the bench. The woman spoke Evan’s version of his death into the phone and was met with more silence.
“I also want to add that I’m going to help him move on, ok? He’s been trapped for some reason in an odd section of New Zealand, but I found him and I’m going to help him move on. He’ll be ok now, so don’t worry. He was so worried about you that he couldn’t move on, so I need you to just promise me you’ll keep it together as best you can for his sake.”
For a solid minute, there was silence on the other end. Then, a shaking voice barely above a whisper said, “I will.”
The two words were a scorching knife piercing Evan’s soul, temporarily paralyzing him as he sat on the bench, staring at the street before him. Whatever the two other ghosts had done to anchor him to the street seemed to dissolve thanks to his mother’s quiet words.
“Evan says he loves you,” the woman said as Evan put his head in his hands. He could hear his mother crying. “And he knows you love him, too. So don’t worry about him anymore. He’ll be fine.”
The woman hung up the phone and smiled at Evan before tossing her phone into the fountain.
“I can’t have your mother calling me back,” she said. “You won’t be here for much longer to answer questions.” She sighed. “I’m going to have to pay the phone rental company a hefty sum for this one.”
Evan looked up at her from his hands.
“Is this going to hurt?” he asked quietly.
The woman laughed. “No, I’m not at all like those crazy ghouls.”
There was a brief sensation of warmth Evan felt flow through him, then there was nothing.