By Samantha Lienhard
Dedicated to: Mr. and Mrs. Rod C. Kelchner
A noise reaches me in the dark.
I stir, trying to trace its source. It is not a sound that can be heard by mortal ears or measured in vibrations. It is something deeper, carried on the waves of emotion.
It is a soul crying out in sorrow.
My searching leads me to the window. I look out upon the path stretching out below me. It is crowded, filled with students. Some are hurrying to their classes, while others are spending free time outdoors.
At last, I see him. He is just another student, outwardly the same as the rest. I have long since ceased to see their differences. My gaze is drawn to him, though, for the sorrow is his.
He is standing with a girl. As I watch, she turns and walks away from him. I cannot hear what was said, but I can guess. He stares after her for a while, and then he slowly leaves.
The others may think something is wrong. His step is too slow, and his head is hanging. They won’t be able to feel his sorrow the way I can, though. It shudders through the energies that surround me, piercing me to the core of my being.
Unbidden, a long-remembered aria of pain comes to me. I sing softly, remembering when my love was betrayed, a century past…
I am shaken from my memories by the sense that he is coming closer. I drift down from the sixth floor to find him, but I do not have far to go. He has climbed to the fourth floor of the library, and now he stands by the railing that surrounds the center.
Leaning over slightly, he is staring down to the bottom floor. The shock and despair pours forth from him like a roiling miasma of poison. There is a great weariness behind the sorrow on his face, but doubt flickers in his eyes. He is considering it; he knows there is no one around to stop him.
Or, rather, that is what he thinks.
I move to the very center, hovering in the air right before his gaze. I hold out a hand to stop him, shaking my head.
He jerks backwards in alarm, but then he frowns, staring through me. His mind won’t let him see something he thinks is not there.
It is enough. He backs away from the railing, pushed just above the oppressive despair that had enveloped him. I join him where he now stands, curious as to what he will do next.
He seems uneasy. He rubs his eyes several times, blinking at the spot where he had seen me. Finally, he leaves the fourth floor. His sorrow is now intermingled with confusion, and he seems more tired than anything else.
I return to the sixth floor, leaving him to recover on his own, as people must.
His distress will not let me rest, in the days to come. He is not coming to terms with what happened. If anything, he is falling deeper into despair. I feel his sorrow like I felt my own, and I long to put it to rest.
He enters the library again, two days after I first observed him. He is heading towards a particular wing, as he reaches the third floor, but he slows as he crosses the floor. His gaze is pulled towards the center.
The sound of his pain reaches an unbearable pitch, and he trembles mid-step. Anguish washes his face, and his will threatens to submit to the lure of eternity, stop his walk entirely, and lead him to a fatal fall.
I move behind him as he begins to falter. Gathering the energy around me, I give him a firm push in the direction of his original destination.
He stumbles towards the wing with a startled look. With a shiver and a shake of his head, he walks the rest of the way.
I follow him. His sorrow is still billowing forth from him in waves. He is in incredible danger from his own mind.
I trail him as he finds the book he was looking for and works his way through the room. He sits at a table and spreads his things before him. Beside the book he lays a stack of paper, a printed page of guidelines, and a pencil.
Settling in beside him to watch him work, I am alarmed by the way his hands are shaking. He cannot seem to concentrate on the materials in front of him.
“I could have talked to her about this paper,” he mumbles to himself, putting his head in his hands. “Oh God, what did I do wrong? Why did she leave me?”
“Have courage,” I whisper gently.
His head snaps up. “I—” He cuts himself off abruptly, looking around in bewilderment as he realizes he is alone.
Finally, he sighs and returns to his work. He is more focused now, if only out of necessity. At the very least, he is no longer contemplating jumping to his death.
I wait with him until he is ready to leave the library. I wish I could speak with him. He will not believe I exist, though, and can only hear me in the seconds I catch him unawares.
That is not enough to deter me, however. It cannot be.
When he returns the next day, I am already waiting in the lobby. His unrest was so great that it had reached me across campus during the night. I had shaken with his nightmares, assaulted by a double memory of betrayal and pain. His recent wounds had opened my old ones, and now I watch him with even more care.
The people around him try to talk to him. They claim they understand what he is feeling. They do not, however. They cannot feel the way his heart threatens to rip in half, keeping him awake at night with the stabbing pain. They cannot see the sorrow rising within him, choking and suffocating him. They cannot ever hope to truly understand what is happening behind his shadowed eyes.
He finally shakes off all those concerned for him, and I follow him again. He morosely makes his way through the library. I wait as he looks up the book he wants, and then we continue on our way. His steps are leaden, and when he at last reaches the shelves on which the needed book is located, he stares at them dully.
I look at him carefully. His gaze is blank and unseeing. Although he stands there, his mind is far away. I shudder in sympathy; I know what it is to be trapped in a cycle of unending memories.
At last, he shakes himself out of his dark reverie, and begins to look. I see the book he had looked up, just in front of him. His depression, however, has deadened him, and he shows no sign of seeing it.
Taking pity on him, I take the book from the shelf and offer it to him.
He stares at the book for a second, and then he reaches out and takes it. Then he realizes what he just saw, and drops the book with a yell.
I pick it up and put it back on the shelf. He screams a second time. I cannot help but smile. Fear and alarm has replaced some of his sorrow for the moment, and I feel sure I have made him aware of my existence now.
Another student comes running, having heard him cry out.
“Are you all right?” she asks breathlessly.
“I think I’m being haunted!” he blurts out.
“Haunted?” she repeats.
He nods, and then the words begin coming from him in a wild rush. “Books have been flying around, and the other day I heard something, but no one was there, and someone pushed me when I was walking, but no one was there then, either! Lately, I feel like I’m being watched when I’m here, and—oh.” His eyes widen. “It all started when I thought I saw—but I couldn’t have—a girl, a lady, all in white, just floating in front of me…”
The other student looks amazed. “What, did you do something to get Sara angry?” she asks, laughing slightly.
He makes a choking noise. “Who is Sara?” he finally manages.
“The ghost of North Hall.”
His focus on her is absolute. His sorrow has retreated to the back of his mind, temporarily forgotten. I, too, listen intently, curious to see what she will say.
We listen together as she explains my story—telling him about how before the building was a library, it was a dormitory, and how I cast myself down from the sixth floor atrium, singing, after being betrayed and abandoned by my boyfriend. She tells him about people’s experiences with me, and I can tell he is uneasy.
“Why would she bother me like this?” he mutters, but he lacks conviction. He knows that my story is all too similar to what he considered making his.
“The stories say she’s a playful ghost, not a malevolent one,” the other student offers reassuringly. “You’re in no danger.”
“No, quite the opposite,” he mumbles.
He shakes his head, unwilling to talk about it.
She frowns at him. “Is something else bothering you?”
I leave them, retreating to my sixth floor dwelling. He is safe, for now. No longer do I feel his pain. All that remains is my own, and it has become unbearable, as it so often does.
I had once hoped that after countless years of following others as they overcome their sorrows, my own would diminish and fade away. It has not. My mortal memory has faded, but a new torment has replaced it. I have endured here for years, and I will for years to come. I cannot escape the sorrow of the world.
What will become of me, when I am forgotten? Will I have any power at all in this world, when I am just a death that happened long ago, and the story of my spirit is never told? Is that when I will find my yearned-for rest, or will I be doomed to witness the tragedies of the world even once I am powerless to stop them?
The mortal world is gray and indistinct to me as I glide through the air. All that remains is my own world, just on the edge of a barrier I long to cross.
A glorious piano sits before me. It is the ghost of a tangible instrument, and it has remained with me through everything. It is the one stable thing of my existence; it is the one thing that will never change and will always be my own.
They can destroy my home and change things as they will, until I have faded from memory, but they will never destroy the sleek black surface and shining white keys that sit before me now. Its music will be eternal.
I begin to play, and the golden tones, wrought from emotion, start to ease my suffering. I let the music encompass me until there is nothing else. When I begin to sing, I feel that my union with the song is complete. We are one, both ethereal and alone, brought together in a bittersweet melody of pain.
When my burden becomes too great, my only solace is here.
Time is immaterial, when I am that withdrawn from the mortal world. I play for an unknown period of time, before I hear my name, whispered cautiously by one half-afraid of hearing a response.
I stop playing. Only trace amounts of his sorrow linger in him, but I know it is the same student. In whatever days have passed, he has begun to recover. There is nothing more I need to do for him.
Yet, it would seem he would have something of me.
He is nervous. He opens his mouth several times before words come out. “I heard your music,” he finally manages. “You really do exist, don’t you?”
He hears me and jumps. “You exist,” he repeats, weakly.
“Do not be afraid,” I say.
After a minute or two, he composes himself. “You saved my life, you know.”
“Why? What am I to you?”
I think about that, before replying. “You are only another mortal, like I once was, who has felt the sorrows that I once suffered.”
“You didn’t want me to suffer?” he asks. He seems dissatisfied with that. “I would have ended the pain right then. It’s what you did.”
“And I have been condemned for it.”
“Condemned?” He shakes his head. “You’re still around. It’s as though you never even died, really. I think you were blessed.”
“Blessed?” I demand, angered by his shortsightedness. “I should have gone to my rest a century ago. Instead, I still walk this world. I am weary, on a scale you can never imagine. I sought to escape one sorrow, and have reaped a hundredfold more. Your pain hurt me, as has the pain of every betrayal, separation, and unrequited love since my death. I hear them all; the sorrow of the world speaks to me. It is constant, and it will never cease.” My strength grows with my vehemence. He takes a sudden step back, and I know that he can see me now. “I find relief when I ease those sorrows that I can, but that is barely a step towards erasing the weight that time has placed upon me. I am cursed to prevent my history from repeating itself, time after time, until I can no longer bear it. Then, I will be merely a shell of pain, beaten down by the tragedies. This is no blessing.”
He lowers his head. “I’m sorry.” He looks up again. “I know that doesn’t do anything to help matters. But…I am sorry.”
I glide to the window, silently. The world continues on, down below us. I can see time moving inexorably onwards.
“Why can I see you?” he asks.
“Because you believe in me,” I answer.
“I knew you existed when you started speaking, though.”
“What did you know of me? You only knew enough for my presence to be known to your conscious mind…but now, you know more. You have some understanding of who and what I am, and so I am real.”
“What happens if everyone stops believing you exist?”
It is my previous thoughts, repeated back to me. I am no closer to an answer now than I was then. “I do not know. It may be that I will at last fade into death completely…or, perhaps, I will remain, but people will only ever see me in glimpses, until they again begin to truly believe.”
“You’ll have earned your rest,” he says encouragingly.
I do not know what to say to that. I finally turn towards him, with a different question. “How do you see me?”
“What do you mean?”
“What do I look like?”
He answers hesitantly. “Well…you look like a lady—noble, in a way, I mean. I guess I would say you look like someone who was once great. You’re very pale…all white, like a picture with all the color taken away from it. You’re translucent, too. I can see you, but I can see the wall behind you, too. Then again, maybe that’s just a little disbelief of mine, eh?” He laughs nervously.
I turn towards the window again. “Thank you. I was just curious.”
After a long silence, he speaks again. “Thank you for saving my life. Your music was very beautiful, by the way. If you see me around, feel free to say hello. Maybe I’ll cheer you up next time.”
Although I doubt he could ever help, his sentiment makes my burden seem a little lighter.
“It’s been nice talking to you, Sara… I really hope you get to rest some day.” He awkwardly backs away and leaves.
I am still standing at the window when he leaves the library. He is walking with the other student, the one who told him about me. They are talking together, but he turns his head and looks up at the sixth floor window.
I do not know if he can see me or not, but I wave, just in case.
They sometimes say that a ghost is a spirit doomed to walk the earth until it puts its unfinished business to rest. My business is easing the sorrow of broken love. I dearly hope my sentence is not meant to last until that business is completed, and that one day, I will at last be allowed to leave the earth.
Until then, I am here.
"White Lady" is the copyrighted work of author Samantha Lienhard. All rights reserved. Reproduction in any format requires permission of the author. The story is reprinted here with the author's permission.