Billy Carlton rose up slowly from his bed, his brown hair tussled from a rough night's sleep. The morning light had drifted in to his room in a pale sheet, reflecting off of the floating dust particles that flitted about in the drafty air. Billy sat on the edge of his bed, allowing himself to wake up by absentmindedly blinking at his window. The glass was covered in a thin sheet of fog from the outdoor chill, tempting him to draw designs on it with his finger. Billy inhaled deeply and tore his gaze away from the window. His brown eyes traveled around his cluttered bedroom as he yawned and stretched his limber arms up towards the ceiling. His feet hit the cold, wooden floor as his toe stubbed on one of the many books that had been tossed to the floor after his eyes had devoured every page. Now, numerous volumes were strewn about limply on the floor.
It was a beautiful Monday in Charleston, South Carolina. Billy peered out his window once again, noticing the autumn air whisking through the trees outside of a small window. He flipped on his light switch and watched the fluorescent bulbs flicker to life. The lights reminded him of all the sunshine that lay in wait for him outside. It had been overcast lately, keeping Billy cooped up in the miniscule apartment. It was definitely time for a walk. Billy dismissed the thought of breakfast as he splashed some cold water on his face, grabbed a jacket and slipped on some worn out gloves.
Billy began strolling along the path he took when he needed an unusually long walk. The beautiful, unique buildings lined the streets, giving the city its odd charm. They each seemed to have their own personalities, conversing with each other about the weather as their shutters trembled in the wind. Billy grinned to himself as he watched old women walking their cotton-ball dogs and children running alongside their parents. Nobody returned his smile, but he didn't blame them. The scenery was too beautiful to pay attention to any other pedestrians. Being a friendly boy, he waved every so often as families or individuals passed him by, but nobody ever bothered to wave back.
Billy had lived in Charleston for as long as he could remember. He had also been lonely longer than that. Billy was always a shy boy, sweet and kind to everyone but never a social butterfly. He was more of an intellect than anything else, reading books by the bucket load, most of them mysteries or poems. He always seemed to be caught in a mix of time periods by the way he dressed, almost as if his mind were halfway in the present and halfway in one of his books, sticking a toe in the eighties and poking the twenties with his index finger. Most people that knew him thought that he was an odd boy, and Billy never begged to differ. He knew that he was unusual just like they all said.
Billy continued on his walk, still waving or attempting to make small-talk with the occasional passersby. Nobody even acknowledged his existence, which didn't bother him until he realized that every person he had tried to talk to for the past hour had done the same thing. Feeling a bit melancholy over the ignorance of others, he decided to find a peaceful place to sit and think for a while. He took refuge in a beautiful chapel on a corner, sitting on one of the benches. Nothing much went into his head and nothing came out. He was a blank page in a book that wasn't sure what to do with itself. Nobody was going to read him and nobody knew why he was there. He just sort of existed.
Just as he had started to clear his mind, a distant coughing noise caught his attention.
"You're alone too?" a clear voice chimed. Billy turned around to see who the voice belonged to. A beautiful girl, about his age, turned the corner and leaned against the chapel wall. He grinned as he realized that it was his friend, Charlotte.
"Yes. I suppose so," he sighed. Charlotte smiled. She was an unusual girl, always showing up where she was least expected.
"You know," she said as she pushed her thick dark hair off of her shoulder, "people are going to wonder why you choose to spend your time around here." Billy looked around, not sure what she meant. Charlotte giggled and, finally, he looked around and realized that he had been sitting in the church graveyard.
Billy gave a sheepish grin, not sure how to take the situation.
"Oh, well I hope these guys don't mind," he said as he poked the ground with his foot, referring to the buried men below them. "I don't even remember why I came here in the first place." Charlotte's face grew more solemn.
"You know, I think everyone needs a time to remember things. Even the dead," she said almost in a whisper, looking around at the graves and then back up at Billy. A strange yet familiar feeling began to creep up on him as her gaze intensified.
"You're probably right," he said as he looked off at a distant building. "Do you think they remember anything about when they were alive?" Charlotte's gaze only lingered in response. A long pause followed.
"I'm not sure," she stated in a monotonous voice. She looked up Billy. "Do they?"
Perhaps it was the way she questioned him or the way her violet-colored eyes were trained on him, but the feeling in Billy's chest began to intensify. The sensation spread over him like a tub of icy water suddenly being dumped on top of him, running from his head to his toenails. Billy shut his eyes tightly, waiting for his heart to begin pounding out of his chest, but he felt no such thing. All he felt was emptiness inside as if he didn't have a heart at all. A rush of emotions filled his head and his heart as images rushed into his closed eyes seconds at a time. His eyes shot open, taking in the image of Charlotte instead.
"I'm so sorry," she said gently, "but you must try to remember, Billy. I do."
The images began appearing to Billy every time he blinked. Warm sunlight, enormous trees, darkness, fear, joy, the coarse feel of leather, the softness of an infant's hair; all of the images and feelings flowed back into Billy's consciousness faster than he could handle. He stood up slowly from the bench, clutching at his head and walking away in a panic. The feeling of emptiness and loneliness that overpowered it all was almost numbing, interfering with his coordination as he tripped over a gravestone. The impact as he collided with the ground seemed to trigger the rest of the feelings, the rest of the thoughts. And that is when he remembered.
He remembered a frostbitten Monday and the words of his sister, Elisabeth, more than anything; the words that called out his name. The empty words held no meaning anymore but they meant everything in the world to him. He didn't know why she had been calling out his name. He didn't know if it was in childish giddiness, in sorrow, in panic, or in the normality of the day. He didn't know why she needed him or why he needed her. All he remembered was her voice and the fact that he had died that Monday. He had been living as a dead boy ever since.
Billy's mind spat out minor memories, sometimes getting stuck between two things like an apple pie and a soft, familiar lullaby. Some of the memories seemed like scraps of an old quilt; a dimple by someone's cheek, a bent skeleton key stuck in a door, the popping of floorboards in someone's kitchen. His thoughts took him back to the days of his childhood and his feelings took him back to his first love. He could almost hear the sounds of his family singing to him as they brought him his seventeenth birthday cake, the last birthday he ever had. He fought to remember everything, but something kept him from certain thoughts and feelings, the ones he wanted most to reach. His mind stretched out to grab them like two welcoming arms but they wouldn't come to him, forever condemned to the grave along with him.
Billy knew that he was dead. He had been dead ever since the bitter winter of 1914. He knew that he was merely an apparition; a phantom. That's why nobody ever saw him when he was out walking the streets. However, something inside of Billy sometimes forgot all about it. Something inside of him had hope that there had been a mistake and maybe, just maybe, he was still alive. Despite all of his hopes, he always had to come back to reality and realize that he was stuck as a seventeen year-old boy forever.
Billy came out of his trance and found familiar darkness behind his eyelids once again. His shoulders shook with sobs but no tears came from his eyes. He gathered the courage to look up and cry out to Charlotte, the one person who could see him while he was invisible to everyone else. The only thing he could see in front of him were limp, brown leaves covering a stony bench where she once perched. She had disappeared into thin air. However, she had been right. Even the dead needed a time to remember things.