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Life is But a Dream for the Dead (The Lovers, the Major Arcana Series) by Francesca Burke

  Once upon a time there was a girl who haunted dreams. Well. They were usually nightmares by the time she was done with them. She was dead, but when you’re dealing with the subconscious that is neither here nor there.

  Around the same time, there was a boy who haunted daydreams. Unlike the girl, he didn’t scare his audience into waking up; he pulled them into a stupor so enticing they frequently forgot to wake at all. He was also dead.

  They met for the first time on a crossroads. Their victim, sorry, chosen audience, was a teenage boy. They had both been teenagers, briefly. The boy’s dream merged into a daydream merged into a dream, as they often can when one is woken in the night by a passing car or suchlike.

  ‘Would you like to get coffee?’ she asked. He was cute, in a dead sort of way.

  ‘Sure.’ She was cute, in a dead sort of way.

  Coffee in the afterlife isn’t really the same as it is in life, so they visited a coffee shop and used their combined psychic weight to knock several jars from their shelves.

  They were a team after that, mostly. One in during the day, one in during the night. Extra fun with daytime naps and that snuggly not-quite-conscious state. Most people don’t remember their dreams, and fewer still like to admit to the contents of their daydreams. Both are excellent playgrounds for bored spirits. Both whisper, you are not completely happy on a fundamental level.

  Universal meditation practice, both ghosts liked to say, would put them out of a job.

  Several years into their lucrative partnership, the ghosts encountered a very elderly woman. Neither of them had made it to thirty in life, so they both envied this lady’s aching bones and deteriorating mind.

  Oh, do you, really? she asked them. Both ghosts paused.

  ‘Did you say that?’

  ‘No. Did you?’

  ‘Nuh-uh.’

  What are you doing, anyway? the elderly woman continued. Why are you nosing at the inner workings of my brain? Don’t you have your own?

  ‘Well, now—’

  It’s because the half-asleep musings of a nonagenarian give you a taste of what you might have enjoyed, had you both lived. Now leave me alone to my memories or I’ll relive my time in Red Cross. I was at Srebrenica, you know.

  They knew.

  They looked at each other.

  ‘It’s possible the living are haunting us,’ he said tentatively.

  ‘I suppose it is, now I think about it. Bit obvious, really.’

  ‘What… what now? Do we move on?’

  They were silent for several minutes, or possibly several years.

  ‘We could move on to haunting buildings,’ the girl suggested. ‘Set up shop somewhere permanent.’

  ‘Not a graveyard. Not a hotel. Too cliché.’

  ‘Agreed. What about… ooh, how about a school?’

  ‘All the clocks we can stop? The snatched sleep and endless fourth period daydreaming? You’re on.’

  Twenty years later, the most haunted and least coveted secondary school in a four-county diameter experienced an unusual phenomenon. Written across the front of the main building in whiteboard marker were the words THANK YOU FOR THE FUN TIMEZ. WE’RE OFF TO GRADUATE.

  The more superstitious of the school population exhaled loudly and with great relief.

  ‘I knew something was up,’ the deputy head teacher said to the receptionist. ‘Thirty years I’ve been here. Started off in the art department, back when we had an art department. Brilliant school back then. Proper centre of learning excellence. Then one spring term it just…’

  ‘Went wrong,’ the receptionist said helpfully. They’d seen the weird shit students carved into tables during fourth period. Every classroom in the school went through three sets of tables every year. The receptionist liked to tell out of town friends that if you stood outside the Religious Studies classroom on a Monday morning and listened very carefully, you could hear a girl laughing. Brandie Atkins, who was now training to be a nurse, used to swear she could hear the laughter merge into a voice hissing, that is not what happens. And of course, there was the incident with the netball courts. No one ever figured out how the net posts bent themselves into the words No one uses Pythagoras in real life but it did give the kids a laugh… and made maths teachers’ lives a little harder.

  After the whiteboard marker event, the school gradually lost its reputation for hauntings, although the clocks never worked again.

  By the time it had regained a reputation for academic excellence, two students, infamous in the local area, enrolled for their secondary schooling. Even aged eleven they had form for small to medium acts of party-throwing, larceny and racketeering. Each had heard of the other, vaguely; the town wasn’t huge and their parents frequented the same Thursday night salsa class. By eighteen, they were known by the police in four counties for being the go-to perpetrators of anything one might consider ‘illegal but in the name of good fun.’

  By the time they were thirty-two, they had visited twenty-six countries and thrown a wedding reception that made the local news for all the best reasons.

  ‘It’s so strange,’ she said as they gave a joint speech. ‘We both felt we’d met before, somehow, even though we’d never seen each other until the first day of year seven.’

  ‘Things slotted into place somehow,’ he added. ‘I feel more alive with you.’

  ‘And I with you. Shall we see what happens when we cut the cake using a chainsaw? I’ve always wanted to try that.’

  They lived very happily, and quite loudly, ever after. Well. Until she died of cancer in her late eighties and he of pneumonia in his slightly later eighties.

  When they met in the afterlife, she said, ‘shall we haunt the eff out of all our children? I’ve always wanted to try that.’

  ‘First person to make one of them cry wins?’

  ‘Deal.’


Thank you for reading! Please consider sharing The Major Arcana Series with anyone you think might enjoy them.

Psst, commissions are open until August 2020. Find out more here.

Did you know you can read my short stories before they’re public by joining my Patreon? When you join, I’ll name a character after you and put your name in the thank yous of my novel The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, which you can read (for free!) here. Your money will help turn The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes into an ebook and print book, as well as help me build a sustainable career. Alternately, consider buying me a coffee – same effect, less direct debits.

Copyright © 2020 by Francesca Burke

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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