It was Christmas Day as Sophie and her brother, Noel, sat on a bench overlooking Westburn Park’s pond, bread in hand and ducks swarming around their feet for tasty little bite.
It was Noel’s second year at university, and like the year before had been unable to come home over the winter. Unlike the last, however, after much bargaining from both parties Sophie had been allowed to make her first solo train journey to Aberdeen to stay with him for a few nights. In her head, this was a landmark journey, but in reality, it was made slightly less impressive by the fact she was sixteen years old.
She tightened her jacket around her, and broke off another small crust of bread for the ducks sending them into a frenzy the moment it left her hand.
“We’re reading The Catcher in the Rye in English,” she said softly, breaking the comfortably silence that had rested between them. Noel had read the book himself at her age but said nothing, knowing her well enough to be able to tell she wasn’t finished. Sure enough, she continued, her voice only barely above a whisper, “We’re not finished yet, but Holden, the main character, keeps asking about where the ducks go when the pond freezes.”
She paused for a moment.
“I like him,” she continued once more, “I mean, it’s nice he cares. No one else seems to.”
“You got Miss Kidd then?” Noel replied, throwing his last scrap away and standing to leave. He knew she did, she talked about her enough, “She’s batty she is,” he put on a mock female voice, “The author meant for the blue curtains to represent the protagonists deep depression. Bullshit. What he meant was that the curtains were fucking blue.”
“What he thought doesn’t really matter if you get an A though, does it?”
They started to walk back to his flat and he laughed.
“I suppose it doesn’t, Eve, I suppose it doesn’t,” He used his little nickname for her.
The walk was a short one, and they were at his building’s door before broke the silence with her nickname for him.
“Hey, Weird? Where do the ducks go? When that pond freezes over?”
He turned back and thought for a second.
“I dunno. I don’t think it ever freezes.”
He shrugged and entered the building, Sophie following after. They climbed the stairs to his empty flat; both of Noel’s flatmates have somewhere better to be that day. Noel headed into the room he was sleeping in to change, while Sophie went into his room, where she was sleeping, to do the same.
Her suitcase, pastel pink, stood out like a sore thumb next to the walls whose colour she could not determine for the shear amount of posters plastered over it. She would also hazard a guess that on a normal day she wouldn’t be able to see what colour the floor was either and that an unusual effort had been spent in revealing it for her.
It was in Noel’s room that he cocktail of smells from various mind altering substances was the strongest. What she smelt didn’t concern her, however, or even surprise her. It had been a smell she had long associated with her brother rather than anything actually dangerous or unsavory, even when a little eleven year old Sophie would accidentally-on-purpose leave her widow open for a sixteen year old Noel to climb in through, always stopping before he went to bed to remind her never to leave her window open when she wasn’t expecting him. That was the funning thing with Noel, as careless as he was with his body, he would always make sure she was being as safe as possible. He made sure she didn’t step in front of a lorry while in a day dream and she made sure that their parents never caught him with whatever drug was his favourite at the moment.
She heard him move into the kitchen to prepare lunch and started changing out of her warm winter trousers into her preferred lighter clothes, finding a small amusement in just how out of place her things looked in his room.
She left his room to help look out the plates. Their lunch wasn’t going to be anything special, their lunch of the ready made variety, to be eaten watching the Doctor Who Christmas special and, at Sophie’s insistence, the Queen’s speech.
Of course, it didn’t take long before Noel grow bored of whatever shenanigans the Doctor had to offer and turned to Sophie, taking a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket at the same time.
“Seen your ghost lately?” He asked, referring to the figure Sophie claimed to see sometimes around the house. She nodded.
“Twice in the past week.”
“That’s a bit more than usual,” he commented with a smirk, he had long ago learnt that his sister’s flights of fancy were harmless, incurable and, most importantly, rather interesting. He put a cigarette between his lips and as he normally would, offered her one, as she normally would, she declined. As he lit his, she elaborated.
“The first time was on the last day of school, I saw him through the window out on the playing field, but then James Nately stole my bag and by the time I looked back he was gone-”
Noel exhaled smoke away from the sofa they were sitting on, visibly agitated.
“You have some real bastards in your year, you know that?”
She nodded, placing her empty plate on the floor and curling her legs up underneath her.
“But then the second time was when I left yesterday. Just as the train was pulling away, I saw him on the platform. Just for a moment. He’s never been that close before.”
“I’m just gonna hazard a guess here and say you’re gonna be fine.”
“You only say that because you like your science so much.”
“Hey! I don’t make the facts here!” He held his hands up in mock surrender, “I only learn them.”
Sophie laughed and asked him about his Psychology course, and they talked until well past the point where the television was showing anything they actually cared about and at around ten they decided to call it a night. He pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her head.
“Sleep tight, Eve.”
“Sweet dreams, Weird.”
Sophie was troubled with nightmares that night, but like most nightmares, she couldn’t, once awake, pinpoint what was scary. Her ghost with his not-quite-there face was stealing all the ducks from the pond, she couldn’t find them anywhere and eventually dived into the pond out of desperation to look for them. She woke up gagging, feeling like she was about to vomit.
In a panic she ran to where Noel was sleeping, diving into his bed and waking him with a start. Instinctively he wrapped one arm around her whilst the other rubbed his eyes. She stared at the end of the bed. She didn’t know if she was still half asleep, but her ghost was standing there. Watching her.
“Fuckin’ ‘ell Eve, what’s wrong? You nearly gave me a heart attack there. Eve? Hello?”
He waved a hand in front of her face and she blinked. Her ghost vanished. She buried her face in his shirt.
“Promise me you look after the ducks.”
“What? Jesus Christ, Eve, is this about the bloody ducks again?”
“Weird. Promise me.”
“Fine, fine, I promise. Now, will you go back to bed?”
She shook her head, her voice muffled through the fabric.
“I don’t want to go back through there.”
“Don’t wanna go back through.”
“For God’s sake, Eve. How old are you? Go to bed.”
“Will you sleep if you stay here?”
“Fine. Budge over then, remember you’ve got to catch the train in the morning.”
She still didn’t sleep well that night. The nightmares stopped, but she still kept waking up to a glimpse of her ghost. She would open her eyes and he’s be there, then she’d blink and he’d be gone. She was glad when the alarm finally went off and the two of them finally got up.
He helped her pack her suitcase, they made toast and ate it while walking to the station. Just before she went through the ticket barriers they hugged.
“Remember you promised.” she said.
“And I thought I was the one on something,” he replied, his usual smirk back in place.
“Christ, yes, I’ll remember the ducks, keep your hair on. Have a safe journey, ok? Don’t talk to any weirdos, don’t accept sweets from strangers. You know the drill.”
“I know. You take care of yourself, ok? Don’t get caught.”
With a nod she disappeared onto the platform and Noel turned to head back home. On his way he glanced towards the now frozen pond. For a split second, he thought he saw a man by the water, but then he blinked, and he was gone.