That's right! I have finally reached the final chapter of True Tales! I hope you enjoy the finale...
(Remember, if you've just started reading the True Tales, it begins with 'My Friend June', then 'Patrick Finnegan Lloyd', then 'The NICHE', and then this one...)
True Tales from University: The Girl with Green Hair
Sometimes it is permissible to give even the strangest of tales a happy ending.
It was the first week of a new semester. It would be my last.
Semester, that is, not last week. Yes, I am dying, but not that fast.
That reality had dawned slowly on Patrick. I had come into university as many times as I could during my holidays, but it had made me feel sick, especially with all the bus riding I had to do. Eventually he realised this wasn’t going to cut it. He had to be able to come to me, not having me always come to him. He could visit me in dream, but I couldn’t sleep all day. And when I got put into hospital, he would have to come and see me. So he came up with an idea.
We had gone over it many, many times, but no matter how many times we went over it, I didn’t think I would be ready.
We did it in the last week of the holidays. It was night, and the music school was mostly empty. But not closed. The alarms were not on.
Patrick waited outside on the entrance while I stood inside the door of the music building. ‘Patrick Finnegan Lloyd,’ I said seriously, ‘I invite you in. You can hereafter come in the music school whenever you want to.’
Nervously, he stepped towards me. He wasn’t sure if this reversal of his expulsion was going to work, but it needed to. I reached out my hands to him. He stepped over the threshold, and took my hands, sighing with relief. He raised my hands to his face and kissed them. Touching me never lost its novelty for him. I was the only person in the world he could touch.
I knew now that he could talk to other people. People like mediums and stuff could hear him. He had told me the story of Amber, one of his agents, a medium and a lecturer who had a group of secret agent students who fought to defend the university. He had argued over something with Amber, and had been upset with her for a while, but whatever it was that passed between them, it had resolved itself before the holidays.
In the holidays, when his argument with Amber was over, he had said to me, ‘I can leave the university now.’
‘What, just like that?’ I asked, misunderstanding him.
‘No, I can’t physically leave yet. But my duty as protector is finished.’
‘But...’ I was confused. ‘But there will always be crime around the university. Surely you can’t leave.’
He shook his head gravely then, and told me, ‘I was holding a very dear secret for the university. I have just passed that secret onto Amber and her disciples. Now I can leave the university with my conscience free. And I can stay with you, while you’re in hospital.’
I hadn’t been thrilled about that idea, but as I stood here, now, on the threshold of the music school with him, I knew it couldn’t be any other way. He would never want to leave me, even after the chemo had started and my hair fell out again and I was too sick to want to see him or anyone else. My anger would grow again, anger at life, at my crappy destiny, everything. And he would try and quash it. Maybe it would destroy him. But he would try. And if I died, then perhaps we could finally be together.
With the barrier of his expulsion from the music school now crossed, the time for the mission was at hand. He stretched out his consciousness, as he put it, so he could sense anyone walking down the corridors. ‘It’s safe,’ he snapped back into himself to tell me. I skipped towards the desk, looking around needlessly, and dove behind, retrieving the master key set out of the top drawer. Predictable.
He walked down the corridors before me, reassuring me that there was no one around. We reached RECORDING STUDIO ONE and I unlocked the door.
There, on the wall, was his literal soul. He had said to me once that music was his soul, and so his guitar was his soul. On further reflection, we had realised that maybe the reason why he couldn’t leave the university wasn’t just that he had died there, but that his soul, in the form of his guitar, was trapped there forever. So, although we would upset many people by doing so, we were going to take it.
There was a soft guitar case in the corner. It had been something I hadn’t thought of before, but seeing it here was a kind of fortuitous sign. I grabbed it up and prised the guitar carefully off the wall. I held it so preciously. After all, it was the physical soul of my beloved. He surely felt the tenderness as I carefully zipped the rainbow-painted guitar into the black guitar case. He gave me a quick kiss before we walked out of the room that he was murdered in.
‘We’re doing the right thing,’ I reminded both of us. I felt terribly guilty about stealing the much loved guitar, the mascot of RECORDING STUDIO ONE. But it had to be done.
He walked ahead of me on the way out, but no one was around to stop me or reveal my crime. We headed out of the school, and Patrick cast about for a place for us to go where we could finish the job, alone. He directed me to a steep hilly park just behind the university, a smaller park than the one we used to meet in. Besides the rush of cars going past the park, it was deserted.
‘Okay. Forgive me, Pat,’ I whispered.
He laughed. ‘Don’t be silly. I’d never forgive you if you didn’t do this.’
‘One last strum for the old girl, don’t you think?’
He frowned. ‘I don’t think I can touch it.’
‘Have you tried?’
He hummed quietly, and then reached forward. He touched the strings and brushed them gently. They reacted, vibrating and producing the sweet tones they had been wont to produce so long ago. ‘Still in tune,’ he mused, a delighted smile on his face.
I passed the guitar to him and we sat down on a square slab of concrete in the middle of grass, which was only there to accommodate a manhole. He played me one of the songs he had written for me, all those decades before. The cold air of the night surrounded me, but I felt nothing but warmth as the music he had written for me filled me and echoed, unheard by anyone else, into the night.
When he finished, I was crying. ‘Must we really, Pat? It’s so beautiful.’
He looked down, sad too, but he nodded. ‘Yes. It must be done. You could never carry this around with you all the time. People would find it. People would know you took it, and if you ever told them the reason, they would think you crazy.’
He handed the guitar to me. ‘Look away,’ I demanded of him. He shook his head, and stood with me. Standing behind me, he wrapped his hands around mine.
We both held the neck of the guitar, and smashed it against the cold, hard concrete.
I fell to my knees, crying freely now. I gathered up the fragments of the guitar that had fallen onto the grass. I couldn’t possibly miss any. Pat could sense all of them, so it was impossible to miss them even in the dark. We gathered them into a small pile and smashed the main body of the guitar again. It affected me more than it affected him. He was resigned to the fact that he would have to be with me always. I, however, felt as if I was actually assaulting him.
Eventually the guitar was so smashed up that it was time. Only the strings and the metal tuning pegs were left. I put them in a pile of their own, separate from the wooden parts.
I met Patrick’s eyes. He squeezed my hand gently, and guided it to my satchel. I retrieved the lighter. He held my wrist as I set fire to the colourful jumble of broken guitar.
He held me as I cried, my eyes stinging as I watched the smashed pieces burn. In time, they were only ashes, with a few little metal fixtures left over. These I picked up with tweezers and put them straight into the little velvet pouch I had reserved especially for this sordid business. I also put the strings and tuning pegs in there. All that was left was the ashes. I got out the little hand-vacuum from my bag. It had been so heavy, carrying this in to university, but it had been necessary.
I vacuumed up the ashes of Patrick’s soul. Then, when he was satisfied, sensing that all parts of his soul were together, I opened the vacuum, took out the little bag, and folded it up, stashing it with the other mangled parts of the guitar.
He closed his eyes for a few moments. ‘Yes. I think that’s it.’
The real moment of truth would be when we passed his usual threshold. I walked towards my bus stop, the pouch under my jumper and tied around my neck. I clutched it with desperation as we came closer and closer to the street which was usually the boundary of Patrick’s domain.
I held his hand tight and started across the street. I half expected him to vanish before my eyes. But he stayed with me the whole way. As we reached the pavement on the other side of the street, I burst into a cheer. I threw my arms around Patrick’s neck and kissed him. Anyone who was nearby at the time just passed by, totally disregarding the mad girl kissing the air.
This meant... this meant everything. That night he came home with me, for the first time. He got to meet my parents for the first time, even though they couldn’t meet him. Finally, for the first time, we were able to be completely alone from the world. Before this, we could only meet on university grounds, where we could never truly be alone. It was a night of many firsts for us.
That was last week. This was now, the first week of the new semester.
We sat outside the music building, down an alley not often used. The wall behind the bench we sat on was white, and the sun was so bright against the wall that I could see through Patrick, just slightly. The thought did not disturb me. I knew, if I touched him, he would be perfectly solid to me.
I ate lunch while he talked to me.
‘They haven’t found your fingerprints, Mary. They’re thinking about installing cameras now, though.’
I laughed, covering my mouth. ‘Oh no... I feel so bad...’
‘I feel good. I feel great. Don’t you?’
I rested my head for a second on his shoulder. ‘Yeah. Yeah, all right, I do. I’m glad I did it. But I’m sad for them.’
‘Oh well! They had the building blessed so I couldn’t enter. They mustn’t have loved me very much. Certainly not as much as you.’ He wrapped his arms around my waist.
I kissed his forehead. ‘Stop being silly. Look, there are people coming.’
Down an alley perpendicular to ours, two girls were coming. Both were blonde, but one of them had the ends of her hair dyed green. I noticed that they had noticed me. I heard the shorter of the two look at me weirdly and say something to her friend, something about me being crazy and talking to myself.
The green-haired girl stopped. She looked at me. She looked at her friend, said something. Then she looked at me again.
No. She wasn’t looking at me.
‘She’s looking at me,’ Patrick said softly, amazed.
I left class and found June standing outside. ‘Hey,’ I said softly and fell into step with her. I was in a bit of a crappy mood, but I was ready to be cheered up. If anyone could do that, it was June.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked. ‘You look down.’
‘Oh, I’m just really annoyed at all the work I’m going to have to do tonight. I thought first lot of classes were supposed to be easy. But I have a huge amount of readings to do before next week. It sucks.’
‘Come on. Let’s go eat. Eating always cheers you up.’
‘Shut up,’ I retorted, poking my tongue out at her.
The sun was shining brightly as we walked through a raised alleyway between some old buildings used by various faculties. I looked at the bright white wall ahead. A delicately thin girl with blonde, curly hair in a short halo around her head was sitting on the bench opposite us. She was... talking to herself.
‘Ugh,’ I said, and stopped walking. I wanted to walk the other way.
‘What is it?’ June asked, concerned.
‘Let’s turn around. There’s a crazy there. That girl’s talking to herself.’
I looked at her. She glared back at me. I looked away, kind of ashamed. June looked at her. Then she turned back to me. ‘What are you talking about? She’s talking to her boyfriend, who’s hugging her.’
I looked at June. I looked at the girl on the bench. There was no one else sitting on the bench, let alone hugging the girl. ‘June... what the hell? There’s no one else there.’
June looked at me. ‘Wait, what? You can’t see him?’
I shook my head. Spurred on by the mystery, she charged forward. ‘Hi. I’m June,’ she introduced herself to the girl... and to an invisible entity slightly to the right of the girl. ‘Um... so... I can see you, but my friend here can’t.’
The curly haired girl regarded June with eyes so wide she looked like a cute little animal in the headlights of a car.
‘Did you hear that, Lou?’ June asked me after a moment.
‘Hear what?’ I demanded of her, hands on hips.
‘Patrick says he’s a ghost.’
‘No, I didn’t hear that.’ For some reason I was feeling pissed off again. So... so what? June and this weird girl were seeing someone who didn’t exist? Was I the only sane person?
‘Patrick, this is Louise, and I’m June.’
There was a pause, as if someone should have been speaking. As if someone was speaking. Finally, the girl piped up, speaking to me. ‘I’m Mary. Sorry.’ Why was she apologising? Oh right. I could only hear one quarter of this conversation.
June was cottoning onto the fact that I was missing out on the information necessary to hold a sane conversation, and so she began to repeat Patrick for my benefit. ‘Why can I see you?’ she repeated from his words, looking at me before turning back to the invisible man. ‘Well... well Patrick, I feel I should tell you, and Mary here, but... but you must keep it secret. Mary could be killed if she tells people this information.’ June stared at Mary seriously here.
‘I won’t tell, I promise,’ Mary said quickly. She seemed very eager to know whatever June’s secret was. I felt even more pissed off. June was going to reveal to Mary, a girl she had only just met, a secret that I could have died for finding out. It wasn’t fair.
‘I’m an alien-zombie-droid from the planet Xartex.’ She spent a few minutes explaining to them how that worked. In the meantime, I got more and more pissed off. Eventually, I screamed in frustration and waved my hands in the position that the invisible guy would have been sitting.
Mary screamed and stood up. When I finally stopped my childish rebellion, she stared at me with a face like thunder. June looked at me, shocked. ‘Lou!’ she cried. ‘Have you any idea how offensive your actions just now have been?’
‘I don’t care!’ I cried out. I had to admit to myself, eventually, the real thing I was pissed off about was still Silas. It had only been a couple of days since we had finally broken it off with that spectacular argument. But this weird situation was breaking point for me. ‘Have you any idea how frustrating it is to be part of a conversation where I can’t see or hear one of the participants?!’
I ran up the alley, feeling embarrassed and angry. Damn, I had really let my temper get the better of me, but still. Ghosts existed. And June could hold conversations with them. Freaky. Way too freaky.
That pissed me off immensely. I was tired of being just human. I wanted to be a Xartexan. I wanted a soul, a real, physical soul, so that no one could ever say again that I was soulless.
I had been spending the week trying to find the girl with green hair. And finally, down an alley between the history department and the music school, I found her.
I pushed past a girl, running with a red face, and approached the girl with green hair. She was talking with another girl, small and blonde, but I was past politeness. I was going to interrupt their conversation. I needed answers, and I needed them now.
I took the key out of my pocket and walked up to her. I stood in front of her. She did a double take when she saw me standing in front of her. She looked down. She saw the key. She sighed. ‘Ah. You must be... Andrew, yes?’
‘Yes. I’m Andrew. Who are you?’
‘Okay June. No funny business. Tell me everything about the key. No lies, no deception.’
She squirmed uneasily. ‘Okay, if you’ll just come with me...’
‘No. I’m not going anywhere. You tell me, here and now, in front of your friend. You have no idea how much I had to personally go through to save this damn thing. You have no idea how much my friends went through. So damn it, android, start speaking.’
It worked – she had been surprised by my use of the word “android”. She looked at the other girl, and then began, while looking me seriously in the eye. ‘Okay. I don’t know how much you know already. But when we came here from our planet, we had been trying to find others like us. Others who, like us, live forever. Not one species in the universe had presented physical souls, like us.’
This was all new to me. The androids were aliens? They were immortal? They had physical souls? It was a lot of information to take in at once, but I had to keep up, as June carried on. ‘But some of our scientists were working on a process to perhaps... manufacture, I suppose, physical souls in other species. Nothing was working. Until finally, they came up with the theory that one actually would have to visit our home planet in order to kind of... “grow” a soul. Working with an engineer from this very university, over a century ago, some of us created a ship that would be capable of sustaining human life over the extreme conditions of the journey to Xartex, our home planet. The plan was to get some human subjects in the ship and take them back to Xartex, where we could work with the elements of our planet to see if souls could be manifested there. We were, of course, not completely sure that universal geography was the key to immortality, but there is a source of power in our planet quite unlike anything here on Earth. It may be the key to producing immortal, physical souls.’
I nodded slowly. ‘But the engineer backed out.’
‘Yes. He told us that he realized God had never wanted this for humans. Even though he knew about us, and our physical souls, he still stuck to his old religious beliefs. I think it hurt him to realise his own mortality. He cracked, in a way, under the burden of the knowledge.’
Yes, I could understand that. Many a time over the last few months I had cracked under the pressure of knowing that, even after I died, Adrianna might still be alive and well. But now, she was gone. Forever.
The other girl, who had been silent up until now, stood up, and began to talk very fast, excited. ‘You have to take us to Xartex, June! Could you give Patrick a body? Could you cure my cancer?’
I had no idea what the small girl was talking about. But the gigantic June nodded her head slowly and thoughtfully. ‘Yes. Yes, we might as well try to do that. There are three human survival pods on the ship. This key is the fuel tank. This small amount of fuel will be enough to take us all the way to Xartex, and the journey takes only a few days in Earth time. So, three places… that’s one for you, Patrick and I won’t be needing one… and I think, after all that’s happened, I should take Louise. There’s one more place left.’
‘I’ll take it,’ I said, hardly thinking before I spoke.
June looked at me. I felt as if she was actually looking through me. Her look was so knowing. After one awful moment of introspection, she finally smiled on me and said, ‘Yes, I think after all you’ve been through, you deserve it.’
Like always, infuriatingly understanding, June understood perfectly why I had gotten mad. It was because I felt soulless. But then she offered me a place on a journey to Xartex. A research journey, for a few Earth months. To see if humans could “grow” physical souls.
I jumped at the chance. It was what I always wanted. I would get into space. It was perfect. It didn’t matter that I’d miss out on the rest of this semester. I couldn’t skip the chance of a lifetime.
Besides, I eventually realised that, if June and this Mary girl could see a ghost, then humans really did have something like a soul that they left behind after life. So maybe this crazy plan might just work.
So I told Leigh and my parents that I’d been given a chance to study abroad. June told me that it was possible to call my parents from Xartex. The technology did exist. I just shouldn’t tell them where I actually was.
Andrew used the same excuse for his mother, but I believe he told his flatmate and some of his friends the truth. That amazed me. How could June let so many people know about her? But soon, as I got to know Andrew and his story, I realised why he and his friends were allowed to know.
Mary told her parents the truth too. They were all too happy for their daughter to go, if it meant that she would be cured of cancer. June and Detective Julie visited Mary’s parents to prove to them what Mary said was true, about there being androids with immortal souls in them.
I still didn’t quite believe in Mary’s invisible boyfriend. Andrew and I shared many sceptical looks when we saw Mary kissing the air and holding one-sided conversations. It became a bit of a joke between Andrew and me. We even started making out in front of Mary just to piss her off. But I think there was a little more to our kissing than just a joke. Time would tell what developed there.
The ship had been stored under the park the whole time. When the key was inserted, the fountain in the park stopped, drained itself, and was slid aside, just like on Thunderbirds when the buildings came apart to let the Thunderbirds out of their docks. The surprisingly small ship, octagonal from a bird’s eye view, rose to ground level.
We climbed in, all five of us. Take off was rough, but no one was sick. Soon, we were in space. Space, the place I had always wanted to be. Now that I was there, it just felt like a dream. I couldn’t believe it.
We had to spend several hours a day in the human survival pods, and there we got a restful sleep, and our nutritional and other needs were serviced there. The rest of the time we could spend looking out of the small windows of the ship, marvelling at the wonders of the universe we all shared.
It didn’t matter in the end whether or not we got souls, I had decided. Silas couldn’t have that hold on me anymore. I believed in my soul, non-physically speaking. Xartexans had a gift that no one else shared. That made them different to us, but not superior.
They were the observers of the universe. We were observers too, though without their abilities. But now, they were going to share their abilities with us.
I felt as if I was fulfilling the very purpose of my existence.