By She's a Star
Disclaimer: Alias belongs to J.J. Abrams.
Author's Note: Hahaha! I wrote something! Triumph is sweet.
Sydney is nearly ten years old, and knows better than to believe in ghosts.
It doesn't matter that it's Halloween, or that all the shadows dancing across her wall seem slightly more sinister tonight, or that the floor keeps creaking and she knows that her father is asleep. It's only the two of them in this house, she knows, because her nanny goes home at seven each evening. There's no one. No other people sneaking out for glasses of water at one thirty in the morning, no spirits that would have any reason to linger.
Still, when the floor creaks, it will always remind Sydney of her mother. She would always come in after all the lights had gone out, stand in her doorway and offer smiles and sweet, barely-there whispers. 'Go to sleep, my darling.'
No, no, Sydney does not believe in ghosts. Not even on Halloween. There's a pillowcase filled with candy on her desk, and a brightly coloured dress in her closet. For two and a half hours tonight, as darkness had sneaked closer, she hadn't been Sydney Bristow at all. Instead, she'd been a gypsy, imagining grace in each step as her bracelets chimed against one another and the wind pressed her hair, foreign and wild and curly, against her cheeks. Sydney likes stepping out of herself, she's decided tonight. Maybe she'll become an actress. (But she doesn't know if she would want to be famous.)
Before leaving, she'd been led into her father's study. 'He'll love your costume,' Cassandra had said, in that way where Sydney wasn't sure she even cared, exactly, because it was six forty-five and maybe Cassandra had her own life outside this house. 'You've gotta show your dad.' Her father had told her she looked pretty without even glancing up from his paperwork. Sydney thinks sometimes that he hates her, and the thought makes her feel like she's not breathing, almost. Because she can remember, just barely, back when it had seemed like he'd never stop smiling. She'd used to wake up in the morning and go out into the kitchen to find her parents laughing over jokes she'd never caught or understood. It isn't the jokes that were important, Sydney has concluded. Just the fact that they would laugh, as her mother would straighten his tie or hand him a cup of coffee, and he would kiss them both – her mother's mouth, the top of Sydney's head – and sometimes, sometimes even though she knows she shouldn't, Sydney thinks maybe she hates him too. Because he's not the only one who lost Mom, but at least she still remembers how to smile.
In the hall. Footsteps, almost; she squeezes her eyes tight, because she's just being silly. There's no such thing as ghosts, and she knows this kind of stuff. She's smart, she knows she's smart. She's gotten 100s on all of her spelling tests so far this year. Haunted. H-A-U-N-T-E-D. The boy that sits next to her had put an 'o' instead of an 'au,' and those are the kinds of mistakes she would never make, because Sydney always studies. She knows that it's the most important thing there is, to know things.
That boy, that same boy, Jimmy, today he'd been talking about ghosts, while they were supposed to be reading. His grandpa died of cancer – 'cause he smoked too many cigarettes, Jimmy said – and last Halloween he'd seen his ghost. And the ghost had tried to kill Jimmy, but Jimmy had banished it with a magic spell. "Ghosts," Jimmy had said, in a confidential tone, "all they want is to kill people, so they don't have to be dead all alone." He was making it up, of course; this kind of thing Was Not Real, but Sydney had still felt a little sick, because she doesn't like to hear people talk about death.
And even if it was true – which it isn't, it isn't, it isn't – Sydney knows that her mother would never hurt her. Her mother loves her, loved her, loves her, and Sydney doesn't go to church, but she knows enough to believe in angels, and heaven. Her mother is watching her, she has decided. And this makes things easier, sometimes. There's no such thing as ghosts. There are spirits, and they stay in heaven, and they watch over you. This is what Sydney believes. Sometimes, she wants to ask her father if she's right, but doesn't know how or if he'd respond. It's funny, because something in the air changes whenever Mom is mentioned, and it's all sharp and dark and Sydney regrets it, always, always. There's a picture of the three of them over the mantle, her mother smiling and beautiful and Sydney hopes she'll be that beautiful when she gets older even though what she sees in the mirror right now doesn't make it all that likely, and there's another picture, too, on one of the end-tables next to the lamp. That one is just Sydney's mother, and it's strange that there can be pictures but not words. There should be both, for Mom's sake, because Sydney's mother always loved words and books and stories.
There is a copy of Alice in Wonderland that Sydney's mother gave her on her bookshelf, a little bit apart from the others, Nancy Drew and Caddie Woodlawn and Little Women, and this one is Sydney's favourite. The pages smell like peppermint, and there is a bookmark in between forty-six and forty-seven. This is where they'd stopped reading. She wishes that they'd been able to finish it. She knows the story, of course, because she's seen the movie, but she misses the lull and the sweetness of her mother's voice as she'd read, the spark of excitement, the varying voices for all the different characters. One day, maybe she will read it by herself. But not yet; she can't now, because she's in the middle of Little House on the Prairie. One day, maybe.
The door handle is not twisting right now, that noise, that's not what it is, maybe there isn't even any noise at all, because it's just another day, just October 31st, and it doesn't make it special. It doesn't change anything. When people are dead, they're dead, and that's all there is. They aren't mean, or lonely, or anything. They're tombstones, smooth and cold, 'laura bristow, loving wife and mother,' and they don't come back to haunt anybody. They just leave you alone and everything shifts because of it but that doesn't mean they'll return. Sydney knows, because she's wished for it, more than anything, for so long, so, so much, and it hasn't done anything.
Her mother is not a ghost. Her mother cannot come back. If she could have, she would've. Sydney knows, because she promised it once, when they got separated in the store around Christmas and when they'd finally found one another again, both of them had been crying, Sydney saying "I thought you left me on purpose" and her mother, with something painful in her voice that Sydney still can't understand - "Never, sweetheart. Never." Never, never, never, Mommy, please come back, please please, and she's being so stupid and her chest, her heart aches so much that maybe it will kill her.
The door swings open, and everything freezes, and she whimpers, just barely.
It's her father; she can recognize his voice, but she can't see him very well. It's dark. There are so many shadows.
"H-hi, Dad," she whispers, only it comes out like an almost-sob, and she hates this because she doesn't want to be crying.
"Are you . . ." He pauses, and she can tell he's uncomfortable even though she still can't see his face. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," she says, at once hoping desperately that he won't believe her. The memory of hugging him hits her suddenly, so clear that it hurts, and why hadn't she noticed before now how cold it is in here?
There is a moment of silence. The shadows dance.
"Okay," he responds finally. Decisively. Her eyes are hot and stinging, so she closes them. "Get some sleep."
"Okay," she agrees. The door closes, and now she's alone again, and remembering.
"This is very unfortunate energy, Sydney," tucking her in tight, the blankets soft as they brushed her chin, "You need to get some sleep."
And the firmness in her tone had been amusing for some reason, and she'd felt a sudden rush of defiance. "Why?"
"Because I said so." in a way that meant business, and still Sydney had persisted.
"Why should I listen to you?"
"Because," and her hands were graceful as she brushed a bit of Sydney's hair from her face, "I'm your mother."
She hates remembering. It hurts, to think of something, to have it so vividly and brightly that it feels like loss doesn't exist. Like maybe one day she'll walk downstairs for breakfast and find her mother in the kitchen making waffles and her father all smiles. This can never be, though. Never again, because you can't undo death, and this hurts so much she almost can't feel it.
Maybe ghosts do exist, a little bit. Maybe memories are ghosts, ghosts that will always stay and you can't erase them with magic spells or eyes shut tight or simply choosing not to believe.
She wishes she could sleep.