The ghost came through my bedroom wall and grinned at me like a Central American immigrant making it past the U.S. border. Somehow I knew it had to be the Ghost of Happiness Past.
“Keep moving,” I said. “Go haunt somebody who can’t see right through you.”
The ghost floated closer. “Name’s Angus, funny boy. Happiness Past. I’m here to help. The file on you is one of the sadder ones I’ve ever read. I mean, what’s with your parents reading to you from the “Existentialism for Children” series? “God says Good Luck?” “Mommy, I think my soul is Crying?” Give me a break.
“Or when ….”
“OK, I get it,” I said. “I haven’t had a happy life. But is anybody truly happy? Isn’t real happiness all an apparition, kinda like you?”
“I may be an apparition, Thomas, but that doesn’t make me any less real.”
I stared at the spook. “I’m pretty sure it does.”
“Look, you can’t see happiness,” Angus countered. “You can only feel it.”
“Then how would you know anything about it. I bet you can’t even feel yourself.”
Angus smirked. “Maybe not like you. Since your girlfriend left, all you do is feel yourself. That’s not the only source of happiness you know. Look, Thomas, I’m here because you’re an agnostic. You got off to a bad start in life. If you want to be happy, you have to believe in something.”
“I do. I believe this is just a dream. I believe a lick from a puppy is better than a like from a stranger on Facebook. What would YOU have me believe?”
“I can’t guide you Thomas. That’s up to you. I’m only here to prepare you for the Ghosts of Happiness Present and Future.”
“Great. More unscary ghosts to not believe. Can’t you just be a good ghost and disappear?”
“Not until the Reckoning is complete. But if it’s scary you want, wait till you meet the Ghost of Happiness Future! Spook’ll make puppy dog kisses sound like waterboarding if you don’t believe in something more substantial.”
“Will you please go.”
“I will if you promise to give me good marks on the ghost evaluation form.”
I gave him the glare I usually reserved for Happy People, and after a few moments, Angus faded into nothingness. Well, not exactly nothingness, for as I watched, a different ghost materialized. I could tell because this one had breasts. Either that, or the vaporous ectoplasm was suddenly playing some sexy tricks on me.
“Bridget, Happiness Present,” the ghost said. “So Thomas, let’s continue. What would you say your Happiness Index has been lately? On a scale of one to ten.”
I glared again, but this ghost must have been made of more solid stuff. Stuff from the here and now. OK, I thought, prove it. “Well, let’s see. Just like you, rich people and their political tools are telling me I have to believe in something substantial – like democracy, truth, equality, and justice. And like you, they’re merely figments of my imagination. Happiness is for fools and ghosts.”
“Easy there. Why be angry? So your H.I. isn’t so good. Why don’t you try singing that hit song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” I’ve gotta say, that song never fails to put a smile on MY face and make my worries go away.”
“Yeah, well, how many worries can a ghost have? You’re probably immortal.”
“A puppy then. Or a little kitty.”
“Too sad. They all have short lives and die.”
“So it’s death that’s making you unhappy?”
“Does death ever make anybody happy?”
“Matter of fact, it does, particularly if you believe in a beautiful everlasting life in the hereafter. So it’s an easy fix if you think about it.”
I clearly was dealing with both a fool and a ghost. “You’re wrong. I’d have to stop thinking to believe that.”
“Well, I was saving it for last, Thomas, but there’s always electro-shock treatments. Ghosts have always known that happiness exists in inverse proportion to brain activity. Ratchet your thinking down a few notches and you’ll be happy as a dumb jock, or a lark, or a clam. Depends on how many treatments you sign up for.”
Or a ghost, I thought. “Go.”
“You’ll be sorry.” Bridget vanished, the ghostly strains of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” disappearing with her.
Instantly another ghost appeared, an unsmiling one. This ghost wasn’t happy. Good, I thought. That makes two of us.
I stared at it like it was the last elephant, oblivious to its situation. The ghost broke the stalemate. “Name’s Crandall. Happiness Future. Look, I don’t want to be here either, but it’s better than where I just came from.”
“Spare me the horrors of my unhappy future, Crandall. Get lost. And take this great Reckoning I was promised with you.”
The ghost shook his head sadly. Little puffs of vapor floated away. “I’m sorry if you misunderstood, Thomas. The Reckoning is for us. Every time we do a visitation to some unhappy mortal, we reckon we feel a whole lot happier about being ghosts. I’ve seen the future. Pandemics, world wars, global warming, catastrophic storms. Mother Nature ….”
“Wait. There’s a Mother Nature?”
“There was. But once nature was destroyed, what chance did she have? Of course, this all made God pretty upset.”
“There’s a God too?”
“Well, duh. You think that angry voice I hear is all in my head? Look at me. There’s nothing in my head.”
“So you’ve never actually seen Him then?”
“Oh, I forgot. You’re one of those,” Crandall said. “Have to see something to believe it. That’s why you’re not happy you know. Don’t you understand an apocalypse is coming! I’ve seen it! Death! Destruction! Total annihilation! Find some happiness now before it’s too late!” With that, Crandall vanished in a super-heated explosion of vapor.
A strange feeling came over me then. I thought about a world full of clueless, happy ghosts. I think I was grinning.