Written by Mary Robinette Kowal
When planning a book, a lot of times you wind up with scenes that don’t make it into the finished novel. In the case of Ghost Talkers, I wrote the entire book from the point of view of Ginger Stuyvesant, one of the mediums in the British Intelligence department’s Spirit Corps. In my fictional version of WWI, this group communicates with the ghosts of soldiers to get instant updates on battlefield conditions.
My plan had been to go back and add scenes from the point of view of Helen, a West Indian medium, who created the protocol for conditioning soldiers to report in upon death. These scenes were intended to be flashbacks to show the creation of the Spirit Corps. I wrote the first one, and then realized that the flashbacks destroyed the forward momentum of the novel.
I still like the scene though. In a way, it’s a ghost in its own right.
Helen knew the soldier in bed seven had died because his soul sat up and said, “Fuck. I’m dead.”
She paused, in the process of tucking the sheets in on bed five, and glanced across the ward. The sisters on duty had not noticed the new ghost, which wasn’t surprising.
Towards the front lines, an explosion lit the top of the hospital tent. The concussion reached Helen a second later. She waited until it rolled past, and checked the soldier in bed five. Still asleep on morphine.
She walked over to bed seven. The soldier’s body was limp and even with the bandage wrapped around his head, it was obvious that most of his jaw was missing. She put a hand on the bed to steady herself and pushed her soul a little out of her body. The ward fluctuated with remnants of souls, but not as badly as it had yesterday.
“Your work is done.”
The soldier’s ghost spotted her and his aura went bright red with excitement. “Hey! Hey, you can hear me.”
“Yes. I am so very sorry that you have passed over.”
He shook his head. “I need to talk to the captain.”
She sighed. This was so common in the recently deceased. She had seen some ghosts rise from their bodies and head straight back to the front lines. “Please. Be at peace.”
“Fuck that. My buddies are pinned down. You gotta send someone to help them.”
“Do you really think they survived when you did not?”
“Hell, yes.” He swept a hand through his hair. “Collins was hit in the leg, so I volunteered to crawl to get help. Fat lot of good I did. Point is, though, they’re still there.”
“If you tell—”
“Pardon me.” The red-headed nurse stood at the end of the bed.
Helen jumped and turned. “Sorry, ma’am. I think this man has died.”
The other woman tilted her head and her eyes unfocused. “And… am I mistaken, or were you speaking with him?”