It was Christmas Eve in London. The sun was cresting over the horizon, sending oranges, pinks, and yellows across the sky yet few were awake to appreciate the natural beauty of it. The few who were awake were ambitious businessmen bustling about their morning routines. There was one boy however, a young man of 17 walking alone down the cobbled streets and whistling to himself in the morning mist. His fair hair was abnormally long for a boy his age and he had an air of maturity rarely found in boys under 30. The boy’s name was Ralph and this was is 5th Christmas Eve since his best friend was murdered.
Ralph often wandered the streets alone in the early hours. Admiring nature was an art he learned from his lost friend many years ago. Before the island, Ralph had always been the type to follow what the crowd was doing. Years of private school had ingrained in him a set of morals and characteristics that even the savagery of young boys had been unable to fully abolish. Although many of the other boys trapped on the island with him had long since forgotten the effects of what had happened there. They had refused to believe that they took part in the murder of two innocent boys. Though they had been irrevocably tainted by their actions, none felt guilt. None but Ralph.
The Christmas season was often hardest for Ralph. His nightmares became worse and worse during this time and his guilt that year had become more than he could handle. This would be Ralph’s last Christmas at home before leaving to pursue the future set for him by his parents who had never understood his guilt for what happened to Simon. Ralph had never been able to admit to his involvement in the dreadful act that cut the boy’s life so short. And now, at this time of year he couldn’t help but imagine that somewhere, a mother and father are celebrating without their son. Without the son that he had taken part in the murder of.
As the sun slowly made its appearance in the sky, he made his way back home. The day passed by slowly for him. He spent the day helping his mother and father around the household until the sun left the sky and surrendered its place to the moon. He returned to his bedroom and lay down to find some form of comfort in the embrace of the sleep. As he slowly drifted off his mind swam with images of Simon. The images seemed to become clearer and sharper as he entered the land of dreams. Soon, the boy was standing at the foot of his bed. Ralph took only one glance at him and his eyes betrayed him as they let tears slowly cascade down his cheeks.
“Don’t cry.” The ghost of Simon said to him, “Please don’t cry.”
“I’m sorry…but I-“ Ralph’s words became lost in his throat as Simon watched him with curiosity.
“You’ve gotten much bigger. You look old.” Ralph chuckled slightly at that but guilt still nagged at him.
“And you’re the same as you were years ago.”
“Well I can change that if it would make you feel better.” He said with a boyish smile and he aged before Ralph’s eyes until two 17 year old boys were in the room eyeing each other. Ralph laughed and told Simon that he looked funny old.
“You still feel guilty.” Ralph sighed at the truth. “I want to show you something Ralph.”
“Show me something?”
“Yes. From the island.”
“But how? You’re…you’re dead.” Simon laughed.
“This is a dream Ralphie. We can do anything” Simon’s old nickname for Ralph brought tears threateningly close to overflowing again.
The scene slowly changed from Ralph’s room back to the island’s beach where a young Ralph and Simon were hard at work while all the other boys played in the sand. Making shelters was very difficult for the twelve year old boys alone. They were unaware of the older boy watching them from above. The young Ralph toiled in the heat and sweat dripped from his brow and plastered his hair to his forehead, forcing him to push it back with his palm. Simon had removed his shirt and it now hung from a branch making up one of the walls. He glanced at the fair haired boy and a faint smile reached into his features. He reached for his shirt and threw it at his companions face with a laugh.
“Cheer up Ralphie!” Simon exclaimed, “We’re almost done!”
“Yeah well this would be a lot easier if the little’uns helped a little. Even Samneric deserted us to go have fun.” Ralph said with resentment as he threw the shirt back at Simon.
“You’re supposed to wipe the sweat away with it silly!” Simon said with a peculiar smile and he walked over to Ralph and took care while wiping moisture from the other boy’s face.
Ralph’s surroundings faded back to his room and looked back at the ghostly figure across from him. He didn’t understand why that was important.
“Do you remember that?” Simon asked the confused boy.
“Of course I do. You were the only one smart enough to keep working. All the others only wanted to play.”
“Well, working on shelters sounded like a better idea than hunting down some pigs with the rest of the choir.” Ralph laughed; he had forgotten that Simon was originally a part of that bloodthirsty gang.
“But what was so important about that?” The ghost sighed and said told him that he needed to figure it out on his own. He would show him more to help out a little.
Again, Ralph’s surroundings melted into the island. He watched himself as he sank to the ground against a tree. He recognized the scene; he had just gotten in an argument with Jack. He was looking for a place to be alone and stew in his pent up frustration. When little’uns appeared shrieking in their high pitched voices and tossing sand everywhere he became more antsy and stomped off to the forest for some quiet. He sat underneath the fruit trees and rested his head in his hands. The stress was getting to be too much for him. The other boys wouldn’t stay focused on rescue and Jack was becoming increasingly more of a problem.
Everyone on the island seemed to have lost their minds. He wanted nothing to do with any of them anymore. But even as Simon walked up and sat beside him in silence he could not bring himself to be annoyed with him. Simon was not like the other boys. He had a clear mind. He was like piggy but not as whiny. They sat in silence like that for what could have been hours or could have been minutes. Ralph lifted his head once and glanced at Simon who had his attention focused forward. His body felt stiff and tense against Ralph. They stayed there for a few more moments until Simon broke the silence.
“You should just ignore Jack y’know.” He said.
“I know” Ralph sighed, “I just wish I could help him though. I can’t seem to make him happy. And Piggy doesn’t help much, constantly criticizing me.” Simon stood and picked a bushel of berries from a nearby bush. He took it to Ralph and offered it to him.
“Take it” he said, “They’re your favorite aren’t they?” Simon smiled and watched as his friend took the berries and ate them, one by one. The older Ralph, watching from above again had never noticed the smile that Simon had given him. He did not recall seeing him bestow that smile upon the other boys. An abstract idea began to form in his head, unaware of it at first. After a few minutes of Simon watching Ralph eat with that strange smile on his face, the image wavered and returned yet again to Ralph’s bedroom.
“Why are you showing me these things? Why now?” Ralph asked of his friend.
“Because I don’t want to see you suffer anymore.” Simon said matter-of-factly, “You’ve forgotten something important about your time on the island. And its making you feel worse and worse. I can’t just go on and let you live with this pain anymore. It’s hurting me more and more with each day that passes.” Ralph was confused but before he had time to question him his scenery shifted again.
It began with a scene of just the two of them sitting on the beach. It was midday when it was the hottest so they were not the only ones resting. Simon was laying his head on Ralph’s shins.
“Hey Ralphie,” Simon began, “what will you do when we get off this island?”
“The first thing I’ll do is take a bath and get this hair cut.” Ralph said with a laugh. Simon didn’t laugh with him. Something seemed to be occupying his mind.
The boys let the conversation die off until Simon got up, with a distracted look and marched off to the forest without a word. He went to a clearing he had found and hid in his mat to watch butterflies dance. He sighed and asked himself why he felt so tormented. The vision faded and turned to a new one.
Vision after vision, they all showed Simon looking tortured and scared. Familiarity nagged at the dreaming Ralph but his mind had pushed away the specific details of what was so wrong. Eventually the sun had to rise again in Ralph’s world and the dream was slipping away. A sense of terrifying loss gripped Ralph as he realized what was happening and he began to panic. He jumped up from his bed and embraced Simon.
“Come with me.” He pleaded, “Don’t let me go alone. You’re the best friend I ever had.” Simon smiled and held the terrified boy.
“I need to go now. You aren’t ready to remember yet. I’ll be back soon.” And with those words the rest of the dream faded and Ralph jolted upright, fully awake. He looked to the foot of his bed and half expected to find the ghost of his past standing there smiling his usual smile that he had only smiled when they were alone. The guilt and horror he felt now was overwhelming and he crumpled on the floor and wept for the loss of Simon.
The Christmas passed without anything out of the ordinary. He received a hand knitted scarf and sweater from his mother and an army knife from his father. After opening his gifts and thanking his parents, he snuck off to his room again. There, on his pillow was a bowl of his favorite berries from the island. He looked around for any traces of Simon and hung his head in sorrow when his calls were left unanswered. He sat on the edge of his bed, cradling the bowl in his arms and slowly ate the berries, one by one. He savored the flavor and all the memories it brought with it. When there were none left and he had had enough of reminiscing, he gently placed the bowl on the floor and buried his face in his pillow in an attempt to try to hold back tears that were yet again threatening to overpower his will. As he inhaled he found that there was a familiar scent embedded in the cloth. The sharp tang of sweat and an earthy sent of dirt and sand. He immediately thought of Simon and had no doubt that he had actually been there. He had said he’d be back soon. Was that what he meant? Ralph hoped it wasn’t. he had wanted to speak to him again. He did not like thinking he had forgotten anything important about the island and wanted to know why he wasn’t ready to remember.
Ralph spent the day trying to fall asleep again to dream of Simon. He ignored his parents requests to join them in celebration and laid in his bed counting sheep and waiting for a sign of his friend. Hours had past before he finally forced himself out of bed and to the bathroom. His parents' calls were easily ignored but the same could not be said for nature's. He finished his business and washed his hands. He stood there for a moment staring at his hands and trying not to imagine the horrors he had once committed with them. Guilt seeped its way into his mind and he wanted nothing more than to go to sleep again and dream of Simon for the rest of his life. His abstract idea of what Simon was trying to tell him was nagging at the corners of his mind. Why was all this happening? Why now? Ralph’s questions remained unanswered as he crept back to his bed and buried himself in blankets and pillows. He laid there again for hours, unmoving until he finally drifted back to sleep again.
Ralph was in his bed again. He looked around hopefully, searching for his hazel-eyed friend. Simon was nowhere to be found. Ralph began calling for him and searching through his house, following phantom footsteps in the dark. He could hear a familiar laughter bouncing back at him in the shadows and realized what was happening. Simon was playing with him again.
“Ralphieee” Simon’s voice called, “come find me Ralphie!”
Ralph smiled and played along, chasing Simon’s calls until he looked around and found himself once again on the island. The scene was familiar again and he realized that they had just arrived there and the thunderstorm was going on. The little’uns were crying and many were huddled together under trees. Judging by the boys’ clothes, it must have been about a week since they had gathered under the conch’s call. Ralph had a hard time remembering how he spent these rainy nights. His mind pushed the details away under some forgotten rug. So he walked aimlessly through the children until he found himself under a fruit tree nestled between Jack and Simon.
Strange, he thought, I don’t remember any of this.
He watched as Jack’s sleeping head found its way to his past self’s shoulder. He stood there, watching three boys sleeping on each other in the cold rain and again the familiar feeling of a forgotten detail irked him. Lightning streaked across the sky and temporarily lit up the scene. His hand was resting on Simon’s. Before he could question himself, the scene abruptly shifted back to his bedroom and he was distracted completely by 17 year old Simon standing before him with the smile Ralph only recognized in the back of his mind.
“Are you starting to remember yet?” The ghost asked Ralph. Ralph shrugged and said he wasn’t sure.
The ghost sighed and looked down. He grabbed Ralph’s hand and held it for a moment. Ralph was puzzled by this but did not mind it. It gave him a sense of déjà vu. This had happened to him before. The abstract thought began to focus in and he found himself denying it. It wasn’t true he told himself. We were just great friends. All kinds of kids held hands back then. We were only 12. It didn’t mean a thing. But it does now, he told himself. Simon seemed to sense this inner conflict and dropped his hand.
“Hey Ralphie,” Simon said light-heartedly “do you have a girlfriend?”
“What? You’re so random. No, I don’t.” He said with a smile. “I haven’t liked anyone since the island.” Since the island? What was that supposed to mean? he asked himself.
Simon seemed to understand what Ralph was denying to himself and nodded. “Your heart is already taken.” Simon said to him, “but I don’t think you know that yet. I know who it is though.” Simon smiled a familiar smile and winked at Ralph.
“What?” Ralph exclaimed. “You don’t think that I- that you- we- I wasn’t-” he stumbled over his words, trying to avoid what his heart was whispering to him.
“I wasn’t saying anything.” Simon said with an uncharacteristic smirk, apparently happy to have received the reaction he was looking for. But his smile faded as Ralph pushed him away.
“Shut up! I know what you were trying to say!” Ralph yelled, overcome by defensive aggression. He felt exposed. He wasn’t ready for this. All he wanted was his friend back. He didn’t want to remember anymore. Simon frowned and tried to hold back his emotions.
“Okay,” he said, “I guess you’re more unprepared than I thought. I’ll leave now.” As he said the words, the dream began to fade to darkness and the only thing Ralph was aware of was the bitter taste of anger and fear. He didn’t understand why he was so angry. Or why Simon was playing with his mind and his emotions like that. But as he slowly woke up, the anger faded and the only thing left was fear. The fear that he had lost his only true friend because of his inability to admit his own emotions.
He spent months of dreamless nights pushing back memories and thoughts of Simon. He couldn’t bring himself to admit he was wrong or that he overreacted. He was a banker now, his father had the right connections and had gotten him a job at a respected bank. He tried to find girls and had been on several unsuccessful dates. But with every girl he found she was lacking something. The closest he had found to what he was looking for was a brown haired girl with hazel eyes. But when he made the connection between her appearance and Simon’s he left her. His feelings were becoming undeniable. After another few months he found himself weighed down with a horrible feeling of longing and loneliness. And for the first time since the last Christmas, he dreamed.
He dreamt of the island. And of Simon. And when he woke he felt more alone than he ever had in his life. He finally admitted to himself what he had known all along. He was in love with Simon. He loved him more than he had loved anyone else he had met. And now he felt the full realization that he had lost him. He had lost his love and his best friend. He collapsed next to his bed under the weight of this feeling and cried out. He cried Simon’s name and cried for the longing it brought.
He didn’t know how long he stayed there, a bundle of despair on the floor. But there he stayed until he heard footsteps. He didn’t want to face anyone and he yelled for them to bugger off.
“Ralphie?” a familiar voice called to him. “You don’t want me to go do you Ralphie?”
Ralph looked up and gaped at what he saw. Simon was standing before him yet again and he could do nothing but sit there on the floor and cry. He dragged himself to his feet and held his eyes wide open in disbelief.
“Is it really you?” Ralph asked.
“Well, I’m as real as I can get. Why are you crying?”
“I remember. I remember what you tried to show me. You loved me didn’t you? And, and I loved you.” Simon smiled as Ralph said this. He smiled his secret smile that only Ralph knew.
“Yes, its true.”
“But…you’re dead now. And I’m still alive. I know the truth but I cant do anything about it. Why is life so cruel to me?” Ralph said, filled with despair. Simon walked over to Ralph and stretched his hand out to him. The fair-haired boy took it and as he did so, he was plummeted back to the island. At a clearing in the forest where butterflies danced and beams of light seemed to glitter.
Young Simon took Ralph by the hand and looked into his eyes. Both the young boys were red and Ralph was slowly inching his face closer to the dark haired boy. They closed their eyes and their lips met. They seemed to melt as their lips shyly touched. The kiss was gentle and innocent. Simon wrapped his arms around Ralph’s waist and held him close as he broke off the kiss and leaned his head on the other boy’s shoulder. They stood there for a few minutes, holding each other under the moonlight on what would be one of Simon’s last nights alive. Simon pulled back and gently kissed Ralph again and Ralph melted in the love he felt. The vision slowly faded back to the boys in Ralph’s bedroom.
“We cant have that again can we?” Ralph said to Simon as he stood up.
“Of course we can,” Simon said, “love is stronger than life and death. And I’ll always be here in your dreams.” Ralph smiled and held the other boy close. Slowly, their lips met like they did years ago under the moon. The night drifted away in sweet caresses and gentle kisses until morning came and they said their goodbyes. Ralph was no longer afraid. He could do anything now and no longer had to worry about nightmares because his Simon would always be there to make it better. Because after all, love is stronger than life and death and the living will always dream.