A Ghost hobbled across the clearing — as quickly as it could on that uneasy soil — looking over its shoulder as if it were pursued. I saw that it had been a woman: a well-dressed woman, I thought, but its shadows of finery looked ghastly in the morning light. 

It was making for the bushes. It could not really get in among them — the twigs and leaves were too hard — but it pressed as close up against them as it could. It seemed to believe it was hiding. A moment later I heard the sound of feet, and one of the Bright People came in sight: one always noticed that sound there, for we Ghosts made no noise when we walked. 

Go away!” squealed the Ghost. Go away! Can’t you see I want to be alone?” 

But you need help,” said the Solid One. 

If you have the least trace of decent feeling left,” said the Ghost, you’ll keep away. I don’t want help. I want to be left alone. Do go away. You know I can’t walk fast enough on these horrible spikes to get away from you. It’s abominable of you to take advantage.” 

Oh, that!” said the Spirit. That’ll soon come right. But you’re going in the wrong direction. It’s back there — to the mountains — you need to go. You can lean on me all the way. I can’t absolutely carry you, but you need have almost no weight on your own feet: and it will hurt less at every step.” 

I’m not afraid of being hurt. You know that.” 

Then what is the matter?” 

Can’t you understand anything? Do you really suppose I’m going out there among all those people, like this?” 

But why not?” 

I’d never have come at all if I’d known you were all going to be dressed like that.” Friend, you see I’m not dressed at all.” 

I didn’t mean that. Do go away.” 

But can’t you even tell me?” 

If you can’t understand, there’d be no good trying to explain it. How can I go out like this among a lot of people with real solid bodies? It’s far worse than going out with nothing on would have been on earth. Have everyone staring through me.” 

Oh, I see. But we were all a bit ghostly when we first arrived, you know. That’ll wear off. Just come out and try.” 

But they’ll see me.” 

What does it matter if they do?” 

I’d rather die.” 

But you’ve died already. There’s no good trying to go back to that.” 

The Ghost made a sound something between a sob and a snarl. I wish I’d never been born,” it said. What are we born for?”

For infinite happiness,” said the Spirit. You can step out into it at any moment. …” 

But, I tell you, they’ll see me.” 

An hour hence and you will not care. A day hence and you will laugh at it. Don’t you remember on earth — there were things too hot to touch with your finger but you could drink them all right? Shame is like that. If you will accept it — if you will drink the cup to the bottom — you will find it very nourishing: but try to do anything else with it and it scalds.” 

You really mean? …” said the Ghost, and then paused. 

My suspense was strained up to the height. I felt that my own destiny hung on her reply. I could have fallen at her feet and begged her to yield. 

Yes,” said the Spirit. Come and try.”

Taken from The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis (HarperOne, 2001).

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

Text First Published January 1946 · Last Featured on Renovare.org August 2023