If you go to Staffa, walking out to the part of the island where the puffins like to roost, they will see you. If you sit still, the puffins will fly around and eventually come up to land on the island and bob around. The puffins know from long experience that if humans come, the island will be safe for them. Humans frighten away the seagulls, who prey on puffins. The seagulls may scream and wheel, but they won't come near, and the puffins bob and weave in their odd little victory dance.
It didn't take long for the puffins to realize that the ghosts weren't really humans. The seagulls didn't give a fig for ghosts - not being solid and all, as the seagulls themselves learned - and the first few times the ghosts appeared it was a free-for-all puffin buffet. So the puffins keep their distance from the ghosts, though if any of the ghosts have previously been to Staffa, they long for puffins. The puffins probably made them smile when they were living, and ghosts are always reaching for anything that used to make them feel alive.
Staffa is a kind of heaven. It wasn't always so. Most of the time, as we measure it, it was just a very old and very beautiful island off the coast of Scotland, known for the rock formations, the puffins, and Fingal's Cave, whose tremendous natural acoustics inspired Mendelssohn. There haven't always been ghosts there.
A writer visited Staffa, and looking about him, said that he imagined this was what heaven looked like. The writer would have been surprised to know (although he never would), that while his words never quite managed to get through to editors or publishers, his words carried to God at that moment.
And God, quite startled, looked down on the natural wonder of volcanic Staff and said, "By Jove! He's right!" Heaven being already fixed and allocated, however, God set it up as the holding pen for ghosts.
That's why there aren't millions of ghosts crowding the place, there's only thousands. This wasn't that long ago, and there's still plenty of room, especially in the caves. You can really pack the ghosts in to that kind of place.
Imagine the writer's surprise to find himself once again on Staffa. The puffins, though, give him a wide berth - the widest.
Copyright 2008 Heather N. James, from Archipelago: A Love Story in Seven Islands.