Halloween is almost here, and I’m looking forward to pilfering the good chocolates from my daughters’ “trick or treat” stashes. It’s the best part of the holiday, really. But I also look forward to ghost stories. I dig the paranormal. Maybe it comes from childhood sleepovers where we’d scare each other silly with goofy whispered tales about men with hooks for hands, or maybe it has to do with Edgar Allen Poe and the dang bird that wouldn’t shut up. Whatever the cause, I do rather relish stories about “ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night.” I suppose that’s why the very first book I wrote a few years ago involved the supernatural. So, here is the first chapter from my first attempt at writing a novel. It’s a “young adult” novel, but since I’m the one who wrote it, it’s tame compared to a lot of what’s out there. No horny teenage vampires or children killing each other for sport. Sorry. J
NO GHOSTS ALLOWED
By: Rebecca Bischoff
A Former Tenant Has Refused to Leave
My name is Harley. Harley Davidson Colburn. I was named after a motorcycle. (Thanks Mom. Really). Most people don’t look twice at me. I’m fourteen years old, in the ninth grade, and average in everything: grades, height, and looks. I’m the kid who flies under the radar, the middle of the road one who teachers mainly ignore because I’m not brilliant, but I don’t need extra help, either.
So, most people don’t look twice at me, but that’s because they don’t know anything about me. Like my motorcycle name, for instance. I’m honestly happy to keep that little secret. But there’s also the fact that sometimes I know when things are going to happen. I have premonitions. And what’s the most unusual thing about me? I see ghosts. Well, so far, only one ghost. This is new.
I first saw the ghost the day my family moved into our new/old house. Until about a month before that, I never even knew we owned a house. My parents never talked about it. It’s an old house Brian inherited, and he rented it out for a little money. That was, until things changed and we needed a place to live. My mother, brother and I, that is.
Our house is eighty years old and looks like it. And smells like it. It’s a plain white box made out of rotting wood, with a rickety porch stuck onto the front. It crouches on a corner lot, at the edge of a busy street, with a narrow triangle-shaped yard, surrounded by a sagging chain link fence. Not my idea of a great place to live.
It hadn’t taken us long to unpack. Most people have moving trucks full of furniture and boxes when they relocate. But we’d moved twice already over the past few months, and we’d already sold a lot of stuff. We’d ‘downsized’ our lives, like my Mom, Stephanie, kept saying. Parent-speak for: ‘We’re broke, so we’re selling the big screen TV, the good furniture and the Wii. Get used to it.’
A group of four teenage boys had watched us from the porch of a house down the street as we unloaded our pathetic belongings. I recognized one of my brother’s friends from school. The one with the weird new-agey name. Zen, that’s it. Ha. He yelled ‘hey’ to my little brother and my brother waved back. Not one of the boys offered to help.
Cigarette smoke floated in our direction on the icy wind, along with occasional shouts and a lot of laughter. I heard one of the boys take bets on whether or not my mother would make it inside; or if she would drop the heavy, ancient computer monitor she carried. I’ll admit that at first, I decided it would serve her right if she did drop it, since she’d kept that antique piece of crap and sold the big, and I might add, light-weight, flat screen monitor. But the moment that thought flashed to my mind I also felt terrible for having thought it in the first place. Anyway, my mother is pretty strong. She struggled into the house without dropping anything. The smoker boys were disappointed.
So it took us all of twenty minutes to unload the miniature U-Haul attached to our dented 1993 Mercury. The winter sun was low in the sky, and soon it was hidden behind some charcoal clouds. Our new street got dark. Most neighborhoods in Twin Falls have street lights. Not mine.
The smoker boys went inside their house to find someone else to annoy, and I fished the last box out of the U-Haul and lugged it up the creaking porch steps. I had to kick off my shoes inside the front door; since my mother had steam-cleaned the carpets and they were still drying. Once inside, it didn’t take long to get to the back of the house. It’s easy to navigate through empty rooms. Of course, since I am a tiny bit clumsy, it was also easy to bump into the one obstacle in the otherwise empty hallway.
“Oops, sorry Steph—Mom,” I said. Uh oh. Another slip-up. But this time, all I got was an evil-eyed stare and Steph just stalked down the hall to her room. I’ve been thinking of my mother by her given name for a while now. Why? I’m not totally sure, although I know the mental shift started a while ago, after Brian died. Steph hates when I don’t call her “Mom.” I have to be careful.
Oh well, off the hook this time. I shuffled past the two bedrooms along the narrow hallway. Stephanie was in the biggest one. Her door was open and I peeked inside. She sat cross-legged on the floor with a humongous pile of envelopes in her lap. A mail carrier had brought them the moment we’d arrived, in a huge plastic bin. I think the lady was waiting for us. She seemed glad to get rid of all those letters. Well, bills, actually. I recognized the “official-looking” white envelopes. Hospital bills. I figure this is why we’ve moved so much lately. Maybe Steph thinks that if we move enough, the bills will stop following us.
Steph stared down at the stack of bills, with deep lines between her eyes. I know what she’s thinking, and I agree. It isn’t fair. It seems like when the patient dies, you shouldn’t have to pay the hospital. I mean, they didn’t do their job. They didn’t keep their patient alive.
I moved away before my mother saw me and continued down the hall. My brother, Jax, got the next bedroom. The second biggest. He’d claimed it before I could. He was already inside his room, too. The door was closed, but I heard him finger his electric guitar and run through the chorus of a song he’d written. I continued on through the kitchen and the little laundry room. My arms were about to fall off, but I finally made it to the door of my bedroom. Yes, my room is in the back of the house, and to get to it, I have to go through the laundry room.
Aching arms finally gave way and the heavy box I’d been carrying began to slip from my grasp. Something hard flew out of the box and landed on my foot. I yelped and dropped the entire box, which landed on the same foot, so I plopped down onto the carpet to rub my throbbing toes. The hard object at fault was a small metal wrench that somehow ended up in my box of books. It was the wrench Brian gave me for my tenth birthday. I should just throw it away. Rubbing toes and blinking back tears, I kicked the wrench away with my uninjured foot. Suddenly I had two injured feet. I forgot I’d taken off my shoes thanks to the damp carpet.
I blinked away my pain-caused tears and looked around the tiny rectangle of a room. It was so much worse from what I had remembered seeing the other day, when I’d taken a quick peak from the outside through the grimy window. There were faded curtains that covered the row of four small windows that lined up along the outer wall. The curtains had roosters on them. My room was decorated with farm animals. I made a mental note to redecorate.
Despite its recent cleaning, the still-stained carpet looked like a bacteria farm. I felt something rough under my left foot and scooted back. The spiky patch of carpet I’d felt looked like something sticky had been poured onto that spot but never cleaned, so that it had hardened into this greenish mass of petrified carpet fibers. I jumped to my feet and backed away.
How was I supposed to sleep in this grungy room? I took a deep breath to make myself calm down, but smells flooded my nose and I wanted to puke. The odor was a bizarre mixture of dust, mildewy wet carpet and rotting vegetation, but with a tiny hint of something sweet, like a bouquet of flowers in the middle of a garbage dump. My stomach clenched and my heart pounded. The smell scared me. The combination of rot with sweet. It reminded me of things I didn’t want to think about. It reminded me of funerals and goodbyes. It reminded me of Brian.
No answer. I rolled my eyes. Of course, no one would hear me back here. Certainly not Stephanie. My mother wasn’t deaf, but I’d swear she pretended she was. Maybe it was easier that way.
“Why are you screeching like that, Harl?” My brother’s voice was loud in my ear and I yelped.
Jax’s head and shoulders poked through the inside wall of my room. He looked like a creepy hunting trophy mounted onto the cracked wall. I had to laugh. I’d forgotten about the open window that joined my room to my brother’s.
“Ouch! There’s glass down here!” Jax scooted back and fingered the bottom edge of the open window. At one time, the square hole in the wall had been a window to the outside, but at some point a previous owner had decided to add another room. Hence, my closet-sized bedroom. They stuck this tiny rectangle onto the house, but left the window in the wall. And, apparently left some glass stuck in the bottom of the frame.
“Did you cut yourself?” I asked.
“Aw, so nice for you to be concerned.” Jax’s amber eyes sparkled and he grinned his Cheshire cat, toothy watermelon-slice smile that girls at school seem to go crazy over.
“But no worries. I like it. This will be my ‘no trespassing’ warning to a certain person on the other side who might be a little too nosy for her own good.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
“Right, like I’d ever want to go in your room. It probably stinks.”
“Can’t smell as bad as your room does. What is that stench, anyway?” Jax asked with a wrinkled nose.
“You smell it, too?” I asked.
“This house is heinous,” Jax said. “It smells like old people.” He laughed and I had to join in. Jax did that to me. He could make me laugh even when I was ready to scream at the world.
“I don’t know how I’m going to sleep in here. The smell is horrible, and I don’t even have my bed put together yet,” I said. “I can’t believe Stephanie is making us go to school tomorrow.”
“Come on, I’ll help you.” Jax said. He does stuff like that. Jax is pretty decent for a little brother. At least he doesn’t mind when I use his nickname. Only our mother calls him “Jackson,” his full name.
He dove forward, caught himself with his hands and made a clean somersault before landing on his feet in my room. I don’t know how he manages to do things like that. I would have impaled myself on the shards of broken glass or ended up on my head.
We’d gotten most of the bed frame together, but were missing a couple of pieces. That’s how we ended up rummaging through piles of clothing, tangles of computer cables and boxes of kitchen utensils in the front room. And that’s when I first realized that someone else was in the house.
It started with a feeling. Not an emotion or a thought like: ‘oh my, I sense a presence from the other side,’ or anything lame like that. It was like static electricity, a series of tiny shocks that I first felt on my arms. I dropped the plastic measuring cups I’d fished out of a box and stared down at my arms. Each tiny hair stood on end, and my fear rose at the sight. The prickly sensations surged from my arms and climbed down my spine. Then, I felt the electric buzz over my entire body. And, I understood. The thought came to my brain and in an instant it was knowledge, not simply an idea. I just knew. I mentioned my premonitions before, didn’t I? Someone, aside from my mother and brother, had entered the house. I started to shiver. What was worse: I also knew that this someone was waiting for me. I gulped.
The electric feeling intensified until it was painful. I reached with a shaky hand for my brother and grabbed his arm.
“Don’t you feel that?” I said with an embarrassing tremble in my voice.
“What, your death grip? Geez, Harl, let go, you’re cutting off my circulation,” Jax said. He didn’t even look at me. He wrenched his arm away and turned back to the box in front of him.
“Sweet, my favorite shirt!” he said, holding it up.
I read the words: “Celebrate the radness of me,” printed in blood red letters on the black t-shirt. From behind, I heard someone laugh. It wasn’t Stephanie’s voice, and it certainly wasn’t mine.
I whirled around. No one else was in the room, but from the doorway of the kitchen an intense, silvery light spilled out and glowed so strong that I had to squint.
Before I could decide what to do, my mother lurched into to the front room carrying the heavy old computer monitor.
“Time to set up the computer. Help me out, guys,” she said. She puffed and panted and lugged the monitor toward the kitchen.
“Stop! There’s someone in there!” I shouted.
Stephanie stopped so fast she stumbled and nearly dropped the monitor. At the same time, Jax jumped to his feet.
“What are you talking about, Harley?” My mother’s earrings jangled when she turned her head toward the kitchen.
“Hello,” she called out. “Anybody in there?”
The silvery light still sparkled in the kitchen, but the laughter had stopped.
Stephanie turned back to me and smiled in the way she does when she’s annoyed, with her lips pressed into a thin line. I get that smile a lot.
“Not funny, Harley. It’s been a long day, give me a break,” she said.
“Hey, maybe the crack-heads are back! We can call the cops,” Jax said. He seemed excited at the prospect.
“If anyone’s here, it’s probably the cable guy,” Mom said. “Our former tenants are long gone, thank goodness.” She shuffled again toward the kitchen.
“Mom, no! Someone’s here!” I shouted.
Stephanie ignored me, and my brother laughed. “Lame-o, Harl. You can come up with something better than that,” he said.
“I’m serious! Don’t you see that light?” I shouted so loud my voice cracked.
“Come on, Mom, if there’s an intruder, let’s call the cops! They’ll get here fast, cops are always cruising around this neighborhood,” Jax said. He bounced on his heels like a little kid and smiled at the prospect of getting the law enforcement involved.
“I’m not calling anyone,” Stephanie said. At least, that’s what it sounded like she said. I wasn’t sure because she spoke with her teeth clenched together, like her jaw was wired shut. I was also seriously distracted by the bizarre light shooting from the kitchen, and the fact that I felt like I’d stepped on a live wire. My body was about to fry.
“I’m going to Zen’s house, maybe he’ll let me use his phone,” Jax said. He bolted to the door.
“Jackson, stay here! Don’t—”
The door slammed shut.
My mother glared at me. “Thanks a lot, Harley. Cut it out and please help me with this, okay?” She hefted the monitor higher and stumbled into the kitchen. The silver light swallowed her.
“Uh, Mom?” I managed to say. My voice was only a hoarse whisper.
“Come on, Harley, I could use some help here,” my mother called from the weirdly glowing kitchen.
I had to go in there. There wasn’t any other choice. I picked up the first thing I could reach and clutched it tight. I guess I thought I needed something to hold on to. So, with an orange coffee cup gripped in my hands, I started to walk, or really, shuffle forward on the damp carpet. I stopped right before the kitchen entryway and felt my head spin. I’d forgotten to breathe. I took a shaky breath, closed my eyes and scooted forward a few final inches. When I stepped onto the green linoleum floor, the electric feeling was even stronger. I felt as if every frizzled hair on my head had to be standing on end, so my Medusa waves would look like stiff needles. The bright silver light pierced my closed eyelids. I opened my eyes and dropped the cup.
A woman, or what seemed to be the form of a woman, sat at the scuffed wooden table with a magazine open before her under the yellow light of the lamp. She hummed to herself as she looked at the pictures. Her body shimmered, or wavered, almost like I was seeing her underwater. She had that weird light all around her, the silvery, sparkling glow I saw coming from the kitchen. I had been absolutely right. There was somebody inside my house. And that somebody was a ghost.
This particular ghost seemed to have dark hair. Long smudges of darkness flowed down her back and some of the dark smudges hung along one side of her face. Something about the clothing she wore seemed strange, but at first I didn’t understand why. I was focused on something else that caught and held my eye. This shimmery ghost sat with her chin in her hand, and I could clearly see a large silver ring with blue stones in the shape of a flower that nearly covered half of her ring finger. The ring freaked me out. Why could I see it clearly? It sparkled, almost glowing with its own light, standing out in sharp, vivid contrast to the rest of the blurry ghost.
“Pick that up!” my mother said. “You’re lucky it didn’t break.” She didn’t look up at me but kept fooling with the cables that connected the monitor to the computer tower. She was practically right next to the ghost, inches away. She seemed totally oblivious to the sparkling spirit-person next to her.
The ghost woman at the table raised her head and looked at me. At least, I think she looked at me, but I couldn’t be sure. Her face was a blur, smeared like a child’s finger painting. Her features were unrecognizable. Then, she smiled. Or, I think she smiled. I opened my mouth to speak. I squeaked.
The ghost looked back down at her magazine. At that moment, I realized why her clothing had seemed strange to me. She wore overalls. Long dark hair, silver turquoise ring, overalls. What? It didn’t compute.
“Harley, pick up that cup you dropped!” My mother, again.
“Uh, Mom.” I gulped and tried to breathe. I could not believe my mother didn’t see the ghost. She had to. “Who is that?” I asked. I dropped my eyes and pointed directly at the ghost. Was it still rude to point, even if the person you were pointing at was dead? My hand and voice shook. Then I looked back at the ghost and gasped. The woman was gone. Her chair was empty.
I saw a flash of movement and light from the corner of my eye and turned just in time to see the ghost woman walk out through the back door. Her bright silver light moved with her, glinting off the square window in the the door as she passed. She didn’t float through the door, or glide like you might think a ghost would; she opened the door and walked out like those of us who are still alive. The door closed behind her with a soft click. I felt the cloud of frigid winter air that invaded the kitchen. A faint, silver light glowed for a brief moment from the other side of the window in the kitchen door before it flared out. The electric feeling in the room was abruptly gone, as if a switch had been turned off.
“Who is….where did that draft come from?” my mother said. She finally looked up from her computer. Then she walked over to the back door and grabbed the handle. “Hey, this door was left unlocked,” she said. She glanced back in my direction and pushed in the tiny button. “We all need to remember to keep the doors locked. Especially in this neighborhood.”
“Uh, yeah,” I said. I didn’t believe it. Stephanie hadn’t seen the freaky light or the creepy ghost woman. Only me.
“Come on, pick up the cup you dropped,” Stephanie said. She turned back to her computer. “Jax should be home by now. I swear, you’ll both be the death of me,” she muttered.
I grabbed the cup from the floor and plopped it onto the table. The magazine still lay open where the ghost had left it. Fluttery from head to toe, I glanced at the picture. It was a photograph of an elderly man standing by the doorway of a low adobe building. His copper skin glowed in the sunshine. His long graying hair was pulled into a pony tail behind his head, and he wore a cowboy hat, a faded red Western-style shirt, jeans and boots. The scent of sagebrush floated into my nose for a second, but was gone as soon as I was aware of it. I read the caption below the picture, and learned that the man was Navajo. The immediate feeling that this was important seized me. It was as if the ghost had wanted me to see that picture.
“Harl, go get me the printer. It’s in the front room,” Stephanie said.
I grabbed the printer from the floor of the front room, set it onto the kitchen table next to my mother, blurted: “I have to finish unpacking, Mom,” and ran to my room.
I closed the dusty rooster curtains against the darkness and the possibility of silvery ghosts outside, and then I dug through my box of books and found what I needed. Whenever I have to think, I write. I grabbed my journal and my pen. Then, I turned back to the book box. Underneath the top layer of books was my stash box, carefully labeled as “school supplies.” Whenever I really have to think, I eat chocolate.
With a Milky Way sticking out of my mouth like a big chocolate cigar, I picked up my pen. While I wrote, I gripped the pen too tightly and my hand shook. It made my handwriting look like someone else’s; like some alien force had taken over my body.
Journal Entry: January 11
I saw a ghost in my kitchen! She was wearing overalls. Overalls? And she had this silver ring I could see clearly, even though the rest of her was blurry. She was sitting at the table and looking at a magazine. I didn’t know ghosts liked to read.