I have always loved ghosts. Most people are afraid of them, worried that they’ll make things float or let out a big scream, or something--I don’t know. Maybe some people are just afraid that they’ll confirm that life is just a little different than they want to believe. Ghosts are glimpses into the past and show us stories we couldn’t know otherwise. Sure, there are some evil ones out there, but like the people they were before they became ghosts, they usually fall somewhere in the middle, between angelic and devilish.
I’ve been able to see ghosts since I was three. I’m not sure why, but “the sight”, as I call it, just matured along with my other senses and abilities. As I learned to talk in full sentences and match shapes, I also learned to listen to the prickling of tiny hairs on my neck that meant a ghost was nearby.
As you can imagine, telling people about my talent did not go well. My parents, two completely normal people, my mom an accountant, and my dad a furniture salesman, simply smiled and thought it the imagination of youth. They never took me seriously and I learned talking about ghosts to them was a waste of time, even if grandma often trailed behind my mom, wringing her hands in a sad, anxious way, usually around the holidays.
My peers at school just thought I was silly at first. Later, when I was a sophomore in high school, I made a choice to reveal my talent to another student. That had been a mistake, even if I had been able to tell her that her aunt had actually been murdered, not committed suicide, and given her specific evidence that was able to put the right person behind bars. Annalise, the student, had been grateful during the whole situation, but afterward, she turned on me like a viper, striking venomous words at me in front of a cafeteria full of mocking students.
It’s been a year since then and I still don’t have any friends. Well, any living friends, that is.
“Are you going to eat that?” Brandon asked, his translucent head peered closely at my stale Danish.
Even though he hadn’t given me a warning or greeting, I wasn’t startled at his sudden appearance on my walk to school. The hairs on my neck had warned me a ghost was about to reveal itself, and anyways, we often walked to school together.
“I mean, I guess I could throw it away or something, but what good would that do? You still wouldn’t be able to taste it.” I took a big bite out of the cheesy middle, more to tease him than enjoy the “breakfast” my mom had laid out for me before she’d rushed to work.
Brandon pouted, his lower lip sticking out like a petulant child with pigtails not getting what she wanted for her birthday. The chain that looped on Brandon’s pants jingled as we walked down the boulevard. Sometimes other people could hear it and gave a confused look around as we passed. Not all ghosts had chains though like old movies liked to portray sometimes.
Brandon had died in the late ’90s when wearing long silver chains clipped to a belt loop, draping to the back pocket where a wallet sat tucked snugly in, was popular and usually a sign of someone who liked music, skateboards, and lived a little on the edge. I didn’t get the fad. I also didn’t understand why he wore two shirts--the long-sleeved shirt was under the short-sleeved shirt, and was just completely backward to me. Brandon had explained it was also fashion that proved he liked music. The tips of his ghostly hair were frosted a bleach-blond and spiked in all directions on his head. It looked like it’d taken a long time to get that look perfected. He wore large shoes that made his larger pants bow out at the bottoms. He called them “skater shoes”. Other than that, I admitted to no one, I found his face rather pleasant to look at. I could tell his eyes were once a grey-blue and his smile was teasing and charming. I was a sucker for a good smile.
“I miss food,” he said around his pout.
“I know.” I would have patted him on the back had he actually had one I could pat. “You only say that every time I see you.”
“Not every time.”
I gave him a look. I knew my rounded face with cherry-red cheeks and brown doe eyes, framed by long, wayward curly sandy-blonde hair, would never scare anyone into confessing something, but I poured strong intent into my eyebrows and was rewarded with a laugh.
Brandon didn’t laugh like a maniacal, spooky ghost. He laughed like the teenager he had been twenty years ago, a laugh full of mirth and potential, not as deep as a full man’s laugh, but still contagious.
“Fine. Maybe I do, but that’s only because it’s true.”
I grinned back at him. “I’ll just make sure to eat it slowly and savor it for you.”
He stared as I took another bite, purposely getting glaze and cheese on the corner of my mouth, slowly chewing and closing my eyes a bit to show how much I enjoyed it.
At my messy-faced grin, he grumbled and folded his arms across his chest. “That’s just rude.”
I snickered, wiped the food off my face with a thumb, and threw the Danish’s wrapper in the next garbage can we passed. “So what’s on your agenda today? Going to go hang out at the skate park and freak people out with skateboards moving by themselves again?”
“No, that got boring after the 30th time. Actually, I was hoping to go to school with you today.” He gave me a sheepish grin with hunched shoulders.
“Ugh, you know I hate when ghosties show up at school. It’s so distracting and I’m already seen as the weird kid.”
“Exactly. You’re already the weird kid so who cares? Just pretend I’m not there. I promise to be good.” He poured all his charm into a grin that made my heart pick up speed.
I couldn’t help the smile as I rolled my eyes. “Fine. But you can’t talk to me while others are around. Why do you want to go to school anyhow? You always talk about how you used to ditch class all the time.”
“I need to do some research in the library and you know how I can’t go in places without you, for some reason.” As he spoke, his eyes darted around the sidewalk and at the stores we were passing by.
“Why don’t you just Google whatever it is you’re trying to find out?” I adjusted the plain green backpack on my shoulder and side-stepped a man in a suit talking angrily on a cellphone. Each ghost was tied to something in their previous life that kept them in a small area around the item or place or whatever it may be. Brandon had apparently spent a lot of time at the skatepark, or maybe even died there, he wouldn’t say, because he was tied to that location. However, along with my talent, somehow ghosts were able to attach to me in a way that allowed them to travel with me. It was one secret I tried not to let ghosts know or else I’d be overrun with them constantly. Brandon only knew because I had an obvious soft spot for him.
“Oh. Right. Googling is this cool thing you can do on a phone where you type anything you want to know about and it’ll tell you even more than you want to know. All the information is digital now.”
“All of it?”
“I mean, probably. Maybe not every single word from every single book but yea, you should be able to find what you’re looking for.” We had finally reached the school and I pulled out of the crowd of pedestrians to lean against the fence as I took out my phone. “I have a few minutes before class starts. What do you want to look up?”
He stood in front of me, his body in the middle of the sidewalk but people didn’t notice, walking right through him. It didn’t seem to bother Brandon, but sometimes a person would rub their arms a bit as if feeling a sudden chill. “I’m not sure I want to tell you.”
I sighed. “What are you embarrassed about? Surely you wouldn’t find porn in the library.”
“What? No, it’s not like that.” He kept glancing around us, looking at the school behind me and at various people who walked by the weird girl talking to herself.
“I’m afraid to get you involved in this. I know you’re different and not everyone can see ghosts. I’d feel bad if something bad happened to you.”
My cheeks turned a bit rosy at his concern for me, and I hoped he didn’t notice. The last thing I wanted to admit to myself was that I had a crush on a ghost. I’d feel even worse if the ghost figured it out. Plus, he probably just enjoyed having any person to talk to, not that he particularly enjoyed my company. “What’s going to happen to me if I Google something?”
He played with one of the tips of his hair for a second before he finally turned his eyes back on mine, making eye contact. A shiver went down my spine that had nothing to do with him being dead. “Google does sound easier than spending the day in the library, but you have to promise you won’t go investigating anything.”
I blinked at him, surprised at the urgency in his voice. “Well, now I just want to go investigate everything.”
“I knew this was a bad idea.” He frowned, put his hands into his ginormous pants, and turned to walk away from me.
“Wait,” I said, stepping after him, earning a couple of stares and a sharp bump into my shoulder as another student ran into me. “Sorry,” I muttered.
“Brandon, I promise, okay? Just tell me what you’re worried about,” I said the last bit in a softer voice, hoping no one was paying me too much attention.
My ghost friend stopped and gave me a serious stare. “Promise you won’t go near the house.”
“Yes, sure, I promise. What house?”
After I moved to the safety of the fence again, he told me the address and I punched it into Google. The map came up first, but Brandon wasn’t interested in that. I scrolled down the page a little, thinking it would be easier to give him the phone to do it himself, but I didn’t want to. He couldn’t have held the phone anyway, but I wanted to see what he was so anxious about.
I didn’t recognize the house, and even though it was only a few blocks away from us, close to the skatepark, it wasn’t one I’d ever paid attention to.
“What are you looking for, exactly? I don’t think they give home loans to ghosts.”
“Wait, there. Stop.”
I stopped scrolling and clicked on the link he had pointed to. Pictures of the house loaded on my phone’s screen and they looked creepier than the Google Maps’ picture had been. We both read the article, our eyes scanning the words. The house had been owned by an elderly couple a few years ago, but they had died and a new person had bought the house. The article was about the historical architecture and how well it had been kept up by the elderly couple while it had slowly worn into ruin being owned by the new person. The local homeowners association was apparently quite livid with its treatment.
“So? Getting into old houses now?” I prodded Brandon, looking at him while he still studied the article. If he’d been alive, I would have felt the warmth from his face as he stood peering over my shoulder. I would have smelled his personal smell that everyone has their own version of. As it was, all I could feel was a slight chill. I wondered what he had smelled like while alive. Probably some 90’s version of Axe body spray.
“Does it say who the owner is? Scroll down a bit.”
I did until the article revealed a name--Stanley DeMarcus. “Does that mean anything to you?”
“Not yet. Thank you, Hanna.” He gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and disappeared.
I touched my skin where his cold lips had been and a tingle went down my spine.
After school, I walked straight to the house. I know, I had promised. Blah, blah, blah. But I was used to lying since I had to lie to people all the time about the sight, and why I seemed distracted so often.
I approached the house from the opposite side of the street, just in case it was going to lurch out and bite me or something, and I tried to hide behind the cars parked on the side or keep low behind bushes and trees. I didn’t know what Brandon had been so scared of so I tried to be careful. Also, I didn’t want him to spot me and get mad before I could figure out what he was so worked up about.
The hairs on my neck started popping to attention as I walked closer. My perspective changed with each footstep as the house came into view. It was indeed falling apart, in even worse shape than the pictures in the article had shown. At one end, the gutter was coming off and weeds clawed up the siding. Chills came in waves down my back, surprising me with their strength. I had never felt the warning so strongly before. My teeth even chattered a few times.
The first ghost I saw was milling about the front sidewalk in her pajamas. She was singing a nursery rhyme but looked older than a child. I ducked further down behind a car, worried that she would notice my noticing of her. As I peered through the windows that badly needed washing, more ghosts winked into sight. Two boys on the lawn were playing with a ball I couldn’t see. An older couple, maybe even the same one that had lived there before, were holding hands and walking down the path. One ghost was hanging out a broken window, her body upside down as her head and torso dangled, her arms waving freely in the wind. I counted seven more ghosts before they became so thick, I couldn’t see them individually anymore.
I had never seen so many ghosts in one place before.
“I told you not to come here.” Brandon’s voice whispered next to my ear.
I jumped so high, I toppled onto the hard cement, landing on some sharp lump in my backpack. My usual warning system had been so overwhelmed by the other ghosts, I’d had no inkling that he was there. “Holy Cow! You scared me.”
He stood next to the car, his hands on his hips. “You promised and yet here you are.”
“What is going on over there? You couldn’t act all shady like that and not expect me to want to figure it out.”
He sighed. “You’re right. I should have known you’d do this. Next time I’ll just steal a phone from someone else and do their Google.”
“You mean use their Google.”
“Whatever. You need to get out of here, now. The presence of so many ghosts only means one thing.”
“The house of a serial killer?” I half-joked, sitting up from the cement and rubbing my back where the bookbag had stabbed me, probably with my algebra book.
I choked out a small laugh, but the chills on my neck stopped me from continuing. “How do you know?”
“I was in the library while you were in school, anyway. Luckily, your classes must have been close enough that I could be present there. Although, lunchtime got a little tricky. Anyway, Stanley DeMarcus, the guy who owns the place? I’m pretty sure he’s a vampire. I might not be able to hold very much weight but I managed to hit a few keys on the computer and did my own Google.”
“Googling. Are you telling me vampires are real?”
“What, you believe in ghosts but not in vampires? Now, get out of here before you become a ghost yourself.”
It took a little more convincing, but I finally made my way home, the back of my neck tingling the whole time. I kept glancing around for more ghosts to show up, but I didn’t see any.
I didn’t sleep well that night, but when I woke the next morning, I promised myself I’d never teach a ghost how to Google again.