A babysitting job involving a boy and a ghost

Submitted into Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story in which a specialist is called upon to carry out a job.... view prompt



“Hey, John. Want to talk about the ghost you saw?”

Dammit. That was a wrong conversation starter. As the words slipped out of her mouth, Ting immediately felt the urge to bite her own tongue off. You probably do not know this, but it’s portrayed as a common way of committing suicide in Chinese drama. Yep, that’s another random fact that is inappropriate to sprinkle in the conversation with a 7-year-old kid. 

She’s not good with kids. Not good with people, in general. Whenever the situation presents itself in the form of talking to a living and walking human being, there could only be two scenario outcomes. One is that she smiles profoundly throughout the entire conversation and let the other side do the talking, until they realized she never responded and come to the false conclusion that she didn’t want to talk to them.

(That’s wrong. She does want to talk to them.)

Or, the other, would end up with her saying some very morbid shit that led to them staring at her as if she just ate their baby.

(That’s wrong, too. She never ate a baby. It’s frowned upon, and Ting would never do anything that draws attention to herself.)

(See, the face you’re making right now. That’s what she meant.)

Fortunately, this was a kid with cheeks as milky and oval like a cake that was fermenting in the oven. He continued to look at her with that clueless express children have on their face, yet still somehow managing to make you feel guilty and judged for every wrong thing you did in your life. 

“You’re not a babysitter, are you?” 

“Nope,” Ting breathed out a puff of air she didn’t know she was holding. “Thank God. It’s probably more exhausting than being possessed.” 

“Where did mom and dad find you, then?” the little meatball said with awe on his face. 

“On the Internet.” Ting replied, half hoping the kid was too young to know what that is. 

“Oh, okay.” the boy shrugged. “That’s funny, I thought mom and dad found you on the website for babysitters. They didn’t tell me that they found you on a one for wizards instead! Why did they lie? Was is because what I said made the doctor lady upset?”

“No, your parents didn’t lie,” the way the boy phrased the question brought a humorless smile onto Ting’s face, “I did. I tricked them into thinking that I’m a babysitter.”

Wonder filled the boy’s pupils, he seemed more intrigued by the fact that Ting just admitted to being a creepy intruder. “So you’re like Mary Poppins,” He exclaimed cheerfully. “I am getting a magical babysitter! That’s so cool!”

“Not really, sorry to disappoint.” Ting rolled her eyes, “I’m not magical. The thing using me as a vessel is. Not a babysitter, either. I’m a postgrad student, some would argue it’s worse.” 

“Seriously?” the boy grew a little grumpy, after sensing Ting’s sour and dismissing tone. “What are you good for, then?”

“Well, I can see ghosts.” Ting said, “That’s what you called me here for, right? For me to talk to the ghost and make it go away.”

“That’s not special, I can talk to her too!” The boy’s pitch was on the rise, “You’re a liar! You just said so! You can definitely do more than that.”

“The thing in me can do more than that,” Ting shook her head, losing her patience a bit more. “She’s sleeping now. When she woke up, she probably can do more. Before that it’s just us against the ghost.”

Children are so much easier than adults, they’re so open and accepting to the abnormal. John, who was technically her client in a way, a living witness of the paranormal activity she could actually take testimony from.

It helps when she could get some context from the people who are affected by a particular spirit. You can determine how aggressive a ghost is based on how they interact with the living. 

There’s a reason why she usually just talk to the ghosts directly, because people who saw through the veil are some of the best self-deceiver Ting ever come in counter with. They usually cast a huge cloud of hostility and prejudice against the ghosts. Can you really blame them though? The lights in their house keep on flicking on! Food in the fridge turns bad within three hours! It can be really annoying. 

However, without any pretence Ting must talk to the ghosts directly. It usually goes quite well. Most ghosts are just dead people who are sad that they’re dead. Ting was already sad all the time before she started to see them, so her doing this job is better than some other poor rando.

Encounter with a ghost can leave a temporary hole in your heart. It’s not your fault. It’s not theirs, either. It’s just part of the ordeal. 

Ting didn’t know how long it’ll take John to finally feel its impact, she hoped she could prevent it before the hole becomes a grave. 

“Now, tell me something about the ghost you’re seeing.”

John pouted and turned his back as if making a statement to never talk to Ting again. Ting kept the silence, waited patiently. She was an only child, never had siblings, but she had talked to enough invisible children to know that it would take a few temper tantrum for them to understand.

“Fine, we’ll see what you can do that I can’t.” John gave in relatively fast, he seemed to be the kind of boy who couldn’t stand silence. “Her name’s Lina. I think she’s younger than me, not yet seven-year-old. Her birthday is in March, though. That’s before mine. My birthday is in June. I don’t know how that works. She comes at night whenever my parents are not here, because she’s shy. We’d play together, she’s great at football! Even though she never actually kicks it-”

“Okay, slow down.” Ting felt nauseated, like she was just hit in the head with a ball. If this is how parenting feels like, she’d want apologize to her parents for existing immediately. “From what you’re saying telling me… It sounds like this ghost girl is not malicious at all. It sounded more like you’re getting along.”

“Yeah, she’s my best friend!” John nodded enthusiastically. 

Ting rubbed her temples. Suppressing the urge to curse out loud, she lowered her voice while still maintaining the smile she trained herself to have in order to stay in control. “Good for you,” Ting felt like she’s Sisyphus lifting stones on her lips. “Why did you use my hotline? I wrote in magic so even kids could read it perfectly well that only contact me when you think there’s a problem. Did you and your little friend think it’s fun to mess with it?”

The hole in Ting’s heart was roaring like an angry beast, its black and tornado mouth started to swallow up Ting’s existence. She said before that encounter with ghosts could leave a hole like that, but hers was there long before. Now it’s a giant black hole that was enough to consume nebulas. Not to mention little boys.

From the look on little John’s face, Ting knew that her face must have been as twisted as that of a broken mirror. He didn’t expect her to suddenly lose herself to the hole, because kids are nice like that, they think everyone is normal. Unlike adults, who could tell there was something missing from Ting’s eyes with a single glance. 

It would have warmed her heart, if the hole hadn’t just ate her compassion away a moment earlier. 

The boy whimpered. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” He backed off a few steps while the wind clawed at the closed window, threatening to break in. “I didn’t mean it as a prank! It was really an emergency!”

Ting didn’t hear any of it, she was too focused on the wind. She didn’t realize she was losing herself to the hole, like an ordinary ghost would. It was truly embarrassing looking back, but at the time the hole was too big, there was not much of Ting left in there. 

“Ting, you’re losing it again.” the supernatural entity that was sleeping inside opened her eyes, “get some sleep.”

That did the job. Ting zoomed back in like a vacuum pulling at her head. She shook her head, unbelievable and regaining her sense to understand what the hell she was doing. Guilt rain down from the sky filling the hole into a huge deep well. 

The boy who couldn’t stop talking before stared silently at her, stunned and horrified. 

As if he was staring at the ghost.  

“No, it’s not you. It’s me...I’m sorry.” Ting shook her head, she closed her fists and her knuckles turned white. “Sorry, I can’t do this job. Whatever you and your friend wants, you can find someone else. I’ll give you a full refund.” Not that she charged anything, that was just how people comforted their customers. 

“Wait,” the boy’s chubby cheeks lost all of their red colour. But his eyes glimmered in the dark night with no lights. He hesitated, but advanced no less. He grabbed Ting’s hoodie and she could hear snoring from his nose.

 “Only you can help me. I wasn’t lying. Lina is my friend, but she’s having this problem where she only appears when I turn on the light at night. It was alright at first, but it’s getting more and more unbearable. I can’t sleep when the lights are on, but Lina gets mad when I turn them off. She says I’m killing her whenever I turn the lights off. I feel really, really bad, but I can’t take it anymore!”

“Hmm…” Ting lowered her head thoughtfully, that was some interesting information. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yeah?” the boy nodded, still a little shaken. A bit unsure about her sudden change of attitude. 

“You said Lina only appeared at night, but she also only appears when the lights in your room is on.” Ting repeated the boy’s words to him, “Do you know why’s that?”

John sniffed and shook his head, although his furrowed brows hinted that he’s thinking. 

“Isn’t that just a thing ghosts do?” the boy asked, “I watch movies and ghosts in them only appear at night and in the dark. Lina is weird like that, instead of with the lights off, she only appears when the lights are on.”

“Nope, that’s just a myth.” Ting shook her head, “ghosts can appear in broad daylight right under the sun at noon time just fine. They’re literally dead people who lost their physical bodies. Dying doesn’t turn you into a monster or a vampire or anything. The reason behind why they do what they do are the exact same as us.”

“Okay…” John answered. “That makes sense. I don’t like to spend alone time with my friend’s parents, either. That’s embarrassing. But I like mornings more than nights. Why do Lina only come when it’s all dark?”

“You said she’s shy, she probably just doesn’t want to be reminded of how different she is from everyone else.” Ting said, “When it’s night time, there are almost no people around. That’s when she feels most comfortable.”

“Why is she okay with me?” John asked, “I’m a person, too.”

“You’re a nice and friendly boy,” Ting answered casually, it was a pretty obvious fact. “It’s pretty hard to be afraid of someone like that. Especially when you’re lonely.”

“And the lights?”

“I know this is news to you, but when you grow up you’d understand. It’s just common sense, there’s no special explanation. Most children prefer to have the lights at night when they’re going to sleep. Lina is probably one of them. Ghosts only exist at times when they’re comfortable, she meant what she said. When you turn off the lights, she temporarily disappears from the mortal plane.”

John’s face turned white again. “Does that mean she’s dead, now?” the boy’s voice cracked, “I didn’t turn on the lights because I started to be afraid of Lina. I didn’t mean to kill her!”

“Hey, you didn’t kill her, John.” Ting attempted to kneel down for the boy so that they could be at the same height, but she almost tripped and fell on her face. “Look, Lina is a ghost, she’s already gone. When you turn on the lights, you simply awaken the part of her that haven’t fully embraced Death. Let me put it like this: you wake her up whenever you turn on the lights, but to be fully awake. She must cross over to the afterlife in order to become fully herself again. With her own room, her own parents, her own lights that she could keep on at night.”

Clarity surfed in the boy’s huge eyes. Kids are definitely the easiest clients she have. “So what should we do?” John gulped and looked at her. “How do we help Lina?”

“Well, now we talk to her. You tell her how you feel, tell her all your fear. If she’s your friend, she’d understand. ” Ting smiled and walked to the light switch in John’s room. “I, on the other hand, will tell her there’s something more beyond this room. I will tell her that there’s peace on the other side.”

“You won’t be lying to her like you lied to my parents not?” John asked. “There’s really something nice waiting for her?”

Ting nodded. “I’m not lying,” she said, “children almost never go to Hell.” 

She put her finger on the switch, raised an eyebrow to ask for permission. When the little boy realized what she was doing, he nodded while still fidgeting. Probably still lamenting on the chilling words that Ting just said. Despite being a little weirded out, he still stood his grounds.

 Ting noted to herself of how brave John was, the boy will probably have a bright future waiting for him forward. Then she turned on the lights. 

A little girl with blonde ponytail appeared. Her face as white as paper, but soul as pure as a pearl. Lina seemed both confused and happy - happy about seeing her friend as usual when the lights are on, but confused regarding the woman with weird energy around her that seemed to come from something darker. 

“Go on,” Ting knew her role was done, she probably should get out of the room before the thing inside her wakes up at 12’oclock. She nudged the boy a little bit before walking out the door, knowing full well that John could convince the little girl’s ghost to move on. 

“Lina, listen-” 

Ting could hear the kids talk on the other side of the door. She will wait out here until the boy’s parents come home. 

“That was nice, wasn’t it.” the thing inside her asked. Ting didn’t know when she woke up. “You should do this more often, taking care of kids. A healthy human job, instead of trying to seek after dead ghosts.”

“Thanks, but I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Ting answered. “Haven’t you seen what happened in there today? I became the hole. No one deserves to be near the hole.”

The thing didn’t reply. She knew that no matter what she said, she cannot convince a human who was set on her destructive ways. 

Afterall, that’s why ghosts exist.

February 02, 2020 22:30

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Millie Spence
21:51 Feb 14, 2020

I loved the humour in the narrative. I wish more supernatural literature had an element of humour in it. This was a very enjoyable read.


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Tessa Gray
02:12 Feb 13, 2020

This was really interesting. I like the dialogue between the boys and the narrator. I was kind of confused about with the whole workout and think maybe you can get more description I mean she’s not a ghost but she off of seems to be more than a human. I think you may be able to expand the story but give him more detail as to what she is.


Chenchen Du
18:55 Feb 13, 2020

Thank you!! That's some really helpful criticism. The idea is that the narrator is human but is possessed... I will try to clarify things like that in the future. Thanks again!


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Happy Again
16:30 Feb 03, 2020

A good story with dark humor. You seek the gold deep in human heart and you love the world.


Chenchen Du
13:24 Feb 05, 2020

Thank you!! That's very sweet of you


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