Edith couldn’t sleep.
The house was colder than usual. Frigid air blew in from the open window and tickled her nose, freezing her nostrils. She wiped at her nose and quietly rose to tighten the attic window. Edith pulled at the lock as hard as her weak arms allowed and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes.
A noise sounded from below her. Edith’s ears pricked. She tried to remember the last time she heard clamor in the old house. A few years, maybe? Yes, that was it. She decided it had to have been at least a few years, fifteen maybe. The noise sounded again. Edith crept to the edge of the attic stairs, listening.
Another icy breeze rustled the back of her hair and she whipped her head towards the window with irritation. The window was ajar once again. Edith huffed but concluded it was not her problem at that moment. She recalled a time many, many years ago when her family first moved into the house, when her parents had complained about the very same breeze. She thought they had fixed it, eventually, but perhaps not.
Edith continued the rest of her tiptoeing until her toes brushed the edge of the door that separated the rest of the house from the attic. It was flat and had a small hook on one end for opening up the door. Dust covered the perimeter of it and Edith grimaced as a spider crawled into one of the creases.
Edith knelt and pressed her ear to the door. She heard another noise, closer this time. Three beats passed as she determined whether or not to investigate. Her mother and father, who slept on the other side of a thin wall in the attic, would certainly not approve. However . . . it had been so awfully long since she had an adventure. Even since she heard another human inside their house. She wondered if they looked the same as she remembered.
Gently, softly, Edith hooked her finger into the small hoop lodged in the flat door and lifted it. Dust clung to her fingers as she did so, and she blew it off. The spider sneaked out as well and she shooed it away. The doors suddenly stretched out below her, making way for the rest of the house. Edith slunk onto the first step. The stairs were slippery, and Edith twisted around so she could clutch the stairs as she crawled down.
The house was quiet when she reached the bottom. Whatever noise was coming and going had stopped completely and Edith pouted. Her bare feet made no sound as she wandered across the hallways. The rooms on either side of her were dark and lifeless, as they always had been. But then one room was not. A dim light shined in a small room off around the corner. Edith slowed her steps. She tugged at her cream nightgown, dirty with long ago stains. She bunched it up, careful of it not to drag on the ground even though she knew it would make no sound.
Rounding the corner, Edith realized the light was coming from the kitchen. A chandelier flickered, casting a shadow on a small figure standing in the middle of an open pantry. Edith sucked in a breath. She tiptoed slower and quieter to the small figure who nearly matched her own height. As she got closer, she spotted short hair curling around the person’s neck and blue striped pajamas hung far past their feet. A boy, Edith though. Yes, that is precisely what she remembered a boy looking like.
As she reached her foot onto the tiled floor, she felt her entire body go rigid. This was the procedure every time she made herself visible to humans. It was uncomfortable and she rarely did it willingly. The very few times she made herself visible was under her parents’ orders. She decided that this moment was an exception, though.
The procedure finished throughout Edith’s body and she shuddered, glad it was finally over. As her body shook, her elbow thumped against a wooden frame surrounding the kitchen entrance. The boy scanning the pantry jumped and whipped around at the sudden sound. Edith’s mouth opened in surprise for two things: the boy could hear her, and her elbow throbbed from real-life pain.
“Who’s there?” he asked, holding out empty hands above his chest.
Edith walked into the dim light of the kitchen, revealing herself. She cocked her head. “I was going to ask you the same question. Who are you?”
The boy’s hands still hovered in the air and his voice still trembled as he responded, “My name is Liam. I ask you again . . . who are you?”
“Edith,” she replied, simply. The boy was definitely near her age, she thought. Baby fat clung to his cheeks as it did hers for years.
“Where did you come from?” he asked.
Edith walked closer to him, observing. “I came from here.”
“Well . . . where? No one else lives in this house.”
She cocked her head again. “Are you sure?”
He lowered his hands and cocked his head right back at her. “I . . . don’t know. You didn’t come with my family.”
“Family?” Edith asked. She tucked her hands behind her back and began walking around the kitchen. It was almost the same as she remembered. The cabinets were white instead of brown, the way they were when her family first moved in. The kitchen tiles glistened under the chandelier light. Edith recalled them being quite dusty and ashen the last time she saw them.
“Yes, me and my parents moved in today,” Liam said. Edith returned her attention to him.
“Hm, I didn’t hear anyone come in earlier,” she mumbled.
“What do you mean hear? Were you in the house before we moved here?” he asked, sounding slightly worried.
Edith pinched her lips together. She thought maybe that was a mistaken choice of words. “No, I didn’t say that,” she said, quietly. She continued to scan the kitchen, counting all the windows. Four, to be exact.
“You’re strange, Edith.” Edith turned her head at the mention of her name. She eyed the boy.
“Same to you, Liam,” she said, holding her head high.
“Did you fall in mud earlier?” he asked, pointing to Edith’s dirty nightgown. “Mama used to fuss at me for going out after it rained.”
Rain. That’s what it was. The breeze coming in from the attic window always became more persistent when it was rainy. “No, I haven’t played in any mud.”
“How did it get dirty then, mysterious Edith?”
“It just did. Why did your family move here?” she asked, suddenly wanting to know the answer.
Liam shrugged. “Don’t know. Mama and Papa wanted somewhere quiet and as soon as they looked in this house, it was like they needed to move in right then.”
Edith nodded. “That happens,” she said.
“Your parents were the same way?” he asked.
“Something like that, I suppose. Do you like the house, Liam?” Edith strolled closer to him, letting go of her bunched-up nightgown so it fluttered around her.
Liam screwed up his nose. “I guess. It’s kinda old looking. You would think they would remodel a house this old.”
Edith smiled. “You would think,” she replied, remembering the time when her parents made the same remark. “How old are you, dear Liam?”
“Ten,” he responded, proudly and puffing out his chest. “What about you?”
“Ten . . . I think.” Edith paused to think. She was ten, right? Or was she eleven? The passage of time escaped her often.
“Cool!” he said, bouncing on his feet. Then his shoulders slumped a bit. “I miss my friends back home. They would like you.”
“You think?” she asked.
Liam nodded vigorously. “Oh, yes! They were strange, too.” He fumbled with his hands a moment and Edith sensed his next words. Only a few children her age moved in after her, but they all asked the same question once Edith revealed herself. “Maybe,” Liam started, “we could be friends?”
Edith felt the same emotion as she had with the other few children that lived there. She wanted a friend, truly she did. That was the only reason she visibly showed herself to humans. Only the young ones. She wasn’t sure why she did so, though. Edith didn’t know where the other ghost children went after the house got to them, though she desperately wanted to know. It was a useless want. Edith and her family were the only ones that haunted that house; they were the house’s very first victims, after all. “Perhaps,” she replied lamely.
Liam’s eyes grew bright and his smile grew wider. Poor boy. “Great! Will you come play tomorrow?” he asked.
Edith considered this. She could, though it would be dangerous. She would make her decision in the morning. “I shall see.”
Just then, Edith’s entire body vibrated, and she knew her time was running out. She decided then that, no, she could not see Liam tomorrow. She wouldn’t last and she surely did not want Liam to see her true form. Her body shuddered again, more violently this time.
“Are you okay? I can go get Mama,” Liam said, voice dripping with concern.
Edith shook her head. “No. I’m okay,” she said, turning away from him to go back where she came from. She turned her head once back towards Liam. “I shall see you tomorrow, Liam,” she lied.
It was enough, though. Liam’s concern melted away and was replaced with joy. “I’ll see you tomorrow, mysterious Edith!”
Edith was already halfway down the hallway, away from Liam. Once she was completely out of sight, her body vibrated one more time and it felt as if it took a giant breath of relief. Edith sighed with it. She looked down to see her human feet gone and replaced with glowing light. Her dress’ stains had formed back into the blood that constantly dripped. Her hands were cut and scraped from the fight she once put up with the house. The house won.
Edith hurried back up the attic stairs of her attic home and found her parents waking at her arrival. They appeared around the corner of their thin wall and stared at her with sleepy eyes. “What were you doing out of the attic, Edith?” they asked.
“Exploring,” she said. They didn’t need to know about the boy and his family. It wouldn’t take them long to find out, anyway, and then they would go about their haunting business. Edith never understood why they got such a crack out of scaring the humans.
Her parents nodded without a question. They returned to their side of the wall. Edith walked over to her bedding and sat down without a sound. She cast a quick glance towards the attic door. She wondered how long it would take for the boy and his family to die. She wasn’t sure how long it took for her family. A few days? Weeks? Again, passage of time was hard for her to remember.
Edith laid down on her bedding and stared up at the attic ceiling. Her last thoughts were of Liam and how she was once in his place. Innocent and not knowing her death was creeping up on her. She did wish that she could see Liam once he died. Maybe he would visit if he figured out how. Edith assured herself that he would find a way.
But that’s what she told herself every time a child her age died. Sleep overcame her soon enough. She didn’t even wake up when the first of many screams sounded below her.