Eloise Fish pulled back her drapes a hand’s breadth, took a sip of wine, and watched the circus unfolding down the street. Night was settling on Maple Avenue, but the old house four-doors down was bathed in the lights of half a dozen full-sized vans, each honking at the others. The crew of the National Ghost Hunters had been embroiled with the cast of Paranormal Sightings Unlimited, and just now the whole production team for Spectre Collective rolled up, with their tour bus in tow.
When Snuffles – her pet tarantula – shimmied down the drape, Eloise petted him and cooed.
A crowd of local gawkers gathered around all the illustrious out-of-towners. Kids out past their bedtime, bored retirees, and hopeful extras – everyone out to see what would become of the famous Maple Avenue Haunting. The locals had long known about the spooky home, but its story had only recently exploded on the national circuit. There were even rumours of an Italian crew planning a feature, so maybe it had gone international.
“Idiots,” Eloise muttered, with a smirk.
A few people did break ranks, as the arguments among production crews raged. Probably wouldn’t be any filming tonight if they were arguing over rights. She saw a young man – no, a teen – walking off in the twilight, and heading down the sidewalk past her house. Eloise closed the drapes until only her eye poked through. No point in drawing unwanted attention.
And then her eye narrowed, when the teen stopped in front of her house.
Kids these days were miscreants, through and through. Idlers, the lot of them, and to be out after the sun had set – it was positively scandalous.
The kid looked behind him, at the film crews still arguing. Then he looked down the other way, and Eloise willed him to keep walking. But instead, he looked at her house.
She closed the drapes until there was barely a needle to look out through.
“Go away,” she muttered.
The kid looked at her house, and he looked and he looked and he looked. He looked up at the peaked roof and down at the overgrown lawn. He studied the dark windows and the lonely tree. And then, he started walking down her path.
“Piss off!” Eloise hissed.
But the kid didn’t piss off, and when he neared her door she dashed from the window. The sudden movement spooked Snuffles, and the tarantula bolted into the dark recesses of the house.
Eloise stood in the closet at the head of her front hall. She heard the dull clicking of someone pressing her dead doorbell. And then, it came. Knocking. She shuddered.
“Nobody’s home, jackass,” she whispered.
Perhaps he heard her, as the knocking stopped.
Or perhaps not, as he shouldered the door open and stumbled into the hall.
Eloise felt herself tremble with fury, and it took all her effort to stay quiet. The kid – a dorky teen with a clipboard of all things – regained his balance. She couldn't fathom why anyone would wield a clipboard in this day and age, and especially not one of the cellphone addicted youth.
“Hello?” he called out, his voice wavering. “Is anyone here?”
Eloise’s lips were drawn tight.
The kid flicked the hall’s light switch, but of course the lights remained off. Then he had the audacity to produce a flashlight, which he turned on. Eloise pressed herself further into the closet as the kid walked by, further invading her home.
“Hello?” he called out again. “Mrs. Fish?” The floorboards creaked under his sneakers.
Eloise followed after him, moving soundlessly and sticking to the low and dark places. Each step of the way she willed him to turn around and leave, to grow bored like his shiftless generation was famous for, but he just kept marching deeper into her home. First, into the sitting room, where he stirred up some dust. Then into the kitchen, where he frightened poor Snuffles who skittered under the fridge. Then the kid had the audacity to climb her stairs, and his filthy sneakers tromped all over her moldy carpet.
Eloise resigned herself that this nosy brat wasn’t leaving any time soon, and she feared he might do something stupid like start smoking or drinking drugs – or whatever the little reprobates got up to these days – and listening to obnoxious music. No doubt he’d make his way to her study and start lounging on her divan.
But no, the kid stopped at the top of the stairs altogether, and flipped through the pages on his clipboard by flashlight. Then he looked around and approached The Portrait. Eloise’s breath caught in her throat.
The Portrait was an amateur atrocity of a humanoid horse in 1800’s gentleman’s attire, smoking a pipe, while standing in some sort of European parlour, in oil. The painting had only a single redeeming feature – the fact it was almost exactly four-feet wide by seven-feet tall, and it perfectly concealed–
–the kid grasped the frame and moved it revealing–
–the door to her bedchamber!
This was unconscionable! To have a strange teenager invade her privacy like this was just too much. As he turned the knob and pushed through yet another of her doors, Eloise rose into the air, began glowing with an otherworldly green light, and let out the horrid keening of the long-dead.
“Boo!” she wailed, floating behind him and spraying ectoplasmic spittle everywhere. “I say, boo!”
She was crestfallen when the teen didn’t fall over dead from fright. He didn’t even flinch! He just turned around, shined his horrid little light at her, and grinned.
“My name is Kevin Ferguson, and I’m with the Briarstone High Bugle.”
“I was wondering if I could interview you for our school paper.”
“What!? You’re a journalist?”
“Well, maybe one day, ma’am. I’m just a student right now.”
Eloise grumbled. Up close, this Kevin kid looked real young, barely old enough to be a teenager. But, if he already had his sights on a career – even if it was journalism – maybe he wasn’t as useless as the rest of his generation. It might even be irresponsible to deny him.
With a flick of her fingers, a spectral cigarette appeared in her hand. She took a long drag.
“All right,” she finally said. “I’ll give you an interview. But on these conditions. I stay anonymous, and you do not publish the fact that we met. Indeed, you publish that this old house is as empty as the brains of those movie producers down the street.”
Kevin frowned. “Anonymous, ma’am. That’ll make things difficult.”
“Pshaw.” She waved her ghostly smoke for emphasis. “Just refer to me as a confidential source.”
“Oh! All right then, thank you Mrs. Fish.”
“Eloise, please.” She held out her hand.
“Eloise then,” he said, and his hand passed through hers.
“So, what is it you wanted to ask about? I expect it’s about my gruesome murder.” She floated through-and-past Kevin, into her bedchamber, and he followed. “This is where it happened, you know.” She pointed to the floor. “This is where the Dowager Destroyer strangled me.” She sighed wistfully.
“The Dowager Destroyer?”
“Oh, he was such a charmer. Such a handsome mustache.”
“You don’t seem too upset about… um… being murdered.”
“Oh, heavens no, of course not.” She took another puff of smoke. “It was so long ago, and frankly, a death is a very personal thing. There’s a lot of sentiment wrapped up in it.”
“I see.” Kevin scribbled something down.
“I expect you have a lot of questions.”
“Yes, Mrs.–Eloise. But not about your murder.”
“Oh.” Her shoulders sunk somewhat.
“Actually, I was wondering if we could talk about the house down the street, 555 Maple Avenue.”
“Oh.” She waved her free hand around and a ghastly wineglass materialized. “Fine, fine.” She downed it. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, it seems like there’s a lot of film crews interested in it.”
“They’re looking into a ghost that’s rumoured to live there.”
“What of it? Hey, you remember our deal, right kid? Nobody lives in this house, especially not me.”
“Yes, of course. I won’t tell them a thing.”
“Good.” Eloise conjured up more wraithish wine.
“I’ve just been looking into the rumour is all. It’s what my story is about.”
“Fascinating. What’s that got to do with me?”
“Well, the rumour’s been circulating for a number of years now. I tracked it down to starting about a decade ago. It seems back then, someone kept ordering pizzas to 555 Maple Avenue, but of course nobody answered the door because the house was abandoned. And when they were interviewed, the clerks said the voice on the other end sounded spooky.”
“Okay? What of it? Some ghosts like playing pranks, and some ghosts have phones.”
“Fair enough. The thing is, I looked up the number that called the pizza places, and at the time it was actually registered to this address. Your house.”
“Ah,” Eloise said, smirking. “I’m starting to remember why I don’t like journalists.”
“My question is: why do it? Why start a rumour about a haunting at 555 Maple Avenue?”
Eloise sighed, and floated to the window. “When I died and found myself here, I feared a lonely afterlife more than anything else. But I was dead-famous – the final victim of the Dowager Destroyer – and people kept crawling around my home hoping to catch sight of me. Frankly, I found all the attention overwhelming, and the behaviour of my voyeuristic interlopers to be quite disgusting.”
“I see. So you created a rumour so that everyone would go looking for ghosts elsewhere?”
“Yes! That’s exactly it, Kevin. And you know what? It turns out I like being alone. Just like in life. I mean, I was a shut-in! The only person I took a chance on ended up strangling me.” Her face fell to the floor. “And then he too abandoned me. He played with my heart and ran off.”
“It almost sounds like you miss him.”
“I do, if I’m honest.”
“But – he murdered you.”
She turned to him with a matronly smile. “Yes, Kevin. I’m sure it sounds a little strange to you, but you’re a young man yet. One day you’ll see that love is a strange thing, a thing with a life of its own that cares little for our logics and reasons.”
Kevin scribbled more notes.
“Let me ask you a question now,” she said. “Why pursue this story? Are high school students really interested in dilapidated houses and the people that used to live in them? I’m flattered, I’m sure, but it seems odd.”
“Well, actually, I started out trying to get an interview from National Ghost Hunters. They said they’d do me one better and let me experience their world first-hand, as a guest executive producer.”
“How did that turn out?”
“Basically, I spent all my time getting them coffees and cleaning up the sets. So, okay I guess. But one night, when I was cleaning up after we filmed the season finale, everyone else went to celebrate at a bar. I was alone. And that’s when the ghost showed up.”
Eloise startled. “Wait, what? There is a ghost in 555 Maple Avenue?”
“Yes ma’am. And he was tired. He was hunched over like he was melting or something, and he said he couldn’t take it anymore. The noise, the visitors, the constant cameras and drama – he was a prisoner in his own house. We got to talking, and he told me his troubles started about a decade ago. He told me about the rumour and asked me to try and track it down, so that maybe we could put a stop to it.”
“Oh my goodness,” Eloise said. “I had no idea. Why, I never meant to inconvenience anyone. Oh, I feel just terrible! And to think, another ghost living just a stone’s throw away. What’s the chap’s name?”
“Beowulf Whickup,” said Kevin.
“Beowulf?” Eloise whispered, her face lighting up. “But – that’s the Dowager Destroyer!”
“Yes ma’am. After you, he was tracked down to his house and cornered by the police. He refused to come peacefully and there was a shootout.”
“Oh my,” said Eloise. She twirled her wineglass, pondering something. “Well, I feel just dreadful. Say, Kevin, could you do me a favour?”
“Well, I don’t think we can do anything to stop this rumour. But maybe… could you go to Mr. Whickup with a proposal? He could, well, move in here – just for a while, you understand. Just until media attention on his house dies down.”
Kevin arched an eyebrow. “If you like.”
“I do like.”
Kevin frowned down at his clipboard.
“Well, I’m just wondering how I’m going to work all this into a story. What with all the anonymity. I can’t tell them you live here, and you probably don’t want me saying I helped another ghost move here too.”
“You’re right, I don’t. But I see your dilemma.” She pursed her lips. “How about this. I show you where my old diary is hidden.”
“Um,” said Kevin. “I guess that could be interesting. How will it help me?”
“It outlines how I poisoned my husband, and got away with it.”
Kevin’s eyes widened.
“You can break the story.”
“You’re welcome.” Eloise smiled beatifically. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. The old codger never liked my poor spiders even though they never harmed anyone. Kept stomping them. Anyway, do we have a deal?” She held her hand out.
Kevin squinted into the distance and tapped his pen against his clipboard. “Break a decades old murder? Hmm. That’s probably worth extra credit.” He passed his hand through hers. “Deal!”