Elsie set her single bag down in the main room of the small, dusty house. She knew that she wasn't supposed to be here, or at least, she hadn't thought that she was supposed to be here. But something had changed right before her mother's death a few weeks ago. A last-minute edit had been made in the will. Elsie would receive the house, and everything in it, rather than her brother as everyone had thought.
She didn't want the house, though. She didn't want anything to do with her mother. The woman who had spent all her time criticizing every single decision she made, yelling at her for not being the person she was supposed to.
But she couldn't very well give the house to her brother, who was no better than mom. Worse, even.
But she couldn't keep it, either.
She'd come here to prepare it for selling. She'd have an estate sale and get rid of all the belongings, and then she'd hand it off to whoever offered first. She didn't care how much money she got for it. She just wanted this house, and her mother, out of her life. Permanently.
She'd never much liked the house when she'd lived here. Its decor was cheesy and grandmotherly, all embroidered pillows and pastel tassels. The whole place was uncomfortably cheery. It didn't at all match its decorator, a woman who reeked electric green toxicity and pitch-black mirth.
Spiders in their webs were now the only residences of this house, taking up the corners of the ceiling and the spaces below the floral and white couches. They would be the first to go. No way could mc sleep with those disgusting creatures lurking above her.
She left her bag in the main room and proceeded down a dark hallway, flipping on all the lights as she went. She hated this place. The sooner she could leave the better.
Eventually, she reached the laundry room, a small closet that contained the washer and dryer, cabinets above filled with cleaning supplies and linens. She grabbed a room from where it was tucked in the space between the dryer and the wall and got to work. Idleness would do nothing to soothe her discomfort of being back in this house for the first time in five years.
Elsie shrieked as a spider fell from the ceiling directly onto her arm, frantically shaking the brown and black creature off, stomping it to a bloody pulp beneath her foot. She was on edge. Everything about this house made her jittery, as though she were waiting for her mother to enter the living room and shout at her for being too loud. For wearing ugly clothes. For doing her makeup as only a slut would. For the three piercings on her left ear and the one on her septum. Or, the biggest issue of all in her mother's eyes, the fiance waiting for Elsie back home. The female fiance.
But her mother, and all of her arguments, stayed where they belonged. Six feet under the ground at the graveyard a few miles out from the house. Where they would never bother Elsie again.
But she still couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. The hair on the back of Elsie's neck stood on end and she suddenly went cold. She slipped out of her spider gut covered shoes and peered down the hallway next to the living room. The laundry closet was open, but the light on within revealed nothing suspicious. But Elsie still felt as though she was being watched.
She shook the feeling from her body and turned on the heater instead, warming herself up and continuing to work on banishing the spiders from the old house. Her mother was dead. The house was empty. She was alone. Blissfully alone. She'd finish with this house and banish it from her memory. She'd use the money she got from selling it to marry her fiance, one final "screw you" to her mother.
She'd live her life and she'd live it happily.
Something clattered to the floor a few doors over, causing Elsie to shout. She stumbled, startled, and ended up dropping the broom on her own head. She'd been holding it above herself to swipe away the spiders. She groaned, rubbing at her sore head, and glared in the direction of the sound, tromping towards it. Whatever was in this house, she'd get rid of it. She was not in the mood for interruptions.
It was probably just a stray cat, Elsie told herself. A raccoon, at worst. She could deal with those. And she had, in the past. Elsie's mother had always made her explore the bumps in the night. her kill the mice or pests that climbed in through the open windows and cracks in the wall. Even though Elsie hated the job. Even though it always ended with her sobbing into her pillow.
But she did it anyway. Angering her mother was worse than killing a few mice.
She entered her mother's bedroom to find glass littering the floor. The culprit was a picture frame that had fallen from the wall, lying face down on the carpeted floor.
Elsie picked it up and examined the aged picture within its golden frame.
It was one that she'd never seen before.
Well, she'd seen it, but never like this.
The picture was an old one. And old one that Elsie had always hated to look at. It was a family picture. Elsie, her father, her brother, and her mother. One of the few times they'd been happy together. Before her parents had split. Before her father had died soon after the divorce was made official.
Elsie distinctly remembered her being removed from the picture after she came out as a lesbian. Her mother had cut her out, leaving only jagged edges where her toddler image had once been.
But there it was.
A different picture, but still one of her. One that she'd posted to her Instagram a few weeks before her mother's death. Elsie wasn't alone in that picture. It was one of her and her fiance right after Elsie had proposed. The two of them were holding hands, looking into each other's eyes as though nothing else existed. The image had been printed in black and white, glued to the frame where Elsie's previous picture had been cut out.
Elsie gulped down a lump in her throat and set the picture down on the nightstand, unsettled. She could deal with that later. She needed to finish cleaning. And then she needed to get the hell away from this possibly haunted house.
Before she could leave the room, though, the door slammed shut. She reached for the handle to run from the room, but the handle was ice cold. So cold that it burned her hand. She pulled away with a hiss, backing against the wall.
Of course her mother would give her a haunted house. Elsie shouldn't have expected anything more.
Elsie clutched her freezer burnt hand to her chest and stared at the door, waiting for something to happen. When something did, she wished that it hadn't. The door drifted open. The light flickered off. Something glowed in the doorway, a vaguely human shape.
Elsie let out a terrified whimper that she wished had been a more dignified scream.
The figure, although it was faceless and emotionless, was wearing something that Elsie recognized well. Her mother's favorite nightgown. The one that she had worn in the mornings when she chased after Elsie with her still hot curling iron, furious with her for something or other. Elsie always managed to escape being burnt but seeing that nightgown set something off within her.
Something that she didn't like. Not one bit.
It was a helplessness that she hadn't felt since before she'd moved out. A fear that she'd always hated. The burning of tears behind her eyes as she waited for punishment to come.
The ghostly figure of her mother just stood there in the doorway, and then a pained, echoing cry escaped from her. The light turned back on, dimming the figure before her slightly. The figure approached, and the blanket lifted from the bed, hanging off of the bluish glow of the ghost's arm.
The ghost draped the blanket over Elsie's quivering frame. She flinched away from the closeness of the spirit, who quickly backed away.
What must have been its hands drifted to its face, and the figure came into focus.
It was definitely Elsie's mother.
"Oh..." She said, the word muffled and filled with nothing but pure, unadulterated anguish. "Oh, Els..." It was a nickname that only her father had used. Before he'd left. Elsie began to cry.
Her mother rushed towards her and pulled the blanket tighter around her, enveloping Elsie in her cold arms. They were surprisingly solid, considering that she was a ghost.
But that wasn't what mattered to Elsie. What mattered to her was that the arms were there. They were around her, for the first time in her entire life.
"I'm so sorry, Els." Her mother cried, holding her as tightly as she could in her mostly noncorporeal form.
Elsie curled into the spirit of her mother, pulling the blanket tightly around herself.
"I know I have given you no reason to forgive me." She said. Somehow, there were tears in her voice, despite her lacking the ability to cry. "I've been nothing but horrible to you. But I want you to know that I've realized my mistakes. I've realized what I did to you. And I want to make it better. You won't see me, but I promise that I'll be there for your wedding." She said.
Elsie only cried harder.
"I'll be there for you. Even when you can't see me. Sell the house. Sell my things. Just promise me that you'll have the most beautiful wedding money can buy, okay?" She said.
Elsie curled in on herself tighter, nodding, promising her mother that she would. She felt the cold form of her mother through the thick blanket. She sobbed freely into the blanket as her mother held her. The grip her mother's form had on her was loosening, though. She was disappearing. Elsie grasped for her as her mother disappeared entirely.
After she'd collected herself, Elsie rose from the floor and pulled the blanket around her shoulders like a superheroes cape. She took a deep breath and wiped at her tears with the back of her hand. Then she retrieved the broken picture from the floor and placed it on top of her single bag in the entrance of the house.
She'd still be selling the house, but this picture she'd keep. A reminder of her mother's change. A reminder of the spirit who would be watching her wed with pride.