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Submitted into Contest #221 in response to: Write a story where ghosts and the living coexist.... view prompt


Funny Suspense

Hannah Abbott-Duarte, recently deceased, was arguing with her husband at the front door of their long-time home. “What are you still doing here, Fred? I thought you would have ascended a long time ago.”

“Aren’t you glad to see me, Hannah?”

“Well, of course, honey, but I didn’t expect you to get stuck here. I mean, there’s a sick thing in my family about haunting this old place, but you don’t have to. You weren’t born an Abbott.”

“They gave me a job, Hannah. Didn’t you notice I was still around?”

“But ten years, Fred? What job could have been so interesting?”

His face showed pride. “I haunt the dishwasher.”

“The dishwasher. Fred, really? That’s poltergeist work! It’s not even real haunting. Have you no pride?”

“All work is noble, Hannah. You really didn’t notice me?”

“No, Fred, I didn’t notice. You were probably doing it at night. I started taking Ambien to sleep after you were gone, and I was upstairs and didn’t hear anything.”

“But in the morning? You didn’t notice that it shut itself off in the middle of a wash? That all the cups got turned upside down and were full of soapy water?”

Hannah shrugged. Suddenly a hoarse whisper came from the ornately framed portrait in the front hall. “Fred Duarte, you are not authorized to haunt the front door.”

Fred stepped back. “Hannah is here, sir.”

The stern-looking patriarch in the portrait didn’t smile. “Ah, Hannah. Welcome to the afterlife.”

The solemn woman in the portrait next to him said, “Welcome, Hannah. Come in, please. We will find you something to do.”

Hannah looked back and forth between her third great-grandparents Nathaniel and Elizabeth, and her husband of 45 years. (Or was it 55 years? Does the clock stop on the marriage when the first person dies or the second person? Something to think about while she was here, which she had the feeling might be for a long time.)

She hesitated for a moment and said, “Do I have to do anything? I mean, do I have to be here at all? Everybody always said that the house was haunted by our ancestors, but is this optional? Can’t I just ascend and get it over with?”

As far as possible for oil paintings, Nathaniel and Elizabeth looked shocked. There was a creepy moment of silence, and Hannah could hear a window being opened and slammed shut by a poltergeist in the dining room.

“It’s a tradition, Hannah,” said Nathaniel grimly.

“It’s a great honor to be here,” said Elizabeth. "Few families have as rich an afterlife culture as the Abbotts do. You had the great good fortune to be born an Abbott. You should be proud to haunt this house.”

“It’s just annoying that I don’t have a voice in this. Just because I was born into this specific family, do I have to spend eternity haunting this particular old house? I mean, do all the Abbotts wind up here? How many ghosts are actually in the house right now? Counting poltergeists.”

Elizabeth said, “One hundred and thirty-nine, now that you’re here.”

“Doesn’t that seem excessive? Couldn’t you just haunt this place on your own?”

“All of my direct descendants are automatically brought here,” said Nathaniel, stiffly. “It’s a tradition. I should point out that I built this house. It was the grandest house for miles around. It’s the Abbott domain. You were one of the lucky ones who got to live and die here. Most proud Abbotts are very happy to stay here in this familiar place instead of ascending to an unknown alternative. But whether you stay or go is ultimately up to you.”

“I can go? How do I do that?”

“It is not my job to tell you that.”

“Well, that’s irritating,” said Hannah. “I always thought you might be a bit of an authoritarian. I guess I was right.” At that moment, all over the house, windows started raising and lowering, doors started slamming, the piano started playing a concerto, appliances turned on, a radio started blaring loudly, and objects began flying off shelves. Obviously, Nathaniel was angry and had summoned all the poltergeists.

“You know, I’m not finding this scary. I’m dead already, did you remember that?”

“And that’s exactly why we need to find you a job,” said Elizabeth soothingly. “Would you like to be with Fred in the kitchen?”

“And do what?”

“How about the new refrigerator? It’s still without an entity. When you got rid of the old one, Daniel moved on to the vacuum cleaner.”

“Absolutely not. I am not going to be a poltergeist. The whole idea is insulting.” Hannah glared.

“How about the plumbing? Your great uncle Jeremy is in charge, but I know he could use some help with spooky sounds in the kitchen pipes.”

“An assistant plumbing ghost? You’ve got to be kidding me. You are my third great-grandparents, direct line. If you won’t let me out of here, at least give me something meaningful to do.”

“Let’s see,” said Elizabeth. “Spooky footsteps in the hallways are pretty much covered, except those back basement stairs, which are really too far from the main part of the house to be heard.”

“I’d do spooky footsteps on the main staircase.”

“Sorry, Emily is doing that one.”

“The kitchen, so I could hang out with Fred?”

“Your cousin Kerry has spooky footsteps in the kitchen, and she’s doing a great job.”

“How about mirrors? You know, the scary face behind you thing?”

“Again, sorry, we used to assign each mirror to a different entity, but your great uncle Jeremy was doing such a great job that we decided to let him take them all.”

“He gets both plumbing and mirrors?”

“Jeremy is very energetic.”

Suddenly, an unsmiling Nathaniel chimed in, “How about windows?”

Hannah felt a tiny burst of enthusiasm. “You mean someone is approaching the house and they look up and see a ghostly face in the window? That actually sounds like fun. Which window?”

“If you want to be with Fred, how about the kitchen?”

“Really? The only window in there faces the back. Who’s going to see me?”

“True. Something on the front of the house, then.”

“I want to haunt my bedroom window,” said Hannah. “There’s a great view of it from the driveway, and you can even see it from the highway. Is it available?”

“Yes, actually,” said Elizabeth. “Out of respect for you, we didn’t have anyone in there when you were dying. It’s appropriate, come to think of it, to have you haunt your own bedroom.”

“One thing,” said Hannah. “Fred’s coming with me.”

“Fred is a poltergeist now,” thundered Nathaniel. “He is needed in the dishwasher.”

“Nope,” said Hannah. “Not anymore. If Fred is here and I am here, we’ll do this together. That’s my condition. There are two windows up there. He can have the other one.”

“How do you feel about this, Fred?”

“I want to stick with Hannah. Learn something new.”

“Fine,” said Nathaniel.

As Hannah and Fred floated up the staircase together, they heard a sound that was not a poltergeist, a scraping sound from the living world, a key in the lock of the front door, and the footsteps of a human, their daughter, as she entered the front hallway.

“That’s Laurie, our daughter,” said Hannah. “She’s inheriting the house.”

“We know,” said Elizabeth. “Shhhh.”

The four ghosts silently watched Laurie walk down the hall. And Hannah suddenly became aware of dozens of other ghosts, still in the shadows, watching her as well. Apparently the arrival of a new owner was cause for an assembly of all the house spirits.

Oblivious to her phantom forebears, Laurie continued down the hall to the living room, and opened the heavy drapes. Light streamed in, illuminating the cobwebs and dust in the air. As she looked around, her phone rang and she answered. “Oh, hi, thanks for calling back… Yes, I’m there now… Well frankly, it’s pretty depressing… Oh, yes, I’m still planning to sell it. I don’t want to live here and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to rent it.” 

There was a sudden movement of air, not quite a breeze, as 139 spirits shuddered at the thought of selling the Abbott house to someone who was not an Abbott.

“Yes, I guess it could be remodeled, but the place is more than 200 years old, so just imagine the can of worms.” 

Sam, who happened to be in charge of making piles of squirming worms and spiders appear and disappear, jumped, and everyone around him turned to stare.

“I know, I know, my mom left me the money to do it. But frankly, I just feel weird about this house. Everyone always said that all our ancestors haunt the place. I don’t believe in ghosts (the ghosts looked at each other, feelings hurt) but the place just has a feel about it. A heavy feeling, depressing. It just feels weighed down, dark, creepy, do you know what I mean? … Yes, you’re right. I feel like I need to brighten it up or something. I can’t imagine any real estate agent wanting to sell it this way. So I’m stuck.”

Laurie listened for a few moments and laughed. “That’s right, my ancestors are supposed to still be here.” She listened and laughed again. “Oh, no, you mean like an exorcism? Don’t you think that’s a little dumb? … Well, sure, I’m open to any idea, but it seems a little woo-woo… Okay, okay. But no priest or holy water or swiveling heads or stuff like that… What do you mean? How would that help? You mean you burn it?”

The person on the other end of the call spoke for a little while. Finally, Laurie sighed. “Okay, it still seems a little silly, but I guess it’s worth a try. Couldn’t hurt. Come on over. I’ll be here for awhile figuring things out.”

An hour passed. All the phantoms drifted back to their usual spots except Hannah and Fred, who followed Laurie around just for the pure pleasure of spending time with their daughter. She opened drapes and blinds all over the house, and went through the main rooms one by one, looking at objects, taking photos with her phone, and writing notes on a yellow pad.

Eventually they heard a car coming up the driveway, but it was too late to get up to the bedroom and look out the windows. And somehow, neither of them was in the mood for haunting anyway, since Laurie was still around.

Car doors slammed, one, two, three, four. Laurie met them at the front door. “You brought the whole gang!”

The woman with the braided hair said, “Of course! Everybody loves a good sage-burning!”

Sage burning.

The house suddenly became very still, all the ghosts frozen in place like bunnies with a hawk circling overhead.

Nathaniel and Elizabeth’s oil-painted faces, without moving, looked horrified. Nathaniel’s mouth, without moving, let out a hoarse whisper, “Saaaaage…”

Hannah, though she didn’t really understand, suddenly felt as terrified as everyone around her seemed to be. As panic rose in her throat, Fred pulled her halfway up the staircase.

The five young people spread out, chattering and laughing. “Where shall we start?” asked the woman with the braided hair, and Laurie said, “How about here?” leading them into the dining room.

A spicy herbal smell began to waft upwards as the living humans unwrapped big bunches of dried sage from crackling paper bags.

“We’re going to cleanse this level first,” said the woman in braids, as she tucked a tiny sprig of sage in her hair. “When I light your bunch, spread out, everyone in a different room, and walk around slowly, letting the smoke permeate every corner. Don’t forget the cupboards and the plumbing.” And she clicked her lighter and lit the first bunch of dried sage.

Suddenly, everything was chaos. Like the smell of smoke in a crowded theater, the smell of burning sage caused a ghostly stampede as the Abbotts all panicked and emerged from their assigned places. Window ghosts and hallway ghosts bolted up the stairway together followed by the piano ghost, surrounded by the other downstairs poltergeists. Emily, the staircase ghost, was caught in the current and carried upward. It was like a rushing ectoplasmic river, going uphill.

Oblivious to the invisible commotion around them, the humans continued to walk solemnly around the suddenly empty rooms, hoping to see something ghostly, not realizing that all the ghosts were watching them from the upstairs landing.

The woman in braids announced, “Okay, let’s go up. Laurie, what’s on the second floor?”

“Four bedrooms, two bathrooms.”

“Let’s do the same as down here. We’ll go up the stairs together and then everyone pick your room to cleanse.”

All the ghosts scattered again, stampeding toward the third floor, jostling their intangible energy with each other on the stairs, speeding up through the pipes, passing through the ceiling. From there, it was harder to see what the living humans were doing, but they could hear and smell, so they knew when the group began to climb the stairs to the third floor (sewing room, sitting room, storage room) and everyone moved up one more level, to the attic, not at all sure what to do.

Nathaniel and Elizabeth hadn’t followed them upstairs, being confined to their paintings, and everyone privately feared the worst. It was quite crowded in the attic, with 137 ghosts. When that many intangible spirits are confined to a very small space, there is a lot of overlapping of energy, which is quite uncomfortable from a spectral point of view. Slowly the attic began to take on its own odor, not sulphur and not burning hair, but something between the two. Ghost sweat. The smell of fearful spirits.

Hannah, being new, felt emboldened to ask, “Why are we so afraid of sage smoke? Is it harmful to us? Do we know?”

Daniel the poltergeist, after a pause, said, “We just know. If there’s sage, we have to leave.”

“But has anyone actually tried it? Tried to be around it to see what happens?”

“Try it yourself,” growled Great-Uncle Jeremy.

Hannah made her way to the trap door, but they were right — the closer she got to the smell, the worse she felt, and she knew, she just knew, that she had to get away from it at all costs. She went back to the huddled group and they all faced the trap door, waiting for the worst.

They heard it start to creak as the woman in braids pushed it open from below. They saw her face appear. They saw her climb up so she was fully in the attic with them. They saw her shrug uncomfortably as she overlapped with several ethereal Abbotts, and they saw her nose wrinkle as she smelled their ghostly sweat. She reached down into the abyss so someone could hand her a bunch of burning sage. They could see the smoke.

And suddenly they were all on the roof, in the fresh air, no smell of sage detectable. Most of them hadn’t been outside since their deaths. Many automatically blinked in the sunlight, though technically they didn’t have eyes anymore. 

After a moment of silence, someone said, “Well, that’s interesting. I didn’t think we could leave the house.”

Fred said slowly, “We haven’t actually left the house. Right?”

There was a pause. “Nowhere else to go,” said Hannah.

Suddenly, Kerry of the creepy footsteps said, “Are they going to bring that sage up here?” Everyone started looking around nervously. Then someone pointed out that there wasn’t any way for the living humans to get there, and everyone settled down.

Another long pause. Daniel, the vacuum poltergeist, asked the question they were all thinking. “How long does it take for sage to — well, dissipate?”

Great-great Grandfather Adam, the oldest among them, looked up. “Forty days.”

Daniel said, “Well, that’s it.” He stood up. “Some of us poltergeists have been talking about ascending anyway. I’m going now. Who’s with me?” He pushed with his feet and began to ascend. The piano poltergeist and several door poltergeists quickly followed. Emily and Kerry and some of the other creepy footsteps crew were next. Then Great Uncle Jeremy energetically pushed off and rose rapidly. Great-great Grandfather Adam was right behind him.

“What do you think, sweetheart?” Fred asked Hannah. “You just got here. Do you want to hang around for awhile and haunt the window?”

“Not on your life, Fred. Let’s get out of here.” Holding hands, they pushed off and began to ascend together. And soon all 137 spirits were gone, wafting upward through the clean cool air.


Laurie didn’t sell the house after all. She started feeling better about it as soon as she took down the drapes and let the sunshine in, and hired a crew of cleaners who were there for three days and left the old place clean and shining. The family home suddenly felt charming and welcoming to her, and to her own family when she showed it to them. 

Laurie and her husband lived in the house for forty-six years, and left it to their youngest daughter.

Laurie never got rid of the old portraits in the front hallway. She discovered they were the images of the original occupants of the house, and kept them there for sentimental reasons, as a last vestige of the stuffy old family she was descended from.

After forty days, Nathaniel and Elizabeth began to be aware of their surroundings again, though it took much longer for them to feel like themselves. They understood that the whole ghostly family had ascended, and accepted that calmly. They’d have to start over. They had time.

October 23, 2023 21:41

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Darvico Ulmeli
17:10 Apr 02, 2024

Beautiful, funny, and original. I loved all.


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Caro Robson
21:33 Oct 31, 2023

Super enjoyable. My favourite story so far :D


Kathryn Kahn
23:43 Oct 31, 2023

Thank you, Caro! That means a lot.


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Belladona Vulpa
17:15 Oct 30, 2023

Fun to read! The title was witty and drew me in, then I stayed reading to see what happened. Very lively narration and descriptions, with humour and themes regarding family and following traditions. Traditions bring people together, but sometimes people (ghosts in this case) want to do their own thing/decide their own path. Enjoyable and wholesome, with humour sprinkled all around in the story!


Kathryn Kahn
19:42 Oct 30, 2023

Thank you, Belladona. I'm so glad you liked it, and grateful you took the time to comment. I like your insights about family traditions.


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Michał Przywara
00:43 Oct 30, 2023

Ha! What a great idea - and funny too :) I suppose it would be hard to find unique jobs for that many ghosts. "He is needed in the dishwasher." :) Some traditions outlive death, and some families are extremely conservative in following their traditions. It seems like Hannah didn't really have a choice, and if it wasn't for her daughter she might have been stuck after all. But now of course we wonder, will they succeed in starting over? Only time will tell :) Thanks for sharing!


Kathryn Kahn
19:41 Oct 30, 2023

Thank you, Michal! So glad you enjoyed it. And you have chosen my very favorite line in the story, the one that cracks me up even though I wrote it. This was fun.


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Shirley Medhurst
15:04 Oct 28, 2023

Love this story, Kathryn. You set the tone really effectively even in the very first sentence. You then had me laughing out loud all the way through. A rip roaring fabulous tale, thank you 🙏


Kathryn Kahn
23:48 Oct 28, 2023

Thank you, Shirley! I admit I cracked myself up a few times. Sometimes writing is hard and sometimes it's joyous, right?


Shirley Medhurst
00:06 Oct 29, 2023

Absolutely right! 😂


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Danie Holland
16:12 Oct 26, 2023

Kathryn — this was wholesome in a very comical way. I loved this angle from the ghosts points of view. The minute the daughter starts talking about an exorcism and all of her 139 ancestors are the ones being scared instead of doing the scaring, a very humorous way to turn the tables! Thank you for the story!


Kathryn Kahn
21:49 Oct 26, 2023

Danie, thank you! I'm so glad you liked it, and that you took the time to let me know.


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Tom Skye
10:40 Oct 24, 2023

Really charming story, Kathryn. I loved the way it got progressively more chaotic as it went on, with the increasing characters and action. Nice commentary in the closeness of family as well. Great work. Thanks for sharing


Kathryn Kahn
14:58 Oct 26, 2023

Thank you, Tom! I really appreciate your taking the time to read it, and I especially appreciate your kind comments. This was a particularly fun one to write.


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