I rested my chin on my palm while I looked out the cabin’s window. Snow fell in silent flakes, building up into heaps and banks. Our family’s footsteps from the car had already been filled in with a fresh layer of snow while the car itself was just a white lump. Dark trees surrounded the area, and I loved seeing the snow outline each and every branch and limb. When my mother had suggested we’d go to a remote cabin for vacation, I had hated the idea.
But snuggled in a blanket with a warm mug of cocoa and watching the snow fall wasn’t so bad after all.
“It’s really coming down now, huh?” My dad held his own cup of cocoa as he took a peek outside. “It’s probably a good thing we don’t have to leave here for a couple of days. I’m not sure the four-wheel-drive could even make it right now.”
“You mean, it’s okay as long as the propane doesn’t run out and we don’t lose our ability to cook food, right?” I studied him over the rim of my mug. He was tall and that’s where I got my own height. I also had his sandy brown hair that demanded to be wavy. He combated the waves by keeping it cut short and firmly styled while I chose to let the waves run free, or perhaps I’d just give up the battle. I’ll never admit it.
“Don’t worry, pudding. We’ve got a backup supply, a fireplace, and your father’s wits. In the worst-case scenario, I could keep us living up here for years, if I had to.”
“Mmhmm,” Mom said as she stood next to Dad and patted him on the shoulder. “I’m sure you could.”
Dad frowned and gave her a look, but it quickly changed into a chuckle. He was just too giddy that it was winter break, unable to stay unhappy for long.
My older sister, Trina, also sat in the main room of the cabin, but she was starring broodily into the fire. The light highlighted her blonde hair she’d gotten from Mom. “I don’t see why we can’t have our phones up here, though.”
Dad gave her a sympathetic smile and swirled his cocoa. “Even if we got your phone out of the lockbox, it’s not like you’d have any service up here, anyway. Part of the appeal of being in a place so remote is unplugging.”
Trina sighed, not unlike Mom’s the moment before, but she didn’t protest anymore. She’d whined so much on the drive up here, I hoped she was all whined out.
Despite having my whole family together, I still felt like I was missing someone. Brandon usually popped in on me so often, I was beginning to feel lonely without him. Brandon was a ghost and even though he was tied to his haunt, the skatepark in town, something about my powers of being able to see ghosts allowed him to also travel with me. However, he hadn’t come with us on the drive to the cabin so I wasn’t sure he would be able to travel this far away from the skatepark. Usually, we weren’t that far from his haunt, and I didn’t have much experience pulling a ghost that far from their haunts. I preferred to avoid them, ignore them, and pretend I couldn’t see them.
I had gotten pretty good at it.
Brandon was the exception because he’d charmed me right from the start. He didn’t know I could see him, but he made a joke anyway, and I wasn’t able to stifle the laugh. He knew right away I could hear him.
We’ve been friends ever since, and more annoyingly, he’d been getting me to talk with more ghosts ever since.
I was used to Grandma’s ghost following my mom around, becoming even more substantial when my mom was sad. I’d never acknowledged her before and had done a good job pretending she wasn’t there. I’d never met another ghost that was haunting a human instead of a specific place, but that could have just been my inexperience from avoiding the ghosts as much as possible.
Yet there was something about missing Brandon and being alone in the cabin without internet or electricity that had me looking at her more often. I had to be careful, if I made eye contact with her, she’d certainly try to make contact with me.
At the moment, she was standing in the room with us, the overstuffed chair Trina was sitting on went halfway through her body. She didn’t look as sad as she usually did, but she certainly didn’t look happy.
“So what do you guys want to do?” Mom walked over to her suitcase and unzipped it. “I brought some fun board games. Remember we used to have so much fun playing them together?”
“Yea, maybe when we were eight,” Trina muttered.
I uncurled my legs and stood up, keeping the blanket wrapped around my shoulders. It was cozy in the cabin from the large fire, but it just felt right to keep the blanket. “I’m up for a good game. Sounds like a fun distraction.”
After we’d all gotten settled in, lit a few more candles for visibility, and played a few rounds, my eyes kept drawing back to my grandma's ghost. She stood behind my mother’s chair watching us play the game. She always looked so sad, but right then she almost looked happy. Almost.
“Mom, did grandma like to play board games?” I asked, careful to keep my eyes on the board and my piece, averted far from the ghost even though I wanted to see her reaction.
Mom rose her eyebrows in surprise. “That question came out of nowhere.”
I shrugged. Trina scowled. Dad shook the dice for his turn.
“We used to play board games and card games almost every Sunday evening.” Mom’s eyes looked up and into the past, getting a bit twinkly. “It was one of her favorite things to do with us. Every year for Christmas, I’d try to get a new board game as her present so we could share it together as a family. Why do you ask?”
“She’s probably so bored, she can’t think of anything else to talk about.” Trina studied the ends of a lock of hair, checking for split-ends, though I doubted she could see much in the candlelight.
“Sure, that’s it,” I say.
We played a few more rounds, and I tried not to think about Grandma or Brandon, but that dumb kid had gotten stuck in my head. I was just too used to him popping up everywhere. He would want me to find out why she was following mom. In fact, he’d asked me that question several times, and I’d always just brushed it off. If he were here, he’d pester me until I gave in, rolling my eyes at his contagious energy.
“This might be a weird question, but if you had to think back when Grandma died, would you say she had any unfinished business?”
Trina straightened up in her seat and gave me a worried expression. I ignored her and Grandma who perked up at my question. I could see her shape rock back and forth behind Mom’s chair.
Mom stopped fiddling with her fake game money and studied me. She stared so long I began to worry that she had figured everything out. Talking about ghosts in our family was apparently something we never did, but maybe we should have.
“Why do you ask that, dear?” Mom’s smile wavered a bit.
I shrugged again, trying to appear nonchalant. Maybe I had asked one question too many. “Just curious. I feel like I don’t know enough about her.”
Trina glanced back and forth between Mom and me while she chewed on her lip and played with the weird eye necklace that Grandma had given her while we were still very young.
Mom inhaled deeply and closed her eyes for a second. “I’m not sure. There isn’t anything unfinished in her life that I can think of. She was able to have several weeks to take care of business while cancer ate at her. I myself asked her many questions to make sure all her affairs were in order.”
I kept pressing because even though Brandon wasn’t there, I still felt like he wouldn’t give up. “Sometimes unfinished business might be something with someone else that they haven’t said or did. Do you think she had anything like that?”
“I don’t know.” Mom shook her head. “Can we change the subject?”
Tension pulled at the room, and I realized I was ruining our family game time. Trina looked like she was about to lay an egg. Dad was jiggling his leg against the table so much that our pieces were wobbling.
“Okay, I’m sorry.”
Mom exhaled slowly and picked up the dice to play her turn. Trina relaxed in her chair again, but she kept giving me side-eyes.
As for Grandma, either she decided I could see her, or she wanted to talk about it anyway, uncaring if anyone heard her.
“I tried to live my life free of sin and to sleep peacefully every night. Any major decision I made, I always measured it against how I would feel when it came time to put my head on the pillow. I hate guilt and I never wanted to feel it.” Her voice was dusty like the porcelain plates she’d kept hanging on her walls, too high up to get a good dusting very often.
I didn’t look at her, although I felt a little bad for ignoring someone I had loved while they were alive. Instead, I kept my eyes on my family to test them for any reactions. Nobody acted differently, although they were still tense.
“I prayed in church every week that I’d be sent to heaven. I helped so many other souls find their rest. Why am I stuck here haunting my oldest daughter? What did I do to deserve this? I just want to rest knowing that my family is safe and well. Is that too much to ask?”
My heart broke at hearing the sadness in her voice, but I kept my face neutral. It was my turn to roll the dice. I pretended everything was totally normal and took my turn. After having so much practice ignoring ghosts, I’d gotten pretty good at pretending I couldn’t hear their cries.
Later, when Mom and Dad had gone to bed, Trina and I were left alone in the sitting room. We were both reading books, not yet tired enough to go to bed, but not having any TV to watch. The cabin had a whole bookshelf full of stuff, and we’d both found something we were at least semi-interested in.
“Trina?” I whispered to her after several moments of silence.
She looked up from her book and glared at me. “Don’t even start.”
“But it’s our very own grandma! We can’t just let her suffer like this. She doesn’t deserve it.”
Trina shook her head and once again her fingers went to that pendant on her neck. “It’s just best to stay out of these things. Can’t you pretend you can’t see her? You know, for the sake of the rest of us?”
“Not anymore. Not for Grandma.” I folded my arms over my chest and gave her a steady look.
She sighed. “Fine. What did she say?”
I glanced towards the bedroom that Mom and Dad were staying in, afraid they’d hear us, or that Grandma would, and she’d come through the wall with her sad eyes. “She doesn’t know what her unfinished business is. We’ve got to help her figure it out so she can go beyond or whatever.”
“You saw how Mom reacted. She doesn’t want to talk about it.”
“True. We’re going to have to ask Aunt Nancy if she knows anything.”
“She hates talking about ghosts just as much as I do.” Trina tapped her thumb on the book she was holding in thoughtful contemplation. “But I suppose that’s the next thing to do. If she can’t help us, we’ll have to figure out how to trick Mom into it.”
“That’s the spirit.” I grinned at her while the image of Brandon’s triumphant grin was in my mind. It both annoyed me that I was turning into him, and made me happy for some reason.
***This is a story of Hanna and Brandon. I've written a few with the same characters, but I always try to write each prompt so it can stand alone. If you want to read more about them, check out my profile.