"What's wrong with you, Sandra? Why don't you like it?" Tyler, Sandra's husband, asked as she walked back into the kitchen.
Sandy forced a smile on her face, "There's nothing wrong with it, Ty. You know I love this house, it's perfect." That was true. On the outside, the house was perfect. An old Victorian home that had been renovated right before the couple had moved in.
The problem was the inside of the house. Sandy had let Tyler choose how to decorate it. The kitchen was covered in a light mustard wallpaper. There were small plaques above every entryway that labeled every door, "living room, laundry room, and pantry."
"It's our first house, Sandy! It's not supposed to be perfect!" Tyler continued.
"Tyler, it's fine," she acquiesced. She went to hug him and tucked herself under his chin. She didn't want to argue with him, but she also didn't want him to see her face as she lied to him.
She stepped out of the hug and mumbled an excuse as she left the kitchen. She walked through the house and headed upstairs to finish unpacking her office.
While it was mostly unpacked, she had one more box that she had hidden from Tyler. She pulled the box of books and files out from under her desk. These were from back when she was a young woman first starting out as a consultant. She had found herself looking more at the paranormal. She had studied it for years and had even considered becoming a paranormal consultant at one point. Tyler had hated the idea, though. He told her that she would lose out on money if she turned to something "that's not even real, Sandra."
She carefully began placing the unmarked books on her shelf. Some of them were journals from other investigators that had been gifted to her over the years. Once she finished, she stood back to check out her progress.
She was admiring her books when she heard a loud crash from behind her. She turned around and saw that one of the picture frames on her desk had fallen to the floor and shattered.
"Sandy? You okay up there?" Tyler called from downstairs.
"Yeah, I'm okay! Just an accident!" she called back down.
She went to look at the frame and where it had been sitting on her desk. There was nothing there that could have knocked it down, she noted. She groaned as she realized that she would have to go downstairs to grab the vacuum.
She walked back downstairs to grab the vacuum cleaner and realized that Tyler was no longer in the kitchen. As she walked through the living room, she noticed that he was not there either. She assumed he had stepped out.
She sighed and decided she would worry about that later. She found the vacuum tucked next to arguably, the worst thing in the house. Said worst thing was a dark chartreuse couch that Tyler's mother had gifted them when they moved in. Tyler's mother claimed that the couch was new, but the scuff marks on the bottom and mysterious stains on the cushions said otherwise.
Sandy sighed once again as she thought of the argument that would ensue if she tried to convince Tyler to replace the gift his mother had given them. They had been arguing a lot lately, and she didn't want another thing to argue over, but the couch really was awful.
"Maybe Tyler will understand," she thought to herself, although she knew it was unlikely.
Sandy grabbed the vacuum and headed back upstairs, trying to think of ways to convince Tyler to get rid of the old couch. She froze as she entered her office. All of her carefully placed spiritual tomes were strewn about on the floor, haphazardly. They look as though someone had come in and thrown them, although Sandy hadn't heard a sound from downstairs. The glass from the frame was also scattered about on the floor in tiny particles all over her books.
"What the hell?" she asked as she stared at the mess.
"Ty!" she called out, she hadn't seen him downstairs, and she assumed that instead of going outside like she had previously thought, maybe he had come upstairs.
"Tyler!" she called again.
"Yeah!' his voice came from downstairs. Sandy stood stunned before walking slowly back down the stairs.
As she got to the bottom step, she saw Tyler sitting on the couch.
"Ty?" she asked, "were you just upstairs?"
"What are you talking about Sandy?" he asked, his voice holding a bit of residual anger.
"My books, they look like somebody threw them off the shelves," she explained.
"And you're assuming I did it?" Tyler asked, raising his voice slightly, "Why would I do that? I've been down here this whole time! You saw me here when you grabbed the vacuum when would I have time to run upstairs?"
"What?" Sandy asked, stepping into the living room, "I didn't see you here when I came down here earlier."
"I was right here, Sandra! I haven't moved!" he argued.
Sandy thought back. She hadn't seen Tyler sitting on the couch, she was certain of it.
"Tyler, this isn't funny," she said, crossing her arms. She didn't know what kind of game he was playing, but she had had enough.
"What are you talking about?" he asked, standing up and angrily running his hands through his hair.
"You know I don't like it when you joke like this! You know I don't like it when you touch my books!" She began to yell.
"I don't even know what you're talking about. You just came down here and hurled accusations at me, even though you know I didn't do it!" He yelled back. He patted his pockets and began walking towards the door.
"Where are you going?" Sandy asked.
"Out. I'm not dealing with this today, Sandra!" He yelled as he got to the door. "Who knows? Maybe it was one of your little ghosts?"
He slammed the door when he left, and Sandy sighed. She leaned against the wall and put her head in her hands.
"Honestly, I thought he would never leave," a voice said.
Sandra screamed and turned around. At the top of the stairs was a man, barely visible as he seemed to blend into his surroundings. He began to walk down the stairs towards Sandy.
"Stop! Don't come any closer!" Sandy yelled as she backed away from him. Her back hit the door, and she immediately began fumbling around, trying to open it.
"Relax," the man said, "I'm not going to hurt you."
While she was watching him, the man disappeared, and Sandy held her breath.
"See not going to hurt you," she heard him say.
Sandy turned and saw him standing in her living room.
"Oh my God!" Sandy yelled as her heart began to race.
"Not God, but I'm trying to meet him. Or whoever runs the afterlife," the man said.
"What?" Sandy asked. She stopped fumbling with the door and turned to face the man. He still blended in with his surroundings, but Sandy could see more of him now that he was closer. As he stood there, Sandy noticed that the edges of his body weren't fully there. It was as though his body was surrounded by a clear mist.
"Listen, Sandy, I really need your help. If you'll just let me explain I'm sure-"
"You broke into my house because you wanted my help?" Sandy asked.
"I didn't 'break in'" he said, using his hands to make air quotes, "I live here. Or at least I used to."
"Used to? What are you some kind of ghost?" Sandy asked, laughing. She couldn't tell if she genuinely found it funny or if she was going into shock.
The man didn't respond, choosing instead to just stare at her.
"You're kidding right? You expect me to believe you're a ghost?" she asked. She started laughing even harder.
"Would you quit laughing!" the man yelled, "I don't have a lot of time!"
"What do you mean you don't have a lot of time?" Sandy asked.
"My name is Hale," he started to explain, "I think I died here a few years ago."
"You think?" she asked.
"I'm not sure anymore," he explained, "I've been here for a while and the longer I stay, the more I forget."
He stared at her with his eyes wide open. It felt like he was staring right into Sandy's soul. He dropped his head and looked at his shoes while she stared.
"How do I help you?" she asked.
His head snapped back up, and his mouth dropped open in disbelief.
"You'll help me?" he asked.
"I'll try," she responded, "I just want to know one thing first."
"Anything!" He answered.
"Were you the one who threw my books and pushed the picture off my desk?" she asked.
Hale ducked his head down, and Sandra assumed that he would be blushing if it weren't for the whole "ghost" thing.
"That was me," he admitted, "I'm sorry. I wanted to get your attention. I didn't have a lot of time and-"
"That's the second time you've said that," Sandy told him, "What do you mean you don't have a lot of time?"
"I'm fading," he said, "I've stopped being able to remember anything about my life before and everything that I should be able to remember is fading fast. I'm turning into one of them."
"One of them?" Sandy asked.
"One of the lost souls," Hale said. "If they're lucky, they turn into poltergeists, but once you're lost, you can't ever come back and I just-I just want to move on. I don't want to be stuck here."
"How long do you have?" Sandy asked.
"Until sundown today," Hale sighed.
Sandy looked at the watch on her wrist, telling her they only had a few hours to save Hale.
"How do I help you?" she asked, looking back up at him.
"There's something here that belongs to me, but I'm not sure what it is," Hale explained.
"How do you know it belongs to you?" she asked.
"It's a feeling," Hale said as he began to pace, "I can feel it pulling me, but I can't remember what it is. But just it being back in the house has given me enough power to be seen by you."
"Okay, so we're looking for an object that you don't remember, sounds easy enough," Sandy said sarcastically.
"There's more," Hale said, sheepishly.
"More?" Sandy questioned.
"Once we find it, we have to salt and burn it," Hale explained.
"Why is that the easier thing to do?" Sandy asked.
"Did you buy everything in the house?" Hale countered.
"What?" Sandy asked.
"Did you buy everything? The object isn't something new, so if you bought it then that's not it. But if you have old objects, we can just test those," Hale explained.
"Oh," Sandy paused and thought for a moment, "we do have some old things upstairs, maybe we can check those."
"Okay," Hale nodded.
Sandy began making her way upstairs, and Hale followed closely behind her. As they went up the stairs, Hale trailed his hand over everything, including the pictures that hung on the wall. He paused in front of one of the photos.
"Is this you?" he asked.
The picture was from Sandy and Tyler's wedding. The two of them were standing at the altar with the priest behind them. The photo had been taken in the middle of their vows, and Sandy had seen such adoration in Tyler's eyes that she couldn't help but reach out to hold his cheek as he spoke.
"Yeah, that's me," Sandy said. She went to touch the photograph and felt Hale's hand on hers. His hands were freezing, and Sandy involuntarily shivered.
"You look so different," Hale said.
"Things change," Sandy shrugged. Sandy led the way to her office and started by grabbing some of the books off the floor.
"We'll start with these," she said, "and we'll make our way around the house."
Hale nodded his agreement, and she placed the book on her desk. Hale reached out to touch it, and his hand went through it.
He shook his head, "It's not it."
"Alright, let's try the next one," Sandy suggested.
The pair continued on like this for hours, going from room to room and testing every object Sandy could think of. They talked about their lives, mostly Sandy's, as Hale couldn't quite remember what happened while he was alive.
"So you would have been doing this for a living?" Hale asked after Sandy told him about her desire to become a paranormal consultant.
"Kind of? I would have worked with a team and they would really be doing this work," she said.
"That sounds amazing! Why didn't you?' Hale asked, reaching for another object that he simply passed through. Sandy could tell that he was trying to stay positive, even as the sun sank lower in the sky.
"Life just didn't work out that way," Sandy shrugged. The pair began making their way back downstairs to test different objects.
"You should still try to do it, you'd be great at it!" Hale said.
Sandy chuckled and continued to search for more things to pass to him. She tried to ignore the sun sinking in the sky and the sky changing colors.
Hours had passed, and the sun was even lower in the sky.
"We're running out of time!" Hale yelled and swept the mug Sandy had handed him off the table. Sandy jumped as it crashed and shattered into pieces on the ground.
"There's still a little bit of time," Sandy said, "Let's at least try one more thing. We can go to the living room and search there!"
"There's nothing old in there!" Hale yelled, "You told me you bought everything in there!"
"We didn't buy that ugly couch," Sandy muttered to herself. Hale said nothing in response, and something slid into place in Sandy's mind.
"The couch!" Sandy repeatedly hysterically.
"What are you talking about? What does the couch have anything to do with this?" Hale asked.
"We didn't buy the couch!" Sandy said, running into the living room. Hale followed closely behind her.
"Sandy, I don't think-" he started.
"Try it! Just sit on the couch," Sandy said.
Hale sat carefully on the couch, as though he were scared, he would drop right through it. He began to flicker in and out of sight.
"Hale? Hale? What's going on?" Sandy asked. She looked out the window, the sun was on the horizon, and her heart dropped to her feet. What if they were too late?
Hale completely disappeared for a moment, and Sandy began to feel herself choke up.
"That's it!" Hale said from behind her. Sandy turned around and saw him standing behind her. He no longer looked like death. If Sandy had seen him on the street, she wouldn't have thought twice about him.
"That's it!' She said excitedly.
"Sandy," Hale said, looking out the window, "We don't have a lot of time."
"How are we going to burn it? We can't burn it inside!" Sandy cried.
"Watch this," Hale said with a smile. He walked over to the couch and began to lift it. It floated off the ground by an inch or two.
"Woah!" Sandy exclaimed, "since when have you been able to do that?"
"Honestly didn't think I could," Hale said with a surprised smile, "I've just felt more powerful since I sat on it."
"You're incredible," Sandy breathed.
"I'll worry about getting it outside, you grab the salt and a lighter," Hale commanded.
Sandy nodded and ran back to the kitchen for the salt and lighter. Sandy was about to run back outside when she remembered that Tyler had bought charcoal for a housewarming barbecue that they hadn't gotten around to yet. She grabbed the bag of charcoal and ran outside to Hale.
Hale had just placed the couch on the ground when Sandy ran out.
"We're almost out of time," Hale rushed out.
Sandy saw the last sliver of sunlight above the horizon and ran. She poured the salt and charcoal on the couch and flicked the lighter.
"What's the charcoal for?' Hale asked.
"To burn the couch faster," Sandy replied, "and for good luck for you."
Hale chuckled, and Sandy flicked the lighter again.
"Are you ready?" Sandy asked.
"Ready as I'll ever be," Hale admitted.
"Okay," Sandy said, flicking the lighter once more. She was about to light the couch on fire when she felt two strong arms wrap around her.
"Thank you, Sandy," Hale said in her ear. She could feel the warmth of his body at her back.
"You're welcome," she said. She leaned down to light the charcoal on fire. The flame was bright and strong, jumping from one piece of charcoal to the next until the couch was a roaring flame.
She turned to face Hale for the last time. He began to flicker in and out of her sight.
There was no spectacular disappearance from Hale. One second, he was standing next to her watching the fire, and the next, he was gone, and Sandy was left alone in her front yard with a burning couch.
"Sandy! What the hell!" she heard Tyler yell. She hadn't noticed him pulling into the driveway, too consumed with watching the last of the couch burn.
"What happened?" he asked, running up to her.
"Your mother lied about the couch," she said simply.
"What?" Tyler asked.
"The couch wasn't new when she bought it," she explained.
It was six months after their divorce that Sandy changed her name. Nearly three months after that, Sandy found herself walking up the steps to her new consulting office. She paused as she walked through the door with the plaque that read, "Sandra Hale, Paranormal Consultant."