Friday, October 5, 2012
He wasn't a very troublesome ghost. He didn't rattle chains, or slam doors, or give people cold shivers. In fact, he didn't mind at all when people crept about in his house. While the intruders tromped up and down the stairs of the dilapidated building, he stood in a corner and watched. He hadn't known what he was looking for until he found it.
That's not to say there weren't rumors about him. Jimmy Handleman came to school one day covered in deep scratches. He claimed he had gotten them while exploring the house. Said he was climbing the stairs and out of nowhere this banshee scream started up. Before he could move one step, his skin had been ripped to shreds. Most of the girls believed him and fawned all over him for the next week. But not Tia. She kept her distance, pretty sure he'd just pissed off the stray cat that hangs out by the ball field. Jimmy was always chucking baseballs at the poor thing.
Tia met the ghost only once when Callie Westen and her group of clones forced her to go in there. Tia wasn't afraid of the house, but she was afraid of those girls and how they made up lies about her if she didn't do what they said. So she found a loose board on one of the downstairs windows and climbed inside, hoping they'd be gone by the time she came out.
The dusty air scratched her throat, but she had to spend thirty minutes in there or Callie's group would make sure she couldn't show her face in school again. She covered my mouth with her shirt collar and blinked until her eyes adjusted to the dark. The beam of sunlight helped – the one shooting through the space she had entered. Everything else was closed up like a tomb. Or at least that's how Tia thought of the house. A tomb for the boy trapped there. Part of her considered leaving the window unboarded. Maybe then he could get out once in a while. It must be lonely, being lost in a crumbling house.
The orange shag carpet was covered in a layer of dust, and the sofa had so much stuffing popping out, it looked like it had been eaten alive. The squeak of some kind of rodent told her it probably had.
The whole place smelled like a combination of mold and Ivory soap. Tia wondered how long it had been since anyone lived there. Certainly not in her lifetime. Maybe not in her parents'. She wondered if the ghost understood how much time had passed. She hoped he didn't.
She headed straight for the stairs. Not because of Jimmy's story, but because she'd always heard the ghost preferred the second floor. And she sort of wanted to meet him.
Upstairs, she found a crack in one of the walls and peeked down to the street. Callie and her friends were huddled together, every one of them frantically tapping on their smart phones. Every now and then, one of the girls would look up at the house and burst out laughing before returning to her texting. Tia hated them all.
Then Callie looked up. Tia was pretty sure Callie couldn't see her, but the glare in Callie's eyes pierced straight through Tia's chest. Tia stumbled back from the wall, and that's when she saw him, staring at her from the corner. But his eyes didn't pierce through her. They welcomed her. She was an intruder in his house, and he welcomed her. She hadn't felt that way in a long, long time.
He took one step forward, hobbling, like he was stiff from standing there so long. He was mostly solid, but if she tilted her head in a certain way, she could see the wall right through his button down shirt and tight fitting jeans. He was cute in a Greg Brady kind of way.
“What's your name?” she asked.
He opened his mouth, but the only thing that came out was a gentle puff of peppermint scented air. His shoulders slumped. He hadn't spoken in so long.
“It's okay,” Tia said. “I don't need to talk anyway. I just need to...” She nodded toward the crack in the wall, hoping he understood.
He nodded and walked away, his body passing through a closed door at the end of the hall.
Tia felt a twinge of disappointment until his hand reached back through and gestured for her to follow.
His bedroom was decorated with flowered wallpaper (which he obviously hadn't chosen) and band posters (which he obviously had.) He smiled as if to say, “This is my room.”
“I like it,” she said. And she meant it, even though the wallpaper was peeling and the posters were faded. She put her phone on his nightstand and turned on one of her play lists. An oldies one she thought he'd like.
He nodded his approval, then sat on his bed. The same creatures who had feasted on the couches below must have munched on his comforter too. Still, when he motioned for her to sit beside him, she did. She blushed because it was the first time she had ever sat on a boy's bed. It didn't matter if he was alive or not. His smile was enough.
They must have listened to music for an hour or more, because when he walked her downstairs, the girls were nowhere in sight. Tia's guess was they didn't want to be anywhere near the scene of the crime if she turned up missing. Maybe that idea would scare them enough to leave her alone for a while. She could only hope.
Before she climbed out the window, Tia turned to her ghost. “I know what I was waiting for. But what about you? Why are you still here?”
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and shrugged. Before she could say a word, he planted a quick, peppermint scented kiss on her cheek. And then he disappeared. Just like that.
He had never been a very troublesome ghost, but it was easy to keep up Jimmy Handleman's rumor since Tia sliced her arm on a shard of glass climbing out the window. She didn't do it to protect the ghost. He never came back after that day. She did it so whenever life got too rough, she had her very own place to sit for a while and listen to music and eat a peppermint. And wait.