“In one aspect, yes, I believe in ghosts, but we create them. We haunt ourselves.”
— Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls
The ghost was hovering by the swingset again. I could see the luminous figure from the kitchen window over the sink. Grimacing, I put the last dish in the washer and dried my hands on the towel hanging from its hook on the wall.
They say the first sign of madness is talking to yourself, but I couldn’t help grumbling under my breath as I stamped on my boots and yanked on a jacket to face the bitter winter night outside. “Stupid ghost… Won’t move on… Ridiculous… Freakin’ cold…”
Suitably attired, I left the house through the back door and stomped through the small sludgy drifts of snow to the swings.
“I thought I told you to go away,” I called out to the ghost as I neared him.
He whipped around to stare at me with wide blue eyes, the same color of fluorescent light bulbs in an old hospital.
“I was called here…,” he said softly, his hand drifting up toward my face.
I batted it away. “Yes, you’ve mentioned that. Several times.”
“I told you. There’s no girl here. Just me.”
The ghost gazed at me, and a small amount of my annoyance faded to uncertainty. He looked young, probably sixteen, and dressed in nondescript, relatively modern baggy clothes, which meant he wasn’t from centuries ago, but any other date was hard to approximate.
“They said you could help,” the boy said suddenly.
I frowned. “‘They’?”
He didn’t answer, and I threw up my hands impatiently.
“Well, thanks for the message, I guess. You can go now.” I made a shooing motion at the ghost, who continued to look at me as if examining a new species of insect.
“You send ghosts on. Help them find their unfinished business.”
The sound of the words was as soft as feathers, but their meaning hit my heart like a ton of bricks. (Look, I’m bad at metaphors.) My knees nearly gave out, and I stumbled backward, away from the curious ghost.
“H-how? That’s – I don’t – ” The stammers plumed into white steam in the freezing air, and the boy watched them dissipate before his eyes as he moved closer to me.
“I want the girl…”
I nearly slipped in my attempt to get farther from him.
“THERE IS NO GIRL!” I exploded. “I can’t help you! I don’t do that kind of thing any more! NOW GO AWAY, LEAVE ME ALONE!”
I realized how horribly childish I sounded, and I felt my face grow hot with rage and shame. There was a beer can on the ground, and I gave it an almighty kick. It soared over the fence and landed with a plunk! in what must’ve been the pond, no longer frozen over.
That brief display of emotion was all I was physically capable of in my condition, and I stood there huffing clouds into the air, letting my anger slowly ebb away. The ghost was still there, I could feel his presence, but he was obviously content to wait until I had composed myself.
It was a few more moments before I could speak somewhat normally. “I can’t help you.”
My hands clenched into fists. “You’re in the wrong place or the wrong time, I don’t know which. Either way, your girl isn’t here any more. She’s gone; maybe dead or moved away, it doesn’t matter. I can’t help you move on.”
There was silence, and after awhile, I looked round at the boy. He was staring at the sky, the stars reflecting oddly in his bright eyes.
“What do I do now?” he asked, sounding both resigned and piteous. I almost felt sorry for him.
“Either let go of your obsession with this girl, or go try to find her,” I said, knowing the former was as likely to happen as springtime in December. Ghosts were nothing but raw emotion, their entire purpose was obsession over something they still wanted. I perosnally felt “unfinished business” was a hackneyed phrase, but it did sum up their situation fairly well.
“I don’t know where to start…” the ghost said, spreading his hands plaintively.
I turned away. “Neither do I. But she’s not here. So move on, one way or another.”
A brief silence followed this, and then there was a burst of cold, and I knew the boy had gone, taking any remorse or guilt I had with him.
I stomped back to the house, thinking. If “they”, whoever that might be, were sending ghosts my way, I was going to need to upgrade my security system.
You never knew who might show up next.
I’ve been rewatching Danny Phantom.