Haunting is not very fun.
Haunting people is not very fun. You are tied to them for the rest of their lives, and you don’t get to choose who you haunt. I don’t know how it works, exactly, but it’s very complicated, and you can never stop haunting someone until they die or the Council lets you go.
I was given the delicate task of haunting a child.
Right now, she stands in a cold, damp basement, timidly stepping down the last of several creaky stairs. Her little fingers grasp onto her blanket as if it is her only life support. She barely reaches three feet tall, even with the help of her slightly elevated slippers.
Due to our binding connection, her fear is my fear. And though she is trying so hard to be brave, fear currently overwhelms her.
Her name is Rosalie. We call her Rosie. She was my friend once. I babysat her for two years, back when I turned thirteen a month before she turned six.
Now she is eight and I am dead.
I was walking home, I didn't even see the car. Death at impact. I don't know why I'm still here, why I am supposed to watch over little Rosie Bechudier, but it is apparently a calling of mine - to watch other people live their lives and be jealous of them. And from the years I have known Rosie, I can tell she will have a future worth dying for. Maybe that's why I died so young.
Though she is rather young, she's very smart for her age. She always has been, ever since I've known her. I can't remember a day when she would ask me for homework help back when I would babysit her. And she has nerve, too - within the first week of her third grade year, she was getting a good talking-to for punching out a bully on the playground after he crushed her glasses in the mud. I realized how brash she was that day when she came back from school with an exciting story of what the principal's office looked like.
Yet at the moment, Rosie is letting go of her bold self in an attempt at relief, safety and security. She is a toddler-sized eight-year-old who has found herself lost in the dark of her basement during a middle-of-the-night rainstorm, and it scares her to death (and I don't use that term lightly anymore).
Rosie slips from her stocky slippers and touches her bare feet to the cold wooden floorboards, quietly stepping nearer into the darkness of the basement. The little girl searches through the darkness with those blue eyes of hers, standing on tip-toe to reach a string to turn on the only working light bulb of the basement. But when she tugs, the room remains dark. Silent. Scary. Her brows furrow to fashion a puzzled expression upon her face as she pulls the string a couple more times to confirm that the bulb has stopped working.
That is the third light bulb since last week, and this one worked this morning. We both checked. She can tell something is up.
I suddenly feel very unsafe.
The closet door on the far side of the room moves ever so slightly, but the echoes of the creaking door makes both Rosie and I jump. The girl nearly releases a squeal, clasping her blanket in her clammy palms. I find that my own palms are sweating and wipe my hands on my jeans, the last pair of pants I will ever wear.
Just as I ask, “Who’s there?” Rosie takes a very small step forward and rakes up the courage to pipe up a question as well.
The only answer she receives is the sudden closing of the door. I swear I didn’t do it.
A shiver crawls its way down my spine and I am suddenly afraid; I am fearful for my life, even though it was stolen from me weeks ago. Rosie jumps, eyes wide and mouth agape, turning on her heel and stumbling back up the staircase, leaving her slippers in the cold basement in her frenzy. I walk backwards in her direction, keeping my eyes on that door.
I should have seen whoever closed it. What happened?
I hear Rosie reach the top of the steps and yelp loudly as she runs into something solid. My heart gives out - at least, it feels like it does - and I run to her aid immediately.
"Rosalie," her Aunt Alice whispers, placing her hands on Rosie's shoulders. I release a sigh as I hang in the basement doorway behind the pair. Alice leans down to her niece's level and shushes her gently. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to scare you!" They embrace; Rosie still shakes. "What are you doing up so late, honey?"
The tension doesn't fade from the room. Rosie is scared, but so is something else. Something hanging in the air. I don't know what to call it, but I began feeling it after I died.
I believe Rosie has only just encountered her first ghost. Other than me, of course.
But she felt it, too. It wasn't only me this time.
She stares at the ground, wishing that she could feel relieved that her Aunt Alice is there to save the night, but her fear continues to eat at her. Letting go of her blanket only slightly, still cradling it softly in her arms, she doesn't move an inch or even blink.
"What were you doing down there, Rosie?" her aunt questions, moving a strand of loose hair behind her niece's ear. Concern shines bright in her dark brown eyes. Rosie hesitates before responding, unsure of what to say.
"I was going to get my coloring book," she says finally. I know it is a lie immediately.
"Could you not find it?"
Rosie shakes her head slowly, still watching the floorboards and the surrounding kitchen, laying her eyes on anything and everything except for her Aunt Alice. She is contemplating whether or not to tell Alice of whatever she heard in that room. I don't even know what it was, not exactly at least. We both have hunches as to what it could have been. But she realizes that no adult is going to believe a little girl's story about a ghost living in the basement closet. There are too many factors in the story to have it qualify as a statement worth a legitimate amount of thought. No one Alice's age wants to listen to any paranormal nonsense given to them by a child. Her teachers and family members would all say Rosie has an imaginary friend or that she simply heard a bump in the night during a storm and was scared much too easily.
I don't normally let this wish consume me, but it comes back: I wish I was alive. Just to let them know that I, too, saw that closet door open and close on itself as well. They might consider it then. I wasn't much older than Rosie when I died, but I was old enough to reasonably work out these situations on my own.
I am glad to see that Rosie sums up more of her courage. "There's something down there, Aunt Alice," she stammers, this time looking straight into Alice's eyes. The woman is taken aback by her niece's intense gaze. "I heard the closet door open. And then it closed, all by itself. There's a ghost in there. Or something. I think."
Alice glances behind her back, hiding her feelings with a smile, yet her eyes say something different. Again, I can't identify that feeling. Pride? "Oh, no, Rosie," she says, but I don't believe her. "I promise you there aren't any ghosts down there." She rubs Rosie's shoulders comfortably and takes her into another hug. But the girl somewhat pushes her away and stands her ground defiantly.
"No, Auntie Alice, I know there are ghosts down there. I'm absolutely sure of it."
I smile. You go, girl.
"Oh, Rosie. Where do you get these ideas?" Alice's laugh sounds fake to me. "Here, why don't you come with me upstairs. It's way past your bedtime. I'll pour you a nice big glass of milk before I tuck you in, okay?" She is quick to clasp her niece's hand and tug her around the house and into the kitchen. Rosie takes one last glance into the basement as she follows Alice around the corner. I look back as well.
The closet door is open again.
I feel the need to investigate but I am forced to follow Rosie and Alice to the other end of the building. I would make a mental note to myself but I'm sure I'll forget anyhow.
When I join them again, Alice acquires two mugs from a cabinet and places them on the counter in front of Rosie. She watches as her aunt pours cold milk into each of them, filling Rosie's to the brim—milk is Rosie's favorite drink of all time—and promptly slides the mug across the counter to the little girl. Alice sips from her own mug. The scene makes me awfully thirsty—and makes me wonder why I still feel thirst.
"Rosie," begins Alice, tracing the brim of her mug. "Why did you think there was a ghost downstairs?" Rosie swallows more of her drink.
"Well." She pauses, trying to figure out how she can make her observations sound more intelligent and credible, despite the controversial topic and her young years. "First of all, the light wouldn't turn on. That is the third time this week." She takes another sip and wipes her mouth on her pajama sleeve; Alice stands there, nodding, bearing a smile that suggests she is very entertained by this girl's efforts. "And then the door creaked open, but I know that Mom usually locks the door by nighttime. And then the door closed. All on it's own!"
Alice nods quickly this time.
"I get it," she agrees. "That does make it seem like there was a ghost down there." Hesitating, a barely noticeable trace of fear flashes in her irises. It gets me thinking. She continues: "But I promise you, Rosalie, there are no ghosts downstairs. Not one. Your mommy probably just forgot to lock the door when she came home from work, and maybe the circuit is broken on that light. Something could be wrong with the wiring. I could have your Uncle Patrick try to fix the light bulb if it makes you feel any better." She says this all very sweetly and kindly.
Rosie frowns in dissatisfaction. "But what about the door? It moved on its own." And Alice doesn't know what to say; her face goes blank for a few moments, an expression I had never seen her make before. It's most obvious through her eyes, unblinking and almost empty. She sets down her mug with another smile—again, it feels fake.
"Okay, let's figure this out tomorrow morning. Is that alright?" she suggests softly. Almost anxiously. Why would she be nervous about this?
Oh, don't tell me.
I swear she looks straight at me.
She saw me.
Rosie, still frowning, yawns and nods tiredly. She is too exhausted to keep arguing at the moment, but Aunt Alice is sure she will have her hands full the following morning. I step closer to the little girl, hovering right behind her, and I watch Alice intently to see if she reacts.
"Maybe you shouldn't go downstairs alone at night anymore, Rosie," says Alice. "I think that's a good idea."
I say aloud, "She wasn't alone."
Alice looks straight into my eyes again and quickly looks away. Yes.
Aunt Alice can see me.
Rosalie looks at her aunt with admiration. “Are you sure there are no ghosts?” she asks. Alice chuckles, quickly pulling her away from me. I glare at her as they begin to exit the room.
“Right,” she answers, “No ghosts.” I catch up with them and stand directly behind Rosalie.
Her eyes brush over me again.
She isn’t telling Rosie the truth.