Welcome to another edition of “I found this in my idea journal and thought you’d be interested in it”. As always, please remember you’re welcome to comment but don’t steal. Enjoy!
I was 12 the first time I saw a ghost.
It was late, later than I should’ve really been awake you know? I’d laid there waiting until the sounds filtering in through the air vent, that comforting voice of the late night new broadcaster, had clicked off in my parents’ room. Then I’d counted to 500.
You’re probably thinking I fell asleep sometime during that count. That this was all some kind of late night dream that I thought was real. Right? Well, maybe I did fall asleep. I don’t really know. But I do know that after I reached 500 I slipped into silence.
Have you ever listened to a sleeping house late at night? It’s not silent, not really. There are sounds like creaking and settling. There are sounds of people breathing or snoring. Plus a bunch of appliances and things hum with stored energy just waiting to be given a task.
I listened to the quiet house until I was sure it was safe. Then I dug my battered copy of The Secret Garden and a flashlight out from under my pillow. Because that’s what book nerds do when we’re supposed to be sleeping. We read regular books. A task we’d be perfectly within our rights to do literally any time of day by any adult who is in charge of us. We convince ourselves that we’re being rebels that way.
I read three pages before my flashlight beam winked out. So I shook it. Then, when that failed to work, I banged it against my palms. The beam flickered, shining through my open door, into the hallway, and onto a boy. Then it flicked back off.
My breath caught in my throat and I held it there, listening intently. Would I hear breathing? Footsteps? The unsheathing of a sword?
The silence grew and stretched.
As I restarted my shaky breathing, I tried to convince myself it was crazy. I told myself I was tired. The silence lasts long enough that I started to believe it was my imagination. I knew I should get out of bed. Head across the hall to the bathroom where it wouldn’t raise suspicion to turn on a light.
Instead, afraid to leave the safety of a $9.88 specially priced blanket that would somehow protect me from evil and possibly swords, I unscrewed the top of the flashlight and dumped the batteries onto my legs. Working quickly like speed mattered, I blew on the batteries like you’d do to the video game cartridges. Then I slid them back in.
I locked my eyes on the darkness of the hallway where the figure had been moments before. I held my breath and pushed the slide on the flashlight forward.
In the shaking, weak beam he stands completely still. He has dark brown hair falling in his eyes. He’s wearing an ugly orange vest. Like an ironic life vest you’d see on a weird fashion model instead of on a real-life ship. His hands are shoved deep in the front pocket of what seems to be blue jeans. He’s barefoot.
He doesn’t move at all. Neither do I. We just sit there. Well, he stands and I sit. Staring at each other until the beam winks out again.
Then I do what any other kid would do in my situation. I pull my blanket over my head and try to be as silent as possible. I whisper little prayers to a deity I’m not sure I actually believe in that I will be safe.
I sit there like that for so long that I actually fall asleep. In the morning everything seems too ridiculous in the full sunlight that I let myself forget it ever happened. I don’t talk about it for so long that I start to think it never did.
Until it happens again.