False Steps



By: Lauren Baehr

“Can we talk about this another time,” Sam said, not looking up from his computer, “I’ve got work to do.”

“With you, later never comes! It’s always about work isn’t it?”

“Well, considering we still have to pay off our debt, we don’t have the time to take care of a kid.”

“That’s because you’re stubborn! We could figure something out if you put some effort into it!” Rachel was furious, and it showed in every angle in her body; from her tense stance to her snarling expression.

“This conversation is over. Let me get back to work, so we can, you know, pay for the damn house,” Sam growled.

This sort of exchange had become familiar to the ghost since she first awoke. In fact, the sound of shouting was what woke her up from the hardly-conscious status she had fallen into after her death. Well, it was more the emotion behind the shouting than the shouting itself. She could ignore noise, but feelings were what really caught her attention.

Several months after her awareness had returned, she began to get frustrated with the pair of them, Sam and Rachel. In the first few weeks she had been able to float listlessly, a barely formed mass of ectoplasm. Soon enough, though, she had been forced into greater consciousness, and she didn’t particularly like it. Each argument between Rachel and Sam felt like an unpleasant sting of electricity, and since she couldn’t leave her house—the place she lived and died in—simply leaving the source of the problem wasn’t an option.

When Sam and Rachel had first taken possession of the house, the ghost had been nearly drugged into deeper sleep by the wave of positive emotions that they had brought with them. Her house—the ghost’s house—had nearly looked like the haunted house it was when the couple had happened upon it with their agent. After the ghost had died, the near-mansion had been too expensive to attract an abundance of buyers, and as time moved on it had fallen into such a state of disrepair that no one would have wanted to buy it, even if they could afford the expense.

Rather than seeing a timeworn relic, Rachel had seen an opportunity, and together she and Sam had nurtured the house into modern beauty. The ritual of making the house a home had been much different, but no less joyous, than the time long-past when the ghost’s husband had flitted merrily among construction workers, instructing them as to the specifications of his dream home while the ghost had stood back and smiled fondly.

Sam hunched in front of his computer, as his wife stormed out on him for the third time that week. Sam’s shoulders were tight and his mouth was pinched. He was obviously frustrated, but she was a ghost, not a mind reader, so she couldn’t tell what he was thinking that gave him such a look, but she could certainly guess. She suspected the obvious answer: Sam was likely as upset as Rachel, but in his own, quiet way.

The only ones left in the room were Sam and the ghost, which amounted to no company he could actually interact with. The large windows opposite to the door might have at least brightened his face, but when he had set up the room the desk had been placed facing the wall that the door interrupted.

All she could do was watch them, and perhaps throw a small object when she was feeling particularly temperamental. She didn’t factor into the equation at all, she was just an imprint of memory, dulled emotion, and vague inactive consciousness.

Every moment she spent in this house was a moment that more emotion and cognizance and memory was forced into her. Her past was a smeared blur of black and white, like the movies she used to love to watch with her husband.

She saw some of her past life, in him and in her. Occasionally a disjointed memory would surface, fitting over the young couple like a blurry photograph. Watching them brought the memories—the memories that hurt—back into full color, fleshed out with emotion. She remembered her husband laughing, saying “We won’t be young forever,” and “C’mon sweetheart! We’d have the cutest kids.” She remembered not being ready. She remembered his smile fading more, and his hope waning each time she turned him down. She remembered not noticing his encroaching despair until it was too late to take it back, too late to be honest, to say “Maybe I can do this if it’s with you.” She remembered him getting that damn enlistment letter, and —

She couldn’t do anything. She thought if she had skin she would be tearing at it in an attempt to free herself from the feelings crashing down around her head. The ghost felt the desperate need to do something besides ineffectually throw small objects at walls or push papers off desks or spectate. At that point all that really mattered was doing something to change the helpless state she had found herself in, and get rid of the unwelcome emotions and memories that her present state of consciousness was forcing her to confront.

Stomp, stomp, stomp.

The ghost was abruptly snapped out of her downward spiral of thought, her attention pulled to the source of the noise. The tangible, distracting noise. She focused her attention back on the solid plane, and saw Rachel.

Rachel made her way to the stairs, and the ghost was greeted with a flash of inspiration. This may have solved her problem once and for all if she were lucky, she thought with wicked giddiness.

As a ghost, fifty years dead wasn’t particularly powerful or august, but…she could do small things, such as lifting the corner of a plank of wood at the top of a flight of stairs. It was a simple matter to wrap a small part of her power around the wood of the top step just as Rachel reached it. The tip of Rachel’s toes caught on the slightly raised plank and held as the rest of her continued forward. Rachel tipped forward, and a look of terror crossed her face. The ghost didn’t notice, and it was doubtful that she would have cared even if she had.

A sigh, and then screech of a chair being moved across hard floor echoed from the upstairs office; Sam’s response to the commotion. Sam stepped out of his seclusion looking prepared for another shouting match. Then, inevitably, the grisly scene that his wife had become caught his eye. The ensuing “Oh god” was hollow and choked and managed to nicely echo the horror of Rachel’s expression as she fell.

The body at the bottom of the stairs was a striking sight, the ghost thought. One of Rachel’s legs was twisted at an unnatural angle and one of her hands grasped out across the floor from a broken arm, bone shattered under flesh, and the flesh punctured by the calcium shards. Most striking of all was the head; a fresh puddle of red spread from it, akin, in shape, to a halo from a medieval painting.

The ghost found her beautiful in that her fall was cleaner, crisper, than the death of the ghost’s own husband. His was a messy death. His was, as she was told, an explosive death. There wasn’t enough of him left to bring home to bury.

Sam almost fell down the stairs in his rush to reach his wife. He nearly slipped on a swathe of blood that her uncontrolled descent had left behind. Blood coated his foot, but he was too focused on his destination to acknowledge that he was leaving behind bloody footprints.

Fear was thick in the air when Sam finally reached Rachel. He hesitated, pale hands (not at all like the ghost’s husband, his hands were of a healthy shade of tan) hitching to a stop just before he touched her. He snapped out of his pause quickly enough, and his fingers reached for a pulse. The ghost wondered what he would find.

Tears welled up in Sam’s eyes. So she’s dead, the ghost thought. I wonder if she’ll join me in this state, she mused. Then she noticed Sam fumbling at his pants pocket. He pulled out his phone, and he dialed a three digit number with crimson-stained fingers. Hmm. I suppose I won’t get any company after all, the ghost deduced, neutral even as the phone began to ring.

The tears had been tears of relief. It really was a strange turn of events. Not that Rachel was alive; the ghost didn’t have much thought to spare for that one way or the other. The interesting thing was that she had gotten used to the frustrated tears of Rachel, when the woman thought she was alone to let it show. Sam had never let tears fall.

In the end, it didn’t make any difference to her. The life of Rachel Evans hardly mattered to the ghost outside of the immediate irritation that the apparently still breathing women inspired within her.

The paramedics arrived eventually. They made a big, professional fuss, lifting Rachel’s warped, near-corpse body into the ambulance. Sam followed after, twitching in half-aborted motions, wanting to help but not knowing how, tear tracks marking his face. Slowly the house was drained of life, and a straggling emergency responder eventually closed the heavy wooden front door with finality.

The ghost was finally alone. She relaxed her form, and released her mind, slowly and with great satisfaction. She reveled in her ability to once more be able to fade into an indistinct ectoplasmic mist without interference from bothersome, frustrating residents in her haunted house.

 

 

Lauren is a 16-year-old from Maryland.