For a few years now I’ve been working on a ghost story. I’m pleased with what I have so far, but feel like I’ve hit a plateau and haven’t been able to progress with it. What makes it a GHOST story? Where is the spooky element? Why is it supposed to work the way it does?
I didn’t have much of an answer to these questions. One of the biggest elements in this story is the family’s history with heartbreak, death, and a bit of losing oneself. But the more I thought about those backstories the more I realized that they’re second-hand stories. I’ve only heard them from the characters who told them to me. But maybe if I went to the characters who experienced the heartbreak, who dealt with death, who lost herself… maybe I would have a little better perspective of why my book is a ghost story.
Every Wednesday (fingers crossed!) during October I will be sharing with you a bit of this story. It may be spooky, it may not be. But I hope you enjoy!
(Also… if you see spelling or grammar mistakes… please know that I have not super proofread/edited this, so yeah, there probably are some. No need to point them out. 🙂 )
My first memory murky cold water rushing over my face, then pure blinding panic. When I awoke, I was in my bed, my soft linen duvet pulled tightly against my chin. I didn’t remember anything; unpinning my hair, changing into my nightclothes, turning off the light. Just the water, filling my nostrils and mouth, my heart crashing against my chest as my lungs screamed for air. When I pushed the covers back I felt a rush of cold hitting my skin. It’s been cold ever since.
“Mom!” Patricia called from the doorway. “I’m leaving!” Before her mother could call back, telling her to be safe and to be home by eleven, Patricia, or Pitty as her friends called her, slammed the screen door and skipped down the porch steps. A pick-up truck was waiting in the dirt drive, its headlights illuminating her as she rushed to the passenger side.
“Hey babe,” the boy sitting at the wheel said, leaning across the seat to open her door. She hopped in and kissed him smartly on the lips. “Ready to go?”
Pitty nodded and Tim, her boyfriend, peeled out of the drive. “Can you slow down?” she asked, holding onto the handle hanging by the window. Tim drove like a bat out of hell, which scared her enough when they were in the city. But out here, in the country, the speed on the dark dirt roads terrified her.
“I like how you bump along the road,” Tim said, eyeing her chest. Pitty crossed her arms and felt her cheeks flush.
“You’re a pig,” she muttered, not really meaning it.
In the den I expected to see my father sitting in his favorite chair, holding the newspaper in front of him. I expected my younger brother, who was barely three, to be toddling on the floor playing with one of his toys while my mother watched from her own chair, knitting or sewing. But I saw none of this. Instead there were strangers in the room, dressed somberly in black, some of the ladies dabbing their eyes with stark white handkerchiefs.
I stepped onto the porch and saw him sitting in a wooden rocking chair. His knuckles were white from gripping the arms, his face pale and drawn with dark circles under his eyes. I leaned my head to the side, studying him. He was handsome to be sure, but I could not place him. He leaned forward and ran his hands through his dark hair, mussing it. It only made him more handsome. As I moved towards him to introduce myself, I heard someone call from the other room. “Alistair!”
“C’mon babe, don’t be like that,” Tim said as he nuzzled Pitty’s ear. She closed her eyes and leaned back on the picnic blanket they had spread out. When Tim kissed her, electricity shot down to her toes and back up to her head. This was it. This was the night. She let him unbutton her shirt, slowly, one button at a time. A shiver ran down her back as his fingers brushed against her stomach.
Another man came onto the porch. He looked like the one sitting in the rocking chair, whose name was Alistair, but the resemblance superficial. Where Alistair was dark, this man was light. Where Alistair was hardened, this man looked relaxed with not a care in the world.
“What is it, Henry?” Alistair asked. His voice was like a growl and I could hear bitterness. These two were brothers, I assumed, and something has happened between them.
Pitty sat up. She didn’t feel different, sitting half dressed in cool fall air. She thought she would feel different after…
“You okay, babe?” She felt Tim’s hand on her back. Pitty nodded and began buttoning her shirt.
“It’s getting kind of late,” she said. She stood and finished straightening her clothes. Tim still laid on the blanket, his hands stacked behind his head. His face looked smug; she hated that look. In some way, maybe she hated him too.
But he was Tim Johnson, son of the best doctor in town. Captain of the football team. Most popular boy in school. Half her class would kill to go out with him and she had him. And she loved him.
“Can there be no peace between us, brother? Her death was not your fault,” Henry said, holding out his hand to Alistair.
“Perhaps I should blame you then,” Alistair said. He pushed himself from the rocking chair, so hard that it slammed against the side of the house. Knocking his brother’s hand away, he stormed towards the porch stairs. He neared me but his eyes saw right through me. I stepped away, moving from his path. As he passed me, ignoring my presence, I felt his fingers brush against mine.
And I remembered.