It started in the closet. Allison was tightly curled in the dark, hiding from her older brother Devon. Allison waited, face pressed against her knees to smother giggles. They had just moved into a big, old house that was perfect for hide-and-seek. As the seconds ticked by she grew bored, wondering why he hadn’t found her but unwilling to risk moving from her spot. Little fingers walked across the dusty floor, brushing against something cold.
Snatching her hand back Allison swallowed against the fear rising in her chest. She hoped it wasn’t a spider. In the hint of light slipping under the crack of the door she could just make out the shadowy outline of something creeping towards her. Icy, spindly finger clenched around her calf as a raspy voice hissed, “I feeeeel you.”
Allison smacked at the hand, fingers passing through it like mist as she yelped. A rough yank sent her sprawling, her head bouncing off the side of the closet with a resounding bang that left her ears ringing. Hands shot out from all directions, clawing, pinching and pulling on her as they tried to burrow into her flesh.
“Warm! So warm!”
“I want to taste the life!”
“Give us the liiiife.”
“The warmth of living ssskiiin.”
Voices echoed in the closet, jumbling and tumbling over each other in a cacophony of confusion.
“No! No! Let me go!” Allison squealed, eyes squeezed shut as she desperately struggled. The ringing in her head got louder; a throbbing pulse growing in her skull.
“Allison! Allison!” Small hands gripped her arms, shaking her. Daylight spilled across her as Devon crouched in the doorway, high, shrill screams still pouring out of her as her eyes shot open.
The closet was empty.
Her parents said it was a nightmare, that she must have fallen asleep waiting to be found, but Allison knew better. She could see the ghouls lingering in the dark, though nobody else noticed them. A door suddenly closing, a violent chill, the dog barking at nothing - it was them. Her family brushed it off, blissfully unaware. The ghosts treated her family the same way, regarding them as if they didn’t exist as they focused on Allison. They craved the spark of life humming through her like blood in her veins, or so Annie told her.
Allison me the little ghost girl a few weeks after the closet incident. She was the only spirit that acted like a person, and besides a translucent tinge to her appearance Annie looked like any other little girl in old-fashioned clothes. Annie never tried to touch Allison. She didn’t make strange comments about her warmth or consuming her flesh. Instead, she just seemed happy to finally have a friend.
“The house belonged to a doctor in the mining days,” Annie told her as Allison drew a picture of them.
“The ghosts here are people who died in the house and didn’t move on. They’ve lost parts of themselves, forgetting over time. The light hurts them, scatters them. Most people don’t feel them, so they cling to those that can, but then they get greedy and tear those people apart. That’s why they want you. Life helps to fill in the places that are missing, for a little while.”
“Why aren’t you like that?” Allison asked, looking up from the paper into hard gray eyes.
Nudging a purple crayon towards her Annie merely shrugged. “I never let myself forget.”
“Annie,” Allison whispered that night, staring at the translucent girl a handbreadth away from her in the bed, “how did you die?”
She watched in the dim light from the hallway as her friend stiffened, fingers curled into the fabric of her dress. It was a delicate subject that Annie had a habit of avoiding. She’d told Allison stories of how the other ghosts died, but never talked about herself. Guilt crept up; Allison hadn’t meant to upset the other girl, but before she could take it back Annie turned to her, quiet and serious.
“Are you sure you want to know?” she asked in a hushed breath. “It’s not a nice story.”
Biting her lip, Allison hesitated. Annie was practically her best friend, wasn’t it right to know about each other? “I want to know.”
Striking fast as a viper Annie jumped on top of her, hands clutching her head, eyes boring into her mind. Allison felt her stomach flip, then she was falling.
The air was hot and humid. There was laundry hanging from racks, piled in baskets, and soaking in deep tubs of steaming water. Allison felt herself moving. She was wearing Annie’s dress, and everything felt fuzzy at the edges. There were voices, muffled and distant, but no one was nearby. One moment she was ducking around a huge sheet, then the next she was tumbling head-first into boiling water.
Eyes scalding, skin bubbling, she thrashed and wriggled, tangling in the clothes that filled the wash tub. Desperate hands scrambled for purchase; slick, burning metal seared her palms as they slipped uselessly. Her lungs were aching, scalding water sliding down her raw, ravaged throat. She couldn’t breathe.
Allison jerked up, gasping for air from the other side of her bed. Tears pooled as she let out little sobs, her mind torn between happiness at being in her room and the lingering terror of drowning.
“Allison? Are you okay?” Mom asked as she came towards the bed. “It sounded like you were having a nightmare.”
Allison froze. She didn’t say that. Slowly her head turned, taking in the strange, double vision of Annie superimposed over her body. It was as if Annie was her, but that wasn’t possible. She was right there!
“Mom!” Allison cried, aghast as her mother cuddled Annie. “That’s not me. Mom!”
Desperately she grabbed at her mother, watching in horror as her hand slid harmlessly through her. Looking down at herself Allison realized her body had taken on Annie’s translucent pallor. Was she a ghost? Betrayal and rage flared hot in her chest as she lunged at Annie with a furious snarl. Allison fell in a heap on the floor, and she hadn’t even been able to touch the other girl.
Annie stared down at Allison, face twisted in triumphant malevolence she snuggled into Allison’s mother. “It’s okay, Mommy. I’m awake now.”
Catherine Berry lives in Michigan, sings with her dog, and loves potatoes.
Her work has been published in the anthologies Trembling With Fear: Years 1 -3 and in The Trench Coat Chronicles.
More of her work can be found at www.caterinaberyl.blogspot.com