A short story in three parts.
“Mrs. Lemon, I do believe you’re crazy.”
“No, no, not crazy! Just rather inventive. And creative, too. I’ve always been creative, I think, it’s just that I’ve never really shown it much. I think I’ve been holding myself back. I never really knew what kind of good ideas I could come up with until now.”
Cecelia blinked. “Does your husband know you’re here?”
“No, but I’ve thought of that, and I don’t think he’ll notice I’m gone until he runs out of bread. I bought one of those double packs of 12 Grain just yesterday and since I’m not there to share it with him, I believe I have several days – even a week – before he thinks to look for me. Unless he decides to make French toast some morning. When he makes French toast he can really have an appetite.”
Cecelia carried on, ignoring the mention of breakfast foods. “And your children, Mrs. Lemon? What of your children?”
“Well, they’re hardly children anymore, are they?” replied Josephine, wistfully. “I think they’ll be fine.”
“So you plan to fake your death, is that it?” Cecelia wondered if this was the sort of thing one should dial 911 for. Would it be up to her to talk this woman off the ledge, so to speak? She wasn’t qualified for that sort of thing, for goodness sake. Cecelia felt irritated to be put in this position. Theresa would know what to do, undoubtedly.
Josephine laughed. “Oh, no! Nothing that elaborate. The sad fact of the matter is, I don’t think they’ll look very hard for me. I just thought if I could live out the rest of my days somewhere … up in an attic, or down in a cellar, I’m not picky … And if anyone did see me, the people who come to look at the house, or even the family who buys it, well, I’d just be the house ghost, wouldn’t I? It’d be quaint.”
“The house ghost?” Cecelia pursed her lips. She wondered if there was any medication in that worn out purse of Mrs. Lemon’s. There ought to be certainly. “I really can’t agree to this. It’s preposterous.”
“But where’s the harm?” Josephine pressed. “I wouldn’t be hurting anyone. And I’m getting old. It wouldn’t be forever. My parents passed at quite young ages. I don’t even have health insurance!” She smiled brightly.
Cecelia was silent for a long time. Her pen moved along the paper again, but she wasn’t pressing hard enough to legibly write anything. She left tiny wisps of blue markings behind, like the faint trail of smoke the caterpillar left behind with Alice. “I do have one house,” she said, at last. “But it’s already haunted.”
“Is it?” Josephine took a deep breath. “Haunted with what? I mean, with whom?”
Cecelia waved her pen in the air. “I’m sure I don’t know. I don’t pay attention to those sorts of tales. It’s just kid’s stories and rumors; that’s all. But I’m afraid you’re wrong about hauntings helping the real estate market. Nothing could be further from the truth. This place simply will not sell, no matter what I do.”
“Well, I couldn’t possibly make it worse, could I?” beseeched Josephine.
“I feel as though I’d be aiding and abetting a … a runaway. Or something.”
Josephine stifled a giggle. “I’m hardly a runaway. I’m 66 years old. I can go where I like, though I’ve never really done it before. And don’t think of it as aiding and abetting. Think of it as charity. Or think of us as business partners. You’ll never even know I’m there. I mean, unless you want to,” she amended, hastily. “If you’d like me to drag something across the floor occasionally, or stand in a window behind the drapes in a mysterious fashion, or play the organ or something …” She trailed off. “Or not. I can not do those things, too.”
Cecelia clicked her pen over and over. “And what of these other alleged ghosts, Mrs. Lemon? Aren’t you frightened of them?”
“A bit,” she said, carefully. “But I’m to be one of them, after all. It’s just about fitting in. I’ve never been very good at that, but I’ve only tried it with the living, after all. I think the dead might like me better. I’m very hopeful.”
Cecelia Parker, Realtor, stared at Josephine for a long while. Her eyes felt dry and exhausted. Everything about this appointment was so very wrong. “I’ll give you the address. I show the place about once a month, so I suppose I can check on you then. If I have any ghost enthusiasts I’ll be sure to let you know ahead of time.” She shut her notebook and capped her pen.
“So I can creak the stairs?”
“Yes, so you can creak the stairs. Creak the stairs, hide behind the drapes, play the organ, whatever you like.” Cecelia sighed.
Josephine clapped her hands. “It’s settled then?”
Cecelia stuck out her hand, across the desk. “Congratulations on your new home, Mrs. Lemon,” she said.
“That was rather spooky!” June whispered. She moved just a fraction closer to Bruce, who had nearly dozed off. “To think that a living could move among the dead and us not know it.”
“Yes, Nicky, that wasn’t a bad one,” Belinda smiled. “Not your best, but it was pretty good.”
“It was a nice twist,” laughed Kitty. “Murdering her husband would have been too predictable, I guess. I like a good twist.”
“Well, good night, all,” Nick said, standing and stretching. His head, which had been nearly decapitated in life, hung at an awkward angle and bobbed around sickeningly for a moment as he moved. His lopsided face had a humble smile on it at their response to his tale. No one really noticed the twisted head anymore, just as no one paid heed to Kitty’s blood stained dress, or Bruce’s twisted legs and neck, or the deep, deep cat bite marks on June’s arms and legs. “I thought you might like that one. I’ve been working on it for some time.”
Mrs. Lemon – who hadn’t said a word the whole time, other than to mention Kitty’s whereabouts earlier – stood too, and led the way out of the dark, old study. Outside the cracked windowpane a wolf howled mournfully, and the moon slipped herself beneath the blanket of a cloud.
“Mrs. Lemon!” called Kitty, and she hurried to catch up with her, her blood soaked dress in her hands so as not to trip. The fact that she was continuously soaked in appearance and blood stained had always frustrated Belinda, who found it extremely unfair. “Mrs. Lemon, it isn’t true, is it?”
“What isn’t, dear?” Mrs. Lemon turned.
“Oh, nothing!” Kitty put her arm around her and squeezed the older woman. “It’s a spooky thought though. I shan’t sleep tonight, wondering if you’re a living, breathing soul! You truly are dead, aren’t you, dear Mrs. Lemon? I couldn’t bear it if you were otherwise!”
“Oh, Kitty, don’t fret.” Belinda came up behind them and put her arm around Kitty, so the three were joined like paper dolls. “You know Nick and his silly stories. He’s only trying to scare you. Mrs. Lemon is deader than a doornail and Jacob Marley combined. Isn’t that right?”
Mrs. Lemon tweaked Kitty’s nose fondly, and kissed both the girls goodnight. She turned down the hallway, towards her attic room, ducking beneath a dust covered cobweb and around an old, antique coat rack that was covered with a protective white sheet. There was a draft in the old house –probably thanks to the cracked windowpane in the study –and the sheet fluttered. The stairs were silent beneath Mrs. Lemon’s feet, which were clad in sensible brown shoes, just like they had been for years and years.
“She doesn’t even play the organ,” reminded Belinda, as they watched her go.
“Or creak the stairs,” mused Kitty.
“It’s only a story,” said Belinda.
“Though …” Kitty bit her rosebud lip, “she has no sign of death on her.” She slipped her hand through Belinda’s elbow and pulled her in close.
“So? Would you rather she had a meat cleaver stuck in her head? I don’t have any signs either. Some of us are mysterious, you know. We don’t have to overdo it in the murder victim department.” At least Belinda hoped she was mysterious. She was beginning to think she had simply died choking on a chicken bone or something.
“I suppose. It’s just a ghost story, after all,” whispered Kitty. The whisper bounced back to her in the empty hallway and gave her chills up and down her freckled, white arms.
“Certainly, it’s just a ghost story,” agreed Belinda. Still, they slept close together that night, hearing every bump in the night and having unsettling dreams about the living walking amongst them as if they had every right to do so.