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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Falling in love is always scary and wonderful, but more so when only one of you is still alive

Submitted: June 15, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 15, 2018



Seeing ghosts never really bothered me that much. I had since I was small, so I had gotten used to it. Besides, with a practicing witch for a mom, very little surprises you. Well, to be honest, maybe it’s that nothing could really shock me anymore – but they could surprise me. Falling in love with a dead girl, now that was truly a surprise.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I had just started out in the world. And to me, the world was New York. I didn’t care that I could only afford a fourth floor walkup closet in Hell’s Kitchen, I was living the dream. Writing for a real paper, drinking in real dives with other real reporters, it was everything All The President’s Men promised. I made no money, spent what little I did make on bad booze, and it was glorious. I got a byline now and then, and it was all worth it.

And then it got even better. A few years of hard work and harder drinking, I got promoted from stringer to staff; I was moving up. I put out the word I needed a better place, a nice place, but no luck. And then I found it, literally stumbled across it one night, seriously drunk. I woke in the very early hours to find myself on the steps of an ancient brownstone, never split into apartments like all its neighbors decades before. A real house, way beyond my means, I was certain, but a call to the number on the “To Let” sign in the door and it was mine. The family that built it had died out years ago, they told me, leaving a trust in charge with the condition it was kept whole. Clearly, those instructions had been followed. The entry hadn’t changed this century, dark wood, doubled doors and wavy glass intact. It was unreal and I was suspicious. Things like this don’t happen in New York.

A chat with mom confirmed that she hadn’t interfered, just as we had agreed. Well, as I had decided, and she finally came around to.

‘I’m cut to the quick, really. You thought I broke my word? You know better! A promise from a mekasefa is a promise! You give me your word, you take my word, it’s for ever, it’s eternal – you know that, darling boychik.’

Oh, yeah, mom’s not just a witch, she’s a Jewish witch. Didn’t know there was such a thing? Yeah, neither did my dad until my mother set her sights on him. He’d been engaged to a Catholic girl, but mom changed that, much to the relief of his parents. They were far from Orthodox, but their son would not marry outside the faith. No shikse for their only son! Guilt? You don’t know guilt till it’s guilt powered by magic, dad used to say. But she hadn’t influenced this, because mom didn’t lie, couldn’t lie. It was just good luck. Hell, great luck – or I thought so then.

But I couldn’t get past my feeling that something was wrong. I’d signed the lease without meeting a living person, just papers in the mail from a post office box with a strangely short number, as if it had been assigned before there was a need for more than a few dozen. The key to the front door looked like a bad stage prop made when the playwright gave vague direction for “comically large and overly ornate brass key” but the rent was absurdly low and the place was beautiful, so I ignored that voice in my head and moved in.

It wasn’t until a few months after I moved in that I realized that I’d been right: something was off about the place. I had left the kitchen a mess one night, after a particularly late, drunken night. The next morning I was startled to find it spotless. I wrote it off that time to my continued hard drinking ways and yet another greyout, not proud but a little impressed with myself to putting that lost time to good use.

But that wasn’t really a big deal. At the time, I barely noticed, until little things started piling up. My bed made itself. Shirts would seem to press themselves while hanging in the closet. Shoes brushed themselves.

Then something happened I couldn’t ignore. I fell asleep (ok, fine – I passed out) and a pan of rice on the boil scorched itself into a black mass of coal. I flung it in the sink and staggered down the block for Chinese, but when I came back to an empty sink, the pan returned to its cabinet, pristine, and even the air had cleared itself from my culinary mishap, I had to accept that something was actively wrong. And I made an assumption that it was mom it again. Since she couldn’t be there to personally bathe, feed and clean up after me, she was working her ways, just doing it remotely.

Our relationship had been strained at times. She’d interfered before, as no girl she knew was good enough for her only son and the one serious relationship I’d had with a devout Irish girl had been sabotaged brutally. I didn’t talk to her for months afterward, until I figured out she had stepped in to make things ‘easier’ by fixing an essay contest for me my sophomore year. I was bound and determined to do it on my own, to be the journalist my dad had been meant to be before he collapsed under mom’s will and retreated to his pretend world. I wouldn’t be that guy, I swore to myself.

But before I started another argument, I thought it over. Maybe this was ok, after all. A way for her to be my mom, be herself, and make life better for me without influencing my career, just my private life. So I took it in stride. I figured that Darrin on Bewitched had always been a control freak jerk anyway.

So I announced to the empty room that I was ok with it, I welcomed it. We’re OK, I said. This kind of influence, I can deal with. Honest. And the room seemed to brighten a bit, the air a little less heavy.

Almost immediately, things began cleaning themselves in earnest. It became a sort of game. I’d mess something up, in as innocent a fashion as I could, then try to catch it straightening itself, but I never could.

Laundry began doing itself completely – that was the best! Things put in the hamper would reappear, clean and perfect, in the closet or drawer. I suddenly realized that I never needed to vacuum anymore, just as it occurred to me that I’d never dusted the place once. The only thing that didn’t take care of itself was the trash. At first I’d found that odd, but I quickly reasoned that it wouldn’t be a great idea for anyone to see black garbage bags float through the front door, politely open the cast iron grillwork and deposit themselves on the sidewalk. It’s New York, yes, but there are limits to what the locals will ignore.

And then I saw her and realized how far off base I’d been.

It was a year since I’d moved in, to the day. I had been at work late, and was now draped across a couch, reading my own front page story on a nasty local scandal that just kept giving. I was probably too pleased with myself, and a little drowsy from the third beer, so it took me a moment to separate her from the drapes across the room.

Her gray uniform merged with the shadow, but her hair, whitest blonde, shone. Her stillness, her absolute lack of motion sparked that recognition in me, reminded me instantly of my childhood imaginary friend that wasn’t so imaginary – just not alive.

But as she stepped forward and separated from the gloom, her face came into such sharp focus, I must have caught my breath too sharply – yes, she was that lovely – and, startled, she vanished completely.

So then I knew. No witchcraft at work here. I had a haunt. But a very nice, very convenient kind of haunt. And so beautiful too.

I dreamt of her that night, which was strange, since I swear I couldn’t sleep. Seeing her face in the dark, without seeing. She wasn’t manifesting, I was doing this all on my own.

It was done, I was fascinated.

I had plenty of experience with this sort of thing, but never with anything so beautiful and so shy. I began speaking out loud, trying to coax her into showing herself to me again. It didn’t work and I was devastated. I forgot about work entirely for the rest of the week, haunting my own house all night. First I tried cleaning and straightening the place, thinking I could make up for my slovenly ways. When that didn’t work, I thought to flatter her by speaking about how wonderful her work had been, how clean the sheets, how stiff the starched collars were. No luck.

Then I knew what she couldn’t resist – a mess.

I trashed the place, from spilled coffee to melted ice cream on the windowsill. A ketchup spill on wainscoting finally broke the dam, and a vibrant rush of energy filled the place. The most pregnant but transparent sigh echoed through the room, as if she had resisted to her very last breath but that breath hadn’t been real in fifty years.

She materialized fully, and my breath was suddenly caught. I thought she was lovely before, but this was a new level. I realized that I’d never been in love, obviously hadn’t since nothing and no one compared to this. My one time near-fiancée, the one mom called the “Gentile Jezebel”? Sheesh, meant nothing. The layout girl I’d been sniffing around for months? Naw, why waste time there?

I couldn’t speak, but she already knew that somehow.

And then she did.

Which was new for me, I’d never met a spirit who could. Then again, I never met one who really cared to clean either.

Have you ever heard silver out loud? That’s all I can say to describe her voice. A silver windchime, but at dusk – you could hear the twilight there.

‘Hello, I am Anya,’ and a small smile, her head then bowed, and she actually curtsied a bit. She was in a dark grey dress, with white apron which I soon realized was a uniform. Her hair wasn’t white, but blonde done up tightly with an odd little cap woven into it neatly.

“Oh, my  - you’re a maid, aren’t you?” was my clever reply.

Her smile shattered. She faded back into the wall and was gone. The room, never had it felt so empty.

I had offended her, reminding her of her station, her eternal employ. I was mortally embarrassed and threw myself into cleaning immediately. Within a few hours the place shone, waxed floors and spotless windows but no mist, no grey corners, nothing. She was wounded, and the house felt it too.

And when I realized I was as well, I knew the rest of the story – I was in love, just as she was. And then I knew what to do about it. I courted her. Flowers mostly, since chocolates must be useless to a ghost. Candles worked too. I saw her again after I filled the mantle with perfumed candles of all sizes. The amber light reflected in the intricate mirrorwork over the fireplace and as I backed away from them and the vases I had packed there, I saw her over my shoulder.

She tried to appear angry, but we both knew it was false. And I told her aloud how much I loved her, and she showed me how she felt as well. All went back to as it was – the house was spotless, smelled wonderfully all the time. Laundry was done, floors buffed, everything was bright and shone. The rooms simply exuded light, and though the shadows remained they were friendly and warm now.

It was all plain to me now. We were a couple, she would keep the house and I would love her for it, and that was how it was to be. I was happy, though my work suffered, as the hardboiled reporter turned soft and found the good side to every villain. Readers hate that, unless they’re in love too, and there’s never enough of those good people.

And then she began cooking for me too. First it was coffee made when I woke, then toast ready when I came out of the bath. It progressed to soups and then a salad, sandwiches at lunch. Then, amazingly, a casserole was in the oven one night.

How did she manage? I never could find out. It never happened while I was present; it became clear I was not welcome in the kitchen – that was her domain. I deducted that the ingredients had to be in the house, she did not – could not? – leave so I learned to keep things on hand. A few times, the dish would be ruined, and I felt her be angry with herself, and when I would still eat the burnt roast or fallen cake, it was like the sun had come from behind clouds after a bad storm, and the relief and joy was thick in the air.

Making her happy meant I was happy, too. Happy enough that I didn’t notice how weak I was becoming. It wasn’t until that last grocery trip when I could barely move the wrought iron gates and had to take the steps one at a time that I knew something was seriously wrong.

I slumped in my chair, trying to catch my breath. I couldn’t, and though it only seemed like falling asleep, it occurred to me that I must be dying. And yet she wasn’t concerned, not even surprised. I struggled to my feet, so very tired, and just managed to make it to the kitchen in time to finally see her at work. The cupboard door slowly swung shut, hiding the rat poison box that had been there for decades.

Anya had died so young, not yet 20, but a near spinster in her long ago world. Her great ambition in life had been to marry, and she thought she had finally found a way to seal the deal but she made a terrible choice by settling on me.

After all, a promise is a promise, even for a dead man, and my mother the witch would never allow her only boy to marry a shikshe, living or not.

© Copyright 2020 Austin Thomas Burton. All rights reserved.

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