The Ghost Sensitive

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Chapter 1

Submitted: June 12, 2019

Reads: 46

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Submitted: June 12, 2019

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When I was six years old, a man walked into my room and screamed.

My Hello Kitty wall clock had just ticked past two in the morning. I wasn’t supposed to be out of bed, but I’d crawled out of my covers after an hour of restless turning to sit down at my plastic desk in the corner and draw. On my desk were two boxes of Crayola markers standing on top of a sheet of newsprint with a picture of a sunset half-completed. I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I might as well get some work done.

I lit my dresser lamp, but I didn’t want my parents to know I was out of bed, so I kept the lamp on my ceiling fan dark. In the soft, yellow glow, I scribbled with one marker, then another, until I forgot how late it was, and the only noise in the house was the scrape of my pens, and my little brother’s light, wheezy breathing from the room next door.

A terrified shriek, long and wild, ripped through the center of my bedroom. It filled my ears as if it came from someone standing right beside me; as if a man had slipped in through my window, thrown his head back, clenched his teeth, and cried out with a primal wail.

I shot out of my chair and my art table tipped over. Markers spilled all over the floor as the table hit the carpet and I stumbled over it.

I jumped onto my bed and scrambled underneath the covers. I threw the sheets over my head and trembled. My heart pumped in my chest and my breath came out in short, raspy pants. The impossibility of it all didn’t occur to me. I was a child and I accepted the disembodied scream as reasonable.

Dark things crept out of nightmares in books; they were in every fairy tale. They haunted graveyards and surprised curious children in dilapidated houses. Simple enough. Now it had happened to me.

I heard my parents’ bedroom door fly open. I peeked through the sheet. Footsteps stomped through the hall until my father was in the doorway in his underwear. 

I sat up, relieved to see him. I shivered and waited for him to search the room.

“What the hell were you doing out of bed?!”

My mouth fell open, but no words came out. I couldn’t understand why he was so angry with me. Someone, unseen, had screamed.

He pointed a finger. “I don’t want to hear another sound from this room tonight,” he said. “No talking, shouting, singing, not a word. You’re in bed now and you stay there, understand me?”

The art table lay on its side with the markers scattered around it, certain evidence I had been out of bed, but how was that important now? A man screamed.

I nodded.

“All right, then,” he said. He clicked off my dresser lamp and shut the door.

My father wasn’t going to look for the thing that screamed. Instead, he shut me in with it. I heard his footsteps retreat and his bedroom door close. My brother, always a heavy sleeper, never stirred.

I threw the covers over my head and lay still in the darkness. It couldn’t see me under my covers. Though I was getting hot and stuffy underneath the blankets, and even though I longed to breathe fresh air again, I would never come out.

I tried to make sense of what happened. I must have made a terrible crashing noise when I knocked over my desk. I was sorry about that. I’d worked at my little table many nights before and managed to get in and out of bed without disturbing anyone. At six, I was already an insomniac.

But the scream woke my father up, not the crash… It must have. The scream happened first.

Perhaps it was the crash and he didn’t hear the scream at all. Perhaps it was shrouded in some kind of magic so that a cry could seem loud enough to melt the walls down inside my room, but not outside of it.

Many years later I realized my father had heard the scream. He thought I had screamed.

We moved into that home in 1981. It was new, but the home stood vacant for more than a year before my parents bought it. My father had just accepted a better-paying job at PEMCO Insurance, and he was looking for a house in the country. North Bend was considered a long commute to downtown Seattle at the time, but my father never paid much attention to what other people thought.

The house looked like any other home in the neighborhood. The siding was rough, unpainted cedar. Two stories were cut into curious angles, larger spaces juxtaposed against smaller rooms; boxes jutting from other boxes, capped with sloped, shed roofs in all directions. A contemporary style for northwest living, built during an energy crisis, with long, narrow windows designed to absorb heat.

From the first night we moved in, I was plagued with nightmares. They were usually set in the house. I would walk into the living room and see an object floating in the air. Terrified, I’d turn and run in slow motion down the stairs. When I reached my bed, I climbed inside, shivered, and waited.

The scene would shift. Something would descend the stairs. One step, then another. An empty, black shadow with weight, form, and presence. Slow, methodical, it found the bottom floor and stood at the end of the hall. It would take one, slow, heavy step into the hallway, past my brother’s room—then I’d wake up.

Each time I woke, I’d see nothing in my doorway. Nothing is exactly what I expected to see.

In other dreams, I’d sense it coming down the stairs and jump out of bed. I’d run to my parents’ room at the end of the hall, but their door was always locked. I’d beat the door with my fists, but they couldn’t hear me. I would turn, and though I’d see nothing at the end of the hall, I would know the shadow was there. I’d sit by the door and cry, then wake up with tears on my cheeks.

By first grade, I slept only when I was too exhausted to get out of bed. I hid books under my pillows, and on nights when the silent house preyed on my mind too much to rest, I turned on a flashlight and read until my eyes were blurry. When I snapped off the flashlight in the early morning hours, I lay with my head covered and listened. Stifled, I calmed my pulse by imagining I was a princess carried on a veiled litter or an Arctic explorer in a warm tent.

I stopped believing in the Tooth Fairy when I was five. I had seen my gifts from Santa Claus hidden under the ironing board in my mother’s closet the year I was in Kindergarten. Yet I still believed that my nightmares had meaning, and something that one, terrible night had screamed.

Before I could read, my mother told me fairy tales. Whenever she mentioned a magic creature for the first time, like a dragon or a unicorn, I would ask, “Is that real?”

“No,” she would say. “Those are only in stories.” It was disappointing, but I liked knowing. I knew the difference between real and not real, but the nightmares continued.

Reading for hours, late at night, pushed me ahead of my classmates. I graduated to longer books and checked them out in stacks; no librarian could keep up with my voracious appetite. I didn’t tell them I read books to distract myself from the house.

My bedroom was below the kitchen. Every few nights, when the air was still, I heard scrapes above me. It might happen in quick, violent bursts, or a slow drag, getting louder as it moved further along the linoleum.

I decided to experiment. One night, I cut two pieces of masking tape and made a crisscross on the kitchen floor while my parents watched a movie. I pulled a chair over the tape and left it there, then curled up under the dining room table with Robinson Crusoe. When the movie ended and my mother fetched me, I checked the kitchen to be sure the chair was still in place. She didn’t notice.

I was the last to go downstairs, and as I brushed my teeth, I monitored the hall. I climbed into bed, my mother said goodnight, and I listened for the sound of their closing door. I lay in bed for an hour before I drifted off to sleep.

When I woke up, gray light flooded my room and I could hear my father snoring through the walls. My mother had to pull me out of bed on school days, but every Saturday morning I sprang out of bed before eight o’clock to plop myself in front of the family television and watch cartoons. Dennis, wearing his choo-choo train pajamas and sucking his thumb, was already parked on the carpet, absorbed in a commercial for Sugar Smacks. I plopped down beside him, looking forward to several hours of Shirt Tales, The Biskitts, The Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Thundarr the Barbarian—until I remembered my experiment.

My eager bounce up the steps turned into a grim march. Instead of turning on the TV, I went into the kitchen. There were dishes in the sink, a half-empty glass on the table, and a bowl of gummy bears I’d left on the counter, just as they had been the night before. The tape I marked on the linoleum was in plain sight, and the chair I pulled over it had moved almost twelve inches during the night.

The following Monday, I went to my elementary school library and checked out every book about ghosts I could find. I discovered that some people in the world believed ghosts were real, and that alone was a revelation. I found photographs; some were explained away, some were hoaxes, but others had no explanation.

I considered the strange case of the Tulip Staircase. A respectable reverend named Ralph Hardy snapped a photograph of an interesting spiral staircase in the Queen’s House at the National Maritime Museum of Greenwich, England. After he returned home and developed the pictures, he showed them to his friends who pointed out a mysterious figure that clung to the iron rail. The confused reverend took his photograph to experts at Kodak, who confirmed that Hardy did not tamper with the image. The figure remains unidentified.

I brought the page up to my nose and examined every detail. Taken in 1966, the photograph was clouded with shadows and dust. A bare woman’s arm stretched along the railing and her two clenched hands gripped it tightly. She was dressed in crumpled linens that rippled with movement. She strained to pull herself upright as her neck snapped back at an odd, uncomfortable angle.

Rumors persisted that a maid in Queen’s House was pushed from the top of the Tulip Staircase to her death fifty feet below. The murder happened a century before Rev. Hardy took the picture if it really happened at all. A hundred years later, the reverend took a photograph of a woman he couldn’t see, who used the rail to drag herself up again, head lolling on a broken neck. Were her agonized efforts just a jukebox song on repeat, or was she performing for the camera?

 It was a black and white photograph, but the book described the staircase as white plaster, accented by a ribbon of blue-tinted iron rails shaped like tulips with curling stems. I envisioned the staircase in color, twisting around until it reached the top floor. Sunlight streamed in through the blue-rimmed skylight.

In my daydream, high above, a young woman with light, wavy hair leaned over the railing and waved. Her smile was warm and dimpled, but her face changed. Her eyes widened. She tilted forward, flipped over the iron rail, gave out a shriek and—

I shut the book.

The nightmares continued. In 1986, my grandparents drove over the mountains and stayed with us for the summer. During their stay, the house was quiet. My grandfather owned a pear orchard in Cashmere, but he was getting older, and struggled to get up the farmhouse stairs. My grandmother couldn’t manage the place by herself. They’d hired a company to organize their harvest five years before, but even with help, the business of picking and selling fruit was wearing on them. They wanted my father, their only son, to take over the business.

When the summer was over, they drove home. My father walked into PEMCO the following Monday morning and quit his job to take over the family farm, just as we’d always known he would.

We packed our things so we could move in with my grandparents on the other side of the mountains before winter. Within a month, most of my toys, books, and games were in cardboard boxes in the garage beside my little brother’s Fisher-Price piano and diaper bin. My parents threw out my plastic shelving and I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor in an empty room.

The night before the moving trucks arrived, I laid awake until my clock struck two. I drifted and imagined I could see a shadow move through the kitchen above me. It shifted down the stairs and took shape in the hall, a tall, black figure without a face taking slow, even steps. When it reached my doorway, I didn’t turn to look. I decided I’d slipped into a dream, and when it was over, the moving truck would be waiting in the driveway.

The shadow knelt on the floor until I could feel the touch of its lips on my cheek. A man’s deep voice said, “Good-bye.”

My eyes flew open.

No one was there.


© Copyright 2019 Lois Lee Gates. All rights reserved.

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