The Family (Children’s Ghost Short Story):
It started, as it always did; with a key in a lock turning soundly to the right and a duo of children bursting through the door.
The adults are always slower, leisurely in the way they admire and point at the features of the house; of the giant spiral staircase with twisted iron handrails and the ornate chandelier hanging precariously over the entry room. Or the burgundy painted walls, sharply bisected by dark wooden paneling. Or even, the dour painted faces hanging in gold-plated frames.
The children, of course, never care about any of this. They looked to be about ten and seven this time. Young. Easily hysterical. The older was a boy with coppery tones to his hair and a cautious slant to his mouth and the younger was a girl with brown curls. The boy raced up the stairs, feet stomping on every creak, noise echoing all throughout the house. The girl attempted to trod after him, but only made it up four stairs before she tired and sat on a step, brushing back the hair of a raggedy doll.
This would not do. This wouldn’t do at all. It had been nearly five years since the last family had stomped and plodded and admired and infected their way into the house. Five years since The Spirit’s peace had been so violently shaken and replaced with the sounds of screeches and whines and laughs of happy human emotion.
It wouldn’t last. It hadn’t with the last family and the one before that and all families that had come through The Spirit’s house. Soon this family’s laughter would turn to shrieks and their cheers would turn to haunted whispers in the dead of the night until it got to be too much. And then they would run from this place, and The Spirit would once again have its peace.
But The Spirit would give them this day to settle in to the house. It would allow this family to sleep soundly through the night and let their guards down, unburdened by the thought of what was to come.
It would give them that.
The youngest children were always the starting points. Their trust is the easiest gained, and their fear unguarded. They look and they see, but they are also easily dismissed, easily ignored by the family at large. The Spirit had many options; did it come to the little girl as a friend to be dismissed as make believe, or as a bump in the wardrobe, a tapping under her bed?
No, The Spirit decided, already sickened by the way the little girl had strewn her useless Barbie dolls and china tea sets all about the floor. No. He’d start small in the morning and have her sobbing with terror by midnight.
She made it easy at first, that morning, when light rays beamed their brightest rays of the day, she sat in the middle of the darkened cherry hardwood floors of her room. She talked to her little doll and stroked its hair as she did when she first entered the house. A bright red ball sat to her right, ignored for now. It was almost too easy for The Spirit to nudge the ball a few halting centimeters. To watch as it rolled to bump into the little girl’s bare feet, unattended by anything she could see.
The little girl paused her playing and stared at the ball, unmoving. It rolled away from her foot and continued rolling in a straight line, until it stopped centimeters away from the doorway. The little girl cocked her head.
The Spirit raised its head and the wardrobe at the far end of the wall slammed shut, hard enough for the whole object to shake. The little girl’s eyebrows shot up, but she didn’t move from her spot on the rug.
The Spirit felt it’s mouth slit open to what would have been a grin.
“Honey?” The mother’s voice drifted up and suddenly the little red ball was moving again, rolling almost languidly out of the door and down the hallway, where it came to a stop at the mother’s feet. She picked it up with a frown and stared at the little girl who had come to stand in her doorway, a frown on her face. The mother handed it back to the little girl, “Hey– we don’t play with balls in the house. You know that.”
“I didn’t do it.” The little girl said, staring at the ball in distaste. The mother paused, giving the little girl a shrewd glance, but pat the little girl’s brown head and moved on.
It was once the clock striked past one am that The Spirit crept into the little girl’s room again. The dolls had been put away, but the stark white, linen crisp bed sheets that had been on the bed she was resting in for a millenia had been replaced by colorful patterns and cartoon characters.
The Spirit breathed hot breath into the cool room and began. First, it let the door swing wide open, hard enough to thump the wall with a dull thud. The little girl shifted, but didn’t wake. So it moved closer, letting long talon-like toe nails click, clack on the hardwood floors with every step it took.
Click…clack, the room sounded until the little girl groaned a little and sat up, rubbing at her eyes and squinting at the pale light that the crescent moon was allowing into her room. She stopped when The Spirit allowed her to see it; feels unfettered vindication when her tiny eyes focused in on its figure.
It grew. It let long, spindly arms grow far past human conception; let the little girl hear the bones crack as he elongated and watched black saliva runs down it’s face as razor-sharp canines filled its mouth, let the whites of its eyes fade and brighten into milky-white pools. It groaned, sounding like pain and misery and horror come alive. Because it had. It pointed at her, moved closer and closer until it stood at the foot of her bed. It reached an arm out, nails sharpened to points.
The little girl sat straight up in bed and opened her mouth as if in a silent–
She swat roughly, like an angry kitten, at the outstretched hand with all the indignance that a small child could muster. “The witch was scarier. She was crying blood. You’re just drooling.”
The Spirit halted his gravelly, wet groans. The little girl clamored to her knees and crawled forward. Even stretched out, The Spirit was tall enough to where she had to raise her head, had to look past the trails of saliva and blood, past the yellowed teeth and striking eyes.
She sighed, sitting back and resettling into a cocoon of covers, before giving him an expectant look.
The Spirit reared back, unsure of how to handle this unexpected complication. There was a moment of confused hesitation, but the little girl did not burst into tears. It growled at her, snarled with enough force to blow bits of tangly hair out of her face and onto the pillowcase behind her, but the little girl did little but blink.
The Spirit howled and thrashed his spindly arms out until its sharp claws carved out grooves in the far wall.
“Better.” the little girl said begrudgingly, but still yawned and rolled over to go back to sleep.
The Spirit was discomfited, but not deterred. After all, some young children are too stupid for their own good. Some are too dismissive, not logical enough to know true terror; to react to it in proper way.
It set its sights on the boy who cut a solitary figure as he kicked around a soccer ball to himself and back in the spanning lawns of the estate. The mother and father were nowhere to be seen and the little girl, the little beast, was up in her bedroom singing nursery rhymes.
Excellent, The Spirit decided and appeared just at the edge of the estate; just at the place where green, freshly mowed lawn disappeared and giant pine trees outlined the bordering forest.
The boy kicked the ball again and stopped, eyes fixated on The Spirit’s spot. He knew what the boy saw; a younger child, male as well, dressed in period clothing far removed from what the little boy would know. Haircut clean, pale legs shaking in the afternoon air. An unremarkable sight, except that when the boy moved closer to it, it opened its white eyes, wider than with the girl, and opened its mouth wider than humanly possible, until a black gape was all that was visible. It breathed out and a swarm of bees was unearthed to the air in a deafening roar. They buzzed around The Spirit in streams and flew out into the sky.
Some flew towards the boy, who took several steps back, waving at the air in front of him.
“Bees? Not the bees, man, really?” The boy swat in front of himself again, voice low, like he was muttering to himself more than shouting out horror to The Spirit. “It’s always bees. God, this sucks.”
One flew precariously close and the boy blew a quick breath of air at it, satisfied when the little bee changed course for the rose bushes on the far side of the lawn. When it flew away, the boy put his hands on his hip in an image similar to the little girl. The boy pointed at The Spirit, still staring up at him with milk eyes and black gaping mouth. “The first poltergeist made wasps come out of our own mouths. Now that was scary.”
He shook his head and stomped across the green grass and opened the back door, “Mom! Weird shit is happening again.”
The back door slammed shut and The Spirit was left alone by the treeline.
The mother listened to the radio as she cooked. The song was something with words entirely too fast to comprehend. She hummed along to it off-key, disgustingly.
The Spirit, enraged for the wasted days with the children, hovered at the back corner of the room. As the mother’s hips moved to the beat of the music, she chopped an onion. The knife slid cleanly through with steady thwacks.
There was a loud crash from just outside the little window that peered from the kitchen to the lawn. She put the knife down and counted. One, two, three…
“Mom!” The mother smiled and then frowned at the boy’s voice, “Mom! Dad knocked over the flower pots!”
A deeper voice, “Your son’s a liar– he knocked over the flower pot.”
“I did not!”
The mother left the cooking station and poked her head out of the window. The Spirit moved, sliding along the classic linoleum floors soundlessly, walking towards the mother, reaching out with fisted–
The mother turned back around and resumed her post at the counter. She reached out, but the knife was gone, so her hand fell back to her side, confused. The Spirit bared its teeth at her, even knowing that she could not see.
She took the half-chopped onion to the boiling pot at the oven. She slid in the bits of onion and stirred the pot.
The Spirit lunged forward and the knife, carefully cradled within its claws goes flying, spiraling outwards and towards the mother.
It thud in the wall next to her, sharpened edge embedded inches from her left side, handle wobbling precariously.
The mother stirred a little harder, cursing under her breath at the way the stew has thickened up.
The Spirit waited for her to catch up, to realize how close she had come to being skewered. It waited, crowding towards her back until finally, finally, she turned and glanced at the knife sticking out from the wall.
She pulled the knife out by the handle and continued chopping the rest of the onion, an absent “thank you” under her breath.
The Spirit vibrated in disbelief.
And then the mother stopped and stared at the gouged line in the kitchen wall. She glanced down to the knife in her hand and around the empty kitchen.
Finally, The Spirit knew, the moment of womanly screams.
“For fuck’s sakes,” the mother snapped, slamming the knife down on the counter. Rather than fear, of screams, there was only a terse, “Richard!”
The Spirit threw its hands up in the air.
“I swear to God, Janice, it’s not my fault.”
“Not your fault? How can this happen again? Four years– four haunted houses. This is not a coincidence!”
The father shrugged helplessly, “You were with me when we looked at the house. You were the one who liked the chandelier.”
The mother reared back, aghast, “I liked the chandelier. But did I say I liked the decade long history of death and violence? No! Because I didn’t know about it.”
The mother pointed her finger at the father, looking eerily similar to her pint-sized brats and ranted at her helpless husband. They traded the blame equally, speaking about The Spirit as if it was some household nuisance rather than a being of immense strength that had successfully evacuated this house on numerous occasions. It infuriated it, enraged it, because how was The Spirit supposed to know that this family was clearly not normal?
“I didn’t either. It has to be a coincidence.”
“Richard, we have been through three other houses. In those three houses, we have been through two possessions, a malevolent poltergeist, a homicidal witch’s ghost, and demonic doll. You’re really telling me this is all just… bad luck?”
“Well I’m certainly not Googling the top ten list of haunted fucking places in the US and then calling up our Realtor in the same breath. I wouldn’t traumatize our children like that.”
Really, how was The Spirit supposed to know that there were others out there, conjuring up horrors unknown and letting them play out on this particular family? Building up almost an immunity to what The Spirit had always assumed his particular brand of terror to be most potent.
“I’m not traumatized,” The little girl, who was crouched by the entrance way to the Study with her brother behind her inched into the room, “What? I’m not. This time wasn’t even scary.”
The Spirit snarled loudly from the opposite and the flickering fire, which had been slowly dying and fading in the marble fireplace, roared back to life; flames ripping outwards and out of the fireplace, threatening to sear all that stood to close. When the family jumped back, the fire died and returned to its fading glory in the confines of the marble.
The room shook, great heaving weaves to each side, as if the house threatened to concave and turn on its side. The lights flickered on and off and on and off, until every light bulb shattered and went black. The books, which had been shaking precariously on the bookcases suddenly flew off of their shelves, slamming one by one into the opposite wall. Every picture, hung up with care or a fashionable flare, was thrown from its hinges and to the ground.
“Way to go, Lucy,” the boy muttered, “You’ve gone a pissed it off.”
The little girl exhaled, put out. “An earthquake can do more damage.”
An earthquake. An earthquake. It was a matter of professional pride at this point and it was almost all at once that The Spirit decided that this could not go on. It could not continue to exist knowing that this family came and left this house without even a glimmer of terror.
It will not be outmatched by poltergeists and witches.
And as the saying, as old as time went, if one could not beat them, it would join them.
The Spirit must simply not allow them to leave. The family must stay, the children in particular considering that they were The Spirit’s particular favored targets, and this family must inadvertently teach it until the moment that The Spirit had learned so much, that it was able to unleash new hells upon the world that not even this family had seen before.
A window to the family’s right shattered. The family hardly even flinched.
“Well, I’m not leaving,” the mother said, turning in the room, “I’m not leaving. So, demon or ghost or whatever– either settle down or get out of my house.”
It settled, an impasse that would exist so long as the family remained in the house and continued to aid it in its quest.
The little girl arched a stubborn eyebrow, “I guess we can make this work.”
The boy muttered something along the lines of “freak” under his breath and place his hands on the little girl’s shoulders, steering her out of the room and up the stairs.
The Mother held up another threatening pointer finger, aiming it all around the room, before she too departed, dragging her peevish husband by the wrist.
“You’re kidding, right?” The Little Girl harrumphed, standing on her tiptoes to fix The Spirit’s posture. “Dogs have teeth, you can do better than that, Mr. Ghost. How about tentacles– or hands? Can’t you make, like, a thousand hands come out of your mouth?”
The Spirit considered this and imagined the sight; writhing, dirtied, blood-stained hands reaching out to his victims in the dead of the night, like souls reaching to drag them to the depths?
It quite liked the image.
And then the boy’s cracking voice, muffled from the other bedroom, “Jesus Christ, Lucy. I can hear your Horror Lessons from in here. Leave the demon alone and go to sleep, you absolute weirdo!”