Greg didn’t appear that day. Alison thought that was a little strange. She couldn’t remember a time she had actually survived a full twenty-four hour span of time without him there. She decided he must be saving it for later that night.
She tapped her fingers anxiously against her car wheel as she drove toward Emily’s house. She felt unsure about the visit, about what she’d find. She had no idea what to expect. Had Emily been telling the truth? Or had she hurt herself to prove a point?
Since she only owned about two pairs of jeans and one was officially ruined for the time being, she was wearing pair number two. A plain grey t-shirt hung from her shoulders.
She checked the clock. It was seven in the evening. She had intended to stop in earlier but had gotten sidetracked when she opened the refrigerator for breakfast and found only an empty box of baking soda sitting the center of the empty shelves. A run to the bank, then the grocery store, and then out for a late lunch had taken up more time than she had intended it to. Still, no use in working on an empty stomach. It was for the customer’s sake as much as it was for her own.
Pulling her car up the familiar driveway, she once again gazed up in admiration at the large house that stood before her. Not even the least bit of negative energy hung around it at all. Nothing but a clean open yard, and bright sunshine. She stepped outside and closed her eyes. She couldn’t sense anything at all.
Opening her eyes again, she acknowledged that Emily was sitting outside. She sat on a wooden bench arranged on the front patio. The clothing she wore was about five times too big for her and Alison could help but wonder if they belonged to her brother. “Hi Emily,” she called.
The woman smiled, lifting herself up from her seat. She looked tired. Her pale skin was clearly bruised, even from the distance Alison could see that, and dried scabs covered her wrists and arms. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
Alison made her way to the front patio, climbing up the stairs and joining the woman at the front door. “Were you waiting for me?” she asked.
Emily nodded. “I couldn’t stay in the house.” She hesitated. “I know my brother doesn’t believe me. But I… I just couldn’t stay inside. I was too afraid.”
“What were you afraid of?”
She shook her head, her face distressed. “The house. There was something in the house. It tried to kill me.” She lifted her fingers to her neck. “It tried to strangle me to death.”
“What was it?”
“He was like a monster. He was… he was the devil himself. It wanted to kill me.”
“Can we go inside?” Alison asked.
“Y… yes, we can go inside.” Emily reached forward, pulling open the front door.
Peeking into the living room, Alison noted that it looked the same as the last time she had been over. Neat and impeccably clean.
“It was completely destroyed in here,” Emily continued, stepping through the door. She waited for Alison to follow. “When I came back, everything was back to normal again. I didn’t understand it. I was… so confused.”
“What do you mean, ‘completely destroyed’?”
“Everything was. The furniture. It was broken and piled up against the door. The carpet was ripped. The glass was all shattered. I don’t know why it’s like this now. I don’t understand what happened.”
Hmm. That was a little too weird, even for Alison. She found herself doubting the woman’s words once more. “Okay, then,” she said slowly. “I guess I’ll just look around a little and see what I can find.”
Emily stopped her, placing a thin, clammy hand over Alison’s shoulder. “You believe me, don’t you?”
She wasn’t sure how to reply. She did want to. It was just… hard right now. “I’ll be right back,” she promised instead. “I’m just going to check out the house.”
Of course, it was useless.
A second search turned up no new results. Alison moved from bathroom to kitchen to basement. She checked the attic and bedrooms. Nothing. The search lasted for about two hours.
She didn’t sense a single thing. Nothing good. Nothing bad. Just nothing. Plain old, normal energy. Nothing even the least bit supernatural. She climbed down stairs from the second floor to the first. Nothing she could do then. Emily was either making it all up or their ghost friend was both a magician and a fantastic hider.
Emily was sitting on the couch when she came down. She must’ve been able to tell from Alison’s expression that the news wasn’t good news. “You didn’t see it?” she asked, looking distraught.
Alison shook her head.
“But… that’s impossible.” She let out a breath of air, her eyes turning to the floor. “What am I supposed to do? How can I convince everyone I’m telling the truth?”
“I don’t know.” Alison moved to the front door. She had given it a shot. She had checked and hadn’t found anything. That was it then. Time to call Josh and let him know what had happened. A glance back in Emily’s direction showed the thin woman’s cuts and bruises. Were they really self-inflicted? “Just give me a call if you need anything. You still have my card, don’t you?”
“I looked everywhere,” Alison said. “I tried to find something.”
Emily looked down once more. “You don’t have to go right away.”
“It’s getting late,” Alison said. “Why don’t you try and get some sleep?”
“I’m not tired.” She looked at her. “Do you want something to eat?”
“N… No, that’s all right.”
The younger woman looked desperate. “Please. If you could just stay a little longer. I’m afraid that if you go…” She trailed off, a lost expression on her face.
Great. Now she felt bad. Alison let out a sigh. She supposed she could stay a little while. Eat a little bit. It wasn’t that big of a deal. If it made Emily feel better about the whole thing then Alison didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can stay if you want me to.” How did she get to be such a pushover, anyway?
Emily’s eyes lit up immediately. “Thank you. That’s wonderful.” She stood up from the couch. “I put a frozen pizza in the oven. It’s too big for me to eat by myself. Do…do you like pizza?”
“It has… it has pepperoni and sausage on it. Do you like pepperoni and sausage?”
Alison couldn’t help but wonder why Emily was so strange. She was so needy. “That sounds great,” she replied, trying to sound as enthusiastic about it.
“Good,” Emily said, moving her way to the kitchen. “I actually put it in when you were going around the house, so it’ll be done any minute.” She came back out a few seconds later. “I’ll give it another second. The cheese still needs to melt.” She gestured to the widescreen television. “Do you want to watch TV?” she asked. “I can turn it on for you.”
“Sure,” Alison said. At least there’d be some background noise then.
Emily hurried back over, turning on the television and pausing with the remote in her hand. “What station do you like?” she asked.
Emily nodded and left it where it was. An old, black and white movie that Alison didn’t recognize was playing on the screen.
There was something that she had been wondering. The house was so nice. The furniture and the television were obviously expensive. How did Emily afford it all? For all Alison knew, Emily didn’t even have a job. She was about to ask when Emily stood up again, moving into the kitchen. When she came back out, she was holding two plates. Each plate had three slices of pizza on it. She handed one of the plates to Alison and set the second plate on the coffee table.
“What do you want to drink?” she asked. “Do you like iced tea? There’s cans of soda in the fridge too. And… there’s grape juice. And I think I have cranberry juice too.”
“Iced tea’s good,” Alison said. “Thanks.”
Emily made her way into the kitchen and returned with two tall glasses of iced tea. She set the on the coffee table and took a seat beside her on the couch. “What’s it like?”
“The pizza?” Alison asked.
“No, your job. Having a ghost agency,” Emily asked. She looked sincerely interested. “Is it scary?”
“It’s more annoying than anything,” Alison replied, thinking of the unwelcome visitor that had dropped by in her bathroom twice that morning.
“What do you mean? Why’s it annoying.”
“A lot of little things,” Alison said. “They start to catch up with you after awhile.”
She noticed that Emily had a hand around her injured wrist. “Do they ever try and hurt you?” Emily asked.
Alison nodded. “Yeah. They do that. When they find out I can see them, I think they get frustrated and take it out on me.”
“It happens. Not much you can do about it.”
“I guess so,” Emily agreed. “When I saw him… he tried to hurt me too. I think I know how that must feel.”
Alison took a bite of her pizza. Not bad. Pretty good actually. “So what did your brother say when you told him what happened.”
Emily shrugged, taking a drink of her tea. “He didn’t believe me. He got mad about it. But Josh can’t help it. He doesn’t believe in ghosts. So, he gets mad when I talk about them.”
“Yeah,” Alison said. “People are like that.” She knew that only too well. For awhile, she was dealing with that sort of problem on a daily basis. People not believing her. Ridiculing her. It had been a frustrating time in her life, when all she had needed was support. She hated to remember. The day she had started seeing the dead. She had been so afraid. And there hadn’t been a single person she could talk to about it. She wondered if that was part of the reason she had wanted to believe Emily’s story so much.
“So you like the food?”
“Yeah, it’s good,” Alison replied, taking another bite. “Thanks again for dinner.”
“You’re welcome. It’s the least I can do.”
Alison took another glance around the attractive living room before finally deciding to ask about it. She didn’t mean to be nosy but curiosity was getting the best of her. “It must be hard living all by yourself. How do you afford it all? Does Josh help you?”
“No, it’s not hard,” Emily said. “Josh doesn’t have to help. I have plenty of money.”
Maybe she did have a job? She seemed so absent-minded and was home so much that Alison had assumed she didn’t. “Oh, where do you work?”
“I don’t work. My husband sends me money. He works. He owns a big business.”
Emily had a husband? That was the first Alison had heard about that. “I didn’t know you were married.”
The woman went quiet, looking at her plate of food. She replied finally, “Married. It’s something like being married. But not really.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well… my husband left a couple years ago. He never divorced me. Just stopped coming home one day. He sends money every month. A lot of money, so he makes sure I cover the bills.” Tears gathered in her eyes as she spoke and she wiped them with her hand. “Because I lost the baby. Every since my miscarriage… it’s like everything’s been falling apart. Nothing but bad things keep happening to me. He blamed me because I lost the baby. That’s why he left me all alone here, because he couldn’t stand looking at me.” She covered her face with her hands, crying into them.
Alison felt terrible for bringing it up. She put an arm around the woman’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to upset you.”
“No, that’s not it,” Emily cried. “I just… I feel like I don’t have anyone. I rely on my brother too much. But I can’t help it. Now Josh hates me because I’m always bothering him with my problems.”
“He doesn’t hate you,” Alison reassured her. “He’s just worried about you.”
Emily shook her head but she didn’t reply. She wiped at her face with her hands, sniffling a little. “I don’t talk to my husband anymore. I just let him send money. If he doesn’t want to come back then I can’t force him to, right?” She grasped the remote in her hand, lifting it to the television and turning up the sound. “Here. Let’s watch the movie.”
That was fine with her. She took a sip from her glass of iced tea. She didn’t feel so much like eating anymore, not after hearing all that. It made her feel too bad. She noticed that Emily had also refrained from mentioning the imaginary daughter that night as well. Alison wondered what the reason for that was.
Perhaps the daughter had just been her way with dealing with the loneliness then? A kind of companion for her? What with her husband leaving and losing her baby. It seemed only natural that Emily would need to find a way to deal with all of that. Alison pursed her lips together, thinking of Emily’s injuries. Was that it too? Was she hurting herself to get attention? Did she think that was the only way to get people to notice her?
Alison set back on the couch, her eyelids drooping. She let out a yawn. Since Joshua Hunter had woken her up early that morning, yet again, she felt practically exhausted. And it was hitting her all at once now that she had just eaten. She had no idea how she was going to drive home without falling asleep at the wheel.
She thought of Greg and wondered why he had stayed out-of-touch the entire day. It was late and Greg had managed to stay disappeared an entire day now. A new record. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing she had missed him. It would just make the jerk even more cocky than he already was.
She noticed that Emily had fallen asleep against the back of the couch. Poor Emily. She tried so hard. She came up with fantastic stories as if that was going to make the whole thing better. Nothing strange had happened at all since Alison had showed up. Not a single thing. And Alison had been looking too. Had been ready and waiting and willing to blow up any little deal into a big deal. That was how much she wanted it to be true.
But no such luck. Nothing had appeared. Nothing had done anything. She knew Josh intended to take Emily to the hospital to seek professional help. She hoped it would do the woman some good. She might even be able to get her life back on track again. With all that had happened to the poor girl, no would blame her for making up stories. She was sure the doctors would understand and find a way to help Josh’s sister.
Closing her own eyes, Alison continued to let her own thoughts drift back and forth between her own problems and wondering where Greg was. She was so tired. She knew the second she started the engine of her car she’d be dead asleep at the wheel, her face smooshed against the horn and waking up the entire street.
As if to prove that point, she ended up falling asleep there herself. She never would’ve thought it. Falling asleep at a stranger’s house wasn’t something she normally did at night. But tonight was the exception. The night was peaceful and quiet. Perfectly normal. Not a single poltergeist in sight. It was probably one of the best sleeps Alison had ever had actually.