“That’s the most intelligent thing I’ve heard you say since the first time I saw you,” a female voice said.
There, in the corner of the room, he saw Mariah standing there, a shimmering presence in the half light. “Guess you didn’t know that it’s not easy to keep ghosts away. Especially ghosts with something important to tell you. The protection candle was a nice touch, though.”
After weeks of playing hide and seek, Michael was genuinely surprised that she was actually speaking to him. He’d burned the candle the medium gave him, and for a few days he felt relaxed and hopeful. He had not seen Mariah since he’d visited the medium, but now she stood before him as if she were truly flesh and blood. He didn’t know how to react or what to say, but the words, “What do you want?” spilled out of his mouth.
“I need your help, and you need mine if you want to protect your sister,” she moved closer to him, close enough that he could reach out and touch her if he wanted. He never believed in ghosts before, but there she stood; now looking like a girl who was alive, not dead. To make matters worse, he now realized she was not just pretty, she was beautiful. Her eyes were midnight blue and her dark brown hair fell around a delicately featured heart shaped face. He found himself wishing that she was alive and real. If she were a girl from his school, he knew he’d want to ask her out, no, he’d want to kiss her.
He wasn’t ready for this, wasn’t ready for her. He had no idea of what he’d expected a ghost to be like when he didn’t even believe in ghosts. The world was suddenly not the same, all his beliefs had been shattered by the pretty girl standing before him. Her beauty wiped out all the preconceptions and fear he might have had. I think I’m falling in love, he thought.
“Don’t do that,” she said, as if she had guessed his thoughts.
“Look at me all moony. Look, someone is living not far from you who’s been watching your little sister, and if you don’t do something, she’s going to end up like me.” She stopped at that, as if she were reluctant to say more.
I’m not looking at you all moony, he thought defiantly, even though he knew he was. “And what do you want, Mariah?” he said, trying to recover himself. He steeled himself, staring hard at her, wanting her to know he knew her name.
She tried to recover herself. “How did you know my name?” It was as much a demand as a question.
“I had help,” he admitted, “But you should know, you were there.”
He reached out to put his hands on her shoulders—a thing he somehow couldn’t seem to help, but his hands closed on empty space as she vanished from his bedroom. Books starting flying off his shelf, and landed on his bed. The last book to fall hit him square in the head. Whatever it was, he’d really set her off. It could have been his trying to put his hands on her shoulders, or the longing he when he looked at her. Looking at her had made him want to hold her, kiss her, and feel her silky hair against his cheek.
Mariah returned to the old house, and found Crazy Girl waiting. She paced around, calling Michael names, swearing that she’d stay away from him for good. She turned and looked at Crazy Girl. “He tried to touch me!”
Crazy Girl couldn’t take it anymore and started laughing. “You mean you were afraid he’d try to kiss you, don’t you? Is this because you’re afraid you want to kiss him, too? I got news for you. You’re already half in love with that boy—and you know you can’t have him. You’ve had a thang for him since you first went to his bedroom. Don’t try to deny it. I know what I know and that boy’s made you crazier than I am. We ain’t like live folks; so if you have a chance to be in love, take it. Don’t be a fool.”
“Were you ever in love?” Mariah asked.
“I thought I was in love with my no-good boyfriend, and look where it got me. He put me on the streets and I got grabbed by a monster that liked to kill teenage girls. No,” she shook her head, “You can’t have something real that’s gonna last, but you can have something good that will last for a while. I can tell when someone’s in love, and you got it bad. And if he really wanted to kiss you, he’s got it bad too”.
Michael called his friends and asked them to meet him at the skate park the next afternoon. He knew Short Round would guess part of the reason, but he was reasonably sure that Dewey was still in the dark regarding Mariah—how strange it felt to say her name—and would only know what he planned to tell him. He trusted Dewey, but a ghost in his life was something he was reluctant to share.
The next day found him sitting on a park bench, waiting for them to arrive, when Mariah suddenly appeared next to him.
“My friends are coming. I’m going to tell them about someone scaring Kit.”
“You should tell them she’s in danger. Or at least tell your cute little Vietnamese friend that the man who killed me is stalking her. And, by the way, I accept your apology.” She smiled winningly and he almost gave in.
“He’s not Vietnamese, he’s Hmong—and I didn’t offer to apologize,” he said, staring at her, not knowing whether he was more surprised by her remark about Short Round or the fact that she’d expect him to apologize. “I don’t know what we can do, but I want to do something. I’m not going to let that creep get my sister,” he said, “and how did you know—oh, never mind.” He looked for his friends, but he didn’t see them coming.
She put one of her hands on his. It was cold to the touch, but the thought of her just being there next to him sent shivers of pleasure down his spine.
“You don’t hate me?” Michael asked.
“Maybe I hate you, or I hate what you wanted to do,” she said solemnly, “I never had a boyfriend, ever. No one’s ever kissed me before. I have to admit that I might like the idea of being kissed by you, but you should have asked me first. Oh, your friends are coming.” She shimmered briefly and was gone.
Short Round came rolling up, flipped his skateboard up and bounced down on the seat next to Michael. Dewey, more cautious, skid his to a halt and sat on the other side.
“What’s up, Kemo Sabe?” Short Round asked cheerfully. “We’re wasting valuable skate time here.”
“Shut up, ’Minh.’,” said Dewey, using Short Round’s given name, “Something’s bothering Mike, can’t you tell.” Short Round opened his mouth and then closed it with a click.
“Sorry Mikey, just trying to lighten things up. Your face looks like a thundercloud.”
“Okay.” Michael took a deep breath, then exhaled. This was definitely not going to be easy. Well, here goes nothing, he thought.
“This is going to sound really weird, but I think some whack job is stalking Kit. She came home in tears last night and it took forever for her to calm down. She was scared, really scared. I’ve never seen her like this before. She started babbling about how she was never walking down our street again, wasn’t going to take the bus unless it was full daylight.” He paused for a moment, “Something felt really wrong, and I didn’t know what to do. Mom and Dad told her she was just imagining things, but that made her even more upset. She ran up to her room and slammed the door. She wouldn’t even come down for dinner.”
“Sure it just isn’t your usual Kit hysterics?” quipped Dewey, “She can throw quite the fit when she wants to. I’ve witnessed it.”
“Yeah,” said Short Round, “Hysterical younger sister. That fits.” But he looked at Michael as if to say, “and what do you think really scared her?”
“Dude, you don’t get it. I was the one who was there when Kit got home. She ran into her room and started crying, no, sobbing, and she was shaking so hard I didn’t know what to do. And she couldn’t stop. She was so freaked out I thought about calling 911 or something if she didn’t calm down. All you had to do was look at her to know that something was really wrong.” Michael pulled at a long hank of hair, then released it.
“So why didn’t the PA’s believe her if you did?” asked Dewey, “If it was as bad as you say it was, wouldn’t they take her seriously?”
“I think they are in denial about the neighborhood and the house. Maybe they thought if they treated it like it as if it was nothing, they could convince her it was exactly that, nothing,” Michael sighed, “I mean, I like high tech modern homes, but I kind of like old houses, too. But there’s a something wrong with this neighborhood, or maybe someone bad is living in one of the houses and they don’t want to believe it. Neither one of them wants to hear there could be something or someone not quite normal here.”
“I didn’t know I could feel things or see things like this until we moved to our new house. I know there is something wrong about our neighborhood, or at least part of it,” he went on. “So maybe there’s a someone who’s wrong, too, and I don’t like the idea of this someone coming after my kid sister.”
“Feel things or see things.” Dewey didn’t like the sound of that. Mike was not his usual self, but he wasn’t going to try to find out why, not yet. This did not belong in the comfortable rational world he inhabited.
“What can we do?” said Short Round.
“I don’t have many ideas,” said Michael, “She has ballet once a week, unless there’s a recital coming up, then they have more rehearsals and she gets home later. I’m going to try to meet her at the bus stop and walk her home. But I was wondering if either of you would mind meeting her and getting her home if something comes up and I can’t.”
Short Round was about to speak, but Dewey cut him off. “Mike, that’s a good idea in theory, but there’s a problem. What’s going to happen on a night when she forgets to make sure someone’s there? Or we forget and she has to go home alone? What if none of us can do it and she doesn’t know it? Or this: she stops worrying and decides she doesn’t need us and then she gets nailed?”
“That’s the problem, you know,” he went on, “I can see you’re worried, and we can make all the plans that we want, but in real life something always goes wrong. It won’t necessarily be our screw up, it’s just the law of averages.”
“What are you trying to say, Dew-man, speak,” Short Round had a look of understanding on his face, but he had the feeling there was more to what Dewey was saying.
“I’m saying that we can’t really protect Kit,” Dewey said, shaking his head, “If there is someone threatening her, maybe he’s like one of those serial killers. That means he’ll always want to find someone to kill. Say he can’t get to Kit, well, maybe he’ll find someone else. It’s not enough just to protect her; he’s got to be stopped. Not by us, by the cops.”
“We’ve been watching too much CSI,” replied Michael, “But I think you’re right. The cops won’t come near him without probable cause, so that leaves us with a big fat nothing. We don’t know who he is; we only know he’s in the neighborhood and probably close to my house.” He shook his head in exasperation, “I’m getting a headache thinking about all this.”
“This is what I think,” Short, Round piped in, “I think we should get on our boards and skate. Then you two white eyes are going to have to let little Short Round do some conferring with the spirit world.” He looked at Mike, “You don’t think that my grandfather didn’t teach me a thing or two? He knew no one was going to be a shaman, but he taught me about things in my world that don’t exist for you. Maybe they can help us.”
“Like, what are you going to ask, oh wise one?” Dewey was excellent at sarcasm.
“I’m going to ask for guidance, Grasshopper,” Short Round smirked, “There are never any answers, but you can always ask for help finding the right path. Your parents should have raised you guys as Buddhists. You white folk don’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin’.”
“Yeah, right.” Michael cuffed him on the side of the head.
“Man, what was that for?” Short Round rubbed the side of his head.
“It means let’s skate our butts off and the first one to fall buys lunch.”
“Hope you’ve got enough money,” said Dewey, and they went into the park and forgot about everything else until it was time to go home.
Luckily for Michael and Dewey, it fell to Short Round to buy lunch. They were still at the park when Michael caught his bus, trying to outdo each other. He looked out the window, pondering what Short Round had said. He wondered what it would have been like to be raised the way he was. In Short Round’s world, ghosts were a matter of fact. When he explained to his parents why the house smelled like the medium’s candle, and about the ghost in his bedroom, they had reacted pretty much the same as when Kit had insisted someone was stalking her.
Michael hadn’t really expected his parents to take him seriously. He’d taken it philosophically when he’d been met with skepticism, and was grateful that they hadn’t pursued it further. His parents were practical, grounded people, but they were under a lot of stress. He’d hoped for more open mindedness on their part, but he’d shrugged off the things they told him. Never mind the ghost, he just wished that they’d take Kit more seriously. Something was going on there, and he was concerned for her.
“The monster took to hiding in the shadows of his front yard, waiting for the girl. Someone was always with her now but he kept looking for her anyway. He didn’t know what had given him away, but like a spider, he was patient. He hoped that sooner or later there was going to be a night when there was no one to meet her at the bus. The seasons would change and daylight would last until late, and that could make it harder for him. Maybe, if he was lucky, she’d stay out late some night...
It was all about being patient, all about the timing. He’d have to be careful if he wanted to snatch her during daylight. It would be much easier if he could grab her now while darkness still lingered. He’d been careful and he’d waited a long time. They hadn’t caught him yet. And if it wasn’t this one, there would always be another.
He no longer went down to the basement to gloat over the two mounds of earth, though the voices and things that flew around his house and broke made him nervous. Well, they weren’t going to stop him from getting this one or maybe another. Soon there would be a third mound of earth to go with the other two. All he had to do was be patient and wait. He had become very good at waiting.