Chapter 17: Unexpected
“Get out of my house!” Chloe cried, rising off the floor. She pointed accusingly at them. Floating near the ceiling, she looked down on the three men, two of whom were crouched, holding each other, fear gleaming in their huge eyes.
“No!” Alex shouted.
The word sunk in. “What?” Chloe replied, letting her arm fall to her side.
“What?” stammered Arnold and Aaron in unison.
“I said no,” replied Alex calmly. “Why should we leave? We bought this house. Who are you to tell us to leave?” Arnold was pulling on Alex’s sleeve.
“But this is my house…” Chloe faltered. Technically it wasn’t really hers. She was bound to it and couldn’t leave, so she decided. “Yes! This is my house! You will leave now.” She attempted to recover menacingly.
“If you are who I think you are,” Alex continued in a calm voice, “you didn’t own this place.” He looked over at his brother and father, who were slowly inching toward the door. “This was, judging by your appearance, Edgar Davis’s house when…” Now it was Alex’s turn to falter as the air turned frigid. His breath clouded his vision of the specter for a second. A deep purple glowed from her eyes, red fringed her outline, and anger pulsated from her very core. Alex stumbled back a step.
“Get out!” Chloe cried. Potted plants crashed to the ground. Dead leaves swirled around the men, chasing them out into the hall. The wind and noise followed them to the front door and through. They didn’t stop running until they were back in the trucks. Gravel spit, and tires screamed as they headed down the driveway.
Chloe’s anger subsided. She laughed. It had been fun scaring them. Her smile faded quickly while regret slowly seeped in. She should have asked what had happened to her family. She should have found out what had happened to Edgar. Where were her mother and brother now? Silently she cursed her actions as she surveyed the detritus of the conservatory. She returned to her solitary mourning on the bench.
A day went by with Chloe wandering aimlessly through the empty halls. She was absently poking at an old vase she had never liked when she heard the front door slam. Footfalls echoed down the hall through to the conservatory. She ignored it. If they didn’t find her, then maybe they’d go away. She floated on until another idea hit her. If they didn’t find her, they might never leave. Swearing and annoyed, she swooped down to the conservatory. There was the young man who had questioned her bent over the remains of the marble bust. As he stood something flashed in his hand.
Chloe stopped. She was staring at the object in the hand of the wide-eyed man, who stood rooted to the spot. Her own hand stretched out of its own accord, reaching for the small diamond earring. “My mother gave that to me,” she whispered. It passed warmly through her fingers. She could feel the love of her mother in it.
“Are you Chloe…Chloe Miller?” Alex whispered. He held the earring out, so she could still caress it. He could feel her feather-light ghostly touch on his fingers.
“I was,” she sighed. The memories the small piece of jewelry brought flooded her mind. She was laughing while cooking with her mother. She felt the joy of playing with her brother, the pride she had helping her father work on the old tractors. She remembered the house, the smell of it, the warmth and love in the place. She remembered her room, her books, and her friends. She missed all of it so much it hurt. Large pearly tears leaked from her opal eyes.
Alex could feel the sorrow emanating from her. To his surprise an aura of the palest blue surrounded her. Something about her drew him. His hands moved of their own free will. It felt right. It was as if he had to do this. He stepped forward; Chloe recoiled. He paused. “This belongs with you,” he said, taking another step toward her again. She moved farther back, yet her eyes never left the diamond.
Her sad smile, the way she cocked her head, made his heart ache. “You should have this back.” Then it hit him. “Why is this here?” She was now looking at him confused. “I mean, um, wow.” He rubbed his neck, not sure how to proceed. “I mean wasn’t this…buried with you?” He closed his eyes, frustrated at his own insensitivity. “No one ever found you,” he muttered.
Alex was shocked at the soft voice. “I’m down there.” She pointed to a place on the floor. “He threw me in there.”
“What, in the concrete?”
“No, there was a well.” Her voice trembled.
“I don’t…I mean…shit…didn’t Edgar hit you with his car?”
She looked into his eyes. He could see she was stunned. “You know?” she asked.
“I guess Granddad was right,” Alex whispered.
“Granddad? Who is your Granddad?” she asked softly, moving closer to study his face. “You look familiar.” She leaned her head from side to side, examining his features. A smile spread across her face but was quickly chased away. “You look like Rupert, Rupert Holt.” She was backing away again.
“He was my granddad.” He hesitated, backing away. He wanted to keep her from leaving. “He never stopped trying to find out what happened to you.” Alex’s hand passed through her shoulder. It felt like passing through cold water, but dry. He looked at his hand. There was nothing different about it.
For Chloe it felt warm and somehow comforting. “No,” she cried, backing away. Rupert was dead. Rupert got married, had kids and grandkids, and one of them was here talking to her. She was happy for him and so angry at him as well. “We were going to go—”
“To the winter dance together. He asked you right before you died.”
“Yes.” Her back was to him.
“I read his journal. He was so excited when you accepted.”
“He was?” she whispered.
“Yeah. He was so worried when you disappeared. Then when he knew you…you weren’t coming back. He was heartbroken.”
They stood in silence for a long time. Alex didn’t know what else to say. It was getting uncomfortable. He was about to make his exit when she asked, “Was he happy?”
“He was always laughing and joking. That is what I remember most about him.” Alex smiled at the memory. “He named his plane after you. In the war.”
“Which war? I read about several since I died,” she inquired.
“Oh, right, um, the Second World War.”
“My dad fought in the first one.” She thought for a second. “They called it the war to end all wars, but Dad said another one was coming.” She remembered sitting in the kitchen, her father reading the paper talking about Europe. “He said it was only a matter of time.” She recalled the look her father gave over the paper at her brother was one of fear. “Do you know if my brother fought in the war?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t.” Silence extended like a chasm between them. Her attention was back on the small sparkling stone. He followed her gaze, remembering it was in his hand. He held it out to her. That was when he noticed a few things about her he hadn’t before. There were marks on her neck. They looked like a thin burn. He could see one ear contained an earring; the other was blurred and torn. She was also missing a shoe. He barely noticed this last aspect as she floated about an inch above the ground.
With fumbling hands he pulled the back from the earing. He was still unsure as to what he was going to do. Taking a tentatice step toward her, she backed away fearful. “I’m not going to hurt you. I, I guess I don’t know.” He held out the jewelry.
“Will that work?” she asked. Her voice was quiet, timid, and scared.
“I seriously have no idea.” They looked at each other for a moment. He smiled at her; she smiled back. He reached slowly forward. She pulled her hair from her ear. It floated like water through the air. The ear became clearer as he reached for it. It enveloped the earring. The ear became whole yet still ghostly. The small diamond sparked briefly before it became like the one in her other ear.
For Chloe the touch of the small piece of old jewelry was incredible. The warmth of her mother’s love filled her. “Thank you for returning this to me,” she whispered. Chloe felt some of her sadness, anger, and pain evaporate in the warmth. She smiled sadly at him.
“Your eyes were blue,” he said, astonished.
“Yes, they are…were,” she replied, shocked. “How did you know?”
“I can see them, pale but there seems to be…” Alex searched for the words. “More to you?” He looked her over. She took on the appearance of something like an old faded photograph now. Not quite clear but better, more substantial.
“I don’t understand,” she stated, looking at her hands. There was more there, but she was far from solid.
Alex was pacing as Chloe inspected her hands and arms. “How are you here?” he finally asked. “I thought ghosts only lived…” Sheepishly he looked at her. “You know what I mean, stayed where they died.” He thought for a moment. “My Granddad thought you got hit by a car.”
She sunk onto the settee. He joined her there. The look on her face was so sad. Alex didn’t want to upset her. He meant to ask if she was OK, but instead she had the first question. “How long have I been dead?”
“I think about seventy years.” He moved to lay a hand on hers, hesitated, and returned it to his own lap. The silence filled the room until it was deafening. “Your shoe!” he cried. “You’re missing a shoe!”
Chloe sprang away when he yelled but now was looking down to her feet. “Yes, I lost it when—”
“When you were hit by a truck! Right?” Alex was on his feet. “Granddad found it. He said it was proof you got hit and didn’t run away.”
“My family thought I ran away?” The pain in her voice stabbed at Alex’s heart.
“I…I don’t know.” He was pacing, muttering to himself. “If the earring did that, what would the shoe do?”
Chloe wasn’t listening. “What happened to my family?” She was floating back and forth opposite to his pacing. “They can’t have thought I ran away. Please, you have to find out what happened to my parents and my brother. You have to tell them I didn’t run away.” She was inches from him, pleading.
Alex was shocked. “I, um, OK. What is, was, whatever, your address?” He hesitated. “I’ll find out.”
“We lived at 3206 Arlington Road. My father was Eldon, Mom was Sue, and my brother is Charlie.”
He could see her slipping into sadness again. Fearing her response, he tentatively asked. “And…um…jeez, this is a weird thing to say…um.” He fidgeted with his fingers, flipping them against his nails, a habit that drove his family crazy. “Why haven’t you gone to check on them?”
Chloe explained what happened when she tried to leave the house. Alex’s brow furrowed in confusion. “I don’t mean to be insensitive, but”—he hesitated—“didn’t you die on the road?” She cocked her head to look at him. “I mean, why aren’t you, um, out…” He couldn’t look her in the eye. “Why aren’t you haunting where you died?”
She laughed softly without humor. “Oh, that is easy. I died here. Under the floor is a well. After he hit me, I didn’t die. After he threw me down the well, I still didn’t die. It wasn’t until he caved in the well with explosives that I finally died.”
Alex stood, transfixed in horror. “How could he do that?” he cried. “That is…how…I’m so sorry.” Alex was sure he knew the answer to his next question. “Who…killed you?”
The worry lines that had formed on her brow smoothed. “Oh, that. That was Edgar Davis. His family used to own this house.” She looked away.
Alex reached out to comfort her. To his horror, his hand passed into her shoulder. Quickly retracting it, he apologized. She stared at him, the look on her face unfathomable. “I’ve never been touched.” She whispered, “Well, not since I died.” Her laugh was light. “What was it like?”
“I don’t know. It was…I felt your presence. I felt something like a resistance, but, I don’t know; it was different.” He cocked his head, trying to think of the best way to describe it. “What was it like for you?”
“Warm.” Her eyebrows knitted as she struggled to find the words. “Nice, I guess?” She shrugged. Concern crossed her face as she watched emotions race across his face. It finally spread into a grin.
“Well, we’ve both had a first. You’re the first ghost I’ve touched, and I’m the first to touch you as a ghost.” The smile began to slide from his face as she didn’t reply. “I’m—that wasn’t right—I’m a jerk. I’m sorry.”
She glared at him. The look she wore caused him to recoil. “Don’t you go telling stories about me like I’m your ghost girlfriend or something. It was just a touch, nothing more. The other ghosts don’t approve of inter-life-and-death couples.” The corner of her mouth twitched. She couldn’t hold it and began to laugh at his discomfort.
“You are not funny,” he said in relief, joining her in a laugh. The smile on his face changed. “I just thought of something. Maybe since your earring was returned to you…” He was on his feet again. “Maybe you can leave now.”
A cautious smile crossed her face. “Maybe?” Alex never wanted to witness what happened next ever again. She told him she was able to make it farther than she had ever before. It had been encouraging until the extent of what happened to her showed itself. The horror and pain she had to have endured tore at him. When he left her sitting on the settee that night, she had stopped crying at least. He felt her suffering was his fault for even suggesting she try to leave.