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Geistermädchen (Ghost Girl)

Not all party crashers are welcome. Or living!

By Eric WolfPublished 2 years ago 9 min read
Geistermädchen (Ghost Girl)
Photo by Mulyadi on Unsplash

A soft scraping, issuing from somewhere, just on the outer side of the bedroom window, skree-eeee, skree-eeee, was just barely audible, but it jolted the girl like a boom. The branches outside of the Eads house had often brushed up against the window, but the pale-blond girl had snapped them off of their parent tree, on the previous day, in preparation for this event. It could not be them.

Something else was scraping the pane of dirty glass, in the window of the main bedroom of the Eads house in Drew, West Virginia. Hannah Eads was going to turn eighteen in just under two months. She had every intention of living past a night of inexplicable suspense, even jeopardy. As did the gangly boy before her, though he did not fully appreciate just how literal the jeopardy was supposed to be.

“You’re my Aragorn,” said the girl with the pale-blond hair. “Don’t let me down now.” In fact, it was more than pale — its sheen rendered it just shy of invisible in direct sun. In which, he rued, he had not seen her for ages; she had been at home, owing in part to a recent illness and to the fact that seniors took maybe four classes instead of six, and they only shared one, English Literature. Hence she likened him to the ranger-king from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings — the man… okay, boy she needed, to stare down the dead. “What do you say, Mister Achtenberg?” she invited him, with a wan smile.

“I’m up for it,” claimed Kurt Achtenberg. Citing the motto of their state, he said with a weak grin of his own, “Mountaineers are always free. Got to be home at eleven, I hate to say it. I thought the others would…” Kurt placed his inhaler into his mouth, and pushed the trigger. He couldn’t quite sound out, “stay,” until he had taken a hit of augmented breath.

She was almost ten months older than Kurt. “An older woman? Boy, you make me proud,” his maternal grandfather, Gene Masin, had teased him, at dinner earlier that evening. “What’s she like? Got any cool hobbies? Pets? Unmarried aunts? Come on, spill.” Living in a three-generation Achtenberg house had its amusements.

“She’s kind of weird,” Kurt had to admit, which made Gene snort. “Her place is, well, supposed to be haunted, or something.” He winced, at that childish plaint in his voice. Could the grownups tell how much he liked

“It’s called being a teenager,” retorted the old man. “Besides, what this place is in sore need to have is some weird. If you ask me, Drew’s overdue for a bit of that supernatural business. Point Pleasant’s got that Mothman, who is overrated as hell, and I know, on that you don’t agree with me. They got John Brown’s shade, over there in Harpers Ferry.”

That invited Kurt’s parents to weigh in. His father, Cade, an electrician, hoped his son would be a gentleman, and if he could, “make himself useful,” without delineating what that might entail. Naomi, his mother, worked as a counselor, for the very high school Kurt attended; she liked her husband’s advice, adding only that she hoped Kurt would present himself as his natural, “charming” self, and be "willing to try new things, and I don’t mean marijuana. Or vaping.”

^^^^

He wouldn’t have volunteered to do such a heroic thing, solo, but Hannah had invited others, who had dashed out when things got uncomfortable for the group. Kurt had elected, through his moment of indecision, to remain behind. He had given up his ride home — and he was not looking forward to calling for one, at a late hour, knowing that his father would be grumpy enough, from another long working day, but Hannah... needed him?

The “rescue party” had numbered four, to start; besides stalwart Kurt, a sort of paranormal support team had turned up: three classmates from Drew’s oldest high school. Danny Folger, his sister Rebecca and her boyfriend Nathan Pace all knew Kurt, and they had teased him for his attention to a girl who had pale-blond hair and a spotty attendance record in their school. Rebecca Folger was, at sixteen, the youngest student present; her brother was supervising her on their “wild night out” at Hannah’s.

Nathan had brought them by the Eads place, which was situated along a tree-lined street, not far from the hospital where Hannah’s mother worked a night shift as a nurse. Hannah’s malady had not been serious; the prevailing theory was depression, possibly coupled with something like Lyme disease, but when pressed about it, the young lady would only say it was “not that big a deal.” At least she got to build her brand: the creepy girl, who lived in a haunted house.

With a twist: it turns out she knew the apparition, personally. “This used to be my grandparents’ place,” Hannah had teased Kurt, when she had invited him, over lunch in the school cafeteria, about the haunting. “After Grandpa quit the mine in, whenever that was, he and Grandma moved my mom and my uncles to Drew, bought the house. He passed, two years back, from the black lung.”

Rebecca had planned ahead for this occasion. She produced her deck of tarot cards, which amounted to contraband in their devoutly Christian community, and squealed with delight when Hannah pulled her own Ouija board out from a drawer in the hallway dresser. “We’ll have to ask him what heaven’s like,” an excited Rebecca deadpanned, “if that’s where he went.” She cackled.

“He said, being down in the mines was close enough to hell,” Hannah recalled. “That reminds me, Kurt? How’d you do on that report for our state’s history?” She seemed to be making an effort to keep things lighthearted.

Kurt couldn’t help but beam. “Got an A-minus,” he said. “I worked in that part about how we’re really North Virginia, because of how they sawed us off from Virginia, that got a circle and three exclamation points. And the section about how we used to be called Vandalia, Westsylvania, lots of other names — I think those would have been way cooler. If we got to call ourselves the Vandalians… or, just the Vandals? How cool would that be?”

“Hey, is it washing-up time again?” Danny, elder statesman of their group, had to ask, pointing out a white bedsheet, draped across the living room entrance. Pinned to the ceiling on either side of the doorway, it fluttered as the rotating fan oscillated back and forth across it. Because of the dim lighting in the home at that hour of the evening, persons standing behind the sheet took on a filmy, almost insubstantial aspect — all too fitting for the occasion. “Come on, where is Grandpa’s ghost, Hannah? The living haven’t got all night, you know.”

^^^^

Down that darkened hallway — Hannah had chosen to switch the lights off, to enhance the morbid flavor of the evening — a door seemingly chose to slam… Rebecca let out a shout, and an expletive. “You’re such a drama queen, Beck,” Nathan pretended to scold her, before breaking into a grin. “Guess, I should’ve held the door when I’d left the bathroom.” She elbowed him, roughly.

The scraping on the outside window began at that point. Hannah mentioned, again, how she had snapped off the branches. She craned her head to listen to the scraping; Rebecca followed suit. Danny was on the phone, scowling, as if a possible threat to their safety constituted little more than a distraction, and an annoying one at that. Nathan hugged Rebecca, from behind, feigning peace of mind (for her benefit, he would later claim). Kurt remembered to breathe, but he was frozen in place, feeling unwelcome tingles run up his arms.

“Hell with this,” Danny said, hanging up his cell phone. Glancing at its glowing face, he said, “We’ve got to split, people. I promised to have my sis home, by… half an hour ago. Got your gear, Nate? Okay, let’s load up. Kurt — I’ll give you a lift, too. I know how your old man gets, about picking you up late, bro.”

A shape, man-sized, darkened the opposite side of the pinned bedsheet. The three male humans, present in the house — Kurt, Danny and Nathan — stood opposite this shape. The sheet appeared to flutter, and bulge, as if someone were breathing upon it. “Grandpa?” Hannah said. “Say it’s you. Come on.”

Rebecca and Nathan screamed and freaked, pounding the carpet with their frantic steps as they bolted out to the waiting car. Danny had a fraction-of-a-second look of helplessness he would later deny having felt, shrugging as he pursued them out the door. “Screw this, Eads,” was his exit line.

Hannah clutched Kurt’s forearm. “Why won’t he answer, Kurt?” Her nails dug with painful effect into his flesh. Incredibly, he did not seem to mind that half as much as why she was doing it. He dared look at the sheet — it sported large black patches of what appeared to be dirt, in the shape of handprints, as if the mystery person had spread out the fingers first. A smell of mildewy fabric, and what Kurt could almost swear was old bologna, left out too long, got his notice.

“What is that stink?” he blurted. “Maybe we should get… hey, are you listening to me? Hannah?” Her tugged at her arm. She did not move.

Hannah was a weird dark shape, standing between him and the bedsheet, that pale-blond hair a disrupted mess atop her head. The shape seemed to push, at the sheet, almost leaning into it; she stiffened with fear — and resolve. “You’re not him,” she breathed. “You’re not my Grandpa Darion, are you?”

An eternity seemed to elapse in the four seconds that followed. Another shape — man-sized, but decidedly boyish, and bearing an unmistakable resemblance to Danny Folger — burst back into the room. He was trying to catch his breath. Kurt thought: Dan will know what to do about this.

The older boy, just panting, failed to take action. His sister would be too afraid, too willing to believe, to be of much help. Nathan would defer to Danny’s lead, again. Hannah understood the problem, but did not present a solution. Kurt really wanted to take a hit off of his inhaler, but he needed what air he had for something else first.

He did not understand it himself, but he stepped past Hannah, and worked up a threatening growl in his voice. “You need us to spell it out?” he barked into a pitch-dark moment. “You’re not invited here. Why don’t you get out of here, or we will keep yelling at you! You hear me, ghost? You aren’t welcome here!

Something bright and orange flew past his ear, striking the bedsheet — and in a loud deflating sound, set the sheet alight. The blackened handprints were a source of immediate fuel for the flames. Kurt looked at Danny. “I thought you quit smoking,” he said, feeling stupid. “I thought you left already.”

“Beck insisted, we come back,” Danny said. “Why are you complaining? I lied. He died. Again. You guys coming?"

Hannah needed no second invitation. “Take me to my mom’s work,” she said, meaning, the hospital. “But first, we got to deal with…” She and Kurt rushed into the kitchen, stepping around the burning sheet on the living-room floor, and returning with a jug and a glass of water to douse the flames.

They met together at school the next day, to compare notes. Hannah said she had kept some of the “dirt” — “It’s coal,” she claimed, “like you get in a mine.” She shook her head. “I’m glad you guys came back for us. I think… maybe it’s someone who knew Grandpa, and didn’t care much for him, who dropped in, on us. What’s to stop him from coming back?”

“We’ll do it again, if we got to,” Kurt boasted; his glare challenged Danny, Rebecca and Nate to contradict him. Nobody did. He did not realize how he’d done it. He lacked Danny’s leadership, Nate’s wits, Rebecca’s intuition and, of course, Hannah’s knowledge of the events. Perhaps, Hannah told him later, it was his very lack of talent, or power, that had enabled Kurt to act in the crucial moment, and in later days.

The living fear the dead, of course — or, to be more precise, the living fear death. The “stranger” ghost had decided to pop in, uninvited, and “he” had found out that not even years of folklore and horror movies could prepare such a nentity for the will of a determined member of the pre-deceased crowd. Kurt Achtenberg had just barely turned seventeen, when he came upon a powerful discovery: the dead fear the living, as well.

© Eric Wolf 2021.

Young Adult

About the Creator

Eric Wolf

Ink-slinger. Photo-grapher. Earth-ling. These are Stories of the Fantastic and the Mundane. Space, time, superheroes and shapeshifters. 'Wolf' thumbnail: https://unsplash.com/@marcojodoin.

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    Eric WolfWritten by Eric Wolf

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