Fiction – 4,025 words
I remember when Jenny first came to me with that wild story of hers. Ghosts, indeed! I thought. Who does she think she’s kidding? She just wants me to say I believe her so she can laugh at me.
Laughing at me was one of Jenny’s lifelong enjoyments. When we were children she always tried to embarrass me in front of the other kids. Once, when I was about five, Jenny and I were playing in a neighbor’s apple orchard and she told me there was a kitten stuck way up in the crook of a tree. I didn’t stop to listen for a kitten’s cry; I just zipped up the ladder like a person possessed. Unfortunately by the time I did stop to listen for mewing, the only sound I heard was laughter. I’d fallen for another one of her cruel tricks.
When Jenny came to me with her story about being haunted, I’d been painting my apartment all week in the evenings. It was a spur of the moment thing, which I often did, only to regret it later when I was so tired I could hardly wake myself in the morning for work. It was Thursday evening about seven, and I was in the living room with my paint, brushes, and ladder, working on the ceiling. I was bent backward, my arms above and behind as I stretched to reach as far as I could without needing to move the ladder. My neck was stiff, my head throbbed from the unnatural position, and my mood was darkening by the moment when there came a light knock at my door.
“Damn,” I mumbled. “Come on in, the door isn’t locked.”
Usually radiant and vivacious, Jenny looked a bit drawn and pale.
“Hi. I hope I’m not disturbing you, but I had to talk to someone, and I thought what are sisters for?” Her voice shook slightly.
“What’s the matter, you and what’s-his-face have another fight?” My sister did not have very good timing if it was sympathy that she was seeking.
“No, I haven’t been seeing Smitty lately. As a matter of fact, I haven’t been seeing anyone.” She dropped her jacket on the couch, and after moving some papers, dropped down beside it. “Listen, Sis, something strange is happening, and I have to tell someone.” Her eyes filled with tears, and I wanted to slap her.
Sure, I thought. Always so convincing. I continued to paint. “You got anything to drink? I need something to calm my nerves.”
I stared down at her. She hardly ever drank, and she knew I drank even less.
“Just cooking burgundy. Help yourself. It’s in the fridge.”
She returned shortly with a tall glass filled almost to the top. In spite of myself, my curiosity was whetted and I laid the paintbrush down and turned to face my sister. This once could she be telling the truth? Was something really wrong? I wanted to believe her, but twenty-two years of her cruelty made me very skeptical. I wiped my hands on the rag I had tucked into the back pocket of my jeans and watched her carefully; looking for any sign of that old smirk I knew and hated. I couldn’t find it, but that didn’t prove anything except that maybe she was getting better at her game. “So, what’s the problem?”
“I know you’re going to think I’m crazy or pulling your leg when I tell you this but Sis, I swear to God what I’m going to tell you is the truth.” She looked deeply into my eyes.
No, I don’t fall that easily; she’d have to do better. I sighed, “Un huh, go on.”
“Well, it started about a month ago when I was up at the cabin with Smitty, and it’s been getting worse. We were lying in front of the fireplace and I guess we dozed off, because next thing I knew it was the middle of the night. I thought someone called my name, but when I looked at Smitty he was sound asleep. The room was empty and dark except for a faint glow still coming from the fireplace. I didn’t know at the time why I was so frightened, but I was, and I must have lain there for hours staring into the dark, afraid to move, even to turn on a light. Finally the sun came up, and the room took on the eerie glow of dawn. It was only then that I was able to go back to sleep. Smitty awoke sometime later and tried to awaken me, but I grumbled a lot so he let me sleep.”
I told her to hold on a minute and went and got a cup of coffee. Her story was starting to drag on and I suspected I was getting the novel-length version. She started in where she’d left off as soon as I came back into the room.
“The next night several times I thought I saw something, but every time I turned my head to see what it was, there was nothing. I started getting jumpy, so we cut our stay short and returned to the city. I thought once I got back to my own apartment everything would be okay,” She looked at me, searching I suppose for some hint that I believed this cockamamie story. “But it isn’t. It’s gotten worse and now I see a shadow that doesn’t disappear when I turn to look at it. I can’t see who it is but there’s someone or something in my apartment. The room gets icy cold when it appears, and all I’m able to do anymore is cry.” She sighed, still watching my face. “Smitty got tired of it, so he doesn’t want to see me until I get my ‘shit together’. Sis, am I losing my mind? I’ve missed so much work I’m afraid I’m going to get fired. I sit up all night watching for shadows, then I oversleep.” She smiled at me, which instantly brought up my guard. “You think I’m joking, don’t you?”
I didn’t answer.
“Can’t say as I blame you.” She sighed. “Oh well, I feel better just talking about it, but can I ask one favor? Can I spend the night here? I really need some sleep and I can’t get it at home.”
I didn’t want her to stay because I didn’t want her to think I believed her stupid story. “I don’t know, Jenny, this place is a mess. I’ve been painting all week and haven’t done any cleaning up yet.”
Jenny jumped to her feet. “Please, Sis! I’ll sleep out here on the couch. I won’t even need a sheet or anything. I’ll use the afghan and this throw pillow.” She clutched the pillow to her chest. “Please, please, let me stay.”
“All right, all right, but I’m warning you, Jennifer, if this is another one of your games . . . .” I didn’t finish. I never did.
She crossed the room and hugged me. “Thanks, Sis, you don’t know how much this means to me. God, I haven’t felt so relieved in a month. How about letting me help you paint for a while?”
We painted until about ten-thirty, and it amused me that Jenny was a sloppier painter than I was.
After we cleaned up, Jenny and I talked for about two hours. “Sis,” she said, “do me another favor, and don’t go to work tomorrow. Let’s spend the whole day together. We can paint if you want, maybe even get it all done, or we can go shopping or to a show, anything you’d like to do. Please?”
I didn’t know what to say. Two favors in one evening? That made a grand total of twice that Jenny ever asked something from me.
“All right, it’s been pretty slow. I guess they won’t miss me for one day.”
It was late when I awoke the next morning. I called the office to tell them I wouldn’t be in, then slipped into the kitchen to make coffee. After dressing, I went to the living room to wake Jenny. The couch was empty. Her purse and jacket were gone.
“Damn it, she did it to me again! Damn her.” Someday I’ll get even, I thought.
I didn’t stay in the apartment, in case she called to gloat. What the hell, I’d take some money out of my savings account. Jenny and I inherited a nice sum when Mom and Dad died. We weren’t rich, but still it was enough.
Maybe I’ll take a couple thousand out, take a month off work, and go on a much-deserved vacation, I thought. I’ve always wanted to see the Pyramids. I decided to spend my day exploring every aspect of a trip to Egypt.
By the time I returned that evening I’d purchased a round-trip ticket to Cairo, leaving Monday from New York and returning in one month. The shrill ring of the telephone broke my train of thought. It might be Jennifer. Well, let her call. I won’t even answer the phone before I leave for New York in the morning. I waited for it to stop ringing, then called the office. They were livid. How could I just up and take off for a month without letting them know at least a week in advance? I surprised them and myself by standing firm. Without me, the place would fall apart, and they knew it.
When I returned from Egypt, I brought many wondrous memories, as well as a new male friend, I met over there. He was from my own hometown! I’d forgotten all about Jenny.
Daemon and I went out several times that first week. I was home about a week and a half when Jenny showed up at work early one afternoon looking so bad that at first I didn’t recognize her. “My God! Jennifer, what’s happened? You look like hell.”
She looked at me through clouded eyes. “Where have you been?” Her voice was so low that I had to strain to hear it.
“I went on a trip.”
“You shouldn’t have left me, Sis. I needed you, and you left me. Now I’m afraid it’s too late.”
“I left you? You’re the one who talked me into staying home from work so we could spend the day together, and you’re the one who walked out before I even got up that morning. I don’t know what your game is, Jennifer, but I’m not playing.” My voice had risen to a shout. Embarrassed, I lowered it.
Jenny wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, smearing black mascara across her face. “I had to leave. It followed me to your apartment. I didn’t want it to harm you, so I left. I called and called that day and the next and the next…” The tears came harder. “Oh, Sis, I’m so scared. I’m going to die and I don’t know what to do. This thing is getting stronger and I’m getting weaker. I don’t know who it is, but it’s a woman, and I’m afraid when I do see her face…I’ll die.”
My beautiful sister was obviously crazy. “Listen, Jenny, I just got back from a trip to Egypt and I think you should go there. It’s really fantastic! You could forget your problems and meet some new people. It’d help you forget Smitty.”
She laughed softly. “You still don’t understand, do you? It’s not about Smitty or any other living thing. How can I make you understand?” She rose from her chair and started out the door.
“Jenny, wait a minute.”
She stopped in the doorway but didn’t turn to face me.
“Why don’t you go over to my place? I’ll stop and pick up some Chinese, then we can really talk about this, okay?”
Still facing away from me, she nodded. Then she was gone.
It did surprise me when I got home and she was there, sitting curled up on the couch reading a book. She smiled at me, then continued reading. I dished out the egg rolls, chow mein, and rice, then carried them into the living room, placing them carefully on the coffee table. Jenny still didn’t look up. “What are you reading?” I asked. She turned the cover of the book so I could read it.
Possessions and Hauntings, it said. “That’s your problem! How long have you been reading that junk?”
“This is the first one I’ve bought, but I’ve read everything in the library.”
I laughed. In all my life, I never knew of Jenny to enter a library, let alone read something from one.
She frowned. “It’s not funny. If I can’t get you to take me seriously, how can I expect anyone else to?”
“Sorry. I wasn’t laughing at your problem. I was laughing because I didn’t think you knew what a library was for.”
Jenny chuckled. “Thanks a lot!”
“So what have you found?” I nodded toward her book.
“Well, from what I’ve read, I gather I’m being haunted. I just don’t know by who, why or what they want. It says that most ghosts don’t know they’re dead. They stay around people and places they knew when they were alive. Probably died unexpectedly. I seem to be running around in circles, because I don’t know anyone who has died unexpectedly. Do you know anyone who’s into…” She lowered her head so I strained to hear her. “…the occult?”
I wanted to laugh but bit my tongue. “No, I don’t think so.” The doorbell rang, causing us both to jump. “Oh, I forgot. Daemon is coming over tonight.” I pushed the button that released the lock downstairs and waited until I was sure he got in.
“Maybe I’d better go,” Jenny offered.
“No, please stay. I want you to meet him. I met him in Egypt. He lives not far from here and we’ve been seeing a lot of each other. You’ll like him.” I didn’t feel that old pang of fear that Jenny would steal another one of my boyfriends. Guiltily, I was glad she looked so terrible. I opened the door to wait for Daemon to come down the hall, and felt a surge of excitement when I saw him round the corner. He was so handsome— tall and dark and I marveled that this man was really mine.
“Hi, beautiful”, he called when he saw me waiting.
“Hi, yourself.” I took his arm and led him into the apartment.
Jenny wasn’t on the couch, and the remains of our dinner were gone, too. She must have taken the dishes into the kitchen, then gone to freshen up. Before I had a chance to tell Daemon she was visiting, she emerged from the bedroom looking, much to my dismay, as beautiful as ever, her fragile paleness only adding to her allure.
“Well,” she cooed, “my little sister didn’t tell me you were so gorgeous.”
“That makes us even,” Daemon replied. “She didn’t tell me anything about you. I didn’t even know she had a sister, but I can understand why she might hesitate to tell her male friends about you.”
Then Daemon made it all up to me. “Honey,” he said, “your sister’s almost as beautiful as you are.” He kissed me lightly on the cheek.
If Jenny was irritated, she covered it gracefully. She flattered, wooed, and flirted all evening. Suddenly she asked Daemon if he knew anything about the supernatural.
“That depends. The supernatural covers a large area. I do know some about some things and nothing about others.” The twinkle in his eyes brightened, I noticed.
“Well, I’m interested in possessions and ghosts, that sort of thing.”
“Are you possessed—or planning to possess someone else?”
I could swear he was serious but told myself that was silly. He had to be kidding.
Jenny continued. “Actually, something is haunting me, and I don’t know how to get rid of it. If I knew who it was and what it wanted, maybe I could do something.”
She sighed heavily and for a moment seemed to forget there was a good-looking man in the room. Quickly, though, she regained her charm and smiled that flirtatious smile. “I hope you don’t think I’m weird or anything. Most people I ask for help do think so. Even my dear little sister thinks I’m not quite right in the head.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know too much about hauntings,” Daemon said, “although I do believe in them.”
“You do?” I asked.
“Sure. I also believe in Satan, flying saucers, ESP, and love. Those are all things some people say don’t exist, but I guess I’m kind of a rebel. I believe in things that others don’t just because they don’t. You’d be surprised how many people do believe in the supernatural, though. Take witchcraft. They are more people practicing the art now than during the early ages. I know people who are witches and magicians but you wouldn’t know them from the guy next door.”
He smiled at Jenny, then gave me a sly wink. Didn’t he really believe what he said? Was he just trying to make her feel better? He urged Jenny to tell him about the experiences she was having. It was going to take awhile, so I went into the kitchen and put on another pot of coffee. I hoped Jenny wasn’t using this fantasy of hers to try to lure Daemon away from me. The steady drone of their voices buzzed in the background. I hated to admit it, even to myself, but I longed to be with Daemon and thought about him when I wasn’t. Not a good sign for a no-strings-attached kind of woman.
As I re-entered the room, he stopped and smiled up at me. “I think your sister has gone to sleep. I guess I bored her.”
I woke her and sent her to bed. She went like a child. Daemon stayed a while longer, and we didn’t talk about Jenny. That made me happy. All my life it had been “Jenny-this” and “Jenny-that” and for once I was glad not to hear it. Daemon seemed to understand this.
Since I had only a single bed, I slept on the couch that night. About two-thirty I heard Jenny cry out. I ran into the darkened bedroom.
“It’s here!” She sobbed hysterically. “It’s found me again!”
I turned on the light and forced her to look around the room, even made her look under the bed and in the closet feeling more like a mother than a sister. “You see, there’s nothing here. You were having a bad dream.”
“Will you stay with me until I go back to sleep?” I nodded even though I had to get up for work and knew I’d be physically exhausted. She was still sleeping when I arose in the morning, showered, and prepared for work. When I called at noon, the phone rang several times. As I was about to hang up, she answered.
“Yeah?” Her voice was groggy.
“Jenny, are you all right?”
“What? Oh. Yeah, I guess so. What’d you put in that coffee last night? The last thing I remember was talking to Daemon.”
I could tell by her voice that she was stretching.
“He’s quite a hunk. Where did you say you met him?”
“In Egypt.” I didn’t like this conversation.
“You two got a thing? You know what I mean?” A trace of her smirk passed through the phone.
“Yes we’ve got a thing, if you know what I mean.”
Her attitude changed. “Well, I guess I’d better get dressed and get some things done before the whole day is shot. By the way, Sis, could you lend me a couple of hundred? I kind of lost my job.”
So now it comes to this, I thought.
When I didn’t answer immediately, she said, “I’ll pay you back as soon as I get another job. Promise.”
She’d pay me back, all right, or I’d hound her until she did. I wasn’t going to let her go through my money like she did her own.
When I got home that night, Jenny had supper made and on the kitchen table.
“I hope you don’t mind that I invited myself over again. I need people around me.”
I did mind. Daemon was coming over, and we were going out for dinner, then to a show. “Well, I do have a date with Daemon.”
“Oh, gee, Sis, I didn’t mean to intrude.” She played with a lock of hair, the way she used to when we were kids. “Ah, would you mind awfully if I tagged along?” That was too much.
“Jenny, I really can’t say. We’ll just have to wait until Daemon gets here and see what he says.”
Daemon disappointed me when he said he’d be delighted to spend the evening with two beautiful women. We didn’t go out for dinner, but ate the meal Jenny prepared. When I thought about it later, it was more food than she and I could possibly eat alone. I suspect she knew all along that Daemon was coming over. The show was mediocre, and I was glad when we left the theater. When we got home I opened the bottle of wine that Daemon brought and poured three glasses. Jenny settled on the couch next to Daemon and instantly began telling him her life story, not omitting the times she tricked her poor little sister into doing stupid things. They laughed at the poor little girl stuck in the tree, the dumb teenager dressed like a clown at a formal dance, and the young lady who couldn’t seem to keep a boyfriend. It was more than I could take.
“You’re both hateful! Hateful! I’ll never forgive either of you!” I screamed, running from the apartment and out into the dark night. Traffic was heavy despite the hour, and I had to be careful as I darted across the street and into the park. Even though it was June, the evening air was chilly and I shivered as I sat on the bench and cried. I hadn’t grabbed my purse, so I couldn’t even buy myself a cup of coffee. I sat numbly and watched the rippled pond reflect the moonlight. When I realized there was a face staring at me from the reflective surface, I turned and there was Daemon watching me quietly.
Without a word he walked over and sat on the bench beside me. When I shivered, he put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close. His voice was low and soft. “Honey, I’m sorry if we upset you. I didn’t realize how sensitive you are about your sister. I want you to know one thing though; you make ten of her. Don’t you know that it’s you I want, not her? I know her kind; she’s a user. She uses people for her own gain then tosses them aside.”
I looked into his bottomless eyes. How could this man see into the very soul of me? “Who are you? What are you?”
He chuckled softly. “I’m whatever you want me to be.” He kissed me, then led me back to my apartment. Jenny was gone.
I turned to Daemon. “Did she tell you she was leaving?” He shook his head. “Did you say something to her that made her leave?” He smiled his special smile. “Maybe she thought the bogeyman would get her if she stayed here alone.”
“I don’t know what’s gotten into her lately. Last night she woke up from a nightmare and I had to sit with her until she fell asleep. She was like a little child frightened of the dark. Funny thing is, this morning she didn’t remember anything except talking to you earlier.” Daemon said nothing. I poured us another glass of wine and snuggled next to him on the couch.
He touched his glass to mine. “Alone at last.”
I didn’t hear from Jenny the next day or the next. I called her several times, got no answer, and finally on Monday evening after work, I stopped by her apartment. I brought a check for five hundred dollars and hoped she didn’t ask for more. When she didn’t answer, I used the key she gave me and entered her apartment. Jenny always prided herself on the appearance of her apartment, always favoring new, modern designs, but the place looked like a skid-row slum. Dust covered everything, papers and magazines littered the floor and furniture, and dirty dishes were scattered around the whole apartment. I shuddered as I stepped over a pile of dirty clothes in the middle of the floor.
“Jenny?” I walked toward the bedroom, not knowing what I would find. Thank God it was empty. I ran through a list in my mind of places she might be. I called Smitty first. He hadn’t seen her in a couple of months, “since she started acting like a whacko.” I found her personal phonebook lying on the floor by the phone table and went through it, calling everyone listed. Finally, exhausted, I called Daemon. I didn’t know what to do, and I needed his strength.
When he arrived, he surveyed the apartment quickly. “Lousy housekeeper.”
I told him she wasn’t really, and this was just something else that made me worry about her.
“I’m sure she’ll turn up.”
I looked skeptical.
“Tell you what,” he said. “If she doesn’t come home by morning, we’ll call the police and have them take a missing persons report on her, okay?”
“Thanks.” I kissed him lightly. We were getting ready to leave when I saw a piece of paper on the kitchen table with my name scribbled across the top, not like Jenny’s perfect script at all. It stated simply that she took my advice and went on a vacation. “She must not have been broke after all,” I thought out loud, then turned to Daemon. “Why didn’t she call and tell me she was going away?”
He shrugged. “Maybe she was just getting even with you for taking off and going to Egypt without telling her.”
I frowned. “How did you know about that?”
He didn’t say anything for a minute, then, “Jenny must have told me the other night when you were in the kitchen.”
Why would Jenny tell him that? I wondered. Was it just to make him feel sorry for her? She had been acting totally whacked out, so who knows.
I saw more and more of Daemon, and one day I realized for the first time in my life I was really in love. I didn’t think much about Jenny for several weeks. I figured when she came home, she’d call and tell me about all her new lovers. This time I had something great to tell her. Daemon and I were in love.
One night about three weeks after Jenny left, the phone rang. When I answered there was only silence, and then the connection was broken. I shrugged and hung the phone back on the cradle. Sometime after midnight it rang again, and the same thing happened. Angrily I dropped the receiver in the top drawer of my dresser and went back to sleep.
It was late on a Friday night when I heard a rapping at the door. I sat up and listened, then heard it again. Grabbing my robe and my slippers and thinking it was Daemon, I headed for the door. When I opened it the sight that greeted me took my breath away. An old hag stood hunched against the wall, her face away from me. The only thing to cross my mind was how badly this old woman smelled. Slowly she turned to face me, straightening her body as she did.
I gasped. “My God! Jennifer!” Taking her arm, I half-led, half-carried her into the room. The odor that came from her turned my stomach; it was the stench of rot and decay, of road kill baking in the summer sun. I ran to the kitchen and brought her a large glass of wine, and after I forced some down her throat, she seemed to relax a bit. “Jenny, my God, what’s happened to you?”
Her mouth moved several times, but no sound came from it. She took another drink of the wine and tried again. An inhuman voice said, “I saw!” Her body shook uncontrollably. “I saw.”
“What, Jenny? What did you see?” I was shaking as badly as she was.
“The gh . . .ghost,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “Oh, God,” she said, taking another gulp of wine, “It’s . . . it’s me!” She screamed shrilly and crouched back into the cushions of the couch. “It’s me, don’t you see? I’m being haunted by my own ghost!” She laughed madly. Her mouth pulled back harshly to expose crooked yellow teeth.
“What’s happened to you? Why do you look like . . . like this?”
She laughed again, this time a bitter hateful laugh, “It looked like this, now I do, and it looks like I used to.” She started screaming and I was petrified. How should I handle this insane person. I tried talking in a soft and soothing voice. She didn’t seem to hear me. In desperation, I called 911 and Daemon.
Daemon arrived within minutes. He looked at her not with pity, but with disgust, and oddly, a touch of amusement. The paramedics arrived a few minutes later and took Jenny away, while Daemon and I followed in his car.
By the time we got to the hospital, the doctor was waiting for me.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your sister died enroute.”
“I don’t believe you!” I cried. Daemon threw his arm around my shoulder and held me tight.
“I’m sorry”, the doctor said softly.
“How?” I asked. “Why?”
He shrugged, “Her heart just gave out. It’s not unusual in people her age.”
I laughed hysterically. “Her age? Doctor, my sister was twenty-five years old!”
The doctor thought I was the one who was having the breakdown. He wouldn’t believe me until I showed him Jenny’s driver’s license.
It happened three months ago, but seems like longer. Strange things have happened since then, and I sometimes wonder if Jenny’s condition is contagious.
One night about a week after I buried Jenny, I was sitting alone in my room. I guess I dozed off, though I don’t remember going to sleep or waking. I thought I heard Jenny’s voice. The room seemed to grow cold. A shadow formed at the foot of my bed.
“Beware, little sister,” the voice said. “It’s you he really wants.”
I don’t know what it means, but the same thing happens often since Jennifer died.
Daemon and I are really in love, and though he hasn’t asked me to marry him yet, I know he will because he’s told me many times that he wants me, body and soul.
Home Page: Where your journey began