“It was the right time to leave.” The specter’s eyes are a deep, calming maroon. When he speaks, his appearance evanesces intermittently, like the flickering of candlelight. He holds himself in a relaxed manner, but with the air of someone who has seen much of the world and understands it with perfect awareness. Seated in a dust laden armchair by the attic vent, he’s just finished explaining to me how it was he came to rest here as a way station after departing the house he haunted previously.
“How did you know?” I don’t know much of anything or how anyone ever figures it out. I would be content to spend all my days tucked safely in my mother’s arms. Things made sense there. Even now, I can still hear the screams of the last child she’d tormented, his small fingers gripping at his blanket tightly as she burst through the closet doors with a roar, tentacles reaching every which way.
“I just knew.” He narrows his eyes and side eyes me, one side of his mouth turned upward.
“How?” I’m nothing if not bewildered by such confidence, given that I’ve never found my own.
He erupts with a laughter that reverberates throughout our decrepit surroundings and I would swear it stirs up dust. Poltergeists can do that, I guess.
He’s still chuckling when he finally answers. “A psychic saged me out!”
“Oh.” I’m unsure whether to laugh along or to feel disappointed that he isn’t as self-assured as I first thought.
The specter’s head bobs up and down, as if he understands my indecisiveness. “You thought I would just up and leave a sweet gig like that? No, no, young monster. I’d established myself quite well in that house.” His head now moves side to side and clicks his tongue. “A change may do me good.”
“But aren’t you afraid?” I practically cut him off. My face burns and I withdraw a bit more into my hiding spot.
His eyes twinkle. “Of what?”
“Oh, um… I don’t… just-” my tongue twists mercilessly, “The unknown.”
The ancient spirit rises from his seat. “No, my young friend, I am not. We are the unknown. It’s your place to be the source of fear for children. So tell me: what are you afraid of specifically?”
Unsure how to answer him, I close my eyes, trying to remember the embrace of my mother’s arms and her voice when she would tell me to be brave, to be fearsome! I breathe in long and slow, almost able to remember her smell—unwashed socks and dirt from a long-forgotten pair of shoes. Hidden safely in the darkest corner of our closet, my mother taught me everything there was to know about scaring children, and I was captivated by her performances.
Then came the night that the blinding beam of a flashlight unveiled her form. I remember her features contorting as the child stood up from his bed and walked toward her, his voice strong and steady as he said, “I’m not afraid of you.” She began to dematerialize and quickly slid me from her arms across the darkened floor. As I glided underneath the bed, I saw her smiling at me. She mouthed that she loved me then was gone. I’d crept into the attic that night and have been hiding here ever since.
My eyelids shoot upward and I meet the specter’s gaze. “Light.”
“Ah.” The spirit’s voice is soft. “Then be terrifying.” With conviction, he continues, “Keep children shrieking underneath their covers where they belong! Reach out every now and again and grab a toe! And,” his voice turns somber, “know when it’s time to move on.”
I slither out from under the old toddler bed about halfway and nod very slowly.
“And, my young friend, one final thing.”
“Yes?” My eyes are wide.
The corners of his ancient eyes glimmer and their color morphs into a softer shade. “Don’t be afraid.”
I tilt my head and crinkle my nose. “Of light?”
“Of yourself.” He winks and vanishes, a cloud of dust swirling around the attic in his wake.
Almost before my brain has connected the joke behind his words, my lips turn upward. I open my mouth wide and laughter bubbles up from deep within my belly. After a few minutes, I shake myself and breathe in. I hold my head up high. It’s time for me to go downstairs and find an occupied bed like a proper monster should!
Thanks to Dan Tantrum for use of the featured image.