Not raising money this time, just sending a story out into the world. Hope you enjoy.
When my son, Morgan, was seven, we moved into a new house. I couldn’t afford to buy a house, but there was a rental available in a pretty nice neighborhood for a ridiculously low price.
You know where this is going, right?
The lights flickered. A lot. I got concerned, but Morgan’s grandfather was a retired electrician. So I called him, he came over, checked everything out and said that he couldn’t see anything wrong with the wiring, so no, we weren’t going to die in a fire .
“So what is it?” I asked. Of course nothing happened the entire time Bill was there; that would be too easy.
“Dunno. Sometimes old houses are strange.” He patted my shoulder, loaded up his pickup, and left.
“Mom,” Morgan said, as we watched him drive away, in that seven-going-on-sixteen tone, “It’s Woulou.”
“What is Woulou?” I asked.
“The guy who lived in my closet.”
There were a lot of “guys” who lived in Morgan’s closet; the kid could literally bury himself in stuffed animals. “Which one is Woulou?” I asked. I knew the names of the Important Guys. The Lesser Guys, not so much.
“He’s not a stuffed animal. He’s a ghost.”
Oh, well. “He’d have to be, to fit in your closet.”
“He doesn’t live there now, actually. He moved into my bottom desk drawer.”
That seemed like a lateral move, at best, but who was I to understand the motives of ghosts?
I know what you’re thinking. It’s his father! Or his grandmother!
Yeah, Morgan’s dad isn’t dead. Nor are his parents. Or mine.
Paul and I aren’t married. I got pregnant at the very end of a very fun thing with Paul. I hesitate to even call it a relationship–what we’ve developed since then is definitely a relationship, but what led to Morgan was a series of hookups that I knew were going nowhere even as I started them.
I spent a day after I got the positive test back dazed and wondering what I was feeling; I got up the next day with a strong sense of mine. My baby.
Paul, however. Paul reacted exactly how I expected–he looked sick. Which was fine, because I didn’t really want to raise a kid with him. At least not traditionally. Paul is great, don’t get me wrong, but we’d be terrible spouses.So we had a long conversation, came to some agreements, and that was that.
I was really freaked out when Paul’s parents called me, but they were very sweet. Just asked about being active grandparents to the baby–would that be okay with me? I cried. Hormones, but also–very sweet.
This makes it seem easy. It wasn’t. But we all did our best, and it’s working. Paul’s actually been getting his shit together the past few years. He’s still more like a fun uncle than a dad, but he and Morgan spend time together. He pays child support when he can, which is more often now that he’s got a decent job. He’s also got a steady girlfriend. His mom and dad have helped me out a lot, like with the flickering lights. My parents find the whole thing bizarre, but they both agree that Paul and I would have just ended up divorced, and they adore Morgan.
Nobody is dead. That is the actual point of this digression. Well, somebody is dead, obviously, but I don’t know who.
The lights stopped flickering shortly after Bill came over to look at the wiring, and Morgan told me he’d asked Woulou to stop doing that. “I told him it freaked you out,” he said. “And I was a little worried that it would make our electric bill go up, and we’d have to sell all my guys to pay it.”
Yeah. I have no one but myself to blame for this child. I sat down next to him on the couch, where he was wrestling with the Switch, and said, “Kiddo, we’re not going to sell your guys to pay the electric bill.”
“Are you sure? I read a story at school where people had to sell stuff to pay bills. I don’t want to sell my guys. They’d be scared.”
“We’re not rich, but we’re not going to need to pawn our belongings to pay the bills. I’ve got a good job, and Grammie and Papa and Gran and Grandad would never let that happen, anyway.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “You sure? ‘Cause we moved from our nice apartment to a house with a ghost, so maybe you’re doing a Mom-lie.”
“I don’t lie to you, Morgan,” I snapped. Which, of course, was a Mom-lie, but I would cope with that guilt after he was in bed. “Also, a house from an apartment is a good sign. Worry if we go back to an apartment.”
“The apartment wasn’t haunted,” he said.
“Because the apartment was so crappy, no self-respecting ghost would haunt it!”
“I liked the apartment!”
“The apartment didn’t have a yard!”
“I don’t like the yard!” he yelled. “The yard is creepy!”
I took a deep breath and counted to twelve, because ten was never enough when I was arguing with the seven year old whose vocabulary was fifteen, but whose brain was still seven. Maybe five, when he felt overwhelmed. Plus, the yard was a little creepy. Not all of it–mostly it was actually really nice. It had two big trees, a hibiscus bush, and a wooden fence along the sides. The back part of the yard was bordered with chain-link, which was the neighbor’s fencing. They’d put a little shed partway down the fence on their side, next to which was the problem area: one giant tangle of Florida holly, scrub brush, possibly some kudzu, definitely some poison oak, and a half-dead punk tree with peeling paper bark. The few feet between the shed and the corner of the fence was full of overgrown junk plants.
When we moved in, Morgan went straight to the bedroom in the back right of the house. The master bedroom was the biggest room, but the back right room was the bigger of the other two, with old hardwood floors and built-in shelves. I thought he’d claim it immediately, but with one look out the window at that mess in the corner outside, he claimed the smaller room as his. The one with the haunted closet.
“Okay,” I finally said. “Look. We are not selling your stuffed animals. We do not have to.” I scooted over to put an arm around him. He didn’t lean into me, just stared at the Switch, but he didn’t move away, either. “I know that this has been a big change for you. I know you liked the apartment.”
“I grew up there,” he said softly. I grinned at the top of his head.
“Yeah, I know. I was pregnant with you there. I’m going to miss it a little, too. But it was time for us to move on. You’ll get used to this house. And maybe when I get my tax return, I can hire someone to come clean all that crap out of the yard.”
He leaned into me, then. “That would be nice,” he said.
“And thanks for asking Woulou to stop messing with the lights. Tell him thanks when you see him next.”
“Oh, he’s been in the room since we started yelling,” Morgan said. “So he heard you. He says you’re welcome. And you seem like a good mom.”
Oh, well. That was comforting to know.
A couple of weeks later, Paul took Morgan for the weekend. This had been a thing for about a year or so, now, so for Morgan it was old hat, even though it still felt new to me. Paul picked Morgan up from school Friday and brought him back to me on Sunday night. He had clothes at Paul’s apartment, special Dad’s House Guys (though he tucked his most special buddy, Parker, into his school bag to go with him, leaving Pancake Man “in charge” for the weekend), so he didn’t even need to pack a bag.
It always felt weird to come home without Morgan. The apartment had always felt like it was waiting for him to run in behind me, this weird sense of anticipation that never really ended, just faded slowly away. The house felt the same way, like it was waiting for the kid to break the silence.
I dropped my work bag, changed into sweats, and put some music on as I started dinner. Spaghetti and red sauce, because Morgan hated tomatoes so this was my chance to indulge.
As the water began to boil, the kitchen lights flickered. Quick enough that paused, then went back to putting the pasta into the pot.
The lights flickered again.
Then the music flickered.
“Woulou?” I asked the air. “Is that you?”
The lights again. “Okay, dude, what’s up?” I asked, stirring the pasta.
I could see the doorway of Morgan’s room from the kitchen. I realized when the lights in it started to strobe: we’d probably said Dad would pick Morgan up from school out loud, but had it occurred to Morgan to tell his ghost pal that he’d be gone all weekend?
“Morgan’s with his Dad until Sunday,” I said. “He’s fine. He’ll be back.”
One more flicker of the bedroom lights. I had no idea what that might signify, but I said, “It’s Friday, now. Two nights.”
There was nothing after that, so I figured I could go back to my dinner. Later, I settled down on the couch and asked, “Woulou, can you watch a TV? You want to watch a movie? I’m thinking something with super-heroes, not sure if you know what those are, but feel free to come watch.”
I ended up watching the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, freezing my ass off from what I could only assume was the ghost that lived in my kid’s desk drawer hanging with me on the couch. The AC wasn’t that good.
The TV turned itself off at the end of the movie, and I said, “You’re welcome.”
Saturday night, the TV flicked on and then off again, so Woulou and I watched the second Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movie. I wrapped myself in a fleece blanket.
Sunday afternoon, Morgan came home. He thundered inside the front door, dropped his backpack in the middle of the living room, hugged me, then disappeared into his room to see if everyone had survived his absence. Paul followed soon after, bearing a Happy Meal box and a cloth grocery bag containing two guys who were apparently moving to our house.
“So who is Woulou?” Paul asked me as he got ready to leave. “Morgan kept talking about him. I asked him why he didn’t bring him over, and he said Woulou doesn’t leave the house–is he like a mint Beanie Baby or something?”
“No, Woulou’s a ghost who lives in his desk drawer.”
“Oh, okay. That explains a lot.” Paul paused in the front doorway, and instead of calling for Morgan like I expected, said, “So, Cara and I were thinking about maybe taking Morgan to Disney.”
Cara is an office manager for a dentist’s office. She and Paul had been seeing each other for a few months. We’d met her. She was cool. Didn’t bat an eye when Morgan started explaining the community infrastructure of his stuffed animals, just asked him if they had a good dentist. Then she bought him a stuffed dodo who she said could check all their teeth.
“Disney, wow.” We lived a few hours south of Orlando. “That’s kind of a big trip …”
An ugly part of me was wanting to say fuck you, Disney is a Mom-and-Morgan trip, not a kind-of-Dad and his girlfriend trip. That made it feel pretty awkward to actually consider things like Morgan’s severe hatred of costumed characters and how at 2pm he’d probably have a meltdown because the crowds were too much. Like, rationally I knew this was a pretty big undertaking for Paul, probably for Cara. Rational Mallory was thinking about how much money Disney costs, and how that was a hell of a trip for the first extended vacation with the kid and the girlfriend.
Not-Rational Mallory was thinking fuck you fuck you fuck you, my kid my kid my kid.
“Um. Sure, of course,” I said. I could totally cope with my baby going off to Magic Kingdom with his father and not-quite-stepmother. “Can I … well, would you mind if I suggested something, though?”
“Of course not,” Paul said. He seemed a little wary–well, no one knows my possessive vibe over Morgan as well as Paul, so.
“You guys might want to think about Legoland instead,” I said. “I mean, Disney’s expensive and it gets so crowded. Legoland is a little less crazy, it’s smaller, and Morgan’s tall enough to ride all the rides. It might be a little less pressure on all of you?”
Paul looked surprised. “Oh, I forgot about Legoland. Cara was concerned about the crowds and stuff at Disney, too. She doesn’t have a lot of experience with kids, you know.”
Yeah, Paul, because you’re so the experienced parent, I thought, but that was mean. I just nodded.
Paul smiled at me, quick and relieved, then called, “Morgan! I’m headed out!”
“Morgan?” I called. Still nothing.
The table lamp next to the couch flickered. I don’t know if Paul noticed it, but we turned as one to walk briskly to his room. Not run. No panic. He might be digging around in his closet or, hell, he might have fallen asleep.
But no. His room was empty when we got there. The window was wide open, though, and the screen was missing. I crossed the room, looked out–and there he was, in the yard, brushing dirt and pine needles off Mr. Magee, his stuffed bunny.
“Morgan!” I called out the window. He jumped. “Did you knock the screen off?”
“Did you climb out the window?” Paul called from over my shoulder.
“Mr. Magee was out in the yard!” Morgan called back, holding the rabbit up. Its head flopped to one side, making it look mournful. “I had to save him!”
“But you shoved the screen off?” I asked.
“There’s this thing called a front door, kid!”
Morgan walked toward us. “The screen was on the ground already when I opened the window, Mom.”
“The hell, did it fall off? I swear to god, it’s not the ghost that’s keeping the fucking rent in the basement.”
“Mallory …” Paul does not approve of my language around Morgan, but he buys him Happy Meals for lunch, so I figure we’re even. I helped Morgan back in through the window. Paul pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
“No more climbing out the window, kid. I don’t trust the sill to not give you gangrene.”
“Is that where your feet rot off?”
“Close enough. Dad’s leaving, buddy.”
Morgan hugged Paul around the waist. “‘Bye, Dad. Mom, Mom, did you know Torque Jamiroquai and Sadie Cat are dating now?”
Paul and I shared a look that went from amused to scandalized at just about the same time. Torque Jamiroquai is an iguana that Paul helped Morgan name when Morgan’s favorite sounds to make were ‘kuh’ and ‘qw.’ Sadie the Cat is a bedraggled stuffed calico with only one eye. “No way,” I said. “They kept that pretty quiet–I had no idea!”
“Wow, Mom,” Paul deadpanned. “Way to keep an eye on the guys for Morgan.”
I swatted him gently on the shoulder. “Oh, hush, Pancake Man was in charge. I’m only allowed in there with supervision.”
“Because you move everyone so I can’t find them.” He looked at Paul. “Last time she sat Rover and Cornball together, and they fight.”
“Do they share an ex-?” Paul asked with a grin.
“No, Cornball ate the last chocolate bell and just put the empty box back into the pantry. Rover holds grudges.”
“I will have to stay on Rover’s good side, then,” said Paul. “Okay, buddy. See you in a couple of weeks. Be good for Mom.”
“I will. Love you, Dad.”
“Love you, too.”
Morgan stayed in his room. I walked Paul to the door, then watched him to his car, thinking about how weird it would be to add another grownup to our odd little family. I hoped Cara was, actually, as cool as she seemed, because it looked like we were stuck with her. It never occurred to me to wonder how Mr. Magee wound up outside.
“That’s because she thinks the main actor guy is hot,” I heard Morgan say as I closed the front door. “I think he looks kind of weird, though.”
It was later that night that it happened.
After the traditional evening episode of Leverage, I got Morgan to bed–read him a chapter of Castle Hangnail, helped him figure out what to dream about, smooched Parker after I smooched Morgan, got water, changed out the too-heavy sheet for a lighter one–and sat on the couch to read for awhile before I headed to bed. I could usually tell when he fell completely to sleep because the house seemed to still, like it was being quiet for him.
The air conditioning turned off. The only sounds in the house were the hum of the fridge and the page-swipe tone for my iPad. I love that part of Sunday nights, the space between the end of the weekend and the start of the next week. I love being Mom again, knowing Morgan is sleeping and warm in the other room. It’s a space I like sitting in.
Tick, tick, tap.
Something small hitting glass.
Tick, tap, tick.
Not rhythmic. Not like rain. Or like bugs on a window. Too heavy for that, but too light for a bird pecking.
Tap. Tap, tick. Tick.
I got up and checked on Morgan. Still asleep. He sighed and rolled over as I watched, knocking Pancake Man to the floor. His room was warm. The sound was fainter in here.
I followed it down the hallway to the guest room, which I suppose shouldn’t have surprised me. I’d put a bed and dresser in here, but that was as far as I’d gotten. I planned to eventually replace the curtains with actual blinds, once the landlord agreed to it, but for now they still hung over the windows.
I crossed the room and carefully pulled the curtain back. I am not going to jump when a possum is at the window, I told myself.
It wasn’t a possum.
It wasn’t … anything, exactly.
Mist–a pearly mist almost glowing in the moonlight–swirled outside the window. Tendrils of it bumped against the glass: tap. Tick. Tap, tap. That … did not seem like something mist ought to be doing, making a sound like that. The tendrils trailed up and across, like blind, searching fingers, and now I could hear a faint scritch, screech, tap tap.
I glanced out past the mist undulating directly in front of me and saw the rest flowing along the wall. A lot of it seemed condensed by the other window. The one in Morgan’s room.
I dropped the curtain and speed-walked back down the hall, trying to keep quiet so I wouldn’t wake him. I crossed to his window, stepping over Pancake Man, four books, and the remains of some kind of pillow fort structure, to pull his curtain back.
All I could see was fog.. But here there was no noise, no tapping or ticking or scritching. Maybe because it’s found what it’s looking for, I thought. And then, right after that, What the fuck do I do?
It suddenly got very cold in Morgan’s room.
“Woulou?” I whispered. I glanced down at Morgan, who hadn’t moved at all.
When I turned back to the window, I found frost growing up the glass in fractal patterns, spreading time-lapse photography-style. The fog pulled back from the window; I got the impression that it was appalled. It hovered there, swirling. I took a step forward, leaned over Morgan’s bedside table, and put one finger on the window, glaring. Stay away from my kid.
Maybe it heard the thought. Maybe the frost covering everything but the tiny space under my finger made the point. The mist receded. When it seemed to have left Morgan’s window completely, I turned and went back down the hall to the guest room. From that window I could see it seeping back through the brush in the corner of the yard.
The air in the guest room cooled around me.
I didn’t know what the hell had just happened, but at least I had a pissed-off ghost to get my back.
copyright 2020 by Laura E. Price. Feel free to link to this story–signal boosting is welcome!–but please don’t reproduce it without permission.
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