This is a short little story I wrote to enter a contest (which I did not win but oh well). I got the general premise from some stuff that was in the game Night in the Woods (same with the character’s name) but then I made everything else up as I went.
This is about ghosts but it’s more whimsical and emotional, not at all horror like you might think. Please enjoy.
My little sister can see ghosts. Not all of them are normal ghosts, though. Anything that blows in the wind, from hanging laundry to plastic bags, she calls ghosts. She’s obsessed with them, really.
“Look, Gracie, there’s another one!” She pointed to an old newspaper blowing across the street. I smiled a little and glanced down at her.
“A newsprint ghost. Maybe the ghost of a tree.”
“People shouldn’t abandon things like that. Ghosts always seem so lonely.” She sighed and rested her chin in her hands. “Gracie, why do people think ghosts are bad?”
I tilted my head and wrapped my arm around her shoulder, pressing her to my side. “I dunno, Mae. I guess because ghosts are things that are dead and people are scared of them.”
“But they didn’t do anything wrong! Why are people scared of them?”
“I dunno Mae. People are just weird like that.” I leaned back against the steps of the porch and sighed as I gazed up at the sky.
“I’m not scared of ghosts, but people keep saying I’m weird.”
I huffed and peered down at her. “You’re perfect the way you are, Mae, don’t listen to anyone else. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Just because they can’t see ghosts doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Look, there’s one right now!”
I pointed to an old plastic bag that was tumbling along the street. Mae gasped in delight as she watched the wind carry it this way and that. “A grocery ghost!”
I’m not exactly sure when Mae started being obsessed with ghosts like she is. She started asking Dad to read ghost stories to her, but he kept saying they were too scary for a child her age. She insisted though and he couldn’t turn her down so easily. I told him he could just make up a ghost story that wasn’t scary, but he didn’t listen to me.
“Read the story about the ghosts singing in the hills,” she said. “That one’s my favorite. I want to hear ghost songs. I want to go see a ghost choir.”
Dad frowned a little and shook his head. “You and your ghosts, Mae. What are we ever going to do with you? Didn’t I read this story to you last week?”
“Read it again!” She grinned at him and snuggled under the covers as Dad had no choice but to read her the story once more. I sat by the door and listened too, smiling a little at the way he read. Dad had a good reading voice. It was calm and soothing, and listening to it made you want to fall asleep in his arms. Well, I suppose that was the point of reading stories before bed anyway.
When Dad finished the story and kissed Mae goodnight, I snuck over to the side of her bed after he had gone and whispered, “Do you want to hear the singing ghosts from the hill?”
Mae peered at me from under her covers and smiled a little, nodding her head and whispering, “Yes, please.”
I settled onto the edge of her bed and curled an arm around her. “Dad can’t sing very well so he would never be able to sound anything like them.”
She giggled a little and snuggled closer to me. I began to sing her a quiet, haunting lullaby of what I imagined the ghosts from the story might have sounded like. I had just made the song up on my own for her since the last time Dad read the story. I’d promised her that I would find out what their song was and now I had it for her.
Her eyes began drifting shut as I sang and once I finished she said sleepily, “You sing real good, Gracie.”
I smiled and ran a hand through her hair, murmuring, “Go to sleep, now. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Goodnight,” she mumbled, and a second later she fell into a deep sleep. I sighed a little and patted her shoulder, stepping away from her bed after tucking the covers tightly around her to keep her warm. She looked so peaceful and I couldn’t help but smile as I watched her.
Summer was our favorite season. We got to sit out on the porch together and catch fireflies in the evening, but what I liked best about it was there wasn’t any school. I could spend time with Mae all day. We’d go out into the woods behind the house and explore and Mom and Dad wouldn’t care, other than to tell Mae she needed to put on bug spray.
But the summer was coming to an end and soon autumn was setting in. Mae hated when she had to go back to school.
“All the other kids make fun of me and call me the weird ghost girl,” she told me, pressing closer against me.
I frowned and hugged her tight. “Didn’t I tell you they’re the weird ones? Just don’t listen to them, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“Couldn’t you come and beat them up for me?” she asked.
I snorted and shook my head. “No. I’m not beating up kids for you. That wouldn’t be nice. Listen, if you ignore them they’ll should leave you alone.”
She sighed and laid her head against my lap. “But no one will play with me or talk to me except to make fun of me. It’s not fair.”
I sighed a little and slowly ran my fingers through her hair. “I’m sorry, Mae. I wish there was something I could do but I don’t know that there is.”
“You could scare them,” she mumbled. “Show them that ghosts are real.”
I stared down at her and huffed. “Yeah, well just because you can see me doesn’t mean they’d be able to, you know.”
She sat up slowly and stared up at me. “Does that mean you aren’t real?”
“No, Mae, it just means you’re special because you can see me when no one else can.”
“I can touch you too, though.” She leaned close and wrapped her arms around my neck. “Why can’t anyone else?”
I curled my arms around her and squeezed her in a tight hug. “I don’t know, Mae, I really don’t, but I’m sure glad that you can.”
“Mom and Dad can’t see you,” she muttered against my shoulder. “They thought I was making you up, that you were just my imaginary friend.”
“You can’t really blame them for that,” I said quietly. “Don’t be too hard on them, okay? They love you a lot and just want what’s best for you.”
“But what about what’s best for you?” she asked.
“You’re what’s best for me,” I said with a smile, hugging her again. “You shouldn’t worry about me, Mae. I’m fine, and being with you makes me happy regardless of what anyone else might say. I can be your secret.”
She didn’t keep me a secret, though. Not to our parents, anyway. I couldn’t really blame her, of course. When they start asking you questions you have to answer.
“Mae, who are you talking to?”
“Gracie,” Mae said. Mom stared at her for a moment before sighing and shaking her head.
“Mae, I thought I told you you’re too old to have an imaginary friend.”
“She’s not imaginary, she’s my sister!” Mae interjected. I winced a little and stared at Mae, shaking my head, but she wasn’t listening to me. Mom narrowed her eyes and knelt down beside her.
“Mae, sweetie, you don’t have a sister.”
“Yes I do! Gracie is right here and she always plays with me and sings to me and we go watch ghosts together.”
Mom’s expression grew hard and her tone more reprimanding. “Mae, I thought we told you before that ghosts don’t exist. Please stop acting like they do.”
“They do exist! Gracie exists! I’m not making her up!”
I stood slowly and took a step forward, staring Mom in the eye, though I knew she couldn’t see me. “Don’t be so hard on her. She’s just a kid. You should let her believe what she wants to. It’s not like she’s hurting anything.”
Mom’s eyes grew wide and I saw goosebumps form on her skin as she shivered. She took a step away and gasped a little, pressing a hand to her mouth. I blinked and glanced around the room, then noticed a mirror in the hall behind us. There was a flickering reflection there and I could see myself.
“Mae, come with me right now.” Mom grabbed Mae by the hand and they started walking out of the room as fast as they could go. Mae looked back toward the mirror and then looked at me.
“Mom, what’s wrong? It’s just Gracie.”
“No, we’re leaving right this instant.” Mom picked Mae up and turned away and I watched them leave the house entirely. I sat on the front steps and waited for them to come home. It’s not like they wouldn’t be coming back at some point. They finally did when Dad came back from work. He was looking at Mom like she was crazy.
“Are you sure about this?” he said.
“I saw something in the mirror!” Mom said, “and just before that I felt this cold chill like something had tried to touch me! There’s something in that house!”
Dad didn’t look convinced. He shook his head and stepped past me into the house. “I don’t know what you want to do about it, even if there is something.”
“I don’t know! Call someone?”
“I thought you didn’t believe in ghosts,” Mae muttered under her breath as she came back into the house. She gave me a bit of a look when she said this and I smirked a little.
“Look, I saw something and I don’t know what it was but it wasn’t normal!”
Dad sighed and shook his head. “Alright, we can look for someone to do something about it tomorrow if you’re really that concerned about it. I don’t think it was anything, though.”
Mom was upset that he was dismissing her claims like that. It’s not as if she hadn’t been doing the exact same thing to Mae all this time, though, so I couldn’t exactly feel sympathy for her.
When Dad went to tuck Mae in for bed he asked her quietly, “What happened today?”
“Mom saw Gracie in the mirror,” Mae told him. He raised an eyebrow at her and frowned a little.
“And who is Gracie?”
“My sister,” she said, staring at him like he should obviously know what she was talking about. “Mom kept saying that I was just making things up and I told her I wasn’t and then she saw Gracie in the hall mirror.”
Dad let out a deep breath and glanced around the room. “And is Gracie here now?”
“Yeah, she’s right there.” Mae pointed to me and I shrugged my shoulders helplessly. Dad stared right at me but it was obvious he couldn’t see me.
“I see. Well, Gracie, there’s a mirror in here. If you’re really here why don’t you let me see you?”
I turned to Mae with a raised eyebrow. “You think I should?”
“Yeah, Gracie, let Dad see you!”
I sighed and rubbed my hand over my face. “Alright, but just remember he asked.” I stepped over toward the dresser with the big mirror and gave a little wave. Mae waved back and grinned at me. Dad just stood there staring.
“Mae, honey, go to sleep,” Dad said in a quiet voice, still wide eyed as he stared at my reflection. “We’ll talk about this more in the morning.”
I moved out of view from the mirror but Dad didn’t seem to be paying attention anymore. He left the room and switched off the light, closing the door behind him. I let out a soft breath and looked at Mae.
“I don’t think he took it well,” I murmured.
“I don’t understand why they’re so upset,” Mae said with a frown. I went over and settled onto the edge of the bed with her, lightly stroking her hair.
“I don’t think adults can really understand things like this. Like ghosts, and even when they see proof of it they start getting scared.”
“That’s dumb,” Mae said. “You’re nice and you didn’t do anything scary.”
“I know,” I said with a sigh. “Oh well, maybe you should go to sleep like he said. I don’t know what they’re going to do but…”
“Will you stay with me tonight?” she asked. I smiled down at her and hugged her tight.
“I’m with you every night, you know.”
“Thanks, Gracie.” She smiled sleepily and snuggled deeper under her covers and before long she was fast asleep. I sighed and laid beside her, closing my eyes and holding onto her tight.
A priest came to the house the next day. He talked with Mom and Dad for a long time, asking them a lot of questions that I don’t think they knew how to answer.
“And your daughter Mae keeps insisting that she sees a ghost who is her older sister?” the priest asked.
“Yes, but… we never had any other children besides Mae,” Mom said. She looked like she was going to cry.
“Well, that’s not entirely true,” Dad added in a quiet voice. “There was another but it was a miscarriage. We didn’t even know she was pregnant when it happened.”
I stared at them and let out a deep breath. The priest didn’t seem to know what to make of it. “And you both saw this apparition in a mirror?” he asked.
They both nodded their heads. I think Mom really was going to cry now. The priest had Mae come in and he asked her about me. She answered truthfully and at the end he asked her to ask me if I would show myself. She looked at me and I sighed. This was starting to get tiresome. I didn’t want to see the same reaction again.
I stepped in front of the mirror, keeping my eyes averted from them, and I waved a little, murmuring, “Hello.”
The priest stared at my reflection, and I’m not sure he knew what to make of me. Then he said, “Gracie?”
I looked up at him slowly and nodded my head.
“Gracie, it’s alright. I can help you to move on from here.”
“No,” I said, though I wasn’t sure he could hear me. “I just want to stay with Mae. I want to protect her and be her friend. Please, that’s all I want.”
There was a look of recognition in his eyes and I realized he must have heard me. He stood up slowly and turned to Mom and Dad, asking them if they would step out of the room for just a moment. They did along with Mae and I was alone with the priest. He turned away from the mirror and looked at me directly, letting out a deep breath.
“You don’t belong here, Gracie. You shouldn’t be here at all.”
I blinked at him and felt a moistness in my eyes. “I’ve always been here. I don’t know where else I can go.”
He stepped over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. I gasped a little and gazed up at him. He could actually see me, touch me. Who was this man? He leaned forward and looked me in the eye and there was a kind yet sad look on his face.
“You can go home, Gracie. Home, where you’ll be loved and you won’t just be a ghost anymore. You’ll be seen and heard and cared for.”
I was crying. Tears were blinding me and I could hardly see him clearly anymore. My whole body began shaking with sobs and I couldn’t stop. He wrapped his arms around me and hugged me tight, murmuring something soothing in my ear in a language I could not understand but it gave me a warm feeling. Finally I was able to calm down and the tears stopped.
“Let me take you home, Gracie. It’s going to be alright.”
“Wait,” I whispered, “what about Mae? I’m her only friend. She needs me.”
He tilted his head to the side and glanced toward the door. “At some point she will not. You shouldn’t linger here any longer than you need to.”
“Couldn’t I stay until she doesn’t need me anymore?” I asked.
He watched me closely for a time, then a small smile spread over his lips. “I suppose you could. There’s no harm in that. If you’re happy being with her for the time being.”
“I am. I want to stay with my sister.”
He breathed in and murmured, “Very well, but when the time comes, you need only call for me and I will take you home.” He hugged me again before stepping away and I briefly saw the shadow of large wings on his back. It sent a shiver through me.
He told Mae I was going to stay and sent her off to play with me outside. He had a long talk with my parents after that. I don’t know what he said to them but they never questioned Mae after that. They never openly acknowledged I was there, either, but I didn’t really care all that much.
“I could have left, you know,” I told her after she was in bed that night. “That guy… whatever he was, he said he could take me somewhere else. He could take me home.”
Mae stared at me and asked, “Why didn’t you go?”
“Because I wanted to stay with you,” I said with a little smile. “For as long as you need me to. You’re not always going to need me, Mae. Someday you’ll find someone else that you can catch fireflies with and look for grocery and laundry ghosts with. When you find that person, then I can go home. And then one day you can come home with me, too.”
Mae stared at me and I don’t think she quite knew what to make of what I was saying. She curled her arms around my neck and murmured, “Thank you for staying.”
I let out a soft breath and hugged her tight, whispering, “Love you, Mae.”