A wide smile split Nathan’s face on reaching his grandpa’s house. Once out of the car, Nathan charged his grandpa and hugged him. After dinner, he rushed upstairs with a cold rush of wind beside him. A clear sign of the haunting ghost. Like he did every time he visited his grandpa, Nathan sat perched on his bed, hands on his knees as he awaited Lucy’s arrival.
Lucy performed her typical antics throughout the course of the day, such as tapping on the walls, turning grandpa’s television on and off, and moving around Nathan’s toys. He even beat her in their annual race upstairs. He never saw a glimpse of her outside the nighttime hours. Thus, per his routine, he waited for his departed friend. He tried not to creak his bed too much, but he trusted his parents and grandpa to assume such noises to be nothing but the farmhouse’s natural sounds.
Nathan frowned, peering across the cramped room to the mirror in a vain struggle to make out her reflection. He didn’t, though he swore he spotted the outline of a few strands of hair. While Lucy often left markings on the century-old mirror, he could never distinguish her breath from the cloudy covering.
Speaking of Lucy, he never learned much about her life, only that she died in an accident at nine years old. While Nathan met her when he turned seven, he often wondered if he experienced her haunting years before. He first came here when he was a baby, back before his grandma died. Too bad Lucy didn’t know if his grandma became a ghost. He frowned at the thought, but when a chill sent goosebumps across his arms and legs, it morphed into a smile.
He wiggled about at the gentle creak of his bed. “Took you long enough,” Nathan said, as Lucy materialized before him. A scrawny girl, Lucy had dark hair that always appeared in tangles.
Lucy folded her arms. “I don’t like appearing in the morning,” she said in her raspy voice. “So, what do you want to do?”
Nathan frowned and peered out the foggy window to the vast field beyond. “My mom and dad will be awake for another hour. What about we play hide-and-seek?”
“That’s boring in one room.”
“You’re a ghost. How can that be boring?”
She glared at him. He glared back. Well, it was true, no matter how much she claimed otherwise. He folded his arms, trying to appear as an opposing older brother, which resulted in her bursting into fits of her distorted laughter. Her voice always sounded distorted, like a phone with poor reception, but the raspy sound of her voice always came out more prominent until she laughed. Maybe it came from having no siblings of his own, or that his parents didn’t tell jokes, but her laughter always brightened his mood.
“We could tell stories. I imagine you have a lot of them from the outside. What about your cats? Or the old dog you keep coming across?” Lucy asked.
He shrugged. “If you want.”
“How has school been?” A longing tone clung to her voice. Maybe that shouldn’t surprise him. Sixty years trapped in a farmhouse would make anyone envious of information on the outside.
Nathan frowned and peered out to the dreary sky. Lucy scooted closer to him when his glee faded. Nathan shivered the moment her translucent arm touched his. “What’s wrong?” Lucy asked, her voice soft.
Nathan had no desire to tell anyone. His parents didn’t know. If it wasn’t for the fact he didn’t know when he’d see her again, she’d remain ignorant. “School’s never fun. I just, I don’t know. I prefer being here and playing with you.”
“What about your other friends?” He mumbled incomprehensible words under his breath. Lucy offered him a compassionate smile. “But you’re so fun to be around.”
“No one else seems to think so.”
“Nathan.” Her voice drifted off.
He sniffed. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
She signed. “Fine. Well, if it will cheer you up, we can play hide and seek.”
He offered a weak smile. She vanished from sight, becoming a small orb of glowing light that whisked away. His bed creaked, and he peered down, watching the tiny impressions scuttled across his blankets into the wall. He snatched at her, and his hand went cold. While he couldn’t touch her, he gave a victorious grin on knowing that if she had been alive, he’d have caught her.
She rattled the pictures on his wall and whispered with a voice so distorted he couldn’t discern her words. Nathan would have announced he knew her hiding place but to keep the excitement of the game going, and to stifle his concerns, he let her play. And thus, Lucy clambered about his toys, turning his mobile game system on and off before darting into a drawer. He saw the brief flicker of the orb she became, yet he knew she wouldn’t linger there for long.
When her noises died down, he leaned forward, chin planet on his fist as he scanned the room. Several minutes passed in silent contemplation until he said, “You’re in my bag.” It shuffled, and she materialized above the large green duffle bag he kept his clothes and games in. Lucy frowned, and despite being translucent, her puffed out lower lip made him laugh.
“How’d you know?” She asked.
“I saw the bag shake.”
She sighed. “I figured as much.” She vanished and materialized an inch from his face, her dead eyes drilling into his. “Nathan, I’m bored!”
“You’ve sat around for over sixty years. You can wait a couple more minutes.”
“A boring sixty years.”
Despite her protests, they played more games of hide-and-seek until he heard the creaking of the stairs signifying his parents and grandpa going to sleep. Nathan slipped into his bed, pretending to be asleep when they entered his room and wished him goodnight. After an excruciating twenty more minutes of waiting, he crawled from his room and tiptoed downstairs. Lucy glided past him when he reached the front door.
In the fields they chased each other, sneaking up on horses and cows, and causing all manner of mischief. Nathan’s favorite game had always been ghost catcher, where he’d reverse Lucy’s chasing of him by trying to catch her with a flashlight. She won most of the games, but tonight was different as he shot the light into the side of the barn, catching her pale translucent form.
“Got you,” Nathan said with a fist pump. She stuck out her tongue and phased through the wall. He rounded the corner and barged into the barn to shine the powerful light once more. The barn was massive, but the flashlight contained the power to unleash a beam that exposed every nook and cranny to flush out Lucy.
At the center of the light, he caught her, looking innocent with her hand in her little ghost pockets and gazing at him from the center of the barn with her large blight eyes. She trotted toward him, and Nathan turned off the light.
“I want to ride the horses,” she said.
“It’s too late.” And he didn’t know where his grandfather kept the saddles.
“Please?” She vanished, and seconds later appeared at the edge of the barn door. “It won’t be long.”
“I’ll ride them tomorrow, and you can join me. Grandpa won’t notice.”
The two ran out into the fields, laughing, chasing each other, and doing their best to scare the cows. Nathan stopped from his latest run, ready to fish out his flashlight when Lucy appeared inches from his eyes and shouted, “Boo!”
He stumbled back, the flashlight flying from his hands and clattered against the ground. He grimaced, his sneer turning into a smile at the sound of Lucy’s delighted laughter. “It’s been years since I scared you like that.”
He sighed and brushed off his legs. “Yeah.”
“That was so fun. Can we do that again? Come on, Nathan, just a little longer, only a little bit longer. I know it’s getting late, but please? Please? Nathan?” She went silent as he sat there, arms wrapped around his knees as he stared through her into the star-filled horizon. “Are you hurt? I’m sorry I didn’t mean—”
“It’s not that,” he said.
She sat beside him. “What’s wrong?”
He hung his head. “I’m just, I don’t know, I’m going to miss you.”
“What do you mean?”
“My parents can’t see you, and neither can Grandpa. Only I can.”
“Oh,” her voice drifted off. “Well, I mean, I didn’t interact with everyone who came here.”
“But they don’t notice what you do in the morning, and they never see you at nighttime. What if I won’t be able to see you ever again?” He scrunched up and tightened the grip around his knees. “One day, I might forget about you, and I’ll be lonely again. What if I’m stuck here alone and never able to see you?”
Lucy hugged him. He stiffened at the chill but let himself remain in her embrace, which allowed a small, if weary, smile. “I will never forget you, Nathan. Even if you grow old, I will always be your friend.”
Nathan let Lucy’s icy feeling envelop him. “Is there a way I can stay with you? What if I don’t get any other friends?”
“No. You will not die. You’re going to have a happy life. Others will realize you’re a great friend. You’re fun to be around Nathan. It’s about time you realize that.” She smiled and flung her little ghost hands around his. “What time we have left we’ll spend together. Tomorrow you turn twelve, right? I intend to make it the best birthday for you yet. It will be nice and scary, and it isn’t even Halloween!” She went somber, her voice taking a tone he didn’t expect of a nine-year-old. “Think of it this way, you’ve had three more birthdays than I ever will. When you grow older and if… if you forget about me, you’ll have more of a life than I ever had.”
She shushed him. “Come on. You should get going to bed, and I have a bunch of fun hauntings planned for you tomorrow.”
Nathan smiled, and the two returned inside. Back in his bed, he smiled at Lucy. She shimmered in the moon’s light. “Goodnight, Lucy,” he said.
“Goodnight, Nathan,” Lucy said. His eyes fluttered to a close. Before he drifted off to sleep, he heard her faint whisper. “And no matter what, I will always remember you.”
Twenty years after the death of his grandfather, Nathan found himself still mesmerized by the old farmhouse. While his father passed down the rights of the house to Nathan and his wife, Emily, they hadn’t started moving until a week ago. Now, with their belongings and family packed, he felt almost nostalgic. Nathan couldn’t help but peer at the house, his mind racing to the old two-bedroom apartment they shared for so many years. So many people and animals crammed into a tiny space. God, he missed it already.
“Oh, come on, Nate, you know you’re glad to be out of there,” Emily said with a light laugh.
“I wasn’t thinking about that.”
“Sure, you weren’t. It’s the only thing you slept talked about last night.”
He took her hand in his. Their two children ran ahead of them, chasing the poor cats and dog into the house. “We still have a lot of work to do on it.”
Emily leaned her head against his arm. “We’ll manage. With the sun setting behind it, it will look lovely.”
He looked at her. “It already does.”
She gave an exaggerated sigh and kissed him. “You’re so corny, but yes, let’s go.”
They lugged the last couple boxes into the living room. Their two boys sat on the couch, leaning forward, eyes focused on a cartoon Nathan couldn’t remember the name of. At least, Alex did. Ethan, the youngest of the twins, had his eyes glued to a picture resting in his palm.
“What do you have there, bud?” Emily asked. She trotted toward him to examine the picture. Nathan joined her. Ethan flashed the picture as if showing off a prize he won at a science fair.
“It was under the couch,” Ethan said. “Mom, Dad, is Lucy the girl holding Great-Grandpa Ernest?”
Nathan took the picture. The moment he clutched the frame, his chest went cold. He’d never seen his grandfather as a child, nor the older sister who died in a fire. While he couldn’t say why, the girl’s face looked familiar.
“Who’s Lucy?” Emily asked. Nathan nodded, thankful he didn’t have to voice his confusion, more so as his throat constricted at sight of the girl and his grandfather.
“She lives here, Mommy,” Ethan said. Alex faced his brother, a dumbfounded scowl on his face. Ethan pointed to a spot in front of the television. “Don’t you see her? She’s sitting in front of me and Alex.” Ethan faced Nathan and smiled. “Lucy misses you, Daddy. She loves playing with me as much as she loved playing with you.”
Other than a hard swallow, Nathan remained silent. Before his eyes, he saw the small impression in front of his boys. For an instant, the outline of a young girl’s face appeared on the television. He blinked, and the girl vanished.
Nathan glanced at the picture dangling from his fingers. When Ethan first handed him the photo, the girl’s face had no expression. Now, she wore a smile and bright eyes.
She winked. In the recesses of his mind, Nathan heard a young voice whisper, I will always remember you.
— Zach Kuhl