Grade: 12th

Ghost in the House

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12th grade
Honorable Mention
Grace N.

There’s a ghost in the house.

It’s not malignant, don’t worry you’ve checked; that light bulb in the kitchen always flickers, and your dog barks at the winged chair in the living room because it probably smells of cats. No big deal.

And yet you can’t shake the feeling that it wants you to do something.

You remember the day like the creases of your palm. It was full of a crisp coolness, of wood smoke scents and windblown scarves snatched away to reveal pale throats. The rain had stopped that morning, and the world felt full of longing. You had your chin pressed deep in your coat, barely discerning the people passing by. The newspaper was crinkled in your grip, as bent as your brow at the headlines that converged on the page. Your lips shaped the words.

You knew about the wildfires in California, the ones that continued to kill thousands of people, and the earthquakes in Afghanistan. You didn’t know about the sunscreen toxins killing off the reefs, or that only 4% of the ocean was within the MPA protective boundaries. It began to dawn on you that humankind’s definition of revolutionary was growing into a definition of regression. What a world we live in, you thought. How disappointing. What a waste.

The paper landed in the trash where it belonged. Then you thought better of it and, fishing into the detritus, promised yourself you’d try to recycle more so that you didn’t add to the landfills.

The house was gray when you returned home, your parents still at work. Your dog was wagging its tail, tripping on itself to get outside. A normal day, a normal you. You threw the newspaper onto the kitchen table. Went to open the door, the knob cold. And you paused.

It took you a moment to register the ghost. It was clear at that point that it had never been there before, because right now it was a strong presence at your backside, alien and unknown. It wasn’t that you were scared- you’d never believed in supernatural things anyhow- but because you’d never realized how suffocating everything around you felt until it was up close and personal.

Your dog’s tail faltered its swinging, then started up again.

Go away, you said. You didn’t know if you were talking to your dog or the ghost. You played with the idea of turning around, but you had been afraid of what you would see. Instead you opened the back door, your dog bolting, you just standing on the threshold. You felt strings pulling you two different directions. One was growing so taut that you had a fear that it might snap. Go away, you said again. And hurried out into the fresh air to try and forget.

Since then it’s never gone away. It’s in the silver spoon you take out of the drawer, lingering in the motes of slanted sunlight, the folds of the couch and the stitches of the blanket you curl up in. A full episode of The Walking Dead can’t drown out that presence. It’s so loud it wakes you up at night, and then only hours of tossing and turning follow. It’s so silent that the air pressure threatens to implode with the ringing in your ears. Crowds never stop it, nor do the twists and turns you take down the street lose it.

In company or alone, it never mattered. The ghost haunted your stumbling footsteps, to school, to friend’s houses. The material world seemed to attract it even more; music, lights, anything remotely electronic and it was nearly breathing down your neck.
So you run, and run. Only until the aching in your abdomen recedes and the breath is loud in your ears from running do you face it.

It’s astounding what we perceive when we’re at our breaking point, the minute details that seem so infinitely unimportant until you’re only clinging to the rocky ledge. You’re at that edge now, and yet you know the ghost is going to reach for you and help you up. And you don’t back away. Standing in the windy streets shadowing over in purple shades of evening you realize the presence, the invisible ghost, is familiar. That it has always been with you, an irreplaceable part of your breathing, as your lungs are an irreplaceable part for your heart. Not a shadow, exactly, but something closer. More intimate.

You flashback to your childhood, of the mornings tramping through the dew grass in rain boots, of tea parties under the oak tree, the leaves golden as the sunlight pried through, the feeling of the sky pressing on all sides, growing dizzy with spinning and inhaling the life humans were born to. You remember when you used to take paths through leafy branches, toil in the earth, hold cupped palms to trembling seedlings.

And you realize that the ghost had always been there, holding the strings between living truthfully and living in imitation, always tugging you in its direction, desperately, because it knew. It knew that, like all of humanity, its favored string would snap and the connection would be lost, a rambling figure with no sense of direction. You remember the tautness of your limbs at the threshold, tugging, yanking away, the confusion and indecision. All those years ago, a different person grew to forget those strings that attached them to the ground. They forgot and the ghost followed.

You look toward the ghost. Light seeps through. And you think: Life is so fragile. After a moment you take a step, if only because it feels right, and you think something within you suddenly opens, carved to hold the world and its cold stars and cradle the beating heart of the earth to your breast. It’s a scary feeling. It’s a feeling that cannot be compared to anything else. A tie that might not be so lost after all. It’s there, and it’s awaiting your answer.

Hello? You ask.