So my neighbor goes all out for Halloween, and Christmas decorations. They won a contest for their Christmas and yard last year. Do I keep up with the Jones’s? Nope, but I finally picked up a ghost to display out front. 🙂 Just to show I’m handing out candy. 🙂
I loved to read ghost stories when I was a kid. I think the most disappointing one I ever read was about the ghost with a cold and after the little boy gave her cough syrup, she went away happy. Huh???
When I lived in Florida, our home was at the beginning of the development, wilderness jungle across the street, canal out back, not bulk-headed on the other side, and mounds of sand like the Dunes, ready for explorers to climb and see what was on the other side. I used to go with friends into the jungle, exploring, the area in a recession, so no homes were being built across the street or behind us. Our canal fed into the Banana River, which was brackish water and was teaming with life–dolphins, sharks, jellyfish, stingrays, you name it. We also had sea turtles, water moccasins, alligators, and rattlesnakes, swampy areas, huge spiders, huge spiderwebs. Perfect for jungle exploration. Really.
It was my mother’s fault. She wanted us to get out of the house. Quit reading books. Go play out in the heat and humidity. And so who wants to just “play” in the backyard when you can see what hidden treasures the jungle has? Or what you might find on the other side of the Dunes.
They stole kids’ bikes and toys and threw them in the canal. They terrorized whoever they could. They shot bb pellets into our windows. They threw people’s dogs into the canal. We had dangerous stuff in the canal, so it really wasn’t a place for a poor pooch to be swimming around in. We didn’t know any better when we first moved there and swam in it either. Not until kids brought a 6 foot rattlesnake to the door and said it was in our yard, they’d killed it, but could they keep it? By all means! And my dad found a water moccasin in his minnow trap in the canal. The woman next door kept spraying water on my mother’s clothes hanging out to dry and well water stains. My mom asked her to please not water when she had clothes out drying, and her husband threatened to kill my dad. They were evil, and when they took off one night–we had creditors calling us forever, asking where they went. As if WE should know.
So you see, that house and that setting has made for the most perfectly moody place for two of my romantic suspenses as a “safe house,” and this teen ghost story.
Emily shut off the bedside lamp light. Across the room, her closet door closed with a clunk, and she jumped.
She couldn’t get back to sleep for an hour after that, waiting for the spirit’s return, listening for any sound it might make, judging the change in the temperature of the room. But her eyes finally shut, and she was once again drawn into the watery graveyard across the street.
The racket from cicadas and crickets filled the air with their inharmonious songs, the noise grating on her ears. Steam rose from the jungle-like swamp, while sun filtered through the tree branches and shimmered off the brown water where the green scum hadn’t yet crept. Or had something disturbed the water? Pushed the scum away with its movement? Something like an alligator sweeping its tail from side to side? Poking its nostrils and rigid green brows just above the surface, waiting…waiting for what?
Emily shivered. Why wasn’t the jungle hot? She tugged her comforter higher.
Something moved in the trees’ shade, but made no sound, just a shadow similar to the ones the foliage made, but sliding in between slim and thick tree trunks, stopping, moving, floating, fading, fading, and gone.
Emily, she thought she heard the female entity whisper, exotic, sweet as the fragrance of roses permeating the air. Emily.
From-the-gut male laughter, dark and husky, echoed through the jungle. Drunken slurred words followed.
Emily. The voice calling her name was feminine, soft and luring…the ghost who visited her bedroom, she thought.
Emily buried her head into her pillow and touched her temple. Who called her? Who? Could she help her?
A breeze shook branches, rippled the water’s surface, sent heat hurtling through the trees.
But Emily still felt chilled. She sensed the air’s thick humidity, but she couldn’t feel it.
“If the wench returnsss…” The gruff man’s slurred words faded.
“Where the hell’sss the Cap’n?” another asked.
Emily couldn’t see where the voices were coming from. There was nothing around her but swampland.
“Where’s our booty? Blasted witch!”
“Thar she is! Grab the wench!”
Emily swallowed hard. They couldn’t get her, could they? She gripped her comforter tighter as if it would shield her from the threat. Her stomach tightened into knotted rope.
A girl laughed, haughty and hearty.
The men cursed.
The sounds, the heat and humidity of the jungle died away. The scent of roses lingered.
Shattering the new silence, the alarm jangled next to Emily’s bed, giving her heart a rude jumpstart before she remembered it was the first day of school. Her new school.
In Oregon, her bedroom had been half this size with only one window. Here in Florida, she had the northwest corner of the second-story. One window faced east over the jungle-like swamps that drained into the Banana River, and the other faced north with a view of another two-story colonial. Like two massive stone-faced castles sitting at the entrance to the development, they were built to lure buyers in.
Emily’s naturally red hair flopped over her shoulders in waves of curls, as she hastily pulled on her jeans and threw a T-shirt over her head. When she looked in the mirror to put on her makeup, she noticed the finger-like imprint on her throat, the skin slightly bruised. Great, just great. She couldn’t wear a turtleneck when the temperature was sweltering.
Whipping a makeup brush out of a drawer, she swept the ivory powder over the discoloration, covering it the best she could. Hopefully, her mother wouldn’t notice the finger marks or she’d be even more stressed out.
After adding olive shadow to her eyelids to enhance her green eyes, Emily applied mascara to her red lashes. A dab of gloss added a luscious shine to her lips. She smacked them and smiled. She didn’t look too frazzled, considering the ghost kept hassling her at night.
She considered the way her skin looked, like a milk bath had washed all the color away. Frowning, she couldn’t help it her skin wouldn’t tan. Exposure to the sun would force brown freckles hiding beneath the surface to expand rapidly into a rash of spots. Here in sunny Florida, the kids would undoubtedly rib her mercilessly for having untanned skin.
Her stomach flip-flopped. Would the kids here form cliques like they did at her old high school? Most likely. She imagined they could be pretty mean-spirited, especially if they ever learned of her secrets. She glanced out the window facing the steamy, mosquito-laden swampland—ghostly spirits, hidden pirate’s treasure, secrets long forgotten—beckoned to her.
As soon as she could, she was exploring them and discovering what she could about the ghosts.
Emily ran down the stairs and stalked into the kitchen where her mother greeted her. The skin beneath her eyes was dark from not sleeping. “Are you certain you don’t want to ride the bus the first day to school instead of driving the old Caddy?” She handed Emily a mini blueberry muffin on a blue and white porcelain plate that matched the kitchen decorated in the same color scheme.
The tile counters sparkled in the wash of Florida sunshine spilling through the large windows. So different from the nearly always overcast climate in Oregon. Her eyes still weary from lack of sleep, Emily squinted.
“I’ll be okay, Mom.” Knowing how much her mother fretted, she tried to sound reassuring. She attempted to change the subject. “Is Dad already at work?”
“Yes, he left an hour ago.” Her mother paced, then noticing a piece of masking tape from one of the boxes dangling on the leg of her blue jeans, she yanked it off and threw it away. She pushed her fingers though her uncombed blonde hair. “Maybe you should reconsider driving. Do you remember the route? What if the Caddy breaks down again?”
“Thanks, but you showed me the way already. The car will be fine.” Emily hoped. She skirted the packing boxes cluttering the white tile floor. “Unless you want me to stay home and help you unpack some more.” Even though she wanted to get her first day over at school, she wouldn’t have minded delaying the inevitable if it relieved some of her mother’s anxiety.
It seemed since they moved, Emily had unloaded thousands of boxes already. Except for the kitchen, where she and her mother had concentrated their efforts, the house was still in turmoil. Because she didn’t like things so disorderly, Emily worked to get her bedroom in order, too. But all the walls remained bare of pictures and would probably stay that way for another week. The house wouldn’t seem like home until everything was unpacked and put in its place. It would take a lot longer to feel like home unless she made some new friends here.
Emily reached into the fridge for the milk jug.
Her mother paused from ripping open another box, finally taking a breather to answer her. “No, honey, school’s more important. We’ll get this all put away before long.” Her mother reached over and poked a curl behind Emily’s ear. “You didn’t like being a brunette?”
“No. It didn’t look like me.”
Her mother nodded. “I’m so sorry we got here right before school started. Who’d have ever thought Florida schools would start in the midsummer heat?”
“No problem. At least they’re air conditioned.” Unlike the cars her family brought from Oregon. Her dad swore he’d get her mother and him new ones as soon as he could afford to. Talk about a fast way to ruin a happy mood, stick a family in a humid, metal steam bath, and see tempers flare.
Her mother’s brow pinched together, and she focused on the Caddy again. “I just worry about that old car breaking down. The transmission’s been acting up a bit. The starter has been, too.”
“It’ll be okay, Mom. Have you got the stress stone reliever I gave you for Christmas?”
Her mother pulled the shiny, speckled stone out of her jeans pocket and began to stroke it. “Guess I’m worrying too much again.”
Emily kissed her mother’s cheek. “Just rub the stone to make the problems go away.”
Her mother’s eyes focused on Emily’s throat, and she reached out to touch it. “Emily, what’s—”
“Got to run! Don’t want to be late! See ya!” Her heart pumping, Emily dashed out of the kitchen. She hurried outside into the soupy Florida heat, hoping when she became a mom she wouldn’t be such a worrywart with her own kids. But no way was she going to concern her mother about the ghost in her bedroom. She already had way too much to agonize about.
Taking a deep breath, Emily slid into the seat of the old Cadillac. The odor of her grandfather’s pipe tobacco smelled stale, made worse by the humidity, and already the car was twenty degrees hotter than the outside air. She wished she could have a brand new car like some of the other kids she knew back home, but instead she had her grandparents’ old hand-me-down. Still, it was better than riding the bus.
She twisted the key in the ignition. Nothing but a little grinding sound. Then absolute dead silence. When the car’s engine didn’t turn over, her skin prickled with exasperation. She shoved the door open and the hinges groaned like the joints had painful arthritis. Jumping out of the car, she slammed the door shut, then dashed back into the house. Hope sprang anew her mother would take her to school.
“Mom, the car’s not running!”
Startled, her mother gave a little scream, her hand to her breast. “I’ll take care of it, dear. Hurry, run, before you miss the bus.”
Emily considered begging her to take her, but the harried expression on her mother’s face made her change her mind. And Emily’s spirit sank into a pit of quicksand. Ugh. Her first day at school, and she had to ride the dreaded yellow monster.
Bolting out of the house and down the street, she grimaced when six kids piled onto the bus. By the time she reached the monstrosity, the driver had already shut the door. Great start to the new school year and a new school.
She banged on the door, and the driver opened it. When she ran up the steps, he gave her a sour look like he’d been sucking on sour pickles all morning.
“Need to get here earlier next time,” he grumbled. He wore a several-day growth of black stubble, and his rumpled clothes looked like he had slept in them for weeks. Where had the school dredged him up? A prison work-release program?
“All right, sorry,” she said cheerfully. Treat people with kindness; the best way to change a person’s sour mood. Sometimes, it worked.
He grunted and gave her a sinister look, his black bushy brows furrowing, his colorless eyes narrowed.
Okay, sometimes, it didn’t work.
Because it was the last stop on the bus route, two kids filled every seat already, except for three near the back. Boys sat in these, one to a seat, with their legs stretched full length across the cracked and sagging vinyl, just daring her to sit on their claimed territory.
The bus lurched forward. Her heart quickened, and she grabbed a seatback to keep from falling.
She considered each of the three boys who glowered at her, challenging her. Which one would she take on this morning? She hated to break her New Year’s resolution again, though since January she already broke it at least seventy times. She really planned on limiting the use of her abilities. But then again, something always seemed to happen, making her feel totally justified. Like now.
She turned her attention to the first of the boys as the bus bumped down the road. His hair shone just as red as hers; not washed down with blonde or darkened with brown, but pure, unadulterated red. Surely, he would have sympathy for another redhead. Not.
Next, she considered the short kid with bleached blonde, spiked hair adding an inch to his height. Why did boys with stunted growth feel the need to bully?
The last guy’s black hair curled behind his ears, and his eyes looked like two pieces of coal. She swore a tinge of red glowed in them.
She glanced at the redhead again. Since he sat closer, he would do. “Could I sit here, please?”
Having to deal with kids like him at her old school, she knew politeness wouldn’t move him. But, she had to at least make the attempt.
“Sit somewhere else.” His olive-colored eyes spearing her, he curled his lip with the words, emphasizing the need to show who was boss.
All right. She tried to be nice.
She shoved his feet from the seat and sat down next to him. His eyes heated. They couldn’t have been any narrower without being shut. His freckles expanded into a rush of angry red skin. Knowing full well his revenge would follow, she tensed and readied herself.
His hand flew to her shoulder, but before he could shove her from the seat, her gaze bored into his. Immediately, he retracted his hand as if he’d been scalded by steam rising from the spout of a teakettle. Served him right.
The blond-haired bully behind him hit his shoulder. “What’s up? Got a new girlfriend?”
“Shut up, Daniel,” he growled.
“You bangin’ her, Red?” the raven-haired boy taunted.
“Shove it, Rocky.”
Emily’s stomach unclenched. Her breathing normalized, but she knew the war had only just begun.
Thirty minutes later, the bus screeched to a halt in front of the pale peach, brick high school surrounded by southern pines. Emily had envisioned Florida would be filled with palm trees, orange groves, and white sand beaches, but pine trees?
The pine aroma wafted in the hot breeze, making her homesick for Oregon. Even the whooshing sound the wind made when it stirred the branches reminded her of home. But the heat and humidity clung to her skin, a constant reminder that she was far from Oregon.
When they got off the bus, Red and his buddies stuck near her. Their shared looks of hostility and the way they crowded her warned her they’d continue to be trouble. She didn’t need to read his mind to know Red fully intended to get back at her.
Yet, something caught her attention, something from a distance that her brain didn’t have time to assimilate, but even so, poltergeist flashed across her subconscious. In the same instant, Red punched his balled fist into her shoulder, his school ring adding to the impact. A sharp pain shot through her arm.
Wrinkling her forehead in concentration, she quirked a brow and took control of his mind.
Red twirled like a ballerina in place, slowly at first, then picking up his speed despite the clunky sneakers he wore.
Students stopped to watch and muffled laughter filled the hall.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” Daniel asked, but when Red continued to make a fool of himself, his friends backed away and shook their heads.
Emily turned off her charm and headed down one of the long corridors. She hated to begin school like this. If only she could have made friends easily this time.
Emily found her classroom and took a seat in the back. Whiteboards, desks, the smell of paper and cleaner…same as her old school. But the faces were different. No one said a word to her. When the teacher walked into class, he stroked a Donald Duck tie, then leaned his backside against his desk. “I’m Mr. Smith. You’ll find your names on the desks already, if you’ll go ahead and find your seat.”
Anyone who wears cartoon ties can’t be all bad. She took her seat next to an empty chair. On the other side sat…Red. How did she ever get so lucky? He eyed her with contempt. She ignored him and faced the front.
Mr. Smith ran his finger down the seating chart. “Mr. Michael Shipley isn’t here?”
She assumed he meant the kid whose vacant seat was located next to hers.
The teacher combed his fingers through sandy-colored hair. His face was bronzed from the sun, and she wondered if he served as a lifeguard over summer vacation. She definitely wouldn’t have minded if he’d rescued her.
“We’ll start by going around the room, giving your names and where you’re from originally,” Mr. Smith said.
When introductions made it halfway around the room, a six-foot tall dream of a guy walked in. His sable hair and eyes reminded Emily of semi-sweet, dark chocolate, and his skin was as golden as the teacher’s. When she caught his eye, she smiled. He quickly mirrored her expression and sat in the vacant seat beside her.
Things were definitely looking up.
“Mr. Michael Shipley, I presume,” the teacher said.
“Yes, sir. Sorry I’m late. I had to take my grandmother to the hospital.”
Since Emily had just lost her grandmother—the only grandparent she’d had left—she hoped for Michael’s sake his own wasn’t experiencing anything life threatening.
“Nothing serious, I hope,” Mr. Smith said, with genuine compassion.
Emily’s thoughts shifted to her own grandmother, dying in the hospital, her eyes gray, her skin sallow, her skin stretched across bones. For two months, the lung cancer had invaded her organs, her tissues, her cells, and she’d wasted away until she died. Emily couldn’t shake loose of the image until Michael spoke again.
“She fell off a boat.”
Emily closed her gaping mouth. She tried to read his mind while the teacher resumed introductions, but she couldn’t scan Michael’s thoughts. Her stomach churned, and she felt as though she was suddenly brain impaired.
“Miss Emily Rundle?”
She turned her head in the teacher’s direction, startled when she realized she’d been studying Michael all this time, totally oblivious to anyone else in the room. “Emily Rundle from Beaverton, Oregon.”
“Yankee,” Red sneered.
Michael offered her another smile. “Michael Shipley from Sacramento, California.”
He was a West Coaster, too. And good looking. She was dying to know what happened to his grandmother, though. Totally frustrated she couldn’t see his thoughts, her brows drew together.
Another girl gave her name, and Emily willed the teacher to question Michael about his grandmother.
Mr. Smith obliged. “About your grandmother, Michael, what happened exactly?”
Michael’s tanned face turned as white as the sandy beaches in Panama City, Florida. “Maybe I could tell you after class, sir.”
Then he glanced at Emily, and she felt like he knew what she had done. Her heart took a dive, and she quickly looked away. No one knew what she was capable of unless she told someone.
Was this the danger the ghost warned her of?
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To ghost lovers everywhere. May you only encounter the kindly ones!
Emily Rundle stared at herself in the mirror, but she didn’t look like herself, not with the brunette coloring she’d used. Glad she tested out a temporary hair color, she washed it all out of her hair with peach shampoo, blew it dry, and sighed. Didn’t matter that she was always teased about her red hair. She wanted to at least feel normal when she looked in the mirror at herself, since nothing else about her was–normal.
She walked into her bedroom and considered the bed, wondering if tonight, she’d finally be able to sleep the whole night through.
She was sure she wouldn’t have long to wait before she knew the answer to her question.
Emily stirred in bed, her mind half awake. It was only a dream, she told herself. Or a very real nightmare.
When a hand touched her throat, leaving an icy imprint of frostbite burning the skin, Emily’s eyes popped open, her heart pumping hard.
Not again. A new home, a new beginning. Why couldn’t they leave her alone?
She lay very still, barely breathing, waiting for the unseen entity to appear, to speak again. The room was cold, but she had assumed it was because her hot-natured dad had turned the air conditioner on high again on the sweltering, August night. Her whole body chilled and she buried herself deeper under her pink satin comforter.
The skin on her throat still burned from the freezing fingers that had touched her, the first time the thing had been so bold. But it didn’t seem to want to harm her.
“Hello?” Emily whispered. “What…what do you want?”
She flipped on her lamp switch. Nothing. Then the linen curtains hanging closed rippled as if the muggy Florida breeze was blowing in from the north through an open window. The way her skin crawled with chill bumps and her breath came out in frosty puffs, Emily knew it was still in the room with her.
“I can help you.” At least she hoped she could. Her dealings with ghosts didn’t always work out the way she planned. “What do you want?”
Emily’s closet door creaked open, the hair on her arms stood on end, and she shifted her attention to the walk-in closet.
“I’ve helped…uhm, people like you before,” Emily said. She ran her fingers through her tangled hair, wishing the restless spirit would leave her in peace so she could sleep just one night.