Suddenly, the temperature dropped.
The box that Marco was carrying was labeled “fragile,” and until he took that final step up onto the porch, his foremost fear had been tripping and dropping that box.
But then he saw her standing at the doorway of his new house.
All the research that they’d done—that mostly Ronnie had done—flashed through his mind in bits and fragments.
It won’t start up on the first day, first week, maybe even the first month…if you’re lucky.
…footsteps at night.
We woke up and found the living room, the kitchen, like a tornado had gone through.
The window was broken…glass everywhere.
He was lying on the floor. The doctors said it was a heart attack, but…
The woman didn’t do anything. She just stood there. But Marco began to tremble. He began to tremble when he heard Ronnie’s voice behind him. He couldn’t make out the words. He felt the vibrations of Ronnie’s footsteps.
Run, he wanted to say. Ronnie, run!
Ronnie stopped next to him. “Waiting for me to carry you over the threshold, or wh—?” He must have seen her too now.
She looked solid. She looked like a person. Not the way that kid had described her.
One night, I woke up and saw my brother standing at the window. He was staring down at the yard. He wouldn’t answer when I asked him what he was looking at. I went over to see. It was this old lady, all gray. She was standing out there in the rain, looking at our house. Then she looked up, at us, and she pointed to the house. We jumped away from the window so she couldn’t see us. We heard a crash downstairs, and we started screaming. Our mom came in, then we went downstairs. We found our dad in the living room. He was just lying on the ground. The door was wide open and the rain was flying in and it made him all wet. We took him to the hospital, to the emergency room. The doctors said he was lucky we found him so soon. He would recover. They said he had a heart attack, but we were afraid of the day they would release him, because we’d have to go back. We were afraid she’d hurt him again.
They had talked to two of the four families that had moved in over the past year and decided to move back out. They had read up on the elderly woman who had died in her sleep right in the house. But after all of that, Marco had not been afraid. Not of a ghost. He was afraid of all the normal everyday earthly things that might be wrong with their first house.
Termite infestation. Structural damage to the foundation. Rotting pipes. Rotting wood.
She can’t come out here, Marco thought. She’s linked to the house. She can’t come out here.
When Ronnie took a step forward, Marco gasped.
“Hello?” Ronnie said, setting down the box he was holding.
The woman’s gaze stayed on Marco. “Afraid of a little old lady, huh?” she said. “Typical.”
Ronnie must have known who he was looking at, but he still extended his hand. “I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure, ma’am. I’m Ronnie. And this is my husband, Marco. We’re moving in here today.”
“You gave me your names,” the woman said, her gaze still on Marco. “Now I have power over you.”
The woman suddenly burst into laughter. She waved her hand and said, “I’m just joking.”
If she’d meant to put Marco at ease, she had failed. Only when she released him from her gaze and glanced over to Ronnie did Marco feel some small relief.
“You’d better take that box from him, dear,” she said to Ronnie. “He looks like he’s about to faint away.”
“Can you blame him?” Ronnie said, lowering his hand. “Given who you are?”
“Oh? Who am I?”
“You’re the ghost who’s haunting our new house.”
She stepped forward onto the porch, toward Ronnie. Marco felt his heart quicken.
“Indeed, I am,” she said. She clasped her hands in front of her, and she bowed her head to them. “Alison Weirdly, at your service.”
The three of them stood still for a moment.
“Marco?” Ronnie turned around and stepped toward Marco, all of which Marco only saw through his peripheral vision. He wasn’t about to let Alison Weirdly out of his sight.
He felt Ronnie take the box from him.
“I’d like to help you out, boys,” Alison said, “but I can’t touch anything.” Alison spread out her arms. “I can, however, get out of your way.”
Ronnie turned around just in time to see Alison fade, like someone was turning the opacity down on her, and then she wisped away.
Marco huffed out a breath. He put a hand on the porch railing, noting that the hand was still shaky. He finally looked over at Ronnie.
Ronnie smiled and gave a small shrug. “She seems nice.”
“She’s real,” Marco whispered.
They’d only moved a few things in, but they decided to take a break outside. Marco wouldn’t even allow Ronnie to go on in and get them a couple of cold drinks. He kept glancing at the open door.
“You weren’t scared,” Marco asked.
“I was. A little, but…none of the other people we talked to ever mentioned her speaking to them. I wonder how she’s generating sound without a physical body.”
The comment coaxed an honest smile from Marco. Ronnie seemed utterly unaware of how cute he was when he was thinking scientifically.
“You know,” Marco said, “I kind of rolled my eyes when Rachel said she wanted to sage the place, but now…”
“You want to let her do it?”
“Couldn’t hurt, right?”
“Call her. See if she’s free tonight. And let’s move the rest of the stuff in while it’s daylight.”
Marco dropped his smile. “But what if she comes back when we’re in the house?”
“We try talking to her.”
It didn’t take much convincing from Ronnie. The more Marco looked over at the house, the more he remembered how he’d felt when they’d first toured it. He hadn’t felt anything then. No bad feeling. No cold spots. No shadows that fell strangely. Even the creaking of the floorboards sounded more cute than eerie.
It hadn’t fit with the stories they’d learned when they looked into the place.
By sunset, they’d finished unloading the first of what would be two trucks. The only furniture they’d had delivered so far was the new stuff, their bed and their fridge. They were enjoying some iced tea on the porch, sitting on a couple of folding chairs. Suddenly, the temperature dropped.
“Gentlemen? May I speak to you for a few minutes?”
Marco shivered and felt a lurching in his gut.
Her voice came from behind them, from inside the house.
“One of our friends is coming over,” Marco said, without turning to the front door. His voice sounded too loud to him. “To burn some sage in the house, to cleanse it of bad spirits.”
“It won’t have any effect on me, dear.”
Ronnie turned his head back and asked, “Sage doesn’t work?”
“I’m not a bad spirit.”
She stepped into view. She was solid now, but Marco noticed that her footsteps didn’t make any sound on the creaky wooden boards of the porch.
“This house doesn’t need to be cleansed of me,” she said. “I can go any time I want to. I’ve chosen to stay.”
Ronnie leaned forward. “Why?”
“Until…until I know the house that took care of me is taken care of. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since my…ever since the house was sold. But everyone kept leaving. They didn’t understand.”
“There was a couple with a baby,” Marco said. “They didn’t make it three days. They left in the middle of the night.”
Her brow crinkled a bit. “Yes, I remember.”
“You weren’t trying to drive them off?” Ronnie asked. “Or the others? Until you found the right kind of people to live in your house?”
Alison frowned, and her whole form faded and flickered. “No.” Then her frown faded and her form went opaque again. “And it’s not my house anymore.”
Maybe it was that he was tired and his muscles were sore. Maybe that lurch in his gut was all that Marco’s body had the energy to do right then. But he found himself listening. Cautiously listening, as Alison spoke.
With the previous owners, she had hidden herself. She was afraid that they would be afraid. And she admitted that she was afraid they would try to find some way to get rid of her, hire a ghost-hunter or get a priest to come and cast her out, or a witch to cleanse the house. Someone had burned sage in the house before. That’s how she knew it wouldn’t affect her.
“I didn’t want to be forced out the world the way I was forced out of my body,” she said.
She didn’t quite remember how she died. It wasn’t peacefully in her sleep though, as the prevailing reports had it. She didn’t think she was attacked. Not by anyone else. She thought she might have been attacked from within, despite all the care she had tried to take with her health.
“I suppose that’s the way when you’re my age—or the age I was when I died,” she said. “A sudden attack of…something or other.”
She’d hired a caretaker, so she’d been found quickly.
She claimed that she was only sticking around to make sure the house was in good hands before she leaves, to make sure the new residents were settled in. But she couldn’t trying to help when something happened. The only thing she could do was show herself, like she did to those two boys whose father had a heart attack. She was just trying to help them, but she kept being misunderstood.
“With respect, Alison, but it seems like it was much more than a misunderstanding that drove all those people out of the house,” Ronnie said.
“What if we asked you to leave?” Marco said. He gulped. “Would you leave?”
Alison crossed her arms and tilted her head to the side. “I would like to, honey, but I just have a feeling—a strong feeling—that I need to stick around until you two have settled in.”
“How long will that take?” Ronnie asked.
She didn’t know. She offered to stay invisible until the time came. But that made Marco more uneasy.
“I think I’d like to keep you where I can see you,” he said.
And so, the three residents—two living and one deceased—set down the rules of how they would share the house.
A month went by, and Marco began to feel less uneasy about Alison’s presence. For her part, she remained visible to them, and announced herself when she was entering rooms, since they couldn’t hear her. But they’d always be able to tell because it got colder when she was present. She never went up to the second floor. Ronnie was climbing the stairs one day while talking to her, and she just stopped at the foot of the stairs, not following him. Ronnie seemed to think that remaining on the first floor was her way of respecting their privacy. He was less bothered by it from the outset. Maybe because he grew up in a house full of people, not just immediate family, but extended family coming to live with them for years on end.
Ronnie was going into the lab on Saturdays to finish up some experiments for some grant his boss wanted to get. So Marco was the one who ended up spending more time with Alison. He got to know her better. And most of the time, it was easy for him to forget that she was a ghost. She would sit—float actually, she said—on the couch and watch all his “dumb” shows with him that Ronnie barely tolerated. She would watch him paint at home in the yard, and ask him about his day job designing brand art for his agency’s client companies. She would stand as if she were leaning against the doorframe of the kitchen, watching Marco prepare dinner.
“Got any spectacular secret recipes to share from beyond the grave?” he asked one night.
She frowned and flickered. “Why because I look like your grandma?”
Marco was tempted to throw a potato through her. “No, because Ronnie’s been looking into you, and he told me you were a chef at a pretty nice restaurant until you retired. We would have gone there and brought back food for you to judge, but the place closed down.”
“Why is Ronnie looking into me?”
Marco froze. He glanced at her. She was peering at him. “Well…he didn’t want me to tell you, to get your hopes up. But maybe you have some unfinished business that you just can’t remember. If we can figure it out and help you, then…then—“
“You’d be rid of me at last.”
Marco sighed. “Alison, it’s not that we don’t…you’re great. And if this was a visit, you staying with us for a few days, or just coming over for dinner once a month…but we thought we’d be able to have people over this summer without having to hand out blankets.”
They had postponed their housewarming until a time when their house would actually be warm.
“We thought we’d have the house to ourselves,” Marco said.
“I understand. And I’m sorry, but it’s not time yet.”
“She wasn’t mad?” Ronnie asked that night. They upstairs, getting ready for bed.
Marco shook his head. “Not mad. Not sad. If she was pretending not to be, then she fooled me. She just had that polite ‘I’m sorry’ smile on her face. Like how that one tech support guy had when I took my old laptop to the store, and he couldn’t help me resurrect it.”
“I don’t know if I should be worried or proud that you weren’t creeped out by the polite ‘I’m sorry’ smile.”
Marco took off his socks and tossed them aside. He wouldn’t need them upstairs, not in the middle of summer. “Are you mad…that I told her?”
Ronnie shook his head, but it didn’t seem to be in answer to Marco’s question. “You know, I found out some stuff,” he said. “I don’t know if we should tell her yet.”
He had spoken to one of their neighbors. One of neighbors who seemed nice but a tad bit nosy, and maybe best kept at arm’s length. The guy was all too willing to gossip to Ronnie about “Mrs. Weirdly,” as he called her, even though Alison had never married. He told Ronnie all kinds of unnecessary information wrapped around some interesting and useful facts. He explained how she never went up to the second floor in the last few years of her life, because she wasn’t able to climb the stairs, and didn’t want to build a whole apparatus like some people did. He said he was there when Alison’s body was found. He was just giving his morning greetings to the caretaker, when a few minutes later, he heard her scream. He went in to check on her.
They both saw Alison slumped over to her right in a chair in the living room. It looked like she had coughed up some blood and maybe bile. There was a dark tacky liquid dribbling from her mouth, and clumps of the same stuff on the floor beside her chair, as if she’d thrown it up. The neighbor described the symptoms that Alison complained of in the weeks before she died. Shortness of breath, feeling of fatigue, feeling hungry because her stomach growled, but having no appetite, because the thought of food made her feel nauseated. And she looked pale, the neighbor said. So pale.
Marco frowned. “She…was it the flu?”
“There’s more.” Ronnie grabbed his phone. It looked like he was typing in a reminder to himself. “I need to find that caretaker so I can confirm.”
“Ron…is it bad?”
Alison said she couldn’t remember her death. Maybe she was blocking out some terrible memory.
“I don’t know,” Ronnie said. “It’s…unusual. This would be a good time for one of us to know someone who’s in medicine.” Ronnie shook his head. “He said he remembers smelling roses, roses that were a few days old. But there were no roses anywhere he could see.”
Ronnie nodded. “Roses. And fried eggs.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. But maybe Alison does. You know what, we’ll tell her tomorrow. See if it jogs her memory.”
When Marco started to wake the next morning, he clutched his chest. He was trying to breathe in, but his lungs felt…sluggish. His breath caught. He snapped into full wakefulness. A haze of smoke surrounded the bed. He blinked and rubbed his eyes. When he looked again, the smoke was gone. He was coughing, dragging in breaths. He didn’t smell smoke. But he turned to wake Ronnie up. Ronnie woke, gasping and short of breath just like Marco. The smoke alarm was silent.
They stumbled out of bed and checked the upstairs guest room, the bathroom, finding nothing disturbed. They went downstairs. Their breathing eased by the time they reached the foot of the steps.
Without a word, they both checked the downstairs. None of the smoke or carbon monoxide detectors were going off. They would have heard from upstairs, but they tested each of the detectors anyway.
“I don’t smell smoke,” Marco said, when they reconvened in the kitchen.
“Where’s Alison?” Ronnie asked.
Marco suddenly noticed how warm it was downstairs.
They searched and called out to Alison. She didn’t answer. And she was nowhere to be found. They even searched the upstairs. They wondered if she had decided that they had settled in, and she’d left. Maybe it was a coincidence. Or maybe she had somehow overheard them. If she’d come upstairs, they would have felt her. Or maybe not. Maybe the cold was something she could control, the only thing, her only way of letting them know she was present.
“We can speculate all day and night,” Ronnie said, as they both left for work. “But we may never know. If she’s gone for good, we may never know.”
Marco glanced over to the living room as they left. “If she was going for good, she would have let us know. Unless she wasn’t able to.”
A week later, Marco was making dinner, listening to his speakers playing a track on repeat, two hours of rainfall. They were just coming out of a heatwave, and he found the sounds of his favorite season to be soothing.
He opened the fridge to grab an orange bell pepper. When he closed it, he noticed that the welcome blast of cold air did not vanish.
He turned around and there she was.
She stood, clasping her hands in front of her.
“Where have you been? We—we thought…”
Alison glanced down, but didn’t answer.
“Listen, don’t disappear again, okay? If you can help it. Ronnie will be home any minute—well, in thirty minutes, probably. But we’ve been—mostly he’s been doing research.” Marco shook his head. “You know this already. I forgot I told you. But he’s found out things, things you should know, about how you died and…we want to tell you everything. He needs to ask you some questions. Maybe together we can figure it all out.”
Marco realized he was gesturing wildly with a bell pepper in his hand. He turned to his right to set it on the island countertop. He caught movement in the hallway beyond the kitchen door. Something was there. A form, translucent, growing opaque.
Her eyes widened. She threw out her arm and cried, “Stop!”
Marco spun around. The other Alison, the one he’d seen first, was standing behind with a butcher knife raised above his head. Her face was twitching and her arm was wobbling a little, as if she were resisting something.
She dropped the knife, and burst into smoke. The knife didn’t clatter to the ground. It faded away. And the smoke surged toward the Alison that was standing in the hallway. Marco watched it pass through her. She doubled over and winced.
“That’s how she did it,” she muttered. “That’s how she killed me. Stabbed me right in the neck. With a knife that doesn’t exist.”
“Alison?” Marco peered at her. “Which you is you?”
Before she could answer, they heard a thud. And the front door closing.
Marco’s eyes went wide. “Ronnie.” He rushed out to the living room.
Ronnie was sitting on the sofa, with his elbows propped on his knees, and his head in his hands. He looked up, and saw Marco. “Oh, sorry, I just…it just hit me. What a day.”
Marco knelt before him. Ronnie groaned. Marco put a hand to his forehead. “You’ve got a fever.”
Ronnie answered with a noncommittal groan. He kicked off his shoes, swung his legs up and lay down on his back. He swiped a pillow and tried to balance it over his eyes. It fell off. “Stay back. Don’t want to get you sick. I just need…few hours.”
Marco rose and backed away. He turned and saw Alison coming into the living room. He held up a hand to stop her from coming closer. He stepped toward her, motioned for her to go back into the hallway. He stood so he could keep an eye on Ronnie.
“If it’s you, Alison, and not that smoky thing, where have you been?”
Alison shook her head. “I can’t remember. Marco, I feel like there’s something I’m missing. It didn’t bother me before, for some reason. There are gaps in my memory. And the biggest one has something to do with my death.” She glanced over at Ronnie. “He’ll want to know what almost happened to you. And I want to know what you two have found out. Let’s watch over him until he wakes up. And you tell me everything you know.”
“What if—if the other Alison comes back?”
“That wasn’t another me,” Alison said. “I’m sure it’s the thing that killed me.”
The returned to the living room. They kept their voices low at first. But Ronnie seemed to have conked out.
Marco told her what Ronnie had discovered so far, by looking up information about the house that was publicly available, talking to that neighbor, looking up illnesses and conditions that matched the symptoms Alison had before she died, drafting questions to ask Alison about what she remembered.
“Does any of that sound familiar to you?” Marco asked.
Alison, standing as far from both of them as she could, tipped her head from side to side. “Yes…and no. I remember being sick, feeling crummy. But I don’t remember coughing up that stuff. I certainly don’t remember smelling rotting roses, and fried eggs?”
“Ronnie thinks that was the only way your neighbor knew to describe sulfur.”
“Sulfur? That doesn’t sound good.”
“At first, he thought it was a virus, or bacteria. Or some other microscopic thing.” Marco huffed out a breath and squeezed his eyes shut. But then he quickly opened them again when he realized he had to keep his eyes on his sleeping husband. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Ronnie’s the scientist. He’s the one who knows how to be systematic and organized, and do research.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. Where does he keep this research? On his computer?”
Marco glanced over at the backpack by the front door. “Actually, he’s got a notebook and a folder in there where he’s been writing down notes. He says that writing things down helps him process information, figure out what’s most important.”
Marco fetched the backpack. He sat on the floor, his back against the sofa. He pulled out the notebook and flipped past everything that Ronnie had already told him about, and everything he’d already shared with Alison.
“Okay, here we go,” he said. He began to read out to Alison what Ronnie had written in his notes. “Looks like he found out what it was.”
Ronnie had two columns on the last few pages he’d written on. One column was marked “science,” and the other one was marked “occult.” He started putting information from both columns together to find out what Alison had.
“He thought it might also be a parasite. He found out about something called a…” Marco paused and looked up at Alison. “…a ‘vampire fluke.’”
Alison’s brows drew down. “Go on.”
Marco glanced back down at the notes and read what Ronnie had written verbatim. “It wasn’t in official medical books. Some people thought it was just superstition being superficially combined with modern trends of searching for scientific and medical explanations for the mystical and the supernatural.”
“Vampire fluke. So it was feeding on my blood, like a leech, but from the inside?”
Marco shook his head. “It’s all in the ‘occult’ column. This vampire fluke doesn’t feed on blood, but siphons energy, vitality, a person’s life force. And unlike human vampires, who are undead, this fluke is a living thing. It attaches to the trachea. That’s why you had shortness of breath. He says that there’s no scientific evidence of this fluke existing. But the legends he was able to track down say that it can only exist naturally within certain conditions. In only one country and only one region of that country. If it’s removed, it would have to be stored very carefully, or it dies.”
“That means someone infected me on purpose,” Alison said. “I think I may know who.” She frowned, and her formed flickered.
“Alison, I’m so sorry.”
Alison turned opaque again. “Is there more?”
Marco nodded. “He couldn’t find any information about how to get rid of this thing. He couldn’t figure out its life cycle, how it makes more of itself. That was one of the questions he wanted to ask you. He guessed that it may have come out when it felt you dying. But the other possibility is that you were actively trying to expel it. No one found any tools around you when they found you. At least, not any physical ones.”
He looked up and found Alison staring at the ground with her arms crossed. “It didn’t reproduce. It didn’t move on to another host.” She glanced up at him. “Marco, it died too. It died when I died. And if I become a ghost…”
“The smoke? The other you? But how, how does a floppy little parasite become all that?”
“So impressive, everything he found out,” Alison said. “Ronnie was only missing one piece of the puzzle.”
Marco looked down at the notes, not seeing any mention of what had just occurred to him. “It has intelligence.”
“This vampire fluke wasn’t just draining my life energy,” Alison said, uncrossing her arms and stepping toward Marco. “It was siphoning off my memories, so each time new people moved in, I didn’t remember what happened the last time. I still don’t.”
“All the previous owners, they were attacked by this thing. But they got it mixed up with you. Wait, I remember now, one girl who talked about trying to summon you with a spirit board. She said the room started to fill with smoke, and then you appeared and you screamed at them to stop.” Marco frowned. “That’s weird. Ronnie’s the one who’s forgetful. That’s why his notes are so good.”
“Maybe it’s starting to steal your memories too,” Alison said.
Mark felt a chill down his spine. “It doesn’t want us to know about it. It’s got to be hiding, Alison. You…you expelled it from yourself.” Marco stared at her. “It’s hiding from you.”
Ronnie coughed. He gasped in a breath. Marco scrambled to stand. Ronnie opened his eyes and threw his head back. His hands went to his throat. Smoke started spilling from the corners of his mouth.
“No!” Marco cried. “No! Ronnie…”
The smoke, the parasite, the ghost of a vampire fluke. It must have streamed right through Alison and right into Ronnie just as he walked over the threshold of the front door.
Marco batted at the smoke coming from Ronnie’s mouth. “This whole time we’ve just been sitting here, he’s been infected with…” His hands were shaking. All his muscles were shaking. But he had to do something. “I…Ronnie I’ll drag you outside, off the property, okay?” And then he would drive Ronnie to the hospital. Or maybe he would try CPR.
Ronnie went limp.
Marco started to shiver. His teeth began to chatter. He huffed out a breath, and he saw it cloud before his face.
“Would you step back, dear?” Alison said, quietly, gently.
Marco turned to her. She was looking down at Ronnie with a soft smile. Then her gaze shifted to the smoke that was dribbling out of his parted mouth. And her expression went cold.
“You stupid thing,” she said. “You should have let him be. You just showed me how to kill you.”
She knelt down beside Ronnie’s head. She brought her face close to his. And she took a deep, deep breath.
The trickle of smoke rose. She opened her mouth and made an “o” shape. The trail of smoke shivered. The thing, the parasite, was resisting. Alison didn’t exhale. She only inhaled again and again. And that stream of smoke poured into her mouth and her nose.
Marco put the palm of his hand on Ronnie’s chest. It wasn’t rising.
Some of the smoke tried to reach toward Marco. He drew back. Alison took a final heaving breath. The smoke rushed out of Ronnie’s mouth and his nostrils. Alison captured all of it.
She stood up. Her hands were balled into fists.
Marco kept his hand on Ronnie’s chest and felt his forehead with the other. The heat of fever was gone, but… “Alison, he’s still not breathing.”
He glanced up at her. Alison was looking down, not at Ronnie, but just down. Her brows were furrowed as if she were struggling. Her eyes began to glow, red-orange. She began to fade. She grew opaque. She faded. And she grew opaque. The glow in her eyes faded. But she did not. She remained opaque.
The woman standing before him was Alison. But he only knew that because of her clothes, and because she had the same eyes.
Her face was smooth. Her hair was long and flaxen.
“Alison, you’re so young,” Marco whispered.
She knelt down again. “This energy is not mine to keep,” she said. She put one hand on her throat and the other on Ronnie’s. “I’ve spent my youth already. It doesn’t belong to me any more than it belonged to the vampire.”
Marco couldn’t see anything passing between Alison and Ronnie. He only saw Alison’s flaxen hair turn gray, with glints of silver. He only saw her smooth face begin to droop and rumple until it became the familiar face he knew. He only felt his husband’s chest begin to rise and fall with steady breaths.
Alison drew back her hand.
Ronnie opened his eyes. He took an easy breath. “Marco…”
Ronnie sat up. “Alison! She’s in…” He spotted Alison beside him. “…danger.”
“We found your research,” Alison said. She smiled and winked at him. “It came in handy.”
Ronnie’s hand went to his throat. He grimaced as he rubbed it. “Feels like…I’ve been smoking.” His face went slack and his eyes shifted from side to side, and Marco could tell that he was putting two and two together again, like he always did.
“It’s weakened, but it’s latched on to me,” Alison said. “I can’t bring myself to extinguish it. Not for its sake, but mine. I know we’re both ghosts, but it would feel too much like I’m killing in.”
“How much time do we have to do…whatever we’re going to do next?” Marco asked.
Alison beamed at him. “Time. Yes, it’s time, dear. For me to leave. I think it’s clear to everyone here that this is why I stayed. Not just to see that the house was in good hands, but to make sure that I left it in good condition, cleaned it up for the next residents.”
Marco glanced up, as if he were expecting a beam of light to shine down on Alison. “Wait, what will happen to your spirit or your soul, if that thing is still latched on to you when you pass on?”
“I am a little nervous about that,” Alison said. “But none of us know what’s beyond the world of the living. It’s a place I haven’t seen. A place where there may be possibilities I haven’t fathomed.”
“Like someone who knows how to safely remove a ghost parasite from a ghost person?” Ronnie asked.
“Maybe we should do more research,” Marco said. “Just to be on the safe side.”
Alison smirked at him. “You couldn’t wait for me to leave. Now you want me to stay? Parasite and all?”
Ronnie shifted to a seated position. He tried to rise and fell back. Marco helped him stand.
“This is goodbye,” Alison said.
Ronnie reached out his hand. “Goodbye, Alison. Thanks for saving me.”
Alison returned the gesture this time. Her spectral hand passed through his.
“It’s been weird knowing you, Alison Weirdly,” Marco said with a sigh.
Alison puckered her mouth. “I suppose one of you had to say it.”
“It’s been a pleasure too.” He smiled. “I hope you have a great time in the afterlife.”
Alison laughed. “Take care of my—take care of your house.”
She waved to them as she faded away, going more and more translucent.
Suddenly, the temperature rose. Marco gazed at the spot where Alison had been standing. A bittersweet smile rose to his lips.
Copyright © 2022 Nila L. Patel