It was a perfectly generic house. Oldish. But not old. Fading and peeling a bit. But not decrepit. Neither mansion nor shack. Neither architectural monument nor eyesore. Just another house plunked somewhere between “needs TLC” and “cute starter home” as real estate agents measure these things.
No great tragedy had ever darkened its aura. Neither bodies nor mysteries were buried in its perfectly ordinary though slightly damp basement. In fact, nothing bad had ever happened in it other than the ordinary bumps, scrapes, petty spats, broken collarbones, bill-paying crises, sibling rivalries, marital discords, and teenage heartbreaks of life.
It was not located on a windswept hill or wreathed in the fetid mists of a cinematic marsh. The weed-grown lot next door hardly measured up to any Brontean (or Hollywoodian) moor or heath.
It had no more cobwebs than you might expect. No jilted crone sat in her wedding finery, mourning her life away in its rather small dining room (which was, in fact, only an ell off an otherwise boringly rectangular living room). No pale women robed in black, no blood-drenched children or mad deceased poets roamed its halls (which were in any case actually one hall, singular, 12 feet long, leading to three boxy bedrooms and one bath that still featured chipped “Seafoam Aqua” colored tile, installed circa 1955).
Neighborhood children did not avoid it. Renters did not run screaming out of it. Buyers did not dump it back on the market after six months of tormented residency, telling lies to hide its savage secrets in hopes of salvaging a few bucks of their downpayments.
In short, it was a perfectly unnoticeable house in a slightly run-down neighborhood.
Nevertheless, it was haunted.
And perhaps those hypothetical renters or buyers would have abandoned it, had they known. But they remained in their peacefully hypothetical fog, leaving only Melissa — sensitive, unsuspecting Melissa — to risk her life and sanity for the sake of its unhappy spirits.
Melissa matched the house. No boys fantasized about her. No women hated her to cover their jealousy. Had anyone noticed her, though, they would have thought her attractive in a "girl-next-door" sort of way. She was comfortable.
Except for the haunting.
Sometimes she almost decided it was all in her imagination. She had never actually seen anything she would call GhostBusters about. It was more of a feeling. And the occasional movement just beyond the edge of her peripheral vision. At those times she would joke aloud to the presence, or to herself.
"Nothing to see here, Ghost. You'd better find a fancy hotel with a tragic past to haunt before you die of boredom. Or, since I suppose you're already dead, before you fade away."
Sometimes she almost felt she expected an answer. Had one come, would she have jumped with a start, or would she have continued the conversation? She didn't know. Yet.
One overcast night as she made one last trip to the kitchen before bed, the feeling brushed past her strong enough to make her gasp and get chills. She quickly looked behind her, then felt silly for doing so. Yet, was that a shadow she had seen? Suddenly she felt very exposed and vulnerable. She wanted to say something to break the silence, but her voice didn't seem to work. And, somehow, she knew the sound of her own voice would shock her. She shook her head, and started for the sink again. Perhaps a bit quieter this time. A shadow behind her shifted, unseen, across the wall.
She filled her glass from the bottle of room temperature tap water she kept on the counter, then raised it to her lips. Her mouth felt even more dry after she had taken a sip. She stood there staring at the glass, noticing the reflections of the dark room, and the bubbles clinging to the inside surface, seeming to mimic the drop running down to her thumb. For some reason she couldn't name, she was terrified to turn around. The longer she stood there, the stronger the terror grew. She knew, just knew, that if she turned around she would see something she didn't want to see. Why was it better to have it behind her unseen? She couldn't say, and didn't want to think about it.
Was that a whisper or was it her own breath? "Calm down, Melissa! You're scaring yourself for no reason." Did that thought come from her own mind, or was it whispered in her ear? She glanced down and could see her heartbeat causing her threadbare nightshirt to bounce. This was ridiculous! This was her house. She knew no one had come in. She knew ghosts didn't really exist. Not anymore- if they ever had. This wasn't the middle ages and she wasn't an ignorant peasant! Turn around, Melissa!
She spun around so fast she almost slipped on the floor. Nothing. See, it was all in her imagination. Wait... what was that? Is that shadow in the right place? Did it move? If her heart had been beating hard before, it was pounding now. She squinted at the shadow. Maybe a passing car's lights had caused a movement. Her excited state could make her misinterpret normal things. Yes, that was it. Then she heard a sigh.
The glass slipped partway from her hand, but she caught it before it fell, splashing its contents on herself and the floor. Yes, the shadow was moving. Or, was it a group of shadows? The sigh had come from that direction.
As she watched the shadow seemed to detach from the wall, out into the air. How is this possible? Something was taking form- but a chill ran through the chill she was already experiencing when she realized it wasn't a shadow. It was a reflection. She was seeing herself.
As Melissa watched Melissa appear in front of her, she heard her own voice, not certain which mouth had spoken. "What do you want?"
"I want to be noticed."
"What do you mean?"
"I want to do the things you want to do, but are afraid of doing. I want to make a scene sometimes. I want to laugh a little too loud. I want to drink just a little too much. I want to love dangerously. I want to try things I am no good at. I want to take risks. I want to feel alive."
"But, I am alive. I mean, you... or we... are alive."
"No, Melissa. You are breathing, but you haven't been alive in a long time. If you won't do it I'll do it for us. For me. For you."
"You are just a ghost. You can't..."
"You are mistaken. You are the ghost. You are the ghost of what I once could have been. Look at yourself."
Melissa looked down. She did seem a little more gray, perhaps a bit smokey. She looked back at Melissa, who seemed more real now.
"You're wrong. I am real. This is my house. I'm the one who..." Why couldn't she think of anything she had done recently?
"I'm not going to watch life pass me by anymore. I'm not going to worry about what the neighbors think. I'm not going to worry about saying the wrong thing and giving the Women's Bible Study group something to get the vapors over." Melissa watched as Melissa seemed to slip back against the wall a bit more. She reached out her hand. "I'm not going to see you again, am I?"
"I just want a chance to live." The face was gone. The shadow became a little harder to distinguish from the others. A sigh filtered across the spaces.
Outside a light rain had begun to fall. Melissa looked again at the wall. The shadow might be gone now. She wasn't sure. She looked down at the ratty nightshirt. It was dry. Had she really been talking that long? She turned and looked out the window at the water shining on the street. With a flash she pulled the nightshirt over her head and tossed it off to the side and went out the door to dance in the rain.