This story is by Jovie Briggs and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Well, here we are,” Mr. Thompson said as he opened the door to the house. “Our new home.”
“Our home until we find something permanent.” Mrs. Thompson corrected.
“It looks nice enough,” Mr. Thompson replied. “I don’t get why the ratings are so low and the rate is so cheap. Not that I’m complaining. We may need to be here a few weeks while we shop around.”
Lyla Thompson pushed her way past the big suitcases and squeezed through her parents legs, running into the tiny living room. Mrs. Thompson tried to stop Lyla from getting too fired up.
“Lyla, I’m not your butler.” Mrs. Thompson said sternly, “Come back here and bring your stuff in.” Lyla kept looking around as if her mom hadn’t said anything.
“Woah…” she whispered as her parents walked through the door. Mrs. Thompson walked into the living area with both her suitcase and Lyla’s in hand.
“I swear I have to do everything around here,” she said, “I love her but…”
Mr. Thompson laughed and patted his wife on the shoulder.
“At least she’s excited,” he said.
Lyla was still looking around when Mr. and Mrs. Thompson walked into one of the bedrooms. As she studied the room, her eyes glanced at the things that were of the most interest to her. The little girl had never seen a house like it before and she was fascinated with the unusual décor.
The wallpaper was indigo blue with a weaving gold pattern. The milky white mantle had paint peeling off the side. Lyla was too small to see the top, but she thought there were weird looking antiques on top. She turned to look at the wall again, this time noticing the many framed pictures hanging. Most of them had the same three people in them; an older man and woman with gray hair, and a much younger-looking man with messy black hair, taller than the others. He looked younger than Lyla’s parents and had a somber expression in each one.
Lyla slowly walked to a dark corner of the room near the mantle, still looking at the pictures. There were fewer pictures there, but Lyla noticed one near the middle that looked different from the rest. It was a portrait of the young black haired man, but in this picture he didn’t look somber at all. He was smiling, but he was smiling too much.
Her train of thought was broken when she heard a door open and two pairs of footsteps walking into the room. She spun to find her parents looking at her.
“What do you think so far?” Mr. Thompson asked. Lyla nodded at her dad. After a moment, she turned back and pointed at the portrait.
“Who’s that?” she asked. Both of her parents looked where she was pointing and walked closer to the wall. Mrs. Thompson squinted at it before raising an eyebrow.
“I don’t know, sweetie,” Lyla’s mom said. “He does look a bit unusual, though.”
“It might be the previous tenant,” Mr. Thompson said. “Although, I’m surprised the landlord didn’t take these pictures down after he left.”
The next couple hours went quickly. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson spent most of it unpacking and settling in, while Lyla spent it playing with her toys and exploring. With no food in the fridge and half their cookware in boxes, they decided on pizza for dinner. Soon, Lyla and her parents were eating at the table.
“When do you start your job again?” Mrs. Thompson asked between bites.
“Tomorrow,” her husband replied with his mouth full, “At least, the day I start my training.”
“What IS your new job anyway?” Lyla asked, tilting her head. Mr. Thompson looked at her, then smiled slightly.
“I’m going to be a Ghost Hunter!” he said proudly, “I’m going to find ghosts and… send them to a better place.”
“You get to fight ghosts!?” Lyla shouted. Her eyes were twinkling with excitement.
“Not really,” he said with a laugh, “It’s more like a game of Hide-and-Seek.”
“Oh.” Lyla said, her enthusiasm fading. They kept eating in silence while Lyla imagined her dad playing Hide-and-Seek with a ghost. It sounded like fun and she wondered if they hired children. Suddenly, a cold breeze passed by her back, making her shiver visibly. Mrs. Thompson noticed and looked at her in confusion.
“Mommy, I’m cold.” Lyla complained.
“Cold? It’s hot in here,” her mom said, “How are you cold?” However, just as she finished her sentence, both Mr. and Mrs. Thompson felt a cold breeze as well.
“Did you figure out how to turn the air conditioning on?” Mrs. Thompson asked her husband. He hesitated.
“…No,” he said slowly. It quickly warmed up again, which puzzled him, but the other two didn’t seem to notice. Suddenly, Lyla’s dad thought he heard a faint cry, like someone was in pain.. He looked around to try to find its source but after he found nothing in sight, he dismissed it and went back to eating.
Things continued like that for the next few days. The sudden cold breezes never stopped, neither did the painful cries. The crying would wake them all up in the middle of the night. Mrs. Thompson would check if a window was open, but most of the time they were all closed. No one took credit for opening them. Mr. Thompson tolerated the noises for a while but by the third day was getting annoyed. Lyla, however, was scared every time she heard moaning or crying and would cling to her mother for about an hour afterward.
One evening, Lyla was playing with her favorite stuffed bear and noticed Mr. Thompson’s ghost hunting equipment on the coffee table. She walked over to the coffee table and poked through her dad’s stuff, finding something that looked like a walkie-talkie labeled “Ghost Tracker,” a very dull knife, and two flashlights attached to a black belt with a silver buckle. When Lyla noticed the flashlights, she grabbed one from the belt and turned it on. It glowed purple instead of your average yellow, but it was very bright. This amazed her and she began waving the light around like a flag. Soon, she was singing and marching around with her purple flashlight pretending to be on parade. She was having so much fun in fact, that she got jumpscared by a loud moan that sounded very close to her. Lyla almost screamed and in an instant she had stopped in her tracks. She slowly looked around, quivering. A drop of cold sweat ran down her head. There was another moan, this one quieter than the first. Her hands gripped tight on the purple flashlight, pointing it at the mantle.
The antiques on the top of the mantle glowed strangely under the purple light but she didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, so she kept looking. She slowly moved the light across the old white mantle, almost to where the door to her parent’s bedroom was. The light went closer to the door but she didn’t spot anything strange there, either. Another moan reached out over her right shoulder, and she spun to face it. She pointed the purple light toward the corner as it trembled in her hand.
A young man sat in the now brightly-lit corner with his face buried in his bloody hands, while he gripped his tangled black hair tightly. His white long sleeved pajama shirt was torn down the middle and splattered with blood.
The blood made Lyla’s tummy hurt, she could hear her heart beating in her ears, and feel the sweat running down her forehead. She took a reflexive step back, but was too scared to move any further. The ghost didn’t move. In fact it didn’t seem to notice Lyla, but she still stayed frozen in place, looking at the phantom with fear and curiosity.
Soon, the ghost heard Lyla’s hard breathing. The crying stopped and he slowly turned his head toward her. He was smiling too much. Lyla’s eyes widened and her mouth quivered as she stood motionless, speechless. She couldn’t scream or run, only watch as the phantom slowly rose to his blood-stained feet. He cautiously floated his way to the pale scared girl. As he got closer, he started to reach toward her.
“MOMMY!!” she screamed, tripping over her own feet and dropping the flashlight as she ran into her parents’ bedroom and slammed the door behind her.
In the now very dark corner of the living room, the black-haired ghost retracted his hand. A tear formed in his eye and his crazy smile slowly faded into a frown. He sat back down in his spot and continued to cry, wondering what he ever did wrong to the little child.