This story is by Madison Greer and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Hello! My name is Emmie. I have a small problem. You see, I’m haunted. Every day, I hear voices, having full-blown conversations. Sometimes, they argue. Other times, they confess their love for each other. I see people doing crazy things that no one else sees. Once, I saw two boys enter my house and sneak around. I guess they were looking for something. They went into my brother’s room, but he didn’t even notice! Often, I see little people scurrying here and there when normal humans enter the room. A few times, I’ve heard animals talk! However, I’m never scared of these apparitions. All the things I see are rather nice. This whole situation is very strange, you see, and that is why I…”
The flow of sound stopped as Paisley, my best friend, stopped reading my essay slammed down my writing folder.
“You cannot be serious. Emmie, this is crazy! I cannot believe a writer as good as you would have written something so weird! Why haven’t you ever told me that you see,” she paused and hesitated, “that, well, you see ghosts?”
“I have Paisley, but you haven’t listened! I’ve tried to get you to experience it too, but you didn’t show interest,” I replied, throwing up my hands. “It’s not my fault you don’t understand!”
“Emmie. Listen very closely. You cannot, I repeat, cannot enter this into the essay contest. You will have psychics and mental doctors on you like fleas on a dog. You will get locked up and never allowed to see the light of day again! There are going to be hundreds of people reading this. You cannot submit it to the essay contest!”
“Paisley, I’m not crazy! You just have to keep reading!”
“No, I will not! I cannot support something like this. I’m leaving. Don’t you dare submit this. I won’t have my best friend locked up in a psych ward. Bye Emmie.”
With that, Paisley huffed and puffed herself away, mumbling something as she went. I didn’t hear everything, but I did catch the words “ghost” and “crazy” and “visions” as she stomped away.
Oh boy. That didn’t go as planned. I picked up my stuff and went to class. I guess I’m going to be early for Algebra II today.
Later in the afternoon, when school was over and I was home, I sighed and dropped to my bed. My writing folder was clutched to my chest. School was brutal today. My teachers were all out to get me and Paisley wouldn’t talk to me at all. I guess she decided that if she gave me the silent treatment, I would reconsider submitting my essay. I drummed my fingers on my folder. Perhaps this wasn’t the right angle to go on for the essay contest. Perhaps this all did sound rather crazy. Maybe no one would listen to me. I popped in my ear buds and turned on my phone.
As I lay there, listening to my phone and contemplating my ideas, I saw them. The two young girls were sitting on the other side of my bed, discussing the fate of their father, who was lost in a blizzard. They clung together and cried. They seemed to flicker in some surreal candlelight. As I watched, they stood up and left the room. I shook my head, clearing the moment from my mind. These girls had shown up often recently, mainly when I was on my phone.
I made my way to the kitchen to grab a snack. The rest of my family was gone, so I was at home alone. As I opened the fridge, a woman walked out and stood by the stove. Her old fashion dress was beautiful, but well worn. She seemed to be crying, by the shake of her shoulders. I turned around and filled up my cereal bowl with milk. This is getting out of hand.
I went back up to my room and sat down to eat. I took out my ear buds and turned off the audio. I thought I would re-read my paper, picking up where Paisley left off:
“This whole situation is very strange, you see, and that is why I’m addressing it in this essay, which is supposed to be about something that is unique to me. I’m not crazy. I don’t see ghosts or visions. I don’t hear haunted voices. Actually, I’m a reader. Yes, I enjoy reading. Every time I pick up a book, my overactive imagination makes the characters come to life in my head and all around me. My imagination runs wild, and I am brought into a world that no one else ever sees quite the same as me, which is why it is unique to me. The two boys I mentioned earlier? They are Frank and Joe Hardy, from The Hardy Boys Books. And the little people scurrying around are the tiny Indians from The Indian in the Cupboard, written by Lynne Reid Banks. Finally, the talking animals are from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.”
I smiled as I remembered Laura and Mary Ingalls sitting on the end of my bed a few moments ago and their mother Caroline Ingalls standing by the stove in the kitchen, crying about her husband, Charles, who was lost. On my phone, I had been listening to the audiobook of The Long Winter. That is why the girls and Caroline had shown up. I already knew the end of that story, which is why I was able to smile.
I continued reading, “So that is why I say I’m haunted. Every story I read comes to life around me. I empathize with the characters, cry for them when they have lost something and celebrate when they win. It feels as if I am betraying them when I set down my book, because they will never exist in the same way again. In a sense, the characters die when I complete a book or series. The ‘ghosts’ of these characters stay with me for the rest of my life. They become a part of me that I will always remember. They are in my life, whether I met them 10 years ago or 10 minutes ago. My non-reader friends often believe me to be a little crazy when they find me crying about a character who died or a person who lost everything. ‘It’s just a story,’ they say. ‘It’s not real.’ I simply shake my head in pity because they will never understand or experience a world made up solely from their imaginations and words on a page. They will never be haunted like me. So now, I will go read a book. I will use my untamed imagination to get lost in the pages and meet new friends. I will experience new worlds and find wonderful beasts. I will see things I can’t dream of. After my journey, I will be haunted, and that, my friend, is just fine with me.”
I sighed and decided that my essay was just the way I wanted it. Hopefully, the judges would read the whole paper before sending medical personnel after me. I set down my folder and grab the book my Lit teacher just assigned for me to read. It’s A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I opened the book and began reading. Suddenly, I am experiencing the best of times and the worst of times. I am sitting in a mail carriage headed to Dover, England; the atmosphere is tense, dark, and ominous. The passengers glance at each other untrustingly. The tension is so thick, you can cut it with a knife. Hoofbeats echo on the road from behind us. My skin tingles in suspense. Somehow, this is just what I need, to be transported. To be footloose and fancy free in this world, my world…the world of my haunted imagination.