This story is by Danielle Grosse and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Kat Cowan gripped the handle of her suitcase as if it contained something more precious than dusty safari clothes and surgical scrubs. If her soul couldn’t find solace surrounded by childhood memories, she would declare herself officially broken. She trudged up the steps of the Scottish manor home.
The rusty door creaked a muted hello as she turned the brass knob and pushed the front door open. Unsure, she walked into the great hall. The burning logs in the Italian fireplace shed an ambient light on the antique sofas. Kat picked the softest one and sank down.
The smell of brewed tea and the sound of footsteps alerted her to her godmother’s presence. Not ready to reveal her grief, she settled deeper into the couch.
Blanche Howell placed a teapot and cup on the table next to Kat. “Well, you’re here now. Shall I pour for you?”
Unable to trust her voice, Kat offered a nod. Any act of kindness only brought about a feeling of emptiness. Her pain overflowed with tears, revealing her weakened state.
Kat took her godmother’s hand. “Coming here may be the only way I can find answers. Has anyone seen Sarah since I left?” A sudden chill filled the room, driving Kat to cover up with a nearby wool blanket. Indication of her childhood spirit friend? Or her own grief?
Blanche took a sip of tea. “That old ghost?”
“There was an accident. About a week ago, Max drew a map on a prescription pad for me to read to him from the back of the motorbike. He thought my lack of direction was hilarious. We headed for Katse Dam, and after I told him to turn right, we were airborne. The whole accident would have been avoided if I knew how to read a map. Now he’s gone. I hoped Sarah had seen him somewhere.”
Kat took a deep breath. “I lost his smile and our partnership at the clinic. The best pieces of my heart remain on that bloody crash site.”
She glanced at the suitcase. “Before every surgery, I shared my Skittles with Max—
our private ritual. Once we started dating, I called him my Dr. Skittleberry.” She smiled, remembering happier days, relaxing momentarily, allowing her eyelids to droop. After one last squeeze of Blanche’s hand, Kat surrendered, falling into a fitful asleep.
After 147 years of haunting, Sarah Oglive was out of ideas. She studied the kitchen clock as it counted down to midnight. Tick-tock. Seconds dragged until she would be free to roam the halls of Rowan House, her former home. After Kat’s family discontinued their annual summer, no one saw the Victorian spirit or believed in her existence.
Sarah thought about her first decade trying to leave the kitchen. Unable to turn knobs or flip latches, she limited her movement within one room. To fight boredom, she mastered turning herself into a ping-pong ball. Eventually, she put too much speed in a bounce and sailed across the wooden floor. With a whoop, she passed right through the sheetrock ending her ride in the great hall. She suddenly realized, I can pass through walls. Who needs a doorknob?
The worst part of her ghostly existence wasn’t the loneliness. The waiting slowly killed her, again and again and again. When news of his death in the Boer War arrived via telegraph Sarah knew even after her earthly life ended, she would wait for her brave soldier. They would go to the light together, or not at all. It came regularly in the beginning, but now its frequency and intensity were fading. Sir John hadn’t returned.
Dong! The clock chiming midnight signaled Sarah’s freedom. Where to start? She sensed someone in the great room. Giggling as she sailed over the stairs, Sarah located her victim sleeping under a blanket on the sofa—perfect conditions for a sneak attack. Once behind the couch, she elevated herself until her eyes peeped over the back cushions. She hesitated.
Hmm. I feel like I know this person. The suitcase? Ewww—smells like death.
To Sarah’s surprise, the human lump kicked off her covers, revealing the pesky kid who could see Sarah, and eventually called her friend. All grown up, she now slept under a dark cloud of grief. Oh, Kat, what happened?
The suitcase had to hold the answer. Sarah couldn’t work the latches, but she tiptoed towards the case. Risking destruction, she levitated the baggage and dropped it from the grand staircase. It hit the floor with full force, barely cracking open.
Sarah made herself as small as a flea and investigated the opening. As her vision adjusted to the darkness, she responded with breathless terror. A set of unfamiliar eyes stared back at her. They blinked, and a green Skittle fell on the floor. She quivered and tried to close her gaping mouth.
Suddenly, her husband, Sir John Ogilvie, escaped from his hiding place in the broken case. “Well, my darling! Not the greeting I expected after 147 years.”.
Unable to cope with her shock, Sarah vaporized into a puddle on the hardwood floor.
Sir John hovered over the pool of water. He whispered, “Sarah?”
The puddle began to vibrate.
He drew closer. “I didn’t mean to give you a fright. Will you come back to me?”
The water shot upward as if escaping from a hose. Sir John’s wife magically reappeared.
After an unsuccessful attempt to embrace, the couple studied the lifeless form on the couch. “How did you get back?”
“I heard through the spirit hotline that a newly deceased soul needed to return to Scotland to say a final goodbye before he went to the light. I decided to hitchhike in the same bag. I can’t believe he brought me to my former address—and you! Only one more beam coming our way due to budget cutbacks. If we miss it, we fade into nothingness for eternity.”
Sarah shot Sir John a look of concern and flew towards Kat for closer examination. “What happened to her in Africa?”
Sir John stared at his boot. “The doctor. He died. See the darkness? Her soul is breaking.”
“What can we do?”
He approached the damaged suitcase. “She must unlock what she’s hiding. Then Max can help her let go. After that, he’ll be ready to leave. If she doesn’t resolve her guilt in time—none of us will make that last comet to the hereafter. I heard the last one will pass us in just a few hours.” His thought made him shiver.
She opened her parasol. “How do you know all this?”
“I snooped. The flight home didn’t include picture shows.”
Sarah looked away. “Where’s Max?”
“In the skittle, silly.”
Hoping to wake her friend, Sarah hovered over the lifeless lump. The darkness pushed back with such force she flew into the library, smashing into a bookcase. As Sarah pulled herself together, a photo album titled Our Engagement at Katse Dam tumbled to the floor, revealing a photo of Kat’s parents on a motorbike. She wailed with excitement. “We may make the last light after all!” She levitated the album high above the table next to Kat.
With an unceremonious thud, the memory book landed on Sarah’s target. Kat bolted into an upright position. “Max? Is that you?”
She looked at the photos in the open book. A guttural sound escaped from her, echoing through the manor house.
Blanche ran through the door and grabbed her goddaughter’s shoulders. “What happened?”
Kat tried to still her trembling body. “I think he wanted to propose. Look at that picture of Mom and Dad.”
Blanche held her breath. “It’s time to open your suitcase. It may have the answer you need.”
With a final glance at the pictures of her parents, she knelt in front of her baggage. As the latches released, she lifted the lid. On top of her scrubs rested Max’s map and a package of Skittles. With shaky fingers, she picked up the map. “Look. The drawing on this prescription slip doesn’t match Mom and Dad’s drawing.” Kat sucked in a deep breath and pressed her hand over her heart. “He drew the wrong turn! Maybe the accident wasn’t my fault.”
Tentatively, she picked up the package of Skittles, noticing the bag didn’t feel quite right. She glanced at Blanche, seeking courage to go on. As she opened her doctor’s favorite candy, a diamond ring slipped onto the table.
The great hall filled with intense light, followed by an unearthly sonic boom. Blanche and Sarah watched in awe as three spirits shot into the air, breaking through the skylight, barely giving Kat enough time to whisper her answer. “Oh, Dr. Skittle-berry, I do.”
As she placed the ring on her finger, she watched the comet filled with her doctor and two ghostly hitchhikers trail across the night sky and fade into the rising sun.