This story is by Darlene Elder and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Most Terrifying Ghost
Jeremiah was old. Very, very old. And he was a ghost.
He had once been the most terrifying ghost in the neighborhood.
But alas. his skills had deteriorated over time and no one believed he would recover. Unfortunately, Jeremiah had one more haunting to fulfill before he could rest eternally.
Even more unfortunately, his last assignment was the oldest and scariest house in the neighborhood, a formidable house set up on a hill and known far and wide as Eerie Manor. For a ghost of his stature, this should have been as simple as smashed pumpkin pie.
But he was old and suffered from the usual ailments and infirmities of an elderly ghost. His ability to moan frighteningly or swoop into a room unseen were greatly diminished now. He was easily fatigued and could not last through an entire night of haunting.
The house itself was perfect for haunting. Empty, forgotten rooms on the third floor. Old, creaky doors. Shutters not quite secured. A dusty attic filled with antique dolls and half-filled boxes of bric a bracs and knick a knacks. There was even a rickety rocking horse that made the most delightful screech when sat upon and rocked.
No, the house was perfect for haunting.
The problem was not with the house nor with the family, at least not with the entire family. No, indeed. The father and mother, who had been warned about prior hauntings of this residence, believed themselves immune to the visitations of a spectral being. They reassured the children that strange noises and odd creakings were a normal part of living in an old house. But in truth, they were just as susceptible as other mortal beings to the frightening antics of a ghost.
And the teenage daughter? She did not even pretend to be brave and unconcerned. At the smallest indication of an untoward sound or tremulous breathing, she would hike up the hem of her billowing nightgown and sprint to her parents’ bedroom.
The problem, you see, was with the youngest member of the family, a boy of perhaps six or seven. This young person, Sydney by name, was frightened of nothing. In fact, he took great pleasure in attempting to make his mother squirm and his sister scream. Only when he was bored, of course. Which happened quite often.
On the first night of the last full moon in October, Jeremiah set off for Eerie Manor. He hovered outside and listened for the family members to head upstairs for the night. Once the house was quiet, he shimmered through the thick front door. As soon as he was safely inside, he turned around, unlocked and opened the door, and then blew it shut, announcing his presence with a muffled thud.
Heavy footsteps pounded down the stairs. Jeremiah watched as the father cautiously peered around, shining his flashlight here and there in search of an intruder. When he was satisfied that the wind must have caught the door and no intruder had entered the house, he returned to his bedroom, mumbling to his wife that there was nothing to be afraid of. She was not convinced.
In the meantime, Jeremiah drifted up the stairs, maintaining a low quivery whimper as he did. He was hoping to make short work of this last assignment of his career.
“Hello. Who are you?”
Jeremiah gasped and nearly tumbled down the stairs. A small boy stood before him, clad in tiger print pajamas and fuzzy slippers. He was staring at Jeremiah, his face brimming with curiosity. “Are you a ghost?”
“I, I, oh dear. You can see me?”
“Of course. How else would I know to speak to you?”
Jeremiah shook his head slowly, hoping this apparition would disappear.
“To be honest, you do not appear quite as solid as other people, more like a slightly wobbly, somewhat see-through sort of being.”
Jeremiah stared at the boy. All his plans for a speedy haunting seemed to be flying out the window, like, well, like a ghost.
The boy’s eyes suddenly lit up. “I know what this is. My wish for a friend has been granted! You are here to be my friend, my invisible friend! I’m not sure why they sent such an old-type person but never mind. We shall be great friends!”
A door down the hall opened with a rather irritating squeak, and Jeremiah shuddered slightly.
“Sydney, who on earth are you talking to at this time of night?”
His mother marched down the hallway toward Sydney and the visitor. “Mother! I got my wish. This is my new friend.”
“Who is your new friend? I see only the two of us.”
“This is my invisible friend. I haven’t learned his name yet, but I shall learn it shortly. He’s fairly old for a friend, but pleasant and clever, I can tell. And we shall have ever so much fun playing hide and seek in this old house.”
“Sydney, go to bed at once. You are dreaming.” And with that, his mother returned to her rest, which so far had been far from restful.
“Come with me,” Sydney said, tugging on Jeremiah’s arm. Once inside he closed the bedroom door and grinned at his new friend. “By the way, what is your name?”
Jeremiah drifted closer to Sydney and let the movement of the air carry his name into Sydney’s ear.
“What a perfect name. Now, what would you like to play first?”
“Young man,” Jeremiah said firmly. “I am not here to play games with you. I do not know where you got the idea I am here to be your friend, but that could not be further from the truth.”
Sydney looked confused. And a little bit crushed. His lip trembled. “Then why are you here?”
Jeremiah hesitated. He wanted to tell the boy the truth, but how do you tell a child you are here to drive his family away? And why? To complete some long-ago pledge? To finally be offered some well-deserved rest?
“I,” Jeremiah stammered, “I am here to frighten the family away.”
“It’s complicated. Let’s just say it was a pledge I made a long time ago. To some important, ah, people.”
“To scare the family away?”
“Yes,” Jeremiah answered, ashamed but anxious to finish his mission.
“But how awesome! I am an expert at scaring people, especially my mom and big sister. You must let me help!”
If a ghost could turn pale, Jeremiah would have been whiter than a sheet. “No, thank you. This is a job I must complete on my own. Now if you will excuse me, I will be off.”
Jeremiah slid through Sydney’s bedroom door and set off for the attic where he intended to cause all manner of ruckus. The family would be terrified and by morning would be packing their bags.
Before he could even get started, he heard quick footsteps scurrying up the stairs to the attic. Sydney appeared by his side, flashlight in hand. “I can help you,” he said, full of the enthusiasm Jeremiah used to feel for this work.
“Young man, you must return to your room at once. This is my job.”
Sydney, paying no attention to Jeremiah, began lifting boxes and letting them drop with a loud thud. Then he threw an old tiffany lamp across the attic space, giggling when it smashed into a hundred tinkling pieces. Jeremiah hovered midair, too tired to object.
When Sydney stepped deeper into the dark shadows, Jeremiah took his leave and descended to the third floor. There he ducked into one of the bedrooms and prepared to turn on the faucets, letting the sound of running water seep into the dreams of the sleeping parents. Of course, before he could begin, Sydney was right behind him. “This is so much fun!” he said, turning the knob on the faucet in the claw-footed tub.
Jeremiah felt utterly defeated. He drifted over the bed with its cozy quilt and puffy pillow and let his eyes close. He heard footsteps on the stairs, but he was too weary to rise and carry on with the haunting.
When his parents rushed in, Sydney stood in the center of the room with a heavy framed picture in his hands and a gleam in his eyes.
“What are you doing?” his father bellowed.
“I’m having so much fun,” he said. “I’m helping Jeremiah drive the family out of the house.”
“What family?” his father asked.
“Who is Jeremiah?” his mother asked.
“Are you batty?” asked his teenage sister.
By noon the next day, the family was packed and driving away from Eerie Manor, the father muttering about imaginary friends and haunted houses and batty children. Only Sydney was saddened by the departure.
As for Jeremiah, he was granted eternal rest. He was proclaimed the most terrifying ghost in the neighborhood for now and all time. After all, he had driven away the most frightful little boy ever to haunt this old house.