This story is by Kinzie Corbin and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jane closes her laptop with a snap, triumph already churning in her stomach. She pushes the feeling down with vengeance – it won’t do to celebrate before the victory, after all. The last two attempts had already failed, but… she has a good feeling about this time.
She hops off her bed and exits the room, making her way to the stairs. The house creaks around her in its old stone foundation and thick, wood paneled walls, noisy in a way that it’s usually not, as if it knows what she’s planning. Hopefully it won’t pass it on to her prey.
She finds exactly what she needs in the kitchen. Jane grabs the bulk canister of iodized salt and a lemon from the fruit bowl on the island, tucking both under her arm and flipping the hood of her over-sized hoodie over her shoulder to partially cover them. She hums a jaunty little tune under her breath and practically skips her way across the entry room to the door set into the wall beneath the staircase.
There’s a shuffle that sounds from beyond the door, and Jane raises an eyebrow at it.
“Oh, we’re doing this again?” She murmurs. Yesterday it might have been from irritation, but today is a day of cautious hope, and all she feels is amused and perhaps a little hopeful.
“That’s fine,” she says loudly, pulling her hood down over the bright yellow of the lemon. “I’ll play. I’m coming down.”
The knob on the door rattles. Jane takes a step away from it and watches with a smile as it swings open of its own accord. She hops down the first step and carefully makes her way down into the darkness of the basement. At the bottom, she sticks out her elbow and fishes around in the inky blackness for a few seconds before it hits the lightswitch.
The bare bulb illuminates the room. It’s the oldest part of the house, bare stone floors covered by a threadbare and outdated rug. Furniture and knickknacks left behind by previous homeowners litter the open space. The middle of the floor is cleared, though, for walking space. And game night, it seems.
“You really want to send me into bankruptcy, huh?” She asks, reaching out with her foot to toe at the neatly set out Monopoly board. “You like counting?”
A pale sheet covering an old rocking chair shifts against the aged wood, fluttering in an imaginary wind, like it’s excited. For a second, she feels a little bad for what she’s about to do, but with all the annoyances building up on each other this week, there’s really no alternative.
She crouches down to survey the board, and picks up the tiny, metal airplane piece. “I always did like being in the sky.”
The chair creaks loudly as it see-saws in place, so abrupt and reminiscent of a scream that it nearly makes Jane jump and drop her secret cargo. She grins down at the board.
“You’re kind of hard of hearing, you know?” She says conversationally, pulling in the hand with the Monopoly piece and digging the wing of the plane into the lemon. She glances up, but the chair keeps rocking, hopefully obliviously. “I’ve been telling you all week that I can’t play with you, that you need to leave me alone so I can finish my essays. But you’re persistent, aren’t you?”
A long metal pole, that looks like it might be from part of some old trampoline frame, falls to the ground with a great clatter that echoes in the dimly lit basement, from where it had been leaning against the wall, likely undisturbed for years until now.
Jane peers over at it from the corner of her eyes, and then carefully stands up to take a few steps back and stare at it. Luckily, that means she’s closer to the door. She squeezes the lemon until her hand drips with juice, and then turns to smile back at the Monopoly board. The little horse piece was standing on Go.
“I’m persistent too, you know.” Jane says, pulling the salt free from her hood.
She tears off the top of the can and shakes it’s contents onto the ground. Her aim is a little off – it’s never been that great – but within the next second there exists a semicircle with it’s hump facing toward her between the game and her and, more importantly, the door behind her.
The metal horse falls over onto its side.
Jane smiles. “Salt to make a barrier. Tried it last time and it didn’t work, but that’s just because I was missing an ingredient.”
The rocking chair stops rocking.
Jane pulls the lemon out of her sleeve and squeezes it, dripping the juice into the salt lines. “Essence of citrus to lock it in place. Citrus is a symbol of spring, and spring is a symbol of life, ever moving. Little ghost like you won’t be able to step over this, especially now that the barrier is tied to the door.”
The chair begins rocking so loudly that the sheet covering it tumbles to the ground. It’s a nice chair, Jane thinks. Maple. Maybe she’ll steal it for her room later, after all this is over.
She tosses the airplane piece onto the floor. It lands with a clatter, the metal skidding across the floor to bump gently into the monopoly board. She smirks when the door behind her remains open. “Sorry about this, but I guess our flight has been delayed.”
She bends down to scoop up the lid of the salt and goes back upstairs.
Part of her still feels bad. It’s not like they’re trying to bother her and disrupt her work, they’re just lonely. And she gets it, she really does — she’s not entirely sure how long it’s been since their death, only that they died tragically young, inside this very house that has been mostly empty thereafter. From what she’s observed in the months since they moved here, ghosts don’t mature much after death. Sometimes Jane feels like she’s dealing with yet another younger sibling nipping her heels and getting into things they shouldn’t. Except, it’s harder with the ghost than it is with Jared, Tommy and Elise. They don’t have supernatural powers.
Following one too many incidents of the bathroom mirror bleeding a plea to play, when she has several assignments due, it was really just too much. Asking nicely hadn’t gotten her anywhere, so she’d started to do some research when she wasn’t trying to summarize the effect of humanism on the Renaissance in under 1,500 words.
Iron hadn’t worked, a symbol of protection doesn’t do anything against something that isn’t interested in causing harm. Her second plan ended in failure as well, simply because of a missing catalyst. But now?
She returns to her room, to her laptop on the bed. Now that she has her promised seclusion, it’s time to get cracking.
Jane finishes her English essay two hours later, and her Humanities essay six hours after that. She spends half an hour on the math review, then the early evening lounging on her bed, scrolling through memes and relaxing while a clay mask purges her face of impurities.
After a lovely dinner of pasta, soda, and fresh brownies after, Jane feels a little better about everything. She grabs a plate of the desserts and makes her way back into the basement, tsking in amusement to find the Monopoly game upturned. Pieces are strewn about and the cards are all mixed up with the money. Deep scratch marks are gouged into the stone floor inches away from the still intact semicircle of salt and lemon.
“Did you throw a tantrum while I was gone?” She asks.
There’s a stale feeling of petulance that hangs in their air about her in response to her words – like that of a child’s, because it is – heavy like an invisible wool blanket, and she laughs. “Well, I’m all done with my homework, now. You made it take me a week instead of the few days I was intending to spend on it, but…”
Jane kicks through the salt lines with her shoe, breaking the barrier, and settles herself down on the floor. The stone is cold, but that’s why she wore her thickest pair of sweatpants. She reaches forward and begins to tidy up the game and separate the cards from the money.
Once she has things set up neatly again, she picks up the airplane piece and places it carefully at Go. She glances over at the rocking chair, and smiles. “Ready to take off?”
The basement is still for a long moment. It stretches on for a while, but Jane is a patient person. At least, when it counts.
Slowly, the horse trots over to stand on Go, and Jane swears she can hear the faintest sound of a young boy giggling in delight.