As winter turned to spring, I got better and better at the song. I practiced it as much as I could, not needing to eat or sleep, or getting tired. For hours and hours I worked hard until I could play the full thing. My left and right hands doing two different things. It was slow so the fast bit didn’t sound quite right, but I could do it. I continued practicing it while I moved on to another song to try and play.
For weeks nobody bothered the house but sometime after the trees turned green and flowers bloomed I got visitors again. I got that feeling, and instead of checking I went ahead and boxed up all the disks and shook out some sheets to ‘dust’ things up a bit. Then I checked and it was another van, and I saw a different group of people with stuff to film. Video cameras and boxes and stuff. I watched them set some stuff up outside, as one of the guys in the group talked to the owner. Here we go again, I thought.
Sure enough it was another group staying through the night. They were a bit louder than the first film crew but did things kinda similar. They left people alone in rooms, had cameras set up everywhere and did a lot of trying to talk to people there. They almost ‘caught’ me a couple times, with their different cameras. I heard them talking about seeing strange shadows. Then they did something different though–they set up a new music player and began playing music. Classical piano music. They told the cameras that the little girl loved playing the piano, and this might attract her. They put out some toys, too. I was near the piano watching and was rather surprised to see the dolly fall over.
In the morning they left. As soon as their van was gone I went up to the third floor and gave a frightened look around the room. “Little girl?” I called. “Um, if you’re really here… is it okay I’m using your piano?” I listened carefully but heard nothing. “If you’re here and stuff, then I wouldn’t mind if you came out to play. You could even show me how to play the piano and stuff.” Oh jeez, I was sounding just like those investigating film crews. And like the film crew, I didn’t really get any response. “Well… if you ever wanna talk or play or anything… let me know.”
I got up and began playing the piano, feeling kinda creeped out now, almost as if someone was watching me.
A few weeks after the second film crew left, a third one showed up. This group seemed a bit less professional with the way they acted… though they were acting like such idiots at one point I couldn’t help but giggle. I quickly covered my mouth but it was too late–and one of them declared they had heard the little girl. I scowled. I’m NOT a little girl! I thought angrily. They kept trying to talk to the little girl and I grew rather sullen and annoyed and constantly being called that. I was glad when they left and hoped that was finally the end of that, except NO of COURSE not!
A little bit after that two people showed up–a guy and a girl. They had some cameras on their shoulders but didn’t seem to be a filming thingie. I soon discovered they were ghost hunters. Ghost HUNTERS not investigators or anything. I felt a bit scared. Apparently they were after John Miller the ghost who had attacked people and most recently yanked the hair of a kid who had broken in. Whooops. Before I left I managed to see one of them waving a sort of metal stick thing and they were chanting something… but I remained upstairs the whole time, hoping they would want to leave the little girl alone.
They did come upstairs at one time but they didn’t do anything. They just declared there was a lot of paranormal activity but it was the ‘nice’ kind. Soon after they left, and I wondered if there had been a ghost called John Miller downstairs and if there had been, if he was still there. Or if those people had just been so completely amateur they just made stuff up. Quite possible.
For a long time–a few weeks (I think) I was left so alone that I forgot a lot of stuff. I was so focused on my music and barely paid much attention to anything else, that one day I had a dream about William and when I woke up it took me several minutes to remember who he was. Once I remembered, I didn’t feel as sad as I once did. Obviously he and I just weren’t meant to be. Then I tried to remember another ghost’s name and it took a bit but I finally remembered: Larry. Yes. He had talked about moving on from love, and something about how hearts should break a little to love more or something like that.
Maybe he’s right. I sat at the piano and began playing. I had managed to forget William for a short time–something that had seemed unimaginable earlier. I had thought I’d always feel the hurt, the anger, the misery. Oh, I still felt some but it wasn’t nearly as bad and I actually started hoping one day maybe I could meet someone else. Maybe. Okay, I wasn’t so sure about that part. Not the meeting-another-lover thing but just meeting other ghosts. I liked it here in this house. It did feel a bit lonely occasionally but I had my piano and there was no way I was going to give that up. My piano, my music.
Some of the music I played made the hurt grow. I felt such an emotional connectingivity thingie that when I played or listened to the sad pieces I wanted to cry (sometimes I did). I considered just playing and listening to the happy pieces but that just seemed wrong. Besides, I had a favorite song. I actually had a favorite song… and it was so romantic and wistful and emotional that sometimes it made me cry. But I loved it and played it a lot and wished I had an audience. Because I felt–sometimes–I played better than whoever played on the disk. I had figured out ages ago that the best way to play the piano was to feel the feels, and I did, and I think I felt the feels more than the person on the disk felt the feels. But… I assumed I’d never know. Because I’d never be around anyone else… Until one night… I got the feel of someone coming to the house.
It was late night and I was really into my playing, so into my playing I almost didn’t notice. I closed the piano lid a bit angrily and drifted down to the second floor. Nobody out the front. I checked the back but saw nobody. Back and forth I went but there were no signs of cars or flashlights or anything. Hmmm. I went back upstairs, thinking maybe someone just passed by and my weird little radar thing was messed up. But just as I raised the piano lid I heard a thump downstairs.
Darn. I shook out sheets quickly to dust some of the stuff then went behind the piano, invisible. I waited for a while but didn’t hear any voices. Maybe it was another ghost. That was possible. Miller, or the little girl. I shivered and peeped ’round the piano, seeing nothing but darkness, hearing nothing but silence. I slowly inched out, crawling along the floor–er, rather floating an inch above it. I reached the stairs and bent down, listening very carefully. There was someone crying. Softly. Hmm. I moved down the stairs slowly then down to the first floor. The crying was louder. It was in the dining room. I slowly-slowly-slowly made my way there and looked in.
A small kid. Living. Young. He was under the table, hugging his knees and crying. I tried to figure out his age but I wasn’t completely sure. Twelve, maybe? Ish? Eleven? Too young to be on his own though. There was a backpack near his feet and after a few minutes of him crying, I watched as he reached in and took out a bag of cookies. They smelled yummy. I found my mouth watering as he shoved one of the cookies into his own mouth, sniveling and chewing at the same time. I moved a bit and the floor squeaked very slightly under my nearly-not-there weight.
“Who’f’ere?” He looked up, wide-eyed and even more frightened. “‘lo? Who’fere?” He swallowed what was in his mouth then crawled out from under the table. I backed up a bit, more into the kitchen, making sure I was as invisible as I could be. The boy soon came through the doorway, squinting at the darkness. “Is someone there?” he asked. I could tell he was afraid but trying to be brave. I wish I could offer him some sort of comfort… but anything I did would just scare him, so I remained hidden and silent.
After a moment he went back to under the table and began crying again. I thought about going back upstairs but I just couldn’t leave this kid. He was so young… not that anything would hurt him here… I don’t think. I wound up just sitting in the kitchen, watching and listening. Eventually he fell asleep, curled up under the table. I went upstairs and fetched a blanket so I could cover him up since I think it got chilly in this house (I wasn’t a hundred percent sure). I tucked the blanket around him and put a pillow under his head. The kid whimpered and wrapped his arms around the pillow.
I returned to the kitchen and stayed up the rest of the night, watching and listening, and of course wondering if anyone was going to show up to take him home. Or if he even had anyone to do that.
The kid woke up in the morning and made confused noises at the blanket and pillow. He rubbed his eyes then looked around. “Hello?” He continued calling out as he made his way around the first floor. He tested the water in the kitchen and smiled when water came out. He produced an empty water bottle from his bag and filled it up. After taking a few sips he disappeared into the bathroom, and presently I heard the toilet flush.
The day went by with me mostly watching the kid. He read a while then played some video game on a hand-held device (wantwantwantwant). Eventually he explored the rest of the house and even ran his hand down all the piano keys making a racket. He didn’t stay long there though. But he did bring his backpack to the bedroom and lay on the bed, reading some, video gaming some, and eating sometimes. Also… crying sometimes.
I watched him, wondering who he was. Why he was here. Was he an orphan? Or a runaway? Probably a runaway. I wondered who his parents were, if they were looking for him… why he had left. He seemed so young. Then again, there had to have been only a handful of years between him and when I “ran away”. Then again there’s a huge difference between 11 and 15 (wait, had I been fifteen? Or was I younger? Or older? I couldn’t remember… oh well). Should I do something…? I chewed my nails and began fretting and worrying and pushing myself into anxiety.
Finally, I couldn’t stand it another minute longer. I went into the other room, took a deep breath, and spoke loudly, “Are you okay?”
There was a yelp and a crash from the bedroom. I felt strange for doing this but I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. What if he left and got really hurt or… worse? I remembered (sorta) Donna, from Appaloosa Plains. She had been kidnapped and kept locked up until she starved to death. What if something similar happened to this poor kid? Or worse? Maybe this wasn’t the best thing to do, but I really felt the need to get him to go somewhere safe.
He emerged from the bedroom and stared in disbelief, for I was no longer invisible. “You’re a ghost,” he said simply.
“I am,” I replied. “Are you okay?”
“Ghosts aren’t real,” he said.
“I’m real.” I gave him a smile but didn’t go any closer. He looked me up and down, frowning deeply. He didn’t seem scared but he obviously wasn’t happy. “My name is Chance,” I said after a few seconds. “What’s yours?”
“I thought ghosts went ‘boo’ and tried to scare people,” he said, folding his arms and giving me a rather challenging look.
“Uh–w-well, some ghosts do,” I said, pushing my hair back. “But I don’t.” Not to you, I added silently. “I’m a nice ghost.”
“Ghosts are evil. They try to kill people. Or something. I seen movies. I seen this one movie where there was a ghost thing and she was killing people.”
“I won’t do that,” I said as gently as I could. “I’ve seen movies like that, too. They can be pretty scary. There was one ghost movie I saw that just terrified me and gave me nightmares. And I was a ghost myself when I saw it.”
“Really?” The boy’s eyes widened. “How come it scared you when you’re a ghost?”
“Well. I have feelings too. I can get scared or be happy or be sad. Or be lonely,” I added, “when I think about my family.”
His reaction was obvious. His face screwed up and some tears slid down his cheeks. “Do you miss them lots?”
“Yes…” I drew in some air, realizing that I did miss them… and missed real human contact. Ghost or living. I felt lonely. I wondered if it was time to move on–but the thought of losing my piano made me want to cry. “Do you miss your family?”
“No!” he snapped. “I hate them! They hate me!”
Hmmmm. “Oh? Why would you say that?” I was worried maybe he came from a family that didn’t love one another and hurt each other or something.
But he began speaking quickly, “My new mom hates me and my dad always sides with her and thinks she’s so perfect and now she’s gonna have a baby and they don’t need me!”
I blinked, wondering now if I wandered into some sort of… after school special or something. Okay, what should I say…? I really had no clue how to help him. I knew whatever I would say would be completely wrong. “I see… well… I suppose you’re right.” He gave me a startled look and I spread my hands out. “That’s why they threw you out of the house and told you to never come back… right?”
“The–n-n-no, they didn’t throw me out, I l-left,” he stammered. “I left. Because they both hate me so much and don’t need me. Why else would they have a baby then?”
“What’s your name? You never told me.”
“Charlie…” I looked up, not sure if I should bring the subject up. “Your said you have a new mom. Your dad got married? What… what happened… with your first mom?”
“She died,” he said slowly. “When I was a little kid. I was six.”
“How old are you now?”
“Ten. And a half,” he put in quickly. “Actually, ten and six months.”
“Do you miss her?”
He sat down on the floor, looking sad. “Yeah. I miss her sometimes.”
I crouched down a bit, balancing on my toes. “So… you loved your mom?”
“And your dad?”
He frowned again and shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”
“So… you can love two people at the same time?”
“I… I guess…”
“You know… my mom had five brothers and sisters?” Charlie looked up at me in surprise, his mouth an ‘o’. “Yeah. She had an older brother, two little brothers, and two little sisters. And I have a sister. I love her so much. You know… I don’t think your dad and new mom are having a baby because they don’t need you. I think they want more kids to love because they love you so much, they want more. Did you think of that?”
His eyes were huge now. “N… no. I thought they wanted someone else cause they didn’t love me. Why…. but… what?”
“Some moms and dads just want one kid. But some moms and dads want more. It’s not that they don’t love their oldest… but because they love their oldest. Being a brother is a really fun thing to be. Now…I’m a younger brother… but I’m sure being a big brother is going to be so much fun. You’ll get to help your little sister or brother. Teach’em the ropes, see. Like… how to sneak an extra cookie. Or… how to stay up late without getting caught. They’re not going to learn that sort of thing on their own. And your mom and dad certainly won’t teach them, will they?”
“No!” He shook his head, smiling now. “No, I guess you’re right. Um. Chance… do you think… they’re mad at me? For leaving?”
“I think they miss you. I think they’re sad. And you might get in trouble for running away, I won’t lie. But it’s because they’re so worried about you, not because they’re mad. I think they’ll be very happy if you come back.”
He shrugged. “I don’t wanna go home alone. Can you take me home? Please? I’m scared.”
I gulped, completely thrown by this. “Um… well, Charlie… I don’t know. If I go outside… people might see me. And some people are so afraid of ghosts they hurt ghosts without finding out if the ghost is good or bad.”
“Oh.” His face fell completely. I felt horrible and decided that I needed to keep helping him right to the end of this weird little event.
“But I can… be invisible?” I offered. “I’ll be invisible so nobody can see me at all.”
“Then how will I know you’re there?” he asked.
“Um. Well. Uh…. I know! Stand up and hold out your hand.” He did so and I went over, carefully placing my hand in his. “Now close your hand.” He wrapped his hand around mine, looking pretty shocked he could touch me. “Now watch this.” I went completely invisible except for a bit of hand that was inside his, which remained solid. He gasped, but kept hold of what was in his hand. “Can you feel my hand in yours?”
I returned to my regular self and smiled at him. “I’ll go with you like that. Now, go get your stuff and we’ll head out. All right?”
“Okay. Um. Chance?”
“Thanks.” He gave me a hug then ran off to the bedroom to collect his stuff. I watched him go, feeling… well… very strange about the hug. I felt… kinda empty. And happy. But empty. There was a strange little ache inside of me and I realized, when he came back beaming at me, that I wanted kids. I want kids. I took his hand and became invisible, going down the stairs with him and out the door into the late afternoon sunlight. I want kids.
I floated along beside him as we traveled down the road towards the town. I love kids. We got into town and he began slowing, but kept walking. I leaned down and whispered, “I’m still here.” His hand tightened more around mine. People were out and about but they didn’t really look this way and none of them could see me. How can I have kids? I wondered… ghosts couldn’t… well, my dad could but… I didn’t… I don’t… I couldn’t… I mean, my grandpas did but… two male ghosts couldn’t… and… I probably… never would.
We got to a house and before we even got to the door, it was flung open. A very pregnant woman ran out and fell to her knees, sobbing and crying as she hugged Charlie. Charlie let go of my hand and sobbed and hugged back. A man came running out, nearly falling over as he reached Charlie. He was crying too, hugging and kissing his son. “I’m sorry!” Charlie cried. “I’m sorry!”
“Oh, baby, it’s okay, it’s ok, you’re home now, you’re safe, you’re safe.” His stepmom began looking into his face then all over his arms and stuff. “You’re safe,” she kept repeating. “You’re home.”
“Charlie, Charlie, oh Watcher!” his father said, hugging him. “Where–why–how–what?”
“I’m sorry I left, but… Chance told me I should go home.”
“Chance?” Both of them froze and looked a bit frightened.
“My friend. He’s right here.” He then looked into his open hand then jerked his head around trying to see me. I backed up a bit, keeping myself invisible and silent. “He was right here… he’s a ghost… and he told me… and he helped me come home and… and…”
“Of course he did,” his father said soothingly. “And now you’re home. Come on. Let’s get something to eat.”
The three of them headed into the house but Charlie stopped and looked back, still looking for me. “Um–thanks–Chance!” he called, and then was inside, the door shutting.
I watched the house for a while and then headed back to my own home. Slowly. It was dark by the time I got there. I felt horribly sad but also happy. But sad. So sad. I probably won’t have kids. I felt super sick and weird as I drifted up to the piano, where I solidified. I wanted to cry. I was so alone… and would be alone… even if I went home to–whatever Valley it was called–I’d be alone. Even if I found some other ghost to be with… we couldn’t have kids. Even if I found someone living to be with, we couldn’t have kids. But even then–I’d probably not find anyone.
I became all solid and began playing the piano, playing my favorite song to play which was so sad and romantic and beautiful, and I played it with all my feelings and then I played it again, trying not to cry. Trying not to think. And definitely not paying attention to what was going on around me.