Emma sat on the edge of her mother’s old double bed. She only came in here to dust the furniture and vacuum the floors even though no one had lived there for a few months. And also for the visits.
She ran through the events of the last few days, making sure the omens were the same and that she was sitting in the right place. There was yesterday when the raven flew into the house. Emma tried to chase it out but it just kept landing on the picture of her mother sitting above the fireplace. Then this morning, without warning, she thought she smelt the same scent as the white lilies she placed on her mother’s grave at her funeral.
And finally, just a few minutes ago, there were those two identical twins in the second story hallway beckoning her to her mother’s room. Emma shooed them out and sent them back to the house next door and was determined to have a talk with their parents, but right now, she needed to wait for her mother.
Emma mumbled to herself as she picked at the dry skin on her hand. “I mean, its gotta mean the same place, right?”
So she sat on the edge of her mother’s bed and just waited, waited for any kind of message, for any kind of sign.
It came distantly at first, from the same hallway the twins were playing in earlier, wearing their light blue Sunday dresses. It started faintly, barely audible, but distinctly the clinking of metal on metal. And closer it came, like the sound of chains rattling, being dragged across wood. And closer it sounded like wet footsteps too. Yet still, it never sounded even close to her mother’s room. So she waited.
A drip of water landed on her nose. She didn’t even look up. She knew the roof was checked for leaks, back when her mother visited a few days after the funeral. Just a wet patch only she seemed to see. The twins were suspiciously silent when asked about it though.
A cold hand gripped her shoulder. It took a second, but the water seeped through the sweater she put on before waiting for her mother. And then a still breath brushed past her ear, smelling like rot and river.
“Don’t go to him,” a voice whispered behind her. It tickled her ear, and she wanted to scratch, but she restrained herself.
“Don’t gooooooooo.” Its voice grew fainter and more elongated, the grip loosening.
Emma spoke up before the grip fully left. “I’m fine mom.”
The grip tightened again as the spirit of her mother paused and then spoke with a much clearer, but decidedly confused tone. “What?”
Emma folded her arms. “I said I’m going to be alright.” She shifted her weight, trying to get more comfortable on her few inches of the mattress.
The ghost pulled back and leaned against the headboard, holding her decaying chin in her withering hand and tilted her head. Emma turned to look at her and opened her mouth as if to speak, but the haunt raised a finger as she had so many nights before. “Just give me a second,” she said, in a tone that more resembled her voice from before her lungs were filled with lake water. Similar to the freshwater slug that crawled into the ghost’s ear, Emma could see the ideas working past her empty eye sockets.
The specter leaned forward and motioned her hand in a circle. Emma turned around and faced away from the grim image laying in her mother’s bed. Emma could feel the weight shift behind her, and then the cold hand was on her other shoulder. Emma sighed.
The dead mouth spoke again, in a tone more befitting a voice from beyond the grave. “You’re in grave danger!” The voice’s confidence faltered a bit but continued. “but maybe walk me through what you’re thinking, if you think that might help.”
Emma said, “I think I’m going to be fine mom. I really do. I’m just glad to hear your voice. It’s been way too long. I know you think he’s a risk, but he isn’t. Not anymore.”
The ghost raised her voice, “But that boy! He means you harrrrmmmmm. He means to hurt you. Take advantage of you. Take everything from you.”
“He meant me harm, he really did, but it’s okay now.”
“No! He means to kill you!”
Emma responded, “Oh, I mean, he tried. He really did, by the lake and everything. And then it all clicked, but it’s fine now.”
The ghost remained silent as her grip loosened, but did not recede.
Emma said, “Auditors.”
“Yeah, just from the bushes.”
“Got him for tax evasion.”
Emma sighed and then put her hand on her mother’s finger bones. “So I’m okay mom. You don’t need to worry.”
The cold phantom behind Emma, the thing that should not be, sighed relief. “Damn. I mean, I’m glad you’re okay. I’m just shocked is all.”
Emma started to cry. “Do you think you could stay a bit longer though? I really miss you.”
From the hallway, Emma could hear her mother whisper, “I come when you need me, not when you want me.”
The dampness of the room stayed, but the smell and the grip receded.
Emma looked at her engagement ring, took it off, and said, “Guess I’ll find someone worse.”
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