11.1.19

There were no ghosts where there should be ghosts. That worried her.

“Maybe you’re wrong about a rip in the Veil,” Brea said.

“I’m not wrong,” Chels said. “I’m never wrong. There’s a rip and it’s here and there should be ghosts.”

She remembered the last time a rip site was cold. They’re typically vibrating with movement between the worlds, spirit of all kind passing back and forth. But the last time — all spirit had left, steered clear of the rip site, got as far as it could away.

Because there are things worse than ghosts. There are things that terrify the dead. There are things that make the dead prefer being dead to being alive.

And the thing that came through the rip in the Veil was that kind of thing.

“So… there just aren’t any ghosts?” Brea said.

“There are ghosts,” Chels said. “There are always ghosts. There are just things out there bad enough to make ghosts… ghost.”

10.31.19

The doorbell rang.

“It’s after eight. They’re supposed to stop trick-or-treating at eight.” Randy grabbed the bowl and lurched off the couch.

“Are we really going to police a kid in a costume who shows up at 8:04?” Luke grabbed the remote. “Want me to pause it?”

“I’ve seen Halloween a million times. No.” Randy headed to the door. “If it’s a kid over 12 -“

“If it’s a kid over 12, you will give them candy. “

The doorbell rang again. This time, two rings. Insistent.

“I mean, that’s just rude-“

Randy turned the door knob and plastered a fake smile over his minor annoyance. The kid was probably cute. Probably a mom and dad that worked late. Luke was always telling him he needed to “temper his temper,” which wasn’t really anger, just easy frustration.

Before he could pull the door open, three more quick rings of the doorbell. Randy’s eyes rolled ferociously. Come the fuck on, kid. You’re not owed, not entitled to —

“Happy Hallowe—“

The porch was empty. Randy scanned you and down the street. There were a few kids some houses down, but no one close enough to have rung and run away.

“Hello?”

No answer.

Randy closed the door. Weird. It was ringing. Luke heard it, too. He closed the door and heard it click into place.

The doorbell. Once. Twice. Three times. Four. Urgent. Aggressive.

“Luke what the fuck is —“

Randy turned and the dead thing stood as close to him as his skin. Its breath swam into him like an oil slick, sticking to him in an instant.

“Trick…”

The dead thing consumed him like a piece of candy.

10.30.19

The boots were back.

They sat at the mud room door as they always had, as he’d always placed them as soon as he’d come home, as he would have this day if he hadn’t been dead a month.

They were back, and this frightened her.

She’d taken the boots and his coats and his work shirts and his winter socks and his fuzzy wool caps and she’d boxed them up in sturdy cardboard boxes and she’d given them to the thrift store in town.

She’d boxed up other things of his, reminders he had been there, reminders of their thirty years together, She’d wanted to make space that wasn’t haunted by his things. His work clothes were the hardest to have around. They still held his smell, his weight. They had to go. And they did, in the boxes she lovingly packed.

But the boots were back. And the mud room door was ajar.

10.29.19

He pushed the book aside and looked more closely at the markings on the table.

He’d seen them somewhere before.

He ran his finger over the circular carving, rough and uneven. Inside, what looked like a rudimentary tree, less a picture and more a gesture. What would pass for the idea of a tree.

He’d seen this before.

“Marta.”

Her forearm. The sleeve she pushed up to dip her hand in the sink. The tattoo there.

It’s a college thing, she’d said. All the sisters got them. They’re ugly, sure, but sisterhood over aesthetics, you know?

A sisterhood.

A coven.

“I can’t believe you figured it out.” Marta’s voice was behind him. He spun around, pressing the book to his chest.

Marta. Only now seemingly seven feet tall. A tower of a woman. A tree.

“The sisters said you’d never be smart enough to put all the pieces together. But here we are. I’m impressed. It’s too bad you now have to die for it.”

10.28.19

He situated himself in the center of the room. He didn’t trust the walls.

Keep moving. He slapped himself hard across the face. It was impossible to keep his eyes open. He hadn’t slept in three days. Keep moving. North wall. West wall. South wall east wall. He’d turn to face them, wait a second or two, then make a quarter turn. If he fell asleep, or stood facing one direction too long, the walls would get him. Like they got Rhea.

North wall. He wasn’t going to end up like her. West wall. Her insistence that she could sit for a second. South wall. Her head nodding down onto her chest. East wall. The sound of the wall sliding open, it coming, taking her, her scream —

Keep moving. He slapped himself again. He turned through the walls one more time.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if he let the walls take him. Who was left anyway? Out there. Anywhere. Maybe if he just sat down, closed his eyes, whatever it was would take him before it hurt.

Keep moving. The urge to live was stronger than the urge to sleep.

Keep moving. Keep moving.

There was a knock on the door.

10.27.19

The Veil was ripped in the most inconvenient of places.

“We can come back after they’re closed.” Reggie said. “Doesn’t Jamila work here? We can text her and -”

“She got fired.” Chels sighed.

“Why? This is the easiest job on the roster.”

Boring. The most boring job on the roster. And Jamila once contained a German fire demon — solo — so I’m not surprised she couldn’t make it as one of Santa’s little portrait elves.”

To the outsider, the little gray splotch on the emerald green carpet in front of Santa’s candy cane chair was just another spill from some overeager kid who’d waited in line with her parents for an hour for a picture.

There were rules for the Mall Court Santa’s Workshop Experience — rules about age, rules about touching the reindeer statues, rules about the number of times you could walk the Toyland Maze and still get a candy bag prize for finishing it — but the rules that got broken more than any other were the food and drink rules.

No food. No drink. Under any circumstances.

It seemed simple enough, but parents didn’t bother with rules when the lines for pictures with Santa were often up to an hour long.

So the gray splotch, to the outsider, was the ghost of a spilled Pepsi or the unscrubable remains of some chocolate or maybe ketchup.

But to Chels and Reggie, it was an unqualified emergency. It was a rip in the Veil. The beginnings of a doorway between the World of the Dead and ours.

Trouble. Big trouble.

“All we need is for some army of the undead to push their way through the Veil while some three year old is on Santa’s lap.”

“Hell of a Christmas,” Reggie said under his breath.

“Literally.”

10.26.19

“I don’t care.”

Chels stretched the word out like taffy. It would irritate her mother. That was part of the pleasure of it.

“Well you should care.” Disapproving tone. Check. “It’s your future, Chelsea Marie. And you treat it like -”

“I treat it like it’s my future. Like it’s mine. Not yours.”

The college conversation had been tense for weeks. Her mother insisted she was concerned about her employment prospects, about how deeply she cares about her having the right tools to fulfill her dreams, but Chels knew better. She knew it was more about her mother having to explain to her friends with children being accepted to Yale, to Berkeley, that her daughter was skipping college hunt ghosts and monsters.

“You can be flippant, Chelsea Marie, if that makes you feel better. But it’s not a joke to me. You can’t do your little ghost thing for a living.”

“That ‘little ghost thing’ is my work. And if you’re going to condescend to it –”

“It’s not work. Chelsea Marie -”

Chels. I’m not five anymore. You can’t scold me into submission. And just because you don’t understand a thing doesn’t mean you can dismiss it.”

Her mother fell silent for a moment.

To her mother, the “little ghost thing” was a fiction, a dodge against the real world, an excuse to not do what was expected of a woman in the world. To her mother, the “little ghost thing” was a rejection.

She didn’t know what Chels knew. What she’d seen. The violence that existed at the border of the living and the not-so-living. The Veil was the front line of a war. And Chels was a soldier.

10.25.19

“If you don’t plan on buying nothing…”

Mare let the sentence trail off. Gaddy had been staring at the wall of candy for a few minutes.

Her clothes were a mess. It looked like she’d been rolling around in the dirt and grass all morning, stains streaking in all directions across her shirt and jeans. And when Mare got close enough, she could smell her, sweat and cigarettes and the inside of an IHOP, sugar sweetness under the earthiness of other people.

“Hello?” Gaddy hadn’t answered. She hadn’t even moved. She just stared at the wall of candy.

What she didn’t feel like doing today was dealing with a fuckup like Gaddy. She’d probably been our huffing paint or taking too many of her mother’s painkillers again, the typical stuff she’d been getting into since her father died. Poor kid. She used to be a good one, headed for something. But Will dies and leaves her with that piece of work he married, and the girl ends up like this. Wasted. Sad.

Mare moved in closer, a deeper whiff of Gaddy making her nose scrunch up in disapproval.

“Gaddy… you gotta get a move on, girl. I can’t have you doing this with customers coming in and out.”

“It’s in me.”

Gaddy’s voice was low, thin. Mare barely heard her.

“What?”

“It’s in me. Probably in you, too. Waiting.”

“You shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing, girl. Pills or whatever you’re doing. You shouldn’t be doing it. Now, get out of here, or I’m gonna call –”

Gaddy’s head turned to look at her. Dried blood dribbled out of her nose and just down to the top of her lip. And her eyes. Gaddy’s eyes, hollower than usual, looking almost carved out.

“Too late. Gonna eat you from the inside, too.”

10.24.19

It hurt, in the center of her chest, but it didn’t feel like a heart attack. That would feel like an alarm, she figured, something that kind of radiated out, came in waves.

This wasn’t like that. This felt like pushing, right in the middle of her, big fat hands giving her a shove. Only they weren’t outside. They were inside, right behind her breastbone, invisible hands pushing so hard she thought she could feel her ribs bending out. The pain was intense, the kind that should knock you to your knees, but it pushed so hard, she could swear it was actually holding her up, telling her where to go, moving her from where she was to where it wanted her to be.

She didn’t want to go near that Miller woman’s house, with her gaudy little lawn statues and stupid rainbow pinwheels. Annie Miller bought that garbage just to show off, rub it in the faces of everyone in Crowe that they had a little money, that Jerry got lucky, that they didn’t have to worry about meeting a mortgage or keeping the lights on. They had the extra to buy unnecessary shit for the yard. They were better than.

Gaddy hated better than. It was hubris, was what it was. Thinking you were better than put people like Gaddy less than, and she could handle being poor, she could handle getting fired from the Dollar Den, she could handle the looks and the whispers about her being “trouble walking.” She just couldn’t stand anyone — not her parents, not her sister, not the women at the school, and definitely not Ann fucking Miller and her stupid pinwheels — thinking they were above her, thinking they were better than.

But the invisible hands in the middle of her chest pushed again, and the fire of the push sent her staggering forward, turning the corner down Harmony Drive, toward the lawn statues, toward the pinwheels, toward Ann Miller’s house.

10.23.19

I didn’t hear her. I wasn’t even around her. I was upstairs, had the door closed. The walls are thick in this house. Nothing gets through.

And she wasn’t screaming. I would have heard screaming. But I was upstairs, and it was quiet. If I had heard something – anything – I’d have helped her.

I didn’t like her. But I didn’t want her dead.

They’re supposed to be done taking up the carpet this afternoon. Putting down new carpet. Shel, my daughter, says it’s gonna look like brand new, they found a match for what was down there already. She says I’m gonna come home and it’s gonna be like nothing was ever there. But.

I saw how much blood there was. I ain’t stupid.

Blood is persistent. It finds where to go. I’m sure it burrowed down in there, down into the wood, down further into the foundation. You can take up the carpet, you can haul it out to the landfill, you can lay down whatever you want, no matter that it looks the same, there’s still gonna be what’s underneath.

She’s gonna still be underneath.

I told Shel I might try to sell the place. But who’s gonna buy a place with her still in it?

When I came down and found her, yes, the door off the kitchen out into the yard was still open. I never leave it open. So it must have been her. Or whoever done the thing to her. I came down, and she’s in the middle of my living room, dug into, deep, looking like ground meat where her middle should be.

Looked like…

Looked like something trying to tear its way out.