Sarah tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable.
It was too hot. It was too cold. She had too many blankets. There weren’t enough. It was too dark. Now it wasn’t dark enough.
After an hour, she got up and headed downstairs to the kitchen to get something to drink. She was thirsty, and she figured that if she wasn’t sleeping anyway, she might as well get up.
She padded downstairs in her robe and slippers. When she was in the kitchen, she opened the fridge and pulled out some orange juice.
After pouring it into a glass, she sipped the sweet, acidic liquid and stood quietly.
It was the weekend, so she wasn’t too worried that she hadn’t been able to sleep well. But this had happened a lot lately. And only on weekends. Her room never felt right to her, no matter what she did to make herself more comfortable.
She was sleeping her Saturdays and Sundays away, making up for lost sleep at night. She wasn’t a big nap-taker to begin with, and she didn’t like wasting her weekends. But right now at least, it seemed like she’d be spending tomorrow on the couch, wrapped up in a blanket.
Sarah listened as the heat kicked on, and she heard the familiar whir of warm air circulating through the house.
She finished her juice, set the glass into the sink, and walked back upstairs.
The whir seemed to get louder as she ascended the staircase, and she was irritated for a moment as she thought she might have to get the heating system looked at.
She stopped on the stairs and listened, but she couldn’t figure out where the extra sound was coming from. She walked back down to the first floor, and the sound subsided.
Sarah sighed as she climbed the stairs one more time and decided to just keep an eye out for any other strange things going on with the heat. She might need to call a professional.
The sound grew louder again as she got closer to the second floor, and she realized this had nothing to do with the heat.
When she reached her bedroom doorway, it was clear what it was.
Her bed sheets were swirling around her room like a cloth tornado. Instead of being scared, she was just perplexed.
“What’s going on?” she yelled, even though there was no one around. When the sheets continued to swirl, she yelled out again, “What’s happening?”
The sheets stopped and fell to the bed. Except for one.
The lone airborne sheet fell around a figure like a kid’s Halloween ghost costume. The only things missing were the eyeholes.
“Who’s there?” Sarah asked, gingerly stepping into her own bedroom.
The sheet fluttered but made no sound.
Sarah walked toward it and for a moment wondered if this was some odd effect of static electricity. She made a mental note to get a humidifier.
When she reached the sheet, she put her hand out, grabbed some of the material and got ready to pull.
“No! Wait!” a voice called out. A male voice it seemed, although it had an odd echo quality to it.
Sarah jumped back. Pulling her hand away and feeling timid, she spoke, “Who… who’s there? Who are you?”
The sheet seemed to fold over a little where a head would have been. The same voice spoke.
“It’s, uh… me. I’m the ghost who haunts your bedroom.”
Sarah squinted her eyes and tilted her head.
“Wait? What?” she said.
The sheet floated from above the bed and stopped near her bedroom window. The sheet crumpled as if the figure underneath it had sat down on the sill, head in hands.
“See? This is my problem. You’re not scared. I’ll never take form if I can’t scare you.”
Sarah walked the rest of the way into her room and sat down on her bed.
“I don’t understand. And no offense, but why don’t you take that sheet off? It’s a little odd talking to linen.”
“I can’t,” the ghost said. “I have no form right now. I’m… invisible.”
The ghost said this last word as if it implied the greatest shame.
“Soooo,” she said, drawing the word out, “you have to scare me first before you can take a form?”
“Yes! Exactly!” The sheet moved as if the ghost had thrown its arms in the air. “Now you see what my problem is! I’ve been trying to scare you for weeks!”
Sarah crossed her legs underneath her and pulled one of the blankets up around her body as she thought about the ghost’s predicament.
“Look,” she said after a moment, “give me back my sheet. I’ll get back into bed, turn the lights off again, and then you can do something and I’ll scream or whatever.”
“No, no, no. It has to be real. You can’t fake being scared!” the ghost said. “I’ve tried everything I could think of. I even changed the environmental conditions of your room!”
“Yeah, I thought I just had insomnia.”
“Tonight, I branched out and made weird noises!”
“I thought that was the heat pump malfunctioning.”
“And as a last resort, I threw all your sheets into the air and covered myself with one!”
“Honestly, that should have scared me, but I thought it had something to do with static electricity. Maybe you should have tried saying ‘boo,’” Sarah added, hoping to soften the blow.
“Oh God,” said the ghost as it sat down on the window sill again, “I’m a failure.”
Sarah said nothing as she heard weeping sounds coming from the ghost and watched the sheet shake slightly.
“Okay, wait a minute,” Sarah said, springing to action, “all is not lost. You need to have a little faith in yourself. How long have you been a ghost?”
The sheet stopped shaking, and Sarah could see what looked like the ghost turning up its head to face her.
“I don’t know. There is no time in the afterworld.”
“Well, whatever,” Sarah said and hopped off the bed. If she wasn’t sleeping, she might as well help this ghost try to scare people. “Look, you’ve got to do something that’s actually scary. You know, something that won’t make people think something in their home is malfunctioning. Like, uh...okay, I’ve got something. Say I’m lying in bed. It’s nice and dark and I’m comfortable, and as I’m drifting off to sleep, the TV downstairs suddenly turns on and it’s really loud. So I get up to turn it off, and when I get back in bed, it turns back on.”
Sarah looked at the ghost with a cheerful expression on her face, hoping it would like her suggestion, but instead, it seemed confused.
“But wait, you said before that I shouldn’t do anything that made people think something was wrong in their house. Won’t they just think something’s wrong with the TV?”
Sarah put her hands on her hips and walked around the bedroom a bit.
“Well, TVs don’t normally just turn on and off, and anyway, it would be at night when everything is scarier. But, okay, let me think of something else.”
Sarah kept walking, and the ghost sat still, the sheet-head turning to watch her pace back and forth.
“Ah,” Sarah said and raised a finger in the air. “Here’s one. This can’t fail. What you do is—you get underneath the bed. Probably the scariest place for most people at night…”
Sarah stopped speaking here and got underneath her bed. It was a tight squeeze, but she wanted to make sure she was showing this correctly.
“Okay, so you’re under the bed. When whoever is in bed is almost asleep, grab this part of the blankets,” Sarah indicated the part of the blankets that hung down near the floor, “and pull.”
She pulled the blankets and they landed in a heap on the floor, then she shimmied her way out from under the bed and stood up again.
The ghost seemed to be sitting up a little straighter because the sheet leaned forward as much as Sarah could tell.
“Moving blankets will scare someone?” the ghost asked.
“Yes, because blankets don’t move on their own.”
The ghost jumped up and threw its hands above its head in excitement.
“Of course! That’s brilliant! But I can’t scare you with that, you’re the one who came up with it.”
“Well, next door, there’s a little girl. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow night, but I bet you can scare her.”
The sheet came toward her and wrapped itself around Sarah’s body. Though Sarah felt the material, there was no force behind it. Weird.
“Okay, I’ll wait until tomorrow night and do it, and then I’ll report back. If all goes well…you’ll be able to see me!”
“What do you look like?”
“Well, I can take any form I like. I know! I’ll take the form of a tiger when I come to see you tomorrow.”
“Uh, how about a regular man?”
“Oh yeah, a regular man, that’s good. Makes sense.”
“Do you mind if I get a little sleep now?”
“No, no, not at all. You’ve been such a help! I’ll leave you be.”
The sheet floated toward her bedroom door with more pep than it had earlier.
The sheet turned.
“Can I have my sheet back?”
* * *
The next night as Sarah got ready for bed, she thought about the ghost and hoped it was doing well. There was no way it wouldn’t scare the little girl next door. The plan she had given it was foolproof.
The day had been a good one, especially since she had slept the night before. After the ghost left, the conditions in her room had been particularly favorable and she wondered if that was the ghost’s doing. She would ask when it visited her tonight.
Sleep came easily, and before she knew it, Sarah was awake. Her room was still and quiet for a moment, and then the bedroom door opened with no one behind it.
“Psst,” the ghost said as it entered.
Sarah couldn’t see anything, so she knew something had gone wrong.
“How did it go?” she asked.
“Well, as you can see—or not see, I should say—not so well.”
“I did everything you said. I was underneath the bed and the little girl was fast asleep. I waited until the middle of the night, so it would be scarier—and then I gingerly pulled her blankets off.”
“Hmmmm,” Sarah said, already seeing where the ghost had gone wrong, “what happened then.”
“She called out for her mother, and I got excited,” the ghost paused, and seemed to hold its breath, “and when her mother came, the little girl said she had kicked the blankets off her bed and would her mother put them back on.”
Sarah heard the ghost sigh somewhere off to her right.
“You know,” Sarah began in a gentle way, “I think you could improve on two things. One, it would be better to wait until someone is almost asleep, but not quite. If someone has already been sleeping for several hours, they won’t be as sensitive to what’s happening in the room. And two, you really need to yank the blankets off. So there’s no mistake that something—or someone—in the room had pulled them off.”
“Oh,” the ghost said a little disappointed, “she was so little, I didn’t want to pull her onto the floor too. Or startle her too badly. I just needed a little scream, even a gasp. Maybe I should try another adult tonight. I don’t want to scar any children for life.”
Sarah nodded her head and said that was a good idea. She and the ghost tossed ideas back and forth for another half hour, and then it went off and Sarah went back to sleep.
Over the next week, the ghost visited Sarah every night after attempting to scare someone. Though there was progress, it hadn’t yet succeeded, and the ghost was getting discouraged.
One night, the ghost came in early, about the time Sarah was getting ready for bed. She was surprised at how early it was, and wondered why he wasn’t off trying to scare someone. She saw the slightest impression in the blankets at the foot of her bed, and knew the ghost had sat down.
“Sarah,” the ghost started, “this will be the last night I visit. I’ve come to thank you, but also to say that I’m resigning as a ghost.”
“Oh no, ghost, don’t give up now. I mean, you have an eternity, right?”
“Sarah,” the ghost said, as the impression on the bed disappeared, “I’m not cut out for this. I’m going full time into the afterworld and leaving the ghosting to those who do it best. But I’ll never forget that you tried to help me, even when my consciousness merges with the consciousness of the entire universe. Thank you.”
Tears came to Sarah’s eyes and she was sorry she hadn’t been able to help the ghost take form. She said her goodbyes, the ghost said its, and she turned off her light and went to sleep. Weeks passed, then months.
Sarah sometimes thought about the ghost after its departure to the afterworld and wondered what it was like. She remembered that the ghost had said something about merging consciousness, and try as she might, her human mind couldn’t quite understand what that would feel like. She hoped the ghost was well.
A year later, when the ghost was a distant memory, she was sitting by herself in her living room late in the evening reading. There was a knock on the door and she jumped. She wasn’t expecting anyone.
She got up from her chair and walked to the door a little cautiously, which was silly considering whoever had knocked was still outside.
She peeped through the little hole in the middle of the door and didn’t see anyone, which served to only make her more nervous.
She almost didn’t open the door but found herself unable to resist. Her hand grasped the knob and turned, pulling as she did, and found no one there. She was about to close the door when she looked down onto her front step.
Laying before her was the half-eaten carcass of what looked like a baby rabbit. Some blood had seeped out onto the pavement and there were intestines and internal organs exposed where whatever it was had stopped eating. Sarah screamed.
“Wait! Sarah, it’s me!”
She heard the voice before she stopped screaming, and as she did, noticed a man standing before her.
He looked like any man about her age, with a short haircut and contemporary clothing, but something about him looked…thin, and she wasn’t referring to his weight.
He looked at her and seemed to realize that she was looking at him, which made him turn up his hands in front of his face and examine them. He turned them over a couple of times and then examined the rest of his body with his eyes.
“Sarah?” the man asked, not questioning her but questioning himself.
“Yes,” she replied, still a little cautiously.
“Sarah, it’s me. Ghost.”
Sarah looked back as if she didn’t quite understand him.
“Yes, you can see me?”
Once again, the man looked over his own body, and this time, smiling wide, looked back at Sarah.
“I’m sorry,” he pointed down at the dead rabbit, “about the animal. I didn’t realize it would startle you so much. I saw it over by the bushes and, well, I thought you would want to bury it.”
She smiled as it occurred to her that of course he was more comfortable with death than she was.
“Oh, um,” she started, “yes, that probably is the thing to do. Looks like something got him.”
“Yeah,” the man said, with sorrow but acceptance in his voice, “that’s life.”
The man suddenly looked up at her again, his face bright.
“Sarah. I scared you.”
“Yes, you did.”
He looked at the rabbit, like he wasn’t quite sure why this would have scared her when all of his tricks hadn’t.
“Can I come in?”
Sarah opened her door widely and allowed the man through.
It wasn’t that she could see through him, but there was something about the edges of his body that didn’t quite seem to contain anything. She wanted to reach out and touch him, but thought it would be rude to try.
“Your house. It looks the same,” the man said and smiled. “Sarah, I have to tell you. I never went on.”
“To the afterworld. I…well…I’ve been floating around the world, feeling sorry for myself, which I hate to admit. I’ve often stopped by your house, just outside it anyway, to see that everything was all right. It usually is, but tonight, I saw the rabbit and thought it was a shame for it to rot in the yard…”
“You did it. You scared me, and, ghost, now you have your form.”
He smiled now, and for a moment looked like he couldn’t believe it. He laughed a great big laugh.
“Sarah, I did it! But I didn’t mean to. I wasn’t even trying. I had no idea…”
“So what now?” Sarah asked.
“I can go ghosting and scare people by taking different forms. How about this?”
The ghost mostly remained the man that he was, but instead of hair, he now had flowers growing out of his head.
“Uh, that’s good,” Sarah began politely, “but let me give you a tip. Go bloody.”
“Bloody?” asked the ghost and looked confused for a moment, then his face lit up. “Oh, like the rabbit?”
“Yes,” Sarah said, her stomach doing a little turn at the thought of the disemboweled rabbit on her front step.
The flowers disappeared from the ghost’s head, and the next second he had his hair back. But his head hung off to one side by a thread of flesh, revealing torn muscle and exposed bones. Blood poured down the front of his shirt.
Sarah had to laugh at the fact that an almost-beheaded person was smiling so big, and despite the gore, she was immensely proud of the ghost.
The next second the ghost returned its head back onto its shoulders and removed the blood from its shirt.
“Sarah, once again you have been invaluable to me. I guess there’s nothing left to do but to start scaring people. Don’t worry, I’ll visit, and when I do, I’ll be the almost-beheaded man, so you’ll know it’s me.”
“Oh, no need for that,” Sarah began. “I’m not visited by any other ghosts, so if you just take the form you’re in now, that should suffice.”
“Oh, right. Well, I’m off!”
The ghost opened his arms and came towards her for a hug, and this time Sarah felt, if not an actual body, something with force behind it. Like hugging a balloon. A firm outer casing that held nothing but air.
The ghost smiled once more and waved as it turned the door knob and walked out the door.
Sarah had to consider the irony of a ghost using a door but figured it was just excited about its new ability to take form. She wondered if the ghost had taken the rabbit with him and walked to the door to find out.
She opened it and looked down. No such luck.
Sarah went to find her little garden spade and a pair of gloves.
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