I contently lathered the shampoo through my hair, attempting to relax in a hot shower by myself, but Benny wasn’t having it. As I leaned under the water to rinse, it went cold.
“Stop being a creep!” I yelled toward the ceiling. The hot water resumed with a little spat, spraying me in the face. Then the lights started erratically flickering, making a low buzzing sound. I sighed. We’d been going back and forth like this for ten minutes. I finally gave up enjoying myself and sped through the rest of the process.
After toweling off, I threw on an oversized sleep shirt and some lounge shorts, then padded my way into my bedroom. I bent down to dig my silver lighter out of the back pocket of the jeans crumpled on the floor, as I called out, “Benny, you need to knock it off when I’m in the bathroom. The shower is hazardous enough without your help.” I then slammed my fist on the closet door twice, for emphasis. A deep, echoing voice gargled nonsense through the painted particleboard. He really hates that.
“If you can’t behave yourself, I’m going to bed. You can sit by yourself until sunrise,” I threatened, then proceeded to light the candles littering the room.
My house came with a detached two-car garage, large enclosed front patio, and a malevolent spirit. In truth, I didn’t mind the company. I even named him. Admittedly, calling him Benny wasn’t going to win me any awards for creativity, but Killer seemed a little pretentious. Besides, I always liked the name. He had been mostly quiet when I moved in. He skulked around at night, occasionally stealing my sheets while I slept, thinking I wouldn’t know it was him. That was until he realized I could see and hear him just fine. After that, he was down-right clingy. The bathroom was the only place he gave me any privacy. Though, lately, he’d been obnoxious about what he thought was too long for a shower.
Before he could respond to my threat, the doorbell rang. I waited for a moment, deciding whether or not I wanted to answer the door this late. Then concluded, if I made the wrong choice, maybe I could feed whoever it was to Benny. I opened the door to find a teenage girl standing on the steps.
“Yes?” I asked, raising an eyebrow as I appraised her. She was maybe an inch shorter than me, with long, light-brown hair and purple bangs. Her small frame swam in an oversized black hoodie, which she paired with black jeans that had more holes than material. Despite her aggressive fashion choices, she had dainty features. I bet she cleaned up nicely for brunch at Grandma’s every Sunday.
“Uh…yeah, hi,” she stammered. Her big brown eyes, with their expertly applied eyeliner and mascara, flicked nervously over me. She looked like she was regretting her decision to ring the bell.
“Hi?” I dragged the word out questioningly. Not sarcastic enough to seem angry, but hopefully enough to get her to the point and off my doormat.
“Your lights were flashing. I just thought I’d make sure you weren’t bathing with a toaster.” The last sentence had a slight sarcastic lilt to it, as some of her confidence returned.
I laughed before I could stop myself. “What are you doing watching my house at one a.m.?”
She looked down and started to open her mouth when I heard a sound like glass shattering against a wall. We both looked back at the open window across the street. The two people shouting at each other from inside filled the otherwise quiet neighborhood. When I turned back to look at the girl, the expression on her face was both embarrassed and annoyed as she scowled back at them.
“Why don’t you come in and have a seat? I promise it’s safe, I don’t even own a toaster,” I offered.
I stood back, allowing her to walk past me. I gave one last look at the house with its noisy inhabitants and wondered if this would count as harboring a run-away. On second thought, they probably wouldn’t even notice she was gone. I closed the front door and turned to follow her into the living room.
“So, if it wasn’t a small appliance, what’s with your house?” she asked while scanning my empty walls and fireplace. The living room was small, and the only major furnishing was a dark brown, overstuffed, sectional sofa. It was too big for the space, but it was comfortable and went well with the rustic ceiling beams and 1950’s brick fireplace. The girl’s eyes darted around, probably looking for photographs or items to feign attention on. Other than Benny’s candles, I hadn’t really bothered putting anything up in the living room. I was going to have to think about decorating if I was going to make a habit of inviting people in.
“It’s an old house, they come with a lot of unexpected issues.” I smiled to myself and gestured at her to have a seat. I walked into the kitchen and poured us mugs of chocolate milk. My grandfather used to do this whenever I woke in the middle of the night. As a child, and even into my teenage years, I was plagued with night terrors that would send me bolting out of bed. If my parents had been in the picture, I’m sure I would have crawled in bed with my mother, so she could comfort me back to sleep. My grandfather wasn’t really the cuddle type, though. Instead, he would be waiting for me at the kitchen table, with my favorite mug at the ready. Whatever was going on with my neighbor tonight, it was bad enough she ended up on a stranger’s doorstep. Chocolate milk seemed fitting.
When I returned to the living room, my guest was sitting on the edge of the sofa, holding herself and staring around the room anxiously. Her eyes followed invisible paths on the walls. Watching her, I realized she could feel where Benny had been. Her eyes struggled to catch up with that part of her brain all humans try to turn off. I guess she hadn’t been looking for photographs after all. Well, isn’t that interesting?
“What’s your name?” I asked.
Startled by my quiet return to the room, she glanced up at me and dropped her hands from cradling her arms. “Katie.”
I could feel Benny slithering around my room, causing a tingling sensation on the back of my neck. Whoever Benny was when he was living, his personality was strong enough he could still make himself a bit of a pest, even to the most oblivious person. The more energy a person expels in response to him, the stronger he gets, at least to a point. Naturally, he was very interested in having Katie here. It’s rare to find someone this sensitive, and he seemed eager to play with her. I felt his power rush out through the house, testing for her reaction.
“What was that?” Katie jumped and looked back toward the closed bedroom door. Her own aura spiked in response.
“What was what?” I gave her my most innocent blank face.
“I… heard something.” Liar. You felt something but you didn’t want to say it. And I had half expected her to be honest. What was the point of all that black clothing if she was going to pretend that she couldn’t hear a ghost?
“Oh, that. That was Benny.” I handed her one of the mugs.
“Benny?” she asked, as she took the cup.
“Is he a relative?”
“No.” I smiled and sipped my milk.
“Is that his room?” she asked skeptically, while her eyes danced from my closed bedroom door to the open door belonging to the only other bedroom in the house. From the sofa you could see my drawing table with papers scattered everywhere, and the obvious lack of a bed.
“No, it’s my room.”
I watched as she tried to make sense of the conversation. “So… Benny, the not-boyfriend, is in your room in the middle of the night?” Her unease started to subside and was quickly being replaced by amusement.
“Yup.” I didn’t bother to elaborate. What she said was technically true, and implied truths aren’t an issue. Although, I was sure Benny had an opinion regarding her inference about our relationship. Luckily for me, he couldn’t share it.
“Cool.” She chugged some of her milk. When she put the mug down, she had a small chocolate mustache across her upper lip.
Trying to keep a straight face, I asked, “Now that we’ve established my living arrangements, how long have you lived across the street?”
She stretched out, resting her head back on the sofa in exasperation. “Since two weeks ago. Luckily this time we didn’t move too far, so I didn’t have to change schools again.”
“Well, that’s good,” Actually, I had already known the answer. Moving is a stressful event for rational people. It’s a downright war zone for people who don’t get along in the best situations. Since her parents are just as obnoxious with each other in broad daylight, I’m sure the entire neighborhood heard when they moved into sweet old Mrs. Green’s house. This was the first time I had really seen Katie, though. I had expected her to be just as annoying. So far, she was a pleasant surprise. Go figure.
“Yeah, not that it’s that great of a school or anything…” As Katie launched into a rant about her classes, I could see Benny’s spirit start to spread across the living room ceiling. I shook my head at him gently, trying to signal to him to stop. An agitated shiver ran across him in response. As usual, he ignored me. Katie was basically leaking her own aura all over the living room, like nothing I had ever seen, and Benny was barely containing himself. If he got ahold of it, she would definitely notice he was here. That was not the kind of conversation I was up for tonight.
I took a deep breath and pulled some of Katie’s spill into myself. My doing it would be much less noticeable—and much less damaging—than letting Benny attach himself to her. As I spun little bits of her energy into me, I watched her, making sure she didn’t show any signs that I was draining too much or too directly. Interestingly, she didn’t seem to notice or mind any of it. When it felt like I had cleared the room enough to keep Benny at bay, I refocused on what Katie was saying, while also doing my best to ignore Benny’s disappointment.
“…all a little weird like that.” She stopped then, making a frustrated sound. “I’m sorry, I’m just rambling. You don’t care about a bunch of teenagers.” Embarrassed, she tucked in the corners of her mouth.
“No, no, it’s fine. I’m just a little shocked by how much energy you have this late,” I laughed.
“I guess I am kind of hyper after everything tonight.” She shrugged it off, not taking me literally.
“What was all that noise outside about anyway?” I asked, peering at her over my drink.
Katie looked down at her cup. After a few seconds she said, “Our dishes fly.”
I choked halfway through a swallow. “Pardon?”
“Yeah, they fly. Generally, at me.” Ah.
“Well… You probably shouldn’t be out much longer then. It might upset the glassware, and then you’ll have an entire place setting revolt on your hands.” I didn’t really want to send her back home after hearing the commotion from my doorstep. Though, her waking to a taunting spirit would probably be more emotionally damaging than one night of her accustomed life. Another evening of emotional damage, for which she likely had a lifetime of built-in coping mechanisms, or one night with a mostly harmless, but terrifying, experience? Decisions, decisions.
“Thanks for the tip.” She was trying to be sarcastic but the sadness in her voice ruined the effect.
I paused for a few moments, then added, “You’re welcome to come back tomorrow, if you’d like. I sleep in pretty late, so it would need to be in the afternoon.”
“Yeah. I’m sure that’s just what you and Benny want, the neighbors’ kid hanging out.”
I smiled. “I don’t think I’m that much older than you are.” And Benny was not going to complain. Besides, he would be asleep, or whatever ghosts did during daylight hours. Either way, he wouldn’t be here, literally, climbing my walls to get to her.
She smiled back. Her dimples made the entire angsty persona wash away. Well that, and the chocolate milk that was now dried on her face. “In that case, I will return tomorrow.”
We said goodnight and she started back across the empty street. I watched her climb through a basement window. Her parents were still fighting as we’d left them, and Benny was practically breathing down my neck. “I don’t know why I invited her back,” I mused. He flickered the lights again. “Yes, I’m aware you’re excited about it.”
Benny set himself on the mission of sucking up what was left of Katie’s all too thick presence left in the living room. I settled down to try to work but couldn’t seem to stop listening for the neighbors to quiet down. Katie’s energy was still coursing through me like a sugar high. As I gazed out the window, distracted from my work, something flew over my head and hit the wall. Startled, I reached for the flat, white circle. “Did you just throw a paper plate at me?” I asked Benny, holding it up at him.
His responded with a chittering sound. He thought it was hilarious.
Shaking my head, I tossed it back at him. “Not a good habit to pick up, Benny.”
He bounced playfully in my doorway. I wasn’t the only one feeling energetic after Katie’s visit. “Fine, we can play a card game, but only for a bit. I have to get this finished for tomorrow,” I said. As soon as I made the offer, he shot from the entryway with a spark, not waiting for me. Laughing, I followed him into the living room.
It was hours later before Katie’s parents had exhausted their full vocabulary of curse words and the racket was replaced by the sound of birds chirping. I finally made my way to bed and drifted off to dreams of purple plates with wings flying around my living room, discussing which wall would shatter them best.
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