Catherine could not manage to fall asleep.
“There are Things out there, Father. Frightening Things!” She said.
Her father listened, but didn’t care. “There is unfinished work to be done, Catherine, and your silly whining is not of assistance!” His tone was firm and final, but he never yelled. Catherine understood that there was no use persisting. She rolled over on her side and shut her eyes obediently as her father walked away with brisk strides.
Catherine always heard the Things after her father left the room. She felt the Things. She smelled the Things.
A lengthy creek was followed by a spooky moan. She supposed that it could have been the housekeeper, Harmonica, who always gave Catherine an eerie feeling. But even the air felt considerably colder, and Catherine’s stomach stopped moving up and down. She stopped taking breaths, stopped breathing at all. Her eyes opened.
Catherine gave a shout of surprise, and pulled her blankets over her face.
“Not so loud! I have sensitive ears, you know!” Said a rough, quiet voice.
Catherine slowly uncovered her face. A pale, white, glowing man stood right at the foot of her bed. But the most frightening part about it was that the figure was not –could not be- solid. He was almost see-through, but not quite.
“Hello,” Catherine said tentatively, her voice lowered considerably. “How do you do?”
“Not very well, thank you. You see, I’m dead.” The man shuddered.
“Dead? Why, you must be a Ghost, then!” said Catherine.
“Yes, I suppose I am.” Said the Ghost sadly.
“But what is your name?” Catherine asked.
“I have forgotten it. It does not do to dwell upon things of the past.”
“I see,” said Catherine, although she didn’t. “But surely you remember something about your name. The first letter, perhaps? Otherwise, what do people call you?”
“I have entirely forgotten everything about my name. I don’t need one anymore. No one has talked to me in three hundred eighty four years. I have been all alone this whole time.” The Ghost said sadly.
“Are all ghosts alone, like you?” Catherine inquired.
“I don’t know. I don’t even know if there are other ghosts. Perhaps I am the only one.”
“Yes, perhaps.” Catherine agreed, for she had never met another ghost before.
“It is nice to talk to someone, other than myself. It is quite boring, being all alone for almost four centuries.”
“Is there a reason why I’m not breathing?” Catherine asked, realizing this for the first time. “Am I dead, too?” There was a hint of fear in her voice.
“No, I suppose that because I am in your presence, you don’t need to breathe. You are not dead, let me assure you. If you were dead, you would know. When you are a ghost… it is awful.” The Ghost said sadly.
“Do you despair in being a ghost?” Catherine asked.
“No,” said the Ghost. “I have learned that there is never any use in despairing. I have learned that even in the darkest of settings there is always a speck of light, even if it is not always in the most obvious places.”
Catherine thought she understood. “It’s like turning on the lights when it is dark.”
“Yes,” Nodded the Ghost. “But one must always search for the light switch, else they might never find it!”
“That would be terrifying!” Catherine exclaimed, a little loudly.
“Shhh! My ears hurt!” The Ghost said.
“Sorry, “ Catherine whispered.
“It’s all right.” The Ghost said.
“What’s your light switch?”
“Singing.” The Ghost said. “I always love to sing. It makes me find the speck of light in being a ghost.”
“Singing!” Catherine repeated. “Can you sing for me, please?”
“Oh, no! I am an awful singer!” The Ghost said.
“Oh, please!” Catherine pleaded.
“Oh all right. Fine,” The Ghost said. He began to sing.
“My voice may be a bit rusty,
And my robes may be a bit dusty,
But my heart has stayed fresh
Despite my rotten flesh
So I still may be deemed very trusty.”
“Oh, that was wonderful! Do sing again for me, please!”
The ghost looked very pleased with himself. His smile gleamed in delight, with pearly silver teeth that looked rotten and had loads of cavities in them. “Why of course, my dear child!” he said jubilantly.
“A wicked professor he was, yes Sir.
An awful confessor he was, yes Sir.
Oh, Sir! No, Sir! Why, Sir! Oh my, Sir!
For as ghosts we’ll return, Sir, he said.
Oh, Sir! No, Sir! Why, Sir! Oh my, Sir!
For a wicked deed done, Sir, he did.
Catherine pondered the song as The Ghost bowed for her.
“It was a lovely song,” she said. “Did you write it? Is it true about the professor?”
“Yes, I wrote it,” The Ghost said proudly. Then his tone became more serious. “And yes, it is true.”
“I don’t understand it very well, Ghost. Would you explain it to me, please?”
“I- I suppose so, yes,” said The Ghost. “I have had a number of unfortunate run-ins with a daring professor. He has been working hard to prove… to prove to the world that ghosts like me exist.”
“And is that so terrible?” Catherine asked.
“Yes!” exclaimed The Ghost. “If people knew that they would come back as ghosts, they wouldn’t understand! They wouldn’t care if they died, so long as they’d come back. They’d be killing themselves all the time, and come back as a ghost… but they wouldn’t understand. No, child, being a ghost is quite dreadful. It is nothing nearly as wonderful as actually living, and it’s awfully lonely.”
“But there’s a speck of light!” exclaimed Catherine.
“Yes, but that speck of light is ever so small, and only truly wise people would be observant enough to search for it. And in any case, I’m not even positive that everyone will turn out as a ghost. I’ve never met another one.”
“Oh,” said Catherine. “But who? Who is this professor?”
“Why, none other than your father!” said The Ghost.
“Father would never do such an awful thing!” exclaimed Catherine.
“Oh, he doesn’t realize how awful it is. He thinks he’ll be glorified in discovering such an existence. He doesn’t know… or care.” said The Ghost bitterly.
“Oh, dear! Can I be of any assistance?” Catherine asked.
“Well… I suppose… you could sneak into his study and steal his paperwork,” said The Ghost. “It would put his work back a few years… that would be a great help.”
Catherine gasped, softly, so as not to disturb The Ghost’s sensitive ears. “The study?” She gulped.
“Yes, why, what’s wrong?”
“Well, it’s just- I’ve never been allowed to enter his study! And-“
“And what, child?” The Ghost said impatiently. “Don’t you understand, this is important!”
“There are Things in there!” Catherine said, and then squeaked.
“What Things?” asked The Ghost.
“Well, I don’t know exactly,” she said. “I can hear them –and smell them, and feel them- but I don’t know what they are!”
The Ghost chuckled. Catherine looked at him indignantly.
“No, no, child! I’m not laughing at you. I am the Things to which you are referring.”
Catherine gave him a quizzical look.
“I groan. I creak. I smell like an animal –I have not bathed for three hundred eighty-four years, mind you. And I believe I give off a rather cold aura. I am sorry for frightening you, but for years I have been searching for the papers that your father currently holds and have finally found them in his study. Now, are you ready?”
Catherine drew a deep breath. “Yes, I’m ready.”
“Good. Now I will go on and check his bedroom to see if he is sleeping. Wait here.”
Catherine waited patiently until the Ghost returned.
“Good. He is asleep. Now, it is your job to go on in there and fetch a stack of papers. They will be old, wearing parchment, most likely in a safe place.” The Ghost said as he finally entered the room. “Go, child! Go now!” He called after her as she nodded and tiptoed quickly out of the room.
Catherine was careful not to creak on the floorboards. She found that she was breathing again, so she tried to breathe quietly. She quietly entered her father’s study, opening the door very carefully, and froze in her tracks. There, glaring ferociously at her, was the housekeeper, Harmonica, holding a stack of moldy parchment. Harmonica’s eyes narrowed into little slits with only a sliver of her small black pupils visible.
Catherine took a step backward, at loss for words. She had certainly not expected this. She did not know what to do. Her head was swimming in thoughts. Should she snatch the papers from Harmonica’s hand and run? Should she quietly retreat back into the bedroom and ask the ghost for instructions? She decided on the latter and carefully opened the door.
“Not so fast!” Said Harmonica, sharply yet quiet enough so as not to wake her boss. Catherine drew in a sharp breath. “Is it not well past your bedtime?”
“I- I suppose so,” Catherine said fearfully.
“Then why are you in here?” Harmonica demanded.
“I… I was lost,” said Catherine, realizing a moment after she had said it how awful a lie it was.
“Lost?” Said Harmonica scornfully. “In your own home?”
“I thought not.” There was a moment’s silence. Harmonica continued to glare furiously at Catherine and Catherine wanted nothing more than to run and hide. But she remained there, unsure of what would happen next. Finally, Harmonica spoke. “Go back to bed, little girl.”
Suddenly, fierceness sparked in Catherine. She remembered the song that The Ghost sang about the wicked professor. “No, Sir!” She said very quietly.
“What was that?” Harmonica narrowed her eyes.
Harmonica looked as though she might have murdered Catherine. “No?” she said, in a dangerously quiet voice. “Is that what you said to me? No?”
“I won’t let you leave with those Ghost papers!” Catherine cried.
“You silly little girl!” Harmonica sneered. “You think you can stop me? I’ve been trying to steal these papers for years! I’ve been pretending to be a housekeeper for your home, I’ve given up my entire life for this! These papers will be worth more than you can imagine! Ghosts, little girl! Life after death! Do you realize the importance of these documents? I have worked so hard to get up to this moment! You will not stop me!” She shrieked.
“I will!” shouted Catherine. “I will! I will!” And instinct guided her as she reached for the papers and grabbed them right out of Harmonica’s hand. She dodged Harmonica’s reaching hand and ripped the documents into two. Harmonica froze as Catherine ripped the papers into fourths, and then eighths. She threw them into the fireplace and the two of them watched as the bits of parchment turned into ashes.
Harmonica screamed. She grabbed the letter opener on Catherine’s father’s desk and Catherine saw what she was about to do. “Life! Life after death!” She screeched. And before Catherine could move, before Harmonica could stab herself, The Ghost sailed into the room. They both stopped moving and stared as The Ghost grabbed the letter opener from out of her clutches and threw it out the window.
“The professor is luckily still asleep. We must all lower our voices, now, before he wakes!” The Ghost said in a hushed voice, rubbing his ears in pain.
Harmonica was shaking with fright, or perhaps she was just shivering from the extreme cold that had just settled inside the room, despite the burning fireplace. The Ghost glared furiously at her. “You,” he spat. “You will go far away. Far, far away. You will never return to this household, never again. Go now. Now!” He said. He too was shaking, out of anger. Harmonica fled the room, pushing Catherine aside, and ran.
The Ghost turned to face Catherine.
“You have done extremely well, child. I am truly, immensely proud of you and your efforts. Thank you, thank you for your bravery and quick thinking!” The Ghost beamed.
The only thing Catherine could do was smile.
Weeks later, Catherine climbed into her bed as her father said his usual short and annoyed goodnight. Lately, these had become more irritated and angry, as he had lost his hard work and his housekeeper all at once. Her father was so distressed that he did not even think to restart his research, and all ghosthood remained a secret. Catherine had been blamed and yelled at, but she had learned from The Ghost how to find her speck of light. Her light switch, she soon found out, was listening to music that calmed her and consoled her. Of course, The Ghost, who often visited her, was keen to provide such music. And Catherine lived on with her speck of light until the day she died and beyond.
Age 12, Grade 7
Abraham Joshua Heschel School