Phantoms

Exentio Kawasaki

When I moved to this house I didn’t have many expectations, I just wanted a place that could feel like home. It’s a medium-ish log house with a slant roof in the suburbs and let me tell you, it doesn’t fit its surroundings at all, and that’s exactly why I like it so much. It feels like someone forced a square peg in the round hole, and that’s how I always felt about myself too. I wouldn’t call myself “weird”, but I guess I might be somewhat atypical. I used to spend more time playing around with the boys than with the girls, from kindergarten until the end of high school, yet I’m not really a tomboy. While the few girls I occasionally spoke to used to dance, play piano, or be into literature, I spent a lot of time with my grandpa in his woodworking shop, so maybe that’s another reason why I vibe with this house. Then there’s also this thing: I can see things that I’m not supposed to see. Spirits, weird little monsters, and ghosts. They don’t usually interact with me or with other people, nor do they bother anyone, they just live their somewhat normal life in their own world. I haven’t told my parents, it’s kinda complicated and it’s not like they need to know. When I was a kid I used to play with the ghosts of cats and dogs, and mom still pokes fun at me and says that I had lots of imaginary friends.
Anyway, the point is that when I moved to this house, it was haunted. When I set foot inside with the landlord they were already there, looking at us from the ceiling, small glowing things with no clear human shape. I was unsure whether they lived there or were just passing by, none of them said anything, but some of them got close when they realized that I could see them. They looked friendly enough and I liked the house, so I just shrugged it off, worst case I’d just have to learn how to exorcise them. Looking back, I probably thought that a haunted house is better than an empty one, I don’t like feeling lonely. Also, the rent is cheap. It’s been a long time since I moved here, probably a couple of years now that I think about it.
The insides are exactly how you expect your typical mountain house to be, which means that it’s the coziest place around, with as much exposed wood as possible including the furniture. The sleeping area isn’t separate, but it’s on a mezzanine, and from there I used to face the ghosts that lived up there on the ceiling. For at least the first month they used to observe me without moving or communicating in any way, more akin to white shadows than to ghosts. I’d glance at them from time to time but the mass of glowing ectoplasm wouldn’t budge from its place. This was way before I adopted my cat, so for the whole time it was just me and the quiet ghosts hovering over my fridge.
The first breakthrough happened when I made pumpkin soup on a cold autumnal day. As I was eating my soup, they’d come closer around me, one at a time, just to float back on the top of the ceiling as soon as I looked at them. They were attracted to the soup, for some reason, so I tried offering a spoonful of it by pointing it at the ceiling. As expected, they couldn’t eat it, but they got close again and stayed around me even after I put the spoon back into my plate. That was our first contact, and the beginning of a long friendship.
Whenever I got back home they’d get closer to me, coming from the ceiling like blobs in a lava lamp, and just hover around me, still without saying a single word. That’s when I first realized that it was unusual for ghosts to be as shapeless as they were. Yet, despite the lack of response to the few words I’d tell them, I could feel some kind of warmth when they were around me. They observed almost everything I did, whether I was reading a book, playing videogames, mindlessly scrolling on my phone, or cooking. I’d start making space for them on the sofa and move the chairs from the table so that they could sit, even though they didn’t need to; and yet, they often took the seats I readied for them. I could only see two dark spots on what I thought was their face, probably all that was left of their original shape. There wasn’t a single facial feature or kink in their bodies, when I said glowing white blobs I really meant it. When they started getting closer to me I managed to count them up: there were five of them, two of them were smaller. I thought, could they be a family? Just the thought of it was so sad, I asked them if they were, but they still didn’t answer, I thought they just weren’t able to talk. It was surprising, I even met ghosts of animals that could talk, although it’s a very rare occurrence. Overall they were a bit… underdeveloped? I can’t think of a better word, I’m not a ghost expert.
They were definitely listening to me, though, and have always been pretty understanding. Whenever I felt like I needed to be alone or needed a bit more privacy, I’d just ask kindly and they’d regroup and float back up to their usual spot in the ceiling. They also never poked their nose when I was in the bathroom or in my things, I always felt respected. They were very kind to me. I once got some bad news from a friend and cried myself to sleep; the morning after, for the first time, I found them not on their usual spot on the ceiling, but around my bed, looking out for me. They felt warmer than usual, and for the first time one of them spoke to me. They only said “good?”, but I knew that they were asking if I was okay. It cheered me up, I was glad that they worried about me. I was now sure that what we had was some kind of friendship.
Since then, they started speaking more to me. They weren’t able to say well-formed phrases, most of the time they spoke no more than a single word, and at best it was a handful of them. Still, we already had a tacit understanding, so I couldn’t ask for more. I started involving them a bit more in my life, like asking for simple opinions and to take small decisions, or with clothes or things to eat. I then decided to ask them again, “are you a family?”. It took them a while to respond. “Friends”, that’s what they’d all say, so I thought they were friends that died together. I’d ask for their names, but they didn’t know them.
We spent a good year together. I adopted my cat after asking them, and they’d play with him once in a while. I have no idea how common it is for animals to see ghosts, but I think it’s not rare since I’ve often seen cats playing with ghosts and dogs barking at them. They’d use their blobby bodies to tease him, without having to worry about scratches. With time even he grew affectionate to them, I could hear purrs when any of them were around. Actually, I think he kinda gave them the push they needed to start taking initiative individually, instead of always acting as a group: some of them would sit around me during dinner, while some would play with the cat. It was almost a relief, I really wanted each of them to have their own personality.
The more time we spent together, the more they’d get closer to being human. They started using more words, and their emotions would get more apparent by the shape of their bodies. Some of them even started following me when I went out for groceries, and sometimes they’d even play pranks, like moving objects or turning the lights on and off while playing horror games and things like that. I even witnessed two of them having a fight, I could tell by how pointy and shaky their bodies would get. I couldn’t hear anything, I think they all used telepathy to communicate with each other or something like that, they would only speak to interact with me.
The few times I had guests over they’d float around them and examine them thoroughly. One of them, one of the two small ones, was particularly mischievous and used to look under the skirts of my girlfriends, I couldn’t do anything except throw kicks at them trying not to be noticed, and whenever the girls couldn’t see me I’d scold them thoroughly. Besides that, they didn’t bother any of them, and would often give us privacy if we started talking about personal stuff.
We stayed together for a very long time, way over a year, but I had always known that one day they would’ve left me; yet, it doesn’t mean I was ready for them to leave. During our last summer together they started looking a bit restless, they wouldn’t stay calm when sitting, and started talking less to me and stopped playing with the cat. At first I thought they were having a fight again, but when I asked them if they were okay they wouldn’t answer, which was unusual, so I insisted and finally managed to get an answer.
“Leave… We, leave…” that’s what one of the small ones said.
The others finally calmed down since the secret was now out. When I asked them why they were leaving, they said that they just felt like it was about to happen soon. It left me in shock, anxious too. We lived together and got to be friends for so long, I didn’t want to believe that they’d be gone soon. But… I knew from the start that this wouldn’t last forever. I cared about them too much to just wait for them to fade away from one day to another, so I decided to throw a farewell party. And so I made pumpkin soup again, knowing that they loved it so much, after all it was the thing that first brought us together. I was the only one eating, but it still felt like we were sharing our food. We went to the back of the house, I lit up some cheap fireworks that were left from New Year’s, and sat on the grass, with them around me closer than ever. That’s when I saw them glow stronger than usual. They always had this faint glow, but they didn’t really cast any meaningful amount of light; this time, however, they were bright enough to light everything up softly. Suddenly, I found myself inside their memories: they were two boys and three girls, and all lived their own lives alone and apart from each other. They’ve always been lonely, without any friends. They all had it rough. They weren’t of the same age, nor from the same times: I’m sure that one of the boys was born over a hundred years ago, and the youngest girl died just recently. When they first spoke about friends, it wasn’t about their relationships: it was about what they were looking for. They didn’t show me their deaths, and I wasn’t ready to see them; however, one of them always had very frail health, so I assumed that he died due to his sickness. As for the pumpkin soup, there was nothing that explained it, and when I asked they still didn’t have an answer. Despite the sad memories, I found it somewhat amusing that they like it so much and don’t even know why. I thanked them for sharing their memories, for keeping me company, and for being my friends. I felt their warmth getting stronger, their glow too: I understood that they were about to leave. I gave them my goodbye, my tears wouldn’t stop. They began to float towards the sky, slowly waving their ghostly, jelly limbs, and went up toward the stars, until I couldn’t see them anymore. It all happened quietly, it was only me and my heartbeat. Then I saw polar lights painting the sky, their last gift to me. The sky over Sogna has never been so beautiful.
The morning after my cat seemed a bit depressed too, we both had much fun with them around. I didn’t hear anyone talk about the sky, so it was probably some kind of spiritual manifestation. After learning about their stories, I made up my mind to spend more time with my other friends so that they’ll never feel alone like those kids. I sent messages, made calls, planned some meetups with friends I haven’t seen in a while after school. I can still feel the unpleasant feeling of loneliness in their memories lingering in my head, nobody should ever feel that way. I’m glad I had the chance to be their friend and to have brought them together, they made me feel less lonely after moving out and I can’t thank them enough for their kindness. It was a very weird relationship, especially at the beginning, but I’m convinced that the best things come out of the strangest situations: if I weren’t a strange girl I would’ve never met them, so now more than ever I’m fortunate to have this gift that lets me be friends with phantoms.