A Ghost Story

Entry by: scifisam

25th May 2016
It was cute at first. Everyone thought so – “Goth from birth!” crowed Rebecca’s friend Jane, who probably fit that description herself. “Ask it where my Mum put her diamond ring,” said Bilal, ever practical.

“Mum, please put a plate out for my ghost!” was its innocent introduction. There was an empty setting anyway, as Ben was away with work yet again.

The ghost’s plate mysteriously filled up with all the food Sophie didn’t like – “no, Mum, my ghost likes broccoli!” The four-year-old then did her usual stream-of-consciousness ramble about her day while Rebecca nodded along. Later she realised the ghost had delivered its warning in that first monologue – the words Saturday and Army had definitely come up. Not that it would have changed anything if she had heard it; haunting is not, she reasoned, like a cancer, treatable if caught early.

The second time the ghost appeared, it took the blame for breaking the fish tank. “My ghost did that,” explained Sophie, tearfully. “Bad ghost! She says she had to.” A pause while she listened to something. “She says she this is us. Except wrong way round.” She pointed at the flopping, desperate goldfish as Rebecca scooped them into a mug of water.

“Some of them might be OK, sweetie, don’t worry.” Sophie looked so distressed it was difficult to be angry with her.

“Yeah, that’s what my ghost says too, some will be OK, like me.” She brightened up. “But only for a little bit,” she added. And she turned out to be right about the fish.

The third time the ghost appeared it was, again, right about something unpleasant. “My ghost says Daddy’s been very naughty, with a lady called Melissa. She has orange hair.”

That described a woman from Ben’s office, someone who’d always made Rebecca’s hackles rise. Melissa had been making something else on Ben’s body go up, it turned out. Now he was away with work for the foreseeable.

The fourth, fifth and sixth times the ghost appeared, it was drawing on the wall. There was nothing particularly unusual in this with a four-year-old, but usually Sophie didn’t expect Rebecca to analyse the pictures. “Is it… a shark? A house? A banana?” she guessed desperately. The final time Sophie threw her crayons on the floor and declared that she’d never be good at drawing. “But I’ll be good at writing, you’ll see.”

The seventh time was first thing in the morning. Sophie came into the living room, took a deep breath, and said “on Saturday there’s going to be a half-quack and Sue’s army and everybody will go to sleep like Grandma except me and I’ll go when I’m big, when I’m seven, because I did too many poos.” She covered her mouth and giggled.

Jane had stayed over to drink wine and bitch about Ben and neither woman was awake enough to deal with the surrealism of young children. “Right. Peppa Pig?” suggested Jane, to Sophie’s delight. “That's cruel,” muttered Rebecca. Jane laughed as she went up the stairs to collapse in Rebecca’s room, leaving Rebecca to suffer the pink menace. “She’s your daughter!”

After that Sophie kept on rambling about the half-quack and Sue’s army. They were very bad, apparently, and Mummy had to listen, and it was all on Saturday. Rebecca asked Sue, a worker at Sophie’s nursery, if she had any idea what this was about, but she was mystified. “I like the idea of me being head of an army, though!”

Sophie rolled her eyes when Rebecca told her this. “Sue isn’t the head, silly. She goes to sleep like Grandma too.”

“Who else goes to sleep like Grandma?”

“You do. And Jane. And Daddy. And Miss Warburton. And Nanna and Grandad and Uncle Simon and Lyndsey and Bilal and Tasha and Arthur and…” She continued listing names from her nursery and neighbourhood - even her favourite checkout assistant at the supermarket.

Rebecca laughed. “So everybody then?”

“Not everybody – not me, till I die of poo.” Rebecca sniggered. “It’s not funny, Mummy. It’s very bad. It’s dozen-tree. Lots of people get it.”

“Doesn’t sound like there are lots of people left.”

“No,” agreed Sophie seriously. “Not lots.”

“Dozen-tree” now got added to the surreal lexicon alongside half-quack and Sue’s army. The half-quack and Sue’s army took almost everyone, and dozen-tree took most of the rest. And it started on Saturday, although four-year-old Sophie had only a vague idea what “Saturday” meant.

Then things escalated sharply. At work, Rebecca got a call asking her to come to the nursery quickly; she’d see why when she got there. She found her daughter wearing her PE kit, her hair and skin damp. “She’ll need a proper bath when she gets home,” said Sue. “Stay here, Sophie love, while I show Mummy something.”

Sophie had smeared poo all over the nursery hallway walls. Rebecca clasped her hand over her mouth in shock and disgust. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. She’s never done anything like this before.” Looking at the smears, though, Rebecca admitted to herself that that wasn’t exactly true; they looked rather like the ambiguous drawings on the walls at home.

Driving home, Rebecca gently asked Sophie why she’d done that.

“It was my ghost.”

“You can’t blame the ghost for something like that, Soph.”

“Yes I can! It was her! Her her her! Because of the dozen-tree, to make you understand! The dozen-tree takes me! Too many poos!”

Comprehension dawned. “Sophie, do you mean dysentery?”

“That’s what I said! Dozen-tree, dozen-tree! It takes me, then my ghost comes here.”

“Sweetie, dysentery is when you get sick from dirty water. Don’t worry – our water is clean.”

“Yes, Mummy, it’s clean now.” Sophie sighed.“But not after Saturday.”

“What happens on Saturday?”

“The half-quack and Sue’s army! I’ve told you a billion trillion times!” Sophie balled her tiny fists and thumped her car seat. “Why don’t you believe my ghost? She was right about Daddy and the lady with the orange hair.”

The mention of Melissa distracted Rebecca. That cow. The break-up must be the reason behind Sophie’s odd behaviour, she decided. Yes, that makes perfect sense. And Orange-Hair would probably be there when Sophie visited Ben this weekend. They could deal with it.

It was fortunate that Rebecca opted to spend that free evening with Jane, Bilal and a Dexter boxset, because her ex phoned at 11pm, demanding to bring Sophie home. Again it was something not to be explained over the phone, but not poo this time.

“Your daughter threatened to kill Melissa,” he told Rebecca. “Is she getting this from you?”

“What? No, of course not! I never talk about that woman in front of our daughter! And I don’t believe you!”

“She said ‘you’re going to die on Saturday, and so’s Daddy.’”

Rebecca laughed, relieved. “Oh, that. She’s been going on about that all the time lately – not just you, but me and my Mum and everybody in the entire town. Don’t worry, you know how morbid young kids can be sometimes.”

“Does she also talk about an earthquake?”


“An earthquake. That’s what’ll take us all on Saturday. Except Sophie who’ll be taken to Daventry for some reason.”

Comprehension reared its head again. “Ah. An earthquake.” That’s what half-quack meant. “But this is not an earthquake zone. The biggest we’ve ever had here hardly knocked the bins over.”

Ben shrugged. “Well, she’s freaked Melissa out. It’s better if she doesn’t stay over at the moment.”

Of course it would be – then he wouldn’t have to do early morning childcare. But there was no point arguing while Rebecca’s friends were there, so she put her daughter to bed and decided to update them on the weirdness.

“Becks, do you mind if I talk to Sophie? She might tell good old Uncle Bil more than she’s telling you. I’m curious about where this is coming from.”

“Sure, go wild. She’s probably awake anyway.”

When Bilal returned, he looked ill. “Didn’t you say the ghost was her imaginary friend?”

“Yes… is it not?”

He poured himself a large glass of wine. “That’s not what Sophie’s saying. I feel weird saying this, but she says it’s her ghost.”

“Yes, her ghost, her imaginary friend with the supernatural name.”

“No, she means her own ghost. Her own spirit come back from the dead.”

Rebecca and Jane stared at him.

“From after she dies of, erm, dentistry? When she’s seven?”

“Dysentery. That’s what she’s said before.”

“That. God, four-year-olds are like crossword clues sometimes. We all die somehow-or-other, on Saturday, and she waits till three years later to die of dysentery. And she’s livid with you for not listening to her. Says you’re a very naughty Mummy and if you don’t listen, you don’t learn.” He smiled briefly.

“The somehow-or-other is an earthquake,” admitted Rebecca. “But we don’t get earthquakes here – do we?”

Suddenly doubting everything they knew, the three of them investigated online. No, there really were no earthquakes. They were, to their surprise, on a fault line, but the last big one had been when hippos were swimming in the Thames. There was no danger of it happening now.

“Jeez, she must have been watching some horrors at your ex’s house,” said Jane, and Rebecca decided to accept that as the explanation for now.

Three days later, Jane, who hated talking on the phone, called her friend. “You’d better check your Facebook. And your texts. Sophie’s ghost’s been busy.”

“yoo are awl gowing to die neks Saturdy,” said the status update. And the texts to everyone including Ben, who left an angry voicemail, and Rebecca’s boss, who, fortunately, assumed it was Sophie texting and congratulated her on her early writing skills.

“It was my ghost,” said Sophie. “Everybody needs to know so they can get away. We need to get away – please, Mummy, please, please.”

Rebecca, increasingly unnerved, considered it. “OK, we’ll go to Nanna’s, and we’ll talk about this there, young lady.” She tried to sound stern, but her voice quavered.

“No, Mummy, not Nanna’s.”

“Oh yes, she dies too, doesn’t she?” Rebecca considered her finances, recently stretched due to paying the mortgage alone. “I’ll find somewhere.” At least it was the time of year when B&Bs were cheap.

The b&b was more of a manor house, really, being let out by its impoverished farming owners. Sophie gazed up at the peeling walls and leaking gargoyles and nodded with satisfaction.

The first couple of days were carefree, helping the owners brush down their horses, watching the cows being milked, snuggling together in the unheated bedroom. Even Saturday carried on normally, although Rebecca had to swallow down dread all day.

“Good night, Mummy. I love you,” said Sophie at bedtime. “And so does my ghost.”

It wasn’t the shaking that woke Rebecca, it was the crashing of a suit of armour in the hall. She rose in pitch blackness. “Don’t worry, old electrics, happens all the time! I’ll have it fixed in a jiffy!” called the owner. “You and your baby can go back to sleep.”

But Sophie was gone. Rebecca hunted by candlelight, speed-walking through the house, calling out her name, and finally went outside.

The loss of artificial light made the countryside sky even starrier. Gazing up at it, Rebecca saw a shape. On the roof, astride a gargoyle.

Sophie sang out, “I’m the king of the castle, you’re the dirty rascal, ner-ner-ner-ner-ner!”

“Come down, sweetie!” Rebecca shouted, horrified.

“No, Mummy, you come up!”

The roof was hard to climb – how had Sophie done it? – but finally Rebecca was there. Sophie handed her a curtain cord. “Here, Mummy, my ghost says tie yourself down, like me.”

Defeated, Rebecca accepted the makeshift tether and joined her daughter on the gargoyle. They gazed out together into the night.

“Look, Mummy, told you! Sue’s army!”

Numb, Rebecca watched the world disappear, swallowed by the wave of an enormous tsunami.
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