It was not that last time the ghosts would play this particular game with Marie, and although she would never admit it to anyone, especially Jane, it still unnerved her all those years later. With the beginning of the game came the more frequent arrival of the young girl. She made Marie terribly sad. She wore a lacy blue dress, and played with ghostly blocks at the end of the upstairs hall. She would often stand in front of bedroom doors, staring in with a blank face. She would sometimes sing at night, which chilled Marie to the bone, although no one ever saw the ghost in the act. In fact, Marie’s father never saw the little girl at all. It was as if she was afraid of him.
The little girl was a mystery as were most of the ghosts. They were mysteries no one wanted to solve. One or two were easy to identify as deceased family members, like her father’s uncle, but the others were unknown. There was a silent agreement it should stay that way.
The summer heat was oppressively hot, almost hot enough to make Marie glad she had been sent up to the hay loft to throw down bales for the cows…almost. The thing about the loft was it was very dark, and very large. It took up the top two floors of the barn and was filled with mountains of hay bales. Very little light made it into the depths of the loft, and the air was always thick with musty dust.
If this was not creepy enough, the entire mass was filled with tunnels and nests created by the resident barn cat colony. Every once and a while you would hear them race past in the dark, or hear their yowling screeches as they fought each other. No, Marie did not think escaping the son was worth being by herself in that place.
She was being punished. Her father had caught her out in town with a boy. Or rather someone in town, one of her father’s friends, had seen her with Chad outside the movie theater. Rotten old man. She was about to turn 16, she could have a little fun.
Sweat dropped down the back of her neck, tickling her as she heaved fresh hay bales over to the hatched door in the floor that led down to the cows pens, where Nathan was waiting to break them up.
“Incoming!” she yelled through the hole before dropping a bale through. She heard it hit the ground with a thud.
Glancing over her shoulder into the dark, she grabbed another bale. She could hear movement behind her. Shaking her head, she continued with her work.
There was a thud, something solid hitting the ground. She whirled around, eyes searching for the source of the noise. She could see nothing. Maybe a cat had taken a misstep and fell. Shrugging, she turned back to her task.
“What’s the holdup?” Nathan shouted up from the ground floor.
“Nothing. Cats being dumb.” She said, shaking her head. Before she could even throw the next bale, a horrid screech wrung through the loft. She stood straight up, eyes wide. That was far too loud to be a cat. Her blood hound, Duke, came running up to the barn, barking madly. He ran head first into the dark, his tail wagging frantically.
“Duke, come back!” she shouted, running in after him. She didn’t want him falling in a hole or getting lost. She followed his tail as best she could, throwing old hay out of the way as she went. He took a sudden turn around a pile of bales. She quickly tried to follow him, grasping in the dark. They were in the middle of the loft now, a single ray of light coming from a high window. As she came around the corner, the hay suddenly got thinner and Marie went flying forward, tripping over her own feet.
Landing on her hands and knees, she let out a cry of pain. She thought she heard Nathan yelling in the distance, probably asking where she had gone. Duke was next to her, growling and barking fiercely. Slowly, she looked up, then lout out a short scream. A thin, pale, wispy figure was floating in the air above them.
Marie could not tell if they were a man or a woman. All she saw was long hair, town clothes, and a gaunt face before it disappeared. Her heart racing, Marie leaned back onto her heals, breathing the musty air in heavily. Duke suddenly lunged forward again, sniffing the hay underneath where the ghost had been. Marie stared at him a moment before she heard the distinct hiss of a cat. She jumped up and flung herself towards Duke, wrapping her arms around his neck to drag him back.
There, nestled in the hay, was the unmistakable shape of a tiny kitten. It was black and white, like a cow, and stared up at her with huge defiant eyes. Marie glanced around her for a mother to lunge at them, then, quickly let go of Duke and snatched the kitten up, wrapping it in the bottom of her shirt before it could scratch her and before Duke could try to eat it. It struggled a bit, hissing angrily, before begrudgingly settling down.
“Come on boy.” Marie said to Duke, before carefully heading back to the front of the barn.
Why has the ghost wanted her to find this cat? It couldn’t have been a coincidence that the ghost had been right over the little creature. Had his mother abandoned him?
“There you are!” Nathan shouted as she emerged into the sun. “Why you go running off like that?”
“Heard screaming further in. Found this little guy.” Marie explained, unraveling her shirt just enough to reveal the kitten’s angry little head. Nathan leaned closer, squinting in the sun.
“Awfully small.” He said. “You wanna keep him?” He asked, smiling as Duke tried to sniff the bundle and Marie swatted him away with one hand.
“I think his mother rejected him. I ought to keep him don’t you think?”
“Maybe. See what your mother says before you get attached.” Nathan wiped his brow. “Hurry up on to the house with that thing, then come back quick. We got work to finish or your father is going to throw a fit.” Marie nodded and started her way towards the house. “Wait! What are you going to call him?” Nathan called after her. Marie considered the kitten.
“Edward.” She decided.
“That’s a pretty fancy name for a cat. And it it’s a girl?”
“Still Edward.” Marie replied. Nathan shook his head and turned away laughing. Marie walked up to the house, planning what she would say to her mother.
“But mom, the ghost wants me to have him. It might get mad if I don’t!” Yes. That argument just might work. Marie strode confidently through the front door, ready to win the argument that was about to happen.