“You don’t believe in ghosts,” Aaren said and looked across the table at her friend, Chaela. It was the look that made the other girl pause and take notice of the question, not the tone.
Chaela swiped her wet rag in a close circle on the table top one more time, before she stopped, smiling lightly and looked Aaren in the eye. She shook her head. “No,” she said. Then she went back to scrubbing the table. The top rocked as she worked, and Aaren leaned back to pull the bowl of half-shucked nuts into her lap.
“No,” Aaren repeated, almost questioning.
Without looking up from her work, Chaela shook her head.
Aaren cracked another nut. She twisted her hand to drop the shell into one side of the wide bowl, then back to put the nut meat in the other. “But you believed in the rabid bear the size of a house in the woods last summer.”
“Yes,” Chaela said. “It made sense.”
“And you believed Taddy about the shark the size of your arm that burrowed inside you, swam in your blood, and ate you inside out as you walked about town,” Aaren said.
“Gave me nightmares for months,” Chaela said, as if Aaren hadn’t been there.
“And you believed they could live in puddles,” Aaren said.
Chaela gave the table one more broad swipe and straightened up. She shook her head, shrugged, and sighed. “It just rained so much that summer. The puddles were huge.” She took two steps over to the next table, bent and started scrubbing.
“And you believed in the wind spirit cousins of Fate,” Aaren said, twisting to face her.
“So many things go missing when left out-of-doors,” Chaela said. “And they’re not light enough for any old wind to pick up with their light fingers.”
Aaren paused, a nut resting in the metal jaw of the cracker. She blinked. “You still believe in the wind spirits?”
Chaela looked pointedly over her shoulder, daring her to ask that a second time.
Aaren couldn’t work the sentence out of her mouth again, so she shut her mouth and swallowed. She cracked the nut quickly, twisted her hand to put things in their proper places, and picked up another. “But you don’t believe in ghosts,” she repeated. She glanced at the other girl below her eyebrows.
Chaela wiped down the corners of her table, running the rag all the way around the edges. Then she straightened, refolding the cloth to find a clean edge. She turned, resting her back against the table. “Monsters make sense,” she said carefully. She dropped her hands against her thighs, rag damp against her apron. “There are scary things in the world, and probably a load of them more frightening than anything we can dream up in darkest hour. But ghosts aren’t monsters.”
Aaren rested her hands on the edge of the bowl with a short breath, mirroring Chaela’s attention. “What are they then?”
“Hands that can’t touch? Bodies that aren’t there? Unfinished business pinning their nothingness to the living world?” Chaela tried on a smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “They’re a wish. They’re somebody’s dreadful hope for one last chance, for time to do all the things they swore they’d do one day. With no deadline.”
Chaela started to laugh and Aaren rolled her eyes at the joke she knew was coming.
“Because they’re already dead!” Chaela said. She grinned and shook her head. “And nothing under the sky can take a ghost away until they’ve finished all their heart’s desires. It’s just one more excuse for why it isn’t necessary to fit every good thing into today.”
Chaela shrugged. She started to turn back to her work, then stopped herself, held Aaren’s eye and waited.
Aaren shook her head slowly, not taking her eyes from Chaela’s face. “You can tell that someone made up ghosts, but you can’t tell that someone made up Blood Burrow Puddle Sharks?” she asked, almost pleading. She titled her head, begging for an answer.
Chaela threw her rag at Aaren’s head.