Fiction: First Haunt – Part Two

Aisling and Eadan clapped back into the house long after dark, each of them instantly rippling the quiet with echoes. I looked up from the table and just caught a flash of Eadan. He ran to the stairs and disappeared up them before Aisling had pushed the door back into its frame and slid the lock home. I still saw the bruise on his jaw.

Shaking her head, Aisling smiled after him. She kissed me, leaning into my shoulder in a way that promised she was tired, even though she had crossed the room in strong strides. I squeezed her hand, and she pushed off my shoulder to scrounge behind me in the kitchen.

“Did he eat?” I asked.

“Emalie fed him,” she said. “She brought dinner for everyone. Said something about figuring I still hadn’t learned how to tell time.”

I nodded. “You haven’t.” Wanting to catch the glare I had earned, I turned around. She knotted her eyebrows together, bread in her hands, and the cupboard open behind her head. I shrugged toward the black window. She snorted. Then she turned around to shut the cupboard and pull cheese out of another door.

“Did you see Tema today?” she asked.

“Not for long,” I said. “She said she wanted to sleep forever—” Aisling snorted through another laugh. “—And Ranan got antsy being outside the house.”

“Did you see Eadan’s new shiner?” Aisling asked me. She looked at me, eyebrows high, as if she were vaguely impressed. Tearing off a piece of bread, she tucked it into her mouth.

“Yes,” I said.

She chewed quickly and swallowed. “He said you were there when Ranan gave it to him,” she said.

“I was,” I said. “And then we spent an hour practicing how to apologize without calling him a frog-face, doo-doo head, or duck butt. If you stick around in the morning, you might catch the performance.”

“Oh, I’d like that,” she said. She leaned her hip against the counter and took another bite, this time with a piece of cheese on top. “Do you know what he said to her?”

I shook my head.

“He told her that her birthday was coming next.”

I blinked.

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m still trying to dig the insult out of that one.”

“Our children are extraordinary individuals,” I said.

Aisling grinned at me. Took another bite.

I glanced at my hands. The quiet settled back into the room, in a way that almost felt like it might hold for the night. Eadan was still creaking around in his room, moving quickly, but he would jump into his bed soon enough. Ranan was already fast asleep. If I closed my eyes, I imagined it could sneak up on me as well. Aisling’s shoulders were curling forward, and just a few bites in, her fingers were tearing pieces off more slowly. She could put everything back into the cupboard in a moment.

I hesitated, then straightened my shoulders. “Ranan wants to catch a ghost.”

Aisling chewed, swallowed, and held my eye for a long minute. “Like… with a trap?”

“I hope not,” I said.

“It sounds like a bad idea,” Aisling agreed.

“She brought it up four or five times today,” I said. “And asked me for help.”

“Has she ever seen one?” Aisling asked. “I thought they mostly stayed down by the market and the docks.”

I nodded. They usually followed the men and women who climbed off ships and wandered through the city with them for a week or two before the moved on. For whatever reason, no ghost liked to follow the locals. Still, Ranan had ridden on my shoulders to the market more than once, and every once in a while the ghosts wandered under her bedroom window in the middle of the night.

“She wants to hug it and give it a bath,” I said.

Aisling paused again. Then her mouth tilted up into a smile that was almost loud enough to become a laugh. “She wants to hug a ghost and punch her brother.” Aisling shook her head and turned around to put the bread away. “Let’s keep her.”

I ducked my head to hide my answering chuckle.

Crossing the room, Aisling gently took my hand and pulled me out of my seat. She turned the lamps down, and in the dim light that sifted in through the window, she led me upstairs.

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