Fiction: First Haunt – Part Three

Aisling woke late, slipping out of our bed just as the sun was coming up. The bedroom curtains turned the light violet, filled the room with blurred shadows. I woke enough to feel that her side of the bed was empty, then heard her step quietly out of the room. She would be in a hurry to get to her workshop. I balled my pillow under my head and shut my eyes, only listening to see if she would shake Eadan awake and drag him along.

A door creaked in the hall. The floor hummed under feet. Aisling murmured.

Half-asleep, it took me a moment to realize that Ranan was answering her. I lifted my head to hear them better.

“Do I have to come, too?” Ranan was asking, a little too clearly, a little too high, as if she had been jerked awake instead of coaxed up from sleep.

“No, no,” Aisling said. She was harder to hear, calm and quiet. “You’re still too little to come and play with my toys with me. Just Eadan and me. But I heard that you want to catch a ghost.”

There was a pause. Ranan might have nodded.

“Do you know how to catch a ghost?” Aisling asked.

“I want to make it a cake,” Ranan said. Her tongue was slower now. The syllables slid into each other.

“A cake?” Aisling laughed a little. “Do you think it’ll wear it as a hat?”

“No,” Ranan said. “You eat a cake.”

You eat a cake,” Aisling said. And Ranan giggled just a little as if Aisling had tickled her. “And I definitely eat cakes. But I don’t think your ghost will. They don’t like to eat our food.”

“I saw them eat our food,” Ranan said. “A wagon ran it over, and they ate it. They just don’t like it when we touch it. You told me, remember?”

“Oh,” Aisling said. “It’s hard to make a cake without touching it. Do you know what might work better?”

“What?” Ranan asked.

“Water.”

“There’s water everywhere,” Ranan said.

“Yes, but they drink sweet water, like you,” Aisling said. “The salt in the harbor will make them sick.”

“Like me?” Ranan said.

“Just like you,” Aisling assured her. “I bet if you leave a bowl of water out after dark tomorrow, they’ll come around. They feel strong when it’s dark. And they feel safe when they feel strong.”

Another pause.

“But they don’t like cake like me?” Ranan asked doubtfully.

Aisling laughed. “No, squidlet. Ghosts are silly. Now, go back to sleep. You’re going to be up late if you want to catch it.”

Aisling slipped out of her room, knocked on Eadan’s door and ordered him out of bed. The house turned quiet after they thundered down the stairs and clapped out the door. I listened to see if Ranan had gotten up, then fell back to sleep until the sun invaded despite the curtains and the room had grown warm enough to climb out of bed.

Ranan told me about her plan over breakfast: “We need a big, big bowl of sweet water.”

“How big?” I asked.

She put her arms out on both sides of her. Then she rescued the oatmeal on the end of her spoon before it fell, shoving it quickly into her mouth.

Opening the cupboard, I pulled out a wooden bowl about the size of my spread hand. It made a thin thunk against the table as I placed it in front of her. Ranan gave me a dull glare.

“Bigger,” she said, and scooped up another spoonful of oatmeal.

I brought her another bowl.

“Bigger,” she said.

I brought her the largest one in the kitchen. She measured it against her arms, then shook her head again. “Bigger,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“I want a big ghost,” she told me.

“Then we have to go get one from a shop,” I said.

She considered that. Sucking on her spoon, she glanced over her shoulder at the door.

“Can Aunt Tema give us one instead?” she asked.

I raised my eyebrows. “You want to bring her soup again?”

“No,” Ranan said without looking at me. “But we’re going to.”

I laughed a little. She wasn’t wrong. “We’ll ask her,” I promised.

Ranan finished off her oatmeal faster than usual. Hopping down of her chair, she brought me her dishes. Then she waited at my hip for me to finish scrubbing them clean and toweling them dry. As usual, she was unaware that colliding with her every time I turned got in the way, and took my hand as soon as it was free. We packaged up the soup, tying a towel through the handle of the lid and under the pot to keep it from spilling. Ranan shoved her feet into her shoes, then stomped around with the laces flopping, waiting for me to tie them. We put on our jackets, and stepped out the door.

Ranan stayed at my hip down Dove Street, across Dempsers, and all the way up Seden to Tema’s house. At the door, she slid in front of me and knocked. Yesterday, we had let ourselves in after waiting for a few. Today, there was a shuffle inside the house and Tema greeted us with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Her hair was roughly knotted at the back of her head, freshly washed. Her nose was a slightly darker shade of red.

“Look,” she said. “I’m upright. I don’t need more soup.”

“We brought you more soup,” I said, and smiled.

She rolled her eyes and invited us inside. The shades were drawn. The couch was a tangle of more blankets. The entire first floor was warm and shadowed, and she had a pot of water boiling away on the stove.

“Are you feeling better?” I asked.

“Do you have a big, big bowl?” Ranan asked.

Blinking, Tema shut the door behind us. “Well, one of those questions is interesting,” she said. She glanced at me, then leaned her hands on her knees to look Ranan in the eye. “Why do you want to know?”

“I need one,” Ranan said.

“Sure,” Tema said. She pointed toward the kitchen. “Check the bottom shelf by the stove.”

“Thank you,” Ranan said, and ran off to conduct her search.

Tema looked up at me. “I think that’s the first time she’s ever spoken to me.”

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