[Below is an excerpt from Restless Spirits by Jean Marie Bauhaus.]
The stairs took a left turn at the top and let out into a long, empty hallway. I paused to calm myself down. I didn’t know who this kid was, but if it was me, I wouldn’t be too eager to show myself to a pissed off ghost hellbent on kicking some ass to get some answers. “Hey, kiddo,” I called, forcing as much sweetness as I could muster into my tone, “why don’t you come on out? Aunt Veronica just wants to ask you some questions.” I pushed my head through the first door into an empty bedroom, the hardwood floor of which was covered in undisturbed dust. Just like the rest of the house, save the foyer and living room. “I don’t want to hurt you,” I said, continuing down the hall. “Maybe we can play a game!” As I spoke I peeked through another door and found a bathroom, also vacant. I stood there a moment, admiring the tile–okay, fine, I’m shallow; but the period tile was gorgeous, and I have a notorious habit of being distracted by shiny things– before moving to the last door in the hall. I braced myself, ready for a confrontation with some kind of bad seed who could pop me out to the middle of a cornfield.
I pushed my head through the door and relaxed. Another empty room. She could be hiding in a closet, or maybe the attic, if I could figure out how to get up there. Now that I had calmed down, I decided it best to go back to the kitchen and ask my sandy-haired friend where else she could be hiding.
I made my way back down the dark hallway. As I reached the stairs, a giggle came from behind me. I turned around.
I fully expected her to be dressed all in white, with long, dark hair cascading over her evil, evil little face. Clearly, I’ve watched too many J-horror remakes. What I saw instead was a cherub in copper pigtails ad overalls. She was holding her red ball. I thought of the Waverly Sanatorium in Kentucky, one of the most haunted places in the world, where Chris had dragged me for an expedition after I signed on to the ghost-hunting biz. A rite of passage, she’d called it. One of the stories she’d told me about the place had been of a child’s ball that appears at random all over the old hospital. Hearing the story had given me the willies, but not as much as almost tripping over the ball in a dark hallway. At the time I’d believed Chris was just messing with me. But the sight of this little girl with her little red ball made me uneasy.
I shook it off, and smiled. “Well, hi there, cutie,” I said, relaxing. “I’m Ron. What’s your name?”
“Ron’s a boy’s name,” she said, in full-on brat mode. Hey, at least we were engaging.
“My dad had issues,” I told her, “but I like Ron anyway. It’s short for Veronica.”
She shrugged and held up her ball. “Want to play catch?”
“Sure, we can play catch. But first let’s talk a li-” Before I could finish, she threw her ball. To say she threw it hard would be like saying a tornado is a bit breezy. It hit the side of my face hard enough to snap it clean around. I fell down the stairs, bouncing off the corner as I went. My head flopped around sickeningly as I tumbled, not stopping until I hit the bottom.
* * *
I lay there for a long while, in the same position I’d died in. Then I turned my head around the right way, straightened my limbs, and sat up. The ball came bouncing down the stairs again. This time, I was scared. I scuttled out of its way before it could touch me again, then got to my feet and hauled ass to the kitchen.
“I warned you,” said Kitchen Guy. He was sitting at a table across from an older lady who hummed softly to herself.
“Yeah, well, you can get in line behind my sister at the ‘I told you so’ window.”
“I–uh, what window?” He looked confused.
“Never mind.” An empty chair sat next to Kitchen Guy’s, already pulled out from the table. “Fuck,” I muttered as I sank into it.
The woman’s head snapped up. “Language! I am not running a brothel here, young lady.”
“Uh…sorry.” I took a moment to study the woman. She looked to be in her fifties, red hair threaded with silver and pulled into a severe bun. Her buttoned up blouse and long, straight skirt were old-fashioned, even for the 1930s, which was when she’d died. I recognized her from old newspaper clippings. I was getting chastised by none other than Ruth Baird herself. “Sorry,” I said again for good measure, not wanting to be on the ax murderer’s bad side. She nodded, apparently mollified, and went back to humming an old hymn.
“Are you in pain?” asked Kitchen Guy.
“No,” I realized. “While I was falling it hurt like a son of a bi–uh, a biscuit–” I glance over at Mrs. Baird as I censored myself. “But now I feel fine. Actually, I kinda don’t feel anything.”
“That’s because you’re dead, dear,” said Mrs. Baird, then tsked as she shook her head. “Such a shame. So young, and so pretty.” She cast a knowing glance across the table at Kitchen Guy, but he shifted in his chair and made a show of ignoring her.
“Um, thanks,” I said, then turned back to Kitchen Guy. “So that’s how I died?”
“Like I said.” He locked eyes on his own two hands, seemingly to keep from looking at me. “I couldn’t stop it.”
I sat still for a long time, letting it all sink in. She was the one keeping us here, he’d said. How? Why? What did I ever do to her, except be nice? “That little…” I muttered, then stood up.
So did he. “Where are you going now?”
“No little brat is going to get away with killing me like that,” I said as I headed back out to the parlor. “Somebody needs to get spanked.”
“She’s too strong!” he called.
“We’ll see about that.” I marched back up the stairs. Kids were like dogs, at least in my experience. If you showed them any signs of fear, they’d dominate you. “Listen, kid,” I called as I rounded the corner and took the last few steps. The ball hit me as I reached the landing.
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a freelance writer from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Restless Spirits is her debut novel. Read more excerpts and info at www.daydreamerpublishing.com.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------