Roman had not always been the local scapegoat, a lonely and perpetually unfazed young man with an absent mom and not a dollar to his name. He once was a bright, sensitive child who made friends easily. A little too easily maybe, because some of those friends turned out to be dead. He didn't discriminate, he had no prejudice growing up. His mom was a lunatic, that was a fact, but she was there – the house was cool and he got to pretend it was Halloween all year long. It was a dream come true, for a child.
But he came to realize that not everyone liked his mom and her so called gift. And not everyone thought it was cute when a kid started talking randomly in seemingly empty rooms. He was never really alone – for a small town, Port Moore had a remarkably high number of deaths, accidental or otherwise. Ghosts weren't aggressive and frightening, people were. At least that's what he thought at the time.
Being back in his mom's silent house – it had stopped being his home a long time ago – had brought back memories he wished he could forget. It was not a vision, of course, his powers didn't work that way, but it was vivid enough to make him uneasy.
Sam’s death had rattled him, more than anything else that had happened since the earthquake. Now people were back to making death threats and throwing pebbles at him, as if he was a rabid dog they wanted to get rid of. He had mostly accepted his fate, even though the urge to get away was growing stronger each day he was forced to stay.
His forehead still hurt from the cut he never bothered to get looked at, mingling with the pain from his memory. It was back to a time when no one was there to protect him, back when his mom started leaving for extended periods of time. He was twelve or so.
Someone threw a rock at the house. Just like that, without a shout or a warning. It broke the window and landed on the living room floor, like a foreign object that didn’t belong.
He was picking up glass from the carpet when he heard footsteps outside. Someone was coming back for seconds. What could a scrawny kid do against blind hatred? He got out nonetheless and stood there like a fool, rooted in place on the withering grass of the front yard, and he watched adults he thought he knew throw rocks at his place. They were drunk.
He screamed, “Stop!”
He wasn't talking to the vandals, but to the person approaching fast behind them, a burly man from another time, wearing a sheriff hat, his face frozen in a perpetual frown. The unpredictable ghost roamed the neighborhood, and Roman feared that he might do something rash to stop them and protect him. Some ghosts liked to help him, to the best of their abilities, in exchange for a smile or a word, some proof that they still mattered to someone, somehow.
“Freak!” One of the men shouted, unaware that a very angry ghost was closing in on him, fast.
“You need to leave,” Roman said, not really knowing who he was talking to this time.
“Or what?” The man taunted.
The ghastly sheriff threw himself at a nearby drunk, but he passed through him instantly. The man paled and looked at Roman with fury in his eyes and a rock in his hand.
“What did you do? Stop that!”
Roman raised his hands in front of him, but the stone hit him nevertheless. The pain blinded him for a second and he fell to his knees, blinking through the blood that was running into his eyes.
“Shit,” someone hissed. “The kid.”
“He's bad news anyway,” another voice. “Let's go.”
“Don't,” Roman told the ghost of the old sheriff, when he looked ready to follow them.
A ghost couldn't do a lot to humans. A very angry ghost could, sometimes, give people nightmares and make them feel ill-at-ease for no apparent reason.
But Roman had never been one for petty revenge, not even as a kid. He learned early that it was no use throwing a tantrum when life didn't go your way.
So he got up on shaky legs and went back inside, unsure if he preferred the dead sheriff's company or his own.
His face looked bad, in the hallway mirror. Blood had run down the side of his face, making his eye look bloodshot and weird in the dim light.
He felt vulnerable and scared, and he suddenly wished for someone to be there with him, someone alive.
It didn't happen right away, like it would have in a movie, but his wish, later that day, surprisingly came true. Night had fallen and he had washed his face, gingerly feeling the puffy cut still sluggishly bleeding and the goose egg that was growing despite the frozen peas he put on it. When the peas melted, he tried to cook them, but his vision swam too much and he had to sit down. That's when the door bell rang, echoing loudly in the silent house. He didn't answer the door, because his head hurt and he didn't feel like facing another angry mob.
But the visitor was insistent and started banging at the door.
“Sheriff Sam Perkins,” a voice said. “Are you there, son?”
It felt weird to be called that, so Roman answered with a timid, “Uh-yeah.”
“Can I come in?”
The door was locked. He reluctantly dragged himself from the couch and cracked the front door open, keeping the chain in place.
“Jesus, kid,” was the sheriff's only reaction.
Oh yeah, Roman thought. His face.
“Can I come in?” he asked again, his voice calm and reassuring.
Knowing that his mom would disapprove, he wordlessly opened the door and trudged back to the living room, the sheriff on his heels. He let himself fall on the couch and watched his visitor from the corner of his eye. He didn't seem to care about the esoteric decorations, but he frowned at the broken window. He took off his hat, put it down on the kitchen isle and started cooking the forgotten peas.
Roman didn't know if he was supposed to say anything, and his brain was pounding behind his eyes, so he relaxed and focused on the slight sizzling sounds from the kitchen. It seemed right, somehow.
Once the vegetables were cooked, and presented to Roman in a bowl with a spoon, the sheriff sat down and watched him with an unreadable expression. He looked nothing like his ghostly counterpart. Roman wanted to tell him that, which he meant as a compliment, but he bit his tongue and said nothing.
Sheriff Perkins didn't try to coax any story out of him. He made sure he ate. Didn't try to play nurse and look at his head. Then he asked if he could tape something to the window, to keep the cold night air from getting in. Roman felt grateful in a way he couldn't explain.
“Come by the station sometime,” Sheriff Perkins finally said.
There was no hesitation in his voice, no ulterior motive to his invitation. It felt sincere, so Roman nodded and swore he would.