“So what would a ghost have to do to make you believe in them?” Michelle whispered. She slowly waved her aluminium flashlight around the room, creating funny shadows with the mess of cobwebs hanging off the walls. Babs looked over her shoulder. Michelle flashed the beam in her face, appreciating how the yellow light reflected off of Babs’ curls, and giggled.
“Uh, I don’t kn-” Babs whacked the flashlight out of Michelle’s grasp. “Maybe see one? Or if your hypothetical ghost did something obvious, like it touched me. But none of those, ‘a ghost brushed by me and I suddenly got goosebumps’ things.” She busied herself investigating the pile of furniture and rubbish in the corner of the room. Michelle crouched down next to her, shining her light on a lonesome pile of rat droppings under a rotting bed frame. Babs shifted closer to the heap of ruined furniture, and Michelle frowned, trying to think of something to keep the conversation going.
“Wanna know who did get touched by a ghost?” She didn’t wait for Babs to answer. “Zak Bagans. A ghost touched his butt.”
Babs peered up from her work and stared, unimpressed. Michelle shrugged.
“Isn’t he the ghost tv show guy that you always watch?” Babs asked as she slowly got up.
“Ghost Adventures, yeah. You make it sound like a bad thing. It is some high quality reality television though. You should watch it with me sometime.”
Babs sighed, glancing around, Michelle following suit. It looked like it had been some little girls’ bedroom, back in the 60s, before the house was left abandoned for half a century and trashed by a few generations of angsty teens. The walls had once been a wallpapered peach, but after decades of neglect they had turned an ugly shade of off-white, the paper peeling to reveal graffitied drywall. Babs picked up a loose bedpost and swung it around, admiring the whooshing noise it made as it cut through the air.
“Please don’t whack me in the face with that.” Michelle ducked as the bedpost sailed over her head.
“Do you not trust my aim?”
“If you mean do I not trust the rotted piece of furniture you’re swinging around in this dark room, then yes.” Michelle gestured to the offending stick with her flashlight.
Babs huffed, tapping the bedpost to the ground like a batter would before a pitch. She carefully turned to the other direction, the stick away from Michelle. She watched Babs’ shadow on the back wall. After a few attempts of swinging it lia softball player, the dark silhouette readjusted its grip on the bedpost, leaning on it as if it was a cane. Gracefully, it’s skirt still swishing with it, the shadow turned and gave Michelle a thoughtful look.
“Maybe if I hear something, y’know?”
A soft creak filled the room.
The two of them went silent. Michelle pointed her flashlight towards the noise, straining their ears.
“Maybe it’s a rat or somethi-”
Softly, through the old floorboards and echoing halls, the creak repeated. The two stared at each other, neither moving a muscle. Babs smirked, yet her complexion was ashen and her eyes kept sliding to where they had heard the noise. Michelle shuffled closer to Babs, holding onto the cool metal of the flashlight until her fingers began to turn white. Babs hesitated for a moment before leaning back towards her, and Michelle felt her heart race even faster. As the noise repeated with greater frequency, she traced it across the floor with the beam of light. It sounded like it was coming from the below them, and eventually evolved into what seemed like a pair of soft, even footsteps across wood.
The noise meandered its way closer to the two girls, then stopped. They peered down at the wooden boards, as if if they concentrated hard enough, they could look beyond the floorboards. Michelle forgoed the Maglite and instead clutched Babs’ forearm, feeling goosebumps crawl up Babs’ skin under the sleeve of her sweater. They sat there frozen, waiting for the noise to repeat.
A soft shifting sound. Michelle felt a line of sweat dribble down her forehead. She could hear Babs’ heart thumping erratically next to her.
Someone took a deep breath. It wasn’t them.
“So like, what time is it, ‘cause I’m hungry as hell, bro,” asked Tyler from the floor below, his voice muffled by the house. The two girls broke apart, the tension draining from both of their bodies. Babs buried her face in her palm and massaged her eyelids while Michelle began giggling silently, wiping the sweat off of her forehead.
“It’s like 11, dude. We still have an hour. But I swear I could eat like, five Hawaiian pizzas right now.”
“Mason, I’d like to let you know that being my friend and liking fruit on pizza can’t happen at the same time...” Their voices faded off as they walked out of the girls hearing range, arguing about pineapple on pizza. Michelle wheezed to herself without a sound, and Babs chuckled. Eventually both of them were laughing, clutching their stomachs.
“I - I forgot they were here,” Babs giggled out. “I don’t know why I was so worried.”
Michelle straightened up and plastered a very serious look upon her face. She grabbed Babs’ hand. It was warm and still a little sweaty, and in the gloom she could see chips of orange nail polish still on her pinky nails. Her hand were soft.
“Barbara, I’m afraid to tell you this, but we are in this house alone. Tyler and Mason have been dead for the past 37 years.”
“So they died, like, two decades before they were born?” Babs asked, a smirk on her face.
“Yes. Time traveling ghosts.”
“Oh damn, that’s spooky. So they rise every year on Halloween night to scare off a bunch of dumbass teenagers by arguing about pineapple pizza?”
“Duh. What else are ghosts supposed to do?” Michelle said, then paused. She looked back at Babs, her eyes and grin wide. “You just said you were scared,” she singsonged.
Babs smacked Michelle’s arm lightly. “Shut up. I just said they try to scare teenagers off. Ghastly pizza connoisseurs do not spook me.”
Michelle poked Babs in the side, her bright smile visible in the dim light of the room. “You didn’t look very unaffected, my friend. You looked prit-tee worried for a moment there.”
“Dude, shut-up,” Babs muttered, and hunched her shoulders slightly before snatching the flashlight from Michelle’s hand. She took a deep breath, then stood up and walked out of the room. Michelle could hear her boots clanking down the hallway.
Michelle sat in the room with only her thoughts, darkness, and a pile of rat shit. She could hear and feel Babs in the room next door, the latter’s footsteps heavy and loud, shaking the old floor.
Michelle rubbed her eyes as she replayed the scene over again, her stomach attempting to tie itself into a frozen pretzel. She had just been teasing, and now she’d messed up the whole night. Maybe she could crash with Tyler and Mason, and then awkwardly text Babs tomorrow like nothing had happened. This wasn’t the first time she’d played that card, with Babs or one of her other friends.
But it felt different tonight. She had felt her cheeks warm against the cool air all night, and she could only hope that the poor lighting of the house hid all of her glances at Babs. This relationship was too important to leave to whims of fate.
Michelle heaved herself off the ground, careful not to step in the rat crap. She slowly creeped out of the room, her heart jittering. She peeked through the door and watched for a moment as Babs poked her bedpost at a couple of old, empty beer cans littering the floor. Michelle cleared her throat.
“If you want, I’ll officially inaugurate you as a ghost hunter, past affiliation with those anti-ghost heathens aside,” she said lightly, hoping that she hadn’t just crossed the line again.
Babs paused from her work, her back to the door. Silence gnawed in the room for a few seconds. Michelle pivoted her foot to turn around and become a shame-hermit in the woods behind the house because she had just further mucked-up this situation.
“I’m not sure if inaugurate is the right word,” Babs muttered, but she turned and her mouth moved into a shape that looked a little bit like a smile. Michelle felt relief and butterflies swell in her stomach.
“Oh. How about induct, like a cult?” She crossed through the door frame, walking over invisible eggshells. “Join my ghost cult, Babs.”
“Sorry, my mom said not to join any cults,” Babs deadpanned, waving the flashlight over a cracked mirror. Faint, fragmented chunks of light reflected off of it, bouncing around the room. “Where are your ghosts anyway? Why is this house even supposed to be haunted?” She looked back to her friend, her previous sortof-smile smothered by a look that tried for serious, but missed it by a few marks. “Weave me a story, Mich.”
Michelle froze. “What- I don’t know. There’s like 17 different ghost stories I could tell you from my old middle school alone. I’m pretty sure no one actually died here.”
“Then who’s the non-believer now, Michelle?” Babs face broke into a small grin, and Michelle watched the skin around her eyes crinkle delightfully.
She sputtered, ducking her head. She heard herself mumble something that could be interpreted as an affirmation, and racked her brain for a semi-decent ghost story. She offered a shrug, figuring that she might as well put the skills she learnt from improv club to good use.
“Okay. So. It’s the Summer of 1969-”
“-It’s the Summer of 1969 and uh, Carol Smith was some housewife, just moving into this house. It was her husband’s, coworker’s, cousin’s house, and that guy just decided to rent it to them out the blue.”
Babs raised a bushy eyebrow.
“So the Smiths move in. But, see Harold Smith wasn’t home much because he’s always working at the used car dealership near where that movie theater on Maple street is now, and Carol didn’t know this but he was getting awfully friendly with and paying home visits to his receptionist, Linda-”
“Michelle I know you like coming up with these fancy character motivations and extra info, but I don’t need all of this backstory. I just want a ghost story.”
Michelle huffed and paused for a moment. “Fine, I guess. Carol’s oblivious to Harold’s adultery, she’s a lonely newlywed with a five month baby named something stupid like Archibald because that was her grandfather’s name who she very much admir-”
“So it’s just Carol and Baldie the baby, ‘cause she’s bad at nicknames. Just her in the house, but she swears someone’s moving around her keys and pans and crap, and the house feels real drafty. Middle of the night she hears the doors opening and closing when she’s the only one home. Stereotypical haunting shit.
“Then she meets her neighbor, uh, Theresa, and um, Theresa-” She could hear herself fumbling for a way to continue the story. She hoped that if she came up with some characters, a plot would begin to naturally build itself. It didn’t. She glanced up to Babs for a lifeline.
Babs provided, politely raising her hand like a little kid in class. Michelle sighed in relief and gestured towards her.
“I just realised, whose little girl’s room were we in if the Smiths only had Baldie?”
Michelle dragged her hands down her face. She was hoping for inspiration. “Maybe they have another kid named Millicent or something. Maybe Baldie was defying gender roles as a baby. Maybe you put me on the spot to make up a story and I have a few plot holes.”
Babs shrugged, apparently pleased by the answer. She shifted, and slowly took a seat across from her. Michelle looked towards the cracked window above the crumbling desk instead.
Once Michelle finally turned back, Babs extended the flashlight to her. Hesitantly, she took it, their fingers brushing on the cold metal. A zap of static danced between them.
She looked into Babs’ eyes. They were covered by thick black glasses, her gaze obscured by the light glancing off the lenses. Michelle focused on the dark little mole beneath one of the nose pads, resting in the hollow next to her eye.
Next to the mole was a nearly invisible freckle, which upon closer inspection was a part of a constellation of soft brown marks smattered across her cheeks. A strand of curls had escaped their place, disrupting the collection of faint freckles across her face, and Michelle’s fingers itched to push it back behind Babs’ ear.
“You’re supposed to put it under your face,” Babs said, a touch exasperated. Michelle looked down at her hand to see it still on flashlight, touching Babs’ hands. She shoved the light under her face, hoping the stark lighting and deep shadows hid her blush. Babs quirked a small smile at her, and nodded. Michelle nodded back, and continued.
Or tried to, at least. She had lost her momentum and her focus kept on returning to Babs’ face. She opened and closed her mouth, hoping her brain would go on autopilot and say something for her. Nothing came out.
“You’re not having a stroke, right?” Babs asked, adjusting her seat to be next to her.
Michelle bit her lip, feeling the chapped skin rub against her teeth. “Not that I know of.” She considered saying something more, but instead just rested her chin on the flashlight, feeling the hot glass squish against her skin.
Babs nodded, slouching forward. Silence smothered the room. Softly, a car drove down the street in front of the house, its headlights briefly illuminating the walls. Michelle felt the urge to say something press itself against her tongue.
Next to her, Babs shifted, her clothes rustling as she dug her phone out of her purse. The blue-ish light from the screen highlighted her face. She quirked her lips, her eyebrows furrowing, before leaning back and heaving out a heavy sigh.
“What,” Michelle asked.
Babs slowly stood up, popping her joints. A cracked phone screen appeared mere inches in front of Michelle’s face, her friend’s fingers curled around the side of the case. She stared at it the phone blankly.
“What,” she repeated.
Babs groaned, tapping her fingers next to the clock at the top of the phone.11:26. This close, Michelle could see the uneven edges of her bitten nails. “I don’t want to hang out in some crummy not-so haunted house for another half hour. I’m thinking of bailing,” she said matter of factly, tucking her phone back into her shoulder purse and crossing her arms.
“Oh,” Michelle replied. “You sure?” She felt her voice crack a bit at the end bit, and winced. “Do you want me tell Tyler and Mason you’re leavi-”
Babs groaned even louder, her shoulders slumping. She unfolded her arms and pushed back her sweater sleeves, reaching down a large hand for Michelle to grab. “Bailing with you, dumbass. I wouldn’t just ditch you in the middle of a hang-out thing.”
Michelle stared at her friend’s hand, spying a gaudy, fraying string and bead bracelet high on her wrist. Right before Thanksgiving break in Freshman year, the school had given the students free-reign of the classroom’s art supplies to keep them busy. Michelle, bored and a tad smitten with the new girl in her class, jokingly gave Babs the ugliest and clumsiestly made friendship bracelet she could come up with. She had expected her to just throw it away once she got home, but seeing it now, four years later. Well.
Michelle tried to cough into her elbow to save face, ignoring how her heart was fluttering. She grasped Babs’ hand, and once she was on her feet, she might have held it longer than strictly necessary. Babs didn’t seem to complain.
“Thanks for not being a dick and ditching me,” Michelle muttered wryly, glancing around the dirty room until her blush faded. “Where uh, where were you planning on going? We drove here with Tyler and Mason, so are we walking?”
Babs shrugged, sweeping her bangs away from her face. “I just don’t want to be in this house to be honest. There might not be ghosts here, but I’m pretty sure I saw a rat when I left you earlier, and I don’t want any part of that.”
Michelle snorted. “I don’t know, dude, I’d hope that my good friend Barbara could defend herself and her dearest pal from some ugly mice with her trusty bedpost of doom, y’know? I thought you did karate or something.”
Babs gently poked Michelle in the chest with her bedpost. “I feel like you’ve never seen a real, non-pet store rat before. When I was in Boston last summer, I saw some city rat on the bank of the river and I thought it was a mutant beaver or something.” She shivered for a moment, before wagging the bedpost around and pointing it towards the door. “Let’s go. I’d defend your honor, but I don’t really want to hit some rat with a rotten stick.”
Michelle shrugged and walked into the hallway, kicking a crumpled beer can as she passed. “How about we go to the McDonald’s near my house, and you can sleepover if you want?”
Babs was silent for a moment. “I’d have to call my mom, but I’m not doing anything on Sunday so...” She stopped in the doorframe. “Might be too late for my mom to drop off my shit, though,” Babs said, tapping her fingers against the peeling wallpaper.
Michelle pushed down her enthusiasm, forcing her voice to sound calm. “Don’t worry about it. My dad is like, an extreme couponer. He has an aisle worth of toothbrushes in the backroom, and you can just borrow some of my pajamas if you want.” She started back down the hallway, hoping she didn’t sound too eager.
The two walked down the old staircase in silence, every step punctuated by the wood creaking beneath them. Now, on the first floor, they could hear the faint conversation of Mason and Tyler drifting through the rooms. The two boys were still arguing about pineapple pizza.
“Should we tell them we’re leaving?” Michelle asked.
“Nah. They can text us if they’re really worried.”
“Should we tell them about the rats, then?”
Babs stood at the bottom of the staircase, and looked between the door outside and the hallway to where they heard their other friends. She took a step towards the entrance. “They probably noticed the rat crap everywhere. I bet Tyler already dared Mason to eat one, to be honest.”
Michelle scrunched up her face, and then looked at Babs critically. “I don’t think McDonald’s is going to let you bring some gross bedpost into their very prestigious establishment, dude.”
“You sure you don’t want me to keep it to protect you from all the potential muggers between here and there?” At Michelle’s unimpressed face, Babs conceded, very carefully placing the old piece of wood against a table that was leaning precariously. She gave a mock salute, and pretended to wipe away a fake tear.
Content, Michelle grabbed the tarnished metal doorknob to the front door. It didn't budge. She leaned against the door, jiggling the lock, and stumbled as the door suddenly swung open.
“I wish you lived closer to a Wendy’s to be honest,” Babs said as she lowered her cup of iced tea. She pointed a particularly salty french fry at Michelle loftily, before taking a bite. “At least I can pretend that Wendy’s is healthy. Here I can feel the grease seeping into my bones.” She shuddered, and grabbed another fry.
“And yet you continue to eat it like the nasty fast food monster we all know you are.” Michelle dug around the carton of fries, searching for one that wasn’t very crispy. “Plus,
McDonald’s is cheaper, and guess who payed.” She took a bite, and turned in her seat to look for the clock. 11:47.
The McDonald’s was pretty empty at quarter to midnight, save for an old lady snoring over some soggy pancakes in one corner, and a pimple-faced teenager who was surfing on his phone at the register. She shifted back in her seat, watching as Babs dumped out the rest of the fries onto the tray.
“Thanks for saving me some, Ms. Fry-Monster.”
Babs smiled ruefully and pointed to a pile of squishy fries off to the side. Michelle huffed, but took one regardless.
“So,” Babs said quietly after a few minutes of silence while they ate. Despite her lowered tone, the sound seemed booming in the almost empty McDonald’s. The cashier looked up from his phone for a moment, before returning to blearily play on some app. Michelle watched Babs carefully. Her leg was bouncing visibly, her heavy skirt flapping gently under the table.
“So,” Michelle mimicked, stretching out the -o. She nibbled on one of the remaining fry bits on the tray, and tried to tamp down on the anxiety stirring in her stomach.
“So.” Babs tapped her fingers on the greasy paper on the tray, inches from Michelle’s own. She watched the mole on her knuckle bob up and down as Babs fidgeted. “Thanks for the food. But is this a...” She chewed her lip for a moment. “A uh...” She paused abruptly, swerving to look at the clock above the door and standing up. Her cheap earrings glinted like diamonds in the fluorescent lights of the restaurant. “We should go back to your house. I still gotta call my mom.”
Michelle felt something heavy settle in her chest, and slowly stood up from her seat. She watched as Babs pushed their chairs in with a little too much vigor and dumped the tray into the trash. Michelle held the door open for Babs, and tried to not be disappointed when she rushed through. The cashier gave an dispassionate wave as the bell chimed their exit.
The ten minute walk home was silent and chilly. Babs walked a smidge too fast, but Michelle said nothing, too focused on her own thoughts. What had she done wrong? Was she being creepy or something? Was Babs going to call her mom to drop off stuff or to pick her up? She watched her shoelaces bounce on her shoes as she lagged behind, street lights periodically lighting up their trek to her house.
Babs stopped in front of her, her head turned towards one of the houses across the street. Michelle nearly tripped by the sudden stop, but caught herself. She looked around.
She recognized the crack in the sidewalk, the splatter of old paint on the asphalt, the shriveled up ferns creeping out into the street. She followed Babs’ gaze, and looked up to see her own house looming in front of her. A jagged jack-o-lantern grinned on the porch, a smaller, better crafted one sitting next to it. Michelle hung onto the memory of the two of them carving pumpkins last weekend for a moment, before beginning to cross the street to her house.
“Wait, what are you doing?”
Michelle turned around. Babs stood at the base of the driveway, her hands shoved into the sleeves of her sweater, her eyebrows furrowed beneath her glasses. Michelle stood in the middle of the road, feeling a bit dumb, and pointed towards her house. “I’m going home. You can call your mom with our phone to pick you up, if you want.”
Babs made a face and pulled her hands out of her sleeves. “No I mean-am I not allowed to stay over anymore?”
Michelle paused and shrugged helplessly. “I thought you didn’t want to sleepover anymore? You sortof ditched me at the McDonald’s so I thought you were mad at me.”
“I-no, I didn’t.” Babs grimaced and looked away. “Okay, maybe I did but I-” She put her face in her hands and sighed, turning back to look at Michelle. Her cheeks seemed red. Michelle wondered if it was that cold out.
“I-was that a date?”
“Oh,” Babs said, and Michelle watched as she backpedaled. “I just thought since, y’know, you bought the fries, and I thought you were trying to-y’know-”
“No, I mean, if you wanted it to?” Michelle interrupted. She felt her heart quaking in her chest. “I wasn’t trying to but if you-”
“Oh, but you didn’t-”
“I-I wanted to, but I wasn’t trying to set up anything, but...” Michelle bit her lip, and sucked in her breathe. “I wasn’t trying to make it a date, but if you’re interested I wouldn’t. Say no.” She cringed at how awkward she sounded.
The street was eerily silent for a moment, wind whistling through the naked trees. Babs smiled shyly, her cheeks seemingly even redder, and stepped into the road. She gestured vaguely with her hand. “Thanks for the date, then.”
A weight lifted from Michelle’s chest, and she felt like she was suddenly going to float away like a lost balloon let go by an over enthusiastic child. “Wait-are you serious? Like, like are we dating-dating or friend-date or-?”
Babs snorted and smiled wider. “Dating-dating, dumbass. Now let me give you a hug.”
Babs was a tad too short to hug normally, her head just barely reaching over Michelle’s shoulders. Michelle leaned down a bit, and buried her head into Babs’ hair. It was soft, her curls tickling her nose, smelling like cheap, citrusy shampoo. A chill of wind twisted around them.
“Not that your hugging skills suck, but it’s actually really cold out and my legs are freezing in this skirt,” Babs muttered, her breath tickling Michelle’s neck.
She leaned back a bit, but Babs’ arms tightened.
“Wait, 2 more seconds.”
She squeezed her arms around Michelle one last time, and then backed off, dusting off her sweater. Little bits of yarn fell onto the ground. Content with her appearance, she hooked her arm with Michelle’s elbow.
Michelle was in a bit of a daze, and she could feel the goofy smile stretched across her face. She giggled loudly, pulling Babs with her towards her driveway, the latter snorting with laughter as they tried to maneuver up the hill with their arms interlocked.
At the front door of the blue house, the two of them paused to catch their breath. As Michelle fetched the keys under a slightly damp doormat, she turned around to find Babs holding the bigger pumpkin, it’s eyes uneven and smile lopsided. Babs shook it a bit.
“Trick or treat.”
“I gave you french fries, you mooch.”
Babs calculated it in her head and nodded, carefully placing the pumpkin next to her own. She leaned against one of the porch supports as Michelle had fiddled with the keys to unlock the door.
“So are we just going to sleep or do you want to watch a movie or...?”
Michelle paused from her work, flipping through the keychain to find the right one. “Ghost Adventures.”
Babs sighed loudly, her head hitting against the porch and she exaggerated the motion. “Really? The first thing you want to watch after we start dating, and you want to watch a bunch of middle aged guys crapping themselves in an abandoned building? Aren’t they 40 now?”
The door clicked, and Michelle tossed her head over her shoulder, smiling sweetly. “Aww, you listen and remember stuff from when I talk about Ghost Adventures?”
Babs blushed and tried to look unhappy, failing miserably. “Fine, we can watch an episode or two, then I can choose what we should watch.”
“Sure, I’ll check Hulu to see if it has the episode where the ghost touched his butt.”
As Michelle dug around the living room for the TV remote and Babs collected blankets and pillows, the latter’s phone buzzed loudly. She checked it and huffed out a laugh, motioning Michelle over.
Babs’ phone was open to her and Mason’s text conversation. The most recent text was a blurred picture of a pizza box sitting on the dashboard of his car, Tyler’s crooked grin barely visible in the poorly lit vehicle. Through the windshield, the drooping windows of the old, decaying house stared at the pizza hungrily.
“Oh god, why,” Michelle groaned out, smothering a giggle. “Ask them if they got Hawaiian pizza for Mason.”
A moment later, Babs’ phone buzzed with another notification. In the photo, Mason’s hand was lifting the lid of the box, the pizza almost oozing grease. The pie was divided in two, one half covered with copious amounts of cheese, the other layered with ham and crispy pineapple.
“Is that better or worse than a normal pineapple pizza,” Michelle asked, staring at the cheese bubbles that were in the process of popping when the picture was taken.
“It was a compromise,” Babs said, and paused. “Did they have the place deliver a pizza to them, at the quote on quote haunted house, and then proceed to eat it in their car?”
“They liked the ambiance.”
“At midnight? On Halloween?”
“Ambiance, Babs. They probably tipped well.”
Babs sighed loudly, and put her phone away. “Just turn on Ghost Adventures. I’ll figure out how to fold out the futon or something.”
Ten minutes later, Michelle flicked on the TV, curled up on the couch under 4 different blankets next to Babs. As the intro played, and Zak Bagans began to drone on about the newest, probably not haunted location, Babs carefully placed her head onto Michelle’s shoulder.
She froze, feeling the muscles in her neck tense up.
Michelle let out a breathe, and leaned in.