When Tilda Minyard moved with her two boys to Baltimore, anyone who knew the mother, or her children for that matter, did not think the new job would last very long. Certain that Tilda would end up too drunk to ever go to work, or too high to truly do any good work if she made it in, Luther Hemmick allowed her to go without too much fuss, promising if it worked out he would follow his sister to Baltimore. Little did Luther know, after a few months Tilda would prefer to be at work, because it kept her out of the house, where she was not welcomed.
Tilda put her drink down on the counter; she hadn’t even been bothered to fully unpack the car before opening her first bottle. It was wine today, Andrew noticed, something Luther had probably given her to celebrate the move. Andrew and his brother were 7 now, old enough, according to her, to unpack the car while she sat and drank. Andrew was brought back to reality when Aaron slammed into his back pushing him off balance. To any other person it would seem like Aaron was in a mood, but it was simply a reminder to not be caught idling. If Tilda was stressed from the move and she decided Andrew wasn’t pulling his weight, it would end up with him bleeding, probably from his nose, while Aaron tried to stay as far away as possible until she’d left. After she’d left of course he’d come and drag his brother up, pulling him to somewhere safe so he can put a damp cloth on Andrew’s face. This was the way things were in the Minyard household, this was the way it had always been for the twins.
Aaron rammed into Andrew’s back again, fully breaking him from his trance. He quickly backtracked away from his mother, making his way to the car. As he attempted to pull a bag from the car, one that was probably twice his weight, and far too overfilled, he lost his balance and fell backward with a curse far too colorful for most children at the age of 7. He picked himself up, his vision falling onto the windows to – the attic maybe? From what he could see this house was much too big for what his mother could afford, but somehow she managed to afford it, Andrew wasn’t going to complain. Some movement in the window pulls him from his thoughts; he would suspect it was Aaron, except Aaron was stepping outside again. He had probably just imagined it.
“Can you actually help Andrew? It’s hot and my arms are tired and mum isn’t going to help with this.” Aaron whined at his brother, he hadn’t wanted to move in the first place, scared of leaving his friends from school and Nicky, their cousin.
Andrew hadn’t had friends; he was always the weird twin who hated being touched, along with talking. It had never truly been an issue for him though, preferring to be with his books and his own thoughts rather than other humans.
“I'm trying Aar, the bags are heavy as fuck.” Andrew said, once again trying to lift the bag.
“Don’t let mum here you swearing Drew, we don’t want bruises on our first day of school next week.” Aaron’s voice took on that soft, rather scared quality it always took on when Tilda was in a particularly bad mood, his eyes immediately shifting over his shoulder to make sure she wasn’t around to hear.
“I know Aar, it’s fine I won’t. Just help me with this bag and then we can finish up.” Andrew gestured to the giant bag he was still struggling with and Aaron took the other side.
Eventually the twins managed to get all the bags inside. They had briefly squabbled over rooms, but Andrew had won his room pretty quickly. They’d never slept in separate rooms before, and because of this, as much as neither of them would admit it, sleeping without each other was something that was causing them to feel jittery and anxious, Andrew more so than Aaron, as he didn’t like having Aaron out of his sight when Tilda was around. All of this aside though, Tilda had already told them, they were too old to share a room, especially in a house this big, so separate rooms it was.
Once he had mostly finished unpacking his own stuff, Andrew lay on the bed in his room. There was a thud from the floor above him, and this time he was certain he didn’t imagine it. He got up and padded out to the landing. There was a ladder that led up to the attic; he made his way up quickly, hoping that Tilda hadn’t for some reason decided to make her way upstairs. The attic was small and dusty; there wasn’t much in there, a few boxes full of stuff, a chair and a lot of dust. He couldn’t see anything or anybody that could have made that thump, so he decided to look through the boxes, maybe there was some cool stuff in them or the thing that had thumped.
The first box was full of clothes, a lot of then with stains on them, possibly mud? They smelled really weird though so Andrew quickly put them back. The only things that weren’t stained had holes all bitten through them, and were clothes that looked like they’d been bought from the cheapest store possible. The second box was much more interesting. After rummaging through a bunch of random things and some knives that didn’t look like anything Andrew had seen in a kitchen, he came across a smaller box with photographs in it. The first one seemed to be of a family, The man had a creepy smile, he didn’t look happy, he looked a bit like Tilda when she was high and about to hit him, but worse. The mother looked angry, she wasn’t smiling and she was staring at the camera like she could kill whoever was holding it with one look. There was a boy with them, obviously the son as he looked almost exactly like the father. His face was pinched, there was no emotion of his face whatsoever, and his father’s hand on his shoulder was holding him rather harshly if the indents in his shirt were anything to go by.
“Cool eyes.” Andrew muttered to himself, his focus shifting once more. The blue was ridiculously obvious even more so than his fathers in the photo.
“Thank you.” A voice came from behind him, Andrew would never admit to jumping three feet in the air, but he turned to the voice to see the boy from the photograph. He looked around Andrew’s age now, but his face had scars all over it. They looked like bit cigarette burns if Andrew was honest. Tilda had given him a few of these on his arm when he was really bad so he knew they weren’t fun. The kid had a glint of mischief in his eyes, as he fought not to smirk at Andrew’s reaction to his appearance.
“What are you doing in my house?” Andrew asked once he managed to calm himself down enough to speak.
“It was my house first.” The boy said conversationally, now really beginning to smirk.
“What does that mean? Who even are you?” Andrew didn’t want to admit just how uncomfortable he was with this situation.
“My name is Neil Josten. I used to live here, before you. I’m almost 90% sure that I am dead.”
By the time Andrew came downstairs again it was getting dark, Tilda was passed out at this point, too many drugs and too much alcohol. Aaron however was very definitely not asleep. It seemed he had gone to get groceries while Andrew was talking to Neil. Andrew was slightly displeased that he had gone on his own but he had to concede to himself that he hadn’t been around. Aaron turned around and jumped when he saw him, almost spilling the pasta sauce he was stirring.
“Where have you been?” He hissed, keeping his voice down to avoid waking Tilda, “I was looking everywhere for you, I thought mum had locked you in your room again.” His eyes were slightly frantic; looking over Andrew in the way they usually did when he was cataloguing injuries. When he found none he seemed to scowl even deeper, “I called everywhere for you.”
“Relax I didn’t mean to be gone so long I was in the attic, I… met someone.”
“What do you mean you met someone?”
“I mean, I met someone up in the attic, he’s… he’s not normal, I think he’s a ghost Aaron.” Andrew couldn’t really put it any other way. Aaron stared at Andrew incredulously for a moment before beginning to put on his sulking face as Andrew called it.
“If you didn’t want to play with me you could have jut said that. You don’t need to lie to me.” He was pouting, so Andrew countered it with a scowl.
“I’m not lying, I met a guy upstairs and his name is Neil. I’ll ask him if he’ll talk to you tomorrow. I’m serious Aaron I don’t lie to you about important things.” Aaron’s lower lip slowly pulled itself back in and he eventually shrugged.
“Okay, I believe you, just next time tell me before you run off with your ghost boy. I was scared.” Aaron tried to hold his head up in indignation at Andrew for not having been told, but in the end Andrew saw straight through it and saw how worried he’d really been.
“I will Aar, when will dinner be ready?” He changed the subject because he didn’t see any point in causing any animosity with his twin. They had enough shit in their lives; they didn’t need to be fighting each other.
Eventually they had to wake Tilda up but Andrew had worked out the perfect way to do that, if you went to the next room over and screamed “Mum!” In the loudest voice possible she would startle awake and by the time she was up she would forget why she was mad. Food always tended to settle her down as well; they always made sure they had eaten before her because she would tell them to scram as soon as it was in her hand.
Sure enough they were sent away to continue living the lives of 7 year olds, they got out their cars for a while, racing each other around the room in sock feet to make sure they didn’t make any loud thumps that could get them in trouble.
“You did! You’re not allowed to jump over the bed, cars can’t fly!”
“They can if they have a big enough ramp.”
“There was no ramp. Where is the ramp?”
“I used my arm.”
“Andrew that’s not fair you’re cheating!” Aaron was scowling but his lip was beginning to wobble, telltale signs of a silent tantrum to come, the argument had been in hushed voices but Andrew couldn’t be bothered dealing with Aaron’s temper right now so he sighed and clambered over to his brother.
“Do you want me to read to you before we go to bed?” Andrew had always been the better reader of the two, he remembered almost everything in his life, and apparently Aaron didn’t do that considering he could barely remember any rules to any game. Of course at 7 they could both read perfectly fine, but it had become a habit for the boys as they were growing up, both gaining comfort from the other as they muddled through words together from the ages of 2 upwards.
Aaron nodded his head and picked out Andrew’s favorite book at the moment, it was called Percy Jackson and Andrew liked the main character a lot, he never understood how Aaron could prefer Annabeth, she just wasn’t as cool or as funny, all she wanted was to be smart. Percy was reckless and he never let anything stop him, he wasn’t scared of anything. Andrew didn’t like being scared, he didn’t like when people yelled or hit him. He swore one day he was going to grow big and tall so anybody who had ever tried to yell at him or Aaron ever again would be too scared of him to even think about it.
They made it through another chapter by the time they were both getting tired, Aaron yawned and stretched before curling up with a pillow, his thumb in his mouth. They’d never been allowed stuffed toys; they’d stolen the cars from some kids at school because Tilda would never have given them something like that. Growing up they hadn’t need stuffed toys, always having each other, but separate bedrooms meant they both needed separate things to hold on to. Andrew hugged his brother before making his way to his room on tiptoe to make sure Tilda didn’t hear him. He made it to his room and curled up in bed and tried to sleep. He lay there for what felt like an hour before he heard his door creak open, and he turned over to find his twin in the doorway.
“I can’t sleep.”
“Me neither, come here.” Andrew made room for Aaron, pulling the covers back for him to clamber under. They curled up in their usual way, facing each other and soon Aaron’s breathing evened out and Andrew felt his eyes fall closed. So far the new house hadn’t been too bad.
The next morning Andrew was briefly woken by Aaron clambering out of bed before falling back asleep, when he finally woke up it was around 10am. He took a moment to be glad Tilda had to leave for work and that he and Aaron were still on holiday and lay in bed for a little longer before his memory suddenly reminded him of Neil. He was out of bed as fast as possible and immediately clambering his way up the stairs.
“Neil?” He called out softly, as he made his way back to where they met the first time. There was no response so he made his way further into the attic calling softly. When he was about to give up and go find Aaron, he heard a small thump from a cupboard in shadows that he hadn’t noticed yesterday. He made his way over and opened up the door. Neil was sitting with his knees up to his chest mumbling to himself with his eyes shut tight.
“Neil?” He tried again. This time, Neil’s eyes shot open as he stared at Andrew with no recognition. “Neil it’s Andrew, we met yesterday. Are you okay?” Andrew just now realized that Neil’s breath was sounding very fast and uncomfortable, which was odd because Neil was a ghost and ghosts didn’t need to breathe.
“I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine.” The softly muttered words were louder now. Andrew reached his hand out and touched Neil’s wrist, it was very cold but felt basically human, weird. Neil gave a full body flinch at being touched but then froze and his eyes cleared enough for Andrew to know he was being seen.
“Andrew?” Neil looked confused like he wasn’t quite sure where he was.
“Hey idiot, you’re…. are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Neil repeated himself again; Andrew was beginning to not like that word. Maybe that was the F word everyone kept telling him not to say, although they usually said it after he said fuck so it didn’t make much sense.
“You’re obviously not fine, you’re mumbling stuff which I would expect if you were a normalghost, but you were breathing really fast and ghosts don’t breathe.”
Neil finally uncurled his legs from his chest, letting out a huge huff of air. It was very cold Andrew shivered slightly, realizing he was still in his pajamas.
“It’s… I'm okay it was just a… Nightmare? I guess you could call it that. Whatever surpasses as bad dreams for ghosts.”
“Oh I get nightmares too, they’re shitty.”
“Aren’t kids not supposed to say that word?” Neil looked amused which was a big improvement from Andrew’s point of view.
“I don’t know, you’re a kid too, shouldn’t you know?”
“Well, I’m sort of a kid,” Neil picked at the back of his hand absentmindedly. “I didn’t die a kid. I lived until I was 19 but it’s easier to take on the form of 7 year old me. Being smaller makes it easier to hide.”
“So you’re a grown up? That’s gross.” Andrew crossed his arms in front of himself, grown ups had never been very kind to him.
“Would you prefer I was a 7 year old who had been trapped here for hundreds of years? I’d still technically be old and I wouldn’t know anything except this house, I’d be boring. Anyways, age doesn’t really work in that way once you’re dead, I can take on the form of whatever age up to the time I died that I want!” Neil was getting more animated as he talked, it was clear he found this ghost stuff pretty cool. Andrew could understand that because it was.
“So wait, you can show me what you looked like when you were big?”
“Um, yeah I guess? Do you want me to?”
Neil smiled before stepping away from Andrew, his form shimmered and he when he came back into view he was much taller.
“You’re so tall.” Andrew couldn’t stop it from slipping out of his mouth.
“I'm actually pretty short for most adults, I’m sure you’ll be much taller when you are older.” Adult Neil laughed at him before changing back into normal Neil.
“That’s so weird.”
“Right?” Neil looked down at his feet. “Is it too weird? You can tell me to go away if you think it is, I won’t bother you again.”
Andrew answered that question by sitting down, and pointing at the ground in front of him until Neil got the idea and sat down as well.
“I don’t mind honestly, it’s already weird that you’re a ghost and all.” When Neil started to curl in on himself Andrew spoke up louder. “But that’s okay, I don’t mind that you’re a ghost. It’s just me and my brother here, I’ve never had a friend before.”
“Let’s be friends then!” Neil smiled so bright when Andrew nodded that Andrew felt himself start to smile just because of it. Neil’s teeth were nicer than Andrew’s though; he was missing two teeth from the right side of his mouth so his smile was all gappy. Aaron had only lost one tooth, which Andrew always boasted made him the older twin.
“Is that your mum that lives with you?” Neil’s voice brought him back to the present.
“Yeah.” Andrew’s voice grew hard when he talked about her.
“Oh, is she not a good person?”
“No, she yells at me and Aaron and drinks a lot, but you can’t tell anyone I said that because she’ll hit me.”
Neil’s face grew darker and darker with each of Andrew’s words. His face looked older even though he had definitely not changed his age.
“She wont hit you again. Not in this house.” Neil’s eyes were very serious.
“Can you do that?” Andrew didn’t really believe it but Adult Neil had been taller than his mother.
Andrew made his way downstairs once his stomach started grumbling, he and Neil had talked about a lot of stuff; they talked a lot about Aaron along with Andrew’s favorite books and movies. Neil didn’t know any movies he said he’d never been allowed to read or watch anything as a kid, and he didn’t have time as an adult. He was also very weird about talking about his own family; he changed the subject a lot when Andrew tried to ask. That said, Andrew could definitely say he liked Neil, he would put Neil down as his second favorite person in the world. Nicky came after because he talked a lot, and that got hard to cope with sometimes for him.
“You’re finally up! It’s like 2pm Andrew.” Aaron bounded over to him when he went into the kitchen. “I set up the TV! It looks like mum’s work set up the cable so we can watch stuff!”
That sounded pretty good so Andrew scrambled to make himself some cereal and they turned on some cartoons that Aaron liked. When Andrew was finished with his cereal and went and put his bowl in the sink to clean up later. Aaron had already brought out the crayons downstairs, so he was happily coloring. Andrew joined him, and they sat together and did that until they heard the front door opening as Tilda slammed in. They turned off the TV and cleaned up their coloring things immediately, not wanting to be told off for making a mess. They thought they were all in the clear till a screech came from the kitchen.
“Both of you brats fucking get in here.”
They looked at each other, Andrew sorting through his memory to see if either of them had done anything wrong. His bowl, he’d left his bowl in the sink. How could he be so stupid? They both made their way into the kitchen; she was standing there with the bowl in her hand.
“What is this?”
“A bowl mum.” They both answered immediately.
“And who put this bowl in here?” She asked sweetly. Andrew stepped forward slowly, pushing Aaron behind him.
“I did mum, I'm sorry it was an accident.”
“An accident?” She shrieked as she slammed the bowl back on the counter. “No, an accident is what you two were, this is you being a waste of space you piece of shit.”
She raised her hand and Andrew knew what was coming, he braced himself and tried to protect his face as best he could for pain that never came. Instead Aaron cried out in surprise and Tilda let out a choked scream while a male voice yelled something. He pulled his arms away from his face and in front of him was something he felt like he was hallucinating.
Adult Neil was holding Tilda’s arm in a tight grip, his eyes looked almost grey in and his expression was very angry, Andrew found himself shying away from that expression a bit, so he made his way back to Aaron and held his hand, but he didn’t run or look away.
“You don’t touch Andrew again.” Neil’s eyes flicked away from Tilda for a second to flicker between the two twins before focusing back on her. “You do not touch either of them again, not inside this house not outside this house.” The lights start flickering and Tilda whimpers a little. Neil wasn’t done though. “You don’t move out of this house to get away from me so you can continue hitting them. You leave them alone; I’ll leave you alone. Do you understand?”
Tilda was still whimpering so he gave her a shake, Andrew didn’t think he’d ever seen an adult protect him like this. He couldn’t help relaxing a little, even with Aaron shaking by his side.
“Do you understand?” Neil repeated. His grip on her arm was very tight.
“Y-yes! Yes! Please don’t hurt me please I-.”
“I’m not going to touch you lady, not unless you try to hurt one of the twins again, then I might be swayed to hurt you a bit.” Neil smiled in a way that didn’t look very happy at all, it was a scary smile a bit like his fathers in that picture Andrew found yesterday.
“Yes! I won’t touch them, I won’t!”
Just like that the lights stopped flickering and Neil let go of Tilda’s arm, letting her stumble off into a different room sobbing. Andrew was glad she got a taste of being scared if he’s honest. Neil turned around and his expression changed back to normal almost immediately.
“Wh-Who are you?” Aaron whispered, taking a step back. He was still shaking Andrew realized so he grabbed his brothers hand tighter as he took it upon himself to answer.
“This is my friend Neil, The one from the attic.”
“You said he was a kid.”
“He is! Well, sort of. Neil can you go back to being… not adult Neil?”
Neil snorted but did as he was told. Aaron watched in utter fascination as Neil’s form shimmered and he changed back into himself. Neil stepped forward and put his hand out.
“Neil Josten, it’s nice to finally meet you Aaron.” Aaron took his hand slowly, after looking toward Andrew. He seemed much calmer now that he knew that Andrew knew Neil. Neil smiled before turning toward Andrew.
“Are you okay? She didn’t get you at all? I was watching as soon as she started shouting.” His eyes were back to bright blue as they looked all over Andrew taking stock of him in the way Aaron did when he as looking for new bruises.
“I'm fine.” Andrew mocked slightly before Neil pouted a little. “She didn’t hit me, you stopped her… Why did you do that?”
“I made you a promise that I’d protect you from her.” Neil said softly. “I keep my promises.”
Andrew understood that, he always kept his promises to Aaron and Nicky.
“I’ll see you in the attic tomorrow?” Neil questioned, cocking his head to the side. His red curls flopped in front of his eyes.
“Yeah, I’ll see you then.”
Neil smiled before fading away so the twins couldn’t see him anymore. Aaron stared at the space where he disappeared from for a solid 15 seconds before looking at Andrew with wide eyes. Andrew shrugged and tugged on his hand, snapping him out of it. They both crept out of the kitchen, finding Tilda still shaking busy drinking straight from a bottle of vodka, there were some pills on the table as well. She was still sniffling but she looked up when the boys entered.
“Is it gone?” she whispered.
“Yes mum.” Aaron answered dutifully.
“For now.” Andrew added. She shot him a glare before relaxing a bit.
“Okay good. Go to bed you two I don’t want to deal with you right now.” She shuddered and took another swig.
Both boys scurried up the stairs as fast as they could to Andrew’s room, Aaron grabbing some extra blankets from his room as they went by. When they got there they sat on the bed facing each other.
“Did he mean it when he said he was going to protect us?” Aaron’s eyes were shining with something that looked a little bit like excitement and a little bit like hope.
“Yeah I think he did. I trust him.”
Once Andrew had said that, it was enough and Aaron relaxed completely before reaching out for a book. They read together until Aaron fell asleep. Andrew got up and turned off the lights before climbing back into bed.
Yes, he said to himself. I think we might be okay here. It was the first time he’d ever felt truly safe in his life. This house might just be the best thing to happen to him and his brother.