Next, I tried to touch Granpy. I was afraid that maybe I was a ghost, somehow. Maybe the old man or the Duchess killed me and I didn’t even know it. Do ghosts know when they stop being alive and start being ghosts? I realized right then that there were still a lot of things I didn’t know about ghosts.
I reached out and I touched Granpy’s shoulder. I didn’t go through it. I hadn’t realized how scared I was that I would go right through. I was so relieved that I started to cry all over again. Then I realized that even though I’d touched him, Granpy hadn’t seemed to notice. He still wouldn’t look at me.
I touched him again. I tapped his shoulder a few times. He didn’t respond. So I pushed him. I pushed as hard as I could. I knew it wasn’t polite, but I was Desperate.
I couldn’t move him, even when I pushed as hard as I could push. I’m not very strong, but normally I think I could push Granpy if I tried to. He didn’t move at all. And he didn’t look.
That was when I remembered Jose. I had forgotten him for a few minutes. Where was he? Maybe he was still in the house with the Duchess. Maybe he’d come back out and was looking for me. Maybe he still needed help. Maybe he was dead and turned into a ghost. He still needed help, and I had forgotten him. I cried even more.
This day was not going well at all. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Everything was wrong, and it was all my fault, and I didn’t know what to do.
Something touched my leg.
I was so surprised and scared that my eyes forgot how to see for a few seconds and the whole world turned white. Something was grabbing my leg, pushing me, pulling me. It had to be some kind of monster. It had to be the Duchess, or the Dead Eye ghosts, or the old man, or something even worse. I wanted to run, but I was too scared, and I Froze again, just like I always do. Finally I got brave enough to look down and see what horrible thing was coming to get me.
It was Simon. He was rubbing my leg and purring .
He meowed and blinked his eyes really slowly, which is how cats smile. I blinked my eyes slowly back at him, and then he did it again, and then I did it again, until I said, “Okay, okay, we’re smiling. Now what?”
Simon walked over to the back door and scratched at it. I opened it to let him outside. The door felt heavier than usual, which was Not Good. Doors don’t get heavier or lighter. So if it felt heavier, that meant I was weaker. That’s something the PE teacher always said at school. He always said that if we practiced and practiced, we’d get stronger, and then we could pick up heavy things and they would feel lighter. But that also meant that if they felt heavy, you were getting weaker.
I didn’t feel weaker, though. I just felt like myself.
I followed Simon outside. I closed the door behind me, like always. Then I thought that maybe I should do something to help Granpy realize that I was there. I didn’t know why he couldn’t hear me or feel me, but if I left the door wide open in the cold, at least he would be Paying Attention. Doors don’t open themselves.
It felt wrong to leave the door open, because it was against the rules. But I decided that people who are invisible have to have different rules. It’s called Extenuating Circumstances. Granpy taught me that word when we were going to the store for medicine and there were no parking spaces and he parked in the handicapped space. He said it was Extenuating Circumstances because I was sick and we were in a hurry and we couldn’t wait for a normal parking space, and anyway it wouldn’t hurt anyone, because there were four other handicapped spaces, and it was Almost Impossible that five handicapped people would come at the same time, since we would only be in the store for a few minutes.
This felt like Extenuating Circumstances, too. So I left the door open.
Simon was already going into the woods. He was following my footprints from before, going right towards the Haunted House. He stopped and turned around to make sure I was following him. He blinked his eyes slowly again. This time he wasn’t just smiling, he was saying It’s Okay, Follow Me. Simon is a very smart cat, so I followed him, and we went together back to the house.
It looked the same on the outside. Simon could easily jump over the fence if he wanted to, but he went around the back so I could go over with the tree. He waited at the back door for me to open it, and he went inside and straight to the big heavy wooden door, and he waited for me to open that one, too.
The old man wasn’t there, which was not a surprise because he was at my house. In my house, in my spot, on my couch, making it so my Granpy couldn’t see me or hear me.
I tried to tell Simon that I couldn’t open the door. I’d tried before and it wouldn’t open. It was locked or sealed or something like that. He listened to me, but he didn’t smile. He didn’t blink at all. His eyes were Wide Open, which in cat language means Do What I Say Right Now Or I’ll Scratch You. So I said Fine, I’ll try, and I opened the door, which was a surprise because I had expected it to be impossible to open.
Inside the house was exactly the same as before. Dark and dry and scary. Dusty, musty, fusty, dim. Simon went inside slowly. He moved the same way he does when he’s following a bird and he wants to catch it. His feet left little kitty pawprints in the dust on the floor.
My footprints were still there from last time. I recognized the pattern from the bottom of my shoes. They went over to the window, then back, then through the door. They were already starting to disappear, though. The dust was slowly covering them up. They were the only prints on the floor.
The spider was still in the window. It was hard to see it because it was so dark in the room. I didn’t want to go back to that window. I was relieved when Simon went straight through the room, right over to the next door. He stopped there and turned his head to look at me. He wanted me to open the door.
It was so easy to follow Simon and let him make all the decisions. Simon knew what he was doing. Cats always know what they’re doing. It was so easy that I forgot to even be scared until I pulled open the door to the next room, and the sunlight hit me in the eyes, and I couldn’t see for a few seconds until my eyes got used to it. I heard Simon hiss and it made me jump, and that’s when I remembered to be scared. Then my eyes got used to the light, and I saw the floor.
It was moving. It was almost melting. It looked like it was alive, and twitching all over. Then my eyes started to figure out what I was seeing. It wasn’t the floor at all. I couldn’t see the floor, because it was hidden under all the worms.
The whole room was covered in worms. The tree was growing out of worms and it had worms climbing up it and hanging off of the branches. There were worms crawling on all the chairs and sofas and stools and other mismatched furniture.
It was scary, not because worms are scary, because worms aren’t scary at all, but because there shouldn’t be all those worms in a room in an abandoned house, even if it is a Haunted House. It made sense for the spider ghosts and other bug ghosts to be there, because that’s where they lived before they got eaten or squished. But why would worm ghosts come into this room? They hadn’t lived here. Worms didn’t live in houses. They lived in the dirt outside. So I thought that maybe they weren’t ghosts at all. Maybe they were alive worms that someone brought in here. But who would bring a million million worms into a room in an abandoned house? And how would they even find so many?
They could be ghosts, but then why were they there? Is it possible to move ghosts? Is it possible to control them?
I didn’t know the answers to any of those questions. I decided I should make a list, to go with my Unfinished Business list, of all the questions I didn’t know the answers to.
One thing I did know was that Jose had come into this house and it had been hot and the Duchess had taken him and he had disappeared. And the Duchess was not in this room. The tree was empty, except for the worms. Even the Dead Eye ghosts were gone. Or at least, I couldn’t see them. But then I remembered that the first time I’d come here, I couldn’t see them at first. Another question to add to the list: How come I can’t see all the ghosts all the time? Do they get to choose if I see them or not? Is it something I do? Or does something or someone else control it?
The list was getting long already. I had to focus. I had to find Jose.
But I had Simon to help me.
Simon hissed at the worms for a few seconds, then he reached out and tried to hit them with his paw. He was testing them, like he tests his water before he drinks it. But he couldn’t touch them. Not because his paw went through them, but because they moved out of the way.
He moved really carefully, and he took a step forward. All the worms moved away so he didn’t step on any. Then he took another step, and another step. I was watching and I kept thinking that one of them wouldn’t move and it would go squish and Simon would panic and jump and Freak Out, but it didn’t happen. So I decided to trust him and to be brave, and I stepped into the room.
Even though I saw all the worms move away from Simon, I was still scared. Maybe they only moved away from cats. Or maybe they couldn’t see me, like Granpy and Ms. Fess, so they wouldn’t know they should move. I didn’t want to step on the worms. They would go squish and there would be worm guts all over my shoe and I would have to clean them off. And whenever I see a bug get squished, I imagine what it would feel like if that happened to me. I Can’t Help It. I try not to, but I imagine it anyway, like my brain doesn’t care what I want, it just does what it wants to do.
Some people say that we are just our brains, and our bodies are just machines that our brains control. But that can’t be completely true, because my brain does things All The Time that I don’t want it to. Like, if I tell my brain I don’t want to think about elephants, my brain will say Too Bad and I won’t be able to stop thinking about elephants. It’s like if I tell Simon to Sit, he will do Anything Else except for sitting. Maybe our bodies are just machines that our brains control, but our brains are like cats that live in our heads. They’re great and they’re smart and they can do lots of nice things, but they Do Not Care what you want.
So I told my brain I didn’t want to think about how it would feel to get squished, or how it would feel if I stepped on a whole bunch of worms and got them on my shoes and had to clean them off, but my brain said Too Bad and I was very, very scared to put my foot down.
I moved my foot out, to a spot where Simon had already stepped and the worms had moved. They had moved back slowly, but there were still less worms there than on the rest of the floor. I started to move my foot down to the floor, but then I stopped. I was standing on one foot, and the other foot was just a few inches above the floor, and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t step on those worms.
Then Simon said Meow, and it startled me because I didn’t expect that, and I lost my balance and my foot went down without my permission.
The worms moved out of the way, just like they did for Simon. I still didn’t know if they were ghost worms or alive worms, but at least they weren’t squished on the bottom of my shoe.
Simon had already moved around the corner. I followed him and tried not to look down at the worms, and was still a little scared that at the Last Second they might not move and I might get my shoes covered in worm guts. Around the corner, to the right, there was a staircase. Simon was sitting at the bottom of it, looking up. His ears were flat on the top of his head, which means he was scared, or angry, or both.
I looked up the staircase, and my glasses went foggy. It was cold in the rest of the house, but when I looked up the stairs, the air got very hot, just like it had when the Duchess opened the door earlier. I couldn’t see anything. I took off my glasses quickly and tried to wipe them off on my jacket, but it wasn’t soft enough. I still had my gloves on from outside. I tried to take them off, but I had to hold onto my glasses, too.
I should have put my glasses back on my face while I tried to take off my gloves. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t see through them. I couldn’t hold them in my hands while I was trying to take my gloves off. But I didn’t think of that until after they had fallen on the floor. They were in my hands, and I was trying to hold on to them, and I was trying to take my gloves off, and then the glasses were not in my hands anymore, and then I heard the sound of breaking glasses, which has its own very special sound.