It was starting to get late, but Granpy told Jose he should stay for dinner before he went home, so we could all Clear Our Heads and Get Our Stories Straight. Jose called his dad and he said it was okay, and Granpy made us rice and beans. When I smelled it cooking, my stomach yelled at me that it was getting Very Impatient for food. I had been so worried about everything that happened that I forgot about how hungry I was. Me and Jose hadn’t even had a whole lunch before we went to the Haunted House.
We didn’t talk very much while we were eating. Everyone was tired, and everyone was thinking about everything that had happened. Finally, when we were all done and me and Jose had finished washing the dishes, which Jose Insisted on helping with, Granpy made us each a cup of hot cocoa with little marshmallows in it, and we sat down at the table and talked about ghosts.
This time was very different from the first time we talked about ghosts. This time it wasn’t me saying they were real and Granpy and Jose telling me lots of reasons why it was Impossible and they Couldn’t be real. This time it was me telling them everything about the ghosts, everything I saw and everything I heard and everything that happened, and them trying to think of Scientific Explanations for it with physics and chemistry and math.
This time, nobody tried to say that I didn’t see ghosts For Real. For a while they tried to think of Rational Explanations for everything that happened that day that didn’t include ghosts. One idea was that someone had Drugged us, given us something that made us see things that weren’t real. Another idea was that we had all gone Temporarily Insane and started to hallucinate. But that didn’t explain how we all saw the same thing. Another idea was that someone was playing a big trick on us, and pretending to be ghosts using Special Effects, but Granpy said that no one could ever trick him into seeing Granmy if she wasn’t really there, and anyway, it didn’t explain why he couldn’t see us for so long.
Finally, everyone agreed that it was possible that what we saw and felt wasn’t real. But the odds of that being true were almost nothing, and there were actually better odds that what we saw was real, and we just didn’t understand it.
Granpy talked for a while about the Building Blocks Of Life. He said that before people figured out about chemistry and biology, everyone thought that you got sick from bad smells, and that you could make somebody healthy by taking out lots of their blood. He said, “Maybe we’re not quite as advanced as we think we are.” And he said that if it was possible that there were whole new kinds of science to learn about, then maybe we could change the whole world if we studied them.
Granpy and Jose were getting really excited then. But Jose was the one who said that maybe we should try to find out the history of the Haunted House and see if we could figure out who the Duchess even was, and if she was an alive person or if she had died a long time before.
Granpy Tucked Me In to bed that night. It was lonely without Granmy there, but he reminded me that he had promised he would take good care of me, and he’d be Right Next Door in his room if I needed anything. I thought that For Sure I wouldn’t be able to sleep without her there, but I was so tired that I was asleep Lickity Split.
Jose came with us into the city the next day. It was Sunday so we didn’t have to go to school. That also meant there were a lot of people in the city, but Fortunately, we weren’t going shopping. The library is never full of people, which Granpy said is a Sad State Of Affairs.
The thing we needed was in a very dusty room that smelled like old books even more than the rest of the library. I liked the smell, but I didn’t like the dust. There were so many books and papers on so many shelves that I started to feel lost, but Jose stayed with me and made sure I didn’t Wander Off. I looked at all the books and I wondered how many words were in that room, and how many people it took to write all of them, and how long it took them to write each one. I wondered if they had sat at their typewriters, because they didn’t have computers back when these books were made, and thought and thought and not been able to figure out what to write. I wondered how many more books could have been there that never got finished because the writers Gave Up. I wondered if there were any books there that not One Single Person had ever read. And I wondered how long it would take to read Every Single book in that room, and if anyone had ever done it. And then I felt sad, because I realized I could probably never read everything I wanted to even if I spent my whole life reading. And if I tried, I wouldn’t be able to do all the other things I wanted to do.
I know I said it wasn’t crowded, but it Definitely wasn’t empty. There weren’t almost any alive people, I don’t think, but there were lots of ghosts in the library. That made me feel better. When I finally turned into a ghost, I would Definitely go straight to the library and stay there until I had read Every Single Book.
The librarian helped us find the records of the Haunted House. She said it was one of the oldest houses in our town, Actually, and it had a Very Long History. She told us that Way Back Then, before they had computers and everything, they used to write down all the important information about people and their lives and their Property in these books. She said it was Very Rare Indeed that anyone asked to see one of them, because they were very boring and just full of information about people who had died a long time ago that nobody remembered.
There were three books just about our neighborhood, and she told us that everything about the Haunted House would be in there. They had strange-looking letters in them that were hard to read, and there were a lot of numbers and abbreviations that Didn’t Make Any Sense to us. Granpy told me that it was a Long Shot that we would find anything useful in there, and I shouldn’t be disappointed if we didn’t. But in the end, we didn’t have to worry about that, because we did find something useful.
Most of the pages were just full of words, names, dates, and other boring stuff, but some of the pages had pictures. One of the pictures was of the Haunted House when it was Brand New, which was hundreds of years ago. On the next page there was a picture of the family who built it. I was the only one who recognized the mother and father, but everyone recognized the Duchess.
Her real name was there, too. The one they put on her birth certificate. But we all agreed that if the Duchess was what she wanted to call herself, then the Duchess was good enough.
Then Granpy and Jose got very excited and started to talk about Theories and Experiments and lots of other words that I didn’t know, but I didn’t listen for very long, because Mrs. Kinney touched me on the shoulder. I was very surprised to see her, but she wasn’t surprised to see me. She said, “There you are, child,” and “Mrs. Kinney’s been looking all over for you.” Then she said she’d Managed To Find what I was looking for, but it was a Reference book, so I wasn’t allowed to borrow it. She gave it to me, and I wondered if Mrs. Kinney was in every library in the whole world, or if she was just following me, but I didn’t get the chance to ask her, because she was already gone.
The book was even older than the books about our neighborhood. It looked like it might fall apart, so I went to one of the reading tables and put it down Very Carefully. There used to be words on the cover, but they were all faded away and I couldn’t read them. I opened the book and looked at a few of the pages and I realized that it was a dictionary.
It wasn’t just a regular English dictionary, though. It was a translating dictionary, like the ones we have to use in Spanish class. It has all the words in English and all the words in another language. But this one was Definitely not for Spanish.
It was a thin book, too. There weren’t too many words in it. And they were written in the old letters which are really hard to read. Finally I figured out that it was for the Cherokee language. On the last few pages of the book it said some of the Cultural Notes about them, how they lived, what clothes they wore, and things like that. But it wasn’t in the Past Tense. It wasn’t a history book. I finally found some dates, and that book was written before America was even a country.
There were some drawings, too, and when I saw one of them, I realized why Mrs. Kinney had given that book to me. It was all because of the man at the zoo. He was a Cherokee, and this book was about his language.
I remembered exactly what he had said to me. Oh Way Nah Seh. I said it out loud and tried to guess what the first letter was, then I started to look through the pages.
It didn’t take too long. The words were hard to read, but the book wasn’t very long. They spelled it a little funny, but I was Pretty Sure I had the right word. It meant Home.
I thought about the man in the zoo, and the sad look in his eyes. I looked at the pictures in the book, of how this part of the world looked hundreds of years ago, before there were cars and a town and a zoo, and thought about what it would be like if someone knocked down my home and built something else there. I remembered how it felt when Granpy let Ms. Fess come into our house without telling me, and then when the Duchess came inside. It made me sad, too, and I started to cry. But I didn’t want to ruin the book, so I made sure to wipe all my tears on my sleeves.
I cried very quietly so that Granpy and Jose wouldn’t hear me and come Check On me, because I wanted to be Left Alone. I still had some things to do. I managed to stop crying, then I took a pen and some papers out of my pocket. The pen was my favorite one. It was blue and it had a Felt Tip, not a Ball Point Tip or a Gel Tip. Granpy always said they used to make these a lot, but they weren’t popular anymore, which I thought was a Shame, because I really liked them. So Granpy took a whole box of them from the University before he became Retired, and he gave them to me to keep in my desk in my room. He said it was a Lifetime Supply, and I hoped he was right, because if I used them all I don’t know if we could find anymore, and I know know what I would do then.
The papers were my lists. One of them was my Unanswered Questions list. Granpy and Jose had helped me add lots of things to it before Jose went home the night before. They said it was important to Keep Careful Notes. They were so excited about all the Plans they were making that I think by the time Jose went home, he was more like Granpy’s friend than my friend. But that was okay, because Granpy needs friends, too.
The other papers were my Unfinished Business list. That was what I needed. I had them stapled together so I wouldn’t lose any of them. Only a few of the things on the list were crossed off, and they weren’t very important ones. I looked at number 34, which was Help The Ghosts With Their Unfinished Business. I realized that it was Too Much to have that all in one place, so I went to the end of the list and added some more. Number 107 was Finish Unfinished Business List, so below that I wrote number 108, and then I wrote Help The Cherokee Man and then Learn To Speak Some Cherokee. Then I also wrote Help The Duchess Feel Less Lonely and Find Out Where The Dead Eye Ghosts Came From and Find Out How Mrs. Kinney Found Me and Help Granpy And Jose Learn About Ghosts and Read Every Book In The Library and Find A Way To Fix My Tree. Then I thought some more for a while about what else I might be able to do Right Away, so I could cross something off my list instead of always adding more things to it. Then I remembered that my phone was broken and I still needed new glasses, so I wrote those down. It meant that we would have to go shopping, on a Sunday, with all those people around. But that just meant that I would have to be brave again, and I already had a lot of practice with being brave, so I wrote that on my list. Then I thought about what it would be like to go there, parking the car, waiting for Granpy to get the ticket, watching all the people on the sidewalk, and then I remembered what happened the last time we went shopping, and I added One More Thing to my list.
Finally, Granpy and Jose agreed that there probably wasn’t anything else to learn from the library, and we left to go to the mall. Jose waited with me on the sidewalk while Granpy got the ticket for the parking lot and we watched all the people together. The strange man from before was still there. I asked Jose if he could see him, and he said Yes, so he wasn’t a ghost After All. He still looked the same, and he was still smiling and trying to talk to everyone.
The mall was very crowded, but it wasn’t as scary as usual, because I didn’t just have Granpy with me, I had Jose, too. Granpy walked on the left side of me and Jose walked on the right side, so no one could bump into me. It was like having Armor that walked with me.
First we went to the electronics store where we got the phone. I had been really scared to tell Granpy it was broken, but when I showed him, he said it was No Big Deal. He tried it and it still worked, even though it had a crack in the screen. Then I tried it, and it worked for me, too. I wondered why it hadn’t worked in the Haunted House, and he said maybe my fingers were too cold, or maybe it was because I was invisible. I added it to my Unanswered Questions list.
But Granpy said it Wouldn’t Do for me to have a phone with a cracked screen, and he had bought the Warranty for it because he knew that it was easy to break them By Accident, so they fixed it for us and he didn’t even have to pay anything. Then we went to the glasses store and got me two new pairs of glasses, and he did have to pay for those, but he said I still wasn’t in trouble, and he Lost Count of all the times he broke his glasses by accident, so he couldn’t be too mad. After each stop, I took out my Unfinished Business list and crossed the things off. It felt really good to do that.
Before we left, I asked Granpy if we could make One More Stop. He was very surprised, because normally I want to get away from there as fast as I can. But I wanted to cross one more thing off my Unfinished Business list, so we went into one of the clothes stores and bought One Last Thing.
While Granpy went to get the car, Jose came with me. He looked nervous, which I thought was kind of funny because usually I’m the one who’s nervous. The Thing Is, though, that ghosts don’t get very much attention because most people can’t see them. It’s a good reason not to pay attention to someone, if you don’t know they’re even there. But this man wasn’t a ghost. He was right there for everyone to see, and no one paid attention to him At All, and everyone just let him stand there in the cold and be alone. That’s a lot worse than ignoring a ghost.
He was smiling at me, so I waved Hello and walked over to him, and he waved Hello back at me, and he still had all the same clothes and even the same gloves on with the big holes in the fingertips. I remembered how cold my hands had been when we were out in the backyard the night before, and I tried to imagine how it would feel to be that cold for days and days, but I couldn’t. So instead, I held out the brand new pair of Blue Heavy Duty Waterproof winter gloves that Granpy had bought just for him, and I said, “I hope this makes your fingers less cold.” And the man smiled the biggest smile I have ever seen a grown-up smile. The only time I’d ever seen a smile that big was on a little baby, and it made me laugh to think that, because this man had the same amount of teeth as that baby had. He said something, but I didn’t really understand it, and his breath smelled really bad, so I waved Bye and went with Jose back to the car. Granpy was ready and he even had it Warmed Up for us.
Granpy had tears in his eyes, but he was smiling, and he told me I had done a Real Kind Thing, and I told him that he was the one who paid for the gloves, not me, and then he laughed and gave me a Big Hug. Normally we don’t do Big Hugs, but this time I let him do it because he had helped me out.
After my seat belt was buckled and we were ready to go, I took out the Unfinished Business list and my felt tip pen from my pocket, and I wiped off my new glasses because the lenses were fogging up in the warm car, and I crossed off the last thing on the list. Then I took a Deep Breath and folded it up and put it back in my pocket, because there were still a lot more things left to do.
That’s it for this story, everyone. Thank you so much for reading! I’ll be taking a break from this story now, but once I’ve had time to revise it and clean up some of the messy and inconsistent bits, I’ll release the whole thing as one file.
I will continue to post on this blog each day, though I will probably take weekends off. I might take a hiatus for the next few days and give my mind some time to reset, but if you like this daily update business, have a look at my friend Gareth Davies’ blog. He posts a story a day! -> garethsshortstoryblog.blogspot.co.uk/