“The worst part is, just when you start thinking you’ve got a handle on things, she changes it up on you.”
I tried to make a distinct frown in between coffee sips. It probably just looked like I hated the coffee. “What do you mean?” I asked.
Sam curled her hair around one ear and looked around to make sure nobody was paying attention. When she felt safe, she scooted her chair closer to me. “Chloe has recently declared a war on wearing clothes. It’s ridiculous. She’s fine with the diaper, thank God, but I can’t take her anywhere because she starts screaming her head off.”
I shrugged and took another sip of coffee. “Sounds a lot like you in high school, minus the diaper, of course.”
“Lisa! We’re in public!” she hissed, blushing.
“Well, I just thought the irony was funny. She’s already so much like you.”
“You certainly haven’t changed at all,” Sam huffed. “It’s no surprise you’re still single.”
We were both quiet for a moment, staring at each other. But then she smirked, and I smirked, and we both started laughing.
“It’s been too long,” we both said in unison. A brief pause and we chuckled again.
“How’s the painting going?” Sam asked, pulling her frazzled hair from her face.
That was one way to kill the mood. “Slowly,” I admitted. “I’ve… been busy, lately.”
Here we go. I had to deflect fast. “Work’s just been a nightmare these past few weeks.”
“Did you get a new job? I thought you were still working night shifts at that shady hotel?”
“It’s not as easy as I make it sound.”
“You always say they’re just paying for the body and that they let you watch Netflix all day.”
“Well it’s not.”
“Lisa,” Sam smiled. “I love you and all, but you’ve got to work on your lying skills.”
I shrugged. I should have known that wouldn’t work. I did know that wouldn’t work. “I’m just a little confused is all. Life’s been different lately.”
I thought about how to answer that. I could be vague and change the subject. I could tell her I didn’t want to talk about it. But Sam was a friend. A good friend, and though we didn’t see much of each other these days, I trusted her.
“Did you see my post on Twitter about that weird dream I had a few weeks ago?”
Sam looked up, then back at me, nodding. “That one with the lava and the old music player?”
“Yeah.” I could feel my chest pounding. I had never told anyone the truth. “Do… do you believe in things like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, or weird things science can’t explain?”
Skepticism washed over her face. “I don’t believe anything I see on TV or online.” She took a sip of her own coffee as if to prove it.
“What about ghost stories?”
Sam choked as she drank, putting the cup down and swallowing carefully as if I had just suggested jumping on the table and screaming. “I’m sorry?” she asked, still clearing her throat.
I frowned. “Ghost stories? Not like in the scary horror movies or the TV shows about haunted houses. Why was that so troubling?”
She waved a hand, assuming a more casual posture. “Oh, it’s nothing. I just watched Oculus last night after putting Chloe to bed. Terrible idea.”
I sighed, wanting to continue the conversation, but not liking how public the coffee place was. “Right. Actually, do you want to go back to my apartment? Do you have somewhere to be?”
“Well, I have to pick Chloe up from daycare soon, but we’ve got time. I just hope she wasn’t a brat again today.”
“Why don’t you just get a babysitter? They’re cheaper and can hang out at your house.”
“I don’t like the idea of somebody that doesn’t know me staying at my house,” she said.
“What, do you think they’ll steal from you?”
“Something like that. I’m still having trouble getting over my trust issues.”
I winced. “Sorry, didn’t mean to bring it up.”
“It’s fine,” Sam said, but her fist was clenched. “You’ll have to tell me where your new place is.”
We got up from the table and threw our cups away as we walked outside. “I’ll text you the address,” I said. “But you can just follow me. Also, warning you now. It’s not the cleanest. Or the biggest… Or the—”
“Oh stop,” she laughed, slapping me on the shoulder as she pulled her keys out. “I’m sure it’s awesome. I’ll see you there!”
About twenty minutes later I opened the door to my apartment, and the two of us stepped in. It really was a mess. Dirty clothes littered both the couch and the floor in one of the corners, the carpet obviously hadn’t been vacuumed in weeks, and forgotten dishes sat on the coffee table. That was the worst part. The kitchen was twenty feet away and I didn’t even have the decency to put them in the sink. I was regretting everything about the decision to bring her here.
“I really need to pull myself together,” I muttered.
“I think it’s great,” Sam said, rushing over to Whimsy, who laid sprawled in the middle of the carpet where the sun peeked through from the only window.
“Ah, yes. My official Guest Distractor. Keeping people I have over from noticing how much of a literal dump my apartment really is,” I sighed, grabbing pants and underwear on the couch and stuffing them into a single pile along with the other clothes in the corner. I should at least get a hamper for the laundry.
I scooped up some dishes and rushed them over to the sink, rinsing them off. The leftover food didn’t come off with the water, but cleaning it now would be even more embarrassing.
Sam didn’t seem to mind. She was still pushing her face into Whimsy, who was now purring loudly as he snuggled back. She didn’t love cats as much as she let on, and we both knew it, but she was polite enough to seem distracted to give me time to clean a bit. I really missed having her around.
“I see the rule of ‘Whimsy likes everyone except me’ is still in effect,” I said, grabbing something off the counter and returning to the living room.
“Aww, he loves everybody, he just doesn’t need to prove it to his mom,” she cooed.
“Could have fooled me,” I grumbled, glancing over to where I knew some of the pawprints stained the carpet from earlier.
She looked at me, head still buried in Whimsy as much as possible. “So did you want to just show me your new place? Or let me say hi to your cat?”
“No, I wanted to tell you what’s been bothering me.”
“That dream I posted. The one we were talking about earlier. It…” I took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. “It wasn’t a dream.”
“What do you mean?”
“That story with that masked guy coming into my house, then the weird tunnel, then the music and that guy luring a bunch of tiny ghosts to their deaths was real. It happened. I changed up a few of the facts, but it’s true for the most part.”
“Ah, so you’re crazy.”
“I think so,” I nodded, not sure what to feel in that moment.
She stood up and sat next to me on the couch. “We’ve all got our own brand of crazy, Lisa. ‘Bout time you discovered your own.”
“You don’t understand. I have proof.” I produced the red Sharpie the masked guy had given me. Taking the cap off, I wrote ‘mug’ in cursive right on the coffee table. Sam made a sound of confusion, but the word immediately folded into itself, forming into the shape of a small, solid red coffee mug.
Sam stared at it, expression blank. “Holy s—”
“Wait,” I interrupted, grabbing the mug and walking into the kitchen. I turned the sink on and poured water into it, bringing it back to Sam and handing it to her.
She took it with a careful, overprotective grip, as if handling the Mona Lisa or something.
“You can drink it, it’s just tap water,” I said. Part of me wanted to laugh at how astonished she was, but I didn’t want to seem rude.
She put the cup to her lips and drank. “How did you…”
Okay, I couldn’t resist messing with her. “Oh, just wait.” I held my hand out, and she gave the mug back to me. I drank the rest of the water and threw the mug across the room into the kitchen.
It shattered with a loud crash, and Sam flinched. “Oh God!” she cried, shielding her eyes from any shrapnel.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ve been toying with it a lot. It’s the Sharpie that’s magic, not anything I make with it. As far as I can tell, you can only write one word, and it has to be in cursive. That word takes the shape of whatever you write, influenced by whatever you’re thinking of. You can only have one object at a time, and if it breaks, it shatters into a million pieces that vanish almost instantly. It can’t hurt you.”
“You almost gave me a heart attack,” she breathed.
“Here, try it yourself.” I handed the Sharpie to her. She drew back, cautious, but with a nod and a smile she took it.
“Anything?” she asked.
“Write one word in cursive. Small objects work better, and you can’t make living things.”
She deflated at that. “So I can’t infest your house with magical red snakes? Or spiders?”
“You sound incredibly disappointed at something you thought was literally impossible two minutes ago,” I chided. “Plus, you can only make the one anyway.”
She wrote the word ‘bike’ on the coffee table, and the red words folded into a three-dimensional space as they formed a bike. It was too small for an adult to use, and as soon as it finished forming, gravity pulled it down and it fell off the table onto the carpet.
“Also, I’ve found that small objects work better,” I added.
“This is amazing!” she said, eyes lighting up as she stared back and forth between the Sharpie and the bike.
I looked over to see Doc standing on the arm of the couch, his enormous head tilting back and forth like a curious dog. It wasn’t as cute without the floppy ears, but I still found it charming.
“Oh!” I shouted, grabbing Sam’s arms and pointing excitedly to the spirit I had befriended from the lake of lava. “There he is, there he is!”
Sam broke out of her reverie to see where I was pointing. “Who?”
“Doc! One of the tiny ghosts I saved from the lake of lava. He’s sort of been my roommate since then.”
“Your… roommate,” she said, voice flat.
“Yeah. Well, maybe more of a pet. I was the one who named him Doc. He can talk, so I figured he could teach me about the supernatural. He isn’t so good at sentences, though, so I haven’t learned much.” Realizing I was talking too fast, I exhaled slowly, then noticed the confusion in her face. “You can’t see him? That’s disappointing. Whimsy can. They don’t get along so well, though.”
“Maybe you really are crazy,” she smiled.
“Wha—but I just showed you real magic!”
“No, no, I totally understand. Now I know why you wanted to show me your place.”
I frowned. “I’ve seen the little guys walking around town since that one day. They’re not everywhere, but they’re pretty common. Maybe one per twenty people I encounter in just daily life.”
“You said they’re ghosts?”
“I mean, they seem like it. They can pass through things when they want to, and they have eye holes like I would imagine ghosts have. Not real faces. They can’t fly, though. But let me tell you: it’s super unsettling when you’re in the shower and he’s suddenly there.”
“I know what you mean,” Sam nodded.
“Yeah. They’re kinda cute, though. Doc is the only one I’ve ‘adopted’, if you will, but—wait. You know what I mean?”
She looked away, putting the cap back on the Sharpie and setting it on the coffee table. “I… uh… yeah. My house is haunted. I know what you mean.”
“Your… really? Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I’ve been sure for a few months now. I don’t know what to do about it, though. I’m not sure if I should like—get an exorcism or something. I don’t want to be one of the crazies.”
She smirked. “Like you.”
“Is that the real reason you didn’t want to get a babysitter?”
“If you’re feeling unsafe, you should get out Sam.”
“That’s the thing, though!” she said, leaning towards me and putting her hands on my leg. “I don’t feel unsafe. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, with work, and Chloe, and you know all the legal custody stuff. But the ghost that’s haunting my house is… like… helpful. And that’s the craziest thing of all. If I sleep in too late, doors will slam. If I drop something breakable, it almost looks like it slows down before it hits the ground. If it’s too hot, the AC will turn on even though I didn’t set it.”
“That last one sounds like a problem with your electrical.”
“And my bills are way lower than they should be if the wiring is faulty!”
She sounded like she was complaining, which I found a little annoying. How could anyone complain about having access to free AC in California?
“And you’ve never seen any ghost in your house?”
She shook her head. “Never.”
“But you also can’t see…” I turned to Doc, who was still bobbing his head back and forth playfully.
“But you can see them,” Sam finished the thought.