Published on 2011/07/03

Giving up the Ghost

Kristina R. Mosley

“Gillespie!”

Hope bolted upright. “Huh?” she mumbled as she looked around her dark bedroom. No one was in her room, and there was nothing on that could have made a sound. She glanced at her alarm clock. It was two thirty-seven in the morning, a little less than two and a half hours before she had to be up for work. It must’ve been a dream, she thought. Her face fell back into her pillow.

“Gillespie! Get your ass out here!” a man’s voice called again.

Hope rolled over onto her side. So much for it being a dream. A realization cut through her foggy mind. It’s Jimmy. Today’s the anniversary, she remembered.

She groaned, dragged herself out of bed, and put on her slippers. Hope slowly shuffled over to an old wooden chair and picked up the green terrycloth bathrobe that sat on it. She put the bathrobe on over her thin pink nightgown. Guess this is as presentable as I’m going to be, she thought as she ran a hand through her short blonde hair. She walked out of her bedroom.

Photos lined the dark hallway that led to the rest of her small house. The immortal faces of her relatives, most of them long dead, peered at her like silent guardians. A picture of a man, woman, and a blonde girl caught her attention, even in the darkness. The three were dressed in spring colors, and they stood in front of a church. The woman was blonde like the girl, but the girl’s face looked more like the man. Hope stared at the photo for a few moments; her hand rested on the light switch at the end of the hallway. She thought about turning on the light, but she decided against it. Why bother? I’m just about to go outside.

Hope walked in the dark for a few moments after she exited the hallway. She banged her knee against something hard. “Ow!” she called out. What was that? She realized it was only the dining table. “I should’ve bothered,” she muttered. She moved away from the table and continued to the back door. Jimmy would be waiting for her in the backyard, just as he did every other October thirteenth.

She reached the back door and placed her hand on the cool brass knob. Something tugged at the belt of her robe. She jumped. The thing meowed; it was only the cat.

“Jeez, Jeff. You nearly scared the life out of me,” she whispered.

The cat meowed again.

“Gillespie!” Jimmy yelled from outside.

Hope sighed. “Keep your pants on, Jimmy,” she muttered. She unlocked and opened the back door. She was partway out the door when she noticed Jeff poised to run outside with her. Hope stuck out her right foot to block the gray tabby cat. “Get back in the house,” she hissed. She jerked her foot out of the way and slammed the door behind her.

“Uh!” she exclaimed as she squinted her blue eyes against the bright back porch light. I forgot I left that on, she thought. After a few moments, her eyes adjusted. She scanned her backyard, seeing nothing unusual, just a small white shed, some trees, and an old clothesline she didn’t use. She walked across her small wooden back porch, her footsteps echoing in the quiet night. A light frost crunched under her slippers as she walked across the yard. It’s colder out here than I expected. She folded her arms against her chest as she walked. Hope stopped at the point where the illuminated ground met the dark. She didn’t need to go any further.

“‘Bout damn time you got out here, Gillespie,” Jimmy said.

Hope didn’t see the visitor anywhere in her yard. “What are you doing out here, Jimmy?” she asked, her breath drifting from her mouth like cigarette smoke.

“I got a bone to pick with you, Gillespie.”

Hope tried to find the man. She barely saw the top of Jimmy’s head over the wooden fence that separated her yard from her neighbor’s. “Well, if you’re going to gripe,” she said, “you’re going to have to come over here.”

Jimmy’s right elbow came through the fence first. The rest of him followed, as if the six-foot-high barrier was nothing more than air. Jimmy continued walking toward her.

“You killed me, Gillespie,” he said gruffly.

Hope looked at the man. His neck was broken, his head leaning against his right shoulder. Jimmy’s right upper arm was pinned to his side with his forearm up. Hope noticed that the forearm was broken, the porch light glinting off the exposed bones. The break resembled a second elbow. His hand pointed back. Jimmy’s left forearm was pinned across his chest. His left hand touched his right shoulder. Jimmy’s legs were bent and broken as well. His right leg bent at the knee, but his foot still touched the ground. His left leg turned to the side, his foot pointed in. Blood came from his nose, mouth, ears, and from the compound fracture of his right arm. As Jimmy limped toward her, hay fell from his body but disappeared before it hit the ground.

His gruesome injuries no longer fazed Hope. She noticed Jimmy’s light blue western-style shirt and dark blue jeans. His black cowboy boots still shined. Hope tried to put Jimmy’s crushed face back together in her mind. Hope thought, maybe, that he was handsome in life, but she couldn’t be sure, not after what the hay baler and death did to him.

Jimmy stopped in the darkness two feet away from Hope. The man stared at her for a few moments, silent. He looked at Hope with his visible eye, the eye that always bothered her. It was so dark brown that it looked black. It enhanced Jimmy’s otherworldliness. It’s like he was never human at all, she thought. He just looks like a creature from somewhere…beyond.

She shook her head to clear her thoughts. “Well, you called me out here. What do you want?” she asked.

Hope sighed. “How many times do I have to tell you? I didn’t kill you. You died forty-five years ago, twenty-three years before I was born.”

“No, it wuddn’t you,” he slurred, “it was some guy—”

“My grandfather?” Hope interjected.

“Yeah, yeah. He was drivin’ the tractor, pullin’ the baler ‘hind him. That sonuvabitch killed me.”

Hope raised her voice. “Grandpa did not kill you, Jimmy. You fell in the baler because you were drunk. In the middle of the day. You killed yourself with your own foolishness. I mean, seriously, how do you just fall into a baler? Surely, the noise or something would’ve made you realize what it was. Maybe you were just that drunk, you idiot. And don’t you dare insult my grandfather. He was a good man who grieved for you. You were his friend. He felt responsible for your death even though it wasn’t his fault. Your death would’ve haunted him even if you hadn’t.”

A porch light flickered to life on the other side of the fence, and a screen door squeaked. Hope rolled her eyes because her neighbor Nancy was going to ask her a bunch of questions.

“Is something wrong, Hope?” the woman asked.

“No, Nancy, everything’s fine.”

“I heard you talking to someone.”

Crap, Hope thought. “I was just talking to my cat.” She hoped that answer was convincing enough to end the conversation. She always got a weird feeling about her neighbor every time she talked to the woman.

“Well, it’s too late to do that. I need plenty of beauty sleep, you know.”

“Sleep can’t fix what’s wrong with you, lady,” Hope mumbled.

“What?”

“I apologize, Nancy. It was selfish of me not to think of your feelings.”

“Don’t be a smartass, Hope. Just get your cat and go to bed.” The door slammed shut, and the porch light went out.

Hope turned to the ghost. “Great, Jimmy, you woke up the witch. She’ll probably turn me into a dog or something.”

Jimmy stared vacantly at Hope. She squinted at him and sucked in her cheeks. “You know what, Jimmy? You’ve haunted my family once a year for forty-five years. After Grandpa died, you haunted Dad, and after he died, you haunted me. It didn’t matter where we lived, you followed us. Every year, one of us had this same conversation with you. I’m sick and tired, and it’s going to stop, damn it.” Hope winced, remembering the blonde woman in the photo. “Leave this place, Jimmy,” she commanded. “You don’t belong here.”

“Like hell I don’t. I’ve lived in this town all my life—”

“But you’re dead, Jimmy.”

He stared.

“You’re just too stupid to go to the right place,” she continued.

“Hey,” the ghost said half-heartedly.

“What? Did I offend you? Get bent. Oh wait, you already are.” Hope covered her mouth with her hands in mock embarrassment. She dropped her hands and walked toward her house. “Whatever, Jimmy. Some of us have to get up in the morning and help heal living people.”

Hope realized then that the dead surrounded her. Her house was filled with pictures of her dead relatives, many dead longer than she had been alive. Jimmy was the only man she could count on to be in her life on a regular basis. Death even surrounded her at work. She was a hospice nurse, so her patients were closer to death than life. Why, then, was she so adamant about Jimmy leaving when, in a weird way, he was a normal part of her life?

No, she thought. Jimmy doesn’t need to be here. He doesn’t need to keep harassing my family on the same night every year. He needs to leave me alone.

Jimmy didn’t say anything as she walked away. The only sound was the crunching frost. Hope reached opened the door and looked behind her. The ghost still stood at the edge of the light, looking toward her. It was like he was frozen there, unable to move any closer.

It’s always good when ghost know their places, she thought as she entered her housed and closed the door. Jeff the cat rubbed against her leg. He meowed, his tone almost questioning.

“Gosh, Jeff. You’re so nosy.”

Hope walked through her house, expecting to hear Jimmy yelling for her. He remained silent. She reached her bedroom and looked out her window. He no longer stood in the yard. She didn’t know if he just went away until the next year, or if he was gone permanently.

Well, doesn’t matter now, she thought. I need to get more sleep so I’m not dead on my feet tomorrow. She got into bed and closed her eyes, trying to block out thoughts of the real world.


Kristina R. Mosley lives in Kensett, Arkansas. Her work has been previously published in Letters from the Dead and The Zombist, both available from The Library of the Living Dead; This Mutant Life; Deadication, available from Panic Press; and at Flashes in the Dark. She can be found on Twitter @elstupacabra and at Tumblr at kristinarmosley.tumbler.com, where she blog occasionally about writing but mostly about Doctor Who.