Sunday 18 September 2022

Maude the Unfriendly Ghost by John Villan, chai tea

 Hannah was the only girl in class to have a ghost, and she was quite excited about it. Her popularity had taken a hit in recent years. She didn’t have a car like Kathy, or a secret tattoo like Jasmine. No one from the boys’ school took an interest in her like they did Anastasia. Once, she’d even overheard some of the others making fun of her boring, straight, brown hair—not that she’d ever let on that she’d heard.

            So on that blustery November morning, she walked through the doors of Saint Cecilia’s with confidence, ready to make her grand announcement. She marched up to a group centered around Kathy (who no one liked all that much, really, but she’d drive them for milkshakes after school) and struck a self-important pose while clearing her throat.

            She said, 'You may have heard that we moved into the old Andrews House. Well, you will never guess what I found in my new room.'

            She had their rapt attention. A round of wild guesses ensued. A diamond necklace? A stash of alcohol? A dirty magazine? Kathy, eyes wide, finally said, 'Come on, Hannah, tell us. What is it?'

            'A ghost.' Her voice was nonchalant, like she hadn’t just made it out to be a huge deal.

            Mouths literally fell open. There were reverent murmurs of 'Woh,' mutterings of 'No way.'

            Jasmine, the one with the secret tattoo (which was just a dumb butterfly on her shoulder), hurried over from another group as the commotion broke out. She squeezed in beside Kathy. 'Did you just say you have a ghost?'

            Hannah was still playing it cool. 'That’s right.'

            'Oh my gosh,' Jasmine said, with an exaggerated expression of shock. She loved being the center of attention. 'Is it terrifying? Do you need a place to stay? You can always stay with me, we have a guest room.'

            'No, she is not terrifying.'

            'Oh wow, so it’s a friendly ghost?' Kathy asked. 'That sounds so, so amazing.'

            'Well,' said Hannah, pausing. She had to tread carefully here. 'We’ve only just met.'

            Anastasia, who wasn’t all that pretty (boys only noticed because she stuffed her bra) had joined the group. She couldn’t stand to be left out. 'When can we meet your ghost, Hannah?'

            First thing after school, they went to meet the ghost. Kathy drove.

            'I’m scared,' said Jasmine, as the four bounded up the stairway.

            'Hannah said she’s friendly,' said Kathy.

            'No she didn’t,' said Anastasia.

            They reached the bedroom door. Hannah knocked. They waited.

            Finally, a thin voice came from the room: 'Fine, fine. Come in, if you must.'

            They entered. 'Everyone,' said Hannah, 'this is my ghost. Her name is Maude.'

            Maude was sitting in a rocking chair near the room’s corner. Her skin was pale, and she was just a little translucent. Her dark hair was done up in a beehive. She looked maybe a decade older than their mothers, and her face was joyless. 'That’s Miss Purcell to you,' she said.

            'My friends wanted to meet you,' said Hannah.

            The chair rocked back and forth. 'And now they have,' Maude said.

            Anastasia blurted out, 'How are you moving that chair?'

            Maude frowned. 'Not the brightest, are they?' She turned to Anastasia. 'With my legs, you silly girl.'

            'Can you fly?' asked Kathy.

            'Now why would I want to do a thing like that?'

            Jasmine snorted, turning to the others. 'Not very impressive, is she? Hannah, is there anything your ghost can do?'

            The rocking stopped. 'I can see into your soul. Is that impressive enough?'

            The girls froze. Except for Jasmine. She planted her hands on her hips. 'Sounds like a load of bull. Tell me, then, what’s in my soul?'

            Maude’s face fell into shadow. 'Fear. You will do anything to keep others from knowing your secret.'

            Jasmine laughed in defiance, but her lip trembled. 'My secret? What secret is that?'

            Maude’s voice grew colder. 'That however much you try to convince them otherwise, you are the most ordinary, boring girl at that school of yours. But deep down, you know they see it.'

            A tear streamed down Jasmine’s face.

            Anastasia reached over and took Jasmine’s hand. 'That’s an awful thing to say. Why would you say that?'

            'No, not very bright at all,' said Maude. 'Tell me, girl, why do you strut around trying to catch the attention of all those rotten boys? You think it will fool your girlfriends? That they won’t notice the way you look at them?'

            Anastasia dropped Jasmine’s hand. Her face was red. Kathy stepped forward and opened her mouth, but nothing came out.

            'You are the easiest of all,' Maude said. 'You drive everyone around in that heap of junk car so you can pretend you’re friends. But every night, you cry yourself to sleep knowing they wouldn’t like you without it.'

            The faces of all three girls were now streaked with tears. Without a word, Kathy headed for the door. Anastasia and Jasmine followed as she went for the stairs.

            Hannah asked, 'Why did you say those awful things to my friends?'

            Maude’s lips curled into a grin. 'That’s why you brought them here, isn’t it?'

            Hannah caught up with the others as they were getting into Kathy’s car. 'Wait.'

            Kathy was already in the driver’s seat. 'I just want to go home.' The others nodded.

            'She’s awful,' Hannah said. 'Plus, what she said wasn’t true. This is a great car.' She forced a smile. 'And even if some of it was true, it doesn’t matter to me. Why don’t we all go out for milkshakes? My treat.'

            Anastasia stood blocking the back door. 'Tell us, Hannah, what would she have said about you?'

            Hannah’s smile fell. Her voice was a whisper. 'That I’m jealous.'

            Fall was in the air. A lone, speckled yellow leaf floated to the ground.

            Anastasia took a deep breath. 'I guess milkshakes sound okay.'

            Jasmine said, 'Fine, let’s just get going.'

            'Milkshakes, then,' said Kathy.


About the author

John Villan is a writer of fiction and poetry. He has lived and traveled throughout much of the continental United States and has an avid interest in American history, with a special focus on colonial era history. He lives in northern Arkansas along with his wife and their three dogs. 


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