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House in the Woods

Two stories
by Kellene O’Hara

Things We Know When We Are Young

          When we are young, my sister and I know the world and our world is the playground. We know which swing swings the highest and the best way to hang from the monkey bars. We know to avoid the metal slides on hot summer days. We know the rules of tag, but not of love. We know that stepping on cracks breaks your mother’s back, that walking under a ladder is bad luck, and that you have to hold your breath when going over a bridge.

          We know that my sister is fearless. That she is the first in our neighborhood to climb the oak on the corner. The first to touch the sky. That all of the kids will gather, watching her ascend, cheering her onward. That she will reach the top of everything.

          When we are young, we know that adulthood is a place that we will go one day, although we cannot imagine the journey. But we do not know that my sister will not make it to adulthood. We do not know that my sister will die. That her death will be described as sudden, as tragic, as so often happens when someone dies young. When we are young, we do not see death as a destination for us, not yet. Not yet.

          There is so much we do not know.

          We do not know that my sister will become a memory to me, that she’ll forever remain the girl, up the tree, proud to have conquered gravity, who looks out on the neighborhood, who knows everything that there is to know about life in that moment which is that she is young and alive and the world is alive. Who knows that she is the only one who can see the horizon and everything beyond.

A Haunting

          The relationship was dead so I took my boyfriend to the graveyard where I buried him. However, I had forgotten that ghost particles were particularly permeable so he must have pushed through the layers of soil and silt to come and lie upon my couch, like he did every day of our short-lived relationship. I had thought that his transformation into a ghost would make him something more, but I just saw the same lay-about-boyfriend that I knew for six months.

          In the beginning, the ghost-boyfriend on my couch couldn’t speak. He grunted and groaned as he played his video games. During soccer matches, he would let out sighs of exasperation. When he could speak, he said things like, “Did you gain some weight?” and “I’m gonna go watch the game with the boys. No girls allowed.” and “Booty-booty-booty!” and I had a headache by the end of the first day with the speaking ghost-boyfriend.

          The worst part about the ghost-boyfriend was that he would eat and eat and eat and he refused to do the dishes. Or pay the rent!

          “Babe, you know I’m between jobs…it’s really hard right now for ghosts.”

          I called ghost hunters and consulted with oracles, but nothing I did would get him to leave. I burned sage. I salted the corners of my apartment. I even started dating another man, in hopes that the ghost-boyfriend would get the hint. But nothing I did would vacate him from my couch. I tried every trick I knew. I even sat him down for a long talk and told him that it was me, not him. But you can’t break up with a ghost.

          I decided to give him the cold shoulder. I ignored him. Even when he followed me from room to room with the best tips for day trading, I just kept going about my business. I thought that he would grow tired of being ignored and haunt someone else, but the silence just empowered him. He talked all the time.

          So I was left with only one option. Kill him.

          Ghosts, the internet told me, are particularly difficult to kill. Mostly because they are already dead. But I was determined. The ghost-boyfriend had to die.

          One user on a discussion board devoted to ghost murder suggested that I sweat him to death because, according to them, ghosts can’t stand high temperatures. So, that’s what I did. I turned up the furnace and thought he would overheat, but I ended up just sweating and running up my heating bill.

          I put bleach in the sauce of his chicken wings. I cursed him. But nothing I did would kill him. He just kept on being a ghost. Living in my house, rent-free, 24/7.

          When I posted about my failed attempts at ghost murder on the discussion board, one user asked: Have you considered rehoming him? I did some research and, while it felt wrong to leave him with some other woman, I told him we were going for a ride. We drove over an hour away, with the ghost-boyfriend becoming increasingly concerned.

          “Babe, where are we going?”

          We reached our destination at dusk. The outline of the crumbling barn was visible in the distance as the sun began to set. A woman in a thick flannel came out with a bucket of ice and beer bottles which drew the ghost-boyfriend out of the car. She nodded to me. When I DM-ed her a few days ago, I told her that I felt bad about all of this, bringing him to a farm upstate, but she assured me that it was for the best.

          “Do you…do you think you can rehabilitate him?” I asked.

          “Not a chance,” she said. “When they get to this stage, all we can do is provide them a nice, warm place on the farm to live out the rest of their days.”

          She would know. In one message, she said she had over a hundred ghost-boyfriends at her farm. That they all lived in the barn at night and they wandered the fields during the day. She sent some grainy, pixelated photos. It looked nice enough.

          “I…I don’t know why he stuck around for so long,” I admitted. “He wasn’t even that good of a boyfriend, you know? Actually, he was kind of awful.”

          “Love is paranormal,” she offered.

          But it wasn’t, not really. We simply both had swiped right on an app and met at a bar downtown. He worked doing food delivery on a bike and he had vague plans that involved grad school. He was cute and charming. Then he got laid off a month into our relationship and asked if he could move in, just temporarily. I said yes.

          We walked to the barn where we saw, as promised, a hundred other ghost-boyfriends. Some were on their phones. Some were watching a game (she had even put a television screen in there for them!). Others were just chilling. The ghost-boyfriend saw the scene and looked around as if to bolt, but I shook my head. This was the end. We both knew it.

          The ghost-boyfriend, hesitant, looked at me and asked, “Booty-booty-booty?”

          Although I had never said it in our relationship, I responded, “Booty-booty-booty.”

          He smiled and turned to the other ghost-boyfriends. Immediately, one of them came up to him and asked, “Did you see the game on Sunday?”

          I knew that he would be okay. On the ride home, I called the man I had originally only been dating out of spite for the ghost-boyfriend. I told him that the other guy was totally out of the picture now.

          “Oh yeah?” he asked.

          “He’s in a farm upstate,” I confirmed. “Dinner at six?”

BIO

Kellene O’Hara has been published in The Fourth River, Marathon Literary Review, South Florida Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. Her writing has been nominated for the Best of the Net and the Best Small Fictions. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. She teaches writing at the University of Mississippi. Find her on Twitter @KelleneOHara, Instagram @KelleneWrites, and online at kelleneohara.com.

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