Straddling the Grave
Summer was just within grasp. I could feel it in the hot, humid air clinging to my skin as I made the way from the bus stop at the end of the street, and could taste it as I nursed a lollipop that had been in the bottom of my backpack for who knew how long. I had spent all of last summer wishing it wouldn’t end, but now I didn’t have the slightest idea of what I was going to do.
I kicked a stray pebble across the asphalt.
A lawn mower’s rumble reverberated in my chest as I walked past one of the several farm fields littering my neighborhood; a symphony of crickets added to the chorus. By the time I reached the top of our house’s driveway, I already knew I wouldn’t see Jess’s car sitting in it. She was probably out visiting one of her college friends again -- that was all she had been doing ever since the spring semester ended.
I slipped into an empty house.
I’d be the only one home for a bit, apparently.
I went through the same old routine I did every day. After I had finished my lollipop, I grabbed an energy bar. I tidied up the kitchen - putting away the now dry dishes and washing the ones still in the sink. I took down the clothes I had hung out on the line that morning. I made sure our house looked lived in but presentable. When I was finally done with that, I entered my mess of a bedroom and sat down at my desk. Then I let out a tired sigh.
Just another average spring day in an average junior year.
I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be thankful when I finished my homework sooner than expected. Junior year was brutal, to say the least, but the teachers seemed to have gotten the hint that we needed a break by the end of it. All it took was an hour before I was out in the front yard with my current read in hand - it was the last of many graphic novels I had taken out from the town library a week before.
I was sitting down on the hammock when I realized I wasn’t alone.
All I could make out was an unfamiliar pair of shoes -- Mom’s size and style, maybe? They definitely belonged to someone older. I couldn’t remember her shopping for shoes recently, but she probably found them when digging through her closet over the past weekend.
“Hi,” I said.
Mom didn’t say anything.
Frowning, I looked up. Had I done something wrong?
...The woman in front of me wasn’t my mom.
She was around her age - her hair was just as white as Mom’s was, and they had about the same amount of wrinkles. But her clothes were unfamiliar - and older - like she hadn’t gotten the memo that clothing styles had changed in the past few decades. If having a practical stranger in my yard wasn’t bad enough, she just felt...off. Like she wasn’t supposed to be in front of me but also was.
I got to my feet and studied her.
I was taller than her. She didn’t have any kind of weapon on her, either. Maybe I should have run away, but she wasn’t exactly dangerous. I could handle a confused older woman.
“...Can I help you?” I finally said.
I went to put my graphic novel back down on the hammock; my back was turned.
Nothing happened. No sudden attacks, no answers, and nothing that could explain just who that woman was. But when I turned around again, she was gone. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had never once hallucinated - and definitely hadn’t imagined a person before - I might have thought she was a figment of my imagination.
I shuddered a little.
Grabbing my graphic novel again, I decided it might have been a little better to go inside.
Being inside, though, was even worse than being outside.
Our house wasn’t exactly new. With every little unexplained creak, I became more and more convinced that I had seen a ghost. The woman had been wearing pajamas, right? She could have died in her sleep. Ghosts just made sense right now. I had been convinced that ghosts were more fiction than fact - even though a little voice in the back of my mind was trying to tell me otherwise.
So I took the next best option.
Leaving my graphic novel on my desk next to the quickly growing pile and grabbing my phone from where it was charging, I left the house. I made sure to lock the door. No one would try to steal from our house, of course, but I’d forgotten to lock it enough times that Mom and Jess’s scolding had drilled it into my head.
I began my walk to the library.