Clem tied her dark hair into a braid, leaving it to dangle freely behind her head. All she cared about was being able to play her guitar for the time in two weeks. The weekend had arrived, she finished her homework early, and she finally made it home to her small home in the afternoon. She had plenty of time to strum out a few chords without disturbing her neighbors.
She hummed, walking through the small kitchen to grab her old, yet absolutely lovely dark blue guitar from the living room. Clem sat down on the sole wooden chair she had bought a month ago and began to play. She only knew a few songs, a blend of old rock and alternative, but she had fun bobbing her head like she would at a concert.
Glancing down at her fingers, Clem carefully pulled at the strings, trying to shape as many chords as she could before she ran out. A few more choruses and she felt finished, satisfied that she did her best to her sole audience of one - her small empty house. She stood up to stretch, letting the strap slide down her shoulder.
Hopefully, the next time she had the time to play was a lot sooner, but that depended on her college professors. Clem sighed, lifting off the guitar a little reluctantly. She knew better than to mess around for too long though. Last time she had calluses for days on all four of her playing fingers.
Standing the instrument back up, Clem spun around, wondering what she could do now. The smartest idea would be to dust the three rooms she called home. She yawned, baring her teeth in some mock growl at the dirty space, then shuffled off to the closet around the corner.
With each step, she heard a muffled sound, almost as if someone were hitting the walls with a hand or limb. The noise reminded her of an echo, which she wanted to believe at first, yet when she decided to pause mid-movement, another thump still rang through her ears.
“Is someone there?” Clem asked, squinting through her dirty glasses. Maybe a neighbor was simply knocking on her front door?
She shrugged, tugging at her braid before approaching the hallway. A few rays of sunlight still peeked through the white-columned blinds. She could count the number of conversations she had with any of her neighbors with one hand. Why would someone want to talk to her right after hearing her play? She barely spent a few minutes on her guitar anyway.
She walked right up to the front of her home and decided to give herself a chance to catch her breath.
Clem waited for two beats, then swung the door open, for nothing to be standing near her. That was weird. Could she be hearing things? It had been a long week; she supposed the noise could just be from that.
Still, it didn’t explain the almost cold feeling that crept into her the moment the sounds started. Something was there. She couldn’t tell what, she couldn’t say, or even really think why she knew that, but a part of her deemed it true. Clem did not feel alone in her house, even if all the signs pointed to her holding an irrational belief.
The last time she had someone over, it ended in black clothes, tears, and rain, as much of a classic sad day as they came. Clem didn’t need to relive those memories anytime soon, even if the funeral was six months ago.
She turned back to look at the small, dark room. Her chair seemed a lot closer to her than it had before, but she could have mindlessly pushed it in her mad dash to actually play her precious guitar. Clem shook her head, tired from not only the last few weeks but also her idiotic brain.
Only she would try to bring up ghosts and make them possible during the afternoon, not even during the night. Clem scratched at her head, loosening up what she figured was quite a large amount of dandruff. She would find that disgusting later, but currently, she found it soothing, to feel the flecks start moving out from around her braid.
Then, she heard two more noises. The first, simply her stomach growling, which was fair as she hadn’t been able to eat much that morning. However, the next sound echoed the one that sent her opening the front door like a maniac. Clem sighed, wondering what could bring that back.
Clearly, she should forget about having a mostly quiet day to herself, in comparison to the absolute nightmare her house was being. One last time, she told herself, she would try to see what the noise could actually be.
Clem frowned even while she talked, already finding herself insane for entertaining the thought of something being able to crawl into the room, all without her seeing. The creature had to be of a decent size to cause such a distinct thump, however, so she felt secure in that conclusion at least.
“Please just come out,” she nearly begged dread building within her as the seconds ticked by without a hair stirring around her. “I’m gonna get driven mad here.”
She hung her head at the lack of a reply. Calling out into the abyss her home seemed like a fine idea, but it made her feel even crazier. Clem rubbed at her temples. A headache was building by her forehead, which got her frustrated as she hated not being in what she called the optimal-thinking-situation, but her mind was already blown by the sheer audacity of whatever or whoever was pranking her like this.
A low rumbling not from her stomach caught her attention. If she didn’t know better, Clem would attribute that noise to laughter? It sounded exactly how her father used to chuckle at her antics, then give her advice on how to do improve upon on whatever she was doing. A small grin stretched across her face. It had been a bit since she really thought of him.
The simple thought of her father brought her to tears up until a few weeks ago, as she decided she would try to be able to link make to him with happier thoughts instead of those last few moments. Clem still missed him dearly, though. Since the funeral, she hadn’t seen much of her family at all, even less than when she first moved out of her parents’ place.
Clem opened her eyes that had somehow shut when she was deep in thought, to see a shocking image. The very image of her father, gray-faced as he had been in his coffin, floated in front of her. As in, his feet neatly curled above the cheap, dirty carpet underneath, and he was in the best suit his closet held.
“D-dad?” Her voice cracked, the word hovering in the air as if her father would disappear if she spoke too loudly. “Is that really you?”
A smile stretched across his discolored lips. “Hi, honey. Bet you weren’t expecting this.” A short laugh left him. Clem was stunned, her hand stretched out then frozen in place, unsure of what she should or even could do.
She debated on screaming or crying, or both at the same time. For now, she kept the conversation going, as if to try to convince herself that this could be real.
“How?” She choked out, waving a hand aimlessly towards him. Even the dark hair they shared had stayed in the carefully brushed style they buried him in. “I - we - saw you die. We had to bury you.”
His face grew dark, and he didn’t try meeting her eyes. “I’ve been dormant for a while, somehow still here.” Dad shrugged, looking far too casual for a dead man. “Suppose I’m meant to do something before I leave.”
Clem chewed on her lip, debating on whether this made sense in the slightest. Her imagination could be acting up, especially by having to go back to this house every day after what happened. She figured it wouldn’t hurt to go along with a dream, as fantastical as this one started off as.
“Okay,” she humored him. “What would you possibly do now, then, past haunting your daughter and scaring her?”
“I didn’t mean to startle you, Clem, but I will admit I could have gone about this in a different way.” He grinned slightly. “I heard you playing, and I suddenly had the urge to speak with you, or to at least see you. I gathered up my strength and reached what I am right now.”
Her father moved as if to pace back and forth, but in his ghostly form, he simply drifted from one piece of furniture to another. She found it a bit hard to take him seriously after thinking of him as a grown-up balloon floating all over.
“An almost sentient figure?”
He nodded. “Or a shade, perhaps. Whatever you’d rather refer to me as.”
Clem quirked her mouth at his serious tone. For her dead father to affirm that he was a ghost-ish, and to want to make her comfortable discussing him, she really didn’t know how to feel currently.
One the one hand, it was brilliant to see Dad again, to see him talking and moving, and, well, maybe not truly breathing, but the sentiment made her feel nice. The flip side was that her father was partially back from the dead, had been this whole time, and seemed to be haunting her house.
Really not quite the quiet day she had been planning for herself. Whatever. She would just have to make do somehow.
“You liked my playing that much to risk giving your daughter the scare of her life?” That had been puzzling her, and popped back into her head now, during her mad dash of trying to understand what could be happening.
“I haven’t had much strength to really move around her, but the moment I heard your music, I felt bolded, empowered, so I sprang to action when I got the chance.” Her father smirked at her, reminiscent of all the times he would get her out of trouble from her mom.
Clem shook her head in bemusement. He never seemed to care about her playing while he was alive, yet the guitar got him out of his funk and back into her life. She should play it more often now more than ever if it truly drew her father away from the afterlife waiting for him.
“What do we do now, then?” She tapped a random beat on her leg, keeping pace with her racing thoughts. “It’s not like we can go out in public.” And, Clem still wasn’t quite convinced this wasn’t a dream, tears trapped in her eyes as she didn’t want to absolutely break down into crying.
Dad nodded, looking off at the plain, pale walls. “All I know is that I can barely move from here.” He gestured randomly with a hand, indicating what she assumed was the living room. “I tried leaving through the door a few days ago. Not four steps outside and I got colder than a ‘fridge. I’m surprised you didn’t hear me then.”
As a matter of fact, Clem did seem to recall hearing some noises that sounded close to gasps, but she wrote it off as her neighbors being busy with something. “Interesting,” she muttered instead.
Her father chuckled, looking like he had in old pictures, as carefree as a parent could be with their kid. Glancing at his smile, Clem shook her head, caught between memories and the apparent truth of ghosts. Or, she amended, at least the existence of this one specific ghost.
“I’ve missed you, sweetie.” A hand appeared a few feet away from her, oddly discolored, but normal besides that. She wished that she could grasp onto him, feel his pulse once more, hear his heartbeat. Clem couldn’t do any of that now, however. She needed to move on, even with his appearing as a near-shade in her own home.
She took a long breath, turning back to face him. A small grin crossed her face. “I’ve really missed you too.” Dad’s smile instantly grew, with something like relief shining in his brown eyes, just like her own.
Maybe this could be a good thing, Clem considered quietly. Maybe - she wouldn’t feel as alone anymore.
The next day carried on like a normal one, her falling out of bed, getting rushed in the bathroom, and barely grabbing a banana to eat on the way.
One key difference was the figure of her deceased father complaining that she needed to better her cooking skills and eat healthier meals. And that he waved goodbye when she ran out of the house.
Clem skipped from class to class, unknowingly drawing attention from her fellow students by her sudden change in heart. She carried herself with a certain lightness, like something in her heart had been filled and it changed how she viewed life.
All because a lonely adult pulled out her guitar to play. Clem would forever be grateful for the steps that brought her to see her father again.
She drove back home, the moon bright in the night sky. Unlocking her front door brought her a dark room, but that didn’t bother her quite as much as it did yesterday.
A gray figure hovered by her chair, a grin already on his face.
With those two words, Clem felt an inexplicable sense of belonging and happiness.