A/N: Alternate universe. Romantic elements. Ghost boys. Drama and forbidden friendships. Interested? Read on.
The air was dank and chilly, seeping ghostlike through the open hatch, as though it were a gate between two worlds. At the bottom of the stairs was the comforting aroma of broccoli alfredo bubbling on the stove, the summer heat permeating every inch of the two-floored house. At the top, the attic, blackness lit only by a tiny hexagonal window accompanied by few sputtering bulbs, and the lingering smell of disuse.
"Geez...when's the last time anybody came up here? 1955?"
Sam coughed and tried to fan grey particles away from her face, but succeeding only in stirring up more, the dust motes spiraling around in the tiny ray of sun coming through the window. She fumbled for the switch at the top of the ladder, sighing in relief when the electrical system flooded the room with forty (times three) watts of yellow light.
"I'm surprised the lights even work still." Sam shoved an open cardboard box out of her path with the toe of her combat boot. "It's filthy up here!" she yelled in the direction of the hatch, voice carrying across the expansive attic and down the ladder, barely audible to the rest of the house.
"What?" her grandmother called back.
"Argh...nothing!" Stepping over a pile of ancient clothing, Sam pushed her raven hair out of her eyes with one hand and steadied herself against a rafter with the other. She coughed again, this time into the sleeve of her shirt. The dust in Grandma's attic was thicker than glue, barely visible in the air but tangible enough to impair her breathing. Irritated, she knelt gingerly with one stockinged knee on a stray sheer curtain and drew one of the boxes closer, inspecting the writing on its side.
At least the important things were organized, Sam told herself, even if nobody ever cleaned up here. Her grandmother had told her that the crate labeled "keepsakes" was what she wanted brought down. Sam was usually not one to begrudge her favorite relative a favour (how Grandma could be related to a man as incorrigible as her father, she would never understand), but her allergies combined with recent illness made the attic a very unpleasant place to be.
The dust was so thick on the floor that Sam was sure no one had set foot up here since her father had went away to college twenty years previous. Pushing away the "cutlery" crate, she stood and clomped further into the dark recesses of the room, looking for boxes whose labels faced the wall.
There, in the corner. Sam kicked aside a deflated air mattress to get closer to a large, rectangular box that looked as though it had originally contained a kitchen appliance of some sort. Upon closer inspection, though, it didn't appear to be labeled at all, and when she turned it to check the opposite side, it was as light as if it were empty. Puzzled, Sam peeled back the duct tape that held the cardboard flaps together, and pulled them apart.
There was a sound like an explosion, and something blue and shining shot out of the crate, cackling madly. A rush of cold air flooded past Sam's bare arms and she cried out in surprise, falling backwards onto the wooden floorboards, causing the dust to funnel upwards in tiny maelstroms.
The spectre, squat and humanoid, threw its arms up into the air. "I am...the Box Ghost!"
Sam's throat closed over as she stared at the apparition. Glowing faintly, its skin was a pale bluish-green and its eyes bizarrely shining as they trained on her. It thrust chubby hands in front of her face. "Beware! For I control all these square containers, and you, girl, are at my mercy!"
"I...uh..." Sam wasn't really sure whether to scream or reach for something sizable to beat the little man with. She had always fancied herself the take-charge type, but this seemed a bit of out her league - she'd never really believed in the paranormal, even though her grandmother's hometown of Amity Park was famous for its ghostly legends. "Stay back! You...monster. Don't come any closer!"
"I wouldn't worry about this guy. He's not a threat." Another voice, a male's soft alto and, as Sam discovered when she looked around for its source, disembodied. "Come on, you, you're going back in the box."
"No!" the Box Ghost fumed, holding its arms in front of him as if to ward off an attack. "You shall not seal me within that cardboard prison again! This girl has finally freed me!"
The boy's voice chuckled lightly. "And you repay her by scaring the hell out of her. Nice."
"She will be my human contact!" the ghost insisted.
"Don't I get a say in this?" Sam demanded, recovering her voice. Not taking her eyes off the Box Ghost, she felt around behind her with one hand, looking for something she could use as a weapon in case it tried to get any closer - not that she was sure any weapon would even affect a ghost. The situation, however, seemed to be resolving itself in a way Sam couldn't see, as the Box Ghost engaged in a struggle with the source of the voice, kicking and punching at it, to no avail.
"Sorry about this." Right before her eyes, the ghost was wrestled back into its box, and the flaps folded tightly over one another. Within the cardboard cube, it struggled a bit, and after only a few moments, became silent and docile.
Sam did not move an inch.
After what seemed like an eternity, she took a long look around the attic, expecting...what? Another monster? "Hey...is anybody here?"
No reply came back to her. Violet eyes hard, Sam inspected the box the ghost had been shut in from a good distance, wondering if it could escape without the duct tape seal. The source of the voice from before did not show itself or speak again.
"Samantha!" Her grandmother's voice broke the silence.
Sam jumped, knocking over a wooden vase with her hand. "Uh...yeah?"
"Can you come down here for a minute? I need your help in the kitchen."
"Okay, I'm on my way." Sam leapt to her feet, taking a last look around the dim room. Still nothing appeared before her, and the Box Ghost's prison lay quite dormant in its corner. Gingerly stepping back over the pile of air mattress and curtains, she made her way along the narrow path back to the attic hatch, stopping when she found it blocked by a crate that she was certain had not been there before. Written very clearly on the top flap was the word "Keepsakes".
Mouth dry, Sam hoisted the container into her arms, trying and failing to avoid smearing dust all over her black t-shirt. Not looking back, she hurriedly descended the ladder to the second floor and closed the hatch without stopping to turn off the lights.
"Grandma." Sam stirred sugar into her cup of tea, willing herself to look into her grandmother's face. "You know all that stuff that they say about Amity Park being haunted? Do you think any of that's true?"
"Haunted, eh?" Grandma Manson paused with one hand on the teapot, her expression thoughtful. "Well, I've never seen anything myself, but I wouldn't say I disbelieve it. The things you hear around here, they're almost too much to be coincidence."
"Mostly what you read in the paper...ghost attacks and miracles and whatnot. They call this place the biggest centre of paranormal activity in the country, you know. Nearly every house in town has some story or another of being haunted."
"Even this one?"
"Even this one, but I've lived in this house for fifty years, child. I'd know if it were haunted. Your father used to insist he heard noises in the attic all the time, but he was the only one who ever did."
"In...the attic?" Sam was so preoccupied that she allowed the milk to overfill her teacup, causing the tea to slosh over the rim and pool in its saucer.
"That's what he said. But you were just up there, Samantha, so you know there's nothing strange, right? Ah, your father had the wildest imagination, though. He used to ask me so many questions, just like you're doing now."
Sam nodded slowly and lowered her lips to her cup, sipping away enough tea to allow her to lift it without spilling. "Dad never talks about that kind of thing at home."
"No, of course not," her grandmother agreed. "I suppose outside of Amity, ghost stories are really only tall tales. Anyway, dear, I called you down to mind the stove while I pick up some more vegetables from the market, is that all right?"
"Wonderful. I'd hate for that delicious sauce to burn - you may turn me to your vegetarian ways after all, my dear. Let me just go and get my purse, and I'll be back in a flash."
"Okay." Sam continued to sit at the table as her grandmother left the room, letting the teacup warm her frozen hands. She was still a bit shocked from the scene in the attic, but couldn't tell Grandma 'no, you can't leave, because I'm scared of the ghosts I saw up there.' She was Sam Manson - she was tougher than that.
The phone jangled on the wall above Sam's head, startling her out of her thoughts. Grabbing the receiver, she held it to her ear with one hand and lowered her cup to its saucer in the other, opening her mouth to speak, and closing it again when she recognized her grandmother's voice answering on the other extension. "Hello?"
Halfway back to the cradle, her father's voice leapt out of the tiny speaker, as jarring as ever. Sam paused. "Afternoon, Mother."
"Oh, it's you, dear. I wasn't expecting to hear from you again so soon." Grandma's voice was faint but audible. Cautiously, Sam brought the receiver back to hearing range, curious at what her father might have to say. He had called yesterday as well, but Sam had refused to speak to him.
"I'm just lucky that you picked up and not Sam. She hung up on me yesterday."
"Oh, I see." Grandma didn't sound terribly surprised. It wasn't news to her that Sam wasn't getting along with her parents, that being one of several reasons she was shipped off to Amity Park for the summer. To her credit, she hadn't tried to broach the subject with Sam unless the teenager brought it up first.
"Yes, well, whether she chooses to acknowledge it or not, I do want to make sure she's all right. How are things?"
"Well enough," Grandma replied, with a tsking noise. "She's still looking a bit pale, but she's been up and about more than usual lately, helping me around the house and whatnot."
"She's doing housework? Voluntarily?" Sam resisted the urge to snap at her father, instead scowling at the kitchen wall. How typical of him to assume she would laze around and do nothing when visiting Amity! Just because she had servants to clean up after her at home didn't mean she would take others' hospitality for granted. Taking a deep breath with one hand covering the mouthpiece of the phone, Sam sat back down in her chair and listened complacently to the discussion.
Her grandmother's voice was immediately on the defense. "Of course she is. Why shouldn't she?"
"Nothing, I just...thought she would be using her illness as an excuse not to help out. Have you managed to break her out of those awful clothes yet?"
Sam visualized Ida Manson rolling her eyes, but even knowing that her grandmother was on her side, the teenager was already back in the angry mood that had constantly overshadowed her in the months before coming to Amity. Didn't her father care at all about her feelings? Of course, he could not have known she'd be listening in on the other line, but that was no excuse to insinuate things about her, or act like her individualism needed to be changed to suit his needs. He was even more pigheaded than before, in Sam's opinion.
Disgusted, she hung up the phone, not caring if anyone had heard the sound of the receiver being set down, and stormed to her room to calm herself down. She threw herself on the bed and buried her face in her purple pillowcase, eyes shut tightly. What did I do to deserve the flakiest parents on the planet? I may be an only child, but damn, they were children once too, they should know what it's like!
But she knew that there was no way they could put themselves on her level. Her father had been an academic prodigy, her mother a spoiled rich brat. Together the two of them made the most obnoxious combination of humanity that the world ever bore witness to, and then had a daughter together, who began rebelling at the tender age of ten. Now seventeen, Sam was in constant torture from either her snobby prep school classmates or her socialite parents, depending on the time of day. The only aquaintance she had that was her age was a technology geek who lived on the next block named Tucker, whom her parents wouldn't allow to bring into the house, because he was 'too low-class.'
"But Mom, he lives in our neighbourhood, doesn't that cost a lot of money?" she had said in protest at eleven, when her mother had sternly told her that she was not to be seen with Tucker.
"Money doesn't instantly give you status, Sammie. Why can't you make friends with some of those nice girls from school?"
Yeah, right. An all-girls school like the one she attended was just a breeding ground for cheerleaders and the Yale-bound preppies, neither of which Sam tended to blend in with. She hadn't had company at her lunch table since second grade.
Soft footsteps outside of her room altered Sam to her grandmother's presence in the hallway. "Samantha? I'm going to the market now, do you mind...?"
"Go on, I'll be right out." Sam rolled over to face the ceiling, which was decorated like a spangled night sky.When she stayed in this room as a child, she would squint and the string of lights around the perimeter of the ceiling would also become stars, stretching and blurring into each other against the dark.
It's not fair. Why can't anyone accept me the way I am?
Viewed through angry tears, the stars distorted and melted together, like trails of purple fire reaching out to hold one anothers' hands.
-to be continued...
A/N: Comments are greatly appreciated.