Ghost Story

Erik's mom spends probably five minutes getting to the point of it. First she asks Erik if he remembers how Charles got sick with the flu a few days ago. Then she explains, very softly, how dangerous the flu is to kids like Charles; how easy it was, for Charles to come down with pneumonia.

That Charles is -

Erik knows better than to interrupt his mom when she's talking, so he fidgets until she's waiting on him to answer before he says, "Yeah, I know. Charles already told me."

When Erik gets back up to his room, he glares at Charles. "You made my mom cry."

Then he tries to punch Charles in the arm, but instead of his hand making a thwapping sound, it goes right through Charles. Erik's hand feels cold and tingly for half an hour, instead of warm and tingly like it usually does when he hits Charles. It's a really weird feeling, almost as weird as not being able to sense any metal in Charles' wheelchair since it's a ghost too, now.

"I'm sorry," Charles says. "I didn't mean to." He reaches up and rubs his shoulder, even though he supposedly didn't feel anything when Erik hit him, and even though it wasn't his shoulder Erik punched.

"How come you're haunting my room, anyways?" Erik says one day. "Shouldn't you be haunting your own house or something?" Charles' house is perfect for haunting. It's so huge it could have come right out of a ghost movie to start with, and hardly any of the rooms get used so it's spooky on the inside too with all sorts of dust and cobwebs and possibilities. If Erik was going to haunt a house, Charles' house would be first on his list.

"I don't like it there anymore." Charles looks down and picks at his cuticles. Erik wonders if he picks any skin off, if it will be real skin or ghost skin. "My mom is really sad - her thoughts hurt. And she can't see me or hear me so I can't help. I like it here way better."


For his birthday that year, Erik gets a chess set from his mom.

"Maybe there are other kids at school who'd like to play it with you," she says.

Erik shrugs and takes it up to his room. After some thinking, he decides he likes it because the pieces are made of metal, but he also hates it because the instructions are confusing and make him feel dumb.

"This game is stupid," he says. He wishes he could of gotten a video game instead.

"Charles, though, peers at the manual thoughtfully. "If you turn the pages for me, I could maybe figure it out and tell you the interesting parts."

Not only does Erik have to turn the pages, but when they actually start playing he has to move all Charles' pieces too. But he doesn't really mind, and it works out a lot better than trying to play poker or rummy.

Erik is sick and tired of going to visit head shrinks.

"I don't think you'll have to anymore," Charles says. "This last one thinks I'm a coping mechanism and I'll go away when the time is right. I think your mom liked to hear that. She didn't like the other ones because the first one said you were a compulsive liar and the second one said you were a sociopath."

"I'm not a liar." The Sixth Sense is totally a true story; it's not Erik's fault the shrink didn't get the joke when he was pretending to be the kid from it. "But what's a socio-thingy?"

"It's what they call you if the shrink asks you how you feel that I died and you tell him that you're mad your mom won't let you ask my mom if you can have my video games," Charles says. "That was stupid of you, Erik."

"Well, it's not like you're using them," Erik says. He doesn't know why this doesn't make sense to any of the grownups. Probably for the same reason none of them can see Charles. "And you're not a coping whatever, you're a ghost. I don't know why nobody listens when I try to tell them so."

"Yeah," Charles says. "You want to know what I think? I think if I went away you'd be really sad. That's what I think."

Erik's stomach twists around at the thought of what-if 'Charles died' meant Charles was gone. "I wouldn't care."

Charles beams at him like he's just said something really nice. "Okay. I'm not going anywhere anyway."

"Good." Erik thinks maybe he sounds a little too relieved, so he adds, forcefully, "You better not."