Agatha Prenderghast was feeling very anxious.
The ghost gnawed her lip, and tried to drive her anxiousness away with a stony expression, but to no avail. It still clung to her like a frightened cat, its claws deep in her skin. She had not felt this anxious since she had last been driven to raise the dead, destroy half the town in a blind rage, and nearly kill her now-best-friend via lightning bolt to the heart.
Agatha felt very anxious indeed.
She exhaled deeply, watching the wisps of ethereal air fade through the space in front of her. They disappeared in small puffs as they collided with a familiar wall, covered in strange posters of things Agatha still found vaguely grotesque. Her eyebrows fell to an angry, determined expression. Earlier sighs became gruff mutters and grumbles. She fell as heavily as a ghost could onto the edge of her friend's unmade bed, and folded her arms tightly against her chest. With slight hesitation, and her expression still set, Agatha glanced back up at the posters. Her expression only grew more agitated and upset the longer she gazed at them. It was as if they mocked her. The strange, gaping-mouths of the zombies seemed twisted into malicious grins to the ghost. She could almost hear their jibes, making fun of everything she had experienced since her return. Her eyes sparked with hatred, and her lips parted in a small snarl.
"Who rattled your chain?"
Agatha's frustration evaporated into surprise as a elderly ghost's face materialized out of one of the posters. The girl made a small squeak and slipped off the bed, floating hesitantly a few inches from the floor. She gazed up at the old woman with wide eyes. The old lady regarded her with a raised eyebrow. Her face betrayed a mix of amusement and disapproval.
"I'm fine, Goody Babcock." said Agatha flatly, her eyebrows falling to their previous gloom. A blush rose to her cheeks, and she folded her arms and looked at the floor to hide it. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the zombies' mocking grins. Her eyes flashed with hatred and annoyance.
"Oh, please", said Grandma Babcock. She put her hands to her hips and glanced up at the posters. "No one feeling 'fine' could hold such hatred for innocent pieces of paper."
Agatha laughed bitterly, and said, "Innocent? Hardly".
"The way I figure it, their only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time." said Grandma Babcock, with a small grin.
Agatha's eyes widened and her blush deepened. Her eyes shot back to the floor. A small electrical pulse in her chest flooded her body with nervous energy. She felt like a rabbit ducking from the wily gaze of a coyote. Her arms folded more tightly across her chest, willing the pulse to be silent, should it give away any secrets to the predatory being above her.
"I… was referring to their content," said Agatha quietly, hesitantly. She coughed, willing the nervousness in her heart to change into a more constructive emotion. "It would be silly to be angry with them for anything else," continued Agatha with a stronger, more even tone. Her voice betrayed her illogical anger to the old woman, who simply laughed.
"Tell yourself that" Grandma Babcock said. Agatha's eyes sparked and she opened her mouth to snap another defense, before the quiet click of the bedroom door announced someone's arrival.
Both ghosts swung their heads to identify the newcomer. Agatha hovered near the ground, almost hiding, while Grandma Babcock floated triumphantly by the tops of the posters. She smirked, glanced at the cowering ghost at the floor, and said "Hello, Norman".
The boy stood motionless by the door, his backpack still in transit between the floor and his shoulder. His gaze slid slowly from his grandmother to the ghost on the floor. "…hello" he said finally.
"Hi", said Agatha meekly, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. The pulsing in her chest had become unbearable, and revealed itself in her eyes. She flushed again, and looked down at the ground. Silence crashed into the room like an avalanche, smothering the boy and his grandmother. Agatha ignored it, however, dreading whatever may come after the silence far more than the silence itself. She sought to lengthen it by any means necessary. Her eyes dragged laboriously from the floorboards in front of her, to the floorboards to her side, and to the floorboards to the left behind her. Her gaze continued slowly, painfully from the floor to the electrical outlet, where they followed a cord to the alarm clock on the nightstand, then up the side of the bedpost, between the skulls on the wallpaper, where it finally rested on those dreaded posters. She tried to scowl at them, but instead only managed to look petrified. The electrical pulse in her chest finally broke free of its previous bonds and tore through her throat in an almost incomprehensible whimper.
Grandma Babcock's expression of prideful amusement turned instead to one of sympathy. "I think I'm going to go check on your father, Norman," she said, pretending to ignore the figure on the floor. She gave Norman a small wink as she floated by him, and out the door.
The silence felt even more deafening the second the old woman left the room. It pummeled into Norman, causing him to hesitate in order to get a grip on himself. His heart felt heavy under its weight. He sighed and shut the door softly. It closed with a dull click, which shattered the silence so completely that both persons remaining in the room flinched. Norman slowly let his bag fall the remaining distance to the ground, and began a slow approach to the ghost on the floor. He felt like a character from one of his horror films, a sense of curious fear overtaking him as his socks made muffled steps along the floor. One step, two steps, three steps. However, his fear was far different from the fear that usually engulfed such characters. Four steps, five steps, six steps. He was scared of-
She turned to look at him, wide, frightened eyes meeting his own. As soon as their gazes met, a glimmer of shock went through her face, turned into anger, shame, and back into fear. She looked back up at the posters.
Norman had taken a step back when she swung to meet his gaze. He took another deep breath. Seven steps. He knelt down beside her. "Hey, Aggie." he said quietly, his voice almost a whisper. He followed her gaze up to the posters, and smiled at them as if they were old friends.
"What we did was wrong" she said sharply. The silence began to sink its icy teeth back into the room. They sat quietly for a minute, each preoccupied with their own thoughts.
"I thought it was nice." said Norman, finally, quietly. She seemed to shiver at this, before looking back up at him. He couldn't quite read her expression, it was caught between anger, fear, and tenderness.
"Nice or not, it was wrong." she said, more softly.
Norman sighed, and leaned back on one arm. Looking back up at the posters, they did seem more menacing from Agatha's point of view. After all, they could testify the events that had past between the duo. "Well," he began, not entirely sure where to go with his speech, "I don't think it was so wrong".
As soon as the words left his mouth, Norman knew he had said the wrong thing. Agatha turned on him with a predatory viciousness, lightning in her eyes. "You can't share a bed with someone you aren't married to, Norman!" she hissed. The blush grew hotter on her cheeks. Norman stumbled back, almost falling to the floor.
"I- it just seemed the best for you, and, well, it was nice, and I thought you were okay with it, I mean, since there were strangers at your tree, and you couldn't sleep, and I-I just wanted to comfort you, I-" Norman stuttered, his voice turning into almost a squeak.
Agatha just stared at him bitterly, before her gaze softened, and she frowned at the ground. "I-I apologize…" her brow furrowed, and she shut her eyes. "I just… I'm scared…" she said, sacrificing her anger for fear. She glanced hesitantly up at Norman, who was searching her face for a better explanation. "Of Hell! And not seeing my mom again! And, and, well," her voice cracked, and she nervously moved a strand of her hair out of her eyes, "I'm scared of you. Of us."
She turned away from him with a huff after a moment's hesitation, leaving the duo wordless. The zombie posters continued to glower down at them. Norman gnawed his lip, glanced up at Agatha, glanced down again, and then meekly opened his arms to her. She took one look at him, scowled deeply, and folded her arms against her chest with the conviction of disgruntled panther. His arms flopped to his sides in defeat.
"I'm sorry, Aggie," he said in a whimper. She continued to glare at him, her accusatory hatred gliding smoothly from the posters to the odd boy in front of her. Norman scrunched his face in a wince. Then he sighed, and offered his arms again. Aggie stared at them incredulously.
"You think I want your embrace? Now?!" She said, disbelief and anger entwined in her voice. Norman recognized the sharp power in the words, and his thoughts were suddenly flooded by a lightning storm. A twinge of fear sparked in his heart.
"Yes" he said despite the fear, as softly as he could manage. "…please?"
The wrathful spirit's enraged gaze faltered. As suddenly as the rage had overtaken her it collapsed, and she fell into Norman's outstretched arms. He pulled Aggie close and rocked her back and forth, more for his own reassurance than hers. As much tenderness as he felt for the ghost, she scared him sometimes with her sudden temper.
"…I know it was my own decision to stay with you, Norman," she murmured into his shoulder. "I'm angrier with myself than I am at you."
She suddenly felt colder and tenser in his arms. "I already told you that!" Her voice crackled with lightning.
"But that's not really fair… you had nowhere else to go…"
Agatha was silent.
Norman gulped and continued. "There were drunkards at your tree, and you were afraid, weren't you?"
"You were afraid of getting angry again, of hurting them…" Norman felt a twinge as a ghostly hand tightened its grip on his shoulder. "So you came to me, and I wasn't awake, so you just curled up beside me, where you could be safe." Aggie made a small whimper, and Norman quieted his voice further. "That was all, Aggie. You didn't do anything wrong. You were just scared."
"It was sinful." said Agatha weakly.
"No," said Norman, "I don't think so."
Again, Aggie made no response. Norman, feeling there was nothing else to say, also fell quiet. The seconds stretched into minutes as they sat on the dusty floor, listening to the faint echo of life from the neighborhood outside.
Aggie sighed. "You have a calm heartbeat," she said, sitting back up and gently pulling from Norman's embrace.
"Thanks…" mumbled Norman. His lips suddenly parted in a grin, revealing goofy crooked teeth. Blue eyes met blue eyes as he looked up. "Hey, why don't we make you a little bed underneath mine? We could just pull it out whenever you needed somewhere to stay?"
Aggie smiled. "Okay, Norman."
Norman stood up and offered his hand to Aggie, who gave a crooked grin and drifted up to his level. They took some old blankets from Norman's closet and piled them somewhat haphazardly on the floor, and pulled some unused toys from their graves beneath his bed to make room for Agatha's safe space. Norman knelt down and did his best to smooth out the rough bed, before shrugging and pushing it out of sight.
He stood and admired his handiwork, before splashes of color on his wall caught his eye. "Oh," he said with a twinge of disappointment as he gazed up at his prized zombie posters, "do you need me to cover those a bit? So you can sleep?"
Aggie laughed, the usual lightness returning to her voice. "They aren't so bad… in fact," she said with a grin, "I'm starting to like them."