Mary walked up to Mrs. Beadley’s home with heavy steps. She wished Gran hadn’t insisted that they make this trip today. They’d only put Chowder to rest the night before. She’d wanted to stay home in bed. As Gran knocked on the front door, Mary couldn’t help remembering carrying Chowder the last time they’d been there, the way Mrs. Beadley had stammered at the sight of him, how he’d been happy to be there with them.
Nina opened the door for them with a relieved smile. “Thank you so much for coming,” she said as she ushered them in. Mary cast a weary look around the house. She didn’t hear Marvin, but she was surprised to find Neil sitting in the living room.
He nodded hello to them. He had a large picture frame in his hands. It had a wedding photo in it. It must be him and his late wife Gladys. She went to stand to the side. She’d felt unqualified to help the last time, this time she felt uninterested.
“Why are you here again?”
“Your wife called us. It seems you’re really upsetting her.” She kept her voice low as she answered.
“I’m only looking out for her.”
“No, you’re not. You’re being selfish and mean.”
“Now see here, girl. You don’t know anything about marriage.”
“I know it involves ‘til death do you part. What’s your excuse?”
Gran was talking to Nina and Neil during her conversation with Marvin. Neil was showing her the picture, and she was nodding her head while lightly touching it.
“Who are these women, Marvin?”
“Two mediums or something. The girl can hear us just fine.”
“Yes, she can,” Mary said softly. Gran sent an inquiring glance her way. Mary shrugged and dropped her eyes. She really didn’t want get involved.
“Marvin, Gladys? I need you both to listen to me,” Gran said looking about the room. “You both know what’s happened to you. It’s time to move on.”
“And go where? ”
Mary was curious about this too. She’d heard Gran talk about ushering spirits to the other side, but she’d never really understood how that was supposed to work. She got that spirits anchored to an object to stay, but how were they supposed to leave unless you destroyed the anchor?
“You should feel it in your hearts like a tug. Follow it.”
“Do you feel it, Marvin? I think I feel it.”
“Yeah, I suppose, but it doesn’t mean we should leave.”
“Your loved ones are safe and cared for. You can leave with clear consciousnesses and easy hearts. Your time here is done. You need to continue your journey. Staying will only hurt you and those you care for.”
She felt cold. She knew the temperature in the room hadn’t dropped, and no one else seemed to notice it. “Marvin, is that you?”
She looked down at her hands. They were shaking. Sweat was breaking out on her upper lip. She wiped it away and wanted to pull her hair out. Gran looked over at her again with concern. She wrapped her arms around herself and backed out of the room. Gran called to her. She shook her head and reached for the door. She couldn’t be here. Gran stepped into the foyer with a concerned look on her face. Mary shook her head to tell her not to follow. She slipped out the door and took a few deep breathes. She clenched and unclenched her hands. She had to get it together. She looked at her hands again. They looked dirty. She jerked them to her sides and paced to the front gate. Why was she even here? She didn’t care if Marvin and Gladys went to the light.
She turned and began pacing back to the house. Her eyes fell on the front door. Right now, Gran was trying to get rid of two ghosts. Last night two ghosts who she’d wanted to stay faded away. None of it was right.
She turned and paced back to the gate. They could go peacefully. No one had to hurt them, and they didn’t have to hurt anyone. It was more than others got. A lot more.
She swung around when she reached the gate and paced back toward the house. Why did ghosts hang around? Why did they insist on staying? Did it really help anyone? Losing someone twice was worst than once. They were being selfish. Mean. Hurting those they loved. Well, that was wrong. Hurting was wrong.
She didn’t turn when she reached the front door. She took the handle and strode back inside. Everyone was still in the living room. Gran was still urging them to move on. Mary entered the room and stopped short at the coffee table. Gran stopped speaking and all eyes turned to her.
“That’s it. You two get two choices. One, you cross over, or two you stay on this plane, but you don’t get to stay home. You’ll come home with us, and we’ll put you in our shed. You can bicker and haunt that for the rest of eternity. How does that sound?”
“Mary!” Gran protested.
“No, the world is for the living, right? The dead shouldn’t dictate the terms to us. You two don’t even realize how lucky you got it. You get a choice. Others in your situation don’t. So which will it be? Cross over or shed?”
“Now see here,” Neil protested.
“Oh I don’t know about this,” Nina said.
“Mary, you really shouldn’t—”
“If you think you can make ultimatums—”
“I don’t know you, but you can’t—”
Mary marched out of the room and went to the kitchen. She threw open the overhead cabinet and dug out an old coffee cup. It hummed in hand. It was Marvin’s anchor. She went back into the living room and picked up Neil’s framed wedding picture. Neil leapt up.
Now I’m giving you a choice. I don’t have to. I could just smash both of these right here and poof you’d be gone.”
“Well, it’s pretty obvious which one you’d like us to choose.” Marvin grumbled.
“No, I don’t care. I’m just not going to stand here and plead. We’re not the powerless ones.”
Mrs. Beadley stood cautiously. “Wait, Mary. You don’t have to do this. We can take care of it.”
“He won’t let you be happy with Neil. He’s going to haunt you for the rest of your days. If he stays, you won’t be allowed to live, which may be worst than being dead. It’s the same for you, Neil. You decide.”
No one had an immediate response to her strong words. Gran was clearly thinking, but her eyes weren’t giving away what she thought. Neil and Nina looked pensive. Gladys and Marvin were silent, but it was a heavy silence.
She wanted to break something or scream. Why couldn’t any of them see? Why were they dithering on about this? If they wanted to get rid of the ghosts, then get rid of the ghosts! It wasn’t difficult. You didn’t need to be a freak to do it. She still held Marvin’s coffee cup in her hand. She thought about smashing it on the floor. It would be so simple. She didn’t even need to throw it, just let it slip and down it would go and then Marvin would be gone. Her hands began to shake again.
She tried to tighten her grip on the mug, but her hand wouldn’t cooperate. It slipped before she could stop it. She tried to catch it, but she was too slow. It landed on the floor with a dull ceramic ring. It didn’t shatter, but a large chip came off of it.
The coldness she’d felt earlier swept over her again. What had she done? “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She knelt down and picked up the mug. She pressed the chip back into where it’d come off. “I can fix this. He’s still here. It’s okay. I’m sorry.” Nina and Neil stared at her. They still didn’t fully understand the significance of the mug. Gran moved from her seat and gently took it out of her hands.
“I’m sorry. It didn’t hurt you, did it, Neil?”
“No, I don’t think so. Are you all right?”
His question got a giggle out of her. She’d been thinking about smashing his anchor to smithereens, and he was asking about her well being. Gran laid her hand on her cheek. She focused her eyes on her. Gran’s eyes were full of sympathy. She didn’t understand why. She’d been rude and confrontational. She should be angry with her. “I think we should go. Mary’s not feeling well.”
“Yes, of course.” Nina got up to show them to the door. Gran carefully handed the mug over to her with a quiet explanation of what it was. Nina tucked it against her stomach in surprise while curiously looking down at it.
Mary walked to the station wagon in a bit of a daze. She wondered how much trouble she was in. You were never supposed to get so forceful with a client. You weren’t supposed to scare them. She would never be a proper medium. Sure, she could hear ghosts, but she couldn’t seem to talk to the living.
She got behind the steering wheel and stared out the windshield. She didn’t feel right to drive, but Gran still couldn’t with her ankle. A few moments later, Gran maneuvered into the station wagon. She reached to start the engine, but Gran gently placed her hand over hers to stop her.
“Mary, I’m sorry.”
“Isn’t that my line?”
Gran gave her sad little half smile and shook her head. “I thought getting out of the house and coming here might help you a little. Obviously, I was wrong.”
She shook her head. “I am so screwed up.”
Gran shook her head back at her. “No, you’re not. You went through something very difficult and are having trouble dealing with it. That’s normal. The fact is if you weren’t having trouble I would be more worried, but I see I pushed you when I should’ve just given you time.”
She twisted the leather of the steering wheel as she tried to think of something to say, but she just felt tired. “What about Marvin and Gladys?”
Gran shrugged her shoulders. “They will either go on their own, Nina and Neil will continue to have them, or we’ll find a coffee cup and a wedding photo on our doorstep.”
“I don’t think we should become the clearing house for ghosts.”
She chuckled. “Neither do I, and I don’t think Marvin and Gladys would enjoy the shed.”
Mary dipped her head at the reminder of the threat. “Sorry, that was pretty mean.”
“No, it made the ghosts realize that they can’t take their hold on this existence for granted. They may be ghosts, but they’re not invulnerable, and you were right on a lot of your points. You were a bit too blunt, but you were right. They have to decide either to hold on or let go.”
“Ultimately, it will be Nina and Neil, but if Marvin and Gladys decide to let go, then they won’t have a say in the matter.”
Her mouth twisted. “It all seems so lopsided. Nobody has the ultimate power to stay, only to go. If Nina and Neil decide to let them stay, it won’t matter because Marvin and Gladys can decide they want to move on, but if Marvin and Gladys decide they want to stay, it won’t matter because Nina and Neil can decide to destroy their anchors.”
“Yes, that’s how it has to be.”
She looked back at the house. “I don’t envy them the choice.”
Mary’s first reaction was to say any of them, but her own words came back to her. “Nina and Neil. They’re the ones who have to live with the choice, but I hope Marvin and Gladys do the brave and loving thing by moving on.”
“How do you mean?”
“It’s selfish isn’t it? Haunting your loved ones? The dead should move on. It’s their path. Staying here only prolongs the inevitable.”
“But sometimes it’s comforting.”
Gran’s statement reminded her of Chowder. “He’s in a better place, isn’t he?”
“I’m sure he is. All of them end up where they’re supposed to be.”
“So he was supposed to be with us?”
Gran reached across and combed back her hair. Both of them had watery eyes. “Yes, I believe so. Ghosts have a purpose. His was to bring joy into our lives. He did and now he’s gone on to continue his journey.”
“But he’d still be here if his body hadn’t been harmed.”
“We can’t know that. And I don’t think he would’ve wanted it any other way. He was protecting us. He’s at peace now.”
She nodded. She knew it would take a while for her to accept it. The loss was still too fresh for her. “You said ghosts have a purpose. What about Ricky or Max? What was their purpose?”
“You said Max helped destroy the Shadowman. Without him, who knows what might have happened, and Ricky, well it’s harder to say, but Julie was there to stop him. All ghosts may have a purpose, but that doesn’t mean they serve it.”
Mary smirked. “Sort of got lost on that one didn’t you?”
“Maybe a little, but I think I pulled through.”
“Yeah, you’re still all knowing. Let’s go home.”
“Agree with the second part; have to disagree on the first.”
She shook her head. “Nope, not going to convince me there.” Gran quietly harrumphed and settled back in her seat.
When they got home, the phone was ringing. She ran to answer it and saw it was Rachel’s cell phone. Calling during school, she hoped she didn’t get caught. “Hey, Rach.”
“Where have you been?”
“I had to help Gran with a job.”
“Ooh, was it an exorcism?”
She sighed and shook her head, but that didn’t do much good over the phone. “No, it was weird though.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I could do what Gran does.”
“So you weren’t at the hospital Shadowman hunting?”
She had to grin at that. If she’d asked her a couple of days ago, she would’ve had to lie. “No, it was a ghost thing, but we weren’t any danger or anything.”
“So what is our next move with the Shadowman?”
“Nada. It’s moved on.”
“Really? How do you know?”
“He’s not there anymore. Vicky told me.” She had to be careful to keep to half truths, not sure if they were worst than lying or not.
There was a beep on the phone. “Hold on, I got another call.” She looked at the display and didn’t recognize the number.
She switched the phone to the other line. “Hello, Dubont Hellick residence.”
“Mary? It’s Kyle.”
Kyle? He’d never called her before. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Hey, how are you? I noticed you weren’t here at school.”
She snorted softly. She had no clue how to answer that question even for herself. “I’m not sick. I just needed a mental health day.”
Kyle laughed softly. “Yeah, I know about those.”
She grinned but was still perplexed about why he would call. “Is everything all right with you?”
He sighed and was quiet a moment. His silence made her tense. “I was planning to ask you in person today, but then you didn’t show and that threw my plans out the window so I’m calling because I don’t think I could go another day without asking.”
But then he didn’t continue. She was really perplexed now. “Ask me what?”
“Okay, I know this might be lame, but would you go to prom with me?”
He let out a heavy sigh. “I knew you wouldn’t be interested. Sorry, forget I asked.”
“Um, so you don’t want to take me?”
“I asked you. What do you think?”
“I think I…” Her brain was scrambled. Prom? For real?
“You don’t have to be nice. If you don’t want to go—“
“I never thought I would go. I mean I didn’t think anyone would ask me.”
“I know it’s probably not your scene. I just thought it’d be cool if we went together.”
Her brain was definitely scrambled. “Okay.”
“If you still wanna?”
“Yes, are you sure? I mean…”
“If you really thought I’d say no, why’d you ask?”
“Because I really want to go with you.”
Kyle sighed again. It was starting to make her smile. “You know I like you, right?”
“I thought maybe, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”
“Get your hopes up?”
It was her turn to be quiet a moment. “I like you too.”
“So, okay then. We can talk more at school. You’ll be here tomorrow, right?”
“Yeah, I will.”
“See you then.”
She switched back to Rachel, not even sure her friend would’ve stayed on the line, but she was still there. “So when do you wanna go prom dress shopping?”
“Well, I’ll need one for the corsage.”
“Oh my God, did Kyle ask you?”
She jerked the cordless from her head at the ear splitting squeal. “Oh man, now I need to find a date. I’ve gotta go. Talk to you later?”
“Yeah.” She turned off the phone and looked around the living room. Gran was in the kitchen washing dishes. She wandered in and watched her. Her stomach was all aflutter from Kyle, but she was still sad. She realized some quiet was the best thing for her. She gave Gran a kiss on the cheek and went outside to the backyard to sit underneath the crookety tree by the fresh mound. She shied away from thinking of it as a grave. She looked up at the sky and watched the clouds. One of them looked like Chowder. She smiled as tears slid from her eyes. She wasn’t all right yet, but she would be.
“I hope you’re happy, Chowder, and if you can, keep an eye on Max to make sure he stays out of trouble. I miss you.” There was no response to her words, but a sense of calm settled over her. She kept looking up at the sky.
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