“It is too haunted!” said twelve-year-old James, his pudgy hands firmly on his hips.
“No, it’s not!” said his brother Kenny, putting his slender hands on his slim hips. Kenny was two years older and several inches taller. And that made him always right. Or so he thought.
“Yes it is!” said James. He stuck his chubby chin out in a determined manner.
“No it’s not!” said Kenny, throwing his chin out. He dared his brother to say anything more.
The faces of the two boys were only inches apart, and the fight looked like it was going to get physical.
At that point Mike, their seventeen-year-old brother, stepped up to his two younger siblings, put his hands behind their heads and banged their foreheads together. They both looked up at him, surprised.
“How do you know it’s haunted?” Mike asked James. He looked down at his little brother from his six-foot-three height.
“Cause Katie said it was,” James said, rubbing his forehead where a red spot was forming. Kenny was doing the same thing to a similar red spot on his own head.
“And you believe Katie?” Mike said. He crossed his hands on his chest and looked down at James in amazement. Katie was sixteen and often pulled pranks on her two younger brothers.
“Remember how she told you that you could catch a bird by putting salt on its tail?”
James looked sheepishly at his feet. Even though Katie’s prank happened years ago when he was a lot younger, no one in the family let him forget it.
“You spent all day chasing birds with a saltshaker,” Mike continued. “It never occurred to you that if you were close enough to put salt on its tail, you could reach out and just grab it.”
“Well, how do you explain that light across the street in the old burned down house last night?” James said looking up at Mike.
“What light?” said Kenny, interrupting his brother. “I didn’t see a light over there.”
“That’s because you were too busy playing your silly ol’ video game to come see. I called you but you never even looked up from the computer.”
“I did too come see,” Kenny said, “but there wasn’t anything there. You’re just a kid. You believe everything people tell you.”
“I do not!” said James.
“You do too!” Kenny retorted.
At this point Mike turned away, threw up his hands in frustration, and walked away. “I give up,” he said to himself. “They just like to argue.”
* * *
Later that night in the bedroom they shared together, Kenny heard his younger brother ask from the top bunk, “Hey Kenny, do you believe in ghosts?”
“Naw,” he said from the bottom bunk. “They’re just stories for little kids. I’m too grown up to believe in them any more.”
“But what about Katie?” James asked. “She says they’re real.”
“You know she likes to tell you crazy stuff and make you believe it,” Kenny said. “Just like when she told you the Boogie…”
He stopped in mid-sentence, remembering that even at twelve years old, James was still afraid of monsters in the dark. When Katie had told him the Boogie Man lived under the bottom bunk, James had insisted on having the top bunk. To this day he never slept with one foot over the edge of the bed for fear the monster would grab it and drag him down to its lair.
“Just look at Mike. And Mom,” Kenny said, continuing in a hurry. He hoped James didn’t notice his slip of the tongue. “They don’t say there are ghosts.”
“Yeah,” said James from the top bunk, “but they don’t say there aren’t any ghosts. Just because they don’t say something exists doesn’t mean they’re not real.”
Kenny couldn’t think of an answer to that. After a pause, he asked, “Did you really see a light over there last night?” His voice was quiet and thoughtful.
He knew James didn’t tell lies just to get attention. His little brother always told the truth, even if it got him in trouble.
“Yeah, I did!” James said excitedly. He leaned over the edge of the top bunk to look at Kenny. “I tried to get you to come see, but you took so long on the computer you missed it.”
“What did it look like, that light?” Kenny asked, his hands behind his head as he looked up at his little brother. “Was it like the ghost’s whole body was shining? Or was the light little, like a flashlight or something?”
“I don’t know,” James said, “I just saw light shining through the cracks in the walls and in the gaps where the windows used to be.”
“I’ll bet it’s the ghost of that fireman who died in the fire,” said Katie, poking her head into the room. Kenny jumped at her sudden appearance.
“You mean the one who was trying to save ol’ lady Hampton?” James said. He craned his head up to look at his sister while still leaning over the edge of the top bunk.
“Yeah,” Katie answered. “He was in the house looking for her when the roof fell in on him and burned him up. They never found his body.”
“That doesn’t mean he’s a ghost,” said Kenny. “If they never found his body, then he probably didn’t die.” He sat up in the bottom bunk and pulled the sheets up to his chin. He was self-conscious of his skinny body.
“Oh yeah it does,” said Katie as she walked into the room. “He’s still in the house trying to rescue her. And sometimes when there’s a storm, you can hear him calling, ‘Where are you, lady?’”
“That’s just the wind!” said Kenny. “I thought I heard voices coming from over there too, but it was just the wind making it sound like somebody calling out.”
After a moment of silence, James continued from the top bunk, “I wonder why they never found her body.” He was still leaning over the edge, and Kenny saw him straining his neck to look at their sister.
“They did, silly,” said Katie. “She was in bed, all burned up by the fire.”
“She slept through the fire?” said James, puzzled. “Wouldn’t the sirens have waked her up?”
“Not if she wanted to die,” said Katie. “She committed suicide by setting the house on fire.”
“Why would she do that?”
“She didn’t want to live any more because her son robbed a bank and was a criminal,” said Katie. “It made her sorry she ever had a kid. She set fire to her house after he was killed in that shoot-out with the cops.”
“Wouldn’t getting burned up in the house turn her into a ghost?” said Kenny. “People who commit suicide have to stay on earth and haunt the place where they died.”
“How do you know that?” said Katie slyly. “I thought you didn’t believe in ghosts.”
“I saw it on the internet,” Kenny said with a yawn. “Now, turn out the light and leave so I can get to sleep.” And he snuggled down in his bed, the sheets still pulled up to his chin.