The family had been living in the house for six months when their youngest daughter almost choked to death on a piece of chicken. She was normally quiet so no one noticed during dinner when she looked at the floor with bulging eyes, her hands folded in her lap. The girl was six, her older sister nine, and it was the older one who’d said something funny that made her parents laugh. And that’s what saved the little girl’s life, because the older one nudged her hard, expecting a response, a giggle or a sweet smile at least, but instead, the little one just looked at her sister, pleading with her eyes. Then the mother saw she was choking and the father swooped in and made a fist and lodged it against her tummy and gave a couple of swift presses and out came the chicken onto the table, followed by a wave of tears and panic and ultimately relief.
That night, when the family was asleep, the house’s ghosts gathered as usual in the living room. These weren’t the ghosts of people that had died, no, these were the ghosts born of dark moments and tragic happenings in this house. It was built in the forties, only two bedrooms at first, but then a third was added along with a second bathroom, and the house accumulated quite a gallery of ghosts since then. An older woman who had a stroke only a week before the birth of her first grandchild lived out her days in sorrow, knowing she would never hold that baby or any other, and that sorrow birthed a ghost that would sit on her favorite chaise, her empty hands gently shaking. The ghost of a boy who dreamed of flying to the moon, even though his father forced him to take over the family business selling shoes, stared out the living room window at night and counted the stars, every single one, until he counted them all and then he would begin again. The woman who used the worktable in the garage to cut fabric for the dresses she made was ashen and white from the moment the rotary cutter jumped the guide and took off her finger tip, as easy as a spoon sliding into a bowl of soup.
All these ghosts and more gathered every night for gossip and general chit-chat about their lives, which never lagged, even though by now they knew everything about each other. But in the midst of their conversation this night, they stopped and looked at the living room entranceway which framed the ghost of the little girl, a lump of chicken caught in her throat, her eyes turned low in fear and confusion. The little girl herself was alive in bed, fast asleep, and as she grew up, she would forget this moment when she learned that such a thing as death was possible, when her innocence crashed on the kitchen table like a hunk of dark meat, awash in tears. But such a moment made a ghost and that ghost joined the others, and though they were used to newcomers among their ranks, it was rare to see one so young.
The little ghost was confused, wanting to stay with her family, but the other ghosts knew they were her family now and it was up to them to help her find her place. The stroke-stricken woman reached out with a shaking hand and caressed the hair of the little girl ghost and beckoned her to join them in the living room. The woman with nine fingertips asked the little girl ghost to tell them of her time. She hesitated, not used to being the center of attention, but eventually she spoke of being so scared because she couldn’t breathe but also because she couldn’t speak and that as a quiet little girl, that had almost doomed her. But the boy who wanted to fly to space pointed out that being almost doomed is the same as not being doomed at all and many of the other ghosts agreed.
As they took turns introducing themselves and sharing stories, a warm, knowing laughter made its way through the house, a sound no living human would ever hear, though they might wake up from time to time and wonder if they’d heard a noise, only to shake their heads and go back to sleep. The family would never know that a ghost who looked like their little girl wasn’t very quiet anymore and was getting used to that lump of chicken in her throat.
Where Bob DeRosa comes from, nice guys finish first. His screenwriting credits include Killers, The Air I Breathe, and White Collar. His audio fiction credits include Catchers (a monster movie for the ears from Audible) and Video Palace (the first narrative podcast from SHUDDER). His short fiction has appeared in Escape Pod, Dark Fire Fiction, and the Simon & Schuster horror anthology Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man. He’s @thembob on Twitter, come say hi.