What Scares a Ghost?

Ben Larned

It never bothered me, living in a haunted house. Our ghost kept its antics subtle; a coat on a different hanger, knickknacks out of place, a light turned on by itself. My parents and I blamed each other at first, if an object went missing and appeared at the top of the stairs, or someone knocked on the door, then vanished. When I heard steps behind me, turned and found no one, but felt it watching, heard its gentle laugh, I couldn’t deny anymore. I wasn’t scared. It had a nice energy, like it died happy. If it meant no harm, I figured, why not be friends? My parents agreed, and we learned to live with each other.

                Our ghost used to make us laugh. It loved its tricks and games. It would tap us on the shoulder and giggle from the other side. Or change the TV channel. We guessed it was a little kid, or just a childlike adult, to behave this way. My parents left candy and soda on the table, and they’d vanish within the hour, and the house would fill with the smell of sweet. Sometimes it wrote encouraging messages in the bathroom steam, to let us know it cared.

                Now things have changed. Not long ago I was home alone, and heard the ghost run, crash, slam into the bedroom closet. I tried to open the door and check, but it held the knob from the other side. I could hear its trembling breath – it was terrified of something. And that something was in the room with us. A thing with eyes that weighed like hot coals. It didn’t giggle or play tricks. It stared at me, let out a grunt, then vanished. But it hasn’t gone.

                What could ever scare a ghost this badly? It won’t play anymore. It just cowers and hides, leaves incoherent warnings in the mirror – Get out. Go before it. Coming from far. Closer. Feel it breathe. The ghost’s dread vibrates through the house and fills us with despair. Sometimes I see its shadow on the wall, its mouth shaping pleas to a thing that isn’t there. It won’t tell us why, but the message is clear – some terrible other is on its way.

Whatever scares my ghost, whatever it senses, I’ve started to sense too. I don’t know how the ghost sees or hears or feels – where it seems to understand the thing in whole, I can only get hints. It’s old, I think, inhuman and hungrier than a black hole. It comes down a long stretch of time, gigantic and pulsing, with eyes that never blink and never look away. It will get here any moment, by the sound of it, and its thickening mass-grave smell. I wonder what games it wants to play.



Ben Larned (he/they) is an MFA candidate at The New School, focusing on queer horror across mediums. His work can be found in Mixed Mag, Not Deer Magazine, Daily Dead, and The Book of Blasphemous Words. His short film ‘Payment’ is streaming on ALTER.