By Michelle Moraitis
The fog was thick.
Ricky put one shaky foot in front of the other, praying that he was still on the path he could no longer see. The forest around him was void of even the rustle of a leaf, deader and more lifeless than a graveyard at night. Heavy like a weighted blanket, the air hung on Ricky’s skin, cool and thick, causing thousands of goose bumps to form on his legs and the tops of his shoulders.
The smell of rotting wood wafted by Rick’s nose causing him to gag. His heartbeat sped up. What was that smell? He quickly glanced behind him, wondering if he should turn around. He swallowed hard, stumbling forward, left foot, then dragging the right. He wiped his sweaty hands on his jeans.
The rotting stench grew stronger.
Ricky bit his lip, coming to a halt. Could he really turn back now? Courage and curiosity got him this far.
Ricky wasn’t sure if the whisper was in his mind or if it came from something behind him, but he wouldn’t wait long enough to find out. He lurched forward, running down the path, his own gasps of air engulfing his ears. His foot hit something hard and he crashed to the ground. Air left his chest. Fear sank in his stomach and he was sure some creature would tackle him from behind. He thrashed, scrambled to his knees, then feet on the ground he bolted upright and forward.
A dark building loomed through the fog, not ten feet ahead of him. He had a split second to decide if he would enter or stand and wait for something outside to clean his bones. Hardly pausing, he ran up the steps through the door peeling with red paint into what appeared to be an old house.
He stood still a moment, catching his breath, palms resting on his knees.
Old wooden walls of oak surrounded Ricky, dark in color from age and wear. Ricky wrinkled his nose, realizing that the house itself was the source of rot. Shifting his foot, Ricky heard a crunch, sending his eyes toward the floor where the underside of his foot revealed a crushed Budweiser can. Surveying the ground, he noticed other cans and pieces of broken glass littered across the floor. He slowly walked forward. There was an old newspaper sprawled on the stairwell from when the Yankees won the World Series in 1978 and used cigarette butts left in a pile by the closet.
Ricky reached for the newspaper, feeling the fragile yellow paper in his fingers. When was the last time this house had been lived in? The paper was over thirty years old!
Setting the newspaper down, Ricky made his way down the hall. He found himself in a small, square-shaped kitchen with cream-colored cabinets that were either partially ajar or missing a door. Ceramic white plates were piled high in the sink still encrusted with food that was hopefully not older than the newspaper.
Ricky noticed something that looked like a tall board shoved in the trash can.
After walking over, he gave the board a little tug, pulling it slowly as to not empty out other pieces of trash. He removed it from the waste basket, but he only held half of it in his hand, the other section still buried in the trash. The half he held was large and covered in green construction paper with pictures of Star Wars characters glued on: Yoda, Darth Vader, Leia, Luke, Obi Wan Kenobi and many others were present along with their descriptions and different weapons and space ships. Curious and now impressed, Ricky pulled out the other half of the board. This side had every planet from the Star Wars Saga mapped out on a piece of galaxy-themed paper along with a picture of the corresponding alien next to the world they were from.
Whoever made this had put a lot of work into it. Why would someone want to rip it in half and throw it away? Of course, they could have just been cleaning or sorting out useless items, but the board was too nice. That conclusion didn’t seem likely.
Standing there, holding the board, Ricky felt some sick feeling of resemblance. The board. The Star Wars characters. The feel of the construction paper on his fingers. It gave him a sense of longing, that strange sliver of déjà vu that causes you to question the difference between reality and dreams. He breathed deeply. Perhaps there was more to this house than meets the eye.
Lightning split the sky. Thunder roared fiercely.
Ricky jumped, dropping the board, eyes snapping toward the kitchen window.
The fog was no longer quite so thick.
In fact, Ricky could make out the form of a tree in the backyard, a broken swing dangling from a low hanging limb.
And something else.
The silhouette of a young boy sitting next to the broken swing. Ricky could not make out the boy’s face, but he had a chilling sensation that the boy was watching him.
Thunder boomed again and the silhouette disappeared.
Where did the boy go? Ricky spun around, expecting the boy to be standing behind him with a knife or a curse. Ricky’s breath came out heavy and labored. This might be the moment he would pay for by coming here.
Ricky moved back down the hall, his hands out in a defensive position as if they might actually protect him, and as soon as he reached the door he lunged for the doorknob. He twisted the handle multiple times. No budge. He tried again, thinking he might be going crazy but there was no change. He was trapped. There were other doors in the house; he just had to pray they were not locked too.
Ricky spun around to head back down the hallway and froze. At the end of the hall sat the boy, holding half of the Star Wars board.
Ricky didn’t dare to move or even breath, yet internally he longed for his frozen feet to budge and his throat to form a caterwauling scream instead of standing and waiting for sweat to create a pool in the small of his back. The boy was obviously some type of ghost and Ricky was afraid to turn his back on him for even a moment. His hands went clammy, dizziness swept over him, but he tried to keep it together for the sake of his life.
The appearance of the ghost boy was much clearer now than from the window. There was nothing fake-looking about this boy–no see-through body or misty presence; Ricky would have never guessed that he was a ghost. He must have been nine or ten years old. The boy turned his russet-colored head of curls to Ricky, his blue eyes slightly glassy but filled with tears.
“I love Star Wars,” the boy whimpered. “Obi Wan Kenobi is my favorite. He is so wise, kind, and fatherly.” He looked back down at the board, tracing the torn edge of the board. “Why did he do this? This was my life!”
The boy sobbed softly and for a moment Ricky felt a sense of compassion and he opened his mouth to say something, but fear made him shut it before any words could come out. The boy stood up, causing Ricky to shuffle backwards fast, kicking and crushing a can as he did. The boy wiped remaining tears from his face, his eyes focused on Ricky.
“Ricky, what can you do?”
The boy took a step forward and Ricky found his feet again. He darted up the stairs and into a room, hoping it would be empty. There was nothing but a small twin bed, dresser, and a floor length mirror in the corner. Ricky’s heart was beating out of his chest and for a long moment he wasn’t sure what to do next. Somehow, he had to find a way to get back down the stairs and out the door without running into that ghost of a boy. But wait…most two-story windows aren’t that far off the ground; he could just jump or hold on to the ledge and drop down.
Ricky moved toward the window, but he happened to catch his reflection in the mirror and stopped dead in his tracks. The boy stood staring right back at him, the same frightened expression covering his face that Ricky felt on his own. Ricky and the ghost both bit their lips and rubbed their sweaty hands in unison. Ricky glanced behind him to see if the boy was there but when he looked back to the mirror, his reflection was normal.
Dashing toward the window, Ricky yanked on the frame, but it wouldn’t budge. He searched for a lock, but it was as if a lock didn’t exist. Cursing, he left the room and attempted another. Hardly pausing to observe the new room he entered, Ricky went straight for the window, pulling with every fiber in his being, but the effort was fruitless. Dejected, Ricky sank to the floor, his back against the wall, face in his hands, uncertain if he would see his family again. What a stupid idea for him to come here!
“Come to see my room?”
Ricky felt sick to his stomach. He was trapped. The boy stood in the doorway, blue eyes staring straight at Ricky.
When Ricky didn’t reply the boy continued talking as he walked into the room, “There really isn’t much to see. Mostly just blue everywhere. Blue blankets and a blue dresser. Even my walls are painted a light blue.”
Ricky thought it safer to not say anything and just hope the boy would eventually leave. Ricky’s eyes never left the boy as he moved toward the bed and grabbed something from underneath his pillow, clutching it tightly in his fist.
“Want to see my Indiana Jones Action figure?” He came toward Ricky, eyes earnest.
“Stay away,” Ricky choked out, dragging himself from beneath the window toward the corner, away from the ghost.
The boy giggled. “Adults aren’t scared of toys! Don’t be ridiculous.” He walked forward again and Ricky sucked in a breath expecting the worst, but the kid just held the action figure out in his hands. “See Jones has a hat and whip just like the movies and he is standing in a fighting stance!”
Ricky’s eyes darted between the toy and the boy. “Cool,” he said, his voice a nervous squeak.
Sitting down in front of Ricky, the boy held his figurine close, gazing down at it as if it was the most precious jewel in the world. “My grandfather gave this to me. I don’t have many toys, but I take good care of the ones I do have.”
Ricky was starting to relax. Despite feeling somewhat disturbed that he was sitting next to a ghost, Ricky concluded that he seemed pretty harmless. Maybe if he became friends with the boy, he would let him go? Ricky could only hope.
“Why so few toys?” Ricky asked.
“Because of him… he gets angry and destroys my toys or takes them away.”
“Who is he?” Ricky asked.
The boy ignored Ricky’s question and stood instead. “I want to show you something, follow me.”
Leaving the room, the boy headed for the stairs. Ricky hesitated and then rose to follow, keeping his distance from the child in front of him. Ricky tried the backdoor as they passed it but would not budge either.
“You can’t leave that way,” the boy said, causing Ricky to jump, “You must finish what you were meant to do.”
Ricky was confused. “I don’t understand.”
“You will soon.”
Ricky didn’t think he came here to accomplish a mission, did he? Now that he was trying to remember the reason he came to this house he couldn’t. Maybe it was curiosity? But no, it went deeper than that. There was something about this place that he had to face and discover before he moved on with his life. Something significant had been waiting through the fog and he had avoided discovering it long enough.
The boy took Ricky down into the basement. The air was musty and stifling, like most old basements. A lamp in the corner gave off a dim light and another faint glow reflected through the fog from a basement-style rectangular window located high on the wall alongside the ceiling. A work bench was in the corner with hammers, wrenches, and other tools mounted on the wall behind it, a six pack of beer placed on the bench.
The boy brought Ricky over to the window where a dozen beer bottles filled with rocks stood on the window ledge. Climbing on top of a stool, the boy stretched on to his tip toes to reach a bottle and bring it down.
“Every time I pray to God I put a rock in the bottle and when it fills up I find another empty bottle to start over with.” Getting down from the stool, the boy came to stand in front of Ricky, his blue eyes sad, but hopeful. “I don’t know if it will change anything in my life, but I think I do it because I never give up hope. The more bottles I fill the greater chance God might see my pain.”
Ricky felt a strong surge of compassion for this boy. “You got more faith than most adults, kid.”
“Ricky, you are here to help me.”
“I would but…” Ricky shifted uncomfortably. “Aren’t you dead? How could I do anything?”
The boy laughed, dismissing his question, “Don’t be ridiculous! I’m not dead. It will make sense soon enough.” The boy’s expression suddenly grew very somber, “but you must face him first.”
Ricky’s heart sped up. “What? Face who?”
The light from the lamp started to sputter and Ricky felt a sense of fear greater than he had ever felt before.
“I’m afraid.” Ricky’s voice trembled as he spoke, “I don’t think I can do this.”
A door slammed from somewhere upstairs, causing Ricky to swing his head toward the basement door.
“He is here,” the boy whispered.
When Ricky turned his head back around to face the boy again, he was no longer there.
“Hello? Where did you go? Don’t leave me here!” Ricky said to the air.
The light finally sputtered out and Ricky found himself in pitch blackness except for the soft glow of light from the window where Ricky could just barely make out the beer bottles of hope on the ledge.
Ricky felt his way back up the stairwell to the main level. As soon as he opened the door the strong scent of alcohol overwhelmed him causing him to freeze in his tracks. The fog was still clearing outside, but somehow it seemed visibly darker.
“Where are you, little punk?”
A low voice vibrated throughout the house, coming from nowhere in particular. Ricky spun around, and then whipped his head back forth, expecting anything to come at him any second.
“I told you to clean the kitchen! I’m going to make you pay.”
The smell of alcohol grew stronger and Ricky bolted toward the backdoor, pulling it so hard his forehead started to bead with perspiration.
“You will never amount to anything useful.”
Ricky grabbed a bar stool and threw it against the glass door with no success. There was not even a crack.
“Just wait till I sink my belt into you!”
Ricky sprinted to the front door again, twisting the knob repeatedly.
“Why do you watch those silly movies? Yoda doesn’t pay the bills boy!”
Ricky pounded on the door, choking on the alcohol and now the smell of cigarettes.
“You can’t run or hide from me punk! My torment never ends.”
“Please!” Ricky pleaded with no one, his fist raw and bleeding from pounding.
A hand suddenly grasped Ricky’s shoulder and he screamed like a little girl. Someone picked him up with superhuman strength and hefted him into the living room, throwing him to the floor. Ricky felt the sting of a belt bite into his back and he yelped, crouching on the floor, his hands over his head.
“This will teach you!”
“Please, Sir! Stop!”
Ricky felt a kick to his gut. He lost his breath, flailing on to his back. A punch struck his jaw and he spit out blood.
Air suddenly rushed back into his lungs and he finally got some words out.
“Dad, stop please! Dad!” Ricky gasped.
The beating stopped and the air seemed frozen and very still.
Ricky sat up on his knees, staring at the man before him, blue eyes looking at blue eyes, pain staring at pain. There was nothing Ricky lacked that his father hadn’t lacked also, but when he was young, he took the blame on his shoulders, carrying it into every year of his life growing up. No matter how far forward Ricky tried to go, he always circled back around to the past, feeling as if he could never be free. Oh, but how he so desired to leave it behind! “Dad I’m tired of carrying this torment in my mind. This home. These memories. This pain. It seems to never end.” Ricky broke out into a sob, “But dad I want to forgive you! I’m finally going to let this go so I can move on.”
His father disappeared, and Ricky was left on the floor sobbing, tears flooding his cheeks. He couldn’t bring his father back and apologize for everything that had happened, but he could finally let things go.
Ricky walked out the front door ready to leave the past behind him, the fog now clear and his heart content, and as he walked little flowers bloomed in his footsteps.