There was a ghost in the hallway that the boy thought was kind. He often asked the ghost questions.
“Why do you hide?”
The ghost would appear from behind the green velvet curtains in the long hallway with walls covered in paintings of woods. She would slip out and wisp up the wooden table, twisting herself into a vase with blue flowers painted on it. The boy would call out to the ghost but she would not come.
He would shake the curtains and dust would catch the sunlight. He would pull out the drawers of the table and spare buttons would rattle. He would look as hard as he could into the vase, spinning it so that he didn’t miss one bit in his examination. Nothing would apparate.
Often when he was reaching the end of the hallway he would hear her tap the inside of the vase. He would run as fast as he could, tip the vase and hold his hands over the top, panting. His fingers separated, but the vase was empty.
At night he could hear her rustling the curtain. He would whisper his questions to her. He was not sure if even he could hear them.
A cat would play games of hide and seek with the boy. The boy would ask the ghost to help him look. There were six rows of books in the bookshelf and the cat could be hiding on any shelf. In the gaps between the backs of books and the wall there was a space for the cat to crawl. The boy heard a rustling of pages. He looked behind the blue hardcover encyclopedias, pulling out every third book, but wasn’t able to spot the spotted tail. The boy lay on the carpet, determined to wait in silence until he heard the cat meow. The bookshelf towered over him and he imagined what would happen if all the books fell. If they poured out of the shelves like a waterfall.
He imagined himself buried under all the pages that he wasn’t interested in reading. He imagined he could swim through the books and reach the surface. He imagined hopping atop of them, skimming along the surface of a lake of books.
He could chase and catch the cat then. When he grabbed the cat they would slip under the surface, and the books would fly like splashing water and flap like birds into the sky. He would lay on his back and float.
The boy remembered the cat and wondered if it had made a noise while he had been thinking. He sat up, his elbows pushing against the tan carpet.
He heard the ghost making a noise in the button drawer and he leapt up, running over and pulling the drawer so hard that he almost tipped over the table.
There was nothing there. He tipped the vase over but the ghost was not in the vase. He looked in the drawer and he thought the buttons spelled out something. Maybe it was
He shook the drawer a little and it spelled CAT.
It must be a sign from the ghost. Where was the cat? He turned around. It was walking on the books he had left on the floor. He grabbed it. The cat wiggled and brushed its head against his chin. He let it go. He picked up the books one by one, opening a few encyclopedias and looking at interesting pictures. Then he stood up and tried to close the button drawer, but he had pulled too hard when opening, and it was stuck.
He pushed and pulled. The CAT turned into
And then BDL.
He shook it hard and it said UP.
He lifted the drawer a little up and it slipped in. The ghost had helped.
At night the cat would claw at the bedroom door until the boy let it in. It would curl up on the foot of the bed. The curtains would rustle in the hallway, and the buttons would shift in the drawer.
“Why,” the boy would whisper,
“why do you run away.”
The back of his head would sink into his pillow and he would listen. The cat purred in its sleep. The fur rubbed on the side of his foot which stuck out from his blanket. It tickled a little. The moonlight from the hallway window moved through the crack of the open door, and he could hear the ghost outside.
“You can come in if you want,” he whispered,
“I promise I won’t be scared.”
He heard the curtains rustle and the door opened wider. He pulled the blanket closer to his face.
It was quiet for hours. But he saw the ghost’s shadow wave at him before the sun came up.
He laid on the carpet and twisted the strands, unwinding and winding them together. His shirt pushed up and he could feel the carpet on his stomach. It itched and he pulled his shirt down. He leaned his head as close to the carpet as he could, resting his ear onto fibers brushed into a circle. He looked at the strands, wondering how many single threads were wound up in each. He rolled his head and put his lips into the carpet. It smelled musky, like the broken pages of the old books had mixed with the fur of the cat and the smell of his bare feet. He moved his lips across the surface, feeling the softness and the bristled points.
Where are you, his lips moved into the carpet. The carpet tickled.
His lips moved more and more. A strand of carpet tickled the inside of his nose. The cat started walking on his back and he closed his eyes. Resting his head, he listened for the ghost. The cool breeze touched his back, and he could feel the summer storm. Turning around, he lay on his back and scratched the head of the cat.
The wind blew until night, and when the boy was in his bed and the cat had curled up next to him, it began to rain.
Drops of rain hit the roof over and over, and the boy listened as they washed the roof of the dust the wind had blown above his head. The branches of the trees tapped the windows in his bedroom, and he curled under the blanket. The cat moved closer to him, and they waited. Lightning flashed into the room, freezing everything until thunder shook it loose.
The boy sat up, pulling the blanket over his knees.
The cat jumped up and ran under the bed.
The hum of the rain made his ears feel as if their insides floated. The ghost came into the room and put her hand on the boy’s shoulder. He let out his breath. He laid down and slept.
When he was waking up he saw something flutter. He walked into the hallway. The carpet was damp under the window, and he moved his toes across the surface, grabbing the wet curtains. He squeezed the fabric and water drops formed on his fingers. He walked over to the vase and tipped it towards him. It was cold. He heard a noise in his room–the cat was walking on his bed and a spring groaned under its light weight.
“Hello?” he asked into the cloudy morning of his room.
“Hello?” he asked a little louder.
He looked into each corner of the room. Looking for a face.
“Hello!” he almost shouted.
He got quieter, “Where are you?”
He looked but could find no sign of the ghost.
Then he turned and saw her leaving his room. He cried out,
“Why won’t you stay!”
He chased her out of the room and down the hall.
But he tripped. He bumped into the table. And the vase fell and broke into pieces.
He tried to put it back together. Where would the ghost stay? It cut him. He cried.
The vase was replaced with a glass bowl. There were rose shapes on the sides of the bowl, which made it slightly opaque, but it was not dark enough. When the light hit it, it threw spots all over the hallway. They would make the golden words on the spines of books shine.
The boy did not think that the ghost would like the bowl. The ghost would not hide where so much light could find it. For days the light would shine in the bowl and the curtains would rustle in the wind, but the buttons would not move and the ghost would not help him find the cat. He asked out loud where the ghost had gone, but he knew it could not hear him and he knew it would not come back.
The boy sat in the hallway and cried. He cried and the cat curled up in his lap.
He cried and the sun fell through window and onto the glass bowl which shot light onto the spines on the shelf who reflected their golden letters onto the boy.
And so because the boy broke a vase, tears and light danced on his face.
“A Ghost In The Hallway” by Job Miller appeared in Issue 38 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
Job Miller is a recent UC Berkeley graduate and incoming PhD student in the English department at Columbia University. You can follow him online @jobiewonkenobie.