His name was Joseph Finnegan. He was seven, and he died sixteen years ago. He wasn't necessarily human anymore. After all, death could have that effect on people. Bt still, I found myself befriending him. Who was I to alienate a seven-year-old child?
"So, you say you have a ghost by the name of 'Joseph' in your home? More specifically, under your bed?"
I glared loathingly at her. She was one of those people for which being pudgy suited very well. And pudgy she was. Her hunter-green wool sweater bulged.
She wore a ruby ring on her right hand, and it looked as though they had fought to shove it in place at the wedding, and had never been removed since. It was fine, I supposed, unless she ever planned on getting a divorce.
Eyes resting on her clipboard, she scrawled ceaselessly.
"I haven't said anything to you."
"Oh, yes. Well, your dear friend Margaret has."
I cursed myself silently. I had thoughtlessly let her reside next to me as I spoke to Nina. She gave me a moment to reflect on this before she resumed her drawling interrogation. I made a mental note as to what degree I would roast her once I took over the world, but only as a momentary muse.
"Do you believe in ghosts?"
I winced at the word. She was, unfortunately, fairly quick to notice.
"Something wrong, Katie?"
"I… I just don't like that word."
I shifted uncomfortably. Her expression was unreadable. Struggling over what do say, I convinced myself that I didn't care what she thought. Nothing really mattered after all, since I had wandered into the attic to find a box that I had only been told of. Never had I expected to find anything of such magnitude in something so small…
"I don't like the label 'ghost'."
The counselor wore a smirk now. Her knuckles crackled as she scribbled frantically. It had only been a few minutes since she had pulled me into the small office that enclosed a foreboding aroma of lavender, but I was already feeling somewhat trapped. Her reason of devilish glee was obvious; she really thought she could get me to open up. I shivered at the thought of myself crying to the 'empathetic' shoulder of the chubby woman.
"Then what do you call them?"
"I call them by name."
"And what name, pray tell, have you given them?"
I knew that she was mocking me. That much was obvious. And yet, I found that I really didn't care. This was insulting to him, not me. It was a disgrace to his memory. I would not let her thwart my respect for the boy I had come to know. With a gentle breath I whispered, "His name is Joseph."
I hated to be so submissive. It wasn't my usual style. But lying there waiting for her to prompt our conversation wasn't going to help me. And I had already once decided that I'd soon die to aid him. This was nothing in comparison to my mental promise.
"And how did you come to know this… Joseph?"
"I met him a few weeks ago."
"So you saw him—"
"I didn't see him."
"But you say that you know a ghost. You can't not have seen him, and still know him."
Her confusion was soon translated into a false sense of triumph. Not only did she think she had proved me wrong, her thoughts must have claimed that I had forgotten which lie I had told first. This amused me to a point at which I didn't quite mind her inquiring about such a subject.
"I didn't.Jaque did."
"My best friend. He translated for us, that way I can--, I could speak to him."
She had scooped up an attendance booklet, through which she was now leafing. Her eyes bulged with anticipation. Biting back a laugh, I thought to myself, she could spend the rest of her life going through it, and still, she would never find him.
"He's not there. At least, you're going to have a heck of a goose-chase trying to see if he is. "
She seemed genuinely affronted. Who was I to make such a claim? She had the entire administration at her fingertips! And yet, he had disappeared so quickly. The morning news had simply skimmed over him…
"He died last Friday. Impaled in a car accident."
She suppressed a gasp. I could relate with her now; she was obviously struck with remorse for prodding someone whose friend had passed away so recently. However, it was clear by her expression that she would refuse to let things lie. She had a reason for me to be disturbed now.
"So you see things now that he's dead?"
I had begun to pace, back and forth. I recall that it was her voice that irritated me so. I could already feel the migraine begin to bloom.
"I told you, I can't--, couldn't see him."
The rage was beginning to blur my senses, causing the world to revolve around the enveloping walls. Everything was suddenly so wrong at heart. It abruptly set in; they were both gone.
"Could I see him then? If I were to step into your home, I'd see—"
"Either Joseph or I would've cast you from the house long before you ever stepped into it."
"Strong words you speak, Katie."
"Well, it's a strong situation."
"And you believe that a dead child would help you?"
"I said would've. He's not there any more."
"And why not? Has your imaginary friend gone way?"
I sacrificially ceased my aimless pacing to turn and face her. Her malevolent smugness only fueled my irritation. Her derision was not unnoticed, only unacknowledged. I found that appeasing her mocking cruelty was unproductive. But as an after thought, I reasoned that as a naïve adult, I might have shared her skeptism.
"There is a difference between a phantom and a phantasm."
"Only to some, Katie."
My feet were heavy as I bade them to the door. Palm grasping the knob, her words forced me to pause. They struck me as oddly quiet, even hesitant. It was as if she were afraid to encourage this train of thought. I resolved to let her finish, and then conclude on whether or not she was speaking simply out of curiosity.
"So why did he leave?"
For the first time since he had departed, I felt my eyes glaze over with unwanted tears. My thoughts brought me back to my finding of a strange case in the attic. I had known where to find it through Joseph. It was a vermillion hue, and slightly larger than a keyboard piano. I remembered my joy, followed by increasing horror and disgust at the sight of what lay inside the once sealed crate. I had found the thing for which Joseph was looking… but I also found what was left of Joseph. I broke away from the flashback just as I reviewed having pried the corpse's laced fingers from the item he had prized so much that he would give up a world beyond the grave to find it.
"He didn't need me anymore. He found what he needed."
"And what did he need?"
My fingers turned the handle slowly, patiently, just as I whispered, "A cat doll." The threshold chicked shut behind me. Along the hallway, nobody else wandered. The barren tile seemed foreign to me, as though having Joseph waiting for me at home had made it replete of life. That was gone now…everything was gone now.
I understood that my temperment and stubborn nature had earned me an appointment with a shrink. And yet, I didn't really care.
Joseph was no longer chained to the world that I now had to suffer alone, and that was all that mattered. I supposed subconsciously that the loneliness I felt now would haunt me for as long as his memory remained. But where in God's name was I to get amnesia on a day like this? And anyway, with my luck, it'd most likely result in a concussion…
However, the isolated feeling that now enveloped me was something I had not expected. I was somehow…unfulfilled withoutJaque and Joseph. I wondered what it took to fill the empty space that had lodged itself into my very being. Before, the spirit's freedom was my world. But now, what was there to live for?
Once again, I found that the hallway was subjected to my solitary presence. My expression one of absolute certainty and calm, I abruptly determined at what level I'd have to take to settle this loneliness.
My palm sluggishly made its way to my jacket pocket. The metallic bulge within soothed my thoughts; I could wait until tonight. I grinned, feeling the weight of the blade I carried. I would seeJaque and Joseph again soon enough, and my solitude would cease. Moonlight would be the first to find my body.