SKoW Challenge #22 - Things That Really Do Go Bump In The Night
General Idea: Your protagonist is moving up in the world! He or she has just been promoted and now finally has enough moola to buy the perfect little housef in a nice little neighborhood. Everything is going great!.. that is, until he or she starts hearing those noises...
- numerous references to famous horror movies and movies that somehow involve ghosts (for those of you more literature-minded, make that references to famous gothic novels/tropes)
- next door cutie, a native to the area, who serves as romantic interest
- spooky scenes -- it is a ghost story, after all
- takes place in a (somewhat) realistic setting (the ghost or whatever can be from any period, though)
- if you go the one-shot route, it must be at least 7000 words
- the story can actually be a modern day adaptation of an older gothic novel, if that sort of thing is for you
- ghost hunters/mediators come to house to help
- falling in love with the ghost. gag me.
A/N: Some things you should know before/while reading this:
1. Ueli is pronounced ooh-uh-lee, it's a very traditional Swiss name
2. Any German used is deliberately misspelled as it is meant to be a rough phonetic approximation of a Swiss dialect I spoke as a kid
3. The ghost story retold in the flashbacks depicting a haunted house in the 1920s owned by a family with seven small kids is in fact one hundred percent true as it was my grandmother's family that lived it
Two hundred thousand. Down payment. That's what it would have cost me to purchase this beauty if it hadn't already been a part of the family for the past eighty some odd years. Even with the "Uncle Max discount", it wasn't cheap.
But I was doing Max a favor when I offered to buy the house from him. You see, Uncle Max couldn't bear to see it leave the family, but he couldn't afford to keep it either, not with his old age and medical bills—he was my grandmother's youngest brother and he was pushing 90.
He had been three when they'd moved here—he'd spent his whole life here—he couldn't just sell it to some stranger. Which is where I come in: the long-lost grand-niece from the United States starting a new life, a new job, in a new country.
Yes, I said new country. For me anyway. See, that's what a really bad break-up can do to you—send you packing after that better career you almost turned down for him (thank God you didn't) for which you have to move to your grand parents' motherland (read: the tiny neutrality of Switzerland) on the other freaking side of the globe, all just to get as far away from him as possible.
Ah love. Bite me.
On the bright side, despite the last minute job acceptance and massive changes of life plan (I will apparently not be getting married at the age of 28 after all), finding a place to live in my new home city had been a no hassle affair. Uncle Max, whom I have met all of twice in my lifetime and vaguely remember as a deceivingly grumpy-looking old fellow, had been happy to work the arrangement with me through my dad.
I think the real relief for Uncle Max was that the documents were signed, the property placed in my name, and the keys mailed to me two days before his stroke and the old man had been forced into a nursing home. The house was safely still in family hands and he could spend his days recovering peacefully.
And, now, standing in front of the old manor house presiding majestically over its hilltop neighborhood, I could understand why it had been so important to him to keep this place. The Münchli was a mansion, three stories of white-washed Victorian architecture with bright red geraniums flanking the steps leading up to its gabled façade and spilling out over the window boxes. It was beautiful; my dream house surrounded by other dream houses in a dream neighborhood of quiet, tree-lined properties on a rich street in the best part of Zurich where downtown was a mere five minute bus ride away. I could hear the old city church bells ringing in the hour. I'd never known my ancestry was so… old money. For crying out loud, the house had a name.
I took a deep breath, trying not to let myself be overwhelmed. It's my house now, I reminded myself before lugging my suitcase up the front steps (fifteen of them; I counted because that suitcase is heavy) and trying the key in the door. The heavy, painted wood swung inward with a long, whining creak to reveal a high ceilinged entry with hardwood floors and several cardboard boxes blocking further progress into the house. All of the boxes, I might note, were addressed to me and bore a striking resemblance to those I had shipped off with the stuff that wouldn't fit in my suitcase. Apparently, some generous soul had moved them into the house for safe-keeping.
"How nice…" I murmured dryly, taking stock and trying to find a place to put my suitcase. I ended up leaving it out on the covered front porch, hidden behind the hedge and a potted shrub, where I could come back for it. It would be alright for the time being and I was more interested in investigating my new home further. After tripping over the boxes and nearly breaking my neck (I suddenly understood why my dad had kept demanding to know if I really needed to send all this crap to Switzerland) I finally managed to make it to the staircase and hallway. The main entries to the living room and dining room were both blocked by more boxes so I opted for merely poking my head in as far as I could without falling, which revealed nothing too interesting (mahogany paneled ceilings and crystal chandeliers: sarcasm anyone?) except some furniture covered in sheets. The kitchen down the hall was well outfitted (lots of natural light and plenty of counter space) and had the quaint quirk of a row of bells on the wall which were supposedly used to summon the servants at some point. I wondered if they still worked and which bell corresponded to which room in the house.
Another door from the kitchen opened up onto the veranda, offering a view of the backyard full of lushly overgrown green grass. Yet more doors leading out to the veranda proved to be attached to the family room, which eventually led back to the living room and front entry. I doubled back the way I had come and headed up the main staircase to the second floor. There were bedrooms (at least, I presumed they were such based on the shapes of furniture under the protective sheets) and what looked to be the study with walls of glass cased books. I meandered along the length of the bookshelves perusing titles to see if I recognized any. They were old and mostly in German, but they were beautiful and inspired me to pull some of the sheets off the furniture.
The desk was what truly caught my imagination though: dark, glossy wood with inlaid detail work. It featured drawers and cubby holes for old pieces of paper, fountain pens, and a dried up ink well. An old Bible had been left on the desk and I opened the cover reverently: Ernst Schlatter. My great-grandfather. Apparently this desk, this study, this Bible had been his. A relic of a time past.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of the old house creaking. It probably shouldn't have, but it made me tense. Was I imagining the sound of footsteps in the room above me? Creaking down the stairs, along the hallway? Drawing nearer. Nearer.
The door to the study was kicked open and hit the wall with a violent bang, followed by a menacing blur of motion bursting into the room. I screamed.
"Was machst du hier?!" a deep voice was demanding, and it took all my courage and willpower to stop cowering like a limp rag and open my eyes to meet the angry gaze of the man filling up the doorway. He looked tough, someone you don't mess with, in a leather jacket and wielding a motorcycle helmet in the air as a threatening weapon.
"I speak English! I speak English! Please don't hurt me!" I shamelessly yelled. Oh yes, tremble in the face of my awesomeness. The reaction to my words was instantaneous. My tall, would-be assailant seemed to deflate in relief and annoyance, allowing his helmet bearing hand to fall to his side.
"Ach! Scheisse," he muttered, rolling his eyes and shoving his free hand through light-brown curls, "Are you Elisabeth? Maxa's niece from America?" he asked. Alright, so at about this point I realized that I was still trying to cower ineffectually behind my great-grandfather's desk and for some reason (maybe it was the fact that the man standing before me could only be classified as attractive) felt compelled to restore what little dignity I had left by straightening my spine—and my shirt—before actually replying.
"Uh, y-yeah. That's me." Dang. Shaky voice. Well, so much for dignity. I tried to flip my shoulder length hair away from my face and look composed.
"Scheisse," he said again. He apparently had a dirty mouth, because limited as my German is, that was a word I definitely understood. "I'm sorry about that," he continued in his lilting, dippy accent, "I wasn't expecting you to come for another week." I nodded in polite understanding and tried that hair flipping trick again.
"Yeah," I explained weakly, "I got an earlier flight so that I could settle in before the new work started." The stranger pushed his hand into his hair again, scratching his head in embarrassment. He attempted to grin but it came out a little lopsided. Not that I had a problem with that. Finally, as though making up his mind about something, he sighed and held out his hand in greeting.
"Ueli Leipzigger," he introduced himself, his hand was rough and warm, tanned with sun and fresh air. "Nice to meet you. I'm your new neighbor." Ueli. My father had mentioned someone named Ueli as my go-to should I need any help getting myself situated. But this couldn't possibly be the guy.
"You're Ueli?" I blurted. With a name like that, I'd been imagining someone my dad's age with a big beard and a long-stemmed pipe. Not some motorcycle riding thirty year old who easily could have passed for twenty if he'd wanted to. You know, when he's not threatening you with his helmet… The long-limbed guy before me smirked. "I mean," I said, oh-so-smoothly recovering myself, "are you the one who brought in the boxes for me?"
Ueli smiled again. He's a smiley guy. Made him seem friendly after all the helmet waving and scary yelling.
"Genau," he admitted, then caught himself, "Oh sorry, you don't speak German, do you?" He looked a little concerned for me over the fact, but the frown didn't look bad on his slim, sharp featured face. He had a wonderfully weathered appearance, like he got out in the sun a lot.
"Only a little bit," I answered his question, illustrating the limited nature of my language abilities with my thumb and forefinger. "I used to listen to my dad and grüesli speak Swiss German to each other when I was younger. And my dad still uses it with me sometimes, but I can only catch about every other word." Okay, so "grüesli" was a patently Swiss word for "little grandma" and I was totally using it to impress the guy with something after our less than flattering introduction. Sue me.
Ueli laughed in relief, "schöne, schöne. Can I help you with anything? Unpacking? Food?" My appreciation of the offer made me smile, which somehow seemed to spread across the room and to his face. I admit it was good to have a friend in a new, strange place like this.
"That'd be really nice."
And it was. The whole afternoon, which he apparently had blessedly free to be able to help me move in. He carried the boxes upstairs at my direction then brought my suitcase in while I shamelessly checked out his backside. I'd never before quite appreciated the European trend of tight jeans.
It was too much to unpack the boxes with me being jetlagged and all from my flight (twelve hours on a plane, people) so we merely opened one box and pulled out the necessary bedding to make up a place for me to sleep off the night. I picked my grandmother's old room on the third floor—I knew it was hers because "ES" (Elisabeth Schlatter) had been monogrammed into the dresser. She was my namesake. While I finished up emptying my suitcase, Ueli ran next door to grab some food. I don't know if he ever came back because I fell asleep before he had the chance.
I was young, maybe twelve or so, and though I slept in the same bed it was flush against a different wall. The arrangement of the whole room was dissimilar and I knew without being told that I was not myself, not my year, not my time. I was strong and wiry and small, and my hair was tied up in rag-curls. Something had woken me from my sleep, a soft weeping sound and I feared it was my baby brother. But Max was still fast asleep in his crib.
I lay there and listened as the muffled sobs continued. Like someone was crying but didn't want to be heard. Maybe Verner; he'd been sent to bed without desert for mouthing off at the table. But then the floor board above me creaked as though under someone's heavily burdened tread. The weeping was louder now and it was definitely coming from the attic. The empty attic.
Probably just one of the boys playing a prank—with five brothers, someone is always up to mischief. I closed my eyes shut and tried to ignore it.
"Wake up" someone whispered. Not in the dream, not in the memory. But in my ear. My ear.
"Wake up, the baby's crying."
I snapped up in bed, hair in disarray and my ear still tickling from the breath of whoever had been whispering. I was myself again, in the present, still in my clothes, all alone in my Uncle's former house. In my grandmother's old room. I could still hear the echo of the crying in the dream. At least I hoped it was just an echo. My hearing seemed to have gone into hyper mode, and I listened to the darkness with everything I had. It was still night and, judging by the moonlight coming in through the window, it was a few hours yet before morning.
Several minutes passed in silence but I couldn't shake the feeling that someone had just been here with me. Maybe Ueli had come back? No, that would be silly at this hour. Not to mention creepy stalker-like.
"Hello?" Nothing replied to my tentative query, making me feel just a little more than stupid. I started to reach for my cell phone anyway, then stopped. "Right," I muttered to myself, "Way to get over a guy, Elisabeth. Just call him the first moment you get scared in a foreign country. Being scared does not make him any less a jerk." With a sigh, I lay back down and tried to steady my ragged adrenaline rushed breathing. It was easy. All I had to do was think of the distance I'd put between me and my ex. Like counting sheep, only miles instead.
Okay, I lied. That's not helping. Especially not when the feeling was coming back: that skin-prickling certainty that someone else was in the house. My gaze drifted toward the open bedroom door, through which I had a clear view of the empty hallway and locked attic door. Except that, the door which had been locked this afternoon stood open now, and as I watched and listened, it slowly creaked shut on its own.
I won't lie. It had been creepy last night. All alone in a different country in a new place? Yeah, it'll make a person hear things. And see things. And all around make you think you're living in that movie The Others with Nicole Kidman haunting you. Creepy. I mean, that voice? The attic door (which was once again locked this morning, I might add)? That had to be my imagination. Come morning, I couldn't get out of the house fast enough. I showered, I dressed and I decided to walk to the nearest market and get myself out.
Just stepping out onto the front porch, I could feel the fresh Swiss air clear my head. It was beautiful out here, I couldn't deny it. I could see trees and tops of the old buildings of downtown Zurich. Beautiful old banks and medieval churches. I would have to make my way down there soon, but probably not today. Best not to stray too far from the house on my first full day.
Closing the front door behind me, I reached into my pocket to fish out the keys and lock the house. Empty. Darn, I must've left them inside. I turned the knob and tried to re-enter only to find the door was already locked.
"Oh, please no…" I muttered, turning my face heavenward. Only one day in and I've already locked myself out of the house. I kicked the door in frustration.
"Gruezi!" a cheerful voice greeted me. With slight dread, I turned to my left and faced my overly friendly neighbor standing on his own front porch. Of course, it would have to be Ueli, looking unnecessarily sexy in those jeans of his and a fitted tee, messy hair. In traditional Victorian fashion, the houses in this neighborhood were tall but built fairly close together, giving Ueli a clear view of my predicament.
"Morning," I called back with a lackadaisical wave, not sure whether to ask for help or pretend all was well and save myself some humiliation.
"Lock yourself out?" he asked. Loudly. Surely, anyone in a three house radius could hear him. Hopefully they were all non-English speakers. I smiled sourly.
"Apparently," I admitted, taking a chance that he might be sympathetic and still have the spare key he'd used to house-sit before I moved in. It seemed he was much more interested in snickering mercilessly.
"You've got to be careful, you know," he chuckled, "These old doors are always locked from the outside. Somebody inside could let you in, but you can't leave your keys or you're stuck."
"Thank you for that tidbit of information." I was having trouble figuring out why he thought this was so funny. But the harder he laughed, the less he noticed his own front door swinging shut behind him until it closed with a slam, making him jump.
"Ach!" he exclaimed, before whipping around and rattling the doorknob—he was now as thoroughly locked out of his own home as I was. With all the maturity of my 28 years of age, I totally pointed my finger and laughed. Ah, cosmic retribution is good to me. "Ja, ja! Ser lustig," he grumbled at me as he vaulted his porch railing and made his way around the side of his house. I jumped down my own front steps, two at a time to follow him.
"Hey! Where're you going?" I called after him. Like the Münchli, the back yard sloped down, away from Ueli's house making the first floor windows above eye-level. I found him poised beneath an open kitchen window as though assessing the plausibility of climbing in through it.
"Back inside," he answered absently. Then, with a well calculated jump, he grabbed the window sill and pulled himself up (it was impressive, visualize muscles if you will), shoving his head and shoulders inside. True to my nervous nature, I kept glancing back toward the front of the house, expecting someone to turn up and demand what we were doing.
"Dude, aren't you afraid someone's going to think you're a burglar? Or a serial killer?" I demanded as Ueli wriggled the rest of himself inside. There was a loud thump followed by laughter. Ueli's loose, light brown curls appeared at the window again and he looked down at me in amusement, his elbows propping his weight on the sill.
"That's such an American word: dude. Say it again."
"No," I replied, crossing my arms over my chest. He seemed to be settling onto that windowsill for a long conversation and his gaze drifted upward in thought.
"It kind of reminds me of Stu Macher in Scream."
"Matthew Lillard? I remind you of Matthew Lillard? Seriously, is that where you learned your English?" I wanted to know with thinly veiled disgust. Ueli waggled his perfect eyebrows at me implishly, making me think he was just trying to rile me up.
"Ach, du bish herzig," he announced to me cheerfully before disappearing inside again and closing the window. I was momentarily too stunned at the fact that he'd just called me "cute" to my face in that lilting Swiss-German of his (he probably thought I didn't understand him) to register that he'd left me standing in his side yard still locked out of my own house. But before I could work up a satisfying bitterness over the matter, he was peering around the side of the house again, his leather jacket on and a bike helmet in each hand.
"I have to go to work now; you want a ride to the market? It's on my way," he offered. I glanced back at my front porch and it was like he read my mind because he added, "I'll give you my spare key," so I shrugged and nodded. Why not?
Hanging on to his waist from behind, the wind was loud and whipped at us as he zoomed down the quiet street. I was grateful to have my brown curls up in the helmet and for a moment reveled in the way it felt like I was in my own world, cut off from everything else by the sound of the rushing air. It was like I could confess anything and have it ripped away and disappear. I said as much to Ueli but guessed he couldn't hear me because he didn't respond. Somehow that made me feel even more safe and I took advantage of the moment to tell him about last night and the dream I'd had that I was my grandmother when she was young and that the house was haunted. He couldn't hear me, but it made me feel better to have said it and I didn't have to worry about him laughing at me.
At the market (a little mom and pop place with fresh milk and crusty brown bread; he said he'd take me into town to the Migros supermarket some other day) Ueli showed me the nearest bus stop and pointed out where to purchase a ticket and which bus to take back to our street. Frowning in concentration at the bus signage, I could feel him watching my face. I pretended to stay focused and tried to catch his thoughtful expression through the periphery of my gaze.
"Hey," he said suddenly, gently bumping my shoulder with his own, "A dream is just a dream, ja? Don't worry about it." I blushed. I guess he had heard me after all.
"Ja," I agreed shyly. He winked then pointed at his bike to indicate that he needed to leave.
"I'll see you later," he assured me as I smiled and waved goodbye with thanks. After he left and I bought a few necessary groceries, I took the bus back as he'd shown me and used the spare key to get back in the house. The Münchli seemed far less intimidating in the daylight with Ueli's words still fresh in my mind. The house was beautiful again and I eagerly threw myself into opening boxes and uncovering furniture. I took inventory of the family photographs still sitting on the mantels and wiped down the kitchen table and counters with a clean rag. When I'd sufficiently worn myself out, I retired to Great-Grandpa Ernst's study with a book and quickly fell asleep in the leather armchair out of pure exhaustion.
I wasn't my grandmother this time. I was Great-Grandpa Ernst and I was kneeling in the study, praying with my Bible open in front of me. It was a quiet summer afternoon and the sunlight fell across the carpeting in sharp lines of white. I had locked the door to the study so that I wouldn't be disturbed and murmured my heartfelt appeals aloud in a hushed voice; safely certain that my words stayed between myself and God in this small personal sanctuary.
And yet, as I prayed the room grew colder and darker.
"Stop it," someone whispered. Angry. Afraid. I prayed on and the voice became more insistent. "Stop it!" And this time I felt a pair of hands on my shoulders pull me up off my knees. I looked around the room, my heart pounding, but there was no one there and the door to the study was still locked.
"I am not afraid," I said aloud, "God is my rock and none can harm me. I am not afraid." But my pulse still raced with fear as I knelt again and picked up my prayer where I had left off. Everything happened in an instant: the fingers digging into my shoulders were hard and cold as ice as the powerful hands dragged me from my knees and across the floor. All the while a frightened, furious voice was screaming.
"Be quiet! BE QUIET!"
I woke when I hit the floor, falling out of the leather armchair. Grandpa Ernst's Bible lay on the floor beside me, far from where I'd thought I'd left it on the desk. The details were all different from my dream and I shook my head to clear the subsequent disorientation. This place was messing with me and I wasn't going to let it get to me. Ueli was right, it was just a dream.
Noticing the shift in sunlight, I checked the time and realized that I should start making supper soon. I lifted myself off the floor and winced at the pain in my shoulders. That was strange. Pulling back the fabric of my scoop-neck shirt, I found my flesh marked with dark bruises suspiciously like the imprint of a hand. It matched the dream.
Shivering and hair on end, I closed the study door behind me as I left and scurried downstairs to the safety of the kitchen. Sunlight still spilled in through the windows there, reflecting off the white tiles and countertops, making the room comfortingly bright. Resting my head on the cool kitchen table, I tried to think logically. I must have gotten the bruises while unpacking and just didn't notice; the fact that they matched the dream was just coincidence. It had to be.
With a sigh, I lifted my head off the table and pushed the loose, soft curls that had escaped my ponytail back from my face. I was just under stress: the moving, the new job starting soon, the break-up. The break-up. There it was again, the real reason I was here. The thing I kept trying to forget. The scum ball I was trying to leave behind.
My body jolted with surprise at the unexpected tinkling of a bell. My gaze shot to the servant bells on the wall with dread. The clacker in the last bell on the end still swayed slightly. But that was impossible, I was the only one home. My imagination was getting out of hand here.
Yet, as I watched, the little bell trembled, shook and rang again. And again. And soon the bell next to it rang too, then the one on the other end of the row. Within seconds all the servant bells mounted on the wall were ringing with a violence that looked like they might fly off their hooks and across the room.
I just want you to know, that if this were some horror flick, like Poltergeist or American Ghost Story or some other creepy movie featuring a brainless heroine with no sense of self-preservation, I would have investigated the house to see what was making the bells ring when I happened to know there was no one else home but me. But, this is not one of those movies and I am not stupid. Which is why I promptly ran like the wind out the kitchen's back door and through the gate into Ueli's yard. I know. You're impressed.
When Ueli pulled up on his bike a half hour later, it was to find me pacing his backyard with a nervous energy that could have powered a small boat. He was frowning when he pulled his helmet off and dismounted, making his concerned way towards me.
"Hi, I'm stupid," I greeted him, "I hope you don't mind." I expected him to laugh at that or make fun of me like any other normal guy, but he just dropped his helmet on the grass and placed his hands gently on my arms to stop my frenetic movement.
I laughed at myself for him. His kind, solicitous tone was so steady it made me feel even more stupid. With him standing there the dreams and the bells seemed like the faraway product of my overtired mind because wherever Ueli was the world behaved according to proper physics and logic. In the face of his calm confidence, my fear looked even sillier no matter how seriously he was willing to take it.
"Nothing," I shook my head dismissively, "I just got freaked out and couldn't stand being in the house anymore." Ueli's gaze flickered past me to the open gate in the hedge separating our properties. "I'm okay," I insisted. He raised his eyebrows as if to say 'really? Because you're standing here in my backyard wringing your hands like a madwoman' but he had the grace not to voice that thought. Instead, he rubbed my arms in a soothing gesture then smiled before releasing me.
"Supper?" he asked. I took a deep breath and tried to return his careless expression.
"Yeah, sounds good."
"I'll cook, but on one condition," he stipulated, finger placed in front of my face for emphasis, "Say 'dude'." I rolled my eyes but felt myself snort in genuine amusement.
"Okay, dude." Ueli punched the air in victory, successfully making me laugh again.
We grilled bratwurst in the backyard for dinner and played fussball (read: soccer) in the last bit of twilight with the lawn chairs and an old soccer ball. The fun made me feel a lot better and the beer probably didn't hurt either. Or maybe it was the company.
Sitting on the steps of his back porch, I sipped on my beer and chatted with him idly as he kicked the soccer ball and bounced it off his knees, still balancing his own beer in his hand. Ueli's floppy, sun-streaked curls fell over his face as he concentrated his hazel eyes on the ball. I didn't mind watching him while we talked—the conversation wasn't anything deep anyway, just old movies, favorite songs, games we played as kids. Little things that somehow tell you a lot about a person. Like the fact that Ueli was an optimist and tender-hearted despite the bike and the leather jacket. He loved adventure and was sure of himself, but loved people too, cared about them. And he was innocently oblivious to the way he bared his soul when he talked about the baby bird he'd saved as a child or how he'd looked up to his dad and still missed his mom after she'd died.
Smiling around him was an involuntary thing.
Ueli finished off his beer and kicked the ball through the chairs serving as a makeshift goal then did a lap around the grass singing "ole, ole, ole, ole!" I took it as a sign that the lazy evening was wrapping up.
"I guess I'd better head back," I announced, standing from the stairs and taking a few reluctant steps toward the gate. Ueli pushed the hair off his forehead and examined my expression; he'd apparently not forgotten the reason for my being in his yard in the first place and it made me wonder if the whole evening hadn't been his personal effort to help me put it behind me.
"You'll be okay?" he finally asked, walking with me to the gate, "because if you're still worried, you can stay here. Or I can sleep in one of the rooms in the Münchli." I shot a calculating glance in his direction but his face belied any nefarious hidden motives. His offer was honest. I sighed and shook my head despite the temptation to say yes and keep the poor guy up all night guarding me from imaginary ghosts.
"I'll be fine," I lied. He nodded in acquiescence to whatever I claimed I wanted, but stood at the gate and watched until I made it inside my house, the kitchen door still hanging open from when I'd fled before. I paused just inside the kitchen and looked at the servant bells on the wall that now hung silent and unmoving. I must be going crazy.
I made my way upstairs (trying very hard not to run past the study while telling myself I was not scared) and, on impulse, from the window in my room looked back down at the gate in the hedge. Ueli was still there, looking up at the house as though he was ready to run in after me at the first sign or sound of trouble. Indeed, he stayed there until I turned the light off and climbed into bed. And it was the knowledge that he was there, the image of him leaning against the gate with his green gaze fixed on the light in my window that soothed me into sleep.
"Betty. Betty!" I was dreaming I was my grandmother again. And Great-Uncle Verner was seven years old, trying to shake me awake. Automatically I looked to the crib to check on Max, but the baby was still fast asleep.
"What do you want, Verner?" I demanded, while the little boy continued to cling to my arm, trying to pull me out of my nice warm bed.
"Someone's in the attic crying," he whispered fearfully, which given that it was Verner told me that something was very wrong. I glanced toward the bedroom door and saw that he wasn't the only of my siblings awake, the rest were gathered in the hall, waiting on me—the oldest—to come to their aid. Just the sight of them set my hairs on end. Every last one of them looked afraid, huddled together in a ragged group. They stared at me in silence and it was their silence that made it possible hear her, weeping as she had before when I had thought that Maxa was crying.
I held my breath and waited for the creaking I knew would come. The footsteps in the attic were loudest over my bed, as though the space directly above me was a spot convenient for pacing. All eyes turned upward at the sound and every last one of us children stared in trepidation, fear that whatever, whoever would not stay up there. We knew on instinct what it was; we'd heard Papa whispering with our mother about what had happened in the study. The thing upstairs was strong and angry. And right now it was weeping with the kind of despair that made a being capable of anything.
The footsteps paused and I felt Verner unconsciously flinch through his grip on my arm when they started up again in a new direction with new purpose. As silent as I could, I slipped out of bed, still holding Verner's hand and followed the sounds out into the hall. The other kids crowded in around me. Somehow our increased numbers did little to comfort me as we moved together with the footsteps above us, following with our eyes and ears. With every step my shoulders tensed and my heart fluttered. We could hear it moving toward the stairs then stopping, turning once in another direction as though confused, then starting again toward the attic door with determination. The sound was no longer above us but heading toward us from the other side of the locked attic door.
"Jesus, please, no," I whispered, squeezing Verner's hand so hard he whimpered. Or maybe that was me, whimpering as the we all watched the doorknob rattle and turn. I held my breath.
It stopped. The footsteps retreated back up to the attic and for a brief moment the anguished sobs grew louder before they were suddenly silenced by a loud crash.
My eyes flew open at the horrendous thump overhead, whether in my dream or real, I couldn't tell. But something pale caught the periphery of my gaze and I snapped my head toward it in time to see a girl streak silently from the room, throw open the attic door and slam it shut behind her again.
I didn't waste time screaming or putting on clothes. I didn't waste time feeling my heart race or my skin prickle. I just ran. The adrenaline didn't let me feel anything but the need to flee as far and fast to safety as I could.
For the second time in twenty-four hours, Ueli found me staking out a claim in his backyard. As soon as I'd gotten through the back gate I'd felt like a right idiot in my pajamas and couldn't quite bring myself to pound on Ueli's door and wake him up. But there was no freaking way I was going back into the Münchli so I had paced the dewing grass until I wore myself out so bad that I eventually sat on the back porch steps and propped myself against the railing.
"Hoi Lisabeth," I heard Ueli say, and decided that his voice was far less alarming than being woken by whatever that girl in the Münchli's attic was. I tried to blink into the early sunlight and focus on his face but I was just so darned tired. In some dark corner of my brain I realized that I must have fallen asleep on his porch and that he had probably found me on his way out the door to work. And that my presence was quite likely odd and rude.
"Sorry," I murmured blearily, making a clumsy attempt to stand in my half awake state. Ueli's gentle, calloused hands stopped me, grabbing one of my arms and slinging it around his neck then slipping his other arm around my waist and hauling me easily to my feet.
"Nei, nei, nein," he admonished quietly as he steered me up the porch and through the back door of his house, "Inside you go." I tripped over my own feet a couple times so that with a chuckle and soft "opla" he adjusted his grip and hoisted me into his arms bridal style. My head lolling in space between his neck and shoulder I could smell his shampoo and the faint remnants of laundry detergent from his shirt. He smelled good. Better than Ray ever had.
"My ex," I answered in obliging weariness, "Ex-boss. Ex-boyfriend. Ex-two-timing-father-of-her-baby jerk."
"Ah," Ueli said, finally setting me down again on the bed in some spare room and covering me with a light blanket.
"Sorry," I mumbled again as he helpfully tucked me in.
"Ja, ja. Ich verstash. Aber no more staying in the Münchli alone. Genau? You stay here today; I'll be back after work," he ordered with a tender stroke of my hair.
"Genau," I agreed, before slipping back into sleep as he left.
By the time I awoke again half the day had slipped away from me—apparently I'd been losing more sleep over the Münchli than I realized. Groggy and hungry, I abandoned the spare bedroom and made my way toward the kitchen, surreptitiously peeking into open rooms as I passed. Like the Münchli, Ueli's home featured a lot of old furniture passed down through the generations; but unlike the home I'd bought, several rooms looked messy and lived in. And a bit like a bachelor pad with the random lava lamp and other oddities that incongruously decorated the place. It made me feel normal.
In the kitchen I made myself some tea and a sandwich then, after eating, made a leisurely investigation of Ueli's place of residence. There were the requisite family photos and vacation shots. If the pictures were any indication, Ueli had a soft spot for slightly dangerous outdoor sports: hiking, skiing, paragliding, mountain biking, rappelling down a sheer cliff-face... All possible day-trips within the Swiss Alps. His heritage showed.
Looking for something else to do, I examined his DVD collection and found it liberally peppered with bad horror flicks: Amityville Horror, The Shining, Scream, The Exorcist, some scary looking stuff in German about prison experiments. No, no, no, and no thank you. Given my current situation with the Münchli, watching anything featuring ghosts, gore, or other spine-chilling moments was not high on my list. I settled instead on Wim Wenders' classic Wings of Desire which was ultimately not much better for my state of mind but at least distracted me for a while.
"You should have watched Shrek," Ueli chided, when he returned an hour later and had asked me how I spent the day.
"I agree," I muttered, trying to cross my arms over my camisole pajama top and cover my chest. Sitting across from him at the kitchen table was making me suddenly aware of how minimal my clothing was. Running to Ueli's in the middle of the night was not something I had planned for when getting ready for bed. Too embarrassed to meet Ueli's eyes directly, I allowed my gaze to drift out the window and fall on the tall, graceful lines of the Münchli. It was strange that the house still looked beautiful to me after the freaky things that had been happening. It produced a kind of longing in me and not just because my clothes were still inside.
"Just so," Ueli said, drawing my attention back to him as he leaned back in his chair and regarded me with a thoughtful look, "Are you going to tell me what happened this time?" Ah, yes, I still hadn't explained to him about the study and the servant bells. I squirmed uncomfortably.
"I saw something," I finally confessed, "I know I'm probably just being stressed out and crazy, but I seriously thought I saw someone standing next to my bed run for the attic. And, just, with all the crazy dreams about the house being haunted, I got freaked out." I paused, not sure what else to tell him or how much detail to get into. Maybe, too, I was waiting to see how he would react. He watched the edge of his coffee cup as he sipped the drink then set it on the table again without a word. He frowned.
"I don't know that I should tell you this," he began, "but when mein grossvater was alive he used to tell me that the Münchli had been haunted when he was a kid. Before your great-grandparents came to live there, no one had been able to stay in it longer than a week." I straightened in my seat with interest, hoping to signal that he should go on. "He said that a very rich family had lived there at one time—before your family—and that the father was a nasty man. They had a servant girl and this man forced her into an affair with him. Then one night she hung herself in the attic. Not long after, the family couldn't bear to live there anymore, but they had trouble selling the house because everyone knew it was haunted by the servant girl."
"I saw her," I blurted when he paused in his story. Ueli's eyebrows rose in question. "Last night I dreamt I was my grandmother and that my brothers and I were listening to the weeping. We could hear her walking in the attic and crying and then there was a loud thump—probably her hanging herself again—but the sound woke me up for real and she was standing there next to the bed watching me before she ran back to the attic." I don't know why, but the there was no question that Ueli believed me. Maybe it was because of what his grand-father had told him.
"Is that the only time you saw her?"
"Yes, but I'd felt her before," I told him, "I fell asleep in the study and dreamt about Great-Grandpa Ernst being attacked while praying. I think she grabbed me in my sleep and threw me to the floor like she did him in the dream because when I woke up I had these bruises—" I indicated my shoulders and Ueli leaned forward to look at them, "—and then when I went to the kitchen all the bells for the servants started ringing like mad. That's when I came here, to your house… the first time…" I finished up lamely. The corner of Ueli's mouth only barely twitched but he otherwise brushed off his private amusement.
"Did she not say anything to you?"
"Just the first night; she told me to wake up because the baby was crying." Ueli frowned.
"The baby was crying?" he mused to himself. While he was mulling that over, another thought struck me.
"But this doesn't make any sense; didn't your grandpa say that it was haunted before my grandmother's family moved in? Why would it be haunted again now?" I half demanded. I didn't expect Ueli to have an answer but from the expression he had on his face as he lifted his gaze to meet mine again, I knew he did have an answer and I wasn't going to like it. I shivered. "What?"
"Maybe it's you," he said carefully, "Maybe you invited her back in with your presence. She followed you into the house because you have so much in common." It felt like my blood had turned to ice.
"What do you mean by that?" my tone was chilled enough that Ueli had the decency to get flustered.
"I just thought, maybe, what happened with you and Ray was similar a little," he tried to explain hurriedly, "He was your boss and this girl had an affair with her boss…" And there, Ueli's theory was out and I felt the memory of what I'd told him half-awake as he carried me in the house come rushing back to me. My face closed, expressionless as I stared at the man in front of me thinking that his conclusions weren't fair at all and neither was how he'd come by his information about me.
"Except that I wasn't the other woman. Ray was supposed to marry me. He cheated on me because I wouldn't sleep with him before the wedding night," I could tell by the way my jaw was throbbing that that had come out a little more intense than I'd intended. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to calm myself. This really wasn't Ueli's fault, I couldn't blame him.
"I'm sorry. I must have misunderstood. I had thought you said he has the father of a baby," I nearly jumped when he said this but somehow the apology helped. Misunderstanding, indeed.
"Her baby," I clarified, "He got the other girl pregnant."
"Ah," Ueli said shortly, his embarrassment evident. It was probably wrong of me, but his discomfiture went a long way toward restoring the feeling of trust he'd been inspiring in me for the past two days. After a few minutes of silence, Ueli looked thoughtful again, his gaze drifting. "Then whose baby was crying when the ghost woke you?"
Ueli's question got the wheels in my head turning, examining the information and filling in the pieces. Guilt, maybe, had driven the young servant girl to suicide but it seemed that there had to be more. She must have been afraid of something bigger that she couldn't hide, couldn't escape from.
"I think it might have been hers," I whispered. Ueli matched my gaze and I saw the light turn on in his mind. "I think she hung herself because she knew she was pregnant."
Exciting as our new theories and revelations on the origins of the Münchli's ghost were, they did little to help solve my problem: my house was still haunted and all my stuff was inside it. It also didn't explain how Grandpa Ernst had gotten rid of the ghost the first time.
"Maybe we should talk to her, like Bruce Willis," Ueli suggested a little while later when we decided that he would go with me to retrieve some real clothing and other essentials.
"You do know it was the little kid in that movie who talked to ghosts, right?" I retorted, clinging shamelessly to Ueli's arm as he led the charge through the backyard gate and to the Münchli's kitchen. He tried the door and it swung open easily.
"You have a bad habit of leaving the back door unlocked," he observed. My current level of tension did not do much for my sense of humor.
"Yeah, well, it's not my fault it doesn't stay locked like the front door," I snapped. Ueli snorted, but even from my cowering place behind him I could see his barely suppressed smile. "You're having fun, aren't you?" I accused. He grinned down at me.
"It just gets your blood pumping, ja? Any moment she could do something."
"Freakin' adrenaline junkie," I muttered bitterly.
We headed upstairs without incident and Ueli puttered about as I tried to gather some things. The whole scene was so banal and uncreepy that it made me feel like a silly gutless wonder again.
"You know what Ueli?" I announced, dumping a bunch of stuff on my bed, "This is stupid, I should just take a shower here where all my stuff is. Do you mind waiting?" Ueli shrugged like it made no difference to him one way or the other. He seemed sadly let down by the lack of paranormal activity.
I made Ueli wait in the hall right outside the bathroom so that I could call for him if something happened. A couple times I tested to make sure he was still there, much to his annoyance.
"I still think you should talk to her," he greeted me when I emerged from the bathroom freshly bathed and dressed. He was leaning against the doorjamb and there was no way to get past without brushing against him—I squeezed past out of sheer determination, my skin shivering for a whole different, non-creepy reason.
"And I still really don't want to," I replied, sorting through the stuff I'd dumped on my bed earlier.
"So you're just going to move out?" he asked. To be totally honest, I hadn't really thought about it. I didn't have anywhere else to go and I was embarrassed to admit that I almost hoped to stay with Ueli indefinitely. But that was ridiculous not to mention insanely rude considering I'd only just met the guy and that's not even something you do with family, just assuming you're welcome to stay as long as you'd like. My only other option was to stay in a hotel and I didn't have the money for that without selling the house, which, of course I couldn't sell with it being haunted, let alone because of poor Uncle Max in his nursing home recovering from the stroke…
"Crap," I groaned, "Fine. I'll talk to her. But only if you're here when I do it." Ueli did some weird Euro discothèque victory dance. "I'm gonna need alcohol…"
In accordance with my last stipulation, Ueli and I made a brief run back to his place for wine and food which we set up in the Münchli's dining room on the grand table under the chandelier. We also collected flashlights and turned on every single light in the house, except the attic which I refused to go near.
"So how'd you end up with your place?" I asked when we'd pushed our empty plates to the far end of the table and were well into our second bottle of wine. Ueli leaned back in his chair and fiddled with his wine glass. He sat at the head of the long table, what would have likely been Great-Grandpa Ernst's seat, and I sat to his right, where I imagined my grandmother's usual spot.
"I inherited it. Like you," he answered blandly. I guessed there was more to that story than he let on (I mean, a bachelor living in a house like that by himself? Come on…) but I decided to let it slide and address the second half of his answer instead.
"I didn't inherit, I bought it," I corrected him, "With a very large chunk of my savings." Ueli made a show of dragging his gaze around the room as though assessing some merchandise.
" You got ripped off." I giggled. I couldn't help it, I blame the wine. Plus, the many meanings of his statement: the place was beautiful except that minor ghost problem…
"Don't mock me, I saw your CDs and you listen to David Hasselhoff," I retorted.
"Ja, so? Hasselhoff makes good music." I offered Ueli an incredulous look at this assertion.
"I can't believe I am having this conversation with you," I said with a shake of my head, which I promptly regretted after all that wine. I laid my head on the table, cheek to the smooth wood surface.
"You don't usually drink this much do you?" Ueli sniggered.
"No," I admitted, "Of course, I also don't usually sit around waiting to talk to the early 1900s ghost version of my ex-boyfriend's mistress. It's a unique situation." Ueli shrugged one shoulder but looked bemused as he watched my eyelids close. I had no desire to see his hazel eyes staring at me like that, it made my pulse race too much and I had enough to deal with already.
"The girl that Ray got pregnant, did she kill herself?" came Ueli's softly spoken question. It made my eyes flutter open again, though I fixed my gaze on the wall behind his head. It was just a yes or no question and yet I felt liked he'd asked me to show him the very core of my heart—the most private stuff that made me vulnerable. I know I took too long to answer but I needed the time to gather the trust to say it and he was patient enough to let me.
"No. No, she didn't. I'm glad she didn't. She can have him. After everything he did, I don't want Ray anyway," I finally answered, my assertive tone as transparent and brittle as glass. I felt Ueli watch me as he waited, somehow knowing that there was more. "And even if I did still want him," I added quietly, "I'm glad she's alright. It's not all her fault. And it's definitely not the baby's fault. I don't really care whose fault it was: I wouldn't want that for anybody." But that was about all the confessing I could handle while facing Ueli, even if I refused to look directly at him, so I closed my eyes again. One brown curl slipped from behind my ear, into my face, and I didn't bother to move it.
"Do you think you'll ever forgive him?" Ueli asked just soft and placating as when I'd found me on his front porch. Maybe more. His rough skinned fingers skimmed my temple as he brushed the curl from my face and lingered over my cheek. I refused to shiver. I refused to feel the tightening of my chest. I twisted my head and pressed my other cheek to the tabletop, leaving Ueli's fingers untangle from my hair and withdraw. Turning the other direction made it easier to answer him.
"I dunno," I whispered, the honesty making it difficult to speak loudly, "Forgiveness is a little scary sometimes. It's a lot easier to hate him right now. If I hate him, I know I'll never go back to him and he won't hurt me like that again. And that feels much safer to me." The antique table creaked under my cheek as Ueli leaned forward and settled his chin on his fist.
"It's the stuff you're afraid of that gives the best rush when you do it anyway," Ueli observed, his words shooting straight through me, proving that he heard what I said better than even I did.
After that I pretended to fall asleep.
We were all at the dining room table: me, Grandpa Ernst, the kids, Momma, the church elders. Ueli was there too, watching it all from Papa's chair though I couldn't see him. But I knew he was there as certainly as I knew that I was me and yet I was also my young grandmother. We were praying together and I understood that it was for her. We wanted peace, we wanted forgiveness, we wanted whatever had happened here to finally be laid to rest.
Papa told us not to be scared, that God would protect us. But I was still frightened by that thing in the attic, even with the sun shining and knowing that if Papa believed God would keep us safe then I could believe it too.
It didn't take long, we'd only been praying for a few minutes when we could start to hear the crying. Louder and louder until she screamed: blood-curdling and heart breaking. It was a scream of rage and despair and the purest kind of pain, with an intensity that made my eyes sting with tears. She screamed and screamed and we all heard her footsteps as she pounded down the stairs in her haste to escape our words of hope. The front door—locked from the outside—ripped open and slammed shut again followed by a complete and perfect stillness.
Papa and the elders stopped praying and we all lifted our heads, facing the front hall expectantly.
"Everyone here? Did someone leave?" Papa asked, looking around the room only to see that all were present and accounted for.
"Did someone come in?" one of the elders asked. All eyes turned to the center of the dining room table where the keys to the front door still lay undisturbed. The door was locked and could not be opened from outside without them.
She was gone.
There was no reason that I should wake up suddenly except for the excitement I felt at knowing: I understood how Great-Grandpa Ernst had ended the haunting the first time. I wanted to tell Ueli though I felt sure he already knew, felt sure he'd been there and seen it with me. But I had to ask all the same.
My eyes flew open and sought Ueli's, still sitting next to one another where we had fallen asleep at the table. But any words I might have said died in my throat at the expression on his face. Ueli stared past me, his spine straightening slowly as if not to startle a wild animal while his hand cautiously crept toward mine. I was not so careful when I sat up and followed the direction of his gaze.
It was her, standing at the far end of the room just inside the main door that led to the front hall. She was pale and wore her apron and cap, dark hairs escaping and wafting round her face. When she was alive she must have been beautiful. So innocent looking. I could almost hate the man that had ruined her for that reason alone.
Ueli's fingers wrapped around mine for support and his presence reminded me that we were here so that I could talk to her. But now I saw the major flaw in that plan for I didn't have the slightest idea what to say and no reason why she should listen.
"Are you—Who are you?" I stuttered. The girl's eyes bored into mine and I thought she would never answer. I wouldn't blame her with the ineffectual words that seemed to well up into my mouth. "I don't know why you're here again," I told her, "I don't know why you came back when I came here."
The ghost's dark gaze flickered to Ueli to me and then back again. When she finally spoke I didn't understand a word she said. She was using a careful accented German. Until this moment, I hadn't realized that she'd always been speaking in German—everyone in my sleep had—but through the dreams I could understand them.
I looked to Ueli for help who was now standing, but his eyes never left the girl and I could feel his grip on my hand tightening as he gently tugged me out of my seat and closer to him.
"She says," he translated slowly, pausing to lick his lips, "That whatever you expect of her, you can't have it. She won't give it. He stole her soul and she knows better now. She won't give anything to anyone again." The words rang in my ears as though it had been an echo of my own voice speaking. My own soul crying out against the world and against Ray, everything he'd done to me, everything he'd stolen from me—my heart, my soul, my dignity, even my will. He'd taken what I'd given willingly and then taken even more, and when he'd gotten all he could get without giving back he'd crushed what he possessed. In the pit of my stomach I knew the truth; I knew that I was like her more than I wanted to believe and I knew that the thing that could set us both free was the thing that scared us the most.
"I don't want anything from her," I realized out loud, "I want her to forgive him. For herself." Ueli looked at me like I was crazy and admirable all at once while the girl glared as though her eyes alone might kill me. She spat out her response and I held my breath as Ueli hesitated in his translation.
"She says, 'you first'."
It felt as if the world stopped in that moment, frozen by the heaviness of those two words, while I weighed the cost of her challenge. How could I tell her to do something I wasn't even willing to do myself; because it was a matter of will after all. I had begun to think that forgiving Ray was something I was incapable of, that only worthy people could be forgiven or that forgiveness meant I had to pretend nothing had ever happened and that he would never have to live with the consequences. I had thought—no, I had wanted to believe that justice demanded I not forgive him. But I saw now that my forgiveness had nothing to do with Ray anymore—I'd cut him out of the picture long ago—it was all me and my bitterness.
This girl's tormentor was long gone; the only one she punished with her hatred was herself. Her vengeance was cold and its opportunity past, there was no point. I didn't want to be her, alive or dead. Great-Grandpa Ernst and the elders had prayed for forgiveness for whatever had happened in this house and it had been her unwillingness to forgive that had forced her out of the Münchli eighty years ago. And if I refused to forgive Ray, right here and now, I would be forced out too for she would never let me stay in peace.
"I—" the words choked me but I had to say them, I had to mean them, "I forgive him." My gut twisted with dread, not for what this pitifully bitter girl might do but for what would happen to me now. I couldn't go back on this. I was going to have to forgive Ray again and again, every time I remembered him and what he did to me I would have to face this fear and forgive him again.
The girl's ghostly fists clenched and she screamed, "Nein! Nein! I werde nicht! Nicht!" She doubled over with the pain of her bitterness and her knees gave out beneath her. She wept and cowered as Ueli and I stood there watching, not knowing what to do. At last, Ueli stepped forward, placing me behind him protectively, and reached toward her with the same gentleness he would have shown a lost child. But she felt him coming, jerked back and twisted with preternatural speed, sliding over the hardwood floor as though dragged by some unseen force. She screamed and the front door opened and slammed shut with a force that vibrated through the walls. We waited and listened for her weeping or the sound of her pacing footsteps as she cried, but the only tears being shed now were my own.
She was gone.
Ueli stayed the rest of the night. And the night after that in one of the guest rooms. And the rest of the week. He just wanted to be sure it was alright for me to stay there alone (I'd make some sarcastic comment here about his real intentions but that would make me a hypocrite because I totally would have asked him to stay if he hadn't insisted). But after about a week it was pretty clear she wasn't coming back and there was little reason for Ueli to keeping staking out a claim in what had apparently become his room. Then I started my new job and didn't have time for impromptu backyard fussball and beer. I'd started taking German lessons and managed to learn my way around the city. My life was finding its own new satisfying groove that didn't involve Ray or being angry at him. Unfortunately, I didn't run into Ueli much either despite the fact that I looked for him every morning as I left the house and again when I came home.
I sighed as I closed the front door behind me, resigning myself to the reality that I had managed to go two straight weeks without bumping into my neighbor (though I had managed to meet the nosy old woman across the street and the bearded pipe-smoker who lived next door to her; I liked to open my window in the evenings and catch a whiff of his smoke as it reminded me of my grandpa).
"Gruezi!" a familiar, cheerful voice greeted me. I looked up from my purse, my heart fluttering in hope, and was not disappointed to see Ueli standing on his front porch.
"Gruezi," I called back, my mind racing for something to ask him, anything to keep the conversation going.
"Oh ho!" he crowed, "Hasht zu jetzt lernt Sweizer-Deutsch sprachen?" I laughed awkwardly as I left his question answered. Okay, no, so my German wasn't that good yet and what he was speaking didn't sound a whole lot like the proper German my instructor was teaching me. Ueli laughed. "I'll take that as a no."
"Okay," I allowed, "whatever, since I have no idea what you said to me anyway." He grinned mischievously and I couldn't help but think how much I liked it when he did that.
"Are you on your way to work?" he asked and I looked down at my incredibly non-professional clothes then back at Ueli.
"I have the day off. I was planning on going hiking, though I wasn't quite sure where yet. Got any suggestions?"
"Suggestions! Even better, I'll take you if you want—I've got the day free as well," Ueli offered. I couldn't quite suppress my smile of delight.
"That'd be great!"
"Ser schöne! Come on over and meet me in the backyard. I just have to grab my stuff," he instructed. I followed orders and he met me in the back with the extra motorcycle helmet I'd borrowed before.
"So," he said conversationally as he shrugged on his leather jacket and made me borrow an extra of his sweatshirts for the ride on the bike, "how have you been practicing your German?" I wobbled my head in a "so-so" motion as I pulled on the sweatshirt. It smelled like him so I didn't argue about wearing it.
"Mostly with my coworkers," I admitted, "but their German is really proper and it hasn't helped me much with the local Swiss."
"Ah, you should get yourself a Swiss boyfriend," Ueli advised nonchalantly as he casually slapped my hands away from the helmet I was ineptly attempting to put on, before securing it to my head for me. My stomach flip-flopped at his suggestion.
"Fabulous idea, but I haven't the foggiest idea where to find one," I replied, fighting back a growing giddiness.
"Didn't your father tell you?" Ueli popped his own helmet on and mounted the bike. "If you need help with anything, settling into the house, finding stuff in the city, you should just ask me. "
"I apologize, I forgot," I grinned, climbing onto the motorcycle behind him and wrapping my arms around his waist. "Tell me Ueli, where can I find a good Swiss boyfriend to help me practice my German? Preferably attractive, hazel eyes, can grill a good bratwurst. Oh! And who would be incredibly good to me and doesn't mind ghosts." Ueli revved the engine and I barely heard him answer over the roaring as popped the brake and prepared to peel out of the driveway and onto the winding freedom of the Swiss roads.
"That's easy. Just hang out in my backyard."