Author's Note

Hey all, this is an idea I've had floating around in my head for a while. I just thought I'd post it and see what kind of a reaction I get. Enjoy, or not...or whatever :)

My name is Ricki Price, I'm seventeen years old, and I can see ghosts.

I know what you're thinking; you're thinking there's something wrong with me, that I'm a freak or something. Well you're wrong. I'm not a freak. I don't have eleven toes, or horns, or wings. I don't transform into a wolf during a full moon or drink blood, or mix up potions in the kitchen while my dad is sleeping. And no, I didn't ask for this. I was just born with a different, unique ability. Kinda like the kids who are born math geniuses…except creepier. My dad says it runs in our family and that his mother and sister can see things too, but I've never met them. Yet.

My dad, Simon, and I live in St. Louis, my aunt and grandmother are Chicago people. Well, actually, they live in a small town about an hour outside the city, but it's just easier to say Chicago. Trying to describe where Barton, Illinois is at is almost as pointless as actually going there. I mean, I don't even know and I'm moving there in the morning. From what my dad has been telling me though, it's a hick town in the middle of a cornfield. I'm absolutely breathless with anticipation. I wonder if they get cell phone reception.

Why leave the hustle and bustle of St. Louis for No Place, USA? Well, we're going to help sort out my grandmother's estate. She's been sick for a while and Dad says the doctor's don't expect her to last much longer. My Aunt Margaret, who lives there already, offered to put us up in the old family house, and my dad, feeling a sudden burst of family duty or whatever, agreed. If I thought I was dreading moving out there before, it was nothing compared to when my father told me about the house. Old houses mean new energies to adjust to…maybe even new spirits.

I was just getting used to the old ones.

1

"Come on, Ricki, cheer up. It's not gonna be as bad as you think," my dad said, shooting a glance over to the passenger seat where I sat moping.

"You're right," I sighed, sliding farther down into my seat. "It'll be worse."

"I'm sure it's not all farmland anymore," he said. "I mean, what I described…well…that was twenty years ago! There's bound to be a mall by now."

I sighed again and turned to look out my window. We were far away from the busy airport, having left it a few hours ago, and were driving down an empty rural road with nothing ahead of us but miles of field. Every now and then a cow would pop up out of nowhere, munching on grass and looking bored out of its mind. It would have been funny if I hadn't had the nagging suspicion that, in a few days time, I would be wearing the same expression. That made it depressing.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and mulled over what my father had just said. It wasn't the mall I was worried about; it was what was waiting for me in that house. It had taken me eight years to adjust to the ghosts that lived in our old St. Louis flat, and they hadn't been easy years either. For me, adjusting to a new spirit's energy was like trying to build up an immunity to a virus. And like a virus, until my body built up a strong enough defense I would just keep getting sick. Every time I had an encounter with a new spirit, my body would go all clammy and my stomach would churn up like I had just drank a gallons worth of spoiled milk. Afterwards, I would spend an easy two hours locked in the bathroom, puking my brains out. Those weren't my fondest childhood memories.

I turned towards my father and studied him a while. There were new lines etched in his young, handsome face, his grey eyes, my eyes, looked tired and had large dark circles underneath them, and his chestnut hair, another trait I had inherited, was flecked with quite a bit of grey. His presence was comforting, but not enough to drive the demons out of my mind. I took a deep breath and opened my mouth.

"How many do you think there are?" I asked quietly.

"What?" he asked frowning.

"Ghosts," I said bluntly.

Dad's hands slipped on the steering wheel and the car swerved dangerously. Righting it, he shot me a quick, nervous glance. Ghosts weren't Simon's favorite topic of conversation. You'd think growing up in a house full of Mediums would have desensitized him a little. It hadn't, if anything it had made him more jumpy.

"Don't be silly," he said bracingly. "Mags has lived in that house all her life and she's never seen a thing. Don't you think she'd have mentioned something? She's like you, after all."

Like me, I thought dully. I doubted anyone was "like me". I was a Medium, yes, but I was also something more, something stronger. It had something to do with my twin, Roberta. She would have been a Medium too, but she died the day we were born. Dad said he had read somewhere that a departed twin had the ability to make the living one's psychic powers especially sensitive. It had something to do with being emotionally connected to the Spirit Word, kinda like Nextel Direct Connect.

Well, my powers were certainly…enthusiastic, that was for sure. So what if Aunt Maggie couldn't pick up on any ghosts. If her powers were anything like the Mediums I had known in St. Louis, she would be like a tinfoil antenna, unreliable and fuzzy. I was HD compared to that.

Dad turned down a side road and soon I was able to see the tops of houses peeking out from between the dense trees. A quarter of a mile later, the trees thinned out into flat, open farmland that was still green with the late October crop. It looked like a postcard, with all the multicolored leaves littering the ground and great, fat orange pumpkins poking out of the green vines. It was adorable in a Charlie Brown Special type way.

The town came up fast and disappeared just as quickly. It was literally one of those "blink and you'll miss it" situations. One moment we were cruising down Main Street, passing a few shops, a grocery, the town library, the high school, and then, all of a sudden, we're back in the middle of a field. I wheeled around in my seat for a second look, convinced I had missed something.

"That was it?" I asked, still trying to find where Barton had hid the real town.

"Ok, well…maybe they haven't added a mall yet," Dad said, chuckling a little.

I failed to find the humor.

"You've moved me to Podunk, nowhere," I said, not bothering to cover up the horror in my voice. I opened the glove compartment and started sifting through the contents.

"What are you doing now?" Dad asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Trying to find a map," I said, "I need to know if they even bothered wasting ink on this place."

"I know for a fact that they didn't," he grinned, the lines around his eyes wrinkling.

I snorted. Great, I thought with disgust as we zoomed passed a another morbid looking group of cows, I'm about to spend the most important years of my life in a town that the US government hasn't even seen fit to plot on a map. Who could ask for more, really?

"I bet this place is a hit with the Feds, though," I said, leaning back in my seat again. "They can just ship all the people in the Witness Protection Program here and never have to think of them again."

We made fun of Barton the rest of the way to Aunt Maggie's house, which turned out to be about ten minutes outside of town and set at the opening of a very large wood. It was a towering Victorian painted a sickly weatherworn green, with a pointed roof and an even more pointed, spindly turret. The mammoth windows were all framed with forest green shutters, and on the left side of the house there appeared to be a screened in porch. It reminded me of something I'd seen in an Alfred Hitchcock movie once and my stomach bubbled uncertainly.

"There's Mags now," Dad said, beaming and gesturing towards the small front porch where a woman had appeared.

My first impression of her was that she looked like a walking bowling pin; very curvy at the top, thin in the middle, and round at the bottom. Her face was plump and kind, and framed by a mane of very curly chestnut hair. As we parked the car on the gravel driveway, Aunt Maggie came running off the porch, arms waving and tears streaming down her face.

"Simon!" She wailed, apparently laughing and crying at the same time. "Oh, Simon!"

Dad barely had the chance to climb out of the car before Aunt Maggie flung herself at him. Spitting her hair out of his mouth, he hugged her back, though with not nearly as much enthusiasm.

"Calm down, Mags," I heard him laugh. Then in a gentler voice, "It's good to see you. How's Mom?"

Aunt Maggie shook her bushy head sadly, "Not well. The doctors say it'll be soon now."

I watched as the good mood my Dad had been in vanished instantly. His face was suddenly wiped clean of emotion and he nodded back with the same somber air. He ran a hand through his hair, a tell tale sign that he was upset. I took the lapse in conversation to get out of the car.

"And this must be Frederica!" Aunt Maggie beamed, immediately advancing on me with outstretched arms. She apparently possessed that unsettling feminine ability to switch emotions at the drop of a hat. I think it's called Bipolar Disorder now. I could be wrong.

"It's Ricki, actually," I said as she suffocated me her hair and too much perfume.

Aunt Maggie pushed me an arm's length away and surveyed me with a wistful look.

"You look just like your daddy," she gushed.

I gave her a look. I wasn't sure being told I looked like a forty-three year old man was a compliment or not. I stole a glance at my dad. He nodded once.

"Thanks," I said, forcing a smile.

"Hey, Mags," Dad interjected before Aunt Maggie had the chance to get in any more compliments, "how about helping us get these bags inside?"

Aunt Maggie gave my shoulders a squeeze and then hurried off to the trunk to help unload. Reluctantly, I followed her.

Between the three of us, it didn't take too long to get all of our suitcases and boxes into the house. When Dad had hauled the last cardboard box over the threshold, Aunt Maggie gave us our room assignments.

"Alright," she said, hands on her hips and all business. "Simon, I've cleaned up your old room for you. If it's too small for you now, you can move into Mom and Pop's old room, but I think it'll work fine. Frederica—"

"Ricki," I corrected automatically.

"Ricki," Aunt Maggie grinned, "you get the turret room. I had some men over last week and they cleaned it up and painted it for you, they even put in new floors. And you have your own bathroom up there; it'll be like your own little apartment!"

"Great," I muttered. I caught my dad's eye. He gave me a look that said it was too early in the relationship to pull any moody teenager crap. I quickly plastered a smile on my face.

Aunt Maggie left us to drag our stuff up the stairs while she went to see about dinner, which, she informed us proudly, had been in the slow cooker since six A.M. Dad and I loaded up our arms and started the slow ascent upwards, panting under the weight of our boxes. When we reached the first landing, Dad left me. He gave me a crooked smile and jerked his head toward the ceiling.

"Have fun," he grinned, backing his way through an open door and disappearing.

Sure, tons of fun, I thought as I peered up the dimly lit staircase, I love venturing into unknown, possibly ghost infested territory. What could be more fun than that? You know, besides Chinese Water Torture or having my fingernails ripped off one by one.

Unlike the main staircase, these steps were uncarpeted and covered in a thick layer of dust. I could clearly see the tracks of the workers Aunt Maggie had mentioned. Stifling the urge to sneeze, I climbed higher, my boxes growing increasingly heavy. On top of that, my heart was hammering in my chest. Aunt Maggie had to have given me the most isolated room in the entire house. I half expected to see a ghost pop out any second, although I knew spirits were generally too dignified for anything as campy as "popping".

Just when I thought it would never end, the stairs spiraled once and I came face to face with a door. Adjusting the boxes in my arms, I shoved the door open with my hip. Taking a deep breath and silently hoping nothing was waiting in there to greet me, I took a step inside.

The curtains were pulled and the room was almost black. From what I could see from the light of the hallway, the turret room was large and circular. The wall opposite the door was all windows, and underneath them sat a long cushioned seat. To the left of the door was a tall oak dresser and another door I assumed led to the bathroom. To the right was a double bed covered in a very fluffy looking quilt. I set my boxes down on it and went to pull open the curtains.

The room was instantly filled with light and more of it (a happily ghost free more) came into view. I sighed in relief and looked around. The walls had been painted a light lilac and someone, probably Aunt Maggie, had stenciled pastel pink roses near the ceiling. The shelves on the walls were loaded with painted glass figurines, all of which leered at me unpleasantly. And where there weren't shelves, there were cutesy paintings, the kinds that showed kittens popping out of hatboxes or little girls trying on clothes that are ten times too big for them. I wrinkled up my nose at a particularly horrendous picture of a bunny and crossed back to the bed.

I unzipped my suitcase and started taking out my things. I really didn't have much. There was my laptop and a couple of books, but I had mostly brought clothes with me. It was probably for the best that most of my possessions had found their way to a Goodwill before the move, Aunt Maggie and her knickknacks hadn't really left me much shelf space. I loaded up my arms with clothes and took the pile over to my dresser.

I stopped dead mid-stride. My skin prickled and my whole body went tense. Something had creaked; I had definitely heard a creak. I strained my ears for several seconds, trying to hear more and fearing that I would. Nothing happened. The Goosebumps on my arms subsided, I heaved a sigh and yanked open a drawer.

I was halfway through filling up my dresser with underpants when Dad rapped on my door.

"Hey kiddo, good news," he said, taking a few steps inside and looking around (I noticed him grimace when he saw the bunny picture), "your aunt managed to ruin dinner so we're going out."

"Oh, is it still hunting season?" I asked, stuffing socks in a drawer.

"I was thinking more along the lines of burgers," Dad remarked.

"Sold," I said. I slammed the dresser shut and followed him out.

Aunt Maggie was waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs looking extremely disappointed. She started to sputter an apology when she saw us but Dad, who apparently had already heard her sob story, more or less told her to can it. She didn't speak again until we were cruising back into town.

"You remember how to get there, don't you?" Aunt Maggie asked stiffly, shooting an irritated glace towards Dad.

"'Course I do," he muttered.

"I didn't see a restaurant when we came in," I said from the backseat.

Aunt Maggie looked at me in the rearview mirror.

"It's not on Main Street," she said. "It's kind of a local secret, really."

I snorted at that. In a town this size, I seriously doubted anyone had secrets.

Dad turned off the main road once we reached "downtown" and onto a side street. We passed a couple of houses, all of which looked similar to Aunt Maggie's, and then pulled into the parking lot of a small, old fashioned diner. There were a surprising amount of cars in the lot and through the big windows you could see customers and waitresses jammed inside. A bright neon sign above the door flashed "Eddie's". It didn't look so bad.

Inside was noisy and cramped and smelled like hot oil. A waitress with hair taller than she was seated us in a booth near the bar and then disappeared, presumably to get drinks. Dad passed out the greasy menus she left. Aunt Maggie took hers bitterly.

"I promise I'll do a better job tomorrow," Aunt Maggie said from behind her menu. "I'm really not a bad cook."

I saw Dad roll his eyes.

"Mags, it's ok, nobody's mad at you."

"I know, Simon, I just wanted to make tonight special for you two," she whined.

"It's special, trust me."

"You're lying, I know you're lying." Aunt Maggie's grip tightened on the menu.

"Maggie, stop it," Dad said, lowering his menu.

"This is a very stressful time for me, Simon," she said sharply, setting hers down altogether.

"It's a stressful time for all of us," he snapped.

I sank down lower in my seat. We weren't in town three hours and already I was being embarrassed. It had to be some kind of record.

"You haven't been here the whole time," Aunt Maggie continued, a slightly hysteric edge to her voice.

"I'm not playing the blame card right now, Margaret," Dad said warningly.

"I'm just saying—"

"Water?"

I snapped my head out of my menu. A boy was hovering near the edge of our table, a water pitcher clutched firmly in his hand and a look of complete apathy on his face. For a moment I blinked at him, not because his question was terribly difficult, but because he looked so out of place. In a room filled with farmers, Prom Queen Has-beens, and blue haired old ladies, this kid stood out like a sore thumb. His jeans had holes in them, and under his dirty apron I could see what was clearly a Megadeth t-shirt. His jet black hair looked like someone had gone to town on it with hedge trimmers, and there was a piece over his right eye that hung longer than all the others. His ears, nose, and eyebrow were pierced, and around his eyes he had a thick coating of eyeliner. Guy-liner I believe is the technical term.

On top of all that, he was incredibly hot.

"Water?" He repeated slowly, looking at me like I was mentally challenged. "Agua?"

"Yeah, sure," I said quickly, trying to hold onto whatever credit I still had with this guy.

I shoved my glass toward him and smiled. He gave me a look that said he could read right through me and sloshed some water in my cup. Then he filled up the other's glasses and shuffled broodingly to the next table.

"Lovely young man," Aunt Maggie mumbled, examining her water like she suspected him of poisoning it. "Do you think he had enough holes in his face?"

I smirked and turned in my seat to look at him again. Aunt Maggie might have had a point about the piercings, but he had a nice butt.

Our waitress returned after that and we ordered our food. I was thankful that eating made it impossible for Aunt Maggie and Dad to continue arguing, and the rest of the dinner passed in peace. Every now and then, the piercings kid would return and fill up our water glasses. I tried to smile at him but eventually gave up. He either really didn't give a crap about impressing anybody, or he was baked. After watching him coast apathetically around the restaurant for a few more minutes, I decided on baked.

We finished our dinner and the tall-haired waitress brought us our check. Dad scooped it up before Aunt Maggie had a chance to pounce on it. She scowled at him but said nothing, merely gathered up her purse and headed for the door. Through the window, we watched her stalk across the parking lot and lean against the car, arms crossed, apparently waiting for us. Dad sighed.

"I may kill your aunt," he said as we slid out of the booth. "If you hear screaming tonight, just roll over and ignore it, ok?"

"Sure," I said, smiling.

"Let's pay for this and go."

As I stood waiting for Dad to pay at the register, the piercings kid drifted by again. When he caught sight of me he stopped what he was doing and stared. I stared back. The boy didn't move, didn't even blink, he just kept his eyes glued to mine. I started to feel uncomfortable; it was like he was trying to read my soul.

I heard the register being shoved closed and felt my dad's presence moving away. I followed him out.

When I looked back, the kid was still staring.