Ghosts exist, and they’re absolutely fantastic.
It was difficult for me to raise Johnny by myself, and he struggled at school. He had severe dyslexia and was often picked on by the others in his class. Can you imagine? Eight year old kids, tormenting my son because he couldn’t read?
It just went on and on and on. With no end.
But it all changed in February.
It had been raining, and the rain wouldn’t stopped. The final grasp of Winter leaving a mark on a world slowly blooming into Spring. We live in a part of the rural countryside where you notice these things.
I wish I lived closer to town, so my Johnny might have more people to talked to. If he could talk and chat and argue, maybe he’d be better with words and sounds.
But out here? Alone?
Sometimes I’ll be reading “The Cat in The Hat” to him and he laughs at the funny parts with the silly goldfish and Thing One and Thing Two but I ask him to read parts back and it breaks my heart. The funny goldfish becomes Johnny getting upset over pronouncing Gawl and Gorl and Gal, unable to find the “fuh fuh fuh” or even the “fih fih fih” as I try to get him to keep reading aloud. “Thu” “Thu “Thi” “Thu”
And I say “Thing.”
And Johnny tries the next part:
“Wu” “Ohh” “Ohnnnn” And he’d trying to pronounce the “O” as “Oh” or as “Zero” or as “Augh” and he can’t seem to get the “Wuh” sound of “One”
And then he throws the book down in disgust. And then it’s my turn to get upset as this world of fun and laughter becomes hell. A pure slog through trying to get these horrible symbols and ciphers to match up with the excitement of a funny cat with the talking goldfish and flying kites and making mess.
And I kiss him on the forehead and tuck him in and turn out the light as we both give up on trying to work out how we’re going wrong.
And sometimes I sob in the hallway and wish Ted was alive to read to him.
But he’s not.
And then I’d go to bed.
So as I’ve said, it had been raining.
I was popping into the local library in order to rent out a DVD that Johnny had wanted to watch for a while, about some hamsters that are superheroes or something funny like that, and he wandered off.
We weren’t in there for books, just the DVD rental. We didn’t exactly have much money and this old library had a rental programme where you could take a DVD out for four days and then bring it back within that timeframe.
That’s how far we were up in the sticks. Plenty of rickety libraries built in the 1700’s. Not a single HMV.
When you lose your son, either in a library or a supermarket or a school fair, your heart starts to pound. I remember noticing he wasn’t standing by my leg and remember the sudden rush of adrenalin. Was he next to the history section we just walked past? No. Was he next to the leaflet stand? No. The information kiosk where a bored fifteen year old girl is staring at her phone and chewing gum? No, no and no!
And so I’m frantically running around this library, yelling for Johnny at the top of my lungs.
I cover both floors and have almost given up, when I hear him talking down a section of Science Fiction.
“Mum, this is a library. You can’t yell.”
And I turned the corner to see my son lying on the carpeted floor. And in his hands was a copy of Slaughterhouse-5.
“What are you reading?”
Johnny looks up. And there’s a look on his face as if he’s heard the dumbest question ever.
He lifts the book.
And he says it. The whole word, completely Germanic pronunciation. And this morning he struggled to read “Cornflakes” off of the Frosties box.
“How are you doing that?”
“How are you reading?”
“Oh, he’s helping me with the words.”
There’s a sudden flicker in the air.
I can make out something faint near him.
With glowing red eyes.
I grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the door. He protested and cried, but I kept going. It was reactive. Something bad was in that library.
He sulked around the house for weeks afterwards.
When half term rolled around and he had four days alone, at home, I couldn’t take it anymore.
And I took him back to the library.
It’s hard dealing with a bored and agitated child with nothing to do and the option to perhaps get him a few DVD’s to while away the hours whilst simultaneously weighing up the possibility that he might get attacked by a demonic spectre.
In the end, I picked the more sensible option.
We got to the library at 9am on Sunday and the reasonable part of brain told me about how the parking would be easy, we wouldn’t get stuck in traffic and we wouldn’t need to worry about getting a parking ticket. All of this happened whilst the more unreasonable parts of my brain whirled away, wondering if maybe the ghost was asleep, wondering if ghosts did sleep, wondering why a ghost had taken an interest in my child and wondering if I was slowly slipping into madness.
I let Johnny wander off. Maybe curiosity got the better of me. Awful for me to admit as a parent, but there you go. None of us are perfect.
I started chatting to the librarian, a mousy woman. Until she opened her mouth.
“Erin, how many times!? Nature is next to Geology and World History is next to Archaeology. How many damn times?”
Not so mousy.
“Can I help you?”
Maybe I was taken aback by her abrupt tone, maybe I was starting to worry that letting Johnny wander the library wasn’t the best idea, but the question just came out.
“Is there a ghost in this library?”
“A ghost. In this library.”
“Oh yes, Him. Moved in two years ago. Bugger keeps rearranging the books on hiking with the books on botany and thinks we don’t notice. We’ve taken to calling him Ernest.”
“Wait, there’s actually a ghost?”
“Yes, who won’t stop moving my books.”
“And his name’s Ernest?”
“That’s concerning to you?”
“It’s not a very-
I stopped, wondering how to explain.
“It’s not a very ghosty name.” I finished.
“And what would you name a ghost?”
“I don’t know.”
The librarian gave me a look to indicate that she was finished speaking and flounced off to scold three children who were playing catch with beanbag chairs in the young adult section.
All three children seemed to shrink back.
I didn’t wait around to listen, and went to go and find Johnny.
He was upstairs, standing around in the biography section. He stood, transfixed, as books on Caesar, Martin Luther King, Cleopatra, Lincoln and Samuel Johnson floated around his head. He was reading the books as they flapped and flittered in the air like gigantic colourful butterflies. He smiled as he murmured along to the words.
My initial reaction wasn’t fear. It was irritation. I’ve raised him not to talk to other people he doesn’t know, so he starts chatting to a ghost. That’s typically Johnny behaviour. Heck, that’s typical kid behaviour. You tell them not to do something, they find a loophole.
“Johnathan Marcus Fisk, what do you think you’re doing?”
The books dropped to the floor in a clutter and I sensed something drift away. I couldn’t see the ghost, but I could feel it nearby. Watching me. And, to be frank, I was quite angry with it for interacting with my child without my permission.
Maybe I felt a little twang of jealousy as well. Odd, I know.
And I took him home again, after taking one or two books from the children’s section.
And he read them. By god, he read them.
I helped him with a few of the more difficult words with lots of syllables, but we managed to do it.
I was happy.
For a while.
The visits to the library became more frequent as he quickly devoured book after book after book. He became a voracious reader. In fact, I only know what that word means because he told me over the kitchen table.
He became so relaxed at school, being the first one to read out loud for the class whenever he could.
He wasn’t bullied, his grades improved and he turned into a version of Johnny I so vaguely remembered from before.
Quietly confident. Self-assured. Happy.
And then one day, the exorcist came to the library. Someone made a complaint about the presence in the library. Some irritating Mumsnet user who owned a mansion in the city and said the place was giving her “negative vibes”.
And she got her way, mostly through convincing the local council that she’d pay for the priest herself and that it would incur no cost to the library.
With that, the council insisted that the library do it “for a bit of a laugh” and sent them an e-mail asking for photos, a few statements and a short video of the event and hinted that they’d raise their funding.
And so it was agreed.
So I turned up one day, with Johnny, and we go in.
No apparition. I let Johnny wander the library. I even go outside, just in case. I smoke a cigarette in the parking lot, thinking about my son and the bizarreness of the situation. That I’m standing outside of a library. In case I scare a ghost away.
Johnny comes out in tears, about five minutes later,yelling that he can’t find his friend.
And then I go in and we look together, and then the mousy librarian broke the news.
I wish she’d been as fierce as she had been when we first met her when she was telling my son he was gone.
But she hadn’t.
It was heartbreaking.
Four weeks later, we get a call from the library. There’d been a new selection of movies delivered in, and that we were being notified over the phone because of our regular attendance at the library.
In truth, we’d only been back twice and Johnny seemed to have fallen out of love with books. But we dutifully got in the car and travelled back to the library, hoping to maybe get something to distract ourselves for a while.
Things were slipping a little at home, and sometimes a movie can help, even if just for a little bit.
We got the shock of our lives when we went inside.
“You can go back to filing now.” said the librarian. “But take fifteen more minutes on your lunch break.”
The hooded figure nodded happily and bobbed off.
“Erin’s mother is a Wiccan and she managed to rummage around in her house. Find a few old bits and bobs for incantation spells. She’s actually quite a clever girl.”
The librarian smiled.
The librarian gestured to a cleaning closet.
It wasn’t that spacious, but enough for a circle of five chairs, a handful of candles and a few runes.
The ghost was flickering in the air, looking angsty.
Johnny cried out in happiness as he grabbed handfuls of colourful books from the shelves and spent the afternoon in a small cleaning cupboard.
It’s been a few years, and now he’s a teenager. But he still goes back. And a few of his friends. The boys and girls who meet in a cleaning cupboard and read, write and laugh together.
I visited Ted’s grave last week. It’s a neat one, nice and square. Some of the other ones look weird or garish. Ted’s is nice. He died in a car crash when Johnny was just six.
I like to stand near and just talk to the wind. The things I’ve done, the things that Johnny did, the news for the week.
And there’s not the same presence I feel in the library.
Maybe he’s not here. And is somewhere else instead.
And I think I know where he is.
He turns to go.
“You can’t read one more with me?”
Ted smiles down at his son.
“Not tonight. I’ve got a long drive in the morning.”
“When are you coming back?”
“Two days. Dad has to work. Otherwise we won’t have money.”
“Too long.” says Johnny, pouting. “Not allowed.”
“I’ll be back to read to you.”
“Really? How long for?”
“As long as you want.”
And Ted shut the door. And later, Johnny would fall asleep, safe in the knowledge of his father’s promise.
Charlie Chitty is a writer from Cheltenham, UK, who has had five stories published over at Terror House Magazine and has a website over at charliechitty.com