Of course I was wrong. When Papa came home the first thing we did was tell him what happened in the bedroom — with a few exclusions regarding Sage — and he just shook it off.
“How do you not believe me?” I ask angrily.
“Because it’s not possible,” Papa answers stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Oh, you got me, we made it all up. I even had Marisol bite me for a special effect,” I retort, causing Papa to get red in the face.
“You know the girls wouldn’t lie to us,” Mama calmly responds, pretending that I hadn’t spoken.
“I’m not saying they did, Ana. All I’m saying is that ghosts aren’t real. There is no heaven and there is no hell. When we die, we’re dead, we’re worm food, and we no longer exist.”
“But Papa, who says there isn’t another alternative? Scientist can’t even explain away everything. They can’t even agree on how the world was created, how we were created. The thing is we don’t know all the answers. Anything is possible.”
“So now you’re religious all of a sudden?”
“I’m just saying that maybe there is a higher power, that God does exist, and so do spirits.”
“Let me ask you something.”
“What does your boyfriend believe in?”
“What does your —?”
“What does that matter?”
“Can’t you just answer the question?”
“He doesn’t have a religion.…”
“So he doesn’t believe in God?”
Lie, lie, lie.
“He does.” Damn it, why didn’t I lie?
“Ah-hah! I knew it.”
“He has nothing to do with this.”
“Oh, he doesn’t?”
“I knew that boy was a bad —”
“— influence? I’m not being influenced by anybody! You know what, scratch that, I have been influenced by George!” I show him my arm; I unwrap the bandage so that he can see the teeth marks. He brushes his fingers along it.
“Ow! I tell you it hurts and you touch it?”
“Sorry, but I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t see a bite mark. All I see is a red scab.”
“What? No way. No freaking way!” In place of the individual teeth marks is a crescent shaped scab which looks like it could be a bite mark, but could have been made by something else.
“What do you guys want to eat?” Papa asks as we cross the street, making our way to Moo Burger. Papa’s taking us out for a treat to get our minds off of home. It’s Papa’s way of humoring us. He even let us bring Trevor who we left in the van with the windows down.
“A cheeseburger, small fries, and a chocolate shake.”
“Me too please,” Marisol says.
“I’m getting the same, except I want a strawberry shake,” Mama replies.
We walk over to the dining area.
“Why don’t you guys go find us a seat?” Papa says. “Wait,” Papa says, stopping me. “Actually, I’m going to need you to order what you want on the burger, I’m not going to remember.”
We walk up to the counter.
“How can I — Mar?”
“Sage, you work here?”
“Funny, I was just going to call you.”
“Ahem,” Papa clears his throat.
“It’s Sage, Papa,” I whisper.
“Whatever,” Papa answers curtly, discarding the rules of proper etiquette. “I’d like to order now, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course, go ahead sir.”
Sage takes his order.
“What time is your break?” I ask. A small line is beginning to form.
“It’s not for like another two hours.”
“It can wait.”
Sage brings us our meal. “Here are your orders.”
“Sage, I didn’t know you worked here. How are you?” Mama asks.
“Hi.” Marisol gives a slight wave.
“I’m fine ma’am —”
“Sage, it escalated,” I say, interrupting him.
“Don’t you think we might wanna talk about this in private?” he whispers as he hands me my milkshake.
They all give a terse nod.
“Turns out Casper the friendly ghost isn’t all that friendly,” Papa chimes in; not taking any of this seriously.
“Everything?” Sage asks a little nervously.
“Mostly.” Papa shoots me a look and I just shrug my shoulders. “Mama will tell you later.”
“Sage!” a voice behind us calls out.
“Be there in a minute.”
“Go, we don’t want you to get into trouble,” Mama says.
“I need you to come over later so we can talk. What time are you off?”
“I’m off at eleven, I’ll be there A.S.A.P.”
“Everybody pile in,” Papa says as we jump into the van. I buckle Marisol up and then myself. Papa starts the van. I feed Trevor the burger we bought him and let him lap water out of a courtesy cup.
Timidly, I step out of the van towards the house. My feet feel like cinder blocks, the only thing guiding me towards the house is Mama pushing on my back forcing me to move forward.
Papa pulls out his keys and opens the front door.
“What the f**k?” Papa half says under his breath as we enter the hallway. Someone had a tantrum. A family portrait is smashed on the floor just inside the door alongside the antique vase; all the fresh flowers that were in it are dried up and dead. How is that even possible?
“Quick, quietly go back to the van. I think we’ve been burglarized.”
“No, Papa. Look.”
Blood-colored, child size handprints are visible along the walls around three feet high. Ha! Finally real evidence! Marisol walks into the house and over to the wall before Papa can stop her. She places her hands next to the hand prints. The prints on the wall are larger than hers.
“Do you believe me now?” I ask Papa. He doesn’t answer but walks over to where Marisol is at to get a better look. I repeat the question. The only answer he can muster up is a dull, Uh-huh.
They wait for me as I close the front door; locking us in this house of horrors. We then carefully make our way into the living room, being extra careful not to step on any shards of glass. The living room seems to have taken the worst of the hit.
Stuffing is scattered across the room, the majority dislodged from the torn couch cushions. The couch has been knocked over. The curtains give the impression of having been put through a tree chipper. The photos that once hung on the walls are littered across the floor with every glass cover bashed in. The flat screen TV looks like someone took a bat to it; now it’s personal. Sticking out from under the couch is one of the coffee table’s legs, lying underneath that is a corner of rough gray nylon. No, no, no. I grasp the armrest of the couch and I hoist it off of the table. I swiftly flip over the table. My laptop! My laptop bag has been annihilated; torn to shreds. I rub the loose fabric between my fingers. “Where’s my laptop?”
“I’m sorry, Mar. It’s got to be around here somewhere,” Papa says, his hand on my shoulder. He gives me a pat on the shoulder before walking away. I throw down the shredded fabric, not wanting to look at it for a moment longer. That’s when I see my laptop poking out from under the couch. I pick it up and there is a big crack in one of the corners. I open it up and push the power button — ironically, saying a little prayer. It works! Thank God.
“It’s getting late and everybody’s exhausted, so there is no point of cleaning the whole house tonight. We better just scavenge up some blankets and flashlights etc. and camp out here in the living room together,” Papa announces.
We all get to work. We’re using the buddy system, i.e. either Mama or Papa has to accompany Marisol and I at all times. Even if you have to use the bathroom you must bring a buddy; that part is a little awkward, but hey it’s a lot more awkward to be found half-drowned in a bathtub naked. As we walk through the house it looks like a robbery had taken place; every drawer is open, beds are turned over, and clothes are thrown carelessly all over the bedrooms.
Minutes later … we head back into the living room with our necessities. On my way back down the hall carrying supplies I stub my toe. I look down and see an open can of red paint. “At least that’s not blood on the walls,” I tell Mama.
We were able to scavenge a few flashlights, batteries, and bedding. We pile them in a corner as we get to work clearing the debris so that the living room will actually be inhabitable again.
Piles upon piles of trash are gathered into heavy duty garbage bags outside and what we couldn’t fit into the trash bins are encircled around them. Our mattresses Papa carried down are strewn across the now clean and swept floor. Marisol is sleeping on the couch. I’m just counting the minutes until Sage gets off work. He should be off in an hour.
Mama and Papa are still cleaning up as I fire up my laptop and search for information. I type in: how to get rid of an angry ghost. About six million two hundred seventy thousand results pop up. Great, this may take a while.
The first site I look up explains it is all about the negative energy that has been brought into the house. Really, this is all my fault; next. Okay, this one says to meditate on a positive energy force field surrounding the house. Yeah, and Papa’s gonna have us all sit in a circle, holding hands, singing Kumbaya and we’ll watch George, the unholy ghost, skip into the bright light. Get real. Maybe there is something to the negativity theory. No, what about the previous family. I’m really getting flustered trying to figure out what we’re going to do about George. We can’t just sleep in the living room together forever. We have to do something. More research. Number one answer: Move! Not an option. Other solutions: call a priest/pastor, Wiccan, Medicine Man, Psychic/Medium, use crystals, sea salt, holy water, smudge different herbs, etc… etc… etc…. Aaaaaahhhhh!! I’m not feeling very positive. Where is Sage?
An hour or so later we hear a knock on the door causing everybody to jump. I check the time on my phone, it’s eleven-thirty. It must be Sage. We all get up and go to the front door. Papa looks out the eyehole, his fingers speedily unlock the door.
“Evening sir, ma’am. Mar,” Sage says politely.
“Come on in,” Mama says. Sage lets out a low whistle as he sees the handprints on the wall.
“If you think that’s bad wait until you hear about what happened to me.” I fill him in.
“What’s with you and crawling under people’s skin? Even the dead,” he lightly laughs. His remark doesn’t deserve an answer. “Luckily for you, I found some people that might help ya’ll out. I was listening to a paranormal talk show on my way over here and I just so happened to get a website for a paranormal group that travels all over Texas.”
“That’s great, Sage,” I say as I clap my hands together. My slight irritation passes. I am so happy I could kiss him. I would if Papa wasn’t in the room. This buddy system thing is beginning to backfire.
“You should have led with that, buddy,” Papa says, slapping him hard on the back.
“We appreciate you helping us,” Mama says.
“I’m glad that I can help, ma’am.”
We head into the living room to look up the website.
“Time to get down to business,” Sage says, closing a website which explains how ghosts gain power from fear. I guess George is getting pretty powerful.
“So Sage, does your parents mind you being here?” Mama asks with her motherly concern.
“Definitely not, I already had permission to spend the night at my friend Cameron’s house. My parents really don’t keep track of me unless they need me to watch my little bro, and Oscar is sleeping at a friend’s house. Sometimes he stays there two or three nights in a row. My parents are probably glad that they have the house to themselves for a spell.”
“In that case, then why don’t you stay the night over here?” Mama offers. “We have a packet of unused toothbrushes and Wally would be more than happy to let you borrow some of his pajamas. The couch may be too small for you, but there’s a spare sleeping bag upstairs in our closet and we have plenty of pillows. Right, Wally?” I wait eagerly for Papa’s response. This should be entertaining.
“No problem.” My jaw drops to my chest. I close it quickly before Sage or my parents notice. What? I study Papa’s face. This must be a trick of some kind. I study Sage’s face. He seems to be thinking the same thing. Again, I examine Papa’s expression. He looks dead serious, but there is an underlying expression that I can’t put my finger on.
“Are you sure?” Sage stammers out. “I wouldn’t want to put ya’ll out.”
“Positive. You are welcome anytime in this house,” Mama assures him earnestly.
“So what’s it going to be?” Papa asks almost eagerly. What? I am so confused right now, it’s not even funny.
“I — okay,” Sage says unsure. “Thank you.”
I whip my head towards Papa. His expression reads … relief? Why would he be relieved? When the realization hits me, I hardly have the self-control to keep from laughing out loud. O.M.G. No, that can’t be. But his expression is undeniable. Papa wants another guy in the house because he doesn’t know how to deal with this problem. He’s scared. Compared to all of us who don’t know zip about ghosts, Sage is the expert.
This new proposal distracts me from the stress of our current ordeal. Sage is sleeping over! Yes! I guess it would be too much to hope for that he’ll be able to sleep beside me. Papa would never allow it. He’ll probably do something embarrassing like make Sage sleep next to him.
Sage types in the website. He has to nudge me to bring me back from staring into space. I hope no one else noticed. Naturally Mama does. She flashes me a huge smile from behind Papa’s back. A page shows up that reads; The Visionaries: Paranormal investigators. They are based in Austin. On their webpage is a picture of a group of people. Their names and occupations are listed below the pictures. There are five members of the group. The group leader is a Clairvoyant/Medium.
“Their page reads that they’ll be in Austin on Saturday.”
“What’s today?” I ask.
“Friday,” Sage answers. “They’re gonna be making an appearance at the Bluebonnet Hotel. They’re giving a presentation on famous haunted places in Texas, promoting their new book.”
“We can totally go!” I say.
“Type in the address and get directions!” Papa says, ecstatically. Sage’s fingers fly across the keyboard.
“Four hours and fifteen minutes away.”
“What time will they be there?” Papa asks while he strokes his chin pensively.
“It starts at five.”
“I don’t want to be in this house any longer than we need to be. Here’s my idea. What do you guys say about getting up at eight, that way we can spend the rest of the day checking out the area?”
“Sounds great,” Mama says.
“I’m in,” Sage says.
Mama is about to open her mouth but Sage beats her to the punch.
“I’ll call my parents tomorrow.”
“We better hunker down and get some sleep. It’s going to be a long night,” Papa says. “But first we better pack some extra clothing. I think we should sleep in our regular clothing in case something happens.”
We all take turns in the downstairs bathroom, getting ready for bed. Returning from the bathroom, I notice Papa is “Packing ”. He lays his shotgun next to his mattress. Is that for the ghost or to ruffle Sage?
“I told him it wouldn’t do any good,” Mama says, catching my eye.
“It just makes me feel better,” Papa responds. “Besides, this way I know Casper doesn’t have it.”
I make up my bed on the floor and crawl in fully clothed. Marisol is going to sleep in between Mama and Papa for the night. The day really had taken its toll on her. Trevor’s snuggled in her arms. Mama and Papa had moved the couch back into a corner so we have visual of the hall and so that they have room for their mattress. Sage, who has just returned from the bathroom, grabs his sleeping bag and starts to look around trying to figure out where to sleep. I pat the empty space next to me. He gives me a nervous smile and looks away catching Papa’s eye; who points to the far corner of the living room. No harm in trying. Papa is so annoying sometimes. Is this some kind of I-know-how-boys-think-at-that-age thing or is he just trying to humiliate me?
I glare at Papa who returns my glare with a smirk as he gets settled for bed. It’s a humiliation thing, totally. This isn’t over old man! Pretty soon you’ll be sleeping and then Sage could make his move.
“You don’t have to lay over there, come over here,” Mama says as she waves him over. Yes. Please.
“Thank you, ma’am, but I’m fine here.” Damn.
“No really, you’re so isolated over there,” Mama persists.
“Yeah, Sage, why don’t you come over here?” Papa pats the space next to him. He sounds inviting, but you can see the threat behind his eyes.
“No really, sir. I’m fine.”
“No really, I insist,” he says with mock politeness.
“Thank you sir, but this looks like a good spot.” Sage lays his sleeping bag down, throws the pillow on top of it, and lies down; all before Mama can make a third objection.
“As you wish,” Papa says. He suppresses a smirk. Mama is about to protest, but Papa cuts her off. “Mama, let him stay there. That’s where he wants to sleep,” he says with a devious twinkle in his eye. It’s light enough in here that Mama catches it. She rolls her eyes before turning over.
Everyone exchanges good nights except for me.
“Marimar, aren’t you going to wish me a good night?” Papa asks. I already gave him a kiss good night before I laid down, he’s just trying to annoy me. Silence or acknowledgement there is no way that I can’t give him satisfaction.
“Marimar did you —?”
“I heard you,” I mumble, cutting him off before I pull the sheets over my head. My cheeks are so red that I bet Sage can see them glow, even under here in total darkness.
Desperately, I try to stay awake despite the sandman’s attempts. But the spinning sensation of my mattress is so relaxing.… Stay awake! I demand of myself as I fight against its soothing lull. I have to stay awake. But it’s so hard. It’s like I’m drunk or something. I feel kind of out of it. George wants me to fall asleep and I am not going to fall prey to him. By circumstance I’m forced to suffer in silence underneath the covers.
George. Just thinking his name causes me to quiver. I stop thinking and start to listen for any irregular noise that only he could be responsible for. “Whew,” I exhale, nothing. All of a sudden I’m struck by a terrifying thought, Can George read my mind? That harmless thought causes me to become unhinged.
Soon all I can see behind my eyelids is an image of George as a twisted little demon child biting into my arm, although I saw nothing at the time. My heart is starting to beat faster and I’m starting to sweat. The air under my blanket is becoming stale, stifling. I get to the point where I feel like I’ll pass out if I don’t get a breath of fresh air through my lungs. Of course, this causes new chilling thoughts with problems all of their own. If I move will that catch his attention? If I make a sound, would that cause him to come out of the shadows? He’s got to be still pissed about earlier and by the fact that we’re attempting to take actions to remove him from the house. I would be.
You’re going to pay for this, he threatened through Sunshine. How exactly am I going to pay for it I wonder. If he was going to try something now would be the time, everyone’s asleep. The snores surrounding me confirm my fear. Wait, I’m not hearing any snoring coming from Sage’s corner; maybe Sage is awake or maybe he doesn’t snore. I hope he isn’t a heavy sleeper like everyone in my family. I’m going to at least need one person to hear my cries for help. I bet Trevor will come and help me, unless George decides to take him out of the picture first.
I lay rigidly still to the point where my muscles start to tense up and begin to cramp. I try to quiet my breathing using the techniques Papa drilled into me, but the air is so dense that I can’t. I’m breathing too loud. He has to have heard me by now. He’s coming for me. I just know it. I can’t handle it any longer.
I snap. I begin to pant. Oh no, he’s getting closer. The floorboards are starting to creak and I’m hearing heavy footsteps. Trevor begins quietly growling. My heart is pounding so hard that I’m surprised it hasn’t given out. I can just make out the sound of Papa snoring. That’s just what he wants. If he wants nobody awake, than asleep they will stay. He’ll probably smother me with my sheets.
I try to cry out, but I find that my vocal chords are blocked. I decide to reach for the flashlight I laid beside me in hopes that if I shine the light in their eyes it will startle them awake. When I do I come to the realization that I can’t feel my arms. I try to wiggle my fingers but those aren’t working either. I can’t even turn my head. My heart sinks as the comprehension that I am paralyzed hits me.
The barely audible footsteps stop right in front of me. I lie here helpless, waiting. I can hear his low breathy chuckle as he stands there watching me for a moment before he makes his move. I feel my mattress sink as George steps onto it; I feel him creep over to me. Trevor’s growling becomes louder as he crawls on top of me. My chest compresses as he mounts me. His weight is making it so unbearably hard to breathe that my breaths come out as wheezes. The sheets block out all air as he presses down on it, covering my nose and mouth with enough force that I can feel my pillow sinking down into my mattress. I guess, subconsciously, I knew that this was coming. I should be grateful that he’s giving me an easy out. This scenario could have been far worse; he could have chosen a more tortuous ending.
I fight hard to break away from this immobilizing paralysis. I can feel my spirit thrash around inside of its trapped vessel, trying hard to break free. Within moments his weight is lifted off of me, and I begin to regain control of my head. I move my head side to side, managing to lift the sheets up a little allowing in fresh air. The air is refreshing to my lungs.
More air is allowed in as my sheets are being pulled off of my head by an invisible hand. This is worse. He’s going to drag me out of my bed to God knows where and do God knows what to me! I close my eyes. I can’t watch.
Wakeup! Wakeup! Please, wakeup! I beg of the others. All the fight has left my body. I’m too tired and exhausted to fight. There’s no point.
I feel hands grab me; I can feel his body hovering over me. A surge of energy flows through my body, and despite my exhaustion, my fight is back. “No,” I whimper breathlessly as I thrash in the air. I jab at the air but my fingers hit something solid, warm; skin. I open my eyes as my fists are caught by two large, warm hands. The moon’s light is now streaming through the glass window and allows me to see the glow of the eyes hovering over me.
The eyes that stare back into mine are warm, safe, hazel. Relieved, I throw my arms around Sage, pulling him down to my level and I blubber on his shoulder like a baby.
“Shh,” he says as he rubs my back with one hand and strokes my hair in a soothing motion with the other. I’m pretty sure my prides going to be sore tomorrow about this, but the fact that George’s body could have enveloped me instead of Sage’s safe embrace makes me rejoice in this moment. Strangely, Trevor is still growling like he has rabies.
“Shut up, Trevor!” I snap, tacitly, trying not to wake my parents now that I’m safe in Sage’s arms. “Bad dog!” I say a little louder. He doesn’t listen. He’s acting like Sage is hurting me. Papa trained him well. “Just ignore him.”
“What’s the matter?” he whispers in my ear. “I heard your dog growling, so I came to check on you.”
He unwraps me from my constraints and draws me onto his lap, wrapping his arms protectively around me. My body conforms to his. He sways back and forth. This simple gesture reminds me of how I’d pull Marisol onto my lap when she’s crying. Shame waves over me at the thought. Overcome by embarrassment I shield my face away from his sympathetic eyes by burrowing my face into his chest. My hands slide down to his chest and I clutch at the soft cotton fabric. My tears cool my skin before being sopped up by his cotton shirt. It takes me a moment to clear my throat so that I can answer.
“Him,” I answer with a broken whisper, too afraid to call out the Specter by its name. My answer was too softly spoken, because he asks me to repeat myself. “Him,” I say a little louder.
“Don’t worry, I got you. I’m not going anywhere,” he murmurs gently in my ear. “You’re safe with me.” He kisses the top of my head. “I won’t let anything hurt you.” His words are the most intimate ever spoken to me.
We stay like this for a while, even after my tears run dry. Sage rubs my arm with long strokes, not releasing his other arm from around my waist. He slips his hand down onto one of mine, covering it. He coaxes my hand to release the tight hold I have on his shirt. He brings my hand to his face and strokes his cheek with the back of it; our fingers interlocked, he sweeps it down his jaw and brings it to his lips for a kiss.
“Nightmare?” he whispers in my ear. I shake my head no. It’s not like I’m lying. I’m just not exactly sure of what just occurred. “Then what happened?”
“I couldn’t sleep.” My voice comes out slightly muffled. I turn my face a little bit so that my speech is unaffected. “All I could think about was him.”
“I got to tell you, I’m disappointed. I was kinda hoping you were thinking about me. I was thinkin’ about you.” The thought makes me smile. Now that my initial fear is gone, I am fully able to appreciate this moment. I can feel his body heat radiating through his shirt; the tightness of his muscles against my body. All I can think about is him. My thoughts are running wild. It’s like I’m not in control of my mind.
I break my face away from the damp fabric sticking to his chest. I gaze up at him. His tender look shoots me with a bolt of electricity. My heart flutters around in my rib cage. With my free hand I brush his hair back, his messy curls wrap around my fingers. My hand doesn’t stop until my fingertips find the nape of his neck, I wrap my hand around it and I pull his head down close to mine. I can feel the heat of his breath on my lips. My lips are just about to conform to his when…
“ZZZZZ,” Papa lets out a thunderous snore, causing us both to jolt up. Sage pulls away from my lips.
“No, no. Don’t worry about him he’s asleep,” I whisper. I tear my eyes away from Sage to check. Yep. We’re good. “He’s a heavy sleeper … matter of fact they’re all are heavy sleepers.…” I turn back to Sage. He’s still unsure. Timidly he looks over in Papa’s direction. I cup my hand under his chin and I gently face it towards me, ensuring that his attention is fully engaged on me.
“Don’t worry, I got you. You’re safe with me,” I tell him. He grins. He leans into me and we kiss. At first his kisses are gentle but then they start to become rough, more aggressive. Instead of trying to break away I find myself wanting more.
Sage releases my face and places his hands on my waist. My arms are freely wrapped around his neck as he lowers us down to the mattress. His arms are out onto either side of me, his palms pressing down to the mattress. His knees pin me down, holding me in place. His lips are still locked to mine. He has no attention to unlock them and neither do I.
“You said they were heavy sleepers. Define heavy?” he says breathlessly between kisses. His warm breath curls around my lips. “Enough talk.” Sage flattens himself down on top of me, the weight of his body crushes me but I couldn’t care less at this moment. I make no protest as he removes his fingers away from my face, to explore other areas, lingering in some places ...
“Sage, what are you doing?” I protest sheepishly, breathlessly between kisses. He’s placing his hands past my comfort zone. His innocent actions have taken a turn to the extreme.
“Sage, stop! Please!” I beg in distress. I try to shove him off but he won’t budge. His nails are beginning to dig into my skin causing burning pain. The discomfort in my voice seems to trigger something in Trevor, because at the moment he’s growling like he’s about to attack. I’m clinging to the hope that maybe he’ll manage to wake Papa up. I try to wriggle out from under Sage, but I’m pinned. Sage doesn’t respond. I’m frightened by his aggressiveness. His eyes just glare at me harshly, like I’m annoying him for breaking the mood. All signs of romance and playfulness are gone. He wants something more. Something I don’t want to give.
“Sage, what are you doing?” I cry out.
“Trying to sleep,” I hear Sage respond from across the room. “Can you get your dog to stop growling?” I’m startled awake. My eyes open wide with terror. If Sage is in his corner then who the f**k is on top of me?
“Shh, you wouldn’t wanna wake the baby would ya?” The voice doesn’t belong to Sage. The voice belongs to George.